Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Happy Election Day, everyone! Don’t forget to get out and get your vote on! 
(And yes, this message is TenBarks approved!)

Happy Election Day, everyone! Don’t forget to get out and get your vote on! 

(And yes, this message is TenBarks approved!)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Teach Plus: The Quantified Student

This post originally appeared here on the Huffington Post. 

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By Sujata G. Bhatt

A year ago, in the Washington Post, I wrote a blog post called “I am a Bad Teacher,” in which I questioned education reform’s push for standardized test data. A lot has happened since then.

After writing the piece, I decided not to focus on adapting my students to the test, but rather on using the test’s requirements to meet my students’ needs.

Their needs are many. I teach in Los Angeles at a Title 1 school. My students are largely English language learners, and our school is dotted and dashed with its share of poverty-related urgencies. In the fall of 2010, my fourth grade class had come to me particularly unprepared. Reading, writing, subtraction, multiplication facts, focusing, doing homework, not throwing paper balls at random moments mid-class: all this was a revelation to many of them (and not one they welcomed).

Since California’s standardized test for fourth graders measured skills almost all my students needed, I analyzed its requirements, broke them down into core concepts, and then worked and reworked these concepts with the students until they felt a sense of mastery over them. My daily job consisted of finding different, creative ways of approaching, teaching, and reteaching the same core skills so that most all students could incorporate them into their cognitive toolkits.

It worked. The students succeeded wildly. They returned to me for fifth grade with heightened confidence. They saw something new in themselves: the reward of effort and the joy of success.

But there was also something more. They came back to me curious about numbers and stats. They wanted to know how many more points it would take to get to the next level, how many more problems they’d need to get right to get those points. They had begun to look at the test as they would a game, and they were invested in it. Even more than that, they understood that because every fourth grade public school kid in the state had taken this very test, they could measure themselves against their peers. Suddenly, their view of the world became that much bigger. Testing had begun the process of networking them into the world beyond our little schoolyard.

I watched these discoveries unfold, and I learned that students could gain something from standardized tests, data, and metrics. These things could be tools for students as much as they were tools for us adults.

Studies have shown a strong correlation between socio-economic status and test scores. I don’t think there’s anyone who would deny that. But does this mean that we as teachers can’t do anything until we solve the underlying social problems that lead to disparate opportunities and achievement?

I don’t think so. I think it means we have to do two things at once.

We must — no question — change the political situation that, in California, spends $52,000 per year for each prison inmate and $7,500 for each K-12 student.

But I faced thirty-four fresh if slightly pimply faces every day last year. They couldn’t afford to wait until we solve the problems of poverty. They needed to be engaged, taught, and networked into the system now — and at the highest possible level. If we don’t work together to create pathways for our students now, gangs and those budding hormones certainly will.

And I’ve come to believe that data is one way to do that.

Last year, working with the same cohort of students (by then fifth graders), I tried to find more learning opportunities that focused on data. We used math websites like TenMarks that enable students to learn about their own learning even as they practice new skills. We analyzed information graphics and dove into ways of presenting numerical information. We explored how numbers shape our understanding of ourselves and the world. And much of their enthusiasm and curiosity for these tasks came out of their interest in numbers from standardized testing.

I’ve thus come to believe there’s a role for standardized testing within education. As a limited portion of a multiple measure evaluation system, it helps teachers understand how well we’ve taught over the course of a year. It also helps students understand how much they mastered over that year and makes them agents in their own learning.

Much work still needs to be done to improve both testing and test-based evaluation measures. There are silly, decontextualized “pineapple” questions, as we’ve seen in very public controversies this year. There are too many interim tests created by districts to lead up to the state tests. Students must have a stake in the tests for the results to have meaning. Growth or “value-added” models must take into account more variables such as English Language level and attendance. Stringent testing integrity procedures must be put into place. Tests and course materials must overlap better.

But what I learned from my students over the past year is that it makes more sense for me to work to create better data than to fight data. Data analysis is an increasingly significant and empowering way of making sense of the world. All sorts of professions use data to interpret their work and decide upon courses of action. Why shouldn’t we in education?

In the high tech world there’s a growing movement called “The Quantified Self.” With quantified self models, adults use data to change habits and behaviors—to lose weight, exercise more, to calm themselves. I think our kids already think this way. They like learning about their learning. And standardized tests are but one of many ways they can do that. As teachers, perhaps we can learn this way of looking at the world from our students. Why not take advantage of it? And most importantly, why not help our students become makers and masters of their own data, and help them use it to propel their own learning forward?

Sujata G. Bhatt is a National Board Certified teacher in her 11th year at Grand View Boulevard Elementary in Los Angeles Unified School District. She is a current Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellow.

Follow Teach Plus on Twitter: www.twitter.com/teachplus

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Power of Being Connected

In this installment of our Connected Educator Month blog series, we’re handing our blog over to Laura Candler, a retired educator with 30 years experience in teaching grades 4-6. Laura has built a community of more than 54,000 teachers on Facebook through her Teaching Resources site, where teachers from all over the world collaborate on improving their practice. Laura is also a regular blogger who is active on Pinterest, Twitter and in the TeachersPayTeachers community. Many thanks go out to Laura for her reflections on being a connected educator, and for the work she does to connect educators from across the planet.

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August is Connected Educator month, and it’s a perfect time to reflect on how being connected has impacted me as an educator.  The term “connected educator” is a wonderful way to depict the spirit of collaboration among teachers who are able to share freely across space and time. Years ago, a teacher’s primary support system consisted of his or her immediate colleagues. Yet if those educators didn’t share the same philosophies and methods, it was easy to experience a sense of isolation. As a new teacher over 30 years ago, I experienced bouts of loneliness and isolation from time to time, so when I first logged on to the internet in 1997, I welcomed the spirit of connectedness I found there. I began exploring online resources, and within a few weeks I had joined a thriving email discussion group, where I discovered hundreds of others teachers who were just as passionate about teaching as I was!

As a part of that discussion group, I began writing about teaching strategies and activities that were effective in my own classroom. Others in the group were sharing websites and helpful materials, too, and it was as if a whole new world had opened up before me. We were constantly collaborating, and I soon began looking for a more organized way to share resources. I envisioned an online file cabinet where I could store documents to share with others. In a matter of weeks, I taught myself the basics of Microsoft FrontPage and created the Teaching Resources website. I set up a collection of online file folders and began adding free teaching resources to them, bit by bit. The ability to share resources online is now so commonplace that it’s hard to describe the joy I felt when I first realized the power of the Internet. To be able to connect and share with teachers in other countries via the web was such an incredible gift, and it still is.

Prior to 1997, I had written a number of books for teachers that were published in print. A few years later, when I began writing ebooks, I learned to tap into the power of collaboration in a new way. I thought, “What if I could get teachers from all over the world to help me field-test the problems and strategies?” I created an email discussion group for this purpose, and the members implemented the techniques and gave me concrete feedback about the word problems. I learned so much from these teachers, and I realized that what worked for me sometimes needed to be tweaked to work in other classrooms.

To this day, I love to collaborate with others in my writing projects. For example, a few years ago, I began to fully implement the reading workshop approach, and I was excited about the results I was seeing in my classroom.  I decided to write a book of step-by-step instructions for how to implement reading workshop. I knew that my book would be far better if I could collaborate with others while writing it, so I created an online discussion group. called the Empowering Readers Learning Community. Over 700 teachers from all over the world signed up and began to implement the strategies that I was finding to be effective. They asked for clarification about some of the techniques and offered their own suggestions as the project unfolded. The response to the product of this collaboration, Power Reading Workshop: A Step-by-Step Guide, was so overwhelmingly positive and I again collaborated with the same group on other projects, including Graphic Organizers for Reading: Teaching Tools Aligned with the Common Core. I’m convinced that the success of my books is due to the collaborative approach that I used when writing them.

As I’ve discovered, being a Connected Educator means being able to impact the educational community in ways that were not possible 20 years ago. Up until the 1990’s, an educator’s impact was limited by the constraints of time and space. A teacher could directly observe the impact of a terrific lesson or teaching strategy on his or her own students, but apart from writing a book or becoming a consultant, it was difficult to have a more widespread impact. Fast forward to 2012, a time when thousands of teachers have blogs, Facebook pages, and Pinterest boards where they freely share their strategies and teaching materials with hundreds of thousands of educators worldwide! It’s an exciting time, but this tremendous potential also brings to mind the wisdom of Peter Parker in Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility.”  Whether we realize it or not, being connected does give us great power. However, we must also accept the responsibility to use that power in ways that benefit not only our students, but the greater educational community.

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Laura Candler is a National Board Certified Middle Childhood Generalist. She received the Milken Family Foundation Award in 2000, and is retired after 30 years of teaching in grades 4 – 6. Click here to learn more about her and the lesson resources that she creates for teachers around the world.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Bizarro World: Reflections on Educator Connections

As Connected Educator Month winds down, we’re handing our blog over to Darin Johnston, a TenMarks teacher, regular Twitter chat contributor and connected educator. He maintains a blog titled “The Life of a Conflicted Teacher”, and can be found actively building a personal learning network here on Twitter. Many thanks go out to Darin for sharing his reflections on being a connected educator and contributing to our blog series.

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I’ve always been a Connected Educator, dating back to 1994 where I was involved in an Apple grant with the school district in rural Alaska helping to create presentations we then emailed to other schools in the project..  From that point forward, I’ve always dabbled in technology.  But when I was asked to write a piece for TenMarks and their Connected Educator guest blog series, I found myself struggling to come up with something.  As I read through the other educators, their experiences, the impact they’d made on their respective districts, communities, and areas of expertise, doubt crept in!  

Then I thought to myself, “draw from what you know”, which led me down a little different path way: Bizzaro World.  If you are familiar with the older Superman of the 1960’s, the Superfriends of the early 1980’s, or of the Seinfeld episode titled “Bizzaro Jerry”, you have an idea what I’m talking about.  For the rest of you, Bizzaro World is that world totally opposite to ours in every way imaginable, a place where your opposite persona resides. They believe in crime over good, ugly over beauty, and even their planet is square compared to our circular one.

So, I started thinking, what would the Bizzaro Iowa Teacher be like?  Well, he’d be negative, one who chooses to tear down, and most for certain, not connected. Think about that for a second, a classroom where everything is done paper and pencil, research is conducted via the 1987 World Book Encyclopedia, and where interaction was with those in the classroom, the building, and that is it!  No outside communications, no guest speakers, and certainly no letters from Brazil!  And those students! They’d be tied to the materials their school owned, using out-texts, data that was incomplete at best, and because they know no different, they are impressed with their own learning!

Doesn’t sound too far off from our own past does it?

Being a Connected Educator means I’m pushing my students to perform at a higher level.  I’m creating the opportunities for them to connect with different cultures, not just read about them.  I’m helping them to gather real time data, not data collected years before.  But best of all, I’m helping to create a new group of problem solvers, able to think and work through problems using their skills, their own “super powers” of collaboration, and I’m their guiding this process along.  My students use the most up to date data available to them, have thousands of primary sources at their finger tips, and can communicate with parts of the world to see just how alike they are with other students.  Quite a different world?

In closing, we’ve all see that “Bizzaro Classroom” where that teacher doesn’t seem to want to become a connected educator.  Step up, step in, and be a guide.  If they aren’t interested, help to make sure their students are and help those kids to create things for their teacher to see.  Being connected doesn’t take much effort anymore, but the returns on that effort can life changing both for yourself and your students!

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Darin Johnson is an educator, father and husband whose teaching career has taken him from Minnesota to Alaska to Missouri and now Iowa. He has taught at all levels of K-12 education, and considers the middle grades to be his home.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

#teaching2030: A Thursday Chat for Tech-Based Education Reform

For today’s post in our Connected Educator Month series, we’re handing our blog over to Shannon C’de Baca, a science teacher with 30+ years of teaching experience and member of the TeacherSolutions 2030 Team at the Center for Teaching Quality. She is also a host of the #teaching2030 chat, a chat focused on the future of schools and the teaching profession. Many thanks to Shannon for sharing her experiences of connecting with educators to improve classroom outcomes for all. If you’re interested in connecting with educators about transforming schools with technology, be sure to join tomorrow’s #teaching2030 chat at 8:30pm EST!

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A couple of years ago, I was fortunate enough to co-author TEACHING 2030 with eleven other K-12 teachers and Barnett Berry, president and CEO of the Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ).  The book focuses on promising trends in educational reform, including the potential for educators to spread their expertise virtually via new technological platforms.

What better avenue for discussing these ideas than Twitter? When CTQ invited me to co-host a new Twitter chat focused on the themes of TEACHING 2030, I was elated.

The chat is part of a multi-pronged strategy. Each month, CTQ invites a diverse group of teachers to discuss a particular theme of TEACHING 2030 on the blog Teaching Ahead: A Roundtable, published by Education Week Teacher and supported by the MetLife Foundation. In the midst of this discussion, I work with another teacher co-author (Jennifer Barnett) to lead a synchronous Twitter chat on the same topic.

 Jennifer and I take a peek at the Teaching Ahead posts, then craft thoughtful questions to begin the conversation. The staff at the Center for Teaching Quality help us spread the word about the chat.

The group is generally about 50 tweeters strong, although the composition shifts according to topic.  We know from retweets  and direct messages that there are quite a few folks beyond that number who just follow and do not post during the discussion. It’s been interesting to see that principals and even state-level administrators are learning from (and taking positive action on) the chat topics.

Our focused questions help the discussion stay on track. This chat is not about promoting the book TEACHING 2030, or the Teaching Ahead blog… instead, it’s about engaging teachers in substantial debates about issues that matter. Some of our most popular chats this year were focused on professional development, teacher leadership, and how schools make use of instructional time.

This collaborative group shares resources and links throughout the conversations. At a participant’s suggestions, we now use Storify to post our summaries.  

Our Twitter chats take place the third Thursday of each month—you’ll see plenty of reminders if you follow @teachingquality. Joining the chat is as simple as logging onto a Twitter account and searching #teaching2030.

The group functions much like a PLN: synchronous conversations and connections become rich sharing experiences over time. CTQ (@teachingquality) and several teachers (including well-connected media specialists like @shighley and @cybraryman1) keep the #teaching2030 hashtag alive, following up with tweets about new resources.  I am always looking for good ideas, solutions to vexing problems, and navigators who can help me find the right resources. This chat attracts folks who are eager to share this kind of information.   

One of my online chemistry students recently told me that he and his peers don’t mind that their school blocked Facebook—they’d already migrated to Twitter. Here’s hoping their teachers have done the same, and that they’ll join us at #teaching2030 every third Thursday at 8:30 p.m. ET. (Yes, that’s 20:30 in military time!) 

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Shannon C’de Baca is a 31-year teaching veteran (K–12 science) who moved from face-to-face teaching to teaching online  years ago. She developed a lab intensive chemistry course for Iowa students who did not have an available chemistry teacher. She has worked with seven states and two national organizations in the development of science standards and teacher professional development. Shannon’s teaching has been recognized with honors from the Milken Family Foundation, National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), the Iowa Department of Education, Sertoma, and PBS. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Multiliteracy: Connecting Language through Twitter, Edmodo and Web 2.0 

In today’s Connected Educator Month post, we’ve handed our blog over to Audrey Misiano,  a regular participant in Language Chat (#langchat) on Twitter. She is active on Edmodo, a social network for teachers + students, as well as maintaining a blog and a website for her Multiliteracy Project. Merci beaucoup, Audrey, for sharing with us your experiences of being a Connected Educator.

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Do you believe in the power of community and collaboration?

Do you believe in the power of cooperation?

Do you think that literacy is important?

Are you a life-long learner?

Are you willing to take risks and try something new?


If you answered yes to any of the above questions, please read on!

Multiliteracy has become the theme of my life. It is my passion. Here you see my living, breathing multiliteracy project. My children are Soleil, my 5 year-old daughter and Geo, my 3 year-old son. First and foremost, I’d like to raise happy, healthy, and kind children. However, I am also wondering if I can raise my children to be literate in more than one language. Will they possess the skills necessary to be life-long learners? Will they be able to create meaningful digital content? Will they be successful and appropriate digital citizens? Will they be able to read and write well in their native language of English as well as in a second language? Will they possess cultural awareness beyond their knowledge of our home culture? After asking myself these questions, I started wondering…If I can raise multiliterate children, can I teach my students to become multiliterate? To work towards these goals, I have started working on what I envision to be a life-long project…a Multiliteracy Project.


First, I’ve started the creation of a website called Sunny Earth Academy which can be viewed at www.sunnyearthacademy.org. I created it mainly with my children in mind and named it after them. It has grown to include resources for my students as well. The website promotes World Languages, shares online resources, and encourages the creation and sharing of digital content for language learning. It also promotes global collaboration between World Language teachers in order to benefit student learning. The website is a work in progress that has created many collaborative projects so far in its one year of existence. I also started a new club at school that takes the idea of Sunny Earth Academy and puts it into action. Members of the Peace through Language Club are creating resources to help others learn English, Spanish and French.

In order to keep learning new and innovative ways to meet the needs of my students, I have started creating a Professional Learning Network (PLN) on twitter and edmodo. These two global spaces have opened up many doors for collaboration, sharing, and growth.

It is on Twitter that I learned about the AIM Language Learning program and was able to attend a conference as a guest of expert AIM teacher, Sylvia Duckworth. The classroom visits and conference completely sold me on the programs innovative 100% target language approach. It is also on twitter that I connected with Nathalie Bonneau, the animator who has so graciously offered up her talent for a Peace through Language Club French alphabet project. I follow the hashtag called #langchat, which is a group of World Language educators from around the globe who share their ideas and help one another by providing insight and resources. The group meets in cyberspace for a live twitter chat on Thursday’s at 8PM EST. Chat participants vote on the topic to be discussed at each week’s discussion. A recent topic revolved around the debate on how much of the target language educators should be using in class. We may not always agree with one another, but the chats make us really think about what we are doing and reflect upon the effectiveness.


Edmodo has proven to be the place where I feel most at home online. I consider Edmodo to be 24/7 education. I use it to share digital content, assignments, and use polls with students. I also use it to expand my Professional Learning Network. Edmodo is a facebook-like platform that is widely used by educators around the world. It has been a wonderful place to connect with other educators and to create global projects. Next year, I will be working with some of my edmodo contacts on creating connections among our classes. My students will get the chance to use their Spanish skills with native-speakers in exchange for helping those native speakers with their English.


There are easy things that you can do to create more connections, collaborations, and resources. I am very fortunate to have the support of administration and many teachers in my district, as well. Without all of this support, the school-based portion of this project would not have come into being. Thank you, dear reader, for taking the time to read about this Multiliteracy Project.

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Audrey Misiano is a World Language educator and a mother on a mission to spread her love for language learning. To read more about her Multiliteracy Project, visit Multiliteracy Mania. Parts of this post, which she has graciously adapted for our Connected Educator Month series, appear in her soon-to-be published paper entitled, “It Takes a Community, A Multiliteracy Project.”


Thursday, August 9, 2012

#mschat: Calling all Middle School Teachers!

For today’s Connected Educator Month post, we’re handing our blog over to Todd Bloch, founder of #mschat, a Twitter chat for middle school educators to connect and share resources. Beginning on August 9, Middle School chat will take place at 8pm EST every other week. Many thanks to Todd for putting together this post about his experience with online collaboration through Twitter. 

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Why I am a Connected Educator

As I begin this journey of starting #mschat (August 9, 8 pm EST every other week), I have been asked by friends and colleagues, “Why?”

The simple answer is to get off the “island of teaching” and into a collaborative group. It really goes back to my first year of teaching: I was struggling getting a grip on the what and how to teach. I asked my veteran grade level teaching partner if we should meet with teachers in another building to discuss the issues. She answered: “No we have to figure it out, our principal would not like that.” I felt isolated and alone. Teaching has traditionally been this way sadly. Teachers, schools and districts have been hesitant to share what the are doing (The good, bad and ugly). Education is not a competition, we all have the same goal so we need to collaborate.  

Last year I stumbled upon educational value of Twitter at the suggestion of a friend. On Twitter all of the educators are helping each other reach the common goal of student learning and quality teaching. Over the past year I have participated in many chats that have help me grow. The chats make me reflect on my teaching and give me insight into what other teachers are doing in their classroom.  I have found great tools and lesson ideas by being a connected educator. Better yet I have forged relationships with other educators from around the world. I have a large group of teachers to ask advice of, share ideas with, and collaborate. Observing a void in the conversation specific to the middle school needs, I along with my principal (@wwmsprincipal) have decided to start #mschat. Topics will be picked using a twitter poll, focusing on Middle School issues.

I encourage all educators to become connected. Start slow by following people you know. Lurk in chats, until you feel comfortable. I feel it is best just to try it out and find your comfort level. The community is welcoming and full of help. If you don’t understand how something works, tweet a question and the community will answer. Educators that feel isolated and want to get off the “island” need to explore all of the social media options and become connected.

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Todd Bloch is a 7th grade Science teacher with 12 years of teaching experience at Warren Woods Middle School in Warren, MI. He holds a M.A. degree in Middle Level education, and is inspired by his 3 children and wonderful wife to make a small difference in the world. Todd’s blog “Sweat to Inspire” can be found here.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

#urbaned: Building a Network of Connected Urban Educators

In today’s installment of our Connected Educator Month blog series, we’re handing our blog over to Ben Curran of Engaging Educators, moderator of the #urbaned chat on Twitter. Educators participating in #urbaned chat frequently discuss the achievement gap, poverty, and other negative issues that impact their students and communities. Many, many thanks go out to Ben, once again, for his invaluable collaboration which has been instrumental in in making our Connected Educator Series come to life. 

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We continue to be amazed at how exciting it was to start up a twitter chat for urban educators. More than that, though, it’s something we’re incredibly proud of. The beginning of Connected Educators Month is a great time to look back on how and why we started #urbaned chat, and how it turned out. I’m hoping our story will not only inspire urban educators to connect via the hashtag and the twice-monthly chat, but also inspire educators from all parts of the world to start their own twitter chats as well.

We first had the idea for #urbaned chat in the spring of 2011. As teachers in Detroit, Michigan who were working to build our personal learning networks, we noticed that there was a bit of a void when it came to connected urban educators. Not to say that there weren’t any, but that there was no forum or network around which we could connect, share, and work together. So, without really knowing exactly how it would turn out, we picked a day and time (first and third Sunday of each month), and we picked a hashtag (#urbaned… #urbanedchat just seemed too long) and started tweeting about it.

We remember that first chat very well. It was August of last year. The topic was how to build a network of connected urban educators. Neil and I had no idea how it would go, no idea if anyone would even show up. But several did…about 10 active participants, I think. And it was a fast paced hour. I remember feeling exhilarated when it was over. It was a powerful feeling, an awesome realization that we were starting to build something valuable.

The chats continued regularly throughout the school year and a core group of participants emerged. I loved that the dialogue was always open. People’s opinions were welcomed. We wanted people to be open and honest, and to push back when necessary. And they were, and they did. And every conversation left us feeling the same as that first did, even on slow weeks when only a couple people could take part. The topics were wide-ranging—and universal…we did this intentionally because we wanted educators from all walks of life, not just urban, to join the conversation. This didn’t always happen, but it remains a goal for future chats. Some of my favorite chats were on race, poverty, critical thinking, parental involvement, and dealing with struggling students.

Another thing that amazed me was how generous people were when our schedules started getting too full to moderate the chats during the spring. Several people stepped up to volunteer to “guest host” and they absolutely rocked it. This included author Barb Blackburn, edutopia superstar blogger Andrew Miller, and educator extraordinaire Darla Bunting (who did an amazing 2 part series on rebranding public schools). In fact, I’m pretty sure Darla drew in more participants than we ever did on our own! The chat itself really demonstrated the power of the network and the power of community, but it was especially evidenced by the fact that all these friends stepped up to help us out.

So should you participate in chats? YES. Should you start one of your own? YES!!! If you think there’s a topic worth talking about, I guarantee that there are others who want to talk about it, too. (And if you feel like your PLN isn’t big enough yet to successfully promote a new chat…let us know, we’re glad to tweet it out there for you!) It’s a great time to be a educator, especially a connected educator.

NOTE: #urbaned chat is on summer hiatus. It will return soon, stay tuned to our blog for more info. In the meantime, check out the archives on the #urbaned chat wiki.

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Ben Curran and Neil Wetherbee are an instructional coach and fifth grade teacher, respectively, in Detroit, Michigan. Founders of the #CCchat, they are the pair behind Engaging Educators, a firm dedicated to helping teachers engage the future. This fall, Ben and his blogging partner Neil Wetherbee will be hosting TenMarks webinars focusing on the Common Core State Standards.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

#5thchat: PD That Knows No Bounds

In today’s installment of our Connector Educator Month series, we’re handing our blog over to Ally Fly, organizer and moderator of #5thchat, a weekly Twitter chat for fifth grade teachers. On Tuesday evenings at 8pm EST, Ally can be found moderating #5thchat with co-moderator Cat Douthard. Many, many thanks go out to Ally for giving us a behind-the-scenes look at the work that goes into maintaining a weekly Twitter chat (and for buttering up yours truly, the TenMarks Blogger, in her introduction!).  

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Connected Educator Month & #5thchat

The Introduction …

Please indulge me a little … and allow me to start by saying that Jessy, Social Media Maven at TenMarks in San Francisco, has been a fantastic source of inspiration since I first encountered her on Twitter. She is clever, welcoming, funny and smart. So, when Jessy contacted me about “Connected Educator Month” (August 2012) and the idea of contributing to a blog series regarding teacher Twitter chats, I was intrigued, excited to share, and more than anything else, flattered.

… and so here is my contribution to “Connected Educator Month”, with a nod to “Teacher Chats” - one of the most effective ways to reach out to, learn from and share with other connected educators in a professional, productive and positive manner.

With regard to professional and personal development, I am always looking for the practical, applicable, relevant, personal, inspirational, progressive —- and twitter #chats are all of those things. These #chats, and Twitter, have most certainly breathed new life into my educational practices. They have opened my eyes to news ways of thinking. The people I am connecting with inspire me daily, and for that I am truly grateful. They are positive, progressive, creative, intelligent and professional. I hope they know just how wonderful they are —- & just how much my students, colleagues and I have benefited from all that they have shared.

Overall, these chats make me feel welcome within a community of learners who inspire me to be a better teacher ; they make me want to look at what I do every day in new ways. They also show me what’s possible, are motivational and often point me in new directions. These #chats are organic, flexible and progressive. They are always growing, changing, and moving forward. All that being said, if you don’t already participate in one then I encourage you to do so. If you do, then you know what I am talking about. Together we are better.

For the purposes of this blog, I am going to outline both how this chat came to be (A) & (B), and why I value it so (C).

Cheers,
Ally


(A) In the Beginning …

Just over one year ago, I was tooling around on Twitter and noticed that there were a number of “#chats” on the go …. I was most notably interested in and inspired by #4thchat. During this #chat, teachers (mostly those teaching 4th grade) met for an hour, once a week to discuss a predetermined topic of interest to educators. I loved learning, questioning and sharing with such a fantastic group and within such a “contained” format. I quickly came to appreciate the very nature of these #chats in that they are both incredibly flexible and structured by their very nature.
After a few sessions I put a proposal out there into the Twitter-verse:
"Was there anyone out there who was interested in a #5thchat?" … & guess what? There was!
Mostly notably Cat (@mrsd5107 who archives our chats! Yay!) and Amy (@Amy_Teaches) who created our Wiki responded almost immediately. Of note: Not only did Amy create our Wiki, but she also designed our Twitter-bird … andwhat a great job she did! I love it.
Almost immediately #5thchat took off! Every week a fantastic group of inspired educators meet to share their thoughts and ideas regarding a topic as voted on by them. We all share and learn so much every week.

(B) How #5thchat came to be (the steps that I followed):

  1. I put the idea out there into the Twitter-verse.
  2. I checked to see when other chats were taking place so that I didn’t overlap with anyone. Cybraryman’s Internet Catalogue - Educational Chats on Twitter  is the perfect place to start.
  3. I took an informal online survey (through posts) to find out when “most people” would like to chat.
  4. I asked for support: I asked several individuals in my PLN to spread the work … and that they did! Thank you!
  5. Amy offered to create a Wiki for our chat. This is a place that defines who we are, the chat, and archives them for future use. Note: If you archive the chat then people can focus on sharing ideas/thoughts/opinions and return to sites posted at a later date!
  6. Once everything was in place, it was time get the word out! I tweeted regularly and asked for support from others in order to get the word out … and it seems to have worked!
  7. I gave my PLN a voice. I put up a poll weekly using TwtPoll asking people to vote on their topic of interest.
  8. I post the results of the poll and remind people of up-coming chats.
  9. On the day (our #5thchat is every Tuesday from 8PM-9PM (EST)), we dive in and enjoy. Oh, and I don’t worry too much about directing the chat. I love that they are so fast paced, flexible and organic by their very nature.


(C) Why I love #5thchat: Alphabetically Speaking:

  1. Answering questions – #5thchat gives me that opportunity to share ideas and things that have inspired me and worked for me – I love giving back.
  2. Asking questions – #5thchat is like a crystal ball: Once I post a question, suggestions, answers & opinions come flooding in from all over the globe.
  3. Authentic - no one is “there” because they have to be … but rather because they “want” to be.
  4. Blogs – I have come across & bookmarked so many amazing blogs posted during our chats and archive for later review by Cat.
  5. Brief – the very nature of Twitter necessitates that questions & responses are short and sweet – we are forced to get to the point.
  6. Building relationships – I have met so many amazing individuals through Twitter. I truly value these relationships and I laugh & learn every day.
  7. Easy – I love how easy it is to use/manage.
  8. Fast!
  9. Flexible!
  10. Free – Need I say more?
  11. Flattening walls – #5thchat has created an international, global community. It knows no bounds.
  12. Information – It’s limitless.
  13. Instant feedback / real time – … because time is of the essence.
  14. Learning Curve – My learning curve is now ridiculous and I love it!
  15. Organic - it is always growing, changing & moving forward.
  16. PD – Twitter is my first choice for PD.
  17. PLN – I love my PLN!!!!!
  18. Sharing – It’s all out there for me to grab: links, ideas, sites, pictures, courses, etc.
  19. Webinars – I have found, attended and learned from so many amazing Webinars as suggested by my PLN.


Cheers,
Ally


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Ally Fly is a 5th grade teacher from Ontario, Canada with over 18 years of experience in the classroom. An enthusiastic moderator and connector of teachers and resources, Ally’s blog, “A Fly on the Classroom Wall” can be found here

Monday, August 6, 2012

#tlchat: The Librarian’s answer to #edchat

In today’s installment of our Connected Educator Month series, we’re handing our blog over to Jennifer LaGarde, a regular contributor to #tlchat, an award-winning, all-day Teacher-Librarian Chat that takes place on Twitter. Jennifer also maintains a blog here titled “The Adventures of Library Girl.” Many thanks to Jennifer for sharing her #tlchat experiences for Connected Educator Month.

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It’s no accident that #tlchat took home Edublog Award gold this year in the category of “Best Hashtag.”  Despite other heavy hitters nominated for the same honor, Edublog voters recognized the power of #tlchat - a Twitter hashtag, standing for “Teacher Librarian Chat,” that helps school librarians tag what they share as being related to or concerning school libraries.

When Joyce Valenza first proposed #tlchat, back in 2010, as the librarian answer to #edchat, she suggested that labeling our tweets with this hashtag would make our discussions “more findable and appear as more fluid conversations.”  I’m not sure she could have envisioned, (although maybe she did), how this simple idea would grow to become a uniting force among educators active in social media – a way, not only for teacher librarians to connect, but for others: classroom teachers, administrators and librarians from other disciplines, to see what school librarians value, are concerned with and are invested in.  By adding the #tlchat hashtag to our precious 140 character tweets, teacher librarians show that whatever the information being shared, it matters to teacher librarians.  And by combining #tlchat with other educational hashtags, we visually and succinctly illustrate how teacher librarians not only care about the same things all educators care about, but that we also have the skills necessary to impact practice in that area.   In a profession that is often separate and apart from other disciplines, #tlchat helps prove that we’re all in it together.

That’s a lot of power for 7 little characters.

For me, personally, #tlchat has become a “go to” spot for learning and sharing.  Not only does it help me filter the continuous stream of information that flows through Twitter, it also helps me connect with other librarians.  What’s more, because increasingly, #tlchat, the hashtag that was started for and by librarians, is being used by classroom teachers, tech educators, principals, and even authors, #tlchat continues to prove itself as a valuable resource in finding new and innovative people to follow and learn from.

Bottom line?  If you’re not following #tlchat, you’re missing out.  I don’t know what I’d do without it!  

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Jennifer LaGarde (aka Library Girl) is the lead librarian for New Hanover Schools and is teacher librarian at Myrtle Grove Middle School in Wilmington, NC. She is also a Nationally Board Certified School Librarian, Advocacy and Governance Chair for the North Carolina School Library Media Association, and a founding member of NCSLMA’s Young Adult Book Award. In 2011, she was awarded the “I Love My Librarian Award” by the American Library Association, the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the New York Times. She was also named a 2011 “Mover and Shaker by Library Journal.

Friday, August 3, 2012

#ptchat: Weekly Parent-Teacher Chat Built on Encouraging Research-Based Home & School Strategies

In the second installment of our Connected Educator Month blog series, we’re handing our blog over to Joe Mazza, host of the weekly Parent-Teacher Chat on Twitter which has been written about in Edutopia, Edudemic and Parentella. Weekly archives of #ptchat are available here, while Joe regularly shares resources on engaging parents in education on his blog, Electronic Family and Community Engagement. Thank you, Joe, for sharing your #ptchat experiences with our readers. 

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Parent-teacher chat or #ptchat is a Twitter “hashtag” for anyone seeking resources on engaging families in their schools and districts. Last summer I discovered Twitter to be the most useful professional development in the education world today, and began looking for hashtags that most closely related to my work at Knapp Elementary School and my graduate program.

Besides serving as a professional development hashtag, #ptchat hosts a weekly Twitter conversation around a given topic on Wednesday nights at 9PM EDT / 6PM PST. The parent-teacher chat is facilitated around the decades of family engagement research encouraging “parents as partners” in our schools. Parents, teachers, leaders and parent leadership groups all join us and contribute each week. We build conversations around supporting parents and teachers in partnership throughout the school year. The topics chosen are typically the ones relevant during a given time period of the school year, or other topics that prove challenging to successfully facilitating home-school partnerships in schools.

Other great hashtags for school leaders to frequent include #cpchat (connected principals), #edchat (education chat), #elemchat (elementary education) for the best applicable sharing in our education field today. If you want the latest research, innovative ideas and professional development, you find it on Twitter oftentimes many months before you see it anywhere else, especially in print.

The most valuable thing that’s come out of #ptchat for me is that I’ve been able to develop a large Personal Learning Network (PLN) of other educators and parents who feel as passionate as I do about home-school partnerships. These are the people I count on daily, and the more people you have working for your students, the best your school is going to be.

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Joe Mazza is principal of Knapp Elementary School in Lansdale, PA. He is a doctoral student who has worked with students, teachers and families as a 3rd grade teacher, bilingual assistant principal, middle school principal and elementary principal while working as a TV studio producer, webmaster and technology integration coach in each setting. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

#CCchat: All Common Core, All the Time

For the first installment of our Connected Educator Month blog series, we’re handing our blog over to Ben Curran of Engaging Educators, founder of the the Common Core State Standards resource chat on Twitter. This fall, Ben and his blogging partner Neil Wetherbee will be hosting TenMarks webinars focusing on the Common Core State Standards. Many, many thanks go out to Ben for his invaluable collaboration which has been instrumental in in making our Connected Educator Series come to life. 

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I first started exploring the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in the winter of this year. When I did so, I was pretty much on my own, at least in terms of my own school district. At that point in time, we hadn’t held any workshops or professional development on the standards or even discussed them at grade level, staff, or leadership team meetings. As a school and as a district, we were pretty much in the dark. And as I got to thinking, I figured that if we were behind in our CCSS planning, then others around the corner possibly were, too. I set out to immerse myself in the Common Core so as to share my learning with my colleagues and with my Personal Learning Network via Engaging Educators.

So, after realizing how overwhelming trying to teach yourself the CCSS by using Google can be, I thought of another approach. I decided I would attempt to gather and share Common Core info and resources using a twitter hashtag. Adding a regular weekly or monthly chat was a bit too much for my schedule, but I thought I would try for an “all-day chat” a la #CPchat (Connected Principals) and #TLchat (Teacher Librarians), two hashtags I follow that ALWAYS provide great resources and inspiring conversation. Thus, #CCchat was born. An all-day chat dedicated to the discussion of the Common Core and the sharing of Common Core resources.

In my mind, it made perfect sense. Common standards call for a common approach, a common conversation, and common efforts. What better way to do this than to unite like-minded educators around a shared hashtag? It has turned out brilliantly, catching on much faster than I ever would have anticipated. Each day a growing number of educators are sharing links and helping each other learn. If you’re learning about the CCSS yourself, you should be sure to follow along.

I’m quite proud of this hashtag “invention” of mine. I think that, in just a short time, it has helped teachers a great deal. I follow the #CCchat tweets very closely, and I love seeing new names show up in the feed. And I love seeing tweets like this one:

It’s been a great illustration of the power of the twitter educators’ network, and something I hold up as evidence of how all educators can benefit and learn from Twitter.

You should give it a try, too! Is there something you want to learn more about? Make a hashtag for it and tweet it out there. You’ll be amazed by what happens. (And be sure to tweet me about it so I can help spread the word, too.)

As for the Common Core, if it’s a topic of interest for you, be sure to follow #CCchat as well as the Engaging Educators blog, where we are trying to share as many CCSS resources and stories as possible.

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Ben Curran and Neil Wetherbee are an instructional coach and fifth grade teacher, respectively, in Detroit, Michigan. They are also founders of Engaging Educators, a firm dedicated to helping teachers engage the future.


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Happy Connected Educator Month!

Connected Educator Month

For many teachers, today usually signifies one thing— the end of summer, and the beginning of  the “Back to School” season. This particular August 1, however, is the beginning of something new entirely: the first-ever Connected Educator Month. Selected by the US Department of Education as a month to celebrate and focus on strengthening online communities of teachers and educators everywhere, Connected Educator Month kicked off today with an incredible series of teacher-focused events. Referred to by some as Personal Learning Networks or “PLNs”, the entire month will encourage teachers to make deeper professional connections with one another to positively impact their students and the future of the teaching profession.  

During the month of August, we’ll be sharing and spreading news about Connected Educator Month with our own PLN through all of our social media channels. While it’s no secret that there’s a vibrant and active community of teachers on Twitter, being a connected educator is about more than just tweeting. Throughout the month, we’ll be handing our blog over to educators to discuss their experiences of being connected to one another through blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Ning, Edmodo, Google + and a whole host of other organic communities that have developed among teachers all over the internet. For those already versed in being a connected, we hope to share some new and exciting resources for your own professional development. For new teachers, or those who are just beginning to connect with others, we hope to share tips and hints that will help you navigate the various teaching communities that can be found through social media. 

For more about the numerous professional development and collaboration opportunities available to teachers during Connected Educator Month, click here. If you’re following Connected Educator Month on Twitter, be sure to keep an eye on the #CE12 hashtag, and to follow us for exciting new resources and stories throughout the month of August! 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

ISTE 2012: Connections

Hi there, this time it’s literally @TenMarks here*! There have been a slew of posts across the edtech blogosphere since ISTE 2012, the annual convention of the International Society of Technology Educators— and after taking some time to reflect on our first ever trip there, we’re throwing our hat in the blogging ring to reflect on our experience as an ISTE attendee. 

This year’s conference theme, “Expanding Horizons,” focused on the ways in which educators could expand their classrooms and foster positive learning environments with technology. As a whole, the conference as a whole seemed focused on all things cloud, mobile, and social. There was much talk about blending and flipping classrooms, BYOD initiatives, flattening classrooms, and tablet computing. ISTE was the launchpad for a the Department of Education’s Connected Educator Month in August. For many teachers, ISTE was an invaluable event for the professional development experiences it offered. For us, though, the best part of ISTE was simple: connections.

Over the past year, we’ve had the pleasure of interacting with teachers from all over the country and all over the world through various social media channels. Some of you, we “see” regularly in blog posts, tweets and chats about once a week. We’ve heard about the tech tools you love to use in the class room, we’ve listened to your concerns about data and Common Core implementation in the classroom, and we’ve taken note of many of your suggestions to improve TenMarks for the next school year. Though social media has its fun moments, too— the #edubros had a pretty great ISTE moment, and you’ve met our office puppy, TenBarks, yes?— many educators use it to create vast Professional Learning Networks (PLNs) and use the resources they discover through those networks for professional development. As great as it is to be engage with connected educators and our edtech friends online, however, few ISTE 2012 moments were as cool as meeting the real people, like Ben (above) from Engaging Educators, behind the social media accounts that make up our own PLN.  
Above all, our tweetups at ISTE and the conversations we had with real TenMarks teachers inspired us to do more to connect with our teachers and to open up an even larger dialogue about what we can do to positively impact your students and your teaching. We want to hear more about how you use TenMarks in the classroom, and we want to know more about the real problems you’re working to solve in your communities, and we want to help you connect with one another for collaboration. Whether making better connections with our teachers means visiting as many TenMarks classrooms as we can, establishing online office hours for teachers + students to tell us what they need to make the most of their learning environment, or even creating our own Twitter chats about all things math + STEM… we’re committed to doing everything we can to be more connected to our educators and edtech friends.
One thing is certain— we can’t wait to see you next year in San Antonio! In the mean time, stay tuned for an upcoming post with details about the chats in which we’ll be participating this fall. See you soon! 
Thursday, June 28, 2012

Summer Upgrades: A friendly reminder!

TenBarks iPadThough summer is in full swing for many teachers + students, our TenMarks engineers won’t be getting much (if any) of a vacation! Because they’ll be hard at work making TenMarks better than ever, the FREE version of TenMarks for Schools will be unavailible from June 30th, 2012 through August 19, 2012. Teachers and students who use the free version of the program will be unable to access their accounts during this time. We encourage all teachers with a FREE TenMarks account to print any and all of the reports needed before Sunday, June 30th, 2012.

Our summer upgrades will not affect any TenMarks Premium accounts, but teachers and students using TenMarks Premium may get a sneak peek at some of the exciting features we’ll be adding into the program for next year. Some of the things you will have to look forward to include customizable and printable reports, non-multiple choice problems, smarter worksheets, expanded curriculum content, text-to-speech capabilities, parent accounts, games controls and more!

… no word yet on whether TenBarks (our office puppy) will be joining the engineers as they TenMarks their way through summer! In the mean time, feel free to share your TenMarks suggestions with us on Twitter, Facebook or Edmodo