being me, connections

Why You Should be Voxing

image from icanread

I am not one to post much about new tech tools, after all, I don’t use a lot, which I know may be a surprise to many.  I tend to find a few that I really, really like and then use them to death, telling everyone to use it and then helping everyone do it.  I don’t review a lot of tech tools on here because that is not what this blog is about.  In fact, I can’t even remember the last time I wrote a post about anything new.  But it is time to introduce the world to something new, that may just make your whole summer; Voxer.

What is Voxer?  It’s a free walkie-talkie app.  Now, you may think, like I did, why would I want  a walkie talkie app on my phone?  The first time I was told about it by my friend Leah Whitford, I didn’t get it.  Then I forgot about it.  Then the Bammys finalists announcement happened, and another friend urged me to join the conversation happening on Voxer.  So I did, and I have loved it ever since.

First of all, Voxer adds another layer to my connections.  I can now hear someone’s voice on my own time (the audio messages are archived for whenever you want to play them) and that matters to me.  I can tell a lot simply by a tone or a quick comment.  Much easier than texting, much more meaningful than a direct message on Twitter.

Second, Voxer lets you add as many people as you want to a conversation.  I am a part of a few different groups that started out discussing one thing, but have since branched out into other topics.  I have loved seeing where these conversations have headed and also the new people that have joined that I did not know before.  (Don’t worry, you have to invite people to the conversation).

Third, I can reach out so easily now.  I have reached out to several of my friends and fellow connected educators with everything from a quick hello to asking for a favor.  I have also been sent messages from people I have never spoken to or met but that I have connected with through Twitter.  You decide whether people can find you or not, I like that I am findable though so I can expand my connections.

Fourth, it is making my commute awesome.  Because the audio and text messages are archived within the conversations chronologically, I can catch up whenever I want.  All I have to do is hit play and listen.

And finally, for all of the other reasons that I left out and a much better explanation of how to use it, please see Joe Mazza’s post on Voxer and how he uses it.  And a Google Doc where people have shared their Voxer names and info.

I am a passionate (female) 7th grade teacher in Wisconsin, USA, proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” can be pre-ordered from Corwin Press now.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

being a teacher, being me, connections

A Not So Delusional Guide to Twitter

When I moved my blog from Blogger to WordPress last summer I mistakenly assumed that all posts would seamlessly transfer.  I have since found the error in my thinking and have decided to re-post some of my more discussed posts.  This post first appeared in May of 2011 but still rings true to me.

I have read so many posts on how to get on Twitter and get connected, many of them offer fantastic advice and yet some of them keep reiterating how it is all about following.  Follow one person, and then see who they follow, and then follow them, and soon you will be following so many people you will feel like the most popular kid in the school.  Except you don’t.  Instead you feel like the kid who came to prom only to take pictures of all the cool people there.  So I offer up these tips instead for those trying to figure out Twitter.

  1. Follow one person, or even 10 but then stop.  Let yourself process what Twitter is and how these people are using the tool.  Don’t mass follow, you will find enough people to follow, just take your time.
  2. Connect.  Once you have a couple of people you follow, reach out to them.  Tell them you are new, tell them your story, and comment on their blogs.  Open up about yourself, start a conversation, and give them a reason to connect back.
  3. Don’t give up.  Sometimes I felt like the biggest loser when it came to Twitter; no one thought I was witty, no one rt’ed my posts, until I realized that this is not what Twitter is about.  Twitter is about the connections (I know, I sound like a broken record) so it is not about the retweets or single comments but the dialogue you get involved in and the people you meet.
  4. Who cares about Klout?  I didn’t realize I had a klout number until my husband asked me what it was.  Then I had to look it up because that little number meant nothing to me; it still doesn’t.  If you are asking whether Twitter is worth your time you probably haven’t connected with the right people, so keep connecting.
  5. Don’t worry about the popular kids.  One thing for ongoing discussion has been the grades of popularity Twitter educators seem to have.  Sure there are people with massive followings, but guess what?  They are normal people and they probably have that many followers because they say some really great things and they are good at connecting with others.  It is okay to reach out to them as well, no one is off limits.
  6. Make it work for you.  Twitter is what Twitter does.  I constantly use Twitter in new ways that work for me.  For Twitter to truly become a useful tool for you, it has to fit your needs.  There is no wrong or right way to use it (although there may be better or worse ways).

So there you have it, my small piece of advice on how to get something out of Twitter.  Of course, you can follow as many people as you want, but think about what your true goal is: numbers or connections?  I, for one, count my connections just as much as I count my blessings.

Be the change, connections, reflection

It Is Not Enough to Be a Connected Educator Anymore

image from icanread

Today I approved more than 70 comments on my  students’ blogs.  Strangers from Canada, England, The Netherlands, New Zealand, and many states took the time to celebrate the writing my students do, to encourage them to write more, and to praise their voice.  They shared stories of their own fire mishaps, their own resolutions, their own love of books.  All because my students asked them to.  All because I asked them to on Twitter.  Today was not an anomaly.  Today was simply another day in the life of my connected students.

I didn’t get connected myself at first so that I could connect my students.  In fact, it didn’t even cross my mind.  Why in the world would 4th graders need to have anything to do with the world?  Why would I ever want them to open up to strangers or to let strangers have any kind of contact with them?  Being connected was not something I saw as a necessity.  Being connected was something they could figure out when they were much, much older.

But then we got connected.  Once I started blogging, I realized that they should blog too.  Once I started learning from strangers, I realized the power of reaching out to others that knew more than me and how the whole world could be my students’ teacher, not just me.  I knew I was not enough anymore, and I was at peace with that.

Yet, I think we forget the power of connecting our students, even when we are connected ourselves.  We talk about connected educators and all that it brings into our lives, but I think it is time we shift the conversation to that of connected students.  Sure, I am connected, but that does not matter if my students are not.

So rather than just push teachers to get connected, let’s focus on getting their students connected too.  Let’s focus on showing what bringing the world in means and how it can change the way students think about the world.  Let’s focus on making global collaboration easy, even if on a small scale.  It is not enough to be a connected educator anymore, we have to be connected educators that connect our students.  We have to let our students reach out tot he world and see how the world answers.  We have to trust them to do the right thing and teach them how to do it best.  Just like we do for ourselves, we must push a global education, we are no longer enough in ourselves.


Be the change, connections, reflection

Do You Have to Be Connected to Be A Great Teacher?

This morning I read the great post Excuses, Excuses…Will a Child’s Future Wait written by Tom Whitford, a man I am lucky enough to call friend.  As I read it and nodded all the way through it, I kept thinking how right Tom was, and yet, when we discuss people not telling us they have time for social media, or time to learn about new technology, we also have to look at how many people don’t see these things as a necessity to being a great teacher.

In fact, the whole notion of being a great teacher, administrator, or whichever role one plays in education seems to be split between two large camps.  There are those that believe that as long as they deliver relevant content every day, cover the standards, get through what they need (even artfully so) that then they are doing their job.  That is what makes them a great educator.  Then there are those that believe that to be a great educator, one must be connected through something (social media, local group whatever), should be researching new ideas, and should definitely be implementing those.  Then one can be a great educator.

Those are two very different camps to be in.  One sees no need for outside connections and the other sees the creative urgency in having them.  One does not find the time necessary to make connections because it is not deemed essential to being a great teacher.  Whereas the other wholeheartedly believes in the necessity of these connections and thus takes the time to do so.  I wonder if the unconnected educator can be just as great as the connected one, I tend to lean toward a resounding yes because of what I see on a daily basis; plenty of “unconnected” educators that are still phenomenal teachers.  And yet, I wish they were connected because so many of them have great things to share.

So when I come across people that do not understand why I tweet, blog, or connect with other that I may never meet, I often wonder how they get inspired.  I know where I draw my inspiration from; my students, my family, and my PLN.  Where do those that do not have a PLN get theirs? I know I cannot convince them of the power of dedicating time to connecting, sharing, reflecting in a an open forum until they deem it important enough to dedicate their time.  And that is an entirely different mindset to cultivate, so how do we do that?

being a teacher, blogging, connections, journey, reflecting

Not All Teachers Have to Blog or Even Be On Twitter

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

I see a lot of posts and discussion about how we wish all teachers would get on Twitter or how all teacher should start a blog, and at first, I was a believer.  I know how much I have benefitted, in fact, how much my life has changed, because of blogging and Twitter.  And yet, now I falter on the belief of blogging and tweeting for all.

Blogging for me opens up a conversation that I don’t have the time for to have face to face some times.  It opens up debates, new ideas, and inspiration that I often cannot find in my every day doings.  However, it also removes me from seeking out those opportunities to have those same discussions “live.”  That doesn’t mean everyone responds that way, but I think many of us do.  Blogging is a tool for deep reflection, even though it is a public one, it is a time for me to put myself out there and to sort through what it is I really mean.  And that doesn’t work for everyone, and why would it?  We all have different comfort levels in how we share ourselves.

So instead of syaing that all teachers should blog we should hope that all teachers reflect.  Whether it is through a blog, throguh a conversation, through a journal; the reflection is what matters.  The reaching out to others and having those courageous conversations, putting yourself and your ideals out therefor debate, that is what matters.  Not whether you blog or not.

The same goes for Twitter.  I love Twitter because I can connect with others, easily, on my time.  Yet you can connect in other ways.  Twitter is not the only way you can learn something and again here I think it is the act of connecting that makes us herald Twitter as the best PD for teachers.  It is not Twitter that does the professional development for us; it is the way we use it.

So no, I don’t think all teachers should have a blog.  I don’t think all teachers should be on Twitter.  But they should all be reflecting and connecting somehow, somewhere, with someone.

collaboration, connections, projects, skype, Student-centered

So You Want to Do Mystery Skype?

Mystery Skype is one of those ideas I wish I had thought because it just so fun but instead I was lucky enough to hear about it from Caren MacConnell.  The concept is simple:  classrooms Skype call each other and try to guess where the other classroom is located either in the United States or in the world.   There are many great resources out there but for my own sanity I am creating one list for future reference:Before the call:

  1. Sign up – there are many places to sign up and some are even grade level based.  I signed up a couple of places but also tweeted it out; the response was immediate as a lot of people are doing this.  If you would like to sign up:
    1. 4th Chat Mystery Skype
    2. 6th Chat Mystery Skype
    3. Mystery Country/Mystery State
    4. The Official Mystery Skype Community from Skype
  2. Decide on a date and time – don’t forget to consider in timezones.
  3. Prepare the kids
    1. We wanted to know facts about our own state so that we would be ready for any question.  We therefore researched the following questions: climate, region, neighboring states, time zone, capital, famous landmarks, geographical location.  All of this gave the students a better grip of what they might be asked.
    2. We also brainstormed questions to possibly ask.  We like the concept of the questions having to have yes or no answers as it makes the game a little harder and has the students work on their questioning skills.  Questions we came up with included whether they were in the United States, whether they were east of the Mississippi, Whether they were West of the Rocky Mountains, If they were in a specific region, whether they border other countries, whether they are landlocked etc.
    3. Give jobs.  I think it is most fun when the kids all have jobs, so this was a list of our jobs:
      1. Greeters – Say hello to the class and some cool facts about the class – without giving away the location.
      2. Inquirers – these kids ask the questions and are the voice of the classroom.  They can  also be the ones that answer the questions.
      3. Answerers – if you have a lot of kids it is nice to have designated question answerers – they should know their state facts pretty well.
      4. Think tanks – I had students sit ina group and figure out the clues based on the information they knew.  Our $2 whiteboards came in handy for this.
      5. Question keepers – these students typed all of the questions and answers for us to review later.
      6. Google mappers – two students were on Google maps studying the terrain and piecing together clues.
      7. Atlas mapper – two students used atlases and our pull down map to also piece together clues.
      8. Clue keepers – worked closely with answerers and inquirers to help guide them in their questioning.
      9. Runners – Students that runs from group to group relaying information.
      10. Photographer – takes pictures during the call
      11. Clue Markers – These students worked with puzzles of the United States and maps to remove any states that didn’t fit into the clues given.
      12. Problem solver – this student helped students with any issues they may encounter during the call.
      13. Closers – End the call in a nice manner after guesses have been given.
    4. Note my students have since then tweaked these jobs – here is a link to our new Mystery Skype jobs

During the Call:
During the call you just have to step back and trust the kids.  My students were incredible, both with their enthusiasm and their knowledge, I think I was more nervous than they were.  I did have to fact check some of their answers so I did stay close by but otherwise it ran pretty smoothly.  We decided which class would go first with their first question and then there were two options:

  • Yes answer: They get to ask another question.
  • No answer – Other team’s turn to ask a question.

Students were allowed to guess whenever they thought they had a great answer (and it was their turn).  In the end, both classes were able to guess each other’s location.
One note; Don’t allow kids to use the Internet to try to google the other class – it spoils the geographical purpose of the challenge.

A list of questions as created by my students to help you start.

For our preparation for this, I showed the kids this video on Linda Yollis’ blog – it really gave the students a concrete example of what to expect and they got very excited. Also Mr. Avery has a great discussion of jobs he had students do during the call.
Jerry Blumengarten also has a nice collection of links on one of his many pages that was helpful to me.

Here is a video of our first call with Joan Young’s class

We are already excited to try it again!