This article was originally written in collaboration with Rachael Lehr (@rachaellehr ) for the 2019 STEM X Academy cohort, on behalf of the Australian Science Teachers’ Association. I’m republishing it here with Rachael’s permission.
For more information about STEM X, please visit https://asta.edu.au/programs/stemx.
For many of us arriving at STEM X, we are one of the few, if not the only, educators in our schools with a passion and interest in STEM. We are the ‘lone wolves’; and at times this can be a lonely and frustrating experience. It doesn’t have to be this way.
The concept of a Professional Learning Network, or PLN, has been around for some years. It is founded on the idea that “We are better together”; that in order to help us be the best teacher we can be, we want to continually improve our practice and be lifelong learners. Creating an online PLN of passionate educators interested in STEM is a great way of doing this.
In a constantly changing technological world, the STEM learning landscape is always shifting, and through a connected online world, we can keep abreast of these new developments. It is rare for a teacher to ever have a unique teaching idea that hasn’t been based on something already done; and through an online PLN we can share and improve on others’ ideas that will enhance our practice, giving credit where it is due.
When we share our teaching ideas and our students’ learning through various online platforms, we provide our students with an opportunity to showcase their learning, and connect with real world experts beyond the classroom walls. This helps us as teachers to be focused on creating truly engaging and authentic lessons that we would be proud to share. With the focus on STEM learning being about ‘real-world’ problem solving, belonging to various social media platforms often provides inspiration for these real world problems that students can address.
As connected educators, our online personal learning networks have empowered us to reflect on and improve our practice over the years. We use different social media platforms and online events to access specific and targeted professional learning. We use our networks to ask questions, seek inspiration, and find new ideas – anywhere, any time. There have been times where we’ve participated in online events in our PJs – in one memorable case, at 3AM in the morning.
Engaging in online networks has enabled us to form connections and friendships with educators around Australia and around the world. These connections have allowed us to meet, work, and present alongside our online colleagues face-to-face. We like to focus on our students developing 21st Century Skills such as collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and communication and through being involved in online PLNs we can build and model these skills for our students.
Where to begin?
By just being selected for the STEM X Academy, you have become a member of one of the most vibrant and influential STEM professional learning networks in Australia. Use your time together to connect, swap stories, and follow each-other on social media. These connections can make a real difference in years to come.
The following social media platforms and resources might be helpful as you start out on your connected educator journey. As connected educators, we use a range of platforms for different purposes. In order to avoid being overwhelmed, we would recommend you start out with just one or two, ideally Twitter.
You can use Twitter to connect with Australian and international STEM experts and scientists in the field, and to keep up to date with ongoing science exploration missions – from the Amazon rainforest, to Antartica, or beyond Pluto with the New Horizons team.
You can also follow conference events, and join online chats using hashtags like #STEM #STEAM #STEMed #STEAMedu #DESTEM and chat hashtags like #aussieED #21cEDChat #PrimarySTEMChat and then connect with educators who participate. Look for passionate STEM educators and follow people they are following.
STEM Educators Twitter List – https://twitter.com/rachaellehr/lists/primarystemchat
- #21cEDChat Tuesdays 9:30 AEDT hosted by @ScitechPL and guest hosts
- #PrimarySTEMChat Thursdays 8:30pm AEDT hosted by @rachaellehr and @aidancornelius
- #aussieED Sundays 8:30pm AEDT hosted by @aussieEDchat @MRsalakas @ZeinaChalich @hollis_k_ @madgiemgEDU
Join in live or contribute your ideas after. These chats generally follow to process of a question being posted every 10 minutes and participants respond with their answers at the time. Chats can get quite busy so using an app like Tweetdeck is incredibly helpful. This allows you to follow the host and the hashtag in columns and assists in keeping up with the conversation.
#PrimarySTEMChat creates a story of the chat after and @rachaellehr posts this to her Twitter feed and this is great way to review everything that is shared during the chat in your own time. These are also available via Wakelet https://wakelet.com/@RachaelLehr1293
Instagram hashtags work similarly to Twitter. You can choose to follow hashtags, or search for, and follow STEM teachers in your areas of interest -e.g. robotics.
Facebook Groups & Communities
STEM Teachers Australia – https://www.facebook.com/groups/1466726270300197/
Top 100 STEM Blogs & Websites 2018 https://blog.feedspot.com/stem_blogs/
Pondering Dan @ponderingDan
Teaching with Game @claireseldon_ed
STEM in Primary @steminprimary
Global Education STEM @STEMigo
STEAM Up the Classroom – Tori Cameron
Joining MOOCs can open connections with participants from around the globe.
STEM is everywhere https://www.class-central.com/course/independent-stem-is-everywhere-12074
CSER University of Adelaide Digital Technologies MOOC
Connect with Us
Michael Graffin is a STEM and Robotics specialist working in Mosman Park, WA. He is an International Society for Technology Education Emerging Leader and STEM X 2018 Alumni. Michael works with classroom teachers to design, teach, and assess integrated STEM projects. He specializes in LEGO robotics, with a particular emphasis on FIRST LEGO League and FIRST LEGO League Junior. He has presented on PLNs, global connections, STEM, and robotics at conferences in Australia, Qatar, and the USA. He blogs at http://blog.mgraffin.com.
Rachael Lehr is a science specialist and digital technologies lead teacher in Perth, WA, where she teaches science with a strong hands-on inquiry and STEM focus. She embeds digital technologies into her science program, as well as assisting class teachers with using digital technologies authentically in their classrooms through coaching and in class demonstration lessons. Rachael also teach students coding, runs a Minecraft club and is passionate about engaging girls in STEM fields and hosts an after school STEM club for the senior girls. Rachael is a co-host and founder of #PrimarySTEMChat – a weekly Twitter chat focused on various topics surrounding STEM.