HELLO {digital} WORLD!

When I was in grade 7, our Math class had one computer in the corner of the room. It mostly collected dust, but a few times a year the students would have a turn “coding” – going through a progression of instructional cards that would “teach” us how to make the computer do things. BASIC was a good word for it, because it was so directed and specific, it wasn’t even fun! Honestly, it felt like a foreign language. But, I would take my turn, follow the directions, and couldn’t care less when I successfully produced “Hello World” or this one below… (do you get it?)

5506955958_a80e443c82_m

Photo Credit: nichestitch via Compfight cc

Once the digital age exploded in the 90’s and 2000’s, I was actually good at coding. In 1995 my employer asked me if I could recreate a job search app using Microsoft Access 2.0 – by copying the database architecture of a similar DOS-based program. Through lots of trial and error, I did it! In later jobs, I continued to be “computer-savvy”, and I eventually learned HTML, CSS and SQL, along with hardware, many more software programs (apps) and networking. People used to ask me how a university degree in Music had led me to be in the IT field, to which I replied that Music is very logical and mathematical. In fact, over 2000 years ago music was known as one of the areas of Science. The fascination with music and its affect on our world is still alive today:

 

So why do I digress into music, when I started by discussing coding?

I recently read the article This is Why Kids Need to Learn How to Code, and the author concludes that teaching coding develops problem solving, (digital) confidence and understanding the impact any of us can have on the world. I would speculate that developing these skills has always been important, and that they are simply repurposed skills which have evolved into the digital framework that we now need them to function within. The benefits of learning an instrument, which used to be so important in school, is perhaps evolving into coding.

Now, I may get some backlash supporting the continuation of music programs. I absolutely appreciate music and believe that it, like learning an additional language, develops different, important parts of the brain. We do need these subjects in schools. Perhaps a better way to frame my proposal is that the connections between music, languages, science and coding, offer a variety of cross-curricular opportunities that can enhance learning for students.

The benefit of coding is that students love it! There are a variety of apps available that allow for exploratory, differentiated learning that can engage everyone in the classroom. I have used Hour of Code before, so today I played around with Scratch, and found the  interface, although complex, has tutorials to help students learn how to navigate the program and their code. At the same time, it is possible to just play around and discover on your own, while building on the skills that you do have.

Staying on my music theme, I started with an alternating drumbeat on counts 1 and 3 for 8 beats. Then I selected Singer1, recorded my voice singing C, D, and E notes, and assigned them to the computer keys 1, 2, and 3. Then I threw in a backup choir singing a G note, a cowbell and if I didn’t have a lawn to mow, I could have kept going! The tutorial was interactive and gave me tips that I needed as I progressed. This definitely would appeal to the creative student, while organically teaching them coding at their own rate.

Scratch screenshot

Although this is a far cry from my first “Hello World” program, much of the logic is the same. Teaching our students to code using programs like these, in whichever capacity engages them, can develop the transferable skills they will need to confidently problem solve in the evolving digital world.

From Barbie Girl to Booty Call

As I watched the CBC documentary,”Sexted Up Kids“, I wasn’t really surprised. I’ve lived through my own daughters growing up in the last 20 years and have seen changes in young girls evolving first hand. I remember feeling a little uncomfortable when the song Barbie Girl by Aqua came out in 1997 and 4-7 year old girls were dancing and singing to this song.

Full lyrics here: Aqua – Barbie Girl Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Hearing little girls sing the lyrics, “You can brush my hair, undress me everywhere” and “Kiss me here, touch me there, hanky panky” was more than a little unnerving! However, I think most parents shrugged it off by reasoning, “they don’t understand the meaning of the lyrics, so what’s the harm?” After all, many of us had given our own parents a similar argument for listening to controversial lyrics in the 80’s (for example, by Metal Bands like  Motley Crue). Just because we sang the words, it didn’t mean we agreed with the message or professed to do those acts!  So I see this acceptance of messages like “Barbie Girl” as the beginning of the KAGOY factor in marketing. The slippery slope of “age-appropriateness” changed the offline culture of pre-adolescent girls and set the stage for an troublesome collision with the soon-to-evolve online public presence.

Amira’s blog on this same documentary (and the Amanda Todd story), also highlights the increasingly blurred lines between our public and private lives. If you have never known any difference, it is easy to accept without question that this is the world we live in, but from my perspective, there are a few subtle, and not so subtle, changes. Consider some of the societal changes over the years caused by the evolution of technology:

  • In the 70’s, we had a rotary dial home phone, with no call display, and no call waiting. If you wanted to reach someone on the phone, you had to keep calling back every 10-20 minutes to see if the line was free. Now, cell phones allow us to be available 24/7 and with texting and messaging apps, we are expected to be always connected. Kids are programmed to be online, all the time. We used to say to wait a day before you mailed a letter, just in case you might regret it. Now comments are posted instantaneously. Patience and wait-time is disappearing.
  • Technology makes it super easy to share information – with the explosion of information on the web, we are now accustomed to sharing both the mundane along with the relevant. Everything is important enough to post! Pictures of meals, duck faces and dressing room outfits need validation through likes and comments to justify self-worth. Thoughtful consideration of what is shared online isn’t always evident.

14545109_bc7ef1f267_m

  • Porn used to be restricted to a couple of scrambled channels on our cable box. Most of the time the channel would be completely unwatchable and annoying, but occasionally we were ‘rewarded’ with a little peek of something remotely identifiable. Now there is a plethora of stimulation available online. I know many kids are playing M rated games with high sexual content as well as violence and profanity. It’s not just girls that are impacted by the KAGOY factor – boys are exposed to these messages, too. This is what I probably fear the most when I think about my own kids or my students navigating the internet.

 Photo Credit: Do u remember via Compfight cc

So how do we help students navigate and take ownership of this online world? As a teacher, I feel it’s important to talk and provide resources that are student-friendly. Here are some ideas:

  • Teach online and digital citizenship, including ethics and etiquette. Common Sense Media has an activity called Trillion Dollar Footprint, in which “students learn that they have a digital footprint, which can be searched, shared, and seen by a large, invisible audience. Students then learn that they can take some control over their digital footprint based on what they post online.”
  • Discuss how”online is forever.” Share various dilemmas and scenarios with students and give them the opportunity to brainstorm possible responses. This can give them some strategies for making responsible choices. One possible resource is Top Secret – a game by MediaSmarts.ca that teaches “students about the benefits and drawbacks of sharing information online.” This site has lesson plans on topics for all of the above issues and more!
  • Talk with students about relationships online. That’s Not Cool uses teen-friendly language to discuss cyber relationship do’s and don’ts and provide tools for teens, who can take a quiz on what’s Cool or Not Cool, and download memes to respond to online issues.

Finally, I recommend the blog https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/talking-about-sexting since a few of the resources above are listed, but there are many more ideas discussed there, including this Sexting Handbook. I know many of my #ECMP355 classmates were rightfully disturbed by these videos this week, and the best ammunition against fear is knowledge. All of us will be more equipped to discuss these issues in the classroom if we have resources at our fingertips!

So what do you think of the evolution from Barbie Girl to Booty Call? Do you have other tools and resources that you have used in the classroom? If so, please share them in the comments below!

When to say no to Twitter, in 140 chars or less

8474231008_691008548a

Photo Credit: East Georgia State College via Compfight cc

So despite being a tech-friendly individual, I decided to consider the position of why, as a teacher, I would NOT use Twitter in my classroom. For another opposing view, head over to Amira’s blog. For a pro-Twitter point of view, you can read Fadzai’s blog.

First off, I will start by saying that to emphasize my 6 points, I have made them all 140 characters or less. I figure that if I cannot make a strong enough argument with this restriction, perhaps that will also support my position:

  1. Twitter reinforces bad grammar and spelling habits. They R vital 2 learn, & if Ss R trying to be brief, these skills go out the window.
  2. Face to face time is essential for Ss to learn communication, eye contact/body lang & conflict res. Offline skills impact online skills.
  3. Distractibility & multitasking are on the rise. Many Ss are unable to single task. Teaching singular focus is critical to productivity.
  4. Twitter can be hard to follow. Ss with different learning styles may find it frustrating or difficult.
  5. Some Ss may find Twitter is a popularity contest; focus on likes, retweets and replies. Can create divides, exclusion, or bullying of Ss.
  6. My 14 yo says Twitter (like Facebook) is old news. She doesn’t tweet. She uses Instagram, Snapchat, etc. So why force this tech on Ss?

So there you have it. While I am pro-technology, I am really thinking deeply about what makes a technology both relevant and purposeful. Surely the tech world is changing daily and there are bigger and brighter apps than Twitter on the horizon. If students are not using Twitter themselves anymore, why use it in the classroom?

The tech we introduce in the classroom cannot simply be an app we like, or “the flavour of the month”. This cannot be reason enough to use it. As a teacher, I wonder if there are other apps, or (gasp!) manipulatives, experiments and games that are better suited and engaging for teaching students. So while I started out this assignment as a Twitter supporter playing devil’s advocate, I actually have convinced myself that there are many other resources I prefer over Twitter. As much as I like it personally and professionally, my students’ learning needs must be at the centre of my teaching.

I look forward to reading my classmates’ responses to this blog. If you have any apps, games, experiments, or manipulatives that you wouldn’t teach without, please share them below!

 

 

 

 

A Journey of Assessment

One of the strengths of the University of Regina Middle Years Education program is that there are so many different connections that can be made between the courses we take. Recently in our ECS410 Assessment class, I had the privilege to reconsider Dr. Joel Westheimer‘s “No Child Left Thinking: Democracy at Risk in Canadian Schools”, and look at Assessment through this lens.

I want to share my reflections, since this process has really influenced how I frame assessment and qualify my own experiences with it, both as a parent as well as a teacher.

  1. What did you find most interesting about Dr. Westheimer’s talk? Why?

I always appreciate hearing Dr. Joel Westheimer’s views on education. Having read his book, “What Kind of Citizen?” for ESST317 – Teaching Engaged Citizenship: Social Studies and Social/Environmental Activism, I was familiar with some the ideas that he presents in this video. What I found most interesting about this talk was his analysis of the aims of standardized testing and the methods of collecting and interpreting the data and the various ways in which it can be detrimental to students. I also appreciated the challenges of standardized testing, especially having come from, and lived through EQAO as both a parent and a teacher.  I have seen how mandatory testing of all students in Grades 3 or 6 can be skewed by students whose abilities, for one reason or another, fall below the “norm”. My own daughter, who couldn’t read well enough in grade 3 to complete the EQAO Reading test on her own, was given an NI rating – ‘Not enough Information to accurately assess her comprehension of the texts’. However, by Grade 6 she had caught up to her peers and was able to complete the EQAO Grade 6 test at/above the provincial standard. Now attending Queen’s University, her goal is to teach High School English. This example demonstrates how Grade 3 can be a particularly challenging year to collect data. Surely exempting students that for whom completing this level of testing will be detrimental or ineffective, would be prudent. As a tutor, I worked with many students who had developed so much anxiety about the EQAO testing that they could not perform successfully at all. These examples make me question whether the results match the intent of the tests, and if, as Westheimer suggests, a sampling of students might not be a more accurate indicator of educational effectiveness. I was pleased to hear that testing in Saskatchewan is not carried out in the same regimented manner. Furthermore, you can imagine my pleasure at hearing from Greg Enion, Director of the Regina Public School Division, that the two standardized tests that the Regina Public Board administers can be opted out if the teacher/school deem a child will be detrimentally affected by taking this type of test. Furthermore, the Regina Public Schools assessment methods place more emphasis on “Value-Added Assessments”, which meet their Assessment philosophy: “Assessment is a sensitive, caring process based on the assumption of achievement for all.  Regina Public Schools assesses for, as and of learning in a variety of ways and contexts.” I am excited by the possibility of working in a school division such as this.

  1. Two ideas/statements that you agreed or disagreed with and why?

One point that I agreed with was the idea that a classroom in a democratic society should look different than a totalitarian society. To me, the most important difference is that we are teaching children to question, adapt, and affect societal progress. This point goes to this quote from the Canadian War Museum that Dr. Westheimer mentions at the very end of his speech:

“History is yours to make. It is not owned or written by someone else for you to learn … History is not just the story you read. It is the one you write. It is the one you remember or denounce or relate to others. It is not predetermined. Every action, every decision, however small, is relevant to its course. History is filled with horror and replete with hope. You shape the balance.”

Teaching students to be democratic thinkers means giving them the experience of affecting change in their lives, the community, and beyond. Understanding that the choices they make can and do make a difference, this models active citizenship and democracy.  In our class ERDG317 Teaching Critical Literacy, we are currently reading, “Critical Literacy – Enhancing Students’ Comprehension of Text” by Maureen McLaughlin and Glenn DeVoogd. In it, they support Westheimer’s position, stating that one of the four dimensions of critical literacy is, “taking action and promoting social justice – reflecting and acting to change an inappropriate, unequal power relationship between people”. I believe that developing students, to be critical thinkers that believe in affecting changes in their world, is indeed one of the main goals of the middle years classroom, and one that I value.

The second statement that I agree with is the idea attributed to Larry Cuban – “You have to meet students’ expectations, and then change them.” In other words, you have to meet their idea of what school is, before you can break it. I interpret this as meaning that the classroom must at some level be a comfortable, safe place in which students can feel grounded. This also means that students must be comfortable with you as a teacher before they will take risks and step outside the zone to question things. A teacher can create this environment by establishing a connection with each student, and modelling that it is acceptable and important to think critically about the world around us. In this way, a teacher can allow students to relate their learning to their own worldview, and enable them to grow beyond their safety net.

learning journey

  1. In your view, what is the most important concept mentioned for assessment theory and practice? Why is it important and how does it relate?

The point that I find to be most relevant to assessment is the idea that self esteem is the number one ingredient of successful people. A focus on self-esteem, combined with the research that shows that the number one goal of parents is for their children to be happy, support Westheimer’s criticism of teaching to the test and standardized testing.

Assessment should not only ensure that students are meeting the curriculum, but that they are doing so in a way that enables them to develop a strong sense of self-esteem and self-worth through the work that they produce. Assessment should measure the journey, not just the destination. By engaging students and assessing them in an individualistic fashion, teachers empower students to take ownership of their learning, thereby increasing self-esteem and happiness in their school life experience. Ultimately, this is the criteria by which I choose to measure my success as a teacher.

So regardless of your profession, how do you measure your success? Is critical thinking embraced in your workplace, or are you rewarded for “towing the line”? Do you focus on the journey, or the destination?

 

Inquiry… then and now

I have lived through my fair share of “inquiry-based” learning, as a student and as a mom of 4 kids. Back in my school days, science fairs seemed to be presented in a way that gave students permission to delve passionately into a particular inquiry of their choosing. For me, this happened in Grade 8.

microfiche
Microfiche Reader, old-fashioned inquiry

I remember creating my Science fair project on the Human Eye and how we perceive colour. Back in those days, we didn’t have the internet to provide prompts and inspiration. We didn’t have a computer in our house and research meant looking through our 1965 (or thereabouts) version of Encyclopedia Brittannica. If I found the data antiquated (which I usually did), I would peruse our local library, or in dire  circumstances, I would even go to the Mississauga Central Library branch, which had far more resources; even video tapes and microfiche! It was a lot of effort for limited information, which we took for “gospel”. In the Education program, we often hear of the importance of teaching children how to properly research, choose credible sources and question intent. Resources are vast and diverse of worldviews. 30 years ago the data was harder to find, but we took it for face value.

 

But I digress. When I was judged on my colour project, I distinctly remember one of the judges asking me about the difference between tan and beige. I suspect his inquiry was based on the clothing trends of that decade. My display was visually appealing and colourful, but not as innovative or controversial as some other projects, such as dissolving nails and teeth in a glass of Coke. Looking back, I can’t tell you what the rubric looked like or how we were assessed. I investigated, I learned, I presented information. But was it inquiry? By definition, yes. But inquiry can be so much more.

I like how this video relates inquiry based learning to this Australian school’s mission to foster a desire in all students to make a difference; a personal, communal, national and global difference. This is something that I truly believe is the key to inquiry – why do I care and how can I make a difference?

So how can this impact how we present inquiry in the classroom? Consider for a minute differentiated learning. This is a topic that my fellow teachers Kendra, April and Emma are exploring with me for our own current inquiry-based learning. There is a wonderful variety of students that present themselves in any given classroom; different types of performers, “high” or “low” achievers, hands-on learners, EAL students, struggling readers and writers.

A Science Fair project can set up all sorts of successes, or challenges. Just look at this project designed by a frustrated mom a few years ago:

science fair turmoil.png
One mom voices a common sentiment among parents and students

My son’s Grade 6 Science project is one example of lack of motivation. A few years ago, he, along with a partner, created a display that showed how solar panels could power a small computer. They enjoyed the hands on challenge of making it work, however they did not see the connection to real world problems that they hadn’t experienced. If they had explored a community that had scarce power, would this have deepened their inquiry into how this could provide a viable alternative for remote communities or countries? Would this have seemed more meaningful to expand the hastily written journal or reflection?

Also, this brings up the point of choice in presentation style. I am sure that if they had been given the opportunity to video blog their reflections, they would have been able to produce much deeper, meaningful reflections on their work. As someone who (for the first time ever!) did my very own video reflections this past term with my teaching partner, April, I am a firm believer that giving a choice of method will increase the content and understanding tenfold.  Here are 72 ways students can show what they know!

As I approach my 3 week block, I am planning for a Unit in ELA – Short Story Writing in the Suspense genre. I think of the students in my class – the same brilliant mix of students I mentioned above, and I wonder – How will inquiry based learning help them to achieve success in this unit? How can I, as an educator and a facilitator, motivate them to share their creativity with others?

My ultimate goal is that the students will want to share their finished products. Not only does this step complete the inquiry process, but it opens the experience up to not just personal, but rather, communal learning as well. I will keep you posted!

And so, readers, I ask you: What topics excite you? Does inquiry follow naturally in these areas, and does this always translate to sharing with your community, and beyond? How do you foster inquiry in others?

 

Aurasma in the Classroom

My group did a presentation this term on Aurasma, and how to apply it in the classroom. We’ve created a pinterest board called Aurasma in the Classroom which offers lots of ideas for you. Feel free to share, borrow and comment!