My PLN (Professional Learning Network)

I believe that one of the best ways to grow both professionally and personally is to interact with new ideas on a regular basis.  I often tell my students that when we stop learning new things, we get crusty, stale, and stagnant.  This applies to teachers as well as students.

Luckily, in this day and age, it is so easy to find new ideas! Over the years I have built a wide network of professional contacts and quality resources that I rely on to help me encounter new things. In education jargon, this is called a professional learning network (PLN).  Sometimes I’m looking for a specific activity or lesson idea; other times I just browse and see what catches my eye.

This week, for my CEP 810 course, I used a new tool – Popplet – to create a visual representation of my PLN.  I found Popplet very easy to use.  It would be a great tool for students to use to make mind maps.  You can embed images and YouTube videos, but it is currently somewhat limited in the ability to customize fonts and colors.  The font is small on this image, but if you click through you can see the full size image.

My PLN

As I made the Popplet, I realized how much I rely on digital resources in my PLN.  I do read printed resources like journal articles, but those come infrequently, and often sit on my desk until I find time to get to them.  And I do learn a lot from face-to-face interactions with colleagues and at conferences, but again, new ideas come relatively infrequently from these sources.  But I can get a deluge of information from my online sources.  In fact, if I go a couple days without checking them, I get overwhelmed by how many emails, tweets, and blog posts I have to catch up on.  I’ve gotten good at skimming them, gleaning the important information I need at that time, and then not worrying about missing out on other things.  I’m always looking for new additions to my PLN, so feel free to suggest some for me!

Learning, Understanding, and Conceptual Change

At a conference last summer, I saw the presenter Aaron Sams ask his phone, “Google, what is the electron configuration of oxygen?”, and his phone immediately responded: “The electron configuration of oxygen is 1s22s22p6”.  I think I stopped breathing for a second.  I knew it was easy to “Google” information – but I hadn’t realized just how quickly and easily my students could access information that I spent hours helping them learn!  It made me question what I really wanted my students to learn.  Do they need to learn to use an algorithm for determining electron configurations?  Or do I just want them to understand how electron configurations relate to properties of elements? Or do they need both?  And how can I help them learn it in a way that they’ll remember and transfer that understanding to new contexts?

I found Bransford, Brown & Cocking’s book How People Learn (2000) helpful as I reflected on what learning entails and how to best assist my students in the learning process.  In response, I wrote this essay.  I welcome your comments and responses.