Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Setting The Stage For A Great School Year

Back when I was in the classroom this was the most exciting time of the year for me. I always enjoyed heading back to school more than any other time. Getting back in my classroom and getting things set back up, buying new supplies and planning for all the great things I learned over the summer were just some of things that excited me. I couldn’t wait for kids to get back in school and for learning to start again.

While back to school can be a fun time it can also be a challenge. It should be a time where we set the stage for a great year. However, there is always so much going on and so many things to do it’s easy to get bogged down in the weeds of endless meetings, paperwork and lesson planning.

There are many things you can do to help yourself and your kids at the start of school to have a great year. Here are just a few.

Get Connected
-One of the most important ways an educator can grow and learn is to get connected. Reading blogs, contributing to an online community or checking out a Twitter Chat are all ways that you can hear about the good things that are happening in other classrooms/schools and learn from others. These places can also serve as a virtual sounding board when you run into a problem or need a solution. Coming up in October is Connected Educator Month so there are many opportunities to learn how to be a connected educator including book studies and free webinars. And speaking of books (shameless plug) you can check out my book, The Relevant Educator: How Connectedness Empowers Learning that can help guide your connected learning.

Create A Virtual Classroom-My school website was the way that I let the world know what we were learning in our classroom. I could post notes from class, any files students needed, use the calendar to post homework and curate a list of resources for students to use outside of class. It’s important today to create a virtual space for your classroom. Some districts provide a website for educators to do this, while others allow them to create their own. There are a wide variety of products out there (like Edmodo or Schoology) to do this so spend some time finding one that suits your needs. You’ll also want to examine how you can extend conversations from your classroom to the virtual spaces as well. Taking your classroom into the cloud allows you to create a private space to post questions, comments, blogs and more. These online spaces allow learning to happen not just in the schoolhouse but after hours as well.

Set Goals And Reflect Often-As an educator it’s important to reflect on the previous years, the high points and the low points. Use those reflections to build personal and professional goals for the new year. Maybe you want to learn a new technology skill or challenge yourself to grade differently. Whatever your goals, make them actionable and reachable. Students can do the same. Set aside time to have students create learning and personal goals they want to accomplish throughout the year. Develop a plan to check in regularly and report back. Using something like Google Docs or Forms makes collecting and sharing those goals easy. Or if you want to take it to the next level, using Recap, students can record those goals through video as part of a larger portfolio to keep track of their learning all year.

Add Something New To Your Technology Toolkit-Odds are over the summer you learned about something new to try in your classroom. The beginning of the year can actually be a great time to think about new ways to integrate technology into learning. One of the tools I learned about this summer is EdTech Software. This is a textbook ebook solution for the classroom. If you use any kind of adopted textbook the EdTech Software can organize all those companion ebooks into a shelf for students so they can access them easily. But it’s much more than that. We know many textbooks aren’t all that flexible. With Shelfit you can supplement with videos, links and other resources to extend the ability of that static textbook and provide a customized learning experience for students. You can check out what it can do here and sign up for a free trial.

Establish Relationships-Getting to know my students was the first thing I did every year I taught. There was always that pressure to get started with the content but I found that if I made connections with my students, I could more easily teach them. I understood who they were, their passions, and their interests. Take the first few days to learn who your students are. The time taken will pay off in the end. And keep those relationships going. Schedule time to talk with students 1-on-1 as often as you can. Even a simple conversation in the morning or in the hall can prove to be beneficial.

Remember, this really is an exciting time of year. Take time to enjoy it!

What are your favorite ways to get ready for a new school year? Leave some thoughts below. 

photo credit: Homeschool Supplies via photopin (license)

Friday, July 22, 2016

Recap App: 3 Back-to-School Ideas for Student Videos

Last time we co-authored a blog post, Shaelynn Farnsworth and I shared Blab. It was so much fun and such an easy app to integrate into the classroom we wanted to share another favorite of ours!
Recap is a free video response app created by Swivl which allows students to reflect, respond, and demonstrate through video. Recap is easy to use as both an educator and as a student. It is also an excellent way to model and use digital literacy modes in the classroom! Simply create a class and assign a Recap to students. Questions or prompts can be teacher-created in the forms of text or video, and can be assigned to individual students, small groups, or whole class. When completed, teachers can share the whole “Review Reel”, or each individual child’s video. Share options include email or weblink!

Here are 3 Back-to-School Ideas that will have your students (and parents) Recapping through video response:

Reading Interest Inventory - At the beginning of the year, giving students a “Reading Interest Inventory” provides valuable information about each students’ reading preferences and how they view themselves as readers. It also provides a launchpad to place the “right book” into their hands that may hook a reader for a lifetime. Using Recap, students could record themselves on their computer or ipad. These video responses would provide valuable insight to climate and culture of literacy in the classroom. Here are a few of unique questions to include on a Reading Interest Inventory: What is your earliest memory of reading or books? How do you choose a book? What do you notice adults reading? When should a person leave a book? What two books or magazines do you wish we had in our classroom library?

Student Goals and Reflection - Another way Recap could be used at the beginning of the school year is to capture a student’s goals for the year. Part of educating the Whole Child is helping the student see where they are with their learning and where ultimately they want to end up. We know that learning is a continuum. So using Recap students can record where they’d like to see their learning be at the end of the school year. Maybe they want to be a better math student. Or perhaps they want to be able to read more proficiently. What ever their goal they can capture it. Then throughout the school year they can refer back to it. Use it as part of their own personal reflective practice. How are they progressing? What do they still want to do. Have they met their goal and maybe it’s time for another. These videos can become a part of a larger learning portfolio where students examine their learning throughout the year.

Parent Involvement - At the beginning of each school year, many of our youngest learners attend a back-to-school night or an open-house in which they meet their teacher, unpack their school supplies, and explore their new surroundings in the safety of their parents. It is also a time that many parents and family members come to the realization that their child is growing up and “leaving the nest”. What a perfect time to have a “message station” set up for parents or family members to leave a Recap for their student. Imagine the joy in a child’s eye after receiving a message from their parent or family member on their first day of school. Recap classes can be accessed through a pin number assigned to the class, so those parents or family members unable to attend can record their message from anywhere. It is also a great way to demonstrate to parents how you will meet the digital literacy demands in the Common Core State Standards, as well as how technology can be used in a meaningful way even with our youngest learners!

Recap is an engaging and creative way for students to share their understanding through video response! Recap is a free app and is available via the web (so perfect for chromebooks), as well as an iPad app. Coming soon - a  phone app, Recap from anywhere at anytime!

Monday, July 11, 2016

We Are All Teachers Of Literacy

"If we talk about literacy we have to talk about how to enhance our children's mastery over the tools needed to live intelligent, creative, and involved lives." -Danny Glover

At ISTE 2016 I had the pleasure of sitting on a panel, sponsored by Samsung Education, with other educators and industry experts, spending an hour talking about literacy in the age of technology. It was an engaging discussion that looked at how one district in Tennessee leveraged technology to improve reading in the middle grades and also how literacy instruction is being impacted by the use of technology. My role in the discussion was that of a former District Technology Leader and what I’ve seen when implementing district technology programs centered around literacy.

For me this discussion really hit home. As a Father of a 2 daughters I see on an almost daily basis how computers, tablets and apps are impacting their literacy skills. For my 7 yr old she uses her tablet to find books she wants to read and also is able to practice her skills through read aloud and other features in the books. For my 3 year old she is able to use her manipulatives and other apps to practice her letters and letter sounds. It’s truly incredible to watch both of them using the technology and its power to learn.

As I’ve reflected on this panel a lot there are some important themes to remember when it comes to literacy and technology that we need to remember.

We Are All Teachers Of Literacy-Something that gets lost on many teachers is that, in addition to our role as content experts, we are also teachers of literacy. In the lower grades this idea is more embraced because of the single teacher model. But as students progress through the middle grades and into High School the idea of every teacher being a literacy teacher gets lost.

Each content area has it’s own special language that kids need to understand. For example in my science classroom we had our -ologies, chemistry terms and others that I needed to make sure my students understood. In addition there was reading in the content area that is also important. So regardless if we teach World History or Advanced Calculus or Biology we are all teachers of literacy.

Be A Skeptic When It Comes To Technology And Literacy-As we talked about in our panel there is a lot of technology out there that can be used to improve literacy with students. Look at my girls. They, like many other kids are using it. But we have to be careful. In my time as a District Technology Leader I saw plenty of schools waste many dollars on software that promised to improve how kids read or recalled what they read when really the technology was a babysitter.

We’ve probably all heard of someone looking for the “next big thing” when it comes to technology and literacy. We need to be careful and we need to be skeptical. Ask yourself, is what the technology trying to do really going to improve how kids read and comprehend what they read? Or will the technology just get in the way? Don’t just use technology to help kids read because it’s new or flashy. Focus on the technology that can actually help them improve.

Literacy Is More Than Just Reading-Another important theme from our panel discussion was, that while the literacy skills of reading, decoding and comprehension are all important, literacy is more than that. We’ve entered an age where the definition of what actually makes a person literate is shifting and evolving. The introduction of technology into learning is changing the ways that students communicate information. These “technoliteracy” skills that students need employ to communicate, no matter the technology. Blogging. Vlogging. Podcasting. Snapchating. As long as students have this comprehensive set of literacy skills it won’t matter the technology or app they use. They will be able to communicate their learning most effectively.

In this age of anytime access to technology and information kids need the other literacy skills too. Those of content curation, information evaluation, and the use of various, appropriate technologies to communicate information. For example my good friend Shaelynn Farnsworth teaches how students can use something simple like infographics to improve specific literacy skills and to convey a tremendous amount of information in an engaging way. In order to make literacy more whole we have to look beyond just the skills of reading and look at literacy as multimodal, especially in this age of technology.

So perhaps it’s the definition of literacy that needs updating or maybe it’s just our perception of it that needs changing. Either way we have to look at literacy differently. Literacy is an entire set of skills that enable all of us to engage with information differently. Literacy today is taking on a whole new meaning and many years from now it will mean something entirely different. Therefore, we have to look at literacy through a new lens and expand on our definition of what makes kids and all of us literate and examine how technology supports our ability to do so.

photo credit: The future of books via photopin (license)

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Technology Resources For Early Childhood Learning

I am the father of 2 daughters. Reaghan is 7 and Chesney is almost 3. As a Dad and an educator I am constantly looking for the best resources to provide for them at home to supplement the learning they are doing in their schools.

Especially with Chesney.

Every parent wants their child to have a jump start on learning and ensure they are prepared for a world of learning, especially with technology. And I am no different. I want Chesney to love learning, be an explorer and tinker with things but also be a fluent user of technology. So in my spare time I am always on the hunt for ways to support her as a learner.

I am a big fan of Tiggly when it comes to Early Childhood and technology. Tiggly are manipulatives used in conjunction with apps for the iPad. The manipulatives teach things like shapes, colors, letter sounds and more. The apps are highly engaging and Chesney loves them. She will sit with her letters making words and then, the best part, she can create a digital story using the words she learned.


Now, my background isn’t in Early Childhood. (The closest I came was that one day I spent observing in a Kindergarten classroom during college.) So I would never claim to know all that there is to know about Early Childhood education, especially when it comes to the infusion of technology.

Lucky for me the International Society for Technology In Education (ISTE) has a lot of resources for anyone who is interested in enhancing Early Childhood with technology.

ISTE Standards-The best starting point are the ISTE Standards for Students. While not written specifically for Early Childhood education, all of them can be used in that setting. Each Standard is broken down into sub parts to help guide kids in understanding areas like creativity, information fluency, critical thinking and more. It’s never too young, for example, to work with kids on the aspects related to digital citizenship. The Standards provide a framework on what to focus on and also provides resources to help meet those goals, with a particular emphasis on Early Childhood education.

Early Learning Network-Part of my advocacy work revolves around helping educators discover the power of connected professional learning. ISTE has a whole set of Professional Learning Networks for members to do just that, connect with other educators. For Early Childhood professionals there is the Early Learning Network. With over 1000 members and over 160 discussions you are sure to connect with others to learn from and grow with.

Tech as a Tool for Going Global in Early Childhood Webinar-Another great feature that ISTE has is their webinar series. For Early Childhood Educators this webinar on the tech tools to use in the Early Childhood classroom to go global is not to miss. As with many of the things we’ve discussed here, the earlier we start with helping kids navigate the digital world, the more they will be prepared as they get older.

If you are going to be at ISTE 2016 in Denver you can also learn more about Tiggly and loads of other Early Childhood technology in the Early Childhood Playground. There will be lots of hands-on stuff to play with and experts to help talk to you about how to do more with tech with our youngest students.

In addition to these resources there are countless articles and blog posts to explore as well!

Some might think that young kids and technology don’t mix. I disagree. There are so many great and simple to use technologies that can enhance the excitement for learning that kids at that age already have. And these are the perfect years to start conversations about digital literacy and citizenship.

So check out all the great resources Tiggly and ISTE have to offer!

photo credit: Power User via photopin (license)

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Changing Our Views On Social Media For Learning






What do you think about when you hear those words?

Maybe you think about social media in general and how it’s continuing to grow. Or maybe you think about how those can be used as platforms to connect with others. Or maybe you think they are all a waste of time.

What do you think kids think about when they hear the names of those apps?

When it comes to social media and the use of these tools there is still a large disconnect between the platforms kids use and what we use in the classroom. Make any mention of using Snapchat as a tool for storytelling and your audience may look at you with dismay.

For many adults, especially educators, these tools don’t have a place in the classroom. They are seen as platforms to merely be social. And kids also don’t see them as a tools to incorporate into their everyday learning. Although I would bet if we asked them, they’d want to.

So that’s what I did.

My sister is 17. She’s getting ready to be a Senior in high school. She has profiles on all these social media services and more. She posts pictures of her friends, places she goes and stuff she sees. Most of it is pretty mundane. Some it though like the images and Vines she posts about her learning Latin are pretty awesome. So I asked her. What if these tools were used in your classrooms? What if you could create Snapchat stories or use Instagram to document your learning? What would you think?

“I’d definitely be more engaged! All the kids at my school use these. Then we go into boring classrooms and feel like we are disconnected from our lives. So if we had the chance to use these I’d be excited to go to school everyday.”

Well said Celia. Well said.

Many of the tools and apps I write about are still considered non-traditional. They are that way because they’ve yet to hit the mainstream of education. Just the mentioning of the name “Snapchat” conjures up images of students trading inappropriate images and text messages. Or say the word “Twitter” and instantly some believe it’s a waste of time with people writing about which celebrity crush they have or which sporting event they are at.

It’s these adult attitudes towards emerging technologies that perpetuate the myths around them.

Are there examples of the inappropriate use of any of these technologies? Sadly they are easy to find. But stop and think for a moment. What if we as educators looked at any of these apps and found ways to incorporate them into learning. We could redefine how they were being used by kids and, at the same time, have embedded conversations about how they should be used appropriately.

How can you do that? Where would you begin to even examine how any of these tools could be used in the course of learning? Here are just a few ways each of these services could be used in the classroom.

Note-The point here isn’t that you have to use all of them or one of them. The point is to think differently about these apps and social media in general to understand the realm of possibility.

Snapchat-I recently discovered Snapchat as a great way to tell stories. What most folks don’t know is that while Snapchat is most known for images and text that disappear there is a powerful feature called My Story where the images don’t disappear and you can post video too. This could be used, just like it is called, to tell a story. I travel frequently so I use My Story to document the town or city I am in. What I see and where I go. Then anyone can follow along. (You can follow me there if you’d like. Add me by the username Web20Classroom.) There are lots of other ways to use Snapchat too. This post from Edweek highlights not only how to get started with Snapchat for learning but also how it could be used for Professional Development as well.

Facebook-Of all the apps here Facebook is probably the most “mainstream.” Many schools and districts are using Facebook to promote news items, events and to celebrate all that is good. But there is more that Facebook can offer the classroom. Groups for projects, a space for conversation and more. This guide commissioned by an educational think tank in the UK has some really great ideas for introducing Facebook to your classroom.

Instagram-By using a simple camera app a series of images can be powerful. I train school and district leaders in the use of Instagram as a means to celebrate what is great in their schools. But Instagram can be powerful for kids too. Modeled after the Humans of New York series, the Stories of Waukee is completely student run and contains some very powerful stories. This article from We are Teachers has 10 easy ways to use Instagram in your classroom.

Vine-A lot can happen in 7 seconds. And video, like images, can be a great way to capture learning, describe a particular event or more. I like Vine for the classroom because it’s so dead simple to use and videos are super short. Highlighting what kids are reading, science in 6 seconds, there are so many ideas for the use of Vine in the classroom. This article from Edutopia not only lays out why Vine (and Instagram video too) can be used for learning but shows some really awesome examples too.

Twitter-As many of you know, I’ve been advocating for the use of Twitter for professional growth and learning for many years. It is the best platform for reaching those experts where they are to learn from. However, many dismiss Twitter from the classroom as just noise or not having  a place for student learning. Quite the opposite is true. For example kids can use Twitter to connect to experts in the fields they are interested in pursuing for careers or have a chat with an author of a book they are reading. This guide from MindshiftKQED is full of ideas for getting started and how kids can use Twitter to take conversations from the classroom to beyond.

Instead of looking at these apps through a lens of inappropriate use, let’s reshape the conversation by embracing these as tools for learning while having conversations about how digital tools can and should be used in the best ways possible.

photo credit: Social Media via photopin (license)

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

10 Student-Centered Ways To Use Blab In The Classroom with @shfarnsworth

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This post is the result of a collaboration between myself and my good friend Shaelynn Farnsworth

I always enjoy learning about new tools and the place they possibly could have in the classroom. When my friend Shaelynn reached out to me to record a video with her for a project on Connected Educators I jumped at the chance because she was going to introduce me to a new platform. 

Blab is a live-broadcasting app that streams video to a “Public” or “Unlisted” stream (host’s choice). With 4 “Open-Seats” available in each Blab, topic-driven conversations are shared with a live audience. Interaction also occurs via text through live audience participation. While anyone can call-in (or ask) for an “Open-Seat”,  only the host can approve who receives the spot. Moderating participants came in useful when we were Blabbing; people from Australia to Korea all wanted to join in the live conversation.

Blab also allows users to record all or a portion of their live stream. Sharing is easy; the video can be embedded, tweeted, posted on Facebook, and even shared to the user's YouTube channel. Finally, like other social media platforms, “following” and “followers”, help you be part of the conversations that matter most to you!

Shaelynn and I agreed, Blab was fun, easy to use, and versatile which makes it great for classroom use. After our Connected Educators conversation, we starting chatting about the ways this could be used in the classroom. Here are the Top 10 Ways Students could use Blab in the classroom:

10 Ways Students Can Use Blab in the Classroom - by Steven Anderson and Shaelynn Farnsworth
  • Interviewing Experts and Primary Sources - Students are no longer limited by location to the information they have access to. Technology provides opportunity and means for learning to expand beyond the walls of the classroom. Blab provides an easy way for students to connect with and interview experts, gaining new information from primary sources. 
  • Live Demonstrations of Science Experiments - In science class we certainly want students to get hands on when it comes to experimenting. But there are cases where, for safety or other reasons, keeping them at a distance is best. Through Blab the teacher can be conducting the experiment remotely and have the rest of the class join, share and comment through a Blab. The best part? Experiments no longer have to be tied to the classroom? So if there are investigations where more expertise is needed the teacher can go to that location (like a local university with more resources) while students view from afar. 
  • Student Presentations To Authentic Audiences - Many times the work students do lives between themselves and their teacher. The hours of work they spend creating and crafting is sometimes seen by their classmates but rarely anyone else. With Blab, students have a live, authentic audience to present their findings or project to. Using the chat feature they could solicit feedback or opportunities for growth. An since Blab supports up to 4 video feeds a lively discussion could also take place, face-to-face, with reviewers from across the world. 
  • School or Community News Broadcast/Journalism - Live streaming of school events, sharing of news in the district or community, all provide students the option of reading, writing, and speaking in authentic and engaging ways. Pairing Blab with student journalism provides a multimedia avenue in which students hone life skills. The ability to embed the final video or upload to YouTube give students a way to share their work long after the Blab is over.  
  • Students Practicing Reading/Literacy Skills - Students, especially younger students need opportunities to read and practice their growing literacy skills. Blabs could be set up between an Elementary classroom and a Middle School or High School class where younger students practice reading to older students. The reverse could also happen too. As students are developing those critical literacy skills they need to hear them modeled. So the older students could read to the younger students as well. All of this recorded for feedback and reflection later. 
  • One on One Conferencing/Peer Feedback - With any type of feedback, be it from reviewing a paper or project or looking at overall learning objectives and goals, having a peer review process in place in the classroom can help students think more intrinsically about their own thinking. Using Blab, students can peer review each other and record that feedback for analysis or use later. And the peer doesn’t have to be a classmate. Since Blab is global, peers can be anyone, anywhere in the world. 
  • Cross Curricular Projects/Group Work - Group work is at the heart of a collaborative classroom. However, what do students do when the bell rings for the day? They still have work to do together but are going off to their different homes. Blab can bridge the gap between group members allow them to chat, share links and talk through their work. For the teacher, sessions could be recorded to review the thinking and dynamics of the groups later. 
  • Creating a Culture of Awesome - Video provides a powerful glimpse into the lives of our students. Using Blab as a way to spotlight students, or other educators in the district shines light on all of the good happening in the school. By allowing students to create the video, ownership in message which transfers to a positive climate and culture of a school heightens student voice and models a positive way social media can be used to make a an impact.
  • Field Trip Recaps - Video reflection through Blab can help kids sort through experiences and anchor their learning. After field trips, speakers, and other academic experiences; students can follow-up with a video response. Done with a small group of peers, Blab is a perfect app in which students can share their learning. Download the Blab app onto your phone, and students are now mobile videographers, sharing their learning along the way.   
  • To Create Shared screen or tutorials - Have students create tutorials using Blab. Whether demonstrating Minecraft in the classroom, or how to write a Shakespearean Sonnet, when students are doing the teaching, students are also the ones doing the learning.  
Have an idea to help make Blab better? Share here, I Blab, the uservoice forum to share your thoughts!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Taking Control Of Your Professional Development

Recently I was talking to a teacher friend of mine. He is what I would consider a very good teacher. He is engaging in the classroom, works very hard to meet the needs of all his students and regularly reflects on his teaching to understand his strengths and weaknesses. It's through that reflection that he is figuring out how to be better.

He told me about an email he got from his district. Over the summer teachers were going to go to some professional development in their content area. The district had looked over where the majority of teachers were weak and were going to provide them some learning in those areas. When he looked at what this PD was going to consist of he was dumbfounded. This wasn't at all the areas he was weak in. In fact he was one of the highest performing teachers in those areas.

And now he was being forced to sit through PD that was meaningless to him.

The fact is my friend is not alone.

This happens to educators more often that we can count. Many schools and districts are trying to do the right thing by meeting the needs of as many educators as possible when it comes to professional learning. But the reality is most schools and districts are not equipped to personalize the professional development of every educator.

Often we talk about the need for more personalized learning for students. There are countless books, webinars and other resources dedicated to the topic. Yet when it comes to the personalization of professional development there is a barely a slow moment by educational leaders to move in that direction. Time, money and personnel are just a few of barriers they face.

The fact of the matter is educators, no matter their position, can no longer rely on their schools and districts to provide the targeted professional development every educator needs and deserves. 

So, if we come to that realization, the next inevitable question is, what do we do about it?

Lucky for all of us we live in an age where all known knowledge is at our fingertips. The digital age has ushered in a new era where anyone can learning anything anytime anywhere. And the type of professional learning we need is readily available if we know where to find it.

Blogs-I've written many, many times about the benefits of blogging for both kids and educators. This open reflection of what we are doing, learning, sharing and thinking about can have very positive effects on our learning. Reading blogs as well can have a great impact on our learning. There are so many wonderful and thoughtful educators who are sharing various resources, ideas and thoughts for the classroom and beyond you'll easily find many to read and grow from. Start with the Teach 100 list. This is a ranked list that, while I think the rankings don't mean much, it's full of great educator blogs to explore. You can also visit the list of the Top 50  Must Read Edtech blogs and take a look at the Edublogs Awards Nominated blogs. Lots of great blogs in all these places.

Webinars-Virtual learning is nothing new. From correspondence courses to videotapes you could buy, watch and learn new skills, we now can learn virtually, in real time, anywhere in the world. There are so many places to take in a good webinar. Many of your favorite tools and products you use have thought-leadership programs that offer all sorts of webinar experiences. is one of my favorite places to catch a webinar because not only is it easy and free to join, the topics are endless and there are archives of everything. The folks over at ASCD regularly have the authors you read for webinars on their books and various other topics. #Edchat Interactive is redefining what a webinar means. The traditional webinar is passive; sit and get. The webinars at #Edchat Interactive allow you to be on video with the other participants and the presenter, like you are all in a physical place together.

Twitter Chats-Like blogging I've written about the benefits of hashtags and Twitter chats many times. Something simple like spending an hour engaging with other educators can open your mind to new ways of thinking or finding resources you didn't know existed. The Educational Twitter Chats calendar is a great place to start to find a specific chat for a topic you are interested in or even more simply a hashtag to follow to see what others are sharing.

In-Person Events-There are countless in-person events that take place year 'round so there's always somewhere to go. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Annual Conference for example is the largest education conference with nearly 20,000 attendees takes place the end of June every year. There are other smaller, regional conferences that take place throughout the year as well. Check with your local education agency or state department of education to learn more. The problem some (like myself) have with these conferences is they are expensive to attend and they don't exactly have sessions to meet your learning needs. Edcamps can help fill that void. These are free events, generally on a Saturday, put on for educators by educators. The sessions are decided in the morning and everyone is an expert. You can read more about Edcamps and check out the Edcamp calendar to learn when one is taking place near you.

Taking control of your own professional development doesn't have to cost any money or require you to invest a great deal of time or energy. It's a matter of using the resources you are already familiar with and combining those with non-traditional sources like Twitter chats and Edcamps and you can put together a very powerful personalized learning plan for yourself. 

photo credit: New Academic Year in the Renovated Atrium via photopin (license)