Turkeys Made From Pinecones

I never stop thinking about my classroom while I am on summer holidays. I know many other educators are the same way. It’s part of being a teacher.

I just can’t leave all those gorgeous pine cones lying on the ground during my vacation when they could become turkeys at Thanksgiving. Those perfect cardboard squares that are going into the recycling bin at the conference I’m attending would have a hundred uses in my classroom, so they get packed into my suitcase.

All summer long, I cajole people into donating books to my classroom library. I read books that will make me a better educator.  My thinking about education never stops.

Having said that, there is a rhythm to the weeks just before going back to school that is distinctly different. My focus shifts. My thought processes change to become more and more about what will be happening in my classroom once I am back with my students.

I set up my classroom, I think about how I will meet the needs of the students I will have, and I plan new ways I will meet my curriculum outcomes. I have done these things my entire teaching career, but because I am now a connected educator, I no longer do them alone. I do them with an entire network of educators online.

Connecting Myself

I have found these virtual connections to be the best way to get my thinking on track for the coming school year and to inspire me with fresh ideas. One of the ways I do this all the time is through Twitter. In that space, I meet with a network of passionate teachers and others who are interested in providing the best possible education for students.  We share ideas, push each other’s thinking and inspire one another to be better. I have never been in the same room as most of these people, but they have shaped me as a teacher in a tremendous way.

Learning From Others

While I learn from everyone that I follow on Twitter, there are some tweeps who have been more influential than others.  One group of teachers that I have a lot in common with have been an encouragement to me in a very practical way.  The first grade teachers in #1stchat on Twitter stir my thinking about the specific grade that I teach and give me new ideas about ways to tweak things in my classroom to make them better.

The #1stchat teachers have a regular time each week to come together online via Twitter. A topic is usually chosen ahead of time, and one or more people moderate the chat by posing questions and helping to keep the conversation going.  Whenever I am able to be part of this chat, I learn things that help to shape my practice in the classroom.  Last week the #1stchat teachers met to talk about going back to school. Laura Komos shared that she has changed the words she uses to refer to literacy tasks to make them more primary-friendly. This simple tweak is one that I will probably adapt and use in my own classroom this fall to help the students have a better understanding of their goals.

Jill Fisch answered a question by telling us about her school’s one rule: you can do anything you want as long as it doesn’t create a problem for you or anyone else in the world. That comment has me thinking about introducing something similar in my classroom this year.  Tanya Alvarez sent me a link to a fruit salad recipe she uses to help teach her students about friendship. These teachers live far away in Illinois, Colorado and Ontario, but have helped to make me a better educator for my first grade students and better ready to go back to school.

Giving Back

Because I am a connected educator, I also want to share with others.  I want to help others to grow the way they are supporting me. When I find links to ideas that I find interesting or thought provoking, I share them in an online space such as Twitter. I bookmark them using a social bookmarking tool so that others can access them and learn from them as well.  When I feel that I have something interesting to contribute or feel passionate about an issue, I write about it on my blog.  I recently wrote a post to share the letters that I send to my students-to-be and their parents each summer.

Connecting My Students

When I am planning for the school year ahead, planning ways to connect the students in my classroom is also part of my preparation.   I have learned so much through my own online connections that I want to provide that same experience for my students.  I want them to be global learners.

If I did not have a classroom blog, summer might be the time that I decided to take that step and set one up.  I already have a classroom blog though, so for me summer is the time to think of tweaks I may want to make to it.  Perhaps I want to add a widget that shows the weather in the cities of our blogging buddies, or a tool that shows how many visitors our blog has had or which country the visitors come from. Maybe I want to find a new classroom to connect with my six-year-old students. My purpose in doing these things is always to help my students to understand the global nature of their learning community and to show them how to learn from and with others. My students will also have their own blogs, but I will wait until I have permission slips back from their parents before I set those up. They will become connected learners.

Reading via Skype

In the summer, I also begin to think about ways that I might connect with other classrooms through Skype. One year I wanted my students to experience this starting on the very first day of school. We were setting goals for the year, so I put out a plea to the people who follow me on Twitter asking if anyone was willing to Skype with us to share what he or she had learned when in first grade. Three incredible educators were willing to take the time to do that. My students were in awe that they could talk to and see other people from far away and it set us on a path to connected learning for the entire year. We have used Skype to connect in many ways, including doing Reader’s Theatre with Alabama, interviewing a geologist from Michigan, practicing counting with Wisconsin and listening to a story from New Hampshire. All of these experiences have provided tremendous learning opportunities for my students as connected learners.

My class also connects through online projects that we are part of.  Summer is usually a time when I begin to think about my curriculum and to wonder which online projects we could be involved in during the coming school year to help us to meet those curriculum outcomes. In the past, we have worked with other classrooms in far away places to create a counting wiki, created and posted videos about letters of the alphabet, collected 1000 virtual names or created online books.

Incredible Online Support

The thinking and planning of an educator never stops. I’m glad that I no longer have to do it alone.  At one point in my experience as a connected educator, I was getting a lot of spam comments on my classroom blog. One morning, I woke up to find about two hundred of these odious replies.  On Twitter, I complained about this and about the time it was taking me to delete them using the slow Internet speed I had. Within minutes, Gail Lovely and Jen Wagner both tweeted me with offers of help. One of them offered to Skype into my classroom and to read a story to my students while I deleted comments and the other offered that if I gave her my password, she would go in and delete them for me. That’s the power of my online network.  With incredible people like that as part of my online learning community, supporting all that I do, how can I help but have a tremendous year in my classroom? Being a connected educator rocks!

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