31 January 2011

Learning can — and must — be networked

Over the weekend, I shared the EduCon Conference's axioms with the TPIT Diigo group which included the statement: Learning can — and must — be networked.

I've often described my experiences with learning within social networks as serendipitous. I never know what will pop up on Twitter, in my Reader, in my Diigo groups, or, as it occurred today, even in Goodreads. I don't even usually consider Goodreads when I name the social networks I use. I started using it because my brother uses it and it was a fun way to keep up with his reading and to share my reading as well.

A few weeks ago my Goodreads account was followed by Paul Reynolds, the brother of Peter Reynolds (author of Ish, and other excellent books). I'm guessing he connected with my account because I had marked several of Peter's books as read (but to be honest, I don't really know). Today, Paul shared a review of The Big Picture: Education is Everyone's Business written by Dennis Littky and Samantha Grabelle.

In his review, Paul wrote:
If we move to a model that is student-at-center/teacher-at-periphery within a distributed learning community (one that, as Chris Dede states would, "enable a shift from the traditional transfer and assimilation of information to the creation, sharing and mastery of knowledge."), the teacher has TIME to take on the mentoring role. Educators would no longer have to scramble daily to be the fully-stocked "information vending machine" - rapidly dispensing knowledge to "cover" content standards/requirements - instead they could focus time and energy on knowing their learners.
While I'd love to head off on a tangent and share how I see this as one of the benefits of 1:1 and student-centered learning that we're trying to achieve, I'll practice what I preach to my students and stick to my topic.

For me, much of my learning occurs when I simply show up in one of my networks. Thankfully there are others out there who are sharing what they are learning and trying with their students. What can you do today to facilitate learning for yourself? Is there a social network that you've been curious about trying out? Give it a try and see what happens.

20 January 2011

Four tools for learning

Over the past six months, I've been thinking quite a bit about my school district's move to 1:1. Specifically, I've been wondering what web-based "tools" my students should have available to them for their learning.

I began by asking myself what tools I need for my own personal and professional learning. Each week I find my use of my RSS reader, Twitter, Diigo, and my professional blog (on weeks when I make time to write) are the tools I use the most. So, I gave my students the student-friendly versions of those.

This school year, my fifth graders have been using:
  • Diigo -- to collect bookmarks and share to a private 5th grade group consisting of the three fifth grade classrooms in our hallway
  • Edmodo -- to share thinking, questions, and resources within a private class set up for our team
  • KidBlog -- for reflection and posting random assignments
  • PB Wiki -- for publishing their writing
A few reflections on each tool after a couple months of sporadic use (we're not 1:1 yet and available lab time has been scarce in my building the past two months):
  • Diigo has been a tool that I've used daily since it was presented to me at a conference back in October. The ability to set up public or private groups has been great for me and for my students. They are still learning how to share useful comments and once we have more regular computer access, I'm sure it's usefulness will grow.
  • Edmodo is a tool that, like Diigo, will grow in usefulness when my students have greater access. I've shown my students how I and those I follow use Twitter (after previewing my Twitter feed for kid-friendly tweets) for sharing resources, asking questions, and responding to others tweets. My students have practiced these, but they aren't natural uses yet.
  • KidBlog has been my favorite student tool so far from the teacher side. It is simple for both students and teacher alike. I can have total control over what gets posted to our class blogs by approving each post and each comment before they go public. I'm hoping that I can get my students using it more frequently for their own short reflections and writings (remember Type 1 writings?) in the coming months.
  • This is my second year of using PB Wiki for publishing student writings after I watched how the fifth grade East Dragons out in Littleton, CO used it in their 1:1 classroom. My students really enjoy posting to the wiki and commenting is quite easy. Recently, I've been reading The Power of Less and it has me asking if I can do the same with less. I've been thinking that KidBlog could easily take the place of PB Wiki. I suggested that to my students earlier today and was met with a chorus of "no, we love the wiki." For now, it's staying.
Those are my thoughts at the present. I'm interested to know how you're using these tools with your students or if you've found others that are essential for student learning.

17 January 2011

What if we shared?

What if we as educators not only believed, but regularly practiced this statement?

What if we shared not only our lesson ideas, but also our thinking?

What if we shared not only our knowledge, but also our questions?

What if we shared not only our successes, but also our failures?

What if we shared not only our joys, but also our sorrows?

What if we shared not only our hopes, but also our fears?

How would it change your life as an educator?

How would it change your school community?

You're invited to share your thoughts at the ZPS 1:1 blog.

Image shared by Powerful Learning Practice on Facebook

09 January 2011

Crowdsourcing: Going Global

In my last post I shared an example of how I have used crowdsourcing on a local level. Crowdsourcing can be powerful on a global scale as well.

Back in February of 2009, through a mention on the A Year of Reading blog I learned of and joined the Elementary Teachers group on the English Companion Ning. What's a ning? A ning is an online social networking tool where members can post questions, replies, and share resources. Teachers in the Elementary Teachers group were using the ning to ask questions about teaching poetry, seeking recommendations for persuasive mentor texts, and other literacy-related issues.

At that time, many educators in my PLN were talking about the NCTE's 21st Century Literacies. However, most were talking about what these new literacies would look like at a secondary level. So I posted a question to the ning asking what they would look like at an elementary level. As the discussion began and I shared my own thinking two mind-blowing things happened. First, after mentioning a Choice Literacy article in my response the author of the article replied to my comment within the ning and shared her thinking. (I still remember running to my wife after receiving the reply saying, "can you believe this?") Second, because I had linked to a post on my personal teaching blog that I had made public the prior month, the first comment that was ever left on my blog was from a kindergarten teacher in Australia.

The power of professional social networking was made clear to me in these two experiences. By being willing to be vulnerable and express that I don't have all of the answers, I was able to learn alongside others around the globe that were asking the same questions.

04 January 2011

Crowdsourcing: Staying Local

[I am a member of the Zeeland Public Schools Technology Plan Implementation Team (TPIT) which is charged with rolling out handheld technologies to all students in grades 3-12 in the coming years (alongside other additions to classroom technologies). As a part of that transition in teaching and learning, TPIT has launched the ZPS 1:1 - Transforming Learning blog. This post is cross-posted there.]

In her post on crowdsourcing, Jackie shared a few examples of how one could get started. I'd like to continue the conversation sharing a few ways that crowdsourcing helps me in my role as a 5th grade teacher.

At a local level (let's say within ZPS), crowdsourcing can be as simple as sending an email. When I have a question or a need for a particular resource, I often choose a few teachers from my grade group (and usually Shari Moore, the elementary literacy coach, when my question or need is literacy-related) and ask for some help. Once my email is sent, I usually have what I need within a day, if not minutes or hours.

For instance, a few weeks ago I was looking for quality nonfiction mentor texts that I could use with my 5th grade students. I shared this need at my weekly 5th grade team. Shari Moore was present at this meeting and by that afternoon had given me a copy of a chapter on nonfiction mentor texts full of all of the great examples that I was seeking. I was able to use the examples with my students and then began typing up a list of the texts in a Google Doc (a student who is a fast typist and hates recess finished the list for me). I was then able to send the list on to the staff in my building where colleagues have told me that they have pulled texts to use in their classrooms.

At the heart of successful crowdsourcing is the idea of sharing. What could a colleague share with you today if you asked? What could you share with a colleague?