Embracing Summer

It seems like a long time ago that I started writing this blog, five years and 146 posts ago.  Thinking about that makes me start thinking back to all that has happened over those five years.  Two different schools, traveling to all sorts of countries, lots of professional and personal experiences that have changed me (mostly for the better), and throughout all of that a constant reflective process that I’ve learned and practiced through the writing of this blog.  I’ve written before about why this blog is important to me and why I think others should try, if I haven’t convinced you yet…maybe now is the time!  Perhaps over the summer you’ll sit down and give it a shot.

Hopefully everyone managed to stay alive (literally and figuratively) and we’re now about to embark on a wonderful summer!  For each of us that will look a little differently.  Normally my summers are a time for me to reflect, read, write, and attend a PD or two but this summer will be different.  For Amy and I it will be a short and busy time.  After leaving Ecuador we’ve got just three weeks until our wedding (YAY!) and then only four more days until we head off toward Indonesia!  There’ll be lots of planning, visiting with family, and racing around getting everything ready for a wedding and relocation.  Then it’ll be the new school year before we know it!  

Even though my summer will be crazy (and I’m sure many of yours will be too), I want to offer a few summer time options for those who haven’t already ironed out every single minute of their holiday.  I’m not advocating for any one idea over another but I think any successful summer will include at least one of these five things.

My recommendations for the summer:

1. Hit the beach, mountains, trails, parks, ocean, lake, or whatever you can find outdoors!

Get outside and enjoy the fresh air (I’m hoping you can get away from a polluted city for this one).  Spend a few days camping next to a river with no wifi or mobile phone access, unplug and enjoy Mother Nature at her finest.  Give yourself some time to just enjoy all that nature has to offer without the hustle and bustle of the ‘outside world’.  If camping isn’t your thing then take a walk, go for a bike ride, or just sit and enjoy a park…but do it often.  Take a road trip, see a new place, and get out of the city-life for a while.  All of these things will help rejuvenate your mind, body, and spirit!

2.  Establish a PLN: If you haven’t done this already, now is your time.  Don’t be afraid to start small.  Right around the same time I started this blog, about 5 years ago, I started on Twitter and slowly began to see the value of building an online/digital Professional Learning Network.  Some of you have experienced my PLN first hand, connecting across the globe to celebrate awesome activities, meet new colleagues, or even just find a new idea.  Start out by having a look at a past blog post I wrote about building a PLN (it’s short) and then create a Twitter account.  Once you have one (or if you already do) send me a tweet (@The1sWhoDo) and ask who you should follow…I’m happy to start recommending people immediately.  From there…follow along and get a feel for Twitter, summer is a perfect time to do so!  

3.  Take care of yourself.

Remember that New Year’s Resolution…yeah, I know the feeling…I was too stressed and too cold in the rainy season to really get anything productive going.  It’s too cold and wet to get out of the house and do anything!  I wanted a nice warm meal full of comfort food and some wine on the couch at the end of those days, not an exercise class and salad!!  However, now the sun is shining and we can sleep past 6AM!  So track down your trainers and get moving…10,000 steps (the standard FitBit goal) a day is a lot easier to manage in the summer when there are no papers to grade or meetings to attend.  Cook some homemade meals for your friends and family who still have to work through the summer, enjoy a nice dinner together and help them relieve some stress too.  The summer is your time to take care of yourself and feel great!

4. Read, read, read!

If you’re like me you might feel like summer is the perfect time to squeeze in some of that professional reading you’ve promised yourself you’d do.  That’s fine but don’t skip the reading for pleasure too!!  (I’ve got five books on my Kindle just waiting for me)  Whether you’ve got a book waiting or not, you might also consider reading some of the books that are hot with our kids right now.  This article is a great one and lists five young adult books that adults would also enjoy.  I’ve read a few on this list (Book Thief is awesome!) and agree that knowing what our kids are into is a great way to connect and relate to our school age kids.  If you’re thinking that professional reading might be in the works for the beach then have a look at this article, some great tips there too.  The old saying of “don’t mix work with pleasure” goes out the door here…when it comes to summer reading, mix away!

5. Reconnect at your own risk!

It goes without saying that living overseas requires a long time away from friends and family who are back ‘home’ or elsewhere.  However, if you’re like me it only takes a week or so at ‘home’ before you feel like it’s time for a break!  There are a lot of family and friends who want to spend as much time with you as possible and it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the attention.  In a sense it’s almost like teaching…there’s only one of you but there’s a seemingly endless number of people who want/need your time and energy.  Be sure to take some “Me Time” this summer and don’t let yourself get run down while trying to connect with everyone.  I often joke at the end of summer that “I need to get back to work so I can relax!”  It’s easy to feel that way, especially if you’re bouncing from couch to guest room all summer.  Enjoy the time with family and friends but be sure to enjoy some time alone as well.

 

Enjoy the last week with our kids, it’s going to be a wildly emotional ride for many of them (and us!!)  Hang in there and enjoy the laughs and memories and embrace the inevitable tears.  Everyone has made a lot of strong connections here in the AC community and it will be tough to part ways, no matter how long you’ve been here.  Say what you need to say to those you’ve grown close with, trade contact info, and be confident that you’ll connect again soon!

 

A Week of Tweets from my View of Academia Cotopaxi

Usually I write about something I’ve seen or heard around school over the course of the last week…or at least something inspires an idea that I end up writing about.  This week I wanted to share some of the things I’ve seen and heard around school in a different way.  I realize that many of you don’t get the chance to go around and see all the different things happening in our school each day.  So, here are a collection of my Tweets from this week that share some of the awesome stuff happening at Academia Cotopaxi this week, starting with snow-capped Pichincha on Monday morning – enjoy!

PS – It may take a minute for all these Tweets to load here…be patient 🙂

Wow, that all happened in one week around here!  I certainly enjoyed visiting classrooms and seeing all of the awesome stuff that is happening at AC, it’s a wonderful place for our kids!  Thank you all for everything that you do to make it a great educational experience for everyone 🙂

ISTE Standards 3 and 4: A Deep Dive into Knowledge Creators and Innovative Designers

We’ve been spending time every couple weeks working with the Admin Team, led by the Tech Department, to explore and dig deeply into the ISTE Standards for Students.  It’s been a wonderful way for us to stop and think about the student experience at AC, especially as it relates to their engagement with the digital world.  The last time we met we dove deep into Standards three and four, exploring how it might look for students to be meeting these standards here at Academia Cotopaxi.  After taking some time to reflect on this conversation and look around school for ways that our students are meeting these standards, it has become very clear that we are already on the right track.

Becoming a “Knowledge Constructor” is the main idea of Standard number three.  The exact language of this standard is, “Students critically curate a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others.”  It struck me as I digested that standard a little more that this is exactly what I do when I write my usual blog posts.  I curate resources on whatever topic may have caught my fancy for the week, I then produce a creative artifact (my blog post) which creates a meaningful learning experience for me (and hopefully for anyone who reads my post!)  Cool, I’m a Knowledge Constructor!  Then I got to thinking about our students, is this happening in our school and, if so, where and with what frequency?  So I went looking…I wanted to find examples of our students as “Knowledge Constructors” in different contexts, here is what I found:

 

We are helping our students become “Knowledge Constructors” all over school, in many different contexts.  From Humanities, to Math, to Science class and beyond, we are offering our students the chance to curate resources and construct their own knowledge as part of the learning process.

We’re also doing it ourselves as educators…How do you Steep your tea?

My overall impression is that our students have the opportunities educationally to be “knowledge constructors” in a lot more contexts than I had imagined.  Design Technology class, sure, that’s an obvious one.  Even the Humanities classes seems obvious.  However, it’s happening in Math, Science, Art…seemingly everywhere!

Next, we came to Standard number four, “Innovative Designer,” Students use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful or imaginative solutions.  I was confronted with a harsh reality:  I don’t know the whole “design process” off the top of my head…I know it exists, I’ve worked with it before, and I’ve seen it maneuvered by students over the years but I still haven’t internalized it.  Now, to be fair, when you Google “Design Process” there are a few different versions of the design process.  However, this is the most common version and the one I am familiar with from my past experiences.

By Aflafla1 [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

I think the “deployment” arrow should really loop back around to the “Initial Planning” arrow, as it is truly a never ending cycle starting with an “alpha” version, moving to a “beta” and then on and on into production and versions 2.0 etc.

Anyway, the “Innovative Designer” standard was harder to chew on than its “Knowledge Constructor” counterpart.  Looking at our school for Innovative Designers was fun but a little frustrating at the same time:

^ There should’ve been a picture with that one…Tweet fail 😦

So, why was it frustrating to find examples of ISTE standard number four?  Well, I was frustrated because I couldn’t find examples in a diverse range of classrooms like I could with Standard number three.  Design Tech, Humanities, and Science…these are all obvious to me.  Now, to be fair, what I did find in those areas was exciting…Rube Goldberg Machines, Stop Motion, Bridge Challenge, Speech Competitions all in the same week….awesome!

BUT…where are the “Innovative Designers” when it comes to the other classes?  The same students are enrolled in Math, Spanish, Music, PE, and other classes…where is the Innovative Design in those classes?  (Again, in fairness, I didn’t do an exhaustive search and it was brief.)  It’s quite easy to imagine students writing their own compositions in Music class instead of always playing someone else’s stuff.  Similarly in PE…creating their own games or exercise routines.  Art, I can only imagine that I just didn’t catch the right day…they’re always creating their own stuff, but how ‘innovative’ is it and does it solve a problem?  The opportunity is there and we certainly have students capable of being ‘innovative’…they just need the chance!

Lastly, about standard four, is the part I see as most crucial – following the design process.  This is something that our teachers are going to need to learn and practice.  I would wager that the majority, if not all, of our teachers have little to no experience with the design process and what it means to lead students through that cycle.  It’s not easy and takes some practice for sure.  However, the rewards are HUGE and totally worth the effort…I believe that our teachers will see that and completely buy in!

At the end of this reflection process it’s become clear to me that we’re on the right track, our teachers and students are working toward the ISTE standards three and four whether they know it or not.  We’re much closer with number three, Knowledge Constructor, than we are with standard four, Innovative Designer.  The difference isn’t a lack of desire on our teachers or students part but, in all likelihood, a lack of information…we need to help move them further along toward understanding of this standard.

For me this was a great experience, full of eye-opening classroom visits and wonderful conversations with kids about their designs!  So much fun!!!

 

Use Your Connections, Build Your PLN

AASSA was great, there was a lot learned AND you met a lot of really intelligent people!!  So what do you do now?  As I’ve written already there’s plenty of reflection to be done and once you’ve thought through everything there are goals to be set.  There’s one more thing to attend to in order to bring your conference experience full circle.  Your network.

3D_Social_Networking.JPG

Image provided by:  www.StockMonkeys.com

Long gone are the days of trading business cards (for most of us anyway.)  We’re in the digital age now, but connections are still as valuable as ever…maybe even more so!  Developing and fostering a professional/personal learning network (PLN) is perhaps the most important thing you can do as an educator, especially an international educator!  Sometimes in the international world we get stuck on an island, a PLN is the best way to connect and share ideas.

LinkedIn:

LinkedIn is a great resource for contacting professionals.  Some people use it to share and discover articles and news.  Personally I think there are better tools for that sort of thing but to each their own.  My recommendation for LinkedIn is to establish connections that you can count on as a professional network for the long term.  Think of this as your binder full of digital business cards.  A great resource for the future.

Twitter:

I’m a huge proponent of Twitter.  You may have noticed at AASSA that I was pretty active on Twitter.  To be honest, I’m not usually as active as I was that week.  However, a conference like that is made for Twitter.  My Twitter usage varies depending on my schedule and what I have to share.  However, I consider it as one of my top resources as an educator.

Building a network of people to follow on Twitter takes a little time.  However, it’s not hard and as your understanding of the Twitter-sphere grows so too will your PLN.  Follow these easy tips and you’ll quickly have lots of wonderful ideas flowing down your feed:

  • Follow your colleagues.
  • Look at who your colleagues are following, then follow some of those people.
  • Use Twitter’s suggestions, it’s amazing how smart Twitter can be 🙂
  • Go back to the #L4LAASSA feed and follow anyone who had something insightful to say.
  • Ask…feel free to reach out and ask people who to follow, I’m happy to make recommendations.

Twitter Chats:

Once you’re established on Twitter it’s time to start discovering Twitter chats.  These “conversations” usually last for about an hour and are centered around just about any topic.  Search here for educationally focused chats (warning: this page is a bit overwhelming.)  Once you’ve identified a Twitter chat you’re keen to join, do just that…join the conversation (this article does a good job of explaining how and why to join Twitter Chats.)

Twitter chats are a fantastic source of learning, networking, and sharing.  The amount of learning that takes place in a quality Twitter chat is amazing.  Think of it as a very focused session at a conference, except it’s crowdsourced and not just one person talking at the group.  In terms of sharing, this is a perfect place for you to share ideas you’ve been thinking about and get feedback from peers.  Lastly, the networking and bonding that happens in a Twitter chat is really cool.  The people in your PLN start to become virtual friends who you can rely upon.

As educators we enjoy the reality that we’re never done learning.  So once you’ve gotten your head around all of those notes you took at #L4LAASSA, it’s time to build your PLN and continue your professional growth.  I’m happy to help, if you’re looking for support please reach out at any time!

 

Take the Leap, Get Connected!

For the last four years I was living in Shanghai, stuck behind The Great Firewall of China, and it was frustrating!  The government restricted internet access to the sites that they wanted people to view and nothing else.  This meant that social media sites like Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, and many blogs were considered off limits.  Fortunately for communication purposes with my family and friends back home I was able to find a way to access Facebook 🙂  An even better break was that I learned to access and take advantage of Twitter and blogging as a tool for professional growth.

Over the last few years I have slowly built my Personal Learning Network (PLN) in what, I’ve come to realize, is a very close knit and supportive educational network organized on social media sites.  It was no accident that I came to be involved in this network, it was very intentional and motivated by the tremendous amount of articles I was reading about Twitter for educators.

As I continued to read about the power of social media, specifically Twitter, as a tool for educators to grow professionally I realized I needed to investigate further.  I started my Twitter account and began lurking, it was intimidating for a long time, so I just kind of watched.  Then things slowly started to come clear and Twitter became a tool for my personal growth.  At the height of my use I was interacting with people all over the world on a regular basis including standing, hour-long, Twitter chats twice a week.  I’ve slowed down a bit with the transition to a new job but I continue to use Twitter as a resource for professional growth.  The power of social media to help educators find the tools, resources, and support needed to grow in a very individualized way is truly inspiring.

Next week we will hold our first SIPs of the year and I will be offering a SIP on getting your Twitter network up and running.  I plan to supplement this session with follow ups and perhaps more intermediate level sessions in the future.  If you could use a solid resource for growing as a professional, come check out my SIP.  If you’re at all intrigued but just not sure of how or what to do, please come to this session.  If you’ve heard of this “Twitter thing” and just want to learn more about the possibilities, come investigate!!

This past summer by PLN led me to some amazing opportunities that, without Twitter, I would’ve never discovered.  I attended a free edcamp, I was given a free book and wrote a review for Middleweb, and I was able to meet some of my virtual PLN friends in real life…it was really cool!!  I’m still learning, growing, and expanding my PLN – the process will never end.

At this point in time, with the power of the internet and social media, there’s just too many amazing ideas out there for you NOT to go explore and discover.  Take the leap, get connected.

Do you have a PLN? You should!

I often share relevant articles or videos when I come across them and in response I have frequently heard something to the effect of, “Where do you find all this great stuff?”  There are so many good things out there for educators that it’s also irresponsible of us not to be accessing such great tools and resources.  So how can you do it without spending hours and hours sorting through nonsense?

The power of the Personal Learning Network (PLN) is something that I’ve discovered during this process of searching for online resources.  I feel as though I’m late getting in the game on PLNs but I’m going to go ahead and blame China and the Great Fire Wall for that 🙂  However, over the last couple years I’ve been working hard to establish more of an online presence and build my PLN.

Anyway, let’s cut to the chase – All educators should have a Twitter account and be building a strong PLN.  This doesn’t mean you have to be some crazy Twitter maniac who is constantly sending out Tweets.  Rather, it means you begin to slowly build a network of connections and resources around the world whom you know you can rely on for relevant educational information.  Then, from this point you grow and learn with the technology and the resources you gain from your network.  Your network essentially does the research and collecting of awesome resources for you.  All you do is sit back and reap the benefits, occasionally sending some great info back out into the mix.  It’s brilliant!

Check out this info graphic that shows Seven Degrees of Connectedness and think about where you fall.  If you’re not yet at Stage 1 then I’d like to strongly urge you to come and begin the journey of getting connected.  If you’re already connected but want to join the conversation you’re absolutely invited as well!

Working Out the ‘Tween Brain in the Classroom

I’ve recently become active on Twitter and in so doing I’ve opened myself up to a whole new set of professional options to read, the best part is that I get the summaries in 140 characters or less 🙂 Recently I followed an interesting link regarding the ‘Tween Brain and how it works. What I found was a very interesting three piece blog post from author Heather Wolpert-Gawron. To be fair, she is working to sell a book about this topic but her research is very interesting! In her first post she works to convince the reader about the importance of understanding the ‘Tween Brain (kids in Middle School fall squarely in this category.) The second post clears up some of the technical vocabulary involved, my favorite definition is a good reminder for us all: “Dopamine: When a person feels pleasure, success, pride, dopamine is released into the brain and acts as a lubricant of sorts, increasing attention, motivation, and memory.” When you read that, what does it make you think about in regard to your classroom? The third post is the one I am going to link you to today, it is awesome! There are “8 Tips to Teaching Brain-Centric Activities” and they are fantastic…take a look and let me know what you think, are you using any of these? How do they work? If not, give them a shot and let me know how it goes…I’d love to hear your two cents 🙂

Heather Wolpert-Gawron’s 8 Tips to Teaching Brain-Centric Activities

Originally published in SCIS MS Headlines November 15, 2013.