The Power of Personal Learning Networks (PLNs)

What is a PLN?

It’s my understanding that a PLN is an informal learning network that involves connecting with others who share similar interests. The way in which this happens is through social media like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Blogs, and RSS feeds.

Here’s a video that I found called Networked Student by Wendy Drexler. It explains how students can benefit from this type of networked learning:

LinkedInMy PLN Experience

As a teacher on a quest to continue learning about the growing, changing, and evolving topic of educational technology, I’ve made it a priority to stay connected to people and companies in this field on LinkedIn. I love how it allows me to showcase and link to projects that I’ve done. It also allows me to connect my blog page to my profile. Whenever I post on this PacadaVision WordPress page, I have it automatically set up to become a part of my activity in LinkedIn. Anyone in my network can link to my blog and, in turn, I can link to blogs of any of my connections. LinkedIn frequently sends emails of updates, so it’s easy to view changes and updates of people in my network. It’s amazing how I’ve learned all about new Web 2.0 tools and ed tech companies just by looking into information connected to my LinkedIn Network.

Introducing Social Media to the Classroom using KidBlog

Educator Studio KidBlog LessonPopularity of social media tells me that it is my responsibility as a teacher to get my students prepared to be a responsible participant by showing them a correct way to use it. KidBlog is my Website of choice in introducing social media to my students.

Last year was when I discovered this teacher moderated blog site. If you want ideas on how to get started using KidBlog, check out my EducatorStudio lesson plan.

I’m hoping to start KidBlog with this year’s class within the next couple of weeks. Last year I had students blogging about voice activated cars, saving the environment, dreams, the future, and many more interesting and though provoking topics. I’m curious to see what kind of topics this year’s class will come up with. If I can get my students excited and interested about popular topics, I can get my students to improve their writing while also giving them useful 21st century learning skills that will help them grow their own PLN in a positive way.

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Storybird in the Classroom

Why use Storybird?

I started using Storybird in my 4th grade classroom in December and in our 4 months of use, it’s starting to become our new favorite Web 2.0 tool. I know that there are a numerous amount of Websites that encourage writers to submit their creative stories, so why in the world would I choose this one? Here are 5 reasons I love this site:

  1. Artwork is visually stunning and there is a good amount to choose from.
  2. The inspirational artwork makes it easy for my students to come up with interesting stories.
  3. After creating and publishing a story, the final product is very professional looking.
  4. Storybird allows you to embed stories. This has been a great motivation to my students because I have started creating class contests where the winners have their stories featured on our class Webpage
  5. Features for teachers make creating assignments, grading, giving feedback, and rewarding students very easy.

Grading Screenshot

Class Assignments:

Here are some sample assignments in Storybird that I’ve created to help meet the 4th grade California ELA content standards:

Create a holiday or winter story and have one of your characters experience some type of magic. Make sure your story has a well thought out beginning, middle, and ending. 

  • Writing Strategies 1.1 – Select a focus, and organizational structure, and a point of view based upon purpose, audience, length, and format requirements. 

Choose a story that you have already created in Storybird. Edit it and make changes by fixing any mistakes and improving at least 4 of your pages. Make sure that you include 1 simile and 1 metaphor somewhere in your story. 

  • Writing Strategies 1.10 – Edit and revise selected drafts to improve coherence and progression by adding, deleting, consolidating, and rearranging text.

Storybird & Bloom’s Taxonomy

Here’s my Google Presentation about how I’ve used my Storybird experience in the classroom to make a connection to the 2 highest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy: creating & evaluating.

I’ve also found that analyzing plays an important role in the creation of new stories.  When a student chooses artwork from an artist, he/she is limited to creating a story only with the artwork submitted by that particular artist. In that situation, the student must analyze the pictures given and work within that set to create a story that is interesting and makes sense. Here’s an example of what the canvas looks like when you have chosen artwork:

If a student does not want to write a story using one artist’s artwork, they also have the option to use art that is tagged with the same word. For example, the very 1st Storybird assignment in my class was for my students to create a holiday/winter story. Searching for the tag winter will pull up all of the winter pictures. A student may then create a story with all of pictures that share that same tag. Some students like to search for artwork based on the tag, so it is a good 2nd option for choosing illustrations for a story.

Here are some problems I’ve run into in the past 4 months:

  • Students can choose art by tag or artist, but we haven’t found a way to combine artwork from 2 artists to create a story. 
  • Sometimes the site runs slow and I’ve had problems with computers freezing up as my students were in the process of saving their work. (I will say that the speed has been getting better.)
  • When creating a class the comments and discussions are automatically set to “on/open.” I learned this the hard way by finding my class chatting with each one another when they discovered how to create a discussion. It ended up being a teachable moment when I changed the settings to moderate and had a discussion about appropriate feedback and discussions online.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I am very happy with Storybird in my classroom! Publishing stories for students to have access to at home gives them a huge sense of pride in their creations. It is so great to see such a huge excitement about creative writing as our school prepares for our Young Author’s Fair that is coming up in May. I just decided that I would let the top 3 author’s of the month read their stories as I screencast them and upload their stories to YouTube. I will leave you with an example by my student Julia.

Methodologies of the Online Instructor Reflection

Online, Blended, and Face-to-Face Learning

I’m currently a 4th grade teacher who primarily teaches using face-to-face learning, however with technology resources becoming available at my school, blended learning is becoming more of a possibility in my classroom. The following Venn Diagram shows the similarities and differences between online, blended, and face-to-face learning as it has been used in my educational experience as a teacher and a student learning in an online setting.

Venn Diagram on Prezi

Transitioning to Blended & Online Learning

Becoming a blended or online teacher requires a whole new teaching mindset. I’m so used to teaching in a large group setting with 32+ students in my classroom at all times. I’m used to teaching through text books at a certain pace, making sure that I get through all of the necessary information before testing time comes around in early May. I use individual and group projects and allow for students to work at their own level within a certain subject, but my whole group instruction always comes at one pace, which is mostly too easy for my high students and too complicated for my really low students.

Having students work on curriculum online allows for self-paced learning. The advanced students can move quickly through the necessary curriculum and beyond, and the lower students can work at a slower pace with more individual help and support in mastering the curriculum before moving on too quickly. This means that the classroom teacher no longer becomes the main source of curriculum delivery, but rather the facilitator of learning and a main support system for individual student success. The success of many online and blended learning programs tells me that this is the future of education. I’m totally on board and excited for this change! This is the reason that I made that tough decision to go back for my master’s in Educational Media Design and Technology and enroll in a Online and Blended Learning Teacher Certification program. I’m trying to learn everything that I can to make myself a successful teacher ready to transition into the future of education.

Through Full Sail University’s Online Program, I’ve participated in online collaborative teaching platforms like Wimba and GoToMeeting. As a high school and undergraduate college student, I was always the quiet student with so many ideas in my head, but little confidence to participate in a large group setting. Online collaborative platforms with small group meetings gave me the confidence and comfort to become an active participant in every classroom meeting. Having to work with 12 different instructors, it’s been interesting to see how different personalities work in the online setting. I’ve experienced everything from comedic teachers cracking jokes to engage the group, to teachers using videos and Web 2.0 tools to engage the group in thought provoking discussions. I imagine that working with students online requires a lot of patience and trial and error in finding the style that works best for each individual teacher. I’m the kind of person that is up for the challenge of new discoveries, so if I should ever need to make the transition to virtual teaching, I will take all of my online experiences and experiment with what works best for me.

Education is going through some major changes with the quick advancement in technology and I’m doing the best that I can to be prepared for that change. It’s going to be a wild ride, and not always an easy one, but if it means more student engagement and personalized learning, I’m completely on board!