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Showing posts from 2017

How Evil is Tech? A Response.

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I believe in the power of technology to connect people, to empower people to be creative, and to open doors to opportunities that would otherwise be closed. This does not mean that there aren't mistakes that people can make with technology. I have made it my mission and my work to educate people so they can know the difference and use technology to make real positive change in their lives. Unfortunately, in a recent op-ed for the New York Times, David Brooks focuses only on the mistakes and boldly states:

"Some now believe tech is like the tobacco industry — corporations that make billions of dollars peddling a destructive addiction. Some believe it is like the N.F.L. — something millions of people love, but which everybody knows leaves a trail of human wreckage in its wake."
Brooks starts his argument by talking about teenagers. He references data from Jean Twenge, to whom I responded in this recent post, showing that teens on social media are less likely to "hang…

The "Good Kid": Compliant or Engaged?

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It's interesting when I hear teachers describe a student as "a good kid". I was that good kid in school. And, unfortunately, I definitely described some of my former students that way earlier in my career.

But what do we mean when we say "good kid"?
A good kid completes school work without many complaints. A good kid never breaks school rules. A good kid studies hard and carries out assignments to the best of her/his ability. A good kid is quiet when appropriate and participates when appropriate in class.
So, when we say that a student is a "good kid" we are actually describing someone who is compliant. A teacher with compliant students is able to get through each school day rather smoothly. But, from the student perspective, is using the path of least resistance actually the best way to learn?


Instead, we should encourage our children to be engaged at school. The Glossary of Education Reform explains student engagement in this way:

Inquisitive, Inter…

Getting Real About the Teen Depression-Cyberbullying Connection

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A couple of months ago I wrote a response to a psychologist's theory that smart phones are responsible for the increase in teen depression and anxiety. The overemphasis on screen technology as a root cause for the increase of major depressive episodes among teens and young adults is not new. The most popular articles about this topic found online, like this recent one from Time, will continue to confirm that screens are the problem because it is an easy answer and soothes adults who are not sure how to manage the tech use of the adolescents and teens in their lives. There is not doubt, the stories of individual teens they tell in those articles are touching and concerning.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the true causes of teen depression are:

biological chemistryhormonesinherited traitsearly childhood traumalearned patterns of negative thinking
Surely some of the learned patterns of negative thinking can stem from some interactions students have online, especially cyberbullying. Wh…

Are curriculum specialists in edtech denial?

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As an educator who has built my career during the 21st Century, I've found that my fellow education professionals often classify themselves in one of two categories:
Specialize in curriculum (often in one specific subject area)Specialize in technology (either as part of IT or integration) This is a mistake.

Curriculum is the what, education technology (aka edtech) is the how. They have to be developed together in order for a student's learning experience to be engaging, effective, and relevant.


Edtech Defined Recently I was asked to define edtech. Here is how I responded:
"Education technology – or edtech – is the study and practice of effective teaching and learning processes and strategies that incorporate devices, apps, programs, and media. Edtech can be used in traditional classrooms, at home, and as part of learning in almost any setting."
My definition encompasses more than devices and apps. Because we put the word "education" in front of "technolog…

Breaking my Blogging Dry Spell

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The people I live and work closely with know that I've been neglecting this blog for nearly 2 months. But there's more to it than that. Because I haven't been writing, I haven't been processing my professional thoughts and experiences in the same way. For years this blog has been the place I go to sort out and express my professional thinking, and I'm back.


How it happened Just after my last post, there was a sudden change that happened at my school. What the change was does not matter in this context, but it did turn my understanding of my place and my role there upside down for a while. It took a lot of mental energy for me to develop new understandings and I was honestly a bit unsure of myself during that time. I was afraid to share here.

A realization Now I realize that I should have blogged about a lot of that. Like many education bloggers, the topics of my posts are often inspired by experiences that I have every day at school. I do not write specifically abo…

LGBTQ Cyberbullying: Real Data and Real Advice

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While I am a fierce advocate for free speech online, I'm also an educator who works every day in my own school community – and by writing on this blog – to spread awareness among students and teachers about how to practice positive and helpful digital citizenship online. Since my passion and my work bring me back to cyberbullying quite often, it has become clear that certain groups of young people are targeted more often than others.

52% of LGBTQ youth between the ages of 11 and 22 reported having been the targets of cyberbullying several times (Blumenfeld and Cooper, 2012)55.5% of LGBTQ students across the United States felt unsafe at school based on their sexual identity (GLSEN, National School Climate Survey, 2015)
This data makes it clear that our students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth are particularly vulnerable to bullying, discrimination, and abuse. The way we use digital tools to communicate also makes them vulnerable to c…

When is learning truly authentic?

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It is not uncommon for educators to bristle a bit when asked whether they engage students in "authentic" learning. Without providing more context for the term, some might think they are being accused of developing and delivering lessons that are not genuine, or are fake. In education, authenticity means much more than genuine over fake. According to the Buck Institute for Education:
In education, the concept has to do with how “real-world” the learning or the task is. Authenticity increases student motivation and learning. A project can be authentic in several ways, often in combination. It can have an authentic context, such as when students solve problems like those faced by people in the world outside of school (e.g., entrepreneurs developing a business plan, engineers designing a bridge, or advisors to the President recommending policy). It can involve the use of real-world processes, tasks and tools, and performance standards, such as when students plan an experimental …

The Power of School Culture for New Teachers

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Throughout the month of August, shiny brand new teachers have been preparing their classrooms, reviewing curriculum, planning welcome activities, and tossing and turning the night before that big day. (OK, let's be honest, veteran teachers are doing these things too. But first year teachers' hearts are beating a little faster.) Everyone wants these newbies to be successful: the administrators and colleagues who were on their hiring committees, the students who enter their classrooms, the parents of those young learners, and all of us who want them to breathe new life into our education system.

Where We Are Sadly, recent research shows that new teacher retention is poor. Nashville, Tennessee loses half of its new teachers within 3 to 5 years. Even worse, in Oakland, California schools 70% of new teachers leave within 5 years.

The top recommendation for retaining these teachers is to build meaningful and sustainable mentorships. Most schools and districts have mentor programs in …

Generations Will Not Be Destroyed by Smartphones

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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 util…

Home School Communication: It's Not About Progress Reports

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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:

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. To…

Beautiful Learning

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"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 …

Time to Change the Vocabulary of #EdTech Leadership

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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 &…

This is Your Brain on Technology #ISTE17 #IGNITE

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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 com…

Talking to Our Children About the President's Tweets

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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…

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

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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,…

It's Never Too Early

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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!)

StorytellingThe Simple Shift
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 distr…

What is the One Thing All Learners Need?

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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…

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

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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 w…