This blog will be a reflection of my experiences this summer and beyond, as I strengthen my PLN and discover new Web 2.0 tools that will engage my students in authentic learning experiences. Also, this blog will be used as my portfolio - a collection of created "products" - as I explore different online tools and activities. Through technology, we have the opportunity to connect and communicate with individuals from all over the world. My hope is that this blog will develop into a resource and inspiration for other educators.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Web Exploration: Organizing & Collecting Content

When using Web 2.0 tools in the classroom, my confidence lies in the tools where my students create, explore and present information through project-based learning.  This is where my exploration began during the 2010-2011 school year, as I began implementing 21st century skills and Web 2.0 technology tools in my day-to-day classroom activities.  In the beginning of last week, I focused on finding and researching different tools that would allow me to organize and collect content from the web. In my exploration I found: NetVibes, Delicious, Paper.li, Diigo, Symballo, LiveBinders, and more. Before I made my final decision on the project, I needed to first research and spark conversations on Twitter about how some of these tools could be used in an elementary classroom. 

As a result of my searching, I have decided with the collaboration of my friend and colleague @Beverly_Libell to focus my project on using Diigo, a social bookmarking tool, with my students this year.  How will I use Diigo in the classroom?  For students, I believe it is important to start with discussing the importance of social bookmarking and how using this tool will help them share information with each other and others outside of school. My early lessons will consist of modeling to my students how to bookmark and tag, how to add to a list, and how to write a good description of the site. I started my Diigo with six teacher-created lists (used to organize the bookmarks): technology tools, reading, math, science, social studies, and interactive games.  As we work with Diigo, students will be encouraged to work together to organize our content even further by adding more lists to our library.  Once we practice using Diigo for the "basics," we will move on to learning how to annotate notes and share our information.  I am currently in the process of typing an informational letter to post on my classroom website for my students' parents.  In my letter, I will inform the parents about the importance and student benefit of using Diigo and also encourage the parents to download the Diigo toolbar at home. 

I have also created my own Symbaloo webmix with a variety of websites that I use often in my classroom and at home, which is currently my homepage on Firefox.  When seeing Symbaloo (thank you, @MrTRice_Science), I decided that this dashboard was more appealing and elementary friendly than NetVibes (my opinion).  After creating my own webmix,  I am debating how I want to use this tool in my classroom.  I would love some ideas in this area, especially with my focus being on the use of Diigo. I do not want my students to be using two different tools for a similar purpose.  Here is my personal webmix.

Through our use of Diigo, I hope to find other 4th grade classrooms to share our accounts with and form groups within and outside of our school. Last year I used Diigo as a professional tool and with my fourth grade team (which did not catch on, yet!).  I am excited for my students to have access to our "McCabe 4th" account (all using a classroom gmail account to log-in) and watching them learn together as they add content to our content library! :)

I would appreciate any thoughts or advice for using these new tools in my 4th grade classroom.

Staying Connected...

In September 2010, I signed up for my own professional Twitter account.  Before PLP, I viewed Twitter as the social network used to follow celebrities and people out of my "average-life" reach! While Facebook was the social network I used to connect with people I knew and therefore, were within my reach. Since then my view has changed.

My first tweet was definitely exciting - I think I actually typed in "this is my first tweet." Silly...I know! :)  Our principal, @Lyn Hilt, encouraged us to begin participating in #edchat, #elemchat, and to start "lurking." She would retweet our messages to help us reach a broader audience, in hopes that we would build our PLN.  I also found lists of educators on Twitter to follow through Google searches and blog posts. It was intimidating for me to tweet in the beginning. Usually, I am extremely shy before you get to know me then, once you know me, it becomes hard to keep me quiet! :) I did not know the people on Twitter and I felt like they did not know me. At first, I felt as though I was an outsider to those who had already learned to rely on one another as they connected on Twitter. As a result of my Twitter insecurities, I lurked for many months.  I would tweet randomly throughout the school year - mainly asking for comments on my students' new blog posts using #comments4kids.

I will admit, 'lurking' did give me a lot of interesting ideas and methods to use in my classroom and I learned more than I thought was possible. But is that fair?  I am not sharing my ideas with others...this is how you begin to build a true PLN. This may be the BIG reason I feel disconnected when using Twitter. Recently, I have made a few new connections with other fourth grade teachers, one of them from our class: @pattigrayson.  We have hopes of connecting our classrooms next year and I am super excited to begin working together. Also, taking the advice of individuals in Teaching 2.0: Learning in a Connected World, I tried to participate in my first #4thchat on Monday night.  I started with a few tweets in the beginning, which was very impressive for me; however, there were very few responses to what I said.  Soon, there were tons of tweets pouring into the chatroom. It became difficult for me and I stopped participating. How do I stay connected in a Twitter chat? I know this is a great way to "meet", collaborate and learn from other people.

To this day, I am not sure if blogging will be my thing - but I do know that Twitter will allow me to learn from and collaborate with educators from around the world. This is a very powerful thing, and I hope that by the end of the summer I can truly say that "I feel connected." 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Initial Thoughts...

To start - I am thrilled to continue my professional development through this course and program, especially after a fantastic and valuable experience through my involvement in PLP this past school year. I have been teaching for a total of 3 years - definitely a "new-be" in the education world.  So when I say, 'I have always used technology in my classroom' -  do not be shocked, since I have not been teaching long! :) I believe that my job as a teacher is not only a satisfying career, but an important one.  More than ever before, education is at a crossroads.  We need to choose as teachers whether or not we will make the change that is beneficial and necessary for our students.  Change is not always fun, but it will always be a part of our lives.  I know, without a doubt, that I have developed more professionally this year through PLP than in my four years of college (should I say that?!?!).  Social technologies make it possible and handy to learn from and exchange ideas with educators around the world.  As I began to develop my PLN (Professional Learning Network) beyond the walls of my classroom & school building - the learning far exceeded my expectations. I am not where I want to be (by any means!)...but I believe I am on the right track.  

As I begin the process towards my masters degree, I want to reflect on my initial thoughts and reactions to Alan November's Ted talk and Randy Nelson's video. I agree with Alan when he discusses how students need to be involved in the own learning.  He says, "it's absolutely fascinating what they will do without a grade, without money, just because they...own it, built it!" Students need to be engaged and participating in a learning environment where they are given authentic learning experiences.  Do we have a meaningful purpose for each and every assignment?  To be honest, I know there are times in my classroom where this has not been the whole truth! When the students take ownership of their learning, make choices, collaborate with others, become connected learners, and have a purpose - this is when learning explodes!  Through multiple projects, I have seen the positive results of this in my classroom.  One in particular, my students had the choice to pick a topic of interest (within the curriculum) and become the 'expert.'  The students used GoogleDocs to collaborate with their group members, as they researched information and created their unique presentations.  It was hard for me to give up the control and allow the students to go for it; however, the results WOWed me! :) As the students presented,  other students became interested in the topics and researched even more. They started working with other members in the classroom to begin new projects (on their own, without me giving them the assignment).  It was totally student-directed, and they learned SO MUCH from each other. 

Here is where I get stuck - as I, along with other educators, begin to shift the ownership of learning to the kids from the teacher - what is the most effective way to organize your classroom? How do I get to this place? I have been making small changes, by incorporating various tech tools and 21st century skills in my classroom; however, I do not want to simply give assignments/projects here and there.  I want to figure out how to create this culture of learning in my classroom - everyday!  Throughout this summer and the rest of this program, my hope is to develop an even stronger PLN where I can learn from others and hopefully someday answer these questions and many more... 

"Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success." - Henry Ford