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Monday, April 30, 2012

Twitter for Educators--Potential for the Exponential

First of all, let me clarify something up front. You do NOT have to be on Twitter to be an excellent educator.  I repeat, you do not have to be on Twitter to be an excellent educator. 

However, you might find there is merit in this tool. It can take you places you never imagined. It has the 'potential for the exponential.' I see it as my whenever-I-need-it-or-have-time PLN or Personal Learning Network. I never even gave a passing thought to Twitter until I tried it out just for the halibut. Yes, they travel in schools, and I was hooked in a short amount of time. 

I'll show you two levels of access to this—one without having a twitter account & one with a twitter account.

Without a twitter account:
browse and find resources, ideas with HASHTAGS

  Image credit:

1. Open these links and find some hashtags that apply to your area(s) of education.
Subject specific Hashtags (scroll down a bit)

A hashtag is a topic headline; a category if you will. 

Some hashtags that I recommend:
#edcamp  #edcampomaha  #edcampkc  #edukc (just getting started)
#cpchat  (connected principal chat)
#suptchat (superintendent chat)

#elemchat      #1stchat    #2ndchat   #3rdchat   #4thchat     #5thchat    #midleved

#edtech  (ed technology)
#edapp  (edu apps)
#scichat  (science teacher chat)
#sschat  (ss teacher chat)
#mathchat  #engchat  #artsed #musedchat  #STEM  #PEgeeks

#commoncore   #pblchat (project based learning chat)

2. Now, go to (type in 1 hashtag) or (pick 2x3 grid and type in bunch of hashtags!)
Type in hashtags of your choice and see what you find. Click around. Open links. Save them to bookmarks or to my favorite, EVERNOTE

You can find so much this way, by mining from hashtag posts! I started seeing blogs and thinking about doing one myself. What do I have to say, I though to myself?  I saw 'papers' like this one: Learning Technology Paper (content curation on topics). I found amazing websites and APPS I would not have learned of otherwise.

3. You can even START your own hashtag or make a fun/silly one like the kids do. Let's start one- #NKCSedu and for our state #MOedu (I can post helpful twitter resources there and answer questions. All you have to do is type in the hashtage #NKCSedu and I'll see it since I monitor it.) 

Give this a try for a a few weeks. No pressure. When I started I didn't do much with it for over a month. I watched and dabbled. Wasn't sure about how to post; afraid of doing it wrong. Then I made some KC connections and found out about the #edcamp movement. Now it is something I access daily and rely on for help, support, ideas, and FUN.

If you want to contact someone about an idea or link you found through hashtags, then you will want to open a twitter account. Read on.

With a twitter account:
browse and find resources, ideas with HASHTAGS PLUS make connections with educators and share/interact/collaborate/build; POTENTIAL for the EXPONENTIAL
1. Skim through these 3 blogposts. Great resources for starting w/Twitter account:  
HOW TO SIGN UP FOR TWITTER and get started!   @justintarte Open it! (See list of pple to follow)
Hashtag PD @pattigrayson 

2. Go here: Fill in full name, email, & password and click 'signup for Twitter.' Next screen will generate possible Username (aka HANDLE--mine is @lauragilchrist4). You may have to play with it to figure out one that is not being used. Then you'll need to confirm your account in the email Twitter sends. (YOU CAN CHANGE YOUR HANDLE later if you don't like it! I did that.)

---Public (recommended if you want to make connections/build) or Private (fine but limits you; great way to start if unsure)
---Choose a profile picture and write a short bio. (I don't follow people with no bio--can't tell if they're an educator.)

4. START FOLLOWING EDUCATORS. The way I found followers is to look through 'following' lists of those who tweeted edu-gold. Feel free to look through my FOLLOWING list, find bios that match what you need, and click 'FOLLOW' for any of them. I've found principal tweets are often full of gold, so I follow lots of principals. The tweets from those you are following show up in your

Later, you can use or to monitor multiple hashtags, or to monitor the tweets of LISTS of people you've made. I use tweetdeck.

KC Area people I know who are solid edtweeters: 
@kylepace  @stevejmoore  @jamesbrauer (nkcs)  @nashworld

GOOD LUCK and please Direct Message me (under person icon, click 'direct messages.') or tweet directly to me (@lauragilchrist4) and I'll respond. Start using #NKCSedu hashtag or #MOedu hashtag when you find cool stuff to share. This puts it out to a wider but more targeted edu-audience. Once you have a Twitter account, you can use hashtags to quickly get help and assistance from people like you that teach, say 5th grade or middle school SS. Powerful PLN or personal learning network.

Look this state hashtag up: #nyed  #njed    School Prof Dev  #rmsprofdev 

                                      My Twitter Story: Potential for the Exponential
When I started 5 months ago, I got an account, followed 2 educators and then followed a bunch of their followers. Oh yes, and I knew nothing of hashtags. I started by looking at the posts of the people I followed and I started finding AMAZING stuff. I found BLOGS, and I found WIKIS and I found.....a ton of things I knew little about. Blew my mind a bit and felt energized by it; wanted to learn about it and take part.

When I was ready to start tweeting educationally myself, I was apprehensive about it. What if I format it 'wrong?' Wait, what is my edu-voice? What do I have to say to the world anyway?'

I made some KC area Twitter connections with @kylepace and @stevejmoore. We met up and talked shop in Blue Springs. I learned about #edcamps and lots more, and I had fun talking shop!  My school walls were opening up and my room was getting bigger. Kyle is the organizer of #edcampkc, now ready for its 3rd year on Nov. 10th, 2012. I'll be helping and attending and encourage you to attend. Anyway, I knew nothing about edcamps (unconferences) before I met up with Kyle and Steve. Got curious and looked up other edcamps. So many? Who knew! BAM, found one in Omaha and I signed up and went. At #edcampomaha I was a presenter in two sessions. Didn't know I was going to be, but signed up to present thanks to @mrp_teacher! Can't tell you how many MORE amazing people I met in Omaha and got to know and learn from. (@mrbadura @tbbrown @matt_gomez @j_allen @jhox1 @barbinnebraska @ppleaejalej @coachsautter @tgwynn @mrskmpeters @mrmacnology and many more) 
Working on plans to go to #edcampdallas and #edcampstl in the future.

EDCAMP INFO (UNconference!) I like this kind of PD and our district is working in this direction.
My #edcampomaha blogpost  great video on edcamps; short and sweet

Monday, April 23, 2012

HAPPINESS is the key to success?! Or is it the other way around? (TED talk by Shawn Achor)

 by Shawn Achor  
(12 minutes; watchworthy; setup is 2:45 then it takes off; positive psychology; brain-focused; at about 10:00 good stuff)

This makes sense when you think about it. We operate under the idea that success leads to happiness and we teach it to our kids--if you work harder you'll be successful and THEN you'll be happy. However our brains work in the opposite way. When we're happy, our brains 'open up'; creativity and much more is activated. Happiness is what leads to success since our brains are primed, pumped, and ready to go.

If I want to inspire kids, I need to focus on making the culture and atmosphere of my classroom the #1 priority. If that culture is positive, playful, supportive of risk-taking and idea-generating, supportive of growth, and encouraging of big thinking and individuality, THEN the necessary brain ingredients (happiness) are there for kids to DO and to BE successful. PLAY and RESPECTFUL learning opportunities must rule.

  • Do schools/teachers (due to high-stakes testing requirements of states) focus on student success first and foremost (test scores) and think that it is more important than and LEADS to happiness? (yes) Do we continue to do this or reassess and make the changes that need to be made?
  • What can we do in our schools to promote play and happiness? Music in halls? Art? Kids having a say in decor/food/decisions of school? Outdoor time? PLAYful? Silly things? Big ideas? Does high-stakes testing and over-testing of kids have a place in this? How can we work in the necessary minimal testing and keep it light, fun, playful? 

Socratic Circles: The Circle of Life--at school!

Held my FIRST Socratic Circle about plastics (#1-7) and our abundant reliance on and use of #1 water bottles-- with my 6th graders. We read text, marked it, and did inner and outer circle.  It was my FIRST time to use Socratic Circles I am shocked and embarrassed to say after only 17 years! Thanks to our AVID program and our building AVID coordinator Brooke Hendry for DOING a Socratic Circle with us so we could experience it.  It was awesome and I enjoyed it. What a different experience than 'sit and git' with the same article. I was hooked.
  • I will be using this from here on out. It is a respectful, reflective, calming activity. Student-centered. 
  • The Socratic Circle puts kids face to face interacting, exchanging ideas with each other.  The kids are in charge instead of the teacher.
  • FUNNY: Kids kept looking to me to moderate their circle discussion so they wouldn't interrupt, esp. in my two p.m. classes. Wasn't an issue in the morning. (Set up that they shouldn't interrupt--as day went on they focused on that more; will tweak) Encouraged them to take care of it themselves; not to worry about doing it right and looking to me. Hmm, how's that for teacher-centered conditioning?! I sat on the outside watching, observing, making thoughtful faces. :)
  • COOL: No one necessarily knows the outcome of any Socratic Circle. Where could it go? What cool things might we learn, think of, wander and hit upon? Collective inquiry.

Which practice has more power to transform, create, and energize?  
  • Reading and marking text, discussing/sharing with peers/bouncing ideas off of peers; brainstorming OR 
  • Reading text, answering predetermined questions and spitting out predetermined correct answers?

This second picture is my 7th hour who finished out the circle time raising hands so they wouldn't interrupt each other. I will change that next time, I believe. I like the resources below, like the poster on the ground rules and expectations during SC in link #2. 

The kids had NO CLUE that there were 7 main types of plastics. They didn't know about the issues around  the numbers on some of the plastics. They didn't know some campuses were banning water bottles. Cool seeing some kids step out and take the lead with a strong voice! My 2nd hour class generated a long list of actions to take! They have signups and are following up next week after our fishing trip. If I had this to redo, I would have read and had the kids react personally to articles in day 1 verbally and written, adding a video clip to round out topics. I would have had the kids talk in small groups to bounce ideas off of others and formulate their talking points. I would have held Socratic Circle the next day. Will adjust in the future!!

--cool ideas (she uses just one circle; uses video, audio, in addition to print; groups of 4 discussing prior to starting Socratic Circle may ease talking anxiety of shy students.)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

PBL Roadblock--CURRICULUM SPRAWL Middle School Science

High school science classes are yearlong, in-depth courses over one topic, such as biology, physics, anatomy, etc.  The opportunity exists to RUN with it; dig deep with PBL and ignite passion in kids about topics they never knew they might be interested in or care about.

Middle school (gr.6-8) science classes (in my district and other districts in KC & Missouri that I'm familiar with) are yearlong courses focused on breadth and covering many topics at a cursory level. I teach 6th grade and the general topics covered in that one year, each of which include MANY objectives, are the following:

1. Scientific Method
2. Matter
3. Light and Sound
4. Earth--Landforms, Earth forces, Fossils
5. Earth--Soil, Sedimentary rocks, Water
6. Life--Ecosystems
7. Life--Life processes, cells, Photosynthesis/Respiration
8. Sci, Tech, Society

There is VERY LITTLE time to dig deep and do PBL within this curriculum frame. Teachers end up managing content instead of coaching kids as the kids embrace the content, manipulate it, massage it, and make it their own. If you develop PBL right and arrange it so the kids can search for the issues or topics, then work to create solutions or products, you simply cannot 'fit PBL in' when you have tons of material you must cover in your curriculum. NOPE!!

The PBL plastic/ocean pollution project I posted about on 4/11 is temporarily on hold until after May 1 (fishing field trip) due to Curriculum Sprawl. These two weeks will be filled with prepping for a fishing/hiking/macroinvertebrate field trip, administering a summative required test from last unit, and teaching life science objectives not yet 'covered.' We have Take your Child to Work Day next week, a half day on the 30th, and I'm out at two days of Mac training this week. We've worked hard all year as a PLC (Angela Merenbloom, Jennifer Clark, & Theresa Greiner) to do projects, hands-on, and inquiry based learning within our very full 6th grade Science curriculum. We are feeling a lil frazzled and never end the year with enough time to do justice 'to' life science.

When I get back to the project on May 2, I have ~2 full weeks left to cover/finish cells, life processes, classification, ecosystems and populations AND let the kids 'get at it' with their projects. Do I focus on the project (kids are excited; not happy they cannot work on it at school in their groups) or the uncovered curriculum or both? (Our team/building is not set up for flexible scheduling PBL requires YET.) I will likely modify the project (shorten), go ahead with our Skyping (cannot wait) and try to get school-wide projects rolling for next year, such as Stream Teams, locations, dates and the many ideas the kids generate and decide should be put into action. Started brainstorming with Jo Houser, 7th grade Science teacher at New Mark, yesterday!!

WHAT IF.....6th grade Science next year was all life science, and each of the other grades was another focus? (Ex: Physical Science 7th; Earth Science 8th) Imagine the partnerships we could form between New Mark kids and the community for outreach and service with a depth-focused curriculum! IMAGINE the things kids could discover, create, wonder about! My district, North Kansas City Schools, is student-focused and moving forward with PBL, Quadrant D Rigor and Relevance, and giving kids the best technology and opportunities possible (just adopted Apple platform--all HS students and teachers using MacBook Airs next year). I believe they will look into the curriculum sprawl issue and I hope to join in the dialogue about it!

Seeking curriculum/state/fed knowledge from experts
1. Why are middle school science classes NOT like high school science classes with a one topic focus? Can districts change it or is there something keeping that from happening? (testing movement, etc.)

2.  Will Common Core tests allow for this in-depth focus per grade level in middle school?

3. How many states and/or districts structure MS science based on breadth? depth? Is it shifting towards depth? Will the shift happen nationwide?

4. Will elementary science curriculum change to depth over breadth?!

THANK YOU for reading my post. Flew off my fingers onto the keys and then the screen before me/you. Clickety-clack...

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

New 6th grade Skype Project: Global Plastic Pollution Crisis

Greetings from Kansas City!

My 6th graders and I are jumping into Skype for the first time and going global thanks to our school librarian, Susan Anderson and Tricia Scott, tech specialist at central office. Thanks to both of you for your help this week. Susan sent me a video link that shows how to set up Skype using my doc cam. The video featured Steven W. Anderson (@web20classroom). I laughed when I watched it because I knew him from my Twitter PLN. He shares TONS of useful resources on his blog and via Twitter. His video-help worked! Of course, I tweeted him and thanked him for helping me.

Skyping is not common practice in our district, YET. I suspect it soon will be with our switch to Apple/Mac. I'm stoked to Skype with my kids beginning next week and talk to people who live/work near the ocean and KNOW personally of the plastic pollution issues, as if they're in the next room. I know I'll be learning right along with the kids. The genuine questions, discussion, and critical thinking that will come from the kids as a result of these experiences will be beautiful to witness. Who knows where this will lead? This is the beauty of student-driven PBL, or project-based learning. There are no predetermined right and wrong answers, as all those tests would have us believe. There are optimal solutions and multiple paths to a solution.

An elementary school friend who is a marine biologist, illustrator, and owner of Fathom-it Studios, Kirsten Carlson (@kirstencarlson), will Skype with us next week from Germany. Author Darcy Pattison, who just released Wisdom, the Midway Albatross graciously agreed to Skype with the kids as well! I'm working on setting up these FIRST Skypes! Thank you both for agreeing to take time to work with the kids and share your knowledge and passion!

We hope people will visit our SKYPE project shown below and take part in it. My 6th graders and I would enjoy learning from you about the problem and then planning ways to involve our school community (and more?!) in helping!

Here is a powerful TedX video about plastics and pollution. 7 minutes worth your while.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

365 Project

St. Patrick's Day Brick (March 12/365)Sunset silhouette (March 13/365)Could most school kids ID these leaves? (March 14/365)Crabapple flower #1  (March 15/365)Flower series 2 (March 16/365)St. Patrick's Day Fun! (March 17/365)
Flower series 3 (March 18/365)Flower series 4 (March 19/365) Raindrop Crabapple flowerFlower series 5 (March 20/365) Another Rainy Day Crabapple flowerFlower series 6 (March 21/365) The Stage is Set!Flower series 7 (March 22/365) The Unfolding!Flower Series 8 (March 23/365)
#edcampomaha (March 24/365)Full Glory! Flower Series 9 (March 25/365)Flower Series 10  (March 26/365)Ketchup chips (March 27/365)Lilac Love  (March 28/365)Spring play finale (March 29/365)
Flower Series 11 (March 30/365)A new Pin Oak leaf (March 31/365)Daring Jumping Spider (April 1/365)Flower Series 12 (April 2/365)Water Quality testing (April 3/365)Mrs. Gilly's bday Paper Airplane (April 4/365)

365 Project, a set on Flickr.

Evening fun. Enjoyed the artistic process of sorting through pictures and building my daily 365 project series. Added March 26 to April 5.