Tag Archives: PLN

#edcampss in Philly!

“It’s the best PD I’ve had as an educator.” That’s the way I like to begin explaining both Twitter and edcamps. For many people who have not been Twitterized, it may be a little difficult to understand, but the simple fact is that I enter a virtual conference of cool history teachers, engaged administrators and empowering thinkers every time I log on to Twitter. The same thing happens when I go to an edcamp unconference. I just walk into an actual room and am surrounded by the same people. It’s the best.

Where did I go?

Here’s the board. In the beginning of the session, the routine is that all of the interested participants come up and put a card on the time and the room they like. They host the sessions. Feet do the walking. You leave if you want to and no one’s feelings are hurt.

Teaching History without the Textbook

This was my first session. It was led by a Twitter colleague that I’ve never met in person before, @historyfriend. She has been a strong voice for innovative and reflective teaching on the #PLN (personal learning network on Twitter, specifically #sschat). Here are some of the notes I took on Google Docs:


  • Creating content is a powerful motivator for students.
  • Ask yourself what we are doing with textbooks that we can’t do without.
  • Using a textbook makes students dependent on the textbook.
  • Textbooks are written for general information.


  • Choices.edu
  • Crowdsource history content from the web?
  • GilderLehrman site for online content
  • Zinn education project
  • Reading the Wikipedia page with the students (determining sources)
  • Screencasting sections of texts (getting a world perspective)
  • RAFT assignments? Maybe tougher with the higher grades.
  • Facebook pages for Negro League baseball players?
  • Template for using Google Docs to create a fake Facebook page.
  • Wikispaces (student wiki spaces)
  • Livebinder
  • Evernote
  • Portfolios/eportfolios

Recommended Books

How to Engage?

  • Are we preparing students with the skills necessary for college (notes, index, etc.)?
  • Are organizational issues a challenge?
  • Password protecting PDF’s? How to do this?

 AP Social Studies

I stayed in the same room and began the next session with a great group of #APUSH teachers. The session was led by @Aaron_Eyler. He showed us his website and raised interesting questions about the philosophy and business of the College Board and its effect on student learning/test taking. We discussed depth and coverage, and it was a great exchange. Aaron demonstrated how he organized his Socratic Seminar, and that was really helpful.


The third session was on @Evernote. How to describe it? Evernote is a multi-device tool for recording information. It can be used in the classroom in a number of different ways. We brainstormed a few here:

Video record
Multiple tags
Text conversion
Document camera
Photos of student work
Collaborative emailing
Student emailing with subject tags/folders
Pushing content out
Distribution of materials with shared folders
Folder of students
Folder of classes
Folder of assignments
Save PPT as PDF for Evernote
Student taking notes by photo.

Shawn McCusker led the session. Truth be told, he was the second educator I found on Twitter when I joined about a year ago. I think it was one of the best ‘draft picks’ I ever made. He is an outstanding educator, an engaging leader, and a hell of a Words with Friends player. Greg Kulowiec was also in the session with us and he, as usual, brought up some very interesting comments about our practice and its purpose. He mentioned explaining ‘how’ before ‘why’ in classrooms with students, and also raised the question of whether it was a good idea for students to take photos of a notes board in class on Evernote vs. writing the information down themselves. Which is the better learning experience?

In all, it was a really good session. For me, one of the biggest take-aways was meta-tagging and how important it can be. How do I sort the information that I am bringing into my personal and mostly professional life? What are the tags and folders that I should use? I began, and still am, reflecting on this idea. Someday I may figure it out.

How can I help my students ask better questions?

Its hard to choose a favorite session, because they really are relavent and great, but this was a completely interactive session led by Mary J. Johnson, @JohnsonMaryJ. She brought out printed primary sources, such as photographs, songs, poems, diary entries, posters and more from the theme of westward migration in US History, and we broke up into groups following guidelines for asking better questions. While we were doing this, Mary had us reflect on how and why we were doing it – and what experiences this would mean for our students when they did this project in class. This is the photo my group and I explored:

We had a great time making observations, drawing inferences and then framing questions concerning the content of the photo. At the end of the session, we were allowed to take as many of the printed primary sources home. I grabbed a bunch. Oh, each of the photos also had a QR code on the back, which I thought made a lot of sense. Students could use their phones to scan the QR codes to get the Library of Congress website link to that particular document and instantly have the information about it for their use.

Project Based Learning and National History Day

The last session that I attended was mostly focused on National History Day. We looked at previous projects by students and heard stories of teachers working with their kids to complete the tasks over a series of months. We asked questions about the process of doing this event and some of the details (cost) and resources (travel) required. We also helped each other explore the idea of having something like this be mandatory or optional, since it requires a heavy time investment. It’s something that I have always been interested in trying and I am looking forward to bringing this experience to my students next year, whether as a club or formal class activity.

EdcampSS Ends…

The ending of the workshop was fun and engaging. If you’ve ever been to an edcamp unconference before, you know that the final activity is almost always a Smackdown. Participants get a set amount of time (about 1 minute) to explain something that they’ve learned or a resource that they’ve used, for the crowd. All of the participants gather and many are taking down websites as the line forms. It is always interesting! Finally, we had a closing activity from the keynote speaker to the conference, Kenneth Davis (author of the ‘Don’t Know Much About History’ series. He brought a timed buzzer game set with him to Philadelphia and asked teachers to become contestants in a quiz show. People volunteered and the game began! Many of the trivia questions were tough, but Ken explained each before moving on to the next. It was both educational and fun, and something he does when he travels to schools around the country.

As I left, I said goodbye to the many people I have been conversing with online for a year but never met in person. It was a lot of driving to go down on a Friday afternoon and night while returning Saturday afternoon and night, but worth every minute. I am truly glad for the experience and very thankful for all of the work of the organizers.

Edcamps rock! Next one is in Boston in one week!

Twitter & Gdoc Collaboration

This summer, I have had the opportunity to spend a bit of time on Twitter connecting with other teachers, IT directors, education coaches, principals, superintendents, parents, and more. My PLN (personal learning network) has been incredibly supportive by providing feedback, sharing ideas and lessons, collaborating on projects, offering suggestions, giving constructive criticism, and creating stimulating discussion through provocative questions and deep insight. It has truly been empowering, and I hope to take this energy into the next school year.

Some of the projects I have worked on this summer have been shared through Google Docs. It is one of the most powerful learning tools available online and something that is simple in its design and use. Here are some of the projects:

  • Historians, and their friend Spotify – Spotify is a free program that allows you to play over 15 million songs free. The free version does contain advertising, but for classroom use, it is perfect. On this document, teachers shared their favorite songs to use in a history classroom. The list is still growing.
  • History Theater – Our school has a small theater that I would like to use as a movie theater after school for teachers and students to share viewing and discussion concerning some very powerful movies. These movies have been shared by dozens of teachers and can all be used to focus on different aspects of the Massachusetts curriculum frameworks. Again, the list is still growing.
  • Building a Student PLN – One of the most useful,  if not the most useful outcomes of Twitter is the connections that it builds for teachers (in my case) to connect instantly across great distance. I have participated (and look forward to) the weekly moderated chats on particular subjects and content areas. I have also found that if I have a question or comment, I can post it and the people following me can see it and respond if they choose. This is a perfect model for students. In a history class, how empowering and useful would it be to have students post questions or collaboratively do research with real scholars, authors and historians from around the world? Very. This document is our attempt to collect potential (and willing) individuals to volunteer to be a History PLN for high school students. It’s still being updated.
  • Current Events: Libya – As the rebels were literally moving into the city of Tripoli, my PLN and I were using Twitter to determine how to use these events and issues as a learning experience for teachers. This document represents some of the essential questions, projects, and big ideas that came out of that discussion. It was an example of real time collaboration and lesson design with dozens of history teachers. Incredible.
  • Smackdown! – I have never seen so many people collaborate at once on a Google Doc. There must have been over 100 educators adding in their comments simultaneously while also participating in a Twitter moderated discussion. It was truly empowering and engaging.  The basic idea of a ‘smackdown’ is show and tell for teachers. Share what you  have learned, what lesson ideas you have, what questions you want to ask, what teaching moments you want to share, etc. It is all moderated, so people focus on one topic at a time. It is great. One of the last comments was, “Imagine if you gave this document to a new teacher? They would be all set.” That says it all. I had the opportunity to add a bit too, under my Twitter name ‘thalesdream’.
  • Defining America – First, an idea was brainstormed on Twitter. Then it was discussed on the #sschat Ning site. Then it became a Skype session between a teacher in Birmingham, AL, Baltimore, MD and New Bedford, MA. Now it is something we are going to try in all of our history classes. The principle is to build a lesson study project, and refine the lesson until it gets better and better. We set goals. We established a vision. We agreed on a common project. We brainstormed common essential questions. We discussed how it would be paced in our different schedules. We shared ideas on how the students would connect via technology. It is still a work in progress, but what lesson isn’t? Now we are doing it as a team, and distance is no boundary.
  • Edcamps – The best part of the summer was not typing into Twitter, but actually meeting the people I have been collaborating with at conferences in New England. The basic idea of an edcamp is that it is an unconference. No fancy speakers. Only participants. There is a big board in the meeting room with assigned times and rooms. Participants are invited to host sessions. They can share ideas, ask questions, or brainstorm solutions. It’s all educators teaching and sharing with one another. Its all free. Its also guided by the ‘two feet rule’, which means if you don’t like where you are, you can always just get up and go somewhere else – no feelings hurt. Here are my notes from, Edcamp Keene NH, Edcamp CT, and EdcamAdmin in Burlington MA.
  • Moderating #sschat Discussions – So one of the cool things about Twitter is that you can follow discussions by using something called hashtags. One of my favorites is #sschat. It is the central location for history and social studies teachers to get together and share posts and do all of the things I mention above. I follow it daily. For PD, I have found nothing in my 15+ years of teaching that compares with the discussions and Tweets. So I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to co-moderate our Monday night 7PMEST discussions twice this summer. On August 15th I co-moderated a discussion on Best Strategies and Lessons for the Low Tech School. On July 18th, I co-moderated a discussion on Community Building in a SS Classroom. It was great. By the way, teachers get to vote on what topics they would like to discuss each Monday. It’s truly democratic.
  • Bringing Laptops Back to Life – This has been the most generous use of time and Twitter this summer, but not by me. I found a former IT director who is an expert in Linux, a free operating system that can potentially run on old laptops. He and I have been collaborating to find a way to get 30 unused (for over 5 years) laptops at NBHS up and running again. Here are his notes. We’ve figured out a solution, and now just need the school to support our recommendations.

PLN & Evernote at Work

Here are some of the notes I have gathered from Twitter in the last couple of months.  There’s a lot of hard work from many different educators out there, and I am appreciative that I have the opportunity to share their work.

Differentiated Instruction

Google Docs (lessons and ideas)

Inquiry Based Learning


Mobile Learning

History Teacher (and Education) Blogs


#sschat 7pm Mondays

With the suggestion of some wonderful people on Twitter, I was able to co-moderate my first #sschat last Monday on July 25th.  It was a very fun and empowering experience. #sschat is a hashtag (or Twitter chat room) for educators to discuss, debate, collaborate, share, and ponder many of the issues, events and individuals in history. It is also a great place to gain real professional development. In the past few months I have been able to browse and participate in Twitter, I have gathered a list of followers who have exposed me to more positive encouragement, more direct feedback and collaboration, more lesson sharing, more technology ideas, etc. than I have in my 15 years of teaching in New Bedford High School. It is truly a great place to browse and participate and I highly recommend it.

So here’s the transcript for my first co-moderated chat, which focused on community building in the classroom.  You can find all of the archived transcripts for my Twitter discussions here on the #sschat Ning site: http://sschat.ning.com/. Come join!