June 12, 2014 at 1:00 am

Social media site highlights best in Michigan education

Ben Rimes, an educational technology director from Mattawan, is a key organizer behind #michED. Rimes says, 'Social media allows us to connect and share our story.' (Courtesy of Brad Wilson)

Educators throughout the state tell stories of Brad Wilson, a teacher from Jackson, and the massive concept he’s helped launch to spread Michigan’s teaching gospel.

Wilson, often seen at summits with microphone and camera in hand, is known for recording educators and students talking about their educational exploits. Wilson interviewed some of my Grosse Pointe North High School students at the 2012 Student Technology Showcase in Lansing that was used in the first ever podcast of what was to become #michED, a grassroots effort to capture and share the heart of Michigan education.

The students had been invited to Lansing to make a presentation on how they used cell phones and tablet computers to learn chemistry. The students were excited to be featured among peers and educators from all over Michigan, and to see the innovative ways others were leveraging technology to support learning.

That exchange was just one example of how the volunteer-based #michED project seeks to connect classrooms across Michigan. The program spotlights the stories of passionate educators and students. Like the PureMichigan campaign ads seen or heard on the air that promote some of the greatest sights and experiences from the region, #michED is its educational equivalent, showcasing points of pride from Michigan classrooms.

During the interview with Wilson, the Grosse Pointe students also discussed what makes learning fun, what good teachers do to help them learn, and what their dream school looks like. The students said it all involves getting “hands-on” with learning. That’s #michED.

A digital conversation

Since its 2012 launch, the #michED movement has developed into its own social brand. It has cultivated a culture of collaborating, connecting, and sharing among thousands of Michigan educators. The program has evolved into three major elements: social media connections, meet-ups and a podcast.

Social media connections let educators interact, converse, and share in a digital way. Using Twitter, the #michED hashtag allows individuals to share relevant educational news, classroom stories, or thoughts. By following the hashtag, others can easily keep up with the ongoing conversation and learn from one another.

A hallmark of the social media connections happens live online at 8 p.m. Wednesdays during the school year — called the Twitter chat — where educators converse on a variety of education topics. Along with transcripts of the chats, blog posts about teachers’ classrooms are viewable through the michED.net website.

Jeff Bush, a teacher in Grand Rapids, is among a half dozen volunteers who head up the weekly #michED Twitter chat. This group helps moderators select topics and questions, and also manage the chats in real time to maintain the dedicated hour-long time frame.

The digital learning network that has grown out of the #michED Twitter chat has become extensive. Educators from all over have contributed their thoughts on everything from practical issues to some of the big questions of education. By sharing ideas through Twitter and the weekly live chats, educators learn from one another in a personalized way — when and where they want. That’s #michED.

Another, more traditional way of connecting is through #michED meet-ups, which are in-person events held at education conferences or during informal regional gatherings of educators in the community. While the digital nature of #michED helps connect educators across distances, sometimes it’s just nice to put a face with a screen name and have a tableside exchange as well.

Erin Mastin, a first-grade teacher at Boyne City Elementary School, joined other #michED colleagues for a meet-up during a recent conference in Grand Rapids. Some of the attendees had never met in person, she said, but had been conversing at length on Twitter. Feeling much like pen pals meeting for the first time, Mastin described her #michED interaction as a form of “being connected” to others in the profession and their classrooms.

“We’re a small school,” she said. “While a lot of schools are going to one-to-one teaching with iPads and technology, I was able to talk to teachers around the state and across the country.”

The meet-ups, she said, are an opportunity to “listen and learn openly.” The most valuable part of the experience is finding resources from educators all around the state, many of whom are complete strangers, she added.

Mastin called the program a “very positive resource” for teachers who can be introduced to “trendier styles of learning.” The program even allows the teachers to work with other educational groups, such as principals and other industry groups. That’s #michED.

Stories that inspire

The #michED podcast, which is free on iTunes, is an online radio show produced by Wilson that is much like one heard on National Public Radio. Stories and interviews come from all over the state, documenting classroom projects, lessons, and ideas on educational topics.

Take the story of Joe Vercellino, an elementary school music teacher at Northpointe Academy in Highland Park. Vercellino’s classroom and students were featured for their innovative use of music to foster creativity, build community and extend learning beyond the school day. Elementary and middle school students have taken what they’ve learned in music class and applied it by forming an after-school music group, called Beasts of the Beat.

These students have written their own original music, performed at Cobo Hall, and recorded an iTunes album.

Ben Rimes, an educational technology director from Mattawan, is another key organizer in making the movement a reality. “Social media allows us to connect and share our story,” Rimes said, which “helps to inspire other educators and the community.” It sparks conversations, which might not otherwise have a way to take place, about great ways to foster student learning, he added.

Among the educators involved in this effort are teachers Tara Maynard at Creekside Middle School in Zeeland, Rebecca Wildman of Boyne City Elementary School, Kit Hard of the Marysville Public Schools in Port Huron, Todd Bloch of Warren Woods Middle School in Warren, and Rachelle Wynkoop of Algonac High School in St. Clair. All have been instrumental in sparking a renewed sense of pride in Michigan education.

This past month, the #michED team issued a monthlong challenge to classrooms around the state to share a success from this year on the michED.net website. They could leave a voice mail, create a video, send a tweet, compose a blog post or send an email.

A middle school class from Adrian participated by creating a YouTube video highlight reel of that year’s French courses. The video showed the French food, language and culture the students experienced in class.

Today, #michED remains free and accessible to anyone interested in joining the conversation; moreover, it is recognizable to teachers in every region and even non-educators who take interest in our schools.

At the Governor’s Education Summit in April, #michED was part of a presentation about the great things happening in classrooms across the state. This is about connecting people and sharing remarkable stories. Like PureMichigan for education, that’s #michED.

Gary G. Abud Jr. teaches chemistry and physics at Grosse Pointe North High School and is the 2014 Michigan Teacher of the Year.

Joe Vercellino of Northpointe Academy in Highland Park says music can be ... (Neil Blake/Midland Daily News / Neil Blake)