Tag Archives: #socialLEADia

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.