Friday, March 22, 2013

Spy vs Spy - Digital Sharing in the iPad Classroom

Last Friday a fourth grade parent received an email from her son with the subject line "Mrs. ****'s Due!" In the body of the message was a photo of the teacher in question, taken (according to the time stamp on the email) during a math lesson. The parent forwarded the message to the teacher, wondering if this was an announcement of an expected arrival. Actually, it was a misspelling of 'Do as in Hairdo.

However innocent the message and intention, we welcomed the unexpected teachable moment that gave context to the usual digital citizenship lectures. It also made us realize that the combination of email, cameras, videos, and an online connection on the iPad offers fertile ground for all sorts of sharing right from the classroom. While I have worked with these students since First grade on topics such as not sharing personal information about yourself, your friends, or your family, and not spreading rumors, jokes, or inappropriate comments via email, none of those discussions came to mind when our student snapped the photo and sent it to his mother. There is no single inoculation for poor decision making about digital sharing. The message must be framed and reframed - and ideally put into a recognizable context. For this reason, the incident was a gift.

I  prepared a simple Prezi, and called a fifteen minute meeting which began with a game of telephone. I whispered "Miss Cunningham sure is wearing worn out shoes!" to the closest student. As the rumor was passed around the circle the game was clearly doing its job. Looks of confusion, but a willingness to pass the rumor along kept it going until the big reveal - of nonsense. We talked about rumors and how often they are passed without any question as to their verity, but how if they are in the classroom at least they are staying in the classroom. I then showed the slide with the actual sentence and my own worn out shoes. This brought the conversation about how far this comment, combined with a photo, might go without the knowledge of the subject (or victim as the case may be.)

iPads offer so many ways to share, and their online connection and easy email are part of their appeal in the classroom. Our students frequently take photos to use in projects, yet now I have asked each classroom to create an agreement among themselves about asking permission before we photograph each other and a mutual understanding about how that photo will be used. We found that we, the teachers, had to explain and apologize for eagerly taking photos and videos of the classes at work. Although we have permission from parents to share images of children, we hadn't thought about the importance of modeling asking permission from the children themselves. 

I am glad to discover the power of the short, focused discussion on a topic we often save for one big lecture that is overloaded with subtopics and too much detail. My goal is to create a variety of these simple conversations on topics based on our own experiences - a homegrown reality-based digital citizenship curriculum. To that end, the Prezi I shared is available to be copied and edited for use elsewhere. The iPad, while a potential liability where sharing is concerned, is offering great opportunity for us to think about what is important and help shape good habits of thought for our students about their digital lives.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Few Problems, Many Solutions

At this point in the year, the iPads are pretty integrated into our class's curriculum and daily routines.  We have prioritized exploring what we call "creativity apps" as opposed to games and apps with a singular focus.  Meanwhile in math, our class has begun utilizing Exemplars problems and rubrics to further student problem solving, math thinking, and math communication (see Merry Melvin's previous post for more on assessment).  Each problem is rich with multiple questions, levels, and solutions, and our students are finding them appropriately challenging.  We gave them free range to decide how to present their work.

Here are some solutions from the one about predicting the number of Sweethearts in a box:

And the one about planning the sleeping arrangements for class camping trip:

And our most recent problem about carpeting a basement:

Each solution requires a written explanation and a visual representation.  Some students decide to use the iPad to prepare both.  Some students use different apps depending on what they are being asked and some have a favorite they choose consistently.  Some students create their graphs and diagrams using physical materials such as Base Ten blocks or  tiles or puff balls and then document or enhance them by importing a photo.  Some students are comfortable emailing us their work and some students prefer working offline and turning in physical products.  We remain open to all of their preferences and meet them in their comfort zone.

While it was no surprise that many students elected to use their iPads to prepare their final solutions we were fascinated by the range of apps children chose.  Through regular explorations and many months of projects, Drawing Box, AiWriter, Educreations, Explain Everything, Keynote, and Inspiration Maps have become familiar friends. Left to their own devices, students have to decide whether the iPad and our creativity apps are the "right tool for the job" and which tool will serve them best.

Of course we do have some students who insist that the iPad is the best tool for them and it's really not .  But after a few experiences of being distracted and not completing their work on time, they learn that lesson too and change tactics.  At the beginning of the year, we set a few goals for our 4th grade 1-1 iPad program and progress is visible on many fronts.  To me, these are examples of students taking charge of their learning and our classroom becoming a place that fosters and supports creativity, independence, differentiation, and meaningful assessment.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Resolve to be more Interested, less Interesting

The NAIS Annual Conference just took place in Philadelphia and we were once again amazed and overwhelmed by the brilliant speakers and rich, inspired dialogues with our colleagues. As I left by car for a weekend in Ottawa (another story), the many messages began to sift through my mind and resolved in one thought that has been raised to the level of "mantra" over the last few days. This came from Pat Bassett, outgoing NAIS President:

Resolve to be more interested, instead of trying so hard to be interesting.

His thought came in reference to what he's come to realize over the years, and I recognized it immediately as the natural evolution of my previous "mantra" from the Singapore schools: Teach less, learn more. 

Teach Less, Learn More - Exploration vs Explanation
I was inspired by Tom Daccord's reference at the EdTechTeacher iPad Summit to this goal for teachers in the Singapore school system. I realize that when I teach students or teachers to integrate technology into their schoolwork I have often started from a "I'm going to show you how to use this" stance. That approach puts me in front of the group, showing, demonstrating, and then turning it over to the class to try all those steps out. Inevitably I find students and teachers alike assume that they can only proceed to the next step with my permission, or they are defeated by the overwhelming prospect of tackling the project solo and never feel the confidence to work on it outside of my class.

This year, with iPads being used daily in classrooms, we changed our approach from showing and explaining apps and assigning specific apps to projects, to giving students (and teachers!) a dedicated time to explore and discover apps, share what they have learned with each other, and thus build a community of resources in every classroom. As students have explored the apps, we have all learned surprising things about them, which in turn, has helped teachers feel more confident about implementing them. When teachers build in the exploration time before a project is launched, it helps with iPad management, because students can openly share their enthusiasm, knowledge, and creative ideas in a free-wheeling format where sudden discoveries are encouraged. Once the apps are explored, many of our teachers have been willing to present the plan and purpose of the project, and let the students choose the app(s) to use to fit their own vision. Best of all, it is way more fun to explore and learn from each other than to be the fount of all knowledge!

Resolve to be more interested, less interesting
I love this transmutation of the previous idea. What if we, as teachers, spent less time sharing what we know and assuming that what we know is the most interesting thing our students (or colleagues, friends, family, etc!) will ever hear. What if class time was organized around learning from our students about their interests, letting them share what they are learning, with a focus on collaboratively discovering new information. What if we let students take charge of their learning in more ways than just which desk or table they work at? What if we spent more time learning from our colleagues, taking turns, and respecting each other's knowledge and experiences, across all the disciplines? What would it feel like to invest part of every day to actively listening, responding authentically, and using what we learned to create a richer teaching and learning experience for the whole school?

These thoughts are going to be rolling around in my head for a long time to come. I'm interested to hear what all of you are thinking!