PLN Challenge #6: iGoogle & the PLN web

I admit that I fall into the category of iGoogle users that established a page once a long time ago and then let it fall by the wayside. Jo Hart‘s challenge #6 post gives some great reasons for starting or revitalizing an iGoogle page and using it as a resource for PLN check-ins. So, I dusted off my page and started transforming it into a PLN base camp.

To start I took a try at her first task: Draw your own PLN/PLE web and share it with us. I decided to layout a web of all the different parts of my PLN that I check in on daily or even hourly sometimes…

I realize now that I’ve left off my gmail account and I definitely check my mail quite often plus that is how I stay on top of comments on this blog. I’ve also left off this blog since so far it has been used only as a platform to write more extensively as part of the other aspects of my PLN but just like a real spider web, my PLN web is constantly changing and adjusting so different elements may come and go over time.

I used my PLN web to help reorganize my iGoogle page. Using Jo’s page as inspiration, I broke my page into 3 tabs: Home, Feeds, and PLN Live . This is really a brilliant tip as I think having a cluttered single tab is what caused me to lose interest in iGoogle in the first place.

On my “Home” tab I’ve got my Gmail and Facebook feed as well as things like the weather, date, a to-do list, and other gadgets that I might want to use for personal reasons. I’ve chosen to leave Facebook as personal only since it is a great way for me to stay in contact with my friends and family in the states.

On my “Feeds” page I’ve got my Diigo bookmarks and several different Google News filters that set up a long time ago. I think I’ll add a few more news gadgets here. I see this page as the lowest priority and will probably check in here last or when I’ve got some extra time on my hands.

My “PLN Live” page is looking pretty sparse with just the Twitter gadget and the Google Reader gadget. This is where iGoogle gets frustrating for me. First: Google Reader. I’ve become used to Feedly and I really enjoy how pleasing-to-the-eye the reader’s layout is in comparison to the boring old Google Reader. Actually, Feedly feeds off of Google Reader so my blogs are still going there but I use Feedly as my base to check in on new updates. I’ll have to search around the gadgets or dig deeper into using the Reader to see if I can find something that I like as much for use in iGoogle. Next, several of the places I check on a daily basis can’t be fed into iGoogle, wikispaces, for example. And, lastly, I like to follow several hashtags on Twitter and Tweetdeck just seems to work the best for organizing multiple streams.

Here is my Feedly homepage, isn’t it nice?

I’d like to continue exploring for the next 3 weeks to see if I can make iGoogle a realistic PLN home since having all the threads of my web coming together in one location would be really ideal. I wonder how Google+ would fit into all of this? I haven’t had a chance to explore it yet but I wonder if it will replace iGoogle for a home base, any thoughts? Any more tips on gadgets that bring more of your PLE into iGoogle?

Posted in PLN Challenge | 5 Comments

New Teacher Boot Camp Week #2

I started in on Week #2: VoiceThread a little early since I’ll be gone out of town until the end of the week. I am really looking forward to being close to the mountains and sleeping outside every night but I am a little bummed to be out of sync with everyone over at #ntbootcamp and missing out on the #ntchat on Twitter. Nevertheless, I am so excited with what I have learned so far about VoiceThread and I can’t wait to see and hear what is waiting for me when I get back.

VoiceThread has a lot of potential for me. I am always looking for creative ways to get my students to actually talk in English. Sure, I can get them to do popcorn activities or play games but they have the most language growth when they can get creative and when they can relate it to something with a more personal connection as well as when English goes beyond the walls of our classroom.

Click on the photo to listen to my sample VoiceThread!

Some ideas I have so far are:

  • First thing I’m going to do in the fall is upload all the pages from a book we made in my 2nd grade group last year. We made our own version of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Eric Carle. The students illustrated the pages and we rewrote the text to go with each of their animal and color choices. The finished project looks great but I’ve always had it in the back of my mind to record the students reading the book et, voila, VoiceThread! After uploading all the pages, each student can read their page in the slide show and then we can invite others to comment on our book! We can also share it on the English blog for parents and our friends globally to enjoy. Plus, revisiting the book will be a great way to start off the school year in September.
  • As part of flattening our classroom walls, I can have the students take photos and then create a VoiceThread to share as part of the #globalclassroom or any other opportunity we might have to share.
  • I could create fun activities that I set up for small groups or pairs to do in the class: “I spy” or fun with vocab or asking questions. For example, I could show a photo of pizza and ask, “Do you like pizza?” and each student could record their response being as detailed as they wanted. This would be great for many different types of students. I could put a different photo/question on each computer and they could rotate through as groups answering the questions. After I could put it on the blog so they can hear all the responses and share with their parents and our friends around the world!

Have you tried VoiceThread yet? If not, check out the video on the #ntbootcamp wiki and give it a try. I’d love to hear about your experiences!

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Blogging from the bus about PLN Challenge #5

I’ll start by warning you that I am writing this on a bus. I’ve locked up our apartment and I am on my way to my in-laws to start the first leg of our summer adventures. We head out early tomorrow morning to camp in the Jura mountains and we are very excited.

I warn you about the bus because this is my first time writing a post on my phone. I’ve downloaded the WordPress app and so far it seems pretty straightforward. I’m excited to see if I can complete this post before the end of my trip since that possibility really helps in the time management piece we talked about in challenge #4. (Hmm… can’t link to that from the bus.)

Working on my blog from the bus also ties in well with challenge #5 about blogging. I really appreciated that post and it helped me define even further why I want to bring blogging back into my life. I used to blog as an expatriate and through my blog I met most of the people who are my close friends in France. It started out as a PLN (though I hadn’t heard of that term at the time) and eventually moved from online to real life. After I had two small children at home and my social/cultural circle was well established, it seemed like too much of a burden and even unnecessary to keep a blog so I completely stopped writing.

Challenge #5 brings up some great points about why blogging can be an important tool for reflection, connection, and organization. These were the main reasons I decided to blog when I first moved to France and it is exactly why I feel it is a useful thing to do now. It will definitely help meet a need in my life.

My trip is almost over and I didn’t have time to write down all my thoughts or share any tips from my experiences. That is the one thing that frustrates me about blogging…it takes me a long time to write a post. Perhaps with more commitment and practice I’ll speed up? I’ll write more about challenges #5 and #6 when we get back in a few days. In the meantime, any tips to offer on organizing thoughts or ideas for a blog post? Do you think there are ways to be time efficient in writing?

I’ve arrived!


I switched to a train halfway through this blog post…

Posted in PLN Challenge | 5 Comments

New Teacher Boot Camp Week #1

We’re on Week 1: Wordle of the #ntbootcamp, part of Edutopia’s summer professional development series, and I’m putting together my plan to use Wordle at the beginning of the school year. I’ve been mulling it over in the back of my mind for a few days and tonight I found the time to try making my own word cloud and to write down some of my initial ideas. Click on my Wordle to check it out! I’d love your thoughts, feedback, and ideas!

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PLN Challenge # 4: Making Time

Last week I began the process of building my PLN and then promptly got pulled back into “real life” with all the activity of the last week of school. I feel torn between focusing on the now and thinking about all the things I want to do next year including how I will approach my own learning this summer. This time dilemma is two-fold as I have always struggled with being in the moment vs. future thoughts and while it should be easier in the summer, finding time to work on my PLN alongside my class planning and family life is one of my big challenges these days. I enjoyed reading Sarah Poling’s post about making time and I feel that so far my journey has followed a similar path to Sarah’s. A few things that stood out to me from her post were:

15 minutes: I am a big fan of the 15 min. technique. I actually first learned about this concept from The FlyLady who uses this approach to help people develop routines and habits for maintaining the organization and cleanliness of their homes. (Her scope is broader than housecleaning but I haven’t explored much more personally.) Doing something for 15 minutes works very well for me and I enjoy looking at my days in small increments of time. Often I am surprised because some tasks which seem time consuming are magically done in less than 15 min. and at other times, when I am not feeling so motivated, I find that giving myself permission to stop after 15 minutes is the push I needed to just get the work done. My PLN 15 minutes (or more) seem to be happening mostly in the evenings after the kids are in bed but next year I’d like to fit it in to my midday break at school.

Focus using own learning styles and preferences: I want to try it all – read every website, test every app, watch every video, participate in every challenge – but this often results in a quick crash and burn for me. I appreciate her tip to take it slow, choose some goals, and approach my learning with my own learning styles and preferences in mind. So far, I’ve really enjoyed Twitter and the live chats on Twitter. (#elemchat #eltchat) I’ve decided I’d really like to focus my learning on using blogs and other tech tools in my classes next year, specifically with my 9 to 10 year olds so, I’ve started following a few blogs that seem to be oriented towards this type of learning with this age group. Thanks to Sheri Edwards, I’ve started saving bookmarks with Diigo and I really appreciate how quick and easy it is to use. The next step for me is to write down some of my goals for the summer (testing out different websites, collecting lesson ideas, developing my own skills, etc.) and laying out a game plan.

Don’t force it: I think this might become a mantra for me! It is summer after all and I have two adorable children, lots of adventures planned here and there, plus my other interests such as running that require my energy and attention too. It is too easy for me to get absorbed in “the media cloud” and I need to remind myself to step back. I do have goals and a time frame in mind but it doesn’t all have to be done by next week or even the end of the summer.

As I said above, the next step for me is real goal development for the following few months and the upcoming school year including a loose timeframe of how I want to meet these goals but first I’m off to pack up my classroom for the summer!

Do you have goals and a game plan for the next few months? How do you organize your time on a daily or longer term basis?

Also, I’d love to know how you keep track of blogs. Do you use Google Reader or something similar? How do you stay alert to new posts?

Posted in PLN, PLN Challenge | 8 Comments

PLN Challenge #’s 1, 2, & 3

I’ve been craving professional development. I guess this craving was fueled by my recent entry into the world of running. I find running incredibly motivating because 1) it challenges me, 2) it provides a continually growing list of new goals to reach, and 3) it has an encouraging and fun community. I would lie awake at night and think about running. I would fill my iPod with running podcasts. I was excited to share my experiences with those around me. And I realized that when I’ve been active in growing professionally I’ve also hit this moment of flow and real enjoyment.

I see a PLN as providing exactly the same benefits for me as running. Growing as a teacher means pushing yourself to stay active and on top of opportunities that allow you to learn new things. It takes time and commitment but, exactly like running, when it is something you enjoy it is easy to find the time and commitment becomes second nature. Still, the challenge is there because it does take work to get the ball rolling and to find ways to fit it into our lives amongst all the other priorities.

Being part of a PLN provides an incredible amount of inspiration. There is a lot of information being shared. So much information that I can’t even begin to keep track. Everything from articles, videos, websites, chats, conferences, books, webinars, tweets, podcasts, hash tags and so much more. And in amongst all this information are ideas. New things to try with your students such as blogs, movies, crafts, games as well as new ways to talk to students, involve students, understand, and inspire them.

There are so many people doing amazing things in their classes. Pushing themselves to try new things, to go with their instincts, and really connect with their students. And, at the same time, many of these people are also sharing their experience and expertise with the rest of us. Participating in an online community allows you to connect with great minds all over the world and in real time. Plus, in my very short time participating in a PLN, I’ve found them to be some of the nicest and most supportive people. A lot of them are pretty funny, too, and I’ve been caught laughing out loud at my computer screen a few times.

So, What do I hope to learn more about with respect to my PLN in the coming weeks?

I shared the same hopes as many people in the comments on PLN Challenge #2.

Barbara D’Elia says:

What I want to know is, well, a few things:

1) What is the best free stuff I can find and use to support making the online teaching environment come alive and connect our students. Not bells and whistles, but enlivenment and education.

2)How can I best organize the tools I come across? Would an eportfolio be the ticket, or a site about sites, or an ongoing blog with organized links, or…?

Yes, me too! I need a lot of help with organization. Not only in my digital world but also in my classroom. And I too want to use the resources available to us to enhance the learning experiences of my students and I think being part of a PLN will provide lots of ideas and tools for both these challenges.

Syd (@EduNut)

How do some of the online edu-rock-stars DO the amazing things they do (Tweeting, blogging, meeting-up, webinar-ing, conference-attending, book-writing, curating, etc.)while maintaining balance in their personal lives?

This is a big one for me. I am coming late to the PLN scene too so I am quite impressed at how some people really seem to be doing it all and surviving! I have young children and as they grow things definitely get easier and easier but I still struggle with finding time for it all.

And Tech Teacher 803 sums it up well:

Tech Teacher 803 says:

Hi, I am looking for ways to share what I know with others. I also am looking for ways to improve my teaching skills.

I, too, want to share my experiences. I want to hear the experiences of others and I want to go grow and learn as part of a community while improving my teaching skills.

So, my desire for professional development is what led me to start working on developing my PLN. I stumbled on the PLN Challenge at just the right time and I look forward to learning with and from all of you! Already I’ve tracked down podcasts, reactivated my Twitter account (PLN Challenge #3), and jumped in on webinars at the last minute and it has only been a little over a week. Go PLN!


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