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I believe that part of my role, or any role of a teacher with a Personal Learning Network, is to use that network to spread the word when good things happen with your students. The Operation Smile group here at ISB continues to find ways to spread their message about their trip, about what they learned, and what you can do if you want to take part. Last weekend Ciel, a student on the trip sat down and decided to create a video. But as she said on the Women of the Web 2.0 podcast “I put it on YouTube because I wanted to spread the message.”

This is the now third video created by the group. The other two can be found here and here.

Because of my PLN and helping them to spread their message, they were invited to do a live podcast with th Women of the Web 2.0 crew yesterday. It was a great experience for the students and as students do so often they truly raised to the occasion. If you get a chance to listen to the podcast it’s funny to hear how at the beginning nobody wanted to talk and I was forcing the mic onto some of them, but about 5 minutes in, it changed and I was grabbing at the mic to get them to take turns. They did a great job of watching the chat room, grabbing questions and talking about their experience here at ISB and on Operation Smile. If you want to know what our school is like from a student prospective you’ll enjoy the first half of the podcast.

This is the power of the teacher (in this case me….married to the school counselor who went on the trip) having a PLN to help spread a message. A message that I, as the teacher felt was worth spreading. This is the power of a PLN not only for my own learning but to spread the messages of our students.

You can listen to the students (and my wife) on the podcast here or via iTunes here.

I have to share this story with you if for no other reason….I’ve shared it with anyone that would listen to me at school today. I believe this story shows the power of:

1. What can happen when we allow students to be “out there”.
2. What happens when our teachers become networked and can bring that network to their students.
3. That through connections educational possibilities are endless!

This couldn’t have come at a better time with Clint H leaving a comment on my last post about a conversation he had with his IT Director:

He has some very persuasive arguments for his ‘walled garden’ approach (including “nobody ever reads public blogs anyway so what’s the difference?”)

Really….nobody reads public blogs anymore……..please read on!

So here’s how the story of connections played out last night.

1. I do a lesson in one of our 5th grade classrooms where we have a great discussion around what it means to blog, what good blogging looks like, and the difference between leaving a comment and a compliment. We also learn how to add an image to our post and how to add a link. Following the teachers lead based on this blog post, the students homework is to write a reflective blog post about the science experiment they did and what they learned. I leave the room with this challenge:

I will read all your blog posts tonight and the best ones I’ll send out for the world to read.

Of course they no nothing of the 4700+ Twitter followers I have or the 400+ Facebook friends. Nor should they care…what is important here is that their teacher is connected into a wider community to help foster a global audience.

2. Late last night I visited the classes netvibes page and started going through the student’s blog posts leaving comments on everyone of them. I was proud to see that most everyone’s blogging had improved from before our lesson and some students had really taken the time to sit down and write out their thoughts.

img_33671One such student was Haley who wrote out the experiment that the students had done in class. A great little bit of procedural writing (writing connection). I decided that this was one of the top 5 posts in the class and sent a link to her blog post out on Twitter and to my Facebook Friends asking them to please visit the blog if for no other reason to put a mark on her map that there really are people out there who will read you if you have good writing (Hey, I’m not above a little fake audience to start a conversation with kids that will lead to deeper writing and understanding!).

3. It just so happens that Allanah K (who I had the pleasure of meeting last year) was on Twitter last night and reads my tweet about the students writing. Intrigued by Haley’s blog post Allanah takes the idea to school with her today in New Zealand and asks the students if they would like to try Haley’s experiment. By the time I get to school today Allanah and her class have finished their experiment and have blogged about it on their class blog….of course giving full credit to Haley.

Where to go from here:
Of course at this point my mind is racing. This experiment has to do with teaching variables and just think of all the variables we can now ask as we collect data.

  • What if we share our data with the class in New Zealand?
  • I wonder if longitude and latitude is a variable we need to consider (Social Studies)
  • I wonder if we’ll get the same results? (Science)
  • How can we best represent our data for someone else to read? (Math, Science)
  • Why is writing clear instructions important? (Writing)

Of course there are hundreds of possibilities now that can happen now that these two classes are connected. With a time difference of only 5 hours a Skype call even with students talking about their data and experiments to each other…or more blog posts with more explanations.

Yes this all came about because I am connected…but it’s not about me….it’s about the connections. Miss B is a friend of mine on Facebook and seeing me post the students blogs there….copied and pasted the addresses and sent them out to her Facebook friends. She too is a connected teacher, but up until this point had never thought of using her network of friends and other educators in this way.

There is great power when we put students out there and allow them to share their thinking. These students have had a blog for two weeks now and this is their first major connection as a class. As we continue to learn about blogging, as our writing improves and more importantly our thinking improves, I know we’ll see more connections like this….it’s just to powerful of a learning platform not to.

So to the IT Directors out there that say “It’s to scary.”, “We can’t do it.”, “What’s the point?” I give you this.

That making deep connections only happen when you put yourself out there….sure we can play it safe…but playing it safe has never lead to deeper understanding!

Image Credit: id-iom

Dough Johnson and Ann Krembs are here at ISB this week consulting with our school and the Library Review Committee on creating/restructuring our library learning space.

Doug wrote a great post titled: The essential question

I would highly recommend reading it and all of the comments.

The Ed Tech team and the Librarians (total 8 people) met with Doug and Ann on Thursday to get our take on the new space. At one point Doug brought up the thought about having a space for socialization versus social learning.

Just how fine is the line between socialization and social learning?

When we talk about spaces and what students’ needs are and what a school’s needs are can we blur the line between being social and social learning?

I started thinking of my experience at the local Barnes & Nobles in my home town of Spokane, Washington and just how many times I end up there in the summer time. Sometimes I stop for a coffee at the Starbucks located inside and end up browsing books. Other times I meet friends there and just socialize, and yet other times I go there looking for books and end up drinking a coffee.

B&N and Starbucks have blurred the lines between books, work, and social hour. You throw in a little WiFi connection and you’re set for the day.

Could we create spaces in our schools that were both used for socializing and at the same time a library and a place were kids go to work and get work done?

In other words…can we create the modern school?

Could a modern school library be the hangout? Do we want students to be social in a place were social learning should/could take place?

Personally I think we need to not only blur the line but start erasing it. B&N and Starbucks do a really good job of being open in one large area but using features such as a change from tile to carpet and a little railing between the Starbucks portion and the B&N portion of the store to let people know when you have moved from one to the other. Physically they share space, but as you enter the store you can easily see where Starbucks ends and the bookstore begins.

What if we could replicate this in our libraries? What if we could create spaces that allowed students to work and be social by giving them visual ques of what is expected.

Tables and chairs that can be pushed and pulled to create group work areas.

Soft chairs among the books for casual reading.

A small area where students can buy food, drinks, snacks and just be social.

Could a library become the socialization and social learning hub of a school?

When building a space that is focused on students I would include as much as possible the students help in designing the space. What do they want? What do they need? How do they want it to flow?

Design Matters!

One thing we know with this generation is that design matters. You can have a great product, a great space, but if it isn’t designed to be “cool” kids won’t use it. Apple, Starbucks, and B&N, understand this and create products and spaces that are where students want to be. What can we learn from these companies that we can start to incorporate into our own learning/social spaces?

Space Matters!

I love walking into any Starbucks (and I’ve been in my fair share around the world) and just looking at how they use the space. Space for a person to work by themselves on a laptop with a plugin within easy reach. A place with two or three comfy chairs and a small table for people to sit at and be social. Couches for those who need to sit next to each other. The interior is calm and soothing, the perfect volume of music playing in the background, the space that allows those to quickily come and go and not interfer with the student writing a term paper. They do such a great job with space and with traffic flow. Some day I want to design a classroom like Starbucks designs coffee shops….with the clients needs in mind!

Friends and Food

Let’s get real…being a kid is all about friends and food. Students come to school because they want to be with friends not because they want to come to your class…as great as it is. At my last three schools the #1 complaint from students was always the food. They eat a lot and want good food.

What if we can build a space that meets the needs of kids today and just so happens to be embedded into a teaching and learning atmosphere where they can get work done, learn something new, and be a student, a friend, and a partner all in one space.

What if a school could embrace the social nature of students rather than fight it? Could we create a school for today’s student?