tweet it and they will come

(Disclaimer: I am only relating my personal experiences. I cannot guarantee results. Get your hopes up at your own risk!)

Last year I was fortunate enough to bring three amazing authors (Jonathan Auxier, Grace Lin, and Erica Perl) into my 5th grade classroom via Skype to talk to my students about books, reading, and writing. One of them even came all the way to our “little burg” (in person) for a special after-school event. These experiences were monumental for my students. At the end of the year reflections many of them cited the author visits as the highlight of their year. Parents of  reluctant readers commented on how connecting with the authors made a noticeable difference in their students’ attitude toward reading and writing. They wanted to do it – at home! They started writing in their free time – without coercion. They were asking to be taken to the library and bookstores to find more books. From a teacher’s perspective, this is all good! And a whole lot of fun to boot!

Welcome Mural

Welcome Mural

 

Here’s how you can do the same in your classroom.

  • Choose a Book – Make it a good one. Don’t choose based on who you think will be willing to Skype with your class. Read good books. Nobody wants to read a poorly written book. No one wants to meet the author anyway. If you want to make sure the author will Skype before you begin reading, there are some lists out there on the web. Author Kate Messner has a nice list of willing authors with helpful tips of her own. 
  • Give the Author Some Love – Once you have your students thoroughly hooked start tweeting about your reading experiences with your students. Make sure to @theauthor so they know you are enjoying their book. We all want to hear what people think of our work. Especially the good stuff. Tell them. If you are lucky they will respond to you. Sometimes (maybe most times) you won’t ever connect with the author. Fear not. It was a good read if nothing else. But perhaps they will reply to your tweet. They may retweet your flattering comments about their book. They have opened the door for you.
  • Ask the Big Question – You got their attention. What are you waiting for? Ask, “Would you consider an Author Skype with my (blank) grade classroom?”  Not all authors have the time in their schedule to Skype with classrooms. Not all are going to do so for free. They are busy. They have school visits, book signings, tours, and they write. Many have families and “regular” lives as well. Be considerate of this. If they are gracious enough to take the time for you and your class consider it the gift that it is.
  • Prep Your Kids – This will not be hard. The kids will be stoked!  They fell in love with the book, the characters, and they already love the author. This is your kids’ version of the Superbowl. The Stanley Cup. The World Cup. The Indy 500. The…  Well, you get the picture. It’s kinda big. Have your kids start writing questions for the author. I always have mine each write five questions. I compile them and pick the best questions to ask. Next, I create a script and give each student a role to play. You’ll obviously want the students to ask questions about books and writing, but it’s good for them to be able to ask about less academic things, too. Some examples my students have come up with are “What’s your favorite food?, “If you weren’t an author what would you be?”, “If you could be any character from any book who would you be?”  The authors seem to enjoy these and the kids love the sometimes surprising responses. It’s fun!
  • Prep Your Room -Make sure you have Skype downloaded on your computer and you have created an account. You will need to exchange Skype names with the author. Add them to your contacts. Do all this in advance. Don’t forget to consider your classroom set-up. I have a laptop connected to a projector. My students get face-to-face time with the author when they personally ask their question. The rest of the class gets to watch it on the projection. I call them up one at a time to ask their assigned and rehearsed question. You may want to decorate your room or create an Welcome Mural. I have my students draw pictures of their favorite scenes and characters from the book and create a kind of wall mural with the kids’ pictures. When we start the Skype I give the author a quick tour of our room and show them the pictures from the Welcome Mural.
  • The Big Day – This is the easy part. Kids are prepared. You have your room ready. Your technology has been tested. Now you just connect via Skype and let the fun begin.

    Thank You

    Thank You

  • Give the Author More Love – The visit was great! Your kids loved it. Your colleagues are envious. Now it’s time to thank your author for their amazing gift. Tweet about the experience, blog about it, have students write thank you’s, make sure you let your author know how much you appreciate them for the time they made for your students. It’s a pretty big deal. One this teacher doesn’t take for granted. 
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b.y.o.t. (bring your own technology)

Last week my 5th grade students started bringing in their own technology devices for use in the classroom. I can’t believe it has taken me this long to come around to the idea. What was the hang up? I won’t lie here. Me. I was stuck with the notion that elementary-aged kids didn’t need cellphones, Ipods, Kindles, or other devices at school. (Cue image of my mother wagging a finger.) It would be a distraction. A plaything. Just not necessary. Thankfully, someone talked me out of that corner.

classtech

It was during a meeting with a colleague discussing flipping math instruction that my thinking changed. She was enthusiastically describing how she used socrative.com with her kids as a quick response tool and discussion generator. I was intrigued. She shared that her middle school students were allowed to bring devices to her English class. They would use the devices in a variety of ways, but I was especially interested in socrative.com and thought it would be a great way to introduce BYOT (Bring Your Own Technology).

Okay. I’ll admit it. I am not an early adopter when it comes to technology or tech tools. I like the wait and see approach. Let others muddle through, I say. Learn by watching. Ask questions. Ease my toes into that stream of technology and innovation one at a time. Don’t get me wrong. I love my smartphone, Ipad, laptop, and Xbox. I just needed another little push and I am glad I was (pushed).

Our school deals with the same issues other schools deal with – access to technology. We share two mobile labs among 500+ students. It can be quite a challenge to get computers when you need or want them. BYOT helps with this strain. It isn’t perfect and definitely has limitations, but I am seeing a lot of possibility. Best part? My kids are leading the way. They are being creative in how they use their devices. I started out simply wanting them to be able to access socrative.com, they have been using their devices to read, plan, solve, write, and research.

Kids are natural techies and hackers. Surprise!  We have 21st century learners in our classrooms. I see far more benefits to students bringing devices into the classroom and using them for learning than keeping them locked away in their locker until the end of the day. I can introduce you to thirty-one students who agree.

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confessions of a pln dropout (or at least for the summer)

I admit it. I completely checked out for the summer. Dropped off the map, disappeared from radar. I was an uninvolved and unresponsive PLN “member”. Forgive me. I hope you can.

But seriously, I have to tell you, it was fabulous! Don’t let anyone tell you teaching is a nine month gig. It’s not. If you teach, you know it’s not. But this summer I sure did my darnedest to take a couple of months and forget a little bit what consumes me for most of the year.

ImageAs I sat at the beach with my kids, worked on yard projects, ran, biked, and camped in Yellowstone with the family, I’d occasionally think about my PLN and wonder what great discussions I was missing. I even felt something near guilt that my selfish actions would directly hurt the learning of future students. Oh, the turmoil! Oh, the wringing of hands! Alas, I resisted.

And you know what? I truly think I am better because of it. I feel ready for the beginning of a great year. Refreshed and revitalized, I started working a bit in my classroom this week and it’s beginning to take shape. Some students have stopped by with smiley faces and enthusiasm, eager to begin. I think my summer “checkout” worked just fine. Not sure I missed a thing.

Dear PLN, I hope you will take me back. I love learning with you. You have been invaluable to me in the past and hope to grow with you in the future. But since we are being honest here, and I hope you don’t mind, I think I will be unavailable June and July of 2013.

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skyping to connect classrooms and authors

This year I have been fortunate enough to bring two, very well known children’s authors into my classroom through the use of Skype, and it began with a simple tweet.

Authors Grace Lin and Erica S. Perl came into our 5th grade classroom via Skype on separate occasions after reading their books. Our first visit was with Ms. Lin. Early in the school year we read her beautifully written, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. As we were nearing the end of the book I tweeted how much my kids were enjoying it, making sure to include her handle @pacylin, so she would see the tweet. To my surprise she responded, and we began to talk about the prospect of an author “visit” through an exchange of tweets and emails.

Our second visit was with Erica S. Perl, author of When Life Gives You O.J.  I documented the experience in the following video.

Currently we are reading Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier. As you may have guessed, I am working on arranging a visit.

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exploring community

I have been thinking a lot about community. When I was a kid growing up in the 70’s, community was my small town in west-metro Minnesota. It was comprised of the families in my neighborhood, kids in my classroom, the guys on my hockey team, and the people in my church. My community was close, intimate, and a comfort. It provided me with a sense of belonging.

In a recent class, my professor asked, “What is community?” Social media has rewritten our definition. Today my “community” seems to expand exponentially each day I hop on to the world wide web. And then I pause. Is this really community? It behaves nothing like my community of old. It is not close, intimate. Certainly not comforting. And then I realize the online community is not a community at all. Rather, it is a network. Cold word, that. Network. Harkens images of machines, read-outs, wires, and all things unfeeling.

Don’t get me wrong. Social networks are amazing tools. Tools that I don’t know what I’d do without. Today, with the help of technology, our “community” is far reaching. Unlimited. You can enter at will. No need to move, apply, or commit. Sounds lovely. And sarcasm aside, it is. Social networks like Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter make it easy to access an unlimited number of people and topics. Through these sites one is able to play, learn, and explore. You can dabble, or you can throw yourself in full-on. You can be the village idiot or Mayor-elect in any one of these virtual “communities”. The choice is yours to make.

Ultimately, I feel a true community needs a face, a heart, and a soul. As a classroom teacher, I aspire to build an environment in which everyone is safe, respected, and valued. This is community. We share and care. We connect in human ways. We interact genuinely. Our interactions are immediate and intimate. The same can be said of the greater school community. In that true community, you belong. You just don’t get that from a Facebook status update, or a Twitter tweet.

I know I am talking about semantics, but I have been pondering this notion of community and have come to realize that real community is about people. So while participating in #edchat or #techchat might give you some great ideas, it is the students in your classroom and the teachers down the hall who will teach you the most about teaching and learning. You just need to actively participate in the community.

UPDATE: After posting I came across this quote by Eric Utne, Editor and Founder of Utne Magazine. “Some people suggested that Utne presaged the idea of social media. I have a rant about that. Online clusters of people are not communities. Communities, for me, is not a bunch of people who simply share the same point of view and agree. A real community has diversity.”  source: Scott, Gregory. “So Long, Utne. It’s been real.Minnesota Monthly, March 2012

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continuing ed

Continuing Education is a part of most professions. Accountants, lawyers, educators, and even realtors, need to spend x hours keeping up with latest laws and trends relevant to their profession in order to maintain their licensure. This past week I began a cohort with other local teachers to work toward a Teaching and Technology certification through Hamline University. It sounds perhaps more impressive than it is, but in the end, I will hopefully have learned something that will improve me as an educator and a person. Not only that, I will have most of my continuing ed hours taken care of for the next licensing cycle, which can’t be all bad.

The cohort started with a class titled Collaboration and Community with a Global Perspective. One of our first assignments asked us to watch Dean Shareski’s video Sharing: The Moral Imperative. The video discussed the obligation as educators to share ideas and information with one another through the various technological networking channels. In the video, Shareski talks about blogging as one way to share, collaborate, and interact with a greater community.

In December, I created this blog, yet have neglected to make any “improvements” through the use of blogging personally. I don’t think I quite know how this works, which is why I have put it off. Floundering a bit, really. What I do know is as teachers we grow when we reflect. The beauty, and perhaps most terrifying thing about a blog is that those reflections can be open conversations in which a greater community can participate. No longer simply a self-reflection, they can be far more dynamic, organic. Powerful. Shareski’s video reminded me why I originally wanted to blog. Here’s hoping it sticks.

Continue your education with me. Join in the reflections. I hope to share my learning, air my thoughts teaching, and hopefully, encourage some interaction or collaboration with other educators, like myself, striving to improve.

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everyone has one…

It appears everyone has one. Blogs. I remember saying to my wife, not terribly long ago, that blogs were for folks with narcissistic tendencies. But then, when I started spending more and more time with Twitter, I noticed everyone that I was learning from also seemed to have their own blog. This prompted me to begin reading a few and my short-sighted opinion shifted. I started to think that perhaps not EVERYONE that blogged was self-important, rather maybe they just had something to say. Not surprisingly, I even found that some had very good things to say. So instead of being critical, I began to see the possibilities.

It reminded me of when I started using Twitter. I didn’t get it. I started out, like many others I would guess, really struggling to find the purpose. It took some time, but I found that when our Back-to-School guest speaker, Todd Whitaker, gave examples of how he was learning from tweeting it changed the way I approached my use of Twitter. Free professional development! What an idea! Twitter has enabled me to connect with educators around the globe, bring authors into my classroom, and learn things that I would never have been able to before. It is simply amazing! Now I am a Twitter pusher. I try to convert colleagues daily.

So here I am, wondering what a blog may do to open new doors of learning for me. I am coming to the blog-o-sphere as a learner and an educator that wants make improvements professionally and personally. I always tell my students that in order to be a good reader they must read, in order to be a writer, they must write. In order to – – you get the idea. In short, I am looking to improve myself.

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