Week 6: Final Project

My group worked together to write a plan for a PD session centered around the themes we had been learning about from this unit. Here is a link to the finished plan.

On reflection, I feel I left finding a group to work with far too late. I was keeping an eye on Twitter and checking comments on my blog posts but I didn’t hear from anyone. I assumed that many of my cohort were in the same position as myself, feeling overwhelmed from work and behind on everything else. It wasn’t until I saw a post from a cohort member on Twitter saying that their group was almost done that I realized I should have been more proactive in my search.

Fortunately, I received an email regarding a member of our cohort who was in a similar position to myself and we managed to quickly start connecting and collaborating. Working with my group was really easy. The time difference between the places we live is only an hour so it was easy to meet up and check-in with how we were doing. We used Google docs to write our plan both synchronously and asynchronously over a couple of weeks. At my school, we meet to plan collaboratively almost every day so that aspect of the project was fairly easy. We divided up the ISTE standards we wanted to hit and then came up with some ideas. After checking in with each other we fleshed out our plan and delved into the various activities we felt would benefit teachers most.

In terms of the activities we chose, these were largely based on our own feelings about what made other professional development sessions useful. In addition to our own reflections we talked to other teachers at our schools about what they felt made professional development sessions a success. As much as possible, I tried to keep this feedback in mind when planning the activities the teachers would take part in.

When thinking about what to talk to teachers about I thought about the things I had found most useful and engaging from Course 2. I wanted to put together activities and resources that teachers could put into action immediately. One difficulty I encountered was there are so many different resources to pull from that I didn’t want to overwhelm teachers with too many resources or too much research. One of the huge personal benefits I found to this end of unit project was that I ended up rereading quite a lot of the articles from this unit. There were a few snippets I had missed or didn’t remember from the first time through and I’m happy I reread my blog posts too.

I have not had the chance to facilitate this PD yet, however, my vice-principal is a COETAILer from a couple of years ago and he asked me to share my plan with him after reports are in. Similarly, I am looking forward to talking to our head of technology tomorrow about the possibility of drawing up a new AUP for Lower School with some student input. The last few months have been a whirlwind but I’m looking forward to the challenges of next year and Course 3.

The acceptable face of policy

After reading through my school’s acceptable use policy I was struck by just how little it mentions social media use. There is a lot on digital citizenship and expectations students should be upholding, however, when it comes to empowering students to connect across global communities there was very little outlined in the school’s policy. Our AUP does lay out expectations regarding the creation of responsible user IDs. It also asks students to consider who they are communicating with before giving out personal information online. Additionally, there is a paragraph on how students are expected to protect themselves on the web and report malicious attacks or inappropriate material.

The acceptable use policy is available through the school website and is reasonably easy to find. A quick GOOGLE search will also allow access to the document. All teachers ask students to sign an agreement at the start of the year where they promise to adhere to this policy. I have tried to always tie this into our digital citizenship unit and encourage students not to sign the document until they feel comfortable with what it says they need to do. I haven’t had to review the policy yet with any students, however, I know that there have been instances where students have had to relinquish control of their device as they did not follow the procedures set out in our AUP.

In times when students do not follow the AUP and misuse technology, they can find themselves banned from having access to tech for a given number of days or weeks. I sometimes wonder if a blanket ban really does anything though. I can’t help but feel that, at times, it introduces the idea that technology is to blame for the actions of a student, rather than the student themselves. If a student hits another child with a ruler we don’t ban the use of rulers in class. Part of the reason this for this is that rulers are not seen as a privilege but rather as a tool. Is technology a privilege or a tool? Rather than taking away complete access to technology, should we instead explore the possibility of restricting access to certain apps or internet sites?

Empowerment

My school’s AUP uses a lot of negative language in order to set out its guidelines. After reading Scott Mcleod’s blog I feel that an Empowered Use Policy should become the norm in schools. Students have a desire to be curious and to mess around with technology. I feel that when a school’s acceptable use policy is worded in a legalistic way it could make students feel less willing to try out new programs or apps. Speaking personally, I want my students to have the confidence to take risks and show off their creations, an EUP could help with this. I also like how simple the language is. It is far more approachable and student-friendly than my school’s current AUP. The other difference in having an EUP is that I believe it would help students know that they will be supported when something does go wrong. Our current policy seems to insinuate that students are wholly responsible for anything that goes wrong with their devices.

In order to make students feel truly empowered I am now wondering if they should have more of a voice when it comes to drawing up an Acceptable Use Policy. I feel as though this would make an AUP more relevant and meaningful to all students. I believe too that the language used would become more positive through having students set out the guidelines for other students. I want to talk with my school’s tech director about the possibility of having our Lower School student council draw up and present the policy after the summer vacation. I would be really excited to see what they come up with.

THINK before you leap

In a tiny corner of the Northwest United States their lives a creature so rare that few have ever come face to face with it. I refer, of course, to the Northwest Pacific Tree Octopus (Octopus Paxarbolis.) The reason for it being so endangered is due to pollution, destruction of its natural habitat, and the fact that it is a prized fashion accessory, adorning hats of the rich and famous. Thanks to the hard work of Kyle Zapato and his campaign to save the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus there is a small chance that this creature may survive, that is if the remaining few are not devoured by their natural predators bald eagles and sasquatches. At least, this is what I tell my students before asking them to evaluate the website and check for reliability.

I love teaching this Brainpop lesson about website evaluation for two reasons. The first is that students get really excited when they realize that this is a hoax website and start compiling evidence that proves the information is not true. The second is that I find the conclusion to the lesson, the fact that there is misinformation online, really powerful and it’s always interesting to hear the students’ takeaways from this. They really start to question what they are seeing online.

Thinking prior to posting

The most widely used form of social media in China is WeChat. It’s used for everything from chatting with friends, paying for groceries, booking train tickets, and even dating. It perhaps comes as no surprise then that students cannot wait to get their own WeChat account and start hanging out with their friends online. One of the big ideas I try to push is that whatever you post online sticks around. We only need to look at celebrities who have had tweets come back to haunt them as to why students might want to avoid leaving this kind of smoking Gunn. Teaching the acronym T.H.I.N.K to students is an important part of digital literacy and something everyone needs to be aware of.

At this point, my question is how can I ensure students are THINKing before they post anything online? My students last year were an awesome group and I thought I had impressed upon the importance of using T.H.I.N.K before creating posts online. This year, however, temptation got the better of a few of them and they started “roasting” one of their peers online. Fortunately, the student who was being roasted did the right thing and let his teacher know and it was stopped before it could get any worse.

I don’t want to use scaremonger tactics and have them thinking that having an online presence is a terrible thing, but I also don’t want them to create posts that have a negative impact on others. Throughout this unit I am consistently coming back to the conclusion that students need to have more exposure to social media platforms as part of their digital literacy curriculum. Furthermore, I feel that the platforms they use in class should be the same platforms they are going to be using at home. By incorporating online realia into the classroom we can help students make good decisions online and help to keep them safe.

One way I am thinking of doing this came from reading Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture (John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.) In the article there is a mention of Byrd Middle school using a MySpace clone to create social media accounts for historical figures. I am already thinking of how this could be adapted next year to pair with our unit on biographies. This could potentially allow students to interact in character and let them role play different ways of responding online.

I think encouraging students to question what they see and hear is a start. Being able to evaluate sources for bias and going as far as to understand the differences between domain suffixes can help students gauge whether a source is reliable or not. We also need to allow students opportunity for experimentation, to make mistakes and be encouraged to learn from them. To me, I feel as though the classroom is the best place this can happen.

On a final note, as more schools are reopening what is everyone doing to continue to support students who are out of the country? I have three students who are unable to reenter China as they are not Chinese citizens. I am still setting work for them to complete with the rest of my team, however it feels a lot more like setting homework assignments rather than teaching. I talk to my students after school each day and try to give them feedback on their work as well as touch base with how they are doing. I have also been having students from my class call them and discuss work and strategies for solving maths questions. I am wondering if anyone else has had success with supporting students who cannot return to school for any reason after school has reopened?

Gone Phishing

Monty Python – Spam Song Lyrics

And now for something completely similar. After reading through all of the material this week and feeling rather self-congratulatory on how safe my personal data is, I got phished. On Friday morning I received an email that was posing as a co-worker asking for a “FAVOR.” Without thinking (or checking the email address) I responded straight away happy to help out this person in need. She then asked if I would send her some STEAM (online gaming platform) gift cards offering to reimburse me for my effort. I blame James Veitch for my response.

My remixed STEAM gift card
James Veitch TED talk on spamming the spammers

I quickly blocked the sender as I had more pressing things to get on with, however, it really made me realize just how easy it can be to fall for such an obvious scam. This is especially true when the email comes from, what appears to be, a coworker’s email account and even includes their email signature. My school’s tech director quickly sent out a message informing teachers of what SHOULD be done, including advice not to respond and to forward any emails to the technology department.

Lessons learned

I would not share my response to this particular spam email with my students, however, I do think it is important to make students aware of the fact that they will receive emails that will be directly attempting to steal their data or worse. As educators, we need to be explicit in our instruction on how to deal with fraudulent emails. Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture (John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation) warns of how having a “laissez faire approach … assumes children, on their own, can develop the ethical norms needed to cope with a complex and diverse social environment online.” Without having some strategies that they can implement independently, students are at risk of handing out their personal information. This Blog post by Chris Zook spells out some teaching suggestions for keeping Middle School students safe online. I would argue that many, if not all of these, can also be taught to elementary students in order to increase awareness of online safety.

Sharing Online

My school does not allow access to many forms of social media from student computers. This ban can be lifted by our technology department depending on whether teachers need access to specific sites. Until this unit I hadn’t ever really questioned this. It seemed logical in order to keep students “safe” and focused on class. I am staring to question this though. In the video I posted last week Henry Jenkins asked, “Why students are safer encountering social media on their own outside of the classroom, rather than entering into a space where there are knowledgable adults who can talk to them about safe and ethical use of technology.” When “Omeagle gate” hit the fan a few years ago it became abundantly clear that those students did not know how to protect themselves online. I talk to my students about safe use of digital media and how to guard themselves against cyber-theft. Now I am asking myself though if I am depriving students of the opportunity of gaining experience with forms of social media in a safe environment where they can have questions answered and receive help as needed.

Another element I am reflecting on is sharing student work online. My school doesn’t really have any formal guidelines for this so I sometimes question whether I have the right to do so or not? I know I can post work anonymously but does this take away from students as creators? I enjoy getting ideas from my PLN about ideas to incorporate into lesson plans, and it is always useful to see exemplars/ finished products that help bring lesson plans to life. My hesitation still comes from a respect of and desire to protect privacy, am I taking this too seriously?

Where does spam come from? Python are to blame. At least according to Business Insider.

And now for something….

I had just started to read an article titled, “The Real Cost of Tweeting About My Kids” as it had an intriguing subheading, “When I’ve told you what my son said, it’s not “his data” anymore.” Suddenly a notice popped up asking me to log in to support independent journalism. I clicked “Sign in with Google” and, pretty much on auto-pilot, didn’t think about what I had done until a few minutes later. I went to my Gmail and, sure enough, there was a message confirming my subscription to The New York Times. The first page of my email contains messages from Duolingo, REI, Asus Web Storage, Twitter, Code Academy, TES, and Kate at Twinkl. One of my big takeaways from this week is that I need to start really thinking about who I am sharing my data with and why. I want to try and encourage my students to think like this too. While logging in with Facebook or Google is convenient it allows access to personal information and data. I want to try and facilitate more opportunities for students to encounter situations such as this. My hope is to help them analyze what they are sharing, who they are sharing with, and to think critically about why they are being asked to share their data. I feel that the classroom setting is the perfect place to expose students to questions like this. An environment where they can feel safe and know they will be supported.

School’s back for summer!

I’ve had students back in class for a week now and I have to admit it has been wonderful to see them all. There has been a lot of work reestablishing routines, reflecting on successes, venting frustrations, and rebuilding our community. I’ve also taken the opportunity for a change in role next year. I have been a fourth grade teacher for the last three years however, as of next year I will be the lower school student support specialist. I am really excited about the change in position and continuing to work with a number of students who are currently in my class.

I talked with a few students today about their use of social media. We still have a few students who are stuck outside China and unable to reenter the country. Because of this many of my students are still logging into Microsoft Teams to catch up with each other. They spend a lot of time sharing Gifs and messing around with different fonts. There are even times when they talk about work and ask each other for help accessing files and folders online. Another popular social media app with students is TikTok. I had heard of this app but I had to research what it actually is used for.

My students told me that they use TikTok to create and share videos dancing or lip syncing to songs with each other. It’s great to hear about them being creators and admit to geeking out over a social media platform. Thinking back to when I was in school, this all feels a long way from monochromatic text messages sent from my Nokia 3310 or meeting up with friends on MSN messenger.

Classroom application

During the Global Read Aloud my class connected with a few classes in the United States. Students shared their thoughts, reflections, and predictions through the social media app FlipGrid. While we had some successes in linking up with other classes it was difficult for students to fully engage with the application. Some found that they could not log onto the website at home due to issues with their VPN while others never received a reply after sending messages to other students. This has, distance learning aside, been our only foray into using social media inside the classroom. In some ways we are limited, being in China, to which applications we can ask students to use. I am curious to hear about alternative apps that teachers have had success with in promoting social media use amongst students. Stephen Mosley lists 16 Ways Teachers Can Use Social Media in the Classroom and I can see some applications we could use here, particularly when it comes to showcasing student work.

Effects of Social Media on Students

I am constantly amazed by the sheer number of ways students are able to communicate with their friends online. From chatting in games such as Fortnite and Minecraft to sharing videos on YouTube, my students have a vast array of tools at their disposal. In her article Video games level up life skills, Kathryn Hulick reports how “Researchers in Scotland found that playing video games in a group can improve young adults’ communication skills.” After speaking to my students, however, a number of them report experiencing some form of verbal abuse when playing games online both with strangers and with their friends. I teach students the importance of being a good digital citizen and how to have positive interactions online. It often seems though that students want to try and push the boundaries and experiment with sending messages they know to be inappropriate to their friends or classmates.

It was refreshing then to read the NPR article Teen Girls Flip The Negative Script On Social Media. Stella Lau’s report on how some teenagers in the US are trying to create a more positive place online for teenage girls was inspiring to read as it shows just how much power our students can have online. As teachers though I feel it is our place to help students see that, “With great power comes great responsibility.” I know, and I apologize for the cliché, but one way I can see of doing this is by exposing students to social media in class. In his video, Henry Jenkins talks about the importance of incorporating social media into the classroom and how many teachers, of whom I admit to being one, shy away from using it in class.