Monthly Archives: June 2011

Reflections on #140 Conference

Let me just start by saying that if you have never been to one of Jeff Pulver‘s #140 Conferences, go! Go as soon as you can! Find the nearest one, and sign up now. It is an amazing experience, full of energy and hope. It is like experiencing the best of Twitter within a common, physical space. People come together to share what they are passionate about and it opens your eyes to the joy and power that people working together can have. On the one hand, it is about Twitter and how social media is changing the way people relate to each other; on the other hand, it is about the energy of human interaction, about how we can, in fact, make the world a better place when we share our dreams and build communities.

The conference is run almost like a Twitter stream, with ideas washing over you as you listen.  Each speaker is given 10 minutes, no time at all in comparison with other conferences. It is just enough seconds to present an new idea, challenge an old way of thinking or express a emerging dream. That the speakers used Twitter is almost, but not quite, incidental.  It is fast and furious, from the first speaker to the last, each one passionate about how and why the new connections that they have made are significant: artists, social workers; entrepreneurs; people with different illnesses; educators (that was the panel I was on). One after another person took to the stage to share, and the effect was almost overwhelming. So much change and so many possibilities.

And it was social media, and more specifically Twitter, that allowed isolated individuals to connect with others who shared a common dream or cause. The women who suffer from Lupus found others to walk their journey with them. The artist found a patron. The activist found other activists. By reaching out through social media, people could join into new communities that supported and encouraged them, and which then began to affect real and lasting change in the world.

Just a few ideas that I took away from the beginning of the conference:

We need to help each other to manage the flow of information that is all around us on Twitter. When we retweet something, it becomes our “digital clothing,” a sign of who we are.  That was from Steve Rosenbaum, @magnify. He calls it “curation.” I was struck by the fact that we do indeed carry our online presence with us, clothing us. It does not go away when we leave our laptops; it stays out there as a sign of who we are. I am known by what I share and by what I pass on. If what I share has value, then I have value within my network. If what I pass along is automatic and without substance, then that is the kind of person I am to the people who follow me. It connected with something that Gilad Lotan, @gilgul,  said that gaining your networks trust being critical. To build a network that supports and nourishes you and what you are passionate about, you need to be reliable and add value. It comes back to what I have said before, that being part of a community takes time: time to read, think and share.

Jeff Pulver said, “Humanity is on the rise!” Social media has the potential to connect people who share a common goal or passion and empower each with new energy. In education, that is all for the good of the students! When we, as educators, make those connections, when we learn from each other and grow together, new ideas are generated, and kids are better off for our efforts!

Thank you, Jeff, for all of the hard work that went into making #140 Conference work. After about a half a day, I couldn’t even tweet; I just needed to sit and absorb all the joy and energy that was in that space. People working together to make the world a better place!

If I Could Craft Your Summer

As the year draws to a close, I started thinking about all of the students who have arrived day after day in my classroom, ready to learn and to grow. They are people about whom I care deeply. I study their expressions, looking for the moments of joy and discovery as well as of uncertainty, confusion and doubt. I just spent nine months thinking about them each day, so I thought I would put together a list of summer wishes and goals for them.

First is always that they would have lots of unstructured and peaceful time, enough of it that they would get bored. I am a great believer in the power of the mind and heart to fill the spaces that open up when we are bored. Today’s students run from activity to activity, most of them with the goal of enriching their lives. While ballet and soccer, piano and Little League are all wonderful, they often endlessly fill a child’s world. Never mind the intrusions of television and computers. Our students have no time where there is only silence.

A silent place can be a hard place to be, but it can also over time become a rich and creative place. Imaginations come alive in those spaces. So I would wish Boredom and Quiet for all of my students. What they fill it with could change their day or their life.

Next is more time surrounded by nature. Take a walk in the woods or by the river, which in Philadelphia is easy to do. Again, I would caution against filling the time with activities. Don’t just be outside to play a game or jump in the pool. Take time to listen to the birds; watch the wind in the grass. Be still for awhile in the midst of the natural world around you.

Remember to take time to read, at least 5-15 minutes every day. Read anything and everything: newspapers and magazines, blogs and books, fiction and nonfiction. Keep words around you in the summer to stimulate your thinking and your imagination.

And then, just have times of fun. Go to an amusement park; play miniature golf to be silly, rather than win; splash someone in the pool; eat water ice. Find anything that will create the freedom to laugh, the space to be away from all of the “Shoulds” in our lives. Rest and relax. The school year is long and demanding. Take time to breathe deeply and enjoy the moment. Ignore the cell phone; forget to check Facebook. Just find a space to have fun!

And for the teachers who will read this, let us remember to do the same for ourselves. May we each find spaces of quiet; moments in nature and time to read and times of simple fun! We deserve them, and our students will be all the better if we take them.

Happy Summer to all! It is time to lay down the dozens of balls that we juggle and refresh our hearts and minds!

Or at least catch our breathe between now and ISTE. Anyone who is going to be there, let me know. Send me a tweet @hadleyjf or leave a comment. It will be a great time.

The Unknown World of an Encyclopedia

I took my class to the library to work on “book research.” It is the first of my classes to start on the 1:1 program this year, and I realized that while we had done lots of research, it had all been online work. They had used the library’s online resources, but I had never taken them into work with books. I had the librarian introduce them to the areas of the library and show them how to use the online catalogue. They had each come to class with 3 people that they thought they might like to research. The time in the library was to narrow down their choices to a single one.

As I was working with some of the students, I realized that most of the times I told them to go to the encyclopedias and check for information, they were nodding and not moving in the direction of the bookshelves.  I realized that for them, encyclopedias were totally unknown. When they wanted to learn about anything, they did not need to look in the family’s World Book or go to the library and search in encyclopedias. They had it at their finger tips at all times, usually on their phones.

So I told them, “See those books over there. They are like wikipedia in book form,” and suddenly they got it. Big smiles, followed by “Really? Cool!”

It was another time when I realized that I think I understand the differences in the learning and thinking of my students, but that often their experience of school is fundamentally different than the way students in previous generations experienced it. And by previous generations, I really mean generations that are only a few years separated from them. We teach them how to learn from books, but when they need information, that is not where they go. They go to Google, to Wikipedia, to YouTube. They search and grab information, often moving rapidly on, having satisfied their initial interest. They do not have to make some deep commitment to learning in order to find a fact. Facts float all around them, easily acquired, a veritable waterfall of information.

To teach them effectively, we need to remember that they are splashing around under the waterfall of facts, images and videos. They speak a different language in many ways, and we need to learn it, just as they need to learn what an encyclopedia is, if only to know that they might not need one.