Sunday, July 11, 2010

ISTE 2010 Reflection: Are Students Part of Our PLN Too?

ISTE 2010 has been over for two weeks now, but the things I learned and took away from the conference through networking, presenting, and being involved are hard to forget. This experience gave me great opportunities in my professional growth by presenting with Mark Moran, founder and CEO of findingDulcinea, about 10 Steps to Better Web Research and with a group of teacher librarians and teachers in the SIGMS TL Learning Tools SmackDown including Joyce Valenza, Gwyneth Jones, Chad Lehman, Hadley Ferguson, and other rock stars. I felt honored to be asked and enjoyed everything I learned from these individuals.

My absolute favorite part of ISTE was connecting with the amazing people from my PLN. These are people that I met through Twitter over the last year. As I walked into EduBloggerCon with John Carver and Deron Durflinger I was excited to see Beth Still and Monica Hardly sitting among the crowd of people debating the meaning of a personal learning network. And then there were the great reconnections with friends Steve Anderson, Scott McLeod, Angela Maiers, and Russ and Becky Goerend. It always seems like not a minute has passed since I had seen or talked to them last, because these are the people I am constantly learning and sharing with through Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking tools.

By the end of the first evening I had met Kyle Pace, Mark Moran, Mary Beth Hertz, Cory Plough, Ann Leaness, Paula Naugle, and many others from my PLN. Over the next three days I connected with my friends at the Denver Convention Center in the Blogger’s CafĂ©, The Butterfly Lounge, unPlugged and Poster Sessions. I was thrilled to sit with Doug Johnson and Nick Sauers to talk about Iowa. When Joyce and Gwyneth greeted me with hugs and encouraging words I felt honored to be part of the Geek Tribe. I was thrilled to meet Ken Royal from Scholastic Administrators and creator of The Educator's Royal Treatment. It was so much fun our last night in Denver eating hamburgers and telling stories with Mark and Shannon Firth from findingDulcinea along with my Van Meter friends JoEllen Wesselmann and Ann Volk. And connecting with others from my PLN like Nick Provenzano, Amanda Dykes, and Kelly Tenkey truly made my first ISTE conference unforgettable.

Even though all of these great things were happening around me, I couldn’t get a very special group of people from my PLN out of my mind. They were the only ones that were missing.

My students at Van Meter.

They make up a special and important part of my PLN. I thought to myself several times, “I wish the C.E.W.L. (Computer Efficiency Workers League) kids were here to see how that works. I wish Mark and I would have planned to Skype in Maddy so she could tell her story of how Mark taught her and others at Van Meter over Skype about findingDulcinea and SweetSearch. Michael would love to hear this conversation about students creating YouTube channels and wouldn’t they be impressed with the help videos he has created for his YouTube channel Mike398100 .”

Last August over 300 students in 7th through 12th grade received MacBooks at our 1:1 laptop rollout night. This was new to students and teachers alike at Van Meter but we jumped right in together. Over the next 9 months we taught, learned, created, and collaborated together. We made mistakes and we found solutions together. We cleaned up and turned in all of those laptops at the end of the school year and some of us even cried to not have a laptop all summer long. I watched education change. I watched our school environment change over this time. I saw the walls come down between the teachers, students, and our community.

Most of all I saw relationships change. I watched, as the students at Van Meter became respected, trusted, and valuable members of a place bigger than just Van Meter School. The students were being encouraged to connect to their passions. They were learning how to think, lead, and serve in a global society. They were excited to be at school. And because of the laptops and other technology we had given them a way to connect with teachers, friends, parents, and others throughout the world through social networks, Skype, iChat, texting, email, blogging, and many other forms of communication. We became part of each other’s PLN.

I was proud to present with these students and other faculty members to the Iowa Board of Education and tell them why and how education needed to change. Or when they presented to the Iowa House/Senate Education Appropriations Committee on January 28, 2010. Later that week Sandra Dop from the Iowa Departmnet of Education wrote in her blog Next Generation Schools, "Then the legislators asked, So what can we do to get out of your way and let you go? I nearly cried." What a day in history none of us will forget. We presented together at the P21 Institute in June. The students graciously welcomed over 400 guests into their classrooms last year and shared what they were creating, thinking, and experiencing. I sat back and smiled several times when schools around the United States would Skype with our kids to find out just what had changed and to ask questions about the laptops or virtual reality system we have.

I will never forget one thing that was said as five students and myself presented Be the Change You Want to See in Schools at the Iowa 1:1 Conference in the spring. Patrick Larkin, principal at Burlington High School in Massachusetts, asked this question to the students, “How do you see Mrs. Miller? Do you see her as a teacher, resource, or peer?” Josh, who is a junior, responded, “Pretty much all of the above. She is my teacher and helps me with a bunch of stuff also.” Then Patrick asked, “Would you speak up if they wanted to eliminate her position?” And Josh said, “I would definitely speak up to save it! We need her.” I just smiled and would have to say….I need them too. (You can listen to a podcast of the presentation at Wes Fryer’s Speed of Creativity blog.)

This fall I am going to start on a new adventure by teaching a PLN/Web 2.0 class with Bill Bannick’s students and a group of students from Van Meter. Bill is the principal of Monsignor Bonner and Archbishop Prendergast Catholic High School in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania. We met Bill on Twitter and he has been to Van Meter to share and learn alongside us. Now we are giving our students a chance to do the same by connecting and learning. We are giving them a chance to build and connect to their own PLN outside of the walls of Van Meter.

As I was working on our class today I thought about my own PLN and what it means to me. My PLN has connected me to the things I am passionate about like technology, learning, creating, change, and most of all people. I am friends with people who I want to share and learn with. I listen to the conversations on Twitter and find it fun to contribute to them also. I have wonderful friendships with people I never would have meant if it weren’t for Twitter

I want the students at Van Meter to experience what it means to be part of a group like my PLN. I feel lucky that they are also part of my PLN and am excited about the journey we will continue to take.

I challenge all of you to embrace what students have to contribute to your PLN and find ways to encourage them to do the same. Together we can all make a difference!


  1. As the ultimate "end users" of the products you learn about at ISTE, students are indeed a critical part of the PLN. Imagine the efficiency you'd gain if your students attended sessions with you and give you feedback as you go, rather than waiting till you return to school to find out their thoughts! I attend ISTE so educators can tell me their needs and give me feedback on products we have in development; your post causes me to realize I need to involve students in the process as well, much more than I currently do!

  2. hey sweet..

    just as we would hopefully be a part of our student's pln

    we think students would shed valuable insight on a teacher's pln

  3. Mark...It is powerful to have students with you and presenting alongside you. They are the VOICE that people need to hear. They are who we all need to change for. AND YES...I think student feedback on your resources would be so valuable. You have already heard what Maddy thinks about you and FindingDulcinea. Lets hear what others have to say too! :)

    Monica...Hey you! I love how you put that. We are all in this together so why not help one another create a change. :)

  4. Meeting you F2F was definitely a highlight of my ISTE experience dear! What an inspirational post...and I agree with you 100% - we should never forget our most important customers, the linchpin to our PLN, our students!