Permissions and Challenges

Something that’s been rumbling around in my brain the last couple of days after attending a training  and a recent update in privacy policy from Code.org – what responsibility do software and “web 2.0” companies have to schools and students in regard to student information and privacy?

There are literally thousands of websites and resources for students to create digital products, share their knowledge in different ways, or interact with the world at large. However, common among so many of them is the requirement of creating an account, which asks for some kind of information for students. Presumably, many of these companies keep this information to email students, market to them, sell their emails to other companies, etc. I know many websites have their privacy policies and terms of conditions labeled on their websites, but they often have a requirement for students to be 13 or older to use their sites.

Working with many K-6 teachers, it is often a big challenge to find good (free, or relatively cheap) sites, that do what teachers want, and is appropriate for younger learners. This got me thinking – what responsibilities do technology education companies have to the people they are claiming to serve?

I know this isn’t a black or white issue and there are probably a lot of things I’ve left out or haven’t fully unpacked, but I’m interested to hear your thoughts. What say you?

 

It’s a Big Job…

The nights are getting longer, temperatures are dropping a bit, the sun is coming up a tad later every morning, pens and notebooks are on super sale in the store. Summer is winding down and it’s about time for school to start again. While people are always somewhat reluctant to head back to work after a vacation, most teachers I know are ready to get back in their classrooms after a couple of months away. They miss the energy of a new school year, their students, the creativity and collaboration of lesson planning and learning from students.

This year, I am also getting excited as I am transitioning into a new role. For the past two years I have supported the Magnet Program in Lansing. These five schools focused on STEM, STEAM, and Global Studies/Spanish Immersion. Through that role, I built relationships with some wonderful people and helped to share the power of technology in creating meaningful and relevant learning opportunities for students. Now, as that program is winding down, I have moved into a new role where I am supporting the entire district’s technology integration efforts.

While it is a big job – one of me and 27 schools – I am excited for the opportunity to continue to push students and teachers to do new and innovative things with the assistance of technology. But, it is going to be a challenge to support so many people with only so many hours in the day. This year I am trying something new – a booking tool that syncs with my Google calendar. Hopefully this will eliminate a lot of the back and forth emailing that sometimes happens when people want to set something up. I anticipate there being a bit of a learning curve as the most common way to connect with someone is to send them an email. I am hopeful, though, that after a couple gentle reminders, most people will look to the booking site first rather than email.

I put together a little flyer to showcase who I am, what my role is, what I can do, and how to reach me. This will be posted on our Technology Integration website as well as shared with the people in Central Office and all the building principals. In a district our size, it’s impossible to know everyone, so this was the best way I could think of to get my name out there. Let me know what you think!

foxford university presents

School Year Goals

One of the best parts of working in the education field is the opportunity to start fresh each school year. Similar to how lots of people set New Year’s Resolutions on January 1st, I have been spending a lot of time thinking about what my goals for this school year are.

Rather than come up with a list of three or four “things” I want to implement in schools or projects to complete, I have decided to focus instead on something that is both small and large. Last year, I heard George Couros speak at ISTE, and one of things he said really stuck out to me: “What if every teacher tweeted one thing a day they did in their classroom […] and took five minutes a day to read each other’s tweets? What impact would that have on school culture?” You can read more about Building Culture from George here. 

Today’s educational environment – in Michigan especially – is challenging and demoralizing. Threatened with closure, almost 100 schools throughout the state are waiting to learn their fate. The state’s largest public school district (Detroit Public Schools) have students and teachers in buildings with mold growing on the walls, floors, and ceilings. It’s a mess, and it can be really hard to stay positive and work throughout the school year to continually try to innovate and come up with ways to engage students. It is challenging when you’re in the thick of it, to remember all those little moments that get buried in the daily minutiae of teaching.

So, this year, my goal is to tweet out one thing each day that I did or saw in my classroom observation. As the Technology Integrationist for the entire district – all 25 schools – I am sure I will have a lot of things to share! I’m going to share to the hashtag #LansingComeUp. As part of the mission to bring positivity and hope to this area, students brainstormed this hashtag as a way to show people that great things are happening in our schools and we are coming up. I invite you to join me; let’s make this year the best one yet!

How Do You Get That Lonely?

My blog title comes from a heartbreaking song called “How Do You Get That Lonely” by country singer Blaine Larson. The song tells the story of a young man who committed suicide. He asks over and over, “How do you get that lonely and no body knows?” This song lyric has been echoing in my head for the last couple of weeks as I heard about the death of one of my former students. His name was Alec and he was 17 years old. 

Alec was a bright, sweet, caring, and thoughtful young man when I had him as a 7th grade student. He was one of the 140 students I taught my first year of teaching. That group of kids will always have a special place in my heart. I’m certain those students taught me more my first year of teaching than I taught them. I learned patience, how to see the potential and good in each student, how to forge relationships with them, learn about their interest, how to engage students in different ways, how to challenge them. I also learned what exhaustion felt like and how hard it was to give your all – day in and day out – and still feel like it was never enough.

Perhaps even more heartbreaking about Alec’s death is that it happened in the midst of so much happiness in the school year. Students are graduating, making plans for college or a career, reflecting on their high school years. There is so much hope and optimism; a sense of the entire world at their feet. Tinged with all these celebratory moments is a profound sense of loss.

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 2.52.48 PM

Alec was a much different person as a high school student than he was when I had him as a 7th grader. He grew up – figuratively and literally. Reading through the posts from his classmates and family, it is clear that at his core, Alec was the same bright, caring, kind, and thoughtful young man. My heart breaks for his family.

 

Using KidBlog

Last week I wrote about the introduction of blogging with students using paper and pencil. It was a really powerful lesson that helped students to think about the realities of writing online and that there are real people behind the posts. It also was really engaging for them to see others comment on their posts.

Now, we are moving students into the digital realm and having them blog online using KidBlog. We chose this platform because our students don’t have email addresses or GAFE accounts, so Blogger was out. I have used KidBlog in the past and had a fair amount of success with it. We also liked that the educator version was reasonably priced – $35 for a calendar year – and it came with lesson plans, support, and ideas.

Students have the ability to personalize their blog posts through different backgrounds, images, media, text, and font colors. They also can personalize their blog avatar. These things go a long way in giving students ownership over their learning.

Since we started pretty late in the year, students have not used KidBlog as much as we would like, but they are LOVING it! Ms. Rubio wrote a blog post about why she was out sick from work and gave students an assignment to complete online. She can then interact with the students even while she is out of the classroom. It also helps students to develop empathy and realize that their teacher is a person with challenges and issues outside of the classroom. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that!

Earlier this week, I logged in to KidBlog and commented on several students’ posts. They were so excited to have their posts read and to continue the conversation. Ms. Rubio has already said she wants to start off the school year with her students on KidBlog. It’s such a great way for them to document their learning and growth throughout the year. It also provides a great way for kids to get to know more about their classmates. Students who tend to be shy about speaking up or don’t always have a chance to share in class can now comment and post about their learning and their opinions. IMG_5269 (1)IMG_5270 (1)

Blogging With Students

It can be really hard to get students to write – right? So often students do not resonate with the topic we’re asking them to elaborate on, or there are barriers and challenges that make writing at length difficult for them. One of the schools that I work with has a very large ELL population, and it can be challenging for them to write – they don’t know the English words or they don’t know how to spell them. Writing for a teacher, turning it in, waiting for feedback, then shoving the paper in a folder isn’t always the most meaningful way for students to grow in their writing. Too often the feedback comes at the end – and it only comes from one person.

One of the teachers I work with really understands this struggle and has been working to make writing curriculum more engaging for her kids. We worked through a couple of different platforms and decided on KidBlog. We liked the built in safety features and – because our students don’t have email addresses – it was an easy way to get student accounts without collecting personal information.

Blogging opens up the opportunity for students to share and engage with many other people – whether it’s the other students in the classroom, their friends at another school, or globally. When students know that others are reading their work, they have a higher level of ownership over it. Aside from that, the conversations often continue as others comment and ask questions and the author engages in a dialogue. Students, then, are naturally reading and writing more as they respond to comments and questions on their own blogs as well as interacting with others’ blogs as well.

To get kids excited about blogging, we knew we had to go beyond just “Tell me about your goals” or something similar that kids have been asked to think about many times before. Having attended a session at a conference last summer on introducing blogging to students, I knew one of the best ways to get kids excited about writing was to let them write about anything they wanted – their passion. I wrote a short “post” (on paper) about one of my passions – running. I decorated the paper similar to how you would decorate a blog page, and then read the blog to students.

Students were then given 10 minutes to write about anything they wanted. The only rule was they couldn’t stop writing for the entire 10 minutes. At first they were reluctant and hesitant; many of them didn’t think they could write for 10 minutes about anything. We continued to encourage them to write and write without talking. After a bit, students did settle in and the quiet was really neat – just hearing the sound of pencils on paper. Once students had time to write their post, we discussed commenting. I shared with students how one of the ways blogging is different than just writing something and turning it in, is the opportunity to have communication with others who are reading your blog. We talked about some of the things students might have commented after reading my blog post about running.

A little mini lesson was really all we needed to remind students about writing in complete sentences, using proper grammar and spelling, and writing comments that added to the conversation. We kept comparing it to what you would say if someone told you the story face to face. Most students understood that it would be rude to just say “Cool” to someone’s story. After that, we gave each student 3 sticky notes and had them write their names on each note. Then, students got up and walked around the room, reading other blog posts, writing comments on the sticky notes, and posting them around the edges of the blog. IMG_5254

It was really neat to see kids reading and quiet. Students were on task and engaged. At the end of the commenting period, we asked students to share what they learned, how the comments made them feel, etc. Then, the one student who had been the most reluctant to engage in the lesson at the beginning asked if they could do it again, reading others’ posts. We ended up doing it two more times. One student wanted to read everyone’s post and comment on everyone’s blog. It was awesome!

IMG_5257IMG_5258IMG_5256

Fairview Animal Hospital

As a Biomedical focused STEM school, students at Fairview Elementary utilize Project Based Learning units centered around learning more about their Magnet Theme. Kindergarten, First, Second, and Third grade students participated in an Animal Hospital. Lots and lots of work went in to putting this event together, but the end result was an amazing learning opportunity for these young scholars!

DSC01316

DSC01314

DSC01261

Through the help of local partnerships with The Red Cross and Wal-Mart,, we were able to transform the library into a medical lab, complete with doctor’s kits, x-rays, and medicine.

Students began their experience with a hands on lesson from the Red Cross on CPR. They had the opportunity to practice on a medical dummy and to ask questions about what the Red Cross does. Then, students were given a stuffed animal and a little story starter about the symptoms of their patient. Students worked with an adult volunteer to diagnose their animal through a series of questions on a Google Form. Once students figured out the diagnosis, they were given directions to X-Ray their patient and what type of medication to distribute. It was really neat to see students talk through what might be wrong with their patient, to ask them questions, and to hear them explain their reasoning for a particular answer to a question.

The Innovator’s Mindset – Week 5 (Chapters 8 &9)

So much from Chapter 8 (Strengths-Based Leadership) resonated with me!

What if we stopped operating on a deficit model that focuses on a leaner’s weaknesses and started operating on a strengths-based model that builds on the learner’s strengths?

When I think about my own learning experiences as a student and later as a teacher, I was alway most comfortable when I was working in areas where I felt like I had something to contribute. English and Social Studies classes, discussing how I build relationships with students, utilizing technology to transform learning – those were spaces where I felt comfortable sharing and leading conversations. Too often we are focused on what we need to improve, we’re forced to sit on committees or teams that are designed to help us grow in areas we struggle. This creates a feeling of discomfort and can sometimes make us feel like we’re not good enough or not doing enough. Most of the teachers I know are some of the hardest working people I know, so to feel like all the energy and time you’re exerting isn’t enough is insulting and demoralizing.

Focusing on the strengths of the people in our buildings is a pretty different idea than the one we currently employ. Part of that is a symptom of our culture’s obsession with data and testing. We are always measuring and analyzing, trying to improve upon our baseline. And while all of those things are important, it’s not always the most empowering to constantly focus on where you need to improve.

George discusses the story about his own school district and how they created powerful professional development opportunities for their district by creating teams focused on specific initiatives. These teams were chosen by teachers so they could work in areas they were comfortable, and they worked on creating experiences that would allow teachers to learn and observe how to utilize new technologies in their classrooms.

My own experience has been similar in many ways to what happens in a lot of districts – a huge amount of money becomes available through a bond or a grant – and a TON of “stuff” is suddenly in school buildings. Sometimes these purchases are done without any thought or conversation about how these technologies will transform learning or even logistical ideas like how apps will get pushed, what filters will be in place, if students will keep the devices with them all day, etc.

In the world of education – where resources are often scarce – not understanding the potential of a device leaves us continuing with traditional learning but at a higher cost. Let’s take the time to understand what is possible from a learner-centered point of view, instead of blindly buying technology and then asking ‘Now what?’

It’s been my experience that many teachers are not comfortable with using a new technology until they have figured out all the ins and outs of it. While I understand this desire to try to eliminate any challenging situations, sometimes that’s where our best learning comes from. Students love being able to share what they know and look like the experts. So rather than stressing when a technology isn’t working, tapping into the students’ collective knowledge can be a powerful learning experience for both the teacher and the student.

Teachers often ask me “What else is out there?” And while I appreciate their enthusiasm for new technologies, I worry that sometimes it’s more like being at a circus and pulling out all kinds of stuff from a “hat.” Rather than deepening our exploration of how one or two tools can create even more richer learning, teachers are wanting to dip their toes into every single new app or website. It’s natural to be lured by fun and engaging sites and apps, but are they (the apps and sites) really doing anything new or transformative? Are they engaging students or empowering them? 

Questions for Discussion (Chapter 8)

  1. What are the current strengths of your organization and how do you continue to move them forward?
  2. What are the strengths of the individuals you serve and how have you put them into situations where these strengths will flourish?
  3. How do you find the balance between “mentoring” and “micro-managing” to ensure people feel supported and comfortable taking risks?

Questions for Discussion (Chapter 9)

  1. How do you model and explore new opportunities for learning in your own practice?
  2. What opportunities are you providing for informal learning, exploration, and “play” with new technologies in your organization? 
  3. How do you move from “standardized” to “personalized learning opportunities for your students and staff?

The Innovator’s Mindset – Week 4 (Chapters 6 & 7)

These two chapters focus on empowering students and what tactics schools and districts can utilize to bring all voices to design empowering opportunities for everyone.

George begins by sharing his focus on engaging students during his first few years of teaching.This was very relatable to me. Knowing that social studies is generally the subject students hate the most, I made it a personal mission to create learning experiences for my students that were filled with passion, energy, and excitement. I was exhausted at the end of every day having expended so much energy helping students learn about why the debate over the Constitution was so meaningful. While I believe that I made learning fun for my students – and they were able to make connections to the world around them – I’m not certain I created empowered learners who found problems and solved them, who questioned in a respectful way, who shared their voices. On page 96, George quotes Bill Ferriter: “Engaging students means getting kids excited about our content, interests, and curricula. [Empowering students] means giving kids the knowledge and skills to pursue their passions, interests, and future.” This really gave me pause. Have I been created engaged learners or empowered learners?

The common thread between these two chapters is the idea of compliance. So often we teach students how to be compliant – follow the rules, do what’s asked of them, not to question. While some routines and procedures are necessary, especially in a lower elementary school classroom, we have to be mindful of what we are asking our students to do. If we want them to have a voice – to feel empowered – we cannot squelch every independent thought or action. Chapter 7 focuses on designing a mission and vision for schools and George uses the example of his school district and how they attempted to get input from all learners in their school community – students, teachers, parents, administration. By teaching students to be compliant, we are teaching them that their voices don’t matter. Conversely, by bringing them in to the conversation to design what’s most important to a school (its mission and vision), students are far more likely to be engaged and committed to what the school is trying to do.

What do you think? Are schools teaching students to be compliant? Why do you feel this way? 

Questions for Discussion (Chapter 6)

  1. How do we create learning opportunities and experiences for students and staff that focus on empowerment as opposed to engagement?
  2. What new statements would you create with the “School vs. Learning” image? Are they on one side of the spectrum, or are these statements closer to the middle? 
  3. How do we create classrooms and schools where students and voices are not only heard but needed?

Questions for Discussion (Chapter 7)

  1. How do you involve the greater community into creating an inspiring vision for learning in your school or organization?
  2. Does your vision (individually and organizationally) reflect the powerful learning opportunities that are available today? Is it compelling and empowering to educators?
  3. What are the small steps along the way that you will need to make the vision a reality?

The Innovator’s Mindset – Week 4 (Chapters 4 & 5)

Sometimes life happens…and I have been buried in work! You can read about the first three weeks of the book study here, here, and here.

Chapter Four focuses on the importance of relationships in driving innovation in classrooms, buildings, and districts. My student teaching experience was in a 7th grade classroom, and I understood early on that having a relationship with them was crucial to being a successful teacher. This shouldn’t be mind-blowing knowledge; we tend to work better for people whom we respect and feel respected by. Too often, though, this important aspect of growth is overlooked in the name of getting stuff done.

George asks, “How do you create opportunities for your school community to have learning driven by their personal interests?” I try to keep this idea at the fore when designing learning opportunities for my teachers. Through the summer, I host open office hours for teachers to drop in and get individualized attention. Teachers really appreciate the chance to sit down one on one and discuss an idea or get some troubleshooting done on a tool or app. I have also begun doing these office hours with a couple of schools. They hire a floating sub and teachers sign up for a 45 minute session with me. Here, I can show a new tool or – even more effective – speak to the teacher about their content and curricular goals and brainstorm ways to utilize technology to modify student learning.

Adjacent to the idea of having relationships with your staff and learners is how to be an effective leader. My first principal was a person I respected and who I knew respected me. He was always ready to listen, offer support when necessary, asked deep, thought-provoking questions, and challenged some of my actions when he wanted me to see something from a different angle. He also was a great leader. He listened to staff concerns but also pushed us to take our teaching to the next level. He truly “got it.” Being an effective leader isn’t easy, and I’m sure all of us have worked for or with people who were ineffective at leading people.

I love this quote:

In a world where digital interaction is the norm, we crave human interaction more than ever. That’s why the three things you need to ensure innovation flourishes in your organization are relationships, relationships, and relationships. Fifty years ago, relationships were the most important thing in our schools, and fifty years from now, it will be no different.

Chapter Five lays out the eight characteristics of The Innovative Leader: Visionary, Empathetic, Models Learning, Open Risk-Taker, Networked, Observant, Team Builder, and Always Focused on Relationships. Being an Open Risk-Taker means you are taking risks “out in the open” so that others can see you doing it. I did this a lot with my students. Sometimes we forget that we ask kids to be uncomfortable a lot – and expect them to do it without complaint. But when we are asked to do something we don’t want to do or aren’t comfortable with, we resist. Sometimes a lot. Taking risks and being vulnerable in front of others isn’t always in our comfort zone. But by showing we trust those around us enough to be supportive of our risk-taking, we are able to grow as leaders and members of a community.
One of the areas I need to improve upon is being more Empathetic. I have such energy and passion for technology and how it can create connections among students, teachers, and others around the world, when others are hesitant to jump in  – or don’t quite see how it will all come together – I get frustrated. It’s hard to remember sometimes that not everyone is at my level of knowledge when it comes to technology tools or what’s available. Figuring out where people are and being able to move them from THEIR Point A to THEIR Point B (thanks for this idea, George!) is important rather than just pushing them to move from where they are to where I think they should be.

Discussion Questions: (Chapter 4)

  1. How do you build relationships with individuals in your district, school, and classroom?
  2. How do you empower others to take risks? Examples?
  3. How do you create opportunities for your school community to have learning driven by their personal interests?

Discussion Questions: (Chapter 5)

  1. What are some ways that you get in the “middle” of learning to understand the needs of those you serve?
  2. What is a new learning initiative that you would like to see in your school, and how do you model this learning yourself?
  3. Which characteristic of the innovative leader do you consider personal strengths? In which areas do you need to grow?