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A quick post to say that the Learning & the Brain conference (Web-Connected Minds) last weekend in Arlington VA was terrific. A whole lot to think about. And in order for me to process all the information, I’m going to start working through my notes and get some stuff out here over the next week.

First, I was happy to meet some new colleagues in the field. Conversations and emails swapped during individual sessions, new connections made through the Twitter (search hashtag #LB32 for the stream of tweets from the conference), and a face-to-face “tweet up” on Saturday night made the experience all the richer. A tangible benefit of the workshops, keynotes, and conversations is that my stack of books-to-read has grown tremendously. I started an open Google Doc to get all the recommendations down in one place, and I got plenty of input from presenters and other teachers at the conference. Please take a look, add your own suggestions, or comment on the ones that are there (or write in the Comments section below). I haven’t read all of these books, but I’ll try to work through some of them this summer. I’m going to start with Play by Stuart Brown, and Brain Rules by John Medina. I’m also interested to read Cathy Davidson’s Now You See It after her fascinating talk on Sunday morning.

Thanks to @fitzwits, @plugusin, @reyjunco, @tobyfischer, @kjongtech, @henesss, @bradfountain, @mSchlemko, @raviniareading, @jennifercottle, @snbeach, @CathyNDavidson, @tkraz, @AVIDbrian, @lottascales, @rfmoll, and @learningandtheb for book recs, thought provoking tweets, talks, and great ideas.

Also, Maureen Devlin (@lookforsun) writes the blog Teach Children Well and she put out a tweet this morning, looking for teacher summer reading suggestions. Feel free to chime in there as well.

So, what’s on your reading list?

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All interesting for different reasons.

Another article on the teenage brain, “What’s Wrong With the Teenage Mind” by Alison Gopnik, WSJ 1-28-12: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203806504577181351486558984.html

NPR’s First Listen of Shearwater’s new album “Animal Joy,” which comes out next week. Thanks, Paul for the link: http://www.npr.org/2012/02/05/146083321/first-listen-shearwater-animal-joy?ft=1&f=1039

Free Stamford course on human behavioral biology by Richard Sapolsky. A fascinating course, dynamic speaker, and free through iTunes or YouTube. Found via @openculture: cultr.me/gg92Hk

Noah Geisel from TeachPaperless on the usefulness of Twitter: http://teachpaperless.blogspot.com/2012/01/twimpact-twitters-impact-on-my-week.html

To be filed under “fascinating reads of all kinds” and “things that make you think,” check out Brain Pickings, which is mostly book-related, always interesting. Also see their companion Tumblr bookshelf for a quick look at all the books they talk about.

 

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I need to write these things down before I forget them. I actually typed them first into a catchall Google Doc I’ve started called “Before I Forget.” (That document has notes on everything from books I’d like to read and music I’d like to check out, to what we’re having for dinner on Thursday night when friends come over.) So most of that list won’t be of any benefit to anyone but me (although parts would be interesting to some). But I digress…

Here are the things I’d like to follow up on after tonight’s #scichat (Tuesdays 9pm; Twitter):

  • Using a Pecha Kucha model to help students work towards more effective presentations – 20 slides, 20 seconds each. It doesn’t work for every presentation, but I really like the model. You could modify it to fit your class or project (10 slides, 20 seconds each; 10×10; you get the idea). Several teachers mentioned that they limit the amount of text allowed on a given slide. I find this incredibly helpful for 7th and 9th graders.
  • Revisit Prezi this year – good presentations, bad presentations; how to make a good one? I signed up for an account last winter and played around with a presentation to introduce Cell Respiration, but I ran out of time before the unit started. Revisit.
  • Twitter #APBio chat for Mondays 8-9pm EST. I don’t teach AP Bio, but I might listen in.
  • Read “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information” by Edward Tufte. Called “the Strunk & White” of visual design. Are there elements of this that could be helpful in teaching my students to communicate effectively with visual media? I think there might be. Added to the book pile…
  • Add contact info to The Science Teacher’s Hub to broaden PLN – http://sciteachhub.wetpaint.com/

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Cross-posted at HowToUse65.

So, with the interest of collaborating and sharing ideas with other educators, many teachers have begun to “build” their own Personal Learning Network (PLN). “Grow” a PLN might be a better way to put it, since a PLN expands organically (in some ways), and it requires tending, occasional pruning, and general upkeep not unlike a plant or garden. It’s also made of living people. Making connections with other professionals in one’s field is not a new idea. Professors and scholars of all kinds have been traveling to other cities, monasteries, and universities for centuries with the intent of sharing information and learning from others. This happens today, although The Professional Conference now plays a significant role in many fields, as do the organizations that sponsor those conferences (NSTA, NABT, NCTM, NAIS, etc).

Everybody has a PLN, by the way. Your PLN includes the people in your department, colleagues present and past; they could be down the hall or a phone call or email away; it might include classmates from your college or university, folks you’ve met at conferences, on trips, through old fashioned social networking (family connections and cocktails), or sometimes they are simply friends of friends. Who do you turn to when you have a question about content, about teaching, assessment, learning styles, use of time, lab procedure? Who do you bounce ideas off of? Those people are part of your PLN (whether you’ve called it that or not). I can’t help but think of the old Sesame Street song — and I apologize in advance, a little, for getting this stuck in your head — “Who are the people in your neighborhood?

What’s different now is how people are making connections outside of those conferences, using the Web to share best practices, pedagogy, breakthroughs, field work, etc. (a web-based PLN). Blogs can also be a terrific forum for conversations, ones that allow for reflection, thoughtful comment, and discussion.

There are many ways that the Web can help to connect people:

Teaching networks like Classroom 2.0 are designed with connecting teachers of all disciplines. The Synapse is a similar network specifically for teachers of biology, and I’m looking forward to making new connections and participating there.

Twitter is a remarkable resource that’s used by many different people in many different ways. Thousands of educators have latched onto this tool as a way of sharing information and making connections. I joined Twitter during a workshop at November Learning‘s Building Learning Communities conference back in 2008, and it’s been key in growing my PLN. The website Twitter4Teachers is one of many that make it easy to find colleagues by discipline in other schools, districts, states, and countries. It can also be used in the classroom.

I use Delicious primarily as a way to keep track of web links from interesting articles I find online. If I don’t have time to read it all, or if I know I’ll want to have access to it later, I’ll add it to my bookmarks. I’m curious to find out how other people use Delicious.

This is just a start. Which tools you’ve found most helpful in connecting with other educators?

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I’ve been reading a lot about the use of technology in education, about the connectivity of (and between) teachers and students.  Ewan McIntosh and Alan November are responsible in part; I heard both of them speak at the BLC Conference in Boston in ’08.  But a whole network of educators online have been steering my reading material in recent months.  The Teach Paperless blog has been especially interesting and thought provoking.

So I’ve been reflecting about how teaching is done in general, and thinking about my teaching in particular.  I think this is healthy and important to do.  With a few years of experience, I think I’ve gotten better at reaching individual students and diversifying my approach to material; I’m certainly more comfortable leading and coaching than I was when just starting out.  I am a better teacher.  But I still teach in basically the same ways: provide a framework for the content, make it interesting, set up projects and assignments that allow students to engage with the material, have them learn from primary resources and from their partners, get them to think.

But I have a goal of integrating technology more into what I do in the classroom.  Are there ways that technology can improve how kids learn, and improve how we assess what they are learning?  Can we use computers for things other than word processing and fact retrieval?  What if students build a class wiki or website for a project, use Google Docs to share information with partners, create video tutorials to share skills and content, participate in real time during class on Twitter, blog their creative writing instead of handing in paper?  The answer is a resounding “Yes.”  I’ve done several of these things in my class (student-created website on photosynthesis, Google Docs, video tutorials), and I’m looking to see if any others might also fit.

That much said, there are several decidedly low-tech aspects of my class that I have no plans to change.  My students spend time outside in the woods to learn about classification and ecology, we make sourdough bread from a wild starter to appreciate the beneficial role of bacteria, and we’re planning to plant a small garden this spring.  Those units (and others like them) aren’t going away.  The experiential nature of those projects provides hands-on opportunities for learning that can’t be replicated by software.  So any change or experiment with technology needs to be done with the goal to improve and facilitate student learning.  It can’t be just for novelty’s sake.

I’ve been happy to connect with many educators on Twitter.  They share ideas for projects, software, current events.  It’s a large, vibrant, interactive community.  I found many teachers via the Twitter4Teachers wiki; you can add a brief line about what you teach, as well as links to your website, blog, or Twitter account.  Here’s a bit of what I’ve been reading (thanks to many folks online):

ConverStations: http://www.converstations.com/
Dangerously Irrelevant: http://www.dangerouslyirrelevant.org/
Ewan McIntosh edu.blogs.com http://edu.blogs.com/edublogs/
Open Culture: http://www.openculture.com/
Teach Paperless: http://teachpaperless.blogspot.com/
The Technology Sandbox: http://nccstechinitiatives.blogspot.com/
Twitter 4 Teachers wiki: http://twitter4teachers.pbworks.com/

As this post is also about connectivity, I’m curious to hear what sites and projects have been helpful to you and your class.

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