Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Are you Twittering?

You hear about it on the news. You read about it in the newspaper. If you work in a school district, your school's leadership may also be talking about it. What is "it"? Twitter, of course. While I would not say I am an avid Twitterer, basically because I don't have the time, I do see its power as a social networking and professional development tool and use it at least weekly.

For those of you wondering what Twitter is about, it is basically like building connections through a web page where you and your friends can share thoughts, ideas and resources. You can find people you want to "follow" and others can ask for "follow" you. This means they will see what you Tweet (or write) about in Twitter. Don't worry. If someone requests to follow you, a simple "Deny" will keep them from joining your network.

You might be asking, "So how does this help me as a teacher or other professional?" Here are some great resources to give you ideas on how to use it as well as how to get started. Please share your ideas and thoughts by posting a comment to this blog. If you want to "follow" me, my Twitter account is saellner. I look forward to see your request to follow. Let's share and learn together using this powerful easy tool!

Twitter for Teachers: Why You Should Start Tweeting Jason Renshaw lists ten reasons to start using Twitter. He also includes some guidelines to avoid the pitfalls of using Twitter.

Twenty-Seven Interesting Ways to Use Twitter in the Classroom Tom Barrett created a slideshow to showcase a variety of creative classroom uses for Twitter, including geo-tagging, historical tweets, Twitter polls, and word morphs. (Note: this is a Google Docs presentation with a swear word so use with caution.)

Nine Great Reasons Why Teachers Should Use Twitter Laura Walker shares nine ways that Twitter can be used for on-demand, effective professional development.

A Beginner's Guide to Twitter Michael Wyatt posted a wonderful 20 minute guide to getting started on Twitter. The information is very detailed and easy to follow for anyone new to Twitter.

A Teacher's Guide to Twitter Kate Klingensmith provides many practical tips for teachers just getting started in Twitter including ways to find people to follow.

Twitter for Education Here is a wiki devoted to sharing educational uses of Twitter. Contains Twitter cartoons, lists of education leaders to follow on Twitter, and helpful Twitter "do's and don'ts".

Twitter For Teachers Wiki Find a Twitter-using educator in your subject area and sign up for a Twitter mentor. Add your name to the list!

Check some of the above links out and get Tweeting!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Staying Connected

As the school year begins, I am reflecting on how I stayed connected with colleagues this summer. I used Facebook almost every day to see what others were doing and share what I was up to. This may sound like a simple thing, but it really has helped me to feel connected with the other staff who work in my building. I look forward to seeing them at inservice and working with them this year.

What I am pondering is how I can use this to connect with parents and students. Is this an appropriate medium to have a "professional" account which would be separate from my "personal" account that I use with family and friends? I would appreciate your thoughts and comments on this. What do you think?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Google Books

If you have not yet tried Google Books, now is the time. This online book search tool allows you to search for books by author, title,keywords, genre and a whole lot more. There is also an advanced search with many more features. Some books, such as The Red Badge of Courage, are available to read in full text online as well as as a pdf file you download. Others, such as Jodi Picoult's book Nineteen Minutes, have a limited preview that allows you to read several of the pages but not the whole book. This is great for trying out a book before you decide if you want to read the whole thing or not. Many of the newer books have a very limited preview called a snippet view.

You can then save the books you want into your "library". This is a virtual list of the books you want to save in your list. The books can be labeled which allows you to sort the books similar to how you can use tags in Delicious to sort your bookmarks.

As a teacher, I see this as having a lot of potential for teachers and students. As a teacher, I can pre-select books for a class or project and give them all the same label like SSUnit3. I can then sort my library for books with that label. Once I do that, I can copy the URL from the browser window and put them into a wiki or webpage for students to access. They can preview the books, read the ones online that are full text, and plan their reading from any Internet connected computer in the world. Here is an example of the books I have labeled with "Google" in My Library. As I add books with that label, the list is automatically updated for students I have given the webpage URL to.
If you have students who are age 13 or over, they can have their own Google account and create their own library. This could be a way for them to log their independent reading books or develop a reading list for summer. I am sure you all have more ideas, so please share them in the comments below.

Another feature is that you can write a review of the book and read others' reviews. Sounds like an authentic audience for your students to write and submit a book review. For younger students, they could email or word process their review and the teacher could submit it using her teacher account. For older students, they could submit their own.

There are many other features, so I will write about this again as I implement it in my classroom. I plan to try the RSS feed with our LMS as a way to announce new books in the library. I have already used the feature that allows me to "Find in a library" to see if a book I want to read is in a local library. With current budgets at school and home, this is a wonderful feature.

Please comment on more ideas for using this for teachers and students!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Digital Vacationer

Last week, I was on vacation at our cottage in Eagle River in northern Wisconsin. The weather was pretty good, but we had a few days of rain. We had brought along a cellular provider's router to test to see if we could get Internet service there. We had no signal and no Internet for the week. While I too enjoy a day or two of "electronics" vacation, I found that going a whole week without the Internet in easy reach was difficult. I am so into the habit of going to the computer for easy access to information that I felt I was "back in time" using an outdated phone book to try to gather information. Staying connected with my family and friends was difficult at best. I could consider myself to be a "Digital Vacationer".

Upon returning from vacation, my first task was to fire up the home computer and check my email and social networking sites e.g. Twitter, Facebook and Ning. You may have heard of Marc Prensky's terms of "Digital Native" and "Digital Immigrant". Digital natives are those who were born into the age of home computers and other electronics. To them, life is not life without these electronics. These are the students and young teachers in today's schools. The Digital Immigrants, on the other hand, are people who grew up in homes and schools without computers and modern electronics. They have learned to use computers similar to a person who learns a new language when they move to a new country. These are many of the parents and veteran teachers.

I have always considered myself neither a "Digital Native" nor a "Digital Immigrant". To me, I would be considered a DBL, "Digital Bilingual". While I can remember the days of little electronics, I feel very comfortable in today's digital age. I can train others on how to use technology. I can use the technology with ease in my classroom. I use technology on a daily basis for my personal and professional life. I even wired my own home when we built it. Perhaps that is why I felt like a "Digital Vacationer" last week. As I was reflecting on this, I realized that perhaps that is how our students feel at school each day.

Most schools do not have 1:1 computer programs. Many do not allow students with their own computers to bring them to school and connect to the Internet. Unless a student has a study hall and can get a pass to the library or a lab, they very likely are without Internet access all day at school. I know many schools where the policy is a maximum of 5 lab sign ups per class per YEAR! Depending on who a student has for a teacher and which classes he or she is enrolled in, students can actually go weeks without touching a computer at school.

But what are they doing once they go home from "digital vacation" at school? As soon as class is dismissed, out come the cell phones and the students are texting. At home, student flock to computers to do homework (we hope) as well as socially connect with others. I have heard many comments from educators that what they do on computers is a waste of time. I challenge them to watch a teenager use a computer over time. They are searching for information relevant to them, evaluating the quality of the information and connecting with others.

Social learning is a very powerful tool, both with and without technology. If we want to get students engaged, let's use the "digital" social learning tools that they love to use. Let's build safe and purposeful social learning networks within our schools so students don't have to be on "digital vacation" during the school day. Let's get going on 1:1 laptop learning or at least allow those who have laptops to bring them to school and get on the Internet. They can share with those who don't have one! I would love it if at least half of my students brought their own laptop to school! That would open a ton of doors for their learning! I challenge you to move forward and end the "digital vacations" in our schools!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Summer Surfing

It is summer. I am finishing up my June projects and look forward to being "off" of work for the next two months. But, do most teachers really take "off" the summer months? From the teachers I work with, I would definitely say "No".

I plan to work on finding progress monitoring tools and interventions for elementary math and reading over the summer months. I won't work on it every day, just rainy days or times when I want to work on it. I also plan to find many examples of how to use web 2.0 tools with elementary students. To me, that will be fun work. I don't really have time to do that during the school year, so summer is a great time to work on it.

What will you be doing over the summer months? I hope you all have some fun and relaxation as well!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Interview Project

One of my recent projects involved my fourth grade students. As learning to write is difficult for these students, I try to make the writing as purposeful as possible. One of the skills my students needed to learn was how to write clear questions. I tried to think of a real-world application of writing questions. I decided that one purpose for writing questions was to conduct an interview.

As a small group, we brainstormed who they would be interested in interviewing. Of course, they were interested in interviewing the President of the United States and a few others that I thought would be difficultto arrange. They also came to the same conclusion. They did, however, come up with ideas that were feasible as well. One student decided to interview the principal as she is new to the school this year. Another decided to interview the special education paraprofessional that works in our program. A third student really wanted to interview our high school football coach.

These students then wrote their questions with a great focus on open-ended questions. We talked about the type of questions they would ask that would keep the "conversation" of the interview going. We talked about "thick" and "thin" questions. While they were learning to write quality "thick" questions, they were having a great time! The students then typed the questions into Excel so that they could easily print queue cards for the interview process.

We have been working on reading fluency as well as writing. They practiced reading their questions with fluency which gave a real purpose to the task. Once they had practiced reading the questions with fluency, then we did mock interviews. Someone else role-played the person they were going to interview. While we did this, we video-taped the mock interview. The student then watched the mock interview. I asked them to tell me what they thought they did well and what they needed to improve. The video was very clear for them in determining what they needed to improve.

Next, we conducted the real interviews. From watching the videos, it was easy to see the impact the open-ended questions had on the interview "conversation". In the future, I plan to show these videos with my next group of students before they write their questions. I think it will help them understand better why we need open-ended questions.

This project was very engaging for the students. It provided a real purpose to writing "thick" questions. Because of the real purpose, the students understood that we needed quality questions. I will definitely use this project again with students who need to work on writing quesitons and reading fluency. Along the way, the students also learned some great life skills such as writing a thank you note to the person they interviewed. They were very proud of their work. If you would like to see their videos, you can check out these two videos that students gave me permission to post on my classroom website. Please leave us feedback as we like to hear what others think of our projects!