Thursday, December 2, 2010

When Students Also Teach....Guest Blogger Shannon Miller on the Blue Skunk Blog

This appeared on Doug Johnson's Blue Skunk Blog on December 1, 2010.

In response to a blog post last week, Shannon Miller, Library Media Specialist in Van Meter, Iowa, sent me a personal e-mail. She has graciously allowed me to use the e-mail as a guest blog post...

I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your post Dear Students, Please Lead a Thoughtful Revolution.
These few lines are just awesome and so RIGHT ON.....
If you want to see this kind of revolution that will use technology to help make your schools more effective and meaningful to you - not just the same old, same old with a few bells and whistles - you will need to be the ones who lead the revolution.
Technology alone won't create change. I am less and less convinced that adults will be able to fundamentally change how school is done.
I think it will be up to you...

We are a 1:1 laptop school at Van Meter (Iowa) and it is amazing how things have changed. And you are so right....It is not the technology alone. The thinking has changed. The playing field has leveled....not just with students, but with teachers. The teachers are not the only teachers anymore...the students are also the teachers. And this is okay. This is the really powerful transformation that we have all been lucky enough to be part of. We are part of an environment filled with respect, creativity, collaboration, connecting, thinking, learning, and one of CHANGE. At Van Meter, we want students to find their PASSION. Through this transformation we encourage them to think, lead, and serve. To be part of something bigger...outside of the walls of their school and into the world. This is where every one of our students are going to make a difference and mark on the world in their very own way.

This year I have been fortunate enough to teach a very special group of young people in a PLN/Web 2.0 course that I developed with Bill Brannick from Philly. I have a group of students in Van Meter and we have connected with a group of students at Bill's school too. Our blog, The Student PLN Connect, is one place that we have connected our students and a place for them to be heard. On the side of the blog you will see all of our students blogs. We connect through Skype, Twitter, and email throughout the week. The students are

just finishing a collaborative project that they have been working on with a partner in the other school. By offering this experience to these students and to see the powerful connections has been amazing. My daughter, Brianna, is a student in the class. To see her Skyping and talking with her friend Reanne in Philly while working on a research project together 1,000 miles apart is so incredible. This experience is teaching both of the girls valuable skills and giving them a sense of how powerful connections can be.

And the element I love the best....the chance for our young people to have a VOICE in their education. For them to make a difference in the world. Today we Skyped for a few minutes with our classmates in Philly.

Earlier in the day I had sent them the link to your post and asked them all to read it, discuss, and reflect. I just got done reading the comments that they left. I am so proud of each one of our students in #vanmeterbpchs.

They are our future and we need to let them be heard!


Shannon McClintock Miller
Van Meter Community School District Teacher Librarian, Technology Specialist, and National Honor Society Chapter Advisor

And a few reactions from students to the post...
My name is Reanne _______. I am a junior at Archbishop Prendergast. I have to say I am in total agreement with you. I believe that is the purpose of our Web 2.0/PLN class, preparing a group of student leaders for the revolution that is occurring! I think that all students entering in to a 1:1 community SHOULD read this post so they can grasp the gravity of the situation.
The purpose of technology in education is to further our knowledge in the right way. We aren't learning to use netbooks so we can check our facebook during class- it's so we can better our understanding of the availability of tools and people on the internet and be able to use that in a learning environment.
I agree that 1 to 1 will allow us to be more creative and publish our own ideas. It helps us to be self directed learns and find new tools that will enable people to do more things. Also 1 to 1 will help kids with technology and teach them to use different tools, websites and plenty of more things. This will allow both students and teachers to connect with other students and teacher from different schools, they can collaborate on ideas and new tools.

I am from Van Meter, and our school has a 1:1 program. We've had [laptops] for two years now and I think this was the best change for our school. Having computers was a big step for our small school of 600 students. We embraced the change though, we are now teaching our teachers how to use the technology. Our computers are tools, but it isn't just about the computers. Having them has been great but the computers are doing more than just eliminating text books. They are changing the way we are thinking here at Van Meter. I know I have been thinking differently I am using social media like Twitter, to connect with people. I recently connected with the mayor of our town. He is going to help me with my interest of public relations. I hope the more I learn about communication, and public relations the easier it will be in college, and in the business world. Without these computers and new methods of teaching I would not be as motivated, and I would not be this interested in my schooling. I think we have such an advantage over kids that don't have a 1:1 program. We are expanding our knowledge further than just a text book, and what our teachers can teach us. It truly is a revolution, a revolution for the better.

I am a student at a 1:1 school. We have laptops for grades 6 to 12. There are about 600 people in the whole school grades K-12, so it isn't a very big school, but even in our little school changes are happening because of technology. We now do more projects that we used to, and students have more responsibility. Like anything there are pros and cons to this. Not all of the students are as responsible as they should be, and, as with all technology, there are problems that can set everyone back. Although, I do think that the good things outnumber the bad things.We have access to more information, and have so many great tools available at our fingertips. It is a change, and some people don't like change, but I believe it is a change for the better.

Excellent post! It truly portrays the core ideals of the social and education revolution that we are defiantly entering. Our society is moving into a more technologically involved community in both our school, workplaces, and homes. If we are not ready, if we are stubborn and do not move forward, and if we refuse to get involved into the revolution, we will fall behind in this global society that we have entered. Thank you Doug for writing this article. I am a student in a web 2.0 class at MBAPCHS and it has allowed me to learn more about social media, creating my pln, and learning how to sift through information than I could have alone. Very cool video as well! It is awesome to think how much better education would be if this tool was universal. Your article is an inspiration to students and educators everywhere and I hope that many get a chance to read your article and take what you wrote to heart to utilize these ideas in their environment. If one day every classroom, student, and educator were able to utilize these tools, this education revolution would be in full motion forward into the future!

So why do things like this happen in little VanMeter, IA, but not universally? Inspired leadership? Supportive communities? Alignment of the stars? Dumb luck? Inquring minds want to know. - Doug

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Proud Teacher....21st Century Learning

By. William Brannick (He also posted this today on his blog, The Constant Learner)

Today was a really cool day for our Web 2.0/PLN class. And with this really cool day, it happened to happen on the day of Blog for Reform. The Web 2.0/PLN class has been mentioned in this blog, as well as our expected move to a 1:1 environment in the 2011-2012 school year.

It was today, during class, where I had an opportunity to sit back and enjoy the tremendous growth of my students. Today the class had an opportunity to Skype with the newspaper writers from Martin Luther King High School in Philadelphia, Ann Leaness‘ school. This was the first opportunity in which all of the students were able to be interviewed about the class.

What impressed me was how they worked together in preparation for the interview and during the interview. Approximately ten weeks ago was our first Skype session with Van Meter. My students were shy and unsure of how to communicate via this new medium. Today, they were polished! They presented themselves in a manner which allowed each member of the class to present their opinions to each of the questions asked of them.

After class I went back to my office and took a look at our school’s 21st Century Learning Criteria. (A collaboration of Daggett’s work and the work of the Partnership for 21st Century Learning) As I reviewed our criteria, I reflected on the recently completed interview. Very simply, I was proud! The only direction I provided to my students was, “Ok, remember today we are going to Skype with a local high school newspaper staff about our class.” From that point the students assembled themselves, collaborated on how they would approach the interview, and communicated extremely well during the interview about their expectations and experience thus far.

The class is a very broad based. It is much more of a conversation of the tools the students use and new tools available for their use. We only meet twice per week given our schedule. However, in a relatively short period of time I have witnessed a group of individuals whom have come together to work as a team to be proud representatives of their learning.

When discussing 21st century learning, we often talk about the self-directed learner. Today, I witnessed that learner! One who is able to communicate effectively and work with others seamlessly.

I am very proud of my students. As our school community continues to evolve I expect many similar days ahead!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Web 2.0 Class: Students Learn 21st Century Skills, Collaboration, and Digital Citizenship By. Andy Marcinek

This was posted on Edutopia today.

Christopher Columbus was wrong when he reported to the King and Queen that the world is round. In fact, the world is flat and so are many of our classrooms in this great nation.

For years, students learned within the parameters of a building, which then separated them into rooms. Students would attend class daily and the teacher would present the daily lesson. This is how a school day has progressed for years. And in many US classrooms, it still does. However, this not the case in three high schools in Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts.

Students in Van Meter, Iowa, Burlington, Massachusetts, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania are experiencing education in a new room. Yes, they still go to class in a building, with walls, doors, and windows, but there is something different about these three classrooms. They are all connected. The classroom is flat.

A Flat Classroom
Led by the efforts and collaboration of Patrick Larkin, Principal of Burlington High School, Shannon Miller, Librarian at Van Meter High School, and William Brannick, Principal of Monsignor Bonner & Archbishop Prendergast Catholic High School these three schools are collaborating weekly through various technology mediums.

Last year Mrs. Miller taught a personal learning network and social media class at Van Meter High School on a smaller scale. “I told Bill [Brannick] about it when he visited with his Superintendent and Technology Director last spring to Van Meter.” Says Miller “Lets do this together. Let's connect our two schools!" So over the summer, Mr. Brannick and Mrs. Miller worked on designing this class together using a Google Doc. Closer to the school year in #edchat one night, Mr. Larkin decided to jump on board with his Burlington High School PLN class.

The Virtual Classroom
The class is designed to teach Web 2.0 skills, digital citizenship, personal network building, and social media responsibility and practice. The students in all three of these classes have never met in person; however, they have all connected via Skype and their class blogs. They have also had many professionals come and speak to them via Skype. This type of learning is limitless and allows students to broaden their scope of the world. "Since I have started using Skype and blogging," notes Jessie Hasenwinkel, junior at Van Meter High School, "I have been able to virtually meet the people that can help me get the answers I need for what I am searching for in school and one day, in my career."

Each week students write a blog post on topics such as defining a personal learning network, using Skype in the classroom, and how to promote blog traffic. Students subscribe to each other's blogs using Google Reader and leave comments for each other. Some students in these three high schools have made great connections and found common interests. They are expanding their learning opportunities and through the efforts of the teachers and principals, engaging with vast community of learners.

The critic in all of us may say this is simply using the tools and distracting from learning. This is a statement each student in each of these three classes would eagerly contest. Reanne Maskart, a junior at MBAPCHS states, "You have to adapt to the world around you or progress can never happen. That is the ultimate goal of education, right? Progress. Continuous progress." The ability to adapt to a world in constant motion is a key skill that all of the students involved in this project clearly realize.

There are plenty of new skill sets at work and one of them is necessary in every facet of life: Being an effective communicator. These students are speaking, writing, and collaborating with people they have never met. "Everything that I have learned in class," says David Loomis, junior at MBAPCHS, "will help me use technology in a responsible way that can promote my creative ideas." In higher education and the work force, this skill is necessary. Michelle Morgan, a senior at Burlington High School states, "For example, I would create my personal learning network or PLN on ideas for college, tips and such, on swimming and diving, and other miscellaneous subjects that interest me." This type of learning is allowing students to create learning communities in which they have the ability to share common interests. Students must learn not only to be an effective communicator, but an efficient, responsible one. This class is accomplishing both. Principal Patrick Larkin comments, "I am amazed at how little the students actually know about connecting with others for educational purposes. They use social networking solely for socializing. It has been great to see the lightbulb start to go on in regards to them seeing these tools as a resource."

The Role of the Teacher
Mr. Larkin, Mrs. Miller, and Mr. Brannick are not just letting their students venture out into this brave new world of social media alone. They are providing them with the essential skills of what it means to be a digital citizen. They are teaching responsible use of social media and removing the taboo from Facebook and Twitter. These tools can open many doors and provide opportunities for students if used in a responsible manner. Brianna Perry, a junior at Van Meter High School says, "This class is teaching me how to shift through information, how to find the information, experts, etc. that will be beneficial to me. [It's} teaching me how to be a responsible, digital learner.” The fact that some schools simply block these tools and never teach responsible use is like placing locks on a fence surrounding a pool but neglecting to teach kids how to swim.

Critical thinking via technology
The students in these three classes are learning in an environment that is familiar to their generation and exciting. These students are learning how to be critical readers and thinkers, while opening up rich, academic conversations via blogs, Twitter, and Skype. Mrs. Miller says, "My students cannot stop talking about our connected classroom. They have made so many new connections and realize that their classroom is not simply limited to a room, but is an expansive canvas.”

This is the where the excitement in education begins. All of these students are learning beyond the classroom walls. Many of them correspond via their blogs after school or update each other on common interests via Twitter. They realize that what they put on the Web will be effectively permanent and that responsible digital citizenship is necessary in all facets of social media.

What these students are learning is invaluable and should be integrated into more of our classrooms. The opportunity for teachers to bring in authors and speakers to their classroom is out there. We simply need to make this happen and give our students the best opportunities to learn. At the end of the day we, as educators, hope students can walk away from class saying what Amy Ly a junior at MBAPCHS says:

I have enjoyed learning with people from different environments and experiencing learning outside of a single classroom. Though we may all seem the same, each and every student has different opinions and ways of learning; therefore, with the sharing of ideas through classrooms via blogs and Skype, we, all, as students are given greater opportunities for success.

*All of the Student PLN Connect Blogs can be found at The Student PLN Connect and BHS Web 2.0 Class

Thursday, September 30, 2010

PLN's...A New Frontier For Our Students! By Patrick Larkin

By Patrick Larkin, Principal at Burlington High School

I can't remember a better start to a school year! Getting back into the classroom to teach our school's first Web 2.0 class has been a daily highlight. It is so satisfying to help show students how to establish an on-line identity for the purpose of building a Personal Learning Network (PLN) and extending their learning on topics that they are passionate about. Selfishly, I also embarked on this endeavor back into the classroom to learn from my students. Thanks to their great insights, this week has been especially fruitful!

First, there is Akash who defined a PLN in one short paragraph in a blog post this week. This is something I have struggled to do in five weeks! He topped that off with a wonderfully honest post on why students cheat in our schools in another post. This post to an article titled American Schools Lax on Cheating from the Washington Post. Then there was Michelle who offered a post on how she feels about "Busy Work" in school. These are just a few of the firsthand examples that have served as a reminder of the powerful addition that our students add to the equation when it comes to discussions that the adults in schools so often struggle with. Clearly a number of the students are starting to hit on one of our two major objectives for this course, establishing an on-line voice.

That leads me to the second major objective for the course which is building a PLN. For anyone who has undertaken this exciting task, you know there is nothing better than connecting with other people who share your passion on a particular topic. During the last couple of weeks, my students have started to realize their connectedness as they have made connections with students from Van Meter, Iowa by sharing blog comments. Getting comments on a blog post is exciting, but getting them from students over 1,300 miles away is even better.

Topping the blog comment, in my opinion, is the Retweet. For those of you not familiar to Twitter, that is when someone confirms the quality of one of your tweets by sending it on to all of their followers. In the last two days, I have seen a couple of posts by BHS students retweeted! It was a proud moment! Check out the retweets above where Akash's post on cheating was retweeted by educators from South Africa, Iowa, Oregon, and Arlington.

All of this and we are only midway through the first term. Opportunities to make connections with students from Monsignor Bonner & Archbishop Prendergast High School in Philadelphia and Cam High School in Anita, Iowa are available. But in reality, opportunities to connect with learners everywhere are a few keystrokes away. You can set your own course and if you have something important to say, people will respond. That is what a PLN is all about!

My PLN has allowed me to connect with passionate educators like Shannon Miller, Van Meter High School's extraordinary library/media specialist, and Bill Brannick, the Principal at Bonner & Archbishop Prendergast High School in Philadelphia. These two have also embarked on a similar journey at their own schools, showing students the power of a PLN and showing the world the power of student connections. Keep checking in at The Student Connect PLN and see what are amazing students are up to.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

It’s More Than Just a Class...It’s a Revolution!

Guest Post by Reanne Maskart, 11th Grader at MBAPCHS in Philly

You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity, he will continue the learning process as long as he lives. ~Clay P. Bedford

I think this quote truly sums up a PLN ( Personal Learning Network). I believe that a teacher is only an educator when they not only instruct but inspire: likewise, a student is only a learner when they have hunger for knowledge. These two things come together and plant seeds for the future. When a student has a teacher who truly wants to educate them and help them succeed in life, great things happen. I am very blessed that I have two educators like that in one course. Thank you, Mr. Brannick and Mrs. Miller, I hope that you both realize the true impact you have on our lives and how much we appreciate you for it.

I have to say, I had my doubts at first... I wasn't really sure about what the class was about, how hard it was going to be, if it was even something worth my time since it takes place after school. After the first MEETING I was SOLD! I started dreaming up ideas and thinking of all the possibilities that stemmed from this. I was thinking how exciting it would be to work with peers in Iowa, and how great it would be to use the web for everything its worth!

I must say, I am truly inspired by this class... I have been working hard to keep up, and to excel where I can. Recently, I Skyped in to class in Iowa on a day that MBAPCHS had off from school. This may sound crazy but I stayed home on a day off because I was really thrilled about skyping with my class. During the class, I got to talk to a couple of the students face to face and I was starting to really get to know them and put faces to names, and I was so glad that they all got the chance to see and talk to me as well!

Later that night, I was Skyping, texting, Facebooking, Twittering a whole lot of my peers in Iowa and thinking- Wow! This is great! Even better then I expected.

I've also had opportunities to talk more with Mr. Brannick and Mrs. Miller individually and directly through Skype and Twitter, I'm so glad that I know and feel comfortable with both so much! I love my class and all the people in it on both sides, this has been such an inspiring and eventful kick-off I can hardly stand it!

We've used so many cool Internet tools I never even knew about! I made a wonderful video for my goddaughter's 2nd birthday with I taught my classmates how to use Google Docs so we could collaborate on a English essay. I did extra credit in Theology class with I talked with all of my classmates on Twitter, Skype, and Facebook. So many names and sites it sounds like it's almost to much but it's just the scratch of the surface!

I assure you... This is only the beginning, today I must stress to anyone reading this that we are beginning a mini-revolution of learning! Think of Mr. Brannick and Mrs. Miller who met on Twitter! Think of we, the students, who met each other online, not in person, but who we still call friends! Think of all the time, effort, and thought we put in to our projects and blogs, and how this class is making a difference to each and everyone of us. Then, you too, will see us as front line in our evolution of knowledge!

Thank you to everyone who has spoken to the class, Will from Juxio, Maggie from Diigo, and Kimmie from Symbaloo. Thank you to everyone else who has helped with the class, any tech support, twitter followers, and Blog readers. Most of all, thank you to Mr. Brannick and Mrs. Miller, none of this would be possible without you, and I will never ever forget that.

Monday, September 27, 2010

From Concept to Reality....A Very Humbling Journey By. Bill Brannick

Today I am honored to have Bill Brannick, principal at Bonner & Prendie in Philadelphia, and my partner in this adventure add an incredible post from his blog The Constant Learner.

From Concept to Reality....A Very Humbling Journey

My journey into my PLN, Twitter and my own professional development has been documented in this blog. My personal growth on Twitter and a growing relationship with the great folks at the Van Meter Community Schools was highlighted in my first post. My own experience has taken me from one who truly doubted social media in education, while at the same time knowing little about it, to one who embraces this medium on a daily basis.

During my May visit to Van Meter I had a great experience and even better conversations. In one of those conversations, Shannon McClintock Miller and I talked about teaching our students together about PLN’s. She was completing her first year teaching a Web 2.0/PLN class and we discussed what an opportunity it would be to expand this learning experience to students outside of Iowa! (Present me with an opportunity for my students to learn and count me in!) The background of the class has been documented in our first class blog post, written by Shannon.

This post is not to rehash the background of how the class started, rather about the experience I have had since school has started. On the Philadelphia side of this Web 2.0/PLN class, we are starting something new! The background for the class was developed throughout the summer of 2010. Only a few days before the school year started I was officially given the opportunity to speak with my students and parents about the class itself. I had a relatively small yet very spirited turn-out for the meeting about the class. All of those who came to hear about the class signed-up for the class. A great start indeed!!

Our time together has been relatively short. However, I have seen the eyes of my students wide open! I have seen a willingness of each of the students to stay after the “bell!” (I am running the class as an extra-curricular class/activity; therefore, no formal ending.) The students don’t want to run out of the room when I say we’re done. Best of all, we have had some great conversation! Conversation about what they post to the Internet, about what tools they can utilize to use their time more efficiently and how to connect with those around the world.

When Shannon Miller wrote the post about the class, I literally had tears in my eyes. (I am proud to say I can be an emotional person!) The reason for my teary eyes…because I have had the opportunity to see students energized, interested and engaged with others their age about how to grow as an individual!

I am humbled by the willingness of Shannon, the students of Van Meter and the students of my school, Bonner & Prendie, to allow me to experience this with you. Each of you are my inspiration to become better each day! Thank you for your support, trust and respect!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Start of Something Great....Connecting Students 1000 Miles Apart!

Once upon a time, a superintendent, principal, and teacher librarian from a small town in Iowa called Van Meter met a very cool principal from Philadelphia on Twitter. After a little tweeting, the principal from Monsignor Bonner & Archbishop Prendergast Catholic High School came to Van Meter with his superintendent, technology director, and one teacher. They learned about the 1:1 laptop program, connected with others, watched kids be creative and excited about learning, and most of all...experienced the Walking Taco.

This was the start of something amazing between these two schools.

And the start of something great for me as a teacher, learner, and most of all a person.

My name is Shannon McClintock Miller and I am the district teacher librarian at Van Meter Community School in Van Meter, Iowa that was lucky enough to be the one in this story. And let me tell you how the story continued.

Last year I developed and taught a PLN course to eight students the second semester. I watched these students find their passions and connect with others through social networking and other resources. Throughout that semester, I thought a lot about ways to create a network for our students in which they could express their creativity, thoughts, and ideas. Someplace that would foster a desire to move outside of the walls of our school and into the world to take their learning to a whole new level.

As the semester continued and the students connected to others, I also connected with my new friend Bill Brannick, principal at this terrific school in Philly. We discussed education, kids, and my PLN course. We talked about ways to get his school involved and decided to connect the two schools virtually and online to create an unique experience for all of us. Over the summer, Bill and I Skyped and worked in a Google Doc writing the course description and expectations. When I went to Philly for #ntcamp in July, we were able to talk face to face and this got me even more excited for school to start. I knew that we were onto something very special.

Our school years have now started at both places. Our classrooms have came together through Skype, Twitter (#vanmeterbpchs), Facebook (Van Meter/BPCHS Connect), and now through newly created student blogs (you can find everyones blog on the right hand side of this post). We have invited several creators of web 2.0 tools into our class in the last few weeks. We learned about Diigo from Maggie, had fun creating a Juxio with Will, and started a Van Meter/BPCHS PLN Webmix in Symbalooo with Kimmie. And we were lucky enough to have Tom Whitby, creator of Educator's PLN Ning and #edchat speak with the students about developing and the importance of their PLN. And it is only September 22nd....I can't wait to see what happens in the next eight months!

This summer I traveled to ISTE in Denver, Colorado. When I got home I wrote this blog post on VOICE called, Are Students Part of My PLN Too? . My students are such an special and important part of my PLN and now I have another group of students in Philly that are just as wonderful!

This might be just the start of something special but just wait....this is definitely going to be one group of kids that will show the world what they are capable of not just inside the walls of their schools, but outside too!