Tag Archives: PLN

The Group Brain

What do you get when you take 75 educators from across the US and Canada, put them in blue shirts, house them in college dorms for week, give them training and access to top experts on the latest educational technology tools, and put them in teams to experience these tools hands-on to produce curriculum-based projects? You get the Discovery Educator Network (DEN) Summer Institute 2010.

You would think that after attending two previous institutes that the talent, dedication and love of learning shared by attendees and presenters alike would no longer amaze me.  You would think that I’d see the same or similar projects again and again.  You would think that my third institute could not possibly match the energy and enthusiasm of the previous two. And you would be totally wrong.  It was truly a mountain top experience – and I’m not just criticizing the countless stairs at Bentley University.

If I look back at the greatest professional development experiences I’ve had, the top three are Discovery Institutes. They do it right. First, they bring in top experts to train us.

  • We learned about Edmodo from Co-founder Jeff O’Hara who didn’t just present a session and leave, but stayed with us for two days!
  • We learned movie-making techniques from AFI’s Frank Guttler and Discovery’s Digital Storytelling guru Joe Brennan.
  • Dr. Lodge McCammon spent the whole day with us and shared his “one-take video” technique using his own original music and student creativity to teach core curriculum content. Who doesn’t enjoy a good song about linear equations?
  • Jim Dachos, the GlogsterEduMan, showed us Glogster and explained the new features of GlogsterEdu. (He and his team also threw us an ice cream party – in Glogster colors, of course.)
  • Then there was Lance Rougeux and the awesome team from Discovery who spent the whole week with us. They not only helped us dig deep and learn their product inside and out, but also shared their expertise in other web 2.0 tools.  One of them even got up at 5am every morning to run to Duncan Donuts to get coffee for us. I can’t say enough about the DEN Team and the work they did putting together this institute. (Many of them are pretty good actors too.)

But the week was not just devoted to teaching technology tools. Attendees are also expected to produce projects using these tools.

Here is where the DEN Institutes excel. They put us in teams, give us a project, and let us learn from each other. It was like being part of a group brain. If there was something I didn’t know, it’s a good bet one of the other teachers at the Institute could help. They help me, I help them, we work together and help each other – and learning happens. I completed 4 projects in 5 days! Best of all I had a great time doing it.

At the DEN Institute they understand that if teaching and learning isn’t fun, you’re not doing it right – and we definitely had fun. Staying in the dorms at Bentley made me feel like a college kid again. We’d stay up late finishing projects that were due the next day, share cool tips and tricks we’d learned, and just take the time to getting to know each other. Remember in college there was that one dorm that was always the party room? We had one of those too. One night I even got locked out of my room and had to crash on someone’s couch.

By the time Friday came around, none of us wanted it to end. The good news is, it doesn’t have to. Thanks to the DEN Institute I’ve added many new Facebook, Twitter, and Edmodo friends. I plan to continue the learning and friendships made in Boston, as I have with previous institutes. While I definately miss the face to face interaction – and the fun we had in room 105 –   I don’t have to lose that Group Brain.

Thanks Discovery for a wonderful week of learning and for connecting me with an awesome group of teachers.

By the way, if you’d like to see the project I worked on with David Fisher from Florida, here it is.  Enjoy.

I also created a Glog highlighting some of the projects and tools shared at the institute. CLICK HERE to see it.

Happy Dependence Day

(No, that’s not a typo.)

Uncle Sam ImageEvery July 4th those of us in the US observe our Independence Day. We watch baseball, eat hot dogs, and shoot off fireworks all to celebrate that day in 1776 when we said to the world, “Thanks, but we’ll take it from here. We don’t need need you. We can do a better job on our own.”

As a nation, that event 234 years ago turned out to be a pretty good thing, but as an educator the thought of declaring my personal independence from everyone else is pretty frightening. In fact, I’d like to take today, July 6th, and celebrate my DE-pendence by saying, “Thanks for all the help. I need you. I couldn’t do it without you.”

My Personal Declaration of Dependence

I, Dennis, on this sixth day of July in the year two thousand ten, do hereby declare that I cannot solely by my own knowledge and that which is contained in my textbook and teacher manuals, effectively teach and prepare my students for their future. I proudly admit that I am dependent on my personal network of friends, teachers, and education professionals to provide me with…

  • inspiration when I need inspiring.
  • ideas when I suffer from mental blocks.
  • links and resources of all sorts when I’m too lazy to search for them myself.
  • a sounding board for bouncing off my hair-brained ideas.
  • collaborators to provide different perspectives, assist with projects, and share the blame when things don’t go as expected.
  • a place to vent frustrations to like-minded people who understand and have also been there themselves.

and last but definitely not least,

  • lots and lots of laughter.

As I look back to the blur of events that took place at the ISTE Conference in Denver last week, I realize how truly dependent I am on these connections. Visiting in person with so many of the educators I know online was a rare treat. It was a chance to re-energize old friendships and to finally meet face to face with those who I only knew as a name or an avatar. You people are awesome. You not only gave me an opportunity to share what I know (a real boost to my self esteem) you also gave me all sorts of new ideas to explore and new strategies to try next year. Best of all, you showed me that my personal learning network is made up of fun, passionate teachers, who care about doing what is best for our students. I can’t help but think I’m a better educator because of you.

Happy Dependance Day!

(Image Source)

It’s All About the Network

Have you seen those Verizon commercials that have hundreds of support people standing behind their wireless phone user? The idea is to let you know that you’re not alone, that you’ve got people behind you to keep you connected. Their slogan – It’s all about the network. That’s how I felt about MY network this week.

On Tuesday morning I worked with one of our third grade classes. They had just read the book “George Washington’s Breakfast” by Jean Fritz. Our idea was to create a little form, asking the world what they ate for breakfast. I opened up a new form in Google Docs and had the kids help write the survey description and questions. Then I posted a link to the form on Twitter and Plurk asking you to show them the power of our network.

The results were practically instantaneous. Within 15 minutes we had a dozen responses. By that evening there were over a hundred. When I checked the next morning there were almost 400! Most were from the US, but we also had responses from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Scotland, Italy, China, Singapore, Korea, and Brazil!

I thought it would be fun to add the responses to a Google Map, so I started copying and pasting what people ate into placemarks. I had to stop after the first 200. I just couldn’t keep up with the responses.

View Breakfast Around the World in a larger map

We’re still working on what we’re going to do with all the data, but if you’d like to share our project with your students, here is a link to our spreadsheet. (As I write this, we’re up to 469 responses.)

I’d like to thank all those who contributed to the survey and passed it on to others. The kids had a blast watching the results come in. We were all amazed by the huge response. Our network ROCKS!