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Summer Learning...for Free!

by Julie D. Ramsay
 | May 22, 2013
In today’s world, the topic of using technology in the classroom can be intimidating. In this monthly column, join one teacher on a quest to discover the best way to meet the needs of her digital-age learners…moving beyond the technology tools to focusing on supporting each student’s learning.

p: infoxchange_australia via photopin cc
As we approach the end to another academic school year, many people (not in the educational field) keep asking me if I'm counting down the days or looking forward to having a couple of months off. I'm sure other educators hear similar questions and I have to say that those questions frustrate me a bit. I feel like they imply that I can't wait to get out of the classroom and away from my students, putting us in the stereotypical school situation...which we are not.

I don't know about you, but I enjoy being with my students. We have fun in our classroom together where we all learn together every single day. It's bittersweet for all of us when they pass on to the next grade because our tight-knit learning community is breaking up as they move forward to the next step in their learning journey. I'm proud of them and I know that they are more than ready for the next grade, but I also know that I will miss them.

Teaching is a constant journey that causes us to reflect throughout the year on what went well and what we want to change for the next group of learners headed our way. With that in mind, I am always searching for new resources, tools and insight on what will reach my individual learners best wherever they are in their learning journey. My summer fills up fast with conferences, un-conferences, and workshops.

I know that funding is tight (or nonexistent) in many of our systems. That leaves us with the responsibility to either pay out of pocket to attend conferences and professional learning events or go without. But are those our only options? In today’s digital world, is it possible to continue our professional growth without shelling out our hard earned dollars?

The answer is a resounding “YES!” I thought I would share a few ideas on how you can harness the power of today’s technology resources to help you get the professional learning for which you are searching all for the low, low price of…FREE!

Let’s Discuss!

No matter what your interest or certification, there is now a host of learning communities in which you can engage in conversations. In addition to blogs written in formats such as IRA’s Engage, just about any professional organization has an online community where you can register a user name and begin posting ideas, questions, strategies, or tools.

These discussion boards, such as this one from Thinkfinity, become asynchronous conversations where practicing classroom teachers can all share their experience to benefit everyone within the learning community. What I love about these message boards is that I am getting relevant information from teachers who have actually used these tools, strategies, and lessons plans with actual students.

Tweet Away!

Another way to connect and grow professionally is through Twitter. I know that many people have written Twitter off as a waste of time. After all, who wants to know what celebrity is having trouble deciding which latte to get this morning?

However, Twitter is as useful as you make it. If you want to professionally grow in a certain area, look for other educators who are experts in that area. Twitter is all about the connections and relationships you build with other tweeters. Don’t expect to sign on and post a question and immediately get an answer. Other educators need to ”know you.” Send a tweet introducing yourself and join in the conversations. If you are unsure of where to begin, take a look at this list of educators.

Also, many people are not aware that there are real-time tweet chats on just about every subject that would interest an educator. These are informal learning times where a topic has been selected and educators chime in with their resources, lessons, ideas, and strategies within that particular hour. Here is a list of educational Twitter chats to get you started. Tweet chats are fast paced. You wouldn’t believe how fast an hour long chat will fly by or how many practical ideas and resources you will gain.

Also, most conferences now have Twitter hashtags, like #IRA2013, where you can follow all of the ideas, insights, and resources shared by the presenters and attendees.

Getting a Little More Formal

Do you enjoy learning in a more formal manner? Just like with blogs and discussion boards, most organizations offer webinars of live or recorded sessions. One of my favorites is Classroom 2.0 Live. They have at least one live webinar a week complete with audio, chat, desktop sharing, and sometimes even video. These webinars are led by today’s leading educators and you can learn from them, ask questions, and get a multitude of ideas all from the comfort of your home or local coffee house.

The great thing is they archive all of their other webinars and you can gain access to for free. Want to learn about LiveBinders, educational apps, or blogging? They have a webinar for that. Want to learn from your favorite authors? They have webinars for that, as well. One great perk is that after you view one of their webinars, recorded or real-time, you get a link to print out a certificate for professional development hours.

Taking the Time You Need

During the summer, I do thoroughly enjoy having some time where I don't have to set my alarm clock and I can meet friends for lunch. Also, I do (like many of you) cram a lot of professional learning into those two months off because I'll have more flexibility to read and participate in professional learning throughout the summer months.

My husband once laughed and told someone that real teachers don't get time off. They work just as hard, if not harder, during the summer as they do during the school year. The only difference is that we aren't in classroom with our students. We're out there learning to become the best teacher we can be for our next group of students.

So this summer, as I strive to learn as much as possible from all of you, I hope that we can connect and learn together. Because learning together (like in many of our classrooms) is what is going to impact our students most. Providing them with as many opportunities to create, collaborate and work together in authentic learning activities while supporting their work with relevant tools is really what it's all about.

Julie D. Ramsay is a Nationally Board Certified educator and the author of “CAN WE SKIP LUNCH AND KEEP WRITING?”: COLLABORATING IN CLASS & ONLINE, GRADES 3-8 (Stenhouse, 2011). She travels the country to speak, present, and facilitate workshops in applying technology to support authentic learning. Read her blog at

© 2013 Julie D. Ramsay. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.

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