Monday, September 22, 2014

PLN Ripples

This post is part of the 30-Day Blog Challenge from TeachThought. To learn more about the challenge go to

DAY 22: What does your PLN look like, and what does it do for your teaching?

When I imagine a PLN, I see it as ripples on the surface of water; ever-increasing spheres of interaction. Before creating an online PLN, I only had one or two ripples, involving very few people who were in fairly close physical proximity to me. As I ventured into the world of Twitter and Google+ however, those ripples multiplied and extended to greater geographical distances. All of these ripples, whether far or near, help inspire me to be a better teacher.

At the district level, our 7-12 Science Department has a total of three, yes three, teachers. I teach high school Life Sciences, another teaches high school Physical Sciences, and the third teaches the junior high science courses. Despite that fact that we're all teaching different courses, we find a lot to collaborate on during our weekly district-wide PLC meetings. We plan formative assessments, create rubrics for lab reports, and lately have been working on student portfolio and research project initiatives. We are committed to creating common themes and tasks that weave through all 7-12 science courses in our district. It's amazing to work intimately with colleagues who think about science and teaching in a similar manner.

The next ripple out would have to be my collaboration with Trish Shelton (@tdishelton), a Kentucky Anatomy teacher. We "met" over Twitter and quickly realized we think about the process of learning science in the same way. After chatting off and on last spring, we decided that we'd like our Anatomy classes for the 2014-2015 school year to interact with each other. So via email, Twitter, and Google Hangouts, we've been meeting and chatting with each other to plan models-based inquiry Anatomy curriculum. Our students just recently "met" each other over a Schoology course we set up specifically for their interaction, and tomorrow they'll participate in their first class-to-class GHO. The plan is that eventually the students from both schools will be able to work with each other for peer review, generation of questions, and sharing of investigation data. This relationship with Trisha and her students has been the most revolutionary change I've ever implemented in my classes. The students are energized and having fun learning, and so am I!

Taking one more step outward from the inner ripples is the Standards-Based Learning PLN that randomly came together during a Twitter chat one evening. There were five of us educators who were in various stages of development of SBL and wanted to learn more. We represented states all over the country, including Washington (@ogybuns), Minnesota (@dassel), New York (@wilsonsbiologylab), and Kentucky (@tdishelton). So we set up two GHO's this summer to talk more extensively about the topic. There is no way I would have been able to initiate SBL in my classes this year without their help. I was also take everything I learned from our conversations and pass it on to my district-level PLC. Now the three of us who teach 7-12 science in the district are all using SBL, thanks to those summer conversations. We are planning on another GHO at the end of September to touch base again and reevaluate once SBL has been implemented in our classes for a while. Also, two of us both teach in Minnesota, and are planning on visiting each other's classrooms sometime this year.

My widest-reaching PLN ripple is #biochat. Hassan Wilson (@wilsonsbiologylab) and I first "met" each other in the summer of 2013 while we were both taking an online class about flipped learning. We kept in touch for most of the year, and then in the Spring decided we should start #biochat. So every Thursday night from 7:30-8:30 CST we co-moderate a Twitter chat for people interested in Biology education. We also created a Google+ community to extend the conversations and archive resources from the chats. Last year, our chats were pretty standard, but this year we're incorporating some slow chats, Voxer chats, and GHO's. Not only have I learned so much from this weekly chat with my colleagues all over the world, but the energy and support I feel after finishing a chat gives me the push I need to keep going in all my crazy initiatives. It's such a relief to know that other teachers struggle with the same struggles I have, and wonder about the same questions I have. We might not be solving all of the world's problems, but the mutual support helps to see those problems in a different light.

As I reflect back on what I've written about my PLN, I realize that one of the keys to a successful PLN for me is having a variety of relationships. Some are more 1:1, others are with a large group. Both types of interactions have their value. Finally, I can see clearly that my PLN has certainly affected my teaching more than any one class, workshop, or conference. So many of the things that make my students happy and excited to learn are the direct result of a resource from or conversation within my PLN.

Photo from Sea Turtle via Flickr. Licensed by Creative Commons.

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