Wednesday, March 28, 2012

10 Reasons for Education Professionals to Use Twitter

Can a message of only 140 characters really affect change in the world? Twitter is doing just that one message at a time.

Last week I met with a small group of teachers and administrators to show them some of the merits of using Twitter as an education professional. I have already read many blogs about the virtue of educators using Twitter, so my message is nothing new. It is simply my perspective that I share with anyone who would like to catch up on the meeting of last week.

Here’s what I told the group:

1. Twitter has quality content. Forget the trivial stories about what some celebrity had for lunch. A dynamic group of dedicated professionals are using Twitter to share resources to improve our profession. Follow those people.

2. Twitter is easy to use. The many messages look like a lot of noise at first. You have to be patient and acquire a taste for the application to find order in the chaos. After that, it is simply a matter of making time to read some messages and pass your own along.

3. Twitter is connecting. Education is about people. We are people serving other people. Twitter adds that human interaction to the resources and information we find online. You can make acquaintances and friends of colleagues you meet in this medium.

4. Twitter is mobile. It is on you computer, but it is web-based so you can access it anywhere. It can also be on your phone. From your phone, you can connect broadly with your network or send direct messages to specific people. At a recent conference, I was able to track down and meet face-to-face several of my online connections using the direct message feature.

5. Twitter is information fast. As I began my Twitter presentation, I sent a message asking some of my followers to greet the group. Within minutes, I had several personal greetings that demonstrated the responsiveness of the system.

6. Twitter creates networks. The people I connect with become my Personal Learning Network. I check the resources they recommend. I ask for their feedback and counsel. I try to help them when I can. We are helping each other to learn and grow within the profession.

7. Twitter has depth. At first, it is about the messages constantly coming and going. But it gains in power as users learn to use and follow lists and hashtags (#) to organize and find information. I recommend using HootSuite or TweetDeck to better access these features.

8. Twitter is important conversations. Education is being subjected to the greatest criticism it has ever experienced. We are all looking for ways to improve. Join the conversation for how we can move our profession forward.

9. Twitter also has recreational uses. Although I am purporting this application to be a professional networking tool, you can use it for news, sports, hobbies, and recreation. Try following a vacation spot or two you would like to visit someday.

My final advice is to take it slowly but be persistent. The cacophony of messages can drive people away shortly after they start. Watch and learn. It takes time to acquire an understanding of the power of the tool. Do not feel you need to think and tweet profound thoughts (if you follow me, you know I don’t). It is all right to take without giving back at first. Later you will understand that . . .

10. Twitter is sharing. When you read a tweet you like, feel free to retweet it. When you find an article online, and you think, “Hey, this is valuable,” share the link with others. When you find an idea that has merit, sum it up in 140 characters and pass it on. It does not have to be an online resource. But if you are learning new things, share the wealth!

Here’s to meeting you online! Find me @DanielLFrazier.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Preparing Future Leaders

I recently wrote a blog post on the importance of training our next generation of political leaders. I suggested there are no standardized tests that measure how effectively we are preparing our students to be prudent and discerning voters and citizens eager to assume the mantle of leadership in any of the multiple layers of our participatory republic. So we need to ask ourselves how do we know our schools are doing what they should to prepare citizens for the democracy that is the United States?

Yes, reading, writing, and the other basics are imperative. The premise of public education was that it would serve as the bulwark of our democracy by preparing a literate electorate. But fundamental to this as well should be preparing our students to understand propaganda. Remember, the two nations with the highest literacy rates of the 1930's were Germany and Japan. Our youth must be educated to be critical thinkers, to recognize the ploys of advertising, and to think about how their own beliefs and consciences are reflected in the alternative that are offered to them.

Next, citizenship preparation is not just a civics class and a couple of history classes. Schools need to be modeling our republic form of government. Student council should be part of every secondary school. It should not be a superficial body where the popular kids are elected to get together and chat about what themes they want for the upcoming school dance. This should be a program that needs the serious attention and support of the school administration. The student council members need to be required to regularly solicit feedback from their constituents. They must involve the student body in serious issues regarding school governance. Finally, the faculty can recognize many students who will one day be leaders in our society. Leadership should be an essential component to every talented and gifted program. Get those students involved. Don't let their leadership training fall by the wayside simply because they cannot win the popular vote . . . today.

Although some of our political leaders today myopically cannot see this important function that schools serve, we must recognized this need and serve our students to provide for the future leadership of us all.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Advanced Citizenship

I recently returned from a three-day, two-night trip to Washington, D.C. where I led a group of eighth and ninth graders from my school. It was actually a five-day trip because it was 22 hours traveling each way by motor coach. I chose a bus for our group to make the trip more affordable for students so that more of them would be able to attend. I was willing to endure two overnights on a bus with a large group of adolescents because I think the trip is that important.

First of all, the primary purpose of our public schools is to prepare a literate citizenry for our democratic process. Thomas Jefferson intended public education to be the bulwark of our democracy. He understood that ignorance is the greatest threat to the perpetuation of our form of government. With rising apathy among our youngest voters, this is growing in importance.

Next, we need our youth to understand our government. The United States has the most complex and sophisticated, yet successful form of government in the world. If our way of life is to endure, our citizens must be educated in how our government works and how they can affect change.

Finally, our republic requires advanced citizenship. It requires the rank and file of our population to step up and take on leadership roles. Obviously we need to train our next generation of state and federal leaders, but our country desperately needs citizens to come forward to lead locally. We need city council members, county commissioners, and school board members. We also need people willing to volunteer for the zoning commission, the park commission, the public library board, and many other leadership positions. At a time when our political leaders seem to be facing increasing criticism and pressure, I perceive people are becoming more reluctant to come forth. We need our next generation to start preparing now for the roles they must assume within our society.

With all the national discourse about student achievement and standardized test scores, let's make sure we do not neglect our most important function as public educators. And this performance can only be measured a generation from now, after these students are voting and leading in our republic. We need to prepare tomorrow's leaders today.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

How I Missed Regular Sixth Grade

I did not take classes in sixth grade. I confess. I never completed a standard sixth grade course of study.

You see, I had Mr. Mein for sixth grade (that's pronounced ME-in, and the names in this post were not changed to protect the innocent). And he did not teach us anything all year. All we did was have fun, play games, hold parties, make wagers, and take adventures.

For example, he was expected to teach us writing and composition. Instead, he would turn it into some kind of competition. One time we were working with partners and creating our winter class play. Other scripts were exceptional, he pointed out. But my script was the one that was most appropriate for playing on stage in front of parents. Yes, I may have worked hard at writing my play, but it was all about the fun.

For another example, the curriculum required him to teach us about other nations such as the nation of Canada. Instead of him teaching us a darn thing. He had us play a game. We held a debate. Students were each asked to pick a province in Canada. Then small groups debated in front of class which province was the best place to live. (According to our sixth grade results, it was Quebec, by the way.) He was also supposed to teach us about Latin America. Instead, we planned a big party, and each culture had to be represented for how and what they celebrate. So we all enjoyed researching a particular nation and sharing with classmates how our findings would fit our class party. But he didn't teach us any of that.

Oh, there was one time he bet us that if we worked hard enough, he would take us on an extra field trip. We won the bet, and our field trip consisted of walking to the edge of my small Iowa hometown, looking at the corn and bean fields across the valley, and being told how important agriculture was to our way of life. It was kind of lame, but we did not care. We were sixth graders, and it was a field trip as far as we were concerned.

But I hardly remember any time all year that he taught us something, in the traditional sense of teaching.

Of course my point is that Mr. Mein was ultimately a talented instructor who had his students work together and teach each other. And he knew how to motivate kids. We had such fun and and were so highly engaged in our self-discovery that we never felt we were in a regular class. My wish for all students is for them to have a Mr. Mein who challenges them to learn for themselves and love what they are doing.