Tools come and go. Learning should not. And what’s a “free” edtech tool, anyway?

This guy just found out Padlet is now a paid service and spent the day recreating his walls in an analog space.

I like free things. It’s neat when I can log into a service, do my thing, get the most bang for my buck – $0 – and then continue on my day.

But I’d like to think that educators, specifically those who use educational technologies, understand that nothing is truly free.

Not even free services, not by a long shot. More on that in a bit.

There was sadness across the interwebs when Google Reader went away. Simply designed, wildly impactful Google Reader. We’d been subscribing and bundling and organizing all the feeds that mattered to us and our learning and then, they took it away.

We had to find other solutions, and frankly, nothing really came close to replicating the experience we had with Reader. At least in my experience.

But we couldn’t stop reading, subscribing, learning, and sharing, in the absence of that tool. We had to find alternatives, we had to consider: What purpose did the tool serve? How can I replicate that with another service or via other means? And why should I bother? Is it essential to my learning to have a tool like this at my disposal? Or was it an extra? Something unnecessary? Something frivolous?

People are voicing loudly their criticisms of Padlet’s decision to move to a paid service. You get to keep your current Padlets, they’re not going away, +3 on your freebie plan. Additional walls and features are something like $99/year. Steep, for sure. More info on that here.

I’ve used Padlet since it was Wallwisher. I have 30+ walls saved. I used it as recently as last month with my grad students as a break from the drudgery of Blackboard interface. I demo it at workshops. I use it to get participant feedback during conference sessions.

Sure, it sucks that I will have to explore other alternatives, but I don’t need Padlet. You might not need it either. Your students probably don’t need Padlet. 

And yet, maybe they do. Maybe you do. That’s a decision you have to make as a leader of learning, with the people in your school that support technology integration and instructional design and who write the checks. Maybe ask your students, too. What do they get out of using this tool?

We love to shout “pedagogy first, tech second” and “don’t teach your kids tools, teach them skills” and yet when an announcement like this is made, we respond with rage and, heaven forbid, a closed mindset about what this really means in the grand scheme of the most important thing that should be happening in our classrooms: Learning.

If your students can no longer learn because Padlet (or insert any formerly-free-now-paid-tool) is now inaccessible to them, then I think it would be wise to come together as instructional teams and determine what it is that they were doing with Padlet in the first place, and how that experience can be replicated in a different way, if it is something that truly helped them learn.

It’s annoying, for sure. It’s unfair to continue to ask more from teachers, specifically money, when they’re already wildly underpaid and spend hundreds of dollars on classroom essentials and building classroom libraries, but ed tech tools moving from free to paid versions isn’t the most impossible obstacle we have to overcome. We deal with far more alarming problems in our children’s lives: poverty, hunger, racism, inequitable funding for schools, lack of leadership, placing value on the wrong things (standardized tests and assessment measures), failure to have the means to support communities.

Now, back to the “free” services discussion.

When you create an account with a free service, when you offer your name, email address, demographic information, school’s name, and you do the same for your students, you’re relinquishing your – and their- privacy and personal information on a number of levels. Certainly there are privacy policies and terms of use in place for these services that you should absolutely be reading, reviewing, and deciding as a school whether or not the costs of doing business with the service are worth your exchange of information. By the way, you should be communicating all of this to parents, too, and allowing them to decide whether or not they want their children’s information submitted to each service. More on that here.

Those are the costs, for freebie services. The companies may be using your personal information elsewhere. They may be tracking your activity, logging your data, and selling it to other companies. These things happen behind the scenes, aren’t always obvious to the user, and smart people like Bill Fitzgerald and Audrey Watters and other leaders in this space are trying to keep educators more informed about this. Companies love giving free perks to teachers with the expectation that teachers will share their use of the tools with colleagues and in social spaces to help build the brand. Some consider that exploitation, other teachers are happy to do it. When it’s done with classrooms of students who don’t have say in the choice and use of tools, that might be viewed as a questionable practice. And, let us not forget the many giant companies and corporations who are funding many of these ventures, and the motivation behind these “generous” fundings. What’s in it for them?

So what should your next steps be? And prior to bringing new technologies into your schools, what should you be thinking about?

  1. Do I need this tool? Why? How does it really support learning?
  2. What are the costs, both monetary and otherwise, of using this service? Do the rewards of use outweigh the risks?
  3. Is there a paid service I could explore that will meet my needs and better protect the privacy of my information and my students’ information?
  4. How can I inform parents/community members about our use of this tool and what mechanisms are in place for parents to opt their children out of using it?
  5. When this tool and/or its plan changes, how will we adjust? What will our plans be to make seamless transitions to other tools or strategies when the inevitable happens?

Would love to hear your thoughts on this issue in the comments here!


More to Read:

Edmodo’s Tracking of Students and Teachers Revives Skepticism Surrounding ‘Free’ Edtech Tools

Education Technology and the Power of Platforms

Education Technology and the Promise of Open and Free

The ‘Price’ of Free and Freemium Edtech Products

I see teachers who…

In my consulting role I have the opportunity to work with teams of teachers, administrators, and on occasion push into classrooms to work with students. Recently I’ve been working with K-2 teachers and students who are learning to craft digital stories on the iPad, using apps such as Book Creator, Scribble Press, GarageBand and iMovie. This initiative came about as the result of an eventual shift in curriculum away from an adopted (textbook/series-based) literacy program to one that is more project-based and technology-infused. A grant was written to obtain the iPads and to fulfill the grant, teachers are working with students to publish a variety of digital storytelling projects that demonstrate their creativity and ideas learned.

Each class has achieved a different level of proficiency using the apps and story publication. This is due to the varying age level and developmental level of students, for sure, but it’s also due to the mindset and willingness of the teacher to embrace this initiative and the resources she has been given.

So what did I see, and what have I seen through both my district coaching and principal roles,  in classrooms where technology use has been embraced?

I see teachers as learners. I see teachers who:

  • Make the time. They examine what they’re currently doing: the books they’re reading, the activities and projects students are completing, and they think: how can technology enhance and transform these projects? How can we change what we’re doing instead of add on one more thing? 
  • Have routines and procedures in place, especially for collaborative projects and times when teamwork is expected. Student roles are established and clearly defined. Management is evident, which in turn leads to students being able to lead, learn, resolve conflicts, and create in an environment with fewer distractions.
  • Plan. Anyone who has ever tried to incorporate technology meaningfully into the classroom and who has tried to “wing it” knows it can be less than successful. Know the purpose. Use with intent. (And perhaps your students will unveil a purpose you perhaps never before considered…)
  • Model. These teachers get hands on. They create! They’re not afraid to tinker, not only during their own professional learning sessions, but in front of a student audience, allowing them to observe what it’s like to try something new.
  • Have high expectations for project performance. In my digital storytelling workshops I emphasize the importance of students making meaning, not just making media. Bernajean Porter is a key resource for anyone looking to ensure meaningful content and idea development through digital project work!
  • Learn alongside students. It’s so encouraging as a coach to see a teacher who sits down with a student or a group of students and taps, swipes, creates, questions, and troubleshoots alongside his little learners.
  • Showcase student work. One teacher in particular was so enthused with her students’ creations and couldn’t wait to have them share their projects with me. These teachers find a way to make sure their student voices are heard. Publishing to an authentic audience is a great way to do so. In addition, they utilized the sharing features from each app to publish to Google Drive and share with parents and families via links. Another group’s publications will be shared with local pediatricians’ offices as waiting room reading material!
  • Embrace the noise. Learning is messy. Collaboration can be loud. Conflict resolution is a pretty intense process that rarely involves whispering. Movement to different learning spaces throughout the day is not the quietest of activities. Find ways to help your students thrive in the busiest of environments.
  • Ask for help and actively seek out resources to learn more. Not every teacher I’ve worked with in a coaching capacity is comfortable asking for help. They’re very fixed in their methods and they have a very narrow focus: teach the written curriculum, the way it has traditionally been taught. When a teacher (or principal or coach) asks for help and embarks on a journey to learn more, see more, do more, think differently… kids win.

What am I missing? What do you see when working with innovative teachers and learners?

 

The Spaces Where I Learn and Work

This week’s #EdublogsClub prompt asks us to share insights about our learning spaces and processes, including tours of our classrooms, offices, and work spaces.

I smiled when I read it, because I planned to share a bit of news this week via my blog, and that news fortuitously intertwines with this week’s prompt.

I remember my first years of teaching…. “decorating” my classroom was one of my favorite school year preparation activities. I loved sharing inspirational posters, bright colors, inventive bulletin boards, and creating spaces where my students could post and share their own work. Desks were in groups or in pairs or we used tables, and my earliest years of teaching sixth and fifth grades are among my favorites in my career! My classrooms were beyond colorful, beyond cluttered, and if I had the chance to do it over today, I’m sure I’d make some changes.

My 2001 Classroom!

I inherited the principal’s office from my predecessor and it served as a functional workspace. In my second year I decided to move my office to a more central location in the intermediate hallway and this larger space afforded me the chance to personalize it and make it an enjoyable space for kids. The putting green, basketball net, bookshelves filled with kid lit, and beanbag chairs were put to good use! I loved being out of the “main office” area and in the heart of the school.

As an instructional technology coach, I used a desk/counter space/table in the hallway in each of the elementary buildings I served, and my classrooms were the teachers’ classrooms!

Well, the time has come where I no longer have an office in a school, or a classroom space that is my own. For the past year I’ve been on leave from my school district after the birth of our daughter, and last week I submitted my resignation.

While on leave I’ve had the great privilege of developing my skills as a consultant, most notably with Kiker Learning offering Google for Education trainings on a variety of instructional topics to a broad range of participant audiences. Professional development is truly my passion. I absolutely loved that aspect of the principalship: designing… facilitating… watching teachers learn and grow…. and before I moved into administration I enjoyed learning alongside my teaching colleagues.

As anyone who has raised two young children knows, these moments are fleeting. I can’t thank my husband enough for supporting my work in this way and affording me the opportunity to stay home with our babies. Serving as a consultant allows me the flexibility to do so while also continuing to learn and serve schools. It is truly an honor to work with so many dedicated teachers, administrators, students, and staff members across the Northeast. I’m thrilled about what’s next and can’t wait to see where future opportunities take me!

My home has now become a place that needs to support my creativity and productivity, whether it’s at my office desk, in the family room, or at the kitchen bar island. I can say that working from home is one of the most difficult challenges I’ve faced in my career! It’s even more incredible trying to find a home-work balance when your work is often done in your home!

I can’t wait to see the variety of different spaces where I’ll work and learn this year. Every school, classroom, teacher, principal, and student I have the chance to interact with strengthens Maybe it will be in your classroom, school, or district?! 🙂

To learn more about opportunities to learn with me, visit the Hilt Consultants, LLC website or the Work with Me page of my blog.

Thanks for reading!

Constructive conversations

7554741094I recently had the opportunity to use World Cafe for supporting conversation and action with a fine group of educators at the Bucks-Lehigh Edusummit. Ross Cooper was my co-host. Our goal? To discuss how to break from traditional professional development practices to more meaningfully engage teachers in their learning.

I know. We talk about PD and how it doesn’t meet teachers’ needs. We talk about it a lot.

But do we listen? Do we act?

A single conference session is not enough time to fully engage in the World Cafe method, but by modeling its use, we hoped administrators and teacher leaders would leave the session inspired to try the process in their own schools and better engage teacher voices in planning professional learning opportunities.

World Cafe was born in the United States through the work of Juanita Brown and David Isaacs in the early 1990s. From World Cafe’s About Us page:

The World Café (TWC)
Using seven design principles and a simple method, the World Café is a powerful social technology for engaging people in conversations that matter, offering an effective antidote to the fast-paced fragmentation and lack of connection in today’s world. Based on the understanding that conversation is the core process that drives personal, business, and organizational life, the World Café is more than a method, a process, or technique – it’s a way of thinking and being together sourced in a philosophy of conversational leadership.”

The essential elements hosts should include in a World Cafe experience include:

principles
Image via www.theworldcafe.com

After a brief introduction to World Cafe, it was time to identify a question. Defining a “question that matters” is an essential element of World Cafe. A good question has no right or wrong response, evokes emotion, invites inquiry, opens up new possibilities, and perhaps even makes people feel a bit uncomfortable.

Our question for the day:

How do we break from traditional methods of professional development to engage teachers in more passion-based, purposeful professional learning?

We divided into three groups. Each table identified a “table host” who would remain at the table throughout all rotations and inform the next set of participants what the previous group discussed. Timer went up, and the conversations started.

Documentation of learning is important in World Cafe. In our abbreviated version we used digital means to document. One table started a set of Google Slides to share their reflections and others contributed to a shared Google Doc. Given more time in a more formal World Cafe, I would cover the tables in chart or drawing paper and provide markers and other types of artistic media for those who wished to document their learning through doodling or other creative means. Each table’s documentation is then shared out at the end of the cafe in a process known as the Harvest.

Conversations emerged quickly and passionately. Ideas emerge organically from community voices using World Cafe. World Cafe hosts do not facilitate or provide protocols for discussions. World Cafe operates under “recognition of conversation as a core meaning-making process”. I noticed nearly every participant in the room sharing openly in their table groups. It took some longer than others to open up and be comfortable with the format. As I introduced World Cafe, I definitely got a few incredulous looks from teachers who showed up to the session and were perhaps annoyed I wasn’t going to be providing any concrete materials or ideas.

IMG_9638

Some of the conversations included stories about negative experiences with PD, and while I would have preferred things were framed in a more constructive light, I think when we ask people to share their experiences and speak from the heart, they aren’t going to censor out the difficult experiences they’ve had. From one such conversation, a teacher expressed her frustration with being asked to implement initiatives that were hastily rolled out, without teacher input or consideration of whether the new initiatives were really worth teachers’ and students’ time. During the Harvest, she very passionately stated that traditional methods of professional development “do not allow teachers to be creative risk-takers”, and yet that is a quality we seek to instill in our students every day.

Tony Sinanis, my friend and the conference’s keynote, addressed the group as we wrapped and said that he heard everyone discussing the importance of involving teachers in the professional learning process, and in his school, he actually involved students and parents in the process too. Could you imagine if more schools asked children what types of learning experiences they should design for their teachers?

Overall I felt this was a successful session thanks to the willingness of participants to contribute. We received positive feedback from many participants. A middle school principal said he was looking forward to using the technique in his school and another participant said it was the best session she attended thus far. Sometimes our teachers need more than “150 tech tips and tricks” to help them think constructively and innovatively about teaching and learning.

“Talk is cheap”? Perhaps, but if you truly listen to what your constituents need and then you devise a plan of action to address it, that combination of acknowledgment of needs and a willingness to act will help organizations grow.

Resources shared with session participants can be found here.

If you plan professional development opportunities for your organization, consider involving more voices in the process using World Cafe. Have you used World Cafe? Would love for you to share your experiences in the comments!

Reconsidering what’s “required”

Busy student bloggers. Blogging isn’t “required”… should we make time for it?

Recently I read a post by my friend Bill Ferriter titled Making Room for Uncertainty in the Required Curriculum

Bill shares this article that states that instruction centered on facts has largely failed our students. Teachers are handed required curricula, complete with scope and sequence, and in some schools teachers are expected to teach lesson A on day 1 and lesson B on day 2 and continue onward and upward and they’d better make sure they cover everything that’s expected to be covered. This approach leaves some kids in the dust and fails to challenge others. And it completely overwhelms teachers. I tackled that in a post years ago.

The top form of resistance I encounter as an instructional technology coach when trying to urge teachers to consider the use of more inquiry or project-based, technology-infused activities in their classrooms is their fear of losing time and therefore not being able to cover the required curriculum.

Bill, a teacher in practice, tells it like it is:

If moments of genuine discovery are going to make their way into my classroom, something has to give — and that ‘something’ is going to end up being content that is currently listed in my ‘required’ curriculum.

As a former principal, I’d prefer to stumble upon those moments of “genuine discovery” in my classrooms rather than check a teacher’s lesson plans to ensure they’re on track to cover required curriculum. Not all leaders share that mentality, however. Because standards and testing and accountability. What if a teacher gives her students the freedom to spend time blogging in class, but her students’ mid-term reading proficiency scores aren’t any better than any other students’ scores? Should they carry on? Do we stop to consider the “untestable” impact of their blogging practices? Their connections to other classes and cultures worldwide? Their constantly improving writing practices and the digital citizenship skills learned? Perhaps the principal is concerned because due to blogging, these students are losing time completing the lessons of the prescribed language arts curriculum. But if we’re not inspiring and challenging our kids and allowing them to make important discoveries leading to enduring understandings, then “covering” curriculum doesn’t much matter, does it?

The comments on Bill’s post also made me ponder our ready access to information and how we find it and use it. We’ve all heard the “If you can Google the answer, it’s not a good question” argument and “If kids can look up the answers online to cheat, then it’s not a good assessment” line. Perhaps, although every question and every assessment has its own context worth considering. David Jakes goes on to reply that he uses Google to answer questions every single day, which allows him to better understand the work he’s doing. And, as David says, they shouldn’t be the only questions we’re asking, but they help us make connections that lead to bigger understandings.  I have to agree.

Sometimes I think teachers quickly email a colleague or submit a help desk ticket to tech support or their instructional coach without pausing to think, The resources I need to answer this question are readily available to me. I can find the answer to this. 

I want to tell them: Google it. Seriously. I can’t tell you how many times I received a query for help, I typed the exact question into Google, and seconds later the answer was listed for me in step-by-step format. Next I’d relay this information to the inquirer either by linking to the answer online or by summarizing it. In the time it took the staff member to compose an email with their question, they could have conducted online research to find the answer themselves.

Would the learning be more powerful if the teacher or administrator conducted the search on his own? Struggled through the process a little? Discovered new venues through which to answer questions?

I think so. And we’d be modeling something powerful for our students. I hear teachers complain constantly that our kids stink at Google searches… are we any better?

Would it take more time? Perhaps. What I think many don’t realize is that “tech savvy” folks aren’t tech savvy because they are born that way. They devote themselves as learners first. The learning is hands-on and minds-on. They’ve Googled. They’ve trial and error-ed their way through developing blogs and learning the ins and outs of Google Drive and have connected with other educators to make sure they surround themselves with people who are smart and willing to share. And much of these learned content and skills are not “required.”

The freedom to veer from the required curriculum requires administrators who believe in their teachers’ abilities to learn alongside their students and to roll with it… to identify students’ needs and passions and provide them with the FREEDOM to learn. A curriculum is great, it’s neat, it can serve, when well-written, as a guide for teachers to help students know and understand important content. But we can’t expect our teachers to innovate given the constraints we’ve placed them under. It’s very possible to provide this type of freedom while still maintaining high expectations for learning. I’d wager you may even have some happier, less-stressed teachers and students on your hands. #eduwin

I will continue to ponder how we can best free teachers and students from the constraints of what’s “required” to provide conditions better suited for innovation… would love to hear your thoughts on how you’ve made this happen in your schools!


P.S. I’m on leave from my tech coaching position this semester, blessed with the opportunity to keep a new, tiny human nourished and entertained while simultaneously giving her older brother the exact same amount of love he had in his pre-baby-sister-days and maintaining some semblance of an organized household. #supermomma

Given those responsibilities I still can’t stop reading and connecting and learning, it’s a curse. I’ll also continue consulting and presenting and webinaring so be sure to contact me if you and your organization are looking for an energetic, passionate learner and leader!

I Remember.

Image via Wikimedia Commons
Image via Wikimedia Commons

I remember building with blocks. Naps on mats. Performing in a Christmas play.

I remember being asked to sit in my teacher’s rocking chair and read Charlotte’s Web to my peers sitting on the carpet while she stepped into the hallway to take a phone call.

I remember phonics workbooks. I remember the day I spelled “of” as “uv” on a spelling test, and I was utterly and abashedly disappointed in myself.

I remember walking to school with my brothers. I remember recess. We played by the trees, we dug in the dirt, we gathered acorns, we listened to Thriller on our “portable” cassette players, and we had pretend weddings.

I remember the Challenger explosion being broadcast on a television on a cart in front of the wall of windows in our cafeteria as we sat and ate lunch.

I remember field days. I remember three-legged races with my best friend, a full head taller than me. We won first place every year.

I remember moving to a new town and a new school at an impressionable age. I remember not having any friends. I remember sobbing at my desk. I remember teachers who showed compassion.

I remember when my teacher read aloud Where the Red Fern Grows and nicknamed me Little Ann.

I remember math facts fluency speed games and wanting to win. I remember the first time I got an F on a quiz. Early Explorers. I remember that was the day I stopped enjoying social studies.

I remember falling asleep in class while my peers recited The Gettysburg Address. We all had to do it. I remember my teacher waking me up with a smile and telling me I could go to recess. I remember the next day, my teacher put a Peanuts comic strip of Lucy falling asleep in school on my desk as a clever way to remind me of that funny thing that happened.

I remember Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? on an Apple IIE and relishing every day it was my assigned day to the computer.

I remember The Westing Game read aloud, which continues to be my favorite book of all time.

I remember my science log. We drew pictures and added captions to help us understand the concepts we were learning. I remember that I was a sketchnoter before sketchnoting was a thing.

I remember having the same classes with the same group of kids through all of grades 7 and 8. And how we developed as peers and friends and foes. I remember electives. I remember choreographing a dance routine to C & C Music Factory’s Everybody Dance Now in eighth grade PE.

I remember writing notes back and forth in a journal with my best friends, sometimes using secret languages, passing them to one another between (during?) classes or delivering notebooks to lockers. #thatwasoursocialmedia

I remember the smells associated with cutting open a frog. And freshly cut grass right before field hockey practice. And catcher’s equipment. And baking pancakes in home economics.

I remember sitting on a sidewalk with a stopwatch, timing cars as they pass to learn s=d/t.

I remember reading plays and comparing/contrasting them to contemporary musicals. I love musicals.

I remember a chemistry teacher telling his class to listen. To look at him, listen to his words, think, and then write notes. Listen.

I remember the Notre Dame fight song, note for note, because our Algebra teacher used it to signal two minutes remaining during test time.

I remember performing in plays and laughter with classmates. I remember journal writing in high school English and making up an entire book I then wrote a book report about and submitted it to a long-term substitute thinking I was the cleverest gal around.

I remember our U.S. Government teacher taking the small handful of students who didn’t ditch school to try to see President Clinton at the local university to a country store, a few miles from school, because he received a tip the President would be stopping there en route home. I remember shaking the hand of, talking to, and being photographed with the President of the United States.

I remember projects and teamwork. I remember my teachers’ smiles. I remember their stories and their laughter. I remember being able to feel which teachers were passionate about working with their students, and those that weren’t so much.

I remember learning how to be a teacher, and falling in love with the craft.

I remember my first class of my own. I remember loving those kids and that experience to infinite amounts and being grateful for the opportunity to serve them.

I remember the good in school because these memories shaped me to become the educator I am today.

These memories don’t happen without teachers. 

Here’s to appreciating teachers every day, everywhere.

What do you remember?

 

Why not?

makeschooldifferent21

Scott McLeod has issued a #makeschooldifferent challenge and asks us to acknowledge 5 ways of doing business in schools and how to think differently about what it means to teach and learn to support today’s learners.

Instead of…. why not? 

Instead of teachers defining all intended learning outcomes for students and plastering them on whiteboards and in lesson plans, why not let the learners ask the questions, develop plans, research, dig deeper, question again, draw conclusions, and share findings? (Subjective outcomes? Worth exploring: #rhizo15)

Instead of…. why not? 

Instead of attributing a child’s lack of success to his home life or his chosen peer group or his refusal to do homework or his off-task behavior, why not sit with him during lunch and inquire more about who he is, what he feels, and what he needs from you as an educator in his life who cares about him?

Instead of…. why not? 

Instead of holding pep rallies and celebrations and hosting fun events for kids during standardized testing weeks, why not make every day a day in school a worth celebrating? Because feelings.

Instead of …. why not?

Instead of micromanaging every minute of teachers’ professional development time, why not ask teachers to lead the way? What are their strengths? Needs? How can you incorporate teacher-led learning opportunities through edcamps and innovation days and action planning cohorts and world cafes and other ways to transform professional learning? Why not build capacity within your organization by making teachers leaders?

Instead of …. why not?

Instead of saying to yourself, “Nothing I have to say would be valuable to anyone else” – “I have nothing interesting to contribute to online learning spaces” – “No one wants to read what I would tweet or blog about” – “I am comfortable being a lurker” – why not watch this and this, start surrounding yourself with inspiring educators who contribute, and become a contributor yourself. We will thank you. You will thank you. Your students will thank you.

Why not?

 

I’m not going to tag 5 specific members of my Poetic Ladybug Network, but I’m going to insist some of you who read this write your own response to Scott’s challenge. 🙂

Do you let your kids use Google?

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 6.21.30 AM

I recently attended Pete & C, PA’s educational technology conference. It’s the fifth or sixth time I’ve attended. I typically find some interesting resources and enjoy connecting with members of my PLN and hearing about all of the great work they’re doing in schools.

So there I was, minding my own business and feeling genuinely grateful that the session presenter, Lexie Konsur, was being up front about copyright and fair use issues in education and not telling us we needed to use only 30 second clips of video and 100 words of text and spewing other fallacy-ridden copyright guidelines, when a participant raised her hand and proclaimed something like,

“We don’t allow our kids use Google to find information.”

Stop.

She was talking about elementary students, of course, because it seems as though in our quest to shield and protect our youngest students from the perils of the intertubes we neglect to properly educate them about what resources are available via the web, how to access them safely and securely, what to do if they stumble upon something precarious, and how to think critically about the resources they’ve found and put them to good use.

I wanted to ask her, but didn’t, for fear of getting all riled up and embarrassing those sitting around me,

  • What DO you let your students use to find information online?
  • Is this how they find information when they’re not sitting in their classrooms?
  • Do they know what a search engine is? Do they know how it works?
  • Would they know what to do if, while browsing, they stumbled upon something harmful or dangerous?
  • Do they know how to manage digital resources and information to best support their research?
  • Do they know there are tools built into search engines like Google to help them narrow their searches productively?
  • What about YouTube? (I’m guessing that’s off limits, too. And, like, Wikipedia.)
  • How do YOU as the teacher find information online and conduct research? Would you be someone who could model your research efforts for students and demonstrate how to use Google appropriately and effectively?

This post is not meant to knock resource libraries like Discovery Ed or PA’s PowerLibrary – I love perusing those resources and know students find many valuable resources there while researching.

But not always. Sometimes the library is too small, the information can’t be found.

So, then, where do we send them to learn?

As we are making a move to Chromebooks next year in our primary classrooms, I’m genuinely interested to hear what others (at the elementary level, particularly) are doing to support students and their research. Thanks for reading!

It changes us.

appleIIgs

I remember the moment in time when I learned how to copy and paste.

My parents bought our family an Apple IIGS when I was in junior high school. It was our first personal computer. It was the device on which I learned to word process.

As early I can remember, I wrote stories. I filled journals and spiral-bound notebooks. But access to this device changed me. It changed my writing. I developed skills formerly unknown to me. I needed those skills to adjust to the medium. I wrote more fluently. I mastered keyboarding. (Shockingly without the use of a formal typing program, I was just motivated to learn to type fluently so I could write and create, go figure.)

When I hear, “It’s not about the technology, it’s about what we do with it,” I agree and disagree. It’s not about the tool specifically. But it is. It’s about how it changes us. How it changes the process. The product. The questions. The answers. How we find information. How we learn to understand what is relevant and real and what is crap. These shifts are because of the technology. Because of the tools with which we choose to interact.

It’s about what it can help us become. More fluent writers. Risk-takers. Creators. Sharers. Activists. Educators. Learners.

It’s about how it can help us help others. How it gives voice to the voiceless. How it brings people together in times of adversity and in times of celebration.

To deny our students of discovering who they could become… how they could invent… how they could make an idea or thing come to life… that isn’t okay, especially not if it’s just because we’re too busy with test prep or traditional models of classroom instruction or doing things as we’ve always done because that’s how we do it. That doesn’t allow for the kind of autonomy and questioning and discussion and reinventing that our kids deserve.

It’s about the choices we make with technologies. About how we choose to use them to communicate. To publish. To interact with others. Our kids deserve the chance to make those choices. To understand those choices. To have guidance with those choices.

It changes our present, it changes our futures.

Being a connected educator has changed me. It has caused me to understand things I never before understood. It provides a glimpse into the perspectives of people and groups of people that in my unconnected life I did not previously know.

But after years of connecting, it’s caused me to become jaded, too. I’m not likely to become easily excited about a new tool. I cringe when I hear the words “personalized learning” used in conjunction with technology and schools and children. Children. 

So, it is about the tools. It’s about how they change us. It’s about how we are vulnerable when learning about the roles they can and should play in our lives. In our kids’ lives. So we should help them learn and take command of the tools. To create, not just consume. To interact significantly and meaningfully and respectfully. And we should act on their behalf when systems or companies or organizations or people try to impose uninspired, one-size-fits-all uses for technology.

First steps at protecting students’ privacy.

IMG_7359

I admit that at one point in time I was one of those educators who allowed students to sign into a site using a teacher’s credentials in order to gain access, for example, some of our intermediate students used Prezi for project work and signed in under the same generic Gmail account maintained by the teacher.

Nope:

Screen Shot 2014-09-28 at 7.21.09 AM

Over the past two years, however, thanks to the work of Audrey Watters, Bill Fitzgerald, and many others, maintaining the privacy and protecting my students online has become one of my main priorities as elementary technology coach. Prompted by a statewide communication last year from the education solicitors, our district set to work on making sure that parents were informed and involved in the decisions to allow their children to have accounts established at various educational websites and productivity services.

My scope is elementary, so I read a lot of Terms of Service/Terms of Use and privacy policies to make sure that our kids are even permitted to click on the website let alone establish accounts there. For example, we had been using Today’s Meet to organize classroom conversations in some of our intermediate classes. “No accounts are required, great!” was my initial reaction, and it worked well. I used it with staff in meetings, and I loved the ease and simplicity of use. Dig deeper, read its Terms of Use, and you’ll see that students under the age of 13 are not permitted to use Today’s Meet. Thus, I advise teachers to no longer use this service with elementary students, and it’s not on our approved list of educational websites for students <13 years old.**

Screen Shot 2014-09-28 at 6.41.26 AM

 

Let me please say that following are our initial steps in helping parents and teachers become more informed and involved in matters of student privacy and data use as it relates to educational service/website use. In no way is our procedure perfect. We need to continually work at improving this system to help ensure parents and students can be advocates for the way children’s privacy is maintained throughout their school careers (and lives). We also use  resources shared by Common Sense Media about privacy and protection to help students understand their rights as digital consumers and creators.

Due to COPPA language, we target our request for permissions to students under 13 years of age, which covers all of our elementary students as well as  a good number of seventh graders in our middle school. (However we really need to consider how we are informing all parents and community members, K-12 and beyond.) In opening week paperwork, parents receive this informational letter (modeled after the letter drafted for us by our solicitors), a consent form requiring parent signature, and the list of district-approved educational websites and productivity services where the child may have an account established. Not all teachers utilize all services on the list nor are they available to all students K-7, but we decided to compile them all on one list for ease of distribution. Parents receive a hard copy of the list in the fall, and we maintain this living list on this district site. If the district approves a new website for use, I update the living sheet and we send home an additional parent permission form to those students who will use the site. Homeroom teachers collect the forms and note any students who have not returned the consent form and forms are compiled/logged in the main office of each building. In the future we hope to integrate the logging of these forms electronically via our SIS and/or allow parents to consent via the parent information portal, but we’re not there yet. Parents are encouraged to contact building principals if they choose to opt out and/or if they have questions involving the educational use of any of the websites. They can choose to opt out of one or more services if they so desire. Learning accommodations are made for students who cannot interact with a digital service.

It’s a start. We still need to provide more parent and teacher education on the specifics of student data and privacy to help them protect their children in all elements of online and mobile interactions, not just their educational website use, which is supervised by caring teachers and school personnel.

I think it’s time we need to reign in our overzealous enthusiasm about the latest and greatest ed tech products and services. I get it. Shiny new things are cool and so are interactive websites and gee, the kids really are going to love it so I’m just going to set them up with usernames and passwords and let’s give it a try! I know, I know. We’re telling you to integrate and be all up in 21st century skills and now we’re warning you about doing so. Shame on us.

Just be smart. Read terms of use and privacy policies. Ask for help if the terms are so full of jargon and nonsense you can’t make heads or tails of the meaning. Be the adult. Inform and involve parents in decisions. Get your administrators informed, because sad to say, they’re likely not the most informed bunch when it comes to student data and privacy.

Protecting students’ data and privacy is becoming increasingly difficult every day, but that’s no excuse for not taking steps to do so.

It starts with you!

 

**At the time of initial publishing, the Today’s Meet terms were captured above. They have since updated their terms to read: “In order to create a TodaysMeet account, you need to be 18 or older, or be 13 or older and have your parent or guardian’s consent to this Agreement, and have the power to enter a binding contract with us and not be barred from doing so under any applicable laws.”

The point of this original post was not to call out certain services or products for their failure to acknowledge whether or not students <13 can lawfully use the service, but to relay the importance of reviewing terms (for educators and parents) before deciding whether to allow the use of tools.