Monthly Archives: October 2012

Times Square to the Waterfall

Beginning to become a connected educator often feels like stepping out the door of your safe and warm house and being transported to Times Square, finding oneself like the Naked Cowboy, strumming your guitar in your underwear. The safety and security of your own space instantly dissolved, and you’re exposed to the rush of noise and lights, strangers all around you. I was helping a fellow teacher get started on building a PLN this week and was reminded of how foreign it can all feel. While we can choose how much of ourselves to make visible, just the act of connecting with other educators on Twitter creates exposure. People I know and complete strangers can find out about me. They can follow me, watch me, keep track of what I am doing, and they can do it with very little effort. I only have to google my name to know that I am seen. I make sure that I am wearing more than the Naked Cowboy’s underpants, but to someone new to global connections, it doesn’t feel like much coverage.

At the beginning of building a PLN, you simply assume that you should apply the old ways of getting to know people  to this new community and in truth, they can make it feel very uncomfortable. When I meet a new teacher at school, face-to-face, there are standard social functions that naturally occur. We learn each other’s names and what subjects we teach; we find out where we went to school or what lessons were are going to teach next. We expect to communicate regularly, to see and be seen by that person. We greet each other as we pass in the hall. We eat lunch together. We all know how to build relationships in face-to-face communities, but the digital world isn’t like that.

We are used to being seen, but at least initially, in the digital world, you actually aren’t. The people who connect with you by following you on Twitter don’t have any expectations or requirements of you. They are merely reaching out to build their own network. They are hoping that you will be someone that adds value to what they learn; they hope that you share new ideas or ask interesting questions. But, and this is key, they don’t pay attention to you enough to know. They pay attention to their personal stream of information. If you show up there a lot, they learn from you, and at that point, personal connections get made. The source of good information become a real person, one you may meet at a conference or simply communicate online. While the sense is that you are the Naked Cowboy, you are in fact invisible until you want to be seen.

After the fear of visibility, the second worry is just the sheer volume of information that seems to be heading towards you like a massive tidal wave, a tsunami of blogs, websites, conferences, ideas. The idea of keeping up with it is enough to make someone new to the conversation feel overwhelmed and unwilling to even venture forward. “Under a Waterfall” was the analogy I use to explain how to handle both the power and the use of social media.

Twitter and all social media that I use for learning and growing are a waterfall that I step into when I have time. Sometimes it is many times a day; other times, it is a specific time that I devote to it. I step in and let all the wisdom and ideas flow over and around me. I grab what I need; I ask questions; I share. It is a rich and full time while I am in it. And then I step out. I simply don’t worry about what is happening when I am not under the waterfall. The ideas and sharing continues, but I am not part of it. Like the water that flows over the waterfall all of the time, it isn’t water that I thinking about. I just take and give what I can whenever I can.

It may start as Times Square but will quickly evolve into a refreshing and renewing waterfall! Take the time to let it happen!


It’s Time to Write!

Yesterday was National Day of Writing. I don’t know who created it or where it came from, but I heard about it on Twitter and decided that it gave me a great opportunity to stop and have my students simply write.  I gave my 6th grade class, a Humanities class, a 40 minute time for an unstructured writing time. I read a passage from the novel that we are reading, Wild Girls by Pat Murphy about writing something that is true. She writes, “A good writer is more than just a clever liar. A good writer tells the truth by telling lies.” We talked about taking something that is true and real for each of them and changing it, allowing it to grow, until it became “a lie,” something totally different and yet connected to, the original idea.

I told them to sit quietly to begin, to just let their thoughts and feelings rumble around inside of them, to start writing when they were ready. At first, it was clearly a scary task.

“What should I write about? I don’t know what to write!”

Then the next question, “Will we be graded on this?” to which the answer, the only possible answer for an assignment like this, was “No, this is a time to explore and have fun.”

“Will you be reading it?”

While I give assignments that I offer to not read if they want it to be private, I decided that I wanted to see what they wrote on this one, so that I could use it to launch more writing assignments. It is early enough in the year that I am still learning their strengths and challenges, and I knew I could learn a lot from this.

After the initial restlessness and worry died down, and the room became quiet, it was like watching a gentle wave of energy roll across the room. One by one, they picked up their pens and began to write. Their focus shifted from each other and their worry to the page in front of them. An invisible curtain began to surround each one, separating her from the student beside her. She went to her own space in her imagination and began to record what she found. It was no longer about the assignment or the classroom; it wasn’t about me or her peers. It was simply about what she had found when she was still and listened.

For 40 minutes, they wrote and wrote, barely taking time to look up. They wrote, and I watched them. I watched one puzzle over the next thought and then almost frantically rush to write the words on the page. Another student just kept slowly shaking her head back and forth as she wrote one word after another. Another needed to shift her body every few seconds, changing her position after each sentence. Yet another hunched down, closing her arms around her composition book. They showed so much of themselves as they went through the process of finding and recording their ideas.

Writing, taking the time to investigate and record your thoughts, is such an important process. There is obviously much more to it than this time that I gave my students, all of the honing and rewriting, editing and improving, but this first step is so important. Especially in a world where we are all rushing and easily distracted, it is critical to learn how to be still and listen to our own thoughts and to then take the time to record them.


Just Not the Same!

Last year, I did an activity with my class to help them think about building categories to help them understand empires. I wrote about it here. I created cards that had aspects of each category, so for Clear Boundaries, there were cards for Deserts, Strong Military, Rivers, etc. Each category was on a different color paper.

Last year, it was a beautiful day, so I held class outdoors. I spread the cards all over the fields and the students had to run around, finding the different cards, placing them in groups and then working together to figure out what the larger category was. It was a wild and fun class, full of energy and enthusiasm, as they ran around, trying to locate each card and add it to their collection. They eagerly shouted to each other and were completely engaged in the work of figuring out the puzzle of the categories.

This year, however, it was raining, so we couldn’t do it outside. I decided to try it inside instead, hoping that it would work as well within the four walls of the school. I spread the cards around my classroom and the immediate hallway outside the door, a space I use all of the time for extra room. I explained the task to the students and divided them into pairs. I told them to record what they found as they explored around the space.

They started, and I immediately wished that I had waited for a Dry Day! Instead of the wonderfully fun energy that came from running around in the sunshine to collect evidence, there was a decidedly calm and very methodic circulation around the classroom. That was the best way to find all of the cards, so that was what they did. One card after another, each within reach of the one they had just written. Because there simply wasn’t enough space to make it a wild and energy-filled quest, it simply became a task of collecting the evidence. Without the running around, it was more of a classroom task than an adventure. The excitement was gone, as they knew that they simply needed to move slowly around the classroom and record what each card said.

While the process still had them up and out of their desks, which is a regular goal of mine, it lacked the momentum and enthusiasm that last year’s quest had had. As my colleague, Betty Ann Fish, @bafish10, is always saying, exercise and learning go together. This lesson reminded me to keep working to combine them more often. There really is no better way to create a strong and lasting memory! And fresh air isn’t bad either.

It clearly wasn’t a waste of a lesson, as there was a level of curiosity generated by the collection process, and the students didn’t have last year’s class with which to compare it. They simply had this class, and it made them wonder what it was that they were building with each collection of cards. When I called them back together and had them work in small groups to identify the possible categories, there was lots of energy and excitement in the room. It was a puzzle that they wanted to figure out. So this year, the ending of the lesson was stronger than the initial activity, whereas last year, it was the other way around.

As always, it is an adventure!