Archive for the ‘Issue 15’ Category

In This Issue (15)

Friday, February 20th, 2015

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In This Issue

The “E” in STEM

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Author: German Ramos, Project Coordinator: Transformation Central T-STEM Center

Nowadays, the trend in best practice education is to teach students the process of problem solving rather than the teacher explaining step-by-step how to solve a given problem.  The overall education system faces the monumental challenge of finding practical methods in which problem solving skills and subject content can be combined without neglecting the state mandated objectives.  With the big push in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), it seems that implementing the “E” in STEM is the hardest part of this equation.

The ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) definition of Engineering is: “The profession in which a knowledge of the mathematical and natural sciences gained by study, experience, and practice is applied with judgment to develop ways to utilize, economically, the materials and forces of nature for the benefit of mankind.”

According to this definition, the knowledge of science and mathematics applied with technology is, in fact, considered engineering.  Educators find themselves confronted with the challenge of being able to provide experiences and allow for practice in addition to delivering the science and mathematics content currently required by the state throughout the school year.  The reality for many is that achieving this ideal balance is time consuming and often resources are scarce.  However, we must keep in mind that engineering provides the opportunity to expose students to science, mathematics, and technology all in one context, even if engineering-based courses are not required by the state.

There are certainly many initiatives for having Engineering in the classroom.  The addition of a few more engineering-based courses is proof of this.  There is still much work that needs to be done in order to more effectively implement these practices into the education system.  The bridge between schools, higher education institutions, and industry is essential to create a vertical alignment of knowledge, skills, and experiences needed by students to be able to succeed in this problem-solving based real world.

To explore how teaching engineering in the classroom may benefit skills future engineers may need, please visit:

To explore engineering resources for the classroom please visit:


List of Various TEA courses that meet/or incorporate engineering standards.

Electricity and Magnetism – Electricity and Magnetism is designed to provide an in-depth introduction to the concepts of electricity and electronics for the student who plans to major in an engineering discipline at the university level. With a concentrated and extended study of electricity and magnetism, the student will be aptly prepared to enter the highly competitive university environment. *

Introduction to Renewable Energy – This course provides the foundation for a deeper understanding of the problems, issues, perspectives, and developments in the areas of bio-fuels, solar and wind energy. A significant focus of the course will be on critical and creative thinking, problem solving, and communication of ideas relating to renewable energy. *

Science and Technology – Science and Technology (SciTech) is a high-level, hands-on science and engineering course. Through self and peer evaluation, SciTech requires students to interact verbally, in writing, and through improving the performance of devices. *

Concepts of Engineering and Technology – Concepts of Engineering and Technology provides an overview of the various fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and their interrelationships. Students will use a variety of computer hardware and software applications to complete assignments and projects. Upon completing this course, students will have an understanding of the various fields and will be able to make informed decisions regarding a coherent sequence of subsequent courses. Further, students will have worked on a design team to develop a product or system. Students will use multiple software applications to prepare and present course assignments. **

Engineering Design and Presentation – Students enrolled in this course will demonstrate knowledge and skills of the process of design as it applies to engineering fields using multiple software applications and tools necessary to produce and present working drawings, solid model renderings, and prototypes. Students will use a variety of computer hardware and software applications to complete assignments and projects. Through implementation of the design process, students will transfer advanced academic skills to component designs. Additionally, students explore career opportunities in engineering, technology, and drafting and what is required to gain and maintain employment in these areas. **


* Currently Approved Innovative Courses- Foundation and Enrichment

** Chapter 130 Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Career and Technical Education

Ensuring Students Become Bi-literate:  What Administrators Must Do

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Author: Trish Flores, Project Coordinator:  Bilingual/ESL Programs

Dual language programs are taking the world by storm.  These school enrichment programs meet Texas requirements for bilingual education and can be structured in a variety of ways depending on student population, community input, and staff availability.  While the program models may vary, they are almost all guaranteed to ensure that students achieve bi-literacy and maintain this skill throughout their school careers.

Leading researchers and educators, Virginia P. Collier and Wayne P. Thomas, recently authored a book on designing dual language schools and the crucial role administrators play in the development of these dynamic programs.  The book is a valuable resource for anyone thinking about starting a program or strengthening their existing program.  The resource is user friendly and outlines the core programmatic features of quality dual language education.

Core Programmatic Features of Quality Dual Language Education:

  • Enriched and affirming learning environments
  • Empowering pedagogy
  • Challenging and relevant curriculum
  • High-quality instructional resources
  • Valid and comprehensive assessments
  • High-quality professional development
  • Powerful family and community engagement
  • Advocacy-oriented administrative and leadership systems

These core programmatic features serve as guidelines for the development and reform of any dual language program.   Each of these items is fully explained along with rich, realistic examples in various sections of the book.

In addition to outlining the framework necessary for program development and enhancement, the book also provides perspectives from successful dual language administrators on the necessary leadership skills needed for optimal program development. When administrators are aware of factors for success and provide full support for dual language programs, the world is transformed.


Collier, V., & Thomas, W. (2014). Creating Dual Language Schools for a Transformed World: Administrators Speak. Albuquerque: Fuente.

Growing Healthy Texans

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Author: Beverly Shaw, Education Specialist, Child Nutrition

Powering up with lots of fruits, healthy greens, low-fat milk, and healthy breads makes the school day a lot healthier.  Texas school students spend so much of their day at school, it’s up to us to help them  to make healthy food choices by offering  fruits and vegetables at meals and snacks. Fruits and veggies give them energy to help them  be champions when they learn, run, and play.  We encourage them to think outside of the box and try something new!  Texas agriculture has so much to offer right here at home, why not give it a try?

According to the Texas Department of Agriculture, in 2013 Texas alone served on average over 3 million lunches daily,” so you can see why it is so important to make them healthy.  USDA’s Myplate has several resources to help schools and students build a healthy meal.  According to Myplate there are 10 tips for building healthy meals. (Go to for English and for Spanish.)  Nationwide, nearly 32 million children receive meals throughout the school day. These meals are based on nutrition standards from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. New nutrition standards for schools increase access to healthy food and encourage kids to make smart choices.

Studies have shown that children benefit from healthier meals that include more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, lower sodium foods, and less saturated fat.  School meals offer more fruits and vegetables as part of the school meal every day and a variety of vegetables is served throughout the week including red, orange, and dark-green vegetables.

Growing 1

A familiar childhood memory for many of us during school lunch was the famous paper milk carton.  Well, milk still holds its place in a healthy school lunch with both low-fat milk (1%) and fat-free milk varieties now offered.  Children get the same calcium and other nutrients, but with fewer calories and less saturated fat by drinking low-fat (1%) or fat-free milk. For children who can’t drink milk due to allergies or lactose intolerance, schools can offer milk substitutes, such as a calcium-fortified soy beverage.

A variety of foods is offered to reduce the salt and saturated fat in school meals. By thinking outside of the proverbial school lunch tray, school food service professionals are being creative masters in the kitchen. Main dishes are not your typical square pizza anymore.  You  may see items such as hummus and frittatas as well as beans, peas, nuts, tofu, seafood,and foods contain less salt (sodium).  Portion sizes play a huge role in healthy choices.  New portion sizes in school meals meet children’s calorie needs, based on their age. While some portions may be smaller, kids still get the nutrition they need to keep them growing and active.

Schools are stepping up and taking an active role in helping students make healthy choices that hopefully they will take outside of the school cafeteria.  Through stronger local wellness programs school administrators set new policies that offer opportunities for parents and communities to create wellness programs that address local needs. Principals, teachers, school boards, parent-teacher associations, and others are helping to create a strong wellness programs in their communities.

Teachers and other school staff can play an important role in helping to ensure the standards are implemented successfully, and that children are willing to try new options. Here are some ways you can help support healthy school meals:

  • Always speak positively about the school meal program, and encourage your students to try the new meals even if they’re unfamiliar.
  • Talk to your students about the new school lunches. Find out what they like/dislike, and report back to the cafeteria staff.
  • Serve as a role model by occasionally eating school lunch with your students.
  • Incorporate nutrition education into your curriculum, and help students understand the importance of healthy eating.
  • Support the overall message of healthy eating.
  • Help keep parents informed by including information about improvements to school meals in class newsletters, letters, back‐to‐school nights, school websites, etc.

It is up to all of us to grow healthy Texans.



Build a healthy meal. Retrieved February 2, 2015 from

NSLP statistics. Retrieved Retrieved February 2, 2015 from

The Importance of Family in Early Childhood Education: Now is the Time to Reengage

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Author: Lori Reemts, Project Coordinator for Curriculum & Instruction

Early childhood educators are a unique brand of teacher. Much like each level of a child’s school career, the earliest exposure brings dynamic challenges and high rewards. There is much to be said for these educators who really start it all. As the end of the academic year approaches, a mixture of emotions surges for these dedicated educators.

I am proud of my students, but have my little ones grown enough to be ready for the challenges of kindergarten and beyond? 

I am proud of myself, but have I done all I can do to help foster their academic growth as well as their physical, emotional, and social growth? 

Yes! We conquered the separation issue and there is no more crying!

What about that lingering behavior challenge? I still need to address that in a more proactive and supportive way. Do I have time? There is still 3 months of school left – but I need some help. 

I started the year off with great parent involvement and communication but it seems to have slowed. How do I keep parents informed and working with me as partners for their children’s growth? Will the support needed to sustain their growth occur in the summer? Maybe parents don’t know what to do.

I love and adore my kids but – oh my – how long is it until summer again?

At this time of year it may be worthwhile to spend a little time revisiting and reflecting on progress made so far. It may be easy to slip into the daily routine and perhaps miss opportunities to renew, reignite, or reinvigorate potential partners in our students’ learning, specifically the students’ family members.

It takes a village, a simple take on the Nigerian proverb regarding raising children, seems to be an idea of increasing importance as our society grows and changes. This idea can be loosely translated in support of the importance of the teacher/parent relationship. Research has consistently shown that meaningful family engagement in children’s early learning supports school readiness and later academic success. This really isn’t arguable. Parents understand this. Parents, like teachers, wish nothing but the best for their children. Parents, unlike most teachers, sometimes feel they are ill-equipped, lacking in resources, or that they simply do not understand early learning. It is important that we continue including and sharing with our families of preschoolers so that they are more confident in their abilities to productively support their child’s learning.

The National Institute for Early Education Research released a study in 2012 which looked at changes in parental expectations for their children’s school readiness and at in-home practices.  The study found that (for the time between 1993 and 2007) parent expectations for their children to be school ready increased. At the same time, the study found a significant decrease in the time families were engaging in activities that support children’s growth in skills such as self-regulation and higher order thinking, both of which contribute significantly to children’s school readiness (Snow, 2013). In an effort to provide the best for our young ones we often overlook the simple things that are directly in front of us. Rather than assume ill-will or apathy, let’s assume a lack of knowledge and practice.  After all, parents are not required to be certified; they do not have a specialization in early childhood.

It is in our best interest to not only partner with parents and family members, to support them as we all support the student, and to reinvigorate the family efforts and involvements but to work to keep that relationship mutually beneficial, just as we would any relationship.

Perhaps your classroom once had what seemed to be high parent interest and involvement, but as the year progresses that partnership seems to have waned. Where did they go? Perhaps your classroom has never really seen family engagement at all. Again, it is important to refrain from any temptation to pass judgment, and to seek to understand the “why” so that we can be the supportive resource our students need us to be. There are some simple ways to re-engage the families, thereby reinvigorating the partnership in learning. This, in turn, supports the village that supports the child not only in a pre-kindergarten setting, but throughout their learning career.

Ideas to Begin, or Refresh and Reinvigorate!

  • Reflect on your classroom environment and climate—is it still welcoming?
  • Create opportunities for authentic and useful parent involvement (i.e., within classroom supporting students, outside of the classroom prepping supplies or materials, etc.).
  • Hold “parent academies” either in person or online prepping families for the transition from PreK to Kindergarten. Build their understanding of resources that foster student growth in self-regulation and pretend play, learning about literacy and math development, and sustained growth over summer.
  • Encourage/model purposeful play, including open-ended questioning during play.
  • Create a “reference” sheet pulling together helpful hints to help parents as they work on open-ended play; interactive reading and questioning; authentic and meaningful praise; making connections; building on small challenges to gently push toward something new or a bit more complex; repeating and extending what a child says; using interesting vocabulary; modeling expected and appropriate behaviors; and encouraging investigation in self-selected areas, etc.
  • Share websites such as
  • Use regularly scheduled opportunities, such as conferences and materials (i.e., class newsletter) to share information, hints, and celebrations.
  • Create/display/share concrete collections of student experiences (i.e., student products, in-class photos, class memory books).
  • and more!

It could be argued that families are the most influential resource that early educators have whether it is the beginning of the year or the end. Make use of this resource! Renew and keep the partnership strong through the end of the year and beyond.


Snow, K. (2013, January 1). Research News You Can Use: Family Engagement and Early Childhood Education. Retrieved January 29, 2015, from

Increasing Written Literacy 

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Author: Joseph Kanke, Instructional Coach

Education, as a system, is constantly undergoing changes and adapting to the needs of students.  One such need is to improve writing.  The response has been a campus-based push for increased writing opportunities referred to as Write to Learn, Writing Across the Curriculum or Writing in the Discipline.  While each term may not be used completely interchangeably, there is significant overlap.  For the purpose of this article, I will refer to this process of written literacy as Write to Learn.  Basically, Write to Learn means writing is occurring across disciplines and subjects.

Recent data shows students are not graduating high school with writing tools they need to be successful.  According to the Writing Next Report, 70% of students in grades 4-12 are considered low achieving writers and college instructors estimate that only 50% of high school graduates are prepared for college-level writing.

Everyone agrees that the more you read, the better reader you will become.  The results for writing are the same.  When students are given consistent and frequent writing practice, they will begin to see themselves as writers.  As they become better writers, they will have a platform to authentically engage with content and critical thinking skills will increase.  All of these skills will ensure that students are ready for academic and work related writing.

If you are on a campus that is considering the implementation of Write to Learn, there are two essential components you will want to address to make the program effective.  The first is that some teachers will feel unsure of their own writing abilities and thus—understandably—feel apprehensive about writing instruction.  They need to be assured that while providing immediate and specific feedback will be essential to writing growth, it does not necessarily need to focus on grammar.  The second key element is providing teachers with ample professional development.  Just as students need to develop a writer’s toolkit, teachers need access to a variety of authentic writing activities so they can choose what works best with their content.

Students need to be engaged in writing frequently and across subjects, content, and format to ensure adequate practice and exposure so that they are ready for college, careers, and life.

Here are two examples of writing strategies that could be implemented under the Write to Learn model.


Activity Implementation When to Use Grouping
Magnet Summaries
  1. After reading an article or finishing class notes, help students pick out the key word (concept being taught).  This will be their magnet word.
  2. Ask students to copy the magnet word in the center of a note card or page of their notebook.
  3. Tell students the magnet word acts like a magnet and pulls other key information that is important to the topic.
  4. Students should then pull key words from the article or notes and arrange them around the magnet word.
  5. Tell students to write a summary which includes the magnet word and some/all of the keywords.
  6. Since students will be so focused on including the keywords, their first summary may not flow smoothly.  Encourage students to edit a minimum of one time.

After reading an article.


After finishing class notes on a topic.



Individual to Pairs

Write 3, Draw 2
  1. Place no less than 8 papers with headings of your choice around the room. *
  2. Explain to students that you have posted key (vocabulary, dates, historical figures, equations, etc.) around the room that they should be familiar with.
  3. Tell them to move around the room and choose 3 of the pages and write, using complete sentences, something they know about that concept.
  4. Tell them to choose two additional concepts and draw a visual representation of something they know about it.

* Students are required to interact with 5 concepts, and by providing a minimum of 8, students will be given the element of choice.

  • Vocabulary
  • Equations
  • Historical Figures
  • Dates
  • Places
  • Parts of Whole (cells, plot, triangles)





Daniels, Harvey, Zemelman,S., & Steineke. N. (2007). Content-area writing:  Every teacher’s guide.  Portsmouth, NH:  Heinemann.

Graham, Steven & Perin, D. (2007). Writing next:  Effective strategies to improve writing of adolescents in middle and high schools.  New York, NY:  Carnegie.

Keifer, K., Lecourt, D., Reid, S., & Wyric, J. (2014, November 25). What is Writing to Learn? Retrieved February 4, 2015, from

Instruction from the Student Point of View

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Author: Cynthia Holcomb, Education Specialist: Elementary Science

In October of 2014 I read an article published online by the Washington Post. The title grabbed my attention: “Teacher spends two days as a student and is shocked at what she learns.”  The author, Valerie Strauss, reported how passive her role had been in the learning process and how lethargic she felt throughout the day. She concluded three key ideas to consider for effective instructional design. Upon reflection, I think there are some quick but powerful ways to make instruction more meaningful and engaging for students.

The Author’s Key Takeaway #1: Students sit all day, and sitting is exhausting.

The author reported students literally sit down the entire school day, except for the brief walk to change classes. Teachers, though, are standing in front of the room, passing out materials, and collecting papers. It gives the illusion of an active classroom.

The author discovered it took a conscious effort not to fidget or daydream. She longed for activity, realizing it sacrifices teaching time to do so; but if students are lethargic and not absorbing most of the content anyway, lectures are probably not very effective.

What does that tell us as educators? Should there be a hands-on or movement-driven activity in each class? In the classroom, we can keep our student active by using the Think-Meet-Share-Create technique. In this activity, the teacher poses a question to the class. Each student thinks of his response to the question and jots down his answer. Next, students get up to meet with a partner. They take turns sharing their responses.  Before returning to their seats, partners create a new answer that is superior to their individual answers. Students get a chance to get up and move, they get a chance to talk, and content is still the primary focus.

The Author’s Key Takeaway #2: High school students sit passively during approximately 90 percent of their classes.

The author discovered that students rarely speak in class. The teacher lectures, or there is a test or an individual assignment, or one student is presenting information or called to the board to solve a problem. The typical student’s day is spent passively absorbing information.

Sitting in itself was tiring, but it’s compounded by trying to absorb information without discussing or interacting with it.  We can use the Rule of Ten and Two to take students out of the passive role. For every ten minutes of lecture or exposure to new content, students need at least two minutes to talk to each other about the information. It’s like a stick of gum. You have to chew it to get something out of it. Provide two-minute breaks for students to clarify, restate, or quiz each other over content. When students have a chance to process information in different ways, they are more apt to make connections.

The Author’s Key Takeaway #3: Students feel a little bit like a nuisance all day long.

Teachers know that they have a set amount of time to teach and need to use it wisely, and as an offshoot, students are told frequently be quiet and pay attention. In addition, every educator has experienced several students in a row asking the same question about as assignment. It is annoying to explain the same thing repeatedly, but students often ask questions as a way to seek reassurance.  When teachers reply with sarcasm, impatience, or annoyance it sabotages the learning and reinforces disappointment; that’s not a good feeling to have as a learner. Ask yourself these questions to evaluate the climate of your classroom:

  • Do I speak hastily, calmly, clearly? Do I nag?
  • Do I spend more time disciplining or encouraging my students?
  • Do I respect students even if I’m annoyed? Am I consistent in my responses?
  • How would my students describe me most of the time?

My Key Takeaway

It is a given that teachers work hard, but it’s often hard to be a student as well. A few changes in lesson design can improve the student experience so that that there are more engaged, alert, and balanced learners sitting (or standing) in our classes.

View the original article at:

Rigor and Relevance in the Math Classroom

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Author(s): Virginia Keasler and Mary Headley, Education Specialists: Mathematics

We read and hear quite a lot about rigor on the STAAR Mathematics test.  In the past few years the State of Texas has been trying to up the ante in students’ conceptual understanding of mathematics.  Let’s try to break down what rigor may mean.

In 2013, Linda M. Gojak, Past President of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, was discussing rigor with a group of mathematics coaches from around the country.  The coaches commented that many of their teachers were confused by exactly what was meant by teaching and learning with rigor and they were unsure about how to respond.  Together they began exploring the notion of rigor with an online search of the word “rigor.” The thesaurus led to a list of synonyms, including “affliction,” “inflexibility,” “difficulty,” “severity,” “rigidity,” “suffering,” and “traditionalism”—none of which describe characteristics of rigorous mathematics instruction. No wonder there was confusion! However, two additional words included in the list—“thoroughness” and “tenacity”—provided avenues for some serious thought about what “rigor” implies.

Without a common understanding of the meaning of the word rigor, how can teachers provide rigor in the classroom?

Take this quick true/false quiz.

  1. _____ If standards are rigorous, the course is automatically rigorous.
  2. _____ Rigor means using creative ways to solve relevant problems.
  3. _____ Rigor means more work.
  4. _____ Rigorous work should be more difficult.
  5. _____ Rigor means selecting highly rigorous content.
  6. _____ Rigorous instruction allows time and opportunity for students to develop and apply their understanding.
  7. _____ Younger students cannot engage in rigorous instruction.
  8. _____ In order to engage in rigor, students must first master the basics.

Rigor isn’t as much about the standards as it is about how you ask students to reach the standards. There are times when students are asked to achieve highly rigorous standards in un-rigorous ways. At other times, teachers are able to take mediocre standards and help students achieve highly rigorous learning by designing rigorous learning experiences that correspond with those standards. Therefore, statement one above is false.

While rigorous instruction may require that students put forth more effort, it is not based on the volume of work students complete. Rigor is about the quality of the work students are asked to do, not the quantity. More assignments or more reading does not guarantee more rigor. In fact, rigorous classrooms often have fewer assignments and less homework. Therefore, statement three is false.

Rigorous classrooms do present more challenge to students but there is a difference between challenge and difficulty. Challenging work requires students to stretch and reach for new understanding. Work can be difficult for a variety of reasons. Examples include unclear instructions, a lack of necessary resources or adequate support, and demands that are too great for the time allotted. We can all think of assignments we endured that were difficult without being intellectually challenging. Thus, it is a mistake to think that just because students had difficulty completing their work, they have engaged in a rigorous assignment. Therefore, statement four above is false.

Selection of highly rigorous content does not guarantee a highly rigorous learning experience for students. How we ask students to engage in the content determines the level of rigor for the course. Therefore, the answer to statement five above is false.

Even young students can think and interact with material in highly rigorous ways. If given the opportunity, students will naturally take what they are learning to solve challenging problems. The key is for teachers make sure that rigorous instruction is developmentally appropriate. Therefore, statement seven is false.

Rigorous thinking is involved in learning even the most basic material. Students can learn the basics in highly rigorous ways. They can learn how to build adequate representations, organize those facts in some way, analyze and construct relationships among those facts, and make inferences beyond what is explicitly presented while they are mastering the basics. Therefore, statement eight is false.

Rigorous instruction allows time and opportunity for students to develop and apply their understanding by using creative ways to solve relevant problems. So, if you were thinking that statements two and six were true, then give yourself a pat on the back!


Study the following International Center for Leadership in Mathematics Education–Rigor/Relevance Framework®


Rigor 1



Looking at the examples in the above quadrants, where do you see yourself and your classroom on this framework?

Quadrant A – Relevance and rigor are both low for the student as the task has no real meaning and is fairly easy for students.

Quadrant B – Relevance is high since it is associated to a real example for the student but rigor is still low.

Quadrant C – Rigor may be high in this activity but relevance to real world examples is low for the student.

Quadrant D – Relevance and rigor are both high for the student in this task. Here the student must understand what is being taught as well as understand how to apply knowledge to relevant situations.


Characteristics of a rigorous classroom include:

  • Instructional environments that encourage students to take their learning one step further
  • Teachers facilitating learning and using higher level questioning strategies
  • Students pursuing deeper understandings through thoughtful investigations into the concepts they are learning
  • Students applying new learning to other disciplines and to predictable and unpredictable real-world situations
  • Evidence of teachers spending the majority of their time in quadrants B & D in the ICLE Rigor/Relevance Framework®

In conclusion, here are two scholarly definitions of rigor.

“The goal of helping students develop the capacity to understand content that is complex, and personally or emotionally challenging.”  (Strong, et al., 2001)

Jeff Paulson: “Rigor (n) An expectation that requires students to apply new learning to other disciplines and to predictable and unpredictable real world situations.” (Quoted in Paulson, n.d.)

By agreeing on what rigor means, educators are better able to provide and recognize rigor in the classroom in a consistent way, and this benefits all students.



Strong, R., & Silver, H. (2001). Teaching what matters most: Standards and strategies for raising student achievement. Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Marcy Paulson. (n.d.). Retrieved February 5, 2015, from

Rose Colby, Patsy Dean, A Framework for Rigor. National Association of Secondary School Principals, Retrieved February 8, 2015, from

Tweeting to Grow: Enriching Our Personal Learning Network through Twitter

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Author: Laura Lee Stroud, Elementary English Language Arts Specialist

Tags: Educational Technology, Personal Learning Networks, Professional Development

“Teaching can be an isolating experience, but it does not have to be.” Kevin Hodgson

As educators, we must find avenues to nurture our professional lives despite the chaos prevalent surrounding education. The success of our students depends on it. Recently, teacher and author Kelly Gallagher affirmed for me the necessity of teachers’ sustained personal learning outside school walls. He shared, “If our professional life isn’t bigger than our teaching life, we will die on the vine.” Mr. Gallagher went on to add that growing a professional life provides the environments of support, collaboration, and empowerment teachers need to thrive.

Our access to technology provides valuable resources for teacher learners at the click of the mouse, even the swipe of a thumb. In fact, Mr. Gallagher attributes a recent spike in his professional learning to participation in the “Twitterverse” saying that Twitter has magnified his learning more than any other form of traditional professional development in recent memory. Yes, Twitter is more than a real time account of Justin Bieber’s bad hair day. In full disclosure, my Twitter account is over seven years old and my use is very basic. In preparation for writing this article, I sought to increase my understanding and find out how I can assist interested educators in doing the same.

I began by “tweeting” the question: “Need short testimonials on how twitter has enhanced educators’ professional learning” to the Twittersphere at large and to researchers and writers on English Language Arts education in particular. Within minutes responses filtered in via email, direct message and tweets. Every response I received echoed a connected impact on its users. Kevin Hodgson, 6th grade teacher, blogger, and Technology Co-Director at Western Massachusetts Writing Project, weighed in via direct message: “Twitter has connected me to not just people, but ideas, from the far corners of the world. Questions, answers and inquiry abound, and I have felt my thinking on teaching and learning being pushed again and again.” The speed and content of the responses to a simple query showcase the power of Twitter. As I googled “how educators use Twitter,” I was inspired by the results. Teachers have contributed quality how-to guides very helpful for both the novice and the evolving seeker. I have included below an annotated bibliography of the resources I found most insightful.

Twitter for Educators Beginner’s Guide ~ Educational Technology and Mobile Learning. (n.d.). Retrieved January 10, 2015, from

This website makes a clear case for why teachers and educators should use Twitter. Three reasons for using Twitter are highlighted: 1. Twitter is easy to learn and free with a user friendly interface. 2. Twitter is dense with innovative educators and a prime place to meet and collaborate within. 3. It is a vehicle to grow professionally through the sharing of experiences. Included on this page is the best, simple guide to understanding Twitter for educators I discovered through my research. (The guide is linked other places around the web.)

Twitter For Teachers. (n.d.). Retrieved January 10, 2015, from

This guide begins by acknowledging common barriers to participation in Twitter for educators. In this near one-pager, you will gather information about the 5 W’s of Twitter’s specific use in education. Void of complete information and extra logistics available in other resources, this guide includes a downloadable pdf for printing should you need a hard copy.

Blumengarten, J. (n.d.). How To Take Part in or Moderate a Chat on Twitter. Retrieved January 10, 2015, from

Known as the Cybraryman and Twitterbrarian, Jerry Blumengarten offers this admonishment: “When introducing Twitter to non-believers say, “Do you know about “The Educational Support & Discussion Media System?” Following is one of the most comprehensive gathering of all things Twitter. The page is well organized with two columns but look to the right to find sites to help those new to Twitter.

If you are completely new to Twitter, a fast guide for beginning:

  1. Decide to have a professional account that is separate from your personal one. This helps organize and sort the information you will receive.
  2. Choose a twitter handle that is short and descriptive. Lots of educators choose to incorporate the name their students use so that they are easily recognizable to parents and students.
  3. Begin by following the organization and names that motivate and educate you. NCTE, Kelly Gallagher, Kylene Beers, Jeff Anderson, and others are all active Twitter users. By following a few people, you will read the people they tweet to and can selectively choose who to add to your followed list.
  4. Check in every couple of days to see what’s new. You will be surprised how these 140-character tweets will inform your teaching. Instant PD!
  5. Study others’ content and language. Set a goal for sending out your own original tweets.
  6. Begin to share your handle as you begin to compose your own tweets. Twitter is not just about receiving information, it’s about giving it. Share your knowledge with the world.
  7. Check out Twitter chats that align with your professional interest. The chat sessions are an easy way to connect through listening to others weigh in about specific areas in selected content areas or grade levels.

Personal learning networks are powerful because they are driven by you; the learner. Kerri Thompson @kerriattamate describes her interactions on Twitter as “brewing my own PD.” On Twitter customized learning is as simple as plugging into a chat that explores the nuances of providing feedback on student writing or using literacy stations in a secondary classroom. Twitter allows educators to connect. Penny Kittle @pennykittle explained how Twitter also connects and extends resources:  I read many articles and blogs I’d never find on my own because of teachers on Twitter. I connect across the globe with colleagues. With precious little time left in our days, technology is a precious vehicle for educators to grow our professional lives.

The Region 13 Literacy Team is on Twitter. Follow me, Laura Lee, at @LL_Smiles and Janet Hester at @R13JanetH.


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