Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The need for digital citizenship in elementary

Sometimes trying to follow the different conversations on Twitter is as hard as trying to watch the different scores and news on the sports channels' ticker on the bottom.  Blink at the wrong time and you probably missed what you might have been looking for.  There is no line-up to enter conversations, it seems as though you just jump in.  When the kids are lining up to jump in on the skipping rope, they do so because they have been taught the rules and expectations. This leads to the question of, who is teaching them the rules and expectations online?

I have learned about Twitter by being on Twitter.  No one has taught me about the tags or etiquette.  I have just been trying to figure it all out.  I would go to Google to figure out terminology I was getting like RT and tags.  I have mimicked what others have done and what I have seen.  I have tried using common sense but sometimes my eagerness may have overtaken me.  When two people are having a Twitter conversation, is it appropriate to add your 2 cents? The conversation is public and other people have contributed to a discussion that I have had, so does that make it right?  And herein lies the challenge, as a reasonably well informed educator on this topic, I am not sure.  Where does that put many teachers, parents and students?  Who is teaching digital citizenship and net responsibility?

There is an age-limit, supposedly, for Facebook and yet I have received Friend requests from current and former students who are not yet 13.  Their profiles are wide-open and they have hundreds of friends.The information that they have posted pretty much violates every suggestion for safety and privacy I have seen.  Their parents have no idea when I talk to them.  I have had to delve into youtube videos with highly inappropriate content, and again their parents do not know and were stunned to see the content and see all of the people looking at it.  The conversations that I have with the students demonstrates that they do not know.  Who is responsible to teach them?

Technology is changing at an insane pace.  Kids are seemingly on a technological trip reminiscent of Columbus' trip on the Santa Maria, a time where they thought there was land but no one knew for sure.  We are in uncharted water.  How can we teach ICT and not address Net Citizenship?  The last info tech BC IRP (Our curricular guide) was written in 1996 and is longer considered "curricular" but something that is to be taught within the confines of the other subjects.  If there is no guide and the experience at elementary can be limited to word processing and typing tutor are we meeting the students' and society's needs?

When should Net Citizenship be started?  Who is responsible for what?  What should it look like at each grade?  Are schools responsible for teaching the greater community as well?  There are so many aspects of Info Tech that impact the safety and emotional well being of the students of the school that it is going to take a crucial partnership with parents that must expand beyond calls about work completion, behaviour and help on field trips.  It is a huge journey and to be honest, I am not sure where to start as we are already way behind.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Why is change hard?

I had an interesting discussion with a colleague from my district the other night via Twitter (another example of why I have come to really appreciate the professional value of Twitter).  She has a tendency to pose some very good and interesting questions which get my neurons firing.  Her question was "Can adult learners be more difficult to teach because they don't feel they have to conform?"  My first reaction was that adults fear change.  I sent her the first message of "Adults fear failure in a way that children do not. Kids don't know what they can't do, adults tend to believe in their limitations."  This was followed with "Ask a kid to do something and they will ask how?, ask an adult and they will tell you why the can't."  She had other ideas so I sent back one more argument "to change you must be willing to admit that there is a possibility that you did not have the answer."

After having given it more thought I had to reflect on why I am reluctant to change some aspects of my life/personality.  Why am I reluctant to conform?  For a brief moment I thought I might ask my family, but I was not sure I would be ready to hear their reasons, and my mother very much seems to enjoy sharing stories about us when we were kids and all of the embarrassing things we did.  No, this journey is definitely going to be one of self-reflection.

I don't like to be embrassed.  I do have great difficulty in putting myself out there.  I am mortified to be on stage and have to do anything other than talk into a microphone.  Our staff went to a dinner theatre, and because I was the principal, I was chosen to go up on stage in a costume.  The routine?  No shirt, coconut bra, grass skirt and having to do a striptease.  I was so red at first that I probably could have stopped the entire downtown street traffic.  I got through, swallowed the little pride that I had at that moment at went on stage and did a weird version of a striptease which one of the staff dutifully recorded for me.  So I guess that is lesson one, if you want people to conform to the expectations don't put them in a situation where they are going to be embarrassed.  There will be some people who will make it work, but many others may never go back.  I fear returning to the dinner theatre because of what I may have to do next time, but I survived and am game.

There have been times where I have come to a cross-roads in my educational belief since the start of my career.  There have been a few occasions when I have heard a presentation at a pro-d and thought "This is a load of bs.  I would love to see that person in my class trying to do that stuff.  Why don't they leave the ivory tower, get their hands dirty and see what teaching is like in the real world."  I also know that I was not the first, nor was I the last, to have those types of thoughts in my head.  I used to think that was the case with problem solving in math.  How can I do this?  How much time is this going to take up?  There is no way that the parents are going to accept this in Math!  Fortunately the prof from SFU, Peter Liljedahl, was very good at convincing.  By the time that I was done listening I was converted.  It was not a "Thou Shalt" seminar, it was not a "That is old school and wrong the way that you were doing it" type of presentation either.  He stood there in the firing line and took the questions, turned them around and convinced a bunch of grade 8 math teachers of the value.  End result?  I could do it in the class, it was not going to take any more time after I got going then it did in the past and the parents loved it when I took the time to explain it to them.  I guess Lesson 2 is, if you want people to change, don't bash them on the head and insinuate that they are teaching in the caveman era, but rather respect what they have done and are doing and show them how this accentuates what they are already doing.  It also requires someone to be ready to change.

I guess what is toughest is how to address the question of comfort.  What can be done when someone is a comfort zone, has been doing a good job, is well respected by the staff and the teaching community.  What right do I have to go into the classroom and tell them to do things differently?  I know myself in terms of my habits, they are hard to break.  If things have been working well for me then why should I have to change?  Do I give time?  Do I bring in experts?  Do I mandate the pro-d that they must attend?  If they do not see the need to change, is forcing going to be effective?

I was reading a great blog entry, 10 things teachers should unlearn, and it made me further reflect on change.  If they do not feel the need to change, how to you help them want to unlearn what they have learned?  As educational philosophy and theory shifts, there are those who see it as another fad or trend that will shortly go the way of the albatross.  In BC the pendulum has shifted in several directions with several examples such as moving from phonics only to whole word approach and settling somewhere in between.  I have overheard the conversations along the lines of "Here we go again", "New principal, new agenda", "This is the district's new pet project".  Too often a great initiative is started and then because of finances or a change of direction at a school or within the district it loses its momentum and dies.  Teachers become frustrated by this and become pessimistic as a result.  At times we are our own worst enemy.

How do we facilitate change?  By showing how it will be better for the kids and it not an add-on but rather a supplemental strategy.  We stand up and answer their questions, respect their knowledge and work with them.  We try to make sure that they understand that we are not asking for the whole approach to be change.  We provide the time and the collaboration that is needed for them to value the ideas.  Sometimes we need to recognize that it is going to take time.  Uncomfortable is OK, embarrassment is not.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Is talking about computers a different language?

Sometimes trying to help someone who is not very comfortable around computers is frustrating for both sides.  There are things that I take for granted when I am explaining how to do something over the phone.  When I pay attention I can almost see the person on the other side just nodding their head and giving me the occasional "yes" or "uh-huh".  I have to remember to slow down and do a better job of explaining.  In education we have our own language with all kinds of abbreviations, acronyms, and words that appear confusing to those outside of our profession.  ICT is no different.

This is something that we really need to remember before we condemn someone for not being tech literate in this day and age.  There are all kinds of words and terminology that are nonsensical to an outsider.  USBs, ports, Ethernet, fire wire, firewall, source, Google, Delicious, Wikis, Blogs...  I wonder if a big part of the solution is removing the fear by explaining what the different parts are.  I know how I feel when watching figure skating in the Olympics and they are talking about the different jumps.  What is the difference between a lutz and a salchow?  I have problems telling the difference between doubles and triples and quadruples.  I can tell if they wabble but if it weren't for the announcers I would have no clue.

 We need to remember who our audience is.  What is the probable knowledge base?  It might even be worthwhile doing a KWL (another education acronym) and see what they know.  What do they need to know?  Watch the lingo and watch the audience.  I fear to often we make too many assumptions in these presentations and scare them off.  I am not making excuses for those who are unwilling.  I have to figure that if my grandfather, when he turned 80 (around 10 years ago) can buy a computer for video-digital editing and make home movies, then there is little or no excuse other than a lack of willingness.

If we want them to join the parade and be a part of 21st century learning then we do have to respect their fears and uncertainty, otherwise they feel as though they are being treated as pariahs.  I have not met a teacher who is unwilling, only uncertain as to how and where to begin and this should be our starting point.

This is an email that was sent to me that resonates this idea.  Are we talking a different language?

*Subject:* Abbott and Costello Buying a Computer.  You have to be old enough to remember Abbott and Costello, and too old to REALLY understand computers, to fully appreciate this. For those of us who sometimes get flustered by our computers, please read on...

If Bud Abbott and Lou Costello were alive today, their infamous sketch, 'Who's on First?' might have turned out something like this: /

*/ABBOTT: /*/Super Duper computer store. Can I help you?*

COSTELLO: *Thanks I'm setting up an office in my den and I'm thinking about buying a computer. *

ABBOTT: *Mac?*

COSTELLO: *No, the name's Lou.*

ABBOTT: *Your computer?*

COSTELLO*: I don't own a computer. I want to buy one.*

ABBOTT: *Mac?*

COSTELLO: *I told you, my name's Lou.*

ABBOTT: *What about Windows? *

COSTELLO: *Why? Will it get stuffy in here?*

ABBOTT: *Do you want a computer with Windows?*

COSTELLO: *I don't know. What will I see when I look at the windows?*

ABBOTT: *Wallpaper.*

COSTELLO: *Never mind the windows. I need a computer and software.*

ABBOTT: *Software for Windows?*

COSTELLO: *No. On the computer! I need something I can use to write proposals, track expenses and run my business. What do you have?*

ABBOTT: *Office.*

COSTELLO: *Yeah, for my office. Can you recommend anything?*

ABBOTT: *I just did.*

COSTELLO: *You just did what?*

ABBOTT: *Recommend something.*

COSTELLO: *You recommended something?*

ABBOTT: *Yes.*

COSTELLO: *For my office?*

ABBOTT: *Yes.*

COSTELLO: *OK, what did you recommend for my office?*

ABBOTT: *Office.*

COSTELLO: *Yes, for my office!*

ABBOTT: *I recommend Office with Windows.*

COSTELLO: *I already have an office with windows! OK, let's just say I'm sitting at my computer and I want to type a proposal. What do I need? *

ABBOTT: *Word.*

COSTELLO: *What word?*

ABBOTT: *Word in Office.*

COSTELLO: *The only word in office is office.*

ABBOTT: *The Word in Office for Windows.*

COSTELLO: *Which word in office for windows?*

ABBOTT: *The Word you get when you click the blue 'W'.*

COSTELLO: *I'm going to click your blue 'w' if you don't start with some straight answers. What about financial bookkeeping? You have anything I can track my money with?*

ABBOTT: *Money.*

COSTELLO: *That's right. What do you have?*

ABBOTT: *Money.*

COSTELLO: *I need money to track my money?*

ABBOTT: *It comes bundled with your computer.*

COSTELLO: *What's bundled with my computer?*

ABBOTT: *Money.*

COSTELLO: *Money comes with my computer?*

ABBOTT: *Yes. No extra charge.*

COSTELLO: *I get a bundle of money with my computer? How much?*

ABBOTT: *One copy.*

COSTELLO: *Isn't it illegal to copy money?*

ABBOTT: *Microsoft gave us a license to copy Money.*

COSTELLO: *They can give you a license to copy money?*


(A few days later)

ABBOTT: *Super Duper computer store. Can I help you?*

COSTELLO: *How do I turn my computer off?*

ABBOTT: *Click on 'START'............./

Monday, September 6, 2010

How Twitter is helping me professionally

I used to wonder what purpose Twitter could serve.  I just could not wrap my head around it.  I will be honest, I signed for more leisurely reasons.  As a proud Canadian hockey fan, I realized that there were a lot of updates coming via twitter.  On July 1st every year, the Free Agent season begins and I usually follow that quite closely. Twitter was giving me up to the second updates about the signings and the rumours that were out there.  This was my true reason for signing up.  As the Free Agent Frenzy started to die down and I was getting a little bored,  I started to look up a few colleagues and read some of their postings.  This is when I realized the potential.

I did start off as a lurker, looking at blogs and opening up articles that were suggested by colleagues. Reading suggested links and blogs I began to see some of the power.  As I lurked further I discovered more people to follow, and I discovered more amazing people from my district.  I have always felt that I work for an amazing district, but the opportunity to connect with teachers that I have never met, and might never have known about, is fantastic.  Wow were my eyes ever oping up to the education world outside of my building and district.

The other part that I am loving is connecting with teachers and administrators from around Canada, the US and other parts around the world.  Every once in a while I get caught up in the microcosm of my school and my district and am unaware of what is happening.  The beauty of this is that I now have contacts about libraries, student services, French Immersion, adminstration and so on.  There is a good chance that if I need an answer, I will find it faster through Twitter than Google.  I have better ways of finding great articles to read and share with my staff.  I have been globally connected to an amazing group of people who share my passions, thoughts and struggles.  I am learning from others who have a different insight, have different struggles and are just flat out brilliant in their ability to synthesize information.

There are a few great Henry Ford quotes which come to mind
1) Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.
2) Most people spend more time and energy going around problems than in trying to solve them.
3) Failure is simply an opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently
4) If I should really want to answer the foolish question you have just asked, or any of the other questions you have been asking me, let me remind you that I have a row of electric push-buttons on my desk, and by pushing the right button, I can summon to my aid men who can answer any question I desire to ask concerning the business to which I am devoting most of my efforts. Now, will you kindly tell me, why I should clutter up my mind with general knowledge, for the purpose of being able to answer questions, when I have men around me who can supply any knowledge I require? 

This is what Twitter represents.  The fourth one is a bit harsh, but to me it represents that I do not have to know everything, but I probably know enough people that someone will have the answer.  At the push of a button I am able to send out my questions to thousands of educators in a microsecond. 

I now follow a great group of parents, teachers, principals from my district, my province, my country, my continent and my world.  They all have a vested interest in creating the best learning opportunities for our students.  I am more aware of issues that they are facing, that other teachers are facing. Through this process I have greatly increased my professional reading and I feel that I will be a better leader in my school as a result.  It is not just reading the initial posting of the blogs but also the discussion, differing view points and insight. 

As I get more versed in the Twitterverse I am finding even more fantastic blogs, articles and videos. The discovery of hash tags has greatly expanded my universe.  Twitter is helping me grow as a professional.  It is also doing a great job of keeping me up to the minute in following the Vancouver Canucks and the NHL.