Photo by orb_cz: http://www.flickr.com/photos/orb_cz/3454295352/

Photo by orb_cz            http://www.flickr.com/photos/orb_cz/3454295352/

“From a little spark may burst a flame.”  ~ Dante Aligheri

Dear Reader,

Every artist needs a spark, a muse if you will, to bring creative energy to life. Educators need this spark too. We are artists of a different sort but artists nonetheless. Yet, at times, it feels like the spark has left us or has chosen to remain dormant until awakened again.

How do we bring this spark back to life? Some of us find inspiration in our students or our peers. Others find it when they decide to become real learners again. Being a learner is challenging–especially when learning pushes you out of your comfort zone. This course has done exactly that. Its challenging nature has brought my creative energy back to life–from a spark to a flame.

Let me explain.

On certain days you feel like you own the world. You even believe you can make it bend to your will. Yes, you are large and in charge. Then something happens. You realize that you aren’t in charge and the world isn’t yours to own. There was a part of me that truly thought: “I am a social media expert–this will be a breeze.” Before this course I used Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WordPress, Google+, and Delicious on a regular basis. Social media seemed natural to me–until I had to use social media in a different way of course. Then I was a duck out of water!

The first spark came with live Twitter chats. I had never participated in a formal Twitter chat in my life. The frenetic pace was dizzying–and intimidating. I was in over my head–and I loved every moment of it! It was the challenge I needed. Now I am addicted to live chats. My favourite chats are #libchat, #byotchat, #21stedchat. These chats are the best PD I have experienced in years! More importantly, another ELA teacher and I hosted our first live Twitter chat this semester. It didn’t go smoothly — the first run rarely does. But once we got going — the chat took on a life of its own. The students picked up on the Q & A format (and hashtag) quickly. I also learned how to archive the chat with Storify. It was a steep learning curve–I look forward to another live chat. Let the flame burn!

Curation tools also added a much-needed spark to my teaching strategies. I began to see tools like these as more than just “personal” tools–they soon became “professional” tools. Scoop.it and Pinterest are so much fun they seem like time wasters and nothing more, until you realize their full potential. Scoop.it is such a good curation tool I use it all the time now! As a librarian I curate tons of resources, this tool is so efficient it actually saves me time. Better yet, these Scoop.it resources helped teach information literacy, share articles on the Cold War (via a libguide), and promote ELA social media projects. Students can use these tools as well; we had two grade 9 classes use Scoop.it to curate resources for their research project then share their finds with their peers. This how a spark turns to a flame. Someone lights my lantern, then I light another person’s lantern, and before you know it a sea of light engulfs us!

Pinterest came as the biggest surprise though. In the past I simply used as an amusement tool–now it is so much more than that. Students can use it to create character sketches. CTS teachers can use it to demonstrate how pallets are turned into beautiful and functional furniture. Librarians can use it to spark new ideas for library displays! Share a Macbeth board or two with other ELA teachers and suddenly they are building their own professional boards for their students. After witnessing Pinterest being used professionally–all personal use seems pale in comparison doesn’t it?

Thanks to this course other ideas and notions sparked to life as well. I became more aware of my own digital footprint and finally understood why it is important to be active when it comes to creating and fostering a positive digital footprint. Before this course I thought I had little control over my digital footprint other than limiting what I did online, which isn’t really an option in this day and age. Now I am confident about my digital footprint and know I can control this seemingly uncontrollable aspect of my life. That’s very empowering! Another empowering experience was exploring social media policies and recognizing the fact that schools need to provide direction for their students. If we want good digital citizens we have to model our expectations and have a user-friendly social media policy in place. We don’t want to leave our students to figure this one out on their own. We must become their spark!

The most important lesson learned–the biggest spark of them all–is experiencing what being connected truly means. This concept started with a simple metaphor, The Mechanics of Learning, and grew from there. Building and nurturing my own personal learning networks made me realize that teachers and students must become networked beings. Thankfully Couros’ diagram of the networked teacher and Drexler’s diagram of the networked student, provide excellent examples of what being connected means. Connectivism might be considered by some as nothing more than an emerging learning theory, but to me it is the brightest flame. Traversing my own networks (creating our own mini MOOC for example) has changed my view of education. By examining connectivism and the role it should play in the ELA classroom, my entire teaching philosophy has shifted. Technology is affecting how our students learn, which means we need to change how we teach. A networked student needs a networked teacher. Social media cannot be ignored. This phenomenon is so powerful it can make a learner become a teacher, and a teacher become a learner. More importantly, it encourages each of us to become a possibilitarian. From spark to flame, new possibilities come to life.

Thank you Jackie.

[Aside] Now that the course is coming to a close, it is time to assess how I think I did on my blog. Grading my work always seems foreign to me–even though I have done it a couple of times before. When I started these posts I had two goals in mind. First, each reflection should demonstrate what I have learned. Second, each reflection should help others in their learning (hence the links). I think that I accomplished those two goals. Although I  would love to edit each post again (and again), I always leave them as they are. I like that each is a snapshot of my learning in that exact moment. Hopefully, you dear reader, agree. And with that, (while feeling strangely awkward at the same time) I award myself full marks: a 75/75.