Thursday, April 16, 2015

Twitter: I Think I Figured It Out

Back in the spring of 2009, I was serving as Technology Coordinator for a K-8 private school. That job was daunting, and required me to wear several different hats:
  • I taught "Computers" as a subject for grades 5-8. Keyboarding skills, digital citizenship, research skills, word processing, spreadsheets, multimedia tools, and general computer literacy were all included as parts of the curriculum.
  • I was "the guy" for any and all tech support. I used to say, "If it plugs in, it's my problem." And that is sort of the way it day I came to work and someone had left a boombox on my desk with a note: "This CD player doesn't work." So...yeah...
  • I was supposed to be a sort of technology integration coach for my colleagues. I think this part was probably the aspect I was most passionate about, but also the part I was least likely to be able to do, with the first two on my plate. But this meant I tried to become familiar with as many different technologies as I could, so when people came asking questions, I would have answers.
It was in this way that I first joined Twitter in the spring of 2009; I had heard of Twitter before that, and I had read an article in Wired magazine (yep, I'm that geek...) about the way people were connecting with Twitter. And I had a few friends on Facebook who were talking about how much they liked Twitter.

So I joined up.

It's funny reading those first tweets. Like this one, that showed up in my Timehop today:

If you read this blog with any degree of regularity, you will know the value I place on Twitter as an essential part of my personal learning network (PLN). But it took me awhile...

It took me a while to start connecting with other educators, but once I found a couple to follow, that got me more invested in learning through Twitter.

It took me a while to start using hashtags, but once I learned that dozens (or hundreds!) of teachers connect and have discussions--chats--on Twitter, and that hashtags organize these conversations, that got me more invested in interacting through Twitter.

It took me a while to start sharing things myself on Twitter--I first mostly lurked and enjoyed what other people were sharing, learning from them--but once I learned that people responded with thanks to the things I tweeted and retweeted, that got me more invested in pushing my ideas through Twitter.

I think I figured out how to make Twitter work for me, as a tool for my own learning.

I am finding that different teacher-tweeters actually use Twitter in very different ways.
  • Some use Twitter as a way of capturing ideas and resources.
  • Some use Twitter as a way of collaborating other educational professionals.
  • Some use Twitter as a way of connecting with others they would never have the opportunity to reach otherwise.
  • Some use Twitter as a way of pushing back against the groupthink of current school culture, whether at a local, state, national, or international level.
  • Some use Twitter as a way of promoting themselves.
  • Some use Twitter as a way of sharing ideas and resources they are personally passionate about.
If I'm honest, I have used Twitter in all of these ways over the past six years.

If you are an educator not on Twitter and reading this--because it was shared with you via email or Facebook or printed out and left on the staffroom table--I encourage you to just dip your toe in the water at least.

Join Twitter, and approach it with a growth mindset. Find a colleague who is on Twitter and learn from her/him. Follow a few interesting educators. Eavesdrop on a chat (follow the hashtag), and don't be afraid to get in there with a tweet or two of your own.

You never know who you might be able to learn from, and what you might be able to learn!

Friday, April 10, 2015

About Mystery: Getting "Lost" in the Classroom

Lost was my very favorite television show. When it began in the fall of 2004, I had no idea how wrapped up I would become in the puzzles, the characters, the mysteries that were all part of that show.

Lost had a great team of writers, a fantastic cast of actors, and all sorts of crazy connections to history, mathematics, religion, science, geography, literature, music, philosophy, and pop culture.

It was science fiction...but not really.

It was fantasy...but not really.

It was great stories about intriguing people who were stuck together in a bizarre location that only got stranger as you learned more about it, and yet it began to make more and more sense as well.

I recently started re-watching the series on Netflix while I'm on the treadmill in the morning. I was again riveted by the pilot episode...

Thursday, April 2, 2015


Today in my science methods class, I had students extracting DNA from strawberries. It's a fun lab, and I deliberately use materials they can easily get their hands on--things from the grocery store or Walmart--to help make science more accessible, for them, and for their future students. After class, I was picking things up, washing out a few stray plastic tubs and putting away the rubbing alcohol and dish detergent. I was putting away a package of bamboo skewers when it happened...

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Teaching Science with Slime

I love all of the courses I teach, but I have a special affinity for my elementary and middle school science methods course, a course about how to teach science. You see, I was a middle school science teacher for 8 of the 14 years I spent in K-12 schools, so it feels like a big part of my identity. I love science, and I loved teaching science to middle schoolers, and I still love teaching future elementary teachers (who often seem to fear science a bit at the beginning of the semester) about this subject I love so much.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Got Grit?

I was in on #satchat this morning; the topic was "grit," and developing grit in our students.

This is an on-going narrative in education today: we need to foster a little "grittiness" in our students. Helping them learn to persevere, persist, hang in there when it gets tough. Helping them develop gumption or stick-to-it-iveness. Helping them see that learning happens when you take risks, and fall flat on your face, and pick yourself up to try again.

That's admirable, isn't it? Who wouldn't want that kind of student?

It would take grit to move this huge pile of sand (grit?) with that shovel...
Image by Dan Slee [CC BY-NC 2.0]

And I think it's probably a reaction to things we perceive happening in the broader culture: we worry that the kids are getting a little soft these days. They don't have enough chores to do at home. They aren't pushed to achieve great things through hard work. Everyone gets a trophy for participating, regardless of the effort they put in.

In response to all that, we start to think, "Someone's got to do something! This is a generation of softies, and we're in trouble, because they are going to be the ones taking care of us someday!"

So let's get gritty. Let's get them working hard, sticking with it when it gets tough, creating a counter-cultural movement of high expectations for kids!

But I have a problem with this narrative.

Monday, March 9, 2015

This Is How Twitter Works

I recently came across a website (shared via Twitter) entitled "Mom This is How Twitter Works."

A screenshot of "Mom This is How Twitter Works."
(I confess, the lack of a comma there is killing me just a little bit...)

No disrespect to moms is intended; the author, @jessicahische, wants us to know: "This site was not made to be an anti-feminist statement about moms. Jessica was trying to pull her mom away from Facebook (which she wasn’t using much at the time) and toward Twitter."

If you are new to Twitter and are trying to find your way, this site might help explain things. Not all social networks are created equal, and just because you might be familiar with Facebook doesn't mean you'll automatically understand Twitter.

And actually, even if you've been on Twitter for a while but never really thought about how it works, this site might be helpful for clarifying things.

I think I have seen this site before--the site was created in 2010--but when is showed up in my Twitterfeed recently, it struck me as important, because I've been participating in #nt2t somewhat regularly lately.

#nt2t is "New Teachers to Twitter," a chat to help introduce the ins-and-outs of this medium for teachers interested in using it for their personalized professional development. Many, many teachers use Twitter to connect and develop their personal learning network (PLN), but learning any new technology can be daunting. Interesting then, I think, to learn about a tech tool by actually using it. And that's the idea for #nt2t. We meet up on Saturday mornings at 9:00 Eastern time (figure out where this lands you in your local time zone...) to talk about how we use Twitter. 

It's not all newbies, of course. There are great people there who have been using Twitter for their personal PD for years who can help you get acclimated. I welcome you to join in, or even just lurk along if you'd like to learn more.

If you're an educator interested in getting started with Twitter for personalized professional development, here are a few more things I've written about it that you may find helpful:

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Seven More Helpful Resources for Teaching Geography

One of my most-viewed posts to date is titled "Eight Helpful Resources for Teaching Geography." I'm glad this was--apparently--such a valuable collection of teaching ideas, because I think we (American educators) need to do a better job of teaching geographic awareness, frankly. So it's in that spirit that I've collected another seven resources that might prove beneficial for teaching geography...

Image by Kenneth Lu [CC BY 2.0]