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Liquid Networks, PLNs, and growing professionally

So what does a liquid network look like?

  • Start by having a conversation about the themes of A Clockwork Orange and A Brave New World with your college-age son home for the holiday break. Realize that the topic has morphed over into brain research. Reference Steven Johnson’s book titled Mind Wide Open. During Mind Wide Open conversation remember that Johnson’s latest book, Where Good Ideas Come From, also references brain research and collaboration.
  • Continue the conversation later on historyfriend’s blog post about creating a community of scholars. Reference Johnson’s Good Ideas book. Do search for link to book. Instead, find a TED talk by Johnson about his book. Listen to the TED talk. Suggest video to historyfriend.
  • Share discussion with face to face office colleagues and online network. Gather more ideas about how best to organize classrooms for collaborative learning. Realize that these ideas would be perfect for your upcoming cohort session of 40 middle school teachers.
  • Walk away smarter because son, Johnson, historyfriend, Amazon, TED, office colleagues, and online friends all combined to help you develop a new idea for how to organize a Teaching American History meeting.

This whole sequence of events over the last few days has reinforced for me how important it is to have a Personal Learning Network, a PLN. A group of people that we can talk with, ask questions, learn from. Of course, they learn from us as well. No good idea is developed in isolation. And when we try to work alone, we’re hurting others by not sharing our stuff with them.

For too long, the teaching professional has encouraged the idea that we’re should be able to do this job by ourselves. We were told to close our doors in August and open them back up in May. That asking for help was a sign of weakness.

We know that’s not true. Johnson’s research, McREL’s research, Pat Wolfe’s research, – all support the concept that working together encourages higher levels of quality ideas and thinking.

Johnson says that

chance favors the connected mind. Good ideas do not happen when you’re alone in the lab or by yourself poring over data. Good ideas happen when people work together.

I like that. He calls these sorts of connected minds working together liquid networks. Think solids, gases, liquids. A too restrictive, structured environment such as a traditional school environment restricts sharing and learning. No boundaries or structure at all allows the ideas and sharing to dissipate out into the ether, never to be seen again. A liquid state – a few boundaries that allow ideas to bounce around within a structure that can change shape and move as needed – that’s the ticket.

The added bonus? When your kids you see you modeling your network, it becomes easier encouraging them to do the same thing.

So . . . your homework for the holiday break?

Extend or create your own liquid network. Find and connect with others that are working with similar problems and similar questions. Where to start?

Join Twitter and search for hastags such as:
#sschat – Social Studies chat (One of my favorites. Check out their Ning page too.)
#socialstudies – General social studies
#history – General history stuff
#apush – Advanced Placement history
#ushistory – United States history
#civics – Government and civics teaching
#apgov – Advanced Placement government
#historychatHistory chats
#historyteacher – History instruction
#geographyteacher – Geography instruction
Follow people who are sharing tweets with those hashtags. Follow me at glennw98. Browse through those people that I’m following. Follow those people that look interesting.

Create a Facebook group and invite other social studies teachers to join.

It could as simple as intentionally connecting with other teachers down the hall. Email friends in other schools. Create an email group that sends out questions to all of these people at the same time. Need some friends to start with? Go here. Tell them I sent you.

Watching Johnson’s short version can help you stay motivated:

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