One Year of Tweets

There are conversations that are so inciting that you are impelled by every muscle in your body to jump in and join. You join to learn more. You join to connect. You join to share and to contribute to the shape of the conversations.

 

 

Twitter can be absolutely anemic, devoid of any purpose or reason or even care for the presence of others.

 

 

But it can also be a maelstrom of issues and opinions, of arguments and discussions, of thoughts, of questions and suggestions, and of links and videos and images.

It can transform the very way you think and teach and learn. It can network you with colleagues and people of similar interest around the world. It can organize meetings both virtual and actual. It can rally movements and ideas. And it can make us better people.

 

 

How I began

One year ago last Friday I joined Twitter and tweeted my first tweet.

I don’t remember the content of that tweet. I lurked for about only ten minutes, then I leapt, eager to wet my feet, when a conversation that peaked my interest came along. My induction into Twitter began with conversation.

I joined Twitter because as a substitute teacher more than anything else I felt that I needed to relate more to my students. Since most of them spent much of their lives texting and instant messaging, I felt that social media was a good way to close at least some of the technological gap between my students and me.

 

 

Previously, I had been an ecologist. I spent most of my time outdoors, in a lab, in an office or in front of a university lab or classroom. Social media had not taken off yet. Internet Relay Chat, e-mails and websites existed, but Twitter, blogs, YouTube, Flickr, RSS and all the many many cloud and Web 2.0 applications were not yet developed or popular. Then came a twelve-year gap during which I dealt with severe health issues and I lost all connection with technology.

You can imagine my shock when I returned!

Building a PLN and developing professionally

Fortunately for me, George and Alec Couros offered a Using Social Media for Transformative Teaching & Learning webinar series at just the right time.

I was able to jump into social media with some support and guidance, so avoiding the shock many teachers who don’t get that support experience.

 

 

This is where Twitter surprised me. I joined expecting that anemic activity that most people not having sampled Twitter imagine. What I found could not be more opposite.

Twitter is professionally and personally empowering when used purposefully. It can help you:

  • connect, engage and network with like-minded people,
  • share what you know,
  • learn about professional and collaborative opportunities and resources,
  • learn from others, and
  • enhance your teaching, learning and thinking toolkits.

Its greatest benefit is building a personal learning network or community (PLN or PLC) and developing professionally (PD) with these colleagues. It is all about the networking and collaboration.

Teachers interconnect around the world to discuss issues, ask questions and help each other become better teachers.

When used correctly, it is an exemplar of professional development.

 

 

What I accomplished

But it doesn’t stop at tweets.

Along my journey this past year, I discovered uses of Twitter that further professional development and networking.

  • One of the first things I discovered were links in tweets to resources, courses, tools, and people who are experts in teaching and content areas.
  • I also discovered colleagues and experts who use Twitter through mentions, retweets, replies, and discussions.
  • From these I built a community of people I follow, most of whom are teachers, but many of whom are scientists, writers, artists, technology experts and other people of interest.
  • And in turn, as my tweets became more helpful to others, I gained followers.
  • I collaborated with many people on mutual or individual projects.
  • I accessed the perspectives and knowledge of colleagues through tweets, blogs, posts, comments, paper.lis, mashups, RSS feeds, Diigo or Delicious indices, images, videos, and media, all accessed through Twitter.
  • I built an identity, a brand or reputation, confidence in my relationships and opinions, and a staff — yes, it is a bit pompous to consider my PLC as a personal staff, but as a sub I lack one otherwise.
  • I welcomed those who are new to Twitter, paying forward what my PLN gives to me and looking forward to networking with new people.
  • I even connected with people who are just entertaining, such a Samuel Clemons, a ferret of all creatures who tweets just to entertain others. Such connections are important just to take a break.
  • And I developed a Twitter sense of humour that lightens some of my tweets.
  • I linked to formal professional development opportunities advertised in Twitter.
  • And I tweeted about myself and about beautiful things in the world to stretch beyond the professional and into a larger sphere.
  • But what I most value about Twitter are the impromptu and informal conversations and the formal and planned chats that I have participated in. Conversations and chats are where Twitter shines and professional development really happens. They are also what my students gain from texting and instant messaging. I regularly participate in #mathchat and, though I would like to do the same with #engchat, #scichat, #globio and #edchat, only occasionally participate in these.
  • I even informally hosted some sessions of #mathchat, suggested a few topics and just recently selected a popular one for discussion.

 

 

Small regrets

I encountered a few problems along my journey with Twitter.

  • I inadvertently insulted a few people for a short while, only later learning I had done so. This I suppose is a trap common to all social endeavours.
  • I stated things that were interpreted completely differently than I intended, only having to clarify my meaning with more than 140 characters.
  • I have even recently run into Twitter’s 2000 or 1.1% follower threshold, which I calculated I can never make up as more people I want to follow follow me. To this end, I have weeded out people I follow who no longer tweet, who do not fit into my matured PLN or who tweet only occasionally or in irritating chains or spurts. Such pruning is a hard lesson to learn.

Ending the year

I may not remember the content of my first tweet, but my final tweet of my first year on Twitter was short and sweet. I tweeted one simple word.

Neat!

I did so in response to an unrelated context, but I think it encapsulates my experience this year with Twitter.

How I feel about this past year

Tweeting and lurking can be time-consuming. Let’s be honest. It takes time to build relationships, time to converse and chat, time to read or view or listen to others’ tweets and the resources they link to. Tweeting takes time. But any worthy professional development takes time. Any worthy professional development builds and grows. It gets richer, broader, deeper and more vital. But it takes time.

And it is time worth consuming.

In the end, it is our students who matter. In the end, all this tweeting and blogging and casting and photographing has to work with other things we do, including planning lessons and units, creating assignments, managing classes, assessing, coaching, caring, fretting and hoping, to help our students learn.

I have learned so much from my PLN that I am a better and more responsive teacher.

Would I recommend Twitter to other teachers?

You bet. Twitter rocks!

 

 

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Three Things I Learned From My Nephew

 

 

This week my nephew is on Spring break and visiting his Uncle Shawn. It is a busy week to say the least. During this week so far, we have engaged in several activities, three of which I thought I would share.

A frog, a snail and a cricket

 

 

One can only play Go Fish so many times before one wants to throttle one’s nephew.

Same for Memory.

But what if one plays Go Fish with Memory cards? How does that change the game?

The idea to play Go Fish with Memory cards was my nephew’s.

Go Fish with no pip cards is different. Uncle Shawn doesn’t know the names of the cast of Diego and Dora characters. He doesn’t even know the difference between a cartoon raccoon and a cartoon fox. (That’s funny, Uncle Shawn. Me: It is. I swear, folks, the fox has raccoon eyes!)

 

 

The first few games of Memory Go Fish with a cast of Diego and Dora character face cards were rather fun, and funny. One has to describe the card one is looking at without showing one’s opponent. And the opponent has to match the description to a card that might be in his hand. It’s like Picture Charades.

Then one plays Go Fish.

This game was fun for both uncle and nephew. But the lesson here is that kids can create rich, engaging learning opportunities on their own. Sometimes we teachers forget this.

By the way, the title of this section, A frog, a snail and a cricket, refers to the description of the face of one of the Memory cards. It was the most complicated card in the Memory deck, but the easiest to describe. Others are Girl Holding Flowers and Girls With Blue Dress and Book . Try to play Go Fish while describing cards like that.

Uncle Shawn is magic

So what does one do with a bundle of energy and curiosity after tiring of playing Memory Go Fish?

One calms him with magic!

Nothing like a Mobius Strip to entertain a six year old.

So, the second lesson I learned from my nephew: astound him and gain thirty minutes to an hour worth of focused exploration.

 

 

The trick, however, is to keep astounding him. If he wants more, you are doing well.

My nephew and I constructed the Mobius Strip together; I cut the pieces, he taped them together end to end. I twisted the subsequent strip, making sure he understood what I was doing; I marked the ends of the strip on the same side and held the marks together while he taped the final ends closing the loop.

Each time he asked what were we doing (now), I answered that he would see. Of course, if one is going to make such a promise, one needs to deliver.

Next, I asked questions. Will we get two strips if I cut the original in half? (Amazingly, the obvious answer, and his, is incorrect.) If I cut the new strip in half, will we get one, two or more strips? (Again, the logical answer is incorrect.) How many strips will we get if I cut this brand new original strip in three pieces (thirds)? (Don’t you hate “I don’t know” answers? Force him to give an answer; provide choices: one, two, three or more?)

 

 

Then get him coloring. When cut in thirds, the Mobius strip produces another Mobius strip half the arc length of the original and a two-sided strip twice the arc length of the original strip. Mark one side of each strip with one color and the opposite at the same spot with another color. Then let him go.

Concepts of number of sides and number of edges naturally evolve, making the entire exercise rich with play and learning.

Every subject has its Mobius Strips, things that draw the students into play and learning. One has to identify these “strips” and sell them. Delivery is the key.

A puzzle: Sophisticated abstract

Finally, I offer the following object that my nephew constructed yesterday. Think of it as a riddle.

 

 

What is it? When my nephew told me what it was, I was flabbergasted. I promise I will reveal what it is in a comment, but I thought I might get any guesses you might have beforehand.

I will give you a few clues.

  • The object is an abstraction of an abstract concept.
  • The concept is one I am interested in.
  • The object contains several recognizable real concrete components that are way out of scale relative to each other.

This is the third lesson my nephew taught me during his visit this Spring break. Kids can think and represent abstract concepts abstractly. Or is this concretely? We teachers need to allow our students to think and communicate in many ways. When we do, they can surprise us with their higher levels of understanding and communication.

And a final picture

What do you think? Another avatar for Stefras?

 

 

I would like to thank my nephew for inspiring this post.

Anthems & Apathy

Vodpod videos no longer available.
Comic: Do students care? Two panels. Two perspectives.
This cartoon is cross-posted to Educational Comics.

With Understanding, Pride

What thoughts play through your head when you listen to your nation’s anthem? Do you listen to your anthem? Do your students?

As a substitute teacher, I see students who don’t listen to my nation’s anthem, who don’t stand at attention, or who even talk or fool around while my anthem is sung. Sure they have heard it every school morning for x number of years, but they seem to forget that my nation has soldiers deployed out of country defending that anthem and what it stands for. They forget that very few of these valiant soldiers return home unscathed in some way. I know; my father was in the service, thankfully during times of peace, but domestic terrorists were around while he served.

Lately, as I more deeply invest myself in my students’ welfares and futures, I have grown concerned about this apparent apathy, this disinterest, this boredom my students present over my anthem. I think more than just apathy directs their behaviors. I actually think they hold a “it can not happen to me and my country” taking-it-for-granted attitude. Under this premise, my nation’s anthem is just a song with no more meaning than a teacher’s preaching. No wonder they do not respect it as I do. I am not sure most of them even understand it. That saddens me.

I was taught my anthem when I was a kid. Because of this, I hold it with great pride. With understanding comes pride. So I would like to bring meaning to two lines of my anthem, the way I was taught them. I imagine that a class can be best taught this through query and discussion.

Into and Out Of the Canadian Anthem

The Canadian Anthem and its history are described on the Government of Canada’s website (http://www.pch.gc.ca/pgm/ceem-cced/symbl/anthem-eng.cfm). The lines I wish to explore are:

God keep our land glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

When I was a kid, these lines read:

O Canada, glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

(There was a recent suggestion to return to this version, or to at least drop the mention of God.)

I will explore the version I learned, because I think it holds deeper and more identifiable and call-to-action meaning.

“O” is an address, such as the address Shelley makes to the West Wind in his Ode to the West Wind. It implies an addressee capable of understanding it is being addressed.

Canada is obviously the addressee, but “Canada” is a concept. Here students need guidance, for once they comprehend “Canada”, the rest of the Canadian anthem takes on nuances of meaning. What is Canada? It is of course territory, but it is also tradition, culture, values, history and perhaps most importantly the network or Nation of Canadians. This is what I think students today do not comprehend.

The national anthem addresses not only the territory but the people and values of Canada. It addresses the students! It is a song sung not only by the students to Canada but by Canada to the students. Furthermore, it is sung simultaneously about Canada and the students.

Every school morning in every school across the nation from sea to sea to sea Canada sings to the students. What a concept.

So what is it singing? “Glorious” means full of glory. “Free” is another tough one; a whole course can be spent on it with little more than a cursory introduction to all its implications. But can you see, when applied to the territory, the values and the students, how strong, how empowering these words really are?

The next line, particularly “we stand on guard for thee”, is significant since “we” and “thee” apply again to the territory, the values and the students. And “guard” carries more weight. How many different ways can each of the three “we” stand guard over each of the three “thee”?

The Strength of Meaning

In just two lines, the Canadian anthem captures its strength as an anthem worthy of Canadians. When understood the anthem is meaningful rather than meaningless. It ceases to be boring, ceases to be drill. The students own it. And through owning it, they own their land (the house) and their Country (the home).

Regardless of where we are or what anthem we sing, should we not all care about where we live and the values we hold dear? What thoughts play through your head when you hear your nation’s anthem? Do you listen to it? Do your students?

One day maybe, if I finally had enough of kids talking and slouching and fooling around during our national anthem, I might throw my teacher’s lesson plan away and open instead a discussion about meaning behind the national anthem. I wonder if they would even hear?