Category Archives: Classroom Connections

Wordle: How Educators are Using Twitter for PD

I am thrilled by the response to my request for an answer to the question, “How do you use Twitter for professional development?” Really appreciate everyone’s help as I prepare to pass the fever on to colleagues. If you are yet to complete the survey, your answers are just as welcome and desired now. Here’s a link to the Google Doc.

I went to everyone’s responses and compiled them into a Wordle. I think it’s interesting to see what words are most prominent when we consider Twitter as a tool for PD: “ideas” and “resources”. Right between them, the word “new” and right next to them, the word “learn”.

Thanks again for your help.

How do you use Twitter for professional development?

Creative Commons License
How Educators Use Twitter for Professional Development by Matthew S. Ray is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.


#RSCON3 Slides – WisconsiNewYork: Collaborating and Connecting

I hoped to upload the slides directly into WordPress, but am having trouble doing so. Instead, I am attaching the link to view them in a Google Doc. Please feel free to refer to them as you see fit, and don’t hesitate to be in touch with me or Pernille.

WisconsiNewYork: Collaborating and Connecting by Pernille Ripp and Matt Ray

Attend RSCON3. You Won’t Regret It.

If you don’t have plans for the weekend of July 29-31, you’re in luck. Really!

If you do have plans, you might want to consider adjusting them.

The Reform Symposium – RSCON3 – will be held online beginning on July 29, running all the way through July 31. It’s a truly inspirational, unique conference that brings together some of the most incredible educators in the world for three days of professional development. You should really be there.

This time around, I’m truly humbled to be on the roster of amazing presenters. Together with Pernille Ripp, I’ll be sharing our experience collaborating across the country to bring a meaningful learning experience to our students. We’d love for you to join us on July 29 at 7:30 PM EST.

RSCON3 is a wonderful way to connect with other educators around the world and learn together. Come by for one session or as many as you like. It’s totally free and totally worth your time.

Take the plunge. You won’t regret it!



In a few days, nearly 8000 educators from over 40 different countries are expected to attend a free 3 day virtual conference, The Reform Symposium, #RSCON3. This free award-nominated e-conference is going to take place on July 29-31st, 2011. Participants can attend this online conference from the comfort of their homes or anywhere that has Internet access. This amazing conference provides educators new or currently active on social networks the opportunity to connect with educators and professionals in the field of education worldwide. With over 12 Keynotes, 80 presenters, and 3 keynote panel discussions you are bound to be inspired!

I Stood My Ground and We All Won

One of the things I learned while my class was yukking it up with Mrs. Ripp’s via Skype today was that the contents of our NYC to Wisconsin care package had been distributed to the Wisconsin students by virtue of the randomness known as “Pick Sticks.” I hadn’t thought of that as a way to give to my class the goodies we received, but when Mrs. Ripp mentioned that, I figured it was a good idea.

If you don’t know, when you “pick sticks,” you’re just pulling a random student’s name on a stick out of a cup, and the student who is pulled a) gets the thing, b) answers the question, c) lines up next, etc.

So after we signed off Skype for the summer and wished each other well, I pulled out our sticks to assist me in divvying up the contents of the box we received. I did my best to explain to the class that they shouldn’t wish too hard to get any specific toy (like the University of Wisconsin ball that created so much joy for all), and that they should remember that when we pick sticks, we go with whatever the stick indicates. I really wanted them to prepare themselves to be disappointed. There were some highly coveted items, but only a select few students would be able to claim them as their own. Naturally, not everyone could get the most popular items, but as my dad used to say in my younger days, “Them’s the breaks.”

The first 7 or so students fell somewhere on the happiness spectrum between slightly amused and elated. They were all taking it like a man or woman, accepting whatever gift they received (understanding it’s better to get something than nothing at all).

But then the pick stick process ran into the buzzsaw known as Dolly. Her name was drawn just in time to receive a soft teddy bear with a knit red Wisconsin sweater. To me, it was one of the picks of the proverbial litter, but to Dolly, it was an unacceptable interloper on her dreams of acquiring that soft squeezy ball. I had my first challenge to the pick sticks. So I said to Dolly, “I know you are upset that you didn’t get the ball. You still can have this bear if you want it. Do you want the bear?” Frowny face and all, Dolly shook her head to indicate no. I told her she can make her own choice, but if she chooses not to take the bear, she will not get anything else. She still shook her head.

The process repeated with two other students who, so incensed were they to not receive exactly the piece of Wisconsin memorabilia they craved and desired, decided not to take anything. As a result, I had seven very happy children warming up to their unexpected treats, interspersed with three agitated, simmering kids who felt they had been wronged in the worst possible way.

In past days, my para would have approached me to try to get me to figure out a way to mollify their injured hearts, but I think she knows now that I don’t operate that way. No, this is a teachable moment for me, and a learnable moment for the students. I let them sit for a while, walking on a cloud after my para said, “You’re right, they have to learn.” When I began to see the brick walls they built around themselves come down, I approached each student individually.

They were not happy to hear what I was saying. I’m sure they didn’t appreciate how calmly I reminded them that they made a choice not to receive the gift after knowing the rules of pick sticks were, say it with me, “You get what you get.” (You know the rest). Gus wasn’t too pleased, Dolly barely registered a whisper in response, and Jasmyn allowed her eyes to water just a tad.

Sorry, though, I didn’t feel badly for them. I might have had they not ended their days the way they did.

Yes, they were mad at me, or the process, or the kids in Wisconsin, or their friends. But after I talked to them about it, reminding them it was their choice, their harsh exteriors faded minutes later. This was confirmation to me that they understood that their anger and sadness was a result of a choice they made, and nothing else. Before the end of the day, Gus was back to his alternately excited and gloomy self. Dolly was back talking in an audible voice. Jasmyn was boisterously announcing that she heard on the news that Justin Bieber got married.

I may sound harsh, but I offer no apologies for how it all went down. The expectations of the pick stick process were presented before we started, as they always are, and three students chose to pass on what they could have had. They spited no one but themselves. I reflect that it’s important to hold your position when children test you. I don’t think it makes me any less sensitive or caring. I think it makes me fair.

By now, I think they realize that, too.

Getting Ready for RSCON3

The school year is winding down and I am feeling, surprisingly, re-energized to make something out of my summer that might benefit next year’s class (whatever class that may be). While so many of our educational brethren are counting down the days (okay, I am, too) and making summer plans to do with everything except school (okay, I am, too) I am also finding myself thinking big ideas for how I will spend at least some of my vacation setting up some of the ideas I have running through my head (and filling up my notebook).

Whether I actually commit myself well enough to do them remains to be seen. But there is something to which I am totally committed, for better or worse. I will be entering the foray of education conferences this summer as more than an attendee. I will actually be presenting on two topics at RSCON3, The Reform Symposium. It’s a worldwide internet conference that features an amazing roster of presenters, all organized by an amazing group of educators.

I looked over the list of presenters earlier today, and to say I may be just a bit out of my league might be an understatement. That being said, I’m going for it, in the hopes that something I’ve done in my career might be something that can inspire someone out there to try the same, or modify it for their own learners.

I am so excited to be partnering with one of my main inspirations out there, Pernille Ripp. We are planning to present about our experiences bringing our two classes together (July 29, 7:30 PM ET). It is my hope that sharing our story with others will inspire virtual colleagues to figure out ways to bring an exciting and unique way of student-centered learning into their own classrooms.

My other presentation will be about the ways I’ve used photography in the classroom to enhance literacy (July 29, 5:30 PM ET). This has been a passion of mine since my first year, and although The Mosaic Project has evolved (or maybe devolved?) due to a variety of circumstances each year (not all positive) I still believe that at its heart it is a wonderful way to bring students to a place they may have never dreamed of going. It’s an empowering project with a product that has never failed to surprise and impress me.

The full schedule is not available on the web site yet, but I can tell you with no uncertainty that if you decide to attend The Reform Symposium, you won’t be disappointed. I planned to watch only two presentations at RSCON2 back in January, but I wound up sticking around much of the day. It was an exciting, fun, memorable conference. I know it will be this time around, as well. Mark your calendars for July 29-31!

Hope to see you there!

A Class Trip to Wisconsin

Today my students showed up, right on cue, wearing their school shirts. Normally, the only time we break those bad boys out is for a class trip, and that’s common practice throughout the school. As such, no fewer than 8 staff members stopped us in the halls this morning to ask “Where are you going today?” The puzzling reply?


Well, maybe not exactly. I explained we didn’t have a trip. Instead, we were going to be Skyping with our buddy class in Wisconsin (although, until our friends popped up on the computer, at least two of my boys still thought we were actually going to Wisconsin today). This was met with a variety of “Wow! Cool!”s and some “Oh”s. People were either impressed or indifferent. Never did we mind: the entire class was pumped.

At around 1:05 EST, my and Pernille Ripp’s class were finally connected via Skype – the culmination of several months of planning and exchanges. After a couple of initial hiccups, the kids on opposite sides of the Smart Board saw each other for the first time and let out squeals of joy. I knew my class would be excited to finally see the kids from the mystical land of Wisconsin. They had wondered openly whether people in Wisconsin had cars and airplanes, as if Wisconsin was some distant star in the universe, inhabited by no one but Mrs. Ripp and 23 children. I was not, however, prepared for Mrs. Ripp’s students’ reactions to us. Did they think we might have three heads, too?

My and Pernille’s collaboration was conceived with the idea of learning about the differences between Madison and New York, but more and more it became clear to me my students would be even more excited to learn about the similarities. Of course, none of us were prepared to learn one girl had 17 horses (how many of us can even say we have one?), but there were plenty of things to find in common. The kids in Wisconsin knew “Puff, the Magic Dragon,” and they sang it with us as we performed.

Even though many students reported having butterflies in their stomach leading up to the big Skype call, everyone rose to the occasion and shed some insecurities in order to speak in front of their new friends. There was obvious interest on both sides to learn about each other, and there was nothing forced about it.

It was truly a memorable day in my class, and it’s one that I don’t think we’ll soon forget.

What is Behind that Nervous Smile?

Kids come from all walks of life, carrying with them the burdensome baggage of their youthful experiences that only adults should have to deal with. One of my core beliefs in working with children who come from disadvantaged backgrounds is that, as much as we adults think we know what’s going on in their lives, there is so much of which we haven’t a clue.

It is with this thought in mind that I reflect on something that has interested me since I began teaching: Why are so many of my students incapacitated by poor self-image and shyness?

Back in the day, my fifth graders would sooner pass out from the heat in the room in June than take off their hoodies, which, I guess, served as security blankets to cover all the insecurities of their changing bodies.

This year, one of my girls is so painfully shy that when I ask her to come in front of the class to do something she knows how to do well, she just smiles at me and bolts herself to the chair. I have to encourage her ad infinitum before she even considers budging, and when she does, it is usually only because I’ve gone over to her and whispered in her ear or given her some other clue to know it’s safe and okay. It happened today when all the kids were clamoring for a chance to count out a pattern on the Smart Board. When it was her turn, she refused to come up (but performed expertly with me right there by her side once she made it).

She won’t smile in pictures. She averts her eyes everywhere but the camera, painfully darting them into the lens for split seconds at a time. It pains me. What can be so hurtful to a 7-year old as to cause her to become nearly incapacitated in these situations? Shouldn’t a smile be one of the easiest things to offer?

Why are this girl – and so many other children – paralyzed by the fear of failure and judgment at such a young age? Who is instilling this lack of confidence in them? And what can I do to help them break it?

The reason I bring this up today is because our Skype session with our Wisconsin buddies is approaching, and the fears I foretold in the early planning stages are beginning to rear their heads. Today we did a couple of practice runs, focusing on how to come up to the computer, look at the camera, and speak to the children on the other side. When it came to Jasmyn, who knows her question well enough to say it without looking, she just sat at her desk, unwilling (unable?) to move. She finally made it to the computer (with some prodding from me) and asked her question beautifully in a loud voice. So why the terror?

I am perplexed. If saying a simple 5-word question in front of a trusted teacher and classmates was so scary, how will it be to speak to strangers on Skype with the principal and APs in attendance? I am wary of pushing Jasmyn past her limits – but I am also confident that exposing her to these situations and letting her see they are not dangerous, and that she can handle them, will benefit her.

Am I right?

Cross-Country Collaboration Continues to Amaze

We are spending time each day in my class at least talking about our upcoming collaboration with Pernille Ripp’s class in Wisconsin. On some days we are doing work related to the project. On others we are simply discussing. Today, when I broached the topic with my students, David felt the need to opine indignantly, “Mrs. Ripp, Mrs. Ripp, Mrs. Ripp. Everything is Ripp, Ripp, Ripp!” Had David gotten the message I got this evening, perhaps his thoughts would have been different.

I received a very exciting note from Pernille around 4:30. She notified me to say that her class’ care package was in the mail, and I could expect it in 3 to 5 days.

And I was totally like, “WOO HOO!”

Honestly, our collaboration has taken on a life of its own. I never dreamed there would be gifts involved. And food! I never thought I’d be trying so hard to outfox and outmaneuver Pernille and stay a step ahead of her in terms of what my class can present to her’s. (I think I’m falling behind…)

Nor did I envision my students starring in a video tour of the school. We plan to share it with Mrs. Ripp‘s class. I especially didn’t expect three of my quietest girls to stand shoulder to shoulder for their line and say it with such confidence. It’s odd – whenever the still camera comes out when I want to document their learning, notebooks become shields and faces miraculously disappear behind hands. However, for the video, there was no such trepidation or angst. The girls stood tall and proud, sharing information about their school.

This is fast developing into a project that I can begin to consider a hallmark in my career. There is such an in-sync sharing of ideas and inspiration. I’m amazed at what is transpiring in my class because of this, and I feel the potential is somewhat limitless.

There are benefits for me and cross-country collaborator Pernille, but they’re incidental to what we’re seeing from our kids.

What the Heck’s a ‘Wisconsin’?

There are few words that fall as beautifully off my students’ lips the way “Wisconsin” does.

A couple of weeks ago, I began preparing them for the exciting opportunity that Pernille Ripp and I are coordinating for our students. She and I are planning to link our classes up as a way for them to learn about two vastly different communities: suburban Madison, Wisconsin and Queens, New York.

There’s little that is novel to our plan, other than the fact that I’ve never done anything quite like it in my education career, nor have my students in theirs’. While Pernille and I share mutual excitement about the possibilities this presents for our students, I, personally, maintain some worries over how it will all play out.

The first concern I had when Pernille and I Skyped about this was the fact that my kids have very little concept of their own community, let alone the fact that it exists as one of thousands across the country. I knew they didn’t know they lived in a neighborhood which was part of a bigger borough which was part of a state which was part of a country. It’s a very hard thing to conceptualize. Pernille presented it as a teaching opportunity (duh! Why didn’t I think of that?) So, since then, we’ve spent time talking about the various levels of where we live and have checked ourselves out on Google Earth, enabling the kids to see there is a bigger picture to our world than their house, the park, and school.

To her credit, Pernille has been exceptionally receptive to tailoring this thing to the needs of my kids. I asked that the videos they are preparing have subtitles using words on the K-2 list, and she said “Absolutely.” I remarked that all my students are native Spanish speakers, and she said it’d be a great opportunity for her ELLs to step out and shine. I hemmed and hawed about saying I was worried how her kids might perceive mine, and she gave me ways we could both take measures to make everyone on both sides feel comfortable.

Our plan is for Pernille’s class to send us a video of their community, from which we can formulate some questions to be asked when we hook the classes up on Skype. There’s been talk about a cross-country food exchange so each class can nibble on something the others’ state is known for (What does it cost to send a couple dozen bagels to Wisconsin, anyway? Is pizza on dry ice an option?) With each conversation Pernille and I have, more anxieties are lifted and more excitement builds.

My kids now know there is a place called “Wisconsin,” and, wouldn’t you know it, it has three words in it – “is,” “on,” and “in” – to help them chunk it into something they can read. They know there’s a class on the other side of the SMART Board waiting to meet them. They know that they can share information about their own community.

More and more, I know it’s going to be a wonderful experience for everyone involved. Speaking for my entire class, it’s safe to say, “We can’t wait to meet you, Mrs. Ripp’s class!”

Pernille Ripp is a 4th grade teacher in Wisconsin. She blogs at Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension and has 2,173 followers on Twitter. I am happy to be one of the ones who gets to learn with and from her.