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.

1. Start with what you know.

Are you already on LinkedIn? Facebook? Twitter? Pinterest? Begin with groups you’re already comfortable with, and use those to help you find new resources. Join a few extra teaching groups on LinkedIn, follow a few more people your teacher-friends follow on Twitter or Facebook. Have a favorite piece of software or hardware? Find the company that makes it and follow them to get tips and tricks about using it.

2. Let someone else vet blogs for you.

There are a bunch of blogs that focus on teaching and edtech. But it’s hard to know which have useful information or come from reliable groups or individuals. There are a number of sites out there, such as Teach 100, that rate the content or authority (number of social media shares, etc.) for each blog. This is also a good place to look to find niche blogs. It’s great to get a wide variety of information from Edutopia, but sometimes you just want to hear what another 7th grade Math teacher has to say.

3. Follow sources from posts/Tweets you like.

Pretend you’re one of your students, and you’re finding sources for a bibliography. A good place to start is always with the sources/footnotes of the book you’re currently reading. The same thing holds with building your PLN. Follow the source links that are embedded in a post or Tweet you liked. If that source seems useful, follow them too. Gradually your PLN ‘bibliography’ will grow.

4. Set a reasonable goal for yourself.

If you want to flesh out your PLN, set a weekly goal—something reasonable, like reading one new blog post or following one new person on Twitter. There is absolutely no need to jump in all at once. There’s a great chance you’ll burn out, if you do.

Happy sharing!

What are your students getting out of the tech in your classroom?

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?

Why not ask your students? Create a survey about how your tech integration has been going, and ask your students to grade you. As I see it, there are 3 benefits:

• They’ll jump at the chance to “grade” you.

• You’ll get some good ideas for how to improve your methods.

• You’ll have something to show your principal during evaluations about your interest in what your students get from your lessons.

There are several ways you could go about this. I recommend creating a quick and easy Google Form. If your students are working from iPads or laptops in class, it will be easy for them to respond. If your students are too young for email addresses, this is also a good option, since Google Form respondents don’t need to sign in. You can just post a TinyUrl of your form on the board and then they can fill it out from there. It’s up to you whether you want to have a line for students to write in their names, or if you want the answers to be anonymous. (Just keep in mind that you might get more honesty if you allow anonymity.)

Here are some sample questions I might ask:

• Remember that __________________ activity we did a few weeks ago? What’s one new thing you learned about using technology from it?

• When we use our [tech devices] in small groups, do you have enough time to finish the assignment? How about your homework?

• When you have an assignment that requires you to use your [tech device], do you usually understand the instructions?

• What is your favorite part about using your [tech device] in class?

• What is your least favorite part about using your [tech device] in class?

• What was your favorite activity that we did with the [tech devices]?

• What would you like to do next [week/month/semester] in class using your [tech device]? (Maybe name some options here and have students rate them on a scale.)

Give it a try! I’d like to hear how it goes for you.

Time saving resources to help you auto-grade student work!

Grading is time consuming. That’s nothing new. You could spend so much more time differentiating instruction and remediating if you had a little more time on your hands. Technology is here to help. Let’s talk about some of the self-grading tech resources that are available (for free!) to help you out.

We did a post a while back about formative assessment, and a lot of that information applies here too. Services like Socrative, Kahoot, and bubble sheets from MasteryConnect offer self-grading assessment that can be uploaded directly to your gradebook.

If your class is 1:1 with devices, I recommend using BlendSpace. It’s free, and it not only allows you to create your entire lesson in one place that is connected to your Google Drive, Flickr, YouTube, Dropbox, and all of the files that are saved on your computer, but it also allows you to create self-grading assessments. You enter the questions and answers, your students sign in to your “class” from their own BlendSpace accounts linked with your teacher account, they take the quiz and click “submit.”

Google Forms is another nice way of creating self-grading assessments. This requires a little bit of spreadsheet work on your part, but after you do it once, it’s easy to repeat over and over again. Basically, you create your quiz in Google Forms, and answer the questions (correctly) yourself. In your Drive, you’ll see the response spreadsheet, and you can then insert a Chrome add-on script (called Flubaroo) that will then allow you to grade the assignment for each student and email them the results.  There are other, slightly more complicated methods for doing this but Flubaroo is the most effective.

Hope that’s helpful! Already have a favorite auto-grading system? Tell us about it in the comments.

Why reinvent the wheel? Leverage your PLN to find great resources!

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.

A good way to think about your PLN: You get the great ideas and resources that you would get from a summer EdCamp or a PD week, but by leveraging your PLN, you get the resources all year long, when you need them, and you don’t have to give up any time during your summer to get them. Win-Win!

Here are a few examples of some of my favorite places to find quality ideas resources that I can lightly modify to suit my own needs.


South Berwyn District 100

Common Sense Educators

Teacher Tube

Green Light Learning Tools (shameless plug: this is me!)


Ideas for Exit Tickets

1 iPad Classroom

1:1 Devices

Classroom Decorating Ideas

Setting Classroom Rules

Facebook Groups:

Dreambox Learning

Teachers Sharing Resources


Edutopia Teaching Resources

Other online communities:

Promethean Planet (teacher-created lessons)

TeachHub interactive lessons

Using social media for professional development!

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!

Create a school culture that embraces technology

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?

Use Technology

This may seem obvious, but using technology is the single most important way to foster a culture of technology in your school. Lead by example! When other teachers see you successfully using the interactive whiteboard, the iPad, or online tools, they start to understand both the power and the pedagogical benefits of the technology. Then when they have questions or issues, they know there is someone who has gone through this before.

Talk to Each Other

This is related to the “Use Technology” bit. If you’re a big tech user, talk to your fellow teachers about what you use in the classroom and why. And not just about successes—be vocal about your failures and how you plan to work around those issues. Talk to teachers who don’t use technology in their classrooms. Why don’t they use the technology that’s available to them? Is it a solvable issue that could be fixed with more training or more support? Or is it an endemic issue, such as not enough bandwidth or devices to go around? Then take these conversations to the administration. They are the ones who invested in the technology for the school. They want you to use it!

Set Dedicated Technology PD Time

I’m not talking about a brief mention of a technology tool in a PD session about other school or teaching issues. I’m talking about a dedicated edtech day over the summer or afternoon on an institute day that is 100% devoted to integrating technology in class. This session needs to be specific to your school’s technology and how that technology can be an integral part of your curriculum goals. A broad overview without usable applications doesn’t help anyone. Then follow up! Create technology PLCs—professional learning communities. A PLC can provide teachers with an ongoing support group, a go-to group for technology questions, and a higher level of accountability.

How to explain (and prevent!) cyberbullying

The term cyberbullying seems to be everywhere these days, from the news to concerns from parents. Cyberbullying happens when a student (or an adult) writes or posts mean things about another person using electronic devices. Cyberbullying can take the form of text messages, social media posts, or embarrassing photos or videos.

Why should we be concerned about cyberbullying? In contrast to the bullying of the past, cyberbullying can happen 24 hours a day. Students aren’t safe at home or when they’re alone. Cyberbullying can happen anonymously and information can spread quickly throughout a school. In 2013, a CDC survey found that 15% of high school students reported being bullied electronically. Broken down by gender, 21% of female students reported online harassment, compared to only 8.5% of male students. And remember, those numbers are only the students who felt comfortable reporting the abuse.

How to Prevent it

  • Have clear school rules about technology use and bullying. Without rules, it can be difficult to punish offenders.
  • Encourage students to think before posting something online. Would they say that comment to the person’s face? Would they want strangers to see it?
  • Remind students that a digital footprint can last forever. Will they want college admission officers or a future boss to reject them over mean tweets? (A recent survey found 77% of employers googled job applicants.)
  • Tell students to keep their passwords safe, and to change them often. Sharing passwords can result in abuse.
  • Talk about it! Students may not realize what they see as good-natured teasing is harming a peer. Check out these detailed lesson plans from Common Sense Media for grade-appropriate lessons and discussion topics.

If a student comes to you for help, show them how to make screenshots and note times of messages. Cyberbulling can create a hostile environment for students at school, even if it begins at home. Step in as needed to make all students feel safe among their peers.


ELA, small groups, and the interactive whiteboard: 3 tips everyone should know

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.

1. Create rules for proper handling of the whiteboard and the pen.

Don’t turn students loose until you feel confident they can follow the rules. Have reasonable consequences if a student breaks the rules. Some ideas for IWB/pen guidelines:

• No real markers on the whiteboard

• Take turns using the pen

• Help other students use the whiteboard

• Return the pen to the holder when finished with the activity

Use a classroom management system, like ClassDojo, to identify good whiteboard behaviors. You can edit your list of behaviors to include IWB-specific ones, like “Gentle with the IWB pen.”


2. Automate your classroom management.

Keep students at the whiteboard focused by giving them clear instructions on how long they have before they switch centers. You can do this for the whole class, in fact, by turning on the timer feature on your IWB. In ActivInspire, you can set the timer to automatically start over so you can easily keep students moving through centers. You can also set it to automatically reset the whiteboard lesson, so you don’t have to come over and restart it for the next group.


3. Find (or make!) whiteboard activities that are good for groups.

Look for one with great drag-and-drop functionality or click-to-reveal buttons. This is GREAT for vocabulary work. You can quickly make an activity by copying and pasting sentences from a PDF worksheet, make a word bank by dropping in the text of the vocabulary words and then setting them to “clone” or “drag copies.”  Here’s a good example of an activity I created in about 2 minutes. If you have 3-5 pages of these, your students can take turns answering and work together.


You can also copy and paste text from a Word doc or website into your IWB page and have your students collaborate to annotate the text. In this example, students have underlined instances of repetition and circled words that indicate theme or main idea. (Keep in mind when you make your page that younger students won’t be able to reach the top of the whiteboard, so keep all text in the bottom 2/3 of the screen.)


Would love to hear any of your IWB engagement ideas for students — please comment below!


Bringing the WORLD to your classroom!

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.


Response to Intervention with 1:1 classrooms

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.