Unlocking Twitter’s Classroom Potential

If teachers want to truly prepare students for the future, we must accept that social media is not going anywhere.  Read on for tips on getting started in Twitter as an educator!


Isn’t Twitter just another mundane way to micro-share everything in your life?”  “Twitter just seemed too complicated with all the symbols and rules.”  “Even if there are educational resources on Twitter, I just don’t have the time to join another social media website.

Do any of these thoughts sound like you?  If so, you’ve come to the right place, because we’ve been there, too!  This article is designed to help you understand its benefits as an educator, as well as to provide basic steps and ideas to get started–all from the perspective of a fellow educator!

5 Reasons You Should Join Twitter As an Educator

#1: Professional Development:

We very purposefully place this reason first!  Resources like Twitter are the reason professional development is increasingly becoming a personalized experience at schools.  Once you establish yourself with few educational hashtags combined with tools such as TweetDeck (see Simple Steps below), you will instantly have a wealth of current topics and resources to explore. For example, check out the screenshot that I randomly took of my own Twitter feed below:

Tweetdeck screenshot

Just glancing at the feeds, you can see resources and conversations ranging from math fact apps, to tips for using QR codes, to ideas for supporting inquiry!  Many professional development days at schools currently involve the entire staff listening (often halfheartedly, especially if it doesn’t apply to them individually) to a couple of admin-selected trainers.  Envision PD instead becoming days when the staff breaks into groups to spend the day truly exploring their areas of professional interest/needs–reading/discussing articles and contacting experts online with questions.  Twitter has the potential to revolutionize each teacher’s development as professionals not only on a school-wide basis, but on a personal basis as well!

“The Twitter shift puts each educator in control of her own professional development with self-direction and personalization of content at any time…during planning periods or outside of the school day…If I want, I can get a daily dose of professional learning to go with my early morning cup of Joe. Through the Twitter platform, I discover best practice, research, solutions and ideas delivered to me in 140 characters or fewer, for just in time learning.” ~Meg Ormiston [source]

#2: Relevance

The relevance with regards to using Twitter goes beyond just relating to our more tech-savvy students (although that can be quite significant as well)!  It goes back to what we described in professional development above.  Twitter is an incredible vehicle for teachers and other educational experts to quickly and effectively share their most innovative and valuable ideas.  If we continue to “go it alone,” despite the ready availability of such a goldmine, we will quickly lose touch with the growing possibilities within our own field.

“Social Media is here to stay. Its form may change, and certainly the applications we use will not remain the same, but the idea of openly exchanging information in whatever forms it is produced is not going away. As educators we can use it or lose it. If we don’t start to understand and use this technology soon, we will lose the opportunity to harness it, because we will be irrelevant. We don’t need social media to teach, as much as we need it to learn.” ~Tom Whitby [source]

#3: Help Students Recognize Global Society

As long as our discussions regarding current events and issues throughout the world remain within the confines of our own classroom, such ideas will continue to seem remote to students.  Once we use Twitter to communicate with individuals actually involved in those issues and/or living in those places, students will begin to see themselves as real participants in a global community.

“Educators who participate in Twitter networks are well placed to support students in the use of relevant digital technologies because the Twitter community shares knowledge, resources and expert advice.” ~Tania Sheko [source]

#4: Transparency

Resources like Twitter provide educators with heretofore unheard of levels of genuine, global collaboration.  We are perfectly poised now to share what works and what doesn’t, to seek and receive feedback when we’re stuck, and to showcase examples of great student learning.  This last ability in particular can create increased community connectedness as parents truly witness and participate in their children’s learning.  Classroom learning today looks drastically different than it did a generation ago–it calls for increased focus on process over product, on problem solving skills over memorized facts, and on student ownership over teacher control (see more ways learning has changed).  Parents, administrators, and fellow teachers need to see the benefits of such changes in order to cultivate understanding and support; in other words, we need transparency across the board to further improve teaching and learning practices!

“…they started with the why, and then created a vision for sharing beyond the walls of the classroom. Their purpose was to share with the community the great things happening in classrooms in the three-building prek-8 school district.” ~Meg Ormiston [source]

#5: Professional Development

Wait, did we say that already?  Yep.  It’s that important.

“Imagine if every teacher shared just one of their best sources with other educators, who in turn could tweet them out to the tune of 700,000 tweets in a half hour. Everyone would benefit. The idea here is to get educators familiar with the concept of connectedness and its possibilities…” ~Tom Whitby [source]

Simple Steps to Get Started

Twitter is less simplistic than other social media platforms when it comes to maximizing its use, especially in a professional capacity.  However, it is well worth the time invested in establishing your own Professional Learning Network (PLN–check out our article on building PLN’s here).  We have included some simple steps below to help you get started!  Also, be sure to check out the 13-page Handbook from plpnetwork.com, which breaks down definitions and steps in easy-to-follow detail.

  1. Twitter handbook--plpnetworkSet-up a username using the @ symbol (called your Twitter handle)
  2. Upload a picture and short bio to help potential followers know who you are!
  3. Find hashtags that interest you!  Some of our favorites include #edtech, #edchat, and #comments4kids.  Click here for a fantastic list of other educational hashtags recommended by PLP network!
  4. Download TweetDeck!  In our view, this is an essential tool to manage your time on Twitter, because it allows you to easily scan through happenings in your favorite hashtags, as well as your own notifications and news feed.  Just add columns by hitting the + icon, or by searching for individual hashtags/people and clicking “Add Column.”
  5. Start following individuals and leaving comments to grow your network.
  6. When you start creating Tweets, if you want to share a link, be sure to use URL shorteners such as Bitly or Owly to conserve your precious 140 characters!
  7. Start participating in educational Tweetchats, which are scheduled at live times for people to have discussions.  Many hashtags schedule regular Tweetchat times for their followers to have live discussions (ie, #pypchat schedules every other Thursday at 7pm Eastern Time), and keep an eye out on educational blogs you follow for their scheduled chats!
  8. Check out the Infographic to the right for additional information and details, as well as the PLP Handbook!

Practical K-12 Uses

If you teach at a BYOD school (Bring Your Own Device) or in another circumstance in which mobile devices are 1:1, the ways for students to use Twitter in the classroom are broader.  Below are some specific ideas.

  • Debates: Your students can engage in a voices-off debate in which they must articulately craft their responses into 140 characters.
  • Research: The possibilities are endless in collecting both secondary and primary resources on Twitter–particularly since experts on virtually every topic are available to give short responses to tweets.
  • Build their OWN PLN:  Students can begin networking with other individuals and experts who share their interests, well beyond just a pen-pal capacity.

On the other hand, if your students are very young, if your school does not use BYOD, or if, for any other reason, you are the only person with access to Twitter in the classroom, there are still incredible and practical ways for you to use it!

  • Microblogging: Download the Twitter app to quickly snap photos, upload videos, and post Tweets on amazing classroom happenings with your mobile device! Add your own classroom hashtag to each post to keep them organized in one place!  (Read our article on when and how to blog vs. microblog!)
  • Parent Involvement: Not only can you boost parent involvement through microblogging, but you can also host your own regular Tweetchats using your classroom hashtag!  Simply share with parents the above steps to get started on Twitter, and then give them the date and time for your chat!  You can either set the topic in advance to generate interest and ideas, or you can have an open forum for questions on homework, school events, projects, etc.
  • Facilitate Student Research: You don’t have to let students’ inability to personally tweet hold them back when it comes to their research!  When students generate their own questions and consider who would be knowledgeable on the topic, you can act as their Twitter research facilitator by sending tweets to experts on their behalf!
  • Seeking feedback for student work: This is similar to the above idea, but with the additional idea of sharing all student work! Using hashtags such as #comments4kids–designed specifically for sharing student work with other classrooms–you can share their essays, questions, blogs, and more, with the added benefit of receiving feedback from other classes around the globe!

Happy Tweeting!  We’d love to hear your success stories in the comments!

Featured Image: Scott Beale / Laughing Squid

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Common Core Standards: Parent & Teacher Resources

With its recent implementation in 45 states, the Common Core has garnered praise and criticism alike.  This article offers a few resources to help dispel some of those worries for both parents and teachers.


 

Resources for Parents

In our experience, worries from parents about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are often due to misinformation from the media.  For example, when my own students’ parents would come to me with CCSS concerns, they were consistently shocked when I told them that the CCSS currently only covers math and English Language Arts.  This is because many articles had led them to believe that the CCSS were requiring sex education (for Kindergarten, no less!) or sweeping Social Studies alterations.  If you, too, have concerned parents at your school, here are some resources to which you can direct them to help clear things up! (Update: Be sure to also check out our newest article, “My Common Core Story, & Why You Should Share Yours, Too“).

→ “CONVERSATION: A THREE-MINUTE VIDEO ON COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS

 

CCSS logo→ MYTHS & FACT SHEET ABOUT THE CCSS

 

talking-to-teacher-467x267[1]→ ARTICLE: “TALKING TO PARENTS ABOUT THE COMMON CORE
→ FACT VS. FICTION BY STATE:

Of the states that are using the Common Core Standards, about half adopted them verbatim; most of the rest adopted them with modifications.  Click on the infographic below for a clickable map of state fact sheets.

Resources for Teachers

The concerns for teachers tend to be more related to implementation.  Experienced teachers are familiar with the constant ebb and flow of new programs and curricula, and the expectation to repeatedly scratch old material and start over.  While it can certainly be frustrating to tackle yet another new curriculum, there’s great news when it comes to the CCSS: for the first time, teachers across the country are in the same boat!  As such, we can now share resources with one another in heretofore unheard-of quantity and quality.  We believe that this is one of many ways in which the CCSS will increase the quality of national teaching practices.  Check out some of these resources below that are designed for this purpose!

LEARNZILLION:


Teacher Boaz Munro described his experiences as a new teacher in this article, sharing his realization that “All of the lessons I planned started with…a modeling of the skill I was trying to teach—and yet I was not watching enough people model the skills I was trying to learn.”  LearnZillion is a resource that allows you to watch how experienced teachers model and explain CCSS-aligned concepts.  Some features include marking your favorite videos to help you keep track, and a sharing code so that you can easily assign students to watch the videos!

KHAN ACADEMY:


Khan Academy is similar to LearnZillion in that you can set up a class account to invite students, as well as lesson videos in both English Language Arts & Math!  However, it also includes a setup that allows students to practice the skills after watching the videos within the lesson set, complete with hints that model the skills again!  This in turn allows you to monitor student progress!  This resource is filled with visual data!

BETTERLESSON:

BetterLesson is unique in that you actually choose lessons from real master teachers.  These are lessons designed more for you as the teacher than for students, and can be very informative as you work to develop lesson plans in math and language arts.

Related Reading:

10 Tips for 21st Century Teachers

Photo Credit: InThePotter’sHands (featured image)

 

5 Teaching Tips You Didn’t Learn in College

You braced yourself for difficult student behavior, long hours beyond contract time, and mounds of grading, but your professors didn’t prepare you for everything!  Check out some tips that may help ease your first year teaching expectations and planning.


#1 Create a Copies System

This may seem like an random, less significant tip, but it can be a life-saver when it comes to keeping your never-ending supply of copies from mounting into menacing, unorganized stacks that hijack your desk and sanity!  We have found it to be one of the greatest keys to your organization.  One of the members of our Honors Grad U family used the following system, but you’ll want to play around with your options to find what will be most effective for your needs!

  1. Find some space to keep 10 hanging files: an open crate of hanging files, or maybe part of a filing cabinet drawer.

  2. Label the files Monday-Friday twice so you have 2 weeks of files ready.

  3. Stick your files in place.  Any time you make new copies, check your planner and slide them into the day you’ll need them!

  4. At the end of each week, move the 2nd week bunch of files to the front of your crate or drawer!

#2 Planner: Old School or Digital?

It’s possible that your professors did in fact cover this one with you, but given the 21st century technology integration fervor, it’s likely that they strongly advocated for all-digital planners–after all, free apps and programs like Planboard are available for such purposes!  However, having tried both digital and paper approaches, we’ve found that digital may not necessarily be the best tool for everyone, even if you absolutely love all things technology.  Your planner will be critical in your time organization, so be sure to consider several factors to decide what will be more beneficial for you:

  • Collaboration:  Evaluate how your school or team collaborates with one another.  Do you share every detail of your schedules, or is it more general?  If the need is more on the side of specifics, you may find that going digital may be more time-effective, especially if everyone else on your team is using the same program!  For this reason, it may even be a requirement at your school to use a specific type of digital planner, so be sure to find out!

  • Schedule Flexibility: Does your principal have a habit of announcing assemblies at the last possible moment?  Are constant interruptions to the regular weekly schedule more the norm than a regular weekly schedule?  If that’s the case, you may want to consider the wonder of the seconds it takes to pencil in a few arrows to shift around your schedule, rather than minutes (or more) as you try to determine your platform’s ability to edit the template.  Paper planners continue to perform reliably when it comes to quick edits!

  • Internet/Printer Logistics: If you’re more inclined toward the digital route, be sure to consider a couple logistics.  Do you plan to keep your planner handy on a tablet or laptop?  If so, make sure there are offline options, such as downloading a program to your desktop or an app that will keep things available even when the internet is not!  You don’t want your internet dependence to leave you high and dry when it comes to your daily plans if there’s an emergency!  If your plan is rather to just print your plans each week, that may be a good solution to these kinds of tech logistics.  However, be sure to consider whether you want to rely on printing plans all year long, when you can buy a paper planner that already has all the pages in one place!

  • Neatness: This is probably a no-brainer, but be sure to examine your own handwriting neatness!  It can be frustrating for you to be unable to decipher critical plans in the moment you need them–not to mention for a sub!  Typed plans can be a dream if this is an issue for you.

#3 Coworker Socializing

In the overwhelming workload of your first few months, you may be tempted to spend your lunchtimes barricaded in your room to catch some extra grading minutes.  We don’t dispute that this may be essential at times.  However, we highly recommend taking a break to socialize with your colleagues whenever possible.  The reasons for this are varied:

  • You’ll form relationships that go beyond just professional acquaintance.  Not only is this a bonus for the sake of making friends, but for enhancing collaboration experiences as everyone becomes more comfortable around one another.

  • You will feel mentally refreshed to finish your day when you give your mind a rest from teacher-mode!

  • You will be able to build solidarity with other teachers as you share experiences with one another–it can be incredibly comforting to realize that experienced teachers are facing your same struggles, along with some of their insights to solutions!

#4 Classroom Planning: Recognize What’s Fluid and Solid!

As you plan your classroom design, policies, management, and more, you may get caught in the overwhelming and stressful trap of thinking you need a plan for everything by day 1!  While there are some areas that do need to be addressed by then, many others are what we consider to be “fluid,” meaning they will adapt as you go.  Here are some examples of what we mean to help you distinguish between the two as you prepare your classroom:

  • Solid

    • Disclosure document: This includes policies on homework, grading, and other items that would be stressful for students and parents if they get changed too much.  Click here for a sample disclosure document.  Work with your team to develop this!

    • First two weeks of plans

  • Fluid

    • Classroom incentives: Don’t feel like it all has to be set in stone from the beginning for students to be motivated!  In fact, an element of mystery may enhance their interest!

    • Floorplan: especially if you’re an elementary level teacher, you’ll be moving things around all the time anyway!  You’ll get a better feel for how you want to move through the space as the year progresses.

    • Your daily schedule: Obviously, if you teach at the secondary level, this is already determined for you.  For elementary levels, however, you may feel strained as you try to make time for everything.  However, as you create and try out a basic schedule, you will discover necessary adaptations throughout the year–some things will require more or less time than you planned for!  So don’t worry if there’s not a neat time slot for absolutely everything at first!

#5 Cut Yourself Some Slack!

We don’t mean this in the general, pat-yourself-on-the-back-for-working-hard way.  Rather, we mean that your professors probably didn’t warn you that as you prepare for and begin your first year teaching, you will likely (ok, definitely) check out Pinterest for inspiration from time to time.  And, just like in the classic, “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” if you explore Pinterest for teaching ideas, chances are you’ll find more inspiration than you can handle.  You’ll find teachers who craft perfect, personalized student holiday gifts (from Christmas to Columbus Day!); you’ll find teachers who structure every lesson into engaging, hands-on, inquiry based instruction; you’ll find teachers who have built international networks with classrooms around the globe for regular Skype and blogging interactions; you’ll find teachers who have mastered the art of grant-writing so thoroughly that not only is their classroom a floor-to-ceiling library of highest quality literature, but every student is equipped with an i-Pad.  Chances are that when you see all this spectacular inspiration, you will get discouraged.  This brings us back to emphasize the initial tip #5: cut yourself some slack!  You may fall absolutely in love with these experienced teachers’ Polar Express parties, or their inspiring bulletin boards, but the thing to remember through it all is that they are experienced teachers.  You have enough to do during your first year of teaching without adding on stress of what else you could be doing, because there’s always going to be something more you could be doing!  By all means, keep track of those Pins for future reference, but always keep in mind some perspective in your teaching pursuits!

Featured Image: University of the Fraser Valley

 

Chemical vs. Physical Changes: Let’s Get it Straight!

Breathing, cooking, exercising, and more: we are surrounded by changes every day! But how do we keep straight which are physical and which are chemical?


Physical Changes

Physical changes involve chemicals getting rearranged in a new way, but without getting destroyed or irreversibly combined. The molecular structure of the original substance(s) is the the same after the change, which means it is still the same substance. A common example is of water freezing; the liquid water becomes a solid, but it is still water. Ripping paper is another example because while it may be in pieces, it’s still paper. Signs of a physical change include:

  • Expected color change
  • Change in size or shape
  • Change in state of matter
  • Reversible
  • No new substance formed!

Chemical Changes

Chemical changes, or reactions, involve chemicals getting rearranged in irreversible ways. We bring in the term “reaction” when dealing with chemical changes because the chemicals involved actually react with one another to form a new substance (that’s why we call the parts in a chemical reaction the reactants). The ways chemicals can react are many: two substances can combine to create a totally new one (Direct Combination), a substance can permanently break apart, separating into different substances (Decomposition), or maybe a substance combusts as it reacts to oxygen (Combustion) (see more types of reactions here). Whatever the reaction, it’s important to recognize that one or more new substances are formed! Burning wood is a common example of a chemical reaction because as the wood reacts with oxygen after it has been ignited, it creates smoke and ashes. Signs of a chemical reaction include:

  • Unexpected color change
  • Change in temperature as energy is released or absorbed
  • Gas created
  • Irreversible
  • New substance formed!

Confusing Cases

In many cases, it may seem a simple task to distinguish between the two, but it gets more complex when we’re dealing with changes that seem irreversible when they’re not. For example, we may look at a glass of Kool-Aid and think to ourselves, “I made Kool-Aid. It was water and a packet, but now it’s dissolved together to make new drink, so it’s a new substance.” However, if you think back to the list of signs of a physical change, you’ll realize that not only was there an expected color change (the water didn’t turn purple when you added red Kool-Aid!), but that it is reversible–the water could evaporate in the form of gas, leaving red Kool-Aid residue behind! The water is still water, and the Kool-Aid is still Kool-Aid, and since no new substances were formed, it is a physical change!

Another example of confusion is in cooking eggs–after all, isn’t it still an egg before and after tossing it in pan? However, on a molecular level, the egg has changed completely as the proteins have bonded in new ways, making it a new substance. Additionally, because of the change, it is not possible for the egg to ever become raw again, and since a new substance was formed, it is a chemical change!

For some practice using the different lists of signs for each type of change, and to view several other examples in action, check out this Prezi below!

Photo credit: Faris Algosaibi

Other Sources:

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