Category Archives: Engaging in Courageous Conversations

Be the Change: Safer Internet Day and Beyond

6/10 Created for the Global Blog-A-Thon

On February 7th, it will be “Safer Internet Day“, an event that began as a European initiative, which is now celebrated by over 100 countries.  #SID2017 and their theme this year is “Be the Change: Unite for a Better Internet”.

I was drawn to the key messages for this year:

In championing a better internet, the theme aims to encourage people to be the change and make the most of the positive opportunities offered online, while giving them the resilience, skills, knowledge and support they need to navigate any online risks they may come across. 

In their Key Messages document, they also offer strategies for children and young people, parents and carers, Educators, social care workers as well as Industry, decision-makers and policy makers.  As an advocate for student voice and Digital Leadership, I was happy to read their message for children:

Children and young people can help to create a better internet by being kind and respectful to others online, by protecting their online reputations (and those of others), and by seeking out positive opportunities to create, engage and share online. They can help to respond to the negative by being ‘helpful bystanders’: supporting peers if they encounter issues online, taking a stand against cyberbullying, and reporting any inappropriate or illegal content they find. Above all, children and young people should be encouraged to take their stand as digital citizens of the future – participating in debates on the future of the internet, and making their voices heard. 

My key takeaways from the other sections include:

Parents and carers can Be the Digital Change …by modelling positive online behaviours themselves, and by also reporting any inappropriate or illegal content they find. 
Educators and social care workers can help to create a better internet by equipping children and young people with the digital literacy skills they require for today’s world, and giving them opportunities to use – and create – positive content online…
Industry can help to create a better internet by creating and promoting positive content and safe services online and by empowering users to respond to any issues by providing clear safety advice, a range of easy-to-use safety tools, and quick access to support if things do go wrong.
Decision makers and politicians need to provide the culture in which all of the above can function and thrive…

I also noticed that among their supporters are Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat; with Snapchat promising to create special filters for Safer Internet Day.

Check out their website for more details and ways to get involved.

Beyond February 7th: Connect your students to others!

Although I’m not a huge fan of 1-day events for issues that should be prominent every day of the year, Safer Internet Day can be the beginning of a new direction for your class; an opportunity to connect your class to others. Here are just a few examples of upcoming opportunities:

World Read Aloud Day on February 17th is a great way to connect your students to other students around the world around the power of words and stories.

EdChange Global on February 28th is a 24 hours global event from February 28th-March 1st for which teachers and students may facilitate learning about any topic. What an incredible opportunity for positive change!

 

DigCit Kids,(@Digcitkids)  co-created by Marialice Curran and her son, Curran offers regular challenges and provocations which are all about “Being the Digital Change” which is evident by their their hashtag #bethatKINDofkid  For example, in January, leading up to Safer Internet Day, they are compiling videos on EMPATHY which they will share on February 7th.

On February 7th as well as every day, I believe that the key to creating a better internet is to focus on Digital Leadership.  The more we focus on this, the less we will have to worry about the negative.

Check out the semester-long project that Rachel Murat and her students engaged in: We Have Become Digital Leaders.

I don’t know about you, but I sense that now, more than ever before our students need to see us interact positively both in person and in online spaces.

Every day.

 

 

Opportunities for Innovation in Traditional Classes

5/10

Last week on Twitter, there was a conversation about whether innovation was necessary in some traditional subject areas based on this criteria identified by George Couros in The Innovator’s Mindset.

I have been thinking a great deal about this because of my own experiences this week. My daughter is really enjoying her Ancient Civilization course. She really likes her teacher and she finds the ancient world; its history, culture and tradition fascinating. There is nothing new about the content in the class, so arguably, a teacher could, for the most part deliver the same content to students because that content does not change.  Is this a reason not to look for opportunities to innovate?

For her culminating activity, Sydney (grade 11) had to create a 3-panel poster board showcasing her research for her chosen topic. There was a choice of topic, but not of the way students could demonstrate their learning about the topic. On presentation day, each of the poster boards were to be displayed, and students walked around to learn about each other’s projects.

These are some of my questions:

-We had to go out and purchase a 3-panel board ($10) and then go back to print colour copies because we have run out of ink. We are often mindful of inequity when it comes to digital access, but wouldn’t a student in a single-parent or low-income family have difficulty getting out, purchasing, and assembling these items?

-The writing which was included needed to be in paragraph form–Sydney knows that her peers won’t read it when they come around, but that ultimately this writing is a requirement for the teacher. Isn’t there a better way to engage students to read the content? How can there be a more authentic audience?

-My daughter is good at creating things on the computer, but does not necessarily feel confident when it comes to “crafty” things (she comes by that honestly). She painted the board, but when she got to school she saw some students’ boards were magnificent.  Despite the fact that she felt she did a good job with the research, she felt embarrassed that the board didn’t really showcase how hard she had worked and the content she had researched because it didn’t look as beautiful as the others. On the other hand, some students who spent an inordinate amount of time decorating the board, did not have the required content and did not do well.  Wouldn’t providing choice allow students to demonstrate their understanding in a way that complements their strengths?

A few Alternatives

Inquiry-based learning

Inquiry-based learning is a student-centered approach which works well in content-heavy, traditional courses. Students engage in research about a topic, pose their own questions, refine their questions and may choose the manner in which to best present the information. This is done using a constant feedback loop and instruction is given as needed. A starting question might be, “Where do we see the influence of the Ancient (Mayan, Greek, Egyptian, etc…) on modern day_______ (Literature, politics, architecture, culture, etc…)?” In this way, even if two students choose the Mayan civilization, their projects would be completely different from one another and they can see how the ancient world has had an impact on them.

I used Getting Started with Inquiry as a springboard when I facilitated professional learning around inquiry, but there are lots of resources out there that help teachers move to this model. The difference in this approach is that students take ownership of their learning.

Choice board

Even when teachers don’t use an inquiry-based learning model, a choice board is a good alternative which allows students to select the way in which they would like to demonstrate their learning.  Typically, there is a Free Choice in which students can propose an alternative assignment. What is great about this is it provides students with ideas, while allowing flexibility. Below is an example from a Science class shared with me by Ryan Imgrund.

With this framework, the teacher really helps students ensure they are making a choice which will be sufficiently challenging for them, and also helps to support the research. Most importantly, students can then reflect on whether or not they had made the right choice (metacognition), which allows for growth and learning.

Interestingly, my daughter found a Youtube channel by a teacher, Mr. Nicky, who creates parodies for Ancient History songs. She shared it with her class. This could have easily been a choice for students; it would have been hard work, but also a fun and creative way to demonstrate learning.

Breakout EDU & Breakout EDU Digital

I am a huge fan of Breakout EDU and I’ve written about it before. It’s great to see more and more teachers  bringing these into classes for students to play–they LOVE it!   I am currently co-creating a Breakout EDU digital game with Kim Pollishuke, for an upcoming TVO webinar, and it reminded me how very valuable (and rather simple) it would be for students to create a BreakOut game (digital or physical) as a culminating activity.  So much of the critical thinking happens during the creation of the game. Creating a game would show how students are able to apply what they’ve learned in a course and students can play each other’s games to learn about other topics . It would be challenging, but deep learning often is; and the games can be used for exam review, shared widely with other classes, and used in the future for teaching and learning, so there is an inherent authentic audience. Justin Birckbichler and Mari Venturino have a resource page that would help with ideas for how to present the clues, but students would have to have a good knowledge of content in order to create a good game. To me, this is an ideal way for students to move beyond the memorization of facts.

Other ideas

Check out Nicholas Provenzano’s plan to use Snapchat with the classic novel, Huckleberry Finn here.

There are some good suggestions in this post by Alice Keeler, “Easy ways to Upgrade your lesson from 1900 to 2017”. (Math focus)

As you can see from this post, I think there are opportunities for Innovation in ANY classroom in ANY subject.  Searching for new and better ways to deliver traditional content and to have students understand it, are necessary in today’s classroom.  Yes, at its heart it is good pedagogy–that’s how you know it’s not just new and flashy and shallow. Looking for BETTER ways to invoke deep learning is what I think we need to move towards.

Would love your feedback! How are you looking for opportunities to innovate in courses that are traditionally very content-heavy? What resources do you find helpful?

Instagram in EDU

4/10 

Last night I moderated a panel discussion about Instagram in the classroom. It was my first time doing anything that cognitively demanding in 3 months. There were a few guffaws (for example you will need fast forward 3 minutes because I didn’t realize we were live), and I was not able to moderate the Twitter or Youtube live chat.  Nonetheless, it was a really good conversation and the panelists, Kayla Delzer, Aviva Dunsiger and Jam Gamble were awesome.

The Tweet & Talk focused on these big ideas for using Instagram:

  • be thoughtful of the audience (public) whether you are posting as yourself or as a class
  • bring parents on board by communicating with them but also by helping them to understand how Instagram works
  • ensure that you only take pictures of students for whom Freedom of Information forms are completed (just hands & feet & work for the others–or give them the camera) until parents are comfortable
  • include students as part of the process (Instagrammer of the Day, create a collage, students choose what is posted)
  • embed explicit Digital Citizenship lessons (how to block, how to compose a message using the correct tone, how to check privacy settings, how to follow and unfollow)
  • emphasize followers as “connections” so that the emphasis moves away from quantity of followers (not a popularity contest) to the quality of connections to another class; this will serve students well as they get older.

Kayla referenced this sketchnote which she includes as rules in her classroom. I love that it is written from a student perspective!

I realized when I got off-air that I had so much more to say.  Specifically, how can Instagram be used to enrich literacy?

For Assessment 

A few teachers I know have their students post a meme (a picture with accompanying text) based on a work of literature or a concept being covered. This is a good form of assessment as it gives the teacher insight as to what students understand.

For Writing

Unlike Twitter, there is no character limit on Instagram. When students respond to each other’s posts, they are engaging in writing for an authentic audience. In class, the teacher would show students how to comment effectively and extend conversations (like they would for any other writing form).  Check out this great post by Rusul Alrubail, Storytelling with Instagram

For a Provocation

I follow the National Geographic account (@NatGeo ) and I am amazed by the beautiful and unique photographs they post. Having students choose a photo about which to write or as a provocation for further inquiry would be a literacy-rich activity that would be engaging.

Pop Culture & “News”

Instagram has an Explore feature (click the magnifying glass to access) and truthfully, I’d love to say that my teens watch traditional news, but they don’t–they get their news and stay up to date using their social media feeds. A teacher can pull out so many great springboards for teaching and learning by “Exploring” as well. Something on “Buzzfeed” which is found on Instagram can be compared to the same news topic in The Guardian, or The New York Times for a great media literacy or current events/fake news lesson. It’s also a great way to see what is trendy in the world of students

Digital Literacy

How does Instagram work? How do the sponsored ads work? What makes posting on Instagram different that posting on Twitter or a blog? When is this tool preferable? What are some of the “unwritten rules” of Instagram? Knowing how a tool functions and the context in which the tool can best be used is a part of digital literacy.

Who to Follow

We ran out of time…I had suggested that the class follow a few inspirational kids: @kingnahh @khloekares and @joshuasheart but I’m sure there are other students who are using Instagram to be a positive influence on others: for Digital Leadership. I’m sure there are lots of teachers using Instagram in interesting ways! Would love to learn more about who your class follows in the comments.

Watch the full Tweet & Talk  panel discussion here

How do you use Instagram in the classroom?

Do students think we should be using social media in school?

I noticed that I had a blog post in draft form from the summer. Do you do this as a blogger? I’m not sure why I didn’t post it then; maybe it didn’t feel complete or I wasn’t happy with it. Nonetheless, I pushed myself way too hard yesterday and have to be gentle with myself, so this is my 3/10 post.

When I was researching for my Social Media in Education course, I put out an informal survey on Twitter. It was by no means a scientific survey: I didn’t have a control group and the fact is, because I used Twitter to administer the survey, many of the kids who responded had teachers who already use social media in their classrooms. So though so this is not hard data by any means, it is interesting.

The respondents were from grade 6-8 (so ages 11-14 years old) and this what they said when I asked whether or not social media should be used in school:


And here’s the interesting thing I noticed when students responded to the question, “Why” or “Why not”.  Students who had used social media in their classroom for the purposes of learning (three times or more) had a positive attitude towards the potential of social media verses the students who never did.

Look at these extremes:

Here are the responses from kids who said yes. Most of these students had indicated that they had had the opportunity to use social media in their classes:

  • because it is a good way to share how you are learning with people around the world
  • because you will learn about thing all the time and the world is coming to the point where you will need to use social media
  • because it can be educational and fun.
  • because it helps with learning and it gives us an experience.
  • Yes, because it is a great resource for learning, if you go on certain accounts, it can actually help you learn something, all the major companies use social media.
  • it can help you get comfortable with talking to people

And there was a group of students who did not actually use social media in school, but indicated that wished they could be:

  • some social media can help you learn about whats going on in the world right now. Also, some kids enjoy using social media, so maybe kids would be more interested in learning if they could use social media to learn and connect with and about the world
  • I think it should because it could potentially be a resource, and it could help with the understanding of the online life
  • Social media should be used in school as it helps children learn something that they are used to using. Today, almost all children use social media.

There were many students (32 out of 102 respondents) who were not sure, but could not exactly articulate why. There were many, “I don’t know” responses and “I’m not sure” and one student articulated it this way: I’m not sure because I don’t really understand how using social media would help students learn in class.

Of the students who said no (13 out of 102 respondents) to using social media in school, it seemed to focus on hypotheticals and the fear narrative:

  • Because too much social media is bad and could strain our eyes if we’re on it to long.
  • If students were allowed to use social media at school today it would have been a problem because there could be a cyberbully.
  • We shouldn’t because the kids might not be using it appropriately

What stood out most to me from the survey results was the stark difference between the attitudes of the students who used social media daily and were given the opportunity to use social media in the classroom more than 5 times in a school year, versus what students who use social media daily, but who had never been given the opportunity to use it in class had to say.  You see, those students only look that their own social use, their tendency to be distracted by their friends’ posts. They are also likely the students who have been taught nothing about social media beyond how bad it is, so it is no wonder that they could not see any educational value.

And yet, I continue to talk to teachers from across the globe who cannot use social media in their classrooms because it is blocked or banned.

Do we invite students to District-level tables? Do we have a student school advisory team at the school level?

Will anything ever change if we don’t change the path we are currently taking when it comes to using social media in the classroom?

Would love to hear your thoughts!

Here is a link to the questionnaire and here is a link to all of responses if you are interested.

Is it time to innovate your staff meeting?

I have time to write a blog post tonight. Want to know why? Our administration team is taking to heart the idea of innovation and “Flipping our Staff Meetings”.  Year after year, don’t you sit in staff meetings thinking and wishing that there was a better way?

As a staff, we have been using this definition to guide our school year goals and the decisions we make:

Innovation is a way of thinking that creates something new and better.

It can come from ‘invention’ (something totally new) or ‘iteration’ (a change of something that already exists).

Technology can be crucial in the development of innovation, but innovation is less about tools and more about how we use those tools…  

–George Couros, The Innovator’s Mindset

It’s really very simple

Prior to the meeting, information items were distributed to staff prior to the meeting via email with the request to have a look and bring any questions to the meeting.

In addition, I had created a video tutorial for staff to show them how to go about proctoring our Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test happening on Thursday.  This is BIG and could have taken at least 1/2 hour to explain thoroughly.  But the video provided explicit instructions and support for the teachers who need it.

The Meeting Agenda

Whereas most time at a staff meeting is usually spent going through many administrative items, people have already received via email, this meeting was SHORT. Once we answered a few questions people had about what was shared via email, we had TIME for a teacher to share an awesome lesson happening in the school.

Ricky Machala, a Religion teacher shared a collaborative project on “Culture” between her grade 10 class and Fabiana Cassella‘s class from Buenos Aires. She admitted that she wasn’t really convinced that connecting her students to others would have such an impact on them because she figured that students are so connected already. What she learned however, is that students are connected to their own friends and communities, but know very little about the world around them. She admitted that students learned more about Culture by talking to kids and asking questions of their “Argentinian” friends, than they would have otherwise and they were eager to continue to connect personally.  She shared the tools we used to connect with the teacher: Voxer and Padlet (the best choices considering the classes could not meet synchronously) but the experience and reflection was the focal point of the presentation.

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Best of all, after the sharing session, it was still at least 45 minutes earlier than when most staff meetings end and so when we invited anyone who wanted to learn more about the Culture project or the tools we used to connect the classes to stay, so many of them DID! Others stayed to chat or connect with other teachers, or have a snack (food is essential).

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I applaud my principal, Richard Maurice and our VP Luisa Rocca for changing “what we have always done” in favour of trying something NEW & BETTER! Flipping a Staff Meeting is literally something you can do tomorrow to change the culture in your school and to help foster a community of sharing and learning.

Why not try it at your school??

 

 

A Narrative Reel

I just happened to have a conversation with a student yesterday who went to Centro Scuola (an overseas summer school program with the York Catholic District School Board) which reminded me of one of my former students who had done that and who is now in California working in Film.  I popped over to send him a hello message on Facebook and saw this “Narrative Cinematography Reel” by his Facebook friend, Howard Wan.  I have never met Howard before, but I was intrigued by this concept (which is apparently a thing in the film industry) and my teacher brain couldn’t help but think of how we could use this idea as a metacognitive reflection in grade 8, a diagnostic in grade 9 and a culminating activity in grade 12; a different kind of Digital Portfolio.

Because I’m on a committee to help with our PA Day coming soon, I’ve been thinking of innovation and in particular this definition which I’ve taken from George Couro’s Innovator’s Mindset (pgs 19-20):

Innovation is a way of thinking that creates something new and better. Innovation can come from either “invention” (something totally new) or “iteration” (a change of something that already exists).

Technology can be crucial in the development of innovation, but innovation is less about tools and more about how we use those tools.

What to do with all of the files

Yesterday, I worked with grade 9 students to show them how to organize their Google Drive (we use Google Apps for Education).  Many of them had used their Google Drive for grade 7 & 8 and asked what they were going to do with their “Elementary” file folder.  The answer yesterday was nothing.  But today, when I saw Howard’s Narrative Reel, I got to thinking…

How can we do better?

Rarely do we have the opportunity to truly know a student when they come to us in grade 9. We often rely on an All About Me activity or something like that which truthfully becomes a bit stale when we are asking kids to do this year after year. In fact, I remember one group of students reflecting on how they wished teachers would just talk to each other so they wouldn’t have to keep “introducing themselves” to teachers in the same way every year.

With the increase in what students can now save digitally they can easily compile the “best of” and like Howard Wan’s Narrative reel, create a digital reel of highlights of their elementary years using actual artifacts from their Google Drive.  That way, a grade 9 teacher can not only get a sense of a student’s interests, but so too get insight as to a child’s strengths and needs based on their past work and experiences.

What about Grade 12?

In Ontario, as part of the English Curriculum, there is a Media Strand whereby the creation of media products is an expectation. Wouldn’t creating a Narrative Reel for highlighting their high school achievements make a useful and meaningful media product they could use to add to an About Me page or Digital Portfolio and that they could take with them to the world of work or post-secondary?  By grade 12, students would have been exposed (hopefully) to a variety of digital storytelling tools so they could choose the best tool to tell their story.

What are some other ideas you have for tweaking an existing project or assignment to make it more meaningful or authentic for your learners?

 

 

Slacktivism, Social Justice, and Social Media

I want to live in a world dominated by peace, love, empathy, and mutual understanding of differences.  I want my own kids and students to grow up in that kind of world.

And yet it seems that everywhere I turn on social media or the news lately, there is another instance of hate resulting in the loss of life.  I am so grateful that I belong to a Voxer group made up of  so many races and religions which truly allows for multiple perspectives and courageous conversations.  Just listening to everyone talk about their own experiences has helped me to grow in my understanding of the complexity of it all.  My buddy, Justin Schleider said it best when he said that we are forever changed as a result of our group, because we notice inequality more frequently as a result of having participated in these discussions and having our ideas pushed and challenged.

Throughout our discussions, I always bring it back to the classroom.  How do we address important issues of inequality and injustice with other teachers and students?  Do we? How do we help students to see alternative perspectives in the media? Can social media be a vehicle for positive social action and change?

Slacktivism

Some would answer no.  The term “slacktivism,” which is made up of a combination of the words “slacker” and “activism,”  has increasingly been used to describe the disconnect between awareness and action through the use of social media (Glen, 2015).

Slacktivism can be defined as “a willingness to perform a relatively costless, token display of support for a social cause, with an accompanying lack of willingness to devote significant effort to enact meaningful change” (Kristofferson et al., 2014) and thus has a negative connotation.

And yet, isn’t awareness a goal of education?  If a young person learns about deforestation, reads about organizations doing something about it, and “likes” their page, or demonstrates a positive response, isn’t that exactly what we want?  Might that eventually lead to a more active stance as the child grows older?

I think of the Ice Bucket Challenge craze of last year as an example of how awareness can be spread through something going viral on the internet.  If you don’t remember, the movement required that you video-tape yourself throwing ice water over yourself & challenging others to do so as well.  You were also supposed to donate to ALS (Lou Gherig’s disease).  At the time, it was criticized because many people were just interested in the fun of the challenge.  This is in line with typical criticism of slacktivism which is more about “‘feel-good back patting’ through watching or ‘liking’ commentary of social issues without any action.” and the fact that oftentimes there is minimal time and effort, without mobilization and/or demonstrable effect in solving a social issue (Glen, 2015).  And yet, there is no way that people would have had known about the disease without this movement becoming popular on social media.  Just recently, there was a breakthrough in ALS as a result of the money raised during that craze.  So slacktivism, in this case, despite its negative connotation and criticism turned out to be very positive.

Much has been written also about the Kony movement of 2012 (Jenkins, et al, 2015) (Glen, 2015) as an example of social activism on the internet. I remember this campaign vividly because at the time, a friend of the family, who is a non-reader, not interested in school, and generally apathetic when it comes to any sort of causes became very interested in learning about Kony and child soldiers. I directed her to sources and she voraciously read them to learn about the cause.  We often talk about students not coming into our classes with prior knowledge, but I wonder whether or not if we meet them where they are and bring in cultural references from social media, that we might have greater success helping them to build an understanding of politics and culture.

I love this tweet by Curran Dee (a mother/son account) which really does emphasize the difference between activism & slacktivism:

Action vs Slacktivism

Citizenship Education

I really appreciate this framework for Citizenship Education in the new revised Canadian World Studies (and other revised Ontario Curriculum) as it reminds us that active participation in society are a necessary end goal.  Today, this means that technology and social media can help students develop a voice and become actively involved in causes about which they are passionate. But it also suggests that teaching citizenship is an important goal to the development of the whole child.

Citizenship education framework

 

Connecting Classrooms

When we provide students the opportunity to learn about other cultures in the world, by connecting our classrooms, we are helping them to see other races and cultures as human beings.  This can only be a good thing.  This can ideally be accomplished via technology and/or social media.  Students, can for example engage in a Google Hangout or a Blab with other classes to discuss an issue.  They can engage in a Twitter exchange.  I have heard so many powerful stories and have personally experienced transformation of student points’ of view as a result of virtually meeting kids from other countries or communities.  In one case, where one of our local schools connected with Julie Balen’s class, our students admitted that they really had no idea that the students of FNMI backgrounds were “16 year olds just like us”, and a student from Wikwemikong school admitted to thinking that everyone outside of her reserve was white and that she was surprised to see the class had so many “colours”.  One of my friends, Shervette Miller-Peyton spoke about how interesting it was for her class to connect with a class from Brazil because they had made so many assumptions about what students outside of the States would be like.  They were shocked to hear that the students knew about their own culture.   Connecting students allows them to really get to know and understand others.

Multiple perspectives

I would suggest a four-pronged approach to any issue so as to minimize bias and radical responses BEFORE they actually go online.  Something like this which would obviously need to be modified based on the grade:

I am ___________and this is my perspective…:

Respond as the perpetrator’s son (daugher, sister, brother, mother)

I am ______________and this my perspective…
Respond as the perpetrator’s victim’s (daugher, sister, brother, mother)
I am ___________and this my perspective:
Respond as a community leader
I am ___________and this my perspective:
Respond as a bystander
Reflect: I used to think, and now I think…

Student Digital Leadership

We have always included opportunities for learning about social justice issues in the classroom.  Today, we are able to empower our students to use their own voices to advocate for change.  These are just a few examples of kids leveraging social media and technology to spread good in the world.

The other day I read about Two fourth graders who started a plastic bag petition in Houston.  It was shared on Twitter by fourth grader, Curran Dee.

Hannah Alper, a 13-year old activist and social-change maker always posts great ideas for how to help.  Read her post on how to help support Ronald McDonald Houses.

Joshua Williams, founder of Joshua’s Heart an organization dedicated to feeding the hungry, promotes a positive stance on the issue of gun violence.

Joshua

Harry Potter Alliance

I learned about the Harry Potter Alliance from the book, Participatory Cultures in a Networked Era.  It’s a really interesting resource where social activism and different fandoms (primarily Harry Potter) collide.   The website says its goal is to make “activism accessible through the power of story.” The toolkits focus on different issues and provide background as well as concrete ideas of how to build awareness about those issues.  It would be a great resource for teachers and students alike.

Hashtags

A great way to promote activism in the classroom is to check out the hashtags for current events on Twitter or Instagram and contribute positively. I reflect on the power of hashtagshere.

These are a few hashtags shared with me by Alec Couros which he uses in his courses to demonstrate some major online campaigns.

I always check what’s trending on Twitter or Instagram to see if any topical hashtags might be relevant to a unit or theme being studied (or could replace what I had in mind).

Keep it Positive

I would also recommend that you take George Couros’ advice to  Err on the Side of Positive  and beyond that respond with empathy, positivity, openness, sensitivity, and love.   Keeping interactions on social media positive will prevent misunderstandings and negativity.

Err on the side of... (1)

Consider this:  My friend, Rola Tibshirani shared this post by Stephen Downes, called Hey Snapchat Enough is Enough.  It criticizes Snapchat for its filters which stereotype and border on racist.  I look at something like that as a great opportunity to discuss portrayals of diversity in media and social media.  It would also provide an excellent starting point for action: kids can contact the company and share their opinions so they know that they don’t have to passively stand by when they recognize injustice.  To keep it positive, they can suggest some alternative filters that would be more inclusive too!

What do you think of taking action using social media?

References:

Couros, G. (2016, June). Err on the Side of Positive. iPadPalooza. June, 2016. Retrieved July 31, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zoMn4063yc4

Glenn, C. L. (2015). Activism or “slacktivism?”: Digital media and organizing for social change.Communication Teacher, 29(2), 81-85. doi:10.1080/17404622.2014.1003310

Groetzinger, K. (2015, December 10). Slacktivism is having a powerful real-world impact, new research shows. Retrieved July 31, 2016, from http://qz.com/570009/slacktivism-is-having-a-powerful-real-world-impact-new-research-shows/

Kristofferson, K., White, K., & Peloza, J. (2014). The nature of slacktivism: How the social observability of an initial act of token support affects subsequent prosocial action.Journal of Consumer Research, 40(6), 1149-1166. doi:10.1086/674137

Robinson, Matthew (2016) Department of Government and Justice Studies. Appalachian State University. Retrieved July 31, 2016, from http://gjs.appstate.edu/social-justice-and-human-rights/what-social-justice

Vanwynsberghe, Hadewijch, and Pieter Verdegem. “Integrating social media in education.” CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture 15.3 (2013). Academic OneFile

References:

http://gjs.appstate.edu/social-justice-and-human-rights/what-social-justice

Vanwynsberghe, Hadewijch, and Pieter Verdegem. “Integrating social media in education.” CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture 15.3 (2013). Academic OneFile

  • Glenn, C. L. (2015). Activism or “slacktivism?”: Digital media and organizing for social change. Communication Teacher, 29(2), 81-85. doi:10.1080/17404622.2014.1003310

Character Day–A good start to the school year

Character Day

I had a really interesting conversation last night with Diana Hale, a teacher in the Toronto District School Board about the negative experiences she had in her classroom and her subsequent reflection that Digital Citizenship cannot be taught as a discrete unit. She is among many of us who recognize that Digital Citizenship needs to be taught in context and that a guided use of social media needs to happen in classrooms in order to help students navigate online spaces.  An essential element to this is for adults to recognize that for our students, the online and offline world are actually an extension of one another; not in fact two separate worlds.  One of the strategies Diana used in her class was to look at literature (she used the Weird Series) to explore bullying which she applied to online situations as well.  Using literature or film provide an excellent opportunity for students to explore abstract concepts, and challenging ideas and a skillful teacher can then bring it back to the students’ own experiences (which today include online experiences as well).

So I was very excited this morning to receive a notification about an upcoming webinar featuring Tiffany Shlain and Character Day.

Character Day is a free annual day and global initiative where groups around the world screen films on the science of character development from different perspectives, dive into free printed discussion materials, and join an online global conversation around the importance of developing character strengths (resilience, grit, empathy, courage, kindness)–all rooted in evidence-based research (from the website).

As much as I dislike “one-off’s”, Character Day is exciting for a couple of reasons:

  • it’s free
  • Sharing is happening on social media which models for kids how it can be a place of solidarity, learning, and sharing
  • it happens early in the school year and yearly
  • the event is one day but the high quality resources are available all year long
  • the lessons are based on films which provide access to most learners
  • the films are short!
  • the quality of the films are exceptional because the founder, Tiffany Shlain is a filmmaker
  • it provides an opportunity for students to see themselves in a global context and within a global conversation
  • it helps students practice Digital Leadership

Ideas for Implementation

The Teacher-Librarian as the Hub

As I embark upon a new teacher-librarian position, I can see not only sharing information with all Departments for September 22nd and partnering with teachers to brainstorm ideas for classroom implementation, but I also think that  creating a buzz in the Library and screening the films over the lunch hour would be a great way to bring an awareness to the entire school.

Innovation team

I am hoping to re-frame the current Ed Tech Team into an Innovation team; this is not a name change only.  I think that we need to move beyond the idea that the Help Desk or Genius Bar at a school, co-run by students, focuses solely on fixing tech and trouble-shooting.  If we truly want our kids to become digital leaders, we need for them to understand, just as many teachers do that character is a part of how we interact online–it is connected to using images fairly and citing sources correctly, maintaining a healthy balance between tech and non-tech, communicating clearly and respectfully online and offline, etc…  Involving an innovation team (ed tech team–whatever you call it) in this initiative may set the stage for the work they do the rest of the school year.  They will probably have some awesome ideas for activities that could be used during the Library lunch events too!

District-wide participation

What I will miss about being a Literacy Consultant at the District level is to be able to rally many schools together to participate and share.  If you are a District leader (or have a network of schools with whom you are connected), consider making Character Day a District-wide or multi-school event. Share what you are doing (pics, videos, etc…) not only with the event hashtag, but your own community/District hashtag.  We recently started a Collaborative Blog for our District, why not use the power of Google Apps for Education to create a collaborative journal of what you did and what you learned and post it to a collaborative blog so that the entire District can see it?

Beyond September 22nd

Just like Global Day of Design was meant to get teachers thinking about design thinking in the classroom, Character Day should really be a springboard for ongoing conversations and activities that help kids become good people whether they are online or offline.

 

Watch 1min Character Day Trailer from The Moxie Institute on Vimeo.

Visit the Character Day website and sign up today and participate in one of the free webinars they are offering. Hope to see you then!

 

Music.ly in the Classroom

music.ly

Music.ly is an app that allows for the creation and sharing of music videos. Like any app that allows for public sharing, there are definitely pros & cons. I have heard educators talk about this app as the worst app for kids to be on, and yet when you play with it, you can definitely see why kids (and adults) would be drawn to it!  It allows for the creation of professional-looking videos which are easy to share with friends.  Here’s one that Sylvia Duckworth created during a Pub PD–just for fun!

I just “followed” my 8 year-old niece’s account and my sister is so proud of how very creative Ashlin is when using the Music.ly app. She doesn’t just use it for music videos, but also to create skits. Just the other day, a little girl with whom I was speaking, told me that she loves the app and that it is the one she uses most on her iPod.

The app itself offers unique features which is why users would be drawn to it.  It is fun and easy to use. Within minutes you can create professional looking music videos (lip sync or original). Check out an overview Here.

There are teachers and parents who are concerned due to content that may be sexually provocative and issues around privacy.  Despite the fact that the app suggests 12 as a minimum age, parents are saying it’s more appropriate for older kids. This is what parents had to say via Common Sense Media, despite the fact that kids themselves rated it much lower.

One of the main ideas of my upcoming book, Social LEADia is that any social media app or tool can be used for good or for nefarious reasons. I firmly believe that rather than shut it down, or ignore its existence, it is important to have conversations around privacy and appropriate content in the context of using the tool

Better yet, we need to listen and ask about how your students are using this app. This not only helps us strengthen relationships with them, but it may lead to surprising opportunities to allow the curriculum to come alive for some students.

I LOVE this video example:

I love it because it shows how very creative people can be and how some tools may be made for one purpose but offer incredible opportunities for other applications.

Crucial Conversations:

The most important conversations involve privacy and appropriate content.  You do need an email to sign up and you need to create a username.  Some people don’t feel comfortable using their full name and so a crucial conversation involve pros and cons around real vs user name.

The default is set to public.  This means that anyone can download your music.ly.  For example, I downloaded the above video to my Youtube channel. You absolutely need to know that someone may possibly download your Music.ly. That is not necessarily a bad thing if students are using the tool for digital leadership.

Like any app that allows a user to create content and other users to comment, necessary conversations need to be had around how to comment positively and how to react when there are negative comments made on your video.  This is SO important because it provides an in-the-moment and authentic opportunity to teach Digital Citizenship.

Use in the classroom

When a tool is used authentically and with the guidance of a classroom teacher, there is an opportunity to have those crucial conversations and explore some of the concerns together. Music.ly might be a good choice for any extension activity in which students create their own rap or dance or as in the example above for the creation of art with a music background.

The infographic below gives you an overview of the app.

Music.ly app

Link to infographic with hyperlinks here

What are your thoughts on this app? How can we create Music.ly apps with our students to be a more positive influence on others?

Social Media in the classroom: What to do when things go wrong

I have been and continue to be a strong advocate for using social media in the classroom to empower students.  I have been an active user of social media since 2011 and have never encountered any of the negativity I have heard people associate with it.  I mean, not ever in the 12, 696 Tweets and various Google +, Instagram, Facebook, or LinkedIn posts!  I always put out positive and it always seems to come back to find me.

Early this morning, I wavered slightly when I was the target of online threats.

It happened on Blab at 2:30 a.m.  I had only recently explored Blab as a tool for possible integration in the classroom a couple of weeks ago.   I was a guest panelist for, Good Brings Good: Harnessing the Power of Connections for Social Change, as part of EdCamp Global, featuring Matone de Chiwit and Calliope’s Fran Siracusa.  Also on air were Sean Robinson and Tracy Brady along with Manel Trenchs  and Fabiana Cassella as well as others who joined.  We all stayed up for the time slot to share our enthusiasm for the powerful connections made with our classes and the young inventor Karishma Baghani around the topic of water scarcity.

And then the harassment started.  It began with negative comments put forward by “Dawn” who we later realized was not a real person, but a fake account created by someone on Twitter for the purpose of joining Blab to be negative and anonymous.  There were extremely anti-male sentiments and harassing statements directed at Sean.  I proceeded to say in the chat box how disappointed I was that such an important topic was being sabotaged by negativity.  Fran was able to remove “her” and we continued.

Blab chat

Shortly thereafter, another “user” entered the Blab and spewed hateful anti-male sentiments towards both Sean and Manel Trenchis i Mola, who joined us from Barcelona.  I firmly believe it was the same person under the guise of a different username. The abuse was along similar lines. Fran tried to remove the user once again, but this time, it wasn’t working.  I tried to post positive comments but as I continued to do so, the user sent me threatening messages–directed not just at me, but clearly the person had looked at my Twitter profile and realized that I had two daughters and threatened them.

Fran and the panel of guests addressed the issue but also continued on with the presentation remarkably well.  Because Blab does not record the chat, a viewer would find it difficult to tell when this all started.

In the subsequent hours, (between 3 & 4:30 am ET), we each set out to Report and Block both of the users.   I emailed Blab, contacted Twitter.  Fran meticulously deleted all of the negative comments so they couldn’t be seen in the replay. The group of amazing educators who had been in on the planning for the Good-Brings-Good Global Edcamp session got together on our group chat (Direct Message on Twitter) to talk about what happened and to support one another with words, Bitmojiis, and images.  The conversation then extended to Voxer where we continued to support each other and where we talked about what we could have done differently next time.

In my case, even before I woke up, my husband had already talked to my 13 year-old about the incident.  When I came down for breakfast, she told me that she had gone into all of her accounts and checked to make sure nothing was unusual.  She had also checked my 16 year-old’s phone (as she is in Ecuador) and made sure nothing untoward was happening there either.  She told me that she had also strengthened her passwords “just to be on the safe side”.  Then she asked if I was ok.  I just about sobbed.  My biggest fear was that somehow the threats made could actually happen, despite knowing that it would be extremely unlikely that someone would harm my kids from afar.

I don’t tell this story because I want to frighten you. I don’t tell it because I think we should all swear off social media.  I tell it because as distressed as I was,  I am more convinced than ever that we need to help and guide kids to navigate these spaces together.  This negative experience has probably pushed my thinking more than has been possible when I’ve only known the positive.  Sean Guillard shared the image below on Instagram and it immediately resonated.  What happens in the classroom when a wrong note is hit?  Being thoughtful and proactive will ensure that the next note is good.

wrong note

Anticipate that something may go wrong.

Stay Calm.

Do you have children?  If you do, you will be familiar with this scenario.  Your child falls and you react extremely negatively, you screech or cry out or gasp.  What does your child do?  Sobs and wails uncontrollably.  But what happens when I purposefully suck in my breath, carry on, offer support in a very even keel voice as if nothing really frightening has happened?  My children miraculously brushed themselves off and continued to play.    The most important thing to do when something unexpected, unfamiliar, or negative happens when using social media (really apply this wisdom to anything) is to stay calm and think things through logically.  If you watch the Replay of the Blab, you will see Fran as the model of composure even though she was panicking to block and eject the offender.  You will see Sean continue to talk about the power of student voice even though he is being attacked in the chat box.  Your calmness will in turn instill calm.  Your panic will make everyone anxious and fearful.

Think Aloud

When I presented at the GAFE Summit in Kitchener this past Spring, I decided it would be a good idea to do a live Google Hangout.  As you can imagine, anything that could go wrong, did.  Nothing was working, then I shared the wrong link and had to eject someone (not because he was being inappropriate, but there was audio interference).  Even though I was shaking in front of a rather large audience, my literacy background must have kicked in because I engaged in a problem-solving-think-aloud.  That is, I explained what I was doing to solve the problem in a methodical and practical way. Many people later shared how important that was and how much they appreciated me thinking through and problem-solving out loud as they saw what they would do if the same thing happened to them.  As I was thinking about what I would do if a negative incident happened in the classroom, it would be important to say these kinds of things as you are doing them:

  • “First I will look for a way to block this user because this is extremely inappropriate and uncomfortable.  Blocking them will make sure we don’t see them anymore.
  • “I will take a screenshot of the username and the negative things being said so I can have a record of it”
  • “I will need to report this to the company and talk to the principal about this.  I can send the screenshots I took.”
  • “I think I need to change my password and make it stronger, just in case this person tries to get into my accounts.”
  • “I wonder what we could do differently next time so this doesn’t happen again.”

Making this thinking visible will give them a frame for when this might happen to them as they personally engage in using social media (which we all know they are doing at younger and younger ages).

Plan that Something will go wrong

In an ensuing conversation with Marialice Curran, I spoke about overcoming the feeling helplessness with a proactive action plan.  She made the analogy of a Fire Escape plan which makes so much sense.

We have kids engage in Fire Drills & Lock down drills.  We don’t wish for these things to happen, but when we anticipate that something could go wrong, and talk about it as a class, we empower our students to act in the event that action is necessary.  And we do this to keep them safe.  A simple question like, “What might go wrong if we use this tool and what will we do about it?” may suffice.   In the case of Blab, Fran reflected that having more than one moderator/host would have been helpful since only a moderator can remove participants.  This can be true for other live-streaming tools as well.

It may also help to include the following elements in your action plan:

DO NOT ENGAGE

As much as I always give everyone the benefit of the doubt, someone who is being negative on social media is not likely going to turn around and be grateful to me for helping them to be more positive. Trying to reason with someone who is negative is futile.  It definitely didn’t work for me–in fact in retrospect, standing up to the person is what prompted the threatening messages.  It is important to continue as if nothing is happening and not engage in any way.

DROWN OUT THE NEGATIVE WITH POSITIVE

One of my favourite quotes by George Couros is this:

He coined it after he had a potentially negative situation arose in front of a live audience of students. I vividly remember him sharing his story with me and it was all I could think of during the Blab, but unfortunately, I was the only one who was putting in positive comments and because I was also trying to take screen shots, the effort was not enough.  I keep thinking how different it would have been if we had talked about this beforehand, and how much more effective and powerful all of us would have been at drowning out that one hateful voice.   This was a strategy kids came up with when we had a negative situation on Yik Yak as well.  To me, this is the most important thing we can do to empower our kids in a negative situation.

Jennifer Williams, who also reached out, said this: “Breaks my heart to think that there are people out there that are hurting so badly that they intentionally try to cause harm to others. Just another reason to spread in our world the best we can.”

MAKE THE COMPANY ACCOUNTABLE

Some apps really have no idea that educators are thinking of innovative ways to incorporate them; thus they are not being created with kids and safety in mind.  If something negative happens, talk to the class about what action they’d like to take.

“Should we contact the company with our suggestions about how this tool could be safer?”

Again the intent is to empower.  Kids need to know that if there is something that needs to be fixed that they can be part of the solution.  It could very well be that the company had never even considered the suggestions that the kids might come up with.  They often surprise us and learning should lead to action.

FORGE A POSITIVE CONNECTION WITH PARENTS

If an incident happens in class, it is important to communicate this with parents and families about how to help. It is also important to think about what and how you communicate.  Parents need to know that something happened that made everyone uncomfortable, and what steps that could be taken at home, but it is also extremely helpful that the tone  (or the words) reflect the fact that there are important lessons to be learned by engaging in the guided use of social media together as a class which their child will take with them when they navigate the tools on their own.  If your tone wavers to suggest that you should not have been using this tool in the first place, you are just opening up yourself for trouble. Parents need to be assured that the choices you make in class are for the goal of learning.  A summary of the learning goals and what the children have decided as a plan of action moving forward would also help parents feel that the teacher and the school are being thoughtful and diligent about the choices being made.

MAKE WISE CHOICES

Having said, that, using technology as well as social media always requires critical thinking on the part of the teacher.  Once you establish your purpose, you (or the kids) select a tool which would most easily and effectively help you arrive at your learning goal. Blab is a great tool for discussion and debate.  Periscope is a great live streaming tool. But both are public and anyone can jump in.  The time of day probably matters too, during the school day, you may be less likely to have someone come in than if it’s in the evening (or at 2 am!)  Though it’s never the tool, but the user(s) of the tool which make it negative, you may not necessarily want to engage in a public Blab with kids under the age of 13 or at least practice using it as unlisted first.  If you choose to use a tool, awareness and collaborative conversations are necessary.

Here is an article with some tips for online abuse on Blab which may apply to other tools as well.

The topic and Blab itself was a demonstration of the positive! Despite what happened there was powerful sharing about how students were positively impacted by a project which allowed them to become passionate about a project that could helps make the lives of others better.  Whatever else, getting involved in this project will provide.  Sean’s blog is a great place to learn about this and other Connections-based learning projects.  And check out the Our Blue Earth project in collaboration with Karishma which is still ongoing for the next school year.

I leave you with the sentiment expressed by Manel at the end of the Blab as he is being harassed in the chat:

“There is a lot of work to be done to help use social media in a good way”

Indeed there is.  We can’t let negative experiences prevent us from engaging in these online spaces with kids.  I shudder at the thought of a child or teen going through what I went through all alone because we just don’t feel comfortable going there.  I am grateful to the community of friends that reached out to me and to Sean after this incident.

 And I am ever mindful that it is a community of friends whom I know mostly only virtually: by way of social media.

School should be that safe community for kids and so should their online spaces.