Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Bridge Between Two Worlds

Today I was planning a lesson/activity about respect.
Insert complaint here about how some teachers don't want to spend time planning with me, but will, on occasion throw a topic of interest my way such as "Can you do a power point or something about respect?"
Insert second complaint about how I only have the students for 45 minutes a week and try to have them working on the computers for most of the time. This does not leave me enough time to activate background knowledge or really get too deeply into discussions with them, etc.

Ok, no more complaining. I promise!
This week I got them into groups of 3 and had them begin an Inspiration diagram showing/describing self-respect, respect for others, and respect for property.
So today I wanted to plan part two of the lesson. I really want to have them use Voice Thread.
I love Voice Thread. It's a great, new tool. I know it would be a good vehicle for exploring respect with the kids. 
So, finally getting to the point here:
I haven't used Voice Thread yet. 
I call Voice Thread a "new tool." In the world of online, connected teachers, the leaders, movers and shakers, whatever you call 'em, Voice Thread is so last month! They've moved on to the next cool new thing and I haven't even figured out Voice Thread yet.

As I thought about this, two blog-post worthy ideas came to me. 
First idea: Process not product. We have to be free to fail, free to try things, free to make mistakes and free to LEARN. If we are always focused on getting a good final product, we will not venture into trying new things that we've never done before. Don't get me wrong - I know that products are important. I want the kids to have something to be proud of, something to share with the world.  I am all about product. 
But I am even more about process. The process IS the learning. 
I am excited to get into Voice Thread because it is something new for me to learn. I relish trying new things with the kids. I know in the back of my mind that whenever I do something with a class for the first time things might (and often do) go wrong. You just can't foresee everything when trying to incorporate a new technology with a group of kids. It's the process that teaches me and the process that makes me a better teacher. It's the process that teaches the students, too, and I think it is important that I model for them HOW to learn, that it's okay to try things, okay to make mistakes and figure things out as you go along. 
And the product? Most of the time we end up with a great product. 

This brings me to the second post-worthy idea: I am the bridge between two worlds. I was thinking about the freedom I feel to trust the process and to try new things. Part of it is because very few people at my school really know what I'm doing.
The culture at my school puts heavy value on grades and straight, old-fashioned academics. I don't give a grade therefore what I do can not possibly be that important. I'm not complaining here, just saying. Of course, I know the value of the teaching and learning that takes place in the lab. The kids know it. A few others know it. And it is my job to bridge that gap so that everyone gets it.
As I was saying before, VT is already old news in the world of the people I learn from. I read blogs of brilliant educators and follow people on twitter who are so far along this 21st century path. And then, there are the educators with whom I work at school. This is in no way a put-down of my fellow teachers; most of them are, in my opinion, excellent teachers. But most of them are stuck in the past. C'mon folks, the 20th century ended over 8 years ago! It's a whole new world! 
I realize that I am the bridge between this fast-moving, web 2.0, globally networked world of creation and innovation and my physical school which is still getting its bearings in the modern day. I think it is a privilege to be in this position, and I hope I am able to do it justice.

Image credit: Oaks, Linda. coveredbridgeatlanta_2.jpg. 2007. Pics4Learning March 27, 2008 <>

Sunday, March 23, 2008

We're All Trying to Figure it Out

I have still been thinking a lot about student blogging, this very "risky" activity. I hope that came across with the intended sarcasm. A few blog posts I've read recently have really helped further my thinking. Dean Shareski wrote a post on January 4th titled Why Privacy is a Moot Point.  To paraphrase, he basically says that our obsession with privacy online is overblown, that we have placed unrealistic fears onto anything that is published online. Truly, in this day and age, what is private? How many people have access to your personal information no matter how much you try to safeguard it? At some point we have to stop worrying and live in the world that exists.

As a teacher I think about these issues frequently. I always try to err on the side of caution while still allowing the kids as much freedom of expression and creativity as possible. As you can see I have a photo of myself on my blog. I read and enjoy many blogs that are filled with personal photos. I don't know the bloggers, but I love getting a glimpse into their lives. One of my favorite blogs, Nienie Dialogues, is a photo collage of the blogger's family, including tons of photos of her four, beautiful children. I think she's been blogging like this for years with no adverse effects.

Obviously there's a difference between what we do at home and what we can allow our students to do at school. As I've written, I feel strongly that the only way to teach these issues is through the process of actually using the technologies with students. Our world is changing, and we, as well as our students, need to learn what that means and how we will adapt.
What has been interesting to read about is how much everyone is trying to figure these things out for themselves. Al Upton, who had signed parent permission for his bloggers, posted their pictures online. I didn't think this was a big deal at all, although in the interests of being overly cautious, I have told my students that they may not post personal photos. There have been many comments on both sides of the issue.

I recently started an afterschool blogging group. I have been so encouraged and excited by the students' enthusiasm for blogging. Now, the desire to blog is spreading. This past week, three more students, who are not in my afterschool class, started blogs. One student started hers at home on her own. The other two requested my help at school, and I helped them. Of course, I am worried that there will be backlash. I wrote an email to all three of their parents sharing my guidelines for student blogging, but because they are doing this mostly at home, I am not as involved. I had a big discussion with the entire class about how their online behavior will determine whether students in our school get to continue blogging and exploring other web2.0 technologies or not. I told them a little about Al Upton's students and how people are closely watching what happens with students who are allowed to blog. I trust them to do their best. They are learning. I am learning. Learning is what it's all about, right?

As usual, someone else really summed it up perfectly for me: This is from the comments section on Al Upton's blog. I think it really makes the point:

Sunday, March 16, 2008

I'm Gonna Say it Again...

The other night I had this dream: I was swimming along the shallow edge of a bay with my children, ages 4 and 7. Suddenly my 4 year old son purposely swam away from me and into the deep water. I panicked and swam after him, trying to grab onto him and swim to the surface.

It doesn't take an expert in dream interpretation to figure out the obvious symbolism. It is natural for parents to want to protect their children from danger. But, in this example, my son's best protection would not have been for me to attempt to drag him to the surface, thus pulling both of us under; it would have been to have taught him to be a strong swimmer.

As we are all well aware, the Internet poses all kinds of possible dangers. As we sit at our computers connecting with the wide world, we may be physically safe. But it's called the world wide web for a reason. It's all there; the good, the bad, the ugly.We can type in a wrong letter or two and end up at a site we'd rather not see. We can think we are connecting with friendly folks, tell them a bit too much information, and find out that they aren't quite so friendly. The risks are real.  However, the benefits are beyond compare. Most of us can't imagine a world without the Internet. Like everything else in life, we have to take the good with the bad. 
I know I am repeating myself here. I've said it before. I'll probably say it again. We have to TEACH students how to use the technology wisely and safely. Banning and filtering may seem to provide an easy solution, but what are we telling our students?
We don't trust you to act responsibly.
•We don't think this is worth teaching you.
•We don't care that this is how and what you want to learn.
Besides which, bans and filters don't address the all of the possible problems. 

I have faced a lot of hurdles at my job revolving around issues of Internet safety. I work at a small, private, religious school. I am in my second year at the school, and we are, slowly, but surely, entering the 21st century. We are even beginning to blog with students outside of the ultra-safe If I could share my strategy, it is this: I try to arm myself with information, both research and anecdotal evidence. I align myself with those of like mind. In some instances I believe it is better to ask forgiveness than permission. 
I acknowledge that there will always be people who may not understand what I am doing or may not agree with me. I know that I am taking a risk by blogging about my professional activities. I have to be true to myself, however, and true to my students.

I couldn't write a post like this at this time without referring to the situation with Al Upton and the mini-legends. Al Upton is a teacher in South Australia and the mini-legends were his student bloggers. I was writing to one of his students as a blogging mentor and quite enjoying our communication. I was hoping to have some of his student bloggers communicate with my student bloggers. Just the other day, the mini-legends were shut down by some administrator due to parent concerns. It is all a bit hazy. The students even had signed permission slips for blogging. As of earlier tonight, there were around 120 comments from around the world in support of Al and his students. You can read about it here.

In my experience, the biggest issues I face come from ignorance. It is my job to continually educate the parents and in that way advocate for the students. 21st century educators have a great knack for pooling our resources and supporting one another, and through that, we will prevail. 

One good wiki I have found with resources for blogging in education is

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Passion Quilt....Quilted

Awhile ago there was a meme going around the blogs called The Passion Quilt Meme. The challenge was to find an image that represented your passion as a teacher. 
Teachers are so awesome.
I have enjoyed looking at all the images and reading about the passions that inspired them. I thought I would try to "quilt" the quilt into a slideshow so they could be viewed in one place.
If the original blogger didn't caption the picture I tried to create a caption based on what they wrote. Of course, the full thoughts can't be captioned, but I love the slideshow and what it represents. The Passion Quilt Meme was originated by Miguel Guhlin and I found the links to the images on Miguel's 

Monday, March 10, 2008

Blogging with Students

Today I started my afterschool blogging club. Known as “tech explorers” these 4th and 5th graders (and one intrepid 3rd grader) began the creation of their own blogs on edublogs.

First of all, some thanks are in order. I have to thank the ever-inspiring Silvia Tolisano (langwitches) for sharing the idea of doing an afterschool blogging group, as well as the practical “how-to” advice she shares on her blog. Thanks also to my principal for agreeing to it, to my assistant, Kim, for helping me set up the blog accounts (and picking up snacks). Most importantly, thank you to my wonderful students for being so excited to be part of this new, fun and creative activity, and thank you to their parents for allowing them to participate.After much thought and a lot of checking out of different options for student blogs I decided to go with individual edublogs accounts for each student. I feel that one of the biggest motivations for blogging is the creative expression, so I want each student to have control over the look and feel of their blog, as well as what is posted. I created user names in advance, and today in class, the students activated their own blogs by choosing a domain name and a title for the blog. They also chose a theme and some wrote an introductory post.

Before we got started with the nitty-gritty, I showed some examples of student blogs. I always start any project or lesson by showing some quality examples. The blogs I showed today were Digital Depictions by Cai (age 9) and some of Silvia’s students’ blogs. We also discussed our Tech Explorers’ Code of Safe Online Conduct. This, too, was the outcome of a lot of thought and exploration of others teachers’ work. Different teachers have different guidelines as to what constitutes online safety. I think that what is most important is that the subject is discussed and re-visited as necessary. I feel so strongly that we need to teach our students to use the emerging technologies thoughtfully.

The students were very excited, and many of them expressed the desire to work on their blogs at home.

I have also started a class blog with my 5th grade class. If you have followed any of my rambling "using technology to do good in the world" posts, this blog, called 17 Chances to Help, is the next step in our tech-related mitzvah project. It is slow-going, as I have retained administrative control over that blog, and I only see the class once a week. But I think we will be working on this project for the rest of the school year. I am interested to see how this project takes shape and what the students learn from it (and, of course, what I learn from it). Please check that blog from time to time as we add content to it. I know the students would really welcome comments.