Tagged: PLN

Be Present

be present.Life moves at much too fast a pace. I’d prefer things move a little slower. My dad turns 72 today. I can still remember his surprise 40th birthday party like it happened yesterday. In a few weeks, Evelyn will turn 7. How can that be? Wasn’t her birth just a few minutes ago? The older I get the faster time flies. How is it possible I’m going to be 44 years old next month?

I had a bit of a scare this past weekend. Late Saturday night, I received word that one of my closest friends was in the hospital in Nashville battling a dangerous infection. I hardly slept that night. I kept waking up checking my phone for updates on his condition. Worry overcame me. Throughout the day Sunday, I couldn’t stop thinking about him. Sure, I was praying for him, but I needed to do more. I needed to be present with him at the hospital. I couldn’t do anything for him medically, but I could be present. Fortunately, my wife realized this and suggested I drive over as soon as she got home from work Monday afternoon. I did and I’m glad I went. There is power in being present with the people you love.

My friend is better. He went home from the hospital yesterday. He’ll still be recovering for a little while, but he’s going to be okay. I didn’t do anything to help his situation. I didn’t do anything tangible. We talked and laughed. We remembered past days. I walked with him to get some testing done. I listened. We hung out in silence some, too. And yet, being present with him and his wife mattered. We don’t have nearly enough time together. We need to make time to be together more often.

Life is full of busyness and distractions. My family life gets filled with appointments, practices, ballgames, daily commutes, and making sure everyone has done his homework and washed behind his ears. It’s easy to get caught up in good things that aren’t the best things. The same can be said of my school life, too. It’s easy to get caught up in school assemblies, report cards, committee work, daily schedules, and workplace politics. Add social media, email, RSS feeds, etc. to the mix, and it becomes easy for me to miss what matters most. I need to be present–fully engaged with the people who matter to me.

A few weeks ago, I posted my professional development goal for 2014-2015. I’m excited about that goal, but it isn’t the most important goal I’m working on. My greatest goal, and perhaps the most challenging one for me, is to be present fully with those I love. Whether spending time with my wife, my children, my friends, my students, or my colleagues, I want to be present physically, mentally, and emotionally with them. I want to cherish our moments together.

A while back I gave notice to notifications on my phone, but somehow they’ve managed to creep back in to my life. I’m taking care of that problem today. I’ll continue to engage in online spaces. Those relationships matter to me, too. Some of my best friendships started online, but I’m going to be intentional about being present where I am—both in person and online. And I’d appreciate your holding me accountable for it, too. Time flies by. I want to make the most of each moment.

Yesterday Alex Couros shared a video of three German students surprising a homeless guy. The video really resonated with me as I watched how they chose to be present with this man. The video is worth watching.

How will you be present today?

4 Tips for Getting Started with Social Media in Class

social media in classOver this past week I’ve been asked a couple of times about my experiences using social media in class. The fact is social media is already part of our students’ daily lives. The are active in various digital spaces. While the media focuses mainly on the potential negatives of kids sharing online, there are many positive aspects to social media. It’s a fun way to find and stay connected with friends, but it’s also a way for us to learn new things, show our creativity, voice our opinions, and collaborate with others.

Many of my sixth graders already have Twitter and Instagram accounts. I know that some are on Tumblr, Facebook, and Google+, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn some are using Vine, Snapchat, Kik Messenger, WhatsApp, or Whisper. There are so many social apps and websites it’s impossible to keep up, and new ones are developing all the time. It’s not important that you or your students master a particular tool because the apps will come and go. What matters is the deeper thinking, learning, and connecting that social media affords and the dispositions it helps us develop.

Here are four suggestions to help you get started using social media in the classroom:

  1. Teach and model good citizenship. Don’t differentiate between how one acts in person and how he acts online. The same guidance should apply. Teach students how to use social media in all the positive ways. Model these things through your own use of social media and talk about it with your students. Show them how you learn through Twitter, how you express your creativity on Instagram or YouTube, how you express your opinions through blogging, and how you collaborate with others through Voxer. Most importantly, help them see how you show thoughtfulness and kindness in what you post. Set up guidelines, practice sharing, and offer grace as they make mistakes along the way. A great resource that might help as get started is Common Sense Media’s Social Media Topic Center.
  2. Connect with other teachers and classrooms. There are many ways you can do this effectively. In the past few years, we’ve connected with other classes on Edmodo during the Global Read Aloud. We’ve also Skyped with other classes to help with research projects and to learn about schools in other countries. This year, I’m considering Quadblogging to help my students develop an audience for their blogs and better connect with other students around the world.
  3. Share what’s happening in your classroom. Create a Chief Tweeting Officer role in your classroom so different students tweet the learning that happens each day. Your CTO could tweet several times throughout the class period, share a creative headline to summarize important learning, or pose questions to followers to draw in outside opinions. One idea I may try this year is adding a Chief Instagram Officer role to my class. Maybe we’ll share a photo-of-the-day complete with a caption to express our thinking and learning.
  4. Consider and talk about safety and privacy concerns. Obviously, not everything needs to be shared online. Students need to know the dangers in location-sharing apps. Talk about privacy concerns with your students. One reason I like using class accounts is that my students aren’t sharing their personal information. We identify ourselves in our posts using only initials or first names, and we always get permission before posting a photo of someone else. People have the right to not use social media if they choose and that’s okay. When I a student doesn’t want to use social media, I engage them in a conversation to learn their thoughts on the matter. Why do they want to opt out? Then, we decide together how to move on from there.

Using social media can be a positive addition to our classrooms, but it can also become a distraction if we aren’t careful. Remind students the primary goal is to deepen and share our learning. The tools shouldn’t get in the way of that. If they do, it’s time to reconsider what we’re doing or how we’re doing it.

What tips do you have for using social media in class? What resources have you found useful? What new mediums are you planning to try this year? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Yep, About Five Seconds

The Twitter BirdI like Twitter. It’s an interesting medium for connecting with people, particularly other teachers. Through my interactions on Twitter, I’ve developed some great professional connections. I’ve made important friendships there, too. In fact, some of my closest friendships started on Twitter. My current job teaching at PDS, which I love, came primarily through the connections and relationships that started on Twitter so obviously, I think it’s an important place to be, and I urge every teacher I know to start using twitter and making connections there. It’s been one of the most important tools for my professional growth and development.

But. . . Twitter is a weird medium. By limiting posts to 140 characters, Twitter makes having deep conversations difficult. So while I find Twitter chats interesting and sometimes insightful, I don’t find them deeply challenging. Of course, I’d rather sit down with a great cup of coffee and talk, anyway.

Another thing that makes Twitter weird is the follower/following mechanism. For some reason, those numbers matter to some people. If I’m honest, there are times when they matter to me, too. Then, when I really think about it, I realize that’s kind of silly. I’m there to make connections and to learn. I’m not building a brand, and I’m not interested in making a name of becoming famous. I want to be the best teacher possible for my students, and yet I still have to decide who I will and will not follow.

Recently, Doug Peterson wrote an interesting post about the process he uses in determining whether he follows someone on Twitter. Doug’s is an interesting checklist as he  mentions that one only has about five seconds to make a good impression online. I’d say five seconds is just about right. My process isn’t as well thought out as Doug’s, but I have done some thinking about what goes through my mind when it comes to following folks on Twitter:

  1. I don’t follow every person, or even every educator, that follows me. There are people who do and I think that’s great, but that doesn’t work for me. I like using my “home” stream, and I prefer that it be filled with tweets from people I somewhat know and recognize. I do follow people back, but usually it’s because they’ve engaged in dialogue with me over some idea a few times. If you want to connect with me, I’m open to the idea, but don’t expect me to follow you just because you chose to follow me.
  2. If we meet in person, I’ll usually follow you. Of course, if you don’t share periodically or what you share is of little interest to me, I’ll probably unfollow you at some point. It is what it is.
  3. If you are following me only because you want to sell me something, we might as well end this now. I’m not interested.
  4. If you act like a jerk, I’m not going to keep following you. Life is just too short.

I’m sure I have a few other guidelines, but my Pomodoro timer just sounded so I’m going to stop now. What about you? How do you decide whom you will follow online?


This is a pomodori post. My pomodori posts stem from my use of the Pomodoro Technique. I spend the first 25-minute interval writing a post and a second interval polishing, editing, formatting, tagging, and scheduling it. At the end of the second interval, the post is done.

My Homework

homeworkSo… This morning, my friend Bill tagged me in a “Homework” blog meme. I have no idea how this whole thing started, but according to Bill, “this meme has an important purpose: To give readers a look behind the digital masks that writers show outwardly to the world.” So what masks am I wearing as I share in this space? Hmm. I guess I need to spend some time reflecting on that. After all, the goal for this blog is to have an open, honest space where I share about my life and professional practice. I’m going to need to come back to this idea in a future post. For now, I have a homework assignment to complete (and papers to assess, too), and I’ve needed to update this blog anyway. (Okay, task number one is complete.)

The second task of my assignment is to share eleven random facts that readers of my blog probably don’t know about me:

1. When I was 13, my dad took our family to Los Angeles for the 1984 Summer Olympics. We were in the stadium for the women’s 3000 meter final, and I was less than 50 feet away from the spot where Zola Budd and Mary Decker had their collision.  

2. I am a total chicken when it comes to horror movies. I absolutely refuse to watch them. In fact, I’m still traumatized by the original movie versions of Carrie and A Nightmare on Elm Street.

3. I have a crush on Dame Judi and have for a long time.

4. I love teaching 6th grade, which is funny because I always wanted to teach high school seniors and then become a principal. I struggle with a tension between wanting to teach students and wanting to lead a school.

5. I start reading lots of books that I never finish. I feel a sense of shame about it. What is that all about?

6. My wife is a better reader than I am. I love to read, but she’s a voracious reader. In fact, I dream of being able to read like she does. Seriously, she’s amazing. She’s also a better teacher than I am. It’s not a competition; if it were, it wouldn’t even be close.

7. I could easily eat a box of frozen fruit popsicles every day. Every. Single. Day.

8. I prefer books, movies, or music to sports. I don’t really follow sports. I do have season tickets for University of Memphis football, but they don’t really inspire fanaticism. I occasionally enjoy watching professional tennis, and I like GolTV on nights when I cannot sleep, but I’m not “with it” when it comes to sports. Having said that, I should tell you two things. First, I read Geoff Calkins almost every day. Second, my team is in the finals of my school’s fantasy football league championship. Go team!

9. I’m getting ready to train for another marathon even though I haven’t run my first one yet. How’s that for complexity?

10. There’s a fine line between faith and doubt. I always seem to walk that line teetering from one side to the other. I wish I didn’t, but I do.

11. In another life I’m a performer.

My third task is to respond to eleven questions from Bill:

1. Grande Soy Green Tea Frappuccino with Extra Whip or House Blend Black? I’ll have the black coffee, but I’m hoping you have enough sense to serve this.

2. If you were going to write a book, what would its title be? Shut Up And Keep Spinning the Plates (Honestly, I have no idea.)

3. Rate graphic novels on a scale of 1-10, with 1 representing “useless” and 10 representing “simply amazing.” 5. I’m kind of indifferent in this debate. I’ve never seen a graphic novel turn a reluctant reader into a passionate reader, but some people may find them useful so I don’t have a problem with them.

4. What member of your digital network has had the greatest impact on your professional growth?  I cannot differentiate between my digital and non-digital network any more. I just have a network and those relationships develop in many places. I cannot name just one person either. After all, one cannot quantify learning no matter how hard he might try. Having said that, I admit the folks that immediately came my mind are Michael & Melanie Semore, John Spencer, Bill FerriterHadley Ferguson, Alice Parker, and Jill Gough.

5. How do you feel about the holidays? Stressed.

6. Rate the following movies in order from best to worst:  Christmas Vacation, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (animated version). Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story, Miracle on 34th Street (the original), How the Grinch Stole Christmas (animated version)

7. What is the best gift that you’ve ever gotten? Romans 6:23

8. If you had an extra $100 to give away to charity, who would you give it to? HopeWorks would get the first $100. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital would get the next $100.

9. What are you the proudest of? Debbie and I have been together for 9 years. We will celebrate our 9th wedding anniversary next June. I’m crazy about her and our family.

10. What was the worst trouble that you ever got into as a child? As a teenager, I told a whopper of a lie to my parents. It was a big deal and it was awful. I won’t share the details. I just won’t. It was a day I’ll never forget, but I wish I could. I did other things that were stupid and/or mischievous, but this one haunts me. Now let’s move on.

11. What was the last blog entry that you left a comment on?  What motivated you to leave a comment on that entry? I left a comment on Bill’s blog primarily because he called me out in it. Sometimes Justin Stortz’s posts resonate so deeply in me that I feel compelled to comment.

The fourth task is to create a list 11  bloggers that now have to answer eleven questions from me. Here’s my list:

  1. Stephen Davis
  2. Bob Dillon
  3. Hadley Ferguson
  4. Jill Gough
  5. Yoon Soo Lim
  6. Jennifer Orr
  7. Alice M. Parker
  8. Edna Sackson
  9. Chad Segersten
  10. Justin Stortz
  11. Wanda Terral

The fifth task is to create a list of eleven questions for the above folks to answer:

  1. If you could take a “dream” vacation, what would it be?
  2. Hollywood is casting a biopic about you. Who should be cast in the lead role?
  3. The director changed her mind and has decided to create a reality show about you instead. What should the title be?
  4. What’s your favorite book?
  5. We take a trip to Yolo, one of those fill-your-own-cup frozen yogurt shops. What all do you put in your cup?
  6. It’s a busy night at the karaoke bar. You’ve got one chance to blow away the crowd and leave your mark. What will you sing?
  7. Who or what inspires you most?
  8. What was your favorite class in college or graduate school?
  9. If you could snap your fingers and magically change one thing (only 1) about your job, what would it be?
  10. Name one important thing on your “bucket list.”
  11. What’s your favorite holiday tradition?

So tag–you guys are it.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.

Post back here with a link after you write your response. Go ahead, you have homework.

Chief Tweeting Officers

twitter in classI’m trying something new this year using Twitter in class. I’ve designated a Chief Tweeting Officer (CTO) role in my 6th grade reading class. I created a class Twitter account, @MrCsClass, a couple of years ago, but I never really did much with it. Occasionally, I used it to share things my students were learning and doing in class, but it was always from my perspective and I used it very inconsistently. I want this year to be different. I want my students to have a greater voice and I want us to share regularly. I hope our rotating CTO job will help us down that road.

Our school has a dedicated hashtag #PDSmem, and in my room have a dedicated Twitter device, too. While at ISTE 2013 this summer I received a free Surface tablet that I wanted to integrate into our learning environment. Using the Surface allows me administrative control, but gives the students the easy access they need. So far, I’m liking the way that it’s working for us.

When introducing my classes to Twitter, I gave the students a handout at the beginning of class to use for Practice Tweets (PDF). (Let me know if you’d prefer a Word document.) We talked about what kinds of things people might want to know about our learning and how we might use Twitter to connect with learners around the world. We discussed including images, hashtags, and links and the importance of adding value to others with what we share. The students had to write two or three tweets during class time while we went about our other class activities.  The handout had to be submitted back at the end of class as a “ticket out the door.” Here’s the handout I created (each space represents a character):

twitter in class

(Next time, I might have students send their tweets through a Google form, but for this first exercise I wanted them to use the hashed lines to see the number of characters available.)

I took my class rosters and have assigned students different days where they will serve as our CTO (Chief Tweeting Officer). When the CTO enters the room, he picks up the Surface tablet so he can tweet a few times during the class period. We’ve only been at it a few days, but the boys have done a good job so far. Here is a sample of some of their tweets

As I said, it’s a good start. Hopefully, as the semester goes we’ll be able to connect with some other learners and other classes. We’d love to make some global connections and develop some friendships around the world as we go.

Do your students use Twitter in class? We’d love to hear how they use it. We’d also love to connect with other middle school classes. Consider following us at http://twitter.com/MrCsClass. We’d love to hear from you.

10 Sticky Things from ISTE 2013

Gum WallI’ve sat down several times to write a reflection on my #ISTE13 experience, but so far everything has been inadequate in capturing my thoughts and feelings about my trip to San Antonio. Thanks to Amanda, Paul, Michelle, and Bob for encouraging me to get it together and share something. Amanda suggested a list of the thoughts about the experience. So, here is a list of things that have stuck with me since ISTE:

10. There’s a lot of money being made on schools. Walking through the vendor expo agitated me. I’m not against entrepreneurship or technology or tools, but something didn’t sit right with me as I saw all the stuff being peddled to educators. It made me uncomfortable. Tools are helpful, but students really need good teachers. (And teachers deserve to receive fair wages, too.) Schools should invest in good teachers before pouring funds into technology. If they don’t, they are wasting money.

9. It stinks to miss the session you most want to attend. I was early but in the wrong room, and I’m still unhappy about it. By the time I discovered my mistake and got to the right room, the session was full. The Gestapo had barred the doors and wouldn’t let me enter. Seriously. I’m not still irritated about that. Really. I’m not… #YesIAm

8. Teachers, particularly PBL teachers, are a generous bunch. I went to the PBL Birds of a Feather session and loved it. It enjoyed hearing other people’s experiences with project-based learning, and receiving some tips and ideas to further my thinking and planning. I really appreciate their willingness to share their stories and tools, too.

7. Bigger isn’t better. Yes, the conference was in San Antonio, and ISTE was definitely a Texas-sized conference (13,000+ attendees). I went to large sessions in enormous rooms surrounded by hundreds of people with gifted presenters (only when I felt I had to), but my most memorable learning happened in small groups in quiet corners through conversations. ISTE was the biggest conference I’ve ever attended. I enjoyed it, but I prefer the smaller conferences, TeachMeets, and Edcamps over the massive convention gathering.

6. Numbers cause strange things to occur. I understand our fascination with numbers, but they really mess with our heads. At ISTE, a friend asked me what I think about the idea of social media without the numbers. No Klout scores. No number of Twitter followers. No count of Facebook friends. No tally of Instagram likes. No total of blog post views. Personally, I really like the idea. After all, what do those numbers really mean? How does one accurately interpret them? And what does our fixation on those figures show about us?

At the airport on my way home, I was waiting with a friend. He’s a nice guy. He’s generous, funny, and thoughtful. He’s also a well-known educator. He’s been on Twitter for a long time and has many followers. While we waited for our flights, one of his followers identified him, approached, and asked to take a picture with him. He kindly agreed. What struck me most about the interaction was the woman never introduced herself to him. She never told him who she was, what she does, or even what her username is. She just wanted a picture with him–as if he were Bono or someone. I wonder if quantifying everything is actually making us all somewhat crazy.

5. I’d rather be friends than a PLN. Don’t get me wrong. Being a connected learner is important, and I value the network I learn with online. I’ve invested a significant amount of time into developing that network. Somehow a small number of those connections grow into true friendships–even though we may never meet in person. I’m amazed by this. At some point personal learning network no longer accurately describes these relationships, and honestly, I’d prefer a few true friends to a vast network of learning connections. Being at ISTE solidified and renewed several friendships. For this I’m thankful.

4. “Walk and talk” is my favorite learning method. Don’t get me wrong. Reading and writing is valuable me. Project-based learning is powerful. Class discussions are insightful. Simulations can drive home a point, and I still benefit from the occasional lecture, too. But I find walking and talking truly transformative. I had several walk and talk “sessions” at ISTE, and they were some of my favorite learning experiences. I’m trying to figure out how to merge more of them into my learning now that I’m home.

3. Our faiths and philosophies of life shape who we are and how we learn and teach. We don’t always talk about those things in our interactions. To do so is risky and requires transparency–an intimacy, that isn’t always comfortable. And yet, when we know these things about each other–when we share our hearts, our stories, we can connect with and learn from one another at a deeper level. I had several risky conversations while at ISTE, and I’m a better teacher and person because of them.

2. It’s good to hangout with guys. I love my colleagues at work. They are amazing teachers and incredible people. I’m blessed to teach with them and to learn from them. I cannot imagine a better group of co-workers, and yet they are almost all women. I’m the only male homeroom teacher at my school, and I am one of only two male teachers that isn’t an administrator or coach. My male colleague teaches music in a different part of the building so we don’t see each other much. It’s a strange dynamic being the only guy. (This is my first job in an elementary school.) Connecting with guy friends outside work hasn’t happened either over the past few months. At ISTE, I spent a fair amount of time just hanging out with guys. I needed it, and am thankful for the time. One of the main reasons I went to San Antonio was to meet and hangout with John. Fortunately, I also spent some quality time with Chad, Rodney, Thomas, Jeremy, Tim, Tony, Paul, Stephen, Will, Tim, Steven, and Nick. It was good to listen, to laugh, to share with them.  Now, how do I convince them to move to Memphis?

1. You can’t beat face to face. I love reading and commenting on blog posts, engaging in Twitter chats, and talking via video conferencing. They are valuable learning experiences. It’s handy to connect asynchronously with others and to learn together even though miles apart, but it doesn’t compare to being side by side or right across the table.

What about you? What stuck with you from ISTE 2013?

My 3 “Go-To” Aggregators for Professional Reading

Reading on the iPad MiniI love to read. I also love learning, and I’m pretty passionate about teaching. I love to read about teaching and learning. I’m also a little geeky so I spend a fair amount of time reading about teaching and learning online. Some might consider it work, but I find it interesting and fun. I also like to share what I’m reading and learning especially if  it might help a friend or colleague. I read a lot, and I share a lot–particularly on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. I will occasionally share things on Google+, too.

A couple of weeks ago, a colleague asked me where I find  the articles about teaching and learning that I regularly read and share. In response to her question, I explained that I rely on several aggregators to collect articles and blog posts for me, but she looked confused. So, I thought it might be helpful to explain what I mean and share my “go-to” aggregators for professional reading and learning.

What is an aggregator? Collins English Dictionary defines it as “a web application that draws together syndicated content from various online sources and displays it in a single location for the user’s convenience.”¹ In other words, an aggregator grabs articles, blogs, podcasts, or videos from around the web and puts them in one place for me, and it keeps them there until I’m ready to view them. I don’t have to scour the internet checking all my favorite sites. Aggregators bring them to me, and they don’t fill up my email inbox either.

So what aggregators do I use? Here are My 3 “Go-To Aggregators for Professional Reading:

  1. Google ReaderI know. I know. Google is planning to kill Reader this summer. It’s in its last days, and I’m still trying to decide on a replacement. I’ve tried several including Feedly, Good Noows, and NetNewsWire, but I’m leaning more toward Newsblur² or The Old Reader (TOR). My RSS reader is my first stop for professional reading. Through Google Reader and now Newsblur and TOR, I subscribe to over 220 blogs and websites. Honestly, that’s too many, but they aren’t all updated daily. If you don’t use an RSS reader, I suggest you give it a try. You can subscribe to this blog by adding http://feeds.feedburner.com/PhilipCummings to your feeds. My RSS feeds are my first source for professional reading and learning.
  2. Paper.li – I use this aggregator to pull links shared by my professional learning network on Twitter. (I primarily use Twitter as a professional tool.) Unfortunately, as a full-time classroom teacher and a father of four, I don’t have time to hangout online and read Twitter feeds all day. Paper.li allows me to create a daily newspaper that highlights items posted by my network. I don’t manage to read this aggregator every day, but I do read it when possible. (Note: This is one of the reasons I am particular about who I follow on Twitter. I don’t want too much irrelevant, uninteresting, or inappropriate material finding its way to my reading list–even if I choose to ignore it.) Paper.li also works with Facebook, Google+, RSS , and YouTube feeds. 
  3. Zite – If I’ve managed to read my way through my RSS reader and my Paper.li, my last stop is the Zite app on my iPad. In Zite I’ve identified topics that interest me. Zite identifies the content that matches my selected topics and shares them with me in a magazine-like format. Currently, my topic list includes: teaching, learning, educational technology, critical thinking, creativity, reading, literacy, and mindset. I also read articles in Zite related to running, faith, and Memphis. The more you “like” articles in Zite, the better their algorithm becomes at finding content related to your interests.

There you have it. That’s my 3 go-to aggregators for my professional reading. What about you? Do you use aggregators for professional reading and learning? If so, which ones do you use and why? I’d love to hear what tools you use.

———-

  1. aggregator. (n.d.). Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. Retrieved May 05, 2013, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/aggregator
  2. I chose to pay for a 1-year subscription to explore Newsblur.

 

Losing Google Reader

Mourning Google Reader
Photo by fallingwater123. Used with permission via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.

This past week Google announced they have decided to kill Google Reader. Ugh. I cannot adequately express how much this frustrates me. I want to kick something. I’m a huge fan and reader of blogs. I subscribe to hundreds of them through RSS and Google Reader. I spend anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes a day reading online and my first stop has always been Google Reader. I use Zite and Flipboard, too, but they are secondary to Google Reader.

When I began connecting with other educators online, I would wait until I saw them tweet about a new post before reading their blogs. I learned so much from reading and thinking about their posts. I began rethinking what it means to be a teacher and a learner in today’s world., and my philosophy of education began to shift from a perennial viewpoint to one that is progressive (constructivist/connectivist). Unfortunately, I had to wait for people to share their posts on Twitter or I had to keep checking their websites waiting for new posts. Then, someone introduced me to RSS. (I honestly don’t remember who it was, but I am extremely indebted to him.) RSS allowed me to subscribe to feeds from blogs and only have to go to one place to read them all. RSS is like having a personal newspaper of content from writers that I want to read. I mostly subscribe to educational blogs (see my abbreviated educational blogroll), but I also subscribe to content from marketing geniuses, sports pundits, favorite authors, parenting experts, professional geeks, and others. I fell in love with RSS in general and with Google Reader specifically. I have used it almost everyday for the past 4 years. Imagine my irritation at learning Google was abandoning Reader. How can this be?

I wasn’t the only one irritated either. The blogosphere erupted with negative reactions to the news and with suggestions for replacement services, too. Here is a sampling of what I found:

Additionally, you might want to check out this crowdsourced list of alternatives to Google Reader.

For now, I am auditioning three replacement RSS services. I have used Feedly before but never loved it. I tried it on my iPad when I was having tech issues with Mr. Reader (I use Feeddler Pro on my iPhone). It worked fine, but I immediately returned to Google Reader and Mr. Reader as soon as my issues resolved. I’m trying it again to see if it’ll take this time. I have also paid for a one year subscription to Newsblur and have played with it a little. It’s been slow, but I’m guessing the many people moving to it from Google have overwhelmed the servers. I’ll continue to play with it for now. My RSS feeds hold enough value to me that I am willing to pay for a quality service. I’ve already paid for a few quality iPhone and iPad apps to use with it. Finally, I am also trying Good Noos. I started playing with it on Saturday night so we’ll see. For now the verdict is still out on these, but my frustration over the loss of Google Reader is still significant.

What can we do? I doubt anything will change this. Reader was a free service, and we should have known its days were numbered when Google shuttered Adsense for Feeds last October. Feedburner’s life is probably limited, too. Regardless, in trying to feel less powerless I have signed the petition to keep Google Reader running at change.org. I also left a flower for Reader at the Google Graveyard. You can, too.

Do you use RSS to subscribe to blogs or other website content? Are you as irritated by Google’s abandoning RSS as I am? So you know, you can keep your Google data, including your Reader subscriptions, by downloading them through Google Takeout. I recommend it. Reader has been my most prized online learning tool. What is yours? Why?

My Twitter Story #mytwitterstory

I cannot believe that I am only a few weeks shy of my 3rd Twitter birthday. Or is that my “twirthday?” In 2008, I was working as the Director of Development at a local independent school. I was trying to finish my M.Ed. in school administration and supervision and looking for ways to connect with school alumni, parents, and friends. A few years earlier the school had responded rather negatively to student use of MySpace. At the time, our response had been to send out a big warning and tell parents to keep their kids away from the medium. However, by 2007,  the tide of opinion on social media had changed, and I had led the school to use Facebook as a way of building and establishing relationships for our physical and virtual community.

Angie was a friend on the school’s board. Over the course of several conversations, she convince me to also give Twitter a try. So on December 4, 2008, I joined twitter and immediately started following Angie, her sister, and a few of the people they were following. The tweets were random, usually funny, and well, pretty inane.  I gained a few followers and tried to follow most folks back if they didn’t appear too creepy, but in all honesty I never found much use for Twitter. In fact, I was not exactly sure what I should tweet or even why I should tweet. In early 2008, I was listening to the radio on the way to school and the announcer was talking about how narcissistic Twitter was. The criticism matched my experience and within a few hours I had deleted my account. I saw no value in reading what others were having for breakfast, watching on TV, or thinking about politics. Why did their posts (or mine) need amplification or my (other’s) attention? I shut down the account and quietly walked away. I’d spend my time on Facebook.

I was away from Twitter for a few months. In the meantime, Twitter grew. From February to June 2009, Twitter use exploded. People, organizations, and businesses began jumping on the Twitter bandwagon, and I started hearing talk of Twitter everywhere. It was inescapable. I started rethinking Twitter and decided maybe my problem wasn’t with Twitter but rather with how I used Twitter. How could I use it differently? I reopened my account and began to be much more selective about who I followed. I wanted to connect with other educators. Within a few days I was following some wonderful teachers from around the world–people like Monte Tatom, Clif MimsShelly Terrell, Tom Whitby, Eric Sheninger, Vicki Davis, Roger Zuiderma, Patrick Larkin, and Jason Flom. I closely watched how they used Twitter and began using it the same way. Tom and Shelly invited me to participate in #Edchat. I did and loved the conversations and added many other educators to my network. I also learned about RSS, social bookmarking, wikis, blogging, etc. Twitter was a learning goldmine!

One of my richest Twitter experiences occurred one Saturday morning. I was engaging several teachers in conversation about learning when Russ Goerend and I struck up a conversation about social bookmarking. Russ had made several videos for his own students about how to use Diigo. He kindly shared them with me and suddenly I understood the possibilities of web 2.0, networked learning, and the cloud. The conversation was career altering.

In a matter of a few weeks I had developed a good friendship with Clif Mims, attended a local Barcamp, and started a new blog. All because of what I was learning online. I quickly became addicted to Twitter and the opportunity it provided for continuous learning. My online connections introduced me to new ideas, new tools, new philosophies, and new methods, and they were always sharing–24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. I was so excited by what I was learning on Twitter that I couldn’t quit checking the feeds. (It took a while to find a better balance.)

By the spring of 2010, I had become a Twitter-evangelist. At Dr. Tatom’s suggestion I presented “The Value of a PLN” to the West Tennessee Administrators’ Technology Academy and connected with Jason Bedell to offer a Twitter for Teachers Workshop at TeachMeet Nashville. While there, I met Melissa Smith, Steven Anderson, Nancy Blair, Adam Taylor, John Carver, Shannon Miller, and Deron Durflinger. These connections have developed into real friendships and into other professional opportunities as well. My connections with Clif and Melissa led to an invitation to present at the Martin Institute’s Fall Conference last year and to our first InnovatED workshop in Memphis–both of which led to my current role teaching 6th grade reading in a 1:1 setting at PDS. Honestly, I’m amazed at how much networked learning and Twitter has reshaped my professional landscape.

I have met some incredible people, learned with some amazing educators, and developed some life-changing friendships–all through connecting with others on Twitter. In just the past few weeks, I’ve Skyped into a Visible Thinking study group in Australia, had brunch and talked connected learning with a prominent marketing/blogging guru, and had lunch to discuss project-based learning with a brilliant IDT professor–all because of connections made on Twitter.

So what about you? Do you have a Twitter story? If so, please share and make sure you tweet it with the hashtag #mytwitterstory. You can link to others’ Twitter stories from Dr. Michael Grant’s original post.

Becoming What They Need – My #TMKY11 Keynote

On Friday, I had the honor of presenting the afternoon keynote at TeachMeet Kentucky in Bowling Green. I don’t fancy myself much of a public speaker, but I do appreciate William, Allen, and Adam giving me the opportunity to share. I firmly believe the world has changed since I started teaching school in 1999, and I believe the role of the teacher is different from what it used to be. I’m not yet the teacher that my students need me to be, but I am working on it. The goal of my keynote was to share with other teachers how I’m trying to change and to invite them to join me on the journey.

I won’t replay my whole message here, bu I did want to share my slides. All images are licensed through Creative Commons and attributions are provided. I started with a visible thinking routine (Compass Points) that I learned at Project Zero just to give everyone a moment to digest the morning. Then, I shared a little of my story, my struggles, and how I’m working at “Becoming What They Need.” I’m not sure I’m doing it well, but I am trying to do it differently based on what I’m learning about, well, learning. Enjoy the slides; there are some great images. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks again to all the #TMKY11 folks. It was nice to meet ya’ll. I hope our paths cross again soon.