Connecting & learning in schools: students, teachers and parents

On a sunny, blustery afternoon here in Kinvara, I’ve just returned from an uplifting meeting with teachers at our local primary school. Nearly every year for the past 8  years, I’ve participated in information evenings for parents, speaking about internet safety issues related to social networks popular at the time (e.g. Bebo, Club Penguin, YouTube and most recently Facebook) – for example Our Children Online workshops. This year, when asked to give a similar talk, I hesitated. I explained that I simply couldn’t focus on “internet safety” without also discussing social media in the context of learning – for students, teachers and parents.

So today I met with teachers, as a parent and as a fellow educator. We discussed how learning has changed enormously, particularly in the past decade, through technologies such as broadband and wireless internet access, YouTube, Wikipedia, social networking, and open access to education resources. The trend towards learning that is more open, mobile and social provides many opportunities for more authentic learning, at every level of education. Social media, in essence, breaks down the walls of the classroom – the world becomes the classroom, children can become one another’s teachers, and teachers can facilitate deep learning experiences.

Of course there are challenges. Resources are scarce: for faster internet access, for more computers and devices, and for training. None of us were taught to learn nor to teach in these ways.  We rely on our PLNs (Personal Learning Networks) for information, ideas, inspiration, encouragement and support. And we can use tools like Twitter to build those essential networks of support.

I posted a question on Twitter earlier today, inviting messages to our session in Kinvara, using the #kinedu hashtag. Our thanks to all who took the time to say hello and to send encouragement. As I explained to those of our group who are new to Twitter, just this small sample of tweets conveys the warmth, humour and encouragement available on Twitter – plenty of encouragement to begin building a PLN! :)

During our session today we explored Twitter and blogs, checking out some wonderful work by students and teachers in Ireland and beyond, including the #edchatie Twitter chat and community; @MrsBellsClass Junior Infants class on Twitter; @DeputyMitchell‘s QuadBlogging initiative; and Heathfield school students talking about blogging (a great response to this video!). A list of resources which we explored today is below. This is just a starter – please feel free to suggest other resources in the comments so that we can add to this list.

I was simply inspired by the enthusiastic response of the teachers today. “How do hashtags work?”, “How can I get Twitter on my phone?”, and “What can I do with my students on Monday morning?” were some of the questions. Our session ended with lively discussion, plenty of laughter, and promises to check out Twitter, blogging, Google Reader and more. I look forward now to meeting with parents, and to continuing to participate in these essential discussions between teachers, parents and students. We communicate, we connect and we learn.

Finally, several of us will be attending the ICT in Education Conference in LIT Tipperary (Thurles) on May 19th. The theme is “Learning Spaces” and with keynotes by Ira Socol (@irasocol) and Pam Moran (@pammoran) and workshops by many Irish educators it promises to be a great event. Hope to see many of you there!

Resources explored today (Twitter, blogs and more) particularly relevant for schools:

@SeomraRanga  |  @IrishTeachers  |  @NL_84   |  @fboss  |  @sccenglish  |  @thefrogblog  |  @Parents_GortCS 

@DeputyMitchell  |  @TheHeadsOffice  |  @ShellTerrell  |  @kvnmcl  |  @MrWejr  |  @gcouros  |  @InnovativeEdu   

Irish Teacher Blogs – aggregate of blog posts by educators in Ireland

Anseo.net – monthly magazine-style website, edited by Irish primary teachers @simonmlewis and @rozzlewis

SeomraRanga.com – blog run by Damien Quinn, primary teacher in Sligo, sharing a wealth of resources for the primary school classroom

Coderdojo.com lists all Coder Dojo clubs in Ireland and abroad – great new initiative for young people to learn how to code

NetFamilyNews.org – excellent site for advice on technology and internet safety, edited by Anne Collier

Digital Literacy and Citizenship Curriculum – collection of resources for schools, published by CommonSenseMedia.org

A Parents’ Guide to Facebook (2012 edition) – published by NetFamilyNews.org

Great blog post by danah boyd (@zephoria on Twitter) about parents helping their kids to violate Facebook’s 13+ rule.

Stephen Heppell’s resources on using mobiles, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc. in the classroom

What schools are really blocking when the block social media (DML Central, January 2012)

Sincere thanks to all of the teachers and the principal at St. Joseph’s National School, Kinvara.

Kinvara image: used with permission

Be bold. Embolden others.

I was inspired by Josie Fraser’s (@josiefraser) #purposed post when preparing a presentation for last Saturday’s ICT in Education Conference (#ictedu) in Tipperary.

In Ireland, as elsewhere, we live in uncertain times. There is uncertainty about the economy, the environment, education, technology — indeed, the future. Our world is increasingly diverse and changing rapidly. As educators we must not only accept this, but equip our students for this reality. Whatever subjects we teach, at whatever level, this is of paramount importance. It is not just a cliché that we are educating students for jobs which don’t exist yet, for a future that we cannot predict. We have an obligation to educate students to expect change, to be willing to be changed, and to effect change. We also must model this resilience and willingness to change.

The ability to do this, in a sustained way, lies in the power of connection. Our increasingly diverse connections (or networks or PLNs) are the key. It is through these connections that we are emboldened. Connecting with and learning from others emboldens us. When we learn what others have tried, have learned, have failed and succeeded at, we are emboldened to try out our own ideas — perhaps ideas inspired by others, perhaps our own conceptions. But the courage to take risks can be found through our connections with others.

Over the past two years, I have interacted with a growing number of educators and others on Twitter. As my network of connections has grown, so has my creativity, my productivity, and my willingness to take risks and try new ways of teaching and learning. I am a far better educator thanks to my connections with others — my connection with you.

Through my connections I am emboldened to try new ideas, new tools, new techniques. I learn from these experiences and from my colleagues and students, and then I share that learning… not just in conversations, but amplifying it via Twitter, blogging, etc. Once we acknowledge that our connections inspire us to act and to take risks, the next step is to recognise that we, too, must share our experiences. The cycle continues.

This concept is illustrated beautifully in the 1.5 minute film Obvious to you. Amazing to others. by Derek Sivers (@sivers).

Connection amongst educators is happening. But we also must share this powerful opportunity with our students. To equip our students for the future, learning to connect and share well is as essential as learning to read and write well. We teach our students about the vital link between connection and learning by providing opportunities for social networking and mobile learning inside (and outside) the classroom. This is essential.

Finally, I think that the same tools and technologies can be used to improve connections between parents and teachers. Many schools are already active on Facebook, and some on Twitter. The Parents Association at my local school, Gort Community School, is active on Twitter (@Parents_GortCS) and has facilitated some positive engagement between parents and teachers. But greater opportunities exist — if we are bold enough to take them!

I was delighted to have the opportunity to share these ideas with a group of engaging educators, from all sectors of education, at #ictedu on Saturday. Great discussions followed about thinking in the “white spaces”, PLNs, using Twitter in schools, blogging and more. Thanks to all of the participants for your thoughts and your energy. I look forward to continuing the discussions — here in the blog, on Twitter, and beyond. My presentation is here:

And now it’s time for me to be bold and use what I learned about Storyful from @dermotcasey to share more of the brilliance of #ictedu!

“Sharing with each other; this is the precious work we have to do.“– John Davitt (from previous post on PeLC11)

Willing to learn

“We are not what we know but what we are willing to learn.” –  Mary Catherine Bateson

I spent Saturday at the 27th annual PACCS Conference here in Galway (PACCS is the national body for parents associations of community and comprehensive schools in Ireland). In opening the conference on Saturday morning, I began my address with Mary Catherine Bateson’s quote. Bateson’s simple observation has always struck me deeply, both as a parent and an educator.

The day before the PACCS conference, I tweeted a request for resources that would be useful for parents of secondary school students. I sent this request from my own account and from the Twitter account I use for our school’s Parents Association:


My thanks to @fboss, @marloft, @celaV, @maireadflanagan and @frazzlld for passing on the word and offering suggestions, which were shared with parents (and added here). Tweets from the conference were also shared by @frazzlld, @EGSParents and @PACCSIrl, using #paccsirl.

I learned a great deal from the conversations I had with parents over the course of the conference on Saturday:

  • I learned that many parents of second-level students are not fully aware of recent advancements in further and higher education: moves towards online learning, e-textbooks and open educational resources; changes in the nature of learning and assessment; the growing use of blogs, wikis and social networking for learning. A few parents of teens engaging with Facebook, online games and instant messaging told me it was a huge shift in thinking to realize that many of these activities are, in fact, learning — and that the skills and sensibilities learned will help them in formal education and in the workplace.
  • I learned that some schools are happy and willing to embrace technology and to open up the learning environment beyond the 4 walls of the classroom, and that some schools are still wrestling with the cultural shift that this entails (e.g. policies on internet access, mobile phones, etc.).
  • I learned that many parents want to work in partnership with schools to create the best possible learning environments. Despite difficult economic times and an  uncertain future, I was in a room buzzing with energy from parents ready to engage and work with their schools.
  • And finally, I learned that parents want to know what’s happening outside of their own children’s schools. What’s happening elsewhere in Ireland? What’s happening in other countries? What’s happening at third level? What’s happening in primary schools? This larger context helps all of us to think about what’s possible, how obstacles can be overcome, and where to find support for our own efforts.

Thus, today we have started using #coolschools — a Twitter hashtag for examples of innovation in schools. Please feel free to use this hashtag, too. Let’s share what teachers and students are doing: experiments, successes, resources being created. We have much to learn from each other and YES! we are willing to learn.

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