Social Media and Young Children

This week we completed the Hour of Code in all of our classrooms.  The purpose of this activity was to give the students a “taste” of what it is like to do computer coding.  This was a big deal all over the world (over 74 million people!), and we are proud to have joined the millions of others who participated. The Hour of Code was a fun activity for our students, but it is only one small piece in this new era of education.  As you may know, all of our district’s students in kindergarten through eighth grade were given a device to use in school and at home.  The idea of a 1:1 computing environment is one that was percolating in the district for a number of years before we were able to make it a reality.  As we finish the first half of the 2014-15 school year, we have learned much about the use of computers in all of the students’ hands.

From our experiences thus far, we have learned that the majority of our students have been very responsible with their devices. Sure, we have had some Chromebooks break and we have had some issues with the iPad apps, but for the most part the 1:1 experience has been a  very positive one.  Most importantly, the students are respecting the power of the Internet, and they are using their devices in responsible ways.  We have had very little trouble with kids acting inappropriately online, and we are very proud of the kids for this!

With that in mind, I want to take an opportunity to share some of my thoughts on social media use for elementary students. I’ll start with a personal story of when my own children (now 20 and 17 years old, respectively) were in elementary and middle school.  Back when my younger daughter was 12, she begged and pleaded for her own Facebook page.  However, Facebook’s policy was (and still is) that children must be 13 in order to sign up.  My wife and I stuck to our guns on this, and at 12:01 am of her 13th birthday, Gillian created her Facebook page!  Five years ago, when we were dealing with this “drama” I wrote a blog post about it. Here is the link in case you are interested in reading my thoughts from November, 2009.  Facebook Blog Post.

I share this personal story again because the issue of young children joining social media networks has sprung up around our school district. I do think there is a distinction between educational uses of technology and social uses of technology. I am an avid fan of social media and I use it regularly to communicate about our school, for my own professional development, and personally to keep up with family and friends (@dbsherman). However, we must always be conscious of the difference in how we as adults use social media and how our children do. There is an appropriate time for students to establish social media profiles.  Please note that the terms of service for sites like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter clearly state that users must be at least 13 years old. Reading the terms of service of these companies leads me to think that none of the students in our elementary school should have personal profiles on these sites. There are several reasons for this but the main reason is that students of this age do not have the understanding and maturity to use these sites appropriately. Unfortunately, often times students establish accounts without the knowledge of their parents or guardians.

We do not allow the use of these sites during school hours nor do we allow personal electronic devices such as cell phones to be used during the school day or on the school bus. However, students create and use social media accounts outside of school.  That being said, young children are still using social media.  Although their posts and tweets are made outside of school hours, the impact can carry over into the school day causing a disruption in the teaching and learning process.  I believe that elementary aged children might use social media in ways that can be harmful to themselves or others, and this is something about which we adults must be cognizant.  A great resource to help parents navigate these issues with their children is Dr. Devorah Heitner’s blog on her “Raising Digital Natives” website.  I encourage everyone, but particularly parents of intermediate-level students, to be aware of your child’s potential social media activity.

Are others dealing with social media issues among elementary and junior high students?  If so, what are you doing about it?  I am curious to know what is going on, especially in schools that are now 1:1.

We Are Building The Plane

This week we deployed about 200 iPads to our K-2 students and about 240 Chromebooks to our students in grades 3-5.  We are officially a1:1 school!  It is the start of a very exciting time in the school for the students and teachers.  But, the 1:1 deployment brings new and very different challenges for us as educators.

To get this school year started, I shared this video with our staff at our opening meeting, and I asked them to contemplate this question before watching it:  This video is an analogy for the new school year.  Why?   I used PollEv.com to tally their answers which were right on the money.  Here are some examples of what they wrote:

“Teaching kids with technology as we are learning how to use it also.”

 “Learning as you go and building knowledge as you work.”

“Teaching students with technology that we are still learning about.”

“This video is a metaphor for our school year because we are using and teaching with computers while we are learning ourselves.”

“We are preparing students for things that don’t yet exist”

“We don’t have the luxury of “building” before we start with students – We’ll be doing all the “building” and teaching at the same time.”

“We are total risk takers! And hope we land on our feet.”

“We’re gonna wing it this year:-)”

I absolutely loved their responses!!  Our teachers totally get the concept of taking risks on something so new and different that there is no perfect, prescribed way to do it.  We could easily have waited a year or more before implementing a 1:1 learning environment, but would we really be any wiser then?  The idea that we jumped in, ready to experiment and learn along with the students, is refreshing and invigorating for our school, and it is a critical to meeting students at their level of learning.

Sure, the last few days have been tiring as we have run into some bumps in the deployment road.  But we did it with a lot of help from a lot of people.  And, now that the devices are in the kids’ hands, we have our work cut out for us.  We now have the challenge of engaging, inspiring, and empowering our students to become self-directed, 21st century global learners.

1:1 and Parenthood: A Different Perspective

And now, a few thoughts from the other side of the desk…

On Thursday, my 17 year old daughter went to school to pick up the iPad that she will be using for her senior year.  I had already completed the paperwork required by her school district, and I had paid the $30.00 insurance fee (knowing my kid, this will be money well spent!!).  So I was pretty excited to see the actual device in her hands.  Finally, after years of writing about the need for 1:1, my own child will be a willing participant in this new adventure in teaching and learning.  That is so cool…Right?

Friday night she asked me if I would help her set up the iPad.  I said yes, but I could not help until Saturday.  I actually had no intention of helping her, however!  Why?  Because as a Gen Y kid, she should be able to read the directions and do it herself.  Isn’t that part of the point of giving kids their own devices?  They need to become self-directed in their learning, and this starts with setting the thing up.  If she gets stuck, she will need to figure out what to do.  There are tons of resources on the Internet to help her.

On Saturday, I was very busy with honey-do projects, and by dinner time, my daughter had to meet her friends.  Alas, I was not able to help her, so the device sat in the box.  On Sunday we ran errands during the day, and then she went to a concert by some guy named Daughtry so the iPad sat in the box.  Finally, tonight my daughter lost her patience with her “exceedingly busy” dad.  She sat down and pulled up the very explicit directions on how to set up the device.  I looked over her shoulder, and I have to admit that the school did a great job detailing the process for the kids.

Well, my evil plan worked; the kid set up the device by herself.  Sure, she struggled a few times, but that makes the whole experience even better for her.  She figured it out on her own.  The iPad is ready to take her to the outer limits of her learning.  So, I ask this most important question…

Are her teachers ready to guide her to a new type of learning never before experienced by students in schools?  I will ponder the answers to that question as this new school year evolves.  Stay tuned.

What Really Engages All Students?

Is it a fun, friendly, and entertaining teacher?  Sure, for a while that works, until the novelty wears off.  Is it a rigorous curriculum that is filled with academic challenges?  No doubt, as long as the teacher is highly capable of differentiating for all learners.  Maybe it is the incorporation of a totally hands-on, manipulative-based classroom. Definitely.  Especially for those people who think in very concrete ways.  How about a classroom where singing, dancing, and drama are the focal points?  Have you ever heard me sing?  Enough said.
So what is the point of all these questions?  Simply, there is not one perfect teaching style or classroom environment for all students.  Yet, who would argue with the ideal that “no child should be left behind?” We are educators because we want to see all students learn, achieve, succeed, and grow.  I wish I could patent the way to incorporate all of the attributes listed above into one “super-teacher.”

I believe that the typical classrooms of our youth have outlived their usefulness.  No longer can the teacher be the all-knowing giver of the information; the Sage on the Stage.  Teachers need to move past using lecture and rote memorization, and instead, they need to let students take ownership of their learning.  No longer can our teachers do 80% of the talking in a school day.  21st Century students need access to information and they need access to the tools for learning.  Our job as educators is to help them sort it all out correctly.

So how do we do that?  We need to incorporate much more authentic learning into our classrooms.  We need to provide students with work that has intrinsic meaning and adds value to their lives.  For students to be engaged, self-directed learners, they must create projects and solve problems that connect to the world beyond the classroom.  Working with our students to solve authentic problems is what will engage them in learning.  This is what will engage them in substantive conversations and whet their appetites for a depth of knowledge never before seen in our schools.

True authentic learning will engage all learners because the topics will be real for them.  The academically gifted student, the musician, the artist, the athlete, the mechanically inclined child, and the highly dramatic kid, all can find success in a problem-based environment in which they are expected to work together and use their individual strengths to solve real problems.

In a few weeks, our students each will be handed their own personal learning device to be used in school and at home.  In my opinion, this will be the moment of truth for our teachers.  Why?  Because the students will have access to a wealth of information at their fingertips, and they no longer will need to depend on their teachers to feed them the facts.  Instead, students should be challenged to find the facts, and then use what they have discovered to collaborate, create, and solve real-world problems.

Teachers in the 21st Century must change and adapt to keep up with their students.  The time has come for teachers to move away from rote memorization, repetitive practice, silent study without conversation, and brief exposure to topics, and instead, move closer to authentic learning in a 1:1 learning environment.

 

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Image approved for copy by Creative Commons. Source: http://bit.ly/vYUkXB

Let the 1:1 Fun Begin!!

In 2009 I started posting about the idea of 1:1 computing in classrooms.  Five years ago, the idea of giving each child his or her own device was more of a dream than a reality for me.  Back then, the devices were more costly, and our Broadband capabilities were not in place to handle 600+ devices all connecting to the Internet during the school day.  The idea was exciting, but our school district was not ready for implementation.  We were able to purchase some netbook carts to be shared by teachers. This was a very good start at the time, and the staff and students were excited to use these machines.

The start of this school year, however, marks the realization of the dream to equip every student with his or her own device in a 1:1 learning environment.  All kids in grades K-2 will be receiving an iPad, and all students in grades 3 through 8 will be receiving a Chromebook on the first day of school.  Kudos to our board of education, district administrators, and some pilot teachers who worked so hard and tirelessly last year to make this a reality.  Well, here we are, ready to embark on more than a new school year; we are moving into a new era of teaching and learning.  NOW is when the really hard work begins.

So, what is my role in a 1:1 learning environment? I believe the teachers are the key to successfully implementing the1:1 initiative.  As a principal, I think my job will be to support them in as many ways as possible.  I will have to listen to them, problem-solve with them, celebrate successes with them, and support them when they feel frustrated.  I will need to work students as they are using the devices, and throughout it all, I will need to learn what types of PD will be needed to support the teachers.  I will need to stay current on the most effective tools and techniques for teaching in a new-era classroom, and I will need to find time for teaches to share, plan, and observe others using these devices.  Additionally, my role will be to model the use of technology and to be a “cheerleader” to the staff as they strive to change their teaching methodology.

Last week I attended the Leyden 1:1 Symposium.  The keynotes were very inspiring, and the sessions I attended were very informative.    I learned about such tools as Socrative, AnswerGarden, and TodaysMeet, and I learned more about the SAMR model.  I saw how Google+, Google Sites, and blogging can be incorporated into classrooms, and I learned about assessment in a 1:1 learning environment. Speaking with others who are either starting the 1:1 process or who have been doing it for a while was another important component of the three days I spent at Leyden.

Now, as we have entered the month of August, I am psyched to get the 1:1 teaching and learning started.  I have a sense that there will be a lot more questions than answers as we embark on this new adventure as a school and as a district.  But, that is what makes our work so interesting, and I plan on getting myself right in the thick of it all!  My goal is to use this blog as a place to share my experiences and points of view during the rollout and continuing implementation of 1:1 classroom learning environments.  I hope to write at least one post per week on this topic, and I hope to get some good dialogue going with anyone who is interested.

To quote my favorite baseball broadcaster, Ken “Hawk” Harrelson, “Sit back, relax, and strap it down” because this year is going to be quite the ride!

Engagement, Empowerment, Enthusiasm – Part One

(This is another post in a series of posts about 1:1 computing in the elementary school.)

The week before winter break I saw a “flurry” of activity with our netbook computers.  As I see teachers starting to feel more comfortable with 1:1 computing in their classrooms, I am  becoming more excited about the possibilities of using these machines each and every day in our classrooms.  Here are three examples of how netbooks were used in our school in December.

  1. In a second grade class, the students are studying map skills as part of a social studies unit.  They decided that we did not have a good map of our school for visitors to use, so the students asked if they could create a giant map to place in the lobby of the school.  The teacher, recognizing that some of the very best ideas come from the kids, readily agreed.  With a lot of behind the scenes planning with our technology coach, she worked with the students in her class to develop a large map that would include all of the mapping elements taught in class.  They used a plain, generic map of the building which they digitally scanned and placed in a shared folder so each student had access to it.  Then, working in teams of three or four students, they divided up the building into zones, with each team taking responsibility for a zone.  Using the scanned map and the netbooks, the students planned out what their zone would look like.  Much whole-class discussion took place to ensure that there were commonalities from zone to zone, and then the students created their large-scale sections.  When they return from break, they will start to assemble the sections into the large map of the school.  Interestingly, this project is an example of technology being used as one of many tools available to the second graders (along with crayons, markers, glue, and paper!).  The authenticity of this project engaged and empowered the kids to work hard on this project.
  2. In a fifth grade class, the students were interested in science careers, so, using the netbooks, the teacher sent the kids to hunch.com where they each took a survey to determine what science career would suit their interests.  Then, the students decided that they wanted to be scientists and research a topic within their career choice.  The teacher took the students through the entire scientific method process starting with a question to be answered, continuing with an experiment of some type,  and ending with some form of communication of the results.  Much of the work was done on the netbooks including the data collection and analysis.  This was another terrific example of authentic, student-generated work that fit perfectly with the fifth grade curriculum.
  3. In another fifth grade class, the teacher taught the students the “Socratic Circle” method for discussion something that the students read.  In this case, they were asked to read an article about the most interesting inventions of 2009.  They took notes on the article using Post-its.  The next day, they completed the Socratic Circle activity.  In the inner ring were the students who were discussing the article, and in the outer ring were the observers who were using the netbooks and a website called Etherpad.  This is a site that allows people to work on a shared document, similar to Google Docs.  The students in the outer circle held a quiet discussion on Etherpad in which they critiqued the participation of their peers in the inner circle.  Afterward, the Etherpad discussion was shared with the entire class providing valuable feedback to those in the inner circle.  A few days later, the two circles switched places.  This use of a terrific communication tool along with the netbook computers could (and should) be taking place all year if each child had a netbook on his or her desk at all times.

In all three of these examples, the technology did not supersede the instruction.  Instead, it enhanced the teaching and learning.  As I have said many times before, teaching the 21st Century skills is NOT about technology.  It is about authentic learning, self-directed learning,  problem solving and critical thinking skills, and collaborating with people.  The technology is but another tool used to reach the goal of developing 21st Century learners and workers.

Adults in the work world are using technology all day long to assist them in their productivity on the job.  The students should be doing the same, at school and at home.  Students who are provided with a laptop, who attend a school where the internet is open and available to use, and who are allowed to bring the laptop home,  have a distinct advantage over their peers who attend a more traditional school.

I will have some more thoughts on this topic soon…

Flying Solo

(This is another post in a series of posts about 1:1 computing in the elementary school.)

I took over a fourth grade classroom the other day.  Just me and 22 fourth graders.  No classroom teacher, no technology director, no teacher’s aide.  Just me and the kids.

No big deal, right?  I have spent years in classrooms.  I was a fifth grade teacher for many years before becoming a principal.  So why write this post?

The difference is that I used the new Dell Latitude 2100 netbooks as part of my lesson.  The students in this class had maybe 45 minutes of introduction to and use of these mini-computers before it was my turn to teach with the machines.

I figured the only way for me to really understand the power of 1:1 computing in the classrooms was to plan and teach lessons that utilize a class set of netbooks.

For this lesson, I wanted to ensure that the netbooks were used as another tool for learning, and not as a special event, a time waster, or just for fun.  I wanted this lesson to be connected to the class’s daily work, and I wanted to show the students how the computers can assist them if used correctly.

My goal was to develop a reading lesson which focused on reading non-fiction material.  The students were in the middle of reading different books about such topics as volcanoes, the coral reef, and rain forest animals.  I wanted to pick up where they left off.

My objectives for the lesson were to teach and provide practice narrowing a search on the internet, using search engines other than Google, and comparing facts found in a non-fiction book to facts found on a website.  I started the lesson without distributing the computers.  Instead, each guided reading group met with their books to develop two guiding questions from the text.

Then, I spent about 15 minutes demonstrating how to narrow a search so we don’t end up with 5,000,000 sites on Google.  I was able to narrow my search from 5 milion down to 620.  Not too bad!

After distributing the netbooks, I had the students searching for answers to their questions using different search engines (Google, AltaVista, Yahoo, Answers.com).  There was no clear choice among the students regarding which was the best search engine, but those using Google seemed most comfortable.  I was pleased to see that the students were challenging themselves to narrow their searches to eliminate unnecessary sites.  This actually became a little competitive among them!  I also reminded the students to avoid “Sponsored Links” which are just web-commercials.

Finally, I asked the students to start looking at certain sites to find some answers.  I would have to say that this research experience was far less frustrating than I had experienced in the past.  The students were excited and engaged in looking for the best sites to help them, and they were actually reading the information that was presented.  As I walked around, I noticed that the sites they had found appeared to be legitimate and worthy of further study.  Most of the students agreed that the information on the websites was better than in their books.  Although the books we have are good, the kids liked the videos, pictures, and links on the websites.  They were more willing to extend their research on the computers verses in the books.

So, what did I learn from this experience?  First, as we all become more comfortable with the netbooks in classrooms, the easier it is becoming to distribute and collect them. I do envision a day when teachers are “flying solo” all day long with these computers.  Right now, most of the teachers want the safety net of another set of hands in the room.

Second, the students are becoming much more proficient at starting them up and shutting them down.  I am impressed with how quickly the students are taking to the concept of having information at their fingertips.  I hope to see the day when each child has a small computer on his desk all day long.  It would be a standard school supply, ready and waiting for him to access information and communicate with the world at any time during the school day.

Also, as I watched the students work on their machines, I started thinking back to my teaching days when we had a cart of clunker Apple laptops (c.1994) that lost power after an hour, and were good with word processing and spreadsheets, but not much else (remember saving to disks that were forever crashing?).  My fear, for now, is that teachers are going to use these machines with their students for typing stories and papers, instead of completing research and communicating with the rest of the world.

Keeping that from happening will be one of my biggest challenges as I work with teachers and students using netbooks.