Monthly Archives: January 2010

“You’re Taller than I Thought”

Reflections on Day 1 of Educon, a weekend conference for educators to talk about 2.0 learning

“I thought you were shorter.” I am 5’8″

“I thought you were petite.” Not for a single day of my life!

“I thought….” Today we began to put together our ideas about someone in our PLNs and the actual person, and at times the images didn’t match. It was a new and unusual experience. It was the first moment I have had to meet people that I communicate with all the time, people I feel like I know so well. Twitter is my place to test my thinking and have people respond. It is a primary place where I learn and grow with people I trust…but have no idea what they actually look or sound like.

It was quite an experience to walk into the breakfast this morning where about 30-40 fellow Twitter people were eating. Some of them I immediately recognized them their Twitter photo, like @aleaness, @mbteach, @bethstill. There were others, however, that I wondered about. “Is that @__________?”  It made me feel a combination of shy and slightly worried. I didn’t want to seem rude by not speaking to them, but I felt like I should know them, that I was at fault for not being able to put their photo or avatar together with the real person.  They are my PLN; they are part of my life…but I can’t pick them out in a crowded room. It was a new experience for me, one that takes a little getting used to. I have never had people who know me so well and yet don’t know me. Or who connect all of my thinking to a single photo of me, as I do with them.

I want to meet all of my PLN who have come, and that may mean a lot of asking “What is your Twitter ID?” as the badges don’t have it. While I look at a person’s home page before I follow them, I rarely remember their “real” name, as they become their Twitter name to me. Having met Yoon today, she will no longer simply be @doremigirl to me, but she will never simply be Yoon. It is an interesting blending of the layers of personal interaction that goes on in a 2.0 world.

Thank you to Science Leadership Academy and @chrislehmann for putting it Educon together.

From Laptop to iPad

Today, when a fellow teacher and I were talking about the Apple announcement of its iPad, she mentioned how they could change the classroom. As we talked about it, I realized that while I love what laptops can do for my students, I also dislike the distance that they create between us. The moment that they open the computers, there is a barrier between my students and myself. Even when they are totally on the task that I have given them, there is still the physical wall that the multiple screens create.

All of that could change if the iPad works well and becomes a part of schools. The iPad would sit on the desk, like a piece of paper. The physical barrier is then removed. I will be able see the students and their computer screens, and they can feel my presence in their work. That will do away with the pressure to give into the temptations of the Web that are not connected to the class learning: to surf the web away from the site where I send them or  to play their favorite game rather than focus on the task at hand. The screens would be visible to me and to their peers. It could become more of a group learning experience, which supports one of my primary 2.0 goals, teaching collaboration. Their screens would visible to each other, which supports their learning that their ideas and their learning are visible to the global world.

It has the possibility of taking away another barrier and of supporting the learning that our students need to understand and then become masterful citizens of the 21st century. I will be interested to see how it will work out.

Conversation Overload

What an interesting process I am going through in learning how to develop relationships online! I totally hit a wall this week. After months of finding every new conversation and each new link fascinating, I could barely face looking at TweetDeck. I felt overwhelmed and then guilty that I had withdrawn from my PLN, not for good, but for awhile. I read a blog posting last week about the stages of building a PLN that addressed this. I wish I could remember the link to give you. I hadn’t experienced the negatives, only the wonderful joy of being part of an almost living, breathing entity. One that responded to me and included me in its functioning.

Then came the exhaustion! I wanted to maintain the same level of interaction, to engage in #edchat and follow links, but this week, just thinking about it made me tired. Some of it was that it was a demanding week at school, with lots of face-to-face conversations to focus on. But it was more than that. I felt assaulted, rather than comforted and encouraged. And then I felt guilty. I had new relationships that I wanted to continue, and I was letting them down.

And I had to. There simply was not enough energy to go around. So I watched the tweets roll by and only rarely retweeted one. I followed a link or two but then backed away. Some of this was in direct relation to the Challenge of the last post. I wanted to read and comment on other people’s blogs, to be in conversation with the people who wrote them. In making that commitment, I began to solidify connections with those writers, but I also lost some of my freedom and invisibility. I began to anchor myself, and that required time and thought. To simply read a blog is different from knowing that I want to be someone who responds to it. I am not sure why I didn’t think this would happen, but it did. Building relationships is always tricky, and there is no reason why doing it here should be any less tricky than face-to-face.

And then last night, the energy returned. Thanks mostly to new friends and conversations with them. @tonnet, @aleaness, @mbteach, Great people to follow if you don’t already! Thanks for sharing the journey!

“Write a Comment” Challenge

After reading Steve Moore’s posting, “Is Twitter Just Window Dressing?, I got to thinking about how we actually build a community of educators who grow and learn together. Most of us are pretty solid Level One Collaborators. We post interesting inks, retweet good ones, and share our ideas in 140 characters. When hundreds of us are on #edchat, there is an incredible energy and lots of insights that fly across the screen. I always learn a tremendous amount in each hour, but it is a bit like shouting out my ideas and seeing if anyone grabs one in the wave of other ideas. We are all rolling around in the surf of #edchat. i take what I want and use it for myself. That is Level One learning. I am taking and giving, but it is about me, my teaching, my growth. The challenge is to move onto Level Two.

On Level Two, we are actually building something that is not simply for ourselves. We are working together to learn. If we are going to teach our students how to be active members of the internet world and to collaborate with others across the classroom, the city and the world, we need to be better at it ourselves. The first step for Level Two Collaboration is to get to know people on a deeper level. I learned at least as much from Tom Whitby’s first blog post, about him and how he thinks, as I have in months of following him on Twitter. The person began to come alive. So that is my challenge to us all: To be Level Two Collaborators, come alive for our PLN. Write a blog and share your experiences. Then visit the blogs of people you follow. Many of us do this already, but now we must leave comments. Let the writer know what you think about their ideas and experiences. Share your wisdom with them.  Make it less about what you can take away from it and more about building a relationship. It is when we begin to actively interact with each other that we will develop the kind of trust relationships that lead behind deep collaboration. If we can’t do it ourselves, we can never teach our students to do it. We are asking them to put their ideas out for the world to see. We need to practice doing that ourselves.

I have created a page to keep track of the blogs that I comment on. I will update it each time I leave a comment. Come and join the conversation. Let’s get to know one another!

I Almost Forgot Them

I realized this weekend that I am always using computer with my 8th grade classes, but had never used them with my 6th. W I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why it had happened. I just knew that it was time to change it. I created a wiki for the class to help them become part of the 2.0 world of learning. When I introduced it last week, it was first time that I had used laptops with them. It made me wonder if there are other teachers who have fallen into the delusion that if we are doing it in one class that is enough, of thinking that perhaps the computer is a tool for the older students. It may feel more comfortable for us with older students, because they too are learning the 2.0 world. The younger the age, the more fluent in a language we are just learning to speak.

As it turned out, the 6th grade jumped into working on their new wiki with their typical and age-appropriate enthusiasm, eager to try and more than willing to laugh at their mistakes. They didn’t assume they should know and were willing to ask questions and learn from each other.They were completely captivated by the wiki, I can’t thank the members of my PLN enough for clicking on the link from Twitter. The class was amazed to watch the dots appear on the ClustrMap and the Revolver Map. Great geography lessons just by visiting their Home page! They loved learning that people around the world were visiting their site. It helped me convince them that this was a special learning tool, a place for them to learn to develop a digital footprint. They loved the comments left on Twitter for them. My goal is to teach them to express themselves online with confidence and to learn to use a variety of new tools to do that.

I had a couple of really capable girls who quickly became student-teachers.  But at the other end of the spectrum were the girls didn’t know how to attach a file to an email. A good reminder to me that we have to constantly verify our assumptions about what they know and don’t know and about who they are in a digital world. Many of them are digital natives in name only! And I had almost left them behind, assuming that they knew it or were getting it somewhere else. In fact, it is my job everyday to make them the most capable 21st century learners that I can, meeting each student where she is and leading her further along the road to collaboration and growth.

Inanimate Objects=Dinosaurs

Watching my almost 3 yr. old granddaughter interact with my iPhone and my computer has made me realize that the world for her is filled with objects that respond to her. It is not a silent and still world, but one that can be manipulated simply by touching a screen or pushing a button. She looks for the button to push or the part to tap to make those responses happen.

I got an app for the phone called Bubbles, a very straightforward game where a drag of your finger creates a line of blue bubbles. Then a tap on the screen makes them pop, with very satisfying sound effects. When I first showed it to her, holding the phone and giving her instructions on how it worked, Natalie pushed down very firmly on the screen, trying to force it to happen, which made the game less responsive. She clearly got frustrated with the game, because she couldn’t make it work. Listening to me give her tips only seemed to make it worse. She went away and did something else, then came back and asked for the Bubbles again.

This time I let her hold the phone herself. She climbed up on the bed and lay down on her stomach with the phone in front of her, the only one who could see it. There was silence for a few moments and then her leg began bouncing up and down. Still silence. Then “Popping Bubbles, Nana!” She turned around with a big smile on her face. Away from direct instruction and watching eyes, she figured it out herself.

It is an expected thing in her world that she can drag pieces across Nana’s screen to put together the puzzle. She is not surprised, much less awed, that the bubbles pop or the wheels of the bus turn around when she taps them. The objects in her world interact with her all the time. And unlike in past generations of toys, the tools that surround her draw out her imagination and creativity, rather than do it all for her. She has to explore and test at every level. It is a very different understanding of the world and your place in it when change is not simply based on one’s own actions, but on the reactions of the technology that surrounds you. Growth happens when you and your tools work together. What that means for educating this generation is fascinating to consider.

Google Docs-Facebook Revelation

As I wrote about in the last post, I was using Google Docs with my 8th grade to do research in pairs. One girl had been working with real focus for about 15 minutes when a look of even deeper concentration came over her face. As I watched, the concentration shifted to dismay. She collapsed back in her chair and shook her head. When I went over, she pointed to her screen, “It’s all gone. Everything that I recorded is all gone. I had like half a page and it’s gone. I tried everything. I can’t find it.”

Resisting the urge to take the mouse, I asked her what she had done. She told me that she had gone to Edit and clicked on Undo, but nothing had happened. She knew how to handle this in Word, but it wasn’t working in Google Docs, which was clearly frustrating her. She wanted her strategies to work.

It screamed Teaching Moment. I stopped the class and had them all go to File and then to See Revisions. Then each girl worked her way through the revisions, seeing how Google kept track of all of their work. It showed them that a Google Doc is like a huge stack of paper, with each change held on one layer or another. They were awed by it. The student who had lost her work found it, copied it and pasted it into the current document, and all was well.

Then, I asked “Can anyone make a connection to this experience and what we have been talking about with Facebook?”

Their faces were not as filled with wonder, as they saw without my saying another word or turning into more of a discussion, what the durability of information on the Web can mean for them, in positive and negative ways.

“Did You Do That?”

I had one of those revelatory moments today in my history class. The girls were working really hard on some research. They had created Google Docs in pairs and were each adding new facts when they found them. They were using a fabulous PBS site: “Slavery and the Making of America.” One student created the Google Doc and sent an invitation to her partner and to me. Each pair had two topics on the slave experience to cover. The Google Doc was divided into the two topics. Their task was to each research one of the topics for 20 minutes and post facts to the document. Then they switched, read what their partner had written and add to it. I resisted the urge to go to my desk and start doing something else, since there was total silence in the room. I spent the time walking around and making comments, asking questions, doing some trouble-shooting. For the most part, though, they had no active need of me.

Then when the 20 minutes was almost over, I went to my computer and accepted the invitation to each document. I went to each and wrote a message, “Excellent research. Remember to write in short phrases. It is now time to switch to the other topic.” Then I highlighted it in red to make it stand out. I quickly then got up and wandered the room.

Suddenly one girl’s head popped up. “Did you do that?” she  asked. When I nodded, she got a great smile on her face. “That is so cool!”

I often stumble on the fact that while they are comfortable on the Web, my students do not have a lot of experience beyond Facebook. They need to be exposed and explore along with us. Where they will take that new knowledge and what they will do with it will be fascinating to watch.

#edchat Exhaustion

It was an amazing conversation today on #edchat on Twitter (every Tuesday at noon and 7:00 pm EST). The topic was classroom management, and so many wonderful people collaborated to make the discussion rich, enlightening AND exhausting! So many ideas were flying across my screen. While it was happening, I hardly noticed that I had completely lost track of the outside world. I had become like my children used to be with video games – total concentration to stay on track.

Perhaps that is what is required, especially for those of us who didn’t grow up playing video games. We have to learn the level of focus and attention that our children already know. They might even be able to multi-task while carrying on an #edchat discussion, but for me, it was complete attention to the flowing waves that came when following the conversation on We must learn to share, brainstorm, edit and create across what used to be boundaries and no longer are. We have to keep growing in our understanding of the potential that these tools offer. The only way to do that is to jump in and doggie paddle around. At the end of today’s #edchat, I felt as if I had run a marathon, finding muscles that I didn’t know existed and now ached.

Awesomely exhausting!

365 Project

So in a moment of slight madness, I decided to sign up to do a 365 Photo Project this year. The goal is to take a photo every day for 2010. I like the idea of building a chronicle of the year. It is part of why I like having a blog. I am often so caught up in the daily chores of being an educator, reacting to the moment, creating new curriculum, engaging my students effectively…the list goes on and on as most teachers know. I tend to forget to take time to recall what I have done and reflect on it. I want to change some of that this year. Taking photographs, not as works of art but as memory jogs, will hopefully build a data base to reflect on. It seems like a fun challenge and has already led to some new ideas for the classroom and for my thinking about education.

The first 365 group on Flickr that I joined is very open, and the topics can be whatever you choose to photograph that day.  I love the freedom that this group gives to photograph everything from people you know to food that you eat. It is simply a memory-space of the year.

The other group that I signed up with has more of an education focus. It was started by Paula White, and each month of the year has a theme. The theme for January is Learning. While this will often mean that I need to take two pictures, I liked the concept of having a theme running through my mind as I go through the day. It also has already made me think about what “learning” looks likes in some interesting ways. Last night, my great-nephew was intrigued by the old box of Lego that I pulled out of the basement – no instructions, just lots and lots of pieces. He quickly attacked it and began to create vehicles of every shape and size. Clearly learning about “old” Lego and discovering new ways to put them all together. Part of what I really like about Paula’s group is that she has set up a wiki, for conversation about the images. One of her goals is for us all to learn more about the collaboration process. This is so important. I need to practice what I am teaching my students to do almost every day in class. Online conversation and interaction is a learned skill. Through Twitter and comments on other people’s blogs, there is definitely a conversation, but this wiki has the potential to have a more sustained dialogue with a central focus.

In these first three days of the 365 Project, I started thinking about ways to use this idea in the classroom. I have heard of projects where people take their own photo every day for a year to track the changes, using the same background and distance from the lens, so the focus is entirely on the person’s face. I want to try it with my students. I see my classes three times in a seven day rotation. I am going to have a third of the class take each other’s photos at the beginning of the class. Since I teach 8th grade, that may actually get them to class faster, to have their pictures taken or to watch others. If we get a routine down, it shouldn’t take long and will create a wonderful class record. I will make the theme: Being a Student in Mrs. Ferguson’s Classroom. They can have any expression they want. Test days should be interesting.

I also want to just introduce the idea of the 365 Project to them as they might enjoy doing it too. It would be fun to share photographs together.

Three Days later, after I have taken the first shots of all of my classes, I got this email from a student, showing the power of sharing ideas:

Dear Mrs. Ferguson, This is kind of random, but I just wanted to thank you because after hearing about your 365 day project I was inspired to create a project of my own…I was having a lot of trouble coming up with an idea before so I wanted to thank you for helping me!!!!!! I’m going to try to find a quote for every week and make a booklet that can be sent out to hospitals and nursing homes… I think your idea is soooo cool and it really helped my come up with an idea of my own.