Saturday, July 26, 2014

Ignorance is not bliss, it is unconsciousness.

One of the great benefits of being an online connected educator is the vast amount of resources available. Like Alice down the rabbit hole, one may follow any of hundreds of potential paths, having no conception of where they might lead. That's a situation I have encountered multiple times this summer. I still have no idea how I found out about the CLMOOC, but boy am I glad I decided to give it a try. Numerous links, chats and posts on Twitter  and G+ have led me to learning about topics from the animation of Adventure Time to reconsidering how to arrange the classroom to incite more engagement. After following one of the breadcrumbs that Shawn White left on Twitter, like this one,

I traced a path for nearly two hours learning what IFTTT* is.  I read blog posts, watched associated YouTube videos and Ted Talks, and then read more all because I was ignorant in how these automated messages got created in the first place. I thought that users could check a box somewhere on a social media site that measures analytics (such as, not realizing that the automation might actually be something users were developing on their own to be efficient. How bizarre!

On the one hand, because I am relatively new to Twitter and still have what I would consider a small following, I can understand how a heavy feed would make responding individually nearly impossible. Those users with the largest following in the educational sector can't possibly keep up with their Twitter feed and their day job(s). Thus, the need to find efficiencies wherever possible - but at a cost. Shawn, in his various blog posts, addresses the many idiosyncracies of Twitter and its various off-shoots (chats, EdCamps, Webinars) as they intersect with the bizarre technological search for humanity. Read them. (Then read about Pax to understand the man behind the writing.)

What I sense is a mass of human beings trying to figure out how to navigate the seemingly emotional connections to other human beings they've never met. In Twitter, blog, and G+ posts, the desire to make "real connections" comes across frequently. The ability for a user to say, "I was at (fill in the desired PD institute here) with (fill in name of leader of the field here)" holds the same currency as being in the proverbial in-crowd in middle and high school. I have witnessed on some large chat sessions some users' brilliant tweets going completely ignored while other well-known users get immediate response and feedback. The best moderators work hard to engage as many different users as possible. Exemplary moderators in my book are @JennGRoach, @BethHill2829, @dogtrax, @grammasheri, and @kfasimpaur. Some I've 'met' through subject area chats, others I've 'met' through CLMOOC. I'm certain there are many other engaging folks who, by their very nature are inclusive. Of course, there are also those in the Twittersphere whose sole purpose is self-promotion. 

To be fair, long time users seem to be fulfilling a different need than those new to Twitter. I often wonder if they feel that their time on these social media sites has become less worthwhile. For some reason I don't yet grasp, a vast number of Twitter-educators (Twedupeeps?) are looking for someone to validate them, their methodologies, their Tweets. Others use posts and Tweets in a search for information (I'm in that group) and others still are on Twitter only because someone else told them they should be.

As I moved from using Twitter only to share with my classroom parents what was going on in school to developing my PLN, my knowledge of what's available has grown exponentially. With this new technological intelligence comes a sense of having to choose. With the choice comes a concern that I'm possibly missing what might be more beneficial for my specific situation. At some point, I have to trust that what I know is good enough. I am hoping that I can develop a new habit of referring to the curation tools I have so carefully built over the summer because I certainly will never remember all the new tools and tips I have been exposed to in the last several weeks. What I do know is this:

The network of collaborators that I found on the CLMOOC is far more intimately connected than those I have met on Twitter. 

Perhaps because of the nature of the CLMOOC - assignments, gently prodding facilitators, a sharing of results, and opportunities to process the process, taking metacognition to a whole new level, and multiple 'touches' within short timeframes, I feel more connected to the PLN from the MOOC than I do the Twitter PLN. The MOOC facilitators have been nurturers, whereas the Twitter participants are sharers. In the MOOC I found the humanity that Shawn laments is lacking in the IFTTTs. 

As my chance to learn and play without time constraint comes to a close, I can carry into my classroom a new understanding. I can teach (share) and the information will land on its mark but without the warmth of emotional attachment, or I can facilitate (nurture and engage), where my students will develop that WANT to learn that all true educators are trying so desperately to create. More valuable than all the tools I tried and mastered over these last many days and nights is the critical human component that the students need, whether they realize it or not. So glad I had the opportunity to experience it firsthand, my eyes, and more importantly, my arms - are open.
*(If this, then that - old coding protocol that still applies to nearly all programs, but in this case is a web-based automator that allows the user to create messages between devices and users without human intervention.) 

Sunday, July 20, 2014


The acrostic, in a different form and order was shared by Steven Williams, Herefordshire, England. The design is my remix, using

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Bobby Bobberts are you out there?

I can't wait to find out your real name. Clever pseudonym, Bobby. Full of alliteration. Are you, perhaps, Oren? Or are you one of the 7th graders trying to make me chuckle? This is a wonderful way for me to know that my blog is being read! Carry on, Bobby!

On Twitter Chats

***At the bottom of this post is a list of Twitter terminology highlighted within the text for those unfamiliar with the lingo.***

I love chats on Twitter. I don't recall when I first began lurking to see that the fuss was all about, but I have been observing educationally related chats for six months at least. They have been going on for a few years, though. One of the first was created out of necessity by Meenoo Rami, who was seeking support in her early years of teaching. I only knew of a few chats, and had not heard of Meenoo's #engchat or many others until I was exposed to the digital library created by cybraryman, Jerry Blumengarten. Jerry's resources are so widely used that when I Google his web presence, this is what comes up:
I entered only two letters, and the algorithm knew what I was looking for because of the sheer number of educators referencing Jerry's vast repository. Or maybe that's because I'm on Jerry's site so often. It is my favorite online resource, followed by Joyce Valenza's curation, and Richard Byrne's blog. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Stacy Brown (@21stStacy) for helping me through the murky process of curation, and pointing me to these resources.

When I recently went to Jerry's Twitter Chats list to double check the day and time of a specific chat, I examined more closely the names of the chats. It is interesting that over 340 chats exist in the educational setting alone, not counting those few that might occur but are not on Jerry's list. Hashtags range from 1to1chat to psycchat.  Every person in education could find a chat to participate in, if so desired. This is what I find fascinating about Twitter.

What is it that makes chats both popular with users and apparently highly useful? If educators did not find chats worthwhile, they would not be taking over the Twittersphere as they appear to be. I've noticed that chats generate a significant amount of positive reinforcement among the participants. Intelligent comments are often favorited  as a way of demonstrating both gratitude and acknowledgement, as well as being earmarked for later reference. I know that, even for myself, getting notification of a favorite is a dopamine pump inducer, especially for a newbie

Secondly, chats allow introverts to be heard. In a face to face meeting of more than three people, an introvert, no matter how intelligent, is not likely to speak unless directly spoken to, or until waiting for the other participants to stop talking. In a chat, however, the social norms do not apply. Anyone may "speak" at any given time, without talking over another person. An introvert does not feel he/she is interrupting because each tweet is boxed independently of those before and after it. This is an important visual cue. A side conversation, by way of a direct message (DM),  can occur simultaneously to the stream. In a meeting, side conversations are frowned upon, even stopped punitively.

Additionally, chats are a phenomenal source of new contacts and resources that have been pre-vetted and pre-approved. I have found many new contacts in my areas of expertise on chats. Mention that you are planning a specific unit, and a torrent of "Have you tried this..." or "I did this and it was great" messages come back to you. I have amassed a large number of web-based links from the chats I've been on. I may or may not use what has been suggested, but I won't have anyone pressuring me to do so, as might happen within a school building. "Did you try that game I suggested? Did you use the worksheet I gave you?" Often, well-meaning suggestions don't fit with another teacher's classroom culture. But the giver feels slighted none-the-less. Not so with Twitter. Use it, or not. No worries. 

But most interesting to me is the fact that chats level the playing field among the participants. Unless specifically mentioned, no one knows how long participants have been teaching, their age, their appearance, their personality type, their tics, their management style, or their perceived social position in the culture of their school. This means that teachers who may be ignored, or are quiet, or are loners in a faculty meeting are actually able to participate fully in the experience. In-person meetings inherently engage the societal rules that Twitter obliterates. Chats, in particular, because of their brevity and lack of visual connection, create a situation in which every participant feels equally valued. The rapid nature of a large chat does not allow much time for pre-editing in the thought process, which is tough for an introvert. However, because apps such as Tweetdeck and Nurph allow the user to isolate the chat and back scroll, a participant can respond to a comment that may have occurred earlier in the chat. This is the equivalent of someone blurting out an idea ten minutes after the rest of the group had moved on in a meeting. In a Twitter chat, it still works, without the social blundering. Imagine if teachers simply walked in and out of a faculty meeting whenever they felt like it. This is perfectly acceptable on a chat. You can only make it for the last ten minutes? No problem! Your ideas are still welcomed. Not only that, but many moderators spend personal time archiving chats so that anyone may go back later and view the content. A shout-out here to the incredible Paul Solarz who generously donates his time to help archive many chats. They can be found on his blog. I don't know many teachers who would go back and watch the video of a team or grade-level meeting to make sure they didn't miss anything, but the number of Tweeps requesting links to archives is high.

I finally convinced my husband, who is seeking work in the pharmaceutical industry, to use chats as a way to make connections (PLN for non educators). After only one chat for LinkedIn he had plans to change his LinkedIn profile, and had made connections. He, too is sold on chats, and he's one of the strongest extroverts I know! 

I want to be clear to say that in-person meetings are critical for a school, team, or division to run successfully. I am by no means advocating eliminating faculty meetings in favor of Twitter chats. Each has its respective values and purposes. I do think, however, that chats are more than just a cocktail party with a large group of people, without the cocktails (or maybe not - we'll never know).  Their format, brevity, and openness create an experience unlike any other. If you haven't yet, give it a try! 

Twitter terms (these definitions are mine - I did not source them from the web):
  • chat: an open conversation among Twitter users at a scheduled time using a hashtag, typically oriented around a particular topic of interest 
  •  lurk(ing): reading the stream of a chat without participating
  • #engchat: a chat initiated by Meenoo Rami for teachers of English (lit and comp)
  • #1to1chat: a chat for uses of devices, one per student
  • #psycchat: a chat for psychologists and counselors in the educational field
  • hashtag: symbol previously known as number or pound sign, used to track information (as in hash marks) 
  • Twittersphere: the collective of Twitter users, as represented by their tweets
  • favorite(d): a verb (gasp!) meaning to mark a Tweet for reference or acknowledgement using the star symbol in Twitter
  • notification: a Twitter category that places specific Tweets in a file for the user's review
  • newbie: a new user to the platform
  • DM: direct message sent from one user to another, not seen in the stream of Tweets
  • stream: list of messages sorted in time stamp order
  • Tweeps: people using Twitter
  • PLN: personal learning network - a group of strangers and acquaintances sharing a common interest or knowledge base to promote individual intellectual growth

Monday, July 14, 2014

Process Thinking...process OF thinking...process the think-ing

As the calendar creeps closer to pre-planning days, I have been reflecting on my "summer" and the range of emotions it has unexpectedly evoked. I often say to my family that I wish my brain had an on/off switch. I spend all of my waking (and non-waking) hours analyzing, noticing patterns, consciously thinking, thinking, thinking. As a goal driven list-maker, I had specific intentions for my time away from the classroom. But one connection led to another, which led to another, and another -- interconnected learning never ceases. The Language Arts teacher in me is having a tough time letting that last sentence live with two dashes rather than the more appropriate semicolon or period, but it seems fitting given the intended meaning and visual imagery it induces.

I've experienced moments of great frustration that I feel the need to so fully embrace the CL world and the multitude of opportunities it presents. Another person might be perfectly comfortable merely to dip a toe in the water for now, then add a little bit later on, and so on. I don't seem capable of that behavior. Once I signed up, joined, registered, followed the chats and links, I was all in. This was an exciting adventure that I found easy, intuitive to explore. A new app? OK, I'll try it! A great web based tool for presentations? Sure, why not? I can give my students more options if I know they are available.

But then resentment set in.

Why would self-directed learning affect my emotions in a negative way? I'm a positive person, I think. No happy-go-lucky-everything-is-beautiful, but also not a Debbie Downer. Perhaps I feel I am being controlled rather than being able to control my precious time. I sense a pressure to "finish" before pre-planning so I can begin the year "ready".

Hold that thought and bear with me as I share a moment of beauty.

On my way to run an errand, I recognized Copeland's Appalachian Spring on Performance Today. I could name that tune in three notes! (If you understood that reference, I know how old you are.) 'Tis a Gift to be Simple touches me in some deep unknown place anyway, but just as the Aspen Festival Ensemble's notes swelled, a bird's flight path moved across my line of vision in perfect curve with the arc of the melody. It was as if it had been choreographed just for me. My thoughts, blessedly, took a different turn - from brooding about my to-do list, to thinking about curves and cosines, and the beauty of music and math, and the gorgeous lines of a bird's aerodynamic body, and the sweet notes that come from such a small creature. And, as often happens in the process of driving, or showering, or just before waking, in the alpha brain wave cycle, I made my most intuitive connection in learning.

I'm still ingrained in the "product" mode rather than the "process" mode. What a critical recognition this is! Therein lies my challenge. Once I acknowledged that the learning will never be finished, my shoulders dropped, and I began to relax (well, a little bit, anyway). I know that my students, too, are accustomed to the product methodology of "How we used to teach." It will be up to me to recognize that the discomfort in them AND me is coming from a place of cognitive dissonance with the paradigm shift. Whatever learning I have completed by the time those joyful, smiling faces arrive (I mean the students, not the parents who are dropping them off, but if the shoe fits...) will be enough. I have already packed an incredible amount of learning into these last 4 1/2 weeks. I feel accomplished, eager, and invigorated. I've also fulfilled my need as an artist to create during these weeks. I've created a variety of Zentangles in mandala form (great for unwinding)- slideshow below, as well as made other beautiful pieces of art this summer, both digitally and traditionally. I've made invaluable connections with other educators of all levels, and have read several books that have informed my thought processes.

Once again, I am glad that the teacher (me) has experienced what the students will encounter. I will be authentically honest when I say, "I know how you feel. Frustrating isn't it? But you know what? It is a good sign. You are learning."

Mandala Zentangles and Vision - Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Grab a cup of coffee or tea...

I had started to write a reflective post several times this week, but each day, some new occurrence would cause more reflection and give me pause. Earlier in the week I was on the upswing of the roller coaster ride that has been my summer of learning. In financial settings, upswings are a sign of an improving economic climate. On roller coasters, however, the upswing is the climb - slow and jerky. That's me.

I'm not a jerk (at least I've never been told as much) but the amount of activity and learning these last few weeks has been exponential. This has not been a gradual accumulation of knowledge, it has been an avalanche, where I try to catch as much snow in my magical net as I can. While I'm keeping up with the programs I have elected to participate in, I am wondering how I will ever manage to keep up with all I've learned once school begins again. How will I manage my fledgling PLN, read others' blog posts, update my own (for my students) maintain the classroom calendar, review and comment on student writing while implementing ePortfolios and voice-over with their Google docs, stay on top of lesson planning, emails, inevitable changes to the schedule, and more? I know there must be other educators who have successfully managed this transition. How did you do it and keep your household running, too? I know, I know. It will all work out somehow. I am the kind of teacher who does not, cannot settle for 'good enough.' Not enough time, as a recent commentary indicated is the resounding lament heard far and wide. Something about reading it in print made me feel heard.

Knowing that it is not my being inefficient (Ha! Nothing could be more ironic) but the expectations of today's educational environment helped me put my situation in perspective.

I then turned my attention one of my summer goals - getting my studio back in order so that I could accomplish some of this week's tasks: the writing hacks (more on that below), participating in EdCampHome, participating on a Google Hangout panel , writing a reflective post, and participating in the "Hack Your Notebook" day.

As the week progressed my engagement in the PLN I have developed through these MOOCs (#TeachDoNow and CLMOOC) increased and deepened. The conversations are broadening and eliciting thoughtful discourse. In the meantime, my own 'makes' for the CLMOOC are allowing me to see the continuing benefit of process learning, gaming, and (my own personal torch) creativity. I have thoroughly enjoyed the variety of writing hacks, which felt more like games than arduous composition. Why shouldn't my students' experiences feel the same?

While on a trip to MICON14, one of my principals asked me if we did any poetry last year. We only completed one poem. Doing so allowed us to study "A Midsummer Night's Dream" instead. I have to find a way to do both this year. I don't know how, but I will. I've gotten such enjoyment out of this week's fun with the various poetry generators online. My first hack was a nod to Austin Kleon. I will be forever indebted to my colleague Samara Schwartz for introducing me to Mr. Kleon's work several years ago. She "thought I might like it." Understatement of the year. The beauty of deconstruction and simplicity in his process is one that mirrors the work of the minimalist painters (Agnes Martin, Robert Ryman are two examples.) Minimalism is one of those genres that average citizens don't understand. One must know the history before and of the movement to grasp why these pieces are breathtaking in meaning and simplicity. For the writing hack, I took my first post, and "Kleon-ed" it, then shared it with other members of the CLMOOC. Here is the result:

I had planned then, to create a book/movie that utilized writing from my past - thus the need to straighten the studio - to find the pieces to work with. But as often happens with a work in progress, the piece must speak for itself. It led me in a different direction than I had planned. I'm still mulling over the idea that words are tied to space and place. Their meaning and impact changes with the environment. This is a concept I will call "Living Words" because they are in flux, in our memories, in our spaces, in our understanding. This is the result of my "words" project:

And finally, because there is no Notebook Hack Event near me, I did a modified version. Apologies to Irene Cara - I have no idea why the sound drops out of the clip. I tried mightily to fix it. Oh well! Notebook Hack Video

If you are still reading, you have earned an endurance badge! What I am loving most about the week is the intersection between literacy, arts, and science. I have always looked for those cross-curricular opportunities because the world does not work in subject areas. THIS is how I teach and how I learn. I welcome your feedback, but not here. Send comments to

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Hey, campers!

If you are at home or on vacation, looking for something fun to do next week, check this out:
Maker Camp

Tell your friends!

Friday, July 4, 2014

"The Good of the Many..."

Star Trek fans know that the rest of the sentence above comes from our beloved Spock, "The good of the many outweighs the good of the one." When Spock had to sacrifice his life to save the crew, Captain Kirk struggled with his own desire to save his dearest friend and companion. While no one is in danger on the Cyberspaceship CLMOOC, Sheri Edwards has captured just how valuable the collaborations, connections, and sharing are for successful learning. The growth of the many far exceeds the learning of any individual. Her recap of the week's participants speaks volumes about what can be gained by participating in a MOOC.  Enjoy! Slideshow Link

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Reflecting Pool

I wanted to begin this reflection with an appropriate quote. I narrowed it down to....thirty. Too many to choose from! I should not be surprised. I was searching for thoughts on collaboration. Here are a few of my top choices:

It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed. —Charles Darwin

Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much. —Helen Keller

I never did anything alone. Whatever was accomplished in this country was accomplished collectively. —Golda Meir

It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed. —Napoleon Hill

The secret is to gang up on the problem, rather than each other. —Thomas Stallkamp

Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean. —Ryunosuke Satoro
All from courtesy Stephanie Sarkis © 2012 Sarkis Media LLC

This week's make cycle for CLMOOC was (is) games/play. I thought I knew where I was headed until the NWP project leaders began throwing out a wide variety of possibilities. I typically jump right in, sharing from my own classroom experiences. I thought I was going to share how students have created an enormous range of games for our parts of speech review. I considered mentioning how I have used compass games to teach any kind of categorization (think "types of a sentence" or "types of writing".) What transpired, however, was a chance for me to create a game, and to play one, although I would never have defined the group poetry tag as a game. The playing I will say more about shortly. The creating was an iteration of Jeopardy that I have used many times. Still waiting for collaborators to complete devising the questions so we can actually play it, this part required no effort on my part, but I hope, is a resource others will use. (Here's the link to the CLMOOC Jeopardy game.)  

Two HUGE take aways from my day: 1. I had FUN!!!! [Wait...I'm allowed to have fun in my summer of learning?] Having fun made me want to do more.  2. My learning and understanding deepened as a result of my collaboration, allowing others to lead at some times, and follow during others. Sheri Edwards, Kevin Hodgson, and Terry Elliott threw the first proverbial dice, but the number of suggestions and participants quickly snowballed. Dozens of interpretations of "game" and "play" sparked curiosity, engagement, and posts. Sheri's dangling carrot, poetry tag, (previously not categorized as play in my brain) nabbed me with its simplicity and openness. I had never done this before, but why not? The progress of the day's exchanges can be found on Sheri's Storify. My participation netted me a new app, a chance to express my creativity, and a sense of accomplishment at having successfully conveyed a message with precious few words. Follow this link to see the poem I am referencing: Shift  

The more I thought about the progress of my day, the more I allowed myself to become the recipient of the learning, rather than focusing solely on knowledge that would be put to use for my students. My own shift in purpose was colored by the fact that this was "supposed to be" my week off. I am on vacation. Unfortunately, or fortunately as I would rather see it, one of my many medical conditions prevented me from spending my day as I intended. I could not be out on the beach, so I plugged in, and hit the ground running. The result was a greater mindfulness of the power of sharing. 

I don't think I can successfully convey the re-wiring in my brain that occurred throughout the day. As I shifted between Twitter feeds for ISTE, CLMOOC, other Tweeps and new apps, the Google+ hub for CLMOOC, email, Two Dots, and SmartyPins, I did not feel my usual need to be curating the vast amount of information passing across my cyberspace. Rather, I chose one stream in which to participate, fully. The result allowed me the space to use my artistic brain. I took a break to take some photos, resulting in this collage (a message in itself):

Near the end of the day, I sent off an email request to my admin for a chalkboard paint spot in a common area that will allow everyone - not just my classes - to participate in the type of collaborative play that I so enjoyed today. I want the students to value the knowledge they can share. I want the teachers to play. I want the prospective families to look at this space and think, "That is amazing!" Because it is. Those quotes up at the top of this blog? They still apply. Thank you, thank you, thank you to all the leaders of the CLMOOC for your many gifts. I'm still learning, and glad of it!