Awesome Empowerment

First, a great story to share about an email I got from a couple of kindergarten teachers this morning. They had emailed me to share exciting news. But first some back story. I have partnered with these teachers many times over the last few years to help them with various instructional technology topics. Last year, they had found a video on YouTube that was produced by another kindergarten class (not in our district) on the life cycle of a butterfly. They decided they’d like to re-create this project for teaching this important science topic. I helped with the “talent” (kindergartners), camera work, and worked with them as they learned the editing and finalizing of the video. I was also lucky to get to attend the video’s premiere at a parent night. The teachers and their students did a fantastic job with their production of “The Butterfly Life Cycle – Kindergarten Style”.

Now back to their email they sent me earlier this week. The subject of their email was “Look what we did!”. When they say “we” I knew they meant that in reference to their students, not them. They had attached the video of this year’s version of “The Butterfly Life Cycle – Kindergarten Style”. I watched the video while smiling ear to ear the entire time. The students did a fantastic job acting out all the different stages of the butterfly life cycle (how can you not smile at them?!?) and the teachers did all the planning, preparation, and video production work on their own this year. I am really proud of them and told them how lucky their students are!

Being an Instructional Technologist, I always strive to empower teachers, not enable them. What I mean by that is, it doesn’t matter if it’s one teacher or a group of teachers; no matter if it’s the first time they’re learning about a topic or it’s part of the continual support I offer, I will not “do it for you”. By enabling, or making it easy, doesn’t empower someone to step out of their comfort zone and learn something new.  I will teach, re-teach, and always be there for support for any teacher that wants it; without fail. I always make sure teachers know this. Teachers need to know this. Our students need to know this. My goal is to equip with the necessary tools, resources, and knowledge base to increase comfort-level and success rate.  Doesn’t project-based, authentic learning lend itself nicely to empowerment? Shouldn’t we want this for all learners, regardless of age?

“If you can imagine it, you can achieve it; if you can dream it, you can become it.”–William Arthur Ward

Content Curation with PearlTrees

Note: This post is also cross-posted over at the EasyBib blog

I’ve written and spoken before about the essential skill (a literacy according to Howard Rheingold) of students not only being able to collect content from their network(s), but to curate what’s collected. Just like a museum curator pours over artifacts to find the very best to display, we should also do the same not just for our own professional resources, but see it as an obligation to model it for our students.

I came across a new resource recently (I believe the hat tip goes to Alec Couros for this find) called Pearltrees. After you sign up for your account, you can start building your own Pearltrees. Pearltrees are made up of “pearls”, or sites you want to curate into particular the Pearltrees (topics) you’ve created.  Give this 40 second video a watch from the PearlTrees site called “Why Pearltrees?”

Once you’ve signed up for your account, you will already have your “root” Pearltree created for you with your username. You will also see a couple of Pearltrees waiting for you. One is called Getting Started and another is called Pearltree Videos. You can see them in my main Pearltree page here.

You will also see there that I have created a Pearltree called Digital Citizenship. I added “pearls” to the Digital Citizenship Pearltree by using the “Pearler” tool, which is a browser extension that’s available for both Google Chrome and Firefox. When I came to a site I wanted to add to a Pearltree, I clicked the Pearltree extension (I was using Chrome) clicked on the Pearltree I wanted to add it to, and it was instantly there. Easy enough.

As you noticed above you can share links to specific Pearltrees in your account and also embed any Pearltree you’d like on your own website, blog, LMS, etc. It’s also easy to share directly to Twitter and Facebook.

I also like the emphasis on sharing of your Pearltrees. They call themselves a social curation community.  You can even give it a try by importing your Delicious bookmarks (I’m a Diigo user so I did not try this feature). So not only does this site give you an easy way to curate great content, but it also recognizes the importance of being social about it by making Pearltrees easy to share and they can also be built collaboratively.

Here’s a few of the more important features that I believe Pearltrees offers:

1. Easy to use interface

2. The browser extension works nicely for quickly adding content to different Pearltrees

3. They are easy to share

4. Pearltrees can be created collaboratively

5. It’s a web-based application, allowing students to access content from anywhere, including the free iPad app

Think of Pearltrees as a content curation meets concept mapping tool. I had a great time learning how to use it and I think it would be great for students as they curate content they need for various classes. I look forward to watching it improve. Have fun!

Looking Back to Move Forward

“I don’t need to see where I’m going…….I just need to know where I’ve been!”

Name the movie. I’ll give you some wait time….if you said Cars good job! More specifically that line came from Mater the tow truck as he demonstrated his mad backwards driving skills to his buddy Lightning.

As I caught a glimpse of the Daytona 500 tonight, this reminded me of the brainstorm I had for this post. My good friend Steven Anderson will be glad to hear I had a Nascar event on the TV. Anyways, let’s get on with it.

We always talk about “moving forward” and “looking to the future” when conversations arise about making school better. You can take it a step more specific by talking about what we’re having students do with technology, design of learning spaces, or anything really that’s related to education. It is important to do that. Long term goal setting and planning is important work.  Dreaming big is really fun too and can really help getting some creative ideas stirred up.  We should always Keep Moving Forward (coincidentally enough I quoted another Disney movie in that post 🙂 ).

While we do need to have somewhat of an idea where we’re headed, don’t forget to look back on what we’ve done.  Don’t forget to celebrate those things. Teachers some times say to me, “But I only tried one new tech tool in my classroom this year. But I planned these four things and I only did two of them.” So what?!? You achieved something! Look back on this and celebrate where you were when you started and pat yourself on the back for where you are now. Talk with your students about it. Get their feedback! That’s growth! You worked to make learning better for your students! Knowing where we’ve been can be equally as important as having a vision of where we want to go.

I’m meeting with some teachers this coming Friday to continue work they’re doing with various (yes they have choices) ways to use technology to make learning better for students. The first thing we’re doing though, is looking back at their “action plans” they began at the beginning of the school year. To look at what they set out to do, what they’ve accomplished, reflect on its impact in their classrooms, refine as needed, and keep plugging along to accomplish more between now and the end of the year.

Making time to look back, can often be the best plan for help with moving forward.

I welcome your comments. Thank you for reading.

photo credit: Avard Woolaver via photopin cc