PL(A)N

That up there is the beginnings of my professional learning network! I kept a couple of my older connections (the publishing company I worked for and my undergrad institution) because they still frequently serve as a point of contact for me, even now, or because the skills and relationships I gained in those places continue to help me today, regardless of a change in career.
My Professional Learning Network is small right now because I’m really just starting my journey! I feel incredibly lucky to have been around knowledgeable professors and fellow MAT candidates who are incredibly creative and open to sharing their ideas.
Big segments of my PLN currently belong to schools I have been previously associated with (be it through student or supply teaching) and the relationships I made there, with teachers who continue to help and inspire me even though I’m no longer teaching at their same school.

Funny enough, I was inadvertently talking today about the ways that I need to expand my PLN. I think, obviously, the network will expand itself as I become more experienced and get settled into my new home school — my group-planning teammates and the rest of my department will naturally become a part of my network.

Additionally, I think it’s absolutely crucial to maintain the relationships I currently have. I’m surrounded, already, by talented teachers, and it’d be ill advised to not continue contact with them and pool our teaching-resources when possible.

All that being said, I think a big part of expanding my PLN will be in getting over my ridiculous hang ups about social media. In the last few months, I’ve tried to acclimate myself to Facebook and use it as a tool to network with other teachers.
One of the great teachers running training for new ELA teachers in my county today spoke very strongly about the importance of networking with other teachers through Twitter, so that’s really my next big step! I really don’t know what teacher-Twitter is like, but I think making the effort to find out will help connect me with a variety of teachers. Ideally, my PLN would exist outside of my county, city, state, country, etc. As resistant as I am to social media/social networking, I can’t deny that it’s extremely useful in connecting us to people we wouldn’t normally meet otherwise.

To simplify — my basic plan for expanding my PLN is to start networking with people outside of the walls I teach in! I think putting myself out there in the digital world of teaching will help me bring a variety of voices into my classroom and connect me with a plethora of resources! Hey, maybe I’ll even keep a little blog going!

Remixologist

I’m lucky enough to have a little sister who keeps me in the loop on modern memes, so I tried to pick one in a format I don’t see a lot. I like Hannibal Buress, too, so it’s an added bonus. Context: in a skit on The Eric Andre show, Hannibal Burees taste tests a few brands of pretzels before declaring, “pretzels is the same.”

Before I get into the technology aspect of what I did here, I think it’s important to touch on why I created this particular image and what I hoped to convey with it. Like a great deal many of you, I’m assuming, I find myself increasingly worried about the direction the world (and our country, specifically) is heading, and I often struggle to put my feelings to words. So that sort of trepidation about the state of things, and how much of current political rhetoric depends on rhetoric of former fascist movements has been on my mind a lot. Which is why I chose to bring some historical and modern propaganda into the meme format to underscore, with a sort of implied frustration, that fascism may change its colors a little, but essentially send the same message.

Personally, I’d really like to spend some time unpacking the images I used within the meme to foster discussion about the way white victimhood is portrayed so often in similar rhetorics, but I’m also not trying to get fired in my first semester of contracted teaching.

To make my meme, I downloaded a template from Google and then opened it through a program called Photopea. Free, pretty intuitive. From there, it was easy to edit additional images into the meme and sloppily alter the text. Boom, done. There’s not really much to be said for the technology, so instead I’ll elaborate a little on memes as a means of communication.

I love that it taps into a common culture on the internet, and I love that a series of familiar images can convey a particularly nuanced emotion or sentiment without words. It’s definitely a unique text in that regard, and I think a student’s ability to utilize one effectively often shows advanced discourse and showcases their knowledge well.

That being said, when you try to tackle complex issues (like I did), I think you run the risk of trivializing something important. So, teachers, do you have any advice on that? How do you go about asking students to engage with a meme-culture without undermining the content that’s being meme-d? Also — anyone have any research for staying abreast of new memes? Because a simple talk with my little sister has revealed that I have no idea what memes are like anymore.

An Analysis in 360°

I think, at its simplest, VR is incredible in that it allows someone to go places or see things that might be otherwise impossible. In playing around with VR for this post, I even tried out a video that essentially shot a camera into the stratosphere. Without VR, that’d be a view to die for. So, it’s hard to talk about VR without talking about how many doors it opens, whether in classroom application or otherwise, for people who are otherwise limited by money or mobility, or for people who happen to be born in a different century from Leonardo Da Vinci.

I played around with a few different VR experiences to get an idea of how VR might function across different kinds of classrooms, because I’m still struggling a bit to imagine it in an English classroom. The silliest one was about dinosaurs. Basically, it just put models of dinosaurs on my kitchen floor and then spouted some facts. It took me a minute to realize that I could resize the dinosaur, so the original stegosaurus was about the size of my cat. Hilarious, but not helpful.

Then, I took a little space jaunt — very cool, and certainly something that could be brought to a science classroom. That being said, my favorite VR experience that I tried out was one that showcased some of Leonardo da Vinci’s inventions. On a basic level, it was interesting because I’m not particularly familiar with da Vinci’s inventions, but what I found most compelling about the VR experience in this case was that it took something I really would never have pictured accurately and made it real for a moment! If I read in a book that da Vinci designed an armored tank, I might have a very incorrect image in my head. The VR experience took his drawings and turned them into 3d, moving models! I saw the inside of an ancient robot! It was awesome, and I think it’s worth being a little childishly enthused about!

So I guess that’s what I think VR does best. It takes something, be it da Vinci’s inventions or a stegosaurus or the Silk Road, something that I only sort of understand in theory, and makes it infinitely more real! It’s kind of hard to frame that as a bad thing. The conversation has to become, after that, about how we incorporate that meaningfully into a classroom. In my case, specifically into an English classroom.

My first thought was a sort of walking tour that makes real the kind of world that Bradbury was writing in for The Martian Chronicles, specifically because I feel that his work is so important to consider through a historical literary filter. A VR experience could take students to specific locations of important or recreate landmarks coupled with relevant information that may enhance subsequent readings of a text!

I’ve talked a bit about the pros here, so I’ll talk about some cons next, as well as some of my hesitations as I move towards considering VR in my classroom. So — the technology is pretty easy to come by. VR nowadays doesn’t even absolutely require that you have the Google Cardboard thing (that’s the technical term). While I’m sure there are plenty of students who don’t have access to smartphones, I have yet to meet one. That being said, it took me ages to download any VR experiences, upwards of twenty five minutes in some cases. Moreover, it definitely drained by battery quickly.

But let’s put the technical aspects aside for a moment, so I can pose a question. Do any of you hesitate to integrate smartphone based technology into the classroom because you spend so much time trying to get students to put their phones away? Any time I’ve told my students they could use their phones for research or something similar, it’s always devolved into at least a quarter of the class on Snapchat. So — I guess my question/hesitation is that how do we make VR worth it? How do we make it important/interesting enough that students will play along? How do we make it meaningful enough that it’s worth the risk of students pulling out their phones en masse?

VR and the Google Cardboard are incredible tools, but are high schoolers ready to engage with it maturely? How do we create a situation where they are prepared?

Parallel Pedagogy

I really love the concept behind parallel composing for a lot of reasons. It fits in with the conversations we’ve been having already about mixed media in the classroom and how we can use visuals to remediate texts for our students. I feel like parallel composing is the other side of that. Students can used mixed mediums to convey complex ideas and themes, or to convey things they don’t know how to put into words! It’s a powerful tool, and one I’m excited to use in the classroom.

For my parallel composition, I cheated just a little, in that I used a poem I had written last summer for a project on Random Autobiographies. I edited it down a bit and cleaned up a few lines that I didn’t like as much upon revisiting, but I figured it might actually be helpful to work with a text of my own that I was familiar with. The random autobiographical poem was meant to convey snapshots of your life that you remember with clarity, even if the moments seemed inconsequential in retrospect. I chose to work around my random autobiography because a lot of the images and experiences I brought up would probably be enhanced for an unfamiliar audience with the use of visual elements.

Clicking here will lead you to my random autobiography parallel composition created through adobe spark.

So — as for the technology. Adobe Spark is free to use Though, as with all free things nowadays, you can pay to unlock all the features, but for my purposes (and the purposes I see applying in the classroom, I thought the free version was perfectly sufficient.)

Here’s what I like about it: Spark is super easy to use. You pick a format, or work from scratch, select a theme or color scheme, and just start putting together slides. There are options for voice overs and videos to be added in to the presentation, and given the time and resources, I think the voice over function in particular would be really helpful, especially in conveying poetry. There’s something special about getting to hear a writer read their poem the way it was meant to be read — and being able to record it ahead of time takes away some of the anxiety of feather circle reading.

In general, any tool that allows me to use visual aides with poetry (even my own subpar poetry) is going to get a nice A in my book, especially if it’s intuitive like Spark.

The downside with Spark isn’t with the technology itself, really, but rather with accessibility in school. Spark slowed down my computer after a few minutes, so even a school with total computer access might have difficulty using Spark in the classroom. Not only that, you’re asking students to take something vulnerable already (writing a poem) and making it even more vulnerable by integrating their voice or the images they associate with it. It’s a very personal kind of project to ask students to do, but Spark could be used in conjunction with a less personal text to alleviate that sort of anxiety in students.

The issue of personal content in the classroom is the crux of the question I want to pose to my fellow teachers. How do you create an environment in your classroom where students feel safe and comfortable sharing their personal work/personal expressions? I made my Spark video very personal, and it’s hard for me to post it! How do we expect students to do the same? Or how do we create a way for students to become comfortable sharing?

Very Pinteresting

So — to accomplish this particular assignment, I wanted to utilize Pinterest as a way to remediate poetry for struggling students. For the purposes of this post and the product created, I focused on Shakespeare’s Sonnet XXXIII, below.

Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain-tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy;
Anon permit the basest clouds to ride
With ugly rack on his celestial face,
And from the forlorn world his visage hide,
Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace:
Even so my sun one early morn did shine
With all triumphant splendor on my brow;
But out, alack! he was but one hour mine;
The region cloud hath mask’d him from me now.
Yet him for this my love no whit disdaineth;
Suns of the world may stain when heaven’s sun staineth.

I chose to focus on this poem because I thought it represented a really interesting shift in attitude and perspective for the speaker, and that it functions on a literal and metaphorical level that students could appreciate and relate to if it was remediated poetry. It’s rife with beautiful imagery and an underlying sense of betrayal and bitter disappointment. I thought it’d be awesome to break down via Pinterest. I’ve used Pinterest in the pass as a way to interact with texts that I thought were particularly beautiful or to inspire my own writing by posting images and quotes that reminded me of the work in some way.

Pinterest allows users to create boards that can include ideas, pictures, videos, or any kind of information and combine them into alike groups. It’s usually a personal tool for bringing together different media that share a common theme, or at least, that’s how I tend to use it.

Below is a sample of a Pinterest board I created as a remediation for Sonnet XXXIII. I don’t feel comfortable linking to the board itself because I prefer to keep my Pinterest private.

The organization style of Pinterest was part of what made it an effective tool for this poetry remediation. I was able to create a board specifically for the poem I wanted to focus on, and the search feature made it easy to look through images for ones that fit the theme of the poem I was trying to represent. I also think Pinterest’s capacity for a variety of different kinds of images, like the pictures mixed with quotes above, made it a great resource for capturing both the literal imagery of the poem and the themes it tried to convey about the betrayal of a loved one and the love for them that lingers despite the betrayal.

Pictures paired with poetry has been especially helpful for me in the classroom, and Pinterest lends itself well to visual elements. Pinterest also afforded me the opportunity to create moments of intertextuality. I connected Sonnet XXXIII to Edgar Allan Poe’s “Alone” by pinning an excerpt from the latter in my representative board.

In the classroom, I think Pinterest could prove a really interesting tool to incorporate with a poetry unit, or with poetry looked at over the course of a semester. Because Pinterest is a social media site, it includes a way to collaborate on boards with multiple people. If you wanted, you could create opportunities for pairs or small groups of students to collaborate on a Pinterest board for a specific poem and justify their choice of ‘pins’ in the captions, or incorporate a line from the poem in the captions so the relationship between the pin and the poem itself is clear.

I haven’t personally used Pinterest in classroom, but I think by using it as a means for students to connect visual media and other texts to poetry being studied in class, it could serve as a medium to illuminate a genre that often seems so inaccessible to students.

Parting Thoughts

  • Is it inappropriate to ask students to interact via social media? Is it okay, as long as the account the teacher uses is not their personal one? How would a teacher go about implementing a Pinterest project in a way that was safe for students and transparent with administration and parents? I’m always worried about how an assignment might be perceived by someone outside the classroom?
  • Suggestion — you don’t have to rely on images and representations just in Pinterest’s internal search engine, media can be pulled and pinned from elsewhere in the internet. Just be careful where they’re pulled from because Pinterest will link back to the source (a good practice), but definitely make sure the source is student-appropriate!

Schoology Snapshot via Canva

If the quality of this embedded image leaves something to be desired, this link should bring you to a copy of the canva poster.

In this product and post, I am attempting to unpack Schoology, and my experiences with Schoology, in a succinct way via a poster created through the free service Canva. I want to focus my reflection on Canva as a tool, but I think it’s important to also expand on the role of Schoology as a medium between teacher and student and reflect on my personal experiences using both Canva and Schoology in my own classroom. In attempting to engage in this analysis for both mediums, I intend to better prepare myself and other teachers to use them in the future.

My poster does a pretty decent job of breaking down what Schoology is, so I don’t want to revisit that just yet. Instead, I’ll focus on Canva for a bit. Canva is a free (mostly, because nothing’s all the way free) service that allows anyone with an email address a way to create splashy posters, infographics, or other visual mediums in a pretty user-friendly way. The website itself is pretty intuitive and offers quite a few ready-made templates.

I chose to use a Canva poster because I’m really fond of the infographic format in particular. I think it’s an effective way to create a polished, professional looking product. As a way to break down Schoology as its own medium, I thought Canva let me convey a lot of information in an easily comprehensible way. It affords me the opportunity to quickly and effectively give essential information, in that it forces me to be succinct. There isn’t a lot of room for the rambling that I’m doing now.

However, Canva comes with its own constraints — that forced succinctness is part of it. There’s not a lot of room, and so I felt like I didn’t adequately explain parts of the Schoology experience. Below are some of the musings about Schoology that I wanted to convey via Canva but had a hard time executing.

Schoology is a great tool, but it’s easy for students and teachers to become entirely reliant on it. Students, knowing that all information will be available to them via Schoology, don’t feel any pressure to actually listen to directions being given in class. Teachers can get frustrated easily by student questions because “it’s on Schoology.” In general, I like the tool as a way to make information and assignments available to students who need them, and it certainly helped me differentiate for students with IEPs and 504 plans, but I think it creates a disconnect in the teacher/student relationship when not used with serious discretion and consideration.

Now, Canva in the classroom is generally a pretty successful tool, I think! In the past, I’ve tried to assign projects that had some sort of creative element, but I found that a lot of my more traditionally-minded students (the ones that seem to prefer writing a paper to creative work, for some reason) balk at the idea of having to create anything visual. I chalk some of that resistance up to perfectionism — why create a product they aren’t happy with? I, too, amd struggling with that when it comes to using technology meaningfully, so I get it.

Canva, however, makes it a lot easier for less artistically-inclined students to create visual representations. Like I mentioned earlier, Canva lets students (and teachers) create professional looking products with only a little know-how. An infographic like the one above could easily be used by students to convey character tracking over the course of a novel study, for example.

I especially like considering Canva as a way to embody Jones’ assertion that technology has the “capacity to change the way we experience and think about reality.” I don’t want to be too dramatic and say that Canva is going to change anyone forever, but Canva does force brevity by its nature. Asking students to take a lot of information and boil it down to its bare essentials is, in a way, asking them to alter the way they think and express that in a new, creative way!

Parting Thoughts!

  • If you’re using Canva in the classroom, make sure you very clearly show student how to navigate free v. for-pay elements of the website. I’ve had students utilize Canva for a project and then struggle to ‘fix’ the project when they realized that many of the elements they used required them to pay some sort of fee. It was a mess.
  • Teachers — do you have any advice on how to create holistic grading guides for more creatively inclined works like this? I personally struggle with this, because I think part of the magic of a creative project is that students don’t need to follow a bulleted list, but then how do you assign a letter grade? That’s not even a Canva specific question, but it’s one that crossed my mind when creating my above artifact?
  • On the topic of Schoology, I wouldn’t recommend using Schoology submissions for major projects. Too much room for technological errors and difficult to leave meaningful feedback that students will actually interact with!

Jones, R. H., & Hafner, C. A. (2012). Understanding Digital Literacies: A Practical Introduction. Taylor and Francis.

Tech Goals with Miss Andrews

I wanted to embed my super great video right onto my post, but I haven’t gotten quite that savvy yet. Instead, I’m going to ask you to click this link here in order to view my directorial debut.

I thought Dvolver was actually a super cute little tool. I’d never played around with animation, even in that very simple form, so it was a new adventure for me, overall. That being said, I don’t think that my animation, cute though it may be, conveys the idea that I’m serious about my goals, so I want to take a moment to elaborate.

Goal 1 – I want to develop an understanding for technology in the classroom that benefits my students with IEPs and 504 plans. I got to do a little of this when I was a long-term substitute, as I tried to integrate ways for students who had difficulties writing things down by hand to work digitally alongside their classmates. The tools I created to aid this process ended up as valuable resources for a wide variety of my students. I want to keep cultivating my set of tools for students with varied learning needs

Goal 2 – Relevance! I know this is such a ‘no duh’ one to include in my goals, but it’s real! I want to make sure the technology I’m using is relevant. I don’t want to be the kind of teacher who uses technology just because I can and to meet some expectation. I want to pick and choose technology that reflects greater themes in my classroom. Students can smell crap from a mile away, so I want to keep my use of technology useful and genuine.

Goal 3 – This is more of a goal for myself over this class. I want to make sure to catalog and try out lots of different technology! I want to get past my worries about technology and my fear of trying something I might suck at the first time. I want to move through a dozen different means of tech without fear! I sound like I’m about to embark on a survivor-esque competition, but the drama comes from a place of anxiety.

So that being said, it’s time for a few thoughts on Dvolver. I didn’t spend quite as much time with the application as I would have liked, but I found it fun & easy to use! Some of the options were a little limited, but I think that’s understandable from a free service. It’s a little goofy, or at least, it makes it easy for someone like me (who is inclined to be goofy) to create a goofy product.

I think that as a classroom tool, Dvolver could be a really interesting way to allow students to interact with the texts they typically regard as inaccessible. You could ask students to break down a scene from a Shakespeare play, for example, and put it into their own language. Students might think Romeo and Juliet is a little more interesting, after all, if they can think of the Nurse as a bear and Romeo as a talking skeleton. Because the scenes that Dvolver allows a user to create are all dialogue-based, it could actually be a fascinating way to get students to think like playwrights. How might they convey a complicated interaction in a short snippet of dialogue, for example?

Overall, I had fun making the product, and I think if I had spent a little more time experimenting with Dvolver, I could have created the kind of product I would be thrilled to see from my own students. My only concern would be keeping students engaged with the task. I’m sure they’d have fun with Dvolver, but would it be difficult to convey importance or a serious scene through a silly video? Am I being a stick in the mud to even worry about that?

Introduction to Me

So this is Post Number One, I guess. Though I sound full of trepidation in the introduction I created here, I’ve actually found myself pretty eager to start this class. As much as I like my comfort zone, I feel like exploring and experimenting with some new technology is really going to make me a better teacher, and isn’t that the goal?

Confession — this isn’t the first time I’ve used VoiceThread; I’ve definitely used it as a means of communication in other classes before, and though I haven’t implemented it in my own classroom, I have seen it done by other teachers in my department. I chose to start with VoiceThread, in part, because the learning curve wouldn’t be quite so sharp as it might be with other, snazzier technologies. That being said, I think it does have potential to be an effective tool in a classroom.

For introductory purposes, I thought VoiceThread was specifically appropriate, because there’s something nice & personal about getting to hear someone’s voice! It creates the feeling of a ‘real person’ as opposed to an internet persona, I think. So often, blocks of text (like this one) come across a little impersonal. Voice-based introductions allow for the more fluid, dynamic nature of real-life introductions. As you can hear in my introduction, I sound a lot different between a spoken introduction and the written kind that can be found on my about page. I click a pen a lot (which I try to address in Slide 4 of the VoiceThread), and I ramble, and I probably don’t sound as smart as I would like to sound, but there’s something very real about that! That’s who I am; that’s what I sound like! It offers what I feel is a little but genuine piece of myself.

What I really like about VoiceThread as an option in the classroom is the possibility for interaction with peers. Having a system where students post their thoughts about a class or a reflection about a text in VoiceThread form and then reply to each other would definitely foster a sense of community. That being said, my concern moving forward as a teacher is how I might moderate that content. I love high schoolers, but I know exactly the sort of stuff they love to say when given the chance. So — how does a teacher gently guide students towards appropriate content, if she’s not there to monitor their conversations in person? Sure, you can dock points or comment something that addresses the problem, but it seems then that it may be too late.

If you’re one of the poor souls reading this, I’d love to hear your feedback on this particular stumbling block. And I’d especially love to hear your feedback in form of a VoiceThread reply so I can get a better feel of how that might work.

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