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.
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!
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.
#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!
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!)
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.
#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!).
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).
(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):
- I put the idea out there into the Twitter-verse.
- 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.
- I took an informal online survey (through posts) to find out when “most people” would like to chat.
- I asked for support: I asked several individuals in my PLN to spread the work … and that they did! Thank you!
- 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!
- 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!
- I gave my PLN a voice. I put up a poll weekly using TwtPoll asking people to vote on their topic of interest.
- I post the results of the poll and remind people of up-coming chats.
- 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:
- Answering questions – #5thchat gives me that opportunity to share ideas and things that have inspired me and worked for me – I love giving back.
- Asking questions – #5thchat is like a crystal ball: Once I post a question, suggestions, answers & opinions come flooding in from all over the globe.
- Authentic - no one is “there” because they have to be … but rather because they “want” to be.
- Blogs – I have come across & bookmarked so many amazing blogs posted during our chats and archive for later review by Cat.
- Brief – the very nature of Twitter necessitates that questions & responses are short and sweet – we are forced to get to the point.
- Building relationships – I have met so many amazing individuals through Twitter. I truly value these relationships and I laugh & learn every day.
- Easy – I love how easy it is to use/manage.
- Free – Need I say more?
- Flattening walls – #5thchat has created an international, global community. It knows no bounds.
- Information – It’s limitless.
- Instant feedback / real time – … because time is of the essence.
- Learning Curve – My learning curve is now ridiculous and I love it!
- Organic - it is always growing, changing & moving forward.
- PD – Twitter is my first choice for PD.
- PLN – I love my PLN!!!!!
- Sharing – It’s all out there for me to grab: links, ideas, sites, pictures, courses, etc.
- Webinars – I have found, attended and learned from so many amazing Webinars as suggested by my PLN.
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.
Happy 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!
Math Madness: it’s taking over!
Since launching the Math Madness contest on Digital Learning Day, we’ve been busy crunching numbers, sorting classrooms and expanding the challenge to keep up with math mad students everywhere. We’ve seen thousands of students answer thousands of questions each day— a MILLION questions a week, total— and there’s still almost a month of competition remaining!
The positive response to the challenge has been so great that we added new prizes to the contest at its launch. In addition to each classroom being eligible to win an iPad 2, we’re awarding one classroom a week a free subscription to TenMarks Premium for the next school year! For the “Most Spirited” classes— those who share their contest spirit with pictures, stories— there’s also another opportunity to win TenMarks Premium for the next school year.
And of course, like any good “Madness” tournament happening this time of year (ahem, NCAA March Madness, anyone?!), there’s a Wildcard Challenge on the horizon. We can’t quite let the cat out of the bag yet, but this one is sure to kick the competition into a frenzy!
Do you have a class or student participating in the contest? Leave a note above in our Wallwisher Board (or leave a Facebook comment here) to cheer on your favorites! Be sure to include the class name or bib number so that students and teachers know you’re talking about them!
We win! (Again!)
Last week, we were pretty excited to get the “Cool Tool” award from EdTech Digest. We’ve been longtime fans of EdTech Digest— educational technology is our thing, how could we not be?!— and we were (and are) incredibly stoked that Victor Rivero not only thought that we were cool, but that we were included in such an impressive group of educational tools that have been doing great work to make a difference in classrooms all over the country. We’re proud to be in such great company, and we love our nifty gold seal.
This week, we’re all kinds of excited all over again, and here’s why…
When we weren’t looking, District Administration named as one of their Readers’ Choice Top 100 Products for 2011. Once again, we’re in the company of some incredible educational technology products— Edmodo, for example— and we’re incredibly honored to have been acknowledged as a K12 education product that supports education innovation. To date, TenMarks is used in over 30,000 classrooms with more than 2,000,000 math problems a week answered by students everywhere. Our goal is to change the lives of 2 million students by helping them learn math, and we’re working hard to reach it— getting an award here or there definitely inspires us to work harder to try to help bridge the gap in STEM education.