Friday, December 20, 2013

How Do You Support Student Learning?

A very good article by Julie Ramsay about "... a quest to discover the best way to meet the needs of her digital-age learners…moving beyond the technology tools to focusing on supporting each student’s learning."

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Beyond Twitter for Your PLN

So, what if Twitter is not your preferred method of connecting with your Personalized Learning Network (PLN)?  Never Fear!! Options are here!

There are other ways to gather and share information.  You are using one right now!  Blogs!  Blogs provide a way for you to share (and gather) information in much more than the 140 character limit of Twitter.

Now, I know, I are thinking, "Are you kidding?  I don't have time to keep up a blog!" That's okay.  When you move into the blog world, your first steps can be to follow other blogs.  This gives you access to information from experts in your field, but removes the pressure of authoring your own blog.  (However, let me suggest that you keep an open mind about being a blog author.  There is value in it, so don't rule it out!)

Next step, how do you find blogs published by experts in your field?  Well, I am going to help you get started.  I will share some blogs with you and give you pointers on how to find others.

Lisa Nielsen: The Innovative Educator -
Edutopia -
Will Richardson -
Edutech for Teachers -
Diane Ravitch -
Edcetera -
Quests and Treks -
Evolving Educators -
It All Started in the Library -
Teachers Reflect -

All of these may not be right for you.  And please, don't overwhelm yourself by thinking you have to read all (or even most) of these.  Find what you like and start there.

Here are some resources for finding other blogs:

  • Scholastic recommends 20 blogs:
  • eSchool News recommends 10 blogs:
  • National Education Policy Center recommends:
  • Lisa Nielson recommends 10 blogs:
What happens when you find 3, 4, 5 or more blogs you want to follow?  Do you have to remember the blog websites and visit them everyday to see if something new is posted?  NO!! Thank goodness!

There are services that will bring all your blogs together, as soon as they are updated, and combine them on one page.  

I use Bloglines.

Create an account...for FREE!
When you get started, Bloglines may give you some suggested blogs to follow and they may already show up under a Merchant's Circle tab in your feeds.  You can remove that if you like.

To keep your blog feeds organized, I recommend you add additional tabs beside the default MERCHANT'S CIRCLE tab.  I added EDUCATION and TECHNOLOGY tabs.  To add tabs choose the WHITE PLUS SIGN on the far right side of the blue TABS bar.   A new tab will open that you can rename.

To get started building your own feeds choose ADD on the Bloglines toolbar.

From the drop-down menu under ADD, choose FEEDS.
You can copy the url for the blog page you want to follow and paste it in the first URL bar and ENTER.

If an icon or two pop up below the URL bar when you press ENTER, the service is prompting you to choose the RSS feed (as opposed to the website link).  Blogs are shared by their authors with RSS feeds.   If this choice appears, choose FEED. 

When you select the icon for FEED, a box will pop up asking where you would like the blog feed to appear.  Choose the the tab under which you want the feed to appear by clicking the down arrow, selecting the tab and clicking the green +.

You can now click on that tab on your page and a history of blogs from that site will be displayed in list form. 

BIG TIP!!!  Bookmark the Bloglines page you are creating so that you have easy, one-click access to the most up-dated blog posts.  

Next tip!!! To remove a tab that you don't want...or that you accidentally created, simply click on the drop-down arrow just to the right of the tab label.  You can then rename the tab of delete it.  

Friday, December 13, 2013

Using Your PLN to Share Your School Stories

I had an opportunity to observe a professional development conference for principals yesterday.  I was there in a technological role, not as an administrator, but I benefitted from the experience none-the-less. While there, I saw a perfectly demonstrated example of how to use your Personalized Learning Network (PLN).

Remember that your PLN is not just a way for you to learn.  It is also a way for you to share with others so that they may learn.

During the professional development yesterday, one of the presenters was talking about the value of "sharing your school stories."  Sharing your school stories is critical.  Backing those stories with data (creating "data stories") is powerful.  You can say "we have a great school."  But, that type of broad statement could be refuted.  If you share the data that explains why your school is great then the stories are irrefutable.

So, what are your important school stories?  What data stories can you build to make them irrefutable?
How can you share those stories in "soundbites" that seem to be the preferred method of communication these days with the impact of social media?  Make sure your soundbites are stories backed by actual data, but don't bombard your audience with statistics.  People aren't usually open to statistics, but they love a good story.  Sell your school with irrefutable data stories on a regular basis!

Once you decide on your data stories find your method of delivery.  We have talked in recent blogs about using Twitter as an integral part of our PLN.  Twitter is also an ideal avenue for delivering your data stories.  With a 140 character limit, data stories must be condensed to the "soundbites" that are so abundant and seemingly so desirable today.

So, today's challenge for you???....create a data story about your school or classroom and tweet that data story.

What might this look like?  Let's say that you have known that your typical homework completion percentage  is 87%.  On average, 87 out of your 100 students complete their homework, on time, as assigned.  However, since your school started using Google Tools for Education (and your students were trained in using Google Drive for accessing and submitting their homework) the homework completion percentage is now 99%!   Share that as a data story on Twitter in 140 characters or less.

Student homework completion rate is 99% since our school system launched  Tools for Ed.   makes access & submission easy.

Now, you try!  Sell your classroom or school by sharing your data stories! 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Did You Tweet This Week?

If you've been thinking about that Personalized Learning Network (PLN), I hope you took my advice and used Twitter as a starting point.  Maybe you didn't tweet, yet.  Maybe you just "lurked" during past week and saw what others are tweeting.  Were you able to find people to follow with whom you have things in common? Were you able to find experts in your field?  Sometimes it's a little tricky in the beginning figuring out how to find people/organizations in your field to follow.  Remember, if you do find someone you feel is a good for your PLN, see who those people/organizations are following....AND who's following them.  You might just find a gold mind of tweets to follow!

Let's get basic.....
How do you find people/organizations and see who  is following them or who they follow????

You can always use the magnifying glass at the top of the Twitter screen to search. You can search for names of individuals/organizations or for topics.  But be aware there may be millions of people named Bob Smith, so you might not find your Bob Smith so easily.  It helps to know, and search by, their Twitter name or their @name.  I am @shadrak1, so looking for me as Sharon Drake wouldn't help much.  As a matter of fact, when I search for Sharon Drake, I am offered 10 suggestions of other Sharon Drakes and none of them are me.

Side note:  If you are trying to find THE REAL someone, Twitter does its best to help you out.  It tries to verify Twitter accounts as belonging to the REAL someone (celebrity, athlete, government official). If Twitter feels an account does, indeed belong to the REAL person/group, it will be indicated with a blue cloud with a white check mark.   The Tom Hanks below with the blue cloud and white check mark is legitimate.   The one with the blue bar highlighting it is not, even though the account name is Tom Hanks.  Use caution!

You can also search by # (hashtag).  So, if you wanted to know who won the most recent NASCAR race you might try #nascar. If academia is more to your taste you might try #ccrs (for you non-educators that's College and Career Ready Standards).  When you see # for a subject that interests you, then PERHAPS the person/organization tweeting that # might be someone you would be interested in following.

If you come across someone that you feel might be added to your PLN, check out who they are following and who follows them.  To do this, click on the tweet that interests you.  Then click on the name of the twitter account holder.  This will take you to their profile page.  You can then click on their followers and also on who they are following (found just under their profile pic).   You may find interesting people/organizations in their lists that you want to add to yours.  (You can also click on their tweets and see a chronological record of all of their tweets....often a good source of info!)

To give you a boost I will share with you some of the people/organizations I follow.  You can check them out and see if they have anything to contribute to your PLN.

@Soc_of_Authors (Society of Authors)
@app4ed (Ed Tech)
@aldotcome (
@NikkiDRobertson (not of the Duck Dynasty Robertsons.....Hoover High Librarian)
@IRAToday (International Reading Association)
oh, and so as not to disappoint......@williebosshog (Willie Robertson OF Duck Dynasty). Yes, some on my twitter feed contribute very little to my PLN!

These are just suggestions.  It gives you a starting point to begin investigating possible participants in your PLN.

See you next time!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Thinking More about a Personalized Learning Network

Time to think more about using Web 2.0 tools to build your Personalized Learning Network!  

First, what is Web 2.0? The Google definition is...
Web 2.0
(web to͞o point ˈō/)
1. the second stage of development of the World Wide Web, characterized especially by the change from static web pages to dynamic or user-generated content and the growth of social networking.

Second, what Web 2.0 tools could you use to build your Personalized Learning Network?
1. Twitter
2. blogs
3. wikis
4. RSS feeds
5. Google +
6. YouTube
7. LinkedIn
9. others

One or more of these can provide the perfect framework for building a PLN.   Are you already using one, two, three or more of these? If so, you are ready to move forward with a PLN.  If not, let's get you established with at least one.

For example, if you have a Twitter account (or you create one now) but you aren't comfortable tweeting yet, that's okay. Here's a suggested progression for moving into the world of Twitter....

1. start by observing, "lurking" if you will, watch/read what others are tweeting without worrying about tweeting at all
2. read about Twitter, research how to tweet or use @ or #,or ask for help (I am readily accessbile)
3. check out who others are "following" and follow them too
4. Try it....tweet one comment about what you find interesting or what you are currently reading
5. Retweet (RT) something that you find interesting or worthy
6. Encourage someone to follow you on Twitter
7. Search for (or be on the lookout for Twitter info) for leaders in your field and follow them
8. Reflect on the process

Keep your eyes open for more info on building a Personalized Learning Network coming soon!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Google Chrome Bookmark Bar

If you are not using a Bookmark Bar in Google Chrome then you are missing out on a great time saver!  It's simple to create! Just follow the steps in the video tutorial and you can clean up your desktop, speed up your access to your most used pages and make your life a lot EASIER!!! Everyone likes EASIER!

Check out this video tutorial for setting up a Bookmark Bar
Google Chrome Bookmark Bar

Monday, November 18, 2013

Time to Think About Your Own Personal Learning Network

Who do you learn from on a regular basis?
Where does your learning take place?
How do you make time for professional learning?
Who do you turn to for professional development opportunities?
Is money a consideration for your learning and professional development?
How do you pay for this learning and professional development?

A Personal Learning Network (PLN) is a free, powerful, professional learning opportunity that you participate in at your own pace and on your own time schedule. 

Are you plugged into a global network of like-minded professionals, who will broaden your experiences and challenge your thinking on an ongoing basis?

If your answer is yes, then you are off to a great start.  If your answer is no, then it's time to make it happen!

Either way, join me on this blog for a six month journey to creating, growing and promoting your own Personal Learning Network (PLN).  Check back often!  Also, watch for Google+ posts and emails and join in the process of building a powerful learning opportunity!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

For EDU5506EA FA13 PLU Requirement

Synopsis: My action plan for the remainder of the 2013 - 2014 school year is to use this blog as "homebase" for providing training, assistance, tips and tricks for creating and growing Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) for educators in the Cullman City Schools System.

Web 2.0 tools (blogs, wikis, Twitter, podcasts, etc) will be used for these PLNs.  Information about the use of these tools as a vehicle for growing a PLN will be presented here.  Invitations to receive assistance and/or training in one-on-one, small group or whole group settings will be issued through this blog, system emails, and face-to-face meetings.

Please read my previous post for more information about this PLN initiative.

ACTION PLAN     Sharon Drake

GENERAL INFORMATION                                                               
Name of Organization: Cullman City Schools 

Project Title: Personal and Professional Growth Through a Personal Learning Network (PLN)

Project Location: Cullman City Schools, Cullman, Alabama 

Contact Person: Sharon Drake 

Contact Information: Cullman City Schools
          301 1st St NE #100
          Cullman, Alabama 35055

Project Timeline:  November 20, 2013 - May 20, 2014

Amount Required: $0 

Educators in the Cullman City School System will be provided with an opportunity to create or further develop a Personal Learning Network that will allow them to be deliberate and focused in using Web 2.0 tools to connect and share with others to grow personally and professionally.

Working through the massive amount of information (and the incredible number of resources for accessing that information) can be overwhelming and time consuming.  Educators often feel overwhelmed when trying to weed through information/resources that help them grow professionally. Educators need guidance in using Web 2.0 tools to create a Personal Learning Network that is deliberate and focused on their specific professional learning needs and interests. 

The Blog “12 Other Ways” will be used to provide assistance, information, training, and resources for using Web 2.0 tools to create and refine a PLN.  

By May, 2014 a minimum of 10 educators will use the blog to gain information for creating and/or refining their PLN.

Page views, comments, follow-up email contact, Google Calendar and documentation from face-to-face meetings will be used to measure success. 
In addition, those involved will be surveyed to determine the efficiency of a refined PLN and whether that positively impacts the use of the educators time.

Once time per week, new entries will be posted on the “12 Other Ways” blog site.  These entries will include instruction, tutorials, examples, etc. of the various Web 2.0 tools and how they can be used within a PLN.  When appropriate the specific tool will be used/embedded within the blog (i.e., podcast).  

The blog posts are automatically posted to Sharon Drake’s Google + feed, which is accessible by all employees within Cullman City Schools.  

Follow-up emails will be sent to educators and messages will be posted to members of Mrs. Drake’s Google+ Circles encouraging them to take advantage of invitations for individual, small group or whole group training on specific Web 2.0 tools and how they can be used to improve a PLN. 

Blog post page views, comments, follow-up email contact, Google Calendar posts and documentation from individual, small group or whole group meetings will be used to measure success. 

In addition, those involved will be surveyed to determine the efficiency of a refined PLN and whether that positively impacts the use of the educators time.

Progress of this action plan will be posted to the “12 Other Ways” blog site. Mrs. Drake will blog and others will be encouraged to post their own personal results with their PLN.

Total cost - $0

Personal and Professional Growth Through a Personal Learning Network

If you asked a group of people whether teaching and learning go hand-in-hand, most would say "of course!"  You could also expect to hear "not always" or "it depends" from some in the group.  This prompt may lead to discussions about the quality of the teaching and the motivation (or lack of it) of the learner.  But, in general (and in a perfect world), most would say teaching and learning go hand-in-hand....or at least they should.  

Now, to borrow from the old "chicken and egg" conundrum, which comes first teaching or learning? Be careful how you answer!  As an educator your first reaction might be that without quality teaching there cannot be quality learning.  You're right, of course....BUT....where does the quality teaching come from?  It comes from the quality learning you have done (and continue to do) in preparation for teaching.  Educators are life-long learners so that we can be life-long teachers. 
It's a beautiful cycle when implemented effectively.  We learn.  We teach.  We learn. We teach. 
In addition, those we teach shall learn, then teach. They become empowered to share their knowledge with others! 

So, think about your learning.  You had your "formal" schooling and perhaps you continue to grow your knowledge through enrollment in an institution of higher learning.  You participate in professional development.  You read.  You research.  You seek to find the information/skills you need to become a better educator.  And, yes, sometimes you are overwhelmed.  Sometimes you are underwhelmed because you invest your time, energy and often money into an activity to improve as an educator and you end up thinking "well, that was a waste of my time" or "that PD had NOTHING for me."  

So, how can you construct a method, or build an avenue, for learning that is tailored specifically for you?  You can create your own Personal Learning Network (PLN).  Think about that label....

Personal - yours, designed just for you BY you.
Learning - opportunities to assimilate the information/skills you need
Network - you're CONNECTED to others who share your areas of interest and who have more (or less) knowledge about topics than you....and they are willing to share and eager to learn

My participation in, and understanding of, PLNs has evolved over time.  Before our abundance of technology my PLNs were typically educators in my subject area, on my hall, in my building, in my system.....and maybe if I really pushed it...across my state.  But, with the boom in social networking platforms, my opportunities for building a PLN have exploded.  Facebook, Twitter, blogs, wikis, podcasting, YouTube and more bring a worldwide personal learning network into easy reach.  
With the number of opportunities and avenues available for us to create a PLN, we need to be deliberate and focused in our purpose.  Time is valuable.  We need to use the PLN tool(s) that allow us to share and learn in the most effective way.  

I hope to share with you examples of my PLN in upcoming blogs.  As you read about my PLNs keep your eyes open for where yours could begin to grow....or where they might be developing already. Feel free to share YOUR methods for developing a PLN and the tool(s) you have used to cultivate it.  

If you would like to begin building or refining your PLN, please let me know.  I will be glad to share with you some ideas and tips for creating a PLN that ensures that you remain a quality teacher, a life-long learner and a powerful contributor knowledge to other educators. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

What's Happening Around Cullman City Schools

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Positive Action or Distraction?

We live in an age of almost infinite information and learning opportunity and so the key here is we have to inspire people to have a sense of wonder and curiosity and if we do that, they have what is essentially the world’s largest knowledge machine at their fingertips. If we fail at that they have the world’s largest distraction device.  
                                                                                                                     ~Michael Wesch

Michael Wesch is a cultural anthropologist exploring the effects of new media on society and culture.

I saw this today after pondering my journey with technology just last night.  I was thinking exactly what he is saying here. I remember when accessing information was limited to the set of encyclopedias my family owned, textbooks, searching in the school or public library, newspapers, magazines, TV and/or radio or asking someone I knew (i.e. parents, teachers, professionals,...and occasionally my peers which was always risky!).  With the exception of the last few on the list, the information obtained was pretty static.  Now, we have seemingly limitless information right at our fingertips.  I feel lost without my smartphone.  I use it to find the answer to any question I might have..... "how do I change the burner element on my range?" or "where can I find purple shoes with a 2 inch heel?"  These days anything we can think to ask has an answer on the Internet (or several million answers)!!!!  So how do we avoid the distraction Mr. Wesch mentioned above?  We have to stay focused on our purpose.  We have to mold our digital resources into a shape that fits us best.  We can't expect to use every resource, all the time...the distraction becomes too obstacle that will hold us back instead of a tool to move us forward.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

So why "12 other ways to do it"...?????  Well, it is a philosophy I suppose.  I have a real lack of affection for failure.  I have always been that way.  I like to do my best, be positive, be dependable, keep my word and stand for the right things.  If I can do those things I consider the day a success.  So, as a result of those standards, I have discovered that technology is sometimes a formidable adversary.  I have adopted "I WILL NOT LET TECHNOLOGY BEAT ME" as a sort of motto!!  I love technology.  I love what technology can do for me and those around me.  I hate when technology refuses to cooperate!!!!  I recently watched a video by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) that stated that younger users of technology understand that technology will fail and when it does they just find "12 other ways to do it."  By no means am I claiming to be young!  But, I do approach technology in this way.  I understand it will, at times, fail.  I accept that I may have to find 12 others ways to work around that failure....and by doing so I fulfill my motto...."I will not let technology beat me."