I’ve been an avid Twitter user in the last couple of weeks. Through it, I have met and learned from some dedicated educators, authors, journalists, and others. I have learned about the growing potential to focus on building 21st century skills in practice, not theory.
Once in my teaching career, around the end of the 1990’s, I felt as though I was on the edge of something new. I was experimenting with technology integration and the internet. Now I feel as though I am rediscovering it again.
A few years ago, in the midst of teaching AP US History, one of my students introduced me to Google Docs. I have to rewind a bit, though, and openly state that for years I had thought of myself as a teacher on the ‘cutting edge’ of technology in the classroom. I was wrong. By focusing on the content of teaching an AP course, as well as getting involved in school restructuring and teacher-leadership efforts, I had dropped the ball. Now, I was being led back – and appropriately enough, by a student leader who was sharing her techniques for effective online learning strategies. Now, after having attended the edcamp Boston conference in early May 2011, I have been filled with many ideas for using Google Docs as a collaborative writing tool for students, a powerful peer editing tool, an efective way to provide feedback on student work, and a way for students to share in the note-taking process in class by dividing roles among students. I have been incredibly impressed by the lesson sharing power of Google Docs on Twitter as well. Google Docs is also a presentation platform as well as a place to create and share spreadsheets. The potential seems endless. If only I had a classroom with 30 laptops for all students to have access. The only drawback here is the equity issue in my urban high school. I plan on surveying all of my students at the end of this year and spending a good deal of time getting formative assessments about effective use and equitable access to technology in the classroom. Next year, I plan on hitting the ground running. I can’t believe how many good ideas I have learned of lately, which brings me to my next great self discovery… Twitter.
There are many articles on why Twitter is a great tool for a teacher, but for me, it has helped me connect to others who share the same thoughts and philosophy on teaching. In the last month that I have been a regular user, I have found over two hundred authors, teachers, and others who have become a personal learning network (PLN) of incredible value. I use Tweetdeck to monitor a couple of channels on Twitter regularly, but I have been able to ask for and give help in many different ways. Twitter has allowed me to join moderated discussions (#sschat), share lesson plans, ask for best practices and ideas, and fill my Evernote page with hundreds of ideas that I can’t wait to implement.
Evernote is my new best friend. It completes the Twitter experience by allowing me to organize and sort all of the great resources, learning materials, infographics, Google Doc lessons, and other excellent links that I find there. Evernote also integrates their delivery, storage and organization options with my Blackberry (and soon to come, iPhone). This way, I can scan something on the phone and send it easily to Evernote. I can sort information from webpages into folders and also place tags. This vastly improves the process of bookmarking, which I rarely do anymore. I’m also considering placing a shared folder for my students next year with information, notes, graphics, websites, and more. Perhaps I can get students themselves to keep online notebooks this way, although LiveBinder might be a better option. Still, I can easily imagine a summer filled with edcamp meetings, Twitter finds and lots and lots of Evernote files.
At the end of the school year, my ability to integrate effective online learning tools greatly expanded, but PollEverywhere was one of the most useful ones in the classroom. Previously, I had placed four note cards in the corners of my classroom. I had students move from strongly agree to somewhat agree to somewhat disagree and strongly disagree. They had to shuffle out of the seats and stand (which not surprisingly got more and more students to talk). Now, I have set up a free PollEverywhere account. It allows me to create multiple choice questions for formative assessments, ask my ‘four corner’ ranged positions, and encourage students to share text answers. One thing that I find interesting is that in my trial runs of web polls, I have noticed that my students do not have the same level of enthusiasm for using their cell phones instructively as they do for social networking. It’s almost as though a certain tech-loving teacher has co-opted their fun and turned it into something new and different. I plan on making this format pervasively spread through my strategies and lessons next year. I can’t wait thinking of great polls in the summer!