The 37 innovative educators, who recently attended the UnPlug’d Canadian Educational Summit, were given a task. Each participant was challenged to identify one moment or idea, from his/her educational career, which was worthy to be shared in an online publication entitled “Why ___ Matters!”
The key was to “fill in the blank” by telling a story, with educational significance, in such a manner that other educators could also experience the situation, share the passion, and learn from it.
I reviewed the blogs of several participants, prior to their UnPlug’d weekend, and I identified with the challenges that they were facing. Upon reflection, I realized that this task of identifying one’s educational passion and describing it, in a 250 word story, was an exercise that all teachers should consider.
I asked myself … “What aspect of education do you think really matters?” I decided that, for me, my story would be:
Why Sharing Matters! *
There are so many pressures on today’s teacher. It seems that every year, new, enhanced curricula are released, new technology and applications are introduced, and class sizes, as well as, additional subject/class responsibilities continue to increase. Furthermore, every effort is made to adjust one’s lessons/activities to meet the wide diversity of individual student needs. With decreasing school population, educators are asked to teach split classes or take responsibility for additional subjects outside their specialty areas. Teachers can no longer rely on having another colleague or partner teaching the same subject or grade level in their school. With so much additional pressure, teachers can no longer work in isolation. To survive, teachers need to form PLNs (Personal Learning Networks) and share ideas and resources.
Education is all about sharing. True, there are some teachers who can design and implement engaging learning activities or lessons without input from other sources. However, I believe that the vast majority of educators adapt lessons, strategies, or activities that they initially find in books, on the Internet, are exposed to through professional development, or are shared by colleagues. Teachers should continually be on the lookout for new and innovative ways to engage their students lest they fall into a trap of using the exact same resources, without modification, year after year.
The Internet provides a plethora of educational resources, as well as, a powerful mechanism to facilitate sharing and collaboration of ideas. No longer is it necessary for teachers to “snail mail” the “hard copies” of projects and activities to colleagues when so much of today’s resources are in electronic form. All one needs to do is identify the resource creator in the document, attach the material to an e-mail, and send it off to one or more educators.
If, upon perusing an incoming shared resource, one feels that it can be used to enhance one’s classes, some additional work needs to be done. Sharing educational resources is not about adopting but adapting resources and making them your own. Each teacher needs to tweak and build upon the resource before using it with students and sharing it with others. Furthermore, I think that it is really important that recipients provide feedback to the original creator of the resource advising this individual how the product has been changed and enhanced.
Sharing educational resources is not about adopting but adapting resources and making them your own.
In summary, I believe that educational sharing should involve the following five steps:
- Regularly share resources & ideas with at least one other educator
- Identify the creator (if possible) on all resources that you share
- Form a personal learning network (PLN)
- Adapt not adopt, shared resources
- Acknowledge and provide feedback to the original creator
Following these five steps will help educators cope with the increased pressure. Not only will your colleagues in your PLN thank you for sharing but, more importantly, your students will appreciate the increased innovative resources that you introduce in class to engage them in the learning process.
Sharing Through Examples:
I know that participants at UnPlug’d were concerned that either their textual essays or their supporting video stories would be viewed independently, in the on-line publication “Why ___ Matters!”, and that viewers might lack the proper context to fully appreciate their educational passion and vision.
When I reflected about my passion of sharing, I thought that the message would be clearer if I was able to include practical, real-life examples to help readers appreciate how a teacher might adapt and improve upon a potential classroom activity. Thanks to the innovative work and passion of Chris Harbeck, a middle school teacher at Sargent Park School, my suggested steps can be better illustrated.
1. Regularly share resources & ideas with at least one other educator
I have always shared classroom resources with other educators. True, some educators might not have the initial confidence to share their own created activities. However, with the plethora of innovative resources on the Internet, it is easy to find ones that will help out most teachers. Sharing web addresses of such resources is a beginning. In fact, I have informed email recipients in past that “I’ll continue to share resources that I feel may be of interest. If however, you deem the information of little use, you know where the <Del>ete key is located.”
2. Identify the creator (if possible) on all resources that you share
Certainly when one emails others the web address of a potential resource, the web site normally identifies the individual creator. However, when one creates his/her own resource, or when a colleague forwards such a resource, I think that it is very important that the creator’s email address be included in the document. I recommend that a cryptic version of one’s conventional email address be embedded in the footer, as illustrated in Jeff Sinnock’s “SPONSOR CHILD” Photo Story rubric (found in the “Download” section at the bottom of this linked post). Using a cryptic email convention will reduce unwanted spam being sent to the resource creator should the document be uploaded to the web. Including an email address in all shared documents, is the key for on-going communication.
3. Form a Personal Learning Network (PLN)
This image illustrates the fundamental truth that all Personal Learning Networks begin with a single “connection” between two individuals. I believe that PLNs begin in a very informal manner with one person choosing to share information with one or more colleagues. Although initial sharing might be begin as person-to-person or through email, it might evolve to sharing information acquired through following blog RSS feeds, or Twitter “tweets” of respected educators through to sharing annotated bookmarks through Diigo. In fact, I often “lurk” (without commenting) and observe communication between a number of respected educators. However, when I find tidbits or ideas that I think might benefit others, I share the information.
For example, Chris Harbeck is an educator who I have admired for a number of years because he engages his students in creative ways while teaching Mathematics. As a former Math teacher, I know how difficult this subject can be and I have taught students who challenged me to explain “How is knowing the quadratic formula going to benefit me in later life?” Although I often stated that “Mathematics is all about problem solving”, Chris has taken this statement to a whole new level. Not only do Chris’ students examine Mathematics problems in the traditional sense, they are challenged to look at problems in a global sense as caring digital citizens.
This compassionate and global perspective was demonstrated in November, 2010 when I came across a story about Laura Stockman. In her blog “25 Days to Make A Difference”, ten year old Laura, decided to save her December allowance of $1.00 per day to donate to a worthy charity on Christmas day in honour of her recently deceased grandfather. Although I could have simply shared Laura’s web site address with potentially interested educators, I decided to write a blog post entitled “How to Make A Difference in December”. Knowing that Chris and his students were always considering special projects, I sent Chris an email suggesting that he might want to investigate Laura’s project as one that his students might adopt.
4. Adapt not adopt, shared resources
Adopting a shared resource is easy. One simply duplicates the resource, distributes it to your students, and completes the task or activity. However, teachers are challenged to adapt, rather than adopt, shared resources. For this to happen, teachers must take the original resource and improve on it or expand it in some fashion “to make it their own”. If all educators modified and improved resources before sharing them with colleagues, our repertoire of shared materials would gain in power and our students would benefit more.
Chris began adapting this “charity challenge” by suggesting that each of his students consider contributing 25 cents, of his/her own money, per day for each day in December. He then enhanced the activity by creating a blog post entitled “Would your students donate $0.25 a day?” where he challenged other schools and students to raise money in a similar fashion. In order that all participating school teams could see their progress throughout December, Chris next created his “25 Cents a Day” wiki.
The next adaptation for Chris was to investigate the power that students have to make a positive change, both locally as well as in remote areas of the world. In the Spring of 2011, Chris challenged his students to again contribute their own money to make several $25 micro-loans through the Kiva organization to members in third-world countries. His blog post entitled, “Teaching Citizenship – Part 3 – 25 Cents a Day” shares both the excitement and student engagement. However, I think that the last sentence of this blog post exemplifies the power of sharing when Chris states “Contact me and we can create a movement that will change people’s lives”.
5. Acknowledge and provide feedback to the original creator
I think that it is very important that recipients of shared resources acknowledge the original creator. That is why I recommend that recipients ensure that the original creator’s email is embedded within the resource as outlined in Step 2. As an individual, who has created a number of educational resources from scratch, I would welcome feedback and/or modified documents from recipients indicating how they had adapted my work and what improvements were made. Such dialogue opens up communication and provides opportunities to expand connections within one’s Personal Learning Network.
Although I did not send an email to Laura Stockman thanking her for sharing her idea on-line, I did take time to acknowledge her innovative project by sending a comment to her blog post.
A Video With A Vision:
In conclusion, I strongly recommend that all readers view Chris Harbeck’s UnPlug’d video entitled “Why Digital Citizenship Matters!” Not only will you see how a shared December charity initiative can blossom and mature through commitment and innovative adaptation. More importantly, you will witness a passionate educator, who is definitely a “champion of teenagers”, share strategies for fostering digital citizenship in today’s youth.
Take care & keep smiling
Credit: Flickr Image “Get Connected!” by Divergent Learner
* “Why Sharing Matters!” was the title that I had chosen for my draft of this post, long before John Evan’s story (of the same name) was recently revealed in Chapter 6 on the UnPlug’d web site.