Connecting on the “Inner Net”: My Experience With Forums and Twitter

I recently read an excellent article, The Touch Screen Generation which discusses research that shows there is hope… kids using technology like iPads may not create solitary zombies as so often touted by irritated parents and teachers.

“…their child could end up one of those sad, pale creatures who can’t make eye contact and has an avatar for a girlfriend…”

In 1998 when we first created CanTeach, I was part of a teacher forum called Teachers Net.  I was in a rural school, where the closest school was over an hour and a half drive away. Through Teachers Net and CanTeach, I racked up so much time on the internet connecting with teachers from all over the world. My principal noticed… I thought he would praise me for finding a way to connect despite our rural location, but it wasn’t so. He came up to me one day while I was enjoying my lunch to have “a chat”. He had a print out of all the time I had spent on the district’s server concerned that I was forgetting to log out. I embarassingly told him that I was not forgetting to log out and reminded him about all the help I was receiving through fellow educators on the “world wide web”! He promplty gave me a large bill for my internet usage and sternly told me to stop.

But… I didn’t stop, I continued paying the bills and I didn’t care! Some may say I was addicted, but I can truly say I was not (you can even ask my husband!). I admit, though, that I was craving connection with people who understood what I was going through and could help me navigate the struggles of being a new teacher. It was a tough year, I would not have continued teaching without all those kind and generous teachers on that forum.

I continued on that forum and this group of teachers became comfortable sharing beyond professional advice… cancer, unemployment, divorces, births, and deaths.  One memory that still gives me chills is a husband of a fellow teacher getting on the forum one day to let us know that his wife passed away suddenly and to thank us for being great friends to her.  Of course, as “in real life” friends do, we banded together and bought gift certificates for restaurants and sent sympathy cards and flowers for the grieving family.  We were connected.

Now here in 2013, I hope that most people (especially those who are reading this right now) would say that the internet and modern technology has significantly improved how we live our lives and connect with people.

Another reason I have been thinking about all of this is that I recently joined twitter just over a month ago (yes, I know late to the party!). My first tweet was honestly unindented to be ironic. I just found this little comic that appeared on Kottke.Org and I LOLed (yes, when I write LOL, I am one who REALLY laughs out loud!). My tweet that accompanied the comic was “Ha ha! 100 years of blaming technology for the loss of human connection”.

Twitter has brought back the same feelings as I had in 1998, but on a grander scale.  It has allowed me to connect with more people around the world AND especially with the people at my own school district. The interesting thing about twitter is that it doesn’t stop at the tweets, meeting in real life is ultimate!  You see it all over twitter, the many cases of people tweeting that they will be in a certain city for a conference or vacation and that they would like to meet up with fellow educators, then gush about it afterwards!

Now I can’t stop telling people about twitter.  I just want everyone to join, I get so excited that I can’t even form my thoughts in a coherent matter… all that comes out, is “it’s awesome, you just have to try!” Now more than ever, it is important to show our students that we are connected, that we value relationships, and that there are people out there that can help you in many forms. Twitter is just one way of doing that!

Connect with me on twitter @teachermrskhan


Yes, Genius Hour in Kindergarten!

I have been reading a lot about Genius Hour and have been inspired by my own district’s Gallit Zvi and her journey with integrating it in her classroom. The teacher of our Grade Five buddy class went to a workshop that Gallit ironically spoke at and decided to integrate it into her class.  Wow, am I ever lucky that our classes are buddies!  Her Grade Fives have been doing amazing work during their genius hour time.

So, as January came to a close and we noticed that the kindies in my class were becoming more independent and fully capable of using iPads, we set them to work with their buddies in our first Kindergarten Genius Hour project. Because this was our first time, we had to put some parameters around it. I know, I know, less direction the better when it comes to Genius Hour… but you have to give us some credit for loosening most of the strings!

Our kindies thought of something that they would like to learn about and brainstormed some questions about the topic. The topics and questions that my kindies, yes FIVE year olds, were thinking of were beyond my imagination. They were vibrating with excitement at the possiblity of actually controlling what they were going to learn about. Some of the topics that were decided on were cowboys, cars, dresses, birds, and owls.

Then the magic happened.  The Grade Fives paired up with their Kindergarten buddies and off they went.  Engagement, conversation, collaboration, and critical thinking just happened… and we, the teachers, were minimally involved.  After meeting every Friday morning for a few weeks, the kids were ready to present their finding in a Keynote presentation.  I was so proud!  Our kindies confidently presented with their big buddies beside them helping them along the way.

I am excited to further explore Genius Hour more in our class, with the assistance of our big buddies. We will now be changing the name of “big buddies time” to “Genius Hour”! I also can’t wait to show the parents how much we are learning, once agian, from playing around in Kindergarten!

If you would like more information on Genius Hour, Gallit Zvi has some excellent posts on her blog here: Integrating Technology: My Journey

Below is a sample of some slides from a priceless presentation on Ninja Turtles.

Your School’s Online Presence

I recently read a blog post written titled Apparently My School Sucks where Greg Miller writes how his school fared on the Fraser Institute rankings based on their Provincial Achievement Tests that are given to their Grades 3 and 6 students. As the title hints, you can guess that they didn’t do so well!  At the end of his post, Miller links to a great video about his school and the wonderful initiatives they are taking part in, showing that his school is a much better place than what the Fraser Institute presented.

This got me thinking about the current online presence of our school. I hope it is not simply a Fraser Institute ranking. When people are Googling our school, what are they seeing?

Almost two years ago, when I was told  the name of the school where I was to be the new Vice Principal, the first thing I did was look at our district website. Here, I was able to see the school’s student enrolment, address, teachers, and presentation of self through a dull boring photo of mostly a parking lot (yawn).  Then, I went to Google.  Here I found a video of a girl (presumably a student at my school) running around our field screaming (woo hoo some excitement), some old pictures on Facebook that ex students had posted (future blackmailing possibilities), AND the Fraser Institute ranking…

A parent last year told me during Kindergarten interviews that she and her husband moved from another province with no ties to the community and decided on living in the north area of our district because it was close to her husband’s work.  Before they bought a house, they looked online and found that the Fraser Institute ranked our school as one of the highest scored school in the area (which isn’t that high, believe me!).  So, they proceeded to buy a house near our school and register their children here. That’s it!. (Boo hoo to all the other schools in the north who lost out on a great family just because the only info this family could find online was the Fraser Institute’s!). I was shocked that they made their decision as a result of one source. But, as she explained, they knew no one, they had never been here and had no idea of how to find more information.  They wanted their children to start school in September and were on a tight schedule, so there you go.

Where can people look for the other valuable information that we like to hold up high? Where can people find how dedicated our staff is; how happy, engaged, and safe our students feel; and how we celebrate successes and overcome difficulties?…

I believe that we are on our way to providing a more rich online presence now that we have blogs, a class website, photos of our celebrations, and our school plan easily found through our district’s website, but I can’t help feeling that we need to do more.

A new set of Kindergarten parents are trickling in to register their children at our school for September. This is such a great opportunity to put our best foot forward, not only in person but online. I don’t want parents to rely on the Fraser Institute results to help them decide what school to send their children to. I want them to see that we are more successful than that!

What is your school’s online presence?