Connected Learners #ce14 #clmooc #DigiLit Sunday

Connections.  Everywhere. A network of sharing and growing.

That’s what being a connected learner is.  My connection with #clmooc has expanded my focus from one classroom and one teacher, to a networked community from which I can give just as much as I can learn.

Here’s a network, a small one:

Note: You can enlarge the MindMap and click the related links.

Create your own mind maps at MindMeister
I’ve made several connections by following blogs of people I admire and learn from on Twitter and in other communities. Here you see and can link to the Two Writing Teachers and Grant Wiggins. Their blogs brought me information about projects, workshops, rubrics, and checklists. I had already read about and started using the question strategies noted in the Right Question book, but Grant Wiggins brought it new dimension.

I designed a project based on a focus question:

Thousands of kids from Central America are entering the United States illegally — and alone.”

Students wrote and considered open and closed questions before reading an article about it. Then they answered their top three questions.

By this time I had read the blogs and Grant’s book, so I designed an authentic task that would include several Common Core State Standards as students collaborated, investigated, discovered relevant content, designed a campaign, and edited each presentation:

“With a team of peers, collaborate to create an informational or persuasive campaign for an audience of your choice to share the information you research about “Thousands of kids from Central America are entering the United States illegally — and alone.” Each team member will create a project for your campaign that meets the expectations of an investigative researcher and project designer. Together, your artifacts will present a thorough, factual, and detailed explanation, and perhaps solution, of the topic. “

Along with the task, considering the Common Core State Standards,  I drafted a set of Essential Questions which we will consider all year:

Essential Questions:

  • Investigate: How do researchers investigate successfully?
  • Collaborate: What strategies and processes do collaborators need for success?
  • Discover and Develop Content: How do readers and writers determine and develop relevant, accurate, and complete topics?
  • Design and Organize Presentation: How do publishers design and organize content for their audience and purpose?
  • Edit Language: Why and how do editors and speakers use and edit with the rules for standard English grammar and language?

I had already drafted a rubric, and now revised it to include the Standards and the five topics of the Essential Questions. Finally, I created draft checklists that explain the rubric and allow students and I to connect and confer on the progress and growth of their work. We now have authentic work: Kids Alone.

Student chose their focus, audience, and purpose and began their investigations, collaborating in teams. I confer with each team as we discuss the checklists and transfer our progress to see how we meet the expectations on  the rubric.

Here are the project documents:

As we work on our campaigns, students are connecting with each other and with me. I provide feedback towards learning goals and standards, and peers teach peers as well. Here is one example from a team of four students: Debate: Are You For or Against Obama?  There audience is bloggers, and their purpose is to consider both sides of an issue.

So, through my connections in blogs, on Twitter, and through blogger’s books, I have developed a learning progression that differentiates student learning, expects high standards of work, and provides a venue for students to connect and collaborate as well. Since many have chosen to publish work online, their connections could grow globally.

We are all connected learners.


Post also part of NSD21 and DigiLit Sunday:

DigiLit Sunday is a Sunday post on literacy, an invitation by Margaret Simon, to share literacy strategies and tools for the classroom. This week’s list of bloggers: Sunday, October 19, 2014.



Resilience: A ReMix of “Bent But Not Broken

Created with Haiku Deck, the free presentation app

Resilience. For yourself. For your students.

My friend Susan Spellman-Cann created the HaikuDeck and a blogpost, “Bent But Not Broken” to guide us in resilience.

She says, ” We need to see students as they should be and help them to see what they are capable of becoming. We can help them in becoming more resilient by being that role model for them.”

It’s not easy, especially if you teach middle school, because they do know everything already. But we see their hearts, their unseen acts of kindness, and their ability to look to each other for support. We think our “role modeling” is for naught at the time, but through the course of the year with them, you’ll hear them remind you, “But you said…” as they repeat your self-talk modeling when you, the teacher, need it. They hear. So be a role model for resilience.

Here are more resources from Susan:

Resilience is hope, and something I’ve been thinking of for a while — how do I help students cope and learn, to be resilient in the face of so many obstacles. I am even adapting a BIE project on resilience that I call I Stand Eight, which I hope to implement next fall.

Thanks, Susan for adding to the conversation on helping students live learning.

What other strategies for teaching resilience are there?

#nablopomo #nablopomoed This week I considered…


Over the past week I considered my three classes, each as a community of learners. How will I meet their needs? differentiate? create a student-centered focus? include tech tools as appropriate? What projects will inspire them? motivate them? engage them? show their learning? This will be my main consideration.

Over the past week I considered several projects that accomplish meeting the needs of two demands: 1) coaches expectations and most importantly 2) student engagement.

I hope to begin two projects.

For one, we will begin a wiki for sharing “The Six Traits of Writing — You Can Too” [or whatever title the students design]. Our first focus will be Sentence Fluency, which is my part of the collaboration with my colleague who will teach Conventions.

The other is a news project for student journalists focusing on both reading and writing goals. In my mind I see literary and prose — reviews and news. I’m not sure how it will play out — I would like teams on Edmodo to plan , drafts in our Google Docs, and publish in a blog. I may start with reading news, as in this News and You idea. I will revise an old project: News Project.

Over the past week I considered my novel for #NaNoWriMo. November is hectic because I have so much in my personal life to accomplish and so much expected for school. I took a deep breath and planned out the month to meet what I need to do.

And that’s an overview of Day 10: Over the past week I considered…


Teach Search Teach Research

Oh yes! My PLN friend, Denise Krebs, reflected on her students’ research skills in her blog post “A Need for Researchers Workshop,” just as my NSD colleagues did the same.

Even with our structured science project with Gooru Learning (, our students needed help with search terms and relevance, “chewing” and “digesting,” a metaphor created by Denise:

Research Advice

We didn’t realize how hampered our students are in truly understanding and applying information. perhaps because of our focus on “What reading objective are you teaching / learning today?” Understanding requires more. We have frequent “Walk Throughs,” to gather information about our teaching as part of our WIIN participation. Part of the Walk Through includes posting our objectives, which the students should be able to explain.

As I reflect on the process, and look at the objective suggestions, I understand where I need to head. The results show that we are moving up in teaching “higher order thinking skills,” which is a good thing, and suggests where we plan to develop more teaching strategies. It seems by focusing on posting the “objectives,” our lessons may have been limited, and projects that require and enhance critical thinking skills slid to the background as we focused on our required Grade Level Expectation objectives.

Students in my class did focus on the suggested strategies of “Nonlinguistic Representations; Identifying Similarities and Differences; Cues, Questions, and Advance Organizers; Summarizing and Note Taking,” and drawing conclusions, making generalizations, and identifying cause and effect. We even developed an “ABC” format for answering questions, which I have written about here. On classroom-based evidence, students demonstrated the skills taught, skills that will help them with understanding ideas and concepts during a research project. However, on practice “standardized tests,” with only “standardized” teacher instruction, students fell back into their usual and general answers to questions, without re-reading or looking up the answers.

Because the students could choose their own topics, and because the science teacher and I were guiding the students with organizers, feedback, and conferences, we looked forward to student work that analyzed ideas and demonstrated understanding of their chosen concepts.

Of course, in independent projects, learning isn’t linear and tangents are allowed, but to stay focused on “the question” for research requires skills (especially “digestion” and “nourishment” as Denise has described.) Our students were learning about the world and were amazed at the concepts they had chosen. Their conversations among themselves were invigorating and questioning. The dialogue as such demonstrated an awakening of taste buds that caused them to wonder further. It was obvious they were building background knowledge each day, background in the concepts that interested each of them. But in sharing, most only “nibbled” and “spit” out facts without digesting the information and nourishing their understanding. To be fair, their work was interrupted by testing and other requirements, and we learned just how much students background knowledge in science needed kindling. Our project actually became a one of building background knowledge, and their sharing showed their new basic understanding; next year we can dig deeper.

My favorite summaries which shows the students’ understanding are these:



 Two slides from, “How to Make a Speaker” (animated in presentation)


As you can see, the students did learn, and the information in Gooru Learning is geared for 5-8 and 8-12th grades.  Most students could explain their topic to us orally, and with time could have done more with explaining their understanding in writing. But the “more” we need, is through frequent time with reading, research, and reflection. The required objectives will be covered and taught, but the students will “do” the objectives in real research, not just to answer questions for meeting one objective.

Project/Problem Based Learning demands critical thinking skills, and requires the “lesser” skills in order to solve the project or problem. It’s the way I used to teach when I had a self-contained class. I started Pinterest Board on PBL earlier in the year and I follow the work at Edutopia. When asked to “post” objectives, the daily directives take over, and the projects slither away to make way for basic questions.

The science teacher and I now know that we need to combine our expertise and time for more project time in science and language arts. If we are to teach students to think critically and creatively we must spend more time on projects.

Our students need to: Connect, Contribute, Collaborate, Consider, Communicate, Create, Curate…

Connect: able to connect with relevant information and people

Contribute: able to add relevance

Collaborate: able to work and create together

Consider: able to analyze and synthesize ideas, organizing and transforming them into new understandings

Communicate: able to explain clearly

Create: able to share in new or remixed ways

Curate: able to document, organize, and annotate own and others’ work

Research requires careful consideration of ideas — to deeply understand  and — to “Read like a detective, write like an investigative reporter,” as suggested in the Common Core State Standards. To consider is a research must.

So, we also will  focus on higher order thinking objectives during research workshop next year with an emphasis on search, organization and collaboration, and making sense of the information:

Purposeful search: Using advanced search techniques to narrow the scope and raise the quality of information found on the web.

Effective organization and collaboration: Being able to organize all of this information into a comprehensive and growing library of personal knowledge.

Sharing and making sense of information: Sharing what we find and what we learn with the world, and using the knowledge of others to help us make more sense of it all.

from eSchool News: Why More Schools Aren’t Teaching Web Literacy and How They Can Start by Alan November and Brian Mull

We will entice the appetites of our students, present a feast from which they can choose their main dish, and guide them to digest the morsels of information to nourish their minds with new understandings from which they will present their own feasts for us to savor.

Here are some resources we will use to help students search:

Understanding Google Search

Use Key Words

Follow A Relevant Link

Basic Tips

Validate Your Sources


Thanks again for to Denise Krebs for her inspiration. What search, organization, collaboration, and sense-making strategies and tools do you use to teach your students?  Please add them to this Google
Teach Search Teach Research Presentation
, and let’s build some lessons together.


One Does What One Can

Sparrow 01

Build PLN 2

1. What do you hope to learn more about with respect to your PLN in the coming weeks?

I hope to connect with others to help one  another with whatever we can, and perhaps connect with projects that help our students meet their standards in real ways– connected globally.

I hope to learn how people do balance their lives with the inspiration from their PLN, with the tasks of our work, and with the needs of our families.

2. What have you learned with creating your PLN that you wish that someone had told you before and what tips do you have to share?

I’ve learned that participation in tweets, social networks (ning, Facebook, wikis, etc.) and webinars helps to build one’s PLN. I’m thankful to those who welcomed me when I joined. Please read about that journey two years ago here (you will find many people to follow– and perhaps you were even tagged): Twitter Mosaic

One thing to remember is that your PLN is fluid: one connection will ebb today and then tomorrow will flow again; another link will breathe life into a project, and later will sigh away to come back another day. Your PLN breathes partnerships in and out according to needs. But the inspiration, the relationship does stick: we are sticky notes to each other, posting one day here and another day there. It will continue to grow, but will change; your projects will build, discontinue, rejuvenate. Just keep participating; that is key.

Participation means tweeting, retweeting, blogging (your own or in Nings you’ve joined, ASCD Edge, NCTE, etc.), attending and chatting in webinars, and joining projects (Build PLN Challenge, #JJAProject, Flat Classroom, etc.). It does not mean writing treatises, but rather adding some bit to the stream of ideas; something that helped you that could help someone else. Just choose a few of interest to you and check in at least weekly.

Places for Webinars:



TeachersFirst OK2Ask


Places for connecting in projects:



Teachers Connecting

VoiceThread Wiki

“The World is our Classroom!”

The Global Education Collaborative

But always remember: balance and basics. Just do what you can. Like teaching, you never know when that one statement, idea, or link totally changed someone else’s situation.

In the Middle East there is a legend about a spindly little sparrow lying on its back in the middle of the road. A horseman comes by and dismounts, asking the sparrow what on earth he is doing lying there upside down like that.

“I heard the heavens are going to fall today,” said the sparrow.

“Oh!” said the horsemen. “And I suppose your puny little legs can hold up the heavens!”

“One does what one can,” said the sparrow. “One does what one can.”

Flickr CC by raysto

So, even a small contribution can support someone’s needs.

“Friendship is almost always the union of a part of one mind with a part of another; People are friends in spots.”

~ George Santayana

So go forth as you can; your PLN are your “friends in spots.”

What “spot” are you looking for to help you? What “spots” do you wear from which others could learn?

Photo Credit: Sparrow 1 Flickr CC by Fiqman Sunandar and Spots Pic Flickr CC  by raysto

Power: Compelling Collaboration

BeadworkHow powerful is global collaboration?  Sue Waters asks this. Even small projects can prove beneficial in more than academic ways.
I’ve just blogged a reflection on an ongoing project between my fifth graders in Nespelem, Wa and Kim Trefz’s fifth grade in Memphis, Tennessee to share the goals and results of a serendipitous Web 2.0 meeting of minds.  I read an intro to a new edublog on twitter, which linked to her classroom blog, which included a voice thread. I commented and we emailed. Twenty hours later, Kim and I had Skyped and decided to collaborate. We’ve centered our work around a wiki idea: Living History.  To meet each of our schools’ requirements, we’ve adapted as the needs demanded. We skyped an exhibition of our Native American dancers (please read blog) and bookmarked historical text and videos about our bands.  They researched and wrote about Memphis in wiki and Mapskip entries.  We then highlighted main ideas and commented with Diigo, and revised the comment in Mapskip. Her students are commenting back. Her reflection is here.

We’ll be starting up wiki collaboration after our respective Spring Breaks. It’s been an opportunity for both our classes to build commonalities despite our differences, all through the power of writing and learning with Web 2.0.

My eighth grade students respond to a mentor, preservice teacher from the University of Regina in Regina, SK, Canada who is creating photography lessons for my students.  We annotating pictures to add to a project in Youth Voices, a youth blogging site.

My fifth grade students watched the inauguration of Barak Obama and heard his call for service.  Therefore, we started a VoiceThread for which two other schools have now added their voice for “Mr. Obama, we can serve by…”

The sixth graders just started a mentorship with another University of Regina preservice teacher on newsblogging.

I became involved because students love the computer, and writing class is a natural place for being IN web 2.0 responsibly with its fullest capacity: text, images, video, design.

My students are more engaged in learning through the empowerment of a digital footprint with others so far away who have similar goals (writing to publish, service) but come from different backgrounds and experiences.  Because we live in a very rural area, now my students begin to understand similarities in a world of multiple perspectives; they think, care, and produce as responsible, digital citizens. These projects help meet our school mission: “to enable a child to become a thinking, caring, productive person using high academic standards in a positive learning environment.”

Flexibility is key to such projects, especially in the beginning, so that participants can engage while learning the schools’ required objectives. Dive in is the next key. Kim had not skyped before, but signed up that night, emailed me her name, and I skyped her to test it out the next morning, not knowing it was her staff meeting time. She introduced the Mapskip aspect to us.  It was an exciting adventure that just blossomed for all of us. Focus on the global: our overarching goal became sharing living cultures even though our vehicle is writing.

I recently sent this tweet to Kim, which represents the heartfelt side of these projects:

“ktrefz picture this: two of my boys -arms around each others’ shoulders – reading your kids Mapskip comments [back to them]; smiles; joy in their lives; thank you”

This is the joy of leading the change we wish to see in the world.  Powerful, isn’t it?

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  Gandhi


Much bolder projects others in which others have succeeded can be found at the Flat Classroom Project:

Find other projects at:

Teachers Connecting:

Online Projects 4 Teachers:

Commenting to our new friends