3 Tips to Help Students Rise Above the Echo Chamber

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.

2.  Employ visible thinking protocols — especially “I used to think…Now I think…

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…”

Genetically Modified Food Is a Great Advancement

Three Major Reasons Automation Won’t Leave You Unemployed

In this information age, it’s easy for all of us to get stuck in our own echo chambers of opinion. It’s crucial we help our students learn to rise above it now.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

When We Love Spreadsheets Too Much: Matching the Tech to the Need

Three years ago, I was hit with bed rest right before the start of our school’s IB PYP Exhibition (a student-led unit in which students exhibit their abilities to direct their own learning on a topic of their choice).

Though disappointed to miss out, I was pleased to discover that I could still mentor groups via Skype, which I’ve continued to do each year since.

However, we still had some hurdles to overcome with our unique mentor “meeting” setup. How to organize our ideas? How to keep track of when we’d meet next? How to exchange links to helpful resources?

I turned, as always, to Google apps, whipping up the collaborative little beauty below to send to the students via the teacher. With more than a little extra time on my hands (remember the whole bed-rest thing?), I found fancy fonts, froze the top rows, and everything.

It was a spreadsheet to be proud of, and I was excited to see it in action!

Only… it didn’t quite perform to my expectations.

For one thing, the kids didn’t have access to 1:1 tech, so they usually only saw the document through their teacher.

For another, they were frankly too busy to be bothered with updating yet another form! Exhibition is one fast-moving, action-packed unit!

Ultimately, the kids didn’t get a lot of the resources they needed in a timely manner, and our communications often felt encumbered.

So, as this year’s exhibition kicks off, we’re keeping it as functional as possible. As we Skype (something I continue as the school is too far from where I live), I type notes in a basic Google Doc just to keep track of the different groups’ ideas. Afterward, I’m emailing the teacher easy-to-print feedback or even pasted-out articles to get resources in those kids’ hands asap!

In the end, it’s possible that this problem might be unique to my quirky infatuation with creating neat and color-coded spreadsheets. However, the general principle applies universally. When we keep our sights on what’s best for the kids, we are less likely to get caught up in bells, whistles, and all-around helpful-in-theory-but-not-in-practice methods and resources. Here’s to a better year of exhibition mentoring!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

3 Reasons 1st Grade Isn’t Too Early to Teach Digital Citizenship #TeacherMom

For a kid whose internet use is still limited almost exclusively to Netflix, I’ve been surprised just how enthralled my first grader has been by White Ribbon Internet Safety Week. I’m sure that this has more than a little to do with all the prizes her school is raffling off for participation, but still.

She came home eager to chat about all the Internet safety “power boosts.” What surprised me even more than her enthusiasm was her ability to make important connections, even without the context of full internet use.

So today’s #TeacherMom post is a follow-up on my post entitled, “3 Reasons High School’s Too Late to Teach Digital Citizenship.”

#1: It helps them build intuition and confidence.

In the course of our conversation, my daughter and I watched a Youtube video about cyberbullying that featured some boys taking a picture of a classmate, adding unkind captions, and then circulating it through the school. When we finished, my daughter told me about how an older student asked to take a selfie with her at Halloween, and she wondered if that had been cyberbullying.

In that moment, the protective mama-bear side of me just wanted to blurt, “Never let anyone take your picture without permission [because cyberbullying]!” But instead, we discussed that moment in the video when the boys sneakily snapped that girl’s photo and walked away laughing. I asked her how that moment felt, and how it compared to how she felt when the student asked to take a picture with her in their Halloween costumes.

She concluded that the older student had not intended any harm in her situation, and was able to begin to learn about identifying and trusting her own gut feelings. And since I know I won’t be there in most of her future moments of uncertainty, I’m grateful that she is learning such discernment now.

(I also loved that she made a great connection here with a phrase from her teacher: “Hurtful or helpful?”)

#2: It helps them learn to be true to themselves.

Given that my daughter doesn’t yet have much of an online presence, it was a bit confusing for her when we discussed the “power boosts” that involved friends doing or saying silly things online. But we were able to start the discussion about how some people think that their internet lives are different than their “real” lives, and so they do and say things online that they would never say in-person. I loved that we are already building the foundation that we should “ALWAYS be the same in person as you are online” (LivBits, an inspiring young digital citizen I recently wrote about). As a result, she doesn’t even have time yet to develop the notion that her online self will differ from her in-person self.

#3: It gives the opportunity to model our own digital lives. 

Because the White Ribbon week focuses on safety for young kids, one of the power boosts says, “I will use tech to connect with my REAL-LIFE friends. People online are not always who they say they are.” In this context, we discussed how there are people who try to “make friends” online and get kids to meet with them to cause harm. However, I also got to tell my daughter about how now, as an adult, I get to connect with and learn from teachers all over the world that I haven’t met. But we also returned again to safety measures that I take now as well.

When my daughter wants to play outside with friends in our neighborhood, we talk both about the safety and the possibilities. I am grateful for the opportunity to lay the same foundation for her digital life.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

A Provocation into Online Research, Media Litearcy, & #FakeNews

The content for this week’s provocation began with me investigating all this viral talk on #FakeNews. The more I researched, the more I came to two conclusions:

1. The need for educators to help students discern accurate sources is not new, though the stakes are getting higher if we don’t succeed.

2. Rather than focusing on the current FakeNews frenzy, it’s more valuable for us to step back and examine the big concepts surrounding the issue.

So yes, this provocation is useful if you’re wanting to talk to your students about Fake News. But more importantly, it’s more useful for helping your students recognize all that online research entails: the good, the bad, the ugly, and why all that matters for them.

Resource #1: “Where Things Come From”

Resource #2: What IS Media Literacy?

Resource #3: What is Media Literacy?

Another resource from TED_Ed on verifying factual news.

Provocation Questions:

  • Why do we ask questions?
  • How does online research compare with other research (from books, newspapers, etc.)?
  • How has online research changed over the years?
  • What is the power of information that can spread quickly?
  • What is our responsibility to cite and share accurate information?
  • Why are there different perspectives on what sources are trustworthy?
  • What role does social media play in research?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Resource Round-Up (aka early spring cleaning?)

My online bookmarks are a mess. The only thing that irritates me more than the fact that they aren’t doing me any good in their jumbled mess of folders is that they aren’t doing anyone else any good there either.

Fixing that today with this little graphic of resources, strategies, and ideas that I couldn’t help but bookmark over the years (even though I knew it meant adding to the mess). It also links to a few of my posts that included many of those bookmarks to further help me organize my favorite resources/strategies.

As you browse, please remember that innovative ideas will only make an impact when wielded by innovative teachers–individuals committed to thinking outside the box, encouraging student empowerment, and cultivating a personal growth-mindset. Also know that they aren’t intended as a silver bullet for classrooms everywhere; some might be more/less useful than others to you and your circumstances.

But I hope that you will be able to find something new, useful, and/or inspiring from this graphic!

I decided to frame the entire thing around the 4 C’s of 21st century education (I wanted to use the ISTE standards for students, but it proved too much for the visual I intended, but if you check those out, you’ll see a lot of parallels anyway). Please let me know what you found most useful, or if you have additional ideas to share! Enjoy!

A Little Less Filtered #TeacherMom

As our family settled in a few weeks ago to watch a show together, my toddler’s attention was captured by an icon for an National Geographic animal documentary. And that’s how we found ourselves learning about baboons’ alpha hierarchy and frogs’ defense mechanisms that night.

What surprised me most was how the show’s benefits for my son went well beyond simply learning about animal facts. It was the engagement. It was the conversation. It was the connection. As he soaked up every word and every shot, he asked questions, he placed vocabulary in context, and he play-acted out his observations.

This experience had me reflecting about two ideas.

The first is that we can more frequently go to the source for learning. With all the guidelines and curriculum and expert recommendations, we as adults often feel the need to contrive and filter to maximize our kids’ learning. It’s like we think that if we can pack in enough ABC’s and numbers and cooperation messages in one show (or workbook, etc), it’s like a multivitamin we can feed our kids to fill in the gaps of their education (and no, this is not to bash those shows–we love Sesame Street around here, remember?).

Yet the reality is, we don’t have to rely on such concoctions for learning. True, when it comes to science and history, we’re usually already many steps removed from the source–after all, it’s not like we can take a field trip to the Serengeti or World War II or the Moon. But, often thanks to modern technology and social networking, we can get ourselves and our children closer than ever (like leveraging Google Street View for virtual exploration, or following this Twitter account that narrates WWII in real time, or exploring this Interactive Lunar Guide by ESA).

The second thought: when we more directly allow our children’s interests to take the lead, richer learning follows. Learning is to be had wherever our students’ interests lead us. Like I said above, my son wasn’t just learning about animal facts. He was learning vocabulary, speaking and listening skills, and even pre-reading skills through his imaginative play.

More importantly, when we try to turn this on its head–that is, force student interest on our agenda for “learning”–the results are poorer anyway. As Marcia L. Tate writes in Reading & Language Arts Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites:

“…there is actually a physiological reason for whether students choose to comprehend instruction. The basal ganglia acts like a policeman that protects the brain from distracting input. Information that has been selected as worthy of being learned flows through fibers back to the thalamus and on to areas of the brain where information can be interpreted (Nevills & Wolfe, 2009).”

Of course, with a class of 30+ students, it is certainly a challenge to meet our students where they are in their interests, which is why boxed programs with promises for perfect differentiation and solutions to all our students’ reading comprehension needs are tempting.

While we’re going to keep on watching intermittent episodes of Sesame Street around here, in the future, it will be less about meeting some kind of learning quota and more about family entertainment. And I look forward to getting better at recognizing learning opportunites as they come through my children’s interests.

Featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto