Posts By: Erin Dye

Jump Start Your PLN—Start With What You Know!

Trying to jump into a PLN (Professional Learning Network) can be daunting. There are a bunch of excellent resources out there, but it’s easy to fall down an Internet rabbit hole and emerge without a lot to show for it. Here are some tips you can use as you start your networking.

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Ideas and Tips

So it’s the middle of the year, you are finally feeling pretty confident about using technology in class—at least some of the time. You have your class routines down, you’ve identified your student tech support whizzes, and you have at least some idea of how to get the students to do their work on their iPads or computers.

What’s next?

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The one thing I hear most from teachers during the school year when I talk to them about tech integration goes something like this: “That whiteboard/iPad lesson looks great, but I just don’t have time to create something like the on my own.”

My response to them is generally something like: “Me neither! That’s why I searched for a lesson somebody else made, then I made a few minor changes to it, and I was ready to go!”

That’s because I put a lot of faith in the PLN (Personal Learning Network). I’m on Facebook or Pinterest all the time anyway, so I take note (or favorite, share, or just take a screenshot) of great resources I see other people posting so I can use them myself. Sometimes I’ll post a resource of my own, but I freely admit to being a social media lurker.

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Professional development sessions are great, but often happen only once a month or once a quarter. How can you keep improving your use of technology in the classroom between sessions? For constant professional development, try harnessing the power of social media.

If that opening paragraph scared you, you’re not alone. The idea of social media for professional learning can be intimidating for some people. But take a step back and examine your computer use in your free time. Do you spend your time reading conversations on Reddit? Finding recipes on Pinterest? Sharing photos and status updates on Facebook? All those sites have active teacher communities. So start where you are!

While you’re on Facebook looking at your friend’s baby photos, spend 5 minutes searching for a group of teachers in your city, subject area, or grade level. Don’t be afraid to be a lurker at first. Follow the conversations and see how people interact. Then when you get more comfortable, join the conversation. You’ll find you’ll get a richer experience when you interact.

Another great option you may already use is Edmodo. In addition to communicating with students, Edmodo also is a great space for interacting with other teachers. Think about it, with all those educators in one place, of course they all start talking to each other!

To get started, check out Edmodo’s list of Teacher PD groups. Search the list to find one that interests you and request to join. If you’re looking for advice on a specific device or program, such as ClassDojo, search for the company’s publisher page. Many of them cultivate good communities, or at the very least provide a space to discuss with other teachers.

If you really want to expand your PD prowess, then it’s time to join Twitter. An executive at Twitter recently said that educators are an essential part of the network’s base. Anyone who hangs with teachers on Twitter already knew that! Twitter can be a busy place—let hashtags help you sort through all the information. (For those who don’t know, a hashtag is simply a keyword or phrase, no spaces, preceded by the # symbol.) Use hashtags to find educator chats and find people worth following.

Once you find a network of teachers, you’ll soon find that the information shared is invaluable to your teaching!

Picture this: You’ve built a great PLN (Professional Learning Network) using social media. You have lots of ideas about how you can use technology in your classroom. You’ve tried some new activities and want to share them with other teachers in your school… but they aren’t interested. What can you do to create a school culture that embraces technology?

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Turning over the interactive whiteboard pen to a small group of students can require a leap of faith. Those things are expensive, and some of them can break if you look at them too hard. But the benefits of using the whiteboard as a center outweigh the risks. Here are 3 tips for creating successful small-group English/Language Arts activities for your whiteboard center.

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Have you ever heard or said a version of the phrase “Technology (or the Internet or computers) brings the world into the classroom”? While undoubtedly that’s true, video conferencing offers the chance to connect with real people outside the classroom in real time, which is a valuable learning opportunity.

Mystery Skype

You may only know Skype as a way to talk to out of town relatives. But Skype is also a valuable resource for educators!

A great way to use Skype in the classroom is Mystery Skype—a “global guessing game” played by two classrooms. Each class gets 20 questions to figure out where in the country or world the other class is. Mystery Skype can also be used to bring in virtual guest speakers to talk with students about a fun career or a subject you’re studying. Finally, Mystery Skype can be used as a tool for students to practice a foreign language with native speakers and for English language learners to hone their English skills. Visit Skype’s education page to find participating classrooms and speakers.

Google Hangouts

Like Skype, Google Hangouts is another free way to bring guest speakers into your classroom. But Hangouts has some additional and useful features. Hangouts makes it easy to have multiple people in a conference at once, which you can use to host a virtual career day or a debate about a topic. Hangouts also allows screen sharing, which makes it easy for speakers to show a presentation or other documents while talking to your classroom.

In addition to connecting with other classrooms or bringing in guest speakers, you can use video conferencing to bring parents into the classroom to watch student presentations without requiring them to leave their home or office. Oh, and both these tools can be used for free!

And remember, safety first. Before using any videoconferencing in the classroom:

  • Inform students, school administration, and parents. Detail in writing who will participate, when the conference or chat will take place, and its purpose.
  • Work with the outside participant(s) to set ground rules. Rules may include who will be present and whether the conference can be recorded.

If you have 1:1 devices in your classroom, first, take a minute to give thanks! After that, think about some of the great opportunities you have to differentiate instruction with your students using these devices. There are a lot of great resources that will track and assess your students’ work, responding to their needs and moving them forward accordingly.

My favorite is a little-known company—you may not have heard of it—called Khan Academy. Ok… it’s no secret. Many people know about this video-based lesson platform. However, many teachers think that’s all it is—YouTube for Math class. Take another look. Their new teacher dashboard system has all the bells and whistles when it comes to adaptive learning. You start your students off by taking a placement test, and then Khan suggests lessons for them based on how they did. You can override those suggestions at any time, if you need to. On top of that, Khan’s student-facing LMS is very game-like, which keeps the kids interested and pushing to ‘unlock’ the next level. If you want more information, check out my post from a few months ago.

For English/Language Arts (ELA), I would look into MyON. This online library isn’t free, but it’s worth talking to your principal about setting up a trial subscription. The system is web-based, so you can use it whether you have laptops, iPads, or mobile devices. You can assign readings to your students, allow them to choose, or let the system provide recommendations to them. The recommendations are all based on Lexile level, which is determined by a pre-assessment that students take when they first sign in. Probably the most useful aspect of this service is that it tracks all student reading time. Since research shows there’s a correlation between test scores and the time spent reading per day, a service like this is very useful. Consider creating a contest based on minutes spent reading.

There are a lot of other adaptive learning systems out there, and they can make it seem like you have several teacher assistants in class with you at all times. Take a minute to look into a few of them, or ask colleagues or members of your PLN about what has worked for them.

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