Growing New Branches in my PLN

#INFO233 PLN Post 3

As an educator, I agree with the people who say that the most valuable thing we can help students learn is: how to learn. With this in mind, I like to think that I’m the kind of person who can make connections to people and resources that will help me learn what I want (or need) to learn. This is essentially what we’re talking about when it comes to building a personal learning network. So, in the spirit of  reflecting on my learning process and the development of my PLN, I want to share a few things I’m currently learning about and how I’m learning them:

1. How to run a TED Ed Club

I first heard about TED Ed Clubs on Twitter and I thought, “That sounds cool–we should have one of those clubs at my school.” And then I didn’t do anything about it. A few months later, I saw a local middle school district announce on Twitter that they were putting on a TEDxKids event. I couldn’t register fast enough. I really do love the idea of empowering students to share their ideas, and I was eager to see what a middle school in my own back yard was doing with TED Ed Clubs. I was very impressed by the event and blogged about it here. I went to the same event this year (as well as another TEDx event). I also attended a couple presentations on TED Ed Clubs, including one by Liz Loether (the organizer of the TEDxKidsElCajon event I first attended). From there I finally took the step to sign up to be a club leader and I am in the middle of my very first cycle of helping students develop their talks. I am very new to this, but it’s easy to track how I grew my PLN to get me to where I am: First) I was attracted to cool things I saw on Twitter. Second) I attended an event related to that cool thing. Third) I attended a couple conference sessions teaching me how to do that cool thing I was learning about. Forth) I am trying it myself. There will be many steps beyond this, but I am where I am thanks to how PLNs work!

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2. The Raspberry Pi

I love what technology can do to amplify learning for students, and I am pretty good at learning how to use edtech tools, but I am very new to coding and building computers (I’m an English major!). But I run a library now, and that library has a makerspace. Our retiring librarian bought a Raspberry Pi for students to tinker with in the makerspace. That Raspberry Pi kind of just collected dust all year. I didn’t know what to do with it. I had kind of heard you could do cool things with a Raspberry Pi, but I just didn’t know and I was so busy learning other library stuff, I just ignored the Raspberry Pi for a while. Then I attended a session at the Computer Using Educators conference on the Raspberry Pi. The presenter framed the Raspberry Pi in a way that I valued: teach planning, teach problem solving, encourage creativity, foster perseverance. I was sold. I asked my vice principal for some money to buy more Raspberry Pis. He said yes! I advertised a Raspberry Pi Club to students. They showed up! I told them before we started that I had no idea what I was doing and that we would all have to learn about this thing together. I think they really liked the idea of the teacher not knowing all the answers. The situation I’m in with my Raspberry Pi Club members makes students much more authentic members of my PLN. We’re learning together. I’m excited to see what we do with our Pis in the fall!

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3. 3D Printing

As I wrote above, my library has a makerspace. I’m thankful that the previous librarian at my school was forward thinking enough to leave me with a very well developed makerspace. To make a long story short, I was able to order a 3D printer for my library’s makerspace! This is cutting edge maker-stuff here! And what did I know about 3D printing when I ordered the 3D printer? Almost nothing! But I couldn’t pass up on the chance to get a 3D printer for my makerspace, so I moved forward. Now I’m watching YouTube videos and reading through the manual that came with the printer. I received it the last week of the school year, so I have a few weeks before school starts in August. I hope to develop a student-friendly how-to guide for students to use the 3D printer.

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So there is a little insight into 3 things that I’m currently learning about. I look forward to developing my PLN to further these and other learning goals. Sometimes I feel a little overwhelmed, like I’m trying to learn too many things at once, but I feel very fortunate that I have access to learn about the things that interest me.

Leaning on the Experts

#INFO233 PLN Post 2

One of the first “libraryish” things I did after getting the teacher librarian position at my school was to attend an information literacy workshop put on by California State University San Marcos librarians. The presenters offered to deliver an information literacy workshop to all the librarians in my district, so we jumped at that opportunity.

The timing was perfect. Our district librarians were in the midst of developing district-wide research practices for each of us to deliver to our individual school sites. And as we made decisions about what skills to focus on, we had these CSUSM librarians to guide us. So far, it has been a match made in heaven and I am very thankful for the work CSUSM is doing with local school districts.

Now, as a way to deliver what we are learning about research practices to our school sites, all the librarians in our district are working together to build this Research Toolkit (work in progress!). I am co-presenting this toolkit next week with my librarian colleague Stephanie Macceca, but the creation and organization of this website (and the work it represents) was shared among all nine of our district librarians.

Here is what this process is making me realize about my professional learning network: I am far from the smartest, most capable person in the network of librarians I belong to. I don’t mean to come off as too egotistical, but I’m used to being near the head of the group when it comes to the different subjects my personal learning network is dealing with:

  • Developing literacy? I’m on it.
  • Integrating technology to amplify learning? I’m ready to train others!
  • Developing prompts and assessments? You’re talking my language!

I’m used to catching on quickly and (if necessary) doing a lot of the heavy lifting. But this first big project with my fellow librarians is reminding me that I have a lot to learn, and I can learn from the amazing colleagues I work with. I don’t have to be near the front of the pack in all areas of my PLN. I’ll admit, I kind of like being near the front of the pack and helping others catch up. But there’s no way to sugar coat it: I am a novice in the librarian world.

As I’ve worked with the librarians in my district to build the Research Toolkit, it has become abundantly clear that I could NEVER have done this on my own. I cringe a little remembering telling a fellow librarian: “I’ve got time this summer–I may just build the whole website myself!” I made that comment in a state of ignorant hubris. What made me think I could, on my own, develop this research resource for use across the entire district? The website we’re building together is so much better than what I could have done on my own.

I’m very glad for this experience. Without experiences like these, I worry that I would become the kind of person who feels like an expert at everything–the kind of person who thinks others should look to to learn from, but who doesn’t need to learn much from others. I would hate to become that kind of person. Of course, I don’t want to feel completely inept and ineffective, but I do hope to always stay in touch with the ability to be vulnerable and admit that I don’t know and that I need help.

Finding Connections: Sometimes it Takes a While

#INFO233 PLN Post 1

For a lot of my teaching career, I was the kind of team member who listened to other peoples’ good ideas and supported them. I just wasn’t really coming up with anything new to add to the pedagogical conversation. My colleagues were already sharing such great ideas, that I had plenty to do to help make their ideas a success. Ideas like:

  • English learners should be developing their cognitive academic language proficiency
  • Let’s share our ideas on a website that we build together
  • Let’s read research to inform our instruction
  • Let’s ask local colleges for advice for how to prepare our students for their courses

Again, there were plenty of high quality ideas to support–and it took work to implement these ideas! It wasn’t until I was finishing up my masters in education that I came across an idea I hadn’t heard my colleagues talking about. I completed my action research project on formative assessments (specifically, how we can use weekly formative assessments to improve writing among English learners). I read from Reeves and DuFour (2 of them!) and Ainsworth and Marzano, and along the way I got the impression that the way I did grades was not ideal for learning. In fact, based on what I was reading, the way a lot of my colleagues did grades was not ideal for learning. I finished my research project/presentation on formative assessments, but what stuck with me was the issue of grading.

So, I read more and I watched videos. I found some great blog posts by Shawn Cornally and I was inspired by the ideas shared by Rick Wormeli on YouTube. Point after point I found myself agreeing with sources I found in books and online. I now had this idea that I thought was GREAT, and I wanted to bring it to my fellow English teachers. I presented this Prezi at a department meeting (I even made it into an exhilarating 22 minute video) with the aim to revolutionize how we grade in order to promote more learning. The reception to this idea was lukewarm. I was able to get the department to agree to some changes to our collective grading practices, but not others. It was clear that no one in my immediate professional learning network (the teachers in my department) was very passionate about this idea that was influencing me and my practice so significantly.

I made some pretty big changes to how I grade, but in the spirit of developing common practices, I didn’t fully run with standards based grading because I felt like I didn’t have many other teachers in my department willing to go along for the ride.

Fast forward to a few years later. I was at a Google Apps for Education conference, and I was stopped in the hall by Natalie Priester. She said something to the effect of: “You’re Anthony Devine. You posted some stuff online about standards based grading, right?” Now, this made quite an impression on me because I hardly expect anyone to remember or remark upon anything I post online (except that my mom is always sure to “like” the pictures I post of my kids to Facebook). But Natalie basically ran with the idea of standards based grading (I think she went well beyond what I’ve done with it). She mentioned coming across my video (linked above) early on in her development of standards based grading practices. She sent me some rubrics that she developed and other materials she made based (in part) on the explanation of standards based grading that I cobbled together from my research.

This interest got me to start thinking again about advocating openly for some changes to the way teachers produce student grades. It took a while, but after experimenting with my grading practices, I wrote this little post to help explain my grading practices to students and parents. And based on that post, I presented earlier this year at a local conference on using our a 4 point grade scale in our electronic grade book (Infinite Campus). In attendance at that session were staff members from an experimental high school within my own district where EVERYONE was giving proficiency grading a try. I loved talking with them about the ins and outs of implementing proficiency/standards based grading in a “traditional” grading world.

One of the outcomes from that presentation was that a colleague of mine who teaches math at that experimental high school, Melanie Ruiz, approached me to co-present on proficiency grading practices this summer. We’re finishing up this website as our presentation tool and our plan is to get teachers to reexamine their grading practices and to adopt some practices that will encourage and value learning more than “traditional” grading practices do.

That’s where I am with this journey with this one idea. And while it’s definitely a story about sticking to an idea that I think is good, it’s also about the fact that finding the people who will connect to an idea with you can take time. My personal learning network did not necessarily gravitate toward supporting this idea at first. That doesn’t mean I abandoned that network! It also doesn’t mean I abandoned the idea. Slowly, over time, I was fortunate enough to add to my network other educators I admire who agree that this idea is a good idea.

In summary, lessons learned from this situation:

  • If you have a good idea, but not many in your immediate PLN agree, stick with it! You may find people later who appreciate your crazy, innovative ideas.
  • Go to conferences! Whether attending sessions or presenting sessions, conferences give you the chance to make personal connections to educators in other schools and districts (and they probably have some great ideas to share).
  • Share your ideas. You may think what you have to say won’t add anything all that great to the conversation, but you’re just wrong! You never know who will latch on to the ideas you have to share. And you never know when you may decide to revisit your old ideas to share again or modify. Just look at this post. The things I’ve linked here go back to 2012 (and that action research project I mentioned was from 2009). Share–join the conversation!