Saturday, October 31, 2009

Shaping Well-Rounded Youth in a Digital World

This video profile of 14 year old Virginia from Edutopia had multiple impacts on me. First, I was impressed with the balance this young lady is learning as she conducts her life on many fronts: home, church, school, service, and social. And then I was impressed with WHY I believe she is learning that balance - because she has parents who are involved with her and a school and a teacher who see the importance of exposing students to the latest technology tools and teaching them the ethics and safety they need to be responsible digital citizens. I wish this young lady's story were more typical of teens across our country and our globe.

Schools can and should do a lot more to help shape well-rounded citizens like this young lady. I say that knowing it's not as simple as throwing some technology into a classroom and getting the kids up to speed. Even if the money for the purchase and maintenance of the "stuff" was no object, staff development would have to be continuously implemented. Technology coaches and teachers need to be well trained and continuously supported in order to create environments that will nurture more students like Virginia. As I write this, the system I work in is not there - YET. We'll get there. We're already making some baby steps, and we'll get there. It is hard not to be impatient, though, as this New York Times article suggests.

After viewing the video below (it will be a well spent and inspiring seven minutes!), if you want more in depth information about Virginia, her teacher, and her school, you can access it here.

Please post a comment with any thoughts you have after viewing this video!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Operation Christmas Child - A Simple Shoebox Can Impact a Life!

In the "About Me" section of my blog page, I have a little statement that says there are "no guarantees that a more personal post might not sneak in every once in a while". Well, this is one of those posts! My blog is 99% edtech, but Operation Christmas Child (OCC) is such an important ministry to me personally that it gets to sneak into the 1% non-edtech.

OCC is a ministry of Samaritan's Purse International. Each year they send millions of shoe boxes to children in desperate situations - poverty, war, natural disaster, famine - all over the world. The shoe boxes are full of toys, school supplies, and necessity items selected and packed by people just like you and me! The kids receive their shoe boxes at parties put on by local Christian ministries, they hear the true meaning of Christmas, and they receive a Gospel storybook in their own language. The local ministries then follow up with the children and families who are open to continuing to receive help.

What I love about this ministry is not only the impact it can have on the children who receive the shoeboxes, but also the amazing lessons it can teach us and our children - that Christmas isn't supposed to be about get, get, get, me, me, me. It's about God's gift to the world in His Son, and in honor of that gift, our giving to others.

In the United States, collection week is November 16 - 23, just before Thanksgiving. There are collections in other countries, too, and different rules for what you can put in your shoeboxes and different collection dates.

For more information about OCC, how to pack a shoebox, and where and when to donate shoe boxes in your country, please visit these links:

This video captures what my words cannot. I dare you to watch this video, see the looks on the kids' faces, and NOT send a shoebox!

Thank you for taking the time to consider supporting this effort. Please leave a comment if you are familiar with OCC or decide to participate!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Building a Personal Learning Network (PLN) on Twitter

The Personal Learning Network (PLN) that I've built on Twitter over the past couple of months has become an amazing resource for learning about what's going on in the educational technology world. I was excited when I had an opportunity last week to present using Twitter as a tool for personal learning to some of my colleagues. Although I knew I wouldn't have time to share everything I've learned or done over the past couple of months with them, I wound up reflecting back in some detail on my own journey as I prepared for the presentation.

The list that follows is a result of that reflection. You might think from reading it that building my Personal Learning Network (PLN) has been a linear, methodical process, but in reality I stumbled my way through and saw the steps I took only on reflection. I almost titled this post How To Build a PLN on Twitter, but that would imply that there really is a specific "method".

One thing I've learned about using the web and Web 2.0 tools in general is it's often "messy"; that is to say there are not usually step-by-step guidelines for doing this or that. So glean what you can from the list below. What worked for me may not work for you, but I hope you find a nugget somewhere that might help you along the way.

If after reading the list below you find yourself wanting to know more, you might want to check out these PLN related blog posts from @kylepace and @shellterrell, or take a peek at my first PLN building post (before I knew it was called a PLN!). You might also want to check out my Twitter related links on Delicious. Tons of informational resources there! (NOTE: As of 2011 I am using Diigo as my primary online bookmarking tool. You can now access my Twitter related links there as well.)

I reference the building of an educational technology (edtech) PLN below, but you can apply the same principals to building a PLN on your topic of interest.

This is what has worked and continues to work for me in my PLN building:
  1. I set up a Twitter account. You might want to pick a Twitter username that reflects why you are on Twitter. I did that on accident because I was investigating for professional purposes, but in hindsight I’m glad I did! The name I picked was EdTechSandyK.

    Privacy Tips These are personal preference to me, useful if you don’t want your pic and name all over the web yet:

    Numerous other sites pick up Twitter tweets or feeds, and they lift your pic/avatar with them. I didn’t know that at first, but I’m glad I use a cartoon avatar.

    I decided not to use my last name in my account.

    I changed my email account to a new one I created just for edtech stuff. That way friends don’t find me when they sign up for Twitter. Since I don’t use Twitter to keep in touch with personal friends (I have Facebook for that), this works for me!

    I kept my account protected at first (no one could follow me without permission) until I figured out what was going on.

  2. I started slowly by following just a few organizations or ed tech leaders I knew. Ex: @TCEA, @ISTEconnects, @wfryer, @moodlefairy

  3. I scanned Twitter help to see what all of the symbols like RT and @ and d and # meant.

  4. IMPORTANT TIP: After following a couple of folks, I took a few days to just observe: Watched tweets (posts) of the people I was following and watched who they RTed (re-tweeted or re-posted). I started to follow some of the folks they frequently RTed. (I subscribed to a few blogs based on links I saw tweeted, too!)

  5. Edtech people tend to tweet a lot of links. I save ones I might use to my Delicious account for future reference. (NOTE: As of 2011 I am using Diigo to save my links.)

  6. I started to RT (re-tweet or re-post) useful tweets when I saw them.

  7. I started to notice #hashtags (words that start with # like #edtech, #moodle, #teaching) and added them to my RTs when they applied. #Hashtags help other people on Twitter find posts related to topics they are intersted in.

  8. I also searched by #hashtags to get more info. This helps you get ideas without having to subscribe to a lot of people all of the time. I subscribed to more people who posted a lot about #edtech.

  9. Eventually I got brave and posted original tweets with good resources I had found. I used #hashtags with them, too, so people looking for that info would benefit.

  10. Started using to better organize my tweets and see who was RTing me or replying to me. It also made shortening links a lot easier!

  11. I started to get more followers! I monitor my followers and block spammers and marketers. You can tell by going to their profile and seeing what they Tweet about. A suggestive or pornographic profile pic is also a sign you don't want them to follow you. Unfortunately, those folks are out there. (You should subscribe to the @spam Twitter account and report all spammers and pornos to them.)

  12. A couple of EdTech leaders on Twitter added me to recommended lists on TweepML. I was flattered and that has really increased my follower numbers which potentially increases my PLN. Here are their lists in case you are into EdTech:

    @ShellTerrell TweepML EdTech List: (Link no longer active)
    @NMHS_Principal TweepML Education PLN Builders: (Link no longer active)

    NOTE: As of 2010, TweepML no longer exists. Twitter has had a built in list feature of its own for quite some time. 

  13. Now that I've been at this a little longer, I don’t follow people as easily or quickly as I did at first. There’s only so much info a person can take in! Before I decide to follow a Twitter account, I look at their profile. Are the majority of their tweets specific to edtech? Do they share lots of resources through links? Or are they just tweeting mostly mundane stuff?

  14. I don’t feel obligated to follow people who follow me. I usually check them out when they start following me, though. Or if they RT me frequently I might check them out again down the road.

  15. Out of courtesy to my followers, I try to keep one-on-one conversations private (direct) or very short if “public”.

  16. I was following some news tweeps and other personal interest tweeps, but it got to be too much for me on one account, so I started a separate account for following them. I keep that account protected (no one can follow me) and don’t Tweet from it at this time. Using it's easy for me to check both accounts at the same time.

  17. I was obsessive about reading EVERY Tweet at first, but it quickly became information overload. So, I now follow the “stream” philosophy. I won’t see every drop of water that goes by, and I won’t know what I missed. I glean from the drops I do get to see.

Well, that's it! That's where I am and how I'm operating now. If anything stood out to you or you have other tips on building a PLN, I hope you'll comment and share!

5/6/12 Update - I am amazed by how often this blog post gets visited or resurfaces on Twitter, two and a half years after I originally wrote it. It was early in my PLN building when I wrote this post, yet each time I revisit it, I find it still pretty accurately represents the process of building a Twitter PLN. Earlier this year I presented a three hour workshop on Twitter for Professional Learning at the 2012 TCEA Convention in Austin, Texas. If you liked this post, you might also benefit from the resources from my presentation, which I published in a Livebinder here. Hope to see you in the Twitterverse! Be sure to comment below or Tweet me and let me know if any of this information was helpful to you. ~ Sandy Kendell, AKA @EdTechSandyK