Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Teacher Creativity Skill: Solve a Problem

One of the essential skills that we all need to develop is the ability to solve our own problems. As we travel through life encountering and responding to problems, we develop a larger and larger palette of tools with which to solve the next problem. Building that toolbox helps us to feel confident in our ability to approach the world creatively.

In the Digital Age, we have a world of resources and opportunities to not only help us find answers and practice problem-solving, but to give us the resources for imagining and developing our own solutions to problems. Our Internet-enabled world can help us become better problem-solvers and can help us develop those skills in our students. I've shared just a few areas and resources below.

Finding An Answer

What did you do BG (Before Google)? I know that we often take our ability to find an answer at a moment's notice for granted, but it truly is an amazing gift to be able to access so much information with such ease. I often tease my kids when they ask a question to which there is an obvious "right answer" for not going right to their phones. I say, "If only there were some sort of device that was connected to a network of information and resources..." They roll their eyes, but this just goes to show you that just because we have the ability to get information this way, it doesn't mean that we have the workflow or skills to put that into practice. We all forget that we can use the Internet this way. Even my most tech-savvy colleagues will occasionally give me the opportunity to use the Let Me Google That For You Web Tool.

So one thing we can learn for ourselves and help our students learn is the ability to search for information well on the Internet. There are many great blog posts like this one that will give you handy tips and tricks for searching Google effectively. (If you want more, google "How to search Google effectively). If you are teaching these skills to your students, I'd definitely recommend Google Search Education and this infographic as a starting place.

Beyond Google, there are plenty of other ways to search for information on the web. There are, of course, plenty of other search engines and tools. More importantly, though, the Internet is a social space where you can ask a question directly to human beings. My favorite method for this is to ask a question on Twitter or in one of the Google+ communities that I belong to. Also, if there is a particular person to whom you would like to address a question, it is not hard to locate their contact information online and then reach out to them. I've often been pleased to find out that authors, thought leaders, and celebrities are more than willing to reply to an email, a tweet or a post on their social media pages.

Learning a Skill

I'm often surprised that people I talk to feel that they don't have time to learn how to do simple things. That is a mindset from a different era. If I could teach everyone just one lesson, it would be how to find instructional resources online. When I don't know how to do something, I don't call an expert first. I look to see if anyone has created a tutorial online. YouTube is an amazing resource for this. I use the search box to look for my topic (e.g. how to change a dyson vacuum belt) and I am presented with a list of video tutorials that step me through the process.

There are thousands of sites that are dedicated to helping people learn how to do all kinds of things. Check out this great list to learn about just a few of them. Some of my favorite places to learn new skills include: MindTools, DIY.org, LifeHacker, Instructables, MAKE, and Howcast. Of course, depending on what you want to learn, there are also great resources that are more focused on a particular topic. And again, there are great ways to connect with folks who share your passions through social media. Pinterest is an excellent example of a digital space where people share what they have learned to do.

Thinking Through a Problem

The digital world is a great place to sort through a problem as well. Anyone can collect great data to help them look at a problem using any number of online polling and survey tools. People can also map out their thinking using visualization and mind-mapping tools. Then, of course, if a digital solution to the problem is appropriate, there are hundreds of amazing tools that can be brought to bear on the project individually or in a combined form.

In fact, that is the healthiest way to think of digital tools. While a tool by itself has some functionality, it is when we use the tools we have together that we produce the best results. Try building a birdhouse with just a hammer or just a saw. Recently, I created this video during a workshop:

In order to create that product, my partners and I used a combination of GarageBand, Thumbjam, email, text, PhotoShop, BeFunky, Camtasia, and of course, YouTube.

We didn't set out to use all of those tools, but we pulled from the tools that we knew how to use to create the experience we were looking for (i.e. to solve the problem at hand).

Gaming for Practice

Another way that technology can help to build problem-solving skills is through gaming. Having students explore and create with games like Minecraft, solve puzzles digitally, and even create their own games is an under-utilized strategy in education. List list below represent just a few great resources to explore in this area:

TED Talks Gaming Playlist
PBS Kids Problem-Solving Games
The Problem Site
30 iPad Games for Your Brain

Problem-Solving Skills

Of course, ultimately we need to be purposeful in how we approach  problem-solving for ourselves and with our students. Creating environments in which students can safely take on the role of problem-solver is the focus of many of the most compelling initiatives in learning, including Project-Based Learning, Design Thinking, and the Maker Movement.

Learning about these pedagogical approaches is a great first step for bringing problem-solving skills to the classroom. While a Google search will get you there, You might want to begin with some of the premiere educational sights like Edutopia, TeachThought, Edudemic, and MindShift.

Our Challenge

Giving students the opportunity to identify problems and design and execute solutions is a big step from what goes on in the traditional teacher-centered classroom. Learning how to do this so that students develop confidence in their own abilities to creatively approach the world with a will to make things better takes a similar effort on our part to imagine classrooms that meet this need. Fortunately, we live in a time and place in which the the tools and community exist to make this a reality.

photo credit: colemama via photopin cc
photo credit: torbakhopper via photopin cc

Friday, December 13, 2013

12 Days of #EdTech

During this holiday season, I hope that each of you has the opportunity to reflect on the semester behind us, and dream big for the semester ahead. To help you on this journey, these are my virtual gifts to you. Please feel free to re-gift them :) 

On the Twelfth Day of #EdTech My Playground Advocate Gave to Me:

12 Tips for Creating Classroom Videos
11 Things to Know About Teaching Without a Textbook
10 Ways to Re-Imagine the Classroom
9 Lessons from Walt Disney World
8 Mobile App Reviews
7 Teacher Creativity Skills
6 Places to Find Apps
5 Pretty Cool Places to Play
4 Web Tools Demonstrated
3 (x10) Days of Digital Tools
2 Amazing Conferences
1 Go To Website for Educators

6 Places For Discovering New Mobile Apps

Teachers often ask me where they can find great educational apps. I learn about apps from a lot of sources, and not just from sites that curate lists of apps. However, having a short list of go-to sites that will keep you aware of the latest and greatest apps is definitely helpful. I have a list that I created with several of these sites. It can be a bit overwhelming, so if you aren't interested in picking through the entire list, I've included 6 of my favorites below:

Fun Educational Apps- Apps for iOS. This site has tons of reviews of apps from multiple content areas and age ranges. Plus you can sign up for free app alerts.

Smart Apps for Kids-  Another website that is searchable by age and subject-area. Sign up for email updates in multiple categories.

Edshelf- A great community of educators sharing their favorite digital tools, including apps. A super-useful space for discovering and sharing your favorite apps.

APPitic- Awesome site with curated lists of apps in many categories including apps for flipped learning, Challenge-Based Learning, and the ISTE NETS. Also includes supporting resources.

I Education Apps Review (IEAR)- Another community effort, IEAR includes tons of app reviews, but even more resources around using tablets and apps in the classroom.

Appolearning- A great site for finding both iOS and Android apps. The resources are organized by operating system, grade level, subject area, and task.

Of course, the best way to find great apps is to join the great conversations around Ed Tech on social media, to attend live and virtual sessions from presenters who have experience with tablets in the classroom, and to collaborate with colleagues to explore app solutions that fit your classroom best. Hopefully, the resources above can help drive those conversations.

If you have a favorite source for learning about educational mobile apps, I'd love to know about it. Please feel free to share that in the comments below.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Dreaming About What We Teach

This is the post I wrote last year for Brett Clark's 12 Days of Dreaming Series. I came across it today, and thought it was worth a second share. I'm still challenged by the final paragraph, and I wonder what progress I've made in the past year. You can view the original post at Brett's Education Dreamer Blog

As long as we're dreaming, I'd like to spend some time dreaming about a new focus for learning. As it stands now, students spend the vast majority of their time "learning" (read memorizing) content that has been divided into discrete subject-based boxes of time and being herded from place to place to add a physical separation to the temporal one. Our students chose these classes from a McMenu of choices that vary little from town to town across the nation, and that is further homogenized by corporate content engines that have a stranglehold on a curriculum that hasn't significantly changed in decades. The message to students is four-fold: 1. The subjects we offer are the ones that matter, 2. These subjects can adequately be learned in isolation from one another, 3. A person's worth as a learner is dependent on that person's ability to master a particular menu of subjects regardless of that person's particular talents, interests, or resources, and 4. The purpose of an education is to stockpile knowledge for later use.

This isn't the dream of learning that I hold for my own children, yet I drop them off everyday at the doors of schools that are set up the same way as I've described above. These schools are perfectly adequate, the teachers are more than capable and caring, and my children are happy enough to attend, but I feel I'm failing them because I can imagine something better.

My dream begins with the realization that the purpose of an education isn't to amass content-knowledge. Short of some very basic math, writing and reading content, there isn't any one piece of information that I could say is essential for every child to know in order to live a happy, rich and meaningful life. Note: I am not saying a child could be limited to the basics of math, reading and writing, and expect to live a happy, rich and meaningful life. I am instead suggesting that beyond those basics, any course of self-selected study could foot the bill, and given the on-demand access that today's students have to information, pre-packaging that information does nothing more than make our learning environments seem artificial. Rather than running students through a wide gauntlet of coursework that is of little relevance to the learner, why not encourage learners to engage with the content that speaks to them personally?

In my dream, the purpose of an education is to develop the habits of mind and skill-sets that bring the learner success and satisfaction and that will serve the learner well in the future. Every second that my children spend memorizing information that they could easily look up on their own, and that they did not select for themselves based on an intrinsic desire to learn, seems wasteful and wrong-headed. Every class that my children take to satisfy graduation requirements, instead of satisfying their own curiosity or desire to create, strikes me as a missed opportunity. Every time my children complete an assignment that they don't need in order to understand the material because it counts toward their grade, I cringe and secretly hope they will push back a little.

So, let's design schools that don't limit students to courses that are beholden to traditional subject-area designations. We could begin by offering cross-curricular courses that help students make connections among subjects. Moreover, let's offer more courses that fall outside of individual departments, such as philosophy or social networking or philanthropy courses. Let's create paths for students to design and complete courses that meet their needs as real people who are living in this world, as people who have aspirations beyond graduation. Let's refuse to let the needs of the system outweigh the needs of learners, or let the needs of the 19th and 20th centuries continue to define learning in the 21st.

 Let's design courses whose purposes are to build skills and enhance life.

I've said before that I wish my children could take Creativity as a class. I wish that their class schedule included 1st Period Collaboration and 2nd Period Advanced Leadership. I mean this. We don't have to get rid of other topics like English, History, Math and Science, but we can certainly offer them alongside Problem-Solving and Critical Thinking. Ideally, we would teach the content inside the framework of teaching skills instead of the other way around.

I also dream that at least 20% of my children's days would be devoted to Independent Research and Development. I dream that my children could choose to attend a school in which they would collaborate on teams to develop feature-length films, or solve community problems through design solutions, or answer questions posed by scientists.

And I dream that my children would be measured as learners not by the number of credits they check off of a pre-determined list or by the score they get on a single test over content from an isolated topic, or by the arbitrary measurement of how well they "play school." I dream that my children will one day be measured as learners by their satisfaction and success in their chosen field, by their contributions to their work and their colleagues, and by the passion and ideas they generate when pursuing their dreams.

All of this makes me wonder how I would be measured against this standard. I see this vision for learning so clearly, yet I relegate it to the land of dreams, an educational Camelot or Shangri La. Is it enough to write blog posts while my children play school? Is it enough to give a Like or a Retweet to others who suggest similar improvements? Is it enough to do my best inside a broken system, and blame my failures on forces beyond my control? Is it enough to continue to dream, or is it time to wake up? I think we know the answer.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Animoby- Cool Whiteboard App for Creating Learning Resources

Recently, I downloaded the Animoby App for my iPad. I've been looking for a whiteboard app that is free, teacher-friendly, and does what it says it will do, and Animoby definitely fits the bill. Here is an overview:

To use Animoby you will need to set up an account. You will be prompted to do this inside the app, or you can do so at the Animoby website.

From there, it is easy to learn how to use the app through Animoby's useful video tutorials and user-friendly Help menu.

Here are a few other introductory resources as well:

EDUTech Review
That's Absolutely Genius Review
Animoby: Animated Learning for Anybody
Tapscape Review
The Ed Tech Round-Up Review

An Example

I created this Animoby video as an example of what you can do with this tool:

You can also visit the link here: http://www.animoby.com/a/3243

What I Like About Animoby

One feature that stands out for me is the variety of pre-loaded images with which a user can work. I was especially pleased to see so many images and backgrounds for teaching math and music (two areas that require specialized symbols).

Additionally, I like the ability to bring in images from my photos or from DropBox or to even snap a photo for use while inside the app.

I also like having the ability to work in layers as I add elements to a board. This comes in handy as I am creating and I want to bring features to the front or move backward.

I definitely like the ability to create multiple boards and then create presentations with my own voice as I move through the boards like slides. I also like that I can start and stop the recording, rather than having to get my recording in a single take.

I can also share my presentation via email or facebook, so if I have an email list for students or a Facebook group, I could share the presentation with them directly. Each presentation I make has a unique URL, so I can also send them the URL for viewing, share it through social media- including Twitter and Google+- or get the embed code to include the presentation on a website or blog.

More importantly, I can have my students create presentations with Animoby, and we can share them with the world.

I also like that Animoby is now available for both iOS and Android devices, which makes it much more versatile in a BYOD environment.

A Few Limitations

With the free app, I am limited to videos of 2 minutes in length. While this is actually preferable when sharing video lessons with students, it does present some challenges for bigger topics. The solution to this is to purchase the paid version of the app for $7.99 which allows users to create videos of any length.

The paid version also allows users to make presentations that are private for selected viewers, a feature that some will consider valuable.

I would like more post-creation editing features, but that may fly in the face of the intent of the app- which is built to create videos with minimal fuss and bother. This could be fixed if I had the option to download my finished video from the website and bring it into a separate video editor. Again, this is not a feature that all folks might want, but it would appeal to some. Short of shooting a screencast of the video and then bringing that file into a separate editor, I don't see a solution to this. Hopefully, Animoby will add a few features for post-recording editing in future versions.

How to Use Animoby in the Classroom

Here are just a few ideas that I had for using Animoby in the classroom:

  1. Create short demonstration videos for students and parents.
  2. Create short lessons that teach a concept for reinforcement or flipped-classroom teaching.
  3. Have students tell short stories or make short story books that they read in their own voice.
  4. Have students demonstrate learning using.
  5. Have students create persuasive commercials.
  6. Have students teach a concept for younger learners.
  7. Have students create introductions of themselves.
  8. Have students create a music video using images and live performance.
  9. Have students show a process through pictures and voiceover.
  10. Have students explain a timeline of events through pictures and voiceover.
  11. Have students create Animoby presentations to enhance other projects in tools like The Mad Video, ThingLink, and Murally.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

My Edublog Awards Nominations

Here are my nominations for this year's edublog awards:

Best individual blog- Education Rethink- http://www.educationrethink.com/
Best group blog- MindShift- http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/
Best new blog- Edvolution- http://edvolution.info/
Best class blog- Oak Hill eLeaders- http://oakhilleleaders.weebly.com/
Best ed tech / resource sharing blog- EVSC ICATS- http://evscicats.com/
Best teacher blog- eLearning Educator- http://elearningeducator.blogspot.com/
Best administrator blog- Education Dreamer- http://www.educationdreamer.com/
Best individual tweeter- @mrg_3 and @INelearn
Best twitter hashtag- #INelearn
Best free web tool- Thinglink
Best educational use of a social network- #INelearn

Check them out :)

My #EduBroAwards Nominations

A little background... the #EduBroAwards is an awards show for education that is now in its second year. It's a cool idea that in the words of one of its creators, "was conceived as a way for people to celebrate one another after a long year of working hard, sharing, caring and generally being awesome...We want everyone to be recognized for how truly awesome they are. We have unlimited awards to give out and we can't wait to see the craziness that ensues when we hold our live Google Hangout to hand out the awards."

If you would like to learn more, you can go to this link, and if you feel so inclined, make some nominations.

Here are mine:

I would like to nominate myself, @twilhelmus, for the "Wind Beneath Brett Clark's Wings Award" It's true- Ask him.

As a result, I suppose I should also nominate @MrBrettClark for the "Wings Above Tim Wilhelmus' Wind Award"

Best Hug: @KylePace. Verified. Don't ask.

Hashtag Zeitgeist Guru: John Spencer- @edrethink - Responsible for #pencilchat #edcat and #mayanchildrensstories. BTW I'd like to get a conversation going around #wookiechildrensstories sometime in the next month.

Most committed and stunningly epic act of generosity by a keynote needs to go to Leslie Fisher- @lesliefisher - who flew the red-eye last minute from California to Newark to Indianapolis to deliver an amazing keynote when the scheduled keynote had to cancel. #Props

Most likely responsible for the inexplicable performance of the Irish in last year's ND-Bama National Championship game: Amanda Dykes- @amandacdykes- I have my suspicions that she has unknown powers.

Best Road Trip: Clearly the #edubros tour that kicked off in Indiana.

Best excuse to ditch a conference and play with a new toy: @twilhelmus @lesliefisher and @jeffTron71 testing out Sony products at EPCOT- http://educationambassador.com/resources/entry/sony-at-epcot

Best non-education Twitter Chat that educators should check out: #DThink

Most likely to change the world through optimism: Shelly Terrell- @ShellTerrell.

I am looking forward to the Awards show on Wednesday December 18 at 8:30PM EST.


My wife, along with several other people I know, has been making daily posts on Facebook this month, sharing the things she is thankful for. It's a wonderful exercise in mindfulness, and while my effort below isn't as extended or as broadly-focused, I thought that now would be a good time to put into words the things for which I am thankful in education. I offer them in no particular order:

  1. I am thankful for those who teach my children, not just in the classroom but in their homes, at the YMCA, at the libraries and the auditoriums. I know you share the pleasure I feel as they grow as people.
  2. I am thankful that I work for a school district that cares so much for the individual and that invests so much in their personal and professional development.  And I am grateful for the team I work on and the folks I report to. I love my job and am deeply grateful for my colleagues.
  3. I am thankful for my PLN. I learn everyday from passionate people locally, across the state and throughout the world. The generosity of spirit that exists in the communities, groups and hashtag chats I belong to inspires me.
  4. I am thankful that I live in a country where people care enough about educating everyone that they have ongoing debates and arguments over how best to do it. I appreciate my right to make my voice heard.
  5. I am thankful to live in a time and to have a career that demands more of me creatively, but that also offers me more creative options and opportunities. I am thankful for the tools that I have at my disposal that didn't exist even 5 years ago.
  6. I am thankful for the opportunity I have to work with learners of all ages. When I was in the classroom, I saw learners through a single lens. What a joy to see the whole person learning from pre-school to adulthood.
  7. I am thankful for the spark that I see when a learner's curiosity is engaged and their joy for learning is ignited. 
  8. I am thankful for the reflective teachers who come to work everyday purposefully trying to design learning experiences that matter to each learner individually, and who share their successes and failures with other teachers in a spirit of collaboration.
  9. I am thankful for the friends I've met this year, for the opportunities they have brought to collaborate, and for the organizations I've had the chance to serve.
  10. I am thankful for the feedback I've received from the people who attend my workshops, read my posts, and participate in my projects. It's my pleasure to serve, but I appreciate those who have helped me grow and have affirmed my work.
  11. I am thankful to live in a family full of teachers. Forgive my bias, but having that many folks around me who have made the sacrifices it takes to support others as they grow is a real gift. 
  12. I am thankful for the rare but essential quiet moments in the school year when we remember that there is so much more to our lives and the lives of our students than the academic march we make from August to May.
While education can feel like a thankless job when folks politicize it for the sake of soundbites and corporate agendas, the reality is that real people recognize and appreciate the purpose we've committed ourselves to, the difference we make in the lives of our learners, and the care we take to do the job well. 

Thank you, my friends, for everything that you do. I hope you have a restful and fulfilling holiday weekend.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The colAR App: Another Great Place to Play

When I was a kid, I used to love to draw and color. I would draw airplanes, battle scenes, dinosaurs, and blueprints for the ultimate underground hideout. There is something awesome about the act of creating visual representations of the things your mind imagines. Now I have the joy of watching my youngest daughter do the same. Of course, her world is filled with ponies, animals, rainbows, and balloons. I can tell that hers is a happy universe.

Even coloring pre-made color sheets was a great diversion for me. Honestly, it still is. I like that I have the choice of what colors to use, when to stay in the lines and when to go rogue, and when to add my own elements. And now, because of an amazing app, I can take the fun of coloring to a new level.

The colAR Mix app is a great tool that allows me to bring coloring pages to life through Augmented Reality. This is how it works: I print out a special coloring page available at the colAR website, I color the page to my liking, and then I use the app on my tablet to view the page I colored. When I do that, the objects on the page spring to life. This is seriously cool. Here's a video:

The colAR app is available for both the iOS and Android environments.

While I don't need every picture I color to spring to life at the touch of a button, I do love that I live in a world where someone thought this would be a good idea. It reminds me of the power of technology to bring an extra dose of wonder to a kid. I can't wait to take this home and share it with my daughter.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Thrilled to be Hosting the 1st Indiana #GAFESummit

I have the pleasure of working for a forward-thinking school corporation, and I am blessed to have a job that gives me the opportunity to work with teachers to find meaningful ways that technology can enhance teaching and learning in the Digital Age. Like all educators, our teachers live in a constant time-crunch, and if I can help them by bringing them opportunities to learn about great tools that not only improve work, but also transform learning, I am all about it.

That's why I am so thrilled to share that the EVSC is hosting the very first Google Apps For Education Summit located in Indiana. I'd like to think that our reputation for excellent professional learning opportunities precedes us now that we are in our 6th year of hosting the EVSC eRevolution (save the date for July 9th and 10th, 2014). But even if Google's interest in partnering with us is based on our central location- 2 hours from Nashville, 1.5 from Louisville, 3 from St. Louis, 3 from Indianapolis, 4 from Cincinnati, and 6 from Chicago- I love that we can make this experience easy to access for our own educators and can build a stronger PLN in the process.

Here's a little information:

Location: Harrison High School in Evansville, Indiana

Date: February 15 and 16, 2014

Website: Indiana GAFE Summit Site

Details: This high intensity two day event focuses on deploying, integrating, and using Google Apps for Education and other Google Tools to promote student learning in K-12 and higher education.

The program features Google Certified Teachers, Google Apps for Education Certified Trainers, practicing administrators, solution providers, Google engineers, and representatives from the Google in Education teams.

Sessions include two keynote presentations, a demo slam competition, and a closing capstone session - plus two full days of informative breakouts, cutting-edge demonstrations, and hands-on workshops led by experienced and knowledgeable professional developers.

  • Deployment & Management of Google Apps
  • Google Apps Scripts
  • Google Apps for Education Certification
  • Chromebooks in Education
  • YouTube for Schools
  • Google Docs, Google Sites, Google Calendar, Gmail power tips, and... even more!

All presenters are Google Certified Teachers, Google Apps for Education Certified Trainers, Google Employees, or teachers with local success stories!

Additionally, there are 1&2 Day Pre-Summit Workshops for those who are interested. The location for the Pre-Summit is the EVSC Technology and Innovation Center.

Register now to send teachers, administrators, tech directors, library media specialists, tech support staff, CTOs, and anyone who is interested in finding out more about leveraging Google Apps for Education to support student learning.

The Summit includes free parking, free wifi, free continental breakfast, and free lunch.

Registration Link: Register for the Indiana GAFE Summit

We would love for you to join us in February for a great weekend of learning and collaborating around Google Apps for Education. If you would like more information, you can check out the website or email the ICATS.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

4 of My Favorite Web Tools Demonstrated

I've been working on building resources for a website I use to support one of my presentations. In the process, I've been doing some short screencasts that demonstrate the basics of using some of my favorite web tools. I created these screencasts using TechSmith's Camtasia, another of my favorite creativity tools.

Anyway, I offer these screencasts here as an opportunity to perhaps discover a new tool and have a starting point to learn how to use it. Each of these tools is free, easy to use, and does what it says it will do.  I hope you find them valuable:





Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Check Out Google Connected Classrooms!

Okay, this is pretty cool. If you are looking for ways to connect your classroom with the world and to give your students really unique experiences that might not otherwise be available to them, I encourage you to check out Google Connected Classrooms!

If you want to know more about this program, you can check out the FAQ page.

For more information on using virtual field trips in the classroom, you can visit this recent post.

If you would like more information about Google+, check out my G+ LiveBinder.

If you've gone on a virtual field trip via Google+, I'd love to hear about your experience. Feel free to share with us in the comments below:)

Monday, November 4, 2013

11 Things I Think I Know #EdTech Folks Really Want to Promote

I had an important conversation with my wife (a classroom teacher) the other day that reminded me (an educational technology coach) how easy it is to be misunderstood. I was trying to understand how I could more effectively reach teachers with the resources and messages that I am trying to promote. In my mind, it was a question of efficiency and communication. How do I best reach my audience, and under what circumstances are they most likely to be open to working with me.

My wife in her classroom
What she shared opened my eyes. She was pretty direct in saying that the product I was selling wasn't one that many people saw a need for or wanted. Teachers who already use technology well in the classroom don't feel that I have much to offer that they don't already know about, and teachers who aren't using the technology my district provides to its full potential have already determined that they don't have the time or interest in learning what I have to offer. This leaves a small group of people who are interested and need my help, and they are overwhelmed in a sea of mandates that make every initiative a priority. In short, if all I am offering are more tools to learn, I'm going to have trouble connecting with an audience.

Now you might think the message I took from this was that my colleagues and I are fringe resources that don't have much hope for affecting classroom instruction, that our mission is out of step with the direction our corporation (or education generally) is headed.

Nope. My epiphany in this conversation was that folks think my job and mission are to get people to use technology for its own sake. They seem to think that the tools, tips and tricks that I offer are the meat and potatoes of what I know about great teaching and learning. The message was pretty clear that I had become associated with my skills in technology and not my skills in the classroom. I'm perceived as a trainer, not an educator.

I'm not going to lie. That stings a little.

But I also see the problem here. I spend a lot of time providing support in terms of introducing new tools (the what) and explaining how to use them in the classroom (the how). However, I am clearly not spending enough time sharing why using technology proficiently in the classroom matters (the why). Simon Sinek would suggest that I haven't adequately made the case to teachers that what I know is relevant to their goals as an educator.

What we have here, is a failure to communicate. 

If you ask any Educational Technology specialist or coach what makes compelling teaching and learning, they will not go to the list of tools in the toolbox. They will go to the list of practices that enable a person to reach their learning goals, and then they will add that technology has the ability to magnify those practices in the service of learning.

With that in mind, I offer these 11 goals that I think I know we EdTech folks are trying to achieve:

  1. We want kids who care about and are connected to the world. Students who can see things through multiple lenses and who can empathize for people who are different from themselves are less likely to jump to rash conclusions, are less likely to de-humanize others, and are less likely to misinterpret what others are trying to communicate. Connecting to and communicating with the world broadens perspectives, teaches ethics, challenges preconceptions, and inspires wonder and creativity. Technology makes connecting to the world easy.
  2. We want kids who know how to create rather than merely consume. In a world in which information is easily obtained, school no longer needs to focus on content acquisition. Instead it need to focus on skills development. Students need to learn to create in multiple formats. Creativity is the top level of Bloom's Taxonomy and represents the highest form of learning. Students who are engaged in conceptualizing, designing and enacting projects are learning authentically, and technology has the power to enable and enhance every step of the creative process.
  3. We want kids who work well with others. Humans are social creatures who share multiple environments. The ability to collaborate effectively, meet responsibilities inside a team, and use one's talents and experience to affect group work is essential to successfully navigate an increasingly connected world. The skill sets related to collaboration include compromise, organization, responsibility, communication, and persuasion. Technology can make collaboration more efficient, can extend collaboration to wider networks, and can make collaboration possible beyond the class period or school day.
  4. We want kids who communicate well and can express themselves persuasively. Giving students a voice and teaching them to care for how they express their ideas is increasingly important in a world that hands everyone a camera and microphone. Learning lessons related to audience, message, style, tone, and subtext are essential. Students need communication skills more than ever, and while those skills begin with oral and written communication, they expand to include the special skills related to artistic expression, digital communication and modern social contexts. To communicate well today means using technology to amplify one's voice and message.
  5. We want kids who are able to answer their own questions and solve their own problems. Learning informally has never been easier. Students now go to the Internet to learn information as needed. Students are teaching themselves skills and finding teachers and mentors online for everything from learning language to playing instruments.  Knowledge and skill development is inexpensive and easy to find on the Internet. Yet, students still need teachers and schools to help them to best use these online tools. Students need learning coaches who can help them by introducing them to the concepts they aren't familiar with, teaching them to vet information and use it logically, honing their learning skills, and guiding them to set new learning goals and aspire to greatness. Technology enables students to take more and more charge of their own learning while teachers help students develop the learning habits that will make them successful. 
  6. We want kids who are well-informed and decent citizens. Learning to think critically and to act with a sense of civic responsibility has always been a goal of public education. We want kids who don't get bamboozled by people who would take advantage of them. We also want kids who will make the right ethical choices to protect their reputation, serve their community, and avoid hurting the rights and interests of others. This is a hugely complex set of skills that we attempt to develop in our children. In today's world this is made even more complicated because kids can make mistakes much more publicly online. Technology can enhance a child's ability to be informed, and can just as easily mislead a child if he is not well-trained in using information. Teaching children these lessons via online environments can help them to make better choices when they are online without us.
  7. We want kids who are able to make sense of new information and organize their thoughts. The ability to adapt to new information and make decisions based on careful consideration of information will help our children make good choices and respond to change. This is especially important in the Digital Age when searching for information online has been compared to trying to drink from a firehose. The benefit to having access to all of that information can be nullified if we don't help students develop the ability to analyze, synthesize, curate and organize the digital information they encounter. Technology can help students find, organize and keep information that they find valuable, while teachers help them understand how to verify, consider and apply that information.
  8. We want kids who know how to balance the real and virtual worlds. There is no doubt that students struggle with balancing their digital and physical worlds. The digital world is built to be compelling. Yet the solution to this problem is not to avoid the digital world. Instead, we need to help students to see when the digital world is the most productive place for us to do our work, and when it isn't. We need to help them develop the ability to recognize in themselves when they are using their time well and when they are not. If they don't build this awareness now, they will likely pay for it later. Learning to use technology as a tool when it is appropriate is akin to teaching them to use a hammer. They need to practice with the tool, but they also need to learn that the tool won't fix every problem.
  9. We want kids who will lead in the fields that interest them. Students should be using their time with us to discover their passions and develop their skills in the areas that they have an affinity for. Students should be bringing their interests and talents to the work they do in our classes. The way they will eventually become leaders in their chosen fields is through hard work, exploration and risk-taking in areas that matter personally. To help them develop in the areas that matter to them, educators need to have the flexibility it takes to differentiate for students based on interests, strengths, and opportunities. Technology opens doors for teachers and students to personalize what is learned, how it is learned and how learning is demonstrated. Personalizing learning allows students to ramp up their expertise and abilities and prepares them for leadership roles as they develop.
  10. We want kids who are curious and have passion. At the end of the day, we need help students maintain and develop their own curiosity and sense of wonder about the world. This will help to ensure that they become life-long learners who are capable of tending to their own growth and happiness in their lives. If we have one mandate above all, I would argue that it is to nurture the natural tendency toward learning that all people possess. To help our students explore the world, to encourage wonder, and to build-up the learning habits that lead kids to answer their own questions and realize their dreams. Technology doesn't create this, but it can enable it by giving us access to ideas, places and people we didn't have access to before and by giving us new ways to answer the questions that drive us.
  11. We want kids who are happy and who find their place in the world. I can't think of any reason that drives my passion for education more than this. What do I want for any child? Happiness and a sense of belonging. Those things can be hard to come by for some kids, and educators need to take responsibility for providing that before anything else. In our classrooms and schools, we can do much to support this, but technology can help us even more. Helping students develop their personal learning networks (PLNs) can be one way to help students "find their tribe" when their options are limited otherwise. The friendships that people develop virtually can be as important as the ones they develop in person, and our ability to help provide those connections is supported through technology.
I have to believe that most educators share these goals. They represent some of the core values of education that coaches and leaders in the EdTech community are aiming to promote and enable.

If I've failed in the past to convey that before launching into my "10 Latest Tools" song and dance, I apologize. I hope you know that I came to this work through a genuine interest in how best to make a difference for kids, that I recognize that it isn't the tool alone that makes learning with technology successful, and that my interest in working with teachers has nothing to do with pushing a particular set of solutions and everything to do with helping teachers grow in their practice.

My takeaway is that I need to lead with "the why" when I reach out to my colleagues. Their time is limited and valuable, and they want to know what they will get from time spent with me. I need to share with them why this conversation matters and how it can make a difference for kids. I've definitely got more to think about when it comes to how to apply this lesson, but I'm grateful to my wife for reminding me to put what's important into words.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Lessons from WDW #9: Positive Messaging

I've been thinking a lot about student happiness lately. We know that students learn better when they feel comfortable and happy. I also contend that learning itself can create happiness, but there are undeniably factors that can influence a child's happiness that are out of our control. When a child is unhappy because of external forces, there isn't much that we as educators can do in the short term except listen to the child, help them find the resources they need to address their unhappiness, and advocate for them when others don't. Admittedly, that itself is a tall order.

But I'm more interested in the ways that we can help to support and elevate a child's happiness more generally. How do we inspire happiness in a kid who doesn't feel unhappy, but whose mood is not yet determined? How do we create an environment that promotes happy moods?

As is usual with these posts, I'm taking as my muse the work of the folks at Walt Disney World. Based on my experiences at the Disney parks, I believe I can point to some very intentional choices that the Disney folks have made to try to ensure that park guests are prone to having a happy experience even when other factors (crowds, heat, toddler meltdowns) might lead them in a different direction. I also believe that many of these choices can be understood as intentional positive messaging.

What Disney Does

The experience that started me on this thought-tangent was riding in the car with my children, listening to a Disney playlist on my iPod. The kids were all singing along (I was, too), and I was struck by how many songs had positive, life and self-affirming messages. This led me to think about the many times I've found myself happily singing along to Disney standards at Downtown Disney. The songs they pump through the speakers there (as well as the live music offerings) all have the effect of elevating mood. This isn't surprising, of course. We've known for a long time that music can affect mood. This is the reason you won't walk into a retail store or restaurant without discovering a carefully curated soundtrack for your shopping or dining pleasure. What makes the Disney version of this so pronounced is that the music is not only happy in meaning and tone, but it is also associated with happy memories the listener has with the narratives (rides and movies) that the music represents. Taken all together, a playlist of Disney songs becomes a potent mixture of memory, verbal cues, and musical reinforcement.

If you don't believe me, spend a little time with this playlist:

Another way that Disney reinforces positive emotions is through the written messaging that happens throughout the park. Not only are there signs that politely guide guest movement from place to place, but there are all sorts of written cues across the parks and in the lines that subtly share positive messages. Over and over, words like "Magical," "Enchanted," "Pleasure, " and "Wonder" appear in written messages that visitors see. The vocabulary of Disney is purposeful, and its positive slant finds its way even into attractions that might otherwise have a darker tone (I'm thinking of the "Happy Haunts" in the Haunted Mansion).

Another visual tool that Disney uses to affect mood is the color palette from which they work. Again, this isn't much of a surprise given the amount of research that exists on the psychological affects of color, and also given the artistic talent that fuels Disney design. In the parks, color itself can be a playful source of joy, from the changing colors of the lights that reflect off of Cinderella's Castle at night to the colorful interactive structures that follow the Journey Into Imagination ride. The stimulus-rich environments that the Imagineers craft not only combat boredom, but they actively engage the mind.

Perhaps the most remarkable tools that Disney has at its disposal for promoting positive messages are the many cast members who interact with the guests every day. I can honestly say that I have never had a negative interaction with any cast member, whether it be a character, a food server, a shop clerk or a street-sweeper. They are always impeccably polite, helpful, happy, engaging and quick to step in and make a difficult moment (like a toddler meltdown) better. The feat here, of course, is that they are all humans. They can't possibly be that happy all of the time. Yet, I've never seen a crack in that facade. I suspect that it is a combination of genuine enjoyment of their jobs, exhaustive training, immersion in such a positive culture, and a true desire to be a good host. Whatever it is, the cast members make a visit to Disney that much more enjoyable when in other places the staff do not. Service with a smile is alive and well in Walt Disney World.

I'm sure I could go on, but these examples alone make it clear that Disney has been very thoughtful and thorough when it comes to promoting happiness among its guests. To some, this type of skewed emotional messaging can come off as saccharine, but Disney is so complete in their approach to this that it's hard to fight the effects over time. They don't call Walt Disney World the Happiest Place on Earth for nothing.

How Can We Do This In Education?

This leads me back to my original question. How do we do the same thing for our students? Are we capable of creating an environment that reinforces positive emotions for our learners? To what extent do we use music, language, signage, color, and our personal interactions to create a space in which children are happy to be with us? Can we create a culture of playful exploration where students are less likely to be derailed by difficulty, boredom, or discomfort?

While I recognize that the Disney folks have an amazing set of resources at their disposal to put into that work that schools typically do not, I do think that as educators, we can take a critical look at how we shape our environment and our interactions with kids to enhance their mood and prepare them for learning. I'd encourage any educator to go through the following exercise and see what it reveals about the emotional messages we are sending to kids:

Ask yourself:

  • What do my students hear in my classroom/school, and what impact might that have on their mood?
  • What messages are visible in my classroom/school, and what is the tone of the language in those messages? What are the key words that students see throughout the day in my classroom/school?
  • What do my students see in my classroom/school? What colors are there? What shapes? Is there variety? Is the environment whimsical or stark? What are the implied messages of what my students see in my classroom/school?
  • When I or my colleagues talk to students, what does that sound like? What is the tone? Am I/are we contributing to an environment that feels comfortable/safe/happy? What types of voices are my students hearing everyday?
  • When I look at my students, do I see evidence of happiness? Do my students look stressed? Depressed? Engaged? Excited? What messages are my students sending me about my classroom/school?
  • To what extent is my students' happiness a priority to myself, my colleagues, my school? If it is, what is my evidence for that? If it isn't what is my solution to that?
  • If my students drew a picture of my classroom/school, what would it look like? And what would that tell me?
  • What can I do to make sure that the learning space I am responsible for represents my hopes for kids.
In the end, I feel certain that we all want students who are happy and ready to learn, but I also realize how difficult it is to ensure that for a majority of students daily in an environment that prioritizes other things. We're human, and the work can be frustrating. But I also feel certain that when we are purposeful in how we create the messages we want to send, we are more successful than when we don't pay attention to these details.

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photo credit: @edrethink via flickr cc

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Teacher Creativity Skill: Go Somewhere You've Never Been

In the same way that meeting new people is a good catalyst for creativity, experiencing new places can change your perspective, can inspire wonder, and can lead to new ideas. Think back to the times in your childhood when you had the opportunity to visit a new place. It could have been local, like a museum or zoo, or it could have been somewhere else, perhaps a new city or even country. There is no doubt that there is value in giving kids the gift of new experiences.

Unfortunately, in our current environment of high-stakes testing, shrinking budgets, and standardized curricula, the field trip is a rare occurrence, despite its obvious benefits. Even worse, when these types of experiences are forced into the extra-curricular arena, it is often the students who are least likely to be able to have these types of learning journeys at home who are also least likely to be able to take advantage of them at school.

Because of that, if we want to encourage creativity in all of our learners, we need to find ways to give them new experiences in the classroom. Thankfully, technology makes this much easier than it was in the past. I've already shared ways that you can bring new voices into the classroom in an earlier post. In addition to that, technology gives us all sorts of windows through which we can experience the world, even when a field trip is financially or logistically out of reach.

Connecting to the World

One option is the virtual field trip. All sorts of organizations and locations from national parks to museums to historical landmarks have online virtual tours that emulate the experiences that are available to their visitors for free. While no one could argue that visiting virtually is the same as visiting in person, many virtual tours are engaging, and even interactive. What's more, the variety of virtual tours means that any teacher can find relevant tours to share with their learners. Also, Google+ offers offers amazing field trips through its Connected Classrooms program.

Google Earth is another great way to explore the world from inside the classroom. Google Earth has tons of great places to explore, you can even create your own narrated tours. In addition, there are some great experiences from Google Lit Trips, W.W. Norton US History Tours, and the Google Earth Blog.

Another option for virtually going to places you've never been is to use a live online webcam feed. There are hundreds of live webcams around the world that can be accessed for free on the Internet. Many zoos, aquariums, cities, and parks have live feeds that are fun to watch. You can even watch the goings on at the International Space Station. You can also find some fun featured shows on USTREAM.

I'd also recommend using Skype to access folks from all over the world. Taking the time to connect with people from different places can add a face and a voice to those places. There are a lot of ways to find people to Skype with in the classroom, but I would recommend beginning with Skype in the Classroom. There you can find other educators who are interested in connecting to expand their own classrooms.

I'm sure that there are other ways that you can visit new places from inside the classroom. I would love to hear from you about resources you have found that allow your students to see new sites and experience the world.

Our Task

Ultimately, our task is to help students grow creatively by expanding their horizons. We can do this in lots of ways because of technology. Doing so, will not only inspire curiosity and raise questions to think about, it will also prepare our students for a world that is increasingly connected. To develop the skills that they need to function in a global society, we must first develop those skills in ourselves, and we can begin by seeking ways to bring the world into our classrooms everyday.

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Monday, October 28, 2013

The EVSC ICATS 30 Day Challenge is Back!

For the past 3 years, the EVSC ICATS have hosted a 30 Day Digital Tools Challenge. The goal is to create conversations among teachers around how great digital tools can be used effectively in the classroom. Each day, the ICATS introduce a tool, share some resources for getting started with that tool, and invite participants to share how they see that tool fitting into their classrooms. While we hope the posts themselves will be excellent resources for busy teachers, we know that the most compelling part of the challenge is the list of ideas that the participants generate in the comments.

This year, the challenge runs from October 28 to December 11 (we don't post on holidays and weekends). Participants from inside the EVSC and outside the EVSC can earn Professional Growth Points and will be entered in a drawing for other great prizes by completing the challenge.

To learn more about the challenge and how to participate, you can read this post on the ICATS site.

The links to the posts are below:

Day 1 #30DC13: Gravatar Your Avatar!

Day 2 #30DC13: Tell Your Story With Tellagami

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Teacher Creativity Skill: Meet Someone Amazing!

This being Connected Educator Month, I've been reminded over and over about the power of connections. Sometimes meeting someone new changes your whole perspective on the world, and collaborating with someone new can change how you understand the work that you do. It's all about expanding your horizons and finding new filters through which to view the world.

As powerful as this is for us as adults, I know that it is even more powerful for our students. Exposing students to new perspectives and new voices can inspire learning by piquing curiosity and motivating exploration and reflection. I've watched this happen to students who have Skyped with the authors of books they've read and with classes who have connected with other learners in other parts of the world. The excitement of bridging the gap between the classroom and the world is easily attained, and the rewards are immediately visible.

Moreover, the technologies that enable this kind of communication are free and easy to learn. Any Internet-enabled device can make video conferencing a reality, and the power of social media tools like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ make connecting a classroom to the world possible for anyone with an account. Companies like ePals, websites like Skype in the Classroom and Google+ communities like G+eduhangout make finding a connection easy.

All of this adds up to the fact that conversations that begin with "You know what would be cool..." can now end with "Let's make that happen." More often than not, if you can create a reason to connect with someone virtually, you can also find the people willing to meet you halfway. In the past two years, I have seen countless examples of classrooms connecting with amazing people from around the world, from astronauts to Shakespearean actors, from grandparents in Germany to classrooms in Brazil. I've even watched as a choir director in another city gave a choir here in Evansville feedback over Skype ahead of a competition.

I think the reason more people aren't doing these types of things in the classroom more often is simply that reaching out hasn't become a comfortable part of everyone's workflow yet. But if the many examples of global projects is any indication, that is changing.

Here are a couple of resources that can get you started with three very popular tools:

Skype LiveBinder
Google+ LiveBinder
Twitter LiveBinder

Getting Started

For teachers who don't yet know what this looks like, here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  1. Look at what you are teaching, and ask yourself who would it be cool to connect with in this lesson/unit/project? Are you studying the Holocaust? Perhaps there is a survivor who can speak to your class. Are you writing poetry? Maybe a published poet could Skype in and lead a workshop. Are you learning about the continents? Wouldn't it be cool to connect with a class from each continent to compare cultures?
  2. Think about who you know or are connected to and consider what they have to offer to your classroom. There may be a grandparent of one of your students who can read a favorite childhood book. You might have a friend from college who now works as a marine biologist. Or maybe your cousin lives in Boston and could Skype live from an historic site.
  3. Ask yourself what are my goals for my students and try to find a project or a partner to meet those goals. Students can have amazing opportunities to make an impact on their world, and in the process they can connect to new people. For example, students might take on a micro loan project to fund a start-up in another country or they might collaborate with students across the world to address an issue of international concern.
  4. Use technology and social media to find someone to connect with. If you don't know someone who can speak to your class on a topic, there are lots of ways to find someone. There are communities built around making connections for the classroom, for example. If none of those yield results, you can tweet and post on Facebook that you are looking for someone to connect with on your topic. You'd be surprised how often that can yield results. If you can imagine the person who would be the perfect fit (a specific author, celebrity, politician, etc.) Some focused Internet research can usually produce contact information.
  5. Don't be afraid to ask. People generally like to talk about their work or what they are passionate about. Also, many people feel that connecting with students is a good use of their time and are willing to make that happen. Not everyone is like that, but you won't know unless you ask. The worst thing that will happen is that they will ignore you or say no. The best thing that will happen is that you will create an amazing experience for your kids.
  6. Become comfortable with the tools that enable connection, interaction, and collaboration. At this point, refusing to make these connections because you aren't familiar with the technology is a pretty lame excuse. None of this technology requires special expertise, nor is it unaffordable (there are plenty of free tools with which to make connections). Spending the time to learn the tools will enable you to take advantage of opportunities to connect in the future, even at a moment's notice.
  7. When you meet a fellow educator who is speaking your language, come up with a project that you can do together. If you meet someone via social media, at a conference, or even while traveling, and that person teaches what you teach or shares your ideas about learning, take the opportunity to develop that relationship by creating ways for your classes to connect. Making a plan to connect with another educator will ensure that the connection is purposeful and has mutual benefits. Studying topics like environment, culture, or events that affected both locations can be enhanced through this type of connection. Imagine a book club that includes the impressions of readers from two very different places, or a science project that collects data from multiple locations.
  8. When you have a plan to connect, be clear about your purpose and how you imagine the interaction will go. Planning ahead can help to overcome any initial awkwardness of connecting people or groups. As with planning for the physical classroom, planning for a virtual lesson is important so that people don't feel that the connection is a waste of time. If you are having an expert meet with students, have the students prepare questions ahead of time and share those questions with the expert so that he or she knows what to expect. If students are connecting with students, give them an agenda or list of goals to accomplish. 
  9. Test your technology ahead of time, have a plan B in case it doesn't work, and be flexible enough to bring the connection to life later if needed. Technology is always going to be a bit unpredictable. Taking the time to test a connection ahead of class can often help to avoid problems. Even so, if suddenly there is a technology glitch, be prepared to troubleshoot but also to move to another activity. You can always take another run at it on a different day.
  10. Follow-up with your connection and your students. Assess what worked well and what didn't and apply that to your next connection. Like any classroom strategy, connecting virtually takes some practice to make it as powerful as possible. Getting feedback from kids about what they got from the lesson will help guide how you structure future connections. Also, the person/people you are connecting to can offer suggestions for the future.
  11. Share your successes to inspire others. When you are doing activities like this, it is valuable to share your takeaways with others. Be prepared to take a few photos, record the interaction, and invite colleagues in when you are doing these types of things. Once they see the power of this type of learning, they will want to try it themselves.

Our Task

At the end of the day, making the effort to bring new voices, ideas and perspectives to the classroom can impact teacher and student creativity. A new experience can act as a catalyst to our own thoughts, inspiring us to move in new directions, ask new questions and approach problems with new strategies. By developing this skill in ourselves, we expand our classroom toolbox. By developing this skill in our students, we connect them to a world of ideas they might otherwise never realize existed. 

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Monday, October 7, 2013

I am a Connected Educator

I am a connected educator.

I connect in person, through email, over the phone, through Skype, via social media, with collaborative web tools and through the social portions of the websites and blogs I read.

This isn’t extra work. It’s part of the work I do.

As an educator, I care about teaching and learning. I want to know what excellent teaching and learning look like and how to replicate it. I want to know everything there is to know about what makes learning experiences successful and how to design experiences that will be successful in the future. I want to know why one strategy works with a child today, but doesn’t work with a different child today or the same child tomorrow. I want to discern what matters in education, to promote the good and eliminate the bad. I want everyone to learn with purpose, success, satisfaction and pride. I want to fix what’s broken, grow what works, and change the future for the better. I want to learn how best to recover when I fail. I want to make a difference to every child in every classroom at every stage of the educational system. I also want to change the system. I want to examine and redefine our objectives. I want to look closely at all of the places where the needs of a child come into conflict with the needs of our system and advocate for that child. I want to be at the table where this conversation is happening.

I can’t learn or do any of this by myself. If I want to be the educator I believe I should be, I have to be connected.

My work as an educator and my work as a learner cannot be separated. My work and my learning are a single, ongoing conversation that I am having with the world.

For me, all teaching is an act of learning, and all learning is social. This has always been true.

Thankfully, I no longer live in a time or place that limits my ability to have my conversation with the world. Thanks to the Digital Age and the political freedoms I enjoy, my ability to connect to anyone anywhere at anytime is only limited by who is willing and able to connect with me.

Because I am a connected educator, I have had the opportunity to connect with authors and thought-leaders and ask them questions. Because I am a connected educator I was able to connect a Shakespearean actor with a classroom of students who had just read Hamlet to enhance their understanding of the play. Because I am a connected educator, I have been able to teach lessons to audiences made up of people from all over the world virtually.

I connect with people from other continents on a daily basis through Twitter, my blog, Skype and Google+.

If I find a resource that has value, I can share that resource with thousands of fellow educators through Twitter, Facebook, Google+, My Big Campus, and other sites with the click of a button.

Do I connect with the person down the hall? Of course. My local network of colleagues and personal contacts are my first, most relevant network. They know the realities of our shared culture, environment, history and goals. There are advantages in those connections that cannot easily be duplicated.

Today, though, I can also extend my network to include new perspectives, wider audiences, greater expertise, more experiences and richer resources. Through my extended network, when I ask a question, the answers I receive are more diverse and more plentiful. I can also ask my question directly to the people most likely to have thoughtful answers.

As a connected educator, I have chosen to learn publicly. I do this because I believe my learning will never be complete. I do this because I know that the more perspectives I can tap into, the more effective my learning can be. I do this because I can test my ideas against a wider number of world-views and get feedback from a greater number of colleagues. I do this because the people I follow through my networks are likely to share ideas that I never would have come across without them.

Becoming a connected educator isn’t difficult. If you Google “Connected Educator,” you will find an abundance of resources to get you started. You can also find resources on building your PLN (Personal Learning Network). The hardest step is simply connecting. I began with blogging and with Twitter, but there are lively communities of connected educators in all kinds of places.

As a connected educator, I work to develop my networks through the digital tools that are available to me. I use social media, communication tools and collaboration tools to make face to face work possible with people within and beyond my local sphere. My networks aren’t defined by these tools, they are enabled by them. And while each tool provides a different workflow and culture, my use of each is just a part of my larger conversation with the world.

I am a connected educator.

I have friends I have never met in person, but who have changed the way I see the world.

I suspect that I have followers who could say the same of me without my ever having known they were listening.

Sometimes the connections last for the moment it takes me to reply to a tweet, and sometimes they last for years through a series of online collaborations. But each is still just a part of the larger conversation I’ve joined.

Connected educators share what they are thinking and what they have learned in a long-term, asynchronous collaboration around our profession. They share resources they create and discover. They devise projects to enact together. They offer support when members need it and affirmation when members deserve it. They crowdsource information for those who seek it, and they help connect problems to solutions.

As a connected educator, I can affirm and promote what inspires and improves my learning with a like, a retweet, or a +1.

I can engage with people who challenge my thinking through comment sections in blogs and on websites, or through Twitter Chats. I’m careful not to limit my networks to people with whom I agree. I want to learn from other perspectives, or perhaps change the perspectives of those with whom I interact. I find the connected educator community to be passionate, but also civil and respectful.

Even if it isn’t always that way, I can control the tone and quality of the discourse in my networks with a simple unfollow or block. I am a connected educator, but I don’t have to be.

Because I am a connected educator, I feel empowered.

Through my connections:

I define my learning.
I participate in the vital conversations of my profession.
I reach a wider audience with my ideas.
I collaborate with smart and passionate people.
I reach learners I couldn’t otherwise reach.
I find more inspiration and more resources with greater ease.

I am a connected educator. I remember what it was like before I was connected.

Teaching can be an isolating experience. There were times when I felt controlled and limited by my immediate surroundings and resources. There were times when I felt like I was alone in my desire to understand and change a complex system that was so much bigger than me. There was a time when I didn’t know where to ask my questions or when I worried that my questions weren’t welcome. That was before.

Now I am a connected educator.

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