Friday, September 30, 2011

Twitter Series-My Super, Top Secret Tips And Tricks For Getting The Most Out Of Twitter

This is the last in my series on everything Twitter. You can read this first on How I do Twitter PD and the second on What People Wish They Had Known Before They Started

Today lets look at all my tips, tricks and resources for getting more out of Twitter. 

I get asked all the time one of three questions:

1) Where do you find all those links you post?
2) How do you make sure you don't miss everything without staying on Twitter 24/7?
3) How do you organize everything you find from Twitter?

Well I am so glad you asked. There really aren't any secrets. It's just great resources that I use to leverage more out of Twitter to find what I am looking for or to keep myself organized.

So lets look at what I use...

1) Where Do You Find All Those Links That You Post? Well my brain is hardwired to Google so I just think of something and it gets tweeted. Ok, if only that were true.Actually a lot of what I find to post comes from the work I do. And all goes back to where I started.

Almost 3 years ago, when I created my account I was looking for a way to share the resources I was looking for with the teachers across my district. Twitter was a great and easy way to do it. And that has continued in to my current role. I get to spend lots of time looking for resources for teachers across my district. Sharing is caring so I figure if one teacher in my district can benefit there are probably others out there too.

So the long and short of it is I usually start with a Google search. And that will yield some good results... sometimes. One of my favorite resources is the wisdom of the crowd. And there is no better place for that then Diigo. With Diigo search I can look for specific tags of items that folks have shared. Most of the time I get better results there than anywhere else. And I keep my links there too for anyone to be able to find. Most every link I have ever posted ends up there, eventually. And I don't hesitate to revisit and post something I already posted a while back.

Google Reader is another place. I follow lots of different blogs on lots of different subjects. And I almost always find great content there. Sometimes it's like going down the rabbit hole. I will check out a post on one of my favorite blogs, FreeTech4Teachers, from my good friend Richard. He will post something that will lead me to something else, that leads me to something else and so and so on. I can get really deep looking for stuff, finding great content to share along the way.

A lot of what I post is retweets from other folks. Again, letting the wisdom of the crowds do the work for me to find great content. It goes back to following people for their quality, not following as many people as I can. And retweets extend the reach of your network. You and I might follow each other, but someone who follows me, might not follow you. So the RT extends the content and grows the network. It's a win-win!

2) How Do You Make Sure You Don't Miss Everything Without Staying On Twitter 24/7? Believe it or not I do sleep. Not well since I have a 2 year old that thinks 3 am is a great time to get up and play. But I do take breaks, often. One of the biggest misconceptions is that you have to be on Twitter all the time to see all the content. Keep in mind, if stuff is really good or "not to miss" lots of people will pass it around over the course of several hours/days. You are bound to see it at some point.

Hashtags are a great way to keep up with stuff. Lists are another. Both allow you to go back in time up to 2 weeks to find stuff. While hashtags are a great way to track conversations and to find people to follow, many will post resources and hashtag them so others will find them. You can then put all your favorite people in a list so that you can see their posts any time. (And if you use something like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite it is easy to set up columns to follow those things any time.)

There are tons of great websites too that will find the most important stuff for you. The Tweeted Times and are two sites that, when you connect them with your account will analyze the resources of the people you follow and find the best ones and present them to you in a newspaper format. (These are 2 more ways I find great content too.)

KnowAboutIt is new service I have been playing with. Instead of finding the most important content it gives you every link that comes through your stream along with the tweet and who tweeted it. You also get a daily email of the most popular content along with what they call Hidden Gems, content that might interest you based upon what comes through your stream.

The point is you don't have to be on all the time or feel like you have to see everything that comes by. Be smart and use these tools and let them do the work for you.

3) How Do You Organize Everything You Find On Twitter? I have a group of monkeys that does all my filing, filtering, evaluating and organizing for me. Sadly, not true. But I do have lots of tools that I use to help me keep track of everything I find.

One I have written about before is Read It Later. This is, hands down, my favorite tool. When someone posts something and I don't have time to check it out I just add it to my Read It Later list and go over it when I do have the time. The best part, I can access my list from anywhere on any device. So if I am sitting some where for a few moments I can go through my list.

Diigo, which I mentioned before for finding loads of great content is where I put my content too. I have always been a fan of Diigo because of the great stuff they offer educators but really I like just being able to save my links there and give them tags so that I and others can find them easily.

The point to all this is that Twitter isn't work. It's not supposed to take up massive amounts of time or energy. Sure you have to spend some personal capitol keeping up and growing your network but as you have seen there are loads of great tools out there that you can put to work for you to find amazing and valuable resources for you and your classroom.

What do you use? What are your favorite Twitter tools to keep up with or organize your stream. Leave some comments below.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Twitter Series-What I Wish I Knew Before I Started Twitter

This is the second in a series I am doing all about Twitter. You can read the first post here, where I discuss the need to change the way we teach about Twitter. 

Today, lets go back to the beginning and look at what we wish we had known...

If you have read any of my leadership pieces before, you know I am big on reflection. As educators, looking back on our practice is one of the most important things we can do. I try to set aside time each day to just think about how I did a workshop or something I said or a resource I looked at.

I think reflecting is pretty easy. We can look at where we are and how we got there and think about the ways we would have done things differently. What is working and what do we need to change...

So is the case with learning about something. Take Twitter for example. For those that use the service heavily, or even those that don't, they can think of a few things they wish they had known when they were starting out to make the learning curve a little less severe. I included, wish I had know several things.

Keeping that in mind, I sent out a tweet:

Doing some writing for an upcoming piece. What do you wish you knew about twitter before you started? Use

I also posted it on Google Plus and asked a few of my folks in my office the same question. Now that you use Twitter (to whatever degree is comfortable for you) what would you go back and learn early on? Or if you are new what is it you don't understand?

The responses I got back fit into just a few categories...

Before Twitter-"I wish I knew how to make it meaningful to me." This is one that several people said to me. And it goes back to my earlier post. There is a misconception to what Twitter is and what it is not. When I started almost 3 years ago the perceptions were much worse then they are today. How could anyone in education be involved in something so narcissistic? Twitter is only for people who want to share what they ate that morning or for celebrities to spew something even more dumb then they can do face-to-face. It isn't the place for educators to have meaningful conversations or exchange resources.While many of those things do occur, in the education world, there are some huge advantages to using something real-time like Twitter over traditional resources. The problem is, as I laid out before, often times the way Twitter is presented is irrelevant to the people wanting to learn about it. Many sessions are generic in nature. And again, I will be the first to admit that was me. I taught sessions like that. There is so much specific information out there to find that, at this point, it should be easy to differentiate our training so that if English teachers want to learn we show them #engchat first. Or if science teachers want to learn we show them a great list of science teachers to follow. Like anything in technology or learning in general, making the content meaningful is the first and best step.

Before Twitter-"I wish I had known how to find people and build my PLN." Again, several folks said that to me. And people who have been on Twitter for a while still struggle with this. Finding good folks to follow can be a challenge. If you start out on your own, you really might not know a soul to follow. Thank goodness for sites like Twitter4Teachers. This is a great place where you can find other educators with similar interests to follow. When I was starting out, I stumbled upon this site. I was doing a Google search for "Twitter and Teachers" and thank goodness I found it. Otherwise I wouldn't know where to begin. But that is just one way. Twitter search is a great way to find people to follow. Plug in some key words and see who is tweeting. Another thing people may not understand is the idea of quality over quantity. You don't have to follow 1000 people to get a huge amount of meaning out of Twitter. Rather, choose people who provide value to you. Perhaps they tweet great resources. Or maybe they push your thinking. Remember, you can follow folks and they may or may not follow you back. That's ok. I see more and more that people are worried about followers. Oh I need only 2 more followers to get to 50. If Twitter is about seeing how many followers you can have, then maybe you are in it for the wrong reasons. Worry about the information you want to gain while here and forget about the other stuff.

Before Twitter-"I wish I had known I could talk to people." This statement was made a few times to me. And it is always surprising each time I hear it. Twitter is social media and social networking. Social. Engagement is a part of this medium. Now, I am big believer that lurking is ok on Twitter. Nothing wrong with plugging in and seeing the great information that is out there. The beauty of social networking and social media is that it levels the playing field. And really anyone in that space is just the same. If someone says something that you don't agree or you do agree with, say something. Send them a mention. Engage in a conversation. Ask for help if you need it.  I don't mind sending a message out to Sir Ken Robinson or asking Robert Marzano a question. Even last night I had a great conversation with the Governor of Delaware. Sometimes they might not get back to me. Often times, they do. The point is, engage. Twitter is less about consumption and more about engagement so put yourself and your ideas out there and see where they might take you.

Before Twitter-"I wish I had known I didn't have to read everything." I can't tell you how many times I have heard this. It goes to the statement that people don't have time because there is just too much information to sift through and they don't know how to organize it all and it probably isn't worth it anyway. There is a well known thought that Twitter is like a river of information. Some people get in their raft and ride those rapids everyday. Others stay on the shore and watch it go by. When they want to find something they wade in, find what they need and come back when they are ready to go at it again. You don't have to be on it 24 hours a day, everyday. Many times, good, quality information is past around over a few days. Can't miss resources or blog posts that make a difference will go around and around and around. So if you have taken the time to follow high-quality folks, chances are you will get the good stuff. If not, there are other ways to make sure you don't miss stuff (but you will have to wait until the next post to learn about those).

Before Twitter-"I wish I had known about hashtags." This is the big one. More than 90% of the responses I got to my questions about what folks wish they had known said once they learned about hashtags, things changed for them. This is the sole reason I changed the way I do Twitter PD. I always start out with the idea of the hashtag. Using Twitter search can yield great results. But once folks learn about hashtags it completely changes how they use Twitter to find information. Hashtags can also help in finding good, high-quality people to follow. If you are talking to people about Twitter, show them the hashtags you use. If you don't know which ones to use check out this huge list and do some searches. A good one to tell everyone about is #edchat. (In full disclosure, I am biased towards edchat because I helped create it.) Hashtags can also lead to chats which help deepen Twitter conversations. So, if you don't know that much about hashtags now, get to know them. They are just little pharses that were created to help track conversations but have turned in to a powerful delivery system of information, resources, and more for educators.

What else do you wish you had known? What advice would you give to a new Twitter user? Leave some thoughts below.

In part 3 we will look at all the tools I use to stay organized. Keep an eye out for that on Friday.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Twitter Series-A New Kind Of Twitter PD

 This week I am going to do a series of posts on Twitter. I get asked a lot of questions about it so I though, why not write about it and put all the details in one place. 

You can read Part 2 here and Part 3 here. 

Today I am starting with Twitter Professional Development.

As many times as I have talked to folks, done workshops for and even preached about Twitter, there are some that just won't (for whatever reason) jump in. When I first started I didn't understand. How could someone not want to just ride the rapids like me, soak in all the information they could? There was so much out there to discover, why not engage, react, comment, all the time? It took me a while to realize that maybe, for some, the best way to use Twitter was not to use Twitter.


Yep. I have taken a radically different approach to teaching educators about Twitter.

Take a step back and think about PD done about Twitter. Many will start with a basic example of its use (if the participants are lucky) or how the presenter started with Twitter or maybe a shoutout, asking their followers to tell where they are from and why they should Twitter. All good stuff. It's great to see how someone actually uses it but most times I find folks who take the time to come to PD on Twitter already know or have heard of the benefits from others or they just don't get that stuff to begin with so why start with it?

After the example comes the registration process. This can be a battle. Twitter has a limit as to the number of accounts that can be created from the same IP address. Many school networks are set up so that no matter what machine you are on it appears to the outside world every machine has the same IP. So if you are all trying to create accounts you could get bogged down in the process.

Then comes the terminology. What is a RT? Hashtag? Mention? Direct Message? At this point the folks who were super excited to learn might be feeling frustrated or overwhelmed even. Lots of information has been covered up to this point. Maybe an hours worth all ready.

And there is still so much more to cover...

Now comes the first Tweet. Then looking at chats or search or lists. The resources could go on and on and on and on and on...

When someone leaves this session one of twothings will happen.

They will be super excited about it all. They were engaged and soaked it all in. They are pumped and are going forth to the world to tweet to their hearts content.

Then there are the others. Those that might have been excited at one point but now are overwhelmed because of the amount of information covered. They may try to give it a shot but ultimately will walk away because it was simply too much for them to take in.

I used to teach PD like that. Exactly like that. Then one day I went back and looked at the number of people who actually stuck with Twitter. I talked to them, asked them if they were tweeting or even checking in now and then. For the vast majority of them, the answer was no. It was just too much for them.

So I had to do something different..

I developed a new method of teaching folks about Twitter where I don't actually teach them how to use Twitter. How you might ask. Well, sir, it's actually pretty easy to use Twitter without using it.

I always break my Twitter PD into several sessions. In the first, depending on who I am talking to, we look at the reason why they should use it. We have to make that personal connection to them so they see how valuable this tool can be.

So let's look at Administrators. They are usually the toughest folks to convince. We would start by talking about Twitter Search. We could brainstorm some common search terms for administrators and plug them into Twitter search and see what comes up. We may find stuff, we may not. (That's the beauty of search.) That then opens up the conversation to hashtags. What are they, and how are they used? So we would look at common hashtags Administrators use (like #cpchat or #edchat) and plug those into search. That's when the eyes light up. They see specific resources and people, right off, related to their area. (If you don't know a hashtag to search for with your specific group, check out this page from my good friend Jerry "Cybraryman" Blumengarten).

Now, it used to be we could save that search very easy with RSS (Twitter has since removed that feature but you can still add that search to Google Reader using these instructions.). Since it isn't quite as easy, a simple collaborative Google Doc with the link to Twitter Search and common searches works just fine. That way, after our time together, folks can add what they are finding and searching. The doc also serves the purpose to show how powerful things can be when we share. Then when we actually talk about how to use Twitter, they are used to it. The idea of sharing like that isn't foreign to them. So transitioning to the Twitter medium isn't that much of a jump.

Before they leave that first session, I give them my Twitter Livebinder. In it they will find loads of information. Videos on how to sign up, dictionaries, examples of use and best practices. They have it because they might decide to go ahead and sign up before the next time we meet. And if that's the case, it's one less thing we have to spend time on. And they will use it as a resource through out their learning and their journey.

The next time we meet we will go over all those basics about signing up, tweeting, etc. But we will spend most of our time on the other 2 things that drive educators away from Twitter; the Twitter Website and organizing information.

First the Twitter Website. We visit it one time. Then from there on out. They know not to return there. The web interface is the most unfriendly way to look at Twitter. We look at 3rd party clients like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite to help begin organizing our streams. They can take some of those searches they want quick access to and add them here. (Don't get me wrong, for some, the web interface works. For most, they need to get away from there as quickly as possible.)

One of the last things we look at is what to do with all the information they have gathered and will gather. Users need to feel like like they don't have to evaluate every resource that comes to them right then. Thank goodness they don't. I teach my participants about ReadItLater (hands down my favorite tool.). And I show them how to use Diigo too. And guess what? Learning about both of these are in the Twitter Livebinder so they have a way to go back and brush up their skills when they leave me.

So that is 2 days and about 4 hours worth of time learning about educators should use Twitter. We can then go further looking at setting up class/school/district accounts, or hashtags or anything else really. But I have found that this is pretty effective way for educators to learn about Twitter. They have got to see the value in. They have to see the resources first, before they even sign up in order to see why they should stick with it.

What do you think? What kind of Twitter PD worked for you? What kind didn't? Leave some thoughts below.

In Part 2 we will look what what people wished they had know about Twitter before they started. Check that out on Wednesday.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Some Google Searches You Might Not Know About

I am an admitted Googler. I probably do about 300 Google searches a day and rely on it for all facets of my life. From looking for definitions and spellings to directions, to research for my teachers I Google and I Google a lot. But did you know there are some really cool, specialized search engines that can really narrow your searches and help you discover some really nifty things about this world we live in.

Google Books
Ok, Google Books has been around for a while and I have neglected using it until I got into my Administrators program. I was able to find my School Law book, a book that costs around $100 bucks on Amazon for free. I can also find tons of other books there that the authors have either agreed to have them hosted for free or they are out of print books that I wouldn't find any other place. Besides books there are tons of magazines, both new and older and if you are an English teacher (or just lover of literature) they have some classics written by Dickens, Longfellow, Defoe and others that you can view online or download in the ePub format. Besides the book search you can create a bookshelf and share books from your bookshelf with other users so if you are a teacher you can create a custom book list and share it with your students.

Google Blog Search
I absolutely love blogs. I get up early in the morning just to catch up on my reader in an attempt to get the pulse of the world of education. If I get a free moment during the day I try to read a post or two. But one of my favorite things to do is find new blogs to read. Just doing a general Google search can be difficult at times to find what I am looking for. So I turn to Google Blog search. No matter how obscure the topic someone out there has a blog on it that you might want to read. Just put in your search term in the box and you are returned just blogs related to that topic. Great for kids doing projects so they can find current events or, better yet, opinions on current event topics, I encourage teachers to have students do a quick blog search when doing a project. I also like blog search to find new education bloggers and get an idea on new and exciting things that are going on in the world of education.

Google Scholar
As a graduate student I got to know Google Scholar very well. I could search 1000's of peer-reviewed, scholarly articles from the comfort of, really anywhere. Looking for legal opinions, recent research or journal articles, I was hardly ever let down with the content and actually found stuff there I couldn't find anywhere else. The advanced search is very powerful so get to know it well. Have kids (especially middle and high school) look here too when doing research, especially when stressing primary sources.

I admit, this might not be one you use a lot. But if you are a science or technology teacher this is a great search engine to try out with your kids. There are over 7 million available patents for search. Once you find what you are looking for you get what the applicant says the device does, drawings, any associated patents and detailed descriptions. For students learning design or mechanics this can be a cool place to look for ideas.  Start by looking at this awesome skillet for cooking just bacon!

Those are just 4 of many others that you can check out here. So go forth! Harness the power of Google Search. Be more productive, help kids search effectively and efficiently and find really cool stuff!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Find New Resources For Your Classroom With eduTecher

I dunno about you but I spend a lot of time looking for instructional and technology resources for use in the classroom. I spend lots of time using Twitter and Facebook and various other social networks. For some, using all or any of those sites can be overwhelming, intimidating, or time consuming. And it's true. There are lots of places to look for "stuff" for the classroom.

Fear not!

There is a wonderful site (run by a very dear friend of mine, Adam, who was the 2011 ISTE Outstanding Young Educator, so you know this place has to be top notch.) that complies the best the web has to offer for resources for use in the classroom, organizes them by subject area and makes it really easy for just about anyone to walk away each time with something really cool to use.

Enter eduTecher.

When you arrive on the site, the first place you are gonna wanna visit are the links. This is where all the gravy is. Organized by subject area, you can dive right in and find something for your area or do a search for something specific. Put a check mark in the box you want to search and browse away. There is so much stuff here. With over 1300 entries there is certainly something new for anyone looking to expand their technology knowledge or offerings in their classroom.

But wait, there's more!

In the TV channel you can see some great videos and presentations put together by Adam on everything from his philosophy on technology, setting up interactive whiteboards, product reviews and so much more.

Guess what? There is so much more to explore. The blog is a great way to learn about new stuff and you can submit your email address and every time the site is updated, you will get a message telling you about all new stuff that was added.

Oh and do you have a smartphone or tablet device at home? Well, lucky you. Because there are mobile apps that provide you on-the-go access to the entire library of sites in the eduTecher database. I have it and use it all the time.

So if you are looking for that one place to go to find new and exciting technology resources to use in your classroom (besides this blog of course) definitely check out eduTecher. When you do, come back here and tell us what you found!


Friday, September 16, 2011

We Ain't Got No Fear Of Technology!

This video was passed to me the other day. You might have seen it. If you have, watch it again. If you haven't watch it 10 times. Well worth it.

So what did you think?

First, how sweet is that? Second how cool is that?

Here are 2 people, who, I don't want to assume anything, but appear to not be very technologically able. Meaning they might struggle with a new type of technology. But by golly, they jumped right it and tried to figure it out. They didn't fear what would happen to the computer, or to press buttons, or to see what would happen when they clicked things. They were "Technology Fearless!" Nothing was going to stop them from learning what their computer did (or didn't do). The husband can even be heard towards the end encouraging his wife to keep trying, that she will get it.

Sometimes we see the opposite in classrooms. Many teachers are just like the couple in the video. They have no fear when it comes to technology. They jump right in, pressing and clicking and messing. While others are fearful to even touch stuff. Press anything for fear of breaking or messing something up. And many times they are fearful because of the people giving out the technology or the attitude towards the technology. Like its fragile like a new born baby or something. "This stuff costs, lots of Title 1, dollars." "Don't let the students touch your iPad. They might break it."

When it comes to technology integration we have to be fearless. Right? We have to just jump in and not be afraid to poke around and get messy. Kind like what I wrote about Learning being Messy, learning technology is the same way. Sometimes, it's gonna screw up. Sometimes, it's gonna break. Sometimes, its gonna do stuff that we have no idea whats going on and we see the mystical blue smoke coming out the back (which is bad by the way).

The point is, we have to take away the fear behind using technology. Sometimes its best, to just give the stuff out and let people play. Let them discover. Let them learn.

Kinda like kids, huh....

Friday, September 9, 2011

From The Shameless Podcast Promotion Department...

Recently, I had the honor of being featured along with my good friend Eric on the Teacher Cast Podcast. We talked about a wide range of issues including boosting student productivity with certain types of technologies, the impact of mobile devices on the classroom, apps for learning and more.

You can list it to here or if you want you can head over to iTunes and listen to it at your leisure on your favorite device.

When you do listen head back here and tell me what you think!

Thanks to Jeff Bradbury for having us on!

Photo From Flickr CC BlueRobot

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Learning Should Be Messy....Right?

I was at a school recently. (I won't say where to protect the innocent. Well they aren't so innocent, but nonetheless...) And I saw this:

I think it was the sad faces on it that really got to me.

So what do you think was the first thing I did when I took said picture? Yep, posted it to Twitter. Just to share. And the reactions I got were pretty much universal. Many said that wasn't much of a media center since most media was banned. (One person even asked if they banned books there. The answer is no. There are books in there.)

For this particular location where this school is, banning phones or iPods and the such is nothing new. (And actually there is a loosening of the rules this year with schools allowed to decide if they want to use them in the classroom, which is a huge step forward.) What really bothered me was that last sentence.

For a neat and quiet Media Center.

Traditionally, libraries and Media Centers were quiet places. Places for deep study and reflection. But are they still that way? Should they be?

Learning is messy. And learning spaces should be too. Is there a time and a place for a quiet Media Center or learning space? Sure. But does banning these devices automatically make this space "neat and quiet?"

When I was in the classroom, my room was rarely quiet and rarely clean. In science, we had experiments continually going, data collection all over, papers, books, technology stations. But it was controlled chaos. And when my Administrators walked by and my room was quiet, I always got the "What's wrong?" look. It was expected that when we were learning it was going to, well, not be quiet. But again, it was controlled chaos.

I have never been a Librarian or Media Coordinator. (I never thought I was smart enough!) But I wonder how many of them would feel about this sign. Should a modern Media Center be "neat and quiet?" Even if you aren't a Media Coordinator I would enjoy to hear your thoughts on if learning should be messy and how so.