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Creating a Professional Learning Network

For the first time in my teaching career, I am teaching at a school with other computer science instructors. Not all computer teachers are as lucky; many are the only such teachers in their schools, and in some cases, even their districts. The availability of advanced placement computer science classes in some high schools makes finding other high school computer science teacher more likely. Sadly, communities of fellow K-8 teachers are much harder to find.

In an effort to find a professional learning network, I recently expanded my search to include virtual connections. For the past couple of years I had been attending professional conferences and workshops for computer teachers. As a result of my participation and attendance, I met a number of K-8 teachers. But, I soon came to realize that the once or twice a year contact that conferences provided was not enough. I needed this connection and assistance to continue throughout the school year.

My local pool of K-8 computer science educators is small, so I decided to explore additional ways to extend my contacts. My sister found social networking to be very helpful to her professionally, and I heard that I could expect similar results for education. As a result the #CSK8 twitter hashtag was born.

So what exactly is a professional learning network or PLN? A PLN is defined as "a system of interpersonal connections and resources that support informal learning" (from The Connected Educator: Building a Professional Learning Network by Allison Rossett). And why should you create your own PLN? Participation in a professional learning network helps teachers learn from each other in a self-directed and communal way. They are much more flexible, and personalized, than conventional, professional development programs, and, because they aren't limited by availability and location, educators can access their PLNs on their own time from their homes, during planning periods, or even at a local coffee shop. All of which makes, a PLN the perfect vehicle for "lonely" K-8 computer science teachers.

How to get started with PLNs

If you are new to twitter, it can be an intimidating experience. Twitter is not just about the latest fashion trends, or shout outs from celebrities. It has become a viable option for educators looking for ways to connect and learn from each other. For many educators, Twitter has made more of an impact on their professional learning than other professional development opportunities they've attended. The learning is real, the ideas are powerful, yet simple, and the connections to resources and people are almost infinite (from 21 things 4 the 21st Century Educator).

To start, simply go to Twitter and create an account. The first thing you will need to do is find fellow educators to follow. A number of CSTA board members are currently on twitter (see the list below).

Another good way to narrow your search is to use a #hashtag to locate topics of interest. Here are some common computing hashtags: #CSK8 (Computer Science in K-8), #KidsCanCode, #CS4ALL (Computer Science 4 All), #HourofCode, #BeyondHourofCode. You can also find organizations and conferences using twitter "handles" or hashtags. For example, CSTA has the hashtag #CSTA, handle @csteachersa, as well as a hashtag for this year's conference #CSTA14.

I am so glad I joined twitter. Being a K-8 computer science teacher can be lonely at times. Computer science for the primary grades is still in its infancy, so quality curriculum, pedagogy and classroom resources can be hard to locate. Belonging to a PLN through twitter has helped me navigate the resources that the web has to offer while simultaneously connecting me to other computer science professionals to share the journey.

Twitter Resources:

  • Great Schools Partnership
    http://www.greatschoolspartnership.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/TwitterWebinar_linksonly.pdf
  • 21 Things 4 The 21st Century Educator
    http://www.21things4teachers.net/17---professional-learning-networks.html
  • Getting Smart's 20 tips for creating a professional learning network http://gettingsmart.com/2013/01/20-tips-for-creating-a-professional-learning-network/
  • Additional Twitter Resources:

  • List of Educators on Twitter
    https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AmdX57Dqx0tEcE1fWkU1QlMwU2dxRGFibmhsOFoyYUE#gid=0
  • List of weekly Twitter Chats by #Hashtags
    https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AiftIdjCeWSXdDRLRzNsVktUUGJpRWJhdUlWLS1Genc#gid=0
  • CSTA Board Member and Staff Twitter Accounts

  • Lissa Clayborn - @CSTALissa
  • Myra Deister - @shhsMath
  • Patrice Gans - @reesegans
  • Michelle Lagos - @mglagos!
  • Karen Lang - @kmclang
  • Irene Lee - @ProjectGUTS
  • Pat Phillips - @patjphillips
  • Tammy Pirmann - @tammypirmann
  • Chris Stephenson - @chrisstephenso
  • Alfred Thompson - @alfredtwo
  • Patrice Gans
    CSTA K-8 Representative

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