aRTs Roundtable 47: Thank You, Carol Broos

This week on the aRTs Roundtable  the group thanks Carol Broos on her contribution to the arts. She retired this week from the Golden Apple Foundation. Tricia, Jennifer, and Brenda talk about how Carol helped and pushed them to share resources at conferences. An interesting talk about to become teacher’s of teachers.

Show Host: Carol Broos

Show Contributors: Tricia FuglestadJennifer Kolze and Brenda Muench 

Leave us some feedback!

Contact us with any questions or comments- artsroundtable@edreach.us

aRTs Roundtable 46: Expanding Your Teacher Reach

This week on the aRTs Roundtable  we discuss how to expand your teacher reach outside the classroom. It starts with our students and their work. The sharing and communicating with other educators on a personal level, leads to many more opportunities for you and your students.

Show Host: Carol Broos

Show Contributors: Tricia FuglestadJennifer Kolze and Brenda Muench 

Leave us some feedback!

Contact us with any questions or comments- artsroundtable@edreach.us

You, Disruptor…Are Still Dangerous.

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I am usually the “gets along with everybody guy”, the gentle disruptor…not last week though. Last week I learned from a colleague that I am “dangerous”. Really. Me of all guys. It kind of reminded me of that famous scene in Top Gun where Ice Man confronts Maverick and tells him that he is dangerous.

The precipice for the confrontation arose from my collaboration with another teacher and Sony’s K-12 team as we embarked on a case study with first graders and a travel kit of the company’s Xperia S tablets. So, what makes me dangerous?

In my colleague’s eyes, the “danger” comes from the various relationships I have fostered through Sony’s Education Ambassador program or with Apple, Google, Discovery Education,  the media, or various other members of my thriving personal learning network. Those relationships yield opportunities…opportunities that not everyone within a district or building may have access to. These opportunities are dangerous to the status quo of what I call the “fairness to a fault” of the educational establishment where everyone is the same and everything is equal. I seem to remember a number of countries crumbling at the end of the 80’s that operated under a similar premise.

I have never been one to simply “know (my) role”. I have always challenged the upper extents of my lot in life. Take for example my college football career. The end of my playing days at Hillsdale College came two weeks after the release of the movie Rudy and would finish eerily similar to the film. I was like Rudy, five-foot nothing, barely over two-hundred pounds, and slow. Yet somehow I wouldn’t let myself realize I had no business on the field with one of  the winningest NCAA Division II football program in the country. It had always been a dream to play college football and the staff at Hillsdale gave me that opportunity, let me live that dream.

We cannot ignore opportunities or not chase opportunities because we are worried about how other colleagues will feel or react. We may work within a system that is largely based on uniformity be we still live in a land of opportunity. As “just a teacher” I am not going to sit pat and follow some unwritten code of doing just what the district tells me and no more. I still have a lot more dreams to chase.  What others often fail to see is that these relationships and opportunities more times than not move the entire organization forward. We all end up benefiting from access to new equipment or from positive exposure in the press or from me gleaning new ideas I can share.

A couple of years ago at the Apple Distinguished Educator institute I saw a great quote that I later learned was from Nelson Mandela. It fortifies in me the drive to keep moving us all forward. It was repeated by Gurjit Lalli today as I caught a snippet of the TedX Grand Rapids live stream.

“Playing small does not serve the world…we are all supposed to shine as children do. And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same.”

Yes Ice Man, I am still dangerous…but that is a good thing.

The First Disruptors: Yvonne Corley

Disruptors-squareEditor’s Note: This post is part of our Spring series: The First Disruptors. You can read Andy Losik here on the Disruptors Blog and follow him on Twitter @mrlosik


Who was the crazy one? Who disrupted you? When I reflect with colleagues on how far we have come as educators most of us can point to one or two people early in our careers that showed us there was a better way, a different way to do our life’s work. Yvonne Corley, then a second grade teacher at Cholla Elementary School in Casa Grande, Arizona changed everything for me.

When I started teaching in 1995, I was like most rookies. I meant well, thought I knew it all, and had a ton of twenty-something energy. I thought I had it all together but as I reflect now, I was pretty much a disaster. I always say that when time travel is invented I am going back to re-teach those first three years to give those kids what they deserve.

At Cholla Elementary, Yvonne was a Disruptor but she had a special way of disrupting. She wasn’t about confrontation but she sure was tough and all about leading by example. She was brave enough to do her own thing and when she respectfully shared her results, it made others reflect on what they were doing with their own students. To a few staff members, this equated to a big tummy ache. Yvonne made them think though. She made me think too. She made me think that really engaging kids looked a lot better than cranking the ditto machine.

I don’t know what it was that connected us but Yvonne must have seen something in me.She is a life-long cowgirl, who on the way back from workshops we’d teach together would often make me go look at some horse she might buy.  I guess I was a young colt that didn’t so much need breaking, but needed to better channel my energy. She had a pioneering spirit with the integration of technology into the classroom and invited me to attend a week-long summer camp for teachers she was helping run through Northern Arizona University’s Math and Science Center. It was all I needed.

That week we built Hyperstudio decks and took images off of Laserdiscs for our Word Perfect documents. Most importantly I realized that this was my niche in education and that I had found a group of people who would help me build it. I had actually launched my Personal Learning Network way before Twitter and even any Internet access at school. I had been launched and spent the next two years with Yvonne barnstorming to presentations and evangelizing the tools we could give our students.

In 1997 I moved to Michigan but took all of the lessons I had learned with me, building upon them for the last sixteen years. In 2009 when I was named Michigan Technology Teacher of the Year, I texted my wife, called my parents, and then called Yvonne to thank her. I wouldn’t be the educator I am today without her taking the time to make me a Disruptor. I pay that forward anytime I can by helping the next generation of young colts and fillies rein in their unbridled new teacher energy by showing them the fascinating life of the Disruptor. I hope if you’ve had a Disruptor in your career, you’ll do the same.

Who are you disrupting?

Find A Wolf Pack Using The Little Blue Bird

In my first post for the Disruptors I wrote “Disruptors: Get Comfortable with being the Lone Wolf.”  This post is about using that little blue bird to find your wolf pack.  Over the past few months I have found three packs to run with and they are all groups of Disruptors. I found then all on Twitter and they are all lone wolves in their districts or schools.  Some actually have disrupted their whole school.  Let me introduce you to my packs.

My first pack is called the CUE-MACUL Road Trip. It came together when I invited Jon Corippo (@jcorippo) the Director of Minarets Charter High School in California to the 2013 MACUL Conference in Michigan.  He thought that would be a great idea and came up with a cadre other educators/disruptors to make a road trip from California to Michigan stopping along the way to meet up with teachers for quick workshops at coffee shops or truck stops.  When they arrive in Michigan at the conference they will be spending 3 days giving workshops and presentations on Web 2.0 and ed tech. For more information about this wolf pack go to cuemacul.weebly.com.

The next pack was also formed on Twitter.  A group of teachers here in Michigan got together to create the 1st Michigan Flip Teaching Conference (miflip.wordpress.com) to be held at my high school January 19th.  Dan Spencer (@runfardvs) a technology consultant at the Jackson Michigan ISD and I came up with the idea and threw it out on Twitter and we immediately had a group of local teacher to plan it.  As we started to flesh out the conference we picked up a teacher from Indiana and California to speak and present.  So over the past 3 months we put together a conference totally teacher driven.

The next pack created via Twitter was the brain child of Jill Thompson (@Edu_Thompson) who graciously asked me to be the co-creator and co-host.  Together we created the #21stedchat (Sundays at 8 PM ET).  It is a chat devoted to 21st Century Teaching and Learning.  This chat has grown since August to be one of the most popular on Twitter.  We have trended 1st every week including last week trending over the NFL & Golden Globe awards.  The chat is scheduled for an hour but continues to nearly 10 PM each night with anywhere from 1000 to over 1500 tweets or shared thoughts as one of our members put this week.  We let the people choose the topic to be discussed each week via a poll found on our website (21stedchat.wordpress.com).  Since we started this chat we now have a Facebook page and a Google + Community.  If you need a pack to join this is a great one to belong to.

Finally, don’t feel alone out in your schools or districts because there a lot of us out here.  The best way to find us is on Twitter.  If you are wondering who to follow just look at the people others follow. If you need another wolf follow me at @dprindle.


Quit your moping. It’s conference season!

Three of the greatest academic days of my year are ten weeks away, Michigan’s annual MACUL Conference. Every March educators gather to share their new discoveries, triumphs, and tribulations integrating technology into the classroom.  Many other states have their own version of MACUL just around the corner too.

There are a lot of things that can bring us as educators down this time of year. We can sit in the teachers’ lounge and wallow or we can invest a little time in doing some sub plans and blast the negativity to smithereens. Nothing disrupts the wet yuck blahs of Michigan winters, the rut of a long stretch of consecutive school days, or any fears for the future of making a livelihood in education like a great conference can. As tough as the car ride might be (and Godspeed if he or she wants to room with you), take one of those ninnies from the lounge with you too.

The message I am really trying to nail in my proposed MACUL “lightning session” is that no matter how bad things might get in the teaching gig, the best possible place someone in education can find him or herself is at a great conference surrounded by 3999 other passionate, creative, and inspired people. When it comes to disrupting fear and the blahs…nothing can stand up to that positive energy.

What did Brother Bluto remind us in Animal House? “Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? No, and it’s not over until we say it’s over.”

Your seat cushion at the keynote will not be very helpful as a flotation device, but the people all around you can become invaluable life…errr…career savers. The future of education, no matter where we live and how much it might change will be as awesome as we make it. State and regional conferences are where we launch relationships with our future building partners. It is truly a meeting of great minds. The really neat thing is that most of those great minds are extremely approachable and just as eager to make new connections as you are. If you find someone not approachable, well then go and make friends with the other 3,998 attendees. Mr. Unapprachable would probably be a real drag to spend the future with anyhow.

The first step is often the hardest to take. I first attended MACUL in 2005. I sat in the back of every session, took copious notes, and talked to no one. In 2006 I stepped out a little bit socially and realized what a great bunch of people made up the edtech community. In 2007, I took a bigger step by applying to present. By 2008 I had put all of the pieces together and lit the fuse. My career has exploded with one great opportunity after the other over the course of the last five years.

Was there some magical formula I applied? Nope. I made connections at the conference and fostered those throughout the year through social media. I shared reflections from my classroom and applied the good ideas of others. It’s pretty simple. Meet. Follow. Share.

When I heard Sir Ken Robinson speak this Fall, one line really stuck with me. He said, “I have found that the only really happy people in public education are the ones who have carved out their own little creative niches.” I truly believe that and think maybe it is why I love what I do so much yet some of my colleagues feel like they are drowning or completely isolated.

Conferences like MACUL give you the inspiration and courage to start carving your own niche, as well as a place to build a network of support full of amazing people.

So, quit your moping. Disrupt the negativity and get to a great educational technology conference this season.


EduWin Weekly #007: Twitter and Time with Bill Selak


This week on #EduWin Weekly: Hosts Michael Walker and Dennis Grice visit with Bill Selak about video in the classroom, the growing digital divide between those who are connected and those who aren’t, as well as finding time to use these tools.

Show Hosts: Michael Walker and Dennis Grice 

View our Show Notes 


Give us some feedback! Email eduwin@edreach.us to send us a note. Or leave a comment below. 

EdCeptional #033 – We’re All Still Learning


Tonight we focus on Professional Development. As many of us are preparing to head off into summer shortly we decided to take a look at how we can personally keep up with our own professional/personal development. I fully believe that if you are involved in education that you should be a lifelong learner and willing to learn even on “your own” time

 

 


Show Host: Anne Truger (@atruger)

Show contributors:

Deb Truskey (@debtruskey)

Patrick Black (@teachntech00)

Here’s our Show Notes! 


Visit the EdCeptional Channel to view past broadcasts. 

Contact us with any questions or comments – edceptional@edreach.us

aRTs Roundtable #1: Arts PLN


This week on the aRTs Roundtable we discuss how important it is to be involved with an arts PLN, with arts educators being the only teacher in the building and/or district. Hear how other visual arts and music educators developed their own PLN.

Show Host: Carol Broos

Show contributors:   Trisha Fuglestad and Jennifer Kolze

The complete show notes are now on the EdReach Wiki


 


Call us on our comment line!

If you’d like to leave some feedback you can call us on our very own EdReach Comment line: That’s: (443) 93REACH.

Join us Tonight for #EdReach Chat with EasyBib! [Updated]

One thing we just can’t enough of is Twitter chats for educators! So we thought we’d add a little spin on it- let’s bring in some of the Web’s best education resources and tools, the brightest innovators in the field (you), and bring them together into the conversation. We wondered: can we create conversation around making the tools we use- more intuitive?  So, we got together with EasyBib.com (since they’re so good with Internet research) and they’re joining us for #EdReach chat! Here’s the scoop: 
Simplifying Internet Research: An #EdReach Chat with EasyBib
When: Sunday, August 28th, at 8pm EST/ 7pm CST
Where: Get on Twitter Search here: or come right here to EdReach.us to join the EdReach contributors, Easybib creators, and you-  as we discuss the current state of researching on the web. How do we make research fun for students? How does the Internet help us to do research intuitively? What problems have we had with students that we can prevent with the right tools? Let’s answer these questions and more, as we collaborate and highlight your innovations and ideas. Should be fun!

Awesome! We’ll see you Sunday night. Please let your neighbor know- tweet this out!  [tweetbutton]

 

 

Google+ Building (or Re-Building) your PLN

G+ in EducationTwitter just became 5 years old and many of us can remember the first time: we heard of twitter… the first time we experienced powerful collaboration on twitter… some of us can even remember our first tweet (not me, though I can imagine it was something like: “I just don’t understand this…” So, for many it feels like a shock when after 5 years, thousands of tweets, hours of growing and grooming our personal learning network we look at Google+ and say, “I just don’t understand this…” or “Struggling to understand how this is going to fit in…” or “It just doesn’t do what Facebook or twitter does… or doesn’t do it as WELL…”

Here are some other things that we are struggling with:

  • “I have “spoken” with a person for years on twitter… but I only know them by his or her handle… – We are shocked that someone we really know so well: children, ailments, dreams, hopes, personal challenges… and we don’t even know his or her name.
  • “I can’t figure out Circles” – A new paradigm is frustrating or our attempt to force something new into our preconceived notion of HOW things SHOULD work.
  • “I have been on Google+ for an “x” now, and I can’t figure out how to find other’s with similar interests (or it is too hard to find them…) – Yes, an actual person search within Google+ will be very welcome when it is enabled – ironic, huh?!

If you are feeling this way, know that you are not alone. Many of us are feeling this way too. That said, I am really enjoying the rich conversations and more personal relationships that I am building with Google+ that in some ways I have been feeling I have lost on Twitter and Facebook. The biggest thing to remember is that we felt this exact same way when we first tweeted or facebooked. Back then, worked through a whole lot of growing pains to develop the robust PLN’s we now enjoy. But, the first thing we all need to do is feel a bit less lonely when we are on Google+. So, here are a few tips and suggestions to help get you started (or re-started) growing your PLN in Google+

First, build out your personal profile with information about what you teach, your goals, a twitter handle, blog link, and possibly the types of connections you are looking for… Many… MANY… are using this as an initial barometer for whether or not to add someone into a circle. Additionally, as I wrote earlier, we have a LOT of relationships from twitter where we unfortunately don’t know a person’s real name or at least his or her last name to make a connection that VanishingPoint is actually Scott Weidig.

Second, there has been an “Educators on Plus” google doc floating around. HERE is a link to that doc. Almost all have even listed areas of focus or teaching. Also, go HERE to add yourself to this growing list.

Third, and the best way I have come across personally, is to post more publicly or to “extended circles” which will catch a larger audience. For example, if YOU post to extended circles it goes not only to the individuals in your own personal circles, but also to all of the individuals in their circles as well even though they are not in your circles. In addition, “public” posts are searchable on Google itself (even if we currently can’t search within Plus itself). Many will read or comment on your posts and throw an add to you.

Fourth, to respond to other educator’s posts. That way, much like twitter, you will be pulled into conversations with educators you may not be following. Click into their profiles link to review for an add.

Fifth, Google+ has two “features” that are not easily understandable: “incoming” and “nearby”. Incoming are the streams of people who have added you into a circle, but are not in one of your circles. This is a way to see who is “following” you and the quality of information they are posting before you add them to a circle. Nearby are all of the public posts from people who have geotagged their posts and are physically “nearby” you at that time. I can imagine that this stream will be flooded at conferences in the future, but this is also a way to reach out beyond your budding network for possibly some fresh insight. (I ended up making contact with a great person who was able to provide some information on web hosting while I was on vacation a few weeks ago, simply by posting publicly and looking at “nearby”.

Sixth, if you have not thought about blogging, think about it. If you are, be sure that is on your profile, and link your posts on Plus. Sharing your journey with others creates a bond and common interest which can help you grow your PLN.

Finally, we encourage you to link up with the members of EdReach.us on Google+. Here is a list of the EdReach folks on Google+ and a direct link to each of our profiles:

+Judy Epcke – Co-founder of EdReach and weekly contributor to the EdReach and Mobile Reach shows. Judy is a technology facilitator showing teachers how technology can transform their teaching and their students’ learning. She focuses on topics such as: the use of Web 2.0 tools, Google Apps for Education, iPads and iPod Touches, Personal Learning Networks, and technology integration.

+Dan Rezac – Co-founder of EdReach, as well as the Content Editor/ Brand Officer. Daniel often speaks about 21st Century Learning Environments, YouTube in the classroom, and the Flipped Classroom, and has made it his focus to give teachers a platform for which they can discuss the critical issues of education.

+Scott Meech – Co-founder of EdReach, Scott enjoys studying the impact technology is making and can make on education. He believes that education is on the brink of major change and that technology will finally fulfill its promise. Scott also formed iEAR.org which focuses on educational application reviews for iDevices.

+Jay Blackman – Co-Founder and Technical Coordinator of EdReach and by day the Director of Information and Educational Technology – Focused on creating support systems for teachers, developing learning communities, and learning spaces. Jay is a Google Certified Teacher and a frequent presenter on Google tools, location-based learning, mobile learning, and professional development.

+Meg Wilson –  Founder of iPodsibilities.com. She presents about using iPods, iPhones, and iPads in the classroom. She blogs and podcasts regularly at EdReach.us about mobile learning, special education, and all things Apple-related in the world of education.

+Jeremy Brown – Elementary special education teacher & family trainer – EdCeptional crew member & blogger at TeachingAllStudents.blogspot.com – autism, assistive technology, iOS, SMART Board

+John Sowash – Director of Online Learning for his school and blogs regularly about distance learning and related trends in education. John specializes in collaborative projects for STEM classrooms, online learning, the Flipped Classroom, and Google Apps for Education.

+Chris Atkinson – Elementary school assistant principal – Google Certified Teacher, STAR Discovery Educator, blogger, podcaster, and presenter on Google Apps in Education, Web 2.0 Tools For The Classroom, Social Networking for Educators, Educational Leadership for the 21st Century.

+Scott Weidig (me) – High school technology coordinator – Scott focuses on the integration of technology in the classroom to student achievement and learning in the 21st century. He blogs regularly at EdReach.us about mobile learning, media literacy, and educational change.

On a last note, I know many educators who are working hard to attempt to “re-create” the educational PLN’s they already have on Twitter and Facebook. In essence, “port” them over to Google+. While there are a num,her of new tools being developed to accomplish this, I would encourage everyone to think hard before doing this. One one hand, I think it is a great an potentially powerful idea, on the other, Google+ has a different variety of tools to offer, different ways to think of relationships, I encourage everyone to take advantage of this opportunity to perhaps re-focus or broaden and maybe even deepen your PLN as opposed to simply re-creating it. We can learn so much from those we yet do not know… Just my perspective.

If you are on Google+ also and want, leave your information in the comments so the edReachers can connect with you.

Get Connected: The Power of a PLN

“When we are connected to others, we become better people.” -Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

These days it is hard to imagine my life without Twitter, which is pretty humorous because two years ago I was rolling my eyes at just the mention of Twitter. I was definitely one of those people who thought tweeting was only about what you had for lunch, who you shared that lunch with, or where you ate that lunch. In all honesty, I only joined Twitter because I wanted to know what my students were doing; I have a huge issue with my students using technology that I don’t know anything about. So I asked my students what they liked about Twitter and got a range of answers from “I want to know what Britney is doing” all the way to “I get breaking news alerts.” So I signed up and started following all kinds of news sources, celebrities, friends/family on my contact list, and of course, anyone who followed me. It didn’t take long to figure out how to operate Twitter but I just didn’t see it as useful in my life, personally or professionally. I thought is was surely a fad that would fade quickly.

That was until I saw people I admired, people who talked about things I wanted to hear about, people who liked the same things I did, tweeting great resources and experiences. (Thank you to @TonyVincent for reigning me in!) And they weren’t tweeting about their lunches; they were tweeting about their thoughts, their ideas, their experiences, their passions. I was hooked. I dropped the personal account and began a more educational-based account, one that I saw as an extension of myself as an educator. It only took a few tweets before I realized how having a Personal Learning Network (PLN) could change me as an educator. People had fantastic articles and resources to share, and I had a forum to talk about the things that I am truly passionate about in an online community where others cared to listen. I asked questions, and I got immediate answers from expert educators…how often does that happen? If you are a new teacher, I highly recommend that you be a part of the Twitter community. If you aren’t comfortable tweeting just yet, you can still make great use of Twitter searches. You can locate some excellent resources just by searching hashtags like #EdReach, #EdChat, #EdTech, #IEAR, or #SpEdChat (just to name a few, but there really is a search for almost every topic out there… Jerry Blumengarten has a fabulous list here). Once you experience the wealth of resources that are available on Twitter, I am positive that you too will want to be a part of the conversation.

My PLN is an amazing part of my life. It is filled with smart, forward-thinking, honest educators whose resources have changed my classroom in ways they will never know. My PLN pushes me to stay connected to what is happening right now in education and to stay connected to phenomenal educators who make me want to be a better educator every day. For these things, I am truly grateful as a professional.

But this week I am grateful on a truly personal level. This week I experienced the amazing power of my PLN. As an educator, I think it goes without saying that I love teaching and learning. I love working with students and I would be lying if I said I know how to separate work from home. And I’m alright with that because my job represents a huge part of who I am. My “work” is not just professional, it is personal. I think most people who work with any group of people closely would agree. I love what I do and I do what I love, and that alone makes it personal.

Last Sunday evening, I got a phone call that I had hoped to never receive. Our middle school’s Emergency Phone Tree was being used to contact every staff member in the school: a 7th grade student was missing. My thoughts swirled around: “I hope she is safe”, “things like this don’t happen in our school”, “you only hear this kind of stuff on the news”, and most importantly, “what can I do to help?” Upon finding out that the local police, state police, and FBI were involved, I personally felt helpless. Until I realized there was one thing I could do: I could help to get the word out. People don’t vanish… SOMEone saw, or might see, SOMEthing. So I hijacked my Twitter account where I usually only focus on all things iPod and iPad and tapped into a community I knew could help me, my school, and most importantly, my student in a desperate time of need. I kept sending her photo out and asking others in my PLN to do the same …and kept hoping someone would recognize her. And after four frightfully long days, we received word that she had been found. Someone had seen her and recognized her from posted photos; she was returned to her family safe and unharmed. My school, my community, my family and friends, and kind of surprisingly, my PLN breathed a huge sigh of relief and celebrated her return right along with me.

(Side note: Many have inquired about the student and what happened to her, but I believe her story is hers to tell, not mine. I am simply thrilled that she is safe.)

Once the cheers of joy were shouted, and the news was tweeted, I found myself thinking about a community of educators who had helped me not only on a professional level, but also on a personal level. They could have ignored my requests to retweet something that didn’t have anything to do with iPods, iPads, Apple technologies or education at all. They could have carried about their day, but they didn’t. They retweeted, emailed, and FaceBooked her picture because I needed help. Their messages of caring concerns and support reminded me that “when we are connected to others, we become better people.” I could never express my sincerest thanks to every, single person who shared her photo, but I hope this message reaches each of them: my deepest gratitude for your help is more than I can ever express in words.

Although I do not know exactly how the woman who discovered the missing student had seen her photograph (and I certainly cannot say that it came from one of my postings), I can definitely say that she saw the photograph because so many people were sharing it. I used TweetReach.com to see how far one of my tweets of her FBI Missing Persons poster had traveled, and I was BLOWN AWAY. That one tweet had been seen by over 29,000 people! All because my PLN clicked “retweet” …WOW. Now, THAT is the amazing power of a PLN.

So on both a professional and personal level, I thank my PLN and the EdReach community from the bottom of my heart. I am humbled by your support and knowledge on a daily basis: you have truly made me a better educator and a better person.

 

New Teacher – New Strategy #3: RSS – From Weidig

In this post, I will be looking at RSS the power and potential of Real Simple Syndication. Really Simple Syndication (RSS) is a tremendous way to simplify your processes in searching and gathering information. Overall, RSS keeps you from having to hunt for information… especially from sites that you frequent often to gather information. This saves time and energy and focuses your attention on evaluating information and choosing whether to delve further into researching a specific topic or simply moving on to other more relevant information and activities.

With RSS you setup a aggregator called a “reader” through which you gather “feeds”. Once a “feed” is setup, information comes to you as opposed to you hunting for it. My choice of RSS Reader is Google Reader. Aside from being one of the free Google tools, there are many 3rd party “readers” that can connect to the feeds within Google Reader that allow you to extend the capabilities of Google Reader as well as view information in the way you prefer. Here is a quick video by Lee Lefever that provides a great overview of explaining RSS and how to setup an RSS Reader:

RSS in Plain English – by Lee Lefever

Once you setup your RSS aggregator, and begin to add feeds, news stories from around the world as well as information from educational and instructional blogs will begin to flow into the Reader. Additionally, most magazine type services (and all search engines) have RSS feeds embeded into their sites that you can tap into. This type is resource allows you to become a “grazer” and evaluator of information as opposed to a hunter of information.

Educational uses.

First and foremost, leveraging RSS provides another way to find, gather, and catalog tremendous amounts of resources and information. It can be used to extend a personal learning network (PLN) as well as augment the process of “giving back” to your PLN by making it easy to share the resources you find. Because you can add feeds about any subject or topic your reader provides an opportunity to create a dynamic learning environment. There is the ability to create a permanent grouping of feeds around instructional methodologies and classroom practices, while having more flexible groupings setup around specific topics, ideas, and even units or lessons for which you are preparing.

Classroom Ideas

Think about how you have students research the internet right now… Typically, a teacher schedules 3 days in a computer lab all devoted to “research.” (Or two days of research and one for pulling it all together) Students do a lot of things with that time… some of it is even researching their topics, however, there is also a great deal of just gathering information without any true evaluation of the source or even the material they find. Too often students take the path of least resistance and only click through the couple of Google links (before abandoning that search or declaring “there is not information on this topic…”. Then they cut and paste this information into a PowerPoint or some other tool. Finally they read from the screen along with the rest of the class when presenting… Sound familiar?

How different could it be if this was how the research went like this? Two weeks before you are set to begin an inquiry based project you schedule one (1) (<- see that ONE) day in the lab for research. The students would have had an RSS Aggregator set up in the beginning of the year or you take the first five minutes of class for them to register with your favorite. Now you have the students begin researching current relevant topics through news agencies and blogs (you can even use diigo, delicious and technorati as search vehicles) by doing google searches and ONLY grabbing the RSS feed for the topic or going to specific sites of some interest and grabbing the RSS feed. Now all of the information that is returned is NOT REVIEWED AT THIS POINT but, put into the RSS Aggregator to be allowed to continue to collect for the next two weeks. Perhaps you have them work a bit to create folders to categorize some of the information on the fly like:

  • Background information / Google search RSS
  • Relevant News Stories
  • Blogs and other first person accounts
  • Misc.

Then when the hour is over, you all go back to your regularly scheduled classes for the next two weeks. However, during this time the RSS Reader is chugging away gathering more and more information related to the topic of the students choice. When it comes time for the inquiry based project to begin, you bring the students back to the lab, and they now begin to use and develop their skills at “grazing” information, evaluating the relevance of the information in their reader, the credentials of the source of the information, digesting the information and what type of impact it would have on their project. They would also begin the process of evaluating possible presentation vehicles. These vehicles will become the tools for presenting this information so their peers, parents, and teachers best understand and be impacted by the message they are working to get across. How much different of a learning experience would that be for your students?

Other Thoughts

On an aside while you can do group work with RSS, through Google Reader, with each student having their own account account they can leverage RSS in ways more personal to them. What about setting up a class reader or feeds? Unit feeds? Share some of your personal feeds on a class website? or even set up your own RSS feed of a class blog or Ning so parents could subscribe to what you are doing in class.  What are your thoughts other ways to embrace RSS for your personal learning environment as well as the advancement of student learning and achievement.

RSS Aggregator Options

There are a number of RSS Aggregators (Readers) out there. Some carry a $ cost with them others are free. Below is a brief list of a few of the more popular Readers (all free):

  • Google Reader
  • FeedReader
  • Bloglines
  • At the end of this post I have a couple of links that have links to many… many… more RSS Readers.

    There are also have other RSS Reader options. Most “portal” sites like Microsoft LiveiGoogleMyYahoo,and Pageflakes, (among others) have RSS Aggregators as a part of their functionality. Most email clients have RSS capabilities… Additionally, the Mac OS X and Windows 7 have desktop widgets that allow for RSS feeds to be displayed… get the idea that that RSS is all over out there, you just need to be open to a better way of pulling information to you as opposed to going to get it?

    Now all you need to to is create an account with one of these services, and then start gathering “feeds” into your RSS Reader. Here are a couple of criteria that I like to use when trying to choose RSS Readers:

    • How easy is it to use?
    • Can I organize the feeds into folders or categories?
    • How easy is it to add a feed? Does the service have a “wizard” of some sore that helps me find a feed on a page?
    • Can it be used online and offline? (this is key for me in case you have time, but not a connection to the internet)
    • Can it be accessed via mobile device like a smartphone or tablet… either via the web or an application?
    • Is there a “toolbar” feature that makes it easy to subscribe and get to feeds? (see picture below)
    • Is it visually appealing? (vain, but if I am going to be looking at something repeatedly, I want it to be nice ;))

    As you begin to explore and investigate RSS, you will find there are additional options like being able to add personal notes that attach to the articles you are saving, “star” important information, “share” information and articles with others or the world in multiple ways. One caution… RSS can get addicting. Start with a few feeds and begin to work up to more as you feel more comfortable. Also, know that it is OK to simply “mark all read” if you feel the amount of information is getting out of control. The really important information will bubble back to the surface again in the future.

    Image Credit: Marcos Vecino Rosado via Flickr CC
    Video Credit: Lee Lefever via YouTube