Tag Archives: teaching

How to Draw a PLN – An Exercise in Reflection

After the #etmooc Blackboard Collaborate session Tuesday night with Alec Couros on Connected Learning, I started to think more about my PLN and the prompts that were suggested. How would I define my PLN – in words, in imagery? Being a visual person, I wanted to represent it with a graphic, so I started to think about the best way(s) to do that.

At first, I thought a general mind map might be a good choice. I mentally jotted down “PLN” as the central bubble, expanding outward to three core bubbles of “early childhood education,” “educational technology,” and “global education.” I began to reflect on who and what else belonged in my image but struggled to come up with an accurate depiction. I realized I was struggling with competing wants – trying to arrange my PLN around topics (e.g., ed tech) versus around three W’s: who (e.g., colleagues), what (e.g., Twitter), and where (e.g., at school).

mindmeister PLN

I took a break from trying to name and categorize to search for the best tool to create my visualization. I debated Google Drawings, Mindmeister (which I’ve used successfully before to collaboratively map PLNs among participants in a course I taught – see the image above), and finally settled on trying a new tool, Idea Sketch. I chose this app because I was interested in working by touch (I thought) so I wanted something available on my iPad, I wanted to be able to start with a text list since I had already written out some of my map, and I wanted the ability to color-code.


After exploring Idea Sketch for a little bit, I realized it was still going to be a lot more time consuming to create my map there than on paper. A perfect example of when technology can become more of a hinderance to efficiency than a tool  supporting progress. So, I went “back to the drawing board” both literally and figuratively. I started fresh with a piece of paper and decided to re-think the idea of a central “PLN” bubble.

What was really at the center my PLN? I realized that at its core, it was connected learning, teaching, and sharing – with people. I reflected how, at times, I am also at the center of my PLN, drawing connections between three fields that I am passionate about and rarely see intertwined (early ed + ed tech + global ed) but many other times, I’m simply another node, as Joichi Ito suggests, floating in and out of other nodes and networks in my PLN.  I’m not just making connections, I’m looking for them, I’m learning from them and others and at times I can become backgrounded in my own PLN, there as an observer, to “lurk” or shadow conversations that allow me to break down the already thin walls of my PLN and see through into other people’s networks. Sometimes I have the privilege of helping to create ties between someone else’s network and my own, which is always exciting and inspiring, and sometimes I simply have a chance to be a participant in another person’s network and try to support that person as much as I can.

With that in mind, my image of my PLN took on a new form. I knew I couldn’t fit every person and community in my image but I wanted to have enough examples to give a general representation. I created one large circle to define “My PLN,” one with a fuzzy outline because it’s pretty nebulous, at times even transparent or non-existent, as I connect and intersect with others. Then I added three interconnected circles inside, one for each topic that I’m passionate about, allowing for overlaps because many of the W’s I’m engaged with are related to more than one topic. For example, my job as a Lower School Tech Coordinator, allows me to work with students and teachers in early childhood education while focusing on educational technology and using it for global collaboration projects. From there, I began filling in each bubble with organizations, chats, and other types of networks that represent people and communities (e.g., #Kinderchat, SIGELT, Global Classroom Project, and the Tech Team at my school). Outside of these three bubbles, I placed more of the generic “where” and “what” labels that are the environment and home for my PLN, such as “Twitter,” “conferences,” and “Skype.”

I’m confident that this depiction is a) a work-in-progress and b) still not a perfect representation of how I’d like to display my PLN, but it comes pretty close. I also appreciated how much reflection I was able to engage in simply by trying to create this drawing of my PLN. I thought much more about the difference between communities and networks of people and the layers they add compared to the tools and environments that help me to connect. I examined the boundaries and my own place within my PLN more closely and took time to step back and consider where various pieces live within my PLN map.


I (re)discovered that there are many more intersections between global education and educational technology than early childhood and global education, due I believe, to the necessity of technology to connect people across time zones, languages, and countries. I hope that with this awareness in mind, I can re-focus my own energies on seeking out more networks and communities who are integrating ed tech and global ed into early childhood education to add to my PLN.

Ultimately, now that I have my PLN sketch, I want to think more about how it looks and how I see connected learning, teaching, and sharing as the center. Those are the ideals I have built my PLN around and I want to keep them in mind as I consider the idea that there is “strength in weak ties” and in new perspectives. People who are not immersed in my PLN (weaker ties) and who have different passions, can add so much to my own learning and I want to think more about how I can make sure to value that and make my network permeable enough to see, hear, and share their views too.

Preparing for the School Year

I’ve been on a blogging hiatus for the past two weeks as I prepared for and started a new position and a new school year. I am now a Lower School Technology Coordinator at an independent school, working specifically with PreK-2nd grade teachers and students. Given my experiences focusing on the developmentally appropriate use of technology for these ages, I was excited to begin and start talking with teachers to learn more about which tech tools might be a good fit to integrate into their curriculum and classroom projects.

In addition to talking with teachers, I have been working on setting up a number of different pieces to be ready for the year. These include:

Classroom Setup:

computer lab

Pre-Classroom Setup

My “home” in the school is a computer lab with 21 PC desktops, nine bulletin boards, a large whiteboard, two flat screen TVs and one document camera. I took some time to plan out how I wanted to set up the various bulletin boards and how I could add some color to the white walls. Ultimately, I decided I wanted to start the year with a board for digital citizenship, one for global collaboration, one for lab rules, and one for a “tool of the month.” The rest of the boards I am reserving for a hands-on, experiential learning project with my first graders, who will help me build a 3D keyboard.

The Digital Citizenship & Global Collaboration Boards

To add more color to the walls, I also created a technology alphabet which I posted around the room (e.g., A for Audacity, B for Browser). Then I checked all of my equipment and tested out the TVs to make sure everything was set up for the first class. Finally, I created the content for my bulletin boards, making sure to add more color and lots of visuals for my younger learners who cannot read yet.

Tech Coordinator Setup:

Another important setup piece was figuring out all of the organizational systems and tools I would need for my position and all of the foundational knowledge I would need to work with the teachers and students. I received my weekly schedule to meet with each grade (my school is working towards a philosophy of tech integration vs. pulling out for tech work) and integrated that with a calendar of other duties and meetings. Then I put all those dates into my Outlook calendar which syncs with iCal where I have RSS calendar subscriptions for school events and then I synced that to my mobile devices. Next, I explored the capabilities in Outlook to create rules since I was used to using Gmail and color-coded filters. Finally, I set up a folder system in my school’s Google Drive and on my computer, so my files would be organized as well.

Once those organizational pieces were set, I moved on to finding ways to learn more about each teachers’ current knowledge and tech learning goals. This was accomplished through a mix of face-to-face meetings and a Google Form I created. Then I built another form for teachers to submit tech questions, resource requests, suggestions/ideas, and learning goals so they had a quick and easy way to communicate with me (and Google kindly organizes them all into a spreadsheet so I can keep track of it all!).

With this foundation, I began to plan specific projects with each grade to fit their goals and needs. It looks like we will be exploring Voicethread, ebooks, edublogs, typing and digital photography as part of different classroom projects to start the year!

Community Setup:

In addition to setting up my physical space and preparing systems and plans for the school year, I realized that I needed to learn more information about the school community. I would like my classroom community to mirror the larger practices of each grade and the school as a whole so that when students do come to the lab (versus me working with them in their classrooms), they feel that there is consistency in the expectations and rules.

Lab Rules

My rules for the computer lab

I visited different classrooms to get a sense of what their systems were and I read more about how Responsive Classroom practices (a school-wide initiative) are used in non-homeroom classes. I decided I would adopt at least one Responsive Classroom technique as part of my classroom rules (i.e., having children use a red cup to individually indicate they need help). I also appreciated the practice of having a morning message and hope to do that with children in the lab.

Mental Setup:

Finally, in preparing for the new school year, I discovered that it was important to also think about my “mental setup”. What goals, hopes, and dreams did I want to set for the year? What routines and systems did I want to create to help myself feel prepared and ready to engage in teaching and learning? I took some time to pause and reflect on my specific goals and record them in my professional development plan and I also identified people who could be mentors and allies to help me during my first year. With all of these setup pieces complete, I felt both calm and excited, a bit nervous to start, yet itching to begin and overall, optimistic about the beginning of a new school year and a new job. I’m looking forward to seeing what the year brings and sharing my teaching and learning journey here online.