I am Smiling Big! —(http://wp.me/p17e1J-5y)

Smile

Part 1

As you can see, I am smiling! For those who follow me on Twitter, you likely already know why.

TWITTER WAS UNBLOCKED IN MY DISTRICT in the early part of March.

Connecting students with scientists or other professionals is one of my primary goals. Most of my students will not grow-up to be scientists or science teachers but they might remember real discussions we had with real scientists through social media.

Twitter is the easiest way to get student connected with the outside world. Student blogs are nice but in order for the student to feel validated you have to find people to read and comment on every students post. Skyping is nice as well but it can be taxing to get 30 students to pay attention to one person. It is difficult enough to get them to listen to me and I’m in the room. I realize blogs and video chat tools have their place but Twitter is so much easier.

Once students have Twitter accounts, they can help find professionals. Searching Google is a great option. Ex. Scientists on Twitter, Engineers on twitter. Better yet is to use Twitter itself. Using a keyword or hashtag in the Twitter search bar can bring all sorts of awesome information. ex. #genetics #genomics #astronomy #nebula #crossstitch #carpentry. Next, students introduce themselves to the professionals and ask a question. Discussions can be organized where a specific list of professionals will chat with students using a common hashtag etc.

So besides the potential of what I listed above, why is my excitement through the roof? Since 2009 there have been backdoor methods for getting to Twitter. These methods leave many parts of the social media tool functionless. I did not complain about our problems and the district did not call-me-out for helping students get to a blocked site. Leadership knew students in my class used Twitter for learning and not for other questionable purposes. In fact news stations had come to my class to see how we were utilizing a tool that most people use for finding what celebrities had for breakfast.

Long story short (for this particular section). If Twitter is unblocked, students will have access to making Twitter lists, feeds will update faster, links will be viewable, clicking through a person’s followers will be possible. All these features that we have grown to love, raise the quality and quantity of interactions. So, increase the effectiveness by increased versatility and speed of access? YES PLEASE!

Part 2

What was the process to get to this point?

I began using Twitter as a result of attendance at a Foreign Language conference in TN. One of the sessions was led by Amy Kelly-Graham aka @TNschatz – Her session focused on different web apps, sites, and tools to integrate technology within a foreign language classroom. One of those apps was Twitter. I, like most people was doubtful Twitter could provide any meaningful use in class. She quickly convinced the rest of us and I made an account later that night. Wide-eyed, ignorant, and excited, I had my students make accounts the next week. We had fun but it was not very productive. However I was fortunate to have an executive principal who was fully supportive and saw the potential in what I was trying to accomplish.

After some reflection, time, and input from Amy and other Twitter educators we made better use of our time on twitter.  Over the next three years I invited (the invite process http://wp.me/s17e1J-208) state education leaders, school district leaders, school board members, State Senators and Congressmen to come and see what we were doing.  The feedback was all positive. (Reporting back about the invite http://wp.me/p17e1J-3v) Some of those who made the visit began advocating for opening Twitter in the district. In fact some had already been working to open Youtube and Twitter prior to the visit. A student and I made a visit to the school board to plead our case. I requested help from the Twitter community as well http://wp.me/p17e1J-3Q. Here is the follow up after the trip to the school board http://wp.me/p17e1J-43.

The first visit to the Board was triggered after our last workaround to get on Twitter was disabled. After I had made my plea to the board to allow Twitter in our school system, the districts Operating Officer approached me and said he did not know that there had been a change to block our last backdoor into twitter. By the time I left the meeting and through a fury of emails the Operating Officer had discovered that the internet safety company the district and most of the state uses, had made the change. The company makes decisions about what to block or not based on a committee of Tennessee educators, principals, and others. In the spring of 2013 the committee decided that Twitter should be blacklisted, thus blocking all access even with an override code.

By the middle of the summer several district leadership were doing all they could to help our schools gain access to social media like Twitter and Youtube. In the fall they allowed me to pilot a program that would give my students access to both. Twitter access however was only through the mobile Twitter app run on a laptop which was great but a bit like trying to type with one and a half fingers. Some leaders including the director of Learning Technologies (also the president of ISTE), the Chief Academic Officer and even the Director of Schools were pushing hard to open things for us. Others leaders were concerned, and rightfully so, about students safety, CIPA laws, and maintaining ERate funding. ERate are federal funds that helped the district bring in WIFI to many of our schools.

In an effort to help eliminate some of these concerns I put out a call on twitter to find schools or districts who have ERate funds and still have Twitter and Youtube open to their students. Many responded and began emailing me and leadership information and data in support of using social media in schools. Eventually concerns were satisfied and some policies were rewritten to accommodate the planned change.

Finally we had one last obstacle. We needed to host a public hearing for parents and other stakeholders to come and voice their concerns. The meeting was well publicized. The four local news stations showed up to record and broadcast. Surprisingly, not one parent came to protest. I was the only person there who was not a member of district leadership or a television crew. You should have seen the look on the faces of those worried about the public’s push back. The relief was huge for all of us. In fact two of the major proponents of the change did not show up to the meeting because that wanted to the world to know that this change had been made at the request of teachers like me. A day and a half later, my students were on Twitter without any limitations. This all went down a week and a half ago and I am still on a High from whole thing.

This is what the news stations ended up sharing when no parents showed up to protest. The report from Fox17 http://bit.ly/1fQsDUO

The report from NewsChannel5 

Are there still safety concerns for students, yes! Will students need to be trained in proper social media behavior, yes! That is part of the reason social media needs to be open in education. If we want to teach students how to be good digital citizens then we need to allow them the chance to be good digital citizens! -

I have deliberately left specific names out of this blog post. There have been many many people who have helped make this happen. I do not want to leave anyone out. All I can say is Thank You to everyone who contributed to making this change! You know who you are! I hope this summary is accurate. There was more going on behinds the scene that I did not know about.

Hmm let’s see, what do we need to do next?………

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Outreach through Science Conferences

Thanks to Twitter and the scientists I follow, connecting to science conferences is easier than ever. In fact many conferences would be unknown to the public accept through Twitter. Thankfully, many scientists are embracing social media and are live tweeting the events. Connectedness is changing the face of science communication.

In addition to helping more scientists join the Twitterverse there is more outreach that can be done to increase public awareness of science and science conferences. It is as simple as live broadcasting conference proceedings. This can be done relatively cheaply and without much effort.

If a professional crew is hired the cost can be staggering when coupled with the cost of quality internet. However, cost of broadcasting can be cheap and decent quality. Google Hangouts On Air is free. If you have a gmail account then you have access to the service. Many scientists and science communicators already use GHO On Air to host discussions and events like “Virtual StarParties”

- Although GHO On Air is designed for face to face discussion, it can be used as a broadcast tool as well. with a low quality camera you can see my class. (Students and parents have signed concent forms)

A second deterrent has been privacy and freedom of session discussions. It is important for presenters to be able to share data without losing priority for scientific discoveries. Sharing unpublished data is common at science conferences. It is also possible attendees may feel less willing to share their own ideas and criticisms if sessions are being broadcast and recorded.

However, having just one room dedicated to presentations that can be broadcast live and recorded would be simple to organize. Potential presenters would indicate on the session proposal application whether or not they are willing to have their presentations live on the internet. Presenters who agree to being broadcast can then be assigned to the “live room.”

The final concern for conference organizers might be, “if people can just watch online, why would they come in person?” Attending things live and in person is the preference for most people.  Political affiliations aside, would you rather watch the President of the United States on TV or in person. Those who have the means will still attend conferences. Those who do not have the means can watch online and spread the word to others in the public.

So if you are organizing a scientific conference or any type of conference, please, strongly consider making sessions available online for public consumption.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Easiest Out-Reach You Will Ever Do.

Outreach is easy right? Actually, it can be. Most financial advisors will encourage individuals to diversify their portfolio. So why not diversify your scientific outreach? Many scientists already do.

So what are you doing the 2nd Thursday of each month at 9pm Eastern?. Once a month scientists and high school students gather together on Twitter and use the hashtag #SciStuChat (scientists student chat) to talk science.

#SciStuChat has been around for two years now and we are constantly looking for more scientists, science writers, and thinkers to engage the high school students. Topics are decided by the student participants. During the past twenty-four months we have covered topics ranging from black holes, evolution, genetic engineering, shark misconceptions and conservation, cloning, and many others. We usually have two student moderators who are responsible for welcoming those who join the chat and developing 7-10 questions about the chosen topic to be asked during the discussion. Here is a short tutorial about the format and participation for #SciStuChat.

 

The purpose behind our monthly chat is to give students a chance to talk to real scientists as well as learn about pressing science topics in the world. Many students never get the chance to meet a scientists and as a result they are dependant on the stereotypes they see in the media. As you know scientists are a diverse bunch, not all wear lab coats, glasses, or pocket protectors. Some scientists enjoy skydiving, ultimate frisbee, arguing about sports, or watching The Walking Dead.  So whatever you are doing for science outreach, continue your efforts, but please join us once a month for an invigorating discussion with high school students and other scientists. Even if you are not an expert in a particular field, we need science thinkers.  If you have already joined in the past, Thank You, and I hope we will see you again in the future.

For more information about #SciStuChat, check out the website sg.sg/scistuchat1. Here is some good press we have received in the past couple years.

Stereotypes you can help break as suggested by scientists

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

#WeirdSci Part 2: #WeirdInverts (http://wp.me/p17e1J-56)

Last month we had fun with #WeirdSci and #WeirdBugs. Check out the storify of last months #weirdsci. http://storify.com/2footgiraffe/weirdsci-week-weirdbugs

This month we are checkin-out #WeirdInverts. We need a couple definitions though. By inverts of course we mean invertebrates or animals without a backbone.
The awesome pictures were provided by John S. Mead. Click the pic to visit his site. Thanks John!
Atlantic Nettle

The “weird” part of #WeirdInverts needs more detail for the definition. For the purposes of this activity weird = cool, unusual, awesome, crazy, scary, beautiful, amazing, ugly (no animal is ugly in my opinion), creepy, and any other adjective that come to mind. Basically, post pictures, videos, and drawings of inverts you find interesting. Please credit the photographer when possible.

#WeirdInverts participation runs on Feb 1st and 2nd. However, you are welcome to post weird inverts anytime before or after. :)

Share your #WeirdInverts stuff through Twitter, Instagram, and Vine. Just make sure you include the #WEIRDINVERTS hashtag (Casing does not matter, upper or lower, it’s all good.)

Happy Posting

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Jan. 1st Begins #WeirdSci Fun. (http://wp.me/s17e1J-weirdsci)

Pseudoneoponera2-LThanks to Alex Wild for the use of this Butt Foam Ant picture.

Okay, so you don’t like bugs, but you have to admit some bugs have amazing colors and shapes on this planet. To bring some of those extravagant, awesome, creepy, scary, and weird bugs to light, we are encouraging everyone to share pictures, images, videos, stories, ect. on the hashtag #weirdbugs starting January 1st.

Infact the first 5 days of each month we hope to have a different emphasis: #weirdmammals, #weirdparasites #weirddiseases…….

This idea came about as a result of a blog post by Sarah Keartes @sarahkeartes http://www.southernfriedscience.com/?p=16186 In her blog Sarah points out some of the weird fish that exist in the world’s oceans. Not only did she blog about the weird fish, she challenged people to share their favorite weird fish using the Twitter hashtag #weirdfish. Here is an archive of the hashtag tweets. http://storify.com/2footgiraffe/weirdfish-as-inspired-by-sarah-keartes.4

Goofy Mayfly

Thanks to Morgan Jackson for the use of this Mayfly picture.

A couple days later Sarah and I were talking and we realized this is something that should happen on a regular basis. There are millions of cool organisms that people do not know about. We hope that a monthly #weirdsci event will help bring some of those organisms out of obscurity. We live in an amazing world and this will be a fun way to share it with each other.

Join us New Years day and the 4 following days on Twitter. Post your favorite bug pics, images, videos, and stories on the #weirdbugs #weirdsci hashtag. Please check the hashtag and retweet the posts you like from other people as well.

p.s. check back with #WeirdSci monthly or with @sarahkeartes and @2footgiraffe for future topics.

Misumenoides sp?Thanks to Morgan Jackson for the use of this spider picture.
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Shark Video Chat with Shark Scientists and my Students

Today was another awesome day for my students and I. We were able to do a Google Hangout with shark scientists.

In my ecology class we are spending learning about sharks in the ocean ecosystems and shark conservation. As any teacher knows the best way to get a real perspective in a field of study is to talk to the professionals in that field. In case you are wondering how I found shark scientists to video chat with my students and I, the answer is Twitter. Yep, scientists are on Twitter talking about science.

We were fortunate to have 3 scientists: David Sheffman @WhySharksMatter, Alister Dove @para_sight, and Chuck Bangley @SpinyDag answer student questions. We also had three teachers John Romano @PaleoRomano with his class, Tricia Shelton @TdiShelton – her class was unable to participate because of a snow day, and lastly the teacher next door to me, Eric Solomon @mr_2fish and his class. He is a marine biologist gainfully employed as science teacher.

My apologies to everyone. I did not realize the microphone on my new web-camera worked so well. I felt the need to repeat every question.

The discussion was great!

Many scientists “live tweet” the scientist conferences they go to.  At other times scientists use Twitter to communicate findings, research, and even collaboration. Twitter can be used for more than keeping up with the mundane breakfast options of celebrities. Here is a list of scientists I follow (I add to the list daily).

Not only did I want to give my students a chance to talk with scientists face to face, I also wanted to build excitement for a bigger event next week on December 12th. Every month during the school year students across the US and Canada, login to Twitter to talk to scientists in from New York to New Zealand. We call it #SciStuChat (that is also the hashtag we use for our Twitter chat). On Thursday next week we will be discussing misconceptions about sharks. Last month we discussed bioluminescence. Archive of the discussions can be found here along with the home page.

It is a great experience and I would encourage anyone to check it out. 2nd Thursday of the month at 8pm Central US time using Twitter and the hashtag #SciStuChat.

BTW on of the scientists Dr. Dove was on CNN last and this week.

Also David Shiffman works hard to fix bad media about sharks – Recently there was a Shark PhotoBomb – it was actually a Dolphin – check out https://diigo.com/01gh0s and also Davids Blog about the picture. http://www.southernfriedscience.com/?p=16296

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Humble Pie – Why I’m not Teaching Biology this Year

Last week others found out what I have known for a while. I am not a good biology teacher.

I am passionate about science, helping students, and technology in class. I am not good at delivering biology content and helping students retain the information. This is why I have turned down teaching AP biology several times. Been trying to improve but progress need to speed up.

How do I know I am not a good biology teacher? Student’s standardized test scores.

Pie

Now if I know my PLN they will come to my aid and say, “stupid tests, they don’t really check understanding and learning.” To some degree this sentiment is accurate. However, if I truly help student learn biology, state tests would not be an issue. Students can pass tests without really knowing the content, but if a student knows the content, they will pass the test.

So as a result of my low biology test scores over the last couple years I will not be teaching biology next year. I will be teaching classes that do not have state tests. This will give me a chance to improve my teaching. Improvement is always the goal but now there is a fire under me.

Two years ago I was voted “Teacher of the Year” at my school. Although I was honored I was also a little dismayed. The friends at my school who voted for me have never seen me teach. So what were they voting for? My passion for teaching and science, my care for the students, the way I share tech tools/ideas with the faculty…. These qualities are great to have and I’m still honored to have been selected but what about student learning.

The assistant principal called last week to notify me of the change. To say the least I was heartbroken. She knew I had been working all summer to improve and she recommended a book I should read to help in my quest to become a better teacher (which I bought later that day and started reading). The book focuses on authentic literacy in all classes (if you want the name of the book, contact me).Truth is, I have been working hard this summer to switch to standards based grading (mastery level completion).

Last year I had 10-11 major side projects going in addition to teaching. I have reduced the side projects to 5 and have turned down offers to start other projects. The projects are not an excuse for bad teaching. If I cannot help the students learn the content in addition to growing as individuals I have not fully served my purpose.

I love learning, I love teaching, I love sharing, but most of all I love the students. They are why we do this.

Humble Pie, yes. Hold a grudge against admin because of the change, NO. They gave me a wake up call to make the necessary improvements! It is my fault for not being the teacher I need to be. If I take care of the students they way I should, the test scores will take care of themselves.

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments