Sitting Next to the Smart Kids…

When people always ask me why I use Twitter or have a PLN my first response is because it is like sitting next to the smart kids in class.  You know what I’m talking about, there is always that group of smarties and sitting next to them makes class just a little bit easier.  Growing up I was the head cheerleader with ADHD so people sat next to me for a whole different reason – to socialize. But by the end of high school I figured out if I was going to go to the private college of my choice I needed to be more serious in class.  So I started sitting next to the smart kids, the ones that were not as cool, but I liked them, they taught me a lot.  Luckily by senior year in the advanced classes was only the smart kids.  Academically – my favorite year.

I still have that mindset, hang out with people you not only can have fun with but learn from.  That is where collaboration comes into the picture.  Another thing I am taking away with me from #ISTE10 is how important collaboration really is. Last post was about creavitity, but I think collaboration backs up the quest to creatively produce something.  It gives feedback from more than just the teacher as well a push for doing more than just the bare minimum.

Backchanneling was a common theme I noticed throughout the week.  I even went to a backchannel session and participated in others.  During one session I was bored to death so opened up the backchannel to a session I wished I had chosen, I was learning from my PLN when not even there.  We saw how powerful the backchannel was during the PLN session when people from all over the country were participating in the conversation about their PLN.

We talk so much about how important our PLN is to us. We use backchannels, blogs, and twitter to share our ideas, but stop short from giving our students that opportunity.  Students need to share what they are learning as they learn it.  They need to have others to bounce ideas off of.  Even more they need to help each other.  Isn’t that what we do in our PLN, help each other?  Learning takes on a whole new level when it is done with others.

Collaboration needs to be more than just group work – even though working in groups can be part of it.  They need to have a place where they share ideas and thoughts at any time.

My biggest challenge I think will be setting up rules and procedures for this.  Before beginning these rules need to be made clear, just like in any event in your classroom.  If you have any ideas let me know – MS kids can just be mean and weird.

I plan on using this different type of collaboration much more next year.  Our students need the opportunity to sit next to the smart kids or even better – BE THE SMART KID!

15 Comments Add yours

  1. Chris Champion says:

    Amanda – was happy to see you in the back of the backchanneling session (you took it literally?). A resource for you would be @Thespian70 ‘s reflection on using CoverItLive to create a backchannel for his English classes:


  2. Amanda,

    I was also the hyperactive student and learned the importance of sitting next to the smart students. I did not sit next to them to “copy” – rather to help me stay on-task. I have learned so much from my PLN that I really want to implement the concept in my classroom. Like you, I realize the importance of setting boundaries for the Middle School student. As we both allow them to learn (within the appropriate boundaries) to “sit by the Smart Kid” I also hope they will become the new Smart Kid!

  3. Matt Guthrie says:

    Amanda, I want to do this with my kids too. My struggle for this year will be I’m back in the math class. Math tends to be so linear in its approach (sometimes by necessity, sometimes by tradition & convenience) that I don’t really know where to begin. Let’s keep the ideas flowing & maybe some smart kids will help us out 🙂

  4. This is a great post. I couldn’t agree with you more. I would love to do a backchannel idea in my class while discussing books. I’ll need to figure out the logistics, but it could do wonders in class. Keep writing and I’ll keep reading.

  5. Melissa Smith says:

    I implemented edmodo last year with 6 th grade math students. It taught them the importance of back channeling, how to do it appropriately, etc. Its affect was awesome! The were completely engaged in the class lecture and even started posting URL links to support what was being taught, creating and sharing study guide/ notes, and asking each other for help. Highly recommend trying that first!

  6. Great thoughts, Amanda. So here’s my struggle: how do we take this to the next level? One thing I really wanted to do when I was teaching was take the connections I’d built online into my classroom. I looked for people who were willing to collaborate not just as professional colleagues, but together with students. Logistics almost always made it impossible, and I never did manage to get anything going.

    So how do we facilitate that and make this more than just a place to connect ourselves?

  7. Andrea Blanco says:

    Are your students allowed to use their cellphones in class? If laptops are few and far between (and difficult to schedule to check out) this make be an option for your to promote the backchannel. is a fantastic site for brainstorming and back channeling that I think your students would find engaging. They are using their phones in the classroom anyway, why not put them to use educationally? Good luck and I am eager to hear how the back channeling goes with the middle schoolers.

  8. Amanda, I enjoyed your reflection, and while I don’t have access backchannels yet, we do use Google Docs. After reading your post, I created some thinksheets with tips that include organizing a “meet” through a google doc and etiquette. I thought you might like to see the result of my reflection and ideas based on yours:

    Thanks again!

  9. Buzz Garwood says:

    Hey Amanda,
    Great, insightful post. You mentioned setting up rules and procedures. I think if we as teachers make our expectations clear about how we would like to see back channeling used in the classroom, most students will rise to meet that expectation. There will always be students who will abuse useful tools, but as real life, we’ll have appropriate consequences in place. Hopefully, students will see the benefits and control their impulses to act irresponsibly. I’m anxious to hear how you implement this in class this year.

  10. John Peters says:


    Good stuff you are talking about here. Collaboration for us educators in our PLN is important for those of us fortunate enough to have a working PLN. However, how do we encourage and inspire our students to develop their own PLN as well?

    I’m not sure but I think that is something I’m going to try with my students this upcoming school year. I’ll be interested to see what your “rules and procedures” will be. That is always what I struggle with when allowing my high school students the freedom of the internet. Most of the time it turns out okay but sometimes…

    Great ideas!

  11. Diane Lauer says:

    Thanks for your post, I appreciate your sharing and the start of this great conversation. I’m seeing classrooms with more than one projector, so that teachers can have a backchannel going along with any direct instruction on another.

  12. Amanda,

    Great post!

    I like the honesty you exhibit when you mention that you knew you needed/wanted better grades to get into the college of your choice.

    I frequently remind my MS students that now and at school are the time and place to be SELFISH! Selfishness is not inherently negative, especially if the by product is a more educated person that acts upon their education.

  13. I want my 4th grade student blogs to more of a place this can happen next year, as well as more class time to share what they are learning and bounce ideas off of each other.. It is so powerful to be able to connect with other learners.

  14. Pam Thompson says:

    Hi Amanda. I love your analogy of sitting next to the smart kids in class. I hadn’t really thought of my PLN and twitter in that way before but it sure makes sense!

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