Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What's the Value of Social Media to Teachers and Students?

NOTE: I really would like to hear from you if you have a story about how you or your students use social media to enhance learning. Your comments are appreciated:)

I'm finding myself in more and more conversations in which I am defending social media in the classroom. I am grateful for the opportunity because for a while, the words "social media" would end a discussion about technology in the classroom before it began. Passionate, well-meaning educators refused to even consider social media as a topic of discussion, and would quickly change the subject, citing concerns about privacy, disruption, student safety, and liability, as well as stories about wildly inappropriate student behavior via social media.

All of these were (and are) valid concerns, and the response they triggered to resist acknowledging social media as part of the educational landscape was an understandable one (even if it was unrealistic).

What made the situation worse was that even if I could find someone who would entertain the notion of social media in the classroom, the examples of successful use of social media for education were few and far between, so finding enough examples to support an argument was often difficult over the last few years.

Even worse than that, because the adults who often help kids find their way in new social environments  (teachers and parents) were unfamiliar with and unwilling to enter into these social spaces, the kids who were entering into them in droves lacked guidance and made choices that only confirmed the fears of the adults who would block, ban, and shut down social media (if this were possible).

Clearly, carrying the banner for Facebook in the classroom made for a lonely parade in the beginning.

This year has been different, though. Suddenly, there are all kinds of resources that have been curated on how to use social media in all kinds of classrooms. We have more than enough success stories to show the positive side of social media in education, and the stigma of words like "Facebook" and "Twitter" seems less of a barrier for discussion. I realize that doesn't mean that the case has been made, but there is enough critical mass to at least expand the conversation beyond the early adopters whose tech-cred seems to limit their persuasive powers. "Sure, he uses Twitter in class, but I'm not 'techie' like that."

I had an enlightening conversation with a colleague today that helped me to get a sense of where we are now. She said, "I was afraid of the idea. Now I'm wary about the change, but I'm interested in learning more. What puts me off is a bunch of techies using language that I don't understand like 'crowd-sourcing.' What invites me in are examples of how social media can help kids learn more and do it better." This came about when another colleague shared how her daughter's journalism class is able to pull together photos for yearbook spreads by tweeting out a need for pictures from a particular event. Now a spread that would have taken days, can be done in hours. That's what we were missing before. Those kinds of stories from all kinds of teachers.

So I'm interested in finding better ways to make the case through great anecdotal stories of how real teachers are using social media in classes to make learning better. I'm interested in finding those stories that make it obvious to anyone that social media has a role to play in learning. I want to build a library of real, boots-on-the-ground, non-techie examples of what learning via social media looks like. I'd love to hear from teachers, principals, sponsors, and especially kids, so that I can begin to tell this story better, and we can all get past the discussion of whether social media has a place in learning and move on to the discussion of how we can best use social media to enhance learning. I welcome your comments and ideas below.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Twitter for Teachers

This post was originally posted at the ICATS 30-Day eLearning Challenge. Twitter is my ultimate learning playground and I hope this post helps some find their way into this form of learning.

For those who haven't ventured very far into the Twitterverse, the micro-blogging service Twitter can seem as though it's only purpose is to give people a platform for over-sharing ("Eating a cheeseburger at The Pub with my buddy @TechECoach") or to give snarky people a place to amuse themselves ("Flip-flops in 40 degree weather? #Genius #YourToesArentCuteIfTheyFallOff") or to give obsessive fans a place to gush about their latest passion ("Check out this pic of #LadyGaga taken at an #Arbys! Link").

Yes, this stuff exists on Twitter, but those who have gone deeper with this tool have discovered that Twitter has a lot to offer educators in terms of making connections with students and parents, collaborating with and learning from colleagues, and extending and enhancing learning.

Another complaint from those new to Twitter is how foreign the language seems with all of those symbols and abbreviations in each tweet. If this is off-putting to you, you may want to check out this link to help you get started. Learning just a few basics can make Tweets much easier to understand:

Twitter in Plain English
Twitter in 60 Seconds
Twitterholics Ultimate Guide to All Things Twitter
Mom This Is How Twitter Works

Twitter in Education

As more and more educators join Twitter, the number of ideas for using Twitter in schools grows. A simple Google search for Twitter in Education will bring up many resources worth exploring, and I encourage you to do so, but for those of you who are short on time, here are a few resources to get you started:

60 Inspiring Examples of Twitter in the Classroom
100 ways to Use Twitter in Education
28 Simple Ways to Use Twitter in the Classroom
100 Twitter Tips for Teachers

Some of my favorite examples of uses for Twitter in education include:
  1. Using Twitter as a backchannel for live discussions around an event. For example, students live tweeting to a hashtag during the Presidential Debate.
  2. Crowd-sourcing resources to a Twitter handle. For example having the student body tweet pictures of school events to the journalism department Twitter account.
  3. Using Twitter to find answers. For example, creating a Google survey and tweeting it out to collect responses from the world.
  4. Learning the art of brevity. For example, having students tweet book summaries, main ideas or short poems to share.
  5. Promoting the great things that are going on in class or school. Example, having a class hashtag or school account as a resource for parents to get updates or learn about your class/school.
And my absolute favorite use for Twitter is as a personalized method of professional development. I use Twitter to learn in several ways. First, I follow as many great educators as I can. I find that the educator Twitter community is full of people discovering and sharing great digital resources and teaching ideas. So, really, I am putting the Twitter community to work for me. The resources they share come to me pre-vetted by fellow teachers. Also, I like that I can pop onto Twitter at anytime and find something worth investigating because sometimes I only have a few minutes to spare, but I can use that time well by learning something new. Of course, I also do my best to share great resources that I find for others on Twitter.

Second, I learn by taking part in formal Twitter chats. There are several Twitter chats that happen weekly that really push my thinking and learning. It's nice to know that not only do I have local colleagues with whom I can learn and collaborate, I also have a world-wide community of educators who are dealing with the same issues that I am.

Finally, I learn via Twitter by engaging in direct conversations with great teachers who I otherwise wouldn't be connected. The Twitter education community has a very positive and welcoming culture that makes reaching out to someone I've never met easy and rewarding. I can honestly say I've had meaningful conversations with education leaders that I would otherwise have to pay a lot of money to see in an impersonal setting at a conference. I also know that if I tweet out a question to my followers, I will likely find someone who will tweet me back with an answer. The power of this personal learning network constantly amazes me.

Your Challenge

Take a few minutes to explore the links above. If you don't already have a Twitter account, start one, and try following a few people. Here is a link to some recommendations. You might also look at an education hashtag like #edchat or #INelearn.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Leading with the NETS

I gave a talk today at CELL 2012. Basically, I contend that The ISTE NETS standards are an excellent starting point for shifting learning for the Digital Age. I really think that the work we need to do in the years ahead have to begin with confronting our own fears and misunderstandings about teaching and learning and the role that technology can play in magnifying the best things we do in the classroom.

Here are the resources that I shared:



Friday, November 9, 2012

My Ten Most Viewed LiveBinders

I'm a big fan of using LiveBinders to curate and share web resources. The more I've been at it, the easier it becomes to find and share the right resource when a teacher needs it. I was reminded of this today because I ended up sharing three different binders with colleagues within the span of a half-hour, each of which spoke to a different project or problem that needed to be solved.

I share these pretty regularly, but thought I might take a moment to share the binders that seem to get the most attention. I hope you find them useful:

Monday, November 5, 2012

Book Review- Preschool Gems

In the interest of full-disclosure, I offered to review the book Preschool Gems: Love, Death, Magic and Other Surprising Treasures from the Mouths of BabesIn return, the author, Leslie McCollom, arranged to have a review copy sent to me. I've followed Leslie's Twitter feed @preschoolgems for over a year now, and I was excited to have the opportunity to see her work collected into a book.

"Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up." -Pablo Picasso

When I was in college, I wanted to become a poet. That is, until I found this weird little book titled Miracles: Poems by Children of the English- Speaking World. Whatever shot I had at pursuing a career in poetry was broken the day I opened that book because I was confronted with a clear sense of the gap between the simple, visceral imagery of children and the muddied, entangled language in my own work.

Kids are less-nuanced, but their language goes right to the heart of experience. I think this is because, for them, experience is so immediate. Over time, my ability to feel (and therefore write) like a child had been educated out of me. For a poet, this is a problem. Now I realize, I approached this equation in the wrong way. One does not become a poet. One remains a poet. I did not. I became a teacher instead. Now I try not to educate the artists out of children.

I mention all of this by way of introducing Leslie McCollom's delightful book, Preschool Gems: Love, Death, Magic and Other Surprising Treasures from the Mouths of Babes. This book is another stunning reminder of how powerfully creative and clear children's minds can be. I'm so jealous.

I first discovered Leslie McCollum via Twitter when someone I follow retweeted one of her amazing @preschoolgems tweets. I should explain that Leslie had the remarkable insight to realize that the preschoolers she teaches say magical things worthy of sharing with the world, so she shares them. In her own words, Leslie started Preschool Gems "because every time I forgot one of their dazzling quotes, it felt like a precious jewel had slipped through my fingers." I am grateful that she decided to do something about that, and her book is the result of her insight and stewardship.

In form, the book is a curated collection of some of the best quotes from her Twitter feed, organized into topics like "Having a Body," "Love and Friendship," and "Make Believe." I've struggled with how to share the power of this book without stealing from the reader the delight of enjoying each quote in context, so I'm going to give just ten reasons why I love this book, each with a single accompanying quote:
  1. I love this book because kids' logic accepts no prisoners, and refuses to be bullied by cold, hard facts: "You wanna know how I know fairies are real? Because I'm a fairy."
  2. I love this book because kids understand that we are more than our physical selves: "I've got the prettiest silly that you've ever seen."
  3. I love this book because kids speak cruel truths via amazing metaphors: "When wolves die they turn into dogs."
  4. I love this book because kids aren't limited to the classifications we learn in school: "You know what happens when you put feet and arms together? Feetarms."
  5. I love this book because kids recognize the magic in all of us: "I'm just a guy with pixie dust."
  6. I love this book because kids make complicated human motivations uncomplicated: "I had an accident. I did it on purpose."
  7. I love this book because kids know the power of Zen riddles: "OK, you guys are never gonna guess this so I'm just gonna tell you: basketball candies."
  8. I love this book because kids know what matters: "I don't care about time-outs. I only care about my life."
  9. I love this book because kids have a healthy sense of their own greatness: "You should be aware of my pretty moves."
  10. I love this book because it gives me hope: "Some teachers get littler and littler till they're kids."
I truly recommend this book (as well as Leslie's Twitter feed) as a restorative for those times when you know in your heart that the grown-up world is making things unnecessarily complicated and boring. Perhaps it will bring you philosophical clarity. Perhaps it will connect you with your inner-magic. Perhaps it will remind you about what and who matter in your your world. At minimum, you'll laugh a lot and get a bit littler in the process.