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As I have grown my professional learning networks (PLNs) via Twitter, Google+, and blogs, I have grown in the classroom. The collection of minds in these networks has energized my mind and rejuvenated me. I have also been more inventive and willing to experiment this past year. I urge other chemistry teachers to venture outside of their classrooms, buildings, and districts to connect with others across the U.S. and beyond via social media.

My journey started with Twitter

In the fall of 2013, a science teacher in my building urged me to sign up for Twitter so I could participate in a new chat: #NGSSchat. This chat centered on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which we were very excited about. At the time, I did not participate in any social media except Facebook, which I use to connect with family and old classmates. I thought of Twitter as a way for my teenage students to follow and comment on their favorite stars—never did I consider that it had any educational value. Was I ever wrong.

Once I signed up and started to participate in #NGSSchat and various other education-related chats (#kyedchat, #txeduchat, #sblchat, #21edchat, #ecet2), I learned about the plethora of knowledge and resources out there. As busy teachers, how often do we wish that we had more time at school to sit down and discuss our teaching with our colleagues? With Twitter we can do that—with hundreds of other teachers. Have a question? Tweet it out and somebody will answer it. Want to collaborate on a project? Tweet it out and somebody will take you up on it. Need a scientist to talk to your class via Google Hangout or Skype? Tweet it out and somebody will help you find one—a great contact for this via Twitter is @2footgiraffe.

I’d argue that Twitter is the best resource for expanding your PLN, gathering classroom resources, and collaboration among teachers. One of my best and favorite resources is #ngssblogs, where teachers who are working on implementing NGSS share their experiences. Many science teachers are unsure about their implementation of the standards, and the blogs provide starting points for teachers as well as reassurance that we are all in the same boat with NGSS.

Blog beginnings

Shortly after catching the Twitter bug, I became interested in blogging. In January 2014, I started my first blog, Battaglia’s Babble. I chose to use WordPress because it was free and easy to use (I don’t consider myself to be very tech savvy). My blog contains reflections and commentary about my learning and classroom experiences and is intended to be shared with other teachers. My blog is attached to my Twitter and Google+ accounts, so when I write a new post, everyone in those two networks receives a notification that a new post has been added.

With Twitter, you are limited to 140 characters, so getting your point across is not always easy, whereas with a blog, you can write as much as you want, and other teachers can easily respond and share their own experiences that deal with the same topic. Blogging about my experiences over the past year or so has made me more reflective about my teaching and has been very therapeutic. Some discussions have centered on student misconceptions, the concept of models in chemistry, and how the chemistry classroom is changing with NGSS. I have also made connections with other teachers through my blogs.

Blog networking

Some of my NGSS PLN set up #ngssblogs on Twitter so teachers working on implementing NGSS could aggregate their experiences. The NGSS PLN is a Google+ community of teachers working on the implementation of NGSS and is a place to share blogs, podcasts, videos, etc., of classroom experiences and collaborations.

During this whole time, I had been studying and working on how to implement NGSS in my chemistry classroom. As I gathered resources, I amassed a collection of bookmarks on my computer. I wanted to organize them by scientific practices and content, so I developed another blog to house all of those resources, NGSS Chemistry Resources. All of my resources are in one place, I tag my posts so I can easily search my resources, I manage this blog alongside my others in WordPress, and I can share posts with other teachers on Twitter and Google+. Many teachers have thanked me for the blog because there aren’t many available resources that address NGSS. Teachers are also welcome to contribute their ideas, resources, and lessons to the blog.

Blogging for the classroom

For the 2014–15 school year, I developed yet another blog, Battaglia’s Chemistry. This is my class website. It contains general resources, but I also post a brief list of what my students accomplish every day. Any worksheets or forms that I use in class are posted to the website—I use Google Docs and Forms, or I scan them. If students miss class, they can easily access what they need before returning to school. There are no excuses for students to not know or have what is required for class. The website helps both my students and me stay organized. Many parents have commented that it is a nice way to stay informed on a day-to-day basis. When discussing a missing assignment with a parent, I can refer them to the website so they can immediately access the work instead of rifling through a student’s folder, which they may or may not have at home with them.

This blog is attached to a class Twitter account, which many of my students and their parents follow so that they can receive those daily updates. The blog can also be followed via email if a student or parent does not have or want a Twitter account. Keeping this blog up-to-date takes approximately 10 minutes a day, so it is easy to maintain.

Get students involved

Just a few weeks ago, I started a pilot student blogging project, which will last through the last quarter of the school year. Students blog daily about their learning experiences, which takes about 10 minutes a day, and then use certain blog posts to develop an e-portfolio at the end of the school year, which corresponds to NGSS. It will be a yearlong project next year. This idea was inspired by Twitter member @chrisludwig. If you are interested in how it works, Chris has several posts on his blog.

Additionally, here is a Smore flyer that I use for presentations. It contains more information about the benefits of teacher and student blogging, how to set up a WordPress blog, how to manage student blogs, how to get help to write a blog, and how teacher and student blogging helps Kentucky teachers meet the new teacher standards.

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