Saturday, May 24, 2014

Blogging as a Tool to Support Better Writing

I was inspired to address this topic after a comment from my daughter about posting on Instagram. She said, "Mom, why does it take you so long to write a post? It takes me 30 seconds to write something and post it!" Not by any means is this reflection written flawlessly, but I am mindful of what I am putting out to the world to read! Our students and children are writing (or posting) more often than we can keep up with through the unlimited social media outlets available to them. They post freely, many times unaware of how their writing skills represent them. Our job as educators and parents has evolved with this easy access to publishing work with no filter. Teaching students to edit and revise their posts before "publishing" is not a new concept but one that has become more complex and immediate. It is important that students find their voice and learn the fundamentals of writing, but the stakes seem to be higher with the reality of our digital footprint. Teachers and parents should look at this not as an obstacle but an opportunity to bring relevancy to writing with our young digital natives. Whether it is finding out how blogging can work for you in the classroom or encouraging your own child to journal their experiences and share with family, it is an outlet for writing we should model and encourage to support the world they live in.

Blogging has become a staple in many classrooms. The same rules and structure can apply to a well written blog post as an expository essay, making it a great alternative in the classroom. Students have the opportunity to chronicle their experiences, reflect on assignments, and create their own content that can be shared and critiqued by their peers. Teachers can connect with student anytime which facilitates learning everywhere. This is not to say traditional writing assignments are dead, but a new branch of writing exists and should be taught. With this in mind, why not lead students to proper writing through great blogging!

In my experience with classroom blogging, we used Edmodo to host chats over books, homework tutorials, pre-teach lessons, offer alternative assignments, support PBL through a flipped classroom, and encourage critical thinking and reflection. My students knew they had access to help and safe educational connectivity at anytime. We talked about proper on line etiquette and the importance of taking ownership of what they were posting. We redefined our classroom together and seamlessly connected 21st century skills with critical thinking and high Blooms lessons.

As a parent, I have encouraged my daughter Gracie to keep a blog of her summer activities. Three years ago she used Posterous (no longer available), to document her travels around the United States with my mother. She took pictures on the beach in Connecticut for the 4th, with a card-board cut out of Justin Beiber in Times Square, and waiting in lines for rides at Disney in Orlando to use in her posts. She included a full page reflection for every leg of her journey. I wasn't with her, but was able to follow her experiences and thoughts through the whole trip. encouraging her through the process opened up the conversation of not only what good writing should look like, but what is appropriate.

In closing, blogging is a tool that teachers and parents can use to encourage reflective writing, online etiquette, and proper writing structure. It brings relevancy to writing for our young digital natives. We should teach our students to share their experiences and thoughts in a way that displays them in a positive light. It may be the outlet for your child or student to become a passionate writer and reflective thinker!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Recess for Teachers: The Importance of Digital Play Dates for Educators!

With the expectation for increased technology integration and ever-changing content standards in the classroom, teachers are facing uncharted territory. They have dedicated their lives to knowing their content inside and out, but with 24/7 access to internet, the role of the teacher has become much more complex. This immediate and constant ability to get this information has not eliminated the need for teachers, but has altered the way they should deliver instruction. The internet offers options we have never seen before, and can make even the most veteran teacher feel like a newbie. We can not shy away from this, but should embrace the change. Educators must truly commit to becoming life long learners in not only their content area but new pedagogy as well. My suggestion for giving teachers and other educators confidence, in terms of new technology and social media, would be to give them time to play!

I think back on all the technology meetings I've been to that consisted of one "know-it-all" standing in front of a faculty meeting, talking about what we should all be doing but aren't. They would go on about why everyone needs to use this tool or that one, this app or tweet this, and so on and so forth. The fact is, if teachers don't see value and can't make the connection, like our students, they will check out of the conversation. Teachers need time to look at these tech tools and figure them out. They need to feel safe to ask questions and have someone available to assist them in doing so.

Recently, I was in a meeting where a teacher leader on my campus presented to our Instructional Leadership Team on Twitter. It was fantastic, he broke the "how to" down as simple as possible, (he used an overhead to explain:)))) and then allowed everyone in the room to just play with it. It was AWESOME! Now don't get me wrong, not everything worked, we had connectivity issues, and not everyone was into it, but there was no pressure. We just had time to "play" on Twitter. We helped each other and had a real conversations about our individual thoughts on the best way to use it. We were all active participants in a Twitter Play Group!

That night after we had all gone home, 5 of the 9 people in that group participated in an edchat! I see that as a win! This really got me thinking about how great it would be if teachers were allotted time regularly to have "play dates" with their colleges using relevant technology tools? I have heard about schools doing this and am now interested to find out more!

In closing, I had a small glimpse of the power of free play. I was quite impressed with the passionate discussion that in sued (for and against what we were doing) and the outcome that included several teachers connecting through Twitter that very day! I can't help but think that this time we spent "playing around" with this tool, was time well spent!  I would encourage others to host some free digital play time in their schools, and support their teachers in this new era of education.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Why Twitter and EdCamps are a Must for Administrators

I reflect often on a conversation I had with a High School Assistant Principal I shadowed before I took my first job in administration. She informed me about a real issue for most administrators that I had not yet thought about, there wasn't time during the school day to attend Professional Development. She couldn't remember the last time she had been out of district for a conference or PD opportunity. The campus needed her there everyday and there wasn't a lot of funding for her to do it if she could leave. I remember feeling my heart drop to my stomach with disappointment. I had a passion and need to be moved forward with meaningful and innovative PD. I couldn't fathom how I could be a true instructional leader without it!? I made a vow to myself that night, no matter how hard the job became, I would find the time to stay connected and current.

I didn't have anything else going on one Saturday that summer and was asked by a former colleague to make the trek over to Timberview Middle School for EdCamp Fort Worth. This Saturday trip would become an awakening for me into the world of Twitter and digitally connected educators. (On a side note, this school was fantastically designed to support collaborative learning. I was instantly intrigued by how thoughtful every area of the school seemed to be in regards to learning and celebrating kids.)

If you've never been to one, EdCamps are specifically designed to create a participant-driven, fun-filled day of collaboration and learning. Educators can connect with like-minded individuals, collaborate ideas, brainstorm solutions to common education problems, have group discussions, and receive information that can immediately be applied in the classroom. In the participant driven sessions, EdCampers are expected to vote with their feet and take control of their professional learning. The experience is enhanced with the fact that all of the sessions were sharing info with anyone interested through Twitter (Oh, and did I mention, it is FREE?) I was floored! EDCamps occur on Saturdays and are usually open to anyone that is interested in joining. They are the perfect opportunity for educators that can't be away from the campus to get connected and stay current. I took many things away from that afternoon, but the most impactful would have to be the importance of educational PD on Twitter.

Who knew that you could access real time, relevant PD from your cell phone? My understanding of Twitter to that point was limited to having an account and watching other people post 140 character statements with funny hashtags.I had no idea you could sit in your living room and share ideas, collaborate, and actively participate in discussions/ debates with some of the most innovative educators out there. My understanding of how it works has slowly developed. (** Check this out: 5 Stages to Twitter Usage .) It is now the single biggest outlet for my professional development. I am excited to participate in weekly edchats with my Professional Learning Network. I consult with them, learn new ideas, and am regularly inspired! My fear of sporadic or nonexistent professional development is now gone. I am even working on moderating my first chat, that so happens to be with fellow organizers for EdCamp Parker County. It will be hosted in my current district but open to everyone! Relevant and meaningful PD has become a passion of mine and through Twitter and attending Edcamps, I can fulfill my everyday campus duties while staying in the know about exciting things in education. ( Awesome resource for the best chats: … …) I encourage all educators to get involved and find out more about how these outlets for professional growth can help you get connected. Have a voice and take control of your learning as a connected educator!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Who is Doing it Right?

With all this talk these days of a major paradigm shift in education and a student centered classroom model becoming the expectation in many schools, one must ask, who is doing it right? We have many pioneers that are taking risks and stepping outside of their comfort zone to find out how they can meet the needs of the digital natives lining the rows in our classrooms.
 Many schools have deployed programs that put technology in every student's hands while others continue to take a more conservative approach. Either way, it is not about the device it is about the instruction. We all know it needs to look different, but how different?
Project Based Learning/Flipped Classroom is a model that I have been trained on and have successfully implemented when I was an 8th grade Science teacher. My students asked their own questions and found their path to the answer. My role as the teacher was different. It was difficult at first, but once my students bought in, we were all hooked! I needed this experience to fully understand how different a classroom needs to look. Since then, I continue to ask, who is doing it right? How do they know they are meeting the needs of their students? What skills are truly important and how are we gauging this?
In the digital age, students can access any information in a split second. The days of mundane repeat and regurgitate are no longer acceptable. Problem solving and the ability to see beyond what is in front of you, is the necessity. Teachers need not only to have a vast knowledge of their content area but a strong understanding of how they can connect their students to the most current and relevant information in the field of study.
So, back to my point, who is doing it right? I believe, that schools that are building a support system for everyone including admin, teachers, students and parents are on the right track. Also, schools that are encouraging risk taking and getting of teachers and admin "off the island" to grow their PLN to stay current and expose themselves to the best of current instruction are leading the pack. I am not sure that any one school has it all figured out, but I do know that it is important to me to be a part of figuring it out. Schools must take the initiative to find out what future ready learning will look like in their schools, before someone else does it for them.
In closing, I do not have the answers, but will continue my journey to find out what is working for our students. Educators need to continue to redefine the skills students need to cultivate to be successful in their world not ours.
Here are some old students of mine from my 8th grade class working on an interactive pig dissection. The students wrote, directed, and managed the content and technology for a distance learning that was broadcast to over 800 students with 4 interactive sites.