Networking for Noobs

For the purposes of this post, I find it easiest to break down the article How to Cultivate a Personal Learning Network by each point in the list and then discussing my thoughts therein.

1. Explore

This is definitely an important point when it comes to the formation of a personal learning network.  The author’s focus is that “[i]t’s not just about knowing how to find experts, co-learners, but about exploration as invitation to serendipitous encounter.”  What this means to me, and to the author of the article as well from what I understand, is that the creation of PLNs will inevitably lead to encounters with information and viewpoints that are unfamiliar and maybe even to change in your own belief systems.  I have taken this thought even further to mean that I need to be prepared to encounter information that I find disagreeable.  These discoveries can be just as valuable as encounters with agreeable information as they teach me what not to believe and what not to do.

2. Search

For this point, the author’s focus was that people can “[u]se Diigo, delicious, listorious, to find pools of expertise in the fields that interest you.”  While these sites are definitely valuable resources, PLN builders should not discredit sites such as Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, and others as they bring different styles of information sharing and often involve suggesting other people who post similar content to that which you find yourself being drawn to.  Therefore, it becomes possible to find even more poeple to add to your PLN that can have a positive influence on your learning.

3. Vet Your Candidates

This point is a combination of the authors third and fourth points of determining the merit of each PLN candidate and whether or not they will continue to interest you.  These are very good points as you would not want to add someone who made one rare good point among a slew of hundreds of very bad points or compromised their thinking in a way that does not fit your needs, and you would not want to follow someone you are not going to learn from.  I remember having difficulty retaining information from teachers I found boring, so the same concept applies to PLN candidates.

4. Engage with the PLN Members

This is crucial as learning needs to be dynamic.  Learning happens best when dialogue is present to flesh out and fine tune the lesson being taught.  On top of that, learning should be a two-way street rather than a one-way as while you are learning from them, they could also be learning from you.  Innovation and ingenuity is healthy and leads to amazing learning opportunities.

5. Engage with Your PLN Followers

As you learn and increase your expertise in a given subject, it is inevitable that people will add you to their PLNs.  Therefore, you too need to be engaging and the best teacher you can be.  Remember, you may be the person to make or break a person’s continued dedication to their goal.

Final Thoughts

Conclusively, I can feed my PLN in a multitude of ways such as social media and the PLNs of those I add to my own PLN.  I have to remember that a PLN is first an foremost a cooperative learning community.  I must always be willing to put in the time and effor to make sure that I am contributing my fair share to that cooperative learning community.  Therefore, I need to be open to new sources of information as well as become proficient with the currently existent ones.  The biggest challenge that I foresee is dedicating that requisite time around the obligations that I currently have on my plate.  As such, I will need to make a conscious effort to balance everything so that I may continue to pursue this avenue of learning rather than being forced to abandon it for any period of time.

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Even More Knitting!

By this point in the class, I have almost completed the middle chunk of the blanket I am attempting to create.  As I have found it incredibly difficult to make the abstract idea that I have in my head and turn it into real, tangible awesomeness… I think I am going to take a step back to sketch out the rest of my project idea before I continue.  What I had forgotten, and have been forcibly reminded of at this juncture in my knitting, is that there are numerous different factors that affect the size of the stitches, and thusly the squares, as you knit them.  The thickness of the yarn, the size of your needles, and the way that you knit can all have an impact on the number of pieces that you will need to piece together once it comes time to actually complete the project.  Additionally, I also have forgotten just how much time it takes me to complete a square as I am still learning.  Right now, I have managed to become quite proficient at casting on stitches.  However, when it comes to casting off, I have to go really slow or I run the very real risk of dropping stitches and having holes in my square.  While I would generally be okay with having holes in a project that I am making for myself, for the purposes of this class I find myself wanting to make this blanket as perfect as I possibly can.

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Original Picture of a Piece in Progress

Therefore, I have come to the conclusion that there is a very real chance that I might not fully complete this blanket by the time the end of this class rolls around.  I have accepted this.  As it stands, I have not decided to quit this project and change, but rather whatever I complete will serve as my project and then completing it will be my takeaway goal from this class.  To my mind, it is not the perfect alignment of completion dates that is important, but rather the dedication to the project and the class and the lessons I learned from each that are the most meaningful.  With this being said, the blanket will always serve as a reminder of those lessons and that meaning that came from the class, my college career thus far, and the point I have reached in my life.  As a result, I plan to cherish the blanket and everything it represents for the rest of my life.

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Original Picture of the Finished Piece

PLN Please?

This week we were tasked with researching what a PLN is and then creating one.  Through this, I learned that personal learning networks are not only communities for people to learn from experts in that field, but they also become places for people to teach others as they too become relative experts in that subject matter.  Another thing that I learned is that a person can build a personal learning network for any subject or even create an original network for cross-curricular learning.  For instance, if someone wanted to create a graphic novel version of a myth or legend then they would need to have a personal learning network that fed into their need for artistic learning and historical learning.  Therefore, they might build a PLN made up of historians, anthropologists, artists, publishers, writers, and other professionals to learn from as they needed to.  Following that, the completion of such a project may influence others to begin similar projects and then they might build a similar PLN but they would also have the creator of the original project within the pool of people to learn from.

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Retrieved from Flickr.com: CC by Amy West

Turning to my own personal learning network, I plan to build more than one based on the things that I want to learn about.  There will definitely be a personal learning network built around my educational endeavors, there will be a personal learning network built around ideologies that intrigue me so that I may learn more about them, and there will be personal learning networks built around my interests and hobbies.  To my mind, not only is it important to learn from others in your professional life, but you are also capable of learning from others in your personal life.  Many individuals who plan on becoming parents or are expecting a baby make it a point to learn from people who have not only had children but who have had similar birthing ideologies, medical needs, and child-rearing goals as them.  While this may seem rather extreme, the same concept applies to smaller goals and projects.  I plan to start building mine through the social media sites that I am most familiar with which are Twitter, Tumblr, and Pinterest.  Within these sites, I have actually the stirrings of PLNs from a time when I had no idea what a PLN was.  Therefore, it is really only a matter of fleshing those groups out and focusing my intent.

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Retrieved from Flickr.com: CC by anabell alicia

Here is a tweet from an individual that I added to my teaching/education PLN:

 

 

I have discovered that when I really put my mind to it, it is not at all difficult to find people to add to my professional learning network.  However, this does pose a challenge in that I find myself needing to vet individuals so that I have a more focused and streamlined PLN rather than a large and unwieldy one.  Another discovery that I have made is that sometimes people in a PLN will spark ideas within you that you would have never thought of without that influence.  They make you expand and alter your perception so that your mindset is more multifaceted and even help you to simplify and put into words abstract thoughts and feelings you may have had about certain subjects.  As such, the learning extends beyond just furthering your thinking but can also spur thought and action.

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Retrieved from Flickr.com: CC by Quinn Dombrowski

Passion Pays Off

Throughout the articles that I read for this blog post, there was a recurring theme that popped up.  This recurring theme is that learning needs to be based on passion.  Passion fosters engagement, community, and enrichment of both the students and the school.

To my mind, this need for passion is incredibly clear.  In school, we hear all the time about “self-made men” such as Benjamin Franklin, but we fail to discuss how he only became a self-made man because of his passion.  Today’s school system and society tends to oppress passion and creativity.  Previously in this class we discussed the importance of creativity, but it is also important to note that creativity and passion go hand in hand.  This then ties into the discussion about hackschooling.  If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing then you’re not going to want to find ways to do it better.  Therefore, we can conclude that the best learning is done when creativity and passion are not only recognized but celebrated.

In the Couros article he asks the question, “…[W]hat if you combined the statements [about school vs. learning] to make something new?”  This would lead to more student-directed learning and emphasize the whole guide-on-the-side style of teaching that we have started to see in the modern classroom.  We, as educators, would then create innovators rather than workers and leaders rather than followers.  Is that not what we want for the future?  We want strong, passionate individuals to guide the world to a better tomorrow.  When we “[i]ndoctrinate passion into the system” as suggested by the Barseghian article, then that innovation and leadership will come naturally and cease being a rare occurrence.  When that occurs, it will in turn spur individuals to become even better so society will continue to improve even further.  Oddly enough, I had the thought that if this had been done we might have managed to create the futuristic vehicles and inventions we see in television and movies.

My favorite point, by far, came from the Briggs article that tells us that a way to institute passion-based learning in the classroom is to “[d]ivorce practicality from the picture”.  Children and students are not naturally inclined to mindlessly follow directions, but rather are more apt to creating new and exciting ways to find solutions to problems and answers to questions.  However, somewhere along the way this skill is lost.  In my opinion, this mostly starts happening when we tell students to focus on job security, salary, and benefits rather than fun, freedom, and opportunity for greatness.  Essentially, this is telling them that their wants should be ignored in favor of what we think they need, but there is a point to be made that they wouldn’t need such things if we didn’t force them to need them.

As such, I will continue to do research into passion-based learning so that I can better implement these tenets and goals into my future classroom.  As W.B. Yeats said, “Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire.

fire
Retrieved from Flickr.com: CC by nrg_crisis

Get Crafty or Die Trying

As a person, I have always been fascinated by craftwork.  The thought of making something that someone is able to use and that contributes to their health and happiness has always been important to me.  Cooking has satisfied this desire very successfully as has learning to sew and administer CPR.  When I was in high school, I took classes that aligned with these project goals and had a lot of fun while doing so.  I also began to take art classes as well because I also wanted to make things that people could just enjoy such as drawings and paintings.

When I became a college student, this love of craftwork translated into wanting to make things for myself as well as my friends and family, so I began to research how to build a computer and how to code because technology entered into my sphere of interests.  I put that project down because classes and classwork kept me from having the time to continue, but I plan on continuing to learn to code at a later date.  I also began to pick up learning a second language again.  When I was in high school, I took four years of Spanish and I decided to refresh my knowledge on my own as a college student.  Again, I had to put down this project as I do not have the time available to dedicate to this project that it needs.

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Retrieved from Flickr.com: CC by Manisha B.

The freedom to learn what I want to learn when I want to learn it has always been important to me, so nowadays most of my learning outside the classroom involves copious amounts of research and trial and error.  I oftentimes look for free websites, videos, step-by-step guides, and other sources to get started and then continue with the project.  At this stage, I think that I have a start with, if I have not fully completed, projects that align with the things that I want to know how to do.  My learning projects are almost always driven by whim, and this is especially true of the craftwork projects.  If I had to think of two things that I really wanted to know how to do, I would say that I want to know how to do woodwork and I want to know how to fix cars.  The biggest reason for such desires is that they would be useful skills to have, and I think that I would have a lot of fun while learning these skills.  However, these are definitely skills that I would not want to learn on my own for fear that I would injure myself, so I will have to hold off until a later date.

Either way, I am somewhat stuck between two different ideas for my independent learning project.  The first thing that I want to learn to do is cross-stitch.  I grew up watching my grandmother sew beautiful images onto blank spaces, so that is a goal of mine.  The second thing is that I want to learn how to knit a blanket.  I started teaching myself to knit not very long ago, but there is a huge chasm between sewing a basic scarf and making an entire blanket, so that is also a goal of mine.  At the moment, I am leaning more towards the making of a blanket and started working on the first section of it yesterday.  I am hopeful that it will turn out well and will try to upload pictures at each stage of the project.

Sick Beats and Shakespeare

This was a very interesting talk given by Akala at Tedx Aldeburgh in 2012 about the similarities between Shakespeare’s works and hip-hop music.  The speaker began his presentation by giving the audience a short quiz, and the purpose of the quiz was to see if they could differentiate between quotes from hip-hop songs and quotes from Shakespeare.  To sum it up, the audience was unable to make that differentiation.  He then made a short comment about how renowned scholars of Shakespeare had been given that same quiz and had also failed.  This blew my mind.

explosion
Retrieved from Flickr.com: CC by AJC ajcann.wordpress.com

There is an unspoken mindset that permeates society (and I mean American society as this is what I have the most experience with) where elements of classism and racism are used to judge, and oftentimes judge harshly, hip-hop and similar music styles.  However, it tends to subvert this entire value judgement when scholars are unable to tell the difference between something that is seen as “high-brow” and something that is seen as “low-brow”.  The speaker then went on to point out that often, and far too often at that, people think that Shakespeare spoke the Queen’s English or what is known as received pronunciation.  However, received pronunciation was not even invented until a century or so after Shakespeare’s death.  What this means is that people are trying to retroactively assign elements that would “elevate” Shakespeare above the common masses.  This is ridiculous as his theatre company was based in the “seedy” side of town and he performed his plays largely for the common masses, but I digress.  The main thing that the speaker wanted to talk about was how the rhythms, meters, and rhyme schemes found in Shakespeare are also found in hip-hop music.

This has significant relevance to me as a future teacher because of both what I want to teach and how I want to teach it.  My goal is to become a secondary English/Language Arts educator, but I do not want to be shoving the canon down the throats of my students for multiple reasons that I do not wish to expound upon in this post.  Either way, there are some writers and works that happen to be part of the canon that I want to teach due to their status as an icon in modern society.  One such writer is Shakespeare, and his works and influence so permeates modern society in multiple ways that we do not even know just how far that influence goes.  For instance, many well-known films, such as My Own Private Idaho, were heavily influenced, if not a full-blown adaptation, of a Shakespearian work.  Many turns of phrases that we still use today were pulled from Shakespeare, and even the way English is spoken today was influenced by him.  Therefore, I need to find ways to modernize Shakespeare so that it is relevant to the modern student, and relating his work to hip-hop is a great way to do just that.

How to Teach Happiness

When I was in biology class my sophomore year of high school, my teacher, Mr. Haggard, said something that really stuck with me.  Of course I do not remember the exact words (it was a morning class and I am definitely NOT a morning person), but the essential message was, “I am not going to teach you how to be perfect students who become perfect employees.  Instead, I am going to teach you how to be healthy, happy, safe, and successful youths who become healthy, happy, safe, and successful adults.”

 

According to the mindset discussed in Logan LaPlante’s Tedx Talk, far too often, and often to the detriment of the student’s learning, school teaches one “how to make a living” rather than “how to make a life”.  Through the lens of such a mindset, being that perfect student and employee would “naturally” lead to the aforementioned health, happiness, safety, and success, but is it true happiness?  According to the CDC, in 2005-2006 4.3% of kids 12 to 17 years of age suffered from depression which rose to 4.7% in people 18 to 39 years of age and then jumped even more to 7.3% in adults 40 to 59 years of age.  Clearly, teaching people how to make a living is not working.

depression
Retrieved from Flickr.com: CC by amenclinicsphotos ac

 

From what I have heard from friends, relatives, and even complete strangers, they end up “settling” into a job that can provide them with money, maybe a dental or vision plan, and a pension.  The question is why?  Why settle?  As far as I can tell, people settle because they believe that they have to grind through life until reaching retirement and then, and only then, can they actually be happy, follow their passions, and live.  However, by this point those dreams have often withered and died.  With that being said, it is quite clear that making a living is not true happiness, so why do we continue to do it?  We do it because we are taught that this is the status quo.  Who teaches this?  Schools.

 

Schools pile on homework and meaningless tasks rather than authentic learning opportunities.  Because our society is built upon treating humans like tools and teaches use that the only things worth valuing are the ones that have a demonstrable benefit to the people in charge.  That is why government lackeys care more about test scores than they do the rates of depression and anxiety in students, and thusly they care more about delineating the useful from the extraneous rather than nurturing passion and creativity.  At the end of the day, the current system cares more about money than people.

money
Retrieved from Flickr.com: CC by Tax Credits

 

That is why I believe the system needs to be revamped.  We as educators need to revitalize creativity and learning because students are people first, last, and always.  It should not be so that parents are forced to remove their children from school in order to ensure that they get the best opportunities.  We as teachers, as administrators, as schools, should be providing those opportunities because that is our purpose.  I for one am not going into teaching because I want to create submissive slaves to the ruling class who are unable to see any future than living and dying by the dollar.  Instead, I want to contribute to learning and experiences that make students happy, healthy, safe, and successful no matter what that means for them.

happiness
Retrieved from Flickr.com: CC by sciondriver