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#IMMOOC: Open Sharing

Chapter 11 happened to focus on one of my favorite topics: sharing as an educator. I am always trying to get educators to see the power of online sharing and finding new ideas. I’ve already had the idea to try and get more educators using Twitter to seek ideas, even if they aren’t comfortable sharing their own work yet. I want them to see that the possibility of find new ideas is out there, and easily accessible.

When I first began teaching in 2009, I had no idea of the world out there that awaited me as an educator in terms of connections online. I was tech-savvy, but I didn’t know about the way that connections could have helped me as a first year teacher. It wasn’t something that was prominent back then, and it certainly wasn’t part of my course of study as an undergrad.

I joined Twitter in 2012. I can’t remember exactly why I did. I knew that I used that year to share my class’s stories on Twitter. I didn’t really interact with anyone else. It was a place where I could showcase student learning to parents. It’s been nearly 5 years since that time…and I didn’t start really using Twitter until after I became part of the TIS program. Now I couldn’t see myself doing without it.

Twitter only got better with Tweetdeck. My lists were so easy to read! What was this? I could follow hashtags and have lists of those! I made new connections and met those people at conferences and trainings. I found ideas and articles that changed my way of thinking and gave me new ideas.

If I had had all of this back when I first started teaching, I am sure I would have been an even better teacher. I wouldn’t have felt so isolated in my district. I would have been able to see out others to collaborate and connect with much earlier to reach beyond the sphere of influence in my small town world.

Today’s educators have access to all of this from the start, and yet they choose to ignore the benefits that they could find by connecting in the online world. It is a choice today to choose to stay disconnected. While that is up to each educator, they are making a clear choice to stay in a bubbled world. They are depriving themselves and their students of the ideas, connections, and collaboration that could be found online, if not through Twitter, then through some other means.

In the same sense, educators choose not to share their stories. They feel that they have nothing to share or contribute, or their work is not great. In this age of viral videos and news, it’s hard to feel like a simple lesson would wow the rest of the education world. And it won’t. Not everything that is shared will be the next best thing. However, each little story and idea contributes to a digital portfolio of the educator. Over time, over many years a story of growth and change emerges. We don’t have to say that we have spent time learning and trying many new ideas because our online footprint easily showcases that.

Want to show students the power of a digital portfolio? Show them yours. Model how you have created your portfolio, and let it be the springboard for theirs. Explain how it has provided you opportunities and experiences that weren’t possible before. Technically, I have two- my Twitter feed and this blog. If you go between both, you’ll get a pretty good idea of who I am as an educator, much more than if you had read only my evaluation from this year.

My growth and change is ongoing and always a progress. Yours is too. You share and I’ll share, and together, we only made the online world of educator a better place.

Mindset Switch: Schools & Branding

Social media has brought many positives and negatives to the face of education. However, today we’re going to focus on just one: branding. When you think of branding, you often think of a business. A business uses their brand to sell a product. They make money, and in turn, continue to build their brand in hopes of selling more products. Social media has made branding easier than ever in terms of reaching many people in one fell swoop. Whether Facebook, Twitter, or something else, various platforms exist to help brands make their image memorable and trustworthy. Gone are the days of buying a product only based on the advertisements alone. What kind of company does the business promote itself to be? How does the business assist communities? How does it interact on social media? How does it use social media to combat negativity about the brand itself?

Branding doesn’t apply only to businesses anymore. It can also be applied to schools. It seems odd at first, as schools aren’t looking to sell any kind of product. If the school is in any kind of business, it’s the business of educating future generations. So why brand a school? Many reasons, actually. Branding schools and social media make something possible that wasn’t before. Social media branding can transform how the community and other stakeholders view the school, for better or for worse.

Stop a minute and think: How do those in the community view your school? What stories are shared by others about your school on social media currently. How do both of these affect the culture of your school.

Now think about the barriers that can stand in the way of branding your school:

“I don’t have time to do just one more thing.”

“It’s just one more thing for my teachers.”

“We already share announcements. Why do more?”

“It doesn’t make that much of a difference.”

“Nothing bad has happened at our school.”

“We have good test scores. What more do they want?”

There are probably other barriers that are rolling about in your head right about now. Choosing to believe these barriers and not do anything about them places the school within a fixed mindset- just because social media is around doesn’t mean it affects my school. Oh, but it does, just as these barriers do.

The barrier of not enough time is common no matter what the topic or task is. The truth is, when something truly matters to us, we make time for it. We find a way to fit it into our schedule and make it work. School branding is no different. There will be time spent up front learning to use social media tools to share school information, but once it’s learned, the task flows more smoothly. If the administration has this mindset, they can help spread it to the teachers as well.

If your school is already using social media to share announcements, that’s great! You’re off to good start. Getting digital versions of school announcements to families is one way to share information. However, is that the only thing your school wants to be known for in their story? Announcements are a necessary part of school, but they don’t have to be the only thing, especially if you still implement paper versions of announcements. All you’ve done is take the offline skill and make it an online one.

Let’s combine the next two barriers- It doesn’t make that much of a difference and Nothing bad has happened at our school. The latter is a dangerous thought to have about anything. Just because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it won’t. And when it does, it’s when it’s least expected. Once a negative event hits, then anyone will be looking to find out the dirt on your school, and chances are, they aren’t looking for positive stories. If the only stories about your school available online are negative, then there’s a good chance that reporters, community members, and other stakeholders will stack those against you. Posting positive stories about your school does make a difference, especially in this case. These positive stories can help to combat the negativity currently facing your school.

And that brings us to the final barrier- We have good test scores. What more do they want? If a test score doesn’t define a student, then why should it define a school? Schools are doing activities and hosting events all of the time. The only problem is that often others in the school don’t even know these things are going on! If you, as a teacher, put in the time and effort to organize, coordinate, and execute the activity, shouldn’t you want to share it with others to showcase that hard work? Indeed we should, and it’s our families and community members that would love to see the school and teachers brag on the things students have the opportunities to participate in. In many cases, these activities set the school apart from similar ones in surrounding districts.

In order for a school or district to begin sharing their story on social media, the above barriers need to be taken for what they really are- excuses. Gone are the days of trying to escape up and coming social media, disregarding those who are into it and shunning platforms. Gone are the days of only sending home weekly or monthly newsletters to families. Why not meet them where they already are? Why not tell your school’s story? If you don’t, someone else will, and chances are, it won’t be positive.

My First Edcamp Experience

Early this morning I made the short trek to Yorktown, VA for EdcampEVA (Eastern Virginia). I had been looking forward to this event since early February. Edcamps are something I had been told to attend, that I would love them, and find them a great place to be. My buddy Derek Oldfield is an experienced veteran, so he always kept encouraging me to attend. EdcampEVA was the first edcamp that wasn’t too far from me and it was on a date that I was available. I signed up and bought the t-shirt, too. (Because, really, what better way to commemorate my first edcamp?)

Having heard such great things about edcamps, I still wasn’t sure what to expect. Since edcamps are organized by different groups, I figured that every edcamp had its own unique flavor infused into the model that all edcamps used. After today, I’m pretty sure that is a sound theory.

If you haven’t heard of edcamps, imagine this: a place where passionate educators join together on a weekend to learn from each other. Upon arrival and check-in, the schedule is still blank; as an attendee you’ll help make the schedule for the day. There are no set presenters for each session that does end up on the final board; instead, groups of people get together to talk and discuss and ask questions. Once you’re in a session, if you don’t like it, or are trying hit multiple sessions in one time slot, you’re encouraged to use the Two Feet Rule- don’t like it or feel like you’re not getting something out of the session, then use your feet and go somewhere else.

After I checked in this morning, I chose a random open table, and settled in to complete my tasks. Well, wait. First I needed a bathroom break and had to change into the new edcamp shirt I’d received. Then I began filling out my post-it note ideas for the session board and putting my name on my tickets to enter drawings for great prizes from edcampEVA’s sponsors. There was some pretty cool sticker swag on the table, and in my folder I’d received I found a 60 gold trial for Nearpod and a license for Chromville. I added some sticker swag to my folder. During that time I gained 3 new tablemates and we got to know each other and ate breakfast.

During this time, announcements were made, and the schedule was created for the day. After all of the sessions were posted, I knew I wanted to go to the following sessions: social media, technology integration, professional development, and Minecraft/Sphero. We were dismissed and off our two feet took us to Session 1.

Session 1 was Social Media for me, so it was a chance to see what other schools were doing with social media, and share things my schools had been doing as well. Not only did we talk about becoming connected educators, but we also talked about school social media- Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Edmodo. Someone also brought up social media releases for students, so we focused on that for a bit as well. Before I knew it, an announcement was being made that session 1 was over, and that it was time for session 2.

Session 2 was Technology Integration. We were seated within a circle, and folks took turns sharing some tools that they had found helpful in their classrooms. We had some folks that didn’t have very much technology in their classrooms, and I realized that Fluvanna County is very lucky to have the Chromebook carts that we do, even though most teachers share a cart between 2 or 3 teachers… the teachers that I learned from today were lucky to have a few carts to share in their entire school. Most of the tools I was already familiar with, but a new one I learned about was Dotsmashing. I plan to explore this more and do a write up on it in the future because it seems like a great addition to the tools I already use. I was honestly surprised I had never heard of it before today.

In no time at all session 2 was over and it was time for lunch. I ended up returning to my same table as in the morning, and my tablemates also joined us. Lunch for us was from Texas Roadhouse and Domino’s. They gave away some prizes as well and reminded us about the afternoon sessions, and the Smackdown/Prize giveaway. Then it was off to the races once again!

Session 3 was professional development. We had a mix of people in our session from teachers to those who give PD to teachers. I did learn that there are districts that don’t seem to require their ITRTs, or whatever they label them. Other districts also have trouble getting PD opportunities approved, or they use systems to receive their certification points, and the system rejects it. Some were interested in what I did in my district to give PD, but we all seemed to agree that outside of technology giving PD, there often were very little opportunities provided in district for PD in specific areas. It was definitely thought provoking to hear input from the other side.

Finally session 4 was up. This one was a combined session on Sphero and Minecraft. Some teachers had brought their Sphero and talked about ways that they used it in their classroom, and some others chimed in. Then we moved on to Minecraft. I ended up speaking more than I wanted to because most people were there because they didn’t know how to use it in the classroom, or much about it beyond what they’ve seen of their kids playing it. I ended up being the one to take the notes for the session so I tried to add in some helpful pointers to at least help teachers get pointed in the right direction.

The last event of the afternoon was the Smackdown, where participants shared some of the best things they learned. After that, there was the prize giveaway. Unfortunately, I didn’t win anything, but that’s all right! Two of my tablemates did though and they both won things they had really wanted.

Overall, I enjoyed my first edcamp immensely, and I would definitely go again. There are 2 in VA that are over a 2 hour drive away coming up next month, and I’m not sure if I want to do a drive that far for a 1 day event. I may or may not choose to attend one of them. If not, I’ll keep an eye out for future camps nearby. If you’re interested in seeing if there’s an edcamp coming up near you, check out this link. It lists all of the official edcamps and links to their webpages.

VSTE 2016: Connections & Connected Educators

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A group of us from the 1st Connected Educator session.

Connecting with other educators is one of my big passions, especially when it comes to conferences. I often end up going by myself, so I love having people that I can meet up with and talk to that I’ve spent the past year following and conversing with online. I wasn’t attending VSTE alone like I typically do with WVSTC, but I knew that I would spend much of my time away from my colleagues except for evening. We had a lot of different interests and we handle different things when it comes to being an ITRT, so we split our time wisely.

One thing I loved about VSTE and was looking forward to was the Connected Educator pop-up sessions. This was new to me because WVSTC doesn’t have anything like it. I’m going to see if I can get something like it going though this summer. I made some calls. More on that later if things work out. These Connected Educator sessions were led by Margaret Sisler (@Techy_Margaret) and Tamara Letter (@HCPS_TinyTech). You should certainly give those two ladies a follow if you don’t already follow them! Unlike a typical conference session, these were very laid back. Folks could pop in and meet up. They could add their Twitter handles to a chart that would later be tweeted out. If someone didn’t know about Twitter or how to use it to connect to Twitter, all they had to do was ask and their wish was granted.

During VSTE, this session was offered once per day, and at different times to try to catch as many different folks as possible. I was able to attend 2 of the 3 sessions, and meet other ITRTs. I ended up with quite a few new followers, and I still haven’t yet gone through the list to add folks from the sessions to my Twitter feed. I handed out some of my business cards along the way so that I could connect with people beyond Twitter.

Beyond this session, I found other educators to talk to and connect with. Some were technology folks, but others were teachers from all walks and grade bands. Everyone had a story to share, and it was nice to be able to hear them all! These connections rejuvenated me and my passions for instructional technology. Without connections, these conferences wouldn’t be nearly as fun to attend.

Building connections at conferences is a great way to find colleagues with similar interests, subjects, and grade bands. It can be really hard to find new folks, but they are out there. There are many friendly faces who would love to connect. One just has to reach out and try talking to someone. It is easier if there’s a session or meetup that encourages this though.

I ended up with 28 new followers by the time VSTE ended, and all but a few of those were VSTE related. I have new feeds and ideas appearing on my Tweetdeck, and I love it. I cannot wait to see what WVSTC brings this year with my connected educator group there. Don’t let anyone tell you that making connections like these or using Twitter is pointless. Without my crew of fellow educators to gather inspiration and knowledge from, I wouldn’t be the ITRT I am today!

Presentation Reflection: Social Media and Student Voices

 

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Today the last of the students gave their presentations on their solutions to involving student voices in social media. They’ve been working on this project for awhile, and they ended up with many different solutions, though some ideas tended to overlap with each other. We were able to get a few audience members to join us as well- an administrator from the high school, a school board member, and the superintendent as well. We made sure the students had a genuine audience available during presentations. Presentations occurred over two days, and students chose their date and time.

Each presentation took between 5 and 10 minutes, with students and other audience members asking questions at the end of each one. Presenters were asked to dress professionally during their presentation, and this was definitely noticed by the audience members, who complimented them on this effort. Mr. McCauley and I had made sure that the students had a realistic presentation, as though they were presenting to a marketing firm. With the exception of one student, every presenter wore professional dress. We did assist any student with this requirement as long as they let us know in advance that they did not have an outfit that met the requirements.

The first day of presentations, we had Mr. Lee, our administrator, and Mrs. Johnson, our school board member, watching the students who presented. Both were familiar faces to the students, and some of them were former students of Johnson’s. On the second and final day, Mrs. Keller, our superintendent, joined us for presentations, tweeting out about each one as the students finished. All audience members complimented the students on their hard work, and seemed to be pleased with the information given.

Having viewed and graded each presentation, I can say that I saw many doable ideas. I think the best option that was presented (that met the needs of the entire student body) was one that formed a “Student Voices” club. The club members would take on the task of using Twitter to share information relevant to and by students. She chose to use Twitter as her medium, and, in order to combat moderation, looked into using a program called GroupTweet to keep negative posts from appearing online in the school feed. Because it would be a club, new members would be gathered each year, and trained by the older members on how to run the club. One teacher or other staff member would be needed as an advisor/moderator.

Another useful idea was geared to athletics. Though our school already has many clubs/groups on Facebook and Twitter, one just for athletics is severely lacking. This particular student plays football, and came up with ways to make sure scores for a variety of sports are posted via Twitter and Facebook feeds. What I enjoyed so much about this particular presentation was that the student took the problem and discovered how it was relevant to his own life and interests.

Some other good points made by students:

  • Showcase a Twitter feed in the cafeteria area
  • Send direct messages to the social media accounts to have something added and shared.
  • Vet the students running the sites based on teachers, applications, etc.
  • Add in social media projects as part of an elective course, like marketing

I really enjoyed seeing what the students came up with in the end. I think we definitely could work with them some more on mock presentations and presentation skills. We did give them tips, but just because they were written out doesn’t mean that students read/followed them. It might be good to practice the tips a few times before the actual presentation. Giving students the chance to do a mock presentation to get feedback and suggestions from classmates was a great idea. Those that mock presented took the feedback to heart and made changes before their final presentation. Part of me wishes that the mock presentations had been mandatory, but only because could have helped more students be successful.

Overall, I was very impressed. I will soon do a recap of the project as a whole. And yes, I’m still aware that I haven’t finished my VSTE updates!

Recap: VSTE 2016

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The view from my hotel room. I hated that the weather was crappy because I would have loved to walk the beach one morning!

This year I had the pleasure to attend my very first VSTE (Virginia Society for Technology Education) conference. It was a much bigger conference than attending WVSTC, and I am so glad I got to attend. There are quite a few things I want to discuss in relation to the things that I attended at VSTE and what I learned, but I first wanted to start with a general overview and recap of my few days at the conference. This was the first conference I wasn’t presenting at, so it was nice to simply sit back and attend everything and not have to worry about finishing up the final touches on a presentation. I was joined by my two fellow ITRTs from my district, which was great because I had people to hang with on my downtime.

This year’s VSTE was held in Virginia Beach at the Virginia Beach Convention Center from December 4-6. It started mid-morning on Sunday and ran until mid-afternoon on the 6th. Attendees had a variety of sessions to choose from each hour. Some of these sessions were pop-ups in the hallways, and others were hands-on demonstrations. There was the exhibit hall of course, and plenty of good food around and about. Perhaps the only big downside to the conference was the horrible internet. It was very hard to find connection that was decent. Even the presenters had a lot of issues. Hopefully changes will be made so it’s not that way next year. I’m certainly spoiled by how well the internet runs at WVSTC!

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Me the very first day of the conference!

One of my biggest goals for this conference was to make connections with VA folks. I know I’ve really built up my connections when it comes to my WV colleagues, but not so much with my VA ones. I haven’t really had the chance to attend something that would allow me to, until now. I made sure to attend the pop-up Connected Educator meetups that were held. I only missed the last day due to another session running that I had wanted to attend. I definitely made new connections and passed out a good many copies of my business card. It’s gotten to the point where I need to consider redesigning my lists on Twitter as well.

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A large group of us from the very first Connected Educator meetup. I saw many of these folks often over the course of the conference.

One of the big things with this conference is the collection of ribbons for one’s badge. I got lucky and ended up gathering quite a few, though mine was definitely not the longest. Mine nearly touches the floor though. It’s just a fun way to add interest to the badge I suppose. Of course, the first one on mine was my Twitter handle badge. Obviously that’s one of the most important!

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My badge. I only gathered 1 more ribbon after this 🙂

VSTE of course isn’t only focused on learning. There’s also fun to be had as well! There was the vendor reception, which hosted live music and snack foods. Later on we had a karaoke and casino night. There happened to be a photo booth there as well so one of my colleagues and I had some fun with that.

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A group of attendees at the vendor reception. I believe they were dancing to Wobble

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Fellow ITRT and I being goofballs

Look for more updates on VSTE. I do plan to update on the new things I’ve learned about social media, professional development, and Minecraft world building.

Building Our District Brand: Creating Hashtags

I’ve been talking to some of our educators in the district who use Twitter and decided we needed some hashtags just for us. Our high school students had to create a hashtag for the high school students, but it’s not really utilized. I wanted the educators in the district to have their own hashtag, and later on I would try to get them using it more.

A couple days later I thought about the things I had been sharing via my own Twitter platform and how I planned to share more stories about the schools I am with via their Facebook and Twitter pages. I wanted some way to chronicle these together without it being too long. It didn’t take long before one popped into mind.

Our district does have the advantage of having a unique mascot, the Flying Flucos. It’s pretty easy to create hashtags or usernames that involve “flucos”. And for those who aren’t from the district, do you know what a Fluco is?

Here are our new hashtags:

#flucoed- This one’s just for educators to use to connect in Fluvanna County. Other districts and areas have them so that educators in that space can easily address each other, so we have followed suit. I’m hoping to get it moving and being utilized more often, but that’s also going to involve getting more people on board with Tweetdeck. Projects, projects…

#flucostories- This is my favorite of the two. It’s my way of getting our stories out there and labeled under one hashtag, no matter what type of social media is being used. I’m asking my fellow Fluco Twitter educators to start using this when they share stories from their classrooms. Since I now have access to Facebook and Twitter for the middle and high school, I’m also using this tag when I share posts on there. I’m hoping it’ll catch on, especially once I pass it on to the other schools who run social media as well.