By Mary Worrell

PLP team members and fellows learn new things everyday. It’s when they bring these experiences back to their home schools that the real progress begins.

Blogging in the classroom
Mandy Shulman, member of the Illinois-Ohio Cohort, has been utilizing the network she’s developed through her PLP experience to jump-start a blog for her second-grade class.

“Through the discussions and videos on PLP’s virtual learning community, I became interested in using wikis in my classroom. After learning more about wikis from other teachers through the Ning, and after reading Will’s book, I decided that a blog would better meet the goals I had for my students.”

To get things going, Mandy met with her PLP 21st Century Fellow Judi Epcke a number of times to map out how she wanted to use the blog, what blogging host to use, etc. After only a month of working with the blog, Mandy saw growth among her students.

“I have already seen growth in our reading, writing, and technology skills. They have an interest in reading and writing, and communicating about their writing with others through comments. Rather than writing for a teacher and receiving one person’s opinions and thoughts, they are writing for a wide audience, and love receiving comments from their peers in our class and around the world.”

You can read and comment on posts by Mandy’s students here.

Testing out Second Life
Larry Kahn is Director of Academic and Information Technology at The Kinkaid School in Houston, TX and a PLP 21st Century Fellow. After hearing about the virtual environment Second Life, Larry created an account and an avatar, but that was about as far as he got.

“I never did anything with it. I set my person up, sat at the welcome area and never got back to it.”

Larry connected with other educators through PLP interested in learning more about Second Life and decided to explore the virtual world with them. Second Life is an expansive, virtual environment where one can wander aimlessly, however, educators have utilized the environment for virtual field trips to recreations of landmarks like the Great Wall of China. Kahn said tagging along with others interested in leveraging the program in the classroom put him at ease.

“I would recommend people get together with a group of educators who have experience. It’s great for educators to go into Second Life through lense of education, because it’s a huge, diverse area.”

Having fellow PLP team members and educators vet the world of Second Life for him gave Kahn a chance to sit back, enjoy virtual exhibits like the one put together by the Holocaust Museum, and think about the potential of using it in the classroom.

Bringing PLP home
Hiram Cuevas is the Director of Academic Technology at St. Christopher’s School in Richmond, VA and a PLP team member from the International Schools Cohort. Most PLP teams are getting started on their culminating projects and Hiram’s is no different. His team is looking for ways to connect what they’ve learned through PLP to the rest of the school and they’ve decided to do this through a school-wide wiki of how-tos for Web 2.0 tools, technology issues, screencasts and other learning opportunities for faculty. Hiram’s team is made up of faculty members from across the academy.

“Our team is pretty diverse and that was intentional. We wanted to try and drop seeds all over the school, not just in one core area. We wanted to get the most bang for our buck and have representation across the curriculum.”

The team has their own wiki going to track the tools and technologies they’ve utilized and how.

These projects are all the different things we’ve completed. And we started off by looking at the individual instructor. Rather than try to force technology down the students’ throat, we made an effort to make sure the technology selected was indeed appropriate.”

Some team members have utilized video conferencing in Skype to stay in touch with students while they’re away.

“We had some teachers go down to Mexico and they wanted to continue to instruct their class while they were away. They communicated with their class through Skype and were able to interview native Spanish speakers with the boys.”

Connecting through projects
Thomas Cooper is Technology Integration Coordinator at The Walker School in Marietta, GA and a PLP 21st Century Fellow. Recently Thomas has been educating PLP team members on the many possibilities of using Google Earth in the classroom through our Fellow Tool Series. He has helped develop a number of projects for his classes and for other teachers utilizing Google Earth, wikis and Skype, among other tools. The most recent, Land of Hope, launched last month to explore the factors that affect human migration. Technology students at Thomas’ school, as well as students from schools in Utah and Connecticut, are all participating in the project.

Students from the various schools are reading books on migration and discussing them regularly with their classmates and on the project wiki. During the course of the project students will develop videos on their book and migration and outsource graphic design work to Thomas’ school’s technology students, giving participants experience with outsourcing. Students will also create layers in Google Earth showing the push and pull factors influencing particular migrations.

“Eventually after we map out the migrations, we’ll look at the commonalities between them. We’ll be identifying positive effects and how we can use those to influence immigration policy.”

Thomas’ aim is to eventually have students raise money for a charity of their choosing that deals with children and labor and/or immigration issues, but for now that is an optional part of the project. His ideas for projects come from personal interests. In the case of Land of Hope, it was his anthropology background.

“I take an interest, and then ask how I can fit it into a class. I go into the literature and find a body of literature that supports it, because I want children to read something. I’m very interdisciplinary.”

“It has been exciting to watch Thomas develop and grow as a two-year alum of Powerful Learning Practice, especially in the realm of managing change,” said PLP Co-founder Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach.

You can see more of Thomas’ projects here.

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Mary Worrell

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