Hello, reader! If you intend to post a link to this blog on Twitter, be aware that for utterly mysterious reasons, Twitter thinks this blog is spam, and will prevent you from linking to it. Here's a workaround: change the .com in the address to .ca. I call it the "Maple Leaf Loophole." And thanks for sharing!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

How Making Mistakes and Blabbing it to the Universe Improves My Teaching

Alternate title: Messing Stuff Up, Writing It Down

These are my notes for a workshop next week. Comments/additions/criticisms? Please help, oh PLN of mine.

Why Bother?
- Communication tools make widespread collaboration possible where it hasn't been before.
- If you aren't thrilled by the professional development or lesson improvement opportunities offered by your school, you have other options.
- Speaking for myself, being a learner makes me a better teacher. Continue growing, learning, and improving your craft.
- Network with other like-minded professionals.
- The ability to get ideas, and to get feedback about your work, no longer has to be limited to a planning period, an annual conference, or only teachers in your school and district. As a result, your teaching will improve faster.

Why Start a Blog?
I always had a hard time with reflective practice as a private exercise. I was told it was important, but it wasn't rewarding in a way that led me to pursue it regularly. All my writing landed with a dull thud. Publishing those reflections, successes, failures for an audience means my work is broadcast in a community of intelligent professionals who read, use, and comment on my work. The feedback from them is the reward that keeps me doing it. (Update: Read MizT's elaboration on this point.)

You Don't Have to Start Your Own Blog
There are plenty of ways to develop, benefit from, and contribute to a learning network without starting a blog of your own.

Read Blogs - Through the habit of reading other teacher's blogs, you will get ideas and insights in an easily accessible format, delivered to your computer. You can go to individual websites, but using an aggregator like Bloglines or Google Reader is much more convenient. Instead of bookmarking and visiting individual sites, an aggregator collects them all in one place for you. New posts in your subscribed blogs are automatically sent to the aggregator through the magic of RSS (Real Simple Syndication (you don't need to remember that.)) You only have to check the one site, the aggregator, to see if any of the blogs you read have been updated lately. For Google Reader you will need a Google account, then you can click Add a Subscription and type in an address.

If this is all brand new to you, here are a few to get started with (I chose these to represent a spectrum of math ed bloggers out there... through linking from posts that appeal to you, you will find more and more): 360, colleenk, Dan, Elissa, Jackie, Jason, JD, John, Sarah, Sam, Sue, and me.

Comment on Blogs - Don't be afraid to add to the conversation on a blog by commenting. Include your first and last name, unless you are cultivating a pseudonym (see below). If you start a blog later, you will have built a reputation you can use to draw people to read your posts. When it's available, I always check the box for "email me follow-up comments," so I don't have to go back to the post later to read the latest comments.

Twitter - It's more than celebrities and talking cats! Many educators are coming on board, and I'm finding more and more useful links and discussions on there. It can be a good way to get started. Set up an account and describe yourself in a few well-chosen words. If you are looking for ideas about who to follow, start by checking out who I and other math teachers are following. Once you follow someone, they will often follow you back, if they see that you are a teacher. Congrats, you have readers! (Of your tweets. Limited to 140 characters.)

Delicious - Save bookmarks that are available anywhere there's Internet. I use this as the place to save all those links that I want to remember later. Add tags so you can search them easily. It also has a social component, whereby you can follow people and see what they are saving.

How to Start a Blog
, Considerations, and Potential Pitfalls
There are gazillions of articles about the technical aspects. Spend some time googling and reading articles. I use Blogger and like it fine. Lots of people like Wordpress.

Decide why you want to start a blog. To share your great lessons? To comment on education policy? To relate funny stories about your day? To post pictures of your lunch? It's good for a blog to have a focus. If you don't want to write original content and just want to share links or pictures, consider another solution like Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr, or Delicious.

If you and some friends all want to start, consider a group-authored blog (example). You will immediately have each other as readers and commenters.

Decide whether you want to post with your real name or anonymously/pseudonymously. The decision to use my real name was a personal one and works best for me. Plenty of awesome blogs are written by teachers who would rather not identify themselves. If privacy concerns are keeping you from starting a blog, consider a nom de plume. Either way, I advise against publishing anything you wouldn't want a student, parent, or administrator to read.

Have several ideas for posts before you start. When you begin, you will want to update at least once a week. Otherwise people will lose interest and you won't generate a following.

When you write a new post, don't publish it right away. Several commenters made this suggestion, and it's a good one. Instead of "Publish", the blogging software should let you "Save as Draft." No matter how much you like your post, you will think of a crucial edit 5 minutes later. You will realize that the way you stated something could be taken the wrong way. You will think of more elegant phrasing. Of course, you wouldn't want blogging to put you in a bad light, or give you a reputation for being unprofessional. Write the first draft and let it marinate for 24 hours before publishing.

Stick with it. It will take time to generate a following. You can get readers faster by leaving comments on other blogs (and including the URL of yours,) linking to your new posts on Twitter, or submitting a post to a blog carnival.

It's generally considered bad form, not to mention lawsuit-inducing, to post identifiable pictures or videos of students' faces. If you want to do this, you should get guardians' consent in writing.

Further Reading/Watching

This post wants to convince you of the value of educational blogging.

In this TED talk, Seth Godin says we all have the potential to "change everything" by leading people just waiting to be led. Not specifically about education, but relevant.

This episode of Ze Frank talks about the meaning of creativity, and what it takes to go from 0 to 1.

This post at the Fischbowl describes the value of a Personal Learning Network for both teachers and students.

Darren has his students blogging to expand the walls of his classroom.

Sitmo is a relatively easy way to include mathematical equations in blog posts.