Posts Tagged ‘Personal Learning Network’

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Using the power of connection to transform education.

April 28, 2012

I was sitting at Singapore airport waiting 10 hours for a connecting flight, making the best use possible of the free wifi when a tweet came from my friend, Row. She knows I am doing research for university about how educators can use Web 2.0 to build PLN. Here’s the tweet below.

The link Row sent enabled me to find a book, “Personal Learning Networks: Using the Power of Connection to transform education.” By Will Richardson and Rob Mancabelli. I downloaded it to my Kindle. After the first couple of chapters I was inspired to think about what I am doing in my classroom to build the PLN of my Year 6 students.

Richardson and Mancabelli (2011) write, “Our schools need to harness each student’s natural propensity for participating in online spaces and funnel that energy into building powerful networks for learning that are used in every class almost every day” (p.7). This quote reminded me of an exciting initiative I took part in last year with my Kindergarten class. As a Kindergarten teacher I was a regular visitor to #kinderchat last year. I made a connection with Heidi Echternacht and Amy Murray who had the aim of connecting Kindergarten classes and their teachers around the globe. It was phenomenal! Heidi introduced me to Patty Johnson and for the last month of the Australian school year my class and Patty’s class exchanged Tweets.

I sent a message to Patty, (who you can follow on twitter @tori1074) asking if she would reflect on this experience.

This is what she wrote:

We started the Kindergarten Around the World Project back in November 2011.  This project came from a founding member of Kinderchat, a PLN formed by two K teachers wanting to reach out to other K teachers.   I remember signing up and waiting to see who my global partner In crime would be.   When the matchups were made, my K partner was Clare Froggatt who at that time was teaching in a K class in Australia.  I remember being super excited and pulling up a Google Map for my Kinders to see where our friends would be.   We discussed questions to ask and came up with things such as what kind of things they learned, what their favorite toys were, how old were they, etc.   When we started tweeting, my class and I were super excited to learn more about Australia and our friends.   We learned that when we were at school, it was night time for them.  We learned that our friends were all girls and went to an all girl school.  We also learned that they called their grades things like Year 1, Year 2, etc. which differed from our terms of First Grade, Second Grade, etc.  Our class learned that we had similar things in common such as a love of certain activities such as playing with dolls, riding bikes, and Recess time.

We enjoyed learning about our friends and really loved looking at a map.  We discussed how our friends wore uniforms like we did.  How our friends attended a private school as we did.  The Kinders figured out that if we wanted to visit our Twitter friends, they would have to go in a plane that would take a long time.  When we learned that our friends’ school year was ending in December, the Kinders were sad.  This led to conversations about the differences in seasons between Rochester, NY and Sydney, Australia.  It took some time, but they accepted that not all things were the same for all kids in our global world.  We said goodbye.

As I look back on this experience, I am amazed at how much we learned about our friends in Australia as well as how much I learned about Clare.  I learned that she has some amazing children who have been through a lot.  I learned more about Leukemia and about bone marrow (its importance).  I learned that she is a dedicated mother who is willing to do anything for her children.  I learned that Clare loves teaching and facilitates learning for her students.   I learned that we tend to have similar views on how children should learn (basically step back, and let them lead you).   I also learned about Audioboo and how to use it thanks to Clare.  It along with Twitter was a great way to write and “hear” our friends and also provided great conversations about the differences in how people talk/sound.

I enjoyed seeing how my Kinders would discuss what questions they wanted to ask their Twitter friends, as well as how much learning took place with just a simple tweet.  I think this experience showed me how not only adults should have a PLN or some sort of global pen-pal, but how it helps kids as well.  It’s important for them to connect with other children their age in different parts of the world so they can learn more about the world around them.  But, it should be done in a concrete way that they can understand and Twitter was an easy, meaningful way to do this.

Richardson, W., & Mancabelli, R., (2011). Personal learning networks: Using the power of connection to transform education. United States: Solution Tree Press.

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The Evolution of Professional Learning

April 3, 2012

Today’s post is written by Rowena Dudgeon, Director of Academic Care and Learning in a school on Sydney’s North Shore. You can follow Row on Twitter. I found her by stalking my friend’s list of people she followed and later had the privilege of meeting Row at a ‘PD’ day. Her Twitter handle (as we say) is @rdudgeon

Please enjoy reading and feel free to add your comments to this post.

When I first started teaching in 1994, I recall my first forays into what was then termed ‘Professional Development’ or PD as it was known. PD came at the beginning of every term on a pupil free day or on a day at the end of each term. These days consisted of some department time where I tidied my desk and glanced over some programs for the following term. The highlight (apart from the free lunch provided by the school!) was listening to a keynote speaker who spoke at the staff for 2 hours about a new fandangled way to engage students in the classroom. There would always be some excited discussion about what we had heard, but then we all took off for the holidays, never to remember or implement any of the key strategies we heard. I loved PD day!

Professional Development also took the form of outsourced PD via external organisations. I recall staff joking that they chose their PD course on what was on offer for lunch. Fridays were also great days to attend external PD courses, because you could always duck out early for Friday night drinks!

Outsourced PD consisted of a staff member applying to attend a course in an area that they needed further training in such as ICT, or in a curriculum area that would provide teaching strategies to improve the delivery of content to students. Often staff were routinely sent to the Annual Conferences or General Meetings of their teaching associations and this would be their allocated hours of PD for the year. On return to school, staff would give a brief synopsis of their PD course to other colleagues in their department at a scheduled department meeting in the hope that the information would be diffused to their colleagues and to be used in their classrooms and somehow this would improve the learning outcomes of their students. There was never any accountability or links to an overall teaching and learning goal – PD was ad hoc and poorly managed.

This all might sound funny and looking back it was laughable, but the cost to the school of this PD was enormous and for very little benefit to staff or students. At its heart, this type of PD never developed a culture of learning in schools, and in fact was completely opposed to good models of teaching and learning.

Professional Development has come a long way since then and even the term Professional Development has evolved to be known as Professional Learning (PL).

Professional Learning in many schools continues to follow the old models of outsourcing and staff being spoken at by someone in the know up the front. However, there is increasingly a shift from this type of PL to a more collaborative and personalised PL that is driven by technology and the uprising of teacher centered PL. Teachers are now connecting, collaborating and doing it for themselves via social media.

Twitter and web 2.0 tools such as blogging, and other types of discussion forums such as Edmodo and even Facebook, are changing the PL landscape. Teachers themselves are taking control of their own professional learning and are learning from each other, beyond the school gate and beyond the constraints of articulated, formalized training. Teachers are finding a voice and are leading learning for themselves and among themselves.

The rise across Australia of ‘Teachmeet’, a grassroots, viral, teacher centered and driven, collaborative, Professional Learning Network was born via Twitter. Teachmeet has become an avenue for teachers to explore the rapid change technology is having on classroom practice and pedagogy. Often these teachers are far ahead of their schools (and executive) in exploring new uses of technology in the classroom and strategies to engage their students. I call these teachers ‘lighthouse’ teachers and they often lead the way in generating and diffusing innovation in schools. They become leaders of learning and Principals would be wise to foster the energy and passion of these teachers, as they foster a culture of learning among staff.

PL can no longer be static, but must embrace and respond to the rapidly changing educational landscape. PL cannot operate in isolation and must branch out beyond individual school communities – collaboration both online and face-to-face is key. PL should also not just happen at the beginning and the end of a school term, it should be ongoing and available on a needs basis, hence why a vehicle like Twitter encourages a culture of learning in schools.

How do you see the future of PL? Are you learning more via social media than what your school provides in the way of PL? What social media PL are you involved in and how does it help your ongoing PL? Share your stories of changes you have seen in PL at your school.

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The Little Engine that Could

April 1, 2012

Do you remember the story of ‘The Little Engine That Could’? It’s the tale of a small engine with the enormous task of pulling a very heavy train over the hill and into town before morning. There are many versions of the tale and much controversy over who the original author was but the thing that sticks in my mind about the story is that this little engine actually believed he could do the task that some bigger engines didn’t want to do.

In the version of the story that I remember from childhood, there were a few things that enabled the little engine to achieve what he set out to do. It started with a response to the superintendent of the yard who asked the little engine if he thought it was possible for him to to pull the train. As an educator, I believe in guided inquiry. It is my goal to develop independent learners who are willing to have a go. I think more often than not, learning starts with a question, just like the one from the superintendent.

I believe the students that we teach draw on prior knowledge to assess what they are able to do, what they need to find out and what they want to learn. Ultimately the goal is that they will become independent learners but it takes a while for them to get to that stage.

Bandura (1994) wrote “people with high assurance in their capabilities approach difficult tasks as challenges to be mastered rather than as threats to be avoided.” So how do we as educators raise a generation of students who have high assurance in their capabilities? I don’t think there is one straight forward answer to that question. In fact I think there are multiple theories and discussions to be had about what we can do as educators to develop our own skills as life-long learners that model a passion for discovery to the students we teach.

I guess in some ways, I too, am like that little lone engine from that old story. On my own it might be possible to have an impact but if I gather a cheer squad around me, develop my professional learning network (PLN) and start a conversation maybe I’ll be able to achieve more than I ever dreamed.

A few years ago, I taught Kindergarten as the only teacher in a classroom with 24 students. I loved my students, the interactions and the discoveries we made. I also looked forward to the end of the day and the opportunity to share with the other teachers in my school about what was happening in their classrooms. My world was small, my interactions with peers was limited, my potential for developing professionally depended entirely on me but then I discovered Twitter and the potential of web 2.0 to build connections with other educators. I currently teach stage 3 in an open learning space with 6 other teachers and 180 students. My co-workers tell me that I got the job because of my presence on Twitter. I don’t know if that is entirely true but one thing is certain “relationships and learning coincide within an active process of education.” (Malaguzzi, as cited in Edwards, C., Gandini, L & G, Foreman, 1998). As we connect and build relationships I believe that learning takes place.

I now feel like that little engine must have felt when he reached the crest of the hill and discovered there was a huge world he never knew existed. I’ve been contemplating the writing of an education blog for quite some time now but I have never wanted to do it on my own. Since Twitter, I have discovered the benefits of collaboration, community and connection. Over the coming weeks I have asked some of my friends, many of whom I met first on Twitter to contribute to the conversation. I hope that you too will jump on board. Please send me an email, or a tweet if you’d like to contribute by writing a post. Otherwise, we plan to be asking lots of questions and we’d love to hear what you think in the form of a comment.

So what about you? Has Twitter been useful to connect you with other like-minded educators? Do you have load you are trying to pull? I’d love to hear from you.

Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior (Vol. 4, pp. 71-81). New York: Academic Press. (Reprinted in H. Friedman [Ed.], Encyclopedia of mental health. San Diego: Academic Press, 1998) Retrieved April 1, 2012 from http://www.des.emory.edu/mfp/BanEncy.html

Edwards, C., Gandini, L & G, Foreman (1998). The Hundred Languages if Children: The Reggio Emilia Approach – Advanced Reflections. London: Ablex Publishing Corporation.