Sunday, June 19, 2016

It is an Extraordinary Time to be a Teacher

"These are extraordinary times, and we face an extraordinary challenge." Those are the words John F. Kennedy used to start his address to Congress on May 25, 1961. In this address, JFK recommended to Congress that the United States commit to the goal of putting a man on the moon and returning him home safely by the end of the decade. To be honest, the United States had no business pursuing that goal. It had been less than three weeks since NASA had sent the first American into suborbital flight for a whopping fifteen minutes! Yet, John F. Kennedy had a vision of a nation pulling together for a common goal. He pushed for America to take a leading role and believed that it may hold the key to our future on Earth. 

What a time to be alive! Our nation pulled together to find the funds necessary for such a grave undertaking. We pooled our greatest minds together to invent and problem solve our way out of orbit. We found brave heroes who risked their lives to carry an entire nation on their shoulders; those heroes proudly planted the stars and stripes in the rocky surface of the moon for the rest of the world to see. 

I wasn't even born at the time, but I am still inspired by this moment in our nation's history. I remember hearing of the brave Neil Armstrong and dreaming of being the first man to walk on Mars. The stories, the history, and the pride has encouraged me to dream, think big, and seek giant leaps. It was an extraordinary time to be an American.

Today in Kansas, it is an extraordinary time, and we face an extraordinary challenge. Our budget is in crisis. There is a power struggle between the governor, legislature, and the courts. Our schools are in danger of being shut down. However, our Commissioner of Education, Randy Watson, has recommended a "JFK moonshot." He has created a new vision for Kansas schools: Kansas leads the world in the success of each child. Those words are not just a pie in the sky. When the world thinks of innovative education, Dr. Watson wants people to stop thinking of Finland and start thinking of Kansas. Kansas really has no business pursuing that goal. In less than two weeks our schools may be forced to close. Yet, Randy Watson has a vision of Kansans pulling together for a common goal. He is pushing Kansas to take a leading role, and he believes that it may hold the key to our future on Earth.

What a time to be a teacher! We have the opportunity to create incubators that bring to life inspired, healthy, successful humans. We have the chance to pool our greatest minds together to re-invent our educational system and what it means for each student to be successful. Teachers have the prospect of becoming the heroes that create opportunities for our students to find their unique success; teachers have the chance to create a scalable model for the rest of the world to emulate. 

People often ask me, "Why would anyone want to go in to education right now? Why would anyone stay in education?" I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but I can't think of a better time to be in education. I can't think of a moment in our history where our students have needed great teachers more than they do today. I can't think of a moment in our history where teachers have had a greater impact on student success. I can't think of a moment in our history where teachers have played a more important leadership role in our schools. What a time to be alive! It is an extraordinary time to be a teacher!

I have to admit that it is a time of great change in education. And, change is scary. However, change is long overdue for our schools. Our schools were built to prepare students for the industrial revolution. Although our economy has changed, our schools have remained almost totally stagnant. It is no longer valuable to prepare students to be factory workers. Today, we need students to be team players, independent problem solvers, and innovative creators. In my opinion, we cannot continue to make small incremental changes within the box we call schools in hopes of raising test scores by a few percentage points. I believe we need toss out the box and totally re-invent our schools.

I've been thinking a lot about this change. It has become painfully obvious that this type of massive change cannot generate from a top-down model. This type of change must be organic and start at a local level. It must start with some brave "astronauts" willing to stick their neck out and challenge the beliefs of what is possible. This local change will spread and create scalable models for other teachers, schools, and districts to follow. 

I may not end up taking the first steps on Mars, but I'm still focused on dreaming big! Today, I am stepping out as a teacher leader. If Kansas leads the world in the success of each student, then consider Dodge City the capital. I am surrounded by some of the greatest educational minds, and together we will pool our resources, synergize our strengths, and accept Randy Watson's challenge. It will be one small step for a teacher leader; one giant leap for education. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

What Would Happen If We Moved Student Teaching to Freshman Year?

As the Kansas Teacher of the Year, I get the privilege of speaking to pre-service teachers from around the state of Kansas in conjunction with the other Kansas Teacher of the Year Finalists. This responsibility has proven to be one of the best rewards of the KTOY recognition! Having the opportunity to spend time with this team of finalists has been the best professional development I have experienced. I have been able to gain a much broader view of education; I have been able to zoom out from the view of my own classroom and look through the lens of teachers from kindergarten through twelfth grade (and beyond), from darn near Missouri to darn near Colorado, and from impoverished to affluent school districts. I have learned so much from this amazing group of educators!

Awhile back, I shared what I think K-12 school should look like; you can read my thoughts here. However, I've been spending a lot of time on college campuses speaking to future teachers, and I've been thinking about what teacher training could look like. I have learned so much from my time in front of pre-service teachers. I have been so impressed with the young people who are choosing to pursue a career in education! Their energy and excitement is contagious! However, after hearing their concerns and answering their questions about teaching, I have realized there might be a better way to prepare our pre-service teachers for the classroom. I think Project Based Learning would revolutionize teacher education!

Project Based Learning Is Essential (Even in College)

One of the topics the KTOY Team talks to future teachers about is Project Based Learning (PBL). We explain that PBL is a teaching strategy where students learn by doing. We also talk about how powerful of an experience PBL is for learners. Yet, I see very little PBL happening in education classes at the college level until senior year! In my opinion, we need future teachers in classrooms much earlier and much more frequently. Want to learn to be a more effective teacher? Get yourself in a classroom and teach. Then, take some time to reflect on the experience so you can learn and grow. This technique is far more powerful than taking three and a half years of courses; then, trying to apply everything you learned in a semester of "real world" experience.

Let me be clear. I am not talking about classroom observations. I am talking about putting college freshmen and sophomores in classrooms to TEACH. I want them to experience how terrifying teaching can be if you're not prepared, and how amazing teaching can be when you make a connection with a student. Want teachers to pay attention to your lecture on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs? Put your students in a high poverty classroom and ask them to teach... anything... I hear new teachers say all the time, "I learned more in my first month of teaching than I did in all my years of college." Yet, we hold these valuable experiences from pre-service teachers until the very end of their "schooling." I think we have it all backwards. Let's give them the experience, then coach and teach our future teachers how to be more effective.

Another advantage to putting future teachers in the classroom early and often is it allows students to get a taste for teaching before they commit to a career they may not like. If you don't LOVE teaching, it is difficult to put in the time and energy it takes to hone your craft. On the other hand, if you are in a career that you are passionate about, there is no obstacle that can stop you from being successful! We should help our youngest college students find their passion, so they can be successful. It's difficult to find your passion behind a textbook. We should use project based learning (learning by doing) to help students find their passion! Want to change the face of education in this country? Put a passionate teacher in every classroom; someone who is so committed to inspiring students that there is no road block that will stop them from this pursuit!

Despite what the media and some politicians would like you to believe, our education system is not broken. We don't need a complete overhaul of the PreK through Post Secondary system. There are many things our school systems do really well. And, there are a few things we need to improve. In my opinion, we should focus on making small changes that could have a huge impact on student success. We should constantly be looking for tweaks that we can make as individuals and as school systems which will help our students adjust to this changing world. Project Based Learning is a small change I implemented in my classroom, and it's made a big impact for my students! I think the face of teacher education could be changed for the better if we implemented the concepts of Project Based Learning in our teacher preparation programs! We have brilliant young people studying to pursue careers in education because they want to have an impact on the world; let's make sure we are helping them in the best way we know how!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Piecing Together the Meaning of The Kansas Teacher of the Year Nomination

I think it was last December when I found out that my good friend Shannon Ralph was named the 2015 Kansas Teacher of the Year! She was/is so deserving! She builds lasting relationships with her students, pushes students to excellence, acts as a leader and role model for our building, and is a huge advocate for education, Biology, and Inquiry Based Learning. That year I was fortunate enough to share a planning period with Shannon, and she pushed me to make huge improvements. During those plan periods we had great discussions about educational theory, technology implementation, and Royals baseball (Mr. Lopez also had the same planning period). It was during these plan periods that we conceived, explored, and planned our Wild West STEM Camp! I will forever be grateful for the time I was able to learn from such a Master! I was so proud and happy when Shannon was named the KTOY because I knew they had chose the right person.

So it came as a great shock when a few months later I was named our district's nomination for the 2016 secondary Kansas Teacher of the Year! Our district is filled with so many great teachers, and I was honored to be considered from a long list of deserving teachers. 

At the time I was working on my last few courses to finish my Master's Degree, and the application for KTOY requires about 22 pages of teaching philosophy, educational issues and solutions, accomplishments, community service, and many other considerations. I really had to dig down deep to write and edit my application while taking six hours of graduate courses, and pour my heart out to my students everyday in class. It was a taxing semester, and I am still not caught up on sleep! In the Spring, I finally submitted my application. 

It has been nearly six months since I submitted my application, and I have been playing the waiting game since then. Tomorrow I will travel to Salina to gather with 30 other teachers to be honored as KTOY nominees. At the luncheon they will announce two finalists from our region to go on and compete for Kansas Teacher of the Year. I am so happy the wait is finally over!

For the last six months my emotions have been a tangled mess. To be honest, I haven't really had a chance to sort through my emotions. Of course, part of me feels happy and proud because I've given my heart and soul to teaching, and it's nice to be recognized for that effort. But, a big part of me doesn't understand this honor. It's not me who deserves or needs any praise. This whole thing is about my students. They are the ones who work their tails off every day. They are the ones who are inspiring. They are the ones who buy-in to all the quirky things I do in my classroom. They are the ones who own the future. I wish they could all be there tomorrow and be recognized for being awesome. They deserve it!

In addition, I'm not convinced I'm the best teacher in my hall, let alone the math department, the school, the district, or the state. I am so lucky to work with some amazing and inspiring teachers who push me to learn more and improve my craft. Again, they are the ones who deserve recognition! I would be a broken down, shell of a teacher crying in the corner without the other amazing teachers who inspire me on a daily basis. 

So, for quite some time, I've been toying with the question, "what does this all mean?" What is the significance of this KTOY honor? On the eve of the luncheon, I think I am finally getting a grasp on what this all means. I look back at the second blog post I ever wrote, and I think the answer is found somewhere in the words I wrote three years ago! The blog post was titled It Takes A Village (you can read it here: To me the significance of this honor is that I am a valued piece of a giant puzzle. It feels great to know that I fit perfectly along side my peers. It feels great to know that the puzzle wouldn't quite be complete without me. But, this puzzle isn't about one piece. This puzzle is about hundreds of pieces coming together at the right time in the right place to make something beautiful. From the administrators who took a chance on hiring a retail manager to teach Algebra, to my principal who grants me liberties and allows me to use bouncy balls instead of chairs, to my instructional coaches who have consoled me through tears and frustration, to my teacher friends who give me ideas and books and inspiration to improve, to the custodians who clean the GIGANTIC messes we make in my classroom with M&Ms, PVC pipe, and ice cream (without ever complaining), to the bus drivers who safely deliver me students every day, to the Paraprofessionals who work tirelessly to translate, accommodate, and care, to the parents who work to provide for our students, to our community members who use their votes to voice their support for providing a quality education for students, to the students who buy-in to the idea that they can grow and improve themselves through hard work and effort.

It's a beautiful puzzle. Each piece provides support to other pieces. When you step back, you can get a view of the whole picture and the individual pieces fade into one master piece. I'm so excited to be a piece of that puzzle. I appreciate that the KTOY program recognizes pieces of the puzzle; that's important. But, they're just pieces of something bigger. I think I gain more satisfaction from the idea that I am a part of something bigger. What a cool job I have!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

A Vision of What School Should Look Like

This summer was by far the busiest summer of my life. I've learned so much and made great strides as an educator this summer. With the whirlwind of events consuming me, I am recommitting myself to blogging as a way to reflect and record my thoughts as I ponder ways to be the best version of myself.

Last day selfie with one of our "veteran" campers!

One of the highlights from this summer was the production of our Second Annual Wild West STEM Camp. Because we fell in love with our campers last year (now incoming 6th graders), we decided to invite each of them back for another year along with a new group of incoming 5th graders. Again this year, we asked each Fourth Grade teachers in our district to nominate one "at-risk" student whom they believed would benefit from the opportunity from their class to attend our camp. When it was all said and done, we ended up with 39 campers, and we needed every bit of our resources to accommodate the large group!

The camp was full of success stories, and I could write a book with all the stories we learned and shared with our campers; we had another amazing group, and each one of them have their own heroes story. However, there was one little boy who caught my attention, and I'd like to share his story.

A few days before the camp started, he sent me a friend request on Facebook. Curious about the young man, I did a bit of research to find out his back story. It turns out this young man comes from a bit of a troubled background, but he's pretty bright. In Fourth Grade he found the principals office more than his fair share, and he had even punched his teacher. As I checked out his Facebook page, I couldn't help but notice his most recent post. In it, he declared that he was thinking about his future. He said that he was thrilled to be chosen to participate in the upcoming STEM Camp, and he couldn't wait to learn more about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. He went on to personally thank 39 of his friends and family members for helping him get to this point in his life. As I read his post, I knew that this young man better have his seat belt on because he was in for the ride of his life!

On the first day of camp, I watched this young man from a distance. I watched him tinker, problem solve, plan, and create. This kid jumped in head first and was doing some extremely high level thinking from the moment he walked through the door. One of their first challenges was to create a hot air balloon from a garbage bag, some string, straws, candles, and tin foil. Although his team didn't get their balloon off the floor, they were highly engaged, and they re-engineered and tinkered to try to solve their proclaimed problem of their design, the heavy weight of their "basket."

At the end of the day this student approached me. He wanted to know if he could bring his tablet to camp the next day. When I asked him why he wanted to bring his tablet, he informed me that he wanted to record everything he was learning by taking pictures. Then, he wanted to create a video with music using his pictures to share on his YouTube channel (keep in mind that this student just finished Fourth Grade). I could hardly contain my excitement because he shared the same kind of entrpreneurial spirit as me, but I also thought that it could potentially cause some problems. So, I told him that he should leave his tablet at home because I would hate for it to get damaged or stolen. That's when he said, "Mr. Coffey, I'm pretty sure I'm the worst behaved kid here, and not even I would steal someone's tablet."

I was heart broken. I replied with, "What do you mean?" Hoping he would elaborate. 

He said, "Mr. Coffey, I'm a bad kid. I get in trouble a lot. I have the worst behavior out of all the kids here. I don't think anyone else would steal my tablet."

More heartbroken then before, I exclaimed, "I don't know what you're talking about. I watched you all day, and I didn't see you cause one bit of trouble. In fact, I would say that you were one of the BEST behaved kids in this camp today."

That's when he proclaimed one of the most profound statements to part the lips of a fourth grader, "That's because I was busy all day long."

Bingo. You've got it. I think if he knew the word, he would have used the word engaged instead of busy. Because I've seen "busy" kids find trouble, but I rarely see "engaged" kids find trouble. But, he's right. He was too engaged to even consider finding trouble. He couldn't keep his eyes, hands, brain, or heart off his projects. He was too busy designing, building, testing, problem solving, re-engineering, re-testing, analyzing, and creating. He wouldn't have even glanced at trouble if trouble was dancing on the table dressed in a tutu. These students were that engaged and passionate about their creations. They had too much pride in their concepts to allow for distractions. And, this focus didn't come from any extrinsic motivation. They weren't playing for any prize or trophy. They were engaged because they wanted to rise to the challenge. Like their balloon filling with hot air, they wanted to feel their heart fill with pride when they watched their balloon hover above the tile. 

That's when it really hit home. This experience shouldn't be limited to a week long camp during the summer for 39 elementary students; this is what every student should experience on a daily basis at school. Our campers were racing to the school to give themselves a few extra moments to tinker with their creations. They were trying to stay late to make one last adjustment to their designs. They couldn't get enough. That's what school should look and feel like.

To get to that point, we have to move away from our obsession with everything being fair and equal. Listen, a great education doesn't have to look and feel the same for every student. Let students direct their path. Allow students to make some choices, to have some say, to use their voice regarding their education. If a kid is infatuated with volcanoes in Third Grade, let the kid learn about volcanoes for goodness sakes! Who cares if volcanoes aren't in the curriculum until Sixth Grade. Throw some logs on that fire before it goes out!! That doesn't mean every student has to learn about volcanoes, let them explore and find something they are curious about or passionate about.

In addition, we need to get over our other obsession with content. The point of school (at least in this day and age) is not to memorize as many facts as possible. We have moved beyond this point in education. Our students have access to facts and content in their pocket. Today, it is important that we focus on how to think. Now that we have all this knowledge in our pocket, what can we do with it? How can we analyze it? How can we interpret it? How can we use it to problem solve? These will be the skills necessary in tomorrow's world (heck, even today's world)! So, rather than focusing on learning content, we should focus on using content to teach thinking skills. When you look at education through this lens, suddenly the content become less important. You can teach thinking skills through any content. Am I saying we abandon all our standards and the Common Core State Standards? No, I'm simply asking us to think about what's important. In my humble opinion, thinking skills are most important, and our content should play a supporting role in the goal of creating independent thinkers.

This week long STEM Camp about brought me to the point of exhaustion. The planning, development, budgeting, logistics, purchasing, scheduling, and caring for the details brought me to the edge of my sanity. There were many things that I can improve for next year. In fact, our theme for next year is "Raise the Bar." But, for the second summer in a row, it was the most rewarding aspect of my summer. By the last day, our campers were literally coming to each of us begging to be invited back next year. It has been so fun to watch them develop, and I hope to get to track them as they grow into young adults. Exhaustion is a small price to pay for the hope that you had a positive impact on one of these beautiful learners. As they thanked me on their way out the door, I hope they heard my thank you; because it is them that have the impact on me.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

How To Fix Algebra

It has been so long since my last blog, and so much has happened since then! I'm excited to share the exciting things that have happened in my world, but today I want to talk about the major shift that has happened in my classroom this year.

I pursued a career as a math teacher because I loved my math classes when I was in high school. My teachers would ask us to memorize the steps to solve a particular type of problem, they would go through a few examples as a class, and then they would assign homework to practice solving these particular types of problems. The entire process was very black and white for me, and my systematic brain was extremely good at playing that game. 

It wasn't until I started introducing myself as an Algebra teacher that I began to realize the extreme pain and discomfort the vast majority of the public felt towards mathematics and specifically Algebra. I constantly hear negative remarks towards Algebra. Random strangers tell me about how they have never used Algebra a day in their life and friends distance themselves from me because I stir up old emotions they had for their high school Algebra teacher.

Where did we go wrong? Algebra should not be this painful! And, despite what people say about never using Algebra a day in their life, Algebra is an essential model to solving real-world problems. You may not derive formulas and use "x" as a variable, but you are using Algebra principals when you figure out how many boxes of flooring to purchase for your new floors. You use Algebra to estimate how many more miles you can squeeze out of this tank of gas. Those are Algebraic problems that your brain is processing and solving whether you recognize it or not. So, why do people hate Algebra so much?

I would argue that Algebra teachers are creating this hate and displeasure for math, and I think I can explain why. You see, for too many years Algebra teachers have done a poor job of applying meaning to Algebraic concepts. Sure we do some story problems, but only if they fit the exact model we are teaching at the moment. And besides, story problems are not creating meaning for our students. Despite our attempt at showing real-world relevance through story problems, our students don't believe our stories. They don't see a use for calculating the rate of the current as a boat travels 37 mph up the stream. And should they believe us? Has ANYONE ever had to do that in real life? I would argue no. The method of asking students to memorize steps for specific scenarios, then running them through some examples, and assigning 30 homework problems is broken. It is time Algebra teachers change the way we teach Algebra and help our students fall in love with the process of solving problems.

To change, I think Algebra teachers need to implement active learning. We need students out of their desks, measuring, building, designing, and creating. And, we need to purposely set them up so that they will need to understand Algebraic concepts to solve the problems they will encounter as they create. Learning is so much more meaningful when you learn a concept to help you make something you are passionate about. That is how you make learning stick. That is how you help students fall in love with learning and math. And, when it's all said and done, and our students are 35 years old, isn't that what is important? That we have a nation full of thinkers who love learning and solving problems? To me, that sounds much better than a country full of people who are bitter, frustrated, and angry with their high school Algebra teacher!

When we look at creating these types of learning experiences for our students, Algebra teachers are at a disadvantage. See, science teachers can use Inquiry Based Learning because their students are naturally curious about the world around them. Very few students are naturally curious about solving quadratic equations. So, we must be careful and purposeful when we design these learning experiences for our students. 

For me, Project Based Learning works best for Algebra. Idealy, I want to create projects so tasty that my students are hustling from the bus to get into my classroom. I try to create projects about zombies, business (money), music, or rockets. I try to keep my fingers on my students' pulse so that I have a good idea about topics they are passionate about. Then, I concoct an idea of something they will have to make or a problem that they will have to solve. I think about how many different Algebra concepts I can fit into one project, and I carefully walk myself through the project to ensure I set the trap. The trap is that my students will come face to face with an Algebra problem, and they will have to work their way through it in order to complete the project that they are so passionate about completing. When it all comes together, it is a beautiful process!

If you want to transform your classroom into an active learning environment and/or Project Based Learning, here are my tips to help you get started:

1) Insteading of solving story (word) problems, DO story problems. I remember reading a story problem about a boy throwing a ball. Then, I thought, why can't we go outside and throw a ball? We can measure how many seconds it is in the air. We can find the maximum height. So, anytime I look at word problems now, I try to find ways to DO the problems rather then simply read about them.

2) Search Pintrest, TeachersPayTeachers,,, or any other resource for project ideas. I don't necessarily use projects from these sources, but I find ideas. Then, I tweak them to make them fit my classroom, my curriculum, and my students.

3) Search for problems in your life and adapt them to your class. I was at a fair this past summer, and my son and wife went on the ferris wheel. As I waited down below, I couldn't help but wonder how many feet they traveled as they made their way up and down the ferris wheel. I snapped a quick picture of the ferris wheel, and created a problem for my students to solve. We didn't have any exact measurements, but my students made some good estimates, and they found the total distance traveled during a ferris wheel ride.

Change isn't easy. We've been teaching Algebra the same way for a loooooong time. But, if we are in this for the students, if we want what is best for our students, change is something we have to make. Their future is more important than our anxiety for trying new things. Give it a try. See how it goes. I think you'll love where creating an active learning environment will take you!!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Twitter Chats

One of my favorite things to do on Twitter is participate in Twitter chats. Twitter chats are live conversations that happen between a group of people following a hashtag. It allows you to get the experience of sitting around a table to have a conversation with other like minded individuals, but you don't have to get all dressed up or leave your living room!

Twitter chats are planned and scheduled. They start at a certain time, and they usually last one hour. During that one hour, there is a moderator (or sometimes a team of moderators) who poses questions to the group to start conversations. Participants then share their ideas and create a discussion around the question. After allowing time for discussion, the moderator moves on and poses another question. Most Twitter chats follow the Q1/A1 format. That means the moderator poses his first question by starting with Q1. His/her tweet might look like this: "Q1: How do you plan to make this year better than last year? #DCHSchat." To respond to this question you would start your tweet with A1. Your response might look like this: "A1: I threw out all my worksheets, and we're doing ALL hands on, engaging learning! #DCHSchat." This format allows participants to know when a new question is being asked, and it also lets people know which question you are responding to. Notice that both tweets included the hashtag #DCHSchat. This is super important. If the hashtag is not included in the question or your response, no one will ever see the tweets, and it will be like you are not participating at all.

There are dozens (maybe hundreds) of Twitter chats about education. Here is a list of dates and times of some Twitter chats about education: I would encourage you to find one that interests you, and "attend" the chat!

When I first started getting involved in Twitter chats, I was a lurker. That means I would follow the chat hashtag and I would read everyone's tweets, but I would never contribute to the conversation. I was afraid I would say something stupid. Lurking is okay. You can learn a decent amount by lurking. However, my learning increased exponentially once I started adding to the conversation! Now, I love jumping into Twitter chats; it's how I push myself and grow. However, there are times today when I still lurk. Sometimes there's a great Twitter chat during my son's bath time, and I can't engage in the conversation, but when I get a chance I peek in on the conversation to see what teachers are talking about. You have to do what ever is comfortable for you...then push a little further past that comfort zone. That's how we get better!

Now that you know what a Twitter chat is and how they work, I would like to invite you to join our DCHS Twitter chat. Here's how to join the conversation. On Monday August 18th at 7:00 pm, log on to your Twitter account. In the top right hand corner, there is a search box. In that search box, type #DCHSchat. It will give you the option to view the "Top Tweets" or "All Tweets." You'll want to see everyone's tweets, so click on "All Tweets." You'll start seeing questions and responses. Then, start responding with your own tweets (remember to use the #DCHSchat hashtag)! That's it!! I can't wait to "see" you there!!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Launching Into The Twittersphere!

When people hear that I'm on Twitter, I often hear, "I have a Twitter account, but I don't really use it." Or, "I signed up for Twitter, but I don't really get it." This is a very common experience. This post is intended to expose some of the Twitter "secrets" and lingo to help launch you into the Twittersphere!

Firstly, you should know that each tweet can only contain 140 characters. That includes punctuation, spaces, letters, and numbers. You can add pictures, videos, and links to your tweets, but just know that those eat up some of your characters.

Anytime you include somebody's twitter handle (username) in a tweet, Twitter sends that person a notification, so they can easily view your tweet (when you use their Twitter handle remember that you must use the @ sign).

The real magic of Twitter is the hashtag (#). There are millions of Twitter users tweeting about all kinds of random things; it can get very distracting! The hashtag allows you to sort through those billions of tweets and search for tweets that are important to you. Simply search for a hashtag, and Twitter will sort through every tweet and deliver only the tweets you are interested in. For instance, I teach Algebra 1, so I often search the hashtag #alg1chat. There are teachers from all around the country sharing their thoughts and ideas about Algebra 1 by using that hashtag. There are very specific hashtags and there are generic hashtags like #mathchat or #edchat. Perhaps you want to know what's going on in Kansas or our school district; search #ksedchat or #usd443. You will only see the tweets of people talking about Kansas education or USD443.

With the hashtag comes great responsibility. When you tweet, you should try to include hashtags. If you don't include a hashtag, then no one can search for your tweet. If you are tweeting about independent and dependent clauses, then include a #ELA or #Englchat. Use a hashtag that others might search for and make your tweet visible! Also, I love using #usd443 because I want parents, community members, and other teachers to see what's happening in our district. I try to share within the district as much as possible.

When you tag users in your tweet (by typing their twitter handle), and you include two or three hashtags in your tweet along with a picture, you will run out of characters fast! So, sometimes tweeters will get creative to use less characters. Sometimes they use 2 instead of to or too. Sometimes they'll use b4 instead of before. Now, we're teachers, and I think this type of "text" talk annoys all of us! I try to avoid it at all costs because I want my tweets to be professional. However, there are instances where I need to get creative to get my message across in 140 characters, so I'll have to take some shortcuts. Many times teachers will use "Ss" to represent students and "Ts" to represent Teachers. There are other shortcuts teachers use when tweeting, but I can't think of them off the top of my head. Here's my advice: if you have a questions about what someone is talking about, you should totally just tweet them, and ask them! I promise they will be cool with it! That's the best way to find out!

Another thing you can do on Twitter is send a "Direct Message." A direct message is essentially an email. When you send a direct message, it goes straight to that person and no one else. Some conversations you may want to keep private, so you should send those out as a direct message (click on the little envelope and type in the persons twitter handle). Just like tweets, Direct Messages can only be 140 characters. WARNING: If you send a tweet and it is NOT a direct message, it can be seen by the entire world of Twitter. Try to avoid embarrassing situations at all times!!

Finally, if you like a tweet that someone else wrote, you have two options to show them some love. You could "retweet" their tweet or "favorite" their tweet. When you retweet someone's tweet, it gets shared with all of your followers. This is a great way to spread really good ideas. This is how tweets go "viral" because the more people share, the more people see the tweet. Plus, it feels really good when someone retweets your ideas. So, if you want to make someone's day, retweet them. Another way to show love on Twitter is to favorite a tweet. This is similar to "liking" a status on Facebook. The cool thing about Twitter is it saves every tweet you favorite. So, sometimes I see an article I'm interested in, but I don't have time to read it at the moment. I will favorite that tweet, so I can find it later and read it. You can always search any tweets you favorite. Again, this is another way to show someone some Twitter love. It's like giving someone a virtual high-five! 

You're turning into a Twitter pro! I think you're ready to learn about Twitter chats!!