Teaching science is not as straight forward as one would think. Old school approach suggests there are many facts and figures including scientific vocabulary which “must” be learned and defined. Completing these very tasks can influence students in their thinking, that science is, dare I say it:- boring.
Hence the need for concept driven science, removing the tags and getting into structured inquiry and allowing students to drive the curriculum. I wanted to reach out and connect on a global platform to other educators (Richardson and Mancabelli 2011) to see how other educators increase engagement, and gather ideas on how they teach Earth and Space sciences and to share my thoughts and practice-I wanted to interact. I wanted to be a social, transformative teacher– aiming towards leader status (Baker-Doyle 2017). This aim was the intended focus for developing my professional learning network (PLN). I had in the past searched for face to face professional development, however, there was nothing that was suitable.
Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) – an informal learning network of teachers who communicate and collaborate online for professional purposes (Tour 2015).
This connected learning resource, clearly applies to the activities I have undertaken in the last months as I love to explore the online environment and meet other like minded global educators. I love to explore other people’s ideas about education and keep up to date with trends. Indeed a key feature of Connectivism is described here as: “much learning can happen across peer networks that take place online”.
My prediction was that connecting Earth and Space science to Art in our schools allows for supplementation of the curriculum. Focusing on art, especially resin and alcohol inks is relaxing and stress reducing, and (I believe) a complementary medium to focus on expressing Space Science. Plus art is an integral part of the STEAM movement. The Victorian Curriculum standards were used as hash tags to tag posts and to search for information, the standers are described below:
Year 7 & 8 Earth and space sciences:
Sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic rocks contain minerals and are formed by processes that occur within Earth over a variety of timescales (VCSSU102)
Year 9 & 10 Earth and space sciences:
The theory of plate tectonics explains global patterns of geological activity and continental movement (VCSSU127)
The Universe contains features including galaxies, stars and solar systems; the Big Bang theory can be used to explain the origin of the Universe(VCSSU129)
Developing my PLN online, I hoped that using difference sites and social media would provide a positive experience and help broaden my knowledge and ideas. Trust et. al states: “the anytime, anywhere availability of expansive PLNs, and their capacity to respond to educators’ diverse interests and needs, appear to offer possibilities for supporting the professional growth of whole teachers” (p1. 2016). Indeed, utilising the web at a suitable convenient time, when I felt I could work would be advantageous.
Firstly, I decided to use the Google Search engine to search the online environment to investigate whether anyone had tagged anything using the victorian curriculum standards shortcuts. Using the hashtag (#) I searched through social media such as Facebook, Twitter, blog posts and other online interactive environments (Visser et al 2013.). I realised that if I wanted to search a global network I would not search for Victorian standards, as the rest of the world would not use these tags. So, I widened my search. Eventually finding that there are a couple of interesting leads, mainly in the UK and the USA.
The inspiration for my project ‘Art in the Cosmos’ was based on NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Project called Art and the Cosmic Connection. As can be seen here the art work offered is fabulous, and mixed media based. I identified that there are no tags in Instagram or Pinterest that showed an uptake of the program. Twitter, however, told a different story…
There were 38 posts, the earliest from 28th Feb 2012 through to 2018.
I moved to searching Google+, I located 1 relevant post. A library that had used the program as a program for 8-10 year olds. In the UK I found a couple of leads on Facebook, and an art exhibition in the UK, I made contact with the artists and chatted to online. I promoted the exhibition on Twitter, and realised, that I should be incorporating art and artists into my searching. This was a critical moment, I realised that there was no information out there that related to the victorian curriculum standards, I realised that I would be able to help others and I would be able to offer specific links to the Australian victorian Curriculum to help Victorian teachers. If I couldn’t get ideas from others, I could certainly share my ideas. Exciting!! I thought that I would “Do it myself” and why not? Nussbaum-Beach et. al. defined connected learners as having the ‘DIY mentality’ (2012 p11) and it certainly fit with me at that point in time. The mind map below (Fig 1.) shows my initial networking ideas:
Fig 1. Starting a PLN
I felt that there was a lack of published engagement in Victoria, Australia in this topic so I persevered. I continued to post using the 3 hashtags, and included #STEAM, #EDUCATION, #SCIENCE #VCSSU129, #VCSSU127 and #VCSSU102. I posted in real time, to update others on the progression of my unit. I started with my Art in the Cosmos, then moved onto Earth’s structure in which students made a 3D model of Earth, based on research and critical thinking. Finally moving onto rocks and minerals,- I thought that making resin geodes would be a suitable extension topic. (I have to admit that I had not intended to continue with the theme, but it seemed to work.)
I also stumbled upon an artist (#7S7) who creates background for their business and a lot of resin artists who use images to inspire their pieces, and followed them. Using Tweetdeck (See fig 1.) enabled me to follow and search specific terms and tags. (I have to add at this point, that the task of keeping up to date with the flow of information is almost a full time occupation, and Tweetdeck certainly helped filter the information into manageable pieces.) All in all I gained new followers, and scored a few retweets. But my tagging with #VCSSU129, #VCSSU127 and #VCSSU102 remained in isolation.
Fig 2. Screen shot of Tweetdeck
At this point I decided to create a slideshare piece, a topic over view linking the victorian curriculum with the idea of art. I had never created a resource, but had used slideshare many times before. As it is number 26 on Jane Hart’s 2017 top 200 tools for learning and I had experience with the others. I created a short slideshow document, and tried to upload it. After spending several hours trying to upload the document, and receiving many error messages including: “Oops something went wrong” I gave up. I sort another avenue and published the document to Google+. The file document can be downloaded by clicking the image below:
Curiously I found that other people were interested in my twitter feed. Retweeting and liking ideas seemed to act as a mental fuel, these interactions were enough to continue the research and to continue to search for links and inspiration. Over the course of the unit I obtained 6 likes, 5 new followers, and, 2 retweets. Google+ increased from 0 to 7 followers, however, most of those would be on our TL course. No comments were received. It was quite hard to focus on work, rather than reading tweets and watching NASA videos. I felt that my network expanded exponentially and I had the potential to loose focus.
I found that my posting on social media evolved, initially I was creating posts on my site to promote my educational ideas and resources and over time, I moved away from the site to focusing on twitter and interactions with other educators. It seemed that twitter gave the most opportunity to learn and share, whereas my website and my blog were almost outdated, I wondered whether the content and the volume was too large, whereas twitter was short, instant and easy. I became a self starter, and a learner ( 2014). As you can see in Fig 3. my network connections grew over the time period.
All in all, I was a little disappointed with my statistics as my previous persona focused on ‘cyber safety’ and I had many followers and many interactions. I felt like this new focus was starting again, almost reinventing the wheel. Indeed, I posted an apology for the change of pace! I don’t think anyone unfollowed me, so Im taking this as a positive. When considering trends and educational currency, I think that I was onto a positive when incorporating #STEAM, but my chosen topic of Earth and Space, was not a crowd pleaser. I didn’t appeal to others in a way which inspired an uptake for ideas- I would say I obtained a slow and steady start!
Fig 3. Developed PLN Network
Fortunately, statistical analysis and data is available for the sites. I have included the information in Figure 4. As you can see I found that the number of people my tweets engaged with increased and the impressions also built. The tweet activity also shows that I gained some ‘likes’ and some profile views. My Google+ account had 125 views and the most referrals for the website came from Google+.
Fig 4. Statistics Analysis
I feel that keeping up with trends, such as #STEAM is crucial part of increasing my knowledge and giving me ideas to implement in my classroom. Increasing my online presence by retweeting, creating posts and artefacts and using the appropriate # during interactions, appeals to other people who are also interested in the trend, this is the reason why #STEAM worked well. And, the reason why #VCSSU129 did not. This illustrates the importance of selecting and consistency using appropriate hashtags. Showing interest in others also increases your online persona. I find that social media is very closely linked to being in school- if you are not part of the trend, you don’t get noticed and if you don’t compliment others you are not part of the crowd!
Throughout the past month or so, I have been creating artefacts and searching for inspiration. After analysis of my posting patterns and use of social media to create my PLN, I have found myself drawn to the concept of being an evolved connector (Oddone 2018). I feel that I need to monitor my life balance, and model time management skills to my children. I often talk about having 20 minutes iPad time, and working with them whilst I am looking at my Tweetdeck. Then, we switch off and move onto another activity. I look for relevant people to connect to, and unfollow those who seem to post content that trends to be unsuitable. I tend to take notice of #STEM and seek for ideas to enhance my teaching. During my time online I followed NASA, SLAV, NASA ASTRONAUTS, RICKY ARNOLD and a couple more. I didn’t go wild and follow many people, as I feel that Quality is better than Quantity.
In the future I plan to update my online presence by including the information on Extension work with Geodes and Geode slices. I have found that time and focus are required to maintain the network and connections, and being selective in who one follows is crucial. I would like to continue to develop a digital identity that will help others, and produce resources that other teachers can use to help with engagement (Trust 2016).
Figure 5. below shows an overview created by Oddone 2018, indeed my PLN was embedded in social software, the biggest growth was seen on Twitter, Google+ and the website for the main increase in connections whereby Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest made less gains. As the initial idea connected to my arty interests, my personal, public and pedagogical connections were utilised- I trust that the reader can ascertain this from AT1 as well.
As for myself, I have learned more, I have certainly gained resources and more knowledge, especially about NASA and I will utilise their science experiment videos in my lab. I think the old adage “The world is your oyster” certainly defines my view about using the online community and staying connected to learn and grow as a teacher.