Monday, October 21, 2013

Proactively Teaching Digital Citizenship

The children are connected and online.   And now they are connected not just at home, but in school too.  With powerful tools, students are ever more able to find out what they want to know, to share that knowledge with people around the world, and to actualize their own ideas.   How does the role of the teacher evolve in the connected classroom?  Teaching with iPads has challenged me in ways I wasn't expecting and keeps me on my toes because while it's reasonable to expect a 10 year old to teach themselves to use a camera or an app, it is our job to teach them how to do what they are capable of well and responsibly.

I feel this responsibility most when we are discussing digital citizenship.  In the fourth grade we want our kids to be online in ways that are meaningful, but "Safety" and "Privacy" are illusions.  We can't promise to protect our students from all of the possible troubles being online brings, as much as we would like to.  We can teach students to proactively use technology in a wise and kind way.  We can teach them to decide what kind of mark they want to leave before saving, sending, or posting.  We can teach them to be good digital citizens.

Our fourth grade curriculum has a comprehensive, interdisciplinary, digital citizenship program that is co-taught by classroom teachers, our technology coordinator, and our librarian.  Good digital citizenship is not just an individual aspiration, it is a community necessity.   Ideas and norms are reinforced by all of the other adults and students in the building as we all work with the same lessons and language. Consistency is important in a connected school.  The expectations have to be the same for everyone whether they are 4 or 40.

 iPad Rollout Training Sessions and "Just In Time" Lessons

Our first sessions with the iPad are designed to introduce the technology (without assuming every child has had the same level of experience with the device) and its power.  After exploring the buttons and icons, we talk about what our tech coordinator calls "the most powerful app", the camera.  We spend time role playing different scenarios where a photo of someone might need to be taken and how to gain permission from others to take those photos.  Children are given the power and language to say no: they don't want to be photographed or they don't approve of an image or they aren't comfortable with how the photographer intends to use it.  Our class came up with norms and an agreement that we have posted and will refer to throughout the year.

This exercise made the teachers rethink how we document what is happening in the class (often taking pictures of kids in action without asking their permission).  We also developed a contract and those children who don't mind us taking their pictures for our Haiku page or this blog have signed it.  Those who are not comfortable with having their image shared will not be featured in any photos or video.

We are now preparing for training in Google Drive and our school Email system.  We will spend some time explaining how to use these accounts for our work flows, but we will also touch on the idea that these are their "professional" accounts to be used for school business.  We will review the major points of our school's responsible use policy, and we will practice email etiquette.

Our classroom generally suggests that students not email other students with their Sidwell Friends account unless it is school and work related.  We don't have the capacity to truly restrict their access so we do it on an honor system, and last year it worked fairly well.  This recommendation is always a debate, but it exists out of respect for different policies about email access among our families and to discourage writing and answering personal emails during the school day.  Fourth graders are also still learning to manage offline relationships and need to practice asking for playdates, joking, and apologizing in person.

Our technology coordinator is also developing a series of "just in time" lessons that will be touchstones throughout the year.  The topics include integrity, balance, and digital sharing.  With this model in place we are prepared to address any new situations that arise.  We hope that starting this dialogue in elementary school will impact our students' choices later on and that common language and experiences will enable them to navigate future opportunities with compassion and respect.

Project Redwood Literacy Connection

For the past two years, we have developed an interdisciplinary literature unit using a book called Operation Redwood by S. Terrell French, a SFS alum.

This book is taught as a piece of literature, and we explore the characters, settings, plots, and themes. Sustainability and stewardship connections are made, and students do research about the plight of the California Redwoods.  The characters also engage in questionable digital activities, which gives our students a chance to collectively discuss and evaluate such behavior in a meaningful way.  With lessons co-developed and taught by our librarian, technology coordinator, and the classroom teachers, students are fully supported as they grow their sense of citizenship in our digital world.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Articulation, Documentation, Reflection

Since my last post to this blog (months ago - yikes!), I have spent a good deal of time considering how I approach the creation and cultivation of my own classroom culture.  While some classrooms are plumping up their "academic" approach and priding themselves in their reputations for rigor, I am looking to "take back" kindergarten.  In other words, what makes sense in my kindergarten classroom culture right now?

I asked myself:
 What types of activities, projects, and assignments will really make the difference in the educational experiences of my students?

I started with:

  • I still think that documentation in the classroom is important and that the iPad is the most accessible and efficient way to do that.

And then:
This past summer I decided that it was time to re-evaluate how we use many of our classroom materials and how students use those materials to be partners in their own learning.  I considered how I might shepherd the kindergarteners as they go from being partners to being owners of their learning - in kindergarten-age appropriate ways.  (for me, that changes how students approach learning - are they engaged? are they self motivated? will they be able to continue even if and when I am not there?)

What I Read:

I am always moved by the resources shared by Ron Ritchhart and his Culture of Thinking as well as his work on Making Thinking Visible.  I used the Essential Questions by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins to help shape my own practice and reflections.  I also keep in mind a quote from Dr. Seuss, "It is better to know how to learn than to know."

Using these resources as jumping off points, I have refined the use of iPads in my classroom as threefold:

Articulation, Documentation, Reflection
One of my goals as a teacher of 5 and 6 year olds is to encourage them to practice articulating their thinking.  We want varied ways for our varied learners. We want them to feel safe enough and to feel bold enough to find some way to share their ideas, connections, predictions, and opinions.

I might ask: "What apps can you use to help tell the story of your learning on this?"


Even the youngest students can get involved in the collection and curation of their thinking. We aren't looking for photos of beautiful finished work, but the mess and mistakes and challenges that happened along the way.

I often ask: "Can you find a way to share with me the goofs that helped you figure it out?"

We reflect daily on our work in order to practice challenging ourselves and to use what we notice to help us grow.  The students look at their finished work (and their thinking) together and then look for ways to improve upon an idea or for ways to approach a problem from a different angle.  We also practice listening to a friend's thinking and then try to use those ideas to see something from a new perspective.

I love to ask:  "How has your approach to this idea changed / grown / evolved?"

In all of this, there is a long list of apps that I might recommend... but it really doesn't matter as long as you have a handful of open-ended apps that allow students to share their thinking in a variety of ways. They should be apps that you are comfortable with and that make sense for your own classroom culture.

Of course, much of this is messy and the classroom can get wonderfully noisy with the sounds of articulation, documentation, and reflection.  The students are happier, more independent, and are becoming bigger risk takers.