Monday, July 31, 2017

Good (Digital) Citizenship

This is part of the #EdublogsClub year-long challenge to blog every week.  This week's focus is on Digital Citizenship.

Digital Citizenship is a favorite topic of mine. As a high school administrator, this is a topic that comes up in multiple ways every single year.  As this year gets ready to launch, I see this as a wonderful opportunity to take stock of what we currently do and set a few goals for the coming year.

Opportunities to Teach Digital Citizenship

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At our school, our process for instilling good citizenship, digital or otherwise, is part of our DNA.  Several years ago when digital citizenship became a hot topic, we immediately turned to Common Sense Media's education page to augment a program we already had in place for instructing our students on plagiarism.  Over the last few years, we have worked to be sure all faculty know about Common Sense Media so that they can utilize the rich resources there as they build their own lessons that involve digital tools.

Meanwhile, our Director of College and Career Counseling has worked into her materials information about proper behavior, especially on social media, as our students apply to colleges and universities, internships, and even summer jobs.  I am a strong supporter of students hear the same message from different adults on a regular basis.  What your classroom teacher says about not plagiarizing on your blog for an assignment may not resonate, but the same example used to point out how you can sabotage your dream internship application just might be the ticket to keeping a student on "the straight and narrow".  

A current colleague and a former colleague have also presented multiple times at conferences on the idea of Digital Dossiers. This to me is such a powerful message for educators and students.  Our digital footprint isn't going away, it is only getting bigger--and more permanent! So the sooner we can learn and implement appropriate best practices, the more prepared our students will be to function in the world that they are inheriting.

What is our role?

This brings me to a point that I can't emphasize enough: We need to model appropriate behavior for our students.  Just as we expect sports stars, celebrities, politicians, and anyone else in the public eye, to comport themselves appropriately at all times (including on social media), we need to do the same.  For many of our students, we ARE celebrities.  We might be the best example of adult behavior that they have in their lives. So we do NOT have the luxury of posting a picture from our summer vacation of us at a pool party that looks like it could be Spring Break in Cabo.  This army image is one of the best visuals I have seen that captures this idea:
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As with everything else that we do when instructing students, we need to model.  We show them what a good essay looks like, we give them a template for where their name and date belong on an assignment that they are handing in. We monitor the words they use in the classroom and on the playground, we have rules about what clothes they wear to school. And we follow all of these guidelines as well because we understand that we are responsible for establishing the proper learning culture in our school communities.  If we take so many other aspects of learning seriously enough, why does social media get a pass? 

Digital Citizenship is still Citizenship!

Several years ago, Diane Main introduced me to the concept of a "digital tattoo". Most of us probably think of our
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digital cookie crumbs as a digital footprint.  However, footprints can disappear over time.  Tattoos on the other hand, are permanent unless they are painfully removed and even then, there is still a shadow of the original tattoo left.  Digital tattoos are what I want students (and adults) to think about when they think about what they put out into the ether, via social media or otherwise.  We all, every single one of us, have a responsibility to our fellow humans to be caring and compassionate, to be honest and truthful, and to be thoughtful.  Everything we do is remembered by someone, and everything that we post digitally exists somewhere, even if you delete a post.  We know this.  How do we teach our students this? Some see screens as providing anonymity, but anyone who has been "caught" for posting something negative knows otherwise.  When we speak to a person face-to-face, we tend to be gentler because we can't bear the idea of hurting them irreparably. That is a human response.  Even writing emails, I tend to reread them multiple times before hitting "send" (and I still use the Unsend feature on a regular basis!)  because I want to be sure the words are clear, compassionate, and appropriate--the same things I do in an actual conversation.  I don't believe that there should be a distinction between "digital" citizenship and "citizenship". It is all part of our communication patterns and we need to be sure that we are always striving to be good citizens in every aspect of our communication and interaction with others.

What's Next?

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This year, to keep a strong emphasis on the idea of digital citizenship, it is going to be folded into a monthly challenge for the faculty.   This is an important step with respect to making sure our education is fully preparing our students. This really came to my attention when our BrightBytes survey results indicated that while faculty believe they are doing a better job of teaching digital citizenship, the student data reflects the opposite. Of course, many factors could account for this disparity.  But for me, making digital citizenship a clear priority will hopefully reverse this trend as students experience more intentional instruction around their online behavior.  

I also hope that our Tech Liaisons (a group of student leaders focused specifically on the integration of technology on campus) can get a better understanding of what shifted from the student perspective, allowing us to modify our curriculum and better help students to understand the expectations of digital citizenship.

This is a topic that clearly isn't going away anytime soon so I would love to learn about how your school tackles citizenship.  The more we share our best practices with each other, the more effective we all become at ensuring that the next generation of students are ready for the challenges that they will face.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Taking Stock

I had to take a break from the weekly #edublogsclub challenge in order to attend to some family matters while also wrapping up the school year.  It got a little nuts. And though I have never been particularly good about blogging in the past, I found that for the past few months, the need to blog was always there.  They say that it takes 21 days to form a habit and while I was not posting EVERY week, I was posting consistently so it would appear that I have moved closer to forming a habit than I realized.  And not being able to blog for a while really solidified that fact for me. Thus, it seems appropriate that my first post back should be an opportunity to take stock of the experience thus far and identify some goals for the rest of the blogging year.

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What have I learned so far?

Despite the fact that I have never had much confidence in my ability to blog, I have found that I no longer really care if I what I write is "good" or not.  The process of blogging has become meaningful to ME.  Essentially, I am journaling in a public forum.  Instead of keeping my journal under the mattress or in a drawer,  I am journaling digitally. Along the way, some of my thoughts might resonate with others, as I found other blogs do with me.  That is a positive result of this  digital age.  You truly aren't alone.  And your questions and ideas and musings do speak to other people.  When I was 12, I sometimes thought that I was the only girl in the world feeling the way that I did.  Years later, I know that my insecurities are misplaced.  There is a world of people out there and with just a little effort, I can find a "tribe", an answer, a new idea. That is extremely comforting. So if you are wondering "what do I have to share?",  just start writing and you will see how much your voice is needed and matters in the global dialogue.

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What will I do next?

As the summer winds down and the school year ramps up, I am looking forward to returning to a regular practice of blogging.  I also plan to go back and respond to some of the earlier #edublogger prompts that really speak to me. I am also thinking about creating a blogging challenge of sorts for our faculty this year.  Reflection is so important for all of us no matter our career, so I hope to encourage the faculty to reflect in different ways this year.

The last few months have shown me how much I value the opportunity to reflect and I am not only excited to get back at it, but also to find ways to encourage others to do the same. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

What's Your Number?

I am responding to prompts a little out of order. This post is actually in response to the #EduBlogsClub prompt #15: Write a post that discusses “assessments."

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If you are a connected educator, you will recognize assessment as a common topic; you can easily find one or two Twitter chats a month focusing on the topic of assessment in addition to numerous hashtags. I suppose it makes sense since as educators we are asked to assess our students regularly in order to ensure they are meeting the benchmarks agreed-upon for that grade level. I honestly have no issue with us determining how well students have mastered specific tasks.  After all, as adults, our employers expect a certain amount of productivity AND a certain level of accuracy in order to ensure our continued employment. Most of us are given annual reviews at the very least to identify strengths, accomplishments, and areas of growth. 

But here is where I begin to jump onto my soap box. Apologies in advance (or simply stop reading and move on to something else).

To start, here are my biggest issues with the way assessments currently operate in the majority of classrooms:
1. A number can not possibly provide a complete picture of a person's entire body of work. It can provide one data point as a predictor so let's change the conversation about standardized tests.
2. Professionals are rarely, if ever, placed in a single "do or die" situation, expected to perform on a test that alone holds their entire future in the balance (O.K., maybe some surgeons, but they work with a team, not solo). So why do we do this to our students?
3. Professionals generally get "do-overs" in the form of revisions, or a Q and A so why, again, are students not provided the same opportunities?

So let me dive in a bit more...
1. A number can not possibly provide a complete picture of a person's entire body of
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work. It can provide one data point as a predictor so let's change the conversation about standardized tests.
As a private high school, we do use an admissions test as part of the process to help identify who should be accepted.  We do this because we have a rigorous curriculum and want to be sure that students are not "getting in over their head". However, that number (their CSQ) is only one piece of the puzzle. Yet, too many times students and parents focus almost obsessively on standardized test scores. Pick any acronym-bearing test: SAT, ACT, AP, ACRE, STAR, or any one of the state standardized exams; these tests have gained far too much notoriety as a be-all-and-end-all in determining just how successful our students (and thus our teachers) are. But that isn't what they were meant for (as far as I can tell). If you follow the link I shared for what a CSQ is, you will see that at the very top of the page, the numbers are broken down into ranges and the language used to describe each range is "academic potential". Well, news flash: we ALL have potential. It is what we 
actually do with our potential that matters. So, let's stop talking about students as a number.  Instead, we need to consider how we are going to encourage every student to reach (and exceed) their potential.

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2. Professionals are rarely, if ever placed in a single "do or die" situation, expected to perform on a test that alone holds their entire future in the balance (O.K., maybe some surgeons, but they work with a team, not solo). So why do we do this to our students? High-stakes tests aren't the only issue here.  What about all those unit tests, chapter tests, and even section quizzes that we give to students? Yes, we want to hold them accountable, and yes, we need to understand what they know and what we need to re-teach, but for so long schools have programmed students to accept these assessments as the "final word" on their knowledge of a particular topic or subject. But that isn't reality. What about allowing test corrections, or having students analyze their mistakes so that they can actually use the assessment as a check-point and master the material in the long run? If we want to encourage students to be life-long learners, then we need to create an atmosphere where learning (and failing) is a process. It doesn't start when we are 5 and enter Kindergarten, and stop in June, then start again when we enter first grade, etc. until we have a college diploma.  No! Learning is constant.  I learn every day! My ideas and approaches have changed since I entered the field of education. I shudder to think back on my former self, as a matter of fact! 

This leads to:

3. Professionals generally get "do-overs" in the form of revisions, or a Q and A so why,
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again, are students not provided the same opportunities?
 Since professionals are constantly revising presentations, editing white papers, seeking out collaboration on ideas to land the next client, why are we not mirroring this sort of environment in schools? I recently listened to an episode from one of my favorite podcasts (EdSurge) in which a college freshman pointed out that schools haven't changed in over one hundred years when the current model was designed to produce factory "yes men". You can hear the whole podcast here.  (I highly recommend listening to this one as student voice is so important to everything that we do!) Well, we as a nation have come a long way from populating factories with high school graduates. We now encourage and celebrate those individuals who obtain higher ed degrees and look to the next generation to create, collaborate, communicate, and think critically. That will not happen consistently if we do not change our model. I guarantee that every school has some teachers that are masterful at incorporating the 4C's into their class, PBL happens regularly, and students are asked to reflect on their learning. But unless this happens across the board in every room with every teacher, students will not gain the full impact. So again I have to ask, if this is how the professional world operates, why are we not incorporating this model in our schools to truly prepare our students to be contributing members of society? Giving them opportunities to collaborate with their peers, defend their work to a panel of people (and not just their classroom teacher) provides authentic learning opportunities, gives students a reason to be invested in the process, and just might result in more engaged students who have a true understanding of the information, not just enough knowledge to regurgitate the "right" answer on a test and move on.

But I would be remiss if I just ranted and didn't also suggest a solution so here you go...

One possible solution: ePortfolios.
Portfolios, in my opinion, make so much sense. In fact, the weekly KQED Learning newsletter just included THREE separate articles about digital portfolios. You can read them all here (written by my good friend and colleague @TeckBioBek)here, and here. Portfolios, starting at the Pre-K/TK level that can follow students throughout their learning are (in my opinion) a great way to allow students to engage in the learning process, identify what they know and don't know, reflect, set goals, and reach (and exceed) their potential. I know that this would require a HUGE shift in how we approach learning, how teachers are trained, and what diplomas and degrees would mean. I also recognize that our country is pretty big with lots of players in the education arena. But ultimately, don't we want an intelligent populace that can solve problems by creating solutions? To me, that means the end of the one-size-fits -all, single-time exam and instead, we need to allow our students to show us what they know in the way that makes the most sense to them. While I realize that I am not proposing a simple solution, I also know that there are lots of people already doing their part to change what education looks like. The more of us working towards this goal of creating a learning environment that mirrors the "real world", the easier it will become. 

So those are my current thoughts on assessment.  What are yours?

Friday, April 21, 2017

Tell Me a Story...

"This post is part of the #EdublogsClub – a group of educators and edtech enthusiasts that blog around a common theme each week. 
Oral histories are how society passes on cultural beliefs and experiences. In the modern day, blogging has become a surrogate for those histories. Stories interpret our experiences and help others learn about the worlds around them. They help us connect on an emotional level and create empathy." 
This week's task is to write a post that tells a story so here goes...

This week has been the much longed-for Spring Break at my school. That has given me time
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to catch up on emails and think about not only how the year is going but to reflect on it in comparison to years past. With just over a month left of school when we return next week, it's a good time to reflect. And what I have found myself thinking about is how many students I have had the privilege of working with over my years in education. After 25+ years, I have gotten to work with just a few students. My Facebook feed is now bursting with updates from many of those former students. There is a lot that I am proud of when scrolling through their posts. I see teachers, lawyers, medical professionals, entrepreneurs, moms, future politicians. All confident individuals that I was lucky enough to have shared time with during their high school years. Of course, not all of their journeys were easy, and there were some who "just barely" graduated and we sent off not sure what would happen next. 
Recently at a gathering at my school to honor a former teacher, over 300 alumnae attended. One of those "just barely graduated" young women was in attendance! It was so uplifting (and comforting) to see her. She excitedly shared all that she was up to and expressed gratitude to us for having not given up on her. She also said something that surprised me: "I'm sorry it took me so long to grow up."  I was thrilled to see that a student who left us with an uncertain future was doing great. Bonus: she had become a mature, reflective individual. 
This encounter left me so inspired. Education is certainly an amazing career choice. And those of us who have been at it for any length of time at all know that we learn more from our students than they learn from us. Running into this particular former student helped remind me that:
1. Our students NEVER stop teaching us
2. We NEVER stop learning
3. We can't EVER give up on our students
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At this point in the school year, I think these reminders are particularly timely. I don't know a teacher who isn't looking forward to graduation day. The seniors especially, are quickly wearing out their welcome (as my grandmother would have said). But none the less, we have to keep teaching and inspiring, despite the mounting spring fever in our young charges. This recent encounter is definitely the shot-in-the-arm that I needed to stay focused and continue to give every student as much support and encouragement as I can to help them (and me) finish the year strong.
What stories do you have from the year that you draw inspiration from?

Monday, April 3, 2017

Pendulum Shifts

Newton's Cradle image
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This week's prompt for #EduBlogsClub is about pendulum shifts in education. I have been ruminating on this topic all week. And clearly many of my fellow bloggers are in the same boat as the posts have been coming in much slower in comparison to previous weeks. This week, I am sharing a few of my thoughts on the idea of 1:1 implementation in schools. I know that it has only been a nanosecond in time since 1:1 programs were implemented in schools, and that not every school is even there yet. However, the number of shifts that have already happened around this topic in education is fascinating to me and probably what drew me to it as a topic for reflection in the first place. 

The iPad was first released in 2010.  Schools began jumping on the iPad bandwagon within months. How wonderful to have all of the student work and text books contained on one light-weight device. No more heavy backpacks to lug around and students could learn anywhere--provided they have access to wifi. This was truly going to revolutionize teaching and learning! But has it really? Here is what I know:

1. Technology is changing rapidly every day so it really isn't about the device, it is about how you use the device to increase your learning (think SAMR)
2. Despite the rapid increase of using tablets in education, textbook companies are still woefully behind in designing textbooks for high schools (and middle schools and elementary schools) that are effective digital learning tools with interactive components and regularly updated content. Discovery Ed is possibly the best I have seen so far but they don't work for everyone. 
3. There is enough feedback from students who don't want digital textbooks! They still prefer actual BOOKS (gasp!) and we know that research supports their desire so why throw out the books for sleek technology that isn't meeting the learning needs of our end users? And what about students who want to keep their books (I am thinking about those kids inspired by a novel in English or the AP Physics student who is planning to study science in college)? 
4. Taking notes is still a staple for learning and isn't going away. And on top of that, we know now that writing notes out longhand is much more conducive to the learning process than typing, so again, why replace pencil and paper with a shiny device? 
5. If the school doesn't provide a device for each student, what about those students who don't have access to technology? Or WiFi? Or both? 

Could we actually be undermining our goal as educators by using too much technology?

I don't consider technology in schools a passing fad, but I do think that as educators we owe it to our students to be selective about how we use technology in order to create intelligent, flexible, creative citizens. That means using technology appropriately and designing learning experiences that allow students to choose the right tool for the task. And we need to find a way to close the digital divide. Otherwise, the whole purpose of education (IMHO)--to create an educated citizenship and large middle class--will be undermined. As with all "new" ideas introduced into education, technology was supposed to improve learning. I am not totally convinced, however, that every family would agree. Some schools have really done a great job while others haven't.  
photo of swinging clock pendulum
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I think we have a lot of work to do in order to ensure that all of our students can benefit from the use of technology in schools because there are countless benefits. The trick is to be discerning and intentional in training, roll-out, parent education, and ongoing support in order to really maximize the benefits. And isn't that the truth for all initiatives, and perhaps why the pendulum seems to swing so much in education?

Monday, March 27, 2017

Embedding Some Google Goodness

For week 12 of the EduBlogs Challenge, we were asked to embed something into our post. I love the idea of embedding and it just seems to get easier and easier. (Follow the link to this week’s challenge to find tutorials on embedding if you have never done it before).

We try to make sure that our teachers know how to embed material into the lesson pages housed on our LMS because when you embed, you make sure that the students stay right where you want them to--engaged with the lesson.  The alternative--hyperlinking--is great in some scenarios (I like to use this method when preparing agendas and meeting notes), but if you want to be sure your students don’t wander down the rabbit hole, aka, get lost on the web, embedding is much more effective.  For blogging and for websites embedding is also really useful because again, you keep the reader where you want them: looking at your material. 

So for this week’s challenge, I am embedding a project that my son and I completed last summer on a trip of a lifetime. I chose this for a few reasons:

  • He was so proud of what we created (and I was pretty chuffed too) so I love to show off his work
  • I just love the possibilities with Google Maps so I wanted to share this map to hopefully inspire someone else to look at using a map as the focal point for a class project.
  • Being a baseball fan, and with Opening Day almost upon us, this seemed appropriate

Happy travels!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Student Feedback Dilemmas

This post is part of the #EdublogsClub – a group of educators and edtech enthusiasts that blog around a common theme each week. 

image of an A+ on a paper
After a few weeks off, I wanted to jump back in but this week's topic--student feedback--has me struggling.  Feedback is so very important to all of us.  We all crave feedback because we want to know what resonated with people and where to improve.  Our students crave feedback because they need affirmation that they "did it right", whatever that means. And here is my struggle. I want our students to crave the learning process.  I want them to accept the challenge to always improve.  A "good job", or "wow! that's really interesting" is only part of the process. They should then continue from that point and be asking questions like:
"What else can I do with this?"
"Where can I go from here?"
"What will my next step be?" 

Instead, they are usually satisfied with the former and move on to their next assignment. How much of that is driven by the way we have created a very compartmentalized education system? Many elementary schools have the opportunity to design truly integrated cross-curricular units.  Students can really dive deep into a topic grapple with driving questions, and create something. By they time they hit us in high school, however, those opportunities are far and few between. Now teachers and students alike are compartmentalizing much of the learning in an effort to simply survive. That is a crime. Education should allow students and teachers to THRIVE, not survive.

Students want feedback...sort of.  What do they REALLY do with feedback? Honestly,
Image of generic grade rubric
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usually nothing.  The teacher spends a good amount of time providing helpful suggestions for "next time" that rarely get read and are even less likely to be applied the "next time" that sort of assignment rolls around. Teachers (at least I know I did when I was in the classroom and many of my colleagues do the same today) spend hours grading because they want to provide as much feedback as necessary. After all, feedback is one way that we can connect with the students individually and help move them forward. We can't, however, realistically keep up with the demand of providing copious notes to each student on EVERY assignment because that is humanly impossible.  Even with the addition of peer review, Google Docs collaboration and voice comments, it is still overwhelming. So then we become selective about the assignments that we actually provide detailed feedback on, or we begin to focus on just one aspect of the assignment for feedback each time, and we incorporate student reflections as part of the assignment, all in an effort to still have the students complete an appropriate amount of work, move the required curriculum forward, and not skimp on feedback. For larger assignments, when you try to incorporate a revision opportunity, some students feel resentful. Not because you want them to have a shot at improving their grade, but because this then becomes an assignment on top of the all the other "regular" assignments that are cued up for that week. It almost seems unfair. And of course then they might question their ability to do well on the revision while also keeping up with the regular assignments that are expected in your class and their many others. It feels a bit like being stuck on a hamster wheel! 

But honestly, regardless of the method, I still feel that we are doing students a huge disservice.  Not because we are experimenting and finding ways to mix up the feedback.  Not because the students don't seem to really look at our comments. But because we have yet to find a successful, scalable approach to inspiring our students to WANT to linger on an assignment and improve their work. They do this all the time through their extra-curricular activities (sports, music, drama, robotics, etc.). They will spend HOURS pursuing their passions outside of school.  Whey can't we find a way to support their passion DURING school? This, I think, is a much deeper issue than I could fairly comment on here because it is the bigger question of education in our country.  Colleges and universities profess to have certain expectations and thus high schools need to work to meet those expectations.  So middle schools need to "prepare" students for the high school expectations and that then pushes down to elementary schools and so on. I think I am overly sensitive to this whole cycle because our high school is college prep, not comprehensive.  Thus, the course offerings are more limited and passion is often only found outside the classroom for many students.

Grading vs. Feedback statement
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A true overhaul of education expectations, starting with higher education might provide some solutions to this dilemma.  But that isn't realistic. So until such time as a clear solution is presented, I think it is imperative that we as educators continue to collaborate with each other, be willing to take risks, and try new approaches in our classrooms to find a process that works for us and our students to deliver meaningful feedback. I know I don't have the answer but I am always willing to learn from others who have something that is working to figure out how to apply it at our school.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Safe Sharing in the Digital Age

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This week's prompt from #EduBlogs Club is related to Student Privacy. This has been an interesting topic to reflect on as both an educator and a parent. I work in a high school so I think we have approached the student privacy issue in a slightly more relaxed way than my son's school (he's in elementary school). And that feels appropriate to me.

Why we need to teach about digital safety

We live in a digital age so what we are now teaching has had to expand to cover online safety simply because if we are really doing our job then we are preparing our students for their futures. And let's face it, our students live as much on line as they do off line. So my approach, and what I coach our teachers in, is to help students learn how to interact safely and positively online. If we shelter our students from all that is available digitally then we are doing them a disservice.  Not only are we not allowing them to learn and create in a space that is inhabited by pretty much any profession they might chose to pursue, but we are also not giving them the opportunity to gain valuable skills that will give them an advantage as they pursue summer jobs, apply to college, or even seek to start their own business.


But this requires us to think about their safety and teach them how to be responsible for their safety in the digital realm as much as we teach our children how to be safe when crossing a street or how co-eds need to be safe at their first college party. At the high-school level, we work with our lower-grade students to not divulge personal information that predators could use to find them. They don't use their picture. They don't identify where they go to school or even what city/state they live in, and they don't use their full name. As our students become juniors and seniors, we teach them how to intelligently engage via social media.  We realize that they need to build a portfolio that can be useful for college and job applications and that means that they need to present themselves as real people. For our 9th and 10th graders, they are kept primarily to blogging and are not mandated to share their blogs outside our school.  The 11th and 12th graders however are creating more public blogs as well as interacting on social media. This has been our approach for several years now and we have not had any problems.  We also spend time providing instruction for our students in digital safety. We rely heavily on the materials available through Common Sense Media Education because, well, they are the best.  


The other important piece to educating our students effectively is good modeling. Just like most schools today, we have a release form that parents are asked to sign that allows their student's image to appear on school materials and social media.  Every year there are a handful of families who opt-out, and that is completely their choice. However, in this modern era, capturing your school's story via social media and sharing it out is necessary. So I have learned to capture images that can share our school's story without including the student faces or names. Here is an example of a photo montage I posted that does not include any faces but clearly (I think) shares a story: 

The students know that I post on social media.  When they see me with my phone out they often ask: "Is this going on Twitter?" Those students who are "OK" with having their image on social media will sometimes even tell me "It's OK to take my picture." It is these opportunities that help to reinforce that there is an etiquette to posting on social media, and that is part of the learning too.

The world of education is multi-faceted and seems to have more added to the expectations every year. I am grateful for the opportunity to reflect a bit on student privacy in the digital age in this week's post. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Free, Free, Free!

This week's (well, technically now that it is Tuesday, LAST week's prompt) for the #EdublogsClub challenge was to write about a free tool that you enjoy using. It has taken me all week to find time to really reflect on this because my absolute favorite, can't live without and can't work without (yes, they are two separate things--you'll see) tool is the Google Suite. I know several people have shared some of the obvious tools contained in the GSuite so I am going to put forth a few of the lesser known, under-appreciated tools found within the Google domain.  May I present for reflection Google Draw, Google Hangout, Google Calendar (and the cool Calendly site) and Google Keep.

Up first, Google Draw. I love the flexibility of Draw for creating colorful flow charts, having students design word maps, collaborate on infographics, create Venn Diagrams, or just present information in a more playful, optically inviting way. If you haven't tried Google Draw, I encourage you to do so. There are loads of shapes to use, or you can free-draw your own (if you are really brave!).  You can import images and then have students fill them out using the text box tool. Think: have students demonstrate that they can label a cell using a real photo of a cell on a GDraw document pushed out through GClassroom instead of a black and white photocopy. I LOVE Google Draw and encourage teachers and students to impress me with new applications.  Just so you can get a feel for the fun that you can have with Google Draw, here is a document that we used to share out the teams for a PD exercise:

Who wouldn't be excited to get started with the fun call-out shapes and bright colors?! So give GDraw a try the next time you are looking for something  a bit different to give your lesson or presentation a boost.

OK, the next tool that I want to mention is Google Hangout.  Many of you are familiar with this tool for communication with colleagues or family members but here is one way that we use it at our school: to help students attend class who have temporary mobility issues due to  injuries.  You see, we have a three-story building built in the 1920s, pre-ADA.  Thus, no elevators. So when a student athlete (we are a high school with some pretty competitive students) shows up after ACL surgery or a broken leg from her weekend on the slopes, we set them up to use Google Hangout to attend their classes on the second floor or in the basement.  Pretty slick! And they thought they would get to skip Pre-Calculus for a few weeks 😊  It is also a great tools for students who might be quarantined at home but want to attend class. Our counselors will meet with the student and provide them a brief tutorial and then they are off and running. When we first started using Hangout to help girls attend class we had them call the teacher directly so that the teacher could screen-share their lecture slide deck.  However, that became a burden on the teacher.  So now, we have the girls call in via a classmate. It has been a great solution and our parents love that their girls don't have to try and negotiate our stairs on crutches.  It's a win-win.

So, on to Google Calendar. As an administrator, this is my must have. I love that I can give my assistant direct access to my calendar to add appointments for me.  No more emailing back and forth 17 times to find a time that works for me and whoever wants to meet with me. I also like that my coworkers can see when I am free simply by searching for my calendar.  Here is a quick video on how to see coworkers calendars if you aren't familiar with this feature.

I also like being able to create appointment slots for scheduling a series of meetings such as end of year reviews with our faculty.  Setting up appointment slots is fairly simple. What I find gets a little tricky is sharing out the appointment calendar link.  You see, there is one link for your calendar.  And let's say you create slots for one type of meeting in September, another type of meeting in December and a third type of meeting in March (for example, check-ins with your new hires). When you send the link (and it's a long link), it will open to your calendar on the day that the person is looking at it. So, you send out your appointment slot link in August to your new teachers.  They scroll to September and book an appointment but don't fully read your email to also scroll to December and March.  They then won't see your slots for those later meetings.  It takes a little bit of getting used to for some people.  This is why I actually prefer using Calendly for setting up appointments with people.  I actually shared Calendly with our counseling staff and at least one of them is now using it exclusively to set up meetings with all of her students.  Calendly links directly with your Google calendar and will update your calendar, as well as send reminders to both the person coming to see you as well as you. It is more user friendly for many and also free.

The final tool I want to share is Google Keep. I have to give a Google Ninja credit for introducing Keep to my world last summer at a Google Certification Training. Since then, I don't know how I lived without Keep! Here is why I love Keep:

  • You can share your lists with others and collaborate just like all the other Google tools.  This is great for clubs and work teams that need to keep tasks organized.  But my personal favorite use for this is to keep our family shopping lists updated. Try it.  Never again can your spouse or partner tell you they forgot the shopping list because there is a mobile app for Keep that is seamless!
  • You can geo-tag notes. What a great way to remind a student to do their homework--geotag their homework list to their home address 
Of course there are lots of other great tools in the Google Suite, but I thought that these four deserved a little shout-out.  I hope that you have a new idea for your classroom or school site (or home life!). How do you use Google to simplify your workflow?  Please share in the comments below.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Pictures vs. Words

This week's #EduBlogger Club prompt is all about pictures.  I love this prompt because I spend a lot of time finding images to match my posts. I find that the posts I personally enjoy reading are the ones that include good images.  I also know from lots of reading, attending conferences, time in classrooms, and leading PD, that images are much more powerful than words. So I have spent much of the past week noticing images and thinking about how I use images as well as how I can better use them in the future. 
Image from one of our (previously NOT upgraded) classrooms

I enjoy using images and have actively worked to improve my use of them over the last few years. For example, part of my job as an administrator is to justify projects to our Board.  We educators know that there is never enough money in the "pie" to go around so I take my job very seriously when it comes to lobbying for funds for our teachers. For some requests, images can definitely help strengthen the argument.  One of my favorite examples for using images was when I asked for funds to complete some classroom upgrades.  Including pictures like this made it much easier for me to convince the group that we needed to do some upgrades.

Tape constructed figures made by our Sculpture I students

I also love sharing out pictures of activities happening on our campus. Pictures of students engaged in learning or pictures of their work are so much more compelling than simply 140 characters in a tweet. So one picture lets you know just how much fun we are having, while another highlights the amazing talent of our students.
Our Orchestra students perform
 for the Yearbook class

As I have become more engaged with identifying appropriate images, I have also learned
a bit more about creating my own images. A little over a year ago, one of my Voxer groups did a 7 Word Story Challenge. It was fun to see all the images everyone was creating and sharing. Through this process, not only did I learn more about members of my PLN and distill my educational philosophy, I learned about different photo-editing apps. My favorite "go-to" now for turning pictures into stories is TitleFX. It is so easy to use and it allows me to edit images on my phone in minutes. One caveat: this is an iOS product. Phonto is the best Android option that I have found This was my 7 Word Story Challenge. Full disclosure: this was the first picture I created with TitleFX. 

Another way that I used this app was creating focal pieces like this one for my ACT II program final portfolio. These pieces allowed me to focus the reader on the CPSEL I was discussing as well as call out aspects of our mission and Hallmarks in a visually interesting (at least I thought so!) way.

Images are so important.  With the speed at which our society keeps moving, images are one of the few things that can really "stick". In fact, there is a lot of research out there about the differential in processing speed between images and words.  This article from Business 2 Community states that we process images 60,000 times faster than words. WOW!! That got me thinking about how we as educators can help our students capitalize on this fact and become stronger communicators (after all, that is one of the 4 C's!). And then, as if I had planned it, my colleague @techbiobek posted a link in G+ about how to use the Speaker Notes feature in Google slides with this comment: "Speaker notes are a great tool to use as the teacher. As soon as I put a slide up with multiple bullet points, students start copying down the content and don't pay attention to the message. Brain science has shown that too much text is a distraction and causes cognitive overload. Teach students how to design informative, powerful presentations without all the text on the slides by using speaker notes too!"  BAM! This is something that I know when I was in the classroom I did not spend a lot of time teaching. I would assign a presentation to my students and provide them with the grading rubric and expect that simply because I told them I wanted a visually interesting presentation that they would automatically create one. But was I modeling this effectively for them? Definitely NOT. So now as a teacher of teachers, I am more intentional about creating visually interesting presentations. 

Words are definitely important in our world, but images are just as important and can have a powerful impact on our audience.  Thanks #Edublogs Club for the prompt this week.  I really enjoyed thinking about how I use images and how I can better use them in the future.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

One of My Role Models

Photo taken by author in Belmont, CA
Well, week three of the #EdublogsClub challenge has us reflecting on leadership. That is the topic tat drove me to blog in the first place.  And with the recent change of power in the United States, a very apropos topic.

Eleanor Roosevelt is a woman and leader that I have come to admire and respect.  As a history teacher, I always spent time in my classes asking students to look at events through the eyes of the people and through the eyes of those in charge.  Because there are always multiple ways to look at every situation, every turning point.

We would discuss the "what ifs" of history--Would Martin Luther have been as successful if Gutenberg hadn't invented the Printing Press when he did? Would the North American colonies have won their independence form Great Britain if George Washington had not been born? How would WWII have ended if the Allies had not developed the atomic bomb first?  These big questions have as much to do with circumstance as they do with leadership.  Eleanor Roosevelt knew that she was given the opportunity due to circumstances--her husband was the President--to have a positive impact on the country and the world. When her husband first took office, the nation needed hope and healing. Once World War II started, the nation also needed comfort. Mrs. Roosevelt knew how to provide all of those and more.  She supported the marginalized and because she had her husband's ear, she used her position and his authority to help give women and minorities more opportunities.  During the war she had regular newspaper columns and radio shows.  The people came to know her, lover her, and trust her.  In fact, after Pearl Harbor was attacked, she was the first to address the nation and paved the way for her husband to announce that the United States was entering WWII.  Once her husband died, she found other ways to use the public leverage she had built up during the time she occupied the White House and became the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, famously authoring the Declaration of Human Rights while heading the UN Human Rights Commission. This was one amazing woman who used every opportunity she had to do the right thing for others.
Photo taken by author.

That is what we as education leaders need to be doing, especially now.  Our students need us to advocate for them. Our teachers need us to advocate for them.  Our parents and communities look to us as leaders of their schools to ensure them that our future will be bright because the next generations passing through our doors are bright, inquisitive, and getting the best education we can provide. So I like to channel Mrs. Roosevelt (among leaders that I admire) to help keep me on track as I work to advocate for those I serve, and remind me that my job is not one about accolades, but one about getting the job done to the best of my ability.  

Who are some of your role models?

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

New Year, New Challenges

Well, with this new year comes the need to seek out some ways to support my desire to continue growing. As 2017 starts, I have many revamped goals--in other words, goals that I have set in the past but not been terribly good at completing.  That list includes blogging.  But this year, I have a new approach, and one that I think will allow for a greater level of success.

I started my blog a few years ago as a result of attending a CUE Rockstar camp session led by the amazing Jen Kloczko.  Over the last few years, I have seen my efforts wax and wane.  So, when I stumbled across the #edublogsclub challenge, I saw an opportunity to reinvigorate myself and commit to blogging again.  I even roped in a colleague and friend (@techbiobek).  As with all goals, there is a greater chance of success when there is accountability.

I have done blogging challenges before, such as the Connected Educator blogging challenge, and found them to be helpful and inspiring.  I trust that this will be no different. Despite the fact that I have had my blog for a few years, my inconsistency with writing still has me more in the "newbie" camp than the "veteran" camp.  No matter.  I like the idea of getting back at it from a slightly different angle. I started my blog in order to trace my learning curve as a new administrator.  That, however, has not been the path my musings have taken.  Rather, I feel that it is more a reflection on being an educator in this rapidly changing world. So, I look forward to the prompts, to the challenge of blogging more regularly, and to getting to know some awesome people through the process.

I am also very excited to improve my blogging skills by writing more and getting feedback along the way.  For those of you who have been at this for a while, do you ever wonder if you are speaking to an empty room?  I know that the goal for myself was not so much to develop a following as to reflect.  However, reflecting is better when there is dialog.  I love when someone questions my ideas.  That forces me to take a harder look at what I am trying to convey. When there isn't that discussion, I am left wondering if anything that I said resonated with any of those "hits". If not, what am I missing?  how can I change my thinking?  how can I change someone else's thinking? What new thinking can we create together? These are questions that I hope to answer this year with this challenge and new community.

Here's to a new year, new challenges, and new learning!