Digital Citizenship: A Richer Perspective on #Edtech

Digital empowerment through digital citizenship. This will be the main focus of my upcoming professional development training sessions I’ll have the opportunity to conduct at my old school.

Inspired by the idea of providing differentiation in PD, I decided to run one K-2 session and one 3-5 session. Hopefully that will resolve the issue we encountered during last year’s technology PD when teachers of younger students voiced concern over applying more complex resources to their students.

As I reflect on my personal journey with classroom tech application, the good, the bad, and the ugly come back to mind:

  • Like that time I required every student in my class to create a Prezi for a unit summative assignment. And then we watched them all.
  • Or when I created a diy interactive whiteboard with my students so we could more easily select answers for some gameshow-like software.
  • Or when we decided to collaborate on Google Docs by having everyone revise others’ writing pieces and parts kept getting accidentally deleted. (this was before I was aware of the “See Revision History” feature…  
  • Or when I introduced students to Storybird and they created beautiful digitally illustrated fantasy stories.
  • Or when my students started blogging and sharing their work/commenting on peers, including their quadblogging pals in England and China.

The list goes on and on. But now that I have had time away from the classroom to reflect and research, I’ve gained a couple of key perspectives that I believe will make a big impact on how I use technology with future students:

Digital citizenship is about leveraging our opportunities to enhance connections.

I used to think that when it came to technology, I needed to spend a lot of time teaching my students to use it efficiently and effectively (ie, learning to type, navigating interfaces, etc.).  While these skills are still important, I now realize that it’s more important to spend time opening my students’ eyes to the possibilities available to them today.  I want them to know that they can gather perspectives from around the world, share interests with peers well beyond their classrooms, curate resources that matter to them, and enjoy stories with a global audience. Once they have that spark lit, the other skills will come as they dive in.

Digital citizenship is more about empowerment than caution.

We teach about identity theft, cyberbullying, and password security. And with good reason. But there is much more to the conversation on what it means to be a digital citizen! As George Couros often preaches, we must “find the awesome, create the awesome.” A Twitter exchange with Edna Sackson further illuminated the idea:

 

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Just as in citizenship in general, the opportunities for good are too overwhelming to wallow in excessive hesitation and fear for what might happen. We are empowered when we are encouraged to see what’s possible, to take ownership over our available resources, and to collaborate positively with other learners throughout the world.

I think one of my favorite aspects of our students developing a strong self-identity as digital citizens is that we can’t fathom what they will do with it. With the exponential nature of tech resources and access, if we give them confidence to explore, create, and contribute, the possibilities are truly boundless.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

An Epiphany: Blog Posting Topic Schedule

You know when you get those moments of clarity that make you giddy with excitement? I’m currently in the thralls of one of those right here!

I’ve been reflecting lately about my blogging habits that I know are holding me back. Like the fact that my brainstorming process reminds me of chicken feed scattered thin across a yard (I have several dozen Google Documents of ideas I start and then abandon to jump to something else). Or the time I waste second-guessing myself before I hit publish. Or the mental energy I squander with worry that since I’m not currently in a classroom, my ideas are less valuable.

But today, I’ve had a stroke of inspiration that I hope will help me better organize, focus, and refresh my thoughts and time. I’ve decided to try joining those bloggers who create weekly topic schedules for their posts:

Mondays: Inspiring Inquiry

Wednesdays: #TeacherMom

Friday: Learning Through Reflecting

Some background on each topic:

Mondays: Inspiring Inquiry

I feel like I’m constantly stumbling across beautiful and thought-provoking images, articles, or videos that I think would make incredible Provocations or conversation-starters for students (for those not familiar with International Baccalaureate or the PYP–Primary Years Program–a Provocation is a component of an inquiry unit that provokes students’ questions and thinking, hopefully orienting them toward that unit). Sometimes I’ll tweet them and sometimes I’ll bookmark them. But I’m generally left with a nagging, back-of-mind worry that I’ll want to find that one resource again for my future students, only to be thwarted by my hopeless lack of organization.

So I’m setting aside Mondays as “Inspiring Inquiry” as a personal goal to not only better organize provocation-worthy material, but to share with my fellow teachers. In addition to publishing my favorite resource of the week, I’ll also plan on listing open-ended questions you can have students consider.

Wednesdays: #TeacherMom

I’m particularly excited about this one. I’ve often heard the advice for bloggers to “write what you know.” As a teacher writing for an educational blog, I never anticipated this being an issue (after all, despite being on year two of my extended parental leave, I still can’t seem to turn off “teacher mode”).  But the longer I’m away from my classroom, the more difficult it’s becoming to reach back to write about my experiences in the classroom. And if I’m not reflecting about personal teaching experiences, I worry about originality–I don’t want to just recycle other people’s ideas.

What’s more, child-rearing has taken center stage on the “what I know” front while I’m home with our three little ones. And I don’t often turn to this all-encompassing aspect of my life for writing inspiration because it’s not the classroom.  

But I recently realized how very silly this has been. Though my students are much smaller, they still offer rich learning opportunities every day. And not only run-of-the-mill parenthood learning (ie, don’t lay down on your picnic blanket during a crowded library storytime, or the toddler behind you might try to pick your nose), but learning that very much uses and extends my professional development as a teacher. So it’s time for those #TeacherMom stories to come to light. Buckle up!

Friday: Learning Through Reflecting

I’m setting this aside to reflect on lightbulb moments on my previous teaching practices. These “aha” moments usually come as I connect with and learn from my PLN–their tweets, blogs, and photos. They also come through keeping up with educational journals and news. 


I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about making this kind of commitment. I know there will be days or even weeks where it just doesn’t happen. But since I want to continue to model important learner qualities to my students (current small ones and future bigger ones), I refuse to let fear of failure keep me from taking a chance that might help me grow and improve.

Meanwhile, I’d love to hear from you! Have you ever tried a blogging topic schedule? What worked for you and what did not? What are your thoughts on the topics I’ve chosen? And I’d also love to hear your feedback on these themed posts as they start rolling out next week!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Current Events, a Controversial Read Aloud, & Changes I Can Make to Better Promote Peace

Nearly five years ago, I selected One Crazy Summer for my fifth graders’ end-of-day read aloud. In it, three young sisters are sent to spend a summer with their mother in Oakland, California in 1968, amidst intense developments in the civil rights movement. While the themes of the book are many, race is a prominent issue, mostly presented through the girls’ involvement with a Black Panthers day camp.

As I taught in a mostly middle-class white suburban area, I viewed the book as a great opportunity to discuss civil rights. Still in the naivety of second-year teaching, I was surprised when one student started to be picked up about 15 minutes early every day–to avoid read aloud time. When I asked about it, my student explained the family’s viewpoint that “Lil Bobby” Hutton (whose death the girls were to protest in a march with their day camp) was “a thug” that provoked the police.

At first I was shocked. Then disappointed. After all, didn’t the parents trust that we were having open-ended and lively discussions with every issue raised? Didn’t they see the benefit of considering multiple opinions? Didn’t they know that I would never try to indoctrinate my students with my personal opinions on sensitive issues?

Over time, those emotions faded into the swirl of the years, but I never quite forgot the incident. But in light of the tragic recent events in Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights, Dallas, and more, this memory has resurfaced, and with it, reflections turning inward. How could I have handled the read aloud differently to help this family feel more comfortable with difficult subjects? How can I better use my role as a teacher to promote peace in the future? 3 ideas have come to mind:

  1. I can avoid assumptions. Everyone has a story, and I can’t even begin to understand the intricacies of every family’s background experience in shaping their current perspectives. But it is unacceptable for me to assume a reason for their sensitivity to or withdrawal from something we do in the classroom.

My job is not to help students to “see the light” in favor of my opinions. Rather, it is to encourage them to ask their own questions and to analyze information as independent and confident learners. Some families may misunderstand even this simple motive if their child appears to start coming home questioning their opinions or family values. Which is why the next two steps are so important.

  1. I can preface potentially controversial topics with reassurances. No matter how much I’ve worked to build mutual trust with parents throughout the year, at no point am I “done” in that endeavor–especially when we are about to ford hazardous waters. No parent is ever going to respond well to what is even perceived as a “teacher knows best” mindset, even more so when the issue might be emotionally charged.

In the future, I will be sure to dedicate a post on our class blog with not just background on the book or activity, but more importantly, with information on differing perspectives and the respect with which we will be treating that diversity.

  1. I can share student conversations. Once we get going, I can continue to promote transparency by documenting and sharing the discourse. A SoundCloud snippet, a YouTube video, photos of visible thinking routines–the options are abundant for giving parents a window to see for themselves the impact of open dialogue.

Of course, some of those discussions might be more spontaneous; if that’s the case, this sharing would be even more essential for parents to gain insight on the quality of the dialogue happening in our classroom. (In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think it would be worthwhile to replace my inspirational quote of the day component with a student dialogue of the day section…).

I know this is just a start to changes I can make. But any step toward promoting greater mutual understanding, trust, and compassion for students and their families to engage in a safe environment is one step closer to a more peaceful future.

I would love to learn from your experiences or recommendations. Please share in the comments below!

Featured image: Lisa Ouellette

3 Ways to Organize & Maximize diyPD Time

When I finish reading articles that illustrate the sad statistics on absurdly high teacher workloads and burn-out rates, it makes me pause. I wonder whether all my reflections and recommendations about developing PLN‘s and diyPD are just a mirage for teachers trapped in such circumstances.

And perhaps they are. Which is why it is important to continue to spread awareness of such issues and to challenge policymakers to address them. But meanwhile, I find it equally important to share our strategies with other teachers that serve us even amid less-than-ideal circumstances.

On that note, here are 3 resources to better organize and maximize time for personal diyPD learning. I have found them to be enormously beneficial to keep me organized, and it’s especially my hope that they will help lessen the load for those teachers seeking to find scraps of time for personal professional learning!

RSS feed reader. Are all of your email subscriptions bogging down your email box? Try switching to an RSS feed reader. Chrome has some simple and free extensions that I’d recommend, like “RSS Feed Reader” if you want a simple menu bar icon that will give a drop-down menu of new posts; or “Feedly” if you want a more news-oriented layout that you can also sync to a phone app). You can then organize your content into folders to better select what/when you want to peruse specific topics. Remember that you can also subscribe to individual Youtube or Vimeo channels! 

Inbox. Speaking of email boxes, Inbox by Gmail is a fantastic way to lasso out-of-control email. Not only can it sort incoming emails into neat folders, but it’s an excellent task-managing, sanity-saving tool. See more reasons to give it a try: “Why Google Inbox Is an Organized Teacher’s Best Friend.”

OneTab. Seeking respite from the dozens of tabs I perpetually left open on our computer, my husband introduced me to this beautiful little Chrome extension. With one click, all those tabs collapse into an easy-to-organize list in a single tab. I love it because I can more easily see all the pages/titles I’d opened with less mess. And my husband loves it because it saves our computer speed. Win-win.

What are some of your favorite time-saving management tools when it comes to media use? Please share!

Featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

5 Resources on Refugees for Elementary Grades

For our students, the topic of refugees may be fraught with misunderstanding, emotion, or even unawareness. Between misinformation in the media and its inherently violent/disturbing nature, teachers sometimes hesitate to breach the subject with younger students in particular.

But of course, these are the very reasons to do so; how can we expect students to grow to become empathetic and active global citizens if they are shielded from some of the world’s most pressing issues?

That said, we should take care to curate the resources we share to keep them as age-appropriate and objective as possible. Below are 5 resources to help prompt discussion and awareness about refugees among our young learners.

Share “BBC Learning: “Seeking Refuge” Series–Ali’s Story”

A story told in the words of a 10 year old refugee.

Share news snapshots

When you come across photojournalism that is age appropriate, seize the opportunity to share it with your students. For instance, this series of portraits of Syrian refugee children also includes their experiences in their words–perfect to open up the conversation and help students relate to these children across the globe.

Read “Malala, A Brave Girl from Pakistan/Iqbal, a Brave Boy from Pakistan: Two Stories of Bravery

While this story does not actually center on refugees, it does give insight for young students to comprehend the conditions that drive individuals from their homes.

Malala

Visit humanitarian Facebook groups, such as Lifting Hands International

In addition to highlighting ongoing action groups are taking to help refugees, these groups might also inspire students to consider possible steps they can take to be part of the solution.

Share educational videos that work to dispel myth from fact on the issue 

No one video is going to provide all the answers or approach all the nuances of the debates surrounding such a complex issue, but it can be a helpful place to start as students research and discuss these issues themselves.


 

Also check out: Video of picture book, “The Enemy, A Book about Peace.” Again, this does not center on refugees specifically, but it may serve to help students start thinking about how hate and stereotyping might perpetuate violence and misconceptions.

Photo Credit: IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation

10 End Of Year Reflective Questions Every Teacher Should Ask

Amid surviving end-of-year testing, finalizing report cards, and sometimes, even packing up to swap classrooms, self-reflection can be the last thing on anyone’s mind. All the same, this time of year is a rich opportunity to do so; not only are the memories of this year fresh, but it’s also a great time to create a summer plan to help you better reach next year’s students (while you relax and recharge, of course)!

Below are 10 questions to help spark that honest reflection, along with resources that might help you get started in taking steps toward change.

Would I benefit by finding ways to rekindle my sense of fulfillment as a teacher? Is burn-out becoming your reality? Check out resources like the “Teacher Wellness” section of Edutopia to find inspiration to refocus your why as a teacher.

In what area(s) do I wish I could better reach my students? Choose a summer project based on just one item on your list. Want them to be better digital citizens? Try paving the way by connecting with other teachers on Twitter or Facebook groups (I recommend TTOG for a start). Hoping they’ll take more ownership over their learning process? Explore how you might improve your feedback methods. Wish you could make math more meaningful? Study inquiry and student-centered options, such as guided math.

Do I need to recalibrate my perspective on outside forces that I can’t directly control, such as standardized tests? By all means, please keep up the good fight against large-scale practices that diminish learning. But reserve the bulk of your energy on what is within the more immediate sphere of your control. As Edna Sackson shared on Twitter:

Am I selective enough about the practices that continue from year to year in my classroom? Take a look around your quiet, empty classroom. Leave no stone unturned as you inventory every item’s impact on authentic learning. For a personal example, check out, “What Happened When We Ditched Our Boxed Spiral Review Program–Mountain Math/Language.”

How can I better shift the learning to be more about overarching concepts instead of a thousand individual Google-able facts? For another personal example, see, “What Happened When I Stopped Teaching History in Chronological Order.”

Do I know the required curriculum well enough that I can stop worrying so much about whether I’m “covering” everything? In other words, can you see your role shifting from delivery-person to facilitator/connector? The former centers on a rigid agenda from the state, school, or you. The latter centers on individual students’ learning needs.

Do I give my students the opportunity for frequent and authentic reflection? Having a wrap-up is a simple yet often overlooked reflection strategy, and it’s a great place to start.

Is learning confined within the walls of our classroom? Once we started student blogging, the ability to connect globally with peers through Quadblogging blew our minds. Perhaps the summer project calling your name is to explore a platform that is age-appropriate and that complies with your school’s privacy guidelines.

Am I doing all the “heavy lifting?” Exhibit A: As George Couros recently suggested, you can either spend an age trying to find that “perfect Youtube video,” or you can challenge students to find it instead.

Are extrinsic rewards crowding out students’ intrinsic drive to learn? It’s ok to be afraid of rampant chaos. But don’t let that fear keep you from taking risks and giving students the chance to show you they can really bring to the table as learners. See “6 Thoughts on What’s Wrong with Compliance.”

4 Reasons You Should Join the TTOG Facebook Group

Especially if you are an educator on Twitter, you’ve probably heard of Starr Sackstein, Mark Barnes, and/or the going gradeless movement. But did you know that Starr and Mark also have a Teachers Throwing Out Grades Facebook group? No? Neither did I, until a month ago. Even if you are not interested in tossing grades yourself, here are four reasons TTOG is a must-join group for teachers everywhere.

It challenges the status quo.

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This photo recently circulated around Facebook. Most teachers I knew shared and applauded its sentiments, exhausted by whining and irresponsibility. And I get it. Yet I appreciated the way TTOG members chose to set aside those frustrations in favor of digging deeper. Comments examined the underlying sentiments and root causes behind the sign, and questioned ways we can better cultivate responsibility and respect.

It will help you reflect upon and refine your why.

When you join a group that consists of thousands of teachers who are re-examining their entire assessment approach, you can’t help but glean inspiration. Even if you don’t agree with every opinion, you will likely begin to realize just how many practices we take for granted in the classroom, and start to better evaluate why you do what you do.  

The discussions are some of the most thought-provoking I’ve ever seen in my PLN.

A recent post posed the following question:

“A few colleagues have said recently that “you can’t have rigor without accountability”.

Thoughts? How would you respond?”

The subsequent conversation included follow-up questions, definitions, resources, anecdotes, and every other ingredient of a healthy, lively debate.

It will remind you about our students’ humanity and what matters most.

This was not shared in TTOG, but I would say this drives its ideology. Contrary to popular belief, tossing grades and tests is not about trying to cushion delicate students’ self-esteem. Rather, it is about putting the emphasis back on learning and challenging teachers to better elevate and uncover meaningful learning.

featured image: DeathtoTheStockPhoto