Course 2 Final Project

Image Credit

For this project, I worked with Nicola Takizawa on Option 2.  We chose to create a unit that guides the process of implementing student blogs at the end of Junior/Elementary school and incorporates the key principals of Digital Citizenship with a focus on the positive aspects of being a digital citizen – namely, harnessing and using your power for good.

I had a specific idea in mind when I put out a call for a collaborator on this project.  At the end of last year, it was agreed that having students start their PYP Exhibition AND learn the basics of blogging was too much.  We wanted our students to be familiar with blogging prior to beginning the Exhibition when this would be the forum for group and individual sharing of ideas, knowledge, reflection, and learning.

I am learning that when you are working with a larger group of teachers and students (last year there were five classes of 18, this year four classes of 22) that you have to be clear and specific in your guidelines and expectations.  You also need to be both supportive of the expertise of the teachers in the team and yet at the same time, true to the development of ideas and philosophy with regard to the implementation of technology in education.  It can’t be a decision that is made purely on the comfort level of the teachers but it also can’t be a decision made independently of these teachers.  It is a balancing act!  For a while I have been working on my own blogging guidelines for students thanks to the response from my PLN via a Twitter shoutout a few months ago. I hope to see these develop with input from our teachers, students, and parents.

I was (and still am) adamant that we focus on the positive.  I like the inclusion of branding and developing a voice and hope to see these things embedded into our daily curriculum.  I would also like to see the building of Digital Citizenship skills (such as the Digital Passport) in our younger grades.  The more I work with students across the Junior School, the more I am seeing how capable they are, given the right guidance. My second graders are able to appropriately source images  and we already include our students in password choice, private vs. personal information, and responsible use (among many other things).  For this unit, I really want to encourage and inspire kids and help them see that by having a blog, they have the opportunity to create and share learning that may not otherwise be possible.

Here is our unit planner:

I loved the opportunity to work with someone else, however I think it confirmed for me how challenging it can be (despite the amazing advances in technology) to communicate with people in different time zones.  Nicola and I utilized the message service within COETAIL but quickly dropped that in favor of a collaborative Google Doc with comments. Ultimately we ended up with lots of shared ideas, however my feedback to Nicola was that I would have loved it if we could have pulled off a Skype chat to nut out the basics of the unit and then refine it in the Google Doc chat.  It was still possible the way we did it but I feel it might have been more beneficial to have a “face to face” chat before the planning began.  Nonetheless, it was great to have someone to share ideas with and get inspiration from during this process.

Be Kinder Than Necessary

I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.”

— Albert Schweitzer,

French philosopher and physician

I am a firm believer in kindness. And being kinder than necessary. To me, kindness is when you see a person, a thing, a situation that needs something and you help fill that need.  To serve others is truly the way to make a positive impact on the world.

In my role as Learning Technology Teacher in the Junior School, one thing I see across all classes is students who are motivated to help other students when using technology.  Someone will ask me to show them something.  I will show them and then their neighbour will want to know too. Before I can show them, the first student I helped will lean over: “I will show him!” and the two of them will chatter away, leaving me out of a job.  It is the best kind of unemployment I could hope for!

I explicitly build this into my teaching, asking “Who thinks they could teach someone how to….(do whatever we are doing)?”.  “Who thinks they could help someone else?”. It is not always a zen-like state of bliss but I am hopeful that kids will see the value in learning from each other.  And that these behaviours will spill over to other facets of their life outside of technology.

New perspectives.  Sharing understanding. Building on ideas.  These are reasons I choose to be connected as an educator and I believe these are ways students can make a positive impact through the use of technology.  Technology allows us to go places we may never go in ‘real life’. This exposure to ideas that were previously beyond our reach must make us more empathetic, more inquisitive, more inclined to think, question, and wonder. Some examples that come to mind:

  • Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield and the incredible way in which he has shared his understandings of planet earth with us from his reflections in outer space.
  • Humans of New York genius, Brandon Stanton and the way he captures humanity from behind his camera lens in NYC and, a few months ago, around the world when he partnered with the UN to bring us snippets of humans in Iraq, Jordan, Uganda, Keyna and six other countries in the Middle East and Africa.
  • Peter Menzel’s Global Family Portrait: Material World and his Hungry Planet: What the World Eats both give amazing insights into what people have/have not in this world. This is one thing that is so hard to explain without experiencing it first-hand (especially poverty) but this goes some of the way to allowing students to connect globally to the ideas of others.

So, how can students use technology to make a positive impact on the world? I think Hugh Macleod has some great advice:

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He doesn’t stop there.  Here is a Hugh-inspired, play-by-play for you and your students:

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  1. Inspire and Be Inspired: Look, explore, inspire
  2. Become “Intoxicated by Possibility” – so much to do!  So little time!
  3. Dream big! – Nothing is out of your reach!
  4. Make a dent in the universe – The time is now, the person is you! Make A Dent!

I think in some ways, the key question here is misleading – or at the least, tends to lead us in a direction that we may not need to go in.  The use of technology is not the key point.  The ability to make a difference in our world is the key part.  Technology can help that process, it can accelerate that process, it can inspire that process.  The desire to connect with others, the opportunity to make a difference, that is what should be driving this process.

Use technology to connect, to inspire, to dream, and to act.  That is how we will change the world.

If you are still looking for some support to help you in this quest, one of my favorite, favorite websites is Inspire My Kids.  The name says it all and it does just that with a wealth of amazing resources designed to connect kids that want to make a difference.

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Use Good Judgement In All Situations

For years, new employees were given a copy of the Nordstrom’s Employees Handbook – a 5×8 grey card containing the following 75 words:

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In more recent times, the ‘rule book’ has been abbreviated to simply state:

Use good judgement in all situations. 

The same logic could be applied to Digital Citizenship, but whose job is it to teach these skills? When and where should we be having these conversations with students? Are we taking this seriously?

I think all of these questions can be answered by reminding our students (and ourselves, and their parents) that:

  • we expect high standards
  • we have confidence in their ability
  • we expect good judgement to be used at all times
  • we are always available for questions

Even typing this, it sounds a little twee and I am sure some people would question whether these points meet the ‘taking this seriously’ question.  I would argue that empowering students works better than brow-beating them and setting high expectations that parallel what we expect from them when they are not connected to devices, makes it easier for them to connect with the idea of what a good digital citizen actually is.

I think this is essentially what this mom was doing when she included her note with the gift of a new phone, just more explicitly:

Gregory’s iPhone Contract | Janell Burley Hofmann
And I think this is what Empowered User Policies like this one aim to do as well: Instead of an AUP, how about an EUP (Empowered Use Policy)? The policy from the article above looks like this:

  1. Be empowered. Do awesome things. Share with us your ideas and what you can do. Amaze us.
  2. Be nice. Help foster a school community that is respectful and kind.
  3. Be smart and be safe. If you are uncertain, talk with us.
  4. Be careful and gentle. Our resources are limited. Help us take care of our devices and networks.
                            Thank you and let us know if you have any questions.
 
Why this approach?  I think we would hear a huge sigh of relief from parents and students that they are not staring down the barrel of 20 ‘do not’ bullet points.  I think this type of empowering language opens up conversations and assumes mutual respect. I also like that it highlights the idea of creating and connecting as positives – using the amazing power of the internet for good.
The way in which people engage online is a hot topic – and one that is making its way to the courts and in turn, newspaper headlines.  While not an example of student behavior, the United States Supreme Court is being asked to weigh in on statements made by individuals on Social Media platforms. The courts appear to be employing the tactics of good judgement and reaction to posted content by ‘reasonable people’:

 

What is the proper context for evaluating threatening statements, the chief justice wondered. “Is it a reasonable person …, or is it a reasonable teenager on the Internet? … Is it what the reasonable teenager thinks how [a message] would be understood by the recipient of the text?” “It will depend on to whom he is communicating the statement,” Dreeben said. “We all know that if we’re communicating among friends, particularly in face-­to-­face context, we can say certain things that will be understood as sarcasm. But when we widen the audience, … reasonable people are going to react to it by saying, ‘this requires attention…'”
So, what do we do?  I say, encourage awesomeness. Kid President has a pep talk just for you, because “Life is too short not to be awesome.”  In addition, make our expectations clear to both students and parents that we expect the same bbehaviours online as we see offline.  And to highlight the connection between respect for themselves and others, and their responsibility to themselves and their ability to create, curate, and inform.  Because we all need more awesome.