Tag Archives: Changing Kids

What It Might Be- Authentic Student Blogging

I started writing, blogging, whatever you want to call it nearly seven years ago. I started with some important questions,

What if we are English teachers and we talk all day about why writing is important and we want to prove that by actually doing it? What if we tell or students that writing helps us learn how to think? It helps us break down the world and recreate it in a way that makes sense to us? What if we believe that writing is the last form of communication, and that the freedom on the Internet and Blogging may help us connect with ideas we never knew possible? What if we believe in the honesty of the Blog as a venue to connect and share? What if we are tired of cynicism? Read more

I’m not sure if I’m closer to finding any answers, or if I have become lost or more deluded. Sometimes it feels like I have been spewing the same sermon for nearly a decade? Perhaps, but I still believe– I still believe in the power of Internet; this power of sharing. I still believe in fostering creativity, empowering students and creating spaces where they can shine and share and connect and grow.

The problem is that student blogs don’t always achieve this utopian wonderland of blissful connected learning. As a matter of fact, blogs often become dull, boring, dead spaces weighed down by the institutionalization of school environments.  Dumping grounds for forced reflections, glorified worksheets, and poor writing no one but the teacher reads– these potentially vibrant spaces are transformed into vacant shells of what they might have been. So how do we create authentic spaces for students to reach their potential? This is a question I have been trying to answer for seven years, but never more urgently than now, as I prepare for a webinar later this week and a presentation next month on this very topic. I hope this post helps me narrow my focus and gain some clarity for myself and for you.

As soon as I saw the potential for in blogging as a tool for myself, seven years ago, I began experimenting with student blogs. I began under the tutelage of Kim Cofino and since then I have worked with Edublog, WordPress and now Blogger in a variety of schools and platforms. But not until this year, have I felt so excited about where my classes are heading. Things seem to be happening. I am not sure what is happening exactly, or where we are headed, but something feels different this year. I don’t want to jinx it, because like a young sprout our program is still very tender and potentially susceptible to failure, but many people have been asking me what is different about this year.

This post is meant to highlight some of what we have been doing and why it seems to be working. The following ideas are not ranked by importance and may not even be fully thought out or accurate. This list is that I came up with as I brainstormed the reason why we are finding success this year.

We Are A Team On The Same Page

I chose the word we, when I referred to some of the things we are doing intentionally. I have been on teams before, all wonderful in their own ways, but this is the first time in a long that I am in a group of teachers who are not only passionate about online sharing, digital citizenship, blogging, but skilled and well-versed as well. What’s more we understand that we, as a school, are at the early stages, at least when it comes to blogging, so we are not encumbered by system-wide guidelines or restrictions. We are free to experiment and let the dog loose on the leash so to speak. Furthermore, our skills and expertise are spread out across the school. Some of my most successful bloggers have had exposure to many of the ideas and values surrounding blogging earlier in their schooling. They were taught things like Creative Commons, design principles, and online etiquette by Keri-Lee and Louise in our Junior School.  When they get to us, they are well versed in the basics. I cannot overstate how important this early exposure is for students, if you want them feeling comfortable sharing online.

Here in the middle school, I feel blessed to work closely with Paula, as we begin to lead the vanguard forward. It is crucial to have a few peers with whom you can exchange ideas. We also have Ian, who is new to blogging, but along with his enthusiasm brings a critical eye to help make sure we are blogging for the right reasons. I have spent so much time being the only person on a team trying to change minds and convince others of the value of blogging. It is so important to have a few team members who get it and are ready to push the possibilities. We also have an amazing librarian resource in Katie who helps us both on and off line create a literate and text rich world. . Add to this mix a tech coach who is not only on board, but can make things happens with the higher ups, and one who allows you the freedom to run, unafraid that you might trip up once in a while, for that we have Jeff! Finally we have an administration who trusts us and  is steered by the excitement and potential of blogging and not held back by the fear or anxiety. I could go on and on, (Sorry if I forgot anyone)  but staffing and like-minded teams really help.

It is difficult to succeed when you are the lone voice in the wilderness. A supportive vertically spread-out team and a supportive administration are key components to a successful student blogging initiative.

Personal Experience

I get blogging. I know how to do it. I understand the purpose of commenting. I know the value of RSS and can set up 22 feeds in reader with my eyes closed. I understand design. In short, I have been doing this for a while. At any given time I am administrating four to five blogs at a time. This experience comes with time.  It is difficult to build organic student blogging environments, if you don’t have at least a few people on your team with this experience. I am not saying you can’t do amazing things when you are just starting out, but it takes time to get to a point where the small hiccups do not become major obstacle to your success. It takes time and practice to to gain this invaluable experience.

The best way to mentor others is to do yourself. If you want to create a student blogging environment you HAVE TO blog yourself. Write, read, immerse yourself in the blogosphere and play. The fact that you are here is a great first step, now join the conversations. Leave a comment, get involved. Your students will not blog successfully if you yourself do not blog!

Expectations vs Possibilities

Don’t start with what a blog must be or what it can’t be, but focus on what it might be. Give students freedom at first, let them drift and open up and build faith and trust. Don’t even mention the word portfolio. Instead exploit their natural tendency to share in other social network sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I explain to my kids that a blog is just a deeper version of what they already do. Teach them to take time in explaining why they share photos or video clips.

Blogging is about trust. Trust takes time. Students must feel safe to become vulnerable and open up. This trust is not built online, but in your classroom, when you are together, as a group, face-to-face. It is built through effective classroom discussions at the table and understanding the power of commenting and conversations. It is building offline spaces that are fun and creative and open to new ideas and projects. It is built by  sharing as much of yourself with your students as you can. Share your music, your ideas, and texts that move you. Share your contacts and friends and model what you teach. Use your network to show the power of networks. Before you know it your students will be writing about all kinds of things:

Home– a poem by Myra
Blogging is Like Minecraft– by Kaymin
Illustrations– by Wendy
Japanese History– by Keito
F1 Fever– by Ananya
Focus Africa– by Max
Slam Poetry and another one on Imagination – by Aditi M
What Am I Doing With My Life– by Aditi P.
Basketball– by Glen
Music is My Life– by India
Sharks– by Pavitra
Mad Dogs (Book Review)- by Shashu
Food Questions– by Rohan

If you want your students to blog effectively, give them the freedom to experiment and write about what interests them. Stay away from portfolios and forced reflections on their learning, at least until they get the hang of it. Wait until they find a voice, find an audience, and become involved in the conversations around ideas, before you push your agenda of meta-cognition and reflective learning. 

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Daniele Rossi

Playground vs Classroom

Kids play on playgrounds. They take risks out there– jumping off monkey bars, going down slides on tummies. They bully each other and form friendships. They get dirty. They have fun. They learn to stand in cues or get in fights. They learn not to go up the slide. It is not always easy being out there, but they  stretch and learn and grow. Kids need playgrounds. Sometimes these spaces are supervised. Sometimes they are not.

I see social networks as digital playgrounds. Our students are out there. They are playing and experimenting. They are learning social norms: bullying and forming communities. They are sharing with positive and negative results. Sometimes these spaces are supervised. Most often they are not.  Just as we need  “real world” playgrounds,  we need these online spaces as well. Kids need to have places where they socialize and learn without supervision. They need to jump off the monkey bars and figure things out on their own.

But they also need a classroom space to unpack and articulate their playground lessons. I see the blog as this space. While they play on cyber-playgrounds like Tumblr and Facebook, they need a middle ground to process what they do. I try and convince my students that they need a space of their own to explore their thinking and get constructive feed back from the community we are trying to build. We all play with our own friends out in the playground, sometimes crossing paths, but we meet in the classroom. We share, expand and really open up on blogs.

Students need to understand that there is value in an online space where they can have some structure in order to learn how others socialize online. A place they can practice lessons on digital citizenship and build community. They need to understand the role of the blog before they are asked (forced) to share. I find this playground and classroom model is a good way to get my head around it.

Space of our Own

Student understanding of the why of blogging is vital to successful student blogs. They will often think that blogs are just another school chore they must complete to appease the teacher. Another hoop to jump through. Another place to dump homework. I mentioned earlier that we did not start with portfolios or reflections or anything mandatory  this year. Instead we are selling the kids on the values I have mentioned above. We are  trying to build an understanding of the value of constructing an honest and  authentic digital footprint. I think Jeff P.  said,

We visit other places online, but a blog is your home where you invite people on your terms. You decorate and entertain and store yours stuff there. You live there. Without a blog you are cyber-homeless, simply wondering or couch surfing.

I love this image. We have found that helping students understand the homely feel of a blog has been invaluable. We encourage kids to share and find their voice and to house it on their blog–a place they hopefully feel comfortable.

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by herefordcat

There you have it. I am by no means an expert, but experience has taught me some lessons that I have shared with you. I am not sure where our blogs will go this year, but things are happening and we are excited. I just hope we don’t over-think them. I feel like they are young saplings at this time, I just hope we don’t over water them.

What have you done to create authentic student blogs or online spaces? What questions do you have? Let’s start a conversation and see here it goes. See you in the comments.

If you are interested in this topic, please join us this week at , Authentic Student Blogging: Empowering Student Voice in the Social Media Age. I could not be more honored and humbled to be presenting with Alec, Jim, Bud, Melanie, Alan and Howard. I am thrilled to be involved in this event with my heroes and mentors. You want experts? I am sure they will have a lot to say on this topic. See you there.


Crux of My Frustration

It’s a cold, dark, grey day and our normally glistening vibrant school feels a bit like a prison. True, the oppressive weather outside casts a long drab shadow of gloom upon all the buildings. True that tired students and staff are struggling to stay inspired as May begins her long trek up the summit to the end of the year, but it is what is happening inside that reeks of anachronistic, uninspired schooling. We are witness to the type of behavior that should make progressive educators want to jump out their windows. Yes dear reader, it is exam week at our school for Grade 9, 10, and 11.

Rather than watching excited students work toward personal goals and interests, I am watching gangs of anxiety-ridden zombies walk the campus cramming their brains with notes for exams. People on Twitter, reminded me that exams do have real life benefits, and I can see that, but I guess in my dream school exams either don’t exists, and if they do, they should feel very different than what I felt today.

I don’t know enough about the grade 12 IB Exams, so I will not write about that process here. What I do know is that at this moment, my grade 10 students are sitting in rows and taking an English exam in order to prepare them for the DP exams they will soon be taking. An exam, I was in a way forced to give them. I suppose, I could have fought back a bit more and at least asked why I need to give this exam, asked if we could opt put, but I took the path of least resistance. My colleague and I decided to simply turn the assessment we had already planned into our final exam. Students were to write a formal letter to a magazine editor, pretending to be a WWI poet, and explain why their poems should be published. They were to focus on persuading the editor of the value of their work in terms of theme, style and literary devices. Your basic critical analysis and articulation of understanding essay.

As I write this post and chat with people on Twitter, I realize I am not sure where I am going with it. I do not have any concrete ideas, and I do not want to be hyper-critical or rant about something I myself am confused and unsure about. So as always, I am throwing out some half-baked ideas in hopes that people who are more experienced and knowledgeable and have better formed ideas on exams and assessments can help me paint a clearer picture.

The crux of my frustration is the lack of student ownership and engagement that comes from exams and assessment in general. The assessment I described was created by teachers. So whether presented as an exam or as a project, it still lacks authenticity.  I am starting to realize that this lack of student input in most school decisions is what frustrates me about most aspects of school. I am just as guilty as most teachers. I plan units with my peers–complete with guiding questions, assessments, rubrics and more, but seldom do I bring student voices into the process. It is not that I don’t want to, or that I do not know how. I often feel that I am part of a system that doesn’t have time for this sort of student driven curriculum.

I totally understand that as a team, we are working hard to create a working curriculum, and as a new school, sometimes we just need to have a functioning scope and sequence. I am amazed and very proud of the work our English department has done this year.

We have created a 6-12 scope and sequence, basically, from scratch. Our units are diverse, media rich, interesting and show a great diversity of assessments. We have begun to integrate authentic use of technology and have achieved a nice balance of genres and content. We have done our best to identify clear and useful significant concepts, Approaches to Learning, guiding questions and more. In short, our department has done a wonderful job of collaborative planning to create a functioning and engaging curriculum in a just under two years. This is no small feat. It is a first step. I get that. I can appreciate that. I see its value. We have created a functioning curriculum? So now what?

Where are the students in this model? How do we give students more of a say in the planning of  curriculum? How can we empower them to create assessments that make sense to them and showcase their skills and understanding? How can we give them ownership of these units.

This lack of student ownership in planning the curriculum is my biggest frustration with the idea of schooling. I have ideas about how to change my own planning, but when working with a team, how do we make these changes? Do students even want this level of engagement, or do they just want to go to class, be told what to learn and how to learn it, take the exam and be done with it?

These are some random thoughts on a grey Monday during exam week. Any thoughts would be welcome:

  • How do you involve students in the planning process?
  • What are your thoughts on exams?
  • How do exams work at your school?

Give A Kid A Blog

I had two eye-opening experiences this week, both really got me thinking about online sharing, curation of digital versus “real” work (E-portfolios) , and overall student learning, both in terms of motivation for and expressions of. The first was the grade 10 MYP Personal Project exhibition, the second my daughter, Kaia’s, student-led conference for her PYP Kindergarten class.

I will start with Kaia. This was her second student-led conference, and again I was very impressed and proud of her autonomy and independence. After greeting me at the door, her teacher handed Kaia a checklist which Kaia had filled in with the different examples of work she wanted to show me at the various stations: Portfolio, Math, Reading, Art, etc… Kaia proceeded to take my hand and lead me to her favorite spots. The first was her portfolio, at which she carefully and deliberately articulated her learning. She was a bit nervous (Still not sure how they can be nervous at that age) but she did a great job of explaining what we were looking at and was able to answer nearly all of the questions I fired at her! (Not sure if having your parents as teachers is a blessing or a curse.) She was confident and proud of herself and her work. We must have spent at least fifteen minutes discussing her learning. It was awesome to watch.

Next stop, she led me to a shiny iMac where she adeptly opened a folder called Kaia and hit play on a Keynote presentation. Before I continue, let me say that the presentation was beautifully made and showed tremendous amounts of work and time. Each slide had photos, text and little video clips of Kaia playing tennis, reading, acting, singing and more, but the weirdest thing happened–after twenty minutes of her being engaged and talking about her learning in a non-digital format, she became silent. We simply sat and watched a ten minute slide show. When I tried to ask questions, she said, “just watch daddy.”

Of course I see the irony here– part of my job is to promote and facilitate technology and the use of digital tools to enhance student learning. We have spent countless hours discussing what this looks like at every level of our school, but here I was wishing we could just turn off the video and go back to when she was telling me about what an herbivore is, or the features of a Triceratops. What is going on here? Let’s take a look and start with some questions.

Is a collection of photos and videos an effective use of technology? Is the presentation of an E-portfolio as part of a student-led conference the best use of time? I cannot emphasize enough that this post is not a critique of Kaia’s teachers. She has done an amazing job. Kaia is excited and passionate about everything they do in class. I am sure that the format they use is a standard protocol, that they have worked out in the elementary school. As a player in the decision making apparatus at our school, however, I feel that it is my duty to reflect on how our ideas are carried out.

As I mentioned early, the product itself was great. A well told digital story of my daughter’s learning. It was great to see a slide that had a copy of the book she had written coupled with a short clip of her reading said book. I saw her in the art room, in PE and on the playground. I couldn’t help thinking about a few things as I watched: I wish her grandparents could watch this, I wish I wasn’t watching it now at this conference, I wish I could have seen this unfold throughout the year and not all presented in one package, I wish I could interact with it and leave comments. I wish others– family friends etc…could also interact with it. You guessed it, I wished this portion of the conference was on a blog, and that I had had access to it months earlier.

In a world that is increasingly applying pressure for the digitization of our lives, we must be careful not to go digital for its own sake. Sometimes, most times really, sitting and talking with a five year as she talks about symmetry, while building a perfectly symmetrical house– using blocks, is far better than sitting in silence as you both watch a video of an assembly that happened months ago.

What’s my point? None of this is easy. Finding the balance between the digital and analogue is a major theme for this generation.  We cannot, however, assume that one method is better than another simply because it is digitized or “real.” In this case, I really enjoyed watching and interacting with Kaia’s independence and confidence as she showed off her work. I was disappointed, however, when we sat and watched her video. Especially when I knew that in a proper blogging platform, we could have been watching these digital events and interacting with them as they occurred in real time.

Final question–is curation of work in a digital format really using technology to enhance learning? Every school in the world is grappling with these questions. We are all at different levels of understanding and implementation of technology. Our school has made tremendous progress in the two years I have been here, but as we start crossing one bridge, it is time to look ahead and ask what’s next. What if Kaia had  shown me content she had created using digital tools? She is an adept photographer and storyteller. I would have loved to have seen a movie that she had made. What if she had interacted with another classroom? What if her peers had commented on her work as well? What if…..

Soon we will have our middle school student-led conferences, and we are working hard on building a structure for students to highlight and eventually curate their work through their blogs. I would hate to see, however, parents and students, simply watching a screen and not talking. A blog should be an ongoing space. A place where work is current, relevant and interactive. While I feel, that our blogs will eventually be great e-portfolios housing a range of student work and learning, I do not think that they serve much of a purpose in a student-led conference. Unless, the students are coached on how to navigate their work on a blog, so as to engage their parents in conversations, not simply click from link-to-link.

The second experience I had this week, was the grade 10 MYP Personal Project exhibition. Once again an incredible display of student learning, motivation, and independence. A huge round of applause to everyone who was involved. The weeks of work and learning were evident in all the displays. Students had created original perfumes, compositions for piano, iBooks about golf and more. Students confidently presented their guiding questions and were able to answer all the annoying questions I asked.

All except for one? Is this online? Not one of the grade 10 students had thought to share their work and final product online. True that the majority of them had used their blog as a process journal, properly tagging their posts and keeping impressive running diaries of their progress, but not one student had felt the need to share their final product with a global audience. They saw nothing wrong with spending weeks on a project, building a display that would last only two days and then being done with it. Up and down. Gone! Why is this?

I think students are still thinking of everything they do at school as a part of school. Even their personal projects, which are meant to be based on a passion and personal interest are nothing more than a school assignment to be shared and evaluated by teachers and perhaps a few peers. Why? How do we change this? How do we instill in students that what they create has value in a larger context?

I want to teach kids that their content has a place on the web? It has value and they should look forward to sharing their ideas and content, rather than being afraid of the exposure. If you spend over ten weeks writing an original piano composition, doesn’t it make sense to post it on Soundcloud and have it live on the web? If you wrote an iBook on golf, why not go the extra step and put it on iTunes so other people can download it?

I will be talking to the grade 10’s today about the ephemeral nature of their projects. Ten weeks of work, two days of presentations and then gone! Vanished like dust in the wind. I hope that they see the value of etching a space online for their minds, for the work, for themselves. Like Kaia’s conference, there is definite value in the physical personal project exhibition. It is just disappointing that they are gone. I cannot go home and listen or watch and comment more deeply on what I saw. I cannot share their work with you or your students. We cannot build conversations and community around their content.

In conclusion, I hope I have laid out the value of online spaces for students from kindergarten to grade 10. Give a kid a blog as a space to tend their garden. Let them learn how to be just as independent and confident online as they are off. Teach them how to balance the digital and the organic. Let them present and talk to peers face-t0- face, but also create lasting portfolios of their work online. This is the road ahead. These understandings are what people mean when they speak of 21st century skills.

Would love to hear your ideas. Share your experiences in the comments below.



Tweeting During Class? No Way!

I recently received a question in a comment from Jesse Scott (@twowaystairs) about a topic I have been meaning to write about for some time. He is wondering how I Tweet while in the classroom.

I find it amazing that you, Jabiz, can tweet and teach at the same time because, while I love the Twittersphere and understand and appreciate what it has to offer, I find a huge disconnect when I try to tweet in the middle of things happening. I feel like I disengage from the moment, for a moment, while I post a tweet and things lose momentum. More so when I’m part of the conversation but even when I’m not, I feel like I’m missing part of the conversation and not giving people their due respect. How, in your opinion, do you keep that balance?

Great question! Before I get to it, however, let’s consider the larger context in which the question is set. Really he is asking about being distracted by alternative conversations during real time events, in this case with the use of Twittr, at a PYP exhibition or some other conference. The short answer, I think, is that we are all engaged and distracted by different thing and at different levels. If something is truly engaging then no amount of white noise can disengage us from it.  Even if we are Tweeting it, we do so in the hopes that it is enhancing the event and adding a layer of complexity. But sometimes it is just best to shut it down and allow ourselves to be truly absorbed.

For me, like most people I assume, it is difficult to turn off my brain. My constant Twitter stream of thoughts is always on. So even when I am experiencing a talk or presentation, my brain is firing on all cylinders. I find it useful to house these thoughts in my Twitter stream. Partly because I just want them stored somewhere, remember Twitter was originally called a micro-blogging site. I still see it as short form blogging or public note-taking. For better or worse, Twitter has become my online public stream of consciousness. Since I cannot turn that off in the midst of reality, I choose not to turn it off on Twitter. I Tweet what I think, when I think.

This is nothing new, before Twitter I always had a small journal into which I would scribble these random thoughts. The beauty of life now, is that my little black journal talks back! This talking back, however, is what I think Jesse sees as distracting. And he is right, it can be. When the back channel becomes more interesting that the main event, what is one to do? Here is the scene, you are at a keynote speech and the conversation about what is being said is more engaging than what is being said! What do you do? Not sure I have an answer for that. Hate to sound like a broken record, but these are personal negotiations about balance and priorities. I  believe in giving people respect when they present and affording them as much of my attention as I can. As I do more and more speaking and presenting, I expect that much from an audience. That is a personal thing for me. Even at meetings, I try to have my laptop down, when I know the person speaking wants my attention. I see so many teachers, the same ones who always complain about distracted kids, checking Facebook at a staff meeting when they should be doing something else!

So in the case of the PYP exhibition, the question is does Tweeting add to the experience? Or is it a gimmick to appear to be using technology? Not sure I can answer that, but if technology feels wrong then it usually is. Put down the tweets and give those kids the wonder and engagement they deserve.

Sorry abut that tangent…back to how I Tweet in class. I have touched on a lot of the points already, so I will refer back to them in the next few paragraphs. I know many people are a bit aghast and put off when they here that I usually Tweet my way through all my classes. “How can you be teaching and Tweeting at the same time.” or “The kids deserve your full attention.” or “If you have time to Tweet then some kid is not getting enough attention!” Fair enough.

To start I guess we need to define some basic terms: teaching, classroom, attention. I don’t feel that my students are getting a traditional classroom experience with teacher talking at them and delivering content. There are seldom times when I need undivided attention. More and more often,  I am realizing that whole group delivery of instruction is a waste of time. So much of my actual teaching comes through 1-1 chats or small group interactions. It is when the kids are busy with actual work or creation or production that I sit with them and re-teach whatever it was I taught at the beginning of class. So I usually deliver major concepts or skills or ideas at the start of class. Laptops down. Old school. Listen to me. I am the sage on the stage baby! I know some things about (X) and I want to share these ideas with you. I know how to do (Y) and you need to listen. Of course there is discussion and hopefully an open line of communication. I never Tweet during these times. These lectures usually happen at the beginning of a unit and I try to keep them short.

Once kids have listened, it is time to get on task. This is when laptops flip open, mine included. I have very few, if any rules, about who can use what and where they should be online during class. I allow cell phones, sometimes kids need to text. Sure go ahead. You need to check your Skype, fine, as long as you stay on task and do what you should be doing. I seldom have any issues with kids being distracted, because when the time comes to have their laptops open most kids know the task and are into it before I say a word. A five minute text is no big deal. If someone were to spend the whole time texting during my class, then we would chat. This has never happened.

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by mgjefferies

Kids usually work alone or in groups and I hover. I stop and sit and talk. I redeliver content. I make sure the skills are there. I chat about things that are relevant. I stop everyone, “Laptops down please.” I make a point to the whole group. Back to work. I go to each group, each student and check for understanding. There is usually music playing. Instrumental Beastie Boys is a nice touch.  We had Korean Pop yesterday. The mood is light.

During these times, Twitter is just another student. It sits there. As I hover, I share my thoughts or Tweet what kids are saying or doing. Remember I cannot turn of my thought;  I have some of my best ideas when I am with kids. Sometimes people respond, if it is not taking too much energy I respond. If it will take me too far from my kids then I say, “I am in class catch you later.”

We would never tell a teacher not to have Google open during class, because it is too distracting. I see Twitter in the same way. I like that my kids see I am on Twitter. It is not a secret. I want them to know that we have the power of a huge network at our backs. If they have questions I don’t know I say, “Let’s ask Twitter.” The other day, kids were editing their films and they needed footage of an old school bell. I suggested we ask Twitter. An hour later Adrienne sent us a 45 second clip of a bell at her school. I want kids to see that things like this are possible. I want them to understand the power of Twitter.

After a few seconds hovering over Twitter, I go back to a group that is working. It is a system that works for me. Now I am lucky to work at a school that is 1-1 with small class sizes and great kids. They work hard and are usually on task. I like to think I design units and assessment they find fun and engaging. If I find that things are not working, I improvise and we shake things up. I do not sit at my desk Tweet away, while kids fill out worksheets!

Are there times when I do get too absorbed with something that is happening on Twitter? Sure. I would be lying if I said no, but that is where that balance and personal negotiation comes in. I move away. I stop. I learn to control myself. Isn’t the biggest lesson we could model for kids. How to know when to be present and when to connect someplace else?

This post is already too long, so I will not talk about why I do not really use twitter with kids. That will be coming soon…


Be More Interesting!

Disclaimer: This post is not directed at any one person or even group of real people. If anyone from the lunch room is reading this, I am not referring to you. I enjoy our lunch time chats tremendously. This is simply a rant and a lashing out at forces that may or may not exist. There is an obviously a flip-side to these thoughts, one which I tried to  articulate later in the comments.

Face to face relationship are overrated. Yup I said it! I am sick and tired of everyone placing so much value on the real world and face-to-face connections. I am tired of being forced to believe that just because I have to deal with people in a physical space that subsequently the connections and relationships I form are more genuine and authentic than the relationships I create online. Have you ever noticed that it is usually people who have never made strong bonds with people online, who bemoan the fact that we are somehow losing our humanity, simply because we no longer have to suffer through small talk and chit chat.

“Kids are losing social skills because they are connected to their screens.” They cry. Really? And what social skills are we talking about exactly? I am tired of pretending that the pre-screen generation had somehow mastered social etiquette, just because they weren’t distracted by these pesky screens.
“Do you ever talk to real people in the real world?” I want to ask. They are often scary. They come in all shapes and sizes. They crowd your space. They spit when they talk. They say the weirdest things and fidget uncomfortably when they realize they have little in common with you. Their eyes dart back and forth nervously as they lie. They pretend to be people they are not. They wear masks. Oh yeah and they are sitting right in front of you. So what? The fact that they grew up without screens does not make them any less annoying or awkward than the generation of kids growing up today.

We are collectively suffering from Golden Age syndrome. We are fooling ourselves into believing that just because we didn’t have screens, we raised generations of people free of angst and social awkwardness. Correct me if I am wrong, but even as we sat around campfires singing Kumbaya, the world was still filled with rape and murder and dishonesty and general disregard of social skills. The lack of screens is not what will bring people together and help us build communities. It is not Grand Theft Auto or the fact that junior is on the phone during dinner that will somehow create world peace.

Social skills, the generic term we throw about which I assume means the ability to authentically and effectively communicate ones thoughts, charm, wit, and humor, the ability to look people in the eyes and show respect, have little to do with a person’s ability to look away from a screen for five minutes. It has everything to do with how we parent, educate or govern. Building sustainable, peaceful, socially skilled communities is about the verbs we choose to focus on….not the one noun (Screens)

While it is unfair to romanticize the past, it is also dishonest to vilify the present. I am tired of people thinking that when I am looking at my screen, I am mindlessly entering some bizarre world where my mind is made numb and that I become a zombie. The opposite is actually true: Most of the time, when I am staring at my screen, I am creating! I may be editing a photograph that reflects a certain shade of my soul that no chit-chat in the lunch room will ever touch. I might be recording sounds to add to a digital story about a poem I wrote. I am most likely chatting with friends on different continent about things that matter to me, instead of nodding my head mindlessly as you prattle on about some topic that I have been forced to sit through just because we are in the same room. You want me to look away from the screen? Be more interesting!

Are you mad enough yet? Have I rubbed you the wrong way? Are you bursting with a bundle of refutations? Good. That was the point. Hyperbolic and instigative? Of course. I know there is value in face-to-face connections. Of course there is a visceral element of life that no screen will ever touch, but I am here to say that we can no longer romanticize the pre-screen past or vilify our current experience.

It is not fair for us to assume that our students are disconnect morons, who will drool at the next dinner party we force them to sit through, hoping they will impress our friends with their social skills. I remember being ten years old and curling up in the corner of my uncle’s house for hours with one of these:

cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo shared by unloveablesteve

Why? Because I was ten years old and social skills were not my priority. How about we teach kids when and how to put the screen down, instead of devaluing what they do when they are on the screen. How about we share with them the things about the real world that will help them shine. How about we show them how to merge the two worlds. How about we help them learn to express themselves in ways that absorb others. There are hybrid worlds that exist between tech and the real world:

cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo shared by giulia.forsythe

That is where I want to play. I for one am choosing not to insult my students when they use tools I do not understand. I will ask them to show me. Explain to me what they are doing? Why they are doing it? I will offer them vistas beyond the screen, but I will not devalue how they socialize or connect or create, simply because it is not the way I did it. How about we stop referring to screens as an ailment to be cured and start looking at how they fit into our lives- All of our lives! You might be surprised at what we find.