Friday, October 11, 2019

Do You Know?

In the early 90’s, the primary source of information was limited to print materials with a level of trust that the information had gone through a review process to be valid and credible. Safety concerns typically revolved around not talking to strangers, looking before you crossed a street, and not sharing personal information with people you didn’t know. Then came the internet. Initially, the content on the web was static and there was concern about purchasing anything online for fear that your credit card numbers would be stolen. As time went on and technology improved, you no longer needed to be a computer programmer to read and write to the web. Blogs, wikis, social media, video conferences, apps, extensions, and so much more soon became the norm. Whether it be communicating, creating, or collaborating, the internet has opened a world of possibilities. Although inherently good, the internet has brought new safety concerns to the forefront. Anyone can post to the web raising concerns about the validity and credibility of information. The ease of which we can download software, access web apps, install add-ons and extensions to GSuite apps and Chrome is convenient, but also potentially harmful. How often do we click through buttons in order to gain access to a resource or tool without ever reading the fine print? Do we know what we have agreed to? Do we know what access we have granted them to our information? Is the site secure? Is our information secure? What data is being collected? If so, what is being done with our data? Does the resource comply with the U.S. Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act and Rule (“COPPA”)

Our students have access to so many great resources to engage them in their learning as well as to enhance their learning, but it is imperative that we look at the security and privacy policies beforehand. The privacy policies of three productivity tools that I often use with students are below.

TinkerCad is a free online resource that allows students to design 3D structures. Their privacy statement is consistent with the requirements of the U.S. Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act and Rule (“COPPA”) and the European Union General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”), where applicable. When students under 13 create an account, they are asked to provide a parent/guardian’s email address. The parent/guardian will receive an email and be asked to approve/verify the account via a credit card or a signed consent form. At any point that TinkerCad becomes aware of activity that is inconsistent with COPPA, the data will be deleted and/or a parent consent form would be required.

BookCreator is a user-friendly tool that allows you to create interactive ebooks. It is a software that has been fully certified by Internet Keep Safe (iKeepSafe) and is compliant with COPPA and FERPA. By default, all student books are private and only teachers can choose to share a book beyond the classroom. Data is not sold or used for advertisements. It is stored in Google Cloud, which offers a high level of security

Screencastify is free screen recorder that allows you to record, edit and share videos. It is a software that has been fully certified by Internet Keep Safe (iKeepSafe) and is compliant with COPPA, FERPA and SOPIPA. Screencastify collects the minimum amount of personal information required to operate their business. They collect email addresses, basic app usage data, and any information the user chooses to share. If at any time you want to check on the data being collected, you can email the company and have it removed. All videos are owned by the creator, not Screencastify.

All three of these tools comply with COPPA and have gone to great length to be transparent in the data that is collected. Only BookCreator and Screencastify comply with FERPA. Because of the shared community within Tinkercad, they have an additional layer to get parent/guardian permission. After reading through all of the policies, the thing that surprised me the most was how much information there is to consider when utilizing an app with students. It also makes me realize that I need to take the time to read these policies prior to using them with students and promoting them with educators. It is imperative that we are informed about the resources we are using with students, especially those under the age of 13. It is also a good idea to communicate with your Technology Department to get their assistance with any backend privacy concerns. At the end of the day, the internet is a plethora of resources for us to consume and create new information, but in doing so, it is imperative that we are vigilant about reading critically and keeping ourselves, our students, and our data safe.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Digital Citizenship

We teach our children about having good manners by reminding them to say please and thank you. We teach them to be kind and respectful to others. We teach them that it’s not what we say, but how we say it that can affect the message being conveyed. We help our children work through the ups and downs of developing friendships. We keep them safe by reminding them to put on their seatbelts when we are in the car and only let them go to the homes of others that we know and are comfortable with. We believe that it takes a village to raise our children, but have you noticed that your child’s village has spilled over into the digital community? Do you know who is in this village? Do you know what your child is posting online and to whom? Do you know what trail of information your child is leaving behind? Do you know that once something is posted online, it never goes away? You are very much a part of your child’s real world, but are you also a part of your child’s digital world? If not, you should be.

Most adults did not grow up with technology and are often referred to as digital immigrants because we can remember the days of no computers, cell phones, tablets, etc. Today’s children on the other hand can’t imagine a world without this technology. They do not fear it and embrace every opportunity to use it for communication, entertainment and information. There is no doubt that technology is a powerful tool, but in the words of Spiderman, “with great power comes great responsibility.”

Our students may be growing up in a world of technology, but that doesn’t mean that they have the life skills to effectively and responsibly use it. Technology is a great tool for learning, conducting research, and communicating. Unfortunately, however, we often hear how students use digital tools inappropriately for plagiarizing, cyberbullying, cheating, sexting, oversharing personal information, and meeting online strangers in person. As parents and educators, we have a responsibility to train and guide them on how technology fits into their lives. They need to learn that decisions they make online today can have long-term implications tomorrow. We want our students to be safe and to be positive members of the digital community, but they aren’t going to get there by themselves. We need to take an active role in their digital life by being aware of what they’re doing online, monitoring their online activities, and most importantly serving as positive role models. 

Have you ever Googled yourself before? If not, you might be surprised to see what your virtual identity looks like because everything you do online is collected into a digital dossier, otherwise known as your digital footprint. This footprint is traceable by others and is virtually impossible to eliminate.  Our students must become aware of their digital identity, so that they can learn how to manage and develop it into a positive one. It is imperative that they keep themselves and their personal information safe as the lines between the digital and real world have become blurred.

Our digital reality is that technology is very much a part of all our lives and it is here to stay. For our students, they are interacting digitally more and more everyday with content, one another, and in various communities. GoogleFacebookTwitterSnapchatand Instagramare but a few of the tools they are using to conduct their interactions. The tools they use tomorrow may change, but what won’t change is the need for our students to be educated on digital responsibility, citizenship and creating a positive online footprint. Together as parents, teachers and community members, we must be the village that works together to raise our students into digital leaders.

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Maker Mindset

Everywhere you turn, people are talking about makerspaces and asking lots of questions. Where should the makerspace be placed? What materials and resources are needed? How much is it going to cost? Is it in our budget? Who is going to maintain the makerspace? How will students utilize this space? These are certainly good questions, but the most important question that begs to be asked is WHY? Why do you need a makerspace? In reality, a makerspace isn’t a space at all, it’s a mindset. It’s about exploring, discovering new ideas, and creating. It’s about being innovative and creating things that are new and better. It’s about tinkering, inventing, building, problem solving, critical thinking, and taking risks. It’s about collaborating and learning from others. It’s about failing, learning from mistakes and trying again. It’s about finding your passions and sharing them with others. It’s about making!

At Cooper Upper Elementary, we transformed a dreary storage room into a vibrant makerspace that is utilized by fifth and sixth graders. Two of these students, Evan and Robby, were especially energized by this new learning space last year. The doors were not officially opened, but the boys immediately felt safe to share some of the innovative projects that they had been creating at home because they didn’t feel that their passion for innovating had any place at school. Ouch! Talk about a punch to the gut. Up until that moment, our words spoke of innovation, but in the eyes of the students, our actions did not. As your school contemplates the why for a makerspace, there is no better testimonial then that of these two young men. 

Saturday, March 4, 2017

When Does Learning Stop?

As a seventeen year old getting ready to graduate from high school, I was on top of the world! Ready to be out of school and done with learning! Although I knew I would be going to college, I was convinced that learning only took place in school. As I was parading around the house celebrating my soon to be graduation, my dad sat in his favorite chair watching and listening. He then instantly deflated my enthusiasm bubble by telling me that my journey had only just begun and that my learning would never end. I laughed. Did he not remember that I would be graduating?

My dad was wise beyond his years and I was a young teenager ready to make my mark on the world. I did not fully understand at the time the knowledge that he was trying to impart on me. I equated my education with school and he equated learning with life! I get it now because I am a life-long learner. After graduating from high school, I went on to get three college degrees. I've participated in every learning opportunity made available to me. I've learned how to parent three beautiful children. I've learned how to maintain a household. I've learned how to teach. I've learned how to cook. I've learned how to drive a manual transmission. I've learned so many things, one of which is that I have so much more yet to learn.

The world is moving at a rapid rate and we need our students to be on board. They need to be prepared for life. Their life, not ours. Learning certainly takes place inside the walls of schools, but a student's education cannot and should not stop at the front door. Because there is no end to growth and learning, we need to embrace this attitude, so we can model life-long learning.

We need to create a culture where our students feel empowered to learn and lead. We need to embrace creativity and the innovator's mindset where we ask the question of what's best for each of our learners and then think differently about how we meet their needs. We cannot keep doing what we've been doing for years and expect to get different results. According to George Couros, innovation is a way of thinking that creates something new or better. If we truly want to move our school forward, we must change and grow alongside our students!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Do All Kids Matter?

My son ran everyday this summer for his high school cross country team. He went to every practice, worked hard, and was consistently running between the top two groups. He felt strong and at the top of his game. In August, he was invited to attend cross country camp for two weeks, which involved even more running and lots of team building. At one point, he was playing football on the beach with some of his teammates and the coach yelled at only him to stop playing. When one of his teammates asked why the rest of them weren't told to stop playing, the coach responded by saying, “He’s group one, he matters.” Ouch! Because my son was running borderline varsity, and the others weren't, they didn't matter? Sadly, the boys laughed it off and simply dismissed it as coach just being coach. I on the other hand struggled to keep the helicopter parent lurking inside of me from speaking up about the insensitivity of this statement. Ironically, just a few days later, my son injured his Achilles and could no longer maintain his training regimen. I was bummed for him because he was positioned to have a good running season, but my heart broke when he jokingly said that he was now a member of the “I don't matter anymore group.” Whether this is the message the coach wants to send his team or not, the reality is that the runners believe that only certain kids on the team matter.  The ones who can score points for the team. Now don't get me wrong, I understand that cross country is a competitive sport and the team wants to do their best to win as many meets as possible, but at what expense? My son continues to go to practice everyday, along with physical therapy, and is working to get himself back into race shape. Each day I ask how practice went, if he was able to run the workout, and if his coach has had any conversation yet about his progress or a recovery plan. Every day I get the same answer. Practice was fine, yes I ran, and no, the coach hasn't talked to me at all. He still doesn't matter.

As I sit back and watch the cross country season unfold, I got to thinking about my students. Do ALL of my students believe that they matter to me regardless of their academic, social, emotional, or physical success? Fair doesn't always mean equal, but it does mean that each student has what they need to be successful. Do they know this? Do they feel valued and respected? Have my words and actions ever made a student feel like they don't matter?

As I reflect on my son’s cross country season as well as my classroom, I am reminded of Maya Angelou’s famous quote:

I've learned that people will forget what you said,
people will forget what you did.
but people will never forget how you made them feel.

What we say and how we say it has a profound effect on our students. As educators we hold tremendous power to lift our students up or to push them down. I believe that all students do matter and that we have a moral responsibility to do what we can to make sure they know it!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Finding Joy

Earlier this week, I attended a conference in which the keynote speaker, Kevin Ozar, spoke about joy in education. The title itself caught my attention because too often lately, it feels as though joy has been sucked out of education. Budgets are being cut (again). Everyone is doing more with less. State mandates are growing. Class sizes are growing. Students are taking more standardized tests than ever. There seems to be a never ending list of things that can bring a person down. The question is, will you let it bring you down or will you choose joy? Joy is still there, right where you left it, but you have to make the choice to find it, not create it, and you will find exactly what you're looking for!

You need to look for joy and to surround yourself with joyful people! It's contagious! On the other hand, if you surround yourself with naysayers, that is contagious as well. Which one will you choose? I choose joy! I choose to assume best intentions and to be an advocate for joy. Life is too short to be any other way. We can find joy in everything, if we look for it.

A brief story that Kevin shared involves two wolves. One of the wolves is sad, depressed, upset and afraid. The other wolf is filled with joy and happiness. If both are placed in a pen to fight, which wolf would win? The answer, whichever one you feed. The same is true with us. If we surround ourselves with negative people who drag us down, we start becoming the same. If we surround ourselves with positive and optimistic people we will look at ourselves and others in a more positive manner. You will become like those with who you surround yourself. It's a mirror image.

My father-in-law always used to joke with me that he would take up running the day he saw a runner smiling while they ran. For the record, he never went for a jog. As a runner, I'll admit that I have good days and bad days. Somedays I feel like I could run forever and other days it takes a great deal of effort to get myself motivated to get out the front door. Often times, I'm exhausted and my body aches. So why do I keep on doing it? Because I find joy in running. I enjoy the feeling I get when I set out to run a predetermined distance and I do it. I enjoy the peace and serenity I feel when I'm on the road pondering life. I find that running relieves my stress, clears my head and opens the door for some creative ideas. I enjoy the camaraderie of other runners and the positive energy they share. Running brings me joy and it is a choice I make each day!

Look for joy! Go to it! Spend some time there! Make time for joy! Bring it to others and become an advocate for joy! Make the choice to do it!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Genius Hour

Last fall, I set a goal to incorporate Genius Hour into one or more of my classes. Working alongside Mrs. Erickson and her 6th grade class and Mrs. Bubar and her 5th grade class, we set forth on a Genius Hour journey. In fact, our passion project became Genius Hour.

Our mission was to give our students an opportunity to think creatively. We wanted to give them time to explore their own passions, wonders and curiosities. We wanted them to take risks, to learn from their mistakes, and then take some more risks. We wanted them to work on new ideas and to develop new skills. We wanted to give them the gift of time each week to find and follow their passions. We wanted to create a very student centered learning opportunity where all learning was celebrated. We wanted to cultivate wonder!

We were ambitious and anxious to get started with the kids! We had energy!  We were on fire! We had visions of our students asking prolific questions and pursuing their passions with grit and rigor! We shared all of this with our students and we let them go! We then waited for the enthusiasm of pursuing a passion project of their choice to pulsate within their veins and very existence. We waited. We waited some more….

We met twice a week to give students time to pursue their passions, during this time, we worked to build a culture of innovation where the students felt safe to take risks and to have autonomy in their learning. As excited as we were to see the learning sparks flying between our students, the reality is that Genius Hour got off to a slow start. It was almost as if the students weren't sure what to make with the time they were being given and many struggled to identify anything they were passionate about and wanted to learn more.

The first thing we learned was that our students needed a lot of guidance brainstorming ideas and narrowing these ideas down into “good” questions.  Much more than we had anticipated. When asked what they were passionate about, many gave a one word statement or no answer at all. With further conversation, it was evident that many of our students had many life experiences from which to pull ideas from and others did not. Their initial questions were Googleable and we wanted them to be Siri proof. As a result, we learned that we needed to take a few steps back in order to keep moving forward.

After a lot of conversations with the students, we decided to create a Wonder Wall where they could share their passions and post things that they wondered about. We then worked with students to build some essential questions based off of these ideas. This seemed to help those students who struggled to come up with an idea for their passion project. On the other hand, we had some students who has so many questions and ideas that they struggled to narrow it down to one. The dynamics were quite interesting. It verified to us that Genius Hour was what our students needed more than ever to ignite their passions, to inspire their learning, and to provide them the avenue for creativity.

As the year progressed, the ideas blossomed and the students slowly, but surely, pursued their passions with enthusiasm and motivation to learn. They researched their topics and made their learning visible. They learned from each other and collaborated. They set goals and met them. We as teachers learned so much about Genius Hour from our students and will continually work to make improvements to the process and to build a culture of innovation. There were countless benefits to partaking in Genius Hour this year, but the absolute best was building relationships the students and getting to know them better!
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