Friday, November 9, 2012

Are we REALLY connected educators? Some thoughts about being disconnected

If you're reading this post, chances are you're what we call a connected educator. Connected educators have vibrant, dynamic personal learning networks (PLNs) and are continuously learning from others while contributing to the growth of other educators. My PLN is one of the most valuable things to me professionally and has contributed to my own development in more ways than I can describe. I have made numerous connections with educators that have developed into strong collaborative partnerships.

Lately, I've been thinking about the disconnect between my PLN and my local network of colleagues. Those of us who are connected educators often share more through Twitter and blogs than we do with our co-workers. Somehow, it feels safe sending my thoughts out to the world through tweets and blog posts. At the same time, it feels risky to walk down the hall and have the same conversations I'm having on Twitter with a colleague in my department. I participate regularly in Twitter chats - #ncadmin, #edchat, #atplc - and engage in international conversations around educational issues. I think you'll agree that we should be having those same conversations with the people with whom we work most closely, but that may not be happening for a lot of us.

Two things initially sparked my curiosity about this disconnect. First, I had the awesome opportunity to moderate the #ncadmin chat on October 3rd. The topic of the chat was new teacher support. Several of my pre-service teachers joined us for the chat, and it was great to hear their perspective on new teacher support and to see them making connections with administrators. You can read a Storify version of the chat here. During the chat, @philgriffins, an elementary Assistant Principal, tweeted:

That got me thinking. My students follow me on Twitter (because I make them), while most of my colleagues in the School of Education are not on Twitter. Through Twitter, my students have come to know a lot about me that my colleagues don't know. Case in point:

On a Friday afternoon, a student in the teacher education program where I work as Director of Teacher Education came to my office to tell me about a blog she'd found which she thought I'd be interested in. She mentioned that she had read a post on the blog about homework. She said something like this: "I know how you feel about homework, so I thought you might like to read this blog." Here's the thing: Before this exchange about Joe Bower's blog, I had never even introduced myself to the student. She's a junior, and I teach mainly senior-level courses, so she hasn't taken any of my classes yet. She and I had never even had a conversation. Not once. But she follows me on Twitter and she knew my philosophy on homework. I doubt that any of my colleagues in the School of Education know my philosophy on homework, because we don't talk about it.

I have come to the realization that I have to be bold enough to have the same conversations I'm having on Twitter with the people down the hall. So here's my question for you: How can those of us who are connected educators bring that same level of connection to those with whom we work closely?

This has been on my mind for a while now. I'd love to hear your thoughts, so please leave a comment!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Exemplary Classroom Web Pages by Pre-Service Teachers

I love exploring and discussing applications of technology for teaching and learning. It's my passion. I feel extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to teach a course for pre-service teachers called Technology in the Classroom. One of the major assignments I've designed for the course is the development of a classroom web page. Most of my students are seniors who are currently in their internship semester and will begin student teaching in January. I encourage them to develop a web page they can use this year and in the future as a classroom teacher. I demonstrate four possible sites my students may want to use to build their classroom web pages, but I also encourage them to use any other sites and tools that work well for them. The tools I demo in class are Edmodo, Google Sites, Wikispaces, and Weebly. Last semester, most of my students used Edmodo to develop their classroom web pages. This semester, an overwhelming majority chose Weebly. My expectations for their web pages include:
  • Web page is visually appealing and structured in a way that makes it easy to access and interact with content.
  • Web page enables students and parents to access and interact with instructional materials. Multiple types of resources are in place to support and extend students’ learning.
  • Web page provides a structured format for meaningful interactions between teacher and students and among students.
  • Web page provides a meaningful structure for ongoing two-way communication with parents.
  • Web page provides extensive evidence of meaningful application of course content.
Early in the semester, I asked my students to explore three different classroom websites of their own choosing and critique those websites according to the criteria above. We used this initial exploration and evaluation to jump-start a conversation about what makes a classroom web page effective and useful. My students identified features and ideas that they wanted to replicate on their own web pages. They also found several examples of ineffective classroom web pages and identified things they don't want to replicate (i.e. outdated announcements, lack of organization).

I have been extremely impressed with the quality of the classroom web pages my students have created. Keep in mind that their websites are fictional since these pre-service teachers do not yet have their own classrooms. However, I believe there is much that current classroom teachers can learn from these students' web pages. The creativity and resourcefulness of these sites are amazing. If you're a teacher who is looking to spice up your classroom web page and make it more useful for you, your students, and your students' families, please take some time to check out the sites below. If you're an administrator who expects teachers to keep their web pages up-to-date and use them in a meaningful way, you may want to use some of these as exemplars for your faculty. My students and I would love to hear your feedback, so feel free to leave a comment.


Middle Grades:

High School English:

High School Social Studies: