Desire vs. Obligation

What’s your most memorable learning experience? Is it something from a long time ago or did it happen more recently? Were you in a traditional setting like a classroom or at a conference? Were you at an edcamp?

Next, think about what made it memorable. What are the key ingredients that brought it all together to make it a rock solid learning experience? Do you think of things like:

physical environment
lead presenter(s)

Or is there something else that really gave it that “umph”?

Now, did you have a role in making it a memorable learning experience? Was it time, energy, or resources that you put in that made it significantly better?

Were you there out of obligation or out of a genuine desire to be there?

If you have a true desire to learn something I think it’s safe to say our personal investment is much higher rather than, say, we had it prescribed to us. Is it possible to garner genuine buy-in from teachers or from our students when we tell them exactly what they’ll learn about and when they’ll learn about it?

Do we want our students love of learning born out of desire or do we just keep throwing content and hoping it sticks? How do we build a culture of curiosity among our adult and student learners alike?

The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential… these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.

Why do we keep teaching in ways we, ourselves, would never want to learn?

Lots of questions to think about.

We Can’t Afford Not To!

I taught a graduate class for some teachers from my district last weekend. It’s one of the ways our district offers professional development to our teachers by partnering with a local university. The teachers in my class were coming to learn about tools for connecting, communicating, and collaborating inside and outside of their classrooms. Some of these teachers had taken my classes before, but they had not used many (if any at all) of the tools and ideas we were going to be exploring. I started class very excited about the opportunities that await them as they use these tools in their classrooms.

One moment in particular on Saturday the teachers really saw the potential to connect their classrooms to virtually anywhere in the world, and that was when we talked about Skype. I had my good friend Steven Anderson Skype into our class (on a Saturday morning) from North Carolina. Steve and I did a bit of virtual team teaching for about 15 minutes on the potential that Skype has to take our students pretty much anywhere in the world. None of the conversation focused on how to use the Skype software itself. We solely focused on its instructional use to connect our students to other classrooms, experts, and authors around the world. Talk about authentic learning experiences! If you didn’t know, Skype now has an entire section of their website devoted to helping teachers connect with other teachers and have students work collaboratively work on various projects. I really love it when a big company like Skype recognizes the need to put a big focus on education. Major hat tip to Skype for doing this and I’m excited to see it grow.

My teachers were very excited at the thought of being able to Skype an author into their classroom, become pen pals with a class in another country, or virtually take their students to a science or history museum. All for the small investment of installing a free piece of software and purchasing a webcam. Many of these teachers already had a webcam in their classroom but were only using it as a document camera! I don’t consider that any fault of theirs. It made me wish I had worked with teachers more widespread much sooner (we do have some teachers here and there already using Skype).

My daughter is in kindergarten and already understands the power of Skype. See, one of her classmates has been very sick this year and has had to miss a lot of school due to treatments and hospital stays. My daughter’s teacher has kept the class connected with this student via Skype regularly throughout the school year. This way the student does not feel like they’re missing out (as much) nor do the students have to wonder how their classmate is doing when physically absent from school. One time they even got to Skype while the student was in the hospital and learned about the various tubes and machines they saw next to the hospital bed. My daughter talks about it all the time and gives updates at home about their Skype visits. Pretty heartwarming and pretty powerful huh? I love that her teacher has made this a priority all during the school year.

I was recently talking to another good friend of mine, Shannon Miller, who is a pro at connecting her students to other classrooms, professionals, and generally awesome people all over the globe. She recently even won a  Shorty award because she’s so good at this! Shannon and I were talking about how it exciting it is to see kids excited about this. We also talked about how very important it is for schools to be doing this. Why aren’t we doing this at school more? Is it really that difficult to pull off? Free software, a webcam, and an internet connection is all we’re talking about. Of course there’s a time factor upfront for the teacher to make the connection and get it scheduled and everything organized that goes with it, but the payoffs are so well worth it don’t you think? Kids getting to learn about dinosaurs from an archeologist who is actually at the dig site, or students getting to ask questions to an author whose book they just finished reading. That’s powerful stuff folks!

I invite for you to read another post written recently by my friend Eric Sheninger, Principal of New Milford High School in New Milford, New Jersey that is titled Learning Like Never Before. Skype is just one of many tools that allows our students to learn like never before. If you’re already doing this, please don’t forget to share with as many as you can. We truly can’t afford to not do this for our kids. I want to share with more teachers about making meaningful connections across our districts, states, and countries.

Some other Skype resources you’ll want to check out:

Skype in the Classroom LiveBinder

Skype Call = Learning Call

Educators Move Beyond the Hype Over Skype

Twitter and Educational Chats

Thanks to Aurora Meyer for inviting me to write this guest post for the MSTA blog!

Have you just begun your PLN (Personal Learning Network)? Are you new to Twitter? There’s a lot of conversation, collaboration, and sharing happening in 140 characters or less. It can be difficult to figure out where to start, and feel somewhat overwhelming. Sometimes it can feel a bit like drinking out of a firehose. I want to share with you some Twitter tips, a little bit about #EdChat, and also ways to find excellent subject specific conversations happening on Twitter.

Twitter Tips

So, you’re all signed up for Twitter. Now what? Well, first you need to take care of the basics. Get your profile created, including a picture of yourself! I promise it’ll be OK. 🙂 We want to be able to put a face with the tweets. If you have a blog or classroom website, share the link to it (there’s a spot for this in your profile settings too). Lastly, fill out your bio. Share with us what you teach, why you’re here, etc. These are all necessary basics in building your personal learning network.

So after you have your Twitter account all ready to go, what’s the best way to start building your network? Well you have to start following people. That means you visit their Twitter page and click the Follow button. The address to my Twitter page is You can look at who I follow and you can in turn follow some of those same people, look at who they follow, etc. and before you know it you’ve got a nice little stream of information, resources, and conversation coming across your tweetstream. You can pick how many people you want to follow. Those teachers will be notified that you have started following them and they can follow you right back if they choose. This should give you a nice start to those that you are following and those that are following you.

Another great place to find other teachers to follow is the Twitter 4 Teachers wiki. It was created by my fellow Missouri educator Gina Hartman. What’s great about this wiki is that you can find teachers in a specific subject area to connect with. Are you a math teacher? There’s a whole page of them. Science teacher? Same thing. I don’t think there’s a curricular area that’s not represented there. Be sure to spend some time there finding more great educators to connect with.

Once some have started following you you’re ready to jump into the conversation. Watch the tweets of those that you’re following, see what they’re sharing and the kinds of conversations they’re having. If you want to jump in, click Reply to one of their tweets! It’ll automatically throw the “@” symbol and their Twitter name in the tweet box and you can begin typing your reply. To see their reply to you, you have to check what’s called your “Mentions”. This is where you can see anyone that has mentioned you in a tweet whether it was a reply to something you said or just mentioning you for some other reason. If you’re on the Twitter website just click on Mentions in the right column. If you’re using a third-party program like Tweetdeck (free), you can organize your Twitter stream into columns and this is one of the standard columns you will see. I would highly recommend using Tweetdeck once you’re comfortable with using You’ll have a much better experience.

Twitter Chats

Conversations and sharing can happen on Twitter any time. There are, however, some scheduled education related chats that happen at specific days and times either weekly or bi-weekly. One of the most popular ones is called #EdChat. Anyone that is participating in edchat will include the edchat hashtag (keyword) in their tweets. That way, anyone following this keyword can see your tweets even if they aren’t following you. If you’re using Tweetdeck you can set up an edchat column where you can follow anyone tweeting with the edchat hashtag. A hashtag (keyword) can be made out of any term by putting the “#” symbol in front of the word. It doesn’t matter where in your tweet the hashtag is placed. I typically place it after my thought when I’m participating in edchat. Edchat is a weekly chat that happens every Tuesday at two different times. There is a noon edchat and a 7pm edchat (EST). Each time has a different topic. There is a poll that is tweeted out every Sunday afternoon for everyone to vote on the edchat topic each week. The topic with the most votes is the 7pm topic and the 2nd most votes is the noon topic.

Edchat can feel pretty fast and furious. Kind of like trying to get a drink from a firehose. 🙂 It’s best to pick one or two individuals to engage with during edchat. There’s no way you can talk to everyone. It’s like being at a big party. Lots of conversations happening around the main topic and it’s impossible to get to everyone.

If edchat isn’t for you, there are lots of other education related chats happening every week on Twitter. My friend Jerry Blumengarten, a retired NYC teacher now living in Florida, has an awesome website of teacher resources that can be found at His Twitter page can be found here. This man has an amazing wealth of knowledge to share about education. You definitely need to follow him. His website has resources for everything. When I say everything, I mean everything! He’s awesome! One of those pages that Jerry maintains is a schedule of all the educational chats happening on Twitter. The page can be found here and lists the day, time, and hashtag for each of these chats. Math teachers? Give #mathchat a try. New teachers? Be sure to join in on #ntchat each week. Special Education teachers? Be sure to check out #spedchat. That’s a very small sample of the other types of education chats happening on Twitter. There are even chats for principals and administrators such as Connected Principals chat (#cpchat).

These chats are all moderated by some outstanding educators. The person(s) moderating the chat will always identify themselves at the start of the chat time. Be sure to reply to them and say hello and let them know you’re joining in! I’m one of the moderators for the 7pm EST edchat along with my friend Mary Beth Hertz so be sure to say hello to us if you join in the Tuesday evening edchat!

While Twitter is an essential PLN tool for me personally, I know it’s not the only PLN tool. Twitter and other forms of social media are giving teachers new ways to participate in self-guided professional development. They’re networking, collaborating, and connecting with other teachers in a way that wasn’t around several years ago. It’s an exciting time to see how this evolves and gives our profession a new level of connectivity to bring to our districts, schools, and classrooms together.

What educational chats are you participating in? How have they benefited you? Please leave a comment and share your story.