Becoming a true digital citizen – a bit like a first date

Guest post by Michael Stafford, newly active digital citizen…

Becoming a true digital citizen was quite nerve-racking. After a workshop focusing on Digitial Citizenship, I was inspired to change the way I interact through digital media. 

After a quick self-reflection it was obvious that I fell under the label of ‘consumer’. I consumed goods through the platform of Ebay, I consumed professional resources through a range of teacher websites and I consumed a range of useless facts and irrelevant updates about people I hadn’t seen since I was twelve through Facebook. I wasn’t creating anything for others and there was nothing I could consider meaningful interaction. I guess I was ready for things to change.

Here is where I’d like to introduce my vehicle to becoming a true digital citizen – Twitter. This is where the first date similarities flood in. I was entering an arena where I did not know much at all. The layout, etiquette, basic functionality, hashtags, little @ symbols….. how on earth did this work? As far as I could tell everyone was an expert already except for me. I wanted to get involved but for some reason was strangely nervous. Self-doubt crept it’s way into my mind. What if I did a bad tweet? Would I come across as an idiot? Would they like me? How would I sound professional in my bio without sounding like I was big noting myself?

After asking the Twitter world a few questions and getting quick and informative answers, I could see the benefit of it all. First date going well…. not sure what I was so scared about. However, one of my questions threw me right in the old deep end. “Would anyone be willing to help out my class with their learning?”. Within a day I had attention from India, South Africa, China, Singapore and just up the highway in Melbourne. They were all keen to connect through Skype. This digital relationship was about to go to the next level. Besides the sweating, increased heart rate and mental over-preparedness, the first Skype call actually went really well.

The students’ learning has been amplified through rich, authentic and meaningful connections and we now have peers that we can reconnect with in the future. I am now extraordinarily excited to see what else comes out of it.

It all came down to risk vs. reward really. Risk a bunch of little ego related worries and the reward can be huge. I’m glad I took the risk.


10 tweets that don’t add value…

I’ve extolled the virtues of Twitter as a tool for connecting, learning and collaborating on many an occasion.

A mere ten minutes on Twitter often yields interesting links, book recommendations, thoughtful conversations, opportunities to collaborate, ideas that push one’s thinking…

Live Twitter chats, usually fast and furious, often add another dimension to the learning, as like minded (or better still, differently minded) educators bounce ideas back and forth.

I’ve watched the part Twitter has played in the learning of a young teacher I mentored last year and wondered how educators who don’t connect via social media can hope to keep up.

Sometimes a bit of light Twitter conversation and banter can be fun too!

But then there are tweets that add little, if any, value…

1. Self promotion – How great you are, how fabulous your presentation was, the awards you won. (Unless tweeted by someone other than you)

2. Requests to vote for you so that you can win the above mentioned awards. (Doesn’t canvassing for votes render awards meaningless?)

3. Your minute by minute life updates – where you went, what you ate, how far you ran…

4. Your kids’ minute by minute life updates – where they went, what they ate, how far they ran (even if accompanied by cute pictures).

5. Your popularity on Twitter – how many new followers you have this week, how many RTs, the extent of your reach (whatever that means).

6. Endless tweets with beautiful pictures and quotes about education, leadership or life. (Rather share your own experience and reflections on these topics)

7. Endless retweets of above mentioned posters with beautiful pictures and quotes….

8. Infographics that are more graphic and less info, often not proof read, not thought through and not particularly useful. (Looking good isn’t enough)

9. Lists of 100 best anythings (tools, blogs, ideas, lessons). Who has time to read all that? Did you read all 100 links before you tweeted?

10. This one’s yours. Anything to add?

Into the unknown…

How do you take blogging beyond the classroom? The brief for my session is to show teachers what’s possible in the hope of inspiring them to take their current practice further. It’s one in a series of sessions for the Global Education Project.  Some of the participants are new to blogging, others are further ahead… I like to encourage them, irrespective of where they are at, to take one small step forward and see where it leads.

Meet Lindsey Bates, Year 3 teacher at Serpell Primary

The starting point for any good inquiry learning is the known. It is all well and good to begin there, but if the known is where you end up, well, it’s not really learning. This is true of our students and it is true of us as teachers and learners.

I recently attended a Blogging Master Class by Edna Sackson. The afternoon was engaging and inspiring and she left us with a sense of adventure and a challenge: to take the next step in our blogging journey, whatever that might be. I had to go from the known, to the unknown.

I had run a class blog for four years, we attracted a few visitors from around the globe, and I had even made connections with classrooms overseas via twitter. But I hadn’t actually tweeted. My challenge was clear.

Having just completed a blog post about my grade’s newfound fascination with Commander Chris Hadfield from the International Space Station (ISS), I knew that the stars were aligning. I followed Edna’s clear ‘how-to’ guide about how to get noticed on twitter and @ed Commander Hadfield into my tweet. The 120 characters sat on my screen- trapped between laptop and cyberspace. What if I finally spoke up, put myself out there, and no one cared to listen? What then?

After much hesitation I clicked ‘tweet’ and off my words went. Seven minutes later a reply came through. Within minutes my blog post was racking up views. The world did care to listen.

My students now feel themselves to be close and personal friends of Commander Hadfield and are delighted and inspired by the idea of the world watching us learn. It has only been a few weeks, but our virtual audience and connections continue to grow. Who knows where these adventures might take us?

Once you experience the authenticity that comes from learning and reflecting within the globally connected environment that educational blogging can provide, there is no going back to the once cosy and comfortable four walls of your classroom. Learning might begin there, but one can never anticipate where it could end up.

What’s your next step into the unknown going to be?

Twitter in the classroom…

A group of Jina’s Year 4 students sit on the floor and I show them Twitter. She is fairly new to Twitter herself, so I love that she has set up a class account and is keen to get them started, especially as this is the first class Twitter account in our school.

For now, the account can only be accessed if the teacher logs in. She plans to keep it logged in in the classroom, so that students can share their learning and gather data via their questions. Several articles in the past few weeks have covered dozens of ways to use Twitter for learning and we need to start somewhere to see where this takes us.

I start with a brief explanation of how it works and its purpose, then show them some Twitter streams from classes at other schools to give them a better idea. I had planned to have them practice expressing their thoughts in 140 characters first, but it turns out to be unnecessary. I model a couple of tweets with their input and, within a few minutes, we have a volunteer up at the board, typing a tweet about their Skype experience the day before.

To my surprise, the rest of the group spontaneously supports the Tweeter, with spelling and punctuation corrections as well as suggestions for content. There is some discussion about what aspects of the Skype experience to include and a few questions, most of which they answer themselves simply by watching. They quickly head to their seats to compile some tweets of their own about other learning experiences in the past few days.

Frankly, I’m amazed at how many skills are being applied here! These 9 year-olds are quite spontaneously…

  • Writing for an authentic audience.
  • Communicating with purpose.
  • Reflecting on their learning.
  • Making choices about what to share.
  • Distilling the essence of each learning experience.
  • Expressing themselves concisely.
  • Applying their knowledge of spelling and punctuation.

I tweet from my own account for people to say hi from other countries and they receive responses from all over the world.

It’s the end of the day and they miss most of them as they rush off to pack up and go home. We have a few days off school, but I’m sure next week Jina will follow up and have them respond to the global tweets. It would be great if they spent some time looking up the places on the map.

It’s just the beginning…

Who controls the learning?

This post grew out of a conversation with my personal learning network the other night. I was chatting about inquiry learning with a group of educators  in Australia, Ghana, Chile, Japan, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Canada and Bulgaria. Maggie was on her lunch break in Switzerland, Jen was on a ferry in Hong Kong, @Mallocup was at an automatic car-wash in Abu Dhabi  … Join us next time for #pypchat, wherever you are.

The conversation turned towards how much we plan ahead and how much unfolds naturally along the way. I’m wondering…

Do you prepare a range of teaching activities in advance?
Or do you plan a strong provocation  and then see how the learning unfolds naturally?

Is your plan a checklist, on which you cross off each activity you’ve ‘done’?
Or do you change your plan every day depending on the needs and interests of the students?

Do you know exactly what will happen in your classes?
Or do you really listen to students’ questions, answers and thoughts, allowing those to direct the learning?

Does every student do the same thing in your class?
Or do learners have choice where they take their learning and how they might share it?

Do you focus on covering the material and how best to teach it?
Or do you spark curiosity so that learners are inspired to question, explore and discover?

Is this you…?

Image: Eneko

Some thoughts from the chat participants:

  •  I have seen big differences among our teachers here, some plan in detail, others let unfold – but all plan summative first @tgalletti
  • We’re moving to planning much less. Well planned provocation essential. And ways to assess prior knowledge/current understanding. @gedmis
  • Tune in, have a few workshops and hand it all over to the kids and facilitate them in their myriad of directions @emmalinesports
  • That is where the battle is always. The balance between end in mind and mind the end. @wholeboxndice
  •  I’ve just crossed so many activities off my current planner so there is time 4 student inquiry – trying to step back @Saigon_Eldred
  • There is a difference between prescribing and planning. @wholeboxndice
  • Plan a framework with which the Ss can inquire within, needs some boundaries which are negotiable @jasongraham99
  • Try not to but PYP coord insists!! Pure based/problem based inquiry not much at all. @travisattis
  • @travisattis the planner should be a narrative of what happened, not a prescribed list of what will happen @DwyerTeacher
  • Record the route as it unfolds. One eye on map and compass to steer back towards destination when necessary @gedmis
  • We can’t learn anything about what children think if we signal to them what we hope they will say @cpaterso

The discussion continued later with Craig Dwyer in Japan. He shared an article he has written on this topic, in which he says:

I am never at ease with myself before I start a new unit. I worry
about how much I am projecting my view of a topic onto my students. I
worry about how their interpretations will be linked to my
interpretations. I want them to create their own meaning, but at the
same time, I want to tell them a story.

and later this…

As a general rule for myself, I never plan anything more than one
day in advance.  The story and the learning objectives are working in
tandem with the students curiosity, questions and understandings; and
together they are forming the shape of the unit.

Watch out for the  full article, published soon on Teaching Paradox.


Who controls the learning in your class?

What’s a connected educator?

I know it’s nothing new any more. If you’re reading this blog you are probably part of a community of connected educators. We read blogs. We write blogs. We share resources and ideas via Twitter. We meet at online conferences. We collaborate via Googledocs and wikis and Skype.

It still seems like magic to me…

In just a few tweets, five  PYP educators, two in different parts of Australia, one in Hong Kong, one in Indonesia and one in Japan form a team without ever meeting. Within a couple of days we are exchanging ideas on a Googledoc and working collaboratively on a wiki. Connections are made. Learning is shared. Friendships are formed.

A week or so later, we have created a buzz amongst other PYP educators around the world. #pypchat is born, a fortnightly live Twitter conversation, by IB PYP  educators, about issues related to teaching and learning. PYP is the Primary Years Program of the International Baccalaureate, but the chat is open to anyone who’s interested.

The inaugural #pypchat has close to 50 participants from all over the globe. It’s early evening in Jakarta and Jay has his 4 year old with him. Hannah is kicking back on the couch after dinner in Melbourne. Tanja and Miranda in Accra have been given time out in the middle of the school day to participate. In Hong Kong, it’s Jen’s birthday and her family is waiting for a celebration dinner. Stephanie in Ohio and Alexandra in Santiago are up in the early hours to join us before work. Craig has just left a staff meeting in Saigon…

Like all such Twitter chats, the conversation is fast and furious. It helps that as PYP educators, we have a common language. There is barely time to breathe as ideas are exchanged, beliefs are challenged and questions are raised.

Sarah tweets from Hong Kong in the morning that her head is still buzzing.

I can’t wait to see how the chat is depicted by reflective illustrator, Mega in Batam….


DIY Professional Learning

Does your school run compulsory, one-size-fits-all PD? Are you ever bored, disinterested or unmotivated when attending?  Have you ever been to a conference where the presenter was dull, the audience passive and the content unengaging?

Fortunately, we have the power to create our own more effective professional learning opportunities. What’s yours? Daily connection with other educators via social media? Online workshops and webinars by educators for educators? Teachmeets, where educators meet and share practice informally? One of the many Twitter chats dedicated to different areas of learning?

Keen responses to a tweet from @wholeboxndice a few days ago motivated us to try and establish #pypchat, a Twitter chat for IB PYP educators. While the discussion will be PYP related, it’s all about learning and anyone will be welcome to participate.

A preliminary survey to assess the level of interest quickly attracted responses from every continent. It’s unlikely we can find a suitable time to accommodate people in all the time zones, but it’s encouraging to have so much interest expressed so quickly.

It’s interesting to note that nearly half the responders so far indicated that they would like to be part of the team of moderators. It’s an opportunity to create our own professional learning.

DIY. Why not?

(Survey here. Details soon)


I enjoyed my day of professional learning with Alec and George Couros in the beautiful Ravenswood surroundings. A great learning environment, a few new tools, lots of laughs and loads of inspiration.

At the end of the day I spent some time trying to capture the essence of it.

It was lovely to spend a day out of school with members of my school leadership team. It was an opportunity to connect more closely with them, to talk about all manner of things and to learn. I highly recommend staff participating in workshops in groups, so they can deconstruct together, learn and think collaboratively.

The day was also an opportunity to make new connections. It was great to converse with and learn from teachers in a range of schools and from different backgrounds, to share and compare our teaching and learning experiences.

It was really special to engage in person with educators with whom I have previously interacted only online. In particular, my young friend George Couros, who feels like an old friend! We’ve connected via social media for a couple of years, learning from each other and taking each others’ ideas back to enrich the learning in our schools.

Alec shared many examples of incredible school-wide and worldwide collaborations, highlighting just what’s possible in our connected world. His wonderful 40th birthday video, created by 75 of his ‘closest friends’, many of whom he has never met in person, was a perfect example. My mind was buzzing with possibilities for learners in my school… and in the world.

It was heartwarming to hear Alec and George talk about the influence of their parents on their lives as educators. Their stories resonate for me. My own father was an inspirational educator and it stills thrills me when I meet people so many years later who talk about the way he touched their lives.

The essence of the day was connection. Connections between ideas and practice. Connections between new knowledge and existing thinking. Powerful global connections. Meaningful personal connections…. And the places where all of those interconnect.

10 ways Twitter has added value…

Dear Teacher who is still not on Twitter,

Maybe you didn’t receive my previous mail. Just in case it didn’t convince you, here are a few more examples of the benefits of Twitter… 

1. Continuous learning with and from a global community of educators, via countless links to interesting posts and articles, tools and websites, conferences and workshops. thoughts and ideas.

2. Year 5 students at my school are learning about Aboriginal culture. Twitter led me to @jessica_dubois, as a result of which classes at our schools were able to interact via Skype last week. It was an incredible learning experience for both sides!

3. Ongoing connections with PYP educators like @jessievaz in Chile, @maggiswitz in Switzerland, @sherratsam in Thailand and @garethjacobson  in Bangladesh (among others!), to whom I can turn for advice and ideas relating to learning in the PYP.

4. #Elemchat is a weekly Twitter chat for primary school teachers to discuss issues and share practice. It’s great to get different perspectives from all over the world and the connection with talented organisers @tcash in Morocco and @gret in Argentina is an added bonus.

5. Year 1 teachers at my school have recently started blogging and are keen to make global connections for their students. Via Twitter, I’ve found them a number of interested teachers and classes in Colombia, Switzerland, Canada, Indonesia, Chile and the US and inspired them further with the work of @grade1 to see what is possible.

6. Inquire Within, a collaborative blog about inquiry learning, has a range of contributors from twelve countries across six continents… all via Twitter. (Join us!)

7. Upper Primary teachers at my school were inspired by a Skype session on literacy and class blogging with @kathleen_morris and @kellyjordan82 a few months ago and the dynamic duo has agreed to do another session next term to inspire teachers in the lower grades too.

8. @toughLoveforX is a retired printer and design teacher in NY, who comments with interest on my blog and our school class blogs, giving valuable insights and asking tough questions about education that make me think (and act). 

9.  It was great to have @henriettaMi, who I know through blogs and Twitter, visit our school when she was recently in Melbourne to present at a conference. She graciously agreed to present an after-school session to further inspire teachers at my school with their class blogs.

10. Endless advice, assistance, support, collaboration, encouragement, inspiration, motivation … and friendship.

Why wouldn’t you want to be part of it? 

Let me know if you want help getting started.


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