Featured Blogger: Student PLN’s with Liz Castillo

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April 21st, 2011
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I was so excited when I was selected to be a Featured Blogger for the Edmodo community.  I have always tried to find as many ways possible to share and connect with other teachers especially around the topic of integrating technology.  When I first began teaching, I was in a classroom where there was 1 donated computer that all of my students had to share.  The two weeks in the year that I got to take my students to the computer lab were the highlight of the year and the best feature in my classroom was a chalkboard that had multiple sliding panels.  I couldn’t have imagined that just 12 years later, I’d be working in a 1:1 laptop school and that instead of a chalkboard, I would be using an interactive white board. I realize how lucky I am and that there are many classrooms that are still challenged with little or no access to technology.  I hope that by sharing about my own journey, I can offer some insight into what is possible when it comes to integrating technology.

To tell you a little more about myself, I currently teach 7th grade science at Kamehameha Middle School in Honolulu, Hawaii.  I have taught in both public and private schools and spent 2 years as a technology resource teacher.  Kamehameha Schools is a very unique private school.  The mission of our school is to provide education to children of native Hawaiian ancestry.  Our campus services students in grades K-12 and we also have 2 campuses on the neighbor islands.  Our students come from a range of backgrounds, academic abilities, and geographic locations.  We accept students from the neighbor islands and have a boarding program that begins in the 7th grade.  We are lucky to have a lot of resources that allow us to be innovative in our curriculum and integrate technology.  When I first began teaching here 9 years ago, we had 5 desktop computers in every classroom and were in the initial stages of using mobile iCarts that were shared among various classrooms.  Four years ago, we started the 1:1 laptop program with our 7th grade students using MacBook computers.  Since then, this program has expanded through the 12th grade.

Teaching in a 1:1 environment has completely changed the way that I see learning and instruction.  I am always looking for ways to integrate technology so that it truly aids in developing students as creative critical thinkers.  I see technology as a way to extend the learning beyond my four walls, to utilize the abundance of available online resources, and to bring new opportunities for my students to connect with others.  I also see how technology has allowed my students to become creators of knowledge and be active in their learning instead of just being passive consumers of information.

I know that my personal growth with technology has only come with the help of my Personal Learning Network (PLN).  I didn’t know it then, but even when I had limited access to technology, I was building my PLN.  Until recently, I never formally used the term PLN.  A PLN is just another way to express the network of people that we share, learn, and collaborate with.  My PLN started with the people I worked with or those I met at conferences and workshops.  At the time, I only utilized the Internet as a knowledge consumption device.  However, I realized that the real power was in using the Internet to truly connect with and learn from other educators and experts.  That is when I began to use tools like Facebook and Twitter to communicate and share ideas with others.  My PLN now includes my fellow ADE’s (Apple Distinguished Educators), STEM fellows, and various educators across the globe. I give credit to my PLN for helping me to transform my classroom and for inspiring me with innovative ideas for my students.  It is a vast extension of knowledge and creativity that I couldn’t imagine myself without.

The professional growth and success I’ve had with my PLN made me think about how I could transfer this to my students.  Using social networking tools in school has been controversial with many teachers.  Some see it as a distraction and would prefer to block it rather than embrace it.  Since I teach 7th grade, I knew I needed to capitalize on my students’ love for socializing and technology.  Some of the high school teachers were using tools like Facebook and Ning.  Unfortunately, many of the students used the tool primarily for socializing.  Because of this, social networking is still viewed negatively by many of my colleagues.  I admit that even I was hesitant at first.  However, I began to think about how I could use these tools to motivate students around my content and connect them for learning instead of just socializing.

I first learned about Edmodo last summer when I attended the Siemens STEM Institute at the Discovery headquarters.  The teachers at this institute came from all across the nation and Edmodo was a great way for us to connect, communicate, and work collaboratively on STEM related ideas and projects.  I instantly knew that it was the tool I was looking for to use with my students.  I decided that I would use Edmodo in my classroom in an attempt to create a student PLN.  I still remember the excitement of my students when we first started using it.  The friendly interface and the teacher controls were key features that made implementation successful.  Now it is a big part of our learning environment and there are several of our teachers using it on a regular basis.

Over the next couple of months, I look forward to sharing more about how we have been able to use Edmodo to create a student PLN where students and teachers are networking and learning from one another.  I also look forward to further expanding my PLN and learning how some of you have successfully connected with your students.  Until next time…Aloha!

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Liz Castillo is a 7th grade teacher in Honolulu, HI. The opinions shared in this blog entry are her own.


2 Responses to “Featured Blogger: Student PLN’s with Liz Castillo”

  1. That’s quite a turn around-my first classroom was also chalkboarded, but without the sliding panels-that still sounds pretty cool :)

  2. Shareen Murayama says:

    Hey Liz! Great job! Aloha, Shareen

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