Twitter PLNs: Geographical Isolation Doesn't Really Exist

I have been living overseas for 14 years now on four different continents.  It has been one exciting adventure after another, and most of the time, I wouldn't trade my life for the world.  However, when it comes to forming PLCs and learning with colleagues, the isolation can sometimes be overwhelming and in some cases a deterrent.  Sometimes I crave the world.  It's really a numbers game when you get down to it.  The sample size of educators in your physical proximity or even time zone that share in your specific passions and interest can be quite limited.  In most of the places I have taught, there were at most two schools with an even smaller group of teachers interested in learning about the same topics, pedagogical strategies, or technological tools to the depth that I wanted to go with my professional development.  In countries outside of the US, you frequently have to contend with language issues, cultural/educational barriers, and in places like India traffic and logistical difficulties. 

Kenya, December 2012

Kenya, December 2012

Relying on my biology metaphors, it can sometimes feel like I am an opportunistic predator (read educator) –always searching for the PD rich experience but always aware of the energy and motivation costs of the hunt.  It can be hit or miss, and I have found that localized PD experiences in my host countries can frequently be a miss.  Having said that, limiting my professional development to the small group of teachers that I work with in my physical space can be just as much of a miss for no other reason than the statistical significance of a small sample size.  What is the likelihood that I will find another teacher in my building who wants to explore iPad apps that will help me to better illustrate the movement of electrons and hydrogen ions in the electron transport chain during both the cyclical and non-cyclical light dependent reactions in photosynthesis for my 12th grade IB class or gamifying my chemistry unit for 10th grade? 

Another issue is technology.  It is impossible to stay abreast of every new app, tool, and resource that hits the market.  It is even more difficult in international schools if you don't have a critical mass of connected educators constantly sharing out resources that they have discovered outside of our little bubble.  The key word here is connected.  It is because of Twitter, that all of the issues mentioned above have completely disappeared for me in the past year. 


Before I joined Twitter a year ago, PLC used to stand for Professional Learning Community.  It was the edupopculture (yes, I just made that word up) buzz word for your department, vertical team, grade level team etc.  It usually consisted of less than 10 people who shared a common goal, often a goal predetermined by the administrators dictating your meeting agendas.  PD was delivered and often watered down to address all grade levels and all disciplines.  In the international schools that I have worked at in the past, this frequently involved literacy or something more tool oriented like Atlas Rubicon.  My PLC time was often spent documenting what were already doing rather creating or discovering new ideas in uncharted territory.  Then I joined Twitter.

I have now expanded my PLC into a PLN.  Though it may look like only a difference in one letter, there were actually two major paradigm shifts that took place.  The obvious change is that I now have a network rather than a community.  Instead of being isolated by an ocean from other educators that share my vision and mission as an educator, I am now connected to them through my network.   


The second shift is more subtle on the surface, but has a far greater impact on my development as an educator.  Instead of a Professional Learning Network, I now refer to my PLN as my Passionate Learning Network.  Whenever I have time to explore or discover, I simply turn to Twitter.  In no time at all, I am connected to people who share in my passion for learning and offer far more insight and an endless stream of new ideas for me to dig into.  My world now looks a little more like this:

Image originally from  via  Reddit

Image originally from via Reddit

This image came from a great post that you should check out:  40 Maps That Will Help You Make Sense of the World

Snapshot:  How do PLN's Work

So today, I went onto Twitter and one of my fellow Tweeps from California posted this:   



My question was what is this ThingLink and why are you awake at 1:30 am California time?  So he responds: 

Twitter___Mentions 2.jpg

Hmmm....Note to self:  Check out ThingLink; it could be the answer to my photosynthesis dilemma.  What is #playdate13?   

Before I could ask him, another Twitter friend, @clongbh sent me the link to the Google site for the unconference that they are going to attend, Playdate Los Angeles.  After taking one look at the site, I felt the isolation creeping in...but only for a moment.  I was frustrated that I couldn't be there to participate and learn from the amazing educators that are participating in this creative playdate.  It then occurred to me that I can still participate by following the hashtag #playdate13 this evening as all of the people attending are connected educators and will be tweeting out resources and commentary throughout the event.  I suspect that several of the sessions will also be aired live via Google Hangouts.  Chris then invited me to a new Google+ Community that can answer all of the questions that I have about Thinglink and connect me to other educators using it in their classrooms.  

This just in:  While writing this post, I received this tweet:   


I do not follow ThingLinkEducation, but their search engine must have alerted them to the fact that I was tweeting about ThingLink so they sent me a link to their educator's toolkit and a Google presentation on 70+ Interesting Ways to Use ThingLink in the Classroom.  Need I say more?  Two minutes on Twitter, and I now have hours of exploring and creating to do with an instant support network made of people who are passionate enough about ThingLink to share their expertise.  I am definitely looking forward to digging deeper when I finish this post.  If you are still not convinced, or not sure how to get started, here are some previous posts that I have written about using Twitter for professional development. 

What it Means to be a Connected Educator 

Twitter for Professional Development Series  

Update:  I received these two tweets from @CoffeeNancy after sharing this post on Twitter.   

_1__Twitter___Interactions 2.jpg

Gamification 101: Training Camp Part II

Image credit:

Image credit:

When I think back to my process for gamifying my Physics class last year, it felt a little like the journey a coach goes through while preparing for that first game of the season. The planning and execution phases can easily be divided into training camp, designing the playbook, pre-game pep-talk, the season opener, and finally reviewing tape.  In this post I will discuss my approach to training camp. 

I am a die hard Cowboys fan in case you couldn't tell from the picture at the beginning of this post.  While searching for an appropriate image for training camp, I happened upon this headline from

Cowboys May Use Center Who Never Snapped

This resonated with me as I was by no means a gamer when I decided to explore this option in my class.  I had played my share of Angry Birds, but that was about it unless you counted my brief pre-teen encounters with Space Invaders, Pac Man and the occasional game of Frogger.  Once I discovered boys, I tried to forget that Atari and parachute pants were ever part of my vernacular. 

I wouldn't even consider myself a casual gamer.  Last year, while the idea of gamification was percolating in my brain, I taught across the hall from a true gamer who was completely immersed in gamifying homework practices in his class. I called him Crazy Train as the ride he was on was borderline obsessive and insane (or so I thought at the time).  I frequently caught myself checking to make sure the coast was clear before leaving my room in an effort to avoid interactions with him because every conversation was ultimately dominated by his overwhelming excitement over things like avatars, subeconomies, level-ups, warp zones, and other gamer terms that sounded a lot like Chinese to me.

Fortunately, for me, I soon discovered that you do not need to be a gamer to gamify your content.  That is what training camp is all about.  For the non-gamers out there that are looking for a way to make your classes more engaging and fun, this is a good place to start.  As a bonus, gamification will also help the learning stick. 

Step 1:  Play Games...Actively

To get started you simply need to play some games.  Pick something easy and manageable at first, like Angry Birds.  Approach your game play with the same strategies that you advise your students to use when "actively" reading an article or chapter in a book.  Be an active, reflective participant in your game play. 

While playing, ask yourself the following questions and take note of your responses:

  • What emotions did you feel throughout the game play and how did you respond?
  • What made you want to continue playing?  
  • Was there only one way move to the next level, or did you have choice in your journey?  
  • What happened when you made mistakes and how did you feel?  
  • Did you feel like you were in control?  
  • What kind of feedback did you get, and how often?  
  • How did the feedback affect your play?  
  • What elements of the game helped you to maintain your focus?
  • What was your reaction to failure?  How was this different to other experiences you have had with failure? 
  • What role did game mechanics play in your experience?  What role did the fictional story line play in your experience?  (If you are not familiar with these terms, read through the references to these in my previous post.) 
  • What learning was required of you to be successful in the game? 

Now compare your experience to the experience that your students have while participating in one of your lessons.  How are they similar?  How are they different? 

Step 2: Do a Little Research

There are three books that I have found helpful in designing my game.  

  1. The Gamification of Learning and Instruction: Game-based Methods and   Strategies for Training and Education
  2. Designing Games:  A Guide to Engineering Experiences 
  3. Gamification by Design: Implementing Game Mechanics in Web and Mobile Apps

There is also great value in reading blogs about gamification.  Once you discover a blogger that has a passion for gamification, check out the bloggers that are linked to his/her blog.  This is a hot topic at the moment, so a simple search should send you in the right direction.  A few that I would highly recommend at the moment are: 

You should also follow these people on Twitter if you are a Tweep:

Finally, if you are really keen, Kevin Werbach from U. Penn offers a course on Coursera about Gamification.  He doesn't have one going at the moment, but you can add yourself to the watchlist and Coursera will inform about the next start date.  You can also contact him personally on Twitter

Step 3: Discuss Your Ideas with Colleagues

After doing a bit of research, I was ready to jump on the Crazy Train myself (metaphorically speaking).  It was truly great to have him as a resource throughout this process. If there are other teachers interested in gamification at your school or district, form a group to discuss strategies with each other. Two minds (or three or four) are always better than one.  If you are flying solo, revert back to my Twitter suggestion.  There are so many people out there who would love to discuss this topic with you.  Just search using the hashtags #gamification or #gamify, find someone who is tweeting about relevant experiences and then engage them in a dialogue, or reach out to one of the handles posted above.  You can also send questions to me at

As we head into summer vacation, this is the perfect time to start exploring gamification while you are not immersed in the day to day grind of being a teacher. Gamifying your content takes time.  Start small and give it a go!  In my next post I will discuss designing your playbook.  Until then, happy training! 

It's Time for a Twitter Chat Intervention


I decided to take my first personal day in I don't know how many years and extend my weekend so that I could take a well deserved mini-vacation in Goa. It sounded great in theory, three full days of lazing in the sun reading David Sedaris's newest book with work the furthest thing from my mind...and then Twitter shattered my fantasy.  Saturday evening while recovering from a day of burning my pasty white skin poolside in my decadent air conditioned hotel room, I found myself following along with #satchat followed by #satchatwc, while pretending to work on my report card comments so that I could avoid some serious mocking from my friend.  Then on Sunday, after a hot stone massage, I found myself alone in the room trying to regain consciousness while my friend was having a facial. That is when  #suncat that @barbarawmadden has renamed #sinchat happened.  Not even the gorgeous sunset pictured above, or the arrival of my friend catching me in the act could tear me away from the great discussion led by @mssackstein about how to keep students engaged in their learning until the end of the year (more on this in my next post). 
After half an hour of disapproving looks, I finally closed the computer and embraced a glass of wine (the chat was over after all).  Judgy McJudgerson might have also shamed me with some disparaging comments that included things like "rock bottom", "addicted", "workaholic", and "Twitter ninja".  That last one might have been mine.  Did I mention the wine? 

Fast forward to the next morning.  I woke up refreshed and satisfied that I had the strength of conviction to still be in Goa while the rest of my colleagues and students were on their way to school.  Such a rebel!  So I made us some coffee, and then crawled back into bed and opened my computer... #CAEdchat happening right before my very eyes!  For those of you not familiar with hashtag lingo, #CaEdchat stand for California Ed chat... as in for teachers in CALIFORNIA.  Trying to be discreet, I started reading the feed while "checking my email".  It was too good to pass up.  I don't even remember what happened for the remainder of that hour, but the next thing I knew, I was signing up to be part of a book chat on Daniel Pink's new book, "To Sell is Human" led by@clonghb, a physics teacher in... wait for it...California!  When I told Judgy McJudgerson what I was doing, I had one of those out of body experiences where you see yourself for who you really are.  For some reason hearing it out loud made it real.  I am THAT guy!  You know, the one that hijacks a state specific Twitter chat and then joins their summer book club.  Having said that, a part of me was still in denial, until @clonghb posted this...


...a map of our book club.  Ouch! I guess it IS time for an intervention. I admit it; I need to go to Twitter Chat rehab...but after I finish the book.  I started reading it on the flight and I don't want to miss this chat! Baby steps. 

For now however, it is getting late, and I have to get up early for work after taking three days "off".  After all, I have to do something with all of these ideas I have from my weekend "vacation".  Not to mention, tomorrow is Tuesday and you know what that means...#edchat! 

Twitter Chats: "Speed Dating" for Educators

Tagxedo cloud created from tweet responses to the first question, "What role have apps played for you as an educator?"

Tagxedo cloud created from tweet responses to the first question, "What role have apps played for you as an educator?"

Every Saturday morning, educators from around the world come together on Twitter to collaborate, share ideas, create, problem solve, discuss hot topics in education, and chat.  There are three main chats that I frequent on Saturdays: #satchat, #satchatwc, and #rechat.  Each chat lasts for only an hour, but if the topic fits your passion, you could potentially learn more in that hour than you would from an entire conference.  Really.  This is why I refer to Twitter chats as "speed dating" for educators. Like speed dating, most people are resistant to the idea of participating in a Twitter chat because it can be overwhelming. Unlike speed dating, all of these chats are archived, and there are apps like Tweetdeck that will allow you to move at your own pace and ensure that you don't miss ANYTHING!  To illustrate this, I am going to walk you through the last #satchatwc that I participated in, via the archive.  You can follow along with the archive of this chat on Storify

How do chats work?

Twitter chats typically have 1-3 moderators that initiate and facilitate the discussion around a pre-determined topic.  Again, typically there are a series of questions that are posted by the moderators with the format Q1, Q2 etc.  To respond to these questions, the participants begin their tweets with the corresponding A1, A2 etc. to keep track of the discussion.  To maintain the chat thread, each tweet included the hashtag of the chat for filtering purposes.  At the bottom of this post, I have included links to resources about participating in chats and getting the most out of the experience.  Below you will find my personal takeaways from last Saturday's chat on the use of apps in education.  Once you get the hang of it, you should stop reading this post and dig into the archive to create your own personal learning from this chat.  I then encourage you to explore the ideas that intrigue you the most, and look for ways to creatively integrate some of these ideas into your practice. If you find your interest piqued by one of the tweeps in this chat, expand your PLN and follow them on Twitter.  So without further ado…

 You might want to follow @drjolly and @dculberhouse

You might want to follow @drjolly and @dculberhouse

Why are apps in education awesome? Because apps...

  • increase engagement for everyone (most mentioned)
  • facilitate collaboration between students and teachers
  • are resources for remediation or enrichment; differentiation
  • allow for creativity/ design
  • save time and help with organization and efficiency
I like it.  Going to follow @TaraWoodall

I like it.  Going to follow @TaraWoodall

  • good for recording student/teacher observations and provide feedback
  • facilitate the creation of videos for student projects, tutorials etc.
  • improve the quality of communication between students, teachers and parents
  • allow for self-pacing
  • are good for tactile learners
  • help students to grow socially and develop relevant technology skills

  • add rigor without sacrificing engagement
  • have web-based counterparts; great for BYOD
  • are great for workflow
  • can serve as LMS/CMS

Strategies for using/introducing apps in schools/classrooms?

  • leaders should encourage experimentation in the classroom with iTunes gift cards, coupons, or other rewards/ acknowledgement and then give teachers the freedom to take risks and innovate
  • create sharing opportunities in your school
  • teachers should set individualized tech integration goals for integration "introduce one app every two weeks until the end of the year"
  • introduce to class, evaluate, then share out with colleagues; take risks
Following @JenRoberts1... maybe she will reveal her apps list :-)

Following @JenRoberts1... maybe she will reveal her apps list :-)

  • carve out time during faculty time (PLC's, meetings, PD days) for tech teacher leaders, teachers, students etc. to share useful and innovative apps (as described below) with other faculty members. 
  • when sharing apps, document by creating collaborative lists of apps to share with a description of each app's educational value, purpose, usefulness, effectiveness and suggest strategies for integration
  • provide support for teachers on integration of apps into their teaching and learning practices. 
  • provide teachers with the devices and give them time for exploration and experimentation
  • preload standard "gotta have" apps on devices then provide PD before the year begins.
At the very least, you should already be following @drjolly.

At the very least, you should already be following @drjolly.

  • (admin and teacher leaders) model use of apps in meetings

I like the calendar idea...maybe not on Fridays :-) 

I like the calendar idea...maybe not on Fridays :-) 

  • have students share what apps they think would be best to use (@Sabrapro)

Tara is a repeat offender in my Tweet favorites.  I like how she thinks!

Tara is a repeat offender in my Tweet favorites.  I like how she thinks!

  • when evaluating apps, ask yourself: "Does this tech make my instruments more effective?  Does this tech promote 21st century skills for my students? 
  • be willing to try and then fail/succeed and then try again. Take risks.
Love the idea of a smackdown! 

Love the idea of a smackdown! 

By this point most people should be at the very least intrigued by the idea of using educational apps in your classroom, while others are ready to dive in with both feet.  The next question brings us to why these chats are so valuable to me.  The links.  Links = going down the rabbit hole of PD.  140 characters turns into an endless supply of relevant insightful blog posts, new websites to explore, new apps to try out, and new ideas to process and use as a springboard for creativity and integration in your teaching. Time to explore whatever peaks your curiosity or makes you mind engage. 


Links and apps to explore after this chat: 

Definitely follow this guy!

Definitely follow this guy!

And the list goes on and on.  So what now?  I plan to choose a few of these apps that I am interested in exploring further and start researching on Google, Twitter, and the blogosphere.  Blogs are a great resource for learning about apps because educators will explain how they use them in their classes and include suggestions for use and strategies for effective integration.  This is a good way to spark your imagination. 

The great thing about Storify archives is that you can interact with the people from Storify itself.  In fact while writing this post, I replied to several of the people with questions, suggestions etc.  I also added people to my PLN that I missed the first time around.  Time to dig deeper.  Here is the link to the archive again in case you made it all the way to the end of this blog :-)  I am exhausted after reviewing this hour long chat, so I will take a brain break and start working through my long list of takeaways later! 

Questions for you:  What were your takeaways?  What is one app that you want to explore further?  Are there any apps that you would add to this list?  It isn't too late to share.  Just include the hashtag #satchatwc in your tweet. How many people did you add to your PLN? Are you ready to give "Speed Dating" a try? 

There is a Twitter chat for everyone, and there are several chats scheduled every day.  Check out @cybraryman1's schedule of chats to find one that engages your interests and passion for learning.  There is even a chat called #tlap, or teach like a pirate!  Sorry to disappoint, but it is a chat about creativity in education, not pirates.  I know, I know...ARGH!  Once you decide on a chat, all you have to do is log into Twitter and search for the hashtag of the chat. 


This will filter your feed.  To participate, just make sure to include the hashtag in your tweet.  Be sure to check All Tweets instead of Top tweets or People you follow when you participate in a chat.



If you are still not feeling brave enough to jump in, here are a couple of links you can check out to help you come up with some solid strategies for participating in chats: