Mrs. Ryan's Class

A Digital Learning Hub for students and parents

My Personal Learning Network (PLN)

Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) are a way for individuals to create their own network of people, resources, and organizations to help them achieve their own learning goals. Researchers like Dr. Mark Wagner argue that “all educators (and learners) can benefit from extending their own personal learning network online – beyond the walls of their schools, the boundaries of their districts, and the limits of their experience.” (2012) I agree that the development of a Personal Learning Network allows people to extend their scope of resources and people to collaborate with and learn from. In the video, Personal Learning Networks, Will Richardson notes that with the addition of Personal Learning Networks in education, physical space doesn’t matter as much; what matters is that we can connect with others anywhere and share ideas.

Richardson notes that a certain literacy is required to build these networks of trusted sources and admits that they can be difficult to navigate and build. I have established a small PLN over the past few years without really recognizing it as such. I have trusted colleagues and a network of people that I am in touch with from my personal and professional life. I have a Pinterest account full of boards to give me inspiration, instruction, and support. However, as I began read more about the development and benefits of Personal Learning Networks in my Instructional Technology and Digital Media Literacy classes, I realized that there were many more ways for me to develop my PLN.

plnIn the article, Personal Learning Networks for Educators, Dr. Wagner suggest Ten tips for building a Professional Learning Network that I found very helpful when broadening my network. The Steps are to connect, contribute, request, blog, tweet, join Classroom 2.0, use Google, be patient, and be authentic (2012). After spending more time in the IT&DML Program and considering these suggestions, I was able to develop my network by adding Twitter, and Google+ to my PLN. I also reached out to other bloggers in hopes to connect and contribute.

I decided to try a tool that I have never used before to represent my PLN as it stands now. I wanted to create a visual representation of my Personal Learning Network, and mind mapping seemed like a fun way to try it! The process of mind mapping helped me to organize my thoughts and brainstorm all of the benefits of my Personal Learning Network. It seemed like every time I added a branch to my map, I thought of another part of my PLN to consider, and more legs to create off of it.

Mind mapping was the perfect tool to represent a Personal Learning Network- the ever expanding nature of a mind map mirrors constantly expanding and developing nature of a PLN. The components of my Personal Learning Network that I chose to include are Pinterest, Twitter, Google+, colleagues from graduate school at The University of Connecticut and The University of New Haven, colleagues from every district that I’ve worked, and Marshall Memo (a digital weekly newsletter of education related publications and articles.) I added some extra arms to my map to show my most recent learning experiences  (Reading Workshop, Responsive Classroom, and EESmarts) that have provided me with more professional contacts.

(Click image or link to enlarge)

Mind Map of my Personal Learning Network

Mind Map of my Personal Learning Network

As Wagner and Richardson explain, a Personal Learning Network is a constantly developing and changing entity. I expect my PLN to grow and change over time as I develop into a more connected and technologically literate educator.


A Journey into Acrylic Painting- Post #4

This week I set out to further establish my Personal Learning Network (PLN). At first, I hit a bit of a wall when I discovered that many blogs did not fit my needs. I was excited when I found the website – because of the title I assumed that I could add this site to my own network of resources! After some exploration I discovered that much of this website was too advanced for my understanding – the content did feel accessible at this point in my learning. Additionally, some of the blogs that I found linked to this site displayed photographs of beautiful paintings, but did not explain or teach about the technique and process. It seems that the purpose of many art blogs is to share work and network with other established artists, not to teach.

Instead of googling “Acrylic Painting Blogs” I decided to use my Professional Learning Network and explore boards I follow on Pinterest. This opened the doors to a welcomed rabbit hole as I started to find more interesting and relevant boards to follow on Pinterest.

Through my Pinterest exploration, I finally stumbled on a blog called “Art Instruction Blog” filled with tons of links to other blogs. Much to my relief, these blogs are intended to teach people at various levels of proficiency. One of my personal learning goals that I set for this week was to learn more about mixing and blending paint colors. I found a blog post called “How to Easily Create your own Beautiful Abstract Painting Step by Step” that shares a video of another artist, Glenn Farquhar, demonstrating how to blend and layer colors while creating a beautiful piece of abstract art.

Another learning goal that I established for myself this week was to comment on/reach out to artists that I would like to add to my Personal Learning Network. I am proud to say that I have reached out to two artists (including the administrator of Art Instruction Blog and the artist, Glenn Farquhar) and have now started exploring each of their blogs further. Between these blogs and my expanding Pinterest network, I have found countless beginner acrylic tutorials and free lessons online.

For next week, I hope to continue to establish my Professional Learning Network and begin a conversation with artists about their work. I will also combine my new learning about blending and layering color to create a piece of art that is more fluid and polished.


ORMS: Online Reading Comprehension

In the journal entry, Reading Digitally Like a Historian: Using Multimedia Texts to Facilitate Disciplinary Learning from The Connecticut Reading Association Journal • Volume 1 • Issue 1, Michael Manderino writes, “Multimedia sources like audio and video clips, flash animation, and an array of images and pictures found online can expand the number of possible meanings students can create. When teaching with multiple multimedia sources, meaning creation becomes much like the kind of sense making students use in their everyday lives.” This sentiment ties into our previous discussion of the ORMS Model in that using online texts provides students with a greater likelihood of connecting to and creating meaning from the material we are trying to teach as educators. This will create the type of self-directed, intrinsically motivated students that we want (and need) in our classrooms and in our world.

Part of teaching students online reading comprehension is teaching students to become more critical of the resources they are encountering – this will take teaching and practice. We need to teach students how to decipher legitimate sources from those that may not be reliable or accurate. This is a skill that is essential for students to learn to become critical consumers of information, both in print and online.

book google

We have discussed the benefit of having students work together through online collaborative inquiry to discover knowledge and create a representation of their knowledge- but we can use this same collaborative inquiry to encourage students to be critical consumers of online materials. Since the teacher may not be selecting approved/accredited sources when students are reading online, the students need to have the skills to determine the validity of resources on their own. This is a life skill in our increasingly digital world.

In Chapter 9: “The Web as a Source of Information for Students” in K–12 Education from Handbook of Research on New Literacies, Kuiper & Volman write, “Younger children, in particular, tend to take the information found on the Web literally and are not yet able to question the authority of such information (Hirsh, 1999). Children also often lack sufficient research strategies that can help in the process of distinguishing between relevant and irrelevant information.” (p.257) This brings us to perhaps the most important questions to ask when thinking about online reading comprehension; how can we teach students the skills to develop strong online reading comprehension in the ever changing world of the internet?

This question reminds me of how I was trained to teach reading workshop in an elementary classroom. In reading workshop, the emphasis is on teaching an explicit strategy as part of a skill that students can practice in any book. We DO NOT teach “to” specific books, or focus just on one character, though teachers are able to model examples of the strategy using a shared text.  When teaching students to develop online reading comprehension, (just like in reading workshop) we shouldn’t teach a concept that is directly related to one specific online resource or digital tool, but instead teach students a clear strategy to develop an online reading comprehension skill. This specific and explicit way of teaching allows students the opportunity to practice and apply skills across books (or digital resources) and eventually learn that the skills are transferable and applicable. The hope is that students are eventually able to apply these explicit skills to their own reading/learning independently.

Here is one strategy that I brainstormed to teach students how to determine the source of an online resource:

Step 1: Look at the web address. Ask yourself, does this end in “.gov” or “.edu”? These are likely trusted resources.

Step 2: Find the name of the author. Do a quick google search to see what you can find about his/her credentials. Is  he/she from a trusted organization (government agency, publishing company, news source)

Step 3: Look for a reference to an affiliation with a trusted organization in the body of the text, the header, or the footer of the site.

Step 4: Look at the title of the webpage/article. Ask, “Is this an article that is part of a published text?

Step 5: If you are still having trouble locating the source, try to navigate to the “home” page of the website to find more information.

Online reading comprehension, like print reading comprehension, needs to be taught to students explicitly using clear strategies to develop skills. We must teach students transferable skills that can be applied throughout their lives as consumers of online and multi-modal texts.


A Journey into Acrylic Painting- Post #3

The blue and green Comma Strokes that I made with my Filbert Brush earlier in the week really inspired me. These little practice strokes reminded me of tiny peacock feathers, so for the remainder of the week I decided to use my new learning about brushes and brush strokes to paint a peacock feather. I took the lead from some artists I watched on Youtube and chose a photograph to base my work off of. I found this beautiful photo online, and decided to use it to guide me.

peacock-feather-81459_640First, I worked on holding my brush appropriately and only moving my shoulder as I painted. This new learning really helped me! I realized that prior to this week, I consistently used my wrist to create small brush strokes because I thought it would give me more control. Now that I learned to steady my hand with my pinky and move my entire arm, my lines are more controlled.

I started this painting by creating a yellow and white cross-hatch background. I love the depth that this technique creates. Then I switched to a smaller flat brush and started to form the stem by using the dry brush technique that I learned earlier in the week. I used a dry brush to press and drag across the canvas, allowing the color to fade as the paint ran out. I thought this would give my painting the feathery look I was going for.  I also used the chisel part of the bristle to create the thin lines.

I gradually added more color to the top part of the feather with my Filbert Brush. This helped me create a smooth rounded center. I waited before layering color on the blue center. The last thing I added to the painting was the bright outlines on the rounded top of the feather. I tried to fade the colors into each other, but the colors still look pretty defined.

Here is the progression of my painting.

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The next thing I want to learn is how to blend and fade colors to achieve a more natural look. I hope I can touch up this painting to make it look more realistic. I am proud of my first start after my new learning, but I know that I have a long way to go before I can call myself a painter.

I started a Pinterest Board for Acrylic Painting Ideas and realized that quite a few frequently pinned paintings belong to the same artist who has a blog of her own.  Another goal in my Network Learning Project is to find blogs/websites of accomplished painters. I would like to reach out to at least one artist and inquire about how he/she got started in painting and ask for advice for a beginning painter. Like Wagner in his article, Personal Learning Networks for Educators: 10 Tips, I think authenticity is critical to learning and collaboration.  I hope that making these connections will other people will broaden my Professional Learning Network and help me to become a better painter.


Whisk Veggie Slicer- Cooking with TPACK

I haven’t used a whisk for much other than whisking, but in my Cooking with TPACK exercise I had to use it as a veggie slicing knife! This experience taught me that a task can be accomplished even if the desired tools are not available, but the task might not be accomplished well or efficiently.

My husband selected a serving platter, ceramic cereal bowl, and a small whisk from our kitchen. Then he randomly selected Choice 5- “Slice veggies for a veggie tray.” As you can see from the video, I repurposed the serving platter into a cutting board and used the metal prongs on the whisk to cut a cucumber and celery. It wasn’t ideal, but I got the job done!

I think this experiment serves as a metaphor for TPACK- how we can use technology to improve teaching and enhance content learning. When appropriate tools are selected, teaching and learning can be made better. When the tools are not appropriate for the task at hand, teaching and learning can be mediocre, or even suffer.

IMG_4729My whisk can be thought of as an element of technology and my task of cutting veggies as the objective of a lesson in a classroom. Although I was able to reach the objective, the whisk was not the best way to do it. I butchered that poor cucumber, pressed the prongs into my fingers leaving red indents, and needed to use my fingers to tear pieces of the celery. I did ultimately cut the veggies into pieces that could have been part of a veggie tray, but the whisk didn’t help me to do my best work.

The use of technology as an extra or substitution could be successful because people are resilient and easily adapt; however, it may not be the best tool to accomplish the goal. This is an illustration how how essential TPACK is; technology needs to be used to support teaching and learning in the classroom.


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ORMS: Online Collaborative Inquiry

Online Collaborative Inquiry is an important cornerstone of the Online Research & Media Skills (ORMS) model. We define online collaborative inquiry as students’ ability to locate and extract information online and work with others to research and develop an ongoing representation of their knowledge. A large focus of online collaborative inquiry is the editing, responding, and revision that can be done in groups to deepen student motivation, engagement, and learning. The use of online tools such as blogs, wikis, websites, etc. make this type of collaboration and ongoing learning easily accessible.

In order to create a learning environment where this type of work is possible, I think it is essential for students to understand the purpose for their work. In her article, Online Collaborative Inquiry: Classroom Blogging Ventures and Multiple Literacies, Judy Arzt writes, “It is not the technology that accounts for success. It is how the technology is implemented and integrated into the curriculum that accounts for student achievement” (2012). As teachers, we need to help students understand the intended audience for their online collaborative work to provide a real-world context. For example, if students engage in group blogging, it would be important for them to understand the intended audience, the intended purpose for their blog, criteria for appropriate blogging, and each group member’s blogging responsibilities.

she thought she could so she didIf we provide students with a clear context and audience for their online collaborative work, we can encourage intrinsic motivation. Students will feel motivated to do quality research, writing, and collaboration because they will feel a new sense of accountability and purpose. I believe that we can empower students with internal motivation to succeed.

In his video, Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us, Dan Pink refers to a study done in the business workplace that illustrates the phenomena that when tasks require conceptual creative thinking, big rewards (like bonuses) are not motivating. These high risk rewards in fact serve as a barrier to creative thinking and motivation. If we think about this research in a school setting, blogging for a specific audience with an intended purpose would empower students to do good work and be collaborative and creative and not rely on more traditional external rewards like teacher feedback and final grades.

Online collaborative inquiry can be used in many subjects in an elementary classroom. I found the table, “Pedagogical Ideas for Blogging Integration” (Arzt 2012) to be helpful because of the practical suggestions offered for an elementary level classroom. In my class I will definitely try group blogging to share student research and synthesis of information from our Social Studies and Science units of study. I can integrate video/news casting into our persuasive writing unit that requires students to present a problem and argue for a solution to the problem. This real-world audience would be a huge motivator for students to write detailed and empowered speeches.

I also envision using more online texts to support my lower readers. In, The New Literacies of Online Reading Comprehension: New Opportunities and Challenges for Students with Learning Difficulties, authors Castek, Zawilinski, McVerry, O’Byrne, & Leu argue that struggling readers, “make good decisions at crucial points in the online reading-comprehension process and access useful digital features…reading shorter units of text leads to more sustained reading by struggling readers.” (2011) I would love to use a wider variety of online texts to support my low readers and help them feel empowered by their reading success.

Teachers can use various online tools to support student collaboration and inquiry in a meaningful way. Articles like these are critical to provide educators with the practical uses for technology to support student learning and open new doors for discovery and motivation.


A Journey into Acrylic Painting- Post #2

Today I decided to learn more about types of brushes and brush strokes. I started by watching a Youtube video that I found last week, Four Brush Strokes. This was a good jumping off point for me. I watched this video a few times, and practiced each technique that the artist introduced. I learned cross hatching, dry brush, how to create thin lines using a Liner Brush, and how to create an abstract flower using a Filbert Brush.

I really like the Filbert Brush, so I decided to look up more videos to learn other uses for it. I found the video “How to use Filbert Brushes for Decorative Painting.” I learned how to use the Filbert Brush to create more rounded Comma Strokes and how to fill in circular objects. I found that I love the way the Comma Strokes look using the rounder, Filbert Brush as opposed to a flat brush. The Filbert Brush makes the strokes look a bit like peacock feathers…maybe I’ll try a peacock next?

Comma Stroke with Filbert Brush

Comma Stroke with Filbert Brush

Comma Stroke with Flat Brush

Comma Stroke with Flat Brush

After practicing these strokes for a few minutes I felt like I needed more information, and another perspective so I browsed Youtube for a few minutes and stumbled on a video of an art teacher, Melinda Gahn, beginning a class on Acrylic Painting Techniques. I found this video to be helpful because she explains in simple terms the difference between a flat brush and round brush, the three parts of a paint brush (handle, bristle, and ferrule), the two parts of a bristle (flat and chisel) and how to hold your brush. I watched this video several times and paused it A LOT to learn how to paint straight lines with both the flat and chisel parts of the bristle, the Comma Stroke, the C-Stroke, the U-Stroke, and the S-Stroke.

I also learned some tips about how much paint to add to your brush, how to balance your hand with your pinky on the page, and how the art of brush strokes really comes from your shoulder, not your hand or wrist. I realized that I was definitely using my wrists more than my shoulder so that will hopefully help me have more control! I am discovering that using the internet for researching and learning about a topic allows you to broaden your scope of learning. I’m not sure that I would have ventured into learning more about the Filbert Brush had new material not been so accessible.

Here is some of my practice with the new strokes I learned:

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Check back later to see my first go at painting with these new techniques!


TPACK: What is it? How do I do it?

If you are like me, at first glance TPACK seems like a complicated framework to understand. I have learned, however, that when you really get down to brass tacks, TPACK is a representation of great teaching in the 21st Century. In order to be a great teacher, we need to have specific knowledge:

  • Knowledge of your content (music, reading, art, calculus)
  • Knowledge of teaching pedagogy (best teaching practices)
  • Knowledge of technology (any type of available technology such as projectors, microscopes, pencil & paper, word processing, apps, online resources, digital tools)

As the graphic below suggests, there is an intersection of each of these forms of knowledge resulting in:

  • Pedagogical Content Knowledge (knowing how to teach your content effectively)
  • Technological Content Knowledge (knowing how technology supports your content area)
  • Technological Pedagogical Knowledge (knowing how to use technology to support your teaching)
Reproduced by permission of the publisher, © 2012 by

Reproduced by permission of the publisher, © 2012 by

Researchers like Koehler & Mishra suggest that great teaching happens when there is a perfect storm of these, resulting in Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge also known as TPACK or TPCK. From my understanding, a teacher who is operating successfully in the TPACK Framework integrates technology into lessons in order to enhance her/his teaching AND student understanding of the content. For example, an early elementary school teacher could use a voice recording app on an iPad to teach students to self-monitor their fluent reading. Teachers in older grades could teach units in which students use technological tools to research a topic and create a digital representation of their work such as a blog, video, eBook, or presentation.

If you are like me and enjoy learning through step by step visuals, this video will probably help you to conceptualize the TPACK Framework.

In their book The Handbook of TPCK for Educators, Koehler and Mishra write, “We argue that the development of TPCK by teachers is critical to effective teaching with technology.” I agree that technology must be used in a classroom for a specific purpose that supports content and good teaching practices.  If you are interested in learning more about TPACK visit

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A Journey into Acrylic Painting- Post #1

I have always wanted to paint. I was inspired to try acrylic painting in college when I took a class called “Creativity.” I bought loads of canvases, acrylic paints, and an easel to inspire me to learn this art form. The inspiration definitely kicked in, but my desire to actually learn technique did not. As a result, I have several canvases covered with “abstract art” (I’m being generous when I use that term). In my early attempts, it is not uncommon to see outlines drawn with Sharpie, bristles from my cheap paintbrushes stuck in my work (to give it “texture”), and simple blocks of color.

volvo bristles

After spending/wasting time and money on supplies, I think it is finally time to learn the technique of painting with acrylics. My husband bought me an instructional book as a gift, but I found it difficult to learn from the narrative structure and photos.

For my network learning project, I will attempt to learn the technique of acrylic painting using multimodal tools. First, I would love to learn about the different paint brushes and their uses. I also need to learn proper brush technique and how to blend colors. Then I will learn how to plan for a painting and learn about size and form. I also need to gain knowledge about layering colors, adding texture, and fixing mistakes.

To get me started on my Network Learning Project I plan to join the Google+ Community Painting Art Acrylics. This resource has over 1,700 members and looks like a great place to see artists’ work and learn about their process. I also plan to watch and study some Youtube videos to help me see artists actually painting. I think viewing the process will be helpful as I learn technique. The videos “Four Brush Stroke Techniques“, “How to Paint with Acrylics : Brush Techniques for Acrylic Painting: Pt. 1“, and “Acrylic Brush Techniques” will help me learn the basics of how to use the brush strokes. The videos Blending and Scumbling – Acrylic Painting Lesson and How To Blend with Acrylics: Refined Blending: Acrylic Painting Technique will help me learn how to blend paint to create new shades of colors.

Hopefully these resources will get me started on my journey into acrylic painting! Check back here for updates on my progress!


Embracing Failure to Address the 5 Cs

This week in my “Foundations of Media Literacy” class, we reviewed texts on the shift in education towards a more digital landscape. In John Seely Brown’s video on Motivating Learners, he discusses the importance of play and experimentation in learning. Brown references gamers, specifically those involved in World of Warcraft, as examples of relentlessly self-motivated learners who consume information about how to advance in their gaming. Brown also uses the example of surfing and reflects on the intense passion, motivation, and courage that young surfers exemplify in their desire to become great.

The article, Navigating the Cs of Change, by McVerry, Zawilinski, and O’Byrne, highlights how the practice of internet reciprocal teaching can help teachers to promote the 5 Cs: creativity, communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and comprehension. This practice, which focuses on collaboration and student-centered learning, allows students to learn the skills necessary to independently navigate different types of text and a new platform to access information.

As educators, we need to create a classroom environment that allows all learners to be comfortable approaching the 5 Cs. A commonality between the article and video is the idea that people learn best by trying something new with the risk of failing. In a culture where grades and academic success are so important, we must somehow convey to kids that risk taking and exploration are critical parts of learning. Teachers, too, need to be willing to try and fail when it comes to teaching in new and inventive ways. We need to remember that real learning happens when people have “Aha” moments after failure!

Students are often so dependent on teacher directions and expectations that when given the opportunity to direct their own learning they, are afraid to do the “wrong thing.” I recently learned about a behavior management strategy that I think can address this fear of making mistakes and being wrong. Think of your typical reward system in which the class can earn a token like a marble, or in my class “A Warm Fuzzy”, when engaging in expected/exemplary behavior. When the jar is full, the class chooses a reward. In a recent book study that I participated in on Mindset by Carol Dweck, a colleague thought of the idea of a “Eureka Jar” system that turns the “Warm Fuzzy Jar” on it’s head- students could earn a token after learning from a mistake- when the jar is full, the class can celebrate all of the learning that happened as a result of mistakes. This is one way that teachers could cultivate a learning community where students are comfortable engaging in self-directed learning and taking risks. On the whole, I think we all need to be kinder to ourselves and to each other to allow risk-taking, experimentation, and meaningful learning to happen.