Tweets from Buoy 46085

It was somewhat unnerving.   I had just started reviewing my resources while preparing a unit on earthquakes for my Gr. 7/8 geography class, when the news hit of the earthquake in Chile.  Within an hour, educators I follow on Twitter such as @Larryferlazzo and  @cybraryman posted extensive lists of sites and lessons.  Others on #edchat began tweeting links containing news video, causes of earthquakes, and interactive sites.  The generosity of these educators was appreciated.  My resources were now “real-time” and much more relevant for my students.

Newly created communities were being formed through hashtags (#chile, #earthquake,  #terremotochile, #concepcion) as those in the affected areas tweeted updates on tremors, relief efforts, pictures and videos.  Sadly, they include requests for the missing.

Twitter is being used in places I’d never have imagined, such as a tsunami tracking device, posting tweets from 99 buoys spread across the Pacific Ocean.  Users can literally “follow” an individual buoy, located in the path of the reported tsunami.  These buoys send out tweets every 60 seconds.  Average swell heights of 2 to 3 feet were now being tweeted at 15 to 18 feet from buoys off the coast of Santa Maria, California; Kodiak Alaska; and 97 others.  My students will be astonished when I share this with them in class.

Social networking sites like Twitter bring the world into our homes and our classrooms.  Our students have access to learning that will provide an impact.  They have front-row seating.  As educators, let’s make sure we provide the tickets.


Growing my PLN with Twitter

Below is a discussion I posted in my brand new group Ning, Rm 21C.  Far from being an expert, my perspective is still that of a “newbie”, where I hope to encourage those who are considering the jump, to jump!

If you’ve arrived at this site, you’re likely sold on the value of collaborating with other educators. Twitter is a tool that can help you grow your own Personal Learning Network (PLN) by following educators who willingly share resources in an ongoing, global conversation about education and technology. Watch the video (2:23 min.) Twitter in Plain English.

Be patient. It takes time to grow your PLN on Twitter. Here’s a collection of good advice I follow:

Set up your profile. Click on setting, the top bar of your twitter page (URL, bio, picture and design). Post a link to your website and/or blog. Differentiate yourself.

  • Try to post, even once, daily. The more you post relevant answers to other people’s questions, and share resources, the more you’ll receive in return.
  • Don’t try to follow a lot of people at once. Read the bio of each tweeter and some of their recent tweets before following them. The more selective you are, the more you will get out of the experience.
  • Block any lurkers you are not comfortable with.

As with any social networking site, Twitter etiquette is important.

One of the most complex features of Twitter for new users to understand is the hashtag, a topic with a hash symbol (“#”) at the start to identify it. Twitter hashtags,like #edcat, help spread information on Twitter while also helping to organize it. Check out the various education hastags available.

I follow my tweets using TweetDeck on my computer and iPhone. It has the ability to show you everything you want to see at once, in an organized column format. It defaults with columns of @Replies and Direct Messages. TweetDeck also allows you to create your own columns, including education hashtags, and individuals you follow by clicking their name at the bottom of a tweet. My current TweetDeck columns consist of All Friends, #edchat, web20classroom, Mentions, Direct Messages, and Facebook: Full News Feed.

Check out Twitter4Teachers to find subject specific teachers and administrators you can follow on Twitter. Mashable has a Twitter guidebook which is quite useful as a reference point.

Initially I thought Twitter would be a drain on my time, but over time, I’ve come to appreciate the value of the community. I am supported by a like-minded group of educators who are generous, willing to take the time to share their resources and links.

Recently I’ve used Twitter in the classroom, loading my TweetDeck on the Smartboard for my students to view. The day after the earthquake in Haiti, someone in my PLN tweeted the names of Haitian journalists able to post on Twitter. My students were astonished as we read first-hand accounts from citizens in Port-au-Prince. My students were astonished and moved. My sons are tweeters. One is currently following @Astro_Nicholas, an American astronaut in space, while my other son is following @MediaOps, a British Army Major posted in Afghanistan.

With Twitter, you and your students will have instant access to information that would take you weeks to find, or that you might miss entirely. Twitter is an integral part of my PLN.

How have you experienced, or hope to experience, the value of Twitter?


Peer Editing in the Clouds with Google Docs

EduCon 2.2 is a conference where education innovators meet to discuss the use of technology as a learning aid in schools.  The tweets posted by those in attendance, and the EduCon 2.2 philosophy,  mirrored the steps I was taking my students through as they  worked  towards posting their first major piece of writing on their wiki’s.   These principles are as follows:

  • Technology must serve pedagogy, not the other way around.
  • Technology must enable students to research, create, communicate and collaborate.
  • Learning can — and must — be networked.

Writing is hard work.  For some students, that is a concept they fight tooth and nail.  Their preferred process often looks something like this:  rushed thoughts scribbled onto a template, convert to full sentences, hand it in, done.   That’s why principle #1 is important.  Technology can support the pre-writing process of brainstorming, modeling, and graphic organizers that bring out higher level thinking and student achievement in writing.

In my classroom, once students have their graphic organizer completed, the “clouds” move in.  Google Apps is an example of “cloud computing”, a techie term used to describe distant servers that store data.  It’s a free online program, similar to Microsoft Office, which students can safely access from school and home.  The apps include word processing, spreadsheet, presentations (Power Point) and form (useful to make quizzes).   At the beginning of the year, each new student is set up with their own account, supplied by DDoc from the board’s Tech Team.  Their account is designed with a username based on the school and a number instead of their real name (e.g. turnstudent01).   Students who were in my gr. 7/8 class the previous year maintained their original account.  Using the word processing app (Google Docs), students type their first draft.   They get a kick out of the fact that they are writing “online”.  I know they are safe and no one other than me and their parents, can access their work.

Principle #2 focuses on communicating and collaboration.  In this example, that means peer editing.  Once the initial draft is complete, students “share” their doc with two other students for peer editing.  Using different coloured font, the peer editors type suggestions based on the rubric, a recent grammar lesson, or basically whatever needs to be added to help the” owner” of the document.   Peer editors can write at the same time as the owner to speed up the process.  Struggling writers who are linked with a stronger writer, get the chance to read some good examples before revising and editing their own.

Effective peer editing takes time and comes with its own set of challenges.  Over the past two years, I’ve learned that peer editors using Google Docs need constant training.  We practice, practice, practice on how to constructively comment.  Surprisingly to some, inappropriate comments are not an issue, lack of constructive criticism is (perhaps not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings?).  So we practice some more, emphasizing the fact that you’re helping your peer when you give specific feedback so the owner can edit before I see it. “Great job” doesn’t cut it.  I’ve also learned this lesson needs constant reviewing.

Sometimes students don’t buy in. They couldn’t care less about another student’s writing.  They are not yet sold on the importance of developing  “communication and collaboration” skills.   As a result, I sometimes assess students on their own peer-editing skills. That usually convinces them buy in.

The peer-editing groups are changed each term. I align them based on strengths and struggles, ensuring strong and struggling students each receive some constructive peer feedback.  Sometimes students, no matter how clear you make it, will not follow a rubric. Having a peer comment on their work seems to help.  “You got to add..……to get a better mark.  You know Mrs. D will tell you the same thing”.

The beauty of networking with other students using Google Docs supports principle #3. After the owner has had two other students read and evaluate their work, they have time to make improvements before being graded.  Google Apps is accessible anywhere there’s internet, so students can, and do, work on their assignments from home.   Since I can view each student’s history, I see they are excited and engaged based on the times of day (and night!) they are working.

We are a small school in a rural area.  Not all students in my class have access to technology at home.  It’s important they are given numerous opportunities to become digitally literate.  Recently, when I ran into several of my grade 8 grads at their high school, they told me they continue to value and use Google Apps on their own.

Peer editing with Google Apps helps support my students with the writing process by creating a community where students support each other.   “Computing in the clouds” supports the writing process outside of school, since it’s accessible anywhere there’s an internet link.

When I first started using Google Apps with last year’s class, I wasn’t sure how things would go.  But we all learned together, modeling the three principles supported by Educon.  Students love the process and the benefits are clear.  After all, who wouldn’t want to spend their days writing in the clouds?