It’s been a while since I posted anything. Not wrote, posted. I sat at my computer and wrote a few times over the past few months but nothing seemed to be worth sharing. Why would anybody care about what I write? Who’s reading this? What’s the point? These are thoughts that plagued me before I even wrote my first blog post. Well I’ve finally come to an important conclusion. It doesn’t really matter who is reading this – the point, for me, is simply to write.

I love to write. I don’t think I’ve ever been particularly brilliant in any of it but I get a lot out of putting my words down. I ordered my first diary from the “book order” at school. How do I know this? Because I wrote about it in my first entry, on February 5th, 1992. Most kids get a diary or a journal, use it for a while and then lose interest. I’ve been writing in journals for 22 years.

I’ve joked before that my writing in journals is necessary because of my terrible memory but there’s truth to it. I love being able to go back in time and get a glimpse of what my life was like at any given moment. It’s also very therapeutic. A bad day feels slightly more bearable after I get it all down on paper. It’s also a great way to see the big picture. Something that made me really angry at one time in my life will likely seem a lot more trivial now.

The most interesting part is to see how my writing has evolved. The first couple of years consisted of one or two sentences very literally describing my day. On my eighth birthday, I simply listed all the gifts I received: Two trolls, Game Boy, 90210 shirt, colouring kit, 40 dollars, a sticker book and 2 packs of stickers, clothes. Fast forward 22 years and I’m reflecting on the state of my life. I went back and read the entries from almost a year ago when my dad got sick. As painful as they are to read, I appreciate my commitment to writing those feelings down at the most difficult time in my life, even though I’m not sure why.

So I guess there is a point to this, even though when I started writing today I thought it would just be a self-reflection. I’m reaching out to those who have a fear of writing or sharing their thoughts, especially in blog-form. Write on, friends! If you love to write, then do it. If you want to write only for yourself, then do it. If you want to share your feelings with those in Internet-land, feel free. No judgement here.

My poor mother. To say I was a picky eater as a child is a massive understatement. My mom would often cry, fearing my sister and I were not eating enough. My eating habits improved in high school but I was still pretty hesitant when it came to trying new things. In university, a professor of mine used cheese to get me to open my mind to the endless possibilities of good food. Later that year, I took a big risk for a former picky eater. While in Prague I opened a restaurant menu only to find that it was written entirely in Czech (naturally). I remembered my professor’s advice, closed my eyes, and pointed. It was delicious.

Since then I’ve tried things I would have never fathomed in my previous, risk-free life – some were delicious, others not so much. I really did take something away from that experience and I’m trying to apply it to my life in ways that don’t just relate to food. One way I’m trying to do this is in my teaching. One of my goals straight out of teacher’s college was to learn more about the use of technology in the classroom. I decided I was going to make it a goal to learn more about the various options available for incorporating technology in school and then do my best to apply those things when I started teaching.

Technology can be scary! What happens when my lesson plan is based on content requiring an internet connection and the WiFi suddenly goes down? What do I do when my projector isn’t working, or even worse, I forget to book one out on a day it’s needed? I had these and other fears when I decided to join an online collaborative project called “Macbeth Goes Social”.

Classroom setup for our second Google Hangout

Classroom setup for our second Google Hangout

This project allows a space for teachers around the world to collaborate and share their collective experience of studying Macbeth at the same time. We’ve used Google Plus and more specifically Google Hangouts to share throughout this unit. The idea of a Google Hangout really scared me at first. All those previous questions (and more) swam through my mind. What if? Well, I took a risk and I tried it. My class has done two live Google Hangouts so far and I hope to do at least one more this week. Yes, there were flaws and yes I would definitely change a few things the next time, but boy am I glad I decided to give this a shot! This project has allowed my class to learn the importance of having a live audience (digital citizenship); share with peers around the world (Italy, America, United Kingdom, etc.); and have fun while doing it.

IMG_20140516_090932

If you’re interested in checking out a Google Hangout there are more scheduled for this, the final week of the project. Head over to the Google Plus page for Big Fun Education (the organizer) and watch some of the videos already posted.

 

This past weekend I headed to the Google Apps for Education (GAfE) conference held by our board. A few teachers at my school decided we’d go check it out and I thought I’d share some of the amazing stuff I filled my brain with over those two days.

In no particular order, here are some things Virginia learned this weekend:

1. Chrome is a pretty great browser with a lot of exciting apps and extensions.

Cool App: LucidPress – similar to Microsoft Publisher but free and web-based
Cool Extension: One Tab – saves any open tabs and lets you post them as a link (all tabs open when you click the link)

Then there’s the Omnibox (formerly known as the address bar). Things you can do in the Omnibox:

  • search multiple websites using shortcuts (for example, I set it up so that I type in “gd” and hit space to search my Google Drive. I also set up a number of other search engines in a similar fashion)
  • use it as a calculator/flight checker/etc.

Basically, you can do things you’d normally do in fewer steps/clicks which I think is pretty neat. Hello, timesaver!

The other great thing about Chrome is that it’s totally customizable. When you log in to the browser, all of your history, apps, extensions, and bookmarks are saved. This means students can log in on their Chromebooks at school and go home and access all the cool sites they used for their research without having to search for them again.

2. Google Drive has even more capabilities

Ever since our board adopted GAfE I’ve been trying to explain how useful Google Drive is to my students. How cool is it that you can all collaborate on the same document!? Anyone!? Bueller?? More cool Google Drive tips:

  • no need to open a new tab, you can research right in a Google Doc (Tools -> Research)
  • you can upload images in a variety of ways (Insert -> Image). Again, you can search Google for images right in the Document and it will also tell you its license details so you know how to properly cite it.
  • a lot of apps and extensions work right inside Google Drive, meaning you can use them to enhance the user experience (example: Pear Deck for interactive lessons)
  • you can use your phone to dictate to the Google Drive app and watch as it transcribes it on the document(!)

3. What it’s like being a student again 

I found myself back in the role of student which was a nice change as I always liked being in school. It was nice to be reminded of what it feels like being on the other side of the room and I left with a bit more empathy for my students. Some observations:

  • my brain was fried by the last sessions and I started to pay more attention to Twitter than the speaker
  • those wooden chair/desk combos in some of the classrooms were extremely uncomfortable
  • I was often thinking about food

This is all just a sample of what I learned this weekend. I remember after the first day I was trying to think of a good analogy for how I felt and the best I could do was liken my brain to how my stomach feels after eating too much. It hurt.

Thanks to the presenters, organizers and WRDSB for a great two days!


 

Here’s a quick timeline: I joined Facebook in 2005. 2005! What does that mean? I think it means there’s a lot of 20-year-old me posts out there somewhere in Internet Land. The good news is that a few years after joining, I came to the realization that future me may not be as excited about those Halloween ’06 photos I posted and I did some weeding. I should say there was some outside pressure to start deleting content as well.

In 2008, I enrolled at Queen’s to begin my Bachelor of Education. While learning about lesson planning, classroom management and assessment strategies, my peers and I were also being warned. “You should probably delete your Facebook account” is a phrase I didn’t hear just once. That’s when the real purge began. Even though I had a “private” profile (I had locked it down to the point that all information was hidden unless we were “friends”), I still deleted anything I feared might be considered inappropriate.

I joined the world of Twitter in 2011 with a “protected” account – meaning my tweets were private unless I approved of followers who added me. I even created a different account to use with my students, because, why would I want them following the “real” me on Twitter?

First Tweet

My first tweet

For a while, I thought I was really doing this Social Media thing well. I shared what I wanted, with whoever I wanted. I felt like I had control over my content and that I was being safe. But then I started to do some reading, and some thinking, and some more reading. I realized that maybe I was going about this all wrong. Rather than trying to keep everything hidden and private (which is getting harder and harder), why wouldn’t I just put my best foot forward from now on? Why not be mindful of what I post and tweet?

In Personal and Professional vs. Public and Private, George Couros states, “It is not that we can’t be ourselves online, but we should just be more cognizant of what we do there.” That statement really resonated with me. I felt that I was trying on a new identity with my teacher account while keeping the real me locked behind my protected account. So, I made the decision, “unlocked” my Twitter account and began to truly think about everything I wanted to share.

This shift in my Social Media presence has been a positive one so far. I feel like I’m able to use Twitter to it’s full potential through sharing, retweeting content and chatting with people who don’t follow me. And even though I still keep my Facebook account private, I feel that by carefully considering everything I post and share, I am putting out the image of myself that I feel most comfortable with, and therefore am projecting a positive persona to my ever-expanding audience.

Finally, I feel like I’m really able to stress the importance of Digital Citizenship and the power of putting out positive content to my students. In the past, I’ve warned them about the dangers of posting without thinking on Social Media, but now, I’m having a different conversation with them. Rather than scare them into protecting their accounts, I want them to start being more Social Media saavy – I’m now stressing the importance of creating a positive profile, thinking before posting and attaching something good to their name. I’m sure some young people are going to find the need to purge their profiles in a few years, but my hope is that they don’t have to weed through too much questionable content along the way.

 

I signed up for Twitter back in 2010. I posted a handful of times and then promptly deleted my account. I asked myself, “Why would anyone care about what I have to say?” Honestly, I just didn’t see its purpose and figured I wouldn’t get much use out of it.

Fast forward about a year later and I found myself getting talked into rejoining. I created a new account, added a photo, posted a couple of times and lurked…a lot. I followed some people who interested me, clicked on their names and scrolled through their timelines. I read conversations between educators, too scared to jump in with my own thoughts on the subject (I felt like I would be intruding on a private conversation), watched as people tweeted and retweeted content that I found interesting and helpful. Slowly, I came to the realization that it wasn’t so much about me putting something unique and brilliant out there, it was about reading and learning from others, and posting when I found something that was helpful to me. It wasn’t until I had lurked for a while that I felt comfortable enough to start tweeting more and I think it helped me really understand the usefulness of Twitter.

So what’s so good about it? I think the beauty of Twitter is that you get exactly what you want from it. You tailor your account to your preferences. Like sports? Follow athletes, sports blogs and media personalities. Photography? Follow professionals, amateurs, and more blogs! The best part? You can unfollow with ease and without feeling too badly about it.

One of my favourite functions of Twitter is the organized chat. In my profession, there are countless weekly chats in a variety of subject areas and interests that are open to anyone. All you have to do is find the chat, follow the hashtag and join in the discussion. This is where lurking comes in handy again. The first few times I “participated” in edchats, I didn’t tweet, I only observed. Again, there was that fear of not having anything particularly important or useful to add to the conversation. Slowly though, my lurking gave me more confidence to really join in the conversation and tweet right along with the others.

I admit I still do a lot of lurking, and I don’t see any harm in it, as long as I do join in the conversation from time to time. So for those of you that are nervous about Tweeting, my advice to you is this: lurk away. Find some people whose Tweets you enjoy reading and scroll through their timelines. Observe. Join a chat on a subject that interests you and watch and read to see how people interact. Finally, don’t be afraid to join in. Start with some retweets then add your own perspective and slowly, you will build the confidence to use Twitter in a whole new, hopefully more meaningful way.

I’m sitting at someone else’s desk, using her resources and marking her students’ essays. I check her mailbox, use her copy code and check her voicemail. I am an LTO.

LTO stands for Long Term Occasional teacher. This is a fancy way of saying I’m filling in for someone. Disclaimer: I am one of many teachers in this board (and province) who are in a similar position; however, my experience could be (and likely is) different than many others out there like me.

When I was in teacher’s college, we were told the job prospects after graduation would be slim. It was a well-known fact in 2009 that there were simply too many teachers and not enough jobs for them all. Upon hearing this, I decided to make a plan. I decided that I’d stick it out for five years and then re-evaluate the situation. So here I am. Re-evaluating.

There was a point in my career, not long ago, when I had almost given up. In between jobs supply teaching, I would search the internet for other jobs inside and outside the world of education. But, I decided to stick it out a bit longer (I had to get through those five years first!) and continued on this path. Reflecting on this, I’m glad I decided to stay in this profession.

I love my  job. I get to be social, I get to meet interesting people and I get to challenge young minds. I often complain about my current situation and I realize I have to stop. I commented to a colleague last week that I was tired of interviewing every few months for a new job and then realized I’m fortunate to even have interviews considering many of my friends and colleagues are still waiting on the sidelines trying to get their foot in the door.

No, I don’t have my own desk and no I don’t have my own mailbox (well, sometimes I do), but for a brief time, I can call them “my students” and that’s the most important part, isn’t it? I am thankful to continue to get jobs and hope that one day I’ll become a permanent teacher. Until then, I’ll be the “new guy” every few months and I’ll be okay with it too.

It seems we’re often in search of that one thing we’re really, really good at. We compare ourselves to our colleagues, classmates, family members, and friends often searching for that one quality, characteristic, hobby or “thing” that will set us apart. I’ve spent a lot of time searching for that “thing” in myself, and last night, a friend helped me realize that I had found it.

I am a master of starting new things and rarely following them through to an end point. I bring to you, an incomplete list of my current works in progress:

1. The T-Shirt Quilt

As an avid concert-goer in my early 20s, I managed to amass a large quantity of concert t-shirts. I didn’t plan to start a collection, it just happened naturally as I always wanted some kind of memento from a great (okay, not always) show. I wore a lot of them but they slowly stopped coming out of their drawers. During one of the few projects I started and followed through with (my 365 photo project), I took a picture of my t-shirt collection and wondered what I should do with them. A friend made a brilliant suggestion: turn them into a quilt! How crafty! So, I started watching YouTube videos, reading blogs and gathering knowledge to start my quilt. I bought some good quality scissors, measured and cut.

Current status: 12″ x 12″ squares of my t-shirts sitting in a bag in my closet

2. My Photobooks

I have a mild obsession with chronicling the events in my life. I’ve kept a journal since I was seven and I have thousands of photos and videos showcasing the most mundane to most exciting moments of my life.  Before I got a digital camera, I was pretty good at keeping those photos in some kind of order. I would develop my memories (often making doubles to trade with friends) and store them in photo albums that I’ve since looked at hundreds of times. Digital photography made things a little more tricky. I now had thousands more photos and less motivation to print and store them. Then came the photobooks. I was a pro. From vacation albums to yearbook style, I’ve made countless photobooks. The thing is, they’re really time-consuming. And now, there’s a backlog.

Current status: Partway through my 2011 yearbook

3. This Blog

I started this blog over a year ago when I joined a MOOC. I had developed an interest in blogging and figured I should give it a shot. Well, I did. I wrote two posts and called it quits. I was talking to the aforementioned friend yesterday who told me he started a blog and it got me thinking about this one. He encouraged me to get back into it, so here I am. I’m not sure which direction this will go in, or if I will continue writing and sharing on this platform, but I’d like to give it another shot. And who knows, maybe this self-reflection will help me get back to the works in progress I’ve put on the backburner for all this time.

Current status: Unknown

I always struggle with introductions. Considering I spend 24 hours a day with myself, you would think it’d be easy to write a simple paragraph describing “me.” Here goes!

My name is Virginia and I am currently working as a high school teacher in Ontario. I am one of many “new” teachers looking for full-time employment in a market that doesn’t really need new teachers. With that said, I have had some great experiences so far and am currently teaching (and learning) at a great school.

I have many interests outside of my career which seem to be fairly arts-focused. I am a Theatre major who graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from York University in Toronto, Ontario. After my undergrad studies I headed out to Kingston, Ontario and attended Queen’s University for my Bachelor of Education. I love being on stage and continue to pursue acting opportunities as they come up, although that part of my life has taken a back seat (for now) as I try to focus on building my career as an educator.

Music is something that has always been a love of mine. I am an avid concert-goer, cd-buyer and most recently ukulele-player. I love listening to music – I usually listen to CBC Radio 3 or a pre-determined playlist based on my mood and genre-preference on Songza (my favourite playlist). Other interests include travelling (I try to go on at least one trip a year) and photography (learning as I go).

There I am – in a tiny tiny nutshell. I must admit, I’m nervous about this endeavour but also very excited. I love to learn and collaborate and I feel as though this could be the best combination of the two.

Here we go!

Greetings! Today I have decided to do two things I have never done before, and I am VERY excited about both.

First, I am writing my very first blog post! As someone who really loves and embraces Web 2.0, I find it funny that I have yet to blog. The thing is, I haven’t always been very public with my online persona  – this changes today.

Second, I have just registered for #etmooc – a mooc (massive open online course) with an educational technology & media focus. This will likely be the most prominent thing on my blog until I get the hang of this stuff.

Coming up…an intro!

“I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.” ~Socrates

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