Tag Archives: Social Networks

We are open. We reach out. We trust.

I just had one of those lessons. You know the kind– the ones that leave you buzzing, because it was all so organic, authentic, and the kids leave giving you hi-fives. The best part about it, was that it was a last minute audible. Let me give you some context before I continue:

I am all but done for this term. I have enough scores and assessments to determine student grades; I have written my comments and all the bureaucracy of learning has been dutifully accomplished. I have, however, challenged my students to do one last unit–one that will not be assessed, graded, marked, evaluated…whatever you want to call it. It won’t count. There is no test. We are doing cuz it is fun, we are learners and that is what we do.

Surprisingly, or maybe not, the kids are on board. They are working just as hard and we are having some very low-pressure fun at the end of the year.

  • Grade 10’s are watching and reading Romeo & Juliet and planning a 10 minute live action highlight role-play of the play.
  • Grade 7’s read Freak the Mighty and are creating an anti-bullying campaign. Short slips, posters etc…
  • Grade 6’s are preparing short role-plays about life in middle school to prepare the 5th graders.

This post is about the grade 6 class. They have been working in groups to find out what the grade 5’s want to know We have an open Google Doc where the grade 5’s have asked questions and the grade 6’s have collaboratively answered them. We had a day where they met and chatted about their ideas, my kids took notes and began planning their skits.

These are Language B students, so we have some shy low-level English speakers. Last week, I noticed that they are getting bogged down in script writing and planning. I want them to focus more on different ways they can convey ideas and information through drama and movement. I started experimenting with some improv activities, that to be honest were uninspired and fell flat. I was going to google more improv activities, when I thought I would ask Twitter first. Here is where the magic usually begins…

Katie Hellerman sent me a DM:

Which as you will see led to her teaching an improv lesson to my class from Chicago at 10:00pm her time. We quickly cleared the classroom, I explained to my students what was happening, they took it in stride. We chatted a bit with Katie and she took over. I stood back and let someone who knows more about acting take over and deliver my content. At first the kids were shy and awkward, but after a warm up and a few activities, they were loving it.

One activity Katie had them do, was exactly what I was looking for, when I first thought to Google this idea. She asked for a group of four volunteers and had them do a quick impov in one minute. She told them to focus on movement and to react to their fellow actors. Then, they were asked to do the same exact skit in 30secs, then 15 secs, then 7. It was perfect, because it showed the kids that too much time is ripe for awkward silences, while going too fast causes chaos and silliness. A few groups nailed some great improv skits at around 30 seconds. We will definitely use this activity again as we prepare our role-plays.

Take a look at some quick clips I captured while Katie worked with the kids:

So how does this happen? Many teachers new to networked learning will either think that things like this lesson are impossible or super simple. The truth is somewhere in the middle. It takes years of working within a network environment to find people you trust. I have know Katie for sometime now. We share photos on Instagram, follow each other on Twitter and read each other’s blogs. I know through our personal interactions that she is a kindred spirit, a silly and goofy middle school teacher, who would be great  in my classroom. When she tells me she does Improv, I am not surprised, but I know that I can count on her to Skype into my class at 10:00 pm and do a great job. These relationships are what Twitter is about. This trust is why the line between personal and professional is always blurring.

I have Skyped into countless classrooms, sharing my expertise on various topics in the same way. We are moving beyond networks of shared information and data and building communities of trust and sharing. It this is world of open possibilities to which I want to expose my students. Earlier this year when we were studying Afghanistan, my students Skyped with the Afghani blogger, Nassim Fekrat, who I met through a mutual friend on Twitter. I want my students to see that the Internet is not about pure data. It is interactive and through responsible use a wonderful tool for learning–from people, not just websites. . I want them to see that there are people out there who can help them when called upon. We must model this behavior and show them that it is common to interact with people when we need help.

One more quick example, by now most of us have seen Caine’s Arcade. I am so excited that on Monday, we will have the creator of the film, Nirvan, Skyping into my grade 7 class to talk about film making. This group of 7th grades are the same kids who made these amazing films, and wrote poems based on Caine’s Arcade. We hope to speak with Nirvan about telling stories and how to gain leverage through the web to share our work. We hope to get some advice for our Anti-bullying videos. How did this interview come about? I Tweeted Nirvan and asked. He put me in touch with his office, and after weeks of negotiating time (he has been swamped) we agreed on Monday.

For teachers getting started, who ask how do I do something like this? Or for people asking where the tech is in all this? The answer is I don’t know.  We create online spaces. We build online identities. We create content. We build communities. We make friends. We share. We are open. We reach out. We trust. We experiment. We are not afraid to fail.


A Larger Sense

Social media and in a larger sense the Internet for me is:

a soapbox, a confessional, a journal. It is a stage, a radio station, a blank canvas and a pew. It’s a gallery, summer festival, and a critical friend. It’s a warm embrace and an atta boy. It’s a mirror and a disco ball. A promise made and kept. A vow and a practice squad. The process and the product. It’s spiritual, organic and digital. Real and virtual. It is surreal and three dimensional. Collaborative and selfish. It is a parade, and a long lonesome hike.  A drum circle and job interview. It is a mediation hall and recording studio. A resume and field journal filled with scraps of poetry, tweets, and cosmic contemplations. Myself turned inside out and presented to you with open arms. A photo album, a debate and an intimate conversation. The magnification of a drifting thoughts dressed as philosophizes and manifestos. It is the ability to exist outside oneself for all to see. It is open and free and allows me to say these things to you.


Do You Love Me?

If you blog for long enough, I suppose, you will eventually begin to repeat yourself. It can feel like a never-ending cycle of repetition, but who is to say that revisiting themes is necessarily a bad thing? So I apologize if I have written about this topic before, but my good friend Ari over at We Buy Balloons recently emailed me a link to this article with a request to write on the subject with careful consideration, as the affliction mention in the article is the same from which he claims to suffer. Although, I have linked to the article itself, I will quote it at length below, so please stay with us till then end. In short the post claims:

The Internet measures everything. And I am a slave to those measurements. After so many years of pushing much of my life through this screen, I’ve started measuring my experiences and my sense of self-worth using the same metrics as the Internet uses to measure success. I check my stats relentlessly. The sad truth is that I spend more time measuring than I spend doing.

I used to feel an immediate sense of accomplishment when I wrote an article or came up with a joke that I thought was good. Now that feeling is always delayed until I see how the material does. How many views did my article get? Did it get mentioned the requisite number of times on Twitter and Facebook. I need to see the numbers.

And I define myself by those numbers.

I judge the quality of my writing by looking at the traffic to my articles. I assess the humor of my jokes by counting retweets. My status updates, shared links, and photos of my kids need a certain number of Likes to be a success. How am I doing? That depends on how many friends I have, how many followers, how much traffic.

What David Pell describes in his post, what bothers my friend Ari, and those of us involved in this game called social media is the feeling that our thoughts, our art, our creations, our words, and in turn ourselves are only as valuable as the amount of attention they receive from the network of “friends” we have been able to cull from the web.

Before I try to offer up answers or justifications of why this need for affirmation isn’t as big of a problem as many think, let me first admit that I check my stats.  I am pretty stoked to be nearing 3,000 followers on Twitter. I google myself often and enjoy hearing my voice echoed back to me via the web. The question I suppose we are left asking is, is that a problem? Is wanting/needing affirmation a bad thing? Is it vain or needy to place your self-worth in the hands of others? Before we get to that answer, I want to make a claim that this discussion has little to do with the Internet. (*The need for acceptance and identity creation has implications for our students. I will try to touch on this idea at the end of this post.) Sure the Internet has made it easy to see how much attention each pixel of our collective self receives via Re-Tweets, views, Likes and other affirmative statistics, but I claiming that the need to be heard and accepted has always been a  part of our human psychology; the Internet has only exacerbated  our ability to monitor it.

I think the need to be heard and told we are valued is not only at the core of human psychology, but intricately connected to the very purpose of art. Yes, I understand that much of art is personal and cathartic. Why the artist creates is a question that we will never answer, but we can all agree that while some artists create art for the sake self-healing, many also create art to connect to others. Art is the ultimate act of sharing and openness. Audience is an inherent part of art. It has to be. The dance between creator and observer is what makes art so powerful. Let’s face it most people who create, write, paint, perform are needy. We have a void in our souls that can only be filled when others connect to our creations. We feel alive when our art helps others see who we are.

by Ari Zeiger

I have had this need to share and connect with people for as long as I can remember. Does this make me vain or needy? Lacking in self-confidence? Perhaps. But that is the nature to which I have grown fond. The spaces between a robust self-esteem and crippling anxiety is tenuous at best. The difference between the vain rock star and the nervous introvert can be nothing more than a pair of sunglasses and a bottle of whiskey. What I am trying to say is that, while the Internet magnifies our anxieties about whether or not we matter, most artist have always needed to be told they are relevant. Before the Internet did not authors worry about book sales, artists by number of guests at openings and paintings sold? While stats, numbers, sales, and reviews have always been a part of sharing, statistics have never slowed art down. I am sure the first caveman looked for a round of grunts and nods after he first sketched a picture of the hunt on the cold stonewall.

When I was younger, in my twenties, I would scribble poetry, stories, and other random observations into journals. These thoughts were very similar to my current blog posts, Tweets, and other ideas I share online. Back then I would scatter these journals on coffee table tops and would love when people would flip though them at parties. I would watch them wrinkle their faces in confusion or smile in understanding. I could feel them entering my consciousness through a shared understanding of not only who I was, but who they were. I was just not smart enough to leave a little comment box at the bottom of my journal pages, because I wanted more than anything to hear what they thought.

It is true that the web can enhance our neurosis and self-doubt. It can cripple the act of creation if we allow it to magnify our fears and misgivings. It can force us to place our self-worth in the hands of a fluctuating audience, and yes this can have disastrous effects, but this is not the fault of the web. This neurosis is rooted in our collective human psychology of needing love and acceptance. There are people much smarter than me with more letters after their names, who I am sure can write much more intellectually than me on the subject, but that has never stopped me from offering my opinion.

Each person must decide how their self-worth is derived. Each one of us has to decide what we are worth despite the Internet not because of it. Some days we feel like we can carry the world, while others we need to be told we are special. Understanding this dance and going with the flow is the most important thing an artist can learn to do. This was true before the web and it is even truer now.

It is nice to have a post re-tweeted and shared and “liked” and commented on. It makes us feel like our ideas are important and that others “get” us. It is great to make a film and get a couple thousands hits on Youtube. It feels warm in the heart to watch people connect to you words. It feels great to recieve emails from people who say they get what you are doing. Saying they respect you and your work. It is nice to go to conference and have drunken peers say they admire you. It is great to have fans. It feels good to be loved. How can it not? But the question we must ask ourselves is how much of what we do is for them? How much is for me? And how much is for us?

I could get wrapped up in the numbers, and I admit that I sometimes do, but I am learning that I  share and let spill what I cannot hold inside. All I can do is hope that others connect. I have the audacity to write  a book about my life and think people will care. That is the biggest cry for attention I can think of and that has nothing to do with the Internet or numbers, but I have found the less I worry about the numbers and focus on creating honest work filled with energy and passion the more the numbers tend to rise; the more comments I receive. Someday this fragile network I have cobbled together could all dry up and I could end up writing a blog no one reads, or scribble back into journals I leave on coffee tables in vacant rooms. A book no one buys. Either way, I know that  sometimes I create art to help lighten the load and guide me through the darkness and sometimes I share what I share for you dear reader and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Show me you understand. Show me you love me. Show me I matter. Leave a comment. Re-Tweet. Like me on Facebook. Let this post get a 1000 hits. Let it go viral and get me a book deal. Let it shine a light on all the world and make me a god! Or just skim it, mark it as read, and chalk up to more gibberish coming to you through your informationally overloaded brain. There will be more tomorrow. I am valuable whether you tell me I am or not. How do I know? Just a promise I made to myself as a child. It is not too late make yourself that promise right now….let’s see what you got!

I will save the my thoughts on how young adults deal with the dance between confidence and anxiety and how the new online social reality is affecting their identity creation for another post, or maybe in the comments. But I will say that right now I am listening to the Beatles and this is a great first step to helping young people understand how to deal with the world wide web:



Marathon Man

As the year comes to close there will be the inevitable litany of blog posts recapping achievements, documenting successes and reflecting on next steps.  Kim Cofino started it with her latest post, and since I am flying to Lombok tomorrow and hoping to take a much-deserved break from Twitter and Edublogging, I want to gather my thoughts here, now, in this blog post.

Unfortunately my list of accomplishments may sound a bit more personal than Kim’s, because I am not really working within a Tech team, regardless I would like to thank my colleagues at school, and my wife/team member/tech protégé  Mairin Raisdana for being so open and hungry to learn about technology and move forward. So where to start?

It is a bit taboo and perhaps considered vain to talk about numbers, but since it is clear I have no issues with ego, awards, or numbers counting, I will start there. My numbers are up!

I am sure there are many that will say numbers don’t matter, but for someone who started a few years ago writing to an audience of one, it is encouraging and rewarding to watch the bars on the graph grow taller and taller. I am not arguing that higher numbers mean success or a better blog, or a better community, but I am saying that the more people stop by and read my blogs, the more chance there is to build authentic connections. Beyond the numbers, however, the thing I am most proud of and happy with are the consistent comments from my regular readers. People like Will Chamberlin, Adrienne Michetti, Clint Hamada, Cathy Crea, Melanie McBride, Tim Bray, and Keri Lee Beasley (There are so many more to mention!) have proven time and time again that having a small committed readership is more important than a huge one. So while increasing numbers are a good way to build a robust readership, a blog must have a foundation of people who look to it as a pleasure to read and with which to connect. I know that I have a support system in place that challenges my thinking, supports me and my students, and offers me material on which to reflect. So why mention numbers?

Over the last semester as my blogs have gained popularity, my voice and ideas are reaching more people. Through Twitter and my two blogs I have been able to connect with a variety of people worldwide. School kids in Canada, a variety of online interviews, and of course face-to-face connections. I have been accepted to present at the 21st Century Learning Conference in Hong Kong, and I am speaking with Melinda Alford about leading a cohort at the next Learning 2.0 conference in China. I have had constructive feedback on my teaching more here, and support for the blogging initiative I am trying to spearhead at our school.

Wow! That’s a lot of hyperlinks. Which means it has been a busy productive term. For people who are new to this online world of networks and connections, I hope my recount can shed some light on the power of blogging and connecting. It is not my intention to brag about my work, but to show what powerful professional development maintaining a blog can be. I was able to do all of this in addition to the in house “real” work I am doing on campus, building an ESL department from scratch, learning about the MYP, and helping the IT team move forward on schoolwide initiatives!

Furthermore, my students are making great progress within our classroom. I am experimenting and pushing the boundaries of what second language learners can do when given the tools to express themselves. In short, I am doing what I love and modeling behavior I would like to see in our school.

How does this happen? How did I go from blogging to myself to creating an authentic, caring, supportive, critical group of individuals who read my work, comment, share tweets, and invite me to conferences?

Consistent, open, honest sharing. This is the model that has worked for me. Everyone says they haven’t the time to blog or connect or do anything other than what the curriculum demands of them.  I simply find that to be a cop out. In addition to what I have described above, I am raising two kids, writing a book, and leading a pretty satisfying rich life. I am not trying to say that I am superman and you should be like me; I am simply pointing out that building these networks takes time and energy and it is hard work, but if you take baby steps and stay with it it will bare fruit. Managing time is a choice we all make. If you are serious about blogging, it must be built into your day. Even if it is a few hours a week, it must be consistent.

I often catch myself comparing writing/blogging with running. I don’t do the latter, but first saw the connection through the book What We Talk About When We Talk About Running. Writing is like a marathon, you take your time and pace yourself, but always have a goal in mind.

image by seeveeaar

My goal has never been to become an Edublog celebrity, or to leave my classroom and present at conferences worldwide. I have only ever wanted to share my ideas, my thoughts, and yes my feelings in the most honest way I can to connect with as many individuals across the world as I can. I see this connection as the first steps toward understanding, which eventually I believe leads to a more just and peaceful world. A marathon indeed.

So as 2010 comes to close, I want to thank everyone who has supported me this year with your comments, tweets, external validations and of course love. I feel proud of the work I am doing and I owe much of its success to you. Whoever you, where ever you are reading these words.

Now I am off to Lombok to enjoy some of this:

image by Fadil Basymeleh

I look forward to spending time with family, friends, and my thoughts. Looking forward to disconnecting for awhile, taking a break from Twitter and blogs and enjoying the ocean, my daughter’s laughter, and my camera. See you all in 2011!


News Alert Humans Like to Socialize

This headline Social networking ‘damaging school work’ say teachers and subsequent from the BBC spawned a few trickling tweets from me, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I needed more room, some space to really get my thoughts down, because let’s be honest, it is a bit absurd, and it is exactly the paranoid anti-technology hoopla that makes our jobs so much more difficult. And just like it is every teacher’s job to stop bullying or stop and speak to kids who use homophobic insults as tools to cause pain, it is also our job to speak up when someone, especially an organization as “well-respected” as the BBC says something foolish.

Before I begin, let me state clearly that I do believe that everything, especially the things we love and defend need be used in moderation. As every good IB learner understands balance is the key to a happy and successful life. I am sure there are cases where kids have slacked on their homework because they were chatting on Fcebook, but that is no excuse for the BBC to start their article on Social Networking with words like obsession.

Many teachers believe pupils’ work is suffering because of an obsession with social networking, a survey suggests.

Two thirds of teachers questioned said children were rushing their homework and doing it badly so they could chat online.

The article goes on to make some pretty threadbare claims about what teachers surveyed “believe.”

Out of 500 UK teachers involved in the online survey by One Poll, three quarters said parents should limit the time their children spent online.

And 58% said spelling was suffering in the digital age.

A similar number said children’s handwriting was not as good as it should be because they were more used to keyboards and touchpads than pen and paper.

Half of those who took part said children’s “obsession” with social networking was affecting their ability to concentrate in class.

And one in four said they believed children with the poorest grades in school were those who did the most online social networking.

Did these teachers ever stop to think that maybe kids were losing their ability to concentrate in class, because their classes were dull, boring and irrelevant?  Or that maybe handwriting is suffering, because we don’t really need it anymore? Pointing out hyperbolic paranoia and sloppy reporting, or is this just poll sharing, was not my intention for this post. I wanted to think about and discuss the mixed message we send our students:

  • Collaboration is good. But don’t talk to your friends when you should be doing work by yourself.
  • Communication is a key skill. But don’t talk to your friends when you should be listening obediently in class
  • Community is important. But don’t talk to a network of people you know about anything that doesn’t have to do with school.

Why can’t we just admit that we are not “obsessed” with social networks? We are obsessed with being social. And who needs to be in touch with friends more than teenagers. This connection and socializing is who they are. It is who we were, accept I remember hanging out on the curb and the telephone. I didn’t have the opportunity to chat with friends and be able to socialize once school ended. These kids do, and we should learn how to use that, not fear it and block it.

Kids today are socializing in ways we never dreamed of. This shouldn’t scare us. We should learn from them. We should celebrate their love of being social and guide them in how to be able to switch from silly wasting time behavior, which has a place in teen age life, to a more productive use of these powerful tools. As I said in the beginning, of course there must be balance, but that is not how this article was presented. We were led to believe that kids are becoming idiot zombies addicted to mindlessly checking their Facebook feeds, while this may be true for some ( I am guilty), they are simply trying to find a place in the herd, socialize and build identity.

Yes, they are using new ways of doing it, and in new places- online, but we cannot bar them from going there; we must understand their needs and make sure they are safe and confident. So for the last time, parents, teachers schools, stop blaming social networks for strange obsessive social behavior in teenagers. That is their nature. Stop blaming their disinterest in your outdated teaching style and subject matter in the digital age and get with the times. Stop surveying teachers on what they “believe” social networks are doing to kids and ask the students themselves! If we want our kids to be effective communicators who can collaborate and work with others to build productive communities, why are we afraid to let them try?

What do you think?