Tumbling in (for 3 voices)

A couple of weeks ago, I ran into @MzMollyTL (Diana Maliszewski) and @MDHS_Librarian (Sarah Wheatley) on Twitter. Diana was admitting some confusion around Tumblr, and suggested that the 3 of us explore Tumblr on our own, and share what we found/learned. As Tumblr was a new frontier for me, I was game. We set a date  (really important for me as a procrastinator), and off we went.

photo credit: flickr user SJL via cc

One of the first things I did was talk to some of my Grade 7 and 8 students about who was using Tumblr, and it quickly became clear to me that the kids who really loved Tumblr were my visual kids – the ones who are always sketching or doing something creative with their photos – but also some of my storytellers. That started to give me a clue about who Tumblr appeals to. It’s not the same crowd that is all over Instagram, because there it’s all about the pictures, and Tumblr is definitely about the pictures, but also about the words. It occurred to me that these students might also like to explore a photojournalling site like blipfoto or a photo and writing combination like thinglink, or even a photo narration variation like fotobabble. Things to think about for the best way to help my students express themselves.

As I explored, I started to get the sense that Tumblr occupies a middle ground between the immediacy of Twitter, and the longer reflectiveness of a “blog” (and I know that term can mean a lot of things).  The first Tumblrs I encountered a couple years ago were very much like what Pinterest has now become – I remember one in particular that was a collection of  images of  70′s couches. It was a way to document your passion, and I think that having your students share the Tumblrs they love (maybe it becomes part of the classroom job list, or there’s a corner for it in a newsletter?) would be a terrific way to direct some passion-based learning.

The Tumblrs that I really enjoyed (and I think one of my absolute favourites is this one, created by the Royal Ontario Museum) managed to find that balance between an image, and the things they wanted to say about it. The ROM Tumblr makes great use of Tumblr’s visual capacity to show off their collection, but also manages to share lots of information (but not too much). And sometimes, it’s just about the image.

from the ROMKids tumblr: The entrance to the museum, looking like the Rebel base on Hoth

from the ROMKids tumblr: The entrance to the museum, looking like the Rebel base on Hoth

I was very interested in seeing how other teachers were using Tumblr, and was lucky enough to have a great example in my friend  Stepan Pruchnicky, who teaches with TCDSB. He uses his Tumblr as his class’ website, and features student work, announcements and other news. It’s a terrifically engaging way to invite parents into the classroom, and his students are obviously very comfortable with the platform. This is something I want to look into further, since I’m always looking for accessible ways to share my students’ work. I’d also like to find my way to some more teacher’s Tumblrs. Do you have a great one to share?

At about the mid-point of our exploration, Diana shared a tweet from a friend including some of Tumblr’s terms of service, which are, to say the least, a little unorthodox, and written in language most people can understand. I actually found this refreshing, and was pleasantly surprised to find this in the terms:

tumblr terms

That link takes you to an international set of crisis phone numbers, and places to get help. Not something you’ll find on every social media site, and while I know not many users would actually drill down that far, I was impressed.

I did set up a Tumblr account as part of this inquiry and I can see using it in certain contexts.  Blogging is often a long, reflective process for me, and I find that it’s tricky to find the time to get that done (I’m very aware of the clock ticking on this one). With Tumblr, it’s like a quick shout-out – again, with more room for a conversation than Twitter, but relatively easy to get it out there. I think it might be perfect for travel blogging with my own kids, because we can choose the pictures we want to talk about.

In terms of ease of use,  I like how easy it is to add a friend’s Tumblr, or something I’ve read on-line to my stream, but wish there was an easier way to do the opposite, and zip a Tumblr out into the Twitterverse. I acknowledge that it probably and I just haven’t found it yet.

Overall, I enjoyed the chance to dig into Tumblr, and am hugely thankful to my co-explorers, who checked in along the way, to keep me motivated (as well as to my students who let me pick their brains). As with any social media platform, there’s some silly stuff out there (witness this lovely bit of “internet whimsy” featuring benedict cumberbatch and otters), and using it in a classroom would need to be focused on the creation part of the equation, rather than consumption.

And maybe that’s my big takeaway. The students I talked to seemed to be willing to be creators in this format – yes, they’re reblogging pieces by others, but some of them are posting their own ideas, too. That’s something I’m looking to encourage, and this seems less of an intimidating format to my students than whatever they perceive a “blog” to be.

Here are my co-conspirators reactions:

Diana’s: Trio tests Tumblr: Diana’s path

Sarah’s: Encouraging Each Other

What do you think?

Let the sparks fly.

Bands across the water, bands across the world.

That's us on the SMART board in a classroom in the UK.  (photo credite: Laura Jackson)

That’s us on the SMART board in a classroom in the UK. (photo credite: Laura Jackson)

My band and I had an amazing experience this week. Using Skype, we created a concert with a group of Year 10 (Grade 9) students in Durham, U.K. We’re in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada by the way, where it was a frosty -15 Celsius, as my hardy band members made their way through the snow to an early morning practice.

So how did this happen, and what are the takeaways?

A few weeks ago, I spotted a tweet from @mrsjacksonmusic that @skypeclassroom had retweeted. She was looking for someone interested in a Skype concert. “Why not?” I thought, and responded right away. (hint 1: if serendipity hands you an opportunity, take it.)

In very short order, we determined that our students were fairly close in age (mine are Grade 7 and 8), and that, amazingly, despite a 5 hour difference, the times would work out, if my kids came in for a practice early.  We settled on a date, and I found that having some build up time gave me a chance to get my students excited about the event (and talk them out of building a backdrop with an igloo).

My UK partner and I did a quick test-run ahead of time, and trouble-shot a few things (Hint 2: always, but always, do this, just in case)

So, 8:15 on December 17, with a few sleepyheads still setting up instruments, we were good to go – first a little trouble with sound, but quickly resolved, and then we were off…..and running!

We played the 4 songs we’d prepared for our holiday concert that night, with students doing introductions. The pride on my students’ faces when the UK kids applauded was such a gift. Kids their age, an ocean away, were appreciating what they were doing.

If you look closely, you can see the guitar player in the top corner of the screen (photo credit: Laura Jackson)

If you look closely, you can see the guitar player in the top corner of the screen (photo credit: Laura Jackson)

Then the Durham kids performed for us – individual pieces – vocal, guitar, piano. They needed to perform as part of their curriculum expectations, and we provided a unique, and enthusiastic audience. My students were totally intrigued by the information that one of the guitarists had written his own piece, and recorded it as part of an album that he had produced as part of his course work.

As our time came to an end, both groups wanted to ask questions – about accents, and weather, and how old we all were – the usual things kids want to ask, no matter what age they are or where they’re from. I couldn’t help thinking about the we can see project as I held my webcam up to the window to show the snowy day we were  having, and they showed us their still-green trees! My kids were horrified to find out that the British students thought they sounded like Justin Bieber, and the UK kids thought it was wonderful that they were horrified. We discovered that the consensus was that the 3rd Austin Powers’ movie is the best one. We even had a little showboating, as one of my very talented piano players couldn’t resist the chance to show that we had individual talents as well.

(Hint 3: do a little more advance scouting than we did, so you have a good sense of what each group might present. That way, if the other group is doing some solos, some of your students can do that too – my kids have already suggested a talent show format for another connection)

dancing away in the back row! (photo credit: Lisa Noble)

dancing away in the back row! (photo credit: Lisa Noble)

It was magic. Honest to goodness, you know they won’t forget it, fairy dust on your shoulders magic, that happened in my slightly pokey music room that morning. Total engagement in playing and listening and sharing. Both groups can hardly wait to do it again. (Hint 4, and my biggest take-away I think – invite colleagues. Otherwise, they may just smile and pat you on the head as you burst with enthusiasm all day long.Some of us are visual learners, and need to see things happening.)

What did we need to make it happen? Serendipity in finding the tweet, bravery in giving it a shot, a couple of computers and presto!

our Skype partners waving at us, as we finished up. (photo credit: Lisa Noble)

our Skype partners waving at us, as we finished up. (photo credit: Lisa Noble)

So, please, if you’re hovering on the edge of trying a #mysteryskype, or a #globalclassroom activity, take that leap. You’ll have a glow on all day, your students will want more, and you’ll have forever made the world a tiny bit smaller.

Let the sparks fly.

An introduction

So, it’s finally time. I’ve considered myself a writer for a long time – almost as long as I can remember being a learner. I wrote poetry and wrote and edited for newspapers through high school and university, and wrote lots and lots of letters (some of them even published, though that’s another story), and then, life got in the way. I had kids, and something happened to the writer who lives inside me. There just wasn’t time…..

…. and now? Well, now those kids are 10 and 12, and the world is a different place. Now, I have an amazing PLN (personal learning network if that’s a new acronym for you) who make me think and question and look at things in different ways….and I want to share that. Now, there’s the medium of a blog, to help me share my thoughts in writing. So, now, it’s time to write again. To try and let that storyteller, who’s been locked out for a while, back in (she’s kind of been banging on the doors and windows a lot lately).

Credit: flickr user domit via cc

Credit: flickr user domit via cc

What might you find here? Reflections on what’s happening in my classroom, reflections on bigger ideas in the education/technology world, something cool that somebody else shared, a great recipe I came across, and maybe even just some joy at something unexpected. We’ll see…it’s a journey, always. I hope you’ll come along, and maybe share where these sparks take you.

Thanks to @kevinhoneycutt for the name of the blog.  I was lucky enough to meet him at #ECOO13 in October, and he suggested that I was a sparkplug, and the more I thought about it, the more I decided he was right. I like to light things up…to share ideas, and encourage people to play with them, and take them in different directions – like sending out a shower of sparks to start something up. Thanks also to Kevin Hodgson (@dogtrax) whose #nerdlution (and reflections on it) was the final push I needed to get this out there!

Hope to see you here soon.