In March, Burlington High School hosted the New England 1:1 summit. This event brought together over 350 teachers, superintendents, IT administrators and some parents. One of the highlights of the day was our student panel. The panel was comprised of eight Burlington High School students, ranging from freshmen to seniors, who led an interactive session with the audience. Our students did a great job answering questions, but I was particularly moved by response from one student. The questioner asked, "How do you refrain from the obvious distractions that the iPad presents while in class?" The student took the mic and answered, "Distractions are nothing new in the classroom, however, why don't teachers take the tools that distract us and turn them into learning tools?"
Birth of a Notion
This response not only made me want to stand up and clap, but provoked an idea. An idea that later led to a conversation at EdCamp Boston, where Michael Milton and I led a discussion on the use of social media in the classroom. I started the session by sharing this student's response. We both shared examples as to why social media should be utilized in class (meet students where they are at, create an active classroom, flatten the classroom walls by allowing the community inside) and gave examples of how we integrate social media in the classroom at Burlington High School. Leading with this was a thrilling way to have a discussion about the benefits (and possible distractions) of using Twitter, Blogger and YouTube in the classroom.
Michael and I left our audience with a brief but important homework assignment. We wanted all in attendance to share a lesson or an idea that connected the classroom with social media tools. After the event, Michael and I decided to take it a step further and create a space where educators can exchange what they're doing in the classroom. Currently, many educators spend their curriculum or lesson planning time in isolation. Teachers flock towards curriculum binders that have been handed down from one generation to the next, or they might seek out a lesson through a paid web service. However, there is no common hub for sharing and exchanging lessons among education professionals. While Twitter boasts many great chats and talking points, for many it can be wearisome to keep up with a waterfall of 140-character tweets each day. Therefore, Michael and I have decided to create a space for connecting, sharing and exchanging ideas for integrating new and emerging web tools and platforms into the classroom. This place is "The Educator's Village."
It Takes a Village
The Educator's Village will host a community of educators that want to share what they've been doing in the classroom and highlight student work. We see The Educator's Village as the Creative Commons for classroom lessons. The site will boast a searchable database of lesson plans across all content areas and levels. Users will be able to share links to their work through a simple form on the site, and also glean a lesson or unit from the site. Although we are hosting this site, the work will not be ours to own. Searchers will be able to preview the activity and choose whether they will click the link to investigate more. In short, we intend to build a social community of educators.
The long-term goals of the site will be to promote sharing, highlight amazing teachers, provide resources for teachers who have never used web tools or platforms in the classroom, and validate open access for social media in the classroom and across the content areas.
So what is the next step? How do you get started?
If you want to participate, you can start by filling out a Google form. Note: the information we collect will be published on our site. Once the information is submitted, we will post it. We will not be storing your lesson on the site, but simply giving a blurb about what it is. Users will be able to click on the lesson title, and the link will direct them to the place where the author is housing the post. This could be a blog, wiki, webpage, etc.
In the initial phase of the site, we will simply be collecting information and organizing the database of work. We look forward to building this site together and create a shared culture of learning for teachers across the globe.
Michael Milton, a history and English teacher at Burlington High School in Burlington, MA, also contributed to this blog. You can find him on Twitter @42ThinkDeep.