Murky Waters

I was having a conversation yesterday with some of my sixth grade students and the topic of copyright came up. Not sure how much their teachers and parents had been talking to them about copyright, I started doing some digging about their understanding of what it meant.

Quickly I realized they knew, more or less, what copyright was. It also rapidly became apparent that the way they applied that knowledge varied dramatically. We were specifically discussing music when one student made the comment, “Well, in American they really don’t care about what songs you use, America doesn’t really care that much about it.” Wow…that certainly is a misconception that needs straightening out!

Another student tried to explain it to the group (she’d obviously been having serious discussions with someone about this) and she used the words “Yeah, but you’re stealing their passion!” She went on to explain that sites like LimeWire are illegal but more importantly they are wrong-because it allows people to steal a person’s passion.

The first student still wasn’t convinced, and was struggling to understand how you are ‘stealing someone’s passion.’ We tried to explain it as something that would hit closer to home. Using the analogy of him creating a film (he loves video making) that he had spent months and countless hours on making-then having another 6th grade student from a different school download his video, using his ‘passion’ for his or her own gain or credit. All without acknowledging (whether monetarily or otherwise) the actual creator of the stunning film. He was quiet for a minute, gave a quick nod to the group and said, “You have a point there.”

After we had this discussion, I found myself thinking about this for quite some time. I think copyright is an area we all struggle with understanding. I wrote an earlier blog post that touched on this as well. I found myself in murky waters when it came to explaining to my students what we could and couldn’t use on our new student site we’re creating (my new final project). So how do I help kids understand that there is potential for them to cause trouble if they use the music performance video if the group didn’t have permission to perform the music in the first place…and is that even an issue? And how do we know if the videos we’re using are following copyright laws, how can we tell? Since there doesn’t seem to be a hard and fast rule, how do we help kids make sound decisions?

As we’re trying to wrap our heads around all of this and make sense of it, I also find myself really feeling my kids’ pain and frustration with this issue. This is the generation of collaborators, of believers in Google Docs, Wikis, and Open Source. They don’t understand that just because it’s there on the Internet and I can click on it, download it, put it in my presentation-it doesn’t make it okay to do so.

In light of all of this confusion and murkiness, I found the sliver of light shining through. When I asked my students if they knew what Creative Commons was, all of them were aware of it and what it meant. I introduced them to and they were excited (though one of the students asked if they had songs like ones Michael Jackson sings…had to burst that bubble a little bit-they weren’t going to find the top downloads from iTunes BUT they would find good music that they could use without breaking laws).

As I said in my earlier ramblings, I think we are going to have to rethink what copyright means in this day and age. We’re going to have to find a way to clear these murky waters for us and for our kids.

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Facebook Workshop

Without going in to all the details of why, let me share with you about my experience with a group of students doing some ‘Facebook sensitivity training’ as the HS counselors called it! I chose to refer to it as a ‘Facebook/Online Profile workshop’. I’m sure the students didn’t enjoy all of it (they weren’t really meant to after all) but I will say that I thought it was an incredibly worthwhile 4 hours.

Initially we began the day with just talking about Facebook. We looked at how it works; we examined and discussed the privacy settings (which most kids were unaware of) and even gave the kids time to go in and put some settings into place. As we were chatting as a group about Facebook, one student said he hadn’t worried about ‘getting into trouble’ because he wasn’t ‘friends’ with any adults on Facebook. Suppressing the urge to grin, I looked at him and asked him if he was ‘friends’ with any of the other 20 kids in the room. He confirmed he was ‘friends’ with just about all of them. I then asked the group to raise their hands if they had adults as friends on Facebook. Every single hand in the room went up but this boy’s. As we had just finished discussing the privacy settings and how friends of friends can see what you write…he was smart enough to put two and two together and sheepishly nodded his head saying “okay, I get it.”

Eventually I gave the kids some time to research Facebook, Privacy on the Internet, and/or Cyberbullying. We then came back together as a group to share what the kids had found. They were shocked at the information they found-the lack of privacy and the way information was being used to fire people from jobs, evict tenants from their rental homes, and deny students admission to universities. This was a major eye opener for these kids…and that is what has me worried! Why was this information new and unknown to these students? The events they were reading about have been happening with more and more frequency-yet it was all news to these 20 sixth, seventh, and eight graders. And what about the rest of the kids that weren’t a part of this workshop? How much do they know about all of this? Who is talking about this stuff with our students…?(more to come on this in a later blog post-hopefully it will be good news about the direction we’re headed in due in part to our Facebook fiasco!)

On a side note-I established from the outset that I was far from against Facebook, if anything I was a pro-Facebook believer. It was perfect that while I was working with these kids on understanding the negative power of social networking, at the same time there was a huge rally happening in our neighborhood that demonstrated the positive power. An environmental studies teacher with his class started a Facebook group to ban plastic bags in Thailand and at that point had over 7,000 members! They advertised the rally on Facebook and had over 1,000 people attend. Now that is power in connections.

As part of the workshop, the students had two ‘assignments’. The first one was to write an essay on some of the things they had learned from their time together. They could write on anything from Facebook to Privacy to Cyberbullying-it was their choice. The second assignment was also a choice-they could create a list of “Dos and Don’ts” for Facebook or they could create a collage of words/pictures representing who they wanted to be in this world (we had spent some time discussing this around Online Profiles and Cyberbullying earlier). This is where something remarkable happened.

One of my students, Gina (who is one of the coolest 8th graders I’ve met), wrote an excellent essay about Facebook and privacy. She posted it on her blog and I shared the link with Jeff, who then twittered it out to his ‘peeps’. Gina quickly found herself in the limelight with people from all around the world reading her essay and asking if they could share it with others-teachers were requesting her permission to share it with their entire class of students. Here’s the goosebump moment-Gina loves writing and has written some stunning poetry. She really has a gift…and in her collage, she had written: “I want to someday be…writing things that make people think about their lives.” Well, Gina, as an 8th grade middle school student, you’ve managed to do just that. But please don’t stop writing-there’s a lot more thinking people need to do and you have just begun accomplishing your dream!

Gina's collage

In following up with each of the students in the workshop, I asked them what was the biggest thing they took away from their ‘training’. Almost all of them answered without hesitation “There’s no such thing as privacy on the Internet!”

Mission accomplished.

Fingers crossed…

And I forgot to put up the last blog post with the link to my project outline! Too much else going on I guess…

So here’s the link to my project outline (Perception in Communication and Problem Solving). As with most of my outlines, I highly doubt that when it comes time to ‘put it into practice’ that it will actually look like this! I was always the student who wrote her outlines after the fact (I hated the classes that required me to turn in the outline for my paper first, that just has never worked for me).

So I am anticipating-hoping-to begin some classroom guidance activities with my students next semester. This is a perfect excuse to ‘borrow’ a class of students for a little while. One of the reasons this outline will likely change is that I plan to collaborate with the Humanities teachers and make my lesson not only meet the Counseling Standards and Benchmarks (ours at ISB are slightly different than ASCA but not by much-we are also in the process of reviewing them), and TAIL standards, but also the Humanities outcomes…this is an idea that I have come to embrace based on Melanie Smith’s work at Concordia International School. The idea is that the classroom guidance lessons presented by the counselor tie into the other standards and benchmarks so it is not an additional or separate lesson concept, but one that reinforces and works with the lessons already being taught but also meets the counseling standards. A true integration if you will. Melanie has created a program that utilizes this concept. I believe it is one of those things that gets us closer to our ‘ideal’ in how a counseling program can be integrated into the regular educational program for all students-she’s brilliant in my opinion! I am excited to put this into practice and ISB and hope that it will become a regular part of the MS Counseling Program. Fingers crossed…

Brilliance or blasphemy?

Hmm, cell phones in the classroom-brilliance or blasphemy? I think I’d have to vote on the side of brilliance…now, I am as irritated as the next person when in a meeting someone’s phone starts obnoxiously blaring out Lady Gaga’s ‘Poker Face’ (oh wait, that would be my phone!). So bringing cell phones into the classroom has to be done thoughtfully and intentionally. Yes, cheating is a concern…and if students can text in their pocket without looking, on some level you have to be impressed by that skill. Students still have to slide the phone out of their pockets to read the message however, much like they might slide a cheat sheet out of their pockets too. This is definitely an issue to be aware of along with many others.

Iphone and Filippo  - Dave Hill Effect

My vote for brilliance, however, comes from my observations with my students. We provide each student with an agenda/planner at the start of every school year. The expectation is they will bring this book with them everywhere; it is to become their lifeline to school. So our digitally connected, tech savvy, always plugged in kids are supposed to rely on a good old-fashioned spiral notebook to keep them organized and planned. Sure, that’s how it works of course…which is why every day lost agendas turn up in the office. Many of these agendas show a valiant attempt at regular usage, others look almost brand new, like they’ve yet to be cracked open. And of course the kids who need the most help with organization and keeping track of assignments, are the ones who can never ‘find’ their agendas. Guaranteed they can always find their cell phones! And the ratio of cell phones showing up in the office to agendas…well, it’s not even worth comparing. I also had great intentions to model appropriate agenda use, and I did just that-for about one week. Did you know that I can schedule things in my computer calendar and it will pop up and tell me what I have to do and when? If I had a cooler phone (no Jeff, I don’t want an iPhone) I could even sync with my computer and have my calendar, or agenda, with me at all times (yes, that’s because I’ve never lost my cell phone either). So much for appropriate modeling…

I had one of our Intensive Studies teachers (special education) approach me and ask if I thought one of our students should be allowed to try using his cell phone as his agenda. I was in full support of that-this kid lost his agenda more than he found it. Unfortunately, many of his teachers were leery of the idea of giving this new strategy a go. One main reason given was “but then all the kids will want to use their cell phones for agendas.” Works for me, saves paper and resources and guarantees they will always have their agendas on them. How do we know unless we try it out? So cell phones in the classroom? Absolutely, I think we can make it work!

Creative Commons License photo credit: mastrobiggo

Molecules in the air-managing laptops in the classroom

A question even I get asked as a school counselor; how do you manage laptops in the classroom? Good question, and one with out a solid, universal answer I think. Managing laptops in the classroom environment is just another (albeit challenging) aspect of classroom management. And as we all know, those of us who have been in other teacher’s classrooms or tried some team teaching, every one of us has a different management style, approach, and level of tolerance.

As with general classroom management, I don’t think there is a more right or wrong way of doing things-everyone has to find out what works for the individual AND the particular group of students you might happen to find yourself working with. I know that there are certain classrooms and groups of students that require me to alter my management style-this is not really different for managing laptops in the classroom. I also feel it is about a personal comfort level, too. For example, some teachers use the ‘lids down’ approach when there is direct instruction happening. Others feel that the level of attention they get from their students with ‘lids up’ works for them. Again, find what works for you and your kids.

Another strategy I find myself using is borrowing from the experienced! Just like we do with other classroom management issues, we ask those that have figured out how to make it work. Every time I see a teacher using laptops in the classroom I learn from it-whether it’s what I want to do when I’m using laptops with students, or it is what I don’t want to do!

The iPod Book
Creative Commons License photo credit: Brian Lane Winfield Moore

For those that are concerned about students being ‘off task’ and not using the computer for what they are supposed to (i.e. on Facebook), I don’t find it to be that major of a concern. I mean, really, that’s not much different than the student who is always hiding her novel inside her science textbook during class (hey, I WAS reading classic literature some of the time). I was able to still do pretty okay in my classes. Whereas Eli, who sat next to me, managed to distract himself quite well with just the molecules in the air-and he did not do so well academically. So having laptops doesn’t seem like it changes things that much. The kids who can be off-task and still do well, will. Those like poor Eli…well, computer or no computer, his teachers had an uphill battle! Maybe the laptop could have actually helped distracted Eli…

Where IS this plane headed anyway?

The NETs for teachers and administrators are a great place to start. To truly have a school that embraces technology and philosophically understands what teaching and learning should look like today, that school’s teachers and administrators need to be on board.

To not have administrators on board with where a school needs to go, it’s like having a pilot that doesn’t really understand how to fly the new fangled airplane or knows where the passengers are headed! Having the NETs for administrators gives some guidelines for what those ‘pilots’ need to know. This is incredibly important…having been the imprisoned listener of an often frustrated technology specialist over the years, I definitely understand how vital it is that the administrators of our schools learn what they need to fly that plane.

The same goes for teachers-using the plane analogy, why are they on the plane if they don’t know where it’s going and why? By default, an administrator with the understanding of technology and its role in teaching and learning today should only hire faculty that can accept and believe in a shared technology philosophy. Jeff and Andy worked together a couple of years ago to formulate some interview questions for prospective teachers to get at just this-have the candidates made the pedagogical shift necessary to work in this school?

I don’t think the NETs are the be all and end all of technology standards, but they are a good place to start your thinking and planning for your individual school/teacher needs. I quite like that at ISB the stunning tech team (who happen to be grading us in our COETAIL courses) created our own set of technology standards, tailored specifically to our school, teachers and most importantly, our students needs. I’m sure they’d be happy to share, though!

Just a tool…grrr

Lately, I have found myself wondering about something…I even made the mistake of bringing it up to Jeff, and you know how he likes to talk about everything and anything to do with technology!

Often in our face to face classes we have the discussion around why we are using technology, to what purpose and what gain. Over and over again I hear teachers argue against the necessity of using technology because “it’s just a tool.” At first I bought into that same idea, it is just a tool that you can use to enhance learning and/or engage our learners. For years I agreed with that idea, even used that same argument myself from time to time. Recently, however, I find myself bristling when someone says “but it is just a tool!”

At some point, and I’m not sure when, technology became more than ‘just a tool.’ A tool is something that you can know how to use but maybe you don’t need to know how to use it and you can still live a full, successful life. When is the last time you heard an intelligent, successful individual convincingly argue that in this day and age, technology learning can be voluntary for students? A tool is something that helps us and makes a job easier, and yes, technology does do that (well, most of the time for most of us anyway!). So it IS a tool…but it’s not just a tool. When did that last ‘tool’ you learned to use completely change the way you thought, the way you saw your world, the way you interacted with others? Did those other ‘tools’ demand a paradigm shift in thinking? Did they inspire movements and a call to redefine what teaching and learning mean?

So no, I don’t buy that anymore, that technology is just a tool. I only have to look at my students to know for sure. Their parents can yell at them, ground them, punish them in all sorts of creative ways-but if you take away their ‘connections’, their cell phones and computers, life suddenly comes to a screeching halt. Living without their technology is unfathomable. And interestingly, I had a father tell me his daughter was grounded the other day because she left the house with out her cell phone…so much for ‘just a tool.’

Who’s job is it anyway?

IMG_7832This is a question that pops up continually in discussions around technology in education. The ongoing debate about who’s job it is to make sure that the technology standards are being met is one that doesn’t have an answer that everyone can seem to agree on. I wrote a blog post earlier that touched on this a bit.

One of the interesting things that came up in our discussion was people in my group questioning whether or not we actually needed to have technology standards and benchmarks. We looked at ISTE’s NETS and also the AASL standards. Some individuals are wondering if this isn’t something that should just be inherent in an educator’s teaching. If a school’s philosophy is that technology is an integral part of a child’s learning, a teacher coming to work for that school should understand that and embrace it. The teacher would then incorporate technology into his/her teaching practice.

IMG_7708I agree that in an ideal world, this is what would be happening. There wouldn’t be a need to specify the standards and benchmarks necessary in technology. Yet, somehow I don’t think we are there yet. There are still educators that either have not ‘bought in’ to the idea of technology and/or don’t have the training or ability to teach their students the necessary skills. Until using technology becomes inherent in our teaching, I do think there is still a need to delineate exactly what the expectations are for students’ learning. Especially if we believe students having these technology skills is important to their success in further education and life.

So asking who’s job it is…knowing that realistically it is everyone’s job…how do we ensure that kids are coming out of school with the skills they need to be successful in today’s digitally connected, global society? I don’t think there is an easy and simple way to do this. IMG_7710I do think one way of attempting to make sure these skills are being taught is by creating (or adopting) standards and benchmarks that address these skills. I see these standards and benchmarks as being incorporated into the regular education classroom with the support of a technology facilitator. So for those teachers who are comfortable with integrating technology into their regular lessons, it’s an easy solution. For those teachers that need more support, they have a resource to turn to and ensure their students as well are learning the necessary skills for success (and hopefully the teachers are too!). We see schools hiring literacy coaches and math coaches to support their teachers, shouldn’t technology also be one of those areas that schools provide the necessary support to ensure kids are getting what they need?

Final project…finally!

OS crewWell, I had to ask for an extension of my final project-but I did have a good reason! My aim was for my final project to be something that I really wanted to do, something that had a purpose beyond just meeting my course requirement. I had finally settled on doing something that did have value-but I was having a hard time getting excited about it. Then, just as life often tosses us a surprise, an opportunity presented itself.

I found myself agreeing at the last minute to take 9 Middle School Students on a three day trip to Surin, Thailand. This trip involved a six hour bus ride each way, two nights in a hotel, and coordinating with another organization. This organization was Operation Smile.

For all of my reluctance and last minute stress, I am so glad that life did throw me this little surprise. This was an amazing trip with a phenomenal group of students. Each of these kids in his or her own way touched the lives of children and families during an incredibly emotional experience. From the screening day of trying to navigate hundreds of people asking for surgery for their children, to the surgical ward on the day surgeries started, to actually standing next to the doctors in the operating room while the surgeries were being performed…these kids showed that they were there to support these children and families in need.

So my final project is a video created, with a link to the donation website, that hopefully will encourage some to also reach out and touch these children’s lives. I know my life has been touched by this experience. Not just by the children and families needing surgery, but also by my students.

Thank you “Carl Jr” (Chris) for tirelessly blowing the bubbles and patiently tossing the ball-you brought laughter and smiles everywhere you went. Thank you “Dr.” Owain for not only being gentle with the kids needing surgery, but also for caring about the other kids on our trip-and for insisting that you wanted to create a video all on your own, it is amazing! Thank you Sanjana for your quiet smile that helped ease the kids’ fears and for putting their needs before your own. Thank you Ciel for translating for us, the doctors, the kids, and the families-those little ones will always remember the duck duck goose games and joy you brought into their lives (and now you, too, have added your own phenomenal video that spreads the message!). Thank you Julie for your quiet curiosity and your willingness to do whatever was asked of you-your patience is remarkable. Thank you Liana for being the ‘crazy sticker girl’ and even when you were tired, still finding the energy to jump and play ball to make the kids smile and laugh. Thank you Becky, for sharing your creativity and kindness-when you reached out to gently hold the hand of an unknown elderly woman waiting for surgery, it showed the depth of compassion you hold in your heart. Thank you Siska, for truly feeling the sadness of others and wanting to bring joy into people’s lives-you really see others’ pain and you reach out with a heart full of love. Thank you Tasha for being so incredibly full of love and joy that just being near you brought the same feelings to the children and families you touched-you have a heart of gold. You all touched lives-you made our world a better place.


Selling the message

I found myself thinking after reading David Jakes’ post from May of 2008…which is what a good blog post should do-get you to thinking. David said in his post:

Emotion, depicted through visual means, sells the message.

This is what we’ve been talking about in this class at great length. Emotion is what sells our messages. Using visual imagery (whether it be photos or videos) is a way to help ‘sell our message.’ Looking back at a previous post talking about International School Brussels ‘brochure without words’ that is exactly what they were after. ISB wanted you to feel something when you looked at their brochure. Sitting around a table with a group of colleagues discussing the imagery in the brochure was an interesting experience. Each of us sitting there had responded strongly emotionally to different parts of the brochure…yet we all consistently responded emotionally (in a positive way) to what was trying to be communicated.

David goes on in his post to talk about the power of visuals and how this now gives us (and our students) a competitive voice.

Visuals, when combined with other multimedia, provide individuals with a competitive voice. One that can be heard. One that can be measured. One that says “here I am, and here’s what I think, here is what I have to contribute. Now what do you think?” Kids have meaningful things to say, so challenge them to produce visual content with purpose and with pride. Help kids understand that the world is more connected then ever, and that producing visual content like this becomes even more powerful…

In education we constantly talk about how to engage our students, how to make learning meaningful for them. This is how we do it; we provide them with that ‘competitive voice’ that David was talking about. Understanding this new digital age comes with not just understanding the connectedness of our world, but also grasping the power that each individual has to leave her mark on that same world. Utilizing visual means, we have the ability to let our voices be heard and to sell our message.