Twitter and Professional Development

By this time, I’m assuming that the majority of teachers and educators have some understanding of Twitter and it’s potential as an information technology tool. Certainly it can be viewed as an effective social media tool capable of creating large online communities and groups of followers tuned in to information streams. That said, recent experiences with the platform have reinforced my belief that Twitter can, and should, be used as a personalized, primary source professional development tool for teachers. Here are some quick examples of how information from Twitter has impacted my teaching:

  1. Expert Information: Teaching the themes of geography can be enlivened and differentiated through the use of digital media including pictures, videos, and infographics. By following sources such as the United States Geological survey @USGS and NASA, teachers can have incredible resources delivered right to their desktop.
  1. Lesson Planning: Twitter sources can be the core element of an entire lesson plan, they can be used to connect curriculum ideas, or they can be introduced as a topic of discussion at the beginning of class. Integrating the Twitter feed into the class dialogue presents untold opportunities for students to be critical thinkers and to develop a stream of resources directly connected to key curriculum concepts.
  1. Archiving Great Ideas: A quick run through of your Twitter feed can provide a wide range of ideas for on-the-ground planning as well as academic research, reflection, and pedagogical technique. While this may be overwhelming, by starring different posts of interest, teachers can begin cataloguing those ideas for future use. Periodically revisiting those starred posts can help plan for new units and new lessons.
  1. Inspiration: If you want to be inspired, there is no better way than to follow teachers and associates on Twitter. You can keep up with new ideas, view teaching techniques, and follow links to new ideas, technologies, and research that can be implemented immediately.




Personalized Learning Plans and Cross-Curriculum Integration

One advantage of implementing Personal Learning Plans is the possibility of cross-curriculum integration and learning. There are numerous opportunities for teachers to collaborate, innovate, and develop learning activities in partnership with colleagues and students.

Because the PLP is “portable”, students can incorporate activities from different classes into the platform. This presents teachers with the opportunity for the assessment of multiple standards and skills. Students can utilize this portability to demonstrate their expertise in different learning environments.

An example that is in development at Main Street Middle School involves foreign language students creating videos documenting their emerging foreign language skills. Once the video is created, students self-assess themselves based on their foreign language fluency. But it doesn’t end there. Students can also assess their presentation skills, body language, and, for students comfortable with technology, filming and video presentation. Super-motivated students and teachers could also have students annotate those videos to document strengths and challenges.

Building on the review of the skills present in the videos, students can then set goals for future learning opportunities. Because the PLP travels with the student, skill improvement and growth can be documented over time and across the classes. Students then have evidence that can be shared with teachers and parents to demonstrate development.

A third opportunity connected to the PLP is the development, integration, and assessment of the Agency of Education’s Transferable Skill set. Though this can be accomplished in stand-alone classrooms, collaboration across the curriculum enables students to realize the integration of these skills throughout their educational program.

PLPs and Presentation

Personal Learning Plans can be leveraged into outstanding presentations. Here’s the proof.

A few months ago, our school’s Technology PLC was asked to present the work we had completed towards implementation of a Google-based Personal Learning Plan template. Having a year of experience with the PLPs, we agreed.

After discussion and input from group members, we decided to focus on multiple goals. First, we wanted to evaluate staff understanding or awareness of Act 77, the statute identifying personalized learning and flexible pathways. Second, we wanted to model relevant and appropriate professional development around personalized learning and its role in the classroom. Finally, and most importantly, the team wanted to familiarize the staff with the Google Sites template that was created and adopted for the pilot project.

Deciding on the best method for presenting our work on the PLPs was difficult. We had a limited amount of time and we wanted to give teachers proof that the PLPs could be a viable part of the classroom. To do that, we asked several students to present their work.

The first student segment was conducted by two eighth graders who have completed Phase 1 of the PLP process. Admittedly, these two students provided exemplars of the PLP process. That said, their presentation, created without teacher guidance, was outstanding. They were able to move through the pages of the Google site fluently and, because of the “personal” elements of the project, with great familiarity. The old adage about students doing their best work on topics that they know most deeply was brought to life.

The second student segment included a student panel answering questions from the staff about their PLP experience. Again, these students were asked to speak without prior preparation. Again, their performance was flawless. Not only did they provide accurate information about the PLP process, they also were able to articulate how the process differed from traditional teaching methods.

Post-presentation feedback indicated that the student presentations were convincing, relevant, authentic, and professional.

My conclusion? PLPs can be used to help students create outstanding presentations because they are comfortable and familiar with the material. It’s an added bonus to the project.

Mavericks, Teaching, and Google Scholar

Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 5.25.02 AM

This picture was taken at Mavericks, a famous big wave surfing spot in California. Intrepid surfers are enticed by the huge waves, regular break, and recognition that comes from successfully navigating the treacherous surf. Having never surfed, I’m assuming that the fear of being crushed by the wave is also a motivating factor in getting out of the tube successfully.

As a teacher, I often feel that the swell of responsibilities often threatens to overwhelm my ability to operate effectively in my core role: classroom instructor. Among the long list of Things To Do, meetings, email responses, lesson planning, accommodations, and problem-solving, we sometimes overlook the importance of focusing on our craft.

To that end, I have been attempting to develop research habits that allow me to find short, easy-to-read, educational pieces that can directly inform my classroom work. To do so, I have started using Google Scholar, one of many research oriented applications provided from Google. I definitely don’t know all the bells and whistles that come with the program, but simple searches can often provide excellent resources in a wide-range of easily consumable formats. For teachers lacking the energy to read books and journals during the school year, the option to refresh and re-invigorate can come from shorter research articles.

More importantly, the information found through research can be directly implemented in the classroom setting. For example, a recent search turned up a document titled, What Works In Classroom Education², a text outlining 9 essential strategies for classroom instruction. Following the links provided by Google Scholar, educators can access a PDF of the document for quick reading and consumption. Furthermore, once a researcher gets hold of an idea or text, one can often find related articles on the topic, also using Google Scholar.

One of the recommended strategies from Marzano, et al., was the use of note-taking. Seems simple right? No so fast. The authors also suggest that teachers should encourage and give time for review and revision of notes; notes can be the best study guides for tests.³ In my case, this seemed like simple advice. Prior to a summary writing exercise, I asked students to review their notes by reading through them silently and then having a short table-talk to review the information.

Was it effective? I’m not sure. I’ll have more information when I review the writing. That said, this little tip, garnered from some quick research, helped me to re-focus my efforts and avoid wiping out on this day.

  1. Quirarte, Frank. Mavericks Californing USA. Digital N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Nov. 2014. <;.
  2. Marzano, Robert J., Barbara B. Gaddy, and Ceri Dean. “What Works in Classroom Instruction.” (2000).
  3. Marzano, Robert J., Debra Pickering, and Jane E. Pollock. Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement. Ascd, 2001.

Writing Matters: Using Wordclouds To Identify Key Terms

If you are comfortable with using a wide range of technology in your classroom, I highly suggest you follow Richard Byrne who runs and manages the website Free Technology of Teachers. He can also be followed on Twitter @rmbyrne. 

Mr. Byrne is a prolific technology teacher who is a huge provider of amazing sites and tools that can help regular teachers improve their game. Last week, he posted about a Google script that can be installed in Google Docs to create word clouds.

What’s the big deal? First, and I quote his column, “Word clouds can help students analyze documents written by others as well as documents of their own creation. By copying the text of a document into a word cloud generator your students can quickly see the words that appear most frequently in that document.”¹

This is important for three reasons. Students can analyze the word clouds to determine if the text of their response includes key concepts and terms from the course of study. Second, by creating multiple word clouds of notes taken electronically, students can identify which set of notes most accurately reflects the essential learning of the original source. Third, teachers can highlight the academic vocabulary that should appear in student writing. Teachers can also clarify any misunderstanding or student questions regarding these topics.

Having read Mr. Byrne’s blog, I quickly and easily installed the word cloud script following his directions. I then copied and pasted several examples of world clouds, taken from notes on identical digital texts, for students to compare. Sure enough, students unanimously selected the word cloud that most effectively identified key vocabulary and concepts.

Utilizing this visual technology is simply another way to engage students in conversations about key terms, effective note-taking, and academic vocabulary. It is quick, easy to use, and provides students with a visual element in their revision process.


  1. Byrne, Richard. “Create a Word Cloud Within Your Google Documents.”Free Technology for Teachers. Blogger, 19 Oct. 2014. Web. 27 Oct. 2014. <>.

Brain Matters: Sleep Tight, Sleep Right

Do middle school educators spend enough time considering the implications of brain science when constructing their learning environment? Recent articles in the New York Times reminded me how understanding, or at least considering, brain development can impact not only the learning environment but also the teacher-student relationship.

The first article, Want to Ace That Test, Get the Right Kind of Sleep recapped the essential role that sleep, and the appropriate amount of sleep, can play in student learning and performance. Scientists have demonstrated that deep and full sleep is an essential element of adolescent brain development and learning. The research is so dialed in, students can actually, if warranted, change their sleep patterns to accommodate learning in different academic areas. “Studies have found that the first half of the night contains the richest dose of so-called deep sleep — the knocked-out-cold variety — and this is when the brain consolidates facts and figures and new words. This is retention territory, and without it (if we stay up too late), we’re foggier the next day on those basic facts.”¹ In other words, if you want to keep those facts in your memory, go to sleep at the regular time. The article goes on to describe how different sleep patterns can result in different learning performance outcomes. As a teacher, these kinds of insights can help inform our practice and but also the information we can relay to students about health benefits related to rest and sleep.

Reading the article reminded me of a chapter in Nurtureshock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman called “The Lost Hour”. In that chapter the authors describe the detrimental impact that lost hours of sleep can have on student performance. Unfortunately, the research also shows that those lost hours, over the course of a week, can have a cumulative impact. In a nutshell, students need to be constantly reminded to get enough sleep. Not doing so can have huge impacts on performance and as everyday educators know, attitudes and academic disposition.

The second article related to adolescent development was somewhat more tangentially related to education. In Interrogations, Teenagers are Too Young to Know Better the subjects were adolescents charged with crimes. What makes the study relative was the insights gained regarding adolescent decision-making. The teenagers charged were considered “more vulnerable at the gates to the criminal justice system” and demonstrated serious flaws in their ability to make effective decisions. From the article:

Teenagers, studies show, are not developmentally ready to make critical decisions that have long-term impacts.

“Adolescents are more oriented to the present, so they are less likely than adults to be thinking about the future consequences of what they’re saying,” said Laurence Steinberg, a professor of psychology at Temple University who writes about teenagers in the justice system and was not involved in this study.


Moreover, research shows that teenagers aged 15 and younger will unwittingly comply with authority figures. They are very suggestible, so that during an interrogation, they are more likely than adults to change their answers in response to interviewers.

Teachers and adults who work with adolescents benefit from these insights into brain development as they relate directly to the classroom environment. Through an increased understanding of the adolescent brain and its stages of development (and vulnerabilities), we can improve our educational offerings and the health and well-being of our students.


  1. Carey, Benedict. “Want to Ace That Test? Get the Right Kind of Sleep.”Motherlode Want to Ace That Test Get the Right Kind of Sleep Comments. New York Times, 16 Oct. 2014. Web. 28 Oct. 2014. <;
  2. Also from the New York Times Motherlode Blog: Read more about sleep on Motherlode: On Sleep Research, My Children Didn’t Get the Memo; We Tell Kids to ‘Go to Sleep!’ We Need to Teach Them Why.; and ‘What Do Students Need Most? More Sleep.
  3. Hoffman, Jan. “In Interrogations, Teenagers Are Too Young to Know Better.” Well. New York Times, 13 Oct. 2014. Web. 28 Oct. 2014. <;.