“Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.”
This has been a gratifying truth when it comes to my professional learning network, or PLN. The fact that I get to learn from and with master teachers all over the world on a daily basis fills me with gratitude. So to share my appreciation and to share the highlights of my 2017 PLN learning, I want to share the top 20 blog posts (in no particular order) written by educators this year. As with my 2016 post, these are posts that I bookmarked, shared, revisited, and pondered. Thank you, as always, for pushing my thinking, and I look forward to discovering the learning that 2018 holds for us all!
Even all these years later, I’ve continued reflecting on how I could improve. While recently reading “It’s Not All About Blog: The Work Before The Blog” on Two Writing Teachers, it came to me: why not share the preparation with students through inquiry?? One of Deb’s tips is to expose kids to lots of great examples of blogging. Today’s inquiry is designed to help kids explore quality exemplars of student blogging!
This blog is run by Fionn and his mom with the following goal: “a boy with aspergers gives some views through his eyes…” It’s a wonderful example of how blogging can help us refine our feelings and experiences with words, while also inviting others along that journey.
I highlighted Olivia as an example of powerful digital citizenship at the beginning of this year. Her blog is another great source for students to look for peer-written, inspiring content — particularly when it comes to books, words, and being true to oneself.
These class blogs aren’t necessarily run by students (some are run by teachers, etc), but it can be a helpful place to go if you are looking for blogs in a specific group (ie, 1st graders, art, mathematics, etc).
Resource #5: Professional blogs
Checking our professional blogs run by grown-ups can always be worthwhile, too. A few of my favorite consistent blogs as an educator include ones by Pernille Ripp, George Couros, and Seth Godin.
What is the connection between writing blogging?
What do you notice about the purpose of blogging?
What do you notice about how they set up their blogs? (font, text size, About page, widgets in the sidebar, etc)
What are the responsibilities of being a blogger to yourself? To your audience?
The attention-grabbing headline pulled me in, but nothing seemed terribly unexpected as I scrolled through the article. I nodded through passages like, “hanging out alone in her room with her phone…” “dramatic shifts in behavior…” “proportion of Americans who owned a smartphone surpassed 50 percent…”
Until I got to one phrase that made me stop short.
“I call them iGen. Born between 1995 and 2012, members of this generation are growing up with smartphones.”
It was the identification of my own child, born in 2010, as a member of this iGen group.
In a brief episode of primal fear (after all, this article says the iGen are in mental health crisis), my mind flicked through every contact my child has ever made with a smartphone, like some kind of frenzied mental Rolodex.
But as I slowed, regrouped, took a few deep breaths, I remembered something: exposure is not the issue here. It’s connection.
This, of course, requires purpose, balance, and prudence on adults’ part. And with the very real and weighty issues presented in The Atlantic in mind, I would like to share 5 ways we can cultivate a sense of opportunity over fear as we teach our iGen kids digital citizenship.
#1: Recognize that their childhoods won’t mirror ours — and that’s ok.
As some neighborhood kids recently got together to play in our backyard, I noticed them huddled around a smartphone:
If I were to share such a photo without any background, people might jump to the same conclusions they did when the photo below was shared of kids in a museum (ie, “Kids these days!!” or “Look at them glued to those devices!!”)
But the context they’d be missing would be that this is what it looks like when digital citizenship becomes woven into the fabric of daily life. Right before I snapped the photo, these kids were darting around the yard creating a stop-motion movie of their make-believe play (and the context of the above tweet is that these kids were using an interactive museum tour app).
Of course, this can also be what zombie-land phone addiction looks like, but that’s why it’s so important to seek out and be aware of context.
#2: Model appropriate balanced use.
There are those who feel the need to altogether keep devices out of their young children’s physical sight-lines — and while this may be a temporary solution, it removes the opportunity for open dialogue with our children about how we use our devices. They need to hear not only what we do with our phones, but what strategies we employ to keep obsession at bay, especially in the face of social media.
#3: Make the good you do with your device louder than the bad they hear about.
Speaking of modeling, educators Edna Sackson and George Couros have inspired my thinking time and again about this concept:
Cyberbullying, white ribbon week, internet safety — these are all good and important concepts to cover with our children. But if they are exclusive, then we are missing a huge opportunity.
#4: Emphasize creation over consumption.
Videos like the one below help convey the incredible ways we can view, express, and share the world around us.
And resources like this might help them comprehend the sheer creative potential they hold in their hands (and to appreciate how far we’ve come in a short period of time):
Of course, consumption has its place and we should have honest conversations about our sources and habits there, too. But an important part of citizenship in general is that in a community, people need to both give and take.
#5: Emphasize the personally meaningful ways you are using tech to enhance relationships.
This “Dear Sophie” video inspired me so much back in 2011 that I decided to do the same with my own kids. This is a beautiful example of how we can leverage the technology to connect with our loved ones in historically unprecedented ways.
Our iGen kids are part of an exponentially shifting period of history — and of course, this is just the beginning. Our best bet for helping them navigate safely is to embark on the journey together.
Not only did he do a fabulous job fielding ordinary customer service questions, but he interacted with customers in a way that definitely caught Twitter’s attention. And young as he is, several interested parties already appear to be trying to poach him for their organizations:
This is definitely one young digital citizen that has his 4 C’s down: communication (fielding hundreds of comments), critical thinking (figuring out helpful responses), creativity (engaging with people in a fun way that got the attention of thousands), and collaboration (working with Neil).
Ultimately, this thread brought me back to reflecting on digital citizenship and literacy yet again. While we know that the jobs of the future will little-resemble the jobs of today, we still often treat the very devices and platforms that will carry our students toward that future — as nuisances. Banning phones, blocking Youtube, insisting on a single way of note-taking.
But here, we have an example of what happens when our students are given authentic opportunities to engage with those devices and platforms and audiences instead.
The fact is, digital citizenship empowers students to amplify their voices for good. Shunning it for fear of the distraction, cyberbullying, etc. perpetuates the very mentality that encourages abuse of these resources: namely, that they are not part of the “real world” and are therefore relegated only for entertainment purposes.
So next time you encounter a blanket ban of a digital resource that seems to favor adult convenience over student ownership, here are a few questions you might ask:
How might teaching digital citizenship help students treat the resource with more responsibility?
What are alternative courses of action to remove the nuisance factor?
How often do you personally treat this resource as an opportunity to create, share, and connect, vs. simple entertainment?
How often do you share with your students the ways that you use this resource to create, share, share, and connect?
How can you re-envision my students using this resource in a powerful, meaningful way (both now and throughout their lives)? How can you help your students see themselves using the resource in that way?
Will this ban help or hinder students in their development of the 4 C’s of 21st century learning?
I vividly remember my introduction to email. I was over at my friend’s house down the street — they had a computer in their own house! She pulled up her email account and started showing me how to set up a message to send. But even as she seemed to effortlessly correspond back and forth with friends, I remember wondering, how does an email address work exactly? How could a message possibly get from your computer to another person’s computer? It felt wildly beyond my comprehension.
Next major obstacle in my tech journey: Apple’s “There’s an app for that” commercials. I couldn’t wrap my mind around why one would need an app at all. If we could access the internet on a smart phone, why would we need anything else? My husband tried to explain ease of use and navigation to me, but it still seemed gimmicky, and again, beyond my comprehension.
And the latest hurdle: Twitter. All seemed well when I initially created an account and posted a couple of interesting teaching links. But months later, when I decided to really expand my PLN and dive in, I felt hopelessly inept. What on earth were hashtags? How did chats work? How was I supposed to actually connect with others in any kind of meaningful way?
This is, of course, just a short list of hurdles which, at the time, felt insurmountable in my ability to progress with technology. Yet somehow, with gradual and almost invisible progress, I suddenly found myself on the other side of confidence.
Interestingly enough, as I reflect further on each of these three anecdotes, I realize that it has taken me shorter and shorter amounts of time to work past the uncomfortable newness (years for the first, months for the second, weeks for the third). I don’t expect that my next hurdle will necessarily follow form with an even shorter period of uncertainty, but I do feel that it is indicative of a shift in mindset.
This kind of growth mindset in tech has applications for ourselves in our professional development, and certainly in the mindset we can and should hope to model to our students. Here are my takeaways:
Recognize that the discomfort is temporary — if we persist.
Use resources in established, comfortable spheres to take you through the uncomfortable.
Know that both confidence and broadened possibilities (possibly life-changing) are just on the other side of the current discomfort.
For every victory, you build up your growth mindset and flexibility.
It’s ok to be picky about what you will pursue through the discomfort (we can’t possibly become experts in every new thing that comes our way as teachers or even human beings in the 21st century) — but not if the only reason you skip out on new ideas is because of that discomfort.
What about you? What have been examples of getting through that discomfort in your growth as a teacher?
I recently had the opportunity to volunteer again as an exhibition mentor at my old IB PYP school. And, as usual, the children were brilliant, brimming with ideas and enthusiasm for taking the lead on their unit of inquiry.
But over the last few years, I’ve started to notice a puzzling trend: no matter how much research and exploring the kids do, and no matter how many counter-articles I suggest, the basic opinion they start with is often the opinion they end with (plus some charts and figures to support it). Why?
How do we help kids make the shift from searching out facts that support their existing opinions (something the internet is all-too-willing to give us all), to instead searching out the truth, even when the truth is surprising?
Here are 3 thoughts I’ve had since the end of this year’s exhibition (that hopefully I can better employ in mentoring next year!!). I would love to hear your suggestions, as well!
1. Model research that responds to the unexpected.
My first thought was on how we model research to our students. Most teachers extensively model how to find answers to their questions. But I wonder how often we show them what it looks like when we encounter an article or chart that assert alternative possibilities? Do we think aloud as we digest this new information, or do we discard it in our search for the information that backs us up? If the latter, I think we’re missing an important opportunity to teach students to be open to new ideas.
This is a kind of mental scaffolding exercise to help students break down their thinking and how it is evolving. Reflecting not just what our opinions are, but on why we have them is crucial for healthy metacognition for us all!
3. Play the “Devil’s Advocate.”
I have had a tendency as my students’ mentor to help them find articles to help them find out more about their topic — which generally involves research on their existing opinions. But I have come to realize that what they need more from me as a mentor is just the opposite — to share resources that directly contradict their claims, encouraging deeper digging and questioning.
Videos like these from Futurism come to mind, especially since they start with phrases like “Despite what you might have heard…”
This is part of a series of inquiry-based provocations for essential elements of the PYP. For more, click here.
The IB PYP unit of “How We express ourselves centers around “An exploration of the way which we discover and express our nature, ideas, feelings, beliefs, and values through language and the arts.”
When I taught at a PYP school, I associated this mainly with communication mediums such as painting and poetry. But the more I think about how our world is evolving, the more I realize that “how we express ourselves” has boundless possibilities.
And it’s not just the fact that we have a large volume of choices that matters. It’s that, if we have a more open mind toward change, that volume can allow our children to shape their self-expression/communication –and with it, their futures — in ways that are unprecedented and literally world-changing.
With that in mind (and a bit of humor below), here are 3 resources to help your students inquire into the nature of how we express ourselves in a 21st century connected world.
“The skills we need most in today’s world, in any profession, boil down to being human. Basically the qualities that machines don’t have…We’ve arrived at a time when your human skills are just as important as your knowledge.” (Curiosity, Creativity, Initiative, Multi-disciplinary thinking, Empathy).
Resource #2: “Rosie Revere, Engineer” by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts