21st century teaching isn’t just about facilitating student learning with modern apps and web tools. It’s about adjusting our workflows as well to reflect the possibilities of a new, interconnected world. I hope these 8 tips will help get you started along the path to learning to learn like your students. Feel free to list others in the comments section as well!
1. Join (and participate) in a Social Network SOLELY FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES.
Okay, okay, I know. Many of us are on social media. We use it, we like it, we know it fairly well. But, have you ever thought of using a social network specifically for educational purposes? The best one for educators so far is Twitter, with a host of content and grade-specific chats available every week (a couple of my favorites are #edtechchat and #gaedchat). There are also lots of tips for educators getting started with Twitter. You can find some of those here, here, and here. There are so many resources out there on this topic I don’t have space to list them all here, but Twitter is certainly the leader so far for educators looking to create their own personalized professional development experience. Also, check out this great Twitter resource page from @cybraryman – it has everything from chats, to new-user guides, to curated lists of people to follow.
Also worth a mention here is Facebook. Yes, I know. We all love looking a cute pictures of other people’s kids and links to conservative and liberal rants, but did you know that Facebook is also used by thousands of educators to connect to each other? Consider setting up a strictly professional account to connect with educators. You can use this account for your professional needs and keep your personal account for those cute pictures of your kids. There are many mobile apps and Chrome extensions to make managing multiple social media accounts easily. I use HootSuite for iPad, but there are a host of others out there as well so you don’t have to keep remembering and re-entering passwords.
There are others out there as well – LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+, Tumblr, and EdModo just to name a few. The point is to get out there and join a network. Add some educators and start reading what they have to say first, then add your voice to the mix! Still not sure where/how to begin? This great blog post by Samantha Cleaver can help you get started.
2. Subscribe to YouTube educational channels.
Time to take a break from watching “What Does the Fox Say” and start using YouTube for more than a quick laugh. There are hundreds of excellent videos aimed at teachers as well as livestreams of podcasts, Google Hangouts, and conference sessions as well. Some of my personal favorites are Common Sense Media Education, Edutopia, and Matt B. Gomez (a great kindergarten teacher – I love watching what his students can do with technology!) These channels will inspire you to try new things in your classroom by showing you real-life examples of what students around the country are doing every day. Also, don’t forget to search YouTube if you’re having trouble using an app or web tool – there are a lot of great tutorials out there, too!
3. Google it before emailing someone.
We’ve all seen it – that annoying email asking a simple question that Google could have answered much faster and much better. Don’t be that person. Type that question into Google and save our fingers another useless email deletion. YouTube search works great, too! If you’re looking to dish out a little friendly revenge to that person, try using Let Me Google That For You. It’s a great way to give them a little visual of exactly what you mean!
4. Use cloud storage for personal and educational use.
If you’re like me, then your district’s IT department hasn’t yet fully embraced cloud storage. We still have gigantic file servers, but no officially sponsored cloud storage to access our files from home. But, have no fear. There are lots of great (and free!) cloud sites that can help you store and quickly access documents, photos, videos, and presentations: A few that I use are Google Drive (30G free with a Google Apps for Education account), Dropbox, Box, and Bitcasa. Most of these offer 10G-15G with a free account and more for a yearly fee. Go with the free account first and don’t forget to download the app and the browser extension to make these easy for you to use.
5. Follow (and comment on) educational blogs.
Whether you are a teacher, administrator, coach, or district leader, blogs are truly the gold mine of educational content on the web. They are where the rubber meets the road – where the headlines and tidbits get fleshed out for you to think about, reflect on, and refine your practice as an educator. Listing all of my favorites would take the rest of the afternoon, so you’ll have to make do with the links below to a few lists of best educational bloggers. I am trying to become more consistent with my own blog – time is a precious resource – but I love the chance writing a blog and commenting gives me to think deeply about my own practice as an educator.
I also always make it a practice to comment on blogs that I read. Not to impress anyone or just because I feel like writing either. Commenting gives me the chance to connect with the author and others about how the issues in the post relate to my own situation. I have found that authors almost always respond and that the conversation is collegial and friendly, even if I disagree with some of their points.
6. Collaborate with colleagues in the cloud.
“Did you mean the 2nd revision you emailed me or the 3rd revision? Or the 2nd edition of the 3rd revision?”
I don’t know about you, but I would be okay if I never heard this or anything like it again. Working on documents with colleagues can be one of the more frustrating experiences we have as teachers, but, take heart, help is out there! Google Drive (Docs, Slides, and Sheets) is a great way to collaborate securely with colleagues and even offers revision history in case somebody messed up and you need to go back to a previous version. This is a great way to work on presentations, lesson planning, unit resources, and common assessment with your colleagues and avoid the frustrations associated with file attachments, large emails, and questions over who did what. Even if your school isn’t a Google Apps for Education school, you can sign up on your own and get 15GB of free storage, and that doesn’t even include the docs, slides, and sheets that you make using Google Tools! Microsoft Office 365 recently announced an upgrade for schools to make this possible for Word, PowerPoint, and Excel as well. These or tools like them are a must as we transition to a more cloud-based environment in the future.
7. Use an online content curation/ note storage tool.
Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m a complete Evernote junkie, but there are many more tools out there that allow you to save bookmarked websites, notes, articles, grocery lists, etc. so they can be accessed from any device with an active internet connection. The important thing about all of them is to ALWAYS TAG YOUR NOTES. What is tagging, you might ask? It is essentially your own, easily searchable organizational system. No longer do you have to remember what notebook you put things in or what you called a certain file. As long as you attach tags to your entries, simply search by tag, and Viola!, your information is there. I use Evernote for articles, web resources, shopping lists, pictures of learning, receipts, and much, much more.
Some other popular content curation and note storage tools are Google Keep and Pocket. These have the same types of functionality as Evernote. One thing I like about all of them is that there are apps (and Chrome extensions) for every platform to simplify the process of storing and retrieving your information. Found a link on your computer but don’t have it with you at home? No problem – just open the app and get what you need from your smartphone. These tools really are game-changers for organization and being able to access that lesson you did last year – even if you threw out that notebook!
8. Try out Social Bookmarking.
Social bookmarking is #1 on my EduNew Year’s Resolution list. Web content is tagged and aggregated by users that you follow, making it much more efficient to find what you are looking for. Instead of searching google for great lesson plans, why not search a database curated by the 17 4th-grade math teachers that you follow? I’m looking forward to trying this out to see how it works for me. Two that I plan to try are:
Educlipper – think Pinterest for teachers – your education digital clipboard to access the content that you care about and filter out the noise! iPad app and Chrome extension available to make it easy
Diigo – a powerful research and knowledge-sharing tool – another great way to find and store things that are important to you and to teachers like you
I’m looking forward to learning about these and sharing in a future post.
Which of these 8 strategies are you already proficient with? Are any of them on your to-do list for 2014? I look forward to reading about yours in the comments below!