Here I will publish columns and articles written to be printed elsewhere, but turned down.

What My Personal Learning Network Has Done For Me Lately

Like many Science teachers, I am often frustrated by the quality of available professional development. Most of the really meaningful, hands-on opportunities are out of my reach for logistical and financial reasons. What my district does offer for free is usually pedagogical and legalistic, leaning toward non-Science-specific teaching methods and workshops covering “How Not to Get Sued and Lose Your Job”. My school chooses a theme each year for our staff development activities from the goals in our School Improvement Plan, and while I appreciate the school-wide focus, the resulting change in teaching practice is short-lived and rarely research-based.

However, what has changed my practice the most over the past year is the incorporation of a Personal Learning Network (PLN). In its simplest form, a PLN is a collection of colleagues and other persons who share their knowledge with one another. While this type of network can take a wide variety of forms, mine is linked primarily by blogs, RSS, and Twitter. And, it has taught me more than any other experience of the past few years. It starts with my professional blog. This is a site on which I post my own commentary about issues that I read online and that I experience in my classroom. I review books that I have read, and I share funny stories about life in a middle school science classroom. Comments from readers create a two-way dialogue that challenges my thinking. My blog is both cathartic and energizing for me.

The most passive part of my PLN is the list of some 40 or so edublogs that I read on a daily basis. Using my RSS reader of choice, I peruse new posts from my favorites. I can post comments if I want to start a conversation. I can find inspiration for my own blog, and even quote sections from the blogs of my colleagues.

Twitter is the newest part of my Personal Learning Network, and the most interactive. For the uninitiated, Twitter can be daunting, but it is best described as micro-blogging. Users post short (up to 160 characters) messages about what they are currently doing, what they have found online, or what they have questions about. You can follow others and see their messages, responding to them as you wish. My Twitter PLN includes world-reknown education experts, as well as novice classroom teachers from my own district.

These three tools combine to form a collection of resources that allow me to cull information from the Internet as well as experienced professionals. I stay abreast of new research and follow conversations taking place across continents. I form friendships and professional relationships that pay dividends when I need a quick question answered or a suggested lesson plan. And, best of all, it has been completely free and didn’t require any travel. Now, that’s staff development that works!

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