“You’re a teacher- so you get summers off, right?”
Well- kind of. While not technically working or teaching, my summers are a chance for me to reflect, learn, and prepare for the new year ahead. This used to be a solitary endeavor, but now that I found Twitter and a PLN of passionate educators eager to learn, I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate and share my understandings through reading, blogging, tweeting, and Voxing. In Learn Like a Pirate, Paul Solarz says, “Two brains are better than one” and it is quickly becoming my favorite new saying. What I can do on my own is nice; what I can do when I share my ideas with others and listen and learn from their ideas….that’s the game-changer.
The point of all my summer learning is to walk back into the classroom better than I walked out of it in June, so that my students have more opportunities to succeed.. While there are still many mountains for me to climb in my quest to grow as an educator, I can confidently say I am returning to the classroom with more tools in that proverbial belt and a richer, deeper understanding of the power of technology to enhance learning for my students. Participating in the #cyberPD community has changed my mindset and helped me find new ways to reach my students.
It began by reading the book selected by our #cyberPD organizers. The book we studied was Digital Literacy: What’s Essential in Grades 3-8 by William Bass II and Franki Sibberson. We read sections of the book each week and then posted our reflections on our blog, linking to the community. This act alone was powerful for me in understanding how much more engaged and motivated I was to read, knowing I was going to be sharing my ideas and reading other people’s thoughts, too. I was also involved in a group #WabtR (writing about reading) where we read Cynthia Lord’s A Handful of Stars and had to share our thinking in our reading notebook. Once again, I was far more motivated to think deeply and make my notes presentable when I knew I’d actually be sharing them!
Take-away: Students need time and space to share their thinking with someone who is going to listen and read what they come up with! When it is all done independently and no one but the teacher “checks” your notebook, the work feels like a chore and “for school” instead of an authentic expression of your learning.
Through the weekly #cyberPD blog posts, our Twitter chat, and then joining a small Voxer group to continue the conversation, I’ve changed and adapted plans for the upcoming year, including back to school preparations. Here are some things I’ve done as a direct result of my learning with #cyberPD.
- New class website: http://sokolowskilearningin215.weebly.com/, inspired by a post from Cathy Mere where she talks about having a “class hub” and the merits of a Weebly site, I decided to try my own Weebly site. I LOVE Weebly and how user-friendly it is, while creating a sophisticated site. I’m incredibly excited to share this with my students and their families. I’m hoping it is site they visit each day and helps keep everyone organized and informed.
- A Symbaloo as part of the class website, to help students and parents find our favorite places: http://sokolowskilearningin215.weebly.com/important-class-sites.html I had no idea what Symbaloo was or the purpose of it before this summer! I think it is an incredible visual tool and am excited to explore more with Symbaloo.
- I used Audioboom (an app that records you speaking and then lets you assign that a QR code) to record myself reading my welcome letter to my students! (I also posted it on my class site here: http://sokolowskilearningin215.weebly.com/welcome-letter-to-students.html
- Digital portfolios through Google Drive. I am setting up folders for each of my students and plan to post the photographs I take of them in their digital folder as well as other samples of their work. Thanks to Megan Skogstad for sharing that idea and answering many of my questions about how to set this up!
- QR codes in the classroom library: As I set up my room, I’m adding QR codes to some of the book displays. For example, on the label that says “Judy Moody”, I’ve added a QR code that takes you to the link to the site where you can learn more about the characters and books.
- Returning to the idea of recording your voice and then making a QR code, thanks to my Voxer group for helping me come up with the idea to have students explain the different parts and functions of the classroom, recorded via Audioboom. I can then make QR codes to hang in the classroom for those particular sections. For example, students can talk about the classroom library and how it works and this could be recorded. A QR code can be placed near the library. At Back to School Night, parents can walk around the room and use a QR reader to listen to the students describe the important places in our classroom!
While I’ve always been interested in learning about technology, prior to being part of #cyberPD, I did see it as mostly an add-on or extra thing, not central to the main learning experience. My thinking has shifted and I understand that, in this digital age, it is a responsibility for teachers to find ways to purposefully use tech tools to enhance reading and writing opportunities for students.
Personally and professionally, technology tools have revitalized and changed my life as a reader and writer, so why shouldn’t it be the same for my students? The focus must always be on the learning and how to make it richer, not using a specific “cool” tool that might be irrelevant in a few years. The tools are constantly changing so the goal is not to master one specific tech tool but to envision the possibilities that come from incorporating digital reading and writing into your instruction. Collaboration makes the learning deeper and builds a better community. I’m grateful to the #cyberPD community for inspiring me and helping me return the classroom with more passion, ideas and excitement for the year ahead.
Kathleen Neagle Sokolowski is a third grade teacher at Saltzman East Memorial Elementary School in Farmingdale, NY. A married mom to two little tech-savvy kids, Kathleen’s heart is in literacy and helping students see the life-changing power that comes from being more literate. A teacher-consultant for the Long Island Writing Project, Kathleen is also one of the co-authors on The Two Writing Teachers blog. She can be found at http://sokolowskibookbonanza.blogspot.com/ and http://couragedoesnotroar.blogspot.com/. You can follow her on Twitter @MrsSokolowski and her class @Learningin215.