Book Review: Screenwise by Devorah Heitner (@DevorahHeitner)

Devorah HeitnerLet’s face it. Screens and devices are everywhere. At least they are in my home and my classroom. Between our 1:1 classrooms and the smartphones, tablets, laptops, desktops, and TVs we have at home, we are continuously plugged into the outside world. The connection to technology isn’t all bad, but it isn’t all good either.

As a parent, I struggle with how much screen time to allow my kids and with how much supervision and monitoring of their devices they need. I’ve not allowed certain video games in my house, and we have rules that limit the amount of time our kids can watch TV and play video games during the school week. We also require devices to be brought downstairs each night to be charged and so that the kids hopefully will get some sleep.

My wife and I have tried to be intentional in raising our children and teaching them to use technology wisely, but we still feel overwhelmed by many of the challenges of raising kids in an always-plugged-in world especially when we see other parents taking different approaches with our kids’ peers. After all, does our preteen need a smartphone? What if all of his friends have one? And how do we keep our nine-year-old safe when she’s playing games online? How do we teach our kids the relational skills they need to be successful adults when they are constantly on a device? And, how do we encourage our teenagers to use technology to create and learn and not mainly to consume and play?

After reading Devorah Heitner’s book Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World, I told my wife I wish I’d had the book several years ago. Heitner is the founder of Raising Digital Natives, a resource for parents and schools wanting to help children flourish in a digitally connected world. Heitner wants families to make technology work in whatever way matches our personal philosophies. I didn’t get the sense that she has a personal agenda about technology and the book will be useful for parents who embrace technology and those who distrust it. However, Heitner does express a strong belief in the potential of technology for our kids. While acknowledging and addressing the challenges of growing up in the digital age as shared with her through interviews with students, Heitner offers thoughtful and practical ways parents can mentor their children to have the relational and time management skills needed to become responsible digital citizens. She also does a great job of helping adults see how many of the problems kids face today are similar to those of earlier generations, but the use of today’s technology means these problems leave a lasting digital trail and have a greater chance of being amplified.

Over the course of the book, Heitner empowers parents to mentor their children in using technology appropriately. First, she provides a glimpse into some of the ways in which our children may be tech savvy but still lack wisdom. Then, Heitner offers a way for parents to assess our digital literacy and provides great questions to ask our children to deepen our understanding. She also encourages us to become “tech-positive parents” who embrace the opportunities for creativity, collaboration, and connection that technology allows. Becoming a technology mentor to our children is no small task, and I appreciate Heitner’s reminder that “empathy is the app” that helps us lead our children in ways that they will embrace our mentorship. Additionally, Heitner also provides chapters on how the digital age affects family life, friendship and dating, and school life for our kids.

Screenwise is a valuable tool for parents’ and educators’ who want to engage with young people and help them navigate using technology. I  liked the questions Heitner provides throughout each chapter. They made me reconsider my way approach to using social media and what I share about my kids. While I haven’t used them yet, each chapter also provided some excellent conversation starters to get kids talking and thinking about how they use technology. In fact, the book has so much useful information that I feel I should read it again and wouldn’t mind reading it together with a few other parents, as well.

Raising kids in this digital world is no easy task, and like it or not, the technology isn’t going to go away. It’s become a part of how we connect and communicate with each other both as adults and as teenagers. Heitner’s book is an excellent resource on the difficulties today’s parents meet when it comes to our children’s use of social media and digital tools. I recommend Screenwise to parents and educators needing a resource on ways to discuss these issues with their kids or wanting advice on guiding them into becoming good digital citizens.

This review was originally written for SAIS and can be found on their website. It has been slightly edited from the original because I can’t leave “well enough” alone.

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?

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.

Giving Notice to Notifications

notificationsA few weeks ago, Debbie and I went with our family (including two sets of grandparents) on a Disney cruise to Alaska. Additionally, we spent a few extra days enjoying Vancouver, British Columbia. Our trip was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, and to say I enjoyed it would be an incredible understatement.

While traveling, I decided to take a break from social media, my iPhone, and my RSS subscriptions. I turned off all notifications including my email. (I will confess I did check messages a couple of times during the trip just to make sure I didn’t miss anything time sensitive, but my phone hardly if ever chimed.) We returned a week ago. I dipped my toe back into everything briefly when we first got home, but then I retreated again. I haven’t turned the notifications back on, and I’m thinking I might not do it ever. I don’t want my email and subscriptions being pushed to me every fifteen minutes any more. I want to leave my devices in another room and continue to forget about them for a few more days. I want to ride bikes around the park some more with Eric and Sam. I want to play more soccer with Andrew. (We dominated the sports deck one evening.) I want to watch more Pixar movies and talk about princesses with Evelyn. I want to take more holding-hands-and daydreaming walks with Debbie. Yes, I’m still clinging to my vacation, but maybe something has changed, too.

I appreciate technology. I find it immensely useful. I’m grateful for the connections I’ve made through social media and the opportunity to read and learn with people all over the world. It’s important and it’s worthwhile to be able to get access to information. I’m grateful for my iPhone, for Twitter, and for RSS feeds, but I’ve allowed the notifications too much power and control over me. I’ve become a dog salivating at the sound of the bell, but I’ve decided to stop. So, I’m giving notice to notifications. I’m taking charge again. If you need me, feel free to call, text, email, tweet or Facebook me. I’ll get back to you, it just may not be right away…

You may guess from this post that I’m way behind in my reading for the month of July, and you’d be right. I’ll get around to reading and catching up, but I think Im going to postpone my July “Supremes” post and combine it with August. Thanks for reading.

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?

Running Thoughts: Set ‘Em Free

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Writing time limit: 30 minutes

This morning I ran 7.28 miles including my warm up and cool down in 1:25:00. Not bad.

As I reached my one-mile marker this morning I noticed several kids gathering at the bus stop. It was about 5:30 AM. This is way too early to have kids waiting at the bus stop, or to even be up and moving. Don’t they know that only us old people are up that early? Then, it occurred to me that today is August 6 and the first day of school. Ugh. I’m sorry, but August 6 is way too early for starting school, too. Somebody needs to rethink this.

As I continued my run, I got to thinking about all the changes that will be happening with schools in our area this year. Our public schools are in the middle of a transition. You can read all about it online, but basically, we are transitioning from two school districts (city & suburban) to one unified school district next year. At the same time the suburbs have held a referendum and voted on each opening up their own independent school districts. I’ve read a ton of articles and opinions on this over the past two years, and I have very mixed feelings about it. Without getting too much into my feelings, let me just say that I like the idea of our community being all in this together. At the same time, I’m not a believer in the idea that bigger is better, and a big district is problematic on many levels. Either way, we have the opportunity to create something new, and as I ran, I asked myself what like to see happen in the 2.0 school system(s). The following are a few of the things I’d consider:

  • Free everyone from the testing nightmare. I understand and appreciate the need for accountability. I do. But our obsession with standardized testing has not improved our schools. In fact, it’s created a teaching to the test culture that is bad for everyone. Principals, teachers, students, and parents have become so obsessed with testing that we have let it define our communities and our kids. It’s BAD.
  • Free the curriculum. Let’s make learning more about real life. Let’s stop thinking so much about all we have to cover and think more about all we can become. Let’s individualize learning rather than standardizing instruction. Let’s encourage students to discover their passions. Let’s teach them how to think critically and creatively, then let them explore the world around them and consider ways that they might actually make it better.
  • Free the devices. Get the computers, laptops, and cell phones in the hands of the kids. Stop shoving everything in computer labs, and let kids start using their own personal devices for learning. Stop blocking everything on the internet that is at all social. Show kids the potential the devices have as tools for learning and creating and turn them loose to do both. You want creative innovating kids. Let them create and innovate.
  • Free the professional development. I know teachers sometimes need in-service, but we also need the freedom to pursue learning that interests us and that directly relates to our teaching. Give us ownership of our professional growth and give us the time and freedom to pursue it. Treat us as professional learners and educators.
  • Free the time. Change the schedules. Give more open space in the day for us to reflect or to get deep into a project without having  to stop every forty-five minutes and switch classes or move on to the next thing. I understand the need for structure and the desire to provide a broad, liberal arts curriculum. However, if you want students and teachers to think deeply and tackle complex problems and issues, we need time, lots of time.

I have more things I’d like to set free in schools, but unfortunately, I have run out of time for this post. What about you? What do you want to set free in schools? Please leave a comment. I always enjoy the conversation.

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.