I have struggled (in the most enjoyable way) to create sense and meaning for myself since the conference back in July. Alas. Although I have had glimmers and several “ah-ha” moments, I am still trying to put all the pieces together. And there were a lot of shiny pieces!
Before my summer brain closes for the season, I wanted to lay some of these out.
I. Twitter:The longer I use Twitter the more I appreciate its plasticity and ability to serve a wide variety of functions.
1. Twitter as a “Note-Taking” Tool for a Class. Of course. It seems so obvious when someone says it. @Braddo’s session on how he has taken Twitter in the classroom to a whole new level made me want to scream loudly: Hey world you have to see this!!
Storify of @Braddo’s session is here.
Kathy Cassidy’s incredible story of how Twitter is amplifying learning for her primary students was breath-taking. When primary kids tell you they are learning using Twitter, what can you really say? Just watch the 1 minute video below. The kids say it all. Her slide deck from her presentation Literacy Never the Same Again is here.
3. Twitter with Storify to take notes. I am a poor listener and struggle to sit still for long periods (ok even short periods). Twitter allows me to focus and listen in a way I never could. I love Tweeting as my brains sparks ups! Each Tweets captures a spark and solidifies it. Even better is using Storify to knit my Tweets together. A match made in Heaven!
II. Paper 53. I am not a fan of “this is the best app!!” hype. Why did this make me sit up and take notice? Well check out @braddo’s sketches for one. But the use of this app really solidified several ideas for me:
1. Learners need to create value (for themselves) in their work and need opportunities to create meaning of their learning.
2. There are many valuable ways to represent meaning.
3. Sketching is a great way to prototype and ideate. It allows for divergent thinking, opens new avenues for conversation and allows us to access ideas we don’t yet have the words for.
(I had some sketches for this post…but ran out of time to finish…I will update when done!!)
III. How Might We?Words matter. This was never more clear than listening to the intense and brilliant Tom Barrett of No Tosh say “we need to create a lexicon of learning for our students”. If we are going to put the story of learning into the hands of each student, students need the language to do so. We need strategies to help students develop this language. A phrase that has become a favorite tool since returning from #blc13 is the “How might we” stem. A few #blc13 How might we’s:
1. How might we design a system that protects curiosity in our children? (just as ferociously as we teachers protect our test keys. Sorry had to say it).
2. How might we design opportunities fo children to own the learning (this means own the assessment too).
3. How might we address the difference between how our students are learning and how they are being educated?
Last week I had the opportunity to meet f2f some amazing people who preciously I had only meet virtually.
A mere virtual community…
These are real people!
And if you are reading this you probably know, it is not either or. It is not a virtual network OR a real one. It is both. My so called virtual network is also a very real one. People that I have been collaborating with online for over 2 years are people who show up in “real life”, our paths cross and connections are strengthened. We share stories, ideas and family photos. And maybe it sounds “cheesy” but I do love the cheese…but we are a community; real, palpable, vital, connected and interdependent. This year #canflip13, our second annual Flipped Class conference, was more than anything for me, a celebration of our community of co-learners.
But my object here, is not to convince you of the blurred lines between the online and real world. My query here is how do I describe, explain, or show people who have not experienced an online community, the incredible value of it? It is possible to do so with words or does a person have to experience it first hand to appreciate the transformative power of it? Is it through sharing real life examples of real people who I now know? Is it by offering opportunities for people to connect themselves? Yes I go to Twitter for information infusion and inspiration, but why I love Twitter, love it, is because of the people there. People who I know, trust and how each of these connections created windows of change into my once isolated and often lonely classroom (inspiration from Chris Wejr’s slides Windows of Change). Each connection a lovely glimmer of light shining in and signaling change this way!
If learning is a social activity with sharing as a key component and teachers are to be lead learners, can we argue that to change we need to learn and to learn we need to connect?
How do we invite teachers to create windows in their classroom walls to allow for connections?
How do we change the closed-door culture and make it the norm to connect and communicate to the outside world during school day?
How do encourage being connected as a “normal” teacher skill, similar to lesson planning?
If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.
Are you short on time? Or maybe you’re just short? Or maybe like me…you are BOTH. 🙂
When I first started to digitally connect with my students 3 years ago, I tried a class Facebook group. At the time I pretty much kept it a secret as I was not sure how it would be perceived by other teachers (I did run it by my principal). The response and feedback I got from students was so positive and the interactions so beneficial, I was enticed to try other forms of digital connection.
Below is a quick video I made to share at our staff meeting. I used Pow Toons to showcase another video making tool that is fun for both teachers and students alike. If you don’t have time to watch the video highlights are provided below.
3 Tools to Connect Your Classroom.
1. Facebook Groups.
Don’t have Facebook? You make the group and do not have to friend students. To start a group you need to add one person who is your friend (I always add my daughter and then once the group is up and running she exits). No problem get a student to make the group for you.
I post daily reminders, pictures from class, documents and links of interest.
Students will ask questions and other students will usually beat me in answering and that’s magic!
I know some teachers prefer Edmodo to Facebook but I find with senior students Facebook can’t be beat. I should say, I do not demand students join the group or Facebook, it is just another place they can access class reminders and updates, but not the only place.
2. Class Twitter Account
I have a separate account just to Tweet out class information, daily reminders and answer quick questions. This year, I invited parents to follow this account as well, as a way to keep up to date on class activities .
Use Future Tweets if you don’t want to manually Tweet updates and reminders each day.
3. You Tube Channel
Don’t have your own videos to share? No problem! There are so many amazing videos available videos on You Tube, why not have them collected all in one place? Again if you don’t have time for this consider giving this project to a student.
I vividly remember 3 years ago, talking with a student as he received a text from a student across the room. I could not, for the life of me, fathom what on earth they were doing; talking to each other across the room via text? It was baffling and mind-boggling behaviour. However, it fascinated me, so much so, that I wanted to understand what exactly was going on. Similarly to travelling to Mexico and spending 2 weeks ensconced in a 4 star all-inclusive, you can’t really claim you understand the local customs. As a tourist in a foreign country you cannot judge social norms and customs until you have experienced them in context. I understood that I had to immerse myself before I could decide.
Now looking back I understand what students were doing; they were participating in a form of backchanneling. They were backchanneling class, back channeling their lives…I finally get it. Only now, because I have experienced it.
Using back channels at conferences, meetings and in class has caused me to think and communicate with clarity and precision, making my contributive puzzle piece clean edged and meaningful. When students Instagram their lab set up or Tweet out a funny comment made in class, I see how integral to creating a healthy and thriving learning environment each act is; they are selecting what is important about their experience then sharing and archiving it…they are actively participating in their learning!
2. Habits to tame the stream; thinking fast and thinking slow.
When I started teaching, I perceived information as an immobile mass sitting rigid and captive in a textbook. Occasionally an article would surface, making small scratches on the large marble statue of content. Now content no longer sits for long, content flows like a raging river during spring run off. Nowhere is this more apparent than out on Twitter. First immersion into this flow, can be mentally painful and overwhelming, like using a power washer on your face, blasting you backwards and putting you off-balance.
To work in this flow effectively I use both fast and a slow thinking to navigate. Thinking fast is needed when I am in the midst of the flow; I need to be agile, nimble and maneuver my way through the deluge of tantalizing tidbits. I need to instantly decide what is relevant and what I can ignore. I need the help of tools (Hashtags and Twitter lists are such tools) for sorting and efficiently storing the information for later processing.
3. Habit of consuming “more concentrated” information.
Not watered down, not shipped in from Chile and tasteless…rather…ideas and content fresh from the source.
In the past ideas, initiatives and visions for change were “shipped in” from far away. By the time the message or idea arrived at my doorstep it was dilute, watered down or modified. Just as in broken telephone, each transaction had altered the original message every so slightly and the message that finally arrived was mangled and distorted.
In this new era of information distribution, I can go to the source, maybe even talk to the author on the phone to clarify (true story) and ask them to give pertinent and related examples.
I have acquired a taste for information in its purest form, undiluted by interpretation or agenda.
What mad skills or habits of mind has Twitter given you or made you aware of?
Did they “teach” us that one at teacher school?
Do you hear it talked about in staff rooms?
Do you know what it looks like or feels like?
It is like that urban legend you heard about in grade 4, someone’s cousin had spiders hatch out of their cheek while sleeping one night.
Yeah that one…the one that scared the pants off of you, even though you never actually met the person. I am not implying burnout is an urban legend, I am saying it is treated as such in teacher culture.
Teaching can be a tough job and there is a “survival of the fittest” culture in schools I have worked in. You can admit you are struggling…but only to a point, to certain people and in specific situations; if you show too much weakness others fear you might drag them under.
So how does this work if we are going to get teachers to grow, take on big bold risks, and try new things? How to support teachers when parents, critics or even other teachers have a go at what you are doing or trying? Attacks, no matter how well-meaning, can feel personal, consuming the small reserve in the energy tank.
Further, if the very adaptations that we as teachers have evolved over the courses of our careers have allowed for our survival how then to change AND not go extinct at the same time?
Last year I travelled through a wormhole of change. That I came out the other side is attributable it to one thing: a committed collaborative partner, Graham Johnson.
I have a strong support network outside of school, people who I trust, a husband who is in the biz, but they were not what kept me afloat. What kept me going and stopped me from giving up (cause there were days when I did consider giving up on change) were the continuous conversations that Graham and I had daily, sometimes hourly, about what we were specifically doing. When either of us hit a wall we dealt with it then and there, we brainstormed and co-created a viable solution. We established common goals (we wrote these out on paper) and committed to (even though he teaches Math and I Biology) common ground with certain practices (flexible assessment, Hot Seat, Whiteboarding, Learning Journals are all examples) We communicated via Twitter DMs dawn to late, phone chats and face to face debrief after school.
You might be thinking by now…yeah we know that collaboration is important, yesterday’s days news….next.
BUT. Hold up…
Collaboration is NOT just something you should really try someday and when you do it will be fun; it is like having a snow plow with no blade, a motor boat with no motor, or an axe with no blade. You cannot do the intense work of change without real-time continuous, connected collaboration that relates DIRECTLY to what you actually doing in your class. To collaborate I had to be willing to co-evolve, to commit to a common end (and by this I do not mean improve Grad rates) and at times (more than I might like) I needed to compromise; I had to first converge in the here and now to survive, before I could diverge and thrive later.
I used to think that if I controlled everything I could assure the final outcome would be high quality, this was a guaranteed ticket to burnout and was never sustainable. Now I know that through cooperating, compromising and collaborating I can evolve AND survive.
If we continue yelling out and waving our arms at teachers: Change this way! Come on let’s go! Pick it up! WITHOUT the collaborative, connected mindset and ecosystem firmly in place, we will perpetuate the medium for burnout.
We need to out the culture of “survival of the fittest” and replace with a flourishing visible ecosystem that is fluid, open and dynamic. We need to buoy teachers with collaborative partnerships, collective groupings, tools to connect in real-time and conditions that normalize collaboration as an integral part of the day-to-day.
Then…we can wave away.
“We can see the very beginnings of a new story beginning to emerge. it’s a narrative spread across a number of different disciplines in which cooperation, collective action and complex inter dependencies play a more important role and the central, and the all important role of competition and survival of the fittest shrinks just a little bit to make room.”
Last year I saw a list that bugged me. A lot. SOME OF CANADA’S TOP EDUTWEETERS 2.0 Only 15 are women? Huh? If you take a look at the percent of women in education (66% in 2005 ) this number does not jive. This disconnect stuck with me and made me a little more mindful of who I was following and the gender of the voices that were resonating with me the most, not in a critical way, but in an observant way. It also pushed me to find female voices on Twitter or to notice if in fact, there were female voices out there that did resonate with me. I also read this article On Twitter, Men Are Retweeted Far More Than Women (And You’re Probably Sexist, Too) in the summer which got me thinking some more. It takes you to TWEE-Q (“Twitter Equality Quotient”) which asks:
“Gender equality is always a hot conversation topic on Twitter. We were curious about how equal the conversation ON Twitter really is and created this little experiment in order to find out the truth. The idea is as simple as elegant: insert the twitterhandle you want analyzed and we’ll check the balance between the sexes behind your retweets. A 10 is the perfect Twee-Q. Do you dare to start with yourself?”
My TWEE-Q is not very high!!
So below are just some of the Canuck Chicks who I have followed over the last couple of months (and who are not already on the LIST above). This “list” is not annotated or numbered intentionally! It represents some Canadian (sorry my Yankee lovelies) women in education who I have noticed out here, either on Twitter, blogging or both. Maybe who have women who you follow to add? Maybe you have ideas on why there seems to be less female presence in the Twitter-sphere, especially in Canada?Maybe you have not noticed this but will have a look at who you RT?Or maybe you think gender just does not matter?
Cheers my fellow Canadian lovelies, here is to Tweeting up a storm! P.S. If you are a Canuck chick who tweets and you are not on the above this list send me your name and I’ll add it on, it is not meant to be exclusive in any way 🙂