Aug 042010

I recently began reading The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr. I first saw him on The Colbert Report and was intrigued by his interview.  I have only read the prologue, but already I am hooked.

Even when I was away from my computer, I yearned to check email, click links, do some Googling.  I wanted to be connected.  Just as Microsoft Word had changed me into a flesh-and-blood word processor, the Internet, I sensed, was turning me into something like a high-speed data-processing machine, human HAL.

I missed my old brain.

 Carr’s story struck such a chord with me that I made it a mission to get my old brain back.

I used to sit and lose myself in 300 page novels. I’ve never really been good at getting work done in front of the TV or if there is music with words playing in the background.  I get to work at 7:20 am every morning so that I can have an hour to myself uninterrupted in my room before the day starts. So why am I kidding myself that I’m doing my best work with TweetDeck running, my email open and a tab open for Facebook (not to mention countless other tabs and windows)?

These last few days I have done my best to only check my email on my phone if I feel the urge. This keeps me from getting sucked into the computer. I spent today catching up on my Newsweek magazines, helping my friend with some little tasks for her jewelry-making company and rather than take the train home I walked the 20 blocks. It felt wonderful. It’s almost as if every minute I spend off the computer makes it that much easier to close the lid.

It’s a weird revelation for someone who dedicates so much time to using technology for her own learning and spends so much time and energy learning new ways that technology can inspire and motivate students while allowing them to take control of their own learning.  

Call me ‘old school,’ but I think that it is important that we teach students how to focus on one thing at a time. I think our students need to be aware of their own multitasking and they need to be taught how to take measures to balance the skimming and shallow activities that they do on the Internet with deeper, uninterrupted activities.

In my experience, when I spend hours multitasking on the computer or spend days at a time sitting at the computer I feel scatterbrained and unfocused. I find it hard to start tasks around the house or sit and read my Newsweek or whatever book I have on my Kindle at the time.  Today I felt focused, refreshed and, well, alive.

I recently read a wonderful New York Times article entitled I Tweet Therefore I Am. In the article, the author describes a touching moment with her daughter which she has an urge to tweet out to her friends. She continues to eloquently describe how Twitter plays into our psyche and our self-image. Twitter has definitely changed the way I experience life. Small observations and experiences become tweets in my head almost unconsciously. For example, I am thinking of a tweet right now while I watch The Daily Show about how having Will Ferrell and Jon Stewart at the dinner table would be the best night of my life.

I am certain that the Internet is changing the way we think and experience our day to day lives. We need to be conscious of this and make sure that we don’t mistake efficiency and the ability to absorb large amounts of information for careful reading and thoughtful reflection on what we are absorbing.

I am also certain that the Internet has been an invaluable resource for me, especially over the past year. The information and resources I have accumulated that help me be a better teacher, the relationships that I have fostered, the connections I have made, the dialogues and debates I have had are priceless. Granted, I have been forced to learn how to manage all of this information through various tools like Google Reader and Diigo. I have also been forced to learn how to manage my online relationships through tools like TweetDeck. The result? From time to time I have an information overload or a feeling that I can’t keep up with all of the conversations flying by. I start to find myself clicking around from tab to tab or tweet to tweet mindlessly.

I miss my old brain.

photo courtesy of Dimi15 on Flickr

Mar 222010

I have been participating in the weekly Twitter discussion, #edchat, since August 2009.  It has been amazing watching the conversation grow and expand, pulling more and more people into the conversation. The topics range from educational technology to best practices in education and schools.  Many times the conversation is heated, often it is inspiring and it is ALWAYS fast-paced.

Many nights I have found my thoughts challenged, or had my beliefs validated. I have learned what it may be like to teach in other parts of the country and the world. I have learned that many of the struggles that I face here in Philadelphia are not isolated to my school or my district. I have also learned that perspectives are very different depending on many factors such as what state, suburb, city or rural town you teach in, whether you teach in a private school, public school, charter school, high school, elementary school or in higher education as well as many others.

Sometimes we get caught up in our own bubble, and #edchat has helped burst that bubble.

That said, there are those who feel that #edchat is a group of educators “preaching to the choir,” that it is merely a gathering of like-minded people agreeing with each other and not making any real ‘change’ in education.

However, I have found that certain #edchat discussions have forced me to think and/or rethink how I teach, what I teach or a belief that I hold. While I may not go back to my classroom and immediately implement something from the night before, my goals and approach to teaching has been influenced by the conversations I’ve had with others from around the country and the world.

How has #edchat made ‘real changes’ for you in your classroom, your school, your district or your professional life? 


Please leave a comment below.  I am collecting ideas to share as part of the Real Time Communication and Education panel at the #140 Characters Conference in NYC on April 20th.

Turning Words Into Action: How are you applying #edchat ideas?

 #edchat, education, twitter  Comments Off on Turning Words Into Action: How are you applying #edchat ideas?
Feb 182010

For those of you who participate in #edchat (more on what that is here and here), please add to the conversation on our wiki:

Jerry Swiatek already updates the wiki with an archive of both weekly discussions, but we have added a page for participants to add resources and success stories.

As a moderator, I have noticed people asking how our discussions are being applied to ‘real life,’ or that “we’re preaching to the choir.” Our fast-paced discussions leave the brain spinning, and often spark heated debate, so how are we transforming these conversations and ideas into action?  This new page allows for us to share our successes or those that we come across on the web or in our schools/districts.

In addition, it is hard to keep track of the many links that fly by during the conversation. Use this new page to add links to a discussion, even if you come across them weeks later.

To edit the wiki, just click the ‘Join’ button. You may need to set up a PBWorks account.

You can also become more involved by joining the #edchat group on the Educator’s PLN Ning community.

Sep 102009

I’m not going to lie.  

Today was tough.  Really tough.  My kids were, for the most part, great.  Honestly, most of the time it’s not the kids that drive me nuts.  Kids will do what they can get away with, after all.

My school has been relocated for this year while a new school is being built.  As such, our kids are being bussed to our new location (about 10 minutes away by car), with 6 buses making 2 trips to move 600 children from our old neighborhood to our new one.  Let’s just say, admission took 1 hour (all the kids have to be fed because nearly 100% of them qualify for free/reduced lunch) and dismissal also took 1 hour (imagine Ellis Island after a boat came in without the organization and with everyone speaking English).  It didn’t have to be like this, but, alas, I was not surprised.

I often feel powerless at my job.  I feel as if everything is happening to me, not with me or because of me. I crave collaboration and intelligent conversation about education, but I don’t get a lot of it at my job. Whenever I feel alone, in steps my PLN (Personal/Professional Learning Network).

Side note: if you don’t know what a PLN is, then check out the links at the bottom of this post.
After a long, frustrating day at work, I sent out a tweet:

Within minutes, I received encouraging words, many from people I have never even met in person, but with whom I have exchanged wonderful resources and conversations.

I felt–no joke–all warm and fuzzy inside.  

These are big-thinkers, lifelong learners and people like me, who seek out knowledge for themselves and have a passion for sharing that knowledge with the world.  Sadly, my face-to-face PLN is lacking such energy and passion.  Or, perhaps, this energy just hasn’t been released, or maybe it hasn’t been given the opportunity to flourish.  Twitter provides that opportunity for me.

So, my questions are:

  • Have you ever wanted to discuss that new issue of Educational Leadership, only to find you’re the only one with a subscription, or you’re the only one who read it?
  • Have you ever heard a story on TV or the radio or read a great book and been just dying to talk to someone about it, only to find that people want to talk about Desperate Housewives or The View and have never heard or read the story and/or have no opinion about the topic? (No harm meant to those who enjoy those shows!)
  • Have you ever had a question that no one seems to know the answer to?
  • Have you ever wondered how someone else does something?

  Sounds like you need the support of a good PLN!  

If you have a network of friends/fellow educators already, then you should feel like the luckiest person in the world.  If not, then you need to get one!

A supportive and innovative PLN will help you grow in your career, help you grow as a person and give you a place to bounce new ideas around, ask simple questions or get help when you need it.  It can also be a place of comfort and belonging when you feel isolated or alone.

How can you just up and ‘get’ a PLN?  

  • Give in to the fad and join Twitter.  (See links to posts below on how to do this.) 
  • Join a Ning (social network) that is related to your area of expertise. 
  • Join Diigo and start sharing links with people or join a Diigo group.
  • Listen to conversations in your workplace and seek out those people who share your interests or whose company you enjoy.  A good PLN does not have to be virtual–it can be right under your nose!

Best wishes to everyone with the new school year and thank you to all of the valuable members of my PLN that keep me going every day!
Helpful links for building a PLN:

‘Creating a PLN’ Wikispace

What is a PLN, Anyway? from Teaching Village (Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto)

The Innovative Educator: 5 Things You Can Do to Begin Building a Personal Learning Network

How to Build a Personal Learning Network from Free Technology for Teachers (Richard Byrne)

Oh, the Adventures You’ll Have if Only… from Teacher Reboot Camp (Shelly Terrell)

How to Become a Twitter Teacher in 23 Steps or less by Kapil Bhatia

Why You Should Start Tweeting by Jason Renshaw

Examples of Online Communities (these are all technology & education related)

Classroom 2.0

Philly Teacher Techs (OK, a plug for my own Ning, but it’s the closest I’ve gotten to starting a local PLN)

ISTE Community Ning

school bus photo courtesy of

frustrated face photo courtesy of tuppaware_001 on Flickr

Jul 212009

I recently attended an Elluminate session with Di Benard, hosted by Edublogs about protecting your Digital Identity. I logged into the room, not knowing exactly what to expect. I came out with my head spinning (in a good way!)

As a member of the first generation to use computers in the classroom, I have been going online and using computers for almost 2 decades. While I am very careful about identity theft when it comes to my credit cards, I never thought about protecting my online identity. From time to time I will Google myself to see what I find. I know that one bad thing or misnomer can lead to troubles down the road, but I never worried about anyone ‘stealing’ my online identity–mostly because I didn’t think I had one.
While I understand the importance of my digital legacy to protect my reputation and my name, I never thought of protecting my actual online identity. Di described your online identity as

your online ‘brand.’ As a new blogger and a frequent user of Twitter, I have begun to understand this distinction. My Twitter name is how people recognize me. More people know me by my Twitter name than my real name on the Internet. In fact, when I set up my Diigo account, I used my Twitter name so that others could recognize that it was me.
In addition, my blog’s name is another ‘brand.’ People who don’t know me know the name of my blog. These are my 2 most prominent online brands, but were I to spend more time on Second Life, that name would also become part of my brand. At this point, if I saw someone using my online name, it would not only bother me, but I would begin to be worried about people confusing me with the other person. I’m not famous enough to worry about people stealing my username to further their own agenda, but it happens on a daily basis. Just think of all of the faux MySpace & Facebook profiles for celebrities out there!
Di offered a few sites where you can check to see if your username is being used so you can determine whether it is identity fraud or to at least be aware of how and where your username is being use. – check whether your username is being used on a variety of sites – same as
KnowEm-a few different sites represented. They started following me on Twitter after the session!
Please, please, please check out Di’s recent updated post on EduBlogs Live. It includes a run down of the Elluminate session as well as definitions and explanations of terms. It was so informative and effective that right after leaving the session I went in and closed my Friendster account that has sat unused for months.
One solution Di offered was using OpenID to log into sites that accept them. Through OpenID you only need one username account that is used across many

different sites. If you have ever joined a NING, you’ll find that you only have to create an account once. After that, you just log in with your NING account and your info and username are automatically entered. Google also uses an OpenID for its different apps. My Google profile is the same on Blogger & YouTube as a result. This avoids the need to memorize a million passwords and it eliminates the chance that someone could hack into one of your many accounts without you noticing.
As I build my online identity and ‘brand’ myself, I find that I have become attached to my brand. It has become a part of me. While my off and online personalities do not differ, I do have “Digital Schizophrenia”- dual personalities that vie for attention. This phenomenon makes meeting online friends in person that much more exciting!
Jul 172009

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once and while, you could miss it.
— Ferris Bueller, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

So yesterday I decided to go “Off the Grid,” or “OTG,” as I called it on Twitter. I got the idea from Vicki Davisblog post in which she stated that, due to a vacation, she would be ‘off the grid’ for a while. After reading her post, I began to reflect on my use (overuse?) of technology and how it affects my social life and my relationships. Then, a few days later, I read Beth Still‘s post about the same topic (both blog posts have great conversation in the comment area, by the way). I realized that this was something that people are really starting to think about and become concerned about.

I decided to do an experiment: 1 day, no Twitter & no blogging. I could check my email, but only respond to those that required immediate replies.

Oh man was it hard.
Every time I looked at my iPhone, TweetDeck glared up at me. “What conversations am I missing right now?” “I wonder if anyone posted anything good today.” The thoughts ran and ran. It was like having half a donut sitting in front of you and not being allowed to eat it.
Somehow, though, I made it through. I came home and I didn’t open either of my laptops. I went out with my boyfriend to the local bar we hang out at and had a couple of drinks with some friends. Then I came home and did some lesson planning. What was really hard was using the computer without opening up TweetDeck and trying to ignore my Google Desktop Gmail Gadget that scrolls new emails right on my desktop. (Even as I write this I just checked an email on the second laptop open to my right.)
The next day (today) I checked in to find I had a retweet and a Direct Message, but I easily responded to both. Unfortunately, the DM was about a live session I had missed discussing Math Web 2.0 tools with Maria Droujkova, who has started a #mathchat discussion on Twitter. However, her DM started with “In case you are back on the grid…,” which made me smile. It worked. By simply stating that I would be ‘OTG’ that day, people understood my absence in any discussions and I felt better about the experience.
Of course, today it is now almost 3 hours that I’ve been on the computer. I participated in 2 live Elluminate sessions (one on a new book, Liberating Learning and the other led by Di Bedard about protecting your Digital Identity) and now I’m completing a blog entry about the whole experience.
Sooooo….I’m working on a plan:
There are 6 days in the week (Sunday is a good day to be OTG!)
Except for the OTG day, time on the computer is limited to 2 hours/day.
1 day: Read a blog and comment for the One Comment Project or on Twitter, #OCP
1 day: Work on my blog
1 day: Attend an Elluminate or other live session
2 days: Look around and ‘play around’ on Twitter (one hour each day max!)
1 day: Be OTG!!!!! Send out a tweet in the morning letting people know I’ll be OTG.
Hopefully I will be able to stick to this plan and feel like I am slowly weaning myself off of the screen. Or at least practicing some self control and tuning into my face to face relationships.
I’ll keep you posted (no pun intended).
Click here for a previous post on how technology affects our personal, face-to-face relationships.
photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Why I finally got a Twitter account

 social networking, twitter  Comments Off on Why I finally got a Twitter account
Jun 232009

Ok, ok, ok, call me Arlen Specter. I broke down and joined Twitter. As a Technology Specialist attending a four day technology conference in DC, it really just had to be done.

While you make a great point, Nana, about all social networking sites not being a ‘one size fits all,’ I discovered that by not participating in Twitter I was missing out on an opportunity to network and stay informed at the conference.

I didn’t imagine that I would need to learn things like how the @ works or the # in creating Tweets. I basically use it to keep up with what ‘important’ people in the education and technology field are saying. I could see it taking up a lot of people’s time looking through hundreds of posts and links. Fortunately, I have no luxury of extra time!

It is pretty amazing how Twitter users have molded it into what it is today. My recent reading of The Wisdom of Crowds has gotten me thinking about this phenomenon of bottom-up coordination and management on the internet. I highly recommend picking up this book. It’s a bit dense, but worth it!