Modding Your Professional Learning Network

Professional development is great, but the real growth in education comes from individuals that you interact with. Building your own network of educators that inspire, teach, and challenge you is crucial to continuing your growth as a life-long leaner (and teacher).


If COETAIL did one thing that I didn’t think would ever happen, it got me convinced of the power and fun of Twitter.  I, like 98% of teachers who sign up on Twitter, made one or two posts when I first signed up, followed a few people (mostly friends and fellow teachers who had no idea what they were doing), and gave up within the day, considering Twitter as something for Kim Kardashian and local news stations. Twitter takes patience.

Then I discovered TweetDeckScreen Shot 2016-04-13 at 8.53.47 PM. I wish I could remember who turned me onto it, because I owe them a great deal of thanks.  TweetDeck is a ‘compiler’ of Twitter feeds.  Its dead-easy to use–you just think of a topic you’re interested in reading about, do a search for a related hashtag (that’s the hard part–more on that later), and then ‘add column’, which saves the search.  Boom!  Any post from anyone anywhere anytime is now being channeled into your TweetDeck.  Repeat that for a dozen hashtags and you have yourself a customized dashboard that is constantly feeding great stuff into your screen!

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 9.05.59 PM

I would also recommend setting “notifications” and “home” columns as well.  “Notifications” column will alert you if your username is ever mentioned anywhere, if someone favorites or retweets you.  “Home” is a very frequently updated feed and will constantly be changing with tweets from people you follow.

Finding Hashtags

So….you are a chemistry teacher, so do you search for #chemistry and #chemistryeducation and #teachingchemistry, and you get nothing relevant.  Thats the tricky part about hashtags!  How do you know which ones will give you good information??

Google doesn’t get you far. Teachthought has a good list, but the dynamic nature of hashtags causes most compilations to quickly become obsolete;  the best way to find hashtags is through your network.  This is a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario, so be patient with it and if in doubt, follow!  You can always un-follow later (and no, nobody will be notified that you ‘unfollowed’ them!).

Also, you can always try just taking “ed” or “chat” onto the back of your discipline (or a shortening of it) (i.e. “chemed”, “scichat”).   I suppose I might as well list mine, since I’m (attempting to) be a useful resource here:

#modchem (focused on the use of modeling in chemistry)

#chemed (general chemistry education)

#physicsed (general physics education)

#modphys (focused on the use of modeling in physics)

#chemchat (not focused on education, but plenty of teachers and lots of interesting stuff)

#flipclass (discussion of the Flipped Model of teaching)

#scichat (not focused on education, just science-y stuff people feel like chatting about)

#scienceteacher (not my favorite, but worth a look)

#d123 (honestly I’ve forgotten what this stands for, but it has some neat tech-related educational-ish stuff!)

#Scitlap (“Science Teacher Like a Pirate”, based on the book Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess)

#AfricaEd (A great discussion for those interested in the international teaching world.  Not actually focused on Africa)

#MakerEd (all about building, tinkering, taking apart, etc.)

But, most importantly, once you start following other professionals in your field, look at what hashtags they are using.  There is a very, very good chance they have done the work for you!

NSTA (National Science Teachers Association) email listserve

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 8.54.31 PMI joined the NSTA during my pre-service teacher training 8 years ago. When I was told it was actually a requirement of my program, and at the time–I balked.  I had no choice to join an association?  What if I didn’t believe in their policies?  What if it was a waste of $89? (er, well, for pre-service until 2nd year its only $34).

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My Inbox now serves as an 8 year-old archive of email threads started by some of the most creative and helpful professionals in the education world! Notice that I haven’t even read most of these threads–but they are there for when/if I need them.

I now understand why Ron Gray, my fantastic professor at Oregon State, pushed it so hard.  It is a fantastic resource, if only for the listerves that you can join.  (There are also tons of other resources you get, but that’s not the focus of this post).  I signed up for the physics, chemistry, physical science,  and pedagogy listserves and have, over the years, received thousands of great emails.  Truthfully, I probably ignore most of them, but thats easy enough.  In fact, I now actually set up a filter for the pedagogy and physical science listserves, so that anything from them is automatically archived.  This might seem a bit strange, but its not like there is any realistic limit on Gmail’s inbox size, and when I search for a topic such as, “Density”, I get literally hundreds of responses from like-minded professionals.

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IFTTT is a fantastic tool with enormous potential. This recipe has resulted in some serious gems being discovered that otherwise would have been lost to the black hole (AKA the inbox archive).

I also set up a “IFTTT” recipe to take any attachments and store them in a Google Drive folder. Once every couple of months, I’ll peruse the folder and see if anything jumps out at me.  I’ll transfer anything of interest into a more appropriate folder, and delete the rest.  I’ve found some real gems this way!

Being the nerd that I am, I decided to do “a bit” of  analysis, which turned into a monster! That post can be found here, if you’re interested in the process of digging through your own correspondence.


I’ve never liked LinkedIn, and I still don’t–but I can honestly say I gave it a fair shake.  I will say that I didn’t even know that discussion “groups” existed, so when I found “Education in Chemistry”, I thought I would try joining in a few discussions.  Overall, I found it to be full of people who were more interested in proving their ‘rightness’ than learning anything from each other.  I’m not sure where this attitude arises from, but I have a feeling it is partly due to the sheer size of the network.  There Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 6.58.10 PMare over 16,000 members, which is reaching the point of anonymity.  I doubt that anybody on that group ever communicates directly with each other, and certainly don’t ever meet up in person.  Or, maybe it has nothing to do with that, and its just that my personality clashes with the personality of those who happened to reply.  Either way, its sort of like going to a bar and the first 5 people you talk to are jerks–you’re probably going to leave the bar and not go back, even though the bar itself might be fine.   I won’t waste more space here other than saying I wouldn’t recommend this group.

Building and continuously interacting with your PLN is the difference between being the teacher that started out great (and then got stale) and being the teacher that kept growing.  Your PLN is like commuting.  There are lots of ways to do it, and you need to customize it so that it works for you.

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47 Responses

  1. tftfhack says:

    Ha, here from yahoo, this is what i was looking for.

    • Now there are so much Professional Learning Network available off and online where anyone can start their learning. There are so many professional teacher and websites available where we can learn easily.

  2. Good, this is what I was searching for in google

  3. Cheers, great stuff, I like.

  4. Hi, here from baidu, i enjoyng this, i will come back soon.

  5. I concept I could attempt becoming a member of in a few discussions. Overall, I discovered it to be full of people who have been extra interested in proving their rightness than gaining knowledge of anything from every other.

  6. Professional learning network such as twitter or LinkedIn is compulsory in resent days . Professional development is great idea it helps to achieve good career.

  7. nathan says:

    Nice read. And i firmly beleive in all of this. Creating a prefessional environment is always easy and it can do alot of things for the betterment. Like if we motivate someone through this. That person can go places. I do this with my employees. I assign them different tasks and allow them their on findings. like i asked my employee to get my checks printed and he ordered to link to for it. With the discounts

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  1. May 11, 2016

    […] Ryan Lenz: Modding Your Professional Learning Network […]

  2. March 8, 2017

    […] of my job.  I already had a Twitter account that I had started in 2014, but as fellow COETAILer Ryan Lenz reflects on his […]

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