Professional Development: Webinars

Last night I stayed up very late in Nepal to catch a few webinars on SimpleK12. One was a fast-paced Web 2.0 smackdown where each presenter (me included–cool!) shared his/her screen and told about a useful tool. I chose PollsEverywhere, not because it is the best polling system out there, as others provide more analytics and assessment (InfuseLearning was highlighted as well), but because it is an easy way to turn any device into student response systems. I also learned about some other great tools such as screenr for instant screencasts, Doug Edmonds YouTube music videos that teach content, and BeeClip student digital scrapbook alternative to Glogster. I asked questions on the backchannel that were later answered and left feeling enthused and full of ideas. ]

The next webinar was on Symbaloo, which I am actually teaching this week during a professional development discussion, and I gained some new ideas on how to incorporate this tool. For starters, I’m going to set the homepage of all of the laptops to my Symbaloo webmix so that students don’t waste so much time pulling up websites and to keep them on task. I didn’t realize there were so many useful webmixes already created, such as “Surprisingly Edu Apps” and “Best Education Blogs.” I will definitely be spending some time webmixing this week.

I’ve tried a few times over the years to attend a successful webinar and have always left frustrated. It was either was boring or laden with technical problems. This webinar experience has encouraged me and I will be looking for others on topics of interest.

Twitter Power

“Educators really can’t afford to NOT be on Twitter.  Our educational landscape is changing very rapidly.  Our students are using this technology every day, and as educators we must continually be growing and finding new ways to learn and to reach our students.  Is Twitter perfect?  By no means.  But used correctly, Twitter can really become a catalyst in transforming your classroom, your school, and your teaching.”
~ Texas Principal

Having discovered Twitter only recently, I’m a few years behind the curve (6.5, actually).  Of course I’ve heard of the tool: who hasn’t? But I’m a recent convert to truly seeing it in action and feeling its power. I’ll draw from my years as a self-proclaimed “Mac Missionary” to paint a comparison.

Several conversations with friends, co-workers, and neighbors start with them asking me, “I need a new computer. I don’t really want a Mac, but can you tell me again why you like them so much?” Seeds are planted. Before long that friend has bought a brand-new MacBook Pro, iPad, iMac, or iPhone. I wait for what I know is bound to follow: the phone calls, emails, or silent exclamations of “Why did I wait so long?” “Do you know this can do…?” “Can you believe this…? and “I will never go back.” They discover something that has greatly enriched their digital life and shout praises to the choir: me. It’s OK, really. I love this stuff.

Back to Twitter. If you have a front row choir seat on this technology, then I give you permission to doze off now. Perhaps no one will notice. Do the rest of you know what a powerful tool Twitter is? Can be? Should be? I am really enjoying my learning curve.

This week’s assignment for EdTech 543 was to follow at least five new hashtags, organize them using a Twitter client (I chose Tweetdeck), and post at least three new ideas or resources I gained in the process. I wish all of my homework were as much fun!

After viewing The 2012 A-Z List Of Educational Twitter Hashtags and a bit of exploration, I chose to follow (at least for now) these hashtags: #edchat, #edtech, #futureofed, #edutopia, #mlearning, #edapp, and #slide2learn. I’m also following several EdTech professionals and groups. We’ll see which ones prove most valuable.

Within minutes I have dozens of new tools, resources, and ideas at my fingertips. My wheels are turning!

I have been asked to lead a professional development discussion next week on Personal Learning Networks. I will also be giving a beginner and intermediate training on SMART Boards. I have so many new resources at my fingertips I barely know where to begin.

Here are a few great things I’ll immediately draw from:

I’m the first to admit that it’s a big and overwhelming digital world out there. It can drain our time and resources if we let it. The flip side, fortunately, is that it can also save time and increase our resources.

I doubt I’ll use Twitter much on a personal level, but already it has greatly enriched me professionally. Twitter’s own site states, “Whether you tweet 100 times a day or never, you still have access to the voices and information surrounding all that interests you. You can contribute, or just listen in and retrieve up-to-the-second information.” Wherever we may fall on the spectrum, we ought to be on it somewhere.

I’ve learned again this week that until we as individuals or as educators have a reason to use a new tool or technology it will not have an impact. The relative advantage of any such technology needs to be assessed. We need to look at what things are already part of our everyday lives and see if there is a way to apply them educationally in a classroom setting. We can’t afford not to.

P.S. Watch how this college professor uses Twitter brilliantly:

International Literacy Day

International Literacy Day is celebrated around the world to focus attention on worldwide literacy and to instill a love of reading. I represented the U.S. Embassy today as I spoke to a local Nepali school about literacy. I have done similar outreach this past year using a projector and my iPad, so I created a fun Keynote presentation with talking points about world literacy. I also interviewed some students at school about why they like to read and created the above video. I was praying the power would stay on long enough to be able to use what I had prepared.

As it turns out, my prayers were in vain, since the school didn’t have electricity anywhere accessible as I spoke to 50+ students out in the equivalent of an open-air amphitheater. It felt a little bit like Anna’s classroom in Anna in the King, complete with threatening monsoon rain. So, setting my world-in-my-bag aside, I resorted to another form of technology: a dry erase board and marker.

I re-learned a valuable lesson today. Try as we might to include the latest tools to make our classroom experience engaging, they are simply a means to an end. The end today for me was certainly accomplished as we discussed how literacy lowers infant mortality rates, transforms lives, and contributes to world peace. The means had to be adjusted, but I was still a better teacher because of the effort I had put into it. Things won’t always “work” the way we want them to, but that doesn’t mean the overall objectives still can’t be met.

With more credit to the students than me, I delivered my address, answered a few questions, and handed their principal a wonderful box of fun books that from the U.S. Embassy. I read aloud from Mem Fox’s Whoever You Are and gave out “I Love Reading” pins.

So, if you are not one of 800 million adults and 130 million young people worldwide who can’t read or write, count your blessings – then go and read a good book.

What Weaving and Personal Learning Networks have in Common

The first line of a favorite poem “The Weaving” by Corrie Ten Boom reads, “My life is but a weaving…” While the quality of this photo is poor, as I took it in a rather dark and dusty loom workshop in Nepal, it illustrates what Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) mean to me. You may have to look close to see what I’m trying to highlight here.

Threads come from a seemingly endless arrangement of spools, and at first glance it appears they are in disarray and chaos. Upon further inspection, you will see each thread is skillfully channeled into what appears to be a single string. This string, while made up of many threads, forms the fiber of what will become a large tapestry, carefully crafted and intentionally woven.

While I love being “connected” to the greater world, especially on topics of interest, it can all be a bit overwhelming at times. PLEs are a means of filtering, channeling, harnessing many tools, websites, groups, feeds, blogs, wikis, headlines, apps, software, conferences (and more) into something that is not only manageable but powerful. Beautiful. Made up of many small fibers, they come together to create a greater whole. I think the tricky part is skillfully–and intentionally–choosing which of the many fibers I will allow to become part of my digital identity and the overall tapestry of my 21st Century life.

[If you’re familiar at all with Corrie Ten Boom, you won’t be surprised to know the poem itself focuses on her religious conviction, with God being the master Weaver in the tapestry of life. Though I’ve always loved The Hiding Place, it took on new meaning this summer for me as I was able to visit her home in Haarlem, The Netherlands. I stood in the very hiding place she wrote of. It was so very cool.]

Periodic Table of Connectivism

My EdTech543 assignment this week certainly stretched my creativity, but since I’m a wanna-be chemist at heart, I had to try it. The assignment was to non-linguistically represent the dense concepts of connectivism, personal learning networks, and communities of practice. Here is my attempt:


Reflection: Epistemological beliefs and Classroom instruction

Reading through the text and articles for this module has certainly opened my eyes, though I have felt a bit overwhelmed with trying to make sense of the practical application of various theories. The hardest part of the learning theories paper was its length–or lack of it. I found it incredibly difficult to read that amount of dense material, find a common theory to focus on, and synthesize it into one page. I certainly see the value of such an assignment, painful as it was, because it ensured that I 1) read the material, 2) made sense of it, and 3) morphed it into an academic synthesis paper. I’m not certain how well I succeeded but the effort alone was a good experience.

The hardest part of studying theory, for me, is actually applying it to everyday life. When I was a young piano student, I had one teacher who spent a significant amount of time on musical theory. At the time I hated it because all I really wanted to do was play the notes. However, over time I grew to realize that the theory I had learned made me a much better player than I would have otherwise been. This same idea applies in the classroom.
I just attended my 6th-grader’s Back to School Open House. I listened to all seven of his teachers express their teaching philosophy (which I now know to call their epistemological beliefs) and how they would strive to help my son learn throughout the year. What has yet to be told, however, is how well they will align their beliefs with day to day classroom instruction.

After reading more about constructivism, particularly social constructivism, I realized my own beliefs closely align with its principles. I certainly believe that we all “build personal interpretations of the world based on individual experiences and interactions” and that learning should occur in realistic settings with tasks that are relevant to the learner’s lived experience (Ertmer & Newby, 1993, p. 63). I am not a classroom teacher, but I do have the opportunity to visit K-5 grades for technology integration activities that I design. In alignment with NETS standards, I have flexibility in what I choose to focus on. My goal is to make technology use as seamless as possible, to blend it with other experiences the students are having and make it relevant to their own lives.

This week they did word clouds. We started with spelling words, then science vocabulary they had been learning, then they created their own. Some chose to focus on family or friends, while some highlighted favorite games or sports. While I have had to lay some groundwork for these young students who are fairly new to using the laptop carts, I will give less instruction and allow them more freedom to problem solve. They are so quick to raise their hand if any little thing goes wrong, and I want them to try first to solve the problem before asking for help. I’m excited to bring in some more collaborative work and limited social media, even with the lower grades. I read an article recently on Edutopia that said, “The evolving world of Internet communication — blogs, podcasts, tags, file swapping — offers students radically new ways to research, create, and learn. But, too often, schools use computers as little more than glorified workbooks, and that’s criminal” (Smith, 2007).

There is such potential to allow students to construct their own knowledge, give them room to experiment, learn deeply, and share. The trick is applying the theory to practical daily application, and that’s where teachers need all the support they can get. I consider one of my most important jobs this year as technology integration coordinator is to help empower teachers with the resources they need to reach their students.

Ertmer, P.A., & Newby, T.J. (1993). Behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism: Comparing     critical features from an instructional design perspective. Performance Improvement     Quarterly, 6(4), 50-72.

Smith, F. (2007). How to use social-networking technology for learning. Edutopia. Retrieved from

Social Constructivism Theory and Application

While not a new theory, constructivism has many faces and applications in today’s  classroom. Considered to be on the more radical end of the behaviorism-cognitivism-constructivism continuum, its heart is student-centered connection between a learner and that learner’s real-life experiences. Hence, there is little pure knowledge, as all learners shape such knowledge by their own life experiences. As “learning is presumed to become more meaningful and motivational when students construct designs or projects” (Jonassen & Land, 2012, p. 20), constructivists believe that learners create meaning rather than acquire it (Ertmer & Newby, 1993). Constructivism also holds that learners “build personal interpretations of the world based on individual experiences and interactions” and that learning should occur in realistic settings with tasks that are relevant to the learner’s lived experience (Ertmer & Newby, 1993, p. 63).  Social constructivism, the subject of this brief synthesis paper, goes a step further to acknowledge the social nature of knowledge and its creation in the minds of its learners (Anderson & Dron, 2011), and it includes historical, political, and cultural trends, face-to-face interactions, and reflecting groups (Au, 1998).

Social constructivism is founded on the epistemological theories of John Dewey and Lev Vygotsky. An educational reformer ahead of his time, Dewey believed that education in its broadest sense is “social continuity of life” and that a person who is connected with others can’t perform his own learning and activities without taking into account the activities of others (Dewey, 1916, para. 5). Russian psychologist Vygotsky notes that “students may gain insights into their own lives through the application of academic knowledge” and that learning involves historical, cultural, and individual conditions (Au, 1998, p. 301).

Major Principles
Anderson and Dron (1998) list some common themes of social constructivist theories: 1) new knowledge builds upon the foundation of previous learning; 2) context shapes learners’ knowledge development; 3) learning is an active process; 4) language and other social tools help construct knowledge; 5) learners must assess their own learning; 6) learning environment is learner-centered and encourages multiple perspectives; and 7) knowledge needs real world context and application.  Peer interaction and collaboration is also essential. Authentic tasks must be anchored in meaningful contexts and engage the learner in the actual use of tools in real-world situations (Ertmer & Newby, 1993).

Project Based Learning (PBL), if used wisely and well, can be an excellent means to a social constructivist end. The Buck Institute for Education (2009) lists compelling research that shows how PBL has increased achievement test scores, improved long-term retention and student integration of concepts, and instilled 21st Century skills in students. Teachers can build into each PBL unit Web 2.0 tools such as ePals, Google apps, mobile computing, or social networking sites such as Edmodo to help students connect and collaborate. Students can use technology capabilities to collaboratively construct, share, and represent what they have learned (Jonassen & Land, 2012, p. 20). The result is smarter, better prepared students, who have integrated their learning inside the classroom with their real-life experiences everywhere else.

Anderson,T.,& Dron, J. (2011). Three generations of distance education pedagogy. The     International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning,12(3). Retrieved from

Au, K. H. (1998). Social constructivism and the school literacy learning of students of diverse backgrounds. Journal of Literacy Research, 30(2), 297–319. doi:    10.1080/10862969809548000

Buck Institute for Education. (2009). Does PBL work? Retrieved from

Dewey, J. (1916). Education as a necessity of life. In Democracy and education (1). Retrieved from    chapter01.html

Ertmer, P.A., & Newby, T.J. (1993). Behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism: Comparing     critical features from an instructional design perspective. Performance Improvement     Quarterly, 6(4), 50-72.

Jonassen, D., & Land, S. (Eds.). (2012). Theoretical foundations of learning environments (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.