Monday, March 30, 2015

Teaching Our Connected Kids

Make no mistake, our kids are connected, more than we would probably like to admit. Each year my fifth grade students use a website on online safety for kids and jigsaw the information in presentations. I like this site because it is easy to split kids into topic specific groups and the information is easy for them to summarize. When the students give their presentations we usually spend about 10 to 15 minutes discussing their experiences with each of the topics. It is amazing how many stories they have to share. This week, I asked groups of fifth graders how many of them talk to other people online through gaming sites or systems or through social media. Easily 90% of the students in each class raised their hands. When I asked how many of them talked to people they didn't know at least 50% of the kids raised their hands. As a teacher and parent that makes my stomach hurt.

*86% of the girls polled said they could chat online without their parents knowledge – 57% could read their parents e-mail, and 54% could have a cyber relationship. 
Law enforcement officials estimate that more than 50,000 sexual predators are online at any given moment. 
*69% of teens regularly receive online communications from strangers and don’t tell a parent or caretaker.
 - See more at:

I want for our students to be connected learners, but are we providing the guidance to help them make smart choices? I know I don't do enough to cover this content throughout the year, but I also don't know if this subject is being covered in the regular ed classrooms at all. We teach about stranger danger, but not when it comes to talking to someone online. Kids see these encounters as harmless, but as adults we are aware of the dangers. At some point, this needs to become part of our curriculum for raising connected learners.

 * Only 15% of parents are “in the know” about their kids’ social networking habits, and how these behaviors can lead to cyberbullying.
* 65% of 8-14 year olds have been involved in a cyber-bullying incident. 
- See more at:

Cyberbullying is a real problem for our connected students. Some of our students are carrying a burden that they don't feel like they can share with the adults in their lives. It is amazing how many students in fifth grade already have stories about being bullied online either by friends or in online chats. Parents and teachers need to be open about cyberbullying and keep an open dialog with students. Many times students don't want to share embarrassing comments that bullies are spreading because they are embarrassed. Building an open relationship can help, so that students have someone to talk to and are equipped with strategies to deal with online bullies.

*Approximately 89% of sexual solicitations of youth were made in chat rooms or through Instant Messaging. 
*22% of teenage girls say they posted nude or semi-nude photos or videos of themselves online.
 - See more at:

The good news is that we have access to many great resources to help our students learn about online safety. I created an online safety Symbaloo webmix that I used with 6th grade students this year. We can make it possible for our students to be connected learners by teaching them to be safe online and then giving them opportunities to share their work. Connected adults need to model how we use the internet and social media in positive ways.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

How to Become a Nerd

On a car ride to attend a workshop last week, another teacher commented that she is now being made fun of for being a "nerd" since she has embarked on her journey to become a leader in our school community. So we all joked about what makes us "nerds": we engage in Twitter chats, read literature on education topics that are of interest to us, we attend workshops and training and all of these things are adding up to two things. We are nerds and we are more engaged in our jobs. Well, I'll be a nerd any day.

How to Become a Nerd: 3 easy steps

1. Build your PLN. What is a PLN? It is a Personal Learning Network, a PLN gives you the freedom to search for other educators with similar interests and mindsets that you can work with. As a librarian, I felt really isolated until I attend an IASL conference (I'll talk more about this in #3) and found out there were these awesome librarians doing amazing things in their schools. I wanted to be awesome. I wanted my work to be amazing. Who doesn't? So I dusted off the Twitter account I had set up and abandoned a year earlier and followed some inspirational leaders. Over the years my PLN has grown to include teachers I work with every day as well as teachers and leaders I have never met in real life. I find that when I get away from my PLN, I am less satisfied at my job and less creative. When I stay connected, I am inspired and rejuvenated.

2. Attend an #edcamp. Edcamp is a non-conference that takes place for educators. They are free to attend and usually take place on Saturday, so you don't have to get permission to go. The educators who choose to attend edcamp on their own time are truly there to be part of a community of learners. It is a place to share and to guide your own learning. Getting to decide how to fuel your own professional development is liberating. You choose what you want to learn about and what you can share with others. Edcamp is a great place to find people for your PLN (see step 1) and to remember why your job as a learner is so vital to your students.

3. Attend a conference or workshop that is interesting to you. Don't go because your administration thinks you should, find something that speaks to you. Our local AEA (Grant Wood) provides a great deal of workshops that you can check out and find one that is tailored to your learning. Also look for conferences, I really love the IASL (Iowa Association of School Librarians) and ITEC (Iowa Technology Education Connection). Taking these days away from students allows me to refill my bucket and be excited about new ideas.
The important part is taking something from these days to use with students as soon as possible.  We definitely don't want the excitement of a workshop to wear off as soon as we go back to work. Pick one thing that you are excited about and figure out how to share that idea with students. Each idea is another tool in our kit that we can use to reach kids. If you are excited about teaching something new, the students will pick up on that excitement.

Want to be a super nerd? Follow an #edchat on Twitter. I like #iaedchat on Sunday nights from 8-9 and #moedchat on Thursdays from 9-10.  There are edchats for all different topics. Look at the hashtags that your PLN are using. If you click on the hashtag it will open up in a search and then you can follow that chat as well.

If being a nerd means that I am passionate about my job and love learning new ways to be great for kids, then I am a nerd. I hope you want to be a nerd too!

Friday, March 6, 2015

"Leading Innovative Change" Reflection

I am embarking on a challenge to blog every week during the month of March. I have blogged with students, but have not done a very good job of creating my own blog entries.

This week, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to listen to George Couros speak about "Leading Innovative Change". I couldn't hardly tweet fast enough to capture all of the great nuggets of thought that I wanted to share and remember. Couros challenged the audience to go home and blog about the session. So, looking back at my Twitter feed from that day, here are the gems that are sticking with me.

"To be an expert teacher, you have to be an expert learner" with "everyone's a teacher and everyone's a learner"
Teachers should always be learning. I know that I am a heck of a lot smarter now that I was four years ago when I came back into teaching after staying home with my kiddos. I was armed with a new Master's of Library Science degree and ready to take on the world, but I am in such a better place now. There is no way I can look at where I am now and say, "I'm good, I know everything." I look forward to five years from now and how much I will have grown in that time. 
I feel like the term "life-long learner" gets thrown around quite a bit in education, but what does that really look like? Are we, as teachers, modeling life-long learning? I love when students have a question that I can't answer, I'm not scared to ask them as a group for help or model how to find help from the internet. I've watched YouTube videos with classes to figure out how to add something to a project or simply Googled how to do something with technology. I certainly do not have all of the answers - about anything. Kids seemed amazed when I admit this. What would our school look like if we were all trying to make a year's annual growth this year? Even the adults. (Maybe this should say "especially the adults") I think it would change how we think about teaching and pushing ourselves to be better for all kids every day. 

"It's not about 'finding time' it's about 'doing differently'"
Time constraints seem to be the reason that many changes in education don't happen. A teacher's day is very busy and often planning times are lost to a discipline issue or other building event. I like the idea of "doing differently" rather than creating time. It is important to make small changes. Perhaps taking that one lesson that you think is boring (if you don't like it, I bet your students don't like it either) and that's the lesson you revamp or try doing something completely new. As the librarian, I love working with teachers to integrate technology into lessons. Since I'm already going to teach students how to use new tools, I would love to have these match up with what is going on in the classroom. 
Often we have several new things thrown our way at time and it becomes overwhelming. When we take a step back and reflect on one thing we would like to change, then it becomes doable. I have been trying to join one Twitter edchat each week and in March I have committed to blogging once a week. I'm sure I will mess these things up at some point because I am human. Even though I have many pressures on my time, when I make something a priority I find that I can make time for it. 

"Sometimes innovation becomes synonymous with technology, but innovation starts with what is best for a particular learner."
I love this because I think we forget that tech and innovation are not the same thing. Sometimes my best ideas come from talking to my colleagues and simply brainstorming. Technology will not save a tired curriculum, and if we aren't using technology in a new way an iPad or computer may just be a really expensive pencil. How can we use technology to transform the way that students tell their stories? If a student is terrified to talk in front of a class, can they use a tool to record themselves giving the presentation? Couros showed great examples of student videos. These were thoughtful demonstrations of student learning. We need to better use the tools we have available to give students the ability to share their learning in authentic and meaningful ways. Often teachers feel unable to allow students to use tools the teacher doesn't fully understand, by the time we fully understand how to use a tech tool it is usually obsolete. Let students lead the way with tech, don't constrain them because of your technical (in)ability. Also, I think it is so important that we remember that every tech tool is not right for every kid. At some point students should get to choose how they will present information. When they have this freedom, the results are amazing (and not always tech related). 6th grade Genius Hour is one of my favorite projects because the learners get to pick what they will learn about and how they will share their learning. It is a messy and awesome process.