June 25

Summary of Learning

PHEW, I made it!  I am going to begin by expressing how much I enjoyed taking this class!  I have been working with technology in the classroom for several years now and every year I learn more.  Technology is always improving and changing the way we do things, the way we teach, and the way we learn.  Every year my students are experiencing new things and I am pushing myself to keep up with them!  These experiences mean that I need to ensure I am staying informed and up to date with the possible risks technology can pose to my students. Teaching and modeling digital citizenship is increasingly important.  I cannot simply complete a series and lessons and then drop it.  I must reinforce the skills and concepts continually throughout the course of the school year.  Students learn through practice.  The need to be reminded and they need to see their teacher also modeling those same skills.

The growth I continue to see with my students as they experience the digital world has been remarkable.  In this class I have heard several people comment about how we need to find a balance with technology.  I completely agree.  Digital integration is not about going paperless.  It is about reinforcing a solid pedagogy that is supported through the use of technology.  If a teacher does not know why she is using technology, then there is a BIG problem.

Thank you to everyone for continuing to add to my learning journey.  Though I have been working with technology in the classroom extensively, it has only been for two years!  I still have a lot to learn and I cannot wait to see what is in store.

June 25

Technology is a Force of Equity in Society

Boy, technology has come a long way.  I still remember being in grade 5 and my teacher telling me about a new opportunity where we are going to send messages to students in another country over the computer.  I could not believe it!  How would we be able to do that?  Basically we were emailing them and sharing information on a project we were doing in collaboration with five or six other classes throughout North America!  This was a big deal because it showed me that computers were for so much more than just practicing typing and playing games; we could connect to the world.

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Technology has made the world so much more accessible.  As a teacher, I can connect with specialists from around the world.  My classroom is currently connected to another classroom in Saudi Arabia and Chicago.  We are sharing our classroom experiences and learning about what it is like in those other classrooms!  It is great to see my students interact and learn about other places first hand.  We can also connect with specialists and live chat with them to learn more about any given topic we are learning about.  Technology has afforded us that privilege.

Technology has also brought education to more people.  Education is now way more accessible.  Our group this week talked about Open Education Resources, which offers university level courses free of charge taught by professors at universities around the world.  This is a great way for people who are interested in learning, but lack the finances, or availability to attend classes, to still get the education they seek.  In addition, we cannot forget about the emergence of webinars, distance learning (correspondence), online courses, or video conferences.  These are all due to the emergence of technology and they have allowed people, regardless of their location, to access courses, seminars, and even institutes, all from the comfort of their homes!

Technology has also narrowed the divide in abilities between those who “can” complete a task, and those who “cannot” complete a task.  As I previously mentioned, I am blessed to teach in a 1:1 technology classroom.  I have witnessed students who were several grade levels below average in reading and writing, be able to participate with our class and produce work that is at, or even above, grade level.  These technological advances have given these students the boost they needed to continue to persevere and push forward.  Students are also given far more opportunities and options to showcase their learning when technology is integrated into the classroom setting.  Student creativity soars and they definitely rise to the occasion!

Our debate saw a lot of comments come forward.  One that stuck out to me was the comment surrounding those who cannot afford the technology and how they are left behind or at a disadvantage.  Raj Dhingra discusses how technology can change education in this TEDx talk. He discusses how the argument surrounding cost and affordability is null.  One just has to be creative.

I have to admit, this video got me interested in some of the low cost options and made me wonder why more school divisions are not accessing this technology.  Perhaps we are all so attracted to the “shiny penny” that we forget the reason behind needing the specific devices we have access to.  Do we necessarily need all the features available, or are we attracted to the brand?  I am the first to admit that Apple products are great, but are their price tags really worth it?  If our goal is to provide technology to students so they can access and receive the benefits outlined above, then why are we breaking the bank doing so?

Education technology is huge!  People in the tech industry are constantly looking at how to get into that market and sell their big idea.  However there are plenty of great services available online that do not require a large credit-card limit to access.  SeeSaw is an example of a technology that showcases students and their capabilities.  It also features tools that allow students who “cannot” to still participate with their classmates.  All of these features are FREE!  There is no hidden cost or terms to work around.  I have used and accessed several other sites with the same feature!  If, as an educator, you are willing to search and be a little creative, then technology and integration does not have to necessarily be so far out of reach.

I am going to share with the video my amazing team and I put together outlining these points and more!

To close, I would like to mention how a lot of blame is put onto TECHNOLOGY.  We like to use it as a scapegoat to justify why society is the way that it is.  We use it to explain why bullying is getting worse.  We use it to explain why we see so much racism in the world.  We use it to explain why we have this whole “digital divide”.  What some of us need to do is slow down and remember that we had all of these issues before technology.  Yes, the prevalence and use of technology continues to push some of these issues to the forefront, but it is not the reason for those issues.  I guess we need to accept that technology is here and we need to take it (the good and the bad) and ensure each and every one of us is using it for its’ intended purpose and not abusing this remarkable tool!

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June 19

Is Social Media Ruining Childhood?

I grew up in the era where the internet and social media was just emerging.  I can remember being in elementary school when ICQ and Yahoo Instant Messenger was just emerging.  Though we were dealing with dial-up internet that was often unreliable, these new instant messaging web services were huge!

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We could now visit with our friends and make plans, but we could also connect and meet new people.  I don’t think “digital safety” was ever something we worried about, nor did we ever think chatting with these people would result in anything, except making a new friend.  Surly “stranger danger” did not apply!

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Soon after, we were introduced to chat rooms, and interactive games that allowed us to open up the world and interact with so many more people. I do remember meeting a boy online and chatting with him on a regular basis.  We would exchange pictures and meet in the chat room regularly.  I never worried about the chance that he could be anyone other than who he said he would be.

Today, things are different.  The internet and online social networks have evolved a lot.  According to Statista the number of social media users worldwide is constantly growing and by 2021, it is projected, that there will be 3.2 billion users around the world.  Not to mention that there are now well over one hundred well known and popular social media sites around the world. (I tried to find an exact number and topped out at 105, though I am sure there are many more out there!)  The desire and attraction for today’s youth to join or get involved with social media is outstanding.  I think about my own daughter and her fascination with my Facebook account, or her desire to have her own Snapchat account.  When I ask her why she wants it, she explains it is because she loves playing with the photo filter features.  She is not aware that others could find and contact her.

Social media certainly has it’s advantages: it has allowed me to stay in touch with friends from my youth, it informs me of various current events, it has helped me to share events, or announcements with others, and it is entertaining!  All of these features are great for adults, however for youth, under the age of thirteen, they do not require these same advantages.  When children access social media, they are doing so to typically “play around”.  Children often find they are using the media for things it is not necessarily intended for, such as posting inappropriate pictures, following strangers, posting mean or rude comments and striving for the most “likes”.

Today’s youth seem to have become obsessed with receiving LIKES on their social media sites.  The like receiving the feedback and instant gratification received from posting on their site.  This gratification also comes at a cost.  What happens when they do not receive enough likes, or when someone posts something that is hurtful?  The results have been detrimental.  Today’s youth are on the search for recognition, or even the possibility of fame!  There have been success stories of Youtube sensations who have been discovered because of their social media presence, however the likelihood of that happening is quite low.  This strive for fame and recognition has lead under-aged minors to be posting things online that are pushing the boundaries of what is appropriate.  When something is not received well, then the results are often tragic.

The prevalence of suicide among youth is on the rise.  The frequency among youth has been steadily increasing every year.  We cannot assume social media is to blame, however the prevalence of technology and cyber-bullying if way to obvious the ignore.  Because our youth are on the search for acceptance and are at an age where their impulse control is still developing, they are at a greater risk to post things they may regret later, or make decisions that are not fully thought through.  I am not blaming social media for the rise in suicide, however it is certainly may be a contributing factor.

I love using social media, however I am an adult that is aware of the dangers, repercussions, and consequences attached with using social media, particularly if it is inappropriately.  I actually think thirteen is quite young for youth to be accessing social media. I believe they are still quite young and immature to be accessing, posting, and commenting on these types of sites.  I have witnessed students who have gotten themselves into a lot of trouble because they are not old enough to handle the freedom social media allows them.  By increasing the age, maybe they may be able to handle it a bit better.  That being said, many children under the age of thirteen continue to sign up and do not even know that an age requirement is intact.

PARENTS….yeah, I am talking to you!

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It is our job to ensure we are monitoring our children and their activities online.  Kids are sneaky and they hid things real well.  We need to outsmart them and wise up!  We need to educate ourselves on some of the social media options, track our children’s accounts, and have open communication about what they are doing when they go online.  This is no different from checking in with your children’s friends they hang out with and ensuring they are safe!  Privacy has nothing to do with it!  It is our job to protect the youth and we cannot allow them to enter the world of social media blindly!

As a mother, teacher, and tech enthusiast, I am terrified for the day when my children begin using social media.  I am going to ensure I do everything in my power to ensure I am prepared and educated to support them and keep them safe!

June 11

Openness and Sharing in Schools; Helpful Or Hurtful?

To start this discussion, let us first define what openness is:

The prevalence of technology in the classroom has brought with it a whole swarm of issues surrounding openness and sharing of student images, classroom work, and anecdotes about life as a teacher.  Today it is quite common for a teacher to have a Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook account connected to his/her classroom. Connecting classrooms to the digital world is opening up a debate surrounding whether minors should have their images, or even be featured in anecdotes, presented in a manner that opens them up to possibly unsafe situations, such as stalkers, or pedophiles.  I am sure we can all agree when teachers are sharing their student work online, they are doing so because they are proud of their students, want to share teachable moments, or like to keep others’ informed of the happenings in their classroom.  These ‘harmless’ situations, however have been known to snowball into larger situations and the outcomes has not been favourable for neither the teacher nor the student.

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I am a teacher who is guilty of having a classroom Twitter account, in fact it was recommended that I create one by my school division.  Feel free to follow us @MrsReschClass! Perhaps I am guilty of over-tweeting news from my classroom, however before tweeting or posting any images online, I am always sure of a few things:

  1. I have received parental consent.  I believe this is incredibly important because once an image is posted onto any social media site, that image becomes the property of the site and can be shared out, retweeted, or reposted several times.
  2. I have received student consent.  I never want to post an image that is not flattering or could be construed in another way than it is intended.
  3. The image is worth sharing: what I am I trying to share with others and is an image necessary to tell the story?

Some of these tips coincide with those presented by Janelle Bence in her online article “The Benefits of Sharing Student Work in Online Spaces“.  In her article, she also mentions the importance of knowing your board’s policy on acceptable sites and social media use in the classroom.  Because it is easily accessible, it is important to be on the same page as your school board!

This brings me to another point about openness and sharing – the digital footprintImage result for digital footprint

This term refers to the mark each of us makes online.  It includes things like any accounts we make, apps we use, or comments we make.  It is basically a profile describing who you are online.  Whenever we post images of students we are contributing to their digital footprint.  As educators, we need to ensure we are contributing to a positive footprint!

Another way teachers are sharing students online is through the use of online learning journals, or portfolios.  These take several shapes, whether they be through an open access website, a password-protected student blog, or through apps, such as SeeSaw.  All of these tools are used to regularly share student progress and work with family members and peers.  The intent to have students reflect on their work and track their progress throughout the school year.  Though many of these options are password-protected, there is always an option to SAVE the work and then it can then be re-posted elsewhere.

It is my opinion that these learning journals create a transparency in my classroom and demonstrates authentic learning taking place.  Students are posting their work, commenting on each other’s work, and sharing all of that with their parents.  In turn, the parents are able to see their child in their learning environment showcasing what they can do.  This is so much more effective than sending home a copy of a completed worksheet, or a test.  I have taken to building this ‘sharing’ into my classroom assignments.  Students look forward to receiving feedback, and I believe, enjoy the process of giving constructive feedback to their peers.  In turn, this exercise of sharing work, providing feedback, and receiving feedback is teaching my students an important digital citizenship skill that is lacking from so many of our social media sites today.  Maybe by teaching my students how to appropriately share online I am helping to create better online etiquette for when they reach legal age to possess their own social media sites.

Speaking of social media, I have been witness to teachers who have shared student work in a very unprofessional manner: to make fun of student work.  We have all seen the hilarious posts or emails where a teacher has taken a picture of a student test and shared it for the world to see.  Yes, students are funny, but that does not give us, as professionals, the right to share their mistakes with the world!  Taking images with the intent to hurt, rather than help, is downright rude.  The same goes with posting images of students and then creating memes with them; those are not appropriate and should be condoned.  I used to belong to a teacher community on Facebook for middle-years teachers.  I finally had to leave the group because it turned into a teacher vent group where teachers would complain about other teachers, students, and parents.  This shocked me because I would never think it would be appropriate to use social media to share details about students, particularly in a negative light.  This is yet another example of teachers not using online forums appropriately, therefore not modelling appropriate use for students either.

Overall, I believe openness and sharing is helpful and should be encouraged among educators as long as it is done appropriately.  Teachers need to be consistently using their professional judgement whenever they post online.  Because other teachers have been open and shared their classroom experiences, I believe I am constantly evolving in my teaching strategies and ideas.  Let us remember, openness and sharing creates a sense of community, whether that be between teacher and parents, or teacher and teaching community.  When we have a sense of transparency in our teaching we have nothing to hide and we are opening our doors for others to see just how great we are!  I believe having openness allows us to collaborate and share with others thereby making us all better teachers and educators.

June 4

Should Schools Teach It If You Can Simply Google It?

Google.  Bing.  Ask Jeeves.  The internet has brought with it endless amounts of information that is readily available to whomever wishes to search for it.  When I initially saw this debate topic I was confident in my stance.  Why should we bother making students memorize facts when they have a plethora of information literally at their fingertips?  It seemed pretty straightforward.  The world-wide web offers student not only the answers to all their questions, but often many different outlooks and opinions for them to consider, right?  What is the point of teaching the facts when students can simply ‘google’ it?

The role of the teacher is changing.  Teachers used to be thought of as the keepers of knowledge, the walking encyclopedias, or a student’s informational guide to learning.  Today, the teacher is more of a facilitator in the learning process.  Many times, we are learning along with our students and guiding them toward their own truths and understandings.  Instead of standing at the front of the classroom lecturing from a standardized textbook, I am teaching my students skills to find, evaluate, and interpret their own knowledge.  The following video speaks to this shift and offers some suggestions about how the role of the teacher has changed.

If the teacher is an “experienced learner”, then it is the teacher’s role to lead and guide the students toward the best ways to learn.  Solely using textbooks would not be the best way to learn in the 21st century.  Textbooks offer students one perspective and students often take that one perspective to be the be-all-end-all one truth.  The internet offers students a chance to look at multiple ideas and perspectives.  It also teaches students to look at those different perspectives and ideas and then use their critical thinking skills to choose the best, most reliable resource.  Instead of avoiding the internet and all of its’ opportunities, I believe it is important to use it as a chance to teach students to search for the best.  If we, as teachers, are expected to prepare our students for the future, don’t you think we should be teaching them to be critical about what they read online and to select the best sources?  In his article “How to sharpen students’ critical thinking skills online“, Dr. Ian Jamison suggests teaching students three strategies to help them evaluate their resources and select the best possible information.  By having students cross-reference the information, look out for warnings (or red flags), and use a mnemonic device called RAVEN, they will learn critical skills that will stay with them well into their adult-hood and prepare them for the ever evolving World Wide Web.

Besides teaching students how to tredge through all the sources and information online, it is important to also teach students how to do a proper search. I know, from working with middle-years students, they often  expect to type in a question and have their first result provide all their answers.  They get frustrated when they need to refine their search, or look through several different websites before finding the information they are looking for.  Many students lack the skills and know-how to complete a proper web search.  For example, including quotation marks (“) around a phrase will search for that specific phrase, and including a minus sign (-) next to a word will remove that specific word from your search.  These are all tips that when taught and reinforced prove to be beneficial to students.  This is something that is worth memorizing!

That brings me to my next point.  MEMORIZATION.  Are we really setting our students up for a successful future having them memorize everything?  Patricia Abrihan presents an interesting argument where she states “when we train students to just memorize, we are not teaching them how to think. Rather, we are training them to just be “responsive.”

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When I was a student I remember needing to memorize information for a test.  Our exams were primarily recall based. One instance I recall had us needing to name all 50 states and their capital cities.  This exercise proved to be useless because I quickly forgot what I learned and in my adulthood I am easily able to search up these facts that were so important to be memorized earlier.  Memorization is not an effective way to learn and retain information.  There are exceptions of course.  I do insist my students memorize their multiplication tables because this is something they will need and will continue to apply to their daily life for the rest of their lives.  But having my students cram and memorize a series of facts does not seem like a good use of their time.  I would rather have students learn and then form opinions about what they learn.  For instance, I can teach my students about the colonization of Canada.  I could have them memorize who all the early explorers were and what they did, OR I could teach the students about the colonization of Canada, have them research about the different explorers online and then have them report on their opinion about what the explorer did and whether it was beneficial to the settlement of Canada.  This would have them learning about the explorers and applying their learning to form their own opinions.

This brings up another question worth debating.  Do we allow our students open access to the internet?  When students are asked to research on the internet, do they simply type Google.ca and away they go?  I was shocked to learn that Google is not necessarily the best search engine to have students on.  It will skew the search results and may not produce the best result first.  I thank Alec for pointing out some alternatives that provide students a more accurate search.  Engines such as duckduckgo provide students with a safer and more secure platform to search.  Another option is Kiddle which provides sensored kid-friendly results for younger surfers.  I admit, I was unaware of the privacy issues surrounding Google, and many of the more well-known search engines.  I guess that is something that cannot be Googled!

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In closing, I continue to stand by my belief that schools should not be focussed on teaching things that students can simply look up online.  I do, however, believe that students need to be armed with the necessary tools to ensure they are not simply going online blindly and taking everything they read as facts.  Teachers have an even larger role to play in this instance. Teachers need to not only teach their students these skills, but they need to monitor, check-in, and always remind their students to be responsible knowledge hunters.  Teaching Digital Citizenship, Digital Literacy, and Digital Safety should all come before students are set loose on open searches for learning.  I cannot emphasize enough the importance of allowing students access to different points of view, interpretations, and ideas.  By being around these differences, students are able to form their own points of view, interpretations, and ideas, which in turn leads to a greater understanding of what they have learned.