Friday, September 18, 2015

Thoughts on Engaged Learning with Twitter Edchats

During the 2013-2014 school year, we launched #gfedchat for Grand Forks Public Schools educators and anyone else interested in chatting about educational topics.  I look forward to #gfedchat every week.  I have “met” and connected with more teachers across our district than I ever had in my career as an educator.  Our Monday night chats are lively, engaging and are a source of inspiration for me each week. (Thank you #gfedchat participants, you are all amazing!)  Similar to the numerous other chats, the format is a Q1, Q2 containing the questions followed by A1, A2 with the participants' answers.  Now, after 2 years of #gfedchat and personally participating in other chats, I started to think about the relevance of Twitter chats.

I appreciate almost everything about Twitter edchats.  There is a mutual passion and willingness to learn among educators participating in the edchats.  I have made numerous connections to other educators through Twitter chats, watched ideas shared and connections made through mutual collaboration, and participated in book studies led by authors.  Anytime, anywhere learning has made a tremendous impact on my professional growth.

On the other hand, some Twitter edchats feel like a rapid-fire event in which speed-typing the answers to the questions and trying to keep up become more of a frustration than a learning opportunity.  It often feels as if providing good answers becomes the priority over actually reading others’ responses, asking good questions, and having side-bar conversations.  Sometimes, the best learning takes place in those side conversations.  I appreciated the question George Couros recently posed to #satchatoc (What impact do you think Twitter chats have on student learning?)

Many indicated Twitter chat participants often provide shallow answers and chats become echo chambers, while others jumped at the chance to highlight the merits in Twitter edchats:

At times, Twitter edchats are contrary to what we know leads to deeper learning and engaged learners.  In Tom Whitby’s recent post, Twitter Chats for Learning, Easy vs. Hard, he posed some great questions about edchats:
  • Where was the thought?
  • Where was the pushback?
  • Where was the following of a progression of thought?
  • Most importantly where was the learning?

Is it good classroom practice for the teacher (moderator) to ask the questions and the students (participants) to just provide answers without any meaningful dialog?  Are we creating a learning environment for our students (participants) to be fully engaged in deeper learning?  

Here are my thoughts on how we can improve upon our own #gfedchat this school year.  

  1. We should remind and encourage our #gfedchat participants to be engaged learners. Recently, I provided a brief introduction at our middle and high school professional learning event and made the connection between students as learners and teachers as learners:

  1. Change the format once an awhile like #ndedchat did recently. The open format provided an excellent chat.
  1. Consider fewer scheduled questions in an hour on a particular topic to encourage side-bar conversations, allow ideas to percolate, and hopefully move ideas into action.
  2. Invite students to moderate.
  3. Encourage lurkers to JUMP IN
  4. I would love to hear other ideas to add to this list for improving #gfedchat and edchats in general.

Tom Whitby (Twitter Chats for Learning, Easy vs. Hard) highlights why participating in edchats matter:

“Although my personal preference is for the unscripted chat, there is no right way or wrong way of doing this. For some the only way they might be involved in any chat might be through the scripted chat. For many others the organic conversation that springs from the unscripted chat is the way they learn best. We are fortunate that any chats are now available to us as connected educators using social media for continuing professional development. Chats give transparency to education. We talk about our individual experiences on topics common to all. Chats are also a sounding board. Even more, they are a treasure trove for collegial sources, people who can help each other professionally. Participate in chats for all these reasons and to maintain relevance in a rapidly changing world.”

I am eagerly looking forward to another season of #gfedchat which begins again on Monday, September 21st at 8:30 pm.  Let it always be about STUDENT LEARNING.  All are welcome!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Lessons Learned from Our Dog Bailey

Just less a year ago, our dog Bailey was very sick.  We took her to the University of Minnesota for some further testing that determined the lymes disease Bailey had since she was a puppy needed to be treated again, along with addressing her kidney and heart issues. After almost a year of medications, special diet and a few more vet visits, Bailey was mostly doing fine until recently, she showed signs of some issues again.  She obviously masked those issues quite well, because on Saturday evening Bailey laid down in the grass, could not move, and was barely breathing.  We took her to the animal emergency clinic and determined Bailey was suffering from a large splenic tumor impacting many of her internal organs.  Because of the progression of the tumor and impact on vital organs, the decision to put Bailey down was virtually made for us.  After saying our goodbyes, her suffering was over and she went to sleep.  But, our sadness and emptiness was just beginning.  On the lonely drive home in the middle of the night, I reflected on Bailey’s impact on me, our family, and others.  She taught and reminded us of some very valuable lessons over the past 8 years.

  1. Be Caring - Bailey was extremely perceptive of the feelings of those around her and she had an insightful way of trying to make things better with a look in your eyes to say “it's going to be OK.”
  2. Exercise - Bailey loved to go for walks or runs.  Her excitement when she knew a walk or run was about to happen was priceless.  Because of Bailey’s love of the outdoors, our family logged numerous miles with her while improving our health at the same time.
  3. Play - While I regretfully didn’t fully subscribe to this mantra because as we know, there are always work and home responsibilities that just need to get done.  I am thankful of Bailey’s continual reminder that work can wait and the importance of play.  
  4. Be Joyful - After a challenging or long day at school or work, Bailey reminded us to leave those frustrations behind.  Our day was always made better with her greeting us at the door and saying “I am so happy to see you” with an enthusiastic tail wag (smile).
  5. Patience - While maybe not a trait of all dogs, Bailey was extremely patient and often put the needs of others ahead of her own needs.  She would usually wait by a door until someone let her out and wait to be let back in.  She sat by her water and food dish to let us know she was thirsty or hungry and would lay quietly by the foot of our bed until we woke up.
  6. Saying I'm Sorry - Bailey wasn’t perfect, so there were some times when she made mistakes.  Without even saying anything, she would sense our disappointment and say sorry by putting her tail between legs and head down.  She had a way of reminding us not to dwell on those mistakes, but rather forgive and move on.
  7. The Gift of Time - Bailey was the happiest when our family, or anyone for that matter, was spending time with her.  I would have loved to have some more time with Bailey and now wished that I would have spent even more time with her.  While time is a limited resource, we should be cognizant of how we prioritize our time and find time to spend it with friends, family, loved ones, and yes, even our pets.  Having no regrets is the lesson here.
  8. Unconditional Love - Somewhat related to time, our busy schedules sometimes moved Bailey down on the priority list.  She never took exception or was mad, but rather was always happy to see us when we entered the house.  What a great lesson.  No matter what, Bailey demonstrated her love for us everyday and we, in turn, loved her as a family member and best friend as well.

And, the list of lessons could go on.  The memories of Bailey will last a lifetime.  I know I am a better person for Bailey being in my life.  The best tribute we can give Bailey is to remember and live the life lessons she spent 8 years modeling and teaching us.  Thank you for being a wonderful teacher Bailey.  Rest easy sweet girl.