Paula Naugle, now in her 35th year as a teacher, recently became an active blogger and tech lecturer. Naugle teaches fourth graders math and social studies at Bissonet Plaza Elementary School in Metairie (a suburb of New Orleans), La. A STAR member of the Discovery Educator Network (DEN), she was awarded a generous technology grant for her classroom last year. She was also selected to attend the TEDxDenverEd Conference this past July.
In junior high, Naugle had an art teacher who let her express her artistic talent through knitting and sewing instead of drawing and painting. “I just remember thinking how relieved I was that I could take a class and do something that I really enjoyed doing.”
Paula Naugle with the ISTE blue bear.
Now that she’s the teacher, she says, “I’m always looking for more creative ways to do book reports, like making a sock puppet or bringing in a wrapped present and explaining why it would be the best present to give the main character in a novel.” In terms of technology, Naugle says, “If students want to turn in a handwritten report they can. But once they discover how much easier it is to correct mistakes, add pictures and make a very professional report with a word processor, they usually get on board pretty fast.”
fE: In 2009, you made a New Year’s resolution to expand your Personal Learning Network. How did you do that, and were you successful?
PLN: Actually, it started in 2004, when I went to an educator conference in New Orleans. I spent three days asking myself, “What are they talking about? What is this Web 2.0?” And then I started hearing this PLN acronym batted around. And I thought, “What’s PLN, besides my initials?” I found a blog that Sue Waters wrote called PLN Yourself and I pretty much followed the steps.
My 2009 New Year’s resolution was to work more seriously on building my Personal Learning Network. In January, I created a Ning for the fourth grade teachers in my district. And then in February, I joined Twitter. I learned how to follow people and to see who they were following. Before I knew it, I actually had some people following me back. Now I have over 1900 followers and I’m on over 100 educator lists.
fE: Because of your PLN and Twitter, you were able to bring the Miller family to your school. Can you tell us about that experience?
PLN: I learned about The Millers through Twitter. This is a family that stepped up the homeschooling concept from just sitting at the kitchen table to actually going out and exploring the world.
When my friend Chris Johnston tweeted that they were going to be in New Orleans, I got in touch with Jennifer Miller and invited her to the school. She said, “Sure. We’d love to come.” They gave a really great presentation about the family’s travels in Northern Africa and parts of the Mediterranean. (Read more about The Millers’ visit on Mrs. Naugle’s Classroom Blog. )
fE: You’ve done several joint projects with a partner school in Kansas. Can you tell me about how those got started?
PLN: Jen Wagner out in California has a blog called Jenuine Tech, where she outlines a couple of project ideas and teachers sign up to do them. I began talking with Jan Wells in Kansas who was already planning to read, “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” with her class because the movie was coming out. But she wanted to do a collaborative project. So, we decided to do a choral reading (reading aloud in small groups or pairs) of the book over Skype. Her kids would read one page and mine would read the next.
Then, we created a Google form that we sent out via Twitter, which asked people to share the weather in their town. We got close to 250 responses, even some from New Zealand, Australia, and Africa. It was so cool! Jan’s class and my class also did a collaborative choral reading and Voice Thread recording of The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, where we had kids draw pictures to go with each stanza.
fE: Have you planned any interactive lessons with any other schools?
PLN: Last year, three schools interviewed my students about hurricanes, and of course they wanted to know about their Hurricane Katrina experiences. But my students were four and five when Katrina hit, so I knew they might not remember a lot. So, we talked about it and they talked to their parents. And we discussed where people went and for how long. Then I had two or three students sit in front of the camera—so no one would get stage fright— and do the interview over Skype. At first, I wasn’t sure this was something we wanted to drag up, but it was a learning experience. And my students grew increasingly confident with practice. I’ve seen such a difference between the mannerisms of other students compared with my students who now feel totally comfortable in front of the camera.
fE: What is the OREO Project?
PLN: This is one of Jen Wagner’s projects. You have to place one cookie on top of the other and see who can build the highest stacks. You have to do the math, such as finding what the class average is. We also built a ramp and actually rolled our cookies down it, and adjusted the size of the ramp, and then took measurements to see how far our cookies traveled. Over Skype, my students and Jan Wells’ students battled to see who could build a taller stack. And of course they all got to eat the cookies at the end.
fE: You attended TEDxDenverEd this summer. What an honor! Besides the Polyvision Eno Whiteboard that you won in the raffle, what were your favorite parts of the conference?
PLN: I was so surprised when they announced that I won the Eno. But because I was awarded a technology classroom grant last year, which includes a new Promethean board and ancillary equipment, I’m giving the Eno to a first grade teacher that I work well with. She will love it!
As for the speakers, Brian Crosby was my favorite. He teaches fourth grade in a poor area of Nevada, where there are a lot of transient workers. He started a project called High Hopes High Altitude Balloon project, which involved a hot air balloon and a video camera, and a payload the students built themselves. Around the country people submitted their “high hopes,” to put in the balloon.
When his students started fourth grade, some of them didn’t even know which city they lived in. Now, as sixth graders, they’re blogging and skyping and corresponding with students around the world.
Dafna Michaelson was my other favorite speaker. She decided last year to visit a different state every week for 52 weeks and to talk to people about different social change projects they started in their communities. Now she’s writing a book.
fE: Do you have any advice for newbies to the Web 2.0 world?
PLN: Get out there and really give it a chance. Do as much reading as you can. Establish a very good digital footprint. You’ll be amazed at the response you’ll get.
Find a mentor. There were two people who helped me the most: Beth Still in Nebraska, who helped me learn about Twitter, and Sue Waters in Australia, who helped me establish my PLN. I actually stayed up until 2 am to attend one of her sessions online.
When I went to a conference in San Antonio in 2008, I went by myself. I went to my sessions, went to my hotel, went to dinner, and then did the same thing the next day. When I went to a conference in Washington D.C. in 2009, it was such a different experience. I got to meet people face to face that I’d been chatting with on Twitter for six months. I got to meet Beth Still and Sue Waters. And what’s your reaction? You go up and you hug each other like you’re old friends, because you feel so connected to each other and you feel so passionate about the same things, even though you’ve never met in person before.
Paula Naugle’s favorite sites:
Google (everything Google)