Posted in Google Plus, Reflection, Social Media, TC@Columbia

Meaningful Learning With Photography

What if there were a way to use a technology in a meaningful way that promoted inquiry, deeper levels of thinking and sparked conversations in your classroom? Would you use that technology? What if I sweetened the pot and said that the technology requires little training, just about everybody already carries one and probably already knows how to use it?

What is a Picture Worth?

If you take at look these pictures can you see my story? Could you tell me where I live? What I’m doing? Where I’m going? What kind of day it is? What could you tell me about me? About my life? How would you support your answers with only the pictures as your data?

Now take a look at these pictures and tell me a different story. Talk to me about resources, infrastructure, quality of life and global warming.

What do these pictures say about socio-economic, policy making, healthcare and crime? Do you see a math, literature or health lesson in them?

Are these pictures meaningful learning in action?

The Role of Technology in Meaningful Learning

The role of technology must change from technology-as-the-teacher to technology-as-the-partner in the learning process. But how is this accomplished? How do we use technology as an intellectual partner with students? Learning with technology assumes that:

  • Technology is more than hardware. Technology also consists of the designs and the environments that engage learners.
  • Learning technologies can be any environment or definable set of activities that engage learners in active, constructive, intentional, authentic and cooperative learning.
  • Technologies do not convey or communicate meaning.
  • Technologies support meaningful learning when they fulfill a learning need-when interactions with the technology is learner initiated and learner controlled and when the technology interaction is conceptually and intellectually engaging.
  • Technologies should function as intellectual tools that enable learners to build more meaningful personal interpretations and representations of the world. The tool must support the intellectual functions that are required by the course of study.
  • Learners and technologies should be intellectual partners, where the cognitive responsibility for performance is distributed to the partner that performs it better.  — (Jonassen, 2011)

Using Photography for Meaningful Learning

What if I wanted to explore politics, or war, or the developing world or education in Africa and compare it to education in America? Do these pictures say more than words can? Often we use pictures as brainstorms, or conversation starters. But how can we use nothing but pictures to achieve meaningful learning?

In Literature

Photography could be used to by the learner to create a personal interpretation of the novel, or as a way to build a representation of the novel’s key themes.

In Math

Photography could be used to convey geometrical shapes, patterns, or lines of symmetry. Scale, distance, or even angles could be explored and measured.

In Science

Photography could be used to convey physics, chemistry and even biology concepts.

In Social Studies

Photography could be used to convey government policy, social injustice, geography, and even history.

The Tools of Life

On my way into work today I used my iPhone4, Instagram and Flickr to create a story of my journey. The tools that I used were tools that I already owned. Most of our students carry these same tools and already know how to use them. What if we took the example of my walk and used that as a team building exercise at the beginning of the year?  What if we asked those same students to take 1 daily photo of themselves and upload it to a class Flickr group? What would those pictures tell us at the beginning, middle and end of the year about these students?

Meaningful learning happens when the learner is able to connect what they are learning to the  world in which they live. How do the themes of To Kill a Mockingbird relate to the crisis in Ukraine? How is geometry used to convey feeling in architecture? What does the war of 1812 have to do with poverty today?

Photography allows us a more robust canvas to express and show how we are making meaning out of our learning.  Meaningful learning with photography is just one powerful way that you can use technology to have your learners inquire, think more deeply and reflect upon their own learning.


Posted in Google Plus, Hashtag, Inquiry, Search, Social Media

How a Common #Hashtag System Could Change Education for Students

Social media is not about the exploitation of technology but service to community.
– Simon Mainwaring


The hashtag has become one of the most recognizable symbols of our time. Much like the peace sign, Apple, or Batman logo. When you see the hashtag you instantly know what it is and how it is being used. This only became clear to me as I stood in line for a crepe at my favorite mall in Nagasaki, Japan. While standing in that long line I began looking at all of the signs to the various boutiques. That’s where I saw it. The hashtag. Only what followed was not recognizable to me. What followed the hashtag was something written in Japanese. That’s when it hit me. The hashtag is a global phenomenon. And there’s power in using it in K12 academics.

The Power of a Hashtag

The five hashtags that begin this thought are, as you probably guessed, good morning in 5 different languages (Japanese, Spanish, Korean, French and English). If you search with any of the five hashtags on Twitter, or G+ you will see how others have tweeted, or posted using that hashtag. When I searched there are pictures of sunrises from various parts of the world, breakfast plates, clouds in the sky, a cat (of course) and a Japanese teenager’s selfie of her in her school uniform on her bed in a rather interesting position that I’m pretty sure her father would not approve of.

Commonly Used Hashtags for Academics

Educators already use commonly accepted hashtags when they tweet, or post to G+. An education conversationalist uses #edchat, an educational technology conversationalist uses #edtechchat, Google Apps enthusiasts use #gafe and educators in Iowa use #iaedchat. If we began using commonly accepted hashtags with our students the possibilities would be nearly endless.

If I were teaching 3rd multiplication I could use #3rdgrademultiplication to search for content, or even better to connect with other classes that are learning the same thing at the same time as my class. We could have challenges, either through Google Hangouts, or Skype. We could conduct projects and spin-off the hashtag for our own purposes. We could organize everything by using the hashtag and make it simple for our learners to search for and thus find later when they need it.

With older students learning more about #formsofgovernment they could organize content and resources around their hashtag. They could also use the hashtag to connect with other learners in their age group who are studying the same thing. Projects could be created, but even better students could offer peer feedback and assistance.

The best part about using the hashtag is that it is archived and future learners searching by using that hashtag can then tap into the content, resources, or peer assistance and feedback as well at later dates and times.

We Have to Start Students Early

Daily calendar is a widely used strategy for teaching the days of the week, basic counting, weather and using appropriate symbols in early childhood education classrooms. Imagine if early childhood teachers used #dailycalendar to organize their content around. We could begin to teach our young learners more about the world in which they live. World weather and thus graphing, or charting, could be added by teachers gathering the daily weather that other teachers from around the world are sharing through the use of the hashtag. Global connections could be made through this. Teachers could also search the archive of past uses of the hashtag and gather weather data to create charts, or graphs and have their young learners make predictions before they reveal the actual answer.

This is a lot more interesting that just searching Because there is a teacher, and class for that matter, on the other end of that hashtag tweet, or post, the students can begin to form global bonds and thus begin the early stages of learning more about digital citizenship. The earlier we teach this the more likely our young learners are to become digital leaders by the time they hit middle, or upper levels of their education. Other benefits of this could include global pen pals and teacher connections. Imagine using other commonly accepted hashtags for your age group to connect on other projects, of if you are like me, build thematic inquiry-driven units around.

Hashtags for Experts

By developing a commonly accepted and thus used hashtag system educators in the K12 space could encourage experts and other scholars to engage with our students around the content that they specialize in. If I am having my students learn about #formsofgovernment politicians, or scholars of government could follow the hashtag and participate in the conversation, share their own resources, or content, or even better connect with the class/student(s) that are learning about the subject.

Hashtags for Inquiry-Driven Research

Future learners would also benefit by this by being able to search the hashtag for answers to their own questions.  As with any learning that happens online, students would have to learn if the source is reputable, and reliable. Previous tweets, or posts from the expert could be examined as well as links in their Twitter masthead, or through Google searches of the person.

The hashtag also presents a way for learners to engage with primary sources. Hashtags are already being used around historic events. #ArabSpring, #syria, #japantsunami are just a few. Chances are if something major is happening in the world that there is a hashtag for it. Learners can search for the hashtag and begin to read first hand accounts, often in real-time as the event is happening. And again, all of this is archived and can be accessed at any point in the future. Search #japantsunamai and you’ll see photos from the scene of Japan’s March 2012 tsunami if you are willing to go back in time to view them.

Where Do We Begin?

At the beginning of course. Start by creating a hashtag for the content in which you are going to teach. If you blog post an article about your newly created hashtag. Tweet it, post it, do everything you can to spread the word. Encourage other educators that you know to use your hashtag for that specific content and to create their own new hashtags for other specific content. Have them blog it, or you can as well, tweet it, post it, pin it, share it, whatever. The goal is to get your hashtag out and used. The more people who know about it and begin to use it the more likely it is to stick and become a commonly accepted and used hashtag.

You will also have to use the hashtag to connect with other users of that hashtag. Think about the age group that you teach and are targeting. If younger this makes a great circle time teacher-lead activity.  If older it makes for a fantastic inquiry-driven project. I suggest starting small, one concept, one hashtag. I also suggest paying attention to other educators sharing their hashtags and taking note. If you don’t have the time to write them down believe me there will be a rock star out there that will and they will share the academic hashtags that they encounter. Hey, what an awesome use for a collaborative Google Sheet.

Endless Possibilities

As I mentioned earlier, the possibilities are truly endless. If K12 educators began to develop and then use a commonly accepted hashtag system you would essentially be cataloging the Internet. Not only would you be benefiting the current generation by creating an easier way to connect, gather and share, but you would be also giving future generations an easy way to look back and see how we learned and how we used social media to deepen our own understandings, connect globally and become responsible digital leaders

Posted in Google Plus, Social Media

Google Plus: The Best Social Media That You Probably Aren’t Using

Dear Facebook,

By the time you read these lines I’ll be gone. We just aren’t working out anymore. You make my social media experience an unorganized cluster. I just need a simpler way to manage my digital footprint. Thankfully I have found Google Plus…

My Social Media Footprint

I’m a very busy husband, father and teacher. I do not have a lot of time to spend checking my social media as I once did.  At the same time I also did not want to completely disengage from social media. I enjoy reading what my friends and family are up to on Facebook. I love connecting with other educators on Twitter. I hated having two separate social media footprints, and accounts, to manage. Google Plus gives me exactly what I want. One social media account to rule them all…

The Circles of Life

I tended to use Facebook to keep in touch with friends and family. I would share pictures and information more of a personal nature over there. With G+ I share information of a more professional nature. I rarely crossed over those self drawn lines. But lately those lines have started to blur.

When I first connected with Brad Waid, Drew Minock and Todd Nesloney our relationship was professional. We mostly shared our blogs, professional links and resources. Twitter was our primary social media that we connected on, but Google Plus also played its role. When that all started to change and the 3 started to become my friends I welcomed them into my Facebook Friendom.  They were now able to see pictures of me with my family, read more personal updates of my life and connect with me in a way that was both personal and professional. But in order to accomplish this I had to manage 2 separate social media accounts.

With Google Plus Circles I have the ability to separate my personal from my professional, or combine those that fall under multiple categories with one social media account. So Brad can see all of the content that I share with just colleagues and also some of the more personal information that I would only share with friends and family. He, like Drew, Todd and others are in multiple circles of mine. When I share friend content those in my friend circle can see it. When I share colleague content, those in my colleague circle can see it. Those in both circles and see both sets of content.

No More Friend Request Stress

Facebook friend requests have always left me feeling a bit nervous. Most everyone has a Facebook account, including your colleagues from work. When I received a friend request from a work colleague it always felt like a drama creating moment. Deny the request and risk hurting the colleagues feelings. Accept the request and risk sharing too much information with those that you work with.

G+ eliminates the friend request completely. With G+ you add people to one of your own circles. The person being added, or circled as it is called, has the choice to circle you back, or not. When some one circles you and you do not circle them back then all of your public content can be seen by them, but none of the content that you share with your friends, or colleagues, or other circles can be seen. I like this as it adds a Twitter feel to the network. I can circle somebody who may share a lot of resources publicly. There is no pressure for them to circle me back. I can see exactly what I need to see.

However I can take my G+ experience a step further and just add them to a professional circle. This way when I share my own resources I can target a specific group of followers and invite more opportunity for them to interact with my content. G+ allows me to share to as many circles as I want, including all of them if I need to.

So if a colleague, or administrator, circles me, I don’t have to feel any pressure to circle them back and yet they can still access any content that I choose to share publicly. No hard feelings this way and in my opinion everybody gets something out of it.


I also like how I can customize my experience more with G+. There are a lot of amazing communities that have been created around topics that interest me. Some communities are open to the public and allow anybody to join, while others are private and require an invite. The way that G+ organizes these communities and the extra functionality of allowing me to set alerts for each individual community that I belong to is an added bonus. I like being able to receive push alerts for a specific community delivered to my email and mobile device while leaving others for me to check into when I have the time to do so.

Google Plus and GAFE

I’m a huge advocate for teaching students more about digital leadership and responsibility. Social media has to be part of that lesson and I can think of no better platform to teach students on that G+. If you are on a Google Apps for EDU domain you have the ability to create an entire social media walled garden. There is no better way to teach our students than to use the actual tool. With GAFE schools can close G+ down to the outside world and only have it accessible to those that have school GAFE accounts. This gives educators a social media sandbox to train students in. What better place for a student to make a mistake than in their school’s social media sandbox that is monitored by teachers and other learning professionals?


Since G+ is part of Google I now have one account to rule my life. I’m addicted to my Google Calendar (GCal) and when I use one of the best features of G+, Google Hangouts (think Skype but so much better), I can schedule them from either my GCal, or in G+. Either way adds an appointment and a direct link to the Hangout. This keeps me on task, and better organized and only having to remember 1 password.

So Long Facebook

G+ is everything that social media should be. I can use it like Twitter by circling those that share resources, or challenge my thinking. But I get more than 140 characters to interact back with them. I can use it like Facebook and only make content available to my friends and family. And I can use it professionally to share out links to my blog, resources, or other media that I want to have a discussion around. I can do all of this with one platform, that requires only one account.

So today marks the day that I announce on my Facebook page that I will be leaving. I will do what I rarely do and share my professional blog with my friends and family in hopes of convincing them to make the move with me. I hope that all of them do, just as much as I hope that you do as well. The more people who use G+ the better it will become.  I hope to circle some of you real soon.