Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Power of Blogging; Cultivating Learning Connections Through Comments

At this time, some educators have a growing awareness of, and experience with, the personalized learning benefits of blogging. Increased relevancy, digital literacy, and conscientious effort for authentic audiences, are just three of many learning advantages that blogging can provide. Among the most powerful reasons for blogging is the opportunity to engage with communities of learners through social networks.

Whether it's in the classroom, or as part of a learning community, cultivating relationships through social connection takes communication from merely the exchange of information to building empathy, understanding, and collaboration. One way to initiate and cultivate a learning relationship is by commenting on other educators' writing. Additionally, responding to comments is not only a nice thing to do, it also perpetuates the learning conversation and relationship.

Social media tools such as Twitter, Blogger, and Google+ form the foundation of my personal learning network (PLN). Digital tools, mobile technology, and connected networks are fueling my personal learning in ways I never imagined. Specifically, blogging has stretched time and distance with respects to my learning relationships. Here are just a few recent examples of how "Nocking the Arrow" has helped make my learning world quite a bit smaller.

  • After fifteen years, I was able to reconnect with Penny Potter, my mentor for National Board Certification. She had retired to a quite, private life in Missouri. It was through my posting of a tweet about a reflective blog post in which she was mentioned that we were able to reconnect and reminisce within the comments of the post.

  • I shared this same post to the Professional Development learning community in Schoology. The post caught the eye of Giuseppe Pelosi, an educator in Italy. We were able to compare teaching experiences through the comment section of the community post. I am looking forward to learning more about life in Italy with Giuseppe's guidance.

  • Several weeks ago, I was searching for information to help me build an argument for using blogs as digital portfolios. I didn't have to look much further than one of my favorite bloggers, Silvia Tolisano (Langwitches) who was describing her use of blogfolios (coined by Andrea Hernandez) with her students in Sao Paulo. I shared a compliment, and reached out to her for additional information. Silvia, Andrea, and I now connect regularly through blog comments and Twitter.

  • A couple of months ago, I wrote a post about a new term that I had picked up in my RSS feed. It was through this post about heutagogy that I was able to connect with Stewart Hase, an original contributor to research on this subject. After reading my post, Stewart graciously invited me to World Heutagogy Conference. Although I can't attend the event, Stewart recently contacted me from Australia about contributing to a collaborative writing project.

All of these opportunities to relate were made possible through the comments section of our blogs. Comments turn a transaction into a conversation. Once again, empathy, understanding, and collaboration enrich the learning process. A valuable way to engage with your personal learning network is to write comments on blogs that you find interesting or helpful. Respectfully disagreeing with the message is another way that learning can be shaped through written conversation.

Blogging can be a powerful learning activity, and as most bloggers will tell you, it is often that what follows in the comments section that provides the most value to the readers and to the writer. You can contribute to deeper and more meaningful learning, as well as, create powerful learning connections by posting comments to your favorite blog posts.

Related Reading & Resources

The Basics of Blog Comment Etiquette - Ginny Soskey

Educational Blogging - Stephen Downes

Cybraryman's Blog Page - Jerry Blumengarten

Teach 100 - A collection of educational blogs

Blogging: Who Should & Why - My Island View, Tom Whitby

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

An Open Apology; To the Students from My 1st Decade

After nearly a quarter century as an educator in a large, public high school, I suspected, but was unprepared, for the coming of this day. By complete happenstance, I became re-connected with several of my former students during a Twitter chat. It was a proud moment to know some of my favorite students remained engaged in educational pursuits. While the exchanges were pleasant and interesting, the communication caused me to think back to my early years of teaching and coaching. Knowing what I know now, I owe a sincere apology to the students and athletes of my first decade of teaching and coaching. I wasn't excellent, not even close. I wasn't very good at all. I'm sorry.

Way back in 1990, Mr. Freeman hired me to teach social studies at Palatine High School. He was the social studies department chair, a master historian, and the epitome of the "sage on the stage" teacher. Dave, a large man, filled the boards with "burnin' chalk" (history notes), carried a staff like Moses, and had complete compliance in his classroom. He was my first mentor and teaching model. He is also a terrific person, and a terrific role model for students and teachers alike. That said, my admiration for his classroom control clouded my perception of who I should be as an educator. I was trying to walk in his shoes instead of trying to break in my own.

Here is a partial list of reasons for extending an apology to many of my former students.

  • I worked to get complete compliance from my students. That was wrong.
  • I delivered content from the front of the room to rows of students. That was wrong.
  • I gave homework in an attempt to teach responsibility and diligence. That was wrong.
  • I gave zeros to students who failed to complete homework assignments. That was wrong.
  • I gave academic consequences to students needing behavioral modifications. That was wrong.
  • I gave praise without constructive feedback. That was wrong.
  • I did not involve my students' parents into the learning processes. That was wrong.
  • I used PowerPoint instead of chalk and thinking I was being innovative. That was wrong.
  • I gave objective tests that focused on content while disregarding learning skills. That was wrong.
  • I attributed student failure to their lack of attention and motivation. That was wrong.
  • I equated good coaching to blowing a whistle and barking out commands. That was wrong.

Fast forward to 2000, and I am feeling pretty good about my execution in classroom. I have completed my first Master's degree and I am ready for a new challenge. After some deliberation and some coaxing from my academic advisor, I decide to apply for National Board Certification. This endeavor proved to be very challenging because, when done right, it forces the educator to reflect upon their practice while tearing down, and then reconstructing, their pedagogy. The primary focus becomes the significance and impact of pedagogical practice on student learning.

I became part of a cohort led by our mentor, Penny Potter. We collaborated on analyzing and applying standards, critiqued each other's video lessons, and encouraged deep thinking and reflection on our teaching practices. Through nine months of peaks and valleys, tough conversations, and improved self-awareness, we became a small community of practice, all of us trying to improve our teaching craft for the betterment of our students. As a result of our connecting, reflecting, and analyzing, we started down a path of recreating ourselves as learners and educators.

Here is a partial list highlighting how learning became better in our classrooms.

  • We started using portfolios to authentically assess our learning. This was better.
  • We offered personal choices in the demonstration of our learning. This was better. 
  • We adopted growth mindsets to embrace challenges without fear of failure. This was better.
  • We researched school and community issues and viewed them as opportunities for authentic problem solving. This was better.
  • We practiced reflection though daily writing and discussions. This was better.
  • We moved the furniture, and we moved from place to place to encourage conversation and new thinking. This was better.
  • We focused on mastery of learning skills and information literacy. This was better.
  • We connected with other classrooms, and other schools to build networks of learning. This was better.
  • We did not focus on grades, nor did we have assigned homework. This was better.
  • We cared about each other, and what we could accomplish with our learning. This was better.
  • We became a team of learners with each of us having a role in supporting interdependence. This was better.

Was the next decade perfect? No, far from it. But our perceptions of school and learning changed for the better. As a teacher, I was working smarter while the students worked harder. I have recently renewed my National Board Certification. I am proud of this achievement even though I no longer teach G343 Psychology in room 275. My current classroom looks drastically different, no walls, no chalk, and no desks. It's more about access to information, social connections, and self-determination of learning. I now work primarily with adults in a quest to make schools more innovative and supportive of personalized learning.

My apology message to the students of my first decade is sincere, but so is my message to current educators. A learner's mindset, social networks, and reflective practice can save years of trial and error teaching, and maybe even avoid some of the guilt that comes from the recognition that things, "knowing what I know now", could have been better for the students. A personal learning network, and a desire to grow, based upon my 25 years of professional teaching experience, are essential components of being an effective learner in the 21st century. Teachers, if we don't modify our thinking and practices to mirror the connected world that we live in, then I expect that we will end up apologizing for not having met our students learning needs. Up next, why our concepts of classroom and instruction need to change.

Related Reading

We Have to do Things Differently - TeacherTech, Alice Keeler

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(2) photo credit: Dystopos via photopin cc

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Three Great Tools for App Smashing

If you are a teacher or student in a 1:1 classroom, then you already realize, particularly if you are using iPads, that there are frequently times when a single application doesn't complete all of the desired tasks. App smashing, a concept recently coined, explained, and popularized by the amazing Greg Kulowiec, is the process of using two or more compatible applications to complete a task, or create a digital product. According to innovative educator, Miguel Guhlin, these are the recommended steps in creating a product through app smashing:

  1. End Result - Begin with the end in mind. What does the final product look like? What purpose does it serve? What message does it convey? A storyboard or graphic organizer helps with the planning of the project. I recommend a Google Doc using the Lucid Chart add on.
  2. Apps Smashed - Create a list of apps that will be included in the project. Research and practice with the chosen apps to assess their compatibility, but leave the work details for a later time. Edshelf is a helpful educational website that provides descriptions and reviews of websites, mobile apps, desktop programs, and electronic products for teaching and learning.
  3. Digital Workflow - This is when the step-by-step processes of app smashing are spelled out in greater detail. The organizer mentioned earlier now comes into play as specific details and processes are added to the project plan.
  4. Create product - Much like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle, it is now time to complete the tasks necessary to create the final digital product.
  5. Share product - The "share to" button is one of my favorite features of digital learning. Assuming the product is worthy of sharing, where will the resulting digital artifact reside? Blogs, wikis, websites provide platforms for evidence of student learning as digital portfolios. Interestingly, embedding projects into web pages or blogs is also a simple, but effective, example of app smashing.
Here are three apps that lend themselves ideally to app smashing projects. These apps support multiple platforms (iOS, Android, or web), offer numerous input options, and provide flexible sharing options for the user.

  • Thinglink - (iOS, AND, web) allows the creation of interactive, digitally enriched images. Images may be uploaded from the computer, imported from a website, Flickr, or Facebook. Tagging and linking features turns the image into an interactive resource or story. Enhanced images are shareable and embeddable. Create a Thinglink channel for subscribers to follow and comment on completed visual projects.

  • Explain Everything - (iOS, AND) is an app smashing workhorse! Virtually any digital media, including files from Evernote, Dropbox and Google Drive, can be imported and modified with annotations, narrations, and animations. Commonly used as a whiteboard app, Explain Everything has recently been updated with video editing features. Projects can be shared to YouTube, or exported locally as MP4 movies, PDF documents, or PNG images.

  • TouchCast - (iOS, web) does for video what Explain Everything does for presentations. TouchCast allows the creation and sharing of videos containing interactive web content, images, and widgets. Like Thinglink, TouchCast videos feature interactive touch points that viewers can activate, enlarge, and manipulate. Templates are provided to provide newscast style overlays. Projects can be uploaded to YouTube or embedded in webpages.

App smashing gives teachers and students the creative freedom to build and share uniquely interactive, interesting digital projects. App smashing is practically a necessity in a 1:1 learning environment because no single app meets every learner's nor every project's needs. Thinglink, Explain Everything, and TouchCast are three shining examples of apps that offer import and export flexibility, which is beneficial to creating personalized artifacts of digital learning.

How can these three apps be smashed to create a final, digital project? 

What are your favorite app smashing combinations?  

Credits & References

Unleashing Creativity with App Smashing - EdTechTeacher, Kate Wilson & Greg Kulowiec

App Smashing; Unleashing Creativity (presentation) - Greg Kulowiec

How to Use App Smashing in Education - Edudemic, Nikolaos Chatzopoulos

Teachers, Meet App Flows - Graphite, Darri Stephens

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