Resources and discussion for parents, teachers and young people navigating the evolving landscape of the digital world.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Engaging With Students

Sam and I began this project with the goal of sharing resources with students, teachers and parents. We have collected and shared via Twitter, Facebook, Diigo, and this site's sidebar many valuable links for folks who'd like to read more about navigating the digital world ethically and responsibly, or would at least like some help talking to their kids about it. It occurs to me, however, that when it comes to writing actual posts for the blog (where we get a chance to develop our thoughts more thoroughly), I can read all the articles I want and summarize them to my heart's content, but what I can actually speak passionately (and knowledgeably) about is my experience with kids every day. Sam has done so recently with her posts about the MockiPEDIA project (1, 2, 3), and I think it is pieces like this, that share actual real-life experiences, that can be most meaningful. As she and I embark upon more projects with students, we are getting better at spotting the teachable moments to address the themes of digital citizenship and making good choices. Our students are so familiar with our mantra now ("Just because you can, doesn't mean you should"), we are hearing actual evidence that they are stopping to THINK before they ACT. YAHOO!

Here is an email Sam and I received from a student last week:
Is it illegal to use YouTube to Mp3 converters to put song on to your iPod? I've done some research, but I haven't found a definite answer.
How great is that? We both had an opportunity to respond, and while Sam went into great detail on the issues of copyright, illegal music downloads, getting permission from the owner, etc., I had only to chime in with, "Everything Ms. Harris said is right." I felt it was important, in addition, to thank this student for contacting us in the first place. She had done some preliminary research on the issue, and when she couldn't find solid advice one way or another, she asked for help. It's exactly what we would have hoped for, and I was so impressed that she took the time to do so.

The second recent example came in the form of a quick email from an 8th grade student who had "heard some things" about how Facebook handles your photos and was concerned about protecting her privacy. Rumors fly through cyberspace at the speed of light, and it seems we can never keep up with all the things for which we should be watching out. In this instance, what impressed me was that this student contacted a trusted adult for help when she wasn't sure what to do. It takes me time to figure out what's accurate and what are false rumors, so I can only imagine the perception of a 13-year-old when confronted with the latest "WARNING" about privacy settings and the sharing of information not intended to be public. It's tricky to navigate all the various settings, and even then, it's tough to know if they are actually working the way you thought they would. When emails and stories start showing up online, or your "friends" post them to your Facebook page to help you out, it's important to take the time to get the facts. But even in this instance, as I looked for evidence to support the claims being made, I came across several years worth of Facebook rumors related to this same topic. So was this just the latest panic about an issue that surfaces at least once a year? Or did something change and this is now a legitimate concern? Our best advice to students is to keep checking their privacy settings on a regular basis. Things change regularly, and we need to be aware of how those changes impact us. Search legitimate news sources for clarification, and do your best to keep yourself in the know. Ignorance may be bliss, but it's not a good excuse for making big mistakes with personal information.

Having said all that, I can't imagine these questions being raised a few years ago. I'm sure the questions existed, but kids weren't asking for our input. However, we have now spent the last two years having some fairly in depth conversations about behavior, online privacy, digital footprints, and making good digital choices. Talking to kids works. Building relationships with them works. Engaging with them at their level, and discussing sometimes uncomfortable topics with them, works... And the best part?

It doesn't feel like work. :)

Friday, May 13, 2011

MockiPEDIA Part 3: What a (crazy, amazing, worthwhile) mess!

Rich teaching and learning experiences are usually messy. They don't come in workbooks or on worksheets. They aren't quiet or reserved and they don't fit within the lines. Sometimes they even involve actual mud. The MockiPEDIA is a mess, but the good, creative, fantastic, fun sort of mess that evolves into an inspired work of art. The MockiPEDIA project is winding down and I'd like to share a few highlights and challenges faced along the way.

First, to get the icky stuff over with, let's talk about the challenges:
1000+ emails   Hundreds of daily emails demanded a chunk of my time each day. I'm not going to lie, it was a daunting task and felt overwhelming more than once. That said, I think the process of email notification of site updates as a tool for tracking student contributions was beneficial. Not only did I have an understanding of how each student was contributing, I also had the opportunity to identify where students were finding success and where they were struggling. The process also gave me a window into the process of working on the project from a student's perspective. Humorous updates were also abundant. I still giggle a bit about a couple of creative phonetic spellings (bi-ass instead of biased) and unintentionally funny wrong-word errors (a scrotum is not an ancient roman battle weapon).
Dealing with the "P" word   I started this project reminding students about good note-taking strategies and some to avoid (no cutting and pasting!) in order to limit instances of plagiarism. Unfortunately, there were incidents when a student copied something word for word, or close to it. Part of me was angry, and the other part of me wondered if there was something different I could have done either in the structure of the project or in the way I managed student contributions. I also worried about the student writing that seemed to be a simple regurgitation of facts rather than an 8th grader's interpretation and explanation.
I identified one teaching misstep right way; students were not required to submit research notes. I made a quick adjustment in the 7th grade project and did require students to submit notes each week as an indicator of progress, but I can see the difference it would have made in the MockiPEDIA with the 8th grade.
In addition to requiring notes for the 8th grade next year, I also plan on demonstrating the pervasiveness of plagiarism is on the Internet by demonstrating how frequently the same paragraph of text is repeated on various web sites. Plagiarism is something that is probably going to happen at times, regardless of the project, but it does remind me how important it is to keep talking with students about strategies to avoid it.

Now, on to the highlights!
Digital citizenship in practice    Watching students navigate a collaborative writing project has been interesting, to say the least. Some handled difficult situations, such as editing the work of a peer or having work deleted, with tact and maturity. Others at times disregarded the impact changes they made would have on the whole project, or on the feelings of a classmate. Rather than consider these incidents challenges, I instead view them as being rich in the possibility to impart wisdom and experience.† Student with concerns were coached on the best strategies to move forward and those that needed it were reminded of their responsibility to the group.
I learned something new every day   One of the best things about this project was that the students drove the direction of the research. Topics they chose to add to the MockiPEDIA were sometimes surprising, always interesting and, at times, intriguing. I learned about historical figures I never new existed and I became fascinated by topics, like the Black Panthers, that got lots of attention.† Students found connections between historic events, people and places without needing to be lectured on it by a teacher. They read much more broadly on the topic of African-American history than they would have had they been stuck with one topic for two weeks.
True collaboration, with all the advantages and speed bumps    Our learning specialist mentioned that some of the students she works with didn't contribute as frequently to the MockiPEDIA because they may were concerned about others seeing work that wasn't polished. I agree! I find myself at times hesitant to comment on blogs, online articles and other social media sites because I'm afraid of what others might think or that I might not communicate clearly the point I'm trying to make. This is a legitimate concern, but one we must overcome to participate in an increasingly digital world.  
A study on Wikipedia found that over 85% of the contributions are from men. This is concerning on a number of levels and is likely true in other areas of participation on the Internet. Life experience tells us that the more we practice something, the more comfortable we are joining in. The students who participated in the MockiPEDIA have an experience they can mine when they run into similar opportunities now and in the future. I'm particularly impressed with a student who struggled to contribute in the beginning. However, once she got started she wrote an article and then found connections between the topics she researched and two others. In the end, she met her point requirements well before the deadline!

To conclude, it is clear, at least in my mind, that the benefits of this project far outweigh the challenges and I'm sure that I'm only touching on some of the benefits here. As the project concludes I plan on getting feedback from students about their challenges and highlights. I hope it will help us build a better project next year (and I really hope they liked it too!).

To read the first two posts on the project, click on the links below:

MockiPEDIA Part 1
MockiPEDIA Part 2

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Bully Project

One of the most anticipated films at this year's Tribeca Film Festival, "The Bully Project" premiered on April 23rd. Watch the trailer:


Directed by Sundance and Emmy-award winning filmmaker, Lee Hirsch, The Bully Project is a beautifully cinematic, character-driven documentary. At its heart are those with huge stakes in this issue whose stories each represent a different facet of America’s bullying crisis. The Bully Project follows five kids and families over the course of a school year. Stories include two families who have lost children to suicide and a mother awaiting the fate of her 14-year-old daughter who has been incarcerated after bringing a gun on her school bus. With an intimate glimpse into homes, classrooms, cafeterias and principals’ offices, the film offers insight into the often cruel world of the lives of bullied children. As teachers, administrators, kids and parents struggle to find answers, The Bully Project examines the dire consequences of bullying through the testimony of strong and courageous youth. Through the power of their stories, the film aims to be a catalyst for change in the way we deal with bullying as parents, teachers, children and society as a whole.

Bullying behavior has been such a focus in recent months with teen suicides being reported, ongoing discussions about social media and its impact, and from my perspective, just a general feeling that we've all finally hit the point of critical mass, where this is just not acceptable any more. Even our President has spoken out:
“[Let’s] dispel the myth that bullying is just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up. It’s not,” said President Obama. “Bullying can have destructive consequences for our young people. And it’s not something we have to accept. As parents and students; teachers and communities, we can take steps that will help prevent bullying and create a climate in our schools in which all of our children can feel safe” -President Barack Obama

The Bully Project is just one more movement that has begun toward that end. In these cases, the power of social media is amazing, as so many diverse groups are able to mobilize, share resources, and make a statement. Sam and I continually post resources not just here on the blog, but via our Twitter feed, and now on our own Facebook page (we still need more folks to "Like" our page so we can get a real URL, so your help there would be most appreciated). Utilizing social media, we are able to connect with and follow other organizations that bring you even more information. Please join us!

The Bully Project has a list of some wonderful resources on this page, among them two great articles by Rosalind Wiseman: advice on why you should NOT just tell your child to "ignore the bully," and a great article on empowering bystanders. As you find helpful resources or articles yourself, please share them with us via the comments.