Written by guest blogger Heath Kelley (@6kelley), 5th grade teacher at DMS
There are many social media options that provide content for educators to collaborate and share ideas. One of these options, Twitter, is used by millions of teachers to supplement the learning that may not take place during face-to-face, traditional professional development sessions.
I first started using Twitter a few years ago as a way to glean from experts such as Rick Wormeli (@rickwormeli2), Marzano Research (@MarzanoResearch), and read about how fellow teachers implemented strategies in their classrooms. I began following hashtags that organized topics such as standards based grading (#sbg). Twitter chats provided a place to discuss questions and exchange ideas. The district I was teaching at worked to communicate a shared vision to the community with posts of what was happening in and around the school using a common hashtag, similar to Howard Winneshiek (#2020howardwinn). Tools such as TweetDeck continue to help me organize the people and categories that I want to follow.
The personalized nature of Twitter gives teachers an opportunity to direct their learning at their own pace. Todd Whitaker (@toddwhitaker), author of What Great Teachers Do Differently,speaks to this when he says, “Twitter is the best PD in the world. Twitter is not an obligation. Email is an obligation.”
There are several educators in Decorah that are already taking advantage of using Twitter. I asked some of them to share their thoughts about how they have benefited from using Twitter. If you are new to Twitter, I recommend watching this 60 second video to catch a glimpse of how it may be helpful for you.
"Twitter = Connections. The bulk of what I have done in my teaching pedagogy has been lifted, stolen, and shared from sources using social media. Specifically, Twitter has afforded me the opportunity to connect, personally, with the creator of some really awesome educational tools that have helped me extend learning and make it more meaningful for students. It is like a short-cut to meeting and engaging with people smarter than I am in the field I am passionate about. Creating a Professional Learning Network (PLN) through Twitter has also helped me stay really motivated and engaged with learning how to become better at my craft. I only hope to continue to build my footprint on Twitter and be a resource for others to reciprocate all the benefits I've received from it."
- Zach Fromm (@ZachFromm1)
"I use Twitter to be exposed to current research by following leaders in the fields of education and math education; I have read more professional articles via Twitter than any other resource. I also use Twitter to help me process my thoughts on, and see other sides of, issues. Often this is done as part of a Twitter Chat, but I have also responded to individuals or groups to participate in these types of conversations. I do not always have time to check in, and I had to learn that that is ok. When I do have a chance to check in I almost always find some inspiration for reflecting more deeply on what I am doing in my classroom- and to me that is key. Twitter has made me more thoughtful about the decisions I am making in my classroom, rather than just following the status quo."
- Allysen Lovstuen (@alovstuen)
"I've found Twitter to be a great way to take advantage of the hive-mind to help me keep up on new thinking in both ELA and science. I've also shared materials that I've developed on Twitter and have most definitely benefited from seeing others' work, too."
- Steve Peterson (@insidethedog)
"Twitter is something I'm fairly new to, but it was introduced to me as an educational tool at a music education conference two years ago. I follow a wide range of people -- some friends and family, some educators, some policy-makers, and some pop culture personalities. Twitter is where I turn when I have 45 seconds to kill -- and it's amazing how many times I come across a gem of an idea that can transfer into my classroom! Sometimes I find stand-alone tech integration ideas, other times I stumble across a thread of tweets from amazing music educators around the country engaging in an on-going conversation about best practices. While Twitter isn't my first stop for research about education, it's definitely opened some doors and sent me down some rabbit holes!"
- Andrew Ellingsen (@AndrewEllingsen)
"Our goal with our twitter account is to use it as a tool to positively push information out about our activities and what our kids are accomplishing in all of their activities." Here is a link for more information about the Decorah High School Social Media Presence.
- Adam Riley (@Decorah_Vikings)
"I use Twitter to connect to various individuals in the physical education setting as well as for coaching. There are many valuable resources to connect with on Twitter and I have found it as a very easy tool to use. It is also been a way to be visible with my students as well and be able to communicate with them through this medium."
- Jonathan Carlson (@coachjc03)
"I get inspiration from a variety of sources: professional journals, Facebook groups, and email subscriptions. Nothing, however, compares to the depth and breadth of information I receive through Twitter. At the KPEC conference last summer in Dubuque, Todd Whitaker, educational leader and author, motivated me to use this invaluable resource more than I had been. He stated, “Teaching is a lonely world; Twitter connects you with experts. You learn how to be great by great people.”
Was he ever right! All my favorite educators – Penny Kittle, Carol Jago, Meenoo Rami, and Kelly Gallagher (to name a few) as well as groups such as TeachThought, edutopia, NCTE, and Heinemann PD are now available to me through Twitter. Just this week I learned about new books my students will love, prompts for argumentative writing, and strategies for reaching quiet and disengaged students. I can also search a topic (for example Civil Rights Movement) to assist me as I’m refining lesson plans or search #edchat for more inspiration.
I used to feel guilty about following others without tweeting out information in return, but another statement by Todd Whitaker alleviated those feelings. He said, “Twitter is not an obligation; it is 24/7 learning.” I realize people share because they want to help others become better at their craft, and I sure appreciate that! I’ll still want to read books and attend conferences to hear from people whose work I admire, but now I can access what they’re thinking about with a quick tap on my phone. Priceless!"
- Liz Fox (@Lizabethfox1)
"I began using Twitter in 2012. My initial goal was to connect with other professional educators and gather resources to help me be a better teacher. I have found that at times I can also be a resource for other teachers. I like sharing ideas and seeing what types of activities and classroom management styles other teachers use. Twitter allows me to make those connections with teachers all across the nation quickly and easily. I have also participated in Educational Chats. These are opportunities to engage in discussions with other like-minded professionals in a guided format. I also use Twitter to follow authors. I find it fascinating that many authors will reply to my tweets. It is fun and exciting to share these connections with my students."
- Jenny Butler (@jennybutler83)
By Instructional Coach Andrew Ellingsen and Collaborative Teacher Shannon Horton
For the last month, we've been working with Carrie Kauffman and Kathryn Thompson on building a media literacy infographic. It has been shared with staff and students in our district, and the feedback has been really positive.
Why we made it
Our goal in creating this infographic was to give students a tool to use to help them sort media outlets in two ways -- the liberal/conservative bias of the organization and the level of depth in reporting. It is not intended as a way to replace critical thinking and thoughtful analysis, and we've been really pleased to see that the students who have been using it in the past couple weeks have been having thoughtful conversations and discussions.
The idea to focus on media literacy to help students identify quality reporting and inherent bias in the media isn't new to our district -- this is something many teachers have been covering in their classrooms for years. However, with all the buzz on both ends of the political spectrum about "fake news" right now, it made sense to us when Carrie and Kathyrn approached us about partnering on a media literacy project.
How we made it
Following our initial meeting with them, we began gathering resources that might be helpful. In that research, we came across an early draft of an infographic created by Vanessa Otero. We really liked the idea of sorting news organizations in two ways at once, but it left out some of the news sources our students use and some of the category descriptors were more blunt than we would choose for middle and high school students.
We re-created the x-y axis plot and used her axis labels of "Quality" and "Bias" but chose to use colors instead of ovals as our visual organizer. As we sorted the news organizations, we used Vanessa Otero's initial placements as our starting place. She described her methodology in an extensive blog post, and we felt good about the level of analysis she did as she placed them.
In addition to her initial placements, though, we also turned to sites like www.mediabiasfactcheck.com and www.allsides.com to get more guidance on the placement of media outlets. We liked that www.mediabiasfactcheck.com is run by an individual person who analyzes the news organizations on a host of characteristics and that www.allsides.com uses public perceptions of the media outlets along with a methodology for calculating bias. This counterpoint between a research method and crowd-sourced rankings struck a nice balance, and in nearly all cases, both sites had media outlets ranked identically or very similarly.
How we revised it
As we worked on this, we tried to be careful not to let our own bias influence where we placed things on the infographic. To help with that, we shared a draft with colleagues and friends on both sides of the political spectrum for feedback and made adjustments accordingly. This was a helpful step in the process as we received several high quality news source recommendations that we had not included in our initial draft.
It was at this point that we shared a draft of the infographic with DMS and DHS teachers for feedback. Their response was thoughtful and helpful; and their questions, recommendations, and additional resources helped us make further refinements to the placements of the news organizations.
How it’s being used
More than thirty DMS and DHS teachers have already requested poster-sized copies of the infographic to use in their classrooms. We've received requests to share it with teachers and librarians outside our district, and we are happy to pass it on to anyone who finds it helpful! Use, share, debate, and edit it -- and continue to seek out high quality news sources for use with students. Our goal in creating and sharing this is certainly not to favor one political perspective, but rather to help our students become better informed citizens by using the best possible sources of information.
By: Liz Fox
As a 29-year veteran, I feel relatively confident in my teaching abilities. That being said, I am nowhere near perfect and strive to improve my practice whenever I can. I read academic journals, participate in webinars, and attend conferences. I also learn something every time I meet with my PLC group (although Mother Nature seems to have something against us meeting).
But I want more. I know my colleagues are doing innovative work in their classrooms. I know this old dog can learn new tricks. I want in. Literally.
Shelly Vroegh, 5th grade teacher in Norwalk and the 2017 Iowa Teacher of Year recently said this about how to become a better teacher: “…go around and observe the other teachers in your school building. See what they are doing and how you can adapt that to your classroom. We want our kids to be life-long learners, and teachers need to be life-long learners as well. If something’s not working, don’t be afraid to change it.”
So, lucky for me (and all those in our district), we have systems in place to allow us learn from each other, notably more formal learning labs and quite informal drop-ins through the Pineapple Chart (see my blog post from early November—or ask Allysen or me about it).
I’d like to share a bit about the learning labs in which I’ve participated.
I hosted a learning lab in the fall, and my students didn’t seem to mind the extra adults in the room at all. I introduced a new technique for framing their arguments from the book They Say I Say. I was glad this reference book included a chapter about the sciences so that Mr. Hayes could have a direct take-away from the lab. In addition, one of the guest coaches from West Delaware later shared a link (wvde.state.wv.us/abe/file-cabinet/Core_Sessions/TSIS_Templates.pdf) to a helpful document outlining the various templates my students can use while forming arguments. I may host another lab this spring, and anyone interested is certainly welcome to come!
I next attended Shannon Horton’s lab at the middle school on Question Formulation Technique. When she told her 5th graders they wouldn’t be doing research but instead diving into a “curiosity project,” they were visibly excited and leaned in to hear more. Then Shannon lead the students through the first step of a process of generating questions about a topic. I will be employing these ideas as I tackle research with my juniors this spring.
Most recently I observed Allysen guide her students through a lesson on exploring rational functions graphically. The math was completely out of my comfort zone, yet right away I noticed a compelling element to her introduction of the lesson. Allysen made very clear—both verbally and visually—what the goal of the lesson was. I used to open every class with “Here’s our plan for the time that we are together,” but I now say “Here are the goals we are aiming for today.” I always know what I want the students to accomplish each day (and sometimes even have the standards for the unit posted), but hearing Allysen articulate this so directly changed the way I address my own students. I also appreciated how she handled students’ questions by asking them questions instead of giving them hints or the answer. Although the math was way over my head, the lessons I learned that morning are definitely applicable to any classroom.
Yes, we are busy. And it weighs heavy that we’re now teaching until June (thanks again, Mother Nature). However, I can attest with all sincerity that the time I have devoted to being involved in learning labs has paid dividends most definitely worth that time.
Don’t have the time to be involved in a learning lab? Check out the Pineapple Chart in the lounge. You’re invited to add your name to the chart if you have something to share with others.
You’ll probably see me show up. I really do want in.
For a number of years now we have had a "Test Calendar" hanging in the faculty lounge. To allow teachers to see when others are giving tests or have intense projects. The purpose is to try to balance our students' load whenever possible.
Honestly, I am not very good at using it. I post maybe 4 tests a year (total across all of my classes) and rarely, if ever, look at it when planning for my classes.
During the past few weeks a group of teachers has piloted using an online Test/Project Calendar in Canvas. So far, that has gone pretty well. While planning, I am more cognizant of when other teachers have tests or large projects due, and I have added my assessments so that those with some flexibility have that information to use when planning. The fact that this calendar is always accesible through my computer is a game changer for me.
This week we are going to try adding all teachers to this online calendar. Our hope is that it will allow us to better meet the needs of our students, and it may help with your planning as well.
When you have an event coming up that you think teachers would appreciate knowing about (a concert, a test, a large paper due, etc.) add it to the "Test/Project" Calendar in Canvas. There is no need to create an assignment, you can just create an event right on the calendar. Name the event with the grades involved, the course, and the event. Make sure it is on the "Test/Project" Calendar, and hit Submit.
When viewing the calendar in Canvas, check the box in front of "Test/Project Calendar" (I made that course red so it would stand out to me) to view events and tests that students have going on that you may want to consider in your planning.
What to Include?
Include things that you think other teachers, that have some flexibility in their schedules, might appreciate knowing about as they are planning. Concerts that will cut into homework and study time, tests, large projects or papers that are due that students might be stressed about, etc. There is no need to include every daily homework assignment. The goal is for teachers to have more data, but not so much that it is overwhelming and not useful.
As always, please let me know (via comments here, email, or talking with me) if you have any questions or concerns so we can try to make this tool as useful as possible
By Liz Fox with Allysen Lovstuen
It all started with a visit to Stephanie Steines’s room. I was asked to cover for the first part of an Algebra class, and boy was I nervous. My fears were summarily assuaged, however, when the students filed into Stephanie’s classroom, eyes not on me but on the front board. Taking note of the directions Stephanie had written on the board, they got right to work.
Why don’t I do something like that? How could I streamline my classroom routine?
This short visit to a colleague’s classroom made me brainstorm about other ways we could learn from each other. The collaborative teachers throughout the district have begun hosting learning labs, a very prescribed, formal process which certainly has its own merits. But what if we wanted to work more informally? I discovered a blog post (http://www.cultofpedagogy.com/pineapple-charts/) suggesting a tried and true method: the pineapple chart.
Pineapples have historically symbolized a sense of welcome—why not use that concept to invite colleagues to stop in for a visit? When I covered Stephanie’s classroom, I noticed these cubes with interesting symbols on them. She later told me they are plickers (https://www.plickers.com/). She shared with me, "I use them with my AP Stats students as a way to expose them to more multiple choice questions. I usually pull 3 released multiple-choice questions from past AP stats tests that relate to the work we’re doing in class. Students spend 5-10 minutes working on the questions at the beginning of class, I collect their answers with the plickers and then we go through the results together.” She then invited me—and anyone—to come see them in action on Monday mornings first hour.
Here’s the beauty of the pineapple chart: its informal approach. From the blog post: “When a teacher sees something on the chart she is interested in, she goes to that classroom at the designated time, sits down in an out-of-the-way spot, and watches. That’s it. No note-taking is required, no post-observation conference, no write-up. Just a visit. She can even grade papers or catch up on email if she wants, paying closer attention when the moment calls for it, but getting work done in the meantime. She can stay for five minutes or a whole class period. The key word here is informal, and it’s the best way for teachers to learn lots of skills and techniques just when they need them.”
Do you have a tried and true strategy you would share? It could be a technology application like Kahoot, Padlet, or even Canvas. It could be a discussion format (questioning techniques or jigsaw, for example) or something related to content. We welcome you to add your name to the pineapple chart in the lounge.
See something on the chart you are interested in observing? If you need someone to cover your class, check with Allysen or me to see if we can help out. Otherwise, we can arrange to have an instructional coach cover for you.
We hope this invitation interests you. In the words of the Jennifer Gonzalez, author of the blog post: “I feel strongly that some of the best professional development available to teachers lives right inside the walls of our schools, and if we could just watch each other teach more (http://www.cultofpedagogy.com/open-your-door/), we would all grow exponentially.”
By: Allysen Lovstuen
Do you have an idea for an app that you think would be helpful to you in your classroom? Or in your life? The Project Lead the Way AP Computer Science Principles (CSP) class might be able to help!
This year the CSP class has been hard at work learning about the design process, creating product backlogs and sprint task lists, and analyzing and building programs in different programming environments. We will continue that work and, later in the year, will work with internet security, webpage design, and managing and visualizing big data.
Students created their first products using Scratch, a fairly visual online programming environment. Working in pairs, they designed games or stories (think "Choose Your Own Adventure”) where user input changes the outcome. After listing and prioritizing the features they wanted, identifying some for future release, they then created their project.
You can check out their projects by clicking the links below (once you click the link, clicking the green flag in the upper right hand corner of any project starts the game):
Next the students are going to be creating apps for Android devices. In my training class my partner and I created an app to randomly pair up the students in a class for partner work. Do you have an idea for an app that would be useful in your classroom? Or in your life? If so, share your comments below. Maybe the students will choose to build on your idea and create something you have been waiting for!
By Shannon Horton
More and more I notice students looking and finding an “easy button” when it comes to independent reading. They choose graphic novels because the pictures help them enter the story quickly, they choose realistic fiction about characters and places that are familiar to them, and they often pick up books they’ve read before. That’s not all bad, don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of graphic novels, books that reflect my own life, and even books written well below my abilities, BUT I also push myself from time to time and reap enormous benefits.
What methods have you found to push students in a direction that will get them out of their reading comfort zone? Here are a few ideas to get us started:
Read a chapter, or a few chapters, to hook students and help them with the work of getting into a book. List the books in your classroom or on Canvas for student reference. (So many of you have done this as teachers, and I’ve seen the positive results in the library.)
Make reading social. How can students talk about and recommend books to other students? This is satisfying for readers and can also hook new readers on books they wouldn’t naturally pick up. Could students be given a choice in how to share the books they love with their classmates? In Canvas start a discussion so that students can add books they recommend by attaching files, such as a picture with their book or a short video.
Self-selected, independent reading is key to developing readers. Give them choice! Praise and show interest in their choices! Let them be “lazy” and read something below their abilities. And, every now and again, find creative ways to push them.
P.S. If you want one of the posters that outlines the reading challenge, just let me know. I see it as a great way to advertise on your door how you’ve accepted the challenge yourself or to post in your room for students. I made it using http://www.canva.com/, my favorite tool for making posters and signs.
By: Liz Fox
During his keynote address, Trevor described the challenges of a jungle tiger vs a zoo tiger, and I immediately saw how applicable this was to our students. He describes this in a fascinating video. I plan to show at least this section to my students within the first few days of school.
Trevor referred often to the work of Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, who used decades of research on achievement and success while writing her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
He outlined the difference between a fixed mindset (avoiding challenges, not wanting to look bad, “I’m not good at math”) and a growth mindset (“I’m not good – yet.” “ I can learn – bring on the challenge. “)
The brain is like a muscle. Neuroscience shows that just when students want to give up is the window of opportunity where the brain is most malleable – brains are built to learn when stretched.
Good learning is not pretty. However, encouraging students to believe in their capacity and to embrace the difficult, they will learn. Trevor says, “Seek out the ugly; in the struggle will be growth.”
Next up: more on Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.