Creating A Grassroots PLN at your School

Recently I have been providing some of my colleagues with web 2.0 resources for their classrooms. They ask, “this is great, where did you find it?” I casually say, “well in my free time (meaning all day) I am quite the avid twit.” A light laugh ensues.

In a new charter school that is struggling with performance standards and catching up students who have been left behind by urban public school systems, it is hard to thread technology into the conversation. However, in the next few weeks I am going to propose several new initiatives to our administration. These new initiatives will include the following items…

1. Creating a learning network within our building


This learning network will include several key ingredients. First, I plan to inspire my colleagues to obtain a twitter account. I really feel like twitter has become the stepping stone for jumping off into a world of endless resources and collaboration. Since joining twitter two years ago, I have met so many great minds and educators. They have all helped to provoke and motivate my thinking in ways that make teaching an exciting venture. Now, I am sure I will encounter the questions


“what value will this have in my classroom?”


“we have enough to do, I cannot add anything more to my plate”


“this will just distract from teaching, no?”


These are some of the questions that I expect and I am sure there will be more. My answers will flow something like this. Twitter is what you make of it. It is not required to teach and is certainly not a distraction from my own teaching. Our kids are behind because most of them received a 20th century education that included copious amounts of “busy work”. Having a twitter account will allow you to find other teachers, principals and administrators who are encountering the same hurdles. You can begin by posing a question and segue into a discussion in which you are solving problems through twitter. At that’s it, twitter is simply a forum that allows us to engage in a rapid exchange of ideas. Twitter is what you make of it. It can be a distracter from lessons and work if you let it be, but for the most part, it is an integral part of my own teaching and has provided me with more insight into becoming a dynamic teacher than any other forum in my career.


There will always be those who are afraid of trying something new, however, if you want to start a PLN at your school, like I plan on, start with twitter. Show your colleagues the value of the rapid exchange of ideas and resources and they will never look back.


2. Wiki or Ning


Once you have your colleagues tweeting up a storm and delivering new teaching methods because of twitter, introduce them to a place where you can house all of your plans, units, ideas, calendars, meetings, etc. I am not partial to either of the aforementioned platforms, and have had great success with both in my experience.


I find a wiki space would work best for creating a forum to house lesson plans and school documents that parents, guardians and other teachers can access universally. I have used wikispaces with many of my classes and the kids find it easy and the parents adapt to the accessibility of information. The wikispace also allows everyone to be an active participant in taking ownership of the site.


However, if you simply want a forum to exchange ideas and resources links, then I feel a Ning would be best for you. A ning has less manipulability than a wiki and works best as a way for faculty, parents and administration to communicate and spread announcements rapidly in one place. In the Ning, you can also create groups for your departments. These groups can have remote PD’s through the chat forum and create and respond to discussion threads.


Again, both have their merits, but find out what you want your PLN forum to look like and choose which works best for you entire district.


3. Start organizing resources through Diigo


Diigo is the third part of the trifecta of creating a PLN within your school. I have really benefited from the Diigo groups that I have become a part of. I have found and promoted many blogs via Diigo and I cannot say enough about the ease of use. Diigo is a very easy to use site that allows users to bookmark a site, define the site and then categorically organize your sites. The web interface allows you to tag all of your websites you save and access them easily by each tag. You can also create groups and add friends to share in all of your bookmarks. When you add a colleague you both will be able to share and exchange bookmarks.


Creating a Diigo group is a great way to organize your department this fall. E-mail your department colleagues a link to a Diigo group. Tell them that you want to create an online resource library for links and blogs that fit your discipline. For those who say, “Now what? Something else to sign up for and receive junk mail” bribe them with candy. I usually go with Butterfinger, but also provide moist towelets, because no one wants a sticky keyboard!


Once you have them hooked, branch out and look into creating cross-curricular groups! Create a digital bridge with language arts and history; math and science. With Diigo, users have the ability to create wonderful learning communities and collaborate with each other. Building an online resource library should be on the “To Do” list of ever teacher this summer!


So that’s all. These three steps, along with standards and edu-tech curriculum examples, will serve as my platform for creating a PLN and a culture of education technology in my school.


I am tired of hearing my students complain that they do not get to use their laptops enough and I plan on changing that. Students need 21st century skills to compete globally. These skills are just as essential as reading, writing and math. If we keep pushing it off, it will only fade into wasted resources within our schools. We cannot let this happen. And we need to lead by example. Get your PLN started and give all of your colleagues a high-five for trying something completely different!

The One Comment A Day Project

After my last post on discovering your Personal Learner’s Network (PLN), I had a brief epiphany. This vision came in from simply adding a comment to a bloggers post that happens to reside in my PLN. I read the post, processed the information and responded constructively. Simple. Painless. Helpful.

At this point I thought, wouldn’t it be great if everyone in my PLN did this at least once a day. Yes, it would!

So here is my idea…

I’m calling it the “One Comment A Day Project”. This project will help promote educational collaboration throughout the blogosphere and promote and stimulate educational dialogue. All you have to do is pick one blog a day (you can obviously choose to read more) and leave a positive, insightful comment for the blogger. That’s it! One comment a day and you can change the blogging landscape and make a blogger smile.

Here is the process.

1. Read a blog

2. Post a comment that is insightful and constructive.

3. Tweet a link to the blog and your comment. Use the hash tag #OneComment

EXAMPLE: I just read a great piece on iTeach blog, check it out! #OneComment

4. Bookmark the blog and return to it another time.

It is just that easy! This Project will help create a positive forum for all who blog and comment. There are so many good educational blogs out there and I look forward to hearing your feedback and engaging in your comments!

The second phase of this project will be a featured blog a week project. This forum will review and promote one educational blog per week. It will also try and introduce new edu-blogs into the learning community. I will be setting up a Ning for this venture. The sole purpose of both ventures is to promote learning and create an engaging dialogue between so many great academic minds. The twitter hash tag for this will be #1Newblog

Please send me your thoughts, suggestions and feedback on both new ventures!I would also like to put together a small team to help with this venture due to the time consuming nature of the project. If you would like to help your fellow bloggers and be an integral part of this venture, please contact me at onecommentproject@gmail.com

I have also set up a separate twitter account for this second phase. It will be @1commentproject. Please follow it for blog updates and blog promotions. When we spread the word about great blogs, we all shine!

I would be looking for help with the following:

1. Finding new blogs

2. Posting Reviews of Blogs

3. Archiving a Blog roll on the Ning

4. Monitoring the Ning

I am very passionate about this project and am putting a lot of time and energy behind it. My belief is that we can all learn from each other and have endless technologies to help us collaborate! I really hope to see my PLN jump on board with me and help promote the edu-blogging community!

One Comment Project T-shirts, beach towels and pillow cases to follow!

Discover your Personal Learner’s Network (PLN)

One of the best things I did last school year was create and enhance my Personal Learner’s Network or PLN (as we, “in the know” say). At first, all the different networks and abundance of information that was coming my way overwhelmed me. In one week I joined several Nings, set up a twitter account, set up my iGoogle page and subscribed to several blogs and wikis. The week after, I was swamped with so much new information that I could hardly find anytime to read it all. Information overload!

I found the conversation and new information about education very positive, but at the same time I wanted it to be centralized so I could filter what I wanted and reap the benefits of stimulating content. I also discovered that my PLN was much better than any Professional Development my school had provided in the past few years. I was now privy to a plethora of engaging conversations and progressively helpful content in my field. I was learning at my own pace and not sequestered to an auditorium on a bright summer day. Like the Verizon commercials, my network was ubiquitous.


Since starting my PLN I have weeded out the junk and managed to stay current with educational trends. I have a constant flow of information that appeals to my educational palate arriving on my screen daily. I have met and regularly correspond with many new educators, innovators and bloggers that are always willing to share and listen. In short, this is what every educator wants his or her school to be, a constant flow of information and collaboration. However, this is not the case in most districts.


By now you are bursting at the seams, you want to get started and begin developing your own PLN. Here are five things I would recommend to start your PLN before the beginning of the next school year.


1. Join the Classroom 2.0 Ning


This was my first step in developing my PLN and joining a Ning is simple an easy. But first, you might be asking, “what did he just say? A ning? Sounds like a Monty Python and the Holy Grail reference!” A Ning is an online platform for people to create their own social networks. A ning is basically your own personal facebook page tailored around a specific subject. You only have to provide basic information when setting up your Ning profile and in minutes you can be communicating and collaborating with thousands of like minded educators.

The Web 2.0 Classroom Ning allows members to share links, events, blogs and topic discussions. Members can also e-mail and chat with each other through the Ning website. As a Ning member, you will have your own personal page where other members can leave comments, add you as a colleague and can see your action log – basically shows anything you have posted or commented on throughout the Ning.

The Ning is a great start to develop your PLN and will have you collaborating and communicating with educators from all over the world in minutes.


You can access the Classroom 2.0 Ning at http://www.classroom20.com/ and you can access and start your own Ning at www.ning.com. You can also read an earlier blog post of mine that focused on setting up a Ning in your school district.


2. Join Twitter


At first I was hesitant about twitter and didn’t really buy into its intrusive nature, however, I have grown to really appreciate this platform. Twitter allows you to maintain a constant stream of information coming to you throughout your day at a rate of 140 characters per tweet or CPT. As a Tweep (a person who tweets), you can follow whom you want and block those you don’t want.


As a member of twitter I can keep up with colleagues in my PLN on a daily basis. I can read articles they post and respond to them privately or via the main feed. With twitter, I suggest finding a few good people to follow initially and then slowly expand your radius, as you get more comfortable with tweeting. Twitter also allows you to post photos, videos and links.


What I have gained most from twitter is the ability to access articles and information that I may have never seen. I have been turned on to new bloggers and many good books that have surfaced in tweets. Like any network, you have to weed out the material you want and not get overwhelmed by the one tweep who will post 300 tweets a day. There are also several desktop platforms that you can utilize to filter and showcase your twitter feed. The one I recommend using is TweetDeck. It can be used on any OS and its user interface is simple and user friendly.


Finally, Twitter employs a unique language. At times, this can be intimidating to most newbies, but fear not, there are plenty of twitter guides out there that are free and online. Three Twitter aids I recommend for the twitter newbie


A) Twittonary


Twittonary is a database of all the words utilized in the twitter lexicon. You can type in a word or simply select a letter and begin studying up for your Twit-cabulary Quiz this Friday!


B) Watch this Common Craft video


C) Watch this Great Slide show


Please feel free to follow me on twitter @andycinek and happy tweeting!


3. Read and Comment on Blogs


I have been turned on to many great blogs as a result of the previous two items listed above. As a blogger, I put a lot of time into my posts and try and promote an atmosphere of collaboration and communication. I never blog for the stats, but simply, to share information in my field without any concern for fame or fortune (Although if Scorsese ever returns my calls, we might be talking iTeach: The Movie!). Therefore, when I read other blogs I want to spend a few moments to take in the content, process it, and provide the author with my feedback. Leaving comments on others blogs is also a great way to get your own blog noticed. Again, not for the fame and fortune, but for the exchange of ideas and opinions.


Each week, dedicate yourself to reading several blogs and leave a constructive comment on one of those blogs each day. If you want to leave more than one, good for you! However, if you choose one a day to comment on, you will truly be sharing in the learning community and you may meet some new colleagues for your PLN!


4. Become Familiar with iGoogle and Google Reader


iGoogle is a great start for organizing your PLN. If you want to really filter your content, iGoogle is the place to start. iGoogle lets you create a personalized homepage that contains a Google search box at the top, and your choice of any number of gadgets below. Gadgets come in lots of different forms and provide access to activities and information from all across the web, without ever having to leave your iGoogle page. Here are some things you can do with gadgets:


* View your latest Gmail messages

* Read headlines from Google News and other top news sources

* Check out weather forecasts, stock quotes, and movie show times

* Store bookmarks for quick access to your favorite sites from any computer

* Design your own gadget. ***


***Courtesy of http://www.google.com/support/websearch/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=20324

Google reader is another application that you can access directly from your iGoogle start page. Google Reader is Web-based aggregator, capable of reading Atom and RSS feeds online or offline. It allows you to take all the blogs you subscribe to or authors you enjoy reading and access them all in one place. Google reader has become one of my best friends and definitely beats book marking all of the blogs and authors you read. Google reader can also be accessed on most new smart phones. The iPhone has a great interface for iGoogle and Google Reader as well as the Android.

5. Attend a Conference

Attending a conference can not only bolster your PLN but also bring it to life. At times I feel like I know all these people whom I correspond with daily via twitter, nings, blogs, etc., but never really meet them. Attending a conference allows the little square photo icon to come to life. Plus, attending a conference will bring to life many of the discussions and conversations you have on a daily basis.

One way of keeping up with your PLN conference schedule is to create a google calendar with several members of your PLN. All users can share this calendar and when someone adds a conference to this calendar it will show up. I currently share a conference calendar with a colleague of mine and an esteemed member of my PLN. Her name is Donelle O’Brien and you should leave this blog and begin reading hers at http://lifelonglearning20.edublogs.org/

I hope this helps and will give you something to experiment with before you get back to school and are too overwhelmed with texts, schedule changes and parent teacher conferences. I hope to see you in my PLN in the near future!

We are the Knights who say…NING!

As the school year dwindles down towards summer days and departmental planning for next year, why don’t you take an educated risk and start a Ning in your school or department for next school year!

A what now?
A Ning! A Ning is a social networking platform that allows users to create their own network! It is very easy to setup and use, plus the collaboration aspect is excellent! Creating a ning allows users to share information, such as links, personal blogs and even create discussion forums. You can make your Ning private or open it up to the entire world. Users can send messages, write on your personal page and share, share…share! Plus it would flatten the walls of your department and allow you to collaborate easily in the summer and over vacations.
A district wide Ning would be a great idea, but starting small within your department would be a more practical idea for next fall. Plus, when you and your department are talking about this cool new word next year and sounding like a movie reference from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, you can then begin to pass on the great idea to other departments.
If you are still confused and still trying to figure out just exatcly what social networking can do for your school or department, I will leave you with a brief video courtesy of Mr. LeFever. Enjoy and I look forward to hearing about all great departmental Ning’s you have created!