Sunday, July 26, 2015

DigiLit Sunday: Google Communities for Collaboration

Digital tools have opened new possibilities for learning and collaboration.  A variety of sites have made it possible to host spaces to learn together.  There are blogs, blog roundups, wikis and websites to link communities.  Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook allow for conversation, sharing, and collaboration.  In the past, I would have told you I do most of my learning, sharing, and collaborating on Twitter, but more and more I am finding my favorite digital collaborative learning space is Google Plus.

I've never been one to post a lot on Google Plus which seems like a collision of Facebook and Twitter.  In the last year, however, I've been working more and more in Google Communities.  I have come to find Google Communities to be one of the best spaces to grow collaborative communities around common goals.

Google Communities allow you to bring a group together publicly or privately.  You then write a description, create your home, invite members, and you're ready to go.  Within a Google Community you can create subtopics to keep your conversations organized.  Participants can post using more than 140 characters (an advantage over Twitter) and add links, images, video, etc. to their posts.  The posts then stay connected in one space making them easy to read and discuss.  Participants can then comment directly under the post which helps to keep ideas tied together.

I have found Google Communities to work for local groups collaborating.  How often do you leave a meeting and have something you'd like to add or ask about a topic of discussion?  How often are you working on a project and locate links the connect to the work your group is doing?  Google Communities allow you to keep the conversation going.  As educators, Google Communities work for professional book talks, bringing buildings together, helping leaders who work together even though they may be spread across locations, and supporting groups collaborating toward a common goal.  They add the convenience of allowing participants to work around the challenge of finding common time, and instead joining the conversation as their lives allow.

While I have found Google Communities to be a great space to build local conversations, they also open the door to collaborating with others interested in the same topic from around the world.  Recently, Julie Johnson and I opened a "digital playground" community for some professional development we were hosting within our school district around digital making and growing our digital literacy understanding.  We opened the "playground" up to others around the world.  Our group grew to include participants from other timezones and countries.  We all benefited from the variety of learners and expertise in our digital community.  I participate in communities like the CLMOOC where educators from around the world collaborate around an idea, and host communities with participants from a variety of timezones talking about ideas in which we have mutual interest like #pb10for10 (Picture Book 10 for 10 Community with picture book celebrations) and #cyberPD (annual summer book talk).

A Google Community isn't perfect.  There can be challenges in following conversations, keeping up with posts, and finding important links.  It seems that having a page to host links and more static information in an organized manner would be helpful.  Hosting pages within Google Communities might accomplish some of these goals (as far as I know, at this time Google Sites cannot be hosted within a community though a link could be added).  However, for me, Google Communities still seems the smartest space to work and collaborate digitally.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

How Can We More Effectively Manage Multiple Social Media Networks?

If you're like me you manage multiple social media networks.  Though my commitment varies across networks, you can find my on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Instagram.  Not only am I participating in these various social networks, but I follow several people across these platforms.  I'm noticing that friends have two styles of posting:  some push the same information out across all networks and some tailor posts to the particular network.  With the plethora of social media networks available I'm hoping you'll share in the comments your thoughts and suggestions about managing multiple social media networks.

Each time I join a social network I try to determine my purpose within that network.  There are times common threads run across my social media accounts, but I try to post differently in all networks so friends who follow me across spaces see different updates.  I suppose this could make me appear one dimensional if you only follow me on one network, but I'm hoping it works toward my purpose.

My Purposes within Social Media
Twitter:  Twitter has really become my professional home.  I want to apologize to every friend outside of my educational life who decides to follow me here.  For me, Twitter is all about networking, finding information, joining professional conversations, and making learning connections.  I host three accounts (yes - I may have a problem).  My main account, @CathyMere, is focused on professional conversation around literacy, technology, and practices that grow the work I do with children.  I also host an account to support public education, @PublicEd4Kids.  Here I follow, and occasionally tweet, about policy, politics, and information that supports public education. My last account is where I share information for our school community about reading.  From @DarbyCreekReads, I send important updates to parents, share reading information, and post learning celebrations from my students.

Google+:  Google+ is one of the spaces people keep pulling me into despite all of my efforts to resist (my Google+ account).  I've come to enjoy Google+ and use it entirely for professional purposes.  I find Google+ to be my favorite space for working in learning communities.  The ability to create groups, organize subheadings within communities, interact with others in connected conversation (all in one space), write updates with more information, add links/images/etc., and other features make this the perfect space for gathering as a community.

LinkedIn:  I recently joined LinkedIn and use it only for professional purposes as I kept getting requests to join. I really haven't explored its abilities to connect and interact.

Pinterest:  I use Pinterest for personal and professional reasons.  This is probably the one space where my worlds collide most.  My main account, Catmere, hosts personal and professional boards.  You'll find me posting links to favorite recipes, quotes I find inspiring, writing mentors, and links to rethink education.  I also host two other Pinterest accounts:  Cathy Mere Books (Started when I was having problems with Listmania.  Here I collect links to book collections I like to return to for teaching.) and Mrs. Mere's Class (Links for families).

Instagram:   I'm the last to jump on the Instagram bus.  My daughter convinced me I needed to give it a try after watching me continually snap pictures of favorite places, flowers, and interesting things that catch my eye with my phone.  I've decided to use Instagram more personally @cathymere1.  I also like to share poetry here.  It just seemed a good place to bring poetry and image together.

Facebook:  Though I follow many educators and many education related pages on Facebook, most of my posting is personal.  I use this platform to connect with family, friends, and educators I've gotten to know over the years.

For me, having a purpose and focus for various accounts makes it easier to organize the media I share.  I'm hoping it helps those who follow me to see a variety of information instead of seeing the same posts across networks (though I know sometimes something has to come across my feed five times before I see it).  What are your thoughts?  How do you organize and manage your social media networks?  Do you think it is best to send the same or different information across networks (and why?)?

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Digital Reading: New Possibilities in Assessment #cyberPD

This is our final week of #cyberPD.  The time has flown and the conversation has been thought provoking.  Stop by the #cyberPD community to read reflections from other participants.  Join us Tuesday, July 28th, at 8 p.m. EST as Laura Komos, Michelle Nero, and I host a live chat with the #cyberPD community on Twitter.  We're excited to have authors Franki Sibberson and Bill Bass join us to talk about Digital Reading:  What's Essential.

New Opportunities for Documenting Learning 
Chapter six discussed assessment.  If you stop by my blog often you know I'm kind of a fan of Evernote (a few Evernote posts).  Okay, I'm over the moon about Evernote, but it isn't the tool I love as much as the new ways it lets me collect information about student learning (my Evernote resources here).  As Franki and Bill remind us, "With digital tools we can gather real artifacts from a child's learning and collect and organize the artifacts over time (p. 93)."  Evernote (or Google or Confer or many other applications) allows me to take pictures, record audio, type notes, link to artifacts, and much more.  The addition of tagging lets me sort and organize the information to plan instruction.

Digital tools also allow more opportunities for students to receive feedback from peers and reflect on their own learning.  Tools like Educreations allow students to snap pictures of their learning and reflect on their process.  Quick "exit tweets" (students write tweets on paper to share learning and a few are shared on class Twitter account) help us quickly assess student understanding.  Applications like Twitter and use of email can allow us to celebrate next steps as students work to reach new goals in their learning.  It's easy to snap a picture of a new craft move attempted or a change in a page as a student works to revise.

With our eye on literacy goals, these new tools allow new opportunities to capture student learning journeys.  I tried to think through assessment in the lens of authenticity, intention, and connectedness discussed in earlier chapters.  I created this visual representation to show some of the ideas I was thinking about as I read the chapter.

Created with Draw 53 and Inkflow Plus

Reaching Out to Families
Many of the same tools above allow us to reach out to families.  Emailing assessment notes, sharing tweets, blogging, and keeping an up-to-date hub allow us to pass information along to parents and families.  New digital tools provide a myriad of ways for us to improve collection of information and to share this information with parents.

I appreciated the reminder from Bill and Franki that parents may need to learn about the tools we are using in our classroom to learn, assess, and share.  The authors remind us, "Digital tools have made the connection between school and home so much more effective because we are no longer confined to the space of the classroom or the time constraints of the school day (p. 100)."  Sharing information with parents allows them to see next steps, celebrate new learning, reinforce difficult concepts, and grow student interest beyond the school day.  According to Bill and Franki, "Just as we are intentional about the tools we use with our students, we must be intentional about the tools we use to extend the school day beyond classroom walls (p. 107)."  This is an important reminder that as we build our communities around literacy - digital and print - we need to find ways to support parents in these steps into today's expanded literacy opportunities.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

DigiLit Sunday: Have a Hub

When I first began taking steps toward digital literacy with my students I realized there were a few challenges; among them getting six year olds to a myriad of spaces.  When you are six typing in a URL can take a bit of time.  It was in these early days that I realized the need for a central location to make it easier to get to the places we needed to go.  It was then that I began to create, what I like to call, a "hub" for our classroom community.  In its first days, the hub made it possible for students to learn one link that would take them everywhere they needed to go.  It was possible for students to access this site from school or home.  It wasn't long until I realized there were other benefits to a hub in connecting our learning community to others.

Why Have a Hub
  • Centralize Links:  As a classroom community we use Kidblog, VoiceThread, Educreations, Shelfari and other sites for learning.  Knowing how to get to all of these sites can be challenging for young learners.  To help them to locate spaces without having to wander the internet, I found creating a hub to house our important links makes it easier for students to get places.  Additionally, families and other classrooms can easily locate the work we are doing around the internet.  
  • Build Connections:  Using a Twitter account (@DarbyCreekReads) to connect with other classrooms, I found having a hub helped other classrooms find out more about the work we are doing.  Additionally, during events like the Classroom Slice of Life Challenge, we have a common place to host our participation.  
  • Inform Parents:  The possibilities of the internet can make it nearly impossible for parents to keep up.  Locating spaces and finding information can be a challenge if it is housed around the internet.  By including a page specifically for parents I can keep parents informed of important information.  This page not only includes important updates, but also allows me to share links, embed Pinterest boards for parents, and share other useful information in one central location.  
Choosing a Host Site 
There are many sites available to host a class hub including Google Sites, Blogger, and Edublogs (more possibilities can be found in this post from Education Technology:  10 Excellent Platforms to Create Your Classroom Website).  When creating a hub, I chose to use Weebly (here's why).  Weebly combines flexibility and ease of use.  I'm able to create webpages around topics or common information.  

Here's a very informal tour of my Weebly hub:

Each Weebly site allows multiple pages.  In addition to creating webpages with fixed information and links, blog pages can also be added.  As a classroom teacher, I have found Weebly to be the perfect place to host our class blog.  Using the class blog for shared writing of posts with students in our community allows us to share important information about our learning, but it also provides opportunities to understand the decisions we make as writers of blogs.  In addition to a blog page, our Weebly hub often houses Symbaloo collections of links for learning, how-to videos created to help when similar questions continue to arise, links to other school accounts, and much more.  Having a hub is the first step in growing a community that easily extends beyond classroom walls.

Other Hubs I've Created:
Weekly allows you to host multiple sites under one account which has allowed me to create and host other hubs for centralizing learning conversations.  A few hubs include:

Friday, July 17, 2015

Digital Reading: Authenticity, Intention, & Connectedness (#cyberPD week 2)

"The work of young readers must be based on the things 'real readers' do (p.26)."            ------Sibberson & Bass 
This is our second week for #cyberPD.  I am co-hosting with Laura Komos and Michelle Nero.  Educators from a variety of places are reading and talking virtually about Digital Reading: What's Essential by Franki Sibberson and Bill Bass.  This second week our focus is on chapters 3-5  If you'd like to join us stop by our #cyberPD Google Community.  

To Teach Readers:  Read
It's hard to pull apart authenticity, intention, and connectedness in our workshop.  It seems for one of these characteristics to be present, we really must have the others.  As I've reflected on the chapters of authenticity, intention and connectedness, I've been thinking about the way this event, #cyberPD, allows us to work in many of these ways.  This event has been taking place each July since 2011.  It's difficult to articulate the way my learning is deepened because of the resources we collect, the responding we do to one another, and the way we interact.  Other readers notice things I didn't always notice.  Other readers see things in ways I haven't always considered.  The #cyberPD event challenges us to work much as we would want our readers to work in our classroom:

  • authenticity:  Participants chose to join this book talk and to learn with the community.  The depth of our participation is really up to us.  The way we take in information, choose to respond, and interact is also up to us.  We have choice.   
  • intention:  Participants have been intentional about their purpose for reading.  Each of us know our role as educators and the way these new ideas will fit into our worlds.  Many of us have added additional resources we have discovered to support the key ideas as we intentionally dig deeper around the topic.  Adding the Google Community has opened up new possibilities for response in a variety of formats.  
  • connectedness:  I get more out of #cyberPD book talks than books I read independently.  The connectedness is what makes this experience powerful.  The community conversation deepens my understanding and makes me consider ideas from new perspectives.  As part of a group I feel I know more.  Everyone's expertise shapes my thinking and builds my understanding.  
Moving Toward Digital Workshops
Bill and Franki remind us, "Being readers ourselves is the best tool we have to keep our classroom workshops authentic (p. 30)."  When I think about #cyberPD I always consider what this means for students.  What opportunities do I have as a digital reader that students should also have as they build their reading lives?  Digital tools offer new possibilities to young literacy learners.  I've found in my classroom there is much more interaction with our reading.  I remember the days of really trying to get students to do more with their thinking before, during, and after their reading.  Now it seems that extending our thinking beyond text is more natural with all the of the digital tools available to respond and connect with others.  

The very first year of #cyberPD we read Patrick Allen's, Conferring:  The Keystone of Reader's Workshop.  Patrick's quote still rings in my ears, "If someone walked into our classroom, who would he or she say owned it?"  It seems that student ownership is key to a strong reading workshop where students seamlessly move between print and digital texts.  If students truly own their learning, opportunities will continually grow around digital reading, learning, and connecting.  Would someone walking into our classroom see all students engaged in learning?  Would they see students working on a variety of literacy opportunities?  Would they see different texts out around the room?  Would they see students talking purposefully together?  Would they see readers responding in a variety of ways?  Would they see students experiencing these same opportunities we've had as we've worked together in our #cyberPD group?  

Created by Cathy Mere.   Reflections of Digital Reading:  What's Essential by Bill Bass & Franki Sibberson.
I've really been wanting to learn to use sketch noting as a way to respond.  I had told myself I would do each response in this event in a sketch note.  However, it has been much harder than I imagined.  To get this one to look at all like I had hoped I had to move between three different apps:  Paper 53Inflow and Phonto.  Anyone have a sketch note app they love?

Franki and Bill remind us, "Authenticity is evident when I look around the room and see kids using various tools that meet their needs at the moment (p. 26)."  Keeping in mind the importance of time, choice, and response in our workshops will support opportunities for students to work with authenticity, intention, and connectedness.  There's an interplay between our routines, structures, resources, use of digital tools in our lessons, and the way students talk in our workshops that create opportunities for new experiences.  As Franki and Bill remind us, digital tools expand our options and open our classrooms to new possibilities for young literacy learners.

Previous Posts That Illustrate Essential Components



More #cyberPD Information
Please stop by the Google Community to read reflections of participants and find important links.  If you'd like to join, it's never too late:
  • Week of July 6th:  Read Chapter 1 - 2, digital response by 7/9
  • Week of July 13th:  Read Chapters 3-5, digital response by 7/16
  • Week of July 23rd:  Read Chapters 6 - 7, digital response by 7/23 
  • Final Twitter Chat with authors Franki Sibberson and Bill Bass:  Tuesday, July 28th at 8 p.m. EST
***Educators in Hilliard City Schools (please read here) will be discussing the assigned chapters each week on Twitter using the hashtag #cyberPD.  These chats will take place each Thursday at 10 a.m. EST.  If you do not teach in the district, you are still welcome to join these weekly conversations. 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

DigiLit Sunday: Have a Core of Apps

One of the first questions I am asked by those working to embed more digital opportunities into their classroom communities is about tools.  Which digital tools do I recommend?  The digital tools I use in my classroom are the ones that allow us to work purposefully and flexibly as we learn together.  There are so many tools available it can be a bit overwhelming.  When getting started I suggest finding 3-5 tools that will be part of your core and know them well.  Once a strong core is established, it is easier to build upon the base as applications often have commonalities among features.

Here are some considerations when choosing your core:

  • Find apps which allow students to create.
  • Choose apps which are connected to curriculum.
  • Be intentional.
  • Choose apps which allow students to work where they are as learners.
  • Choose apps which allow students to work in authentic ways.
  • Consider how products created in apps can be shared with others (social media, embedding ease, email, etc.).
  • Consider ease of use.
  • Consider the platform of the application (iPad, desktop, tablet, etc.).
  • Where will the work live (cloud based or device based)?

My Core
If I had to choose just five applications, my list would look something like this:

Create free infographics with Venngage.

New applications are released at lightning speed.  It's important to keep up with new digital possibilities, but there are advantages to getting to know tools very well.  I like students to play and work with an application for awhile to learn the variety of ways they can use it to create meaning.  There's something to be said for being fluent and proficient in the applications used in our classrooms.  

If you have a core I hope you'll share it.  I'd love to hear about the 3-5 apps you put at the top of the list for your classroom community.

As part of a continuous collaboration among educators interested in digital learningMargaret Simon hosts a weekly Digital Learning round-up on her blog:  DigiLit Sunday.  Stop by Reflections on the Teche.  

Saturday, July 11, 2015

What I Discovered at #nErDcampMI

I just made it back from motorcycling my way to and from #nErDcampMI.  Actually, to be clear, my husband did all the motorcycling I just sat back and enjoyed the sights.  On our adventure we found Michigan does some things really well:  beverages (Let's hear it for Biggby Coffee!  Send one to Ohio!), green (Michigan is so beautifully green.  There seem to be so many more trees in Michigan.), coasts (We drove up and down the Michigan Lake coast which was absolutely beautiful.  The lake water appears clean and the cities that dot the coast are worth a visit.) and hospitality (As we went from city to city we always found someone willing to tell us great places to visit and share the love of their state.)

This was the third year for #nErDcampMI.  I was able to attend the first one, but then last year had a calendar conflict.  It was so hard to watch the tweets and be somewhere else; so this year I made absolutely sure my calendar stayed open.  Of course, nErDcamp did not disappoint.  The kickoff of Nerd Talks was well worth being on time.  Ruth Ayres, Pernille Ripp, Donalyn Miller and Susan Haney started us off.  All four helped to get the crowd motivated.  I knew as I listened I had made the right decision to be sure I didn't miss the event this year.  All four speakers shared important messages about standing behind literacy learners.

Hilliard Teachers:  Julie Keefer,
Deb Frazier and myself at #nErDcamp.
Amy Smedley and Lauren Davis
were also in the house.  :o)
The first day the camp hosts sessions more typical to the types professional development we are accustomed to in our experience.  These sessions were planned and led by educators.  The second day is more Edcamp style as a board is created by participants and everyone chooses what they'd like to attend.  Sessions on this day are not planned (usually), and the entire group owns the conversation.

There's no way to articulate the power of being in a place with so many educators passionate about reading, literacy, and the work they do with children.  There's an unmistakable energy that just runs through the crowd.  Colby Sharp, Alaina Sharp, Suzanne Gibbs, Niki Barnes, Jen Vincent, and a whole nerdy crew do an A-MAZ-ING job of keeping this together AND making everyone feel at home.

Here are a few of my takeaways:
Build Reading Relationships:  Sue Haney shared ways she builds reading relationships as the principal in her school.  Students come to her office to check out books.  She reads to a grade level every other week.  This not only gives her time to enjoy reading aloud with students, but teachers are able to meet to plan.  She works to find real authors to connect with kids.  She also helps to organize high school athletes who come in to read to students.  These relationships are maintained across the summer as students can come to check out books at the school.  

Be Intentional:  Franki Sibberson shared some of her thinking about digital literacy and supporting readers in her reading workshop.  She shared some of the ways digital tools/text make new things possible for young learners.  She talked about being intentional in digital text selections, digital tool selections, and the teaching mentors we choose when planning our work with students.  This intentionality will then transfer to the work students are doing daily.  

Learn Their Stories:  Ruth Ayres shared a beautiful analogy of all the baggage young literacy learners can bring into the classroom making it hard for them to write (and read).  This baggage becomes something that keeps them from learning and makes it hard for us to see deep inside to know who they really are and how to best support their learning.  It makes it hard to know their stories.  She talked about the little things we can do to help students feel safe (choice, compromise, listening, etc.) and celebrated in our classrooms so we can learn their stories to better support them.

Find New Ways into Books:  Marisa Saelzler led a large group that turned out to discuss the possibilities for maker spaces.  Resources were shared and new ideas considered.  Not only to maker spaces encourage ownership and creativity, but I see them as a way to bring different types of learners back to books.  (Resources and notes are here.  You'll want to check them out.)

Let Them Lead:  A large group turned out to talk about EdCamps for students.  We discussed why edcamps might be important, ways to get them organized, how to monitor their success, and benefits for students.  I'm really thinking about the idea of students holding an EdCamp for parents.  It's seem like the perfect way to get parents to come to school to see what students are learning.  

All sessions have notes that are linked to our main schedule document.  Check them out!  Mark your calendars for next year...