Connecting to Make A Difference

Food for Thought, Freebie, How To, Professional Development, Social Networking No Comments »

As the 2014 year begins, tradition suggests that one should consider making a “New Year’s Resolution”. True, I have made many over the years that have unfortunately fallen by the wayside as the year progressed. However, one resolution of which I am proud, is the one I made in January, 2010.  Four years ago, I decided I would adopt a new “lifestyle change” and create my Life-Long-Learners blog to “provide you with professional development ideas, educational tips, classroom resources, strategies, ‘freebies’, and humour to help infuse technology, to enhance lessons, and to help engage your students as 21st century learners.”

This year, I need a new focus. Thanks to serendipity, I chanced upon Victoria Olson’s “Blogging for Sunshine” post. Victoria described a process to foster connectivity and understanding between different PLN members by sharing information about themselves through 11 random questions.

Question #4 really resonated with me and I encourage you to consider it:

What needs to happen in 2014 for you to be reflecting on a successful year 52 weeks from now?

So often in education, we look back wondering if we could have changed a current outcome through the past introduction of a different process or action. This question, on the other hand, looks at the opportunity to make a change, so that when we reflect on outcomes, a year from now, they will be primarily positive and uplifting.

Thanks to this powerful question, I was prompted to make the following New Year’s resolution:

During 2014, I want to improve my connectivity to help make a difference in education.

Undoubtedly, this decision was influenced by the following free, educational poster from Krissy Venosdale:

Social Media

Without a doubt, Twitter has helped me connect with some amazing educators. In fact, it was through Twitter that Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher) alerted me to Victoria Olson (@MsVictoriaOlson) and her innovative Twitter resources. For example, educators will find Victoria’s “Twitter for Teachers” video to be both extremely informative as well as professionally crafted using a variety of innovative tools. Not content to just share her amazing video resource, she took it a step further. To help other educators, Victoria shared her “behind the scenes” magic, by identifying the steps and software used in her post “How I made my Twitter Video”.

“Behind the Scenes”

Teachable Moments

Kudos to all educators who showcase how video projects are created or reveal tips and strategies “behind the scenes” of their educational activities. Admittedly, it does take extra time, but on behalf of all those individuals who have learned so much by analyzing their “magic”, I say “Thank You!”. To help other educators learn about the “behind the scenes” magic, and to encourage others to share in a similar fashion, I plan to maintain a list of these “difference makers”. Not only will I identify their original activity/project, but I will also link to their “behind the scenes” (BTS) revelations. To date, I’m aware of these creative educators and their related endeavours:

Difference Makers

– Video: “Re-Imagine Your P.D. Experience with Twitter”
– BTS Magic: “How I Made My Twitter Video …”

– Video: K-12 Online Pre-Conference Keynote
“Sharing: The Moral Imperative”
– BTS Magic: “The Making of Sharing: A Moral Imperative”
– Video: “Happy Birthday Alec Couros”
– BTS Magic: “So I started this Google doc ..”

I encourage readers to share with me the online activity/projects of other educators, together with their “behind the scenes” insights, so that I may add them to this list of “Difference Makers”.

As a complementary resource to her “Twitter for Teachers” video, Victoria also shared a “Weekly Twitter Chat Schedule”.  This Google spreadsheet lists educational chats by names, hashtags, days, and times of sharing. One of the first things I did was scan to see if the Manitoba Educational Chat (#mbedchat) was listed on the schedule for Wednesdays from 9:00 pm to 10:00 pm (CST). I was so delighted to see it listed along with other Twitter chat sharing and learning opportunities.

As one who has recently connected with other Manitoba educators through the #mbedchat Twitter chat mechanism, I realize how powerful this learning vehicle can be. Zoe Bettess, the creator and co-moderator, shares the importance of connecting in her post “The Power of Twitter Chat and My Journey to Starting #mbedchat”.

At the start of 2014, the talented trio of Zoe, her #mbedchat co-moderator Georgette Nairn, and archivist, Tanis Thiessen decided to foster educational connections in a new and exciting fashion. They created the 2014 Manitoba Ed Chat Blog Challenge. Manitoba educators, who maintain a professional or classroom blog, are challenged to write one post per month and share it with others by using the Twitter hashtag #mbedchatblog. In addition, they invited participating educators, as well as non-participating  ones, to list their respective blogs on the MB Ed Chat blogroll. If you are a Manitoba educator, who is responsible for a personal or classroom blog, I encourage you to submit your blog information. Better yet, if one of your New Year’s resolutions was to investigate creating an educational blog, I encourage you to share it using this process. Not only will others benefit but you, and ultimately your students, will gain from the connections fostered through this endeavour. As of today, there are links to 40 educational blogs and I’m sure this list will continue to grow as we share and use this powerful resource.

“Hats Off” to all these dedicated educators and students who are so willing to share their creativity, ideas, resources, and reflections on their educational journey.

I am so lucky to be connected with educators who are, indeed, making a difference.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Endnote: Those interested in additional free posters created by Krissy Venosdale, are invited to explore my earlier post entitled “Free Motivational Educational Posters”.

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Get Animated in the New Year

Activity, Bits and Bytes, DS106, How To, Professional Development 4 Comments »

Creating animated GIFs can be an engaging educational exercise. Students can be challenged to use a computer to draw a series of related, progressive images that, when blended together, create animation.

Twenty-five years ago the Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) was created to display images using less than 256 colours. Long before applications such as Flash, iMovie, Photo Story 3, Voki, YouTube or Xtranormal were developed, the only way moving images could be displayed on a web page was through the creation of an animated GIF.

  2013 animated NEW YEAR
[An animated GIF welcoming readers to the New Year]

I admit that I thought I was fairly familiar with the way in which animated GIFs were created. In fact, in October 2000, I wrote a rather detailed article about the process entitled “Get Animated … with Ulead’s GIF Animator Lite Edition”. Students were eager to use Microsoft Paint to create a series of progressive images that were assembled into an animated GIF.

I still remember a major time-saving tip that Don Bellamy, a talented graphic artist, shared with me. The gist of his recommendation was:

To save time when creating animated GIFs, always start with the finished slide/image and work backwards. You can erase components while creating new slides in reverse, faster than you can draw new slide additions working in the forward manner.

The animated growing flower GIF, at right, is composed of five different slides or images. Without Don’s influence, I would have begun the animation process by creating the first slide/image of the pot. Animated RoseNext I would have added the sprouting plant component and saved it as the second slide or image. Successive slides would have included leaves growing off the stem in both directions culminating with the flower bloom as the fifth and last image. However, I found it to be much easier and faster to start with the finished image of the blossoming flower which was saved as slide 5. Then I worked backwards erasing, in turn, the flower (slide 4); left leaf (slide 3); right leaf (slide 2); sprout (slide 1) leaving only the flower pot. When these slides were reassembled (in the forward, numerical progression) using the “GIF Animator” Windows freeware, the result was the animated rose that you see displayed.

Likewise the final slide, in the above New Year’s welcoming animated message, was created with the complete message. The “working backward”  procedure used was to:

  • Complete the final message – saved as “ani-NewYears-40.jpg” (with its arbitrarily high-numbered file name)
  • Erase final exclamation mark – save resulting image as “ani-NewYears-39.jpg”
  • Erase “adventure” – save resulting image as “ani-NewYears-38.jpg”
  • Continue the process, erasing one word at a time, while saving the resulting image with its next lower file number
  • Erase the large red “0”, as the second last image, and save the image as “ani-NewYears-20.jpg”
  • Erase the large red “2” and save the resulting blank yellow rectangle (with the lowest slide/image number as “ani-NewYears-19.jpg”

The resulting 20 “ani-NewYears-##” images were imported into the GIF Animator software, and like all animated GIF creation software, were imported in ascending order of numerical slide/images from lowest file number (with the least detailed display) to the highest file number which displays the final, complete illustration. One can modify the exposure time of each slide/image in the animation software and when the final GIF is assembled, it can be opened in any browser to view the animation effect. This was the animated GIF process of which I was familiar.

Animation in the 21st Century
Now, we fast forward about 12 years where I am re-introduced to animated GIFs in an on-line  Digital Storytelling “DS106” course. Right away, I realized that my knowledge of how to create animated GIFs had not kept up-to-date. As instructors, Jim Groom and Alan Levine, challenged us by not only creating animated GIFs from images but also by creating animated images from movies, television, and home videos. Not to be outdone, other DS106 instructors and students went wild demonstrating their “animated” creativity. In fact, as I explored the animated GIFs from DS106 this past Summer and Fall terms, I began to feel the excitement to signup for another DS106 session which officially starts January 14, 2013. In order that you can experience the creativity and positive learning environment fostered through DS106, I encourage you to explore the links, blog posts, and comments shared by the following amazing individuals:

However, the best part about the creativity demonstrated by these “GIF masters” is that, as part of the DS106 learning community, they shared the processes they went through to accomplish their animation. I think that as educators we need to ask our students to reflect and share the processes/hangups that they encounter when learning. It can definitely be a window into their comprehension and, better yet, provide us with important feedback into out teaching.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

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Teacher Feature #18 – Pay It Forward Day

Activity, LwICT, Teacher Feature No Comments »

My previous two blog posts alerted teachers to the unique educational opportunity afforded students on Thursday, April 26th. For the past few years, the last Thursday of April has been designated as “Pay It Forward Day”.

Teacher Feature #18 – Charles de Lint – April, 2012

Teachers should investigate the wealth of educational resources that are available on the Pay It Forward Day web site. Furthermore, the inspiring YouTube video entitled “Watch this…. You will definitely share this……mp4 is one that can be used to stimulate classroom discussion about the “pay it forward” process.

When I reflect on my youth as a Wolf Cub and Boy Scout, there are two important phrases that I still remember. They are both simple ideas that, if practiced by many, can have profound impact on both the environment and people in general.

The fist scouting phrase that I do my best to practice is “Always leave your campsite in better condition than you found it.” The second phrase is the final line in the Cub promise and states ” … do a good deed to somebody every day.”

It is this idea of “doing a good deed” or “paying it forward”, without expecting thanks, that has such potential and power. I hope that you as an educator share this important “pay it forward” message with your students and that they take action to become better citizens through doing a good deed.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Larger Image: Brian Metcalfe’s Teacher Feature “photostream”

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Puzzle: What book, movie or historical event?

Activity, DS106, LwICT, Project, Tip 3 Comments »

Want to see your students engaged in a creative activity? Want them thinking about the important parts of a story, movie, instructional video, or historical event? Do you want your students engaged using higher order synthesizing techniques rather than regurgitating low level facts? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then I have a very creative activity for you and, more importantly, your students.

In my first year Digital Storytelling course (DS106), Tim Owens challenged participants with a unique Visual Assignment called “The Four Icon Challenge” which he describes as follows:

Reduce a movie, story, or event into its basic elements, then take those visuals and reduce them further to simple icons.

Recently I saw a movie that I have reduced to four icons. In fact I have two slightly different versions (V1) and (V2) that are displayed below. I ask you, the reader, to comment on which version you feel is better and why.

Version (V1)

Version (V2)

I personally think that Version (V1) tells the story best without giving away too much. However, I trust that those who comment will share their reasons for selecting which version of my “Four Icons” best tells the story.

For those who are struggling to figure out the movie, I offer two strategies that I trust you will only use as a last resort:

  1. The more technically minded individuals will often click on the picture or attempt to save the image from their browser. These actions will display the name of the image which may provide the name of the story or movie. However, as a teaser, I chose to scramble the movie title in my file name choice.
  2. Visit the movie trailer, which not only identifies the movie but also gives the reader a brief overview of the story. Such insight helps, particularly those who have not seen the movie, determine if the four icons chosen are the best representation of the story behind the movie.

Steps in the Storytelling Process
The process that I used began with choosing a movie and then identifying the main elements of the story. Next, I searched for icons or images that I felt might best represented these four elements and saved them to my “Four Icon” folder. In some cases, I had to “tweak” an original graphic to add additional authenticity. For example, the original horse that I selected needed to be “adjusted” to have four white stockings and a white diamond shape on its forehead. As each icon was downloaded, I kept an additional document which identified the graphic and it’s URL address. This way, if I choose to use the icon, I can always give appropriate credit to it’s source address without having to waste time searching again for this important component.

I chose to arrange the four icons in a horizontal strip. To do so, I constructed a table in Microsoft Word consisting of four evenly-spaced cells. I then inserted the four images into each appropriate cell. The last step involved taking a screen-shot of the table, cropping it appropriately and saving it in a  graphic format for sharing.

To many participants in the DS106 course, this assignment would end here. However, for educators reading this post, I am delighted to inform you that this is really the beginning …

Teachable Moment
Tyler Hart, who is also enrolled in DS106, is also a creative Grade 3 teacher at Springfield Park Elementary School in Richmond, Virginia. I was delighted to observe that Tyler tried this Four Icon Challenge with his class as they captured the ideas in the book “The Polar Express”. I encourage my educational readers to visit Mr. Hart’s Class Blogand learn how he engages his students. In particular, one should, investigate the following links:

Educators will immediately recognize Tyler’s passion for teaching. Furthermore, I recommend that readers investigate other creative ways that Tyler’s Grade 3 students are learning by examining other blog posts listed under the various “Category” entries down the right hand edge of Tyler’s blog. If you are not teaching Early Years students, please pass this remarkable resource on to other teachers so both they, and more importantly, their students can benefit.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Fair Use Educational Image Credits (in order):

  • Horse (modified white stockings & blaze on forehead) –
  • Heart
  • Plough
  • Barbed Wire (with blood) –
  • WW 1 German Tank

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It’s the 2nd day of 2nd week of 2nd month

Activity, LwICT, Project, Tip No Comments »



Do you know why tomorrow, Tuesday, February 7, 2012 is special? True, it has been designated as “Safer Internet Day” but this particular day can easily be remembered because each year it will always fall on the second day (Tuesday), in the second week, of the second month (February).

Although the Safer Internet Day (SID) initiative first began in Europe in 2004, it has quickly spread, in eight years, to 74 countries world-wide. This year’s theme is “Connecting generations and educating each other”, where we encourage users young and old to “discover the digital world together … safely”! Expressed another way one might suggest that:

Tech savvy youngsters can teach their elders how to use new technologies, while grandparents can draw on their life experiences to advise younger generations on how to stay safe online, as they discover the digital world together.

The following links may be of assistance:

I apologize that I was unable to provide readers with more of an advanced warning. In fact, I only learned of this special teaching opportunity today, through a colleague’s “timely tweet”. Although this year’s timing is less than ideal, teachers may want to investigate the above SID resources and share this important information with their students. However, to improve on my timing for next year, I am advising you now that the second day, of the second week, of the second month will be Tuesday, February 5, 2013.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

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K12 Online Conference – Don’t miss it!

Application or Web App, Freebie, Professional Development, Read/Write Web No Comments »

Professional development for educators today can be a very expensive and demanding. Costs of conference registrations, hotels, meals, and travel have all dramatically increased. True, one can stay in his/her home town or city and still attend local conferences but these, too, have their own set of challenges including the following:

  • popular sessions fill up quickly;
  • sessions that one may want to attend often run concurrently, so one is forced to attend a particular presentation while missing other learning opportunities scheduled for the same time slot;
  • one attends an hour session, only to find that within the first 5 minutes of the presentation, the topic or focus is not the best fit
  • sessions are often focused on “nice to know” but may not have the ultimate fit of “just-in-time” delivery

If these seem to be some of the concerns that you encounter, then I have a professional development solution, which is called the K12 Online Conference found at: Two weeks of presentations start today, and because it is online, the above problems and restrictions are totally eliminated.

Most educators, that I know, love to hear the four-letter word … “FREE”.  In other words, there is no registration fee for the professional development provided during the K12 Online Conference. Neither must you travel anywhere, in fact you can partake of these inspiring educational sessions while sitting in the comfort of your own home, lounging in your pyjamas. This year’s theme is “Purposeful Play” and although the pre-conference keynote by Angela Maiers entitled “The Sandbox Manifesto” has already been presented on Monday, November 21st, you are not out-of-luck as you would be in traditional conferences. In fact, one of the most important aspects of K12 Online Conference presentations is that they, together with any pertinent resources, are displayed and archived on the web. In fact, interested educators can review not only the current year’s videos but also presentations shared during the previous five years from 2006-2010.

To begin taking advantage of this powerful learning opportunity, all you need is a computer with speakers and Internet connectivity. Begin by pointing your browser to the K12 Online Conference main page and continue investigating any of the following links:

Those educators using Twitter, may wish to follow the comments made regarding the K12 Online Conference by searching or filtering tweets using the “#k12online” (without quotes) hashtag. Furthermore, I find this online learning opportunity a great way to learn about educators with whom I might share a kindred spirit. I am always looking out for new ideas shared through educational blogs and if you feel the same way, I encourage you to examine Sean McGaughey’s “K12 Online Blog and Twitter List“.

... this K-12 Online Conference is not only “the conference that never ends”. It should also be considered as “the conference that keeps on giving”.

Like our students, we are all on individual learning journeys. Some of us are further along and others are just beginning. Furthermore, for learning and assimilation to be meaningful, concepts and ideas need to arrive when the person is ready and they have to make sense based on the individual’s past experience and where s/he is at. For example, a presentation which shares various mobile educational apps, which run on an iPhone, may not apply to you today, particularly if you don’t own a cellular phone. On the other hand, if you are a primary teacher, you may find Sharon Bett’s 2008 presentation “Never Too Young – Three Tools for the Youngest” to be just what you need to hear based on your needs today. I did my best to address the wealth of information that is contained within the K12 Online Conference archives in last year’s post entitled: “K-12 Online – Acknowledging the Archives“. In fact some administrators or leaders of Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) may recommend to their colleagues that certain educators review past presentations and report back as to their favourites so that the larger audience can benefit from their research.

In closing, I can’t think of a better, more apt description of the K12 Online Conference than I used in my previous post called “K-12 Online – The never-ending conference” when I stated:

In summary, this K-12 Online Conference is not only “the conference that never ends”. It should also be considered as “the conference that keeps on giving”.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

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Social Studies TeachMeet with Technology

Application or Web App, LwICT, Professional Development, Project No Comments »

As a K-12 Social Studies teacher, would you like to learn how to integrate Google Maps into your class, collaborate on the building of a wiki website, explore Audacity freeware to create audio files and/or podcasts, or learn about a digital citizenship “charity challenge” to empower students while learning about other countries? If any of these topics are of interest, you are encouraged to attend the next TeachMeet on Tuesday, November 8, 2011. It will be held in Winnipeg at 7:00 pm, in the computer lab at Linden Christian School, at 887 Wilkes Avenue behind Grant Memorial Baptist Church. This evening’s innovative form of professional development will focus on aspects of Manitoba Education’s Literacy with Information and Communication Technology (LwICT) and how one can best integrate technology into K-12 Social Studies. Interested readers are encouraged to peruse the TeachMeet web site at: to find out specific details about the upcoming meetings and the resources that are being shared on-line.

I believe there are several important reasons that K-12 Social Studies teachers should investigate and attend an upcoming TeachMeet session. These include:

  • The majority of the sessions are presented by Social Studies teachers
  • Presentations are class-room based and relevant to the Manitoba Social Studies curriculum
  • Meetings are held in different areas of interest to Social Studies teachers and often tours of sites are included (e.g. Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame & Museum, Dalnavert Museum, Manitoba Archives)
  • Most importantly, you get to meet other passionate Social Studies educators who are willing to share activities that they use in their day-to-day teaching to engage their students
  • An opportunity to meet other interesting educators and expand your personal learning network (PLN)

I encourage you to visit the TeachMeet web site and add your email address to the mailing list so that you can become better informed. However, if you are not able to attend, I encourage you to return to the web site (following the meeting) and click on the specific meeting date link. Every effort is made by James Dykstra to share online the resources of the various presenters so that all Social Studies teachers may benefit.

For example, at the last TeachMeet, held on September 26, 2011 at the Dalnavert Museum, Jason Smoker of Linden Christian School presented an innovative project that he has refined over the years. He provided an in-depth look at how he engages his students through the creation of a medieval banquet as part of his Grade 8 Social Studies curriculum. Furthermore, he shared the following medieval resources under the September 26, 2011 date link:

  1. Feudal System notes
  2. Medieval Banquet Blank Seating Plan
  3. Medieval Banquet Blank Timeline
  4. Medieval Banquet Booklet
  5. Medieval Banquet Rubric
  6. Medieval Food Notes
  7. Letter to Parents

I encourage you to attend the November 8th TeachMeet. Better yet, invite a Social Studies colleague(s) and travel to this technology-focused session together. By sharing a ride, you also get an important chance to dialogue. On your drive back home, you can share ideas, compare notes, reflect on what you have learned, and discuss how best to implement the activity within your own classes. However, if you do not teach Social Studies, I would encourage you to share this information with any Social Studies teachers so that they too may become better connected and more informed.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

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Joy: Shareski’s Strategy for Student Success

Food for Thought, Professional Development, Reflection No Comments »

I have recently discovered a wealth of ideas that “really matter” which can apply to all teachers, regardless of grade level or discipline. These succinct and relevant, educational messages, many with supporting videos, were shared by 37 dedicated Canadian educators who participated in UnPlug’d 2011 this past August. Participants were challenged to reflect on their educational experiences and draft a 1-2 page essay entitled, “Why ___ Matters!”. Interestingly, all 37 educators identified different aspects of education that mattered to them. Over the UnPlug’d weekend, colleagues shared stories, some were captured on video, and peer-edited the essays to produce a powerful, collaborative publication entitled “Why ___ Matters!”  These inspiring educational stories, and supporting videos, are shared in both PDF and ePub formats, as an entire electronic document, as well as under the following chapter headings:

  • Preface
  • Chapter 1: The Change We Need
  • Chapter 2: Voices & Choices
  • Chapter 3: Shift Disturbing
  • Chapter 4: I Wonder
  • Chapter 5: Creating Conditions for Change
  • Chapter 6: Empowering Self – Empowering Others

All educators are encouraged to explore these stories and their supporting videos. I strongly believe that these ideas, if embraced and practiced, can help us all do a better job of teaching.

To illustrate this point, I will quote an excerpt from one of my favourite stories shared by Dean Shareski, Digital Learning Consultant with the Prairie South School Division in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.  Dean’s message “Why Joy Matters” (found in Chapter 4) resonated with me because he identifies a process by which all educators, regardless of grade or subject matter, can improve.

The following excerpt, from the end of Dean’s UnPlug’d 2011 story, demonstrates how joy might be considered a catalyst to improve all student engagement and learning:

It has become more and more difficult to consider the role of joy in our schools. Teachers have been told other things matter more: test scores, new curriculum, district initiatives and other data that suggests deficiencies.

Is anyone measuring for joy? A joyful learning environment might be the most important thing you create for a child. If indeed the much used phrase “lifelong learner” is a major goal for schools, could joy be an ingredient for that?

Maybe we ought to start counting smiles. If at the end of the year, you can honestly say your students leave as joyful learners, you’ll be among the best teachers I know.

I wonder what I did today to bring joy into my world?

One of the most powerful aspects of Dean’s message is that he suggests a change that is reasonable. So often one hears that important changes can be effected in education but it will cost money for a new lab of computers, for wireless access and faster routers, for iPads and other new devices. However, as readers explore “Why ___ Matters!”, you will be amazed that the suggested changes and ideas are more about “humanware” than hardware. In fact, although the UnPlug’d participants were considered to be change-agents in their fast-paced, technology-enhanced classrooms and offices, the majority of the messages focus on pedagogy rather than on peripherals.

I encourage you to visit the UnPlug’d resource site and read Dean’s entire educational story entitled “Why Joy Matters!”. Next, take time to read the succinct, powerful messages of other passionate educators and view their supporting videos. If you have time and wish to provide thoughts and feedback about certain UnPlug’d messages, add a comment at the end of this blog post identifying which essays and videos impacted you and why.

Your students will not remember what you taught them … but they will remember forever the way you make them feel.

In closing, I wish to thank the UnPlug’d educators who took time to share their poignant, educational stories. Those familiar with my writing style, know how much I admire people who can write succinctly and are willing to share their insight and resources with other educators. If imitation is considered as the sincerest form of flattery, then I want to leave you, the reader, with an extremely powerful quote by Pam Welter. Her single sentence captures the “joy” of Dean Shareski’s message when she states … “Your students will not remember what you taught them … but they will remember forever the way you make them feel.”

Take care & keep smiling :-)

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UnPlug’d: Why Sharing Matters! *

Activity, Food for Thought, Project, Social Networking 8 Comments »

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.

Sharing educational resources is not about adopting but adapting resources and making them your own.

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.

In summary, I believe that educational sharing should involve the following five steps:

  1. Regularly share resources & ideas with at least one other educator
  2. Identify the creator (if possible) on all resources that you share
  3. Form a personal learning network (PLN)
  4. Adapt not adopt, shared resources
  5. 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.

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Sweet Tweet – Twitter for Teachers

Info, Professional Development, Sweet Tweet 2 Comments »

Twitter turns five years of age this month. Co-founder, Jack Dorsey, sent the world’s first twitter message: “just setting up my twttr” on March 21, 2006. Undoubtedly, in five short years, Twitter has changed the way many of us communicate and share information.

For those unfamiliar with Twitter, it is a free, social networking and micro-blogging service that runs on both computers and internet-connected mobile devices. Since this communication service was designed to be used by people “on the move”, each message or “tweet” is limited to 140 characters so it can be easily displayed on the smaller cell phone screens.

As an educator, I use Twitter. I must admit that at first I could not see the benefit of receiving “tweets” that described what a person ate for breakfast, what music one was currently listening to, what sports team another individual was cheering for, or someone asking his/her “followers” for suggestions on how to train their dog. However, although these “somewhat superfluous” messages, in my humble opinion (often compressed in “tweets” as IMHO), still are sent, I find they take up far less than 10% of all my Twitter messages. Such unique messages do add a dimension to the individual sender of which one may not necessarily be aware. It is the remaining 90% of Twitter traffic that exposes me to interesting, educational activities and resources. In fact, it is Rodd Lucier’s “Twitter Bingo for Education” image that cleverly summarizes a variety of ways educators may use Twitter.

Having now used Twitter for more than a year, I thought that I should create this new blog category called “Sweet Tweet”.  Here, I hope to share meaningful, succinct messages that I think are unique and inspiring. As my first “Sweet Tweet”, I thought I would share the a powerful message from Kevin Kindred of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Following the recent tsunami and the resulting nuclear accident, Kevin provides an insightful perspective into most jobs when he compares his with a Japanese nuclear worker:

RT @kevinkindred: Japanese nuclear worker on the news: “I am prepared to die to avoid meltdown.”   <I will not complain about my job today.>

Tweet Details: Received – Thursday, March 17, 2011.
– Originally sent or “tweeted” by Kevin Kindred aka @kevinkindred.
– Re-Tweeted (RT) by Swan River educator, Ryan Maksymchuk aka @biggmaxx.

I encourage educators to register for a free Twitter account. Don’t feel that you need to contribute right away. Rather, be a lurker, and “follow” other educators with whom you feel a common grade, subject, interest or passion. Manitoba teachers might consider following some of the educators listed in the wiki called “Manitoba Teachers Who Tweet“.  I’m sure that in time you will find Twitter to be a powerful tool in helping to share knowledge and expand your personal learning network.

To help get you started using Twitter, I provide the following resources:

I encourage readers to share their favourite tweets with me for possible inclusion in future “Sweet Tweets”. One may send them by Twitter to me at @bkmetcalfe, in this blog post “Comment”, or by email to Brian<dot>Metcalfe<at>life-long-learners<dot>com.

In closing, I trust that you will come to appreciate Howard Rheingold, when he stated, “I think successful use of Twitter means knowing how to tune the network of people you follow, and how to feed the network of people who follow you”.

Take care & keep smiling :-) Brian

– Flickr Creative Commons image “Twitter Bingo for Educators” by Rodd Lucier aka thecleversheep
Free Twitter Bird Icon Set from Gopal Raju with a special thanks to Chris Metcalfe for the “tweet bubble” graphic enhancement.

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