Category Archives: Engaging in Courageous Conversations

Creating a Culture of Kindness

I spent all day yesterday curled up in a blanket reading Wonder, by R.J. Palacio. It is an older book, but I had never read it before and wanted to read it before the movie came out in November.

I cried about a dozen times. I didn’t make dinner or clean my house. I just read and read and cried. It made me think about several things.

  1. Kids have been cruel since the beginning of time
  2. Bullying usually happens under the radar of a teacher
  3. Many bystanders often don’t stand up to the person bullying for fear of reprisal

I have heard so many people saying that cell phones are banned at their school because of “cyberbullying”. And though I am not saying cyberbullying does not exist (it is so much easier to torment someone anonymously), I know that so much cruelty actually happens in person first.

I know this.

I lived this.

I was recently given the picture below by my mom. I have very few other photos of me from elementary school. If you look carefully, you may notice my eye is slightly off. All I remember about this very important day (In Catholicism, your first communion is an important sacrament. In an Italian family apparently you are supposed to look like a bride), is the hours the photographer had me pose until my eye looked somewhat “normal”. My dress was itchy and it was hot and because we didn’t have digital cameras back then he just took picture after picture hoping one would turn out ok (talk about sharing an edited version of yourself even back then).

I really didn’t stand a chance at fitting in or being popular. Although my face wasn’t “deformed” like the fictitious August Pullman, in the story Wonder, many people would often ask me what was wrong with me. Or “Why are you looking over there when I am right here?”  It didn’t help that I entered junior kindergarten not speaking a word of English and that I wore glasses with ultra-thick lenses. It also didn’t help that we didn’t have a lot of money and that my mom made many of my clothes.

So it’s no surprise that I spent many a day sitting by myself, the butt of every cross-eyed joke, taunted and humiliated for many, many years. My teachers’ responses over the years? Mostly teachers urged my classmates to “be nice to Jennifer”. That really helped. I remember one day in particular when a teacher urged people to play with me at recess. That was the day when my classmates invited me to play hide and go seek. I was “it” and it wasn’t until the end of recess that I realized that they were off secretly playing another game. Another incident that stands out in my memory is when our class got smelly markers for the first time. Remember those smelly markers? Do they still have them? I was invited to sniff a marker .  “Julia” went around a group of students inviting everyone to smell the blueberry marker, only when she got to me, she “slipped” and it went up my nose. An unfortunate accident which was utterly humiliating and had me sneezing blue for a week. The glint in her eye and the snickering of everyone around me showed me that there was nothing accidental about this incident. I could recount dozens of other stories which are etched in my memory.

All of those memories came flooding back when I read the book. Then I read the Professional Advisory put out by the Ontario College of Teachers: Responding to the Bullying of students which tackles bullying (both face to face and online), and includes a self-reflection assessment which poses some good questions.  These points resonated with me and can be applied to both online and offline situations:

INTERVENE EARLY:

Research shows that bullying stops in fewer than 10 seconds – 57 per cent of the time – when someone intervenes.15 Adult supervision and increased presence can prevent bullying. Intervene early and often so that students understand social responsibility and the importance of standing up for themselves and others.

DETECTION
ASK YOURSELF:

How do I detect bullying?

How do I recognize power imbalances among students of all ages that might lead to bullying?

How do I spot behaviour occurring outside the classroom or online that affects students?

How do I respond to smaller, subtle acts such as verbal slights, use of derogatory language and cutting humour that may lead to more harmful behaviour?

How do I encourage students to safely disclose bullying behaviour?

CAN YOU SAY THIS WITH CONFIDENCE?

My words and actions show that I treat students with care, respect, trust, and integrity and that I expect the same from them.

You can teach whatever content you want, but if students don’t feel safe and valued, it won’t matter. Taking time to create a culture of kindness in your classroom will help you save time in the long run.

A few ideas

RJ Palacio’s Precepts from the book, Wonder

The teacher in the book, Mr. Brown, asks his students to free-write based on precept prompts. Here are a couple of examples:

  • When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.” —Dr. Wayne Dyer
  • “Your deeds are your monuments.” —Inscription on ancient Egyptian tomb
  • “Fortune favors the bold.” —Virgil
  • “No man is an island, entire of itself.” —John Donne

I really like this idea. Students could use Canva, Google Draw or a paper sketchnote to extend their idea and share and comment on one another’s ideas. They can share these  via the school and/or class social media accounts. They can find their own to share. This could become a weekly or monthly routine in the class.

Classroom Committees

My friend, Robert Cannone,  uses the idea of Classroom Committees. That is, student teams have responsibilities in the class on a rotating basis. They range from eco-team, to public relations team, to classroom design team. What impressed me most is how one of his students, Catherine, describes the experience based on the way Rob :

“Teams are like a puzzle, every person is a piece of the puzzle, and everyone is needed to complete the puzzle.”

Creating a culture in your classroom where everyone feels valued, can go a long way to supporting students who might be on the fringe of being accepted.

Compliment Wall, Kindness Cards

When I met Matt Soeth, from #ICANHELP he shared the power of a compliment wall which serves to create a positive culture in a school or classroom. The idea is that students create a physical board with post-it notes with compliments which students can take and share when they feel like someone needs it. You can extend this idea by creating kindness cards which students anonymously give each other; making note of which students are not receiving one. Extend both of these ideas virtually by inviting students to engage in kindness challenges online through their personal accounts or class social media accounts. If you posit social media of a place where you can “improve the lives, well-being, and circumstances of others (Couros, 2013), then that is the behaviour you will begin to see there.

Check out the resources I created to complement Chapter 10 of Social LEADiaInstil Empathy, Justice, and Character . where there are lots more ideas about creating a culture of kind in your class or school.

What are your ideas for creating a safe community within your classroom?

3 Ways to Save Today’s Generation

Do you honestly think that I am going to help you save our youth in this post? The real question is, do you, as many other adults believe today’s youth needs saving and the future is in tenuous hands?  Were you drawn to the title because it reaffirms your beliefs about this generation?

My post really should be called, 3 Ways we can address some problematic issues around cell phone and social media use.

I often share the example above. It is seemingly what people believe is wrong with today’s generation. And yet, the real story, is that the students were using the museum’s app to learn more about the painting. The media continues to circulate articles about how this is a lost generation. The most recent, an article in the Atlanta, Have Smartphones destroyed a Generation?

I was glad to see Patrick Larkin, a progressive and innovative superintendent, ask questions about the content of the article in this post to educators, We Need to Talk About Smartphones, and this post to families, rather than accepting it at face value and doing nothing.

The problem with these types of articles is they often paint issues around social media and cell phone use as very a black & white issues, and blame social media use for just about every ill in society. It then becomes so easy to share articles and bemoan the state of the world, rather than use our use our critical thinking lens.

In my book, Social LEADia, I assert that what we call an addiction to social media, is more a dependence not on the device itself, but the friends to which they provide access. This is a main theme of the research and work of danah boyd, in It’s Complicated.

The addiction narrative is quite strong throughout the parent and educator circles of which I am a part, and I am not saying that there isn’t truth to it. What I am saying, is that articles and posts which provide extreme points of view do not help!  Look at the article which literally states in its headline: Giving your child a smartphone is like giving them a gram of cocaine, says top addiction expert.

The article, published by the Independent also includes the subtitle, “Harley Street clinic director Mandy Saligari says many of her patients are 13-year old girls who see sexting as normal.” and of course, Ms Saligari has an extreme opinion on the matter, she only sees problem cases. My daughters and I had a very frank conversation about this idea which is not at all a reality for them and their friends.

What is revealed in near the end of the article is this:

“If children are taught self-respect they are less likely to exploit themselves in that way,” said Ms Saligari. “It’s an issue of self-respect and it’s an issue of identity.”

The real issue! Sending inappropriate pictures isn’t caused by having a smartphone.

So how to do unpack some of the issues so as to shed light on what we can do differently?

Use social media as a springboard to teach persuasive writing & critical thinking

A lesson I often did when I was teaching persuasive writing in English over a decade ago, was that I showed the students a letter that had been written to Ann Landers bemoaning today’s generation. It called youth selfish, stupid, and lazy. It went on to list everything that was wrong with youth (well before smartphones). Their assignment was to write a rebuttal using a variety of persuasive techniques.  The students were so offended and so were extremely happy to write back. One thing is clear: every generation believes the current generation to be inferior to theirs.

Show students some of the headlines,show them the articles. Then have students write a response to the source. Today, it is so much easier to send their letters to a real & authentic audience than it was back when I did this.

Another great thing to do is have students deconstruct the logical fallacies an article.   Noah Geisel did a great job deconstructing the article, Facebook and Twitter “harm young people’s mental health” in his post, “Can adults with college degrees fall for fake news too?

Start Conversations about Attention and Balance

I see a whole generation of kids who have been navigating online spaces almost exclusively on their own because we have refused to go there in school. Our current narrative prevents us from having conversations; instead we lecture and instill fear and teens, especially those at risk, retreat farther and farther away. Or we ban devices to avoid the problem altogether. And clearly, it’s not working for many.

This article shared by Kathleen Currie Smith, What Social Media and today’s generation did for my teenage daughter really gets at assumptions.  In it, the author talks about her concern with her daughter’s selfie-use and her apathetic friends, only to realize that she may have been wrong when her daughter is home sick and her “Snapchat” friends support her and cheer her up in ways she wouldn’t have imagined. This part stands out for me:

These kids proved me wrong over and over all week long. It was a humbling experience to say the least. Maybe all this technology, Snapchat, texting and selfies aren’t making them all crazy, self-centered bullies. It’s giving them access to each other in ways that we didn’t have growing up and maybe that’s not always a bad thing. I know that sometimes social media is abused and used in hateful ways but I’ve learned this week that sometimes it’s used in the sweetest, most generous ways.

Nonetheless, we know that balance, when it comes to cell phone use and social media are extremely important.

I really like this rubric (please do not use this as an evaluation tool) as a springboard for conversations with students about what fair and reasonable expectations look like. I know at my house, we do not allow phones at the dinner table or in the bedroom. These rules have been in place for years because as a family we value dinner conversations and sleep is extremely important for healthy kids and adolescents. Everything else is an in-the-moment conversation as needed.  A classroom is like a family and expectations that are co-constructed are extremely important for developing a healthy awareness of students’ own media use.

Use Digital Leadership as a framework for teaching and learning using social media

What if we looked at the devices in kids hands as opportunities to make the lives and circumstances of others better (George Couros). I’ve written a whole book on my ideas for this one because I have met so many students who are exceptional leaders in person, and who leverage social media and technology to lead the way for us. When I look at Joshua Williams, Olivia Van Ledtje, Curran Dee, Hannah Alper, Braeden Mannering Quinn, Aidan Aird, and the many other students  (follow them here) I have had the opportunity to get to know and others whom I continue to meet, I recognize that focusing on what our kids can be doing on social media will go a long way.

Together we can help students (who don’t already) see that they can use social media to:

  • Learn and share learning
  • Stand up for causes that are important to them
  • Be a more positive influence in the lives of others.

Let’s model what it means to be a positive force for change.

Let’s not take complex issues and over-generalize.

Let’s listen closely, ask critical and clarifying questions, and give our kids the benefit of the doubt once in a while.

You may be very surprised by what you see and learn.

I am confident that this generation of kids is more than alright; but like every generation before them, some of them just need some guidance from adult mentors.

 

Beyond Distraction

One of the reasons teachers are so reluctant to have students use their devices in school is that they fear students will be too distracted to learn and that students are way too dependent on their phones.

I definitely see this behaviour demonstrated in school to some extent,

In my book, Social LEADia, I explore this idea:

Kids are distracted by their phones. Kids are far more interested in what Sally and Johnny are doing at lunch than the War of 1812. They would rather play a game than work on a school assignment. Guaranteed. I was easily more interested in boys than what any of my teachers were teaching when I was a teenager. Even today, I have to admit that I am more interested in what my PLN on Twitter is sharing than I am when listening to someone regurgitate information at a meeting or conference. I think we need to rethink our natural response to this and help students (and adults) develop self-regulatory skills and as Rheingold puts it, “deliberate media mindfulness”…

As a Teacher-Librarian, I don’t have my own class per se, so the line I use most often when I am walking around the Library is: “Is your device helping you or distracting you?” This invites dialogue. It presumes positive intentions. When it’s helping them, students will often show me what they are doing (and this is most awesome, because I have learned so much!!). When they acknowledge it’s distracting, they immediately put it in their bags. I don’t “make” them put it away, I invite them to. I also always share my own struggles with my students.  I will often offer strategies for what I do and invite other students to talk about what they do.  

I also work with teachers and students on self-regulation by asking students to set goals for themselves and having them reflect on how well they met their goals.

But I also want to acknowledge another reality and that is, that what students are doing with their phones goes beyond distraction. Kids are creating too;  we just don’t necessarily see it or acknowledge it in school.

Check out the video below,shared by a friend of mine, about how Steve Lacy prefers to create music using Garageband on his phone.

A friend of mine, Janice Leighton and I were chatting one day about the fact that her daughter, from a very young age, would spend hours and hours a day editing videos to the point that she was worried about her. She tried to ensure that her daughter had a variety of other experiences, but Emma would always go back to shooting and editing video.

Emma recently graduated from film school and is working in the industry. Janice said something that really gave me pause. She said, “You know how Malcolm Gladwell in the Outlier talks about needing 10 000 hours to be great? Well, I really think that all that time I fretted about her, Emma was just working on her 10 000 hours.”

Wow.

I love that perspective & it’s not something I had thought of before.

Do we realize that opportunities today look very different than they did even 10 years ago? Do we see that young people are creating those opportunities for themselves in ways they have not been able to do before?  I am not saying that we shouldn’t be concerned with obsessive behaviour–moderation is definitely important. But perhaps we might need to think differently about what our kids are actually doing with their devices and not assume that they are “wasting time”.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that we are reluctant for students to use their phones to work on projects. A few times when co-teaching, students asked if they could work on their own devices and the teacher at first didn’t feel comfortable with it. I encouraged the teacher because honestly, I know that I feel more comfortable with my own device because I know how it works. We want our students to create without barriers. Sometimes an unfamiliar device can be a barrier.

I think that perhaps I need to change the question I ask my students.  I will now start to ask,

Is your device helping you or distracting you or are you creating something amazing with it?

 

Isolation, Connected Learning, and Perspective

I have spent the last couple of days in Atlanta for IB training and met some incredible educators from the Atlanta area as well as from Chile, Tortola, and Israel. One of the hallmarks of IB, is International Mindedness.

And yet, although there were some great face to face connections made a the conference, there was very little reference to how we might connect each other virtually. I was very much aware of the few educators who were connected on social media, and how few of them connected their classrooms to experts and other classrooms. Unlike most of the conferences I typically attend, there was no hashtag so I could connect with others. In my own workshop, we had an email list.

This fact was evident to me at the onset. The keynote was extremely good, and showcased an inquiry project in which students became invested in better understanding the Zika virus and yet when it came to the “take action” piece (part of the IB framework), there was no move into the community, no connection with experts.  The learning, though very rich, stayed in the classroom with the students. The speaker acknowledged that for next year, the “take action” part will be expanded because a student asked to share the learning with others.

When we had the opportunity to “turn and talk”, I shared how frustrated I was that the “take action” part of the assignment being showcased did not allow students to connect with an authentic audience; to take true action in their community and beyond. The learning literally stayed in the classroom with the students. Before long I connected this math teacher who had never used Twitter for learning with greats like Dan Meyer, Jo Boaeler, Alice Keeler, and my own colleague, Diana Santos. He shared that it never occurred to him to use twitter like that.

This made me ponder the statement, “Isolation is now a choice educators make.” which I have heard George Couros say often. And it’s true. it is a choice. Sort of…

In the following Twitter exchange initiated by Cliff Kraeker referring to a post by David Truss, there was a question as to why some teachers are not open to connecting (by entering into each other’s classes both face to face and virtually). The consensus seemed to be fear.


But I am going to propose an alternative reason. That in many cases, people don’t know what they don’t know.  This was certainly true for the math teacher.

In my workshop session in particular were teacher-librarians who felt very isolated because they are the only people in their role. And every time I showed someone how they might use Twitter or Facebook for professional learning or to connect a class around an idea, or culminating activity, the teachers I spoke to were very much open to it; it just hadn’t occurred to them to do that. At one point, we were sharing resources and alternatives to databases and I offered to pose the question on Twitter. Within minutes, teacher-librarians from my PLN responded with a plethora of suggestions. Check them out here. You could tell that the teachers in my session were quite surprised.

One moment in particular stood out to me. The Teacher-Librarian from Jerusalem, Israel was drawn to a book called Jerusalem and as she looked through it, she was shocked at the many stereotypes it perpetuated. She shared her concern with me and I suggested she mention it to the Teacher–Librarian (it would be impossible to know the contents of every book in the Library connection).  In our conversation, Michelle made a very significant observation. She said, as teachers and teacher-librarians we seek to buy books from diverse perspectives so as to ensure we are being internationally minded and honouring the diversity of our school population. The question is how do we know if there is an inherent bias? We have no real way of knowing because we have a limited understanding of other cultures and places.

Mic drop.

So what would stop us from sharing a book title with a class from another culture to have them look through the perspective and biases and share their ideas with one another?  I suggested having students create alternative passages, sharing them with each other and affixing a QR code or URL link to the alternative perspective created by the students. We both got so excited about the idea and how easily we could actually accomplish that using technology and social media.  What an incredible learning experience for everyone!

People aren’t necessarily afraid of doing that, they just don’t think of doing things like that.

I hope that my book, Social LEADia will help to provide ideas, but I also think it requires all of us who are connected to passionately share how transformational that experience can be for both ourselves and our students, to explore what is possible today that was difficult to accomplish before,  and not necessarily assume that teachers are too afraid to do this.

Sink or Swim: Ongoing conversations

The other day, I had two simultaneous conversations on Twitter. One, with a group of educators and one with a high school student, Gabe Howard whose vignette is featured in my book, Social LEADia. This post is me trying to work through my thinking on the very important topic of inappropriate apps.

On the adult side of the conversation, Bethany Hill posted a reference to the statement made from a student to George Couros based on his 2015 post, Drown or Swim? This was followed by the advice by Kimiko Pettis that in some cases, “scaffolding” is important (to extend the metaphor, see the pic of pool tubes & noodles. Then Mr. Vince continued (and pushed the metaphor) saying, “Pool fencing is mandatory. Don’t forget that we do close pools. Some SM apps are totally inappropriate.”

Mr. Vince sited the Spotafriend app which seems to be a place for teens to engage in “dirty chat”.

You can see the full convo here.

Like I said, I was simultaneously engaged in a conversation with Gabe Howard  (10th grade) on DM. He told me about the Amino app.  I had never heard of it.

Here is an excerpt from our conversation (used with permission)

I am passionate about gaming and specifically, game related fictional writing. I have had many of my stories featured on . The app is free on your iPhone, I’m not certain you will be able to access them on the website. I have always enjoyed writing. I have been writing and publishing my work online, for almost 2 years now. I enjoy unleashing my creative juices and ideas to my audience. Some of my pieces have had 500 -2,000 likes and much feedback. Most importantly, its therapeutic for me. I have mentioned to you that traditional school does not provide the creativity that some students crave.

Amino is a social media app similar to Twitter or Facebook, with a little unique spin in the forms of various communities. The main drawing point for Amino is individual communities unique to a specific interest. For instance, there are specific communities for Movies, T.V. Series, Video Games, Art, Writing, and the list goes on and on. I

You can do many things on Amino, ranging from blog posts, polls, public chats where you can talk to online people, and many other options. You can follow other users, gain reputation points by posting more content and being nice in the community, and see the latest posts made by others. I use the app as a way to express my interest and personality as a writer, posting various projects that are “featured on the front cover” of the community. Basically, it’s a way for people who enter a community to see the latest and most stunning pieces of art or other content. Amino is very tricky to be apart of, you need spend more time on it if you play a major part in a community. I am a leader in one community, and the people who made the app (Team Amino) require that the leaders spend an absorbent amount of time moderating posts, becoming involved in the community, and just being active in general. It can be frustrating in some instances like these. While I enjoy posting stories and getting constructive criticism and positive feedback from other users, I think Amino has about ran its course for me.

When I looked the app up on Common Sense Media, there was lots of activity–mostly parents saying that the app is dangerous and that it perpetuates cyberbullying.

If I had only looked at Common Sense Media, I would have a singular idea about this app that for Gabe has been a very enriching community.

Though I do agree that not all social media apps are created equally and they don’t all have a place in the classroom,  my chat with Gabe  proves to me that this is such a grey area that to most adults seems very black and white. I have written about inappropriate apps and how complicated this is before , and when I heard about Music.ly  when talking about Periscope and again based on my experiences with Yik Yak (which I include in the book),

You see, at first glance, you would say, ban those apps. Make sure your kids don’t go near them. But what can be a really great app for some, can be deemed dangerous for others. Typically, it’s not the app, but the way an app is used and by whom it is used that makes it “dangerous”.

Think about this, I’ve seen some extremely inappropriate stuff posted on Todays Meet and Padlet…The fact is, you could say that about Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook; for some, the experience can be extremely negative and for others transformationally positive.

And yes, while fences are important in some cases, what I think we need to worry about is the false sense of security we have when fences are up.

Of course we need to make our students aware of the dangers of predators who engage in these communities to try to lure kids, but there are many facets to apps like Amino and Spotafriend which require us to ask some important questions:

Why might kids gravitate towards apps like this?

How can we empower them to comport themselves in positive ways and be “first responders’ (term I learned from Matt Soeth) if something goes awry?

Are they really as bad as we think? And if so, to what extent does banning & blocking really help?

Are these apps appealing to kids because they are seeking their own “tribes” or communities away from parental control? 

How might we support kids to seek out the good kinds of communities which we as adults call a PLN?

I firmly agree with Henry Jenkins, danah boyd, and Mimi Ito in their assertion in Participatory Cultures in a Networked Era that blocking sites:

“actually perpetuates risk as it ensures that many kids will be forced to confront online risks on their own”

And the BBC article Limiting Time online won’t reduce risks shared by Kim Zajac speaks to the necessity of helping students build emotional resiliency and that “helping them deal with risks they face online is vital”.

The fact is, we have NO WAY of knowing when the next “BAD” app is going to come along. And every app has a terms of service which is designed to prevent cyberbullying and inappropriate use.

What I think is so much more important is the conversation that ensues when we mentor instead of monitor, block & ban. (Devorah Heitner uses the expression mentor over monitor & I love it).

And whether we are parents at home or teachers in a classroom, perhaps we need to ask questions like the following to get a better understanding of what’s going on:

“How do we define community?

“What makes online friendships different from face to face friendships?”

“Where do you meet others who share your interests?”

“What are the benefits and dangers of connecting online?”

In classrooms, these can be open provocations for further reading, inquiring, and debating in Language Arts or English class.

These are the sometimes murky waters through which we must wade as we learn how to navigate the unchartered waters of modern teaching and learning. But navigating them effectively means that we ensure we are equipped to handle unexpected wind or storms amidst calm seas rather than staying ashore and waiting for the perfect day to venture out because our kids are already out there and some of them really need us.

 

Letting go the Fear Narrative #socialLEADia

The other day I was honoured to be on set of Family in Focus, a local television program hosted by my friend, Gillian Barker on Rogers television (Georgina). The topic: parenting out of fear.

During the conversation I shared how parenting out of fear and control when it came to social media really stifled my children and their passion and how my relationship with them and our conversations have changed as a result.  My learning from this resulted in my writing Social LEADia,which will be published this week, which highlights the voices of kids who are using social media in creative and positive ways for digital leadership.

Here are a few excerpts:

Don’t underestimate social media and the internet. If you just took a minute, and looked at the things that students do online that do change the world, you would be SO blown away. It’s actually really cool. Social media allows us to share our voice and issues that we care about and let our voice be heard by people in different cities, provinces and countries. Yes, we can do bad things online, such as cyberbullying, but we can also prevent the bad things, reverse it and do things on the internet that will help us change the world for the better. Social media is also a place where we connect with other like-minded young people and organizations. When we are able to connect, we can get and give support and encouragement, share ideas and information with others who share our passion and drive to create change.

Hannah Alper, 13 yr old

When I say social media most people, especially parents scream in fear, “Ah, social media” that’s where my kids go and write bad comments about their teachers or post pictures from that party they were at. This is where malicious behaviour takes place. But that doesn’t have to be the case. I recently wrote a blogpost called, “Why is the conversation surrounding social media so negative? And in it I document that my experience with social media is unusual, but it doesn’t have to be. So why is social media abused? What I found is that the conversation is always negative. Social media is abused by young people is the rhetoric that older people are using. So adults come and lecture students by saying “Don’t use social media.” “Social media is bad” “Don’t do this” and students start to identify social media as a negative place. Once you start lecturing to someone that they can’t do something it motivates them to do that thing and then they start developing these negative schemas of social media.  I have a radical concept for you–especially those of you who talk negatively about social media.

STOP.

Really.

If you present social media as a positive space, as a place for students to go to express themselves, to connect with professionals with other students, then that’s the type of learning you are going to see there.

Timmy Sullivan, 18 yr old

I think we really owe it to our students to put our fear asides and see what the connected world has to offer: to understand it better.

This quotation shared by George Couros in a recent post really resonates:

New DigCit Resource: Be Internet Awesome is almost Awesome #SocialLEADia

Google’s Be Internet Awesome is a newly released resource that combines internet safety with gaming. It looks like it would work well for upper primary/junior students.

It uses a Quest motif and an imaginary land called, “Interland” and its purpose is to teach students to “Be Internet Awesome”. I LOVE the sound of that!!

It focuses on five key lessons:

  • Be Internet Smart: Share with care
  • Be Internet Alert: Don’t fall for fake
  • Be Internet Strong: Secure your secrets
  • Be Internet Kind: It’s cool to be kind
  • Be Internet Brave: When in doubt, talk it out

All of these are very powerful and important points.

I went through one of the lands, “Mindful Mountain” just to try it out. This part of the quest reinforces that “you must be very intentional about what you share”

The user goes through a series of scenarios and makes you determine whether or not it is appropriate to share with friends, family, or others.  The idea is that you use the game features and you lose and/or gain points depending on your accuracy.

I received points and the following information at the end:

-Savvy Sharer (thoughtfully consider what you share and with whom)

-Patient Poster (pause and keep extra sensitive information to yourself)

-Informed Internaut (understand the power and consequences that come along with sharing)

What’s great about it:

  • The lessons themselves and conversations that would result from these lessons are definitely great.
  • The different mountains “Kind Kingdom”, “Mindful Mountain”, “Tower of Treasure” and “Reality River” are definitely far more positive than much of the fear-mongering that we often use when talking about internet safety, and touch upon a comprehensive approach to helping kids navigate online spaces.
  • Even when mistakes are made, the game is iterative so that you continue trying until you arrive at the right answer.

What’s not that great about it:

  • If you are not a good gamer (like me), you lose points even if you know the right answer which can be frustrating for some kids (or literally, maybe this is just me??)
  • Sometimes, when trying to get to the next level, students don’t always read the text (in this case the digital citizenship lessons) carefully
  • The Be Internet Awesome pledge, while very good, needs to be co-constructed with kids for them to really feel ownership of it.
  • It still exists out of context.

One of the chapters in my book, Social LEADia stresses the need for tackling Digital Citizenship in context and as a basis for Digital Leadership. A student can know Interland inside out and it may very well transfer to their own use of the internet, but it would be way more powerful if these lessons were reinforced throughout the school year, rather than tackled in a discrete unit.

I cite the theory of situated cognition which states that, “learning methods that are embedded in authentic situations are not merely useful; they are essential and knowledge must be applied in context in order to be used and made explicit” (Brown et al, 1989).

This is why I showcase the examples of Stephanie Viveiros, Kayla Delzer, and Robert Cannone who show us what it looks like to do this work using a class account (i.e. students have ownership of the account but technically the teacher posts because students are too young). I also talk about how Julie Millan and Diana Hale involve their students in the process of what responsible use of technology looks like. It’s also how with the mentorship of Jennifer Scheffer students like Timmy Sullivan are confident leaders both on and offline, and how Rachel Murat‘s high school students have moved beyond digital citizenship to digital leadership.

Here’s an excerpt from the Digital Citizenship in Context chapter:

Having a class Twitter or Instagram or Snapchat or Facebook account affords you so many unique opportunities. It can help to reinforce the following points and Digital Citizenship elements (I use Mike Ribble’s Digital Citizenship Elements):

-We emphasize that not everyone has equal access to technology (Digital Access)

-We only check our social media feed at certain times during the day to ensure a healthy balance (Digital Health and Wellness)

-We don’t put our notifications on because we don’t want to be distracted by them (Digital Etiquette)

-The classes and accounts that follow us are opportunities to connect with people: other classes from other communities and learn from them (Digital Communication)

-Our worth is not determined by how many followers we have because the most important thing is that we engage in conversations and relationships with the followers we do have (Digital Health)

-We block anyone who proves to be inappropriate or is trying to sell us something (Digital Security)

-We notice that there are some posts that are sponsored (Digital Commerce)

-We pay attention to how “edited” a photo might be by asking,” I wonder how many times they had to try to get such a perfect photo” (Digital Health and Wellness)

-We emphasize that a “like” isn’t the same as making a comment and forging a relationship, and that when you like something it means you agree with it  (Digital Literacy)

-We ask clarifying questions rather than making statements when we don’t agree with something or when we are not quite sure of the intent (Digital Communication)

-We delete a post if we think it might be misconstrued (Digital Communication)

-We regularly check our settings to see if anything has changed and talk about what should be private (stay in the classroom) and public (fine to share with the world) (Digital Security)

-We create a strong password and check for possible fake accounts following ours (Digital Security)

-When we use a hashtag, we understand that anyone can see our post even if they are not following our class account (Digital Literacy)

And So…

Use the Be Internet Awesome Pledge, (the headings), but allow your students to come up with the descriptors so they take ownership of it.

Use Be Internet Awesome as a foundation, but also engage in real-life sharing  using Digital Leadership as a framework with a class account.

 

Brown, J. S., Collins, A., & Duguid, S. (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Educational Researcher, 18(1), 32-42

Making Learning Real and Relevant: Student Voice in Action

In my upcoming book, Social LEADia, I share the following story:

A History teacher at my school, Sheri Burke, asked me if I could help her create a website for a special project she was creating to honour war veterans. Of course, I said yes and then, before we could meet, she canceled. While she waited for time in my schedule to open up, a student in her class, Victoria Shi, volunteered to do it instead and to help the students in her class put the resource together. You see, Victoria had created a personal website for the purpose of showcasing her photographs. I was not in any way disappointed that a student was going to assume the role I was going to play–I was ecstatic! Every classroom has at least one Victoria; a student with a special talent for something which, when given the opportunity can help the class and the teacher in some way when it comes to technology and/or social media. Some teachers identify experts in the class (some even get badges) and any questions about a particular tool or platform go to that student. This not only frees up the teacher, but empowers the learner.

What made me think of this is that last week, I met another student like Victoria. Her name is Iman and she is a grade 10 student in photography teacher Amanda Bonomo’s class at my school.  Amanda was looking for an authentic opportunity to have her students connect their photography to their lives and to connect with the contemporary photography and art scene.  When she first asked about what tool we could use for a culminating activity, I immediately thought of a blog or a website. It was in passing that Amanda mentioned that one of her students actually had a photography blog and it was very much like what she was thinking about.

I asked, “Can we invite the student to our planning session?” and Amanda agreed.

This is how the planning session went.

Begin with the End in Mind

Amanda and I determined our learning goals. What did we want students to know, understand, and be able to do? (based on the Overall Expectations for her course)

  • create a positive online artistic presence
  • Tap into current visual art/photography scene
  • Develop an artist statement that explains the connection between student art work and who they want the world to know. 

Invite Student Voice into the planning and process

We asked Iman to share what she had created and how it might connect to our learning goals. She did show us her website, which we really liked. For a grade 10, she already has a more positive online presence than most people.  I am comfortable creating websites and thought that this was where we were going to go with this culminating activity.

But then she showed us her Tumblr account and why she chose to use Tumblr: it is one of the only tools that allows credit to the original artist or photographer.  Amanda and I were both completely outside of our comfort zones. I am versed in many social media tools, but I had never used Tumblr. Truthfully, I thought the site was blocked and I had no idea kids were still using the tool, as my own daughter hadn’t used her account for years. I realized how many assumptions we make when we create assignments without student input.

She showed us how to import a theme, add images, add pages, and customize the look. Within minutes, I felt a little more at ease because my understanding of blogs and Twitter helped. (a + means add a page for almost any app) Iman emphasized that we need to ensure that “Safe Search” mode is turned on so that inappropriate images don’t flood the feed. She showed us some of the artists and photographers who she followed and admired. She showed us that Tumblr had a built in blog where the reflection part of the assignment could go. And unlike a website, Tumblr was a perfect tool to showcase photos.

As Iman demonstrated, Amanda created her own account so she could understand it better and show her students the example and we asked lots and lots of questions.

The plan was that Iman would provide a brief demonstration of the tool to her classmates and create a video tutorial if required. If students want to use another tool, they are welcome to.

This experience has left me in awe and wonder.

How amazing that a teacher was not only open to including a student in our planning but also stretched herself out of her comfort zone to make meaning relevant for her students.

How amazing that a grade 10 student was able to have her personal passion for photography be validated in school. How often does this happen?

How awesome is it that students are using social media to learn and share their learning (a characteristic of Digital Leadership)?

Most importantly, Amanda didn’t need me to go into her classroom to support her throughout the project, because she had empowered Iman as a co-learner and a co-facilitator.

I attended an Ed Tech Summit this weekend and Trevor Mackenzie, in his closing keynote, shared a powerful story about how tapping into one of his student’s passion for graffiti art made all the difference in the world to him and changed the trajectory of his academic life.  He also shared this statement by a student, Paul Sinanis, which is a good reality check for us as educators. 

How are you connecting learning to real life for students?

How has a surprising discovery about a student’s passions made its way into your instruction?

 

 

Blue Whale App: What is it and what should I do?

Yesterday evening I was at a Newmarket Parent Network event featuring Jennifer Kolar, Child and Family Therapist and founder of Connected Parenting . The evening was an excellent reminder to parents that the best way to help your students through anxiety, stress, and basically any of the woes of adolescence is to ensure your kids feel deeply loved and understood. In particular, Jennifer suggested the “Mirroring strategy” whereby you get into the mindset of the person to mirror their own emotions by paraphrasing, or summarizing. She advises, “Connect before you Correct.” Great advice for educators as well!

It was there, that my friend Bessie Valsis, co-founder of the Bully Free Alliance of York Region asked me if I had heard of the “Blue Whale” app.

The app, supposedly with its origins in Russia, consists of several challenges which culminates in the final challenge: the user is supposed to commit suicide.  A quick Twitter search led to information about a suicide in Naoirobi, Kenya connected to the game and it is clear that the more people learn about this, the more information and misinformation about it will start to appear on social media sites. Truthfully, as of right now, there aren’t too many legitimate news sources talking about it.

This is always tricky territory for me. If I talk about it with adolescents, it may likely incite curiosity and a desire to learn more about the app to try it out. After all, as Jennifer reminded us yesterday, adolescents do not have a fully developed frontal lobe, and are sometimes apt to make very questionable decisions. To NOT talk about it, may be just as problematic because you don’t know what the kids are thinking.

I tentatively asked my own girls this morning what they knew of the app. My daughter in grade 11 knew all about it as someone in her friend group had found out about it and researched it. My younger daughter had no idea what I was talking about.  We talked about the fact that it would likely never even be available on the App store here because of regulations, but as I have learned, there is always a way to access if someone wants it badly enough.

The fact is, any child who feels loved and is mentally healthy would not look twice at such a game.

My daughters’ advice: let teachers know to listen carefully and address it only if it seems to be a concern. This is good advice. I am grateful that I have developed a relationship with my kids which allows us to talk about things like this.

I would add, that the best reponse to negative is always positive. Perhaps take some extra time today to ensure that your child feels loved and understood. Instead of yelling about homework or the dishes, have smile a tickle or a hug ready. Or as Kolar suggested last night, some baby pictures to reminisce about.

As educators, we sometimes spend more time with kids than parents do. Perhaps take a few extra minutes in your class today to ensure that every student feels like you care about them (if you don’t already make a point to do this). This is tricky I know if the student’s behaviours drive you nuts, but as Jennifer Kolar reminded the parent group last night, these are the kids that need to feel loved the most.  Or perhaps try a Tribes activity or a Restorative Justice technique that you have been meaning to implement but just haven’t had the time. Perhaps today is the day that everyone writes their name on a piece of paper and it gets folded up into an accordion and passed around so that everyone in the class can put one positive comment on it for every student in the class.

Or you can tap into the #YouMatter hashtag or have your students share what is terrific about today (#TerrificTuesday) or tomorrow (#WonderfulWednesday) or you can share what makes your class unique and the students special, while inviting another class via Twitter to share as well.

If and only if conversations about the app seem to  gets out of control in your class and in your school (aka students seem to be caught up in reading about it or talking about it), would I go further. Perhaps students feel like they would like to launch an awareness campaign or you may want to have an inquiry provocation like, “What causes people to engage in Extreme behaviour?” (sports, parkour, etc..) and make that a part of the discussion. Ask students to research some of the Wellness initiatives happening at the school or community to support students at risk. Tap into the Semicolon EDU movement or #BellLetsTalk Or better yet, ask students what ideas they have to bring awareness to the issue. It’s definitely a good idea to also talk to your principal or see if there is any direction from the District if the app continues to get media attention.

It may blow over or it may blow up.

For the next few days, my plan is just to LISTEN and show all the students who walk in the door to my Library Learning Commons a little extra empathy and caring.

Even if this app is a non-issue, I think the approach and the advice might still apply to any problematic app that comes along?

Innovation Reality Check

I love this image created by David Carruthers during #IMMOOC because I truly subscribe to Global Teacher mindedness.

Using technology and social media to reach beyond our classroom walls is both a passion and an obsession of mine. It is also the very anchor of student Digital Leadership. But this week has really given me pause to think about not only the importance of global connectedness, but also the nature of Innovation.

I co-moderate a book club at my school and my students always want to not just read books but do something to promote a love of reading. We have been talking about sharing our love of children’s books and the students really wanted to reach out to the local daycare or local elementary school to read to the kids. Unfortunately, there seem to be lots of road blocks preventing this from happening.

That’s when I suggested that perhaps I could speak to Lorna Pitcher, from Children of Hope Uganda to see if there we could create something that would help promote the love of learning at their Uganda school and learn English. When I spoke to Lorna I was somewhat shocked at their reality:

  • the school is approximately 40 minutes away from electricity (let alone wifi)
  • the roof of their school blew away in a storm last week and they are trying to fix it so students can attend school again
  • currently, students cannot write any state exams to graduate because they need more lightening rods for their government to accept them as a school
  • they have been seeking a VCR so the students can watch some of the educational tapes that had been donated
  • shipping costs are astronomical so we would have to consider soft-cover books only for our initiative

As I scoured my house for VCR’s and set about brainstorming how we might use one of the very old iPads (which hasn’t been signed out in well over a year because it can’t be updated) in creative ways to reduce the amount of physical things we need to ship, I thought about Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality, BreakoutEDU (and digital), the collaborative power of G-Suite, the ready access of Wifi at our school, and our ability to research, create, inquire, and connect with others by sharing a simple link.

What does innovation look like to the Barlonyo School? They are already doing much with so very little! They are making items to sell that go back to their communities and are making strides towards self-sustainability.

Will sending them a solar-powered speaker, a VCR, and an iPad loaded with our stories and apps that they can access without wifi and a trunk filled with books be new and better for them?  I would say, yes.

I can’t wait to hear about how excited the children are when they hear the voices of my students as they turn the pages of their new books through a solar-powered speaker. I can’t wait for my students to start creating and fundraising for this group of children who will very quickly become near and dear to them. Already they are thinking about their own privilege.

As much as we say innovation is not about technology, what we are able to do for and with our students when we use tech can be transformational.

I will be sure to update you on our project as we move forward.