When reflecting on the design process for my lessons and programs, I know that I draw from the expertise of many consistent sources within my personal learning network (PLN). A PLN includes all the people and resources we draw upon for personal and professional growth, which is particularly relevant in education and can expand greatly through new communication means. Teachers are experts at locating resources to guide us such as blogs, lesson sites, and idea sharing tools like Pinterest, but I realize I often limit myself as to who or what to include in that network. I also realize that I limit the scope of how I use my PLN by only using it for lesson planning. While I do often look for formal professional development, which can be great for immersion in a topic, I could also use Twitter, edcamps and unworkshops to make connections and drive my growth.
Looking at the Folds and Fractals lesson plan, I can identify where I utilized my PLN in the development of the lesson plan, drawing upon ideas from The Fractal Foundation, viewing videos on folding dragon curves, meeting with a paper engineer to discuss his work, and receiving a thesis from an art teacher that addressed fractals and art. There are a few opportunities within my own PLN I would like to exploit in the future.
I’d like to increasingly use students as part of my PLN to help with decision points in topics to cover and activities to include within a lesson. I think that the audience we primarily serve is sometimes left out of our PLNs, perhaps due to time constraints or pedagogical choices where students do not have the opportunity to express their ideas. An inquiry based approach permits greater student input during a lesson, but I’d also like to draw from student knowledge during the lesson design process. This could save a lot of time by avoiding the development of ideas that ultimately don’t work out in the classroom.
As this diagram of the networked teacher demonstrates, part of being a PLN is to not only take ideas but to share them with others. In this context, this can be done throughout lesson development and afterwards to make connections I had not made before. Since our programs are about making connections across disciplines, I should be seeking out those connections in my PLN that come from different disciplines so they can contribute their expertise and take the program in new directions. As we discussed in class, districts might limit the sharing of ideas developed while being employed there, but open sharing is needed for providing students with the best possible opportunities.
Looking at the lesson from the student’s perspective, there is very little opportunity for students to draw from their PLN prior to, during, or after the lesson. When we arrive at a school, students often don’t know anything about what we will cover until we arrive. We could allow Cranbrook’s resources and educators become part of their network by encouraging prior to our visit that classes investigate our blog which could contain some interactive activities, perhaps with a Google form for feedback and questions that arise. This would allow us to get a sense of what knowledge they already have and how we can address misconceptions. I’d also like to see us interacting via Twitter with hashtags that would allow students to see what discussion has resulted from the lesson and allow them to connect with other students across the state, which would in turn expand their PLN.
As I’ve discussed in prior posts, many of the choices in the lesson result from time constraints, but I’d still like to find ways that students could utilize the resources we bring and those that already exist in their classroom in a more independent fashion. This could be as simple as turning to each other or being allowed to move around the room to consult with each other as they complete paper folding techniques, especially if the lesson was modified to allow for more inquiry. Since we are often team teaching this programs, perhaps there could also be a way to address questions that arise without interrupting the program by having the teacher not currently teaching interact with students through Twitter or another classroom tool that allows for instant, shareable communication.
While the idea of a PLN is not new, I did find it helpful to apply my understandings of the concept to my teaching and understanding of student learning. I do see education as becoming increasingly decentralized, so just as we teach students how to find effective resources, we should also teach them how to best utilize the network they are building and will continue to use in their professional life.