Saturday, April 27, 2013

Connect. Reflect. Self-Respect.

I love my PLN, but social media can be tricky. To help me make sense of the overwhelming amount of resources, promote positive interactions within my networks, and stay true to myself, I've established three ground rules for using social media: connect, reflect, and self-respect.

Using social media (especially Twitter) feels a little like going to the playground by myself when I was a kid. It always took a lot of courage for me to go up to someone new and say hi, but once I did it was usually a lot of fun. It's not always easy to tell someone you've never met that you think they are doing great things or that they have greatly influenced your work, but it's up to us to promote creativity and innovation in our field. The more educators recognize each others' achievements, the more we will advance our profession. The same goes for conferences and meet-ups. A simple smile, hello, and genuine compliment can go a long way. Plus, you never know what might happen as a result.

There are a lot of people doing all sorts of cool things around the world. Before jumping all in to something new, I like to reflect on how I can make it work for me. I am lucky to have a lot of time naturally built into my days where I can think. Some of my best ideas for projects have come from zoning out during an early morning run, daydreaming during my commute, or browsing my Reader feed during evening down time. I also find that it is important to get my thoughts down in a safe place. While I love sticky notes, they usually just get lost. Google Drive and Evernote are my favorite tools for capturing my thoughts because I can access them anywhere and my notes are easy to share with others.

This last one is important, but often forgotten. We are not perfect people, nor are we superhuman. Let's stop beating ourselves up because we think we aren't enough. Because we are. When we start to count someone else's blessings, we begin to lose sight of our own individual path. Good things happen when we realize we have things to offer. Even greater things happen when we start to offer them to others.

I found that these three rules greatly overlap and depend on one another. Remembering to connect, reflect, and self-respect provides me with just the right perspective to make positive contributions to my PLN without compromising myself or getting overwhelmed.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Preserving Family Culture With QR Codes

For the past three years, third grade students at my school have been recording beloved family stories for our annual culture fair. This project was inspired by NPR's Story Corps and weaves together many reading, writing, and social studies state standards. Students are encouraged to talk with family members about their history and culture. After writing down their stories or memories, students step into our "recording booth" and record themselves reading. 

My partner and I have "displayed" the recordings in many different ways over the years. This year's audio QR codes were an absolute hit with both parents and students. It was like our own little living-museum among a sea of poster boards. 

Here's how we did it:

  1. Students used the iTalk app to record their stories and uploaded them to a shared Dropbox folder.
  2. The .aiff files were converted to .mp3s in iTunes.
  3. A Dropbox link for each student's file was placed in a Google spreadsheet template to create QR codes (thank you, Tammy Worcester). 
  4. QR codes were resized, printed, and placed next to a picture of the student along with a self-created bio.

This years' stories included:
  • family vacations to the Pacific Ocean, Mexico, and Kenya (to name a few).
  • a grandma who went to middle school with Michael Jackson.
  • a mischievous brother's hijinks involving diaper rash medicine and baby powder.
  • memories of important historic events (a relative involved with the Underground Railroad, memories of the Mt. St. Helen's eruption)
  • stories about how parents and grandparents immigrated to the United States. 
  • favorite holiday traditions, such as making tamales or attending attending special church services.
During the event, parents and kids used their mobile devices (or one of the school's iPads) to listen to the recordings. We always have a lot of fun with this project, and it is a great way to preserve history, involve parents, learn something new about our classmates, and bring our community together.