Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Generations Will Not Be Destroyed by Smartphones


This article from the Atlantic appeared multiple times in my Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter feeds last week. The author is a professor of psychology and experienced researcher with a focus on generational differences. Her title claims that smartphones are destroying the post-Millennial generation. This paragraph is perhaps the clincher:
"Even when a seismic event—a war, a technological leap, a free concert in the mud—plays an outsize role in shaping a group of young people, no single factor ever defines a generation. Parenting styles continue to change, as do school curricula and culture, and these things matter. But the twin rise of the smartphone and social media has caused an earthquake of a magnitude we’ve not seen in a very long time, if ever. There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives—and making them seriously unhappy."
My concern is that the author, although certainly qualified to utilize the mental health data given her background and experience, is connecting her conclusions to the phones themselves. Her focus is misplaced. She should be more focused on people's behaviors when using their phones, not the phones themselves.

A couple of days later, a response to the Atlantic article appeared on JSTOR Daily. The author is also a published researcher and she encourages readers to shift the focus of their blame away from phones. She claims GenXers, the parents of those post-Millennials, are really the generation facing destruction. Her overall message is captured here:
"...you know what smartphones and social media are really great at? Tuning out your children.
I know, we all really enjoy reading articles about how it’s those evil smartphones that are destroying our children’s brains and souls. It lets us justify locking their devices up with parental monitoring tools, or cutting off their mobile plan when they fail to make the grade.
Fellow parents, it’s time for us to consider another possible explanation for why our kids are increasingly disengaged. It’s because we’ve disengaged ourselves; we’re too busy looking down at our screens to look up at our kids."
At least this author is focusing on behaviors. She is calling out parents to be models of healthy technology use before pointing fingers at their children. I do agree with that concept, but I'm still concerned about the blame game.

What do educators think?

When educators read articles like these two is it easy for us to think, "If my students are hooked on their phones, it isn't my fault. The data shows that the phones themselves are the problem." Or, if we are more likely to believe the second article, educators might think, "If my students are hooked on their phones, it isn't my fault. Their parents are the real problem." The purpose of this post is to reject those two mindsets emphatically and remind educators of what they already know:

Placing blame does not solve problems. Taking action does. 

And, what's more, simply banning students from accessing smartphones and social media at school is not going to work. Actually, according to a new study from the University of Pheonix and Harris Polls, educators' social media use is clearly trending up.
  • 41% of teachers use social media at school, up from 32 percent in 2016.
  • 28% of teachers don't use social media in the classroom, but would like to.
This data seems to show that more educators are recognizing at least the potential value of social media use as part of their work in education. My hope is that we also recognize that our learners will not develop healthy social and technological habits with their devices unless we intentionally teach them. Just as we work hard to teach our students skills like keeping notes organized, managing their time, and how to write a lab report, we need to teach them how to leverage social media to help them learn and share in positive and productive ways. The children we serve will not learn these skills unless we recognize our duty to model them and teach them.

How will educators step up?

  1. It starts with cultural norms – not disciplinary rules – that all community-members agree to be held to. Yes, even adults. At St. John's Prep we have developed these and are rolling them out intentionally this year. Our infographic was even designed by a student and is posted in every classroom all over campus. 
  2. Bring parents into the conversation. Share the data on parent screen use with them and ask them to hold themselves accountable as well. Provide them with practical tips and resources, like these we curated for the parents in our community at St. John's Prep. Offer consistent opportunities for them to come together and talk about successes and struggles as they raise, and you educate, their children in this brave new world.
  3. Take tech risks with your students! When they are excited about a new tool or a new way to share their learning using their smartphones, embrace those ideas. Be sure to help them learn about privacy and security when trying a new app or program, but as long as it is safe students should be able to get creative even using tools you are not familiar with.
We will not get caught up in the blame game.
We will not succumb to a fatalist attitude that we are already on an inevitable destructive path. 
We will not make the mistake of oversimplifying the solution and imposing unrealistic bans.
I'm confident that educators will step up, be the voice of reason, and get to work making the meaningful changes that we need so that all generations develop healthy proactive habits.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Home School Communication: It's Not About Progress Reports


Each afternoon during the last school year, my daughter's 2nd grade teacher sent a few cell phone photos and a 2-3 sentence explanation of what they showed. It probably took her no more than 5 minutes to snap the shots of her students, type up the words, and hit send. About once per week I would dash off a few sentences in response thanking her for the photos or letting her know what my daughter had said about school that day. These seemingly mundane quick interactions helped me build an everyday relationship with my child's teacher. The benefits of building that relationship went far beyond a teacher fulfilling her contractual obligations to communicate student progress. There are 5 specific scenarios that come to mind in which her quick photos and messages created a lasting benefit for my daughter and for my husband and I as her parents:

  1. It made it easier and more natural for me too reach out to her one night early in the year when my daughter left her homework at school. Together we were able to come up with an alternative assignment that my daughter enjoyed and also helped her practice the skills she was working on.
  2. That everyday relationship made me think to ask her about her favorite online educational games so that I could direct my daughter's at home screen time toward positive activities.
  3. At one point in the school year, a new class seating assignment created a little social conflict for my daughter. I helped her brainstorm potential solutions. She went to school the next morning ready to advocate for herself, but I also know I could send her teacher a brief email to keep an eye out as my daughter navigated this tough situation.
  4. When we ran into her and her family in town, we were able to talk effortlessly about the exciting things my daughter was learning and doing in school. These conversations didn't turn into awkward impromptu parent-teacher conferences. They were more like pleasant small talk.
  5. Speaking of those parent-teacher conferences, I actually had a tough time scheduling one this year due to our busy schedules. Because of all of our communications throughout the year, though, I could just up the phone or email my daughter's teacher anytime I had a question. No need for a special conference to touch base.
I hope my daughter's 3rd grade teacher takes a few moments each day to use the devices at her fingertips to help build a relationship, too. It is likely that throughout her elementary education experience I will get that kind of communication. But will it continue in the upper grades?

It isn't about nightly homework checks

There is a common practice to hold back on daily updates to parents as learners mature. Usually, the philosophy behind this shift is that as children get older they should take more responsibility for their own learning. But I'm not talk about daily communications that include each night's homework assignments or regularly scheduled progress reports. Rather, as a parent I want to know what my daughters have tried, learned, read, and discussed each day. That way, when they get home we can share and discuss in a way that is more meaningful than, "How was school today?"

Adolescents and teens can be help accountable for their school work without sacrificing teacher-parent communication. The more parents know about their child's day, the more likely they are to be positive proactive forces in their child's education. Every teacher needs as many parent allies as possible, and every parent wants their child to have a healthy and strong relationship with her teacher.

How educators can make it happen

This year, I'm happy to be a part of the #Pledge100 campaign to reach every parent during the 2017-2018 school year. Much of this post has been about my experience as a parent, but as an educator I also saw great benefits when I stayed in constant communication with my students' parents. As a middle school teacher, I kept up a class website where parents could find the class calendar and all materials. Additionally, I sent home personal emails to 3-4 students' families each afternoon letting them know about how their recent experiences, successes, and struggles in my classroom.


These emails took me no more than 15 minutes to write each afternoon. The benefits were two-fold:
  1. Parents knew that I thought about their child as a unique individual who deserved an education that fit him best.
  2. My end-of-day daily reflections helped me think more carefully about how I spoke to and served every student every day. I believe I grew into a better teacher because of this practice.
As a high school teacher, I kept up a similar class website, but also sent home weekly detailed emails with links to examples of student work. These links featured student videos, podcasts, and even ebooks authored by entire classes. Parents enjoyed the celebration of their teenager's learning and I found that the rapid-fire 5-minute parent-teacher conferences we held once a year were much more relaxed.


Start this summer

We even got a message late last week - in the dog days of summer - from my daughter's teacher reminding her former 2nd graders to read. I was so impressed. I showed it to my daughter and she said, "I can't wait to go back to school so I can visit Ms. W and Ms. R. They will be so happy to see me and I can tell them about summer camp!"

If you haven't communicated with your former students yet this summer, don't underestimate how powerful and positive it can be for them to hear from you. The fact that you thought of them during your vacation time will mean to world to them.

And, of course, reach out to your incoming students as soon as possible. Hold off on homework policies and class expectations. Share a little about what you love about being a teacher and how you used some of your summer to get ready for them. Reassure them that you are excited to meet them and get to know them. Perhaps you could even encourage them to write back to you.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Beautiful Learning

"I use the term beautiful work broadly: ...Always, in all subjects, there is a quest in my classroom for beauty, for quality, and we critique all that we do for its level of care, craftsmanship, and value."
-Ron Berger quoted from Buck Institute

Recently a colleague of mine, a grade 7/8 math teacher, emailed me with his reflections from reading a book he borrowed from the bookshelf in my office. After a discussion about homework quality and quantity with his colleagues during the final professional learning day of the school year, he stopped by my office to share his thoughts about what makes student work worthwhile. I handed him An Ethic Of Excellence by Ron Berger and encouraged him to read it and dig a little deeper into those thoughts. About a month and a half into summer, he emailed me with his thoughts:

"Beautiful work is the idea that schoolwork is about the process of producing something beautiful. In that process learners learn the lesson. It is beautiful not because it's neat or colorful or artistic, but because it represents the very best work of that individual, with the assistance of their classmates along the way. Schoolwork isn't something that we just have to get done and move on. It's an iterative process and our learning is in those several iterations."
-Glenn Blakney

Glenn pointed out some things that I've been thinking about quite a bit: 
  1. School work should feel just as valuable and worthwhile to students as work feels for adults in pursuit of their careers and/or passions.
  2. Valuable learning does not happen entirely in collaboration with others, but it also does not happen entirely in isolation as an individual. The feedback we get from others is just as important as the reflections we do on our own.
  3. Learning is in BOTH the process and the product. We learn from making mistakes and finding out how to fix them. We also learn from feeling the satisfaction of creating a product that we are proud to share.

Near the end of his email to me, Glenn wrote, "This is what genuine and effective Project Based Learning looks like." It just so happens that, as part of my preparation and planning for our upcoming in-house school conference, I was reading articles and watching videos about some of the hottest education theories including PBL. I came across this video from Edutopia on rigorous PBL and it really captured the elements of beautiful schoolwork for me.


Besides the aesthetics, what would be the elements of beautiful schoolwork in your classroom? How would your students, their parents, and the community beyond your classroom know that your students' learning is beautiful?

Friday, July 7, 2017

Time to Change the Vocabulary of #EdTech Leadership


Often when administrators are asked about the current state of education technology in their school or district, they make declarative statements:

  • We are 1-to-1.
  • We use Google Classroom.
  • We adopted Microsoft 365.
  • We have a makerspace.

I've learned that those are unfinished statements. The sentiment they express is not the vision or leadership that educators and learners need. I'm shifting my perspective. Here's why.

The "roll-out" of new devices or tools is often the first edtech goal an administrator has for her district, but it should not – it cannot – be the last. A roll-out is all about strategy and planning. Once equipment, software, and programs are in place, the work has just begun. How will student learning be affected? The statements above should look more like these:

  • We are working toward...
  • We are excited about...
  • Our plan is to...
  • We have started to...

Each of these 4 statements should be finished with phrases that include the words "student" and "learning" in some way.

Education is a moving target. As soon as a district team writes a goal, that goal is both outdated and worth pursuing. It is outdated because district leadership needs to achieve that goal while planning for what comes next. It is worth pursuing because it is a necessary and big step along the journey of progress toward the best possible student learning.

While it is essential for education leaders to celebrate the good work that is being done, it is just as essential for those leaders to communicate an inspiring vision that includes tangible benchmarks to measure progress, especially when it comes to measuring the value of any type of technology in schools.

To help me think more deeply about what technology in education might look like in 5 or 10 years, I recently read LeiLani Cauthen's The Consumerization of Learning. Cauthen skillfully explains the past, present, and potential future of our learning and growth as educators in a world that blends digital and analog at every turn. Some of her predictions are jarring, but others are inspiring and even comforting. When creating a vision and the benchmarks that will be a part of the journey, school and district leaders should consider the possibilities Cauthen shares in this book. For instance, when it comes to the continuum of education progress, is your school in the:

  • Strategy Years?
  • Tactics Years?
  • Sustainability Years?
  • Analytics Years?
  • Design Age?
  • Age of Experience?

Cauthen's advice for each stage is worth considering. Be aware of where your school is, but remain focused on where it needs to be. Her vision for a more personalized (a.k.a. consumerized) education experience for students and teachers is exciting. Educators may not agree with everything in this book, but it is a very good thing that these ideas are now part of the discourse about how public education needs to change.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

This is Your Brain on Technology #ISTE17 #IGNITE

Access to our screens – and the information and connections those screens make possible – is an essential part of our personal, academic, and professional lives. But the amount of time we spend looking at those screens is having an impact on our brain development. Based on my research into neuroscience and my work every day in schools and classrooms, I put together this Ignite talk (5 minutes total, 20 slides, 15 seconds each) for the 2017 International Society for Technology in Education Conference.



It answers many of the questions we have about how much is too much and which uses of technology are worthwhile.


How are you incorporating screens in healthy ways at home and in your school? How are you working with all stakeholders – students, teachers, parents, administrators – in your community to establish a clear culture of healthy technology use?

The research and testing doesn't stop here. This is just the beginning. I'm looking forward to learning and sharing more in the coming months, and next year at #ISTE18 in Chicago.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Talking to Our Children About the President's Tweets

Click here to listen the the segments.
For adults this fast-paced tech-rich world can be intimidating. And yet, children are the focus of my work. Imagine how overwhelming this world can look to them!

While many dismiss that perspective and argue that they are "digital natives" for whom navigating our tech-rich world is easier, I know first hand that is it not.

Children are the focus of my work in 3 ways:

  • I'm the mother of 2 young girls who are eager to explore the media and opportunities of the online world.
  • My profession is educator and I work with teachers and students in grade 6 through 12 at St. John's Prep. We are focused on how to make the world a better place today and in the future.
  • I have a passion for advocacy of digital citizenship, literacy, and safety through writing, speaking, and organizing with the non-profit ConnectSafely.org.
Often, when certain events occur – like President Trump's tweets yesterday that focused on insults rather than substance – I'm asked how we can realistically insist that children, adolescents, and teens refrain from acting the same way online. 


The truth is that all of us, children and adults alike, are learning how to use the powerful communication tools the online world has to offer. This means that all of us are making mistakes and learning from them. I had the opportunity to talk with CBS News Radio this morning and share my advice for parents and teachers. Click here to listen to the interviews.

For more resources to help in both the classroom and at home, check out ConnectSafely.org's parent and educator guides here.


Friday, June 16, 2017

The Freedom (and Consequences) of Our Students' Digital Speech

In the past two weeks, two big news reports based in my home state of Massachusetts demonstrate how crucial it is to teach our children about the impact even the smallest online communication can have. Despite these stories with no winners, we shouldn't censor our children. We should encourage them to share their highest quality work online, and have ongoing conversations with them about being upstanders when "drama" happens among their peers online. Here are the specifics:



Harvard Withdraws Acceptances

Harvard University revoked the admissions offers of 10 incoming freshman – recently graduated high school seniors – who created their own messaging group. The creation of the group was not the problem. According to the report in the Harvard Crimson, the prospective students "sent each other memes and other images mocking sexual assault, the Holocaust, and the deaths of children." The story made national news. It wasn't because of a few rescinded acceptances, a common practice for colleges this time of year. It is because of the reason for rescinding was new.

Michelle Carter's Verdict

Today, in a courthouse in Taunton, Massachusetts, Michelle Carter was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter of Conrad Roy in a bench trial. Once again, it isn't the charge and trial that are shocking. It is the evidence and context for how Carter acted. According to the New York Times, "When he became sick from the fumes and stepped out, prosecutors said, Ms. Carter ordered him by phone [in a text message] to 'get back in.'” Roy was found dead in his car the next day.

In both cases, it was digital messages sent by teens in seemingly private contexts that led to serious public and life-changing consequences. When talking to your teens – whether they are your children or your students – about these two situations, here are some key messages they need to hear:

1. Be the Real You at All Times

Whether words are verbalized face-to-face or typed in a text message, they are representing your thoughts and your personality. What do you want people to think about when they think of your name? Are you someone who adds energy and positivity to a conversation? Are you someone who lifts others up? Are others grateful for the information and messages you share?

2. Take Care of Yourself and the People You Care About

At some point each of us will face a difficult situation due to online communication. Some of us will be a target, some of us will see a friend suffering as a target, and some of us will see a debate raging about an issue that touches close to home. Ask your teens: What will you do? Will you take action that matters without contributing to a toxic online dialogue? Will you stand up for the people who need allies? Will you show calm reasoned strength in the midst of a negative online tornado?

3. Nothing is Private. Harness the Power of Public.

Both of the examples above involve messages and media exchanged between teenagers who believed they had privacy. Whether our shares are in the form of public posts, DMs, or text messages, the Harvard and Carter cases both illustrate the risk we take when tapping Post, Publish, or the share arrow. Rather than taking in this information and feeling handcuffed, our youth should feel empowered to make great change with the tap of a keyboard. If nothing is private, imagine how many people could be reached with innovative ideas, new artwork, and fresh music. Use this power of sharing for good! Avoid getting bogged down in any negativity.

How will we parents and educators frame this new era of online communication – and consequences – for the children and teens we care about? Will we fill our conversations with warnings and negativity? Or will we share these stories so that our children can feel a sense of duty to better represent their generation and build a positive vibe that drowns out the negativity?

Perhaps you think my ideas seem naive. I assert that they are not.

The balance of sharing positivity and protecting against negativity is the key to cracking open the digital world we all want for the future.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

It's Never Too Early


Our children are eager to try out the devices they see their parents and older siblings using. Adults worry about how much time they are spending with screens.

As an educator, I understand the importance of incorporating technology in learning so that our students are prepared for the future jobs that await them. As a parent, I understand the desire many parents have for their children to explore the natural world and use their hands to create. It is possible to balance these two important goals. Here are a few ideas for parents and teachers of young children. (I've tested them with my own small children!)

Storytelling

The Simple Shift
My 2nd grader accesses Drive
through her school district's portal.
My second grader sees me typing blog posts, watches my fingers move over the keyboard, and asks questions about how I use formatting features like headings and creating and adding images. Of course, now that she can read and write, she wants to record her own stories and ideas. Although she is young, with some help from our local public school district, she is set up with an school Gmail and her very own Google Drive. After watching me organize mine over the years, she thought carefully about what she wanted to name her folders. Then she started writing stories. Her first was about a neighbor with a haunted house who coaxed children with cookies to come in. Once she was done writing it she wanted to share it.

The Big Shift
So, the next step was to teach her how to share her documents. I showed her the  Share  button in Google Docs and taught her about email addresses. The first share was with her first grade teacher, the teacher she had last year. To her delight, two days later she found her teacher left comments on her haunted neighbor story. Now she was motivated to write and share more. As long as we are talking about who she is sharing with and how to properly communicate online, I'm happy to encourage her desires to write and share her ideas.

YouTube and Video Creation

The Simple Shift
Responding to the outcries of parents, Common Sense Media is gathering funding to help them review and rate the most popular YouTube channels that our kids love. Common Sense is using the tagline, "Have you lost your kids to YouTube?" to motivate parents to donate.

Yikes. No one should feel like they have lost their own children.

An approach that has worked well for my family includes early exposure to YouTube with gradual release of control. It isn't foolproof and it isn't a silver bullet, but it forces ongoing conversations about media consumption as a part of our day-to-day lives. I started showing my children short online videos once or twice a day when they were babies – while I prepared a quick lunch, took a coveted private bathroom break, or tended to a sibling's diaper change – so they recognized online media and only saw short clips and content I was comfortable with. Then we'd sing the songs from the videos together. As they've gotten older, we've refurbished old laptops that they can use to explore YouTube, among other things online, as long as we talk about the search terms they are typing and the content they are watching. Their screen time is limited and is mixed with lots of outdoor play, reading, art lessons, and sports. It is all about teaching them how to balance.

The Big Shift
The girls filmed their video after a lot of planning.
After finding a YouTube channel with sisters who challenge each other to fun contests, my two daughters wanted to learn how to make and share their own videos. This ignited a conversation between the 3 of us in which I asked how they wanted to plan the video. We talked about storyboarding, script writing, finding our props, creating a set in our house, and rehearsing. Then we completed all those steps! Once the filming was done, I walked them through the video editing process including adding royalty free music and on-screen titles and graphics. We even created a YouTube channel and uploaded their videos. So far is it private and we've only shared the videos with a few select family members. If and when they are ready to go public, we will decide together after a clear explanation of what "going public" really means in terms of feedback and online interaction with others.

The one theme consistent with all of these approaches to technology with young children is continuous communication with parents and other adults they can trust. Technology should not be used as a "babysitter" or a way to keep children quiet. Rather, it is just another tool children should be taught to use. Like many tools – in the kitchen, in the yard, and in school – it carries some risk. But just as we teach preschoolers to use sharp scissors with our supervision or encourage them to jump in a pool for swimming lessons, we need to teach that same age group how to navigate the vast and amazing online world through our devices. 

There is no guarantee that my young children will not make mistakes with technology as they get older, even with these careful and intentional conversations we are having now. But when they do make mistakes, we can reference these conversations and remind them about our values and priorities. Their digital record will be so overwhelmingly positive and their mistakes will be vastly outnumbered by the goodness they've shared.

What do you do with your youngest children/students to teach them about devices and the internet?

Thursday, May 25, 2017

What is the One Thing All Learners Need?

This time I'm going to give away the answer in the first line: Personal Connection

We know that student-teacher relationships are important when it comes to students' academic success. But, how does this apply to professional learning for educators?

Earlier this week I had the privilege of working with the teachers, therapists, and specialists at the Valley Collaborative School. They asked me to share both a high quality curated list of openly licensed digital education resources (OER) and an instructional design method to help their educators customize learning based on both those resources and the varied needs of the children they serve. Based on my experience yesterday, combined with the work I've done with a few other districts, I have developed a theory: When it comes to professional learning, there are 3 levels of participation. Each level serves an important purpose, but if we never dig deep enough to get to Level 3 then the learning needs of participating educators may never truly be met.

Level 1: Keynote to Inspire

Keynote addresses are exciting. The audience buckles in for an experience. They expect to laugh, wonder, hear Tweetable soundbites, perhaps shed a tear, and leave inspired by new ideas. As educators, we sometimes need our souls to be fed by the inspiring big ideas of a keynote speaker. I know I always have room for improvement, but I hope the educators yesterday felt a sense of urgency and energy when the keynote was done. Many times I have left a big conference theater or even the auditorium of my local school and hoped to bring the energy I felt from the keynote to my students.

But, how, exactly? What are the actionable steps we should take?

Level 2: Demo to Experience

Often, when hired by a district or brought on by conference organizers, a keynote speaker will facilitate an interactive follow-up session that demonstrates the theories and practices they highlighted in their address. In my case yesterday, this meant walking educators through the Start With a Question method that incorporated OER, digital formative assessment, and collaboration. The teachers were working together to tinker with online simulations, experiment with video and gaming, and teach one another about the most efficient uses of their devices. I saw them engaged, talking, thinking, and sharing. Educators deserve to experience the joy of learning in this way often.

But, when the demo was over, would this experience and my instructions truly affect their teaching and their students' learning?

Level 3: Personal Engagement to Connect

Although it occurs less often in formal professional development, educators might need to engage one-on-one with the speaker/facilitator. Thankfully, this is exactly what I was able to do during the last of the 3 hours I'd planned with the teachers at the Valley Collaborative School yesterday. As I moved from table to table and sat down with the different small groups of educators, I discovered there were questions and ideas I never would have heard if I hadn't pursued those personal conversations. Much like many of our students, some teachers are unlikely to speak up in a large group and ask questions.

Some educators were already running with the resources and tools I'd demoed for them. They were exploring, designing, and building lessons. When I sat down to talk to them I wanted to encourage them, point out more advanced features they might want to use, and answer their higher level questions about how my approach compared to others they were already familiar with. I loved these interactions!

A few educators were open minded and able to get started, but then got stuck. I could recognize them by their facial expressions of body language and made an effort to get to them as quickly as possible. In most cases, they'd found some great digital resources, starting building a lesson, but weren't sure how this activity would fit into their teaching. We chatted about what their classroom space looked like, their students' personalities and needs, and how they normally start and end a lesson. Then we worked together to brainstorm how the Start With a Question method could improve on both the teaching experience for them and the learning experience for their students. I loved these interactions too!

Finally, there were educators in the room who stalled before they started. Since quite a few of the professionals who work in education are actually specialists, therapists, and clinicians it is important to connect to their unique but vital roles in our schools. During these conversations I asked a lot of questions about their typical day, the children they serve, and the resources and activities they currently depend on. I had much to learn from them. As a result of talking and learning from one another, we were able to develop some new approaches to their work that incorporate digital resources, devices, and new kinds of interaction. I'm grateful for these interactions because I learned the most from them.

These Level 3 interactions helped the professionals make clear connections between what they do each day with children and the method, resources, and tools I was sharing. Without personal conversations, those connections would have either taken longer to form or may have never formed at all. The efficacy of that 3 hour professional development afternoon was enhanced because we took the time to talk to one another face-to-face. When designing professional learning in the future, whether it is in the form of a keynote, an interactive session, or a very small group, I'm going to make a concerted effort to set aside time to have as many of those face-to-face conversations as possible.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Vetting Student Apps Isn't Enough: Data Privacy for Teachers and Parents


If you're still skeptical that student data privacy issues are of the utmost importance in school communities, check out the latest information about the massive data breach from a prominent edtech company. Implementation of a vetting process for new apps or programs in school districts is essential to protect students' personally identifiable information (PII) and aggregated data. (If you're looking for information on setting up your own vetting policy, download this toolkit from CoSN and check out some resources from Cambridge Public Schools.) The alphabet soup of regulations – like FERPA and COPPA – can be dizzying, but they need attention. But once your vetting process is in place, it isn't time to relax just yet. Rather, schools and districts should push themselves even further.

As a teacher, I sometimes found it frustrating when I had to wait to get access to the digital tools I wanted my students to be able to use. (If I had decided that a video creation tool was great, I wanted my students to be able to try it out right away!) Now, as a digital learning specialist, I want to make sure the teachers I work with feel as little frustration as possible and develop an understanding of why short delays are sometimes inevitable. Based on my experiences as a classroom teacher and a digital instructional coach, I have some recommendations for the steps schools should take.

Above all, make sure your vetting and deployment process is thorough, but also quick and clear. Ideally, teachers should not have to wait more than a couple of days to find out whether a tool they have requested will be permitted in their classrooms. Even the best-laid lesson plans are constantly shifting. Teachers need their administrators and technology experts to remain cognizant of that reality. After developing your expedient vetting policy and process, here are the steps I recommend so that the entire school community is informed and on board:

Step 1: Informal Teacher Professional Learning

Start by informing classroom teachers about the vetting process within normal conversations in regular team or department meetings. Make sure it is clear that teachers are not responsible for vetting on their own, but that the information is being shared with them so they can be more informed educators and users of digital tools. To help calm any anxieties, emphasize that the research, investigation, and communication with companies will be handled by district technology and administrative professionals.

At this stage, I have found it is also helpful to highlight a few examples of what the vetting team will look for when they read privacy policies and terms of use for any new apps or programs.  (At my school this short list included ad tracking, SSOs with social media, and age restrictions among others.) At the end of these discussions, it might be helpful to send teachers off with a little more information to read and digest on their own. I recommend the Educator's Guide to Data Privacy from ConnectSafely and the Future of Privacy Forum.

Step 2: Formal Teacher Professional Learning

After allowing a few months – either a summer break or a quarter grading period – for the new policy to settle in and become part of the routine, it is time to share more sophisticated information about data privacy and digital citizenship with teachers. Here's why: It is no longer uncommon practice for educators to share information about their profession, school, or even students online. It may be shared in a professional blog post, as part of an education-focused Twitter chat, or just as a funny anecdote on their personal social media account. Teachers need to understand that their personal and professional online identities are not separate because of the way their data trail connects everything they do.

No teacher should be told not to use digital tools or social media. Their positive modeling for the students and parents in your community is invaluable. In addition to the Educator's Guide to Student Data Privacy mentioned above, resources like the Educator's Guide to Social Media, a free guide from Larry Magid and I, and BrandED, a new book from Eric Sheninger and Trish Rubin, are excellent resources to help you plan those formal professional learning sessions with your teachers. This video or this video from Common Sense Education might be a great way to kick off your session.

Step 3: Curriculum Integration for Students

Now that your teachers understand privacy implications (based on the vetting process for student apps shared in Step 1 and the implications for their personal and professional lives in Step 2) they are better prepared to inform their students. Here are my top privacy integration tips:

  1. Planned integration of data privacy concepts in regular lessons. For example, when introducing a new vetted tool for which students have to sign in, the teacher could take a few moments to skim through the Terms of Use with students so they know the highlights to look for before they check the box during the account creation process. 
  2. In the moment discussion. Teachers like to call these "teachable moments." For instance, if your school has a one-to-one program and fully manages student devices, students might question why they are not permitted to download certain games or apps. Teachers can seize on this question to invite discussion about whether students think about what developers do with the information we share when we download and start using new un-vetted programs. (Hint: Unless the privacy policy says they do not share or sell that information with advertisers and companies looking to target new customers, it is likely that they do.)

Of course, this should be part of a thorough digital citizenship school-wide program. Data privacy is an essential part of helping our learners understand how their behavior online can have an impact on their in-person lives.

Step 4: Informal and Formal Parent Education

As part of that digital citizenship school-wide program, parent programming should be prioritized. At my school we provide webinars that are both live and recorded, parent council presentations, and interactive experiences specifically for grandparents, incoming parents, and more. While some offerings are compulsory and others are optional, there is no way to offer too much parent education around digital health and safety in schools and at home. In my experience, parents are hungry for help when it comes to managing their children's screen time, online interactions, and developing a healthy balance of technology use. In fact, we are constantly looking for new ways to reach more parents and are hoping to offer even more programming next year.

Some of my favorite resources for parents include ConnectSafely's library of Parent Guides and Janell Burley Hoffman's iRules.

Now, in you district, the order of these steps might be different based on the interests and involvement of your stakeholders. This post is not meant to be a decisive solution. It presents options and ideas to provide guidance for schools that are in the midst of the process.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Three Little Words

There are these 3 particular words/phrases that are used often in my professional circles. As their use increases, so do the number of eye-rolls I've observed in reaction to their use.

Disclaimer: I've noticed myself both using them and eye-rolling in reaction to them.

In my recent column for EdSurge, I documented the education jargon that stops short of inspiring the educators in my PLN based on their responses to my Facebook post. By the end of the post, I suggested that we educators should think about the real intentions and actions of the person using the words instead of our own prejudices against them.

It is time to challenge myself and my own thinking. So, I'm going to go through that same process. What are the education words/phrases that have lost meaning for me? How can I look past my own jaded thinking and open my mind to ideas, even when the person proposing the new ideas uses those words?

Word #1: Innovate

When I hear speakers say or read blog posts demanding that teachers need to be more innovative, I'm sometimes less than inspired. While I was eager to try new approaches in my own classroom as a teacher and am eager to try new approaches to professional learning in my current role, I also know that it is frustrating to hear that my best might not be innovative enough. But instead of internalizing that word in a negative way, it is important for me to step away and think about the intention of the person using it.

I looked up the meaning of the word itself:

If the blogger or speaker uses innovate/innovation to describe new methods for solving ongoing problems and has ideas for how to investigate or implement those new ideas, why not listen with an open mind? In schools this could mean getting creative with the scheduling of the school day, using classrooms and other spaces in non-traditional ways, or even looking at high school curriculum with a thematic cross-curricular perspective rather than in isolated subject areas. There are countless other examples of education innovations that would shake up the way things are done, might create a little extra work and discomfort, but are also worth trying for the sake of solving ongoing problems.

Word #2: Amplify

In the music world, amplify means to increase the volume of a sound. In education, it isn't enough to think of amplify as a synonym for increase. For instance, it is doubtful that most teachers would advocate for amplifying/increasing the number of tests students have to take or the hours of homework they have to complete. In the definition of amplify, it is the third option that captures my attention most:

Something that is "more marked" is noticeable or hard to ignore. Of course we want our students' work to be noticed by their peers and even the community beyond our classrooms. When we ensure that our learners know why they are working toward a learning goal – sometimes referred to as the "so what?" of a lesson – the end result of that learning should be original creations that those students are proud to share. Those products should be "more marked" and harder to ignore than their previous work.

Something that is "intense" helps people feel emotions or sensations that they might not otherwise feel. If student learning is intense then they are experiencing that learning in a deeper way that taps into emotions and physical sensations. Our young learners are more likely to internalize a new skill or idea if the have experienced it, rather than merely memorizing it.

When we think about amplifying learning in terms of making it "more marked" or "intense" it is hard to debate the power behind the sentiment. (By the way, if you are looking for concrete ideas for how to amplify learning in your classroom, check out Amplify by Kristin Ziemke and Katie Muhtaris. It's a book. You should read it.)

Word (OK, Phrase) #3: Take it to the next level

When I hear this phrase tossed around in keynote addresses or in the titles of high-profile blog posts, I can't help but think – at least for a moment – like a jaded long-time teacher who has been forced to structure curriculum via predetermined levels, to choose levels for my students as they move on to the next school year, and to look at test scores as determining factors for student leveling.  As I'm sure you are already imagining – or as you have experienced yourself – these are not empowering or inspiring moments in one's teaching career.

But let's look at this phrase, and the word level, from a completely different perspective. Let's start with the definition:

What did you notice first? For me, it was the part that stated it referred to "something that is already successful." Well. Dude. That changes literally everything about my preconceived notions of the phrase.

We are no longer talking about forcing unique, talented, imperfect, genuine students into a leveling system that doesn't take their personalized needs into account. Instead we are talking about looking at a practice, lesson, or project that is already working and making it work even better for our students. So, did you try adding something new to your Civil War unit? It went OK! But now you're even more excited to change a few other parts of the unit next year. You are reflecting, researching, and planning. You are taking it to the next level. And there is nothing bad about that approach in education.

______________________

No more eye rolls. I promise. I might even use these terms in a PD session, conference presentation, or upcoming blog post. There are plenty of other little words that have gradually lost their charm in the education world. Rather than take a critical stance, perhaps we can take a deep breath and think back to why the words had power in the first place.

Harness that power.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

It's Here! And This is the Story Behind It.

As is typical on a weeknight, I'd just tucked my children into bed and was on my laptop plugging away on a project for school when my email inbox pinged. I skimmed the incoming message from my ConnectSafely colleague and CEO Larry Magid. In the email, he asked me to co-author a new guidebook on how to address fake news. Without hesitation, I replied, "YES!"

Here's why:

Biased and false reports are not new in this booming era of information technology, but the 2016 election definitely created urgency around the issue for more Americans. This urgency is especially great for educators and parents. Throughout the election cycle, my colleagues and I worked hard to respond to the questions of our adolescent and teen students with the right balance of compassion and impartiality. At home, my husband and I struggled to answer our young children's questions as they heard unfamiliar and confusing statements about what the future might hold.

Rather than blaming politicians or media outlets – which does not seem to change what we see or read online – the best approach is to get to the root of the problem: There needs to be a greater focus on teaching our children and teens to be critical, but not jaded, consumers of and contributors to the online world.

In short, we need to redouble our efforts toward improving media literacy.

So, when my ConnectSafely colleague Larry Magid asked me to co-author a guide on this very topic a few months ago, I jumped at the opportunity. Not only am I passionate about it because of my own experiences at home and at school, Larry's career as a journalist and my career as a teacher created what I felt was a "dream team" to tackle it. After months of independent research, expert interviews, a writing retreat on the west coast, editing from our respective homes in weeks that followed, and peer review, the result is the Parent and Educator Guide to Media Literacy and Fake News.


We are proud that this guide: 
  1. is free thanks to crowdfunding from our supporters,
  2. contains vignettes from renowned media literacy and emotional intelligence experts, and 
  3. is chock full of practical tips that parents can use tonight during dinner table discussions and educators can use today in their classrooms.
Those practical tips can help adults empower the young people in our lives to:
  • distinguish fact from opinion
  • identify mistakes versus lies
  • interpret conflicting reports
  • develop emotional intelligence
  • act with confidence when faced with falsehoods online

Please check out the guide, share it with your friends and colleagues, test the strategies, and let us know if you'd like to speak with us about the ideas it contains. We are happy to help and eager to hear from you.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Four Great Google Forms Ideas to Try Right Away

There are certain tools that are so flexible and easy to use that their potential use cases are infinite. Google Forms has recently added some new features that make it one of the go-to tools I recommend to even the most tech-tentative educators. Previously, educators needed to use add-ons to make their Forms self-correcting, and the question-types and design options left much to be desired. But the new Forms have been leveraged by the teachers I work with in such creative and productive ways this school year. They are worth recording in this post so that more students and educators can benefit.


Use #1: Flipped Activity Instructions

The Pain Point
Our middle school physical education teachers sometimes use videos from Ninh Ly's Rules of Sports YouTube playlist to teach their students the rules of a sport before they head outside to play it. The downside is that playing the videos during class time takes away from precious active time on the field or court. With class periods that are only 45 minutes long, they need to make every minute count.

Google Forms to the Rescue
One of the teachers now makes quick 5-8 question Forms and then posts both the link to the video and the link to the Form on his class website. Students take about 5-10 minutes to watch the videos and complete the Forms at home. Before they even see their students the next day, teachers know which students have watched the videos, whether they understand the rules, and which elements might need a quick review. Even better, students instantly know how they've done on the Form because the teachers use the Quizzes feature (accessible by clicking the the gear on the upper right when building a Form) to ensure that the Form tells students their results right away so they know what to expect the next day in class. Now everyone has much more time for active play during the school day.

Use #2: Midyear Student Feedback

The Pain Point
The teachers in one of our academic departments are striving to deliver a more consistent experience across their classes so that more of our students master their content at the appropriate level before moving up in subsequent school years. Although tests and quizzes can check for academic mastery, they do not help measure whether teachers are using consistent methods or workload and how well students are handling the curriculum and assignments.

Google Forms to the Rescue
One way to measure consistency is through student feedback on homework, teacher helpfulness, assessment fairness, and more. After a brief training on Forms, a group of 5 teachers developed a 30 question Form that all of their students took to provide them with important feedback. Questions asked which resources and tools are most helpful, how students manage homework, whether curriculum pacing was reasonable, and if grading policies were clear. They used the results to create an action plan for the second half of the school year and are planning to survey the students again to see if the adjustments they made are helping their students.

Use #3: Student Research as Part of PBL

The Pain Point
One of our English teachers wanted to bring the reading gender gap to her students' attention. They read Why boys don't read and then were charged with finding out whether the information in the article was an accurate reflection of themselves. (We work at an all-boys school.) Of course, they were also charged with developing their own actionable solutions that could help encourage them and their peers to read more.

Google Forms to the Rescue
In order to determine whether their own reading habits fit within the concerns expressed in the article, they worked together to develop a Form. They decided to ask about how they find books to read, how often they read for pleasure, and whether they identify themselves as "readers." The results indicated that they did, in fact, represent the boys the article was about. It allowed them to become more invested in their projects over the long haul. Today many of those students are living out their projects by working with school librarians and administrators to create new initiatives that will increase reading for pleasure among our student population.

Use #4: Classroom Questions with Live Results

The Pain Point
This idea actually came from a recent conference presentation. At ASCD's Empower conference, I co-presented a session on promoting young education leaders. My co-presenters and I knew that our audience would include both administrators looking to promote leadership and young educators looking to become leaders, but knowing the makeup of our audience would help us tailor the session to their goals. Similarly, teachers often launch into a lesson without knowing for sure whether the classroom full of students has existing opinions/perspectives on the topic.

Google Forms to the Rescue
We created a one question Form for participants to answer, identifying their role at their school or district. Then, while they answered, we projected the responses tab of the Form on the big screen. The pie chart that Forms auto-generates for multiple choice questions live updated the results. We all watched together as we discovered that the room was fill with 56 participants from varying roles. This same tactic could be quickly and easily applied to the start of any new lesson or project in any classroom.

How are you stretching and using Forms with your students and colleagues? The possibilities are literally endless. Share your favorite tips and links to your own blog posts below!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Digital Day in the Life of a Teacher


As we near the end of the school year, teachers are working harder than ever to keep their students engaged and to maximize every single day they have left with them in the classroom. Teachers are the superheroes of education and there is nothing more important in a teacher’s day than the face-to-face connections they make with their students. According to renowned education researchers Robert and Jana Marzano, “Teacher-student relationships provide an essential foundation for effective classroom management—and classroom management is a key to high student achievement.” To ensure that limited face to face time in the classroom can be as meaningful is possible, teachers are using digital tools to bring learning and sharing beyond the classroom. And, when everything teachers do every day is listed, it is truly amazing to imagine how they juggle it all. So, what does a typical digital day look like for a teacher who is doing this well?



Before the School Day Begins

  • Check and respond to messages from students, parents, and colleagues. Share any learning data about students with parents who have requested it and answer any student questions that were sent last night.
  • Be sure that all resources and activities are curated and posted online so students can access them as needed during the school day.
  • If students had homework, review the online results of student assignments completed last night. Were students messaging back and forth about anything in particular? Do their scores/results indicate that there are aspects of the content many of them are struggling with? These topics might deserve a second look during class today.


During Class Times

  • Greet students at the door and have bell-ringer/activator instructions projected in the classroom. Be sure the digital tools and resources students need are easy to access and are free from pop-ups or other distractions so learners are ready to engage appropriately with technology as soon as they enter the classroom.
  • During class discussions and small group activities, provide students with an online message board where they can post their questions or ideas. While extroverts have no problem speaking up out loud, introverts will appreciate the opportunity to share their ideas this way.
  • Spend some of class time chatting one-on-one with students who need interventions that day. This can be necessary due to academic or social-emotional needs. Be sure the rest of the students are engaged in meaningful learning endeavors throughout these chats.
  • Close class time by reviewing the questions and ideas posted on the digital message board and pointing out where students can find their homework, if they have any, that night.


During the Prep Period

  • Check in with colleagues both in person and online to share resources and ask for feedback on upcoming lessons and projects.
  • Use social media to connect with the professional learning network. This allows teachers to create collegial relationships and get additional feedback from professionals beyond their school or state.
  • Examine student work and learning data created during class time and use it to refine lesson plans for tomorrow and the rest of the week.
  • Conduct research to find high quality OERs like online readings, videos, simulations, and activities. Curate those online resources so they are easy to find and share later with students, colleagues, and parents.


When the School Day is Over

  • Meet with students and parents who have requested conferences to help them reach their academic and social-emotional goals. Share any resources and data that can help everyone craft a plan in the best interest of the student. Providing online secure access to this information is usually most efficient.
  • If it isn’t a student or parent conference day, teachers likely have department, faculty, or committee meetings to attend and participate in. This means reviewing resources and preparing and sharing a working agenda for the meeting so that precious time can be productive.
  • Most teachers also advise clubs or coach teams. It is important to communicate with students involved in those extracurriculars via some digital means to keep everyone informed about scheduling meeting/practice/competition times.
  • Later in the evenings, teachers often finish up reviewing student data, fine tuning lesson plans, and answering any student or parent messages that have come through during the afternoon and evening hours.


Some teachers are seemingly superheroes and are able to juggle all of these tasks daily so those precious face-to-face minutes are as impactful as possible, but many struggle because finding the right combination of online communication tools, activities, and resources is a challenge. Schools must be sure to provide the right learning management system, such as itslearning, so that everything teachers, students, and parents need is available through one intuitive platform. Then every teacher can feel like a superhero of the classroom. All of this digital communication, preparation, and engagement makes it possible for precious in-class and extracurricular face-to-face time to be dedicated to building those relationships that are the “essential foundation” for classroom management and student achievement.


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Note: This is a sponsored post. While there was compensation for this post, no product will ever be highlighted on this blog unless the author believes in its value to educators.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Getting Over the Innovation Hump


Many schools are now 5 or more years into their BYOD or 1-to-1 programs and progress has stalled a bit. Early adopters, both students and teachers, continue innovate as they explore increasingly creative uses of the device. The majority have come on board and are relying on a smaller set of device functions, and are willing to continue learning and improving use. A smaller set are still critical of the program and are not integrating beneficial functions of the device in their classrooms. According to the Diffusion of Innovation Theory, which I've referenced before, this is normal. But it can still be concerning if the gap between the early adopters and the critics continues to grow and student experiences are vastly different from classroom to classroom.

It is healthy for any social system, such as a school community, to have critics who question and push everyone to clarify their thinking and improve their practices. But critics that refuse to budge can have a negative impact on both school culture and student learning. It can lead to a situation of "haves" and "have nots" in which a student's category depends solely on the teacher she has.

Once all concerns have been addressed, if there are still a few holdouts who are not utilizing the device at all there is a need for further action. Here are my recommendations:

Institution-Wide Norms

Start by setting up both acceptable and encouraged use guidelines for existing devices and new tools as they are rolled out. Every stakeholder  – teachers, students, parents, coaches, counselors, and administrators – should help create the norms and should clearly understand how the device can help the school reach toward its goals of educating and empowering every child. Guidelines that both establish boundaries and open doors are crucial. For instance, it is important for everyone in the community to be aware of the boundaries for safe social media use but also to know that social media can help forge connections with outside experts and resources to enhance the educational experience. School guidelines that clarify these norms are essential because they provide a solid foundation on which to build success.

Ongoing Proactive Conversations

If the school is constantly reacting to concerns or responding to crises, innovation can stall. Even when things are going well, educators should take part in consistent structured conversations to celebrate success and strategize about continued improvement. Here are some topic recommendations:

  • Hacks, Tips, and Tricks: In a recent informal panel at school, a middle school science teacher shared that he color codes the backgrounds of his digital handouts. A quick visual scan around the room and he instantly knows who is looking at the document with the green background and who might be off task. A room full of educators gasped at the genius but simple tip.
  • Best Practices: A few months ago an entire department met to talk about digital note-taking versus pencil-and-paper note-taking. Based on research and professional experience, the group of teachers agreed on best practices for when handwriting would enhance learning and when digital notes would best serve student needs. 

Circle Back

All guidelines, hacks, and best practices need regular revision. Incorporate reflection and revision activities into professional learning time. The educators in the room when that middle school teacher shared his color-coding hack are already scheduled to meet again in a month to share whether they've tried it and how successful it's been. Similarly, that department met again about a month after their note-taking conversation. The problem wasn't completely solved, but everyone in the group had taken at least a few small steps forward and was ready to have another solution-focused meeting of the minds.

All stakeholders, from the early adopters to the critics, should regularly engage in structured forward-looking conversations. Only then will the entire institution continue to meet the needs of an ever-changing student population who arrive at school with ever-more-complex devices in their hands. There is no quick fix or secret key to sustainable progress. These three recommendations should be implemented in concert and will result in a cultural shift. It will take longer than a month or a semester. If a negative dialogue is deeply ingrained in the school, it might even take longer than a single school year. The investment will be worth the effort to develop a positive school-wide culture and movement toward what is best for students.