Friday, July 15, 2011

The momentary temptation of the walled garden

This summer I have been super-excited about using twitter in my classroom with my 11th and 12th grade philosophy students. I have in mind asking them to use twitter to comment on class discussion, to backchannel during class, to have a twitter chat or two outside of class time (which could be useful if political turmoil forces school to close), and to have my students follow one or two philosophers of their choice. I want my students’ use of twitter to mirror real world development of a PLN as much as possible. 

Until last night.

I have had a few spam tweets, but last night was quite discouraging as I received my first highly offensive twitter spam. I should have known better than to open the message from someone I don’t know, but having participated in so many chats lately….. I thought perhaps someone was sending me something relevant.

So last night I put out a call to #edchat to get inside suggestions for twitter for education clients. Some of these I have seen, but some I have not. There is a part of me that takes assurance in the thought that my students might use twiducate or chatzy, I’m discouraged by the functionality I might lose. I don’t think Peter Singer (a philosopher who is actually alive) posts on twiducate. Chatzy has the function of a chat room, but the brilliance of twitter is to develop a network beyond our current walls and current connections. Twitter allows this easily.

Furthermore, I was planning on making my class room a byod room. That means that students could use twitter clients of their choice on their own devices in the classroom. With twiducate or chatzy, the students are limited.

And finally, I have already started looking into ways to cull statistics about my students’ twitter use. Exporting tweets to excel does not look that difficult. It would be easy to get a glimpse of a student’s use of twitter through a spreadsheet and perhaps have the student reflect upon their learning with this data in-hand.

And so, my students and I will move forward with twitter in the fall. I plan to give parents information on internet safety and giving the parents a choice of alternate assignment for their child if they are truly worried. I’ll also track what I get in twitter to see how prevalent this spam problem really is; hopefully it was just a fluke.

The walled garden will be down in my classroom. Some weed seeds may blow in, but we’ll pull them up as quickly as possible, while encouraging the cross-pollination needed for ideas to grow. And if nothing else, I’ll be happy we are in a philosophy class where we can discuss the ethics or spamming.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Proof of learning, no test required

It's summertime and teachers around the world are wondering if they gave enough summer reading and how much brain drain will happen during the summer months. Two very different sentiments I have seen about summer learning are 1) that students don't learn during the summer and that eventually parents will demand a type of mandatory summer learning experience different from the standard "summer reading list" and 2) a very different view that a different type of learning takes place in the summer.

Much as I wish I had all the answers and could prove that, yes, all of my students are actively engage in significant learning - beyond how many ounces of sunscreen an average body needs - it is enough for me to have some concrete evidence that at least one of my (former) students is spending some time at worthwhile learning, of her own choice, extending the discussion we had in class last April to her summer in Miami, Florida.

Photo c/o Mika & her awesome blog
And so I present the blog of Mika A., an extraordinary student to be sure, but if we aren't even capturing the extraordinary students, we have no chance of capturing their less naturally curious peers.

Next fall when I teach my World Religion course again, I will be sure to make a visit to Mika's blog post a part of our learning.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Ten tips for encouraging parental involvement

It would be hard to overestimate the value of involved parents in education. There are any number of ways in which a classroom teacher can work toward including a diverse parent population in the classroom. Here are ten tips for including parents or guardians in your classroom:
  1. Begin the year right by knowing your parents and students. Check any information the school might have and check with your students’ previous teachers to see if they have any special insight about communicating with parents.
  2.  Survey parents to find out their linguistic and cultural background, expectations for you and for their children, and ability and desire to participate in the classroom. Ideally this would be done in the parents’ native language, in written form.
  3. Hold an open house for parents early in the school year. If the school already does this, take full advantage of it by emailing or phoning parents to invite them personally to stop by and visit your classroom.
  4. Keep channels of communication open for parents. You might consider starting a classroom twitter account, facebook page or blog and inviting parents to follow along with what is happening in class. These sites might even be linked to a translation website that might be helpful for parents.
  5.  For families that are very new America, create a sort of “orientation” to your school. This might be an online document or a special open house in which the expectations of teachers, parents and students for participation in the classroom are made clear. Invite questions.
  6. If a significant number of your students’ families are associated with a community organization, such as a library, community center or social service organization, consider partnering with the organization to encourage parental involvement in education. Perhaps hold a monthly meeting or homework help session.
  7.  Develop rich relationships with parents whenever possible and keep them cultivated. In future years, you might be able to enlist former parents for help in communicating or acculturating new parents to your classroom. Perhaps during an open house, bring in a parent from the previous year and have that parent share “success stories from the classroom” modeling successful involvement.
  8. If your school or district does not do this already, adopt the use of an online grade book so that parents can keep up-to-date with assignments and grades.
  9.    Encourage the participation of room mothers/fathers/grandmothers/grandfathers particularly for units of study for which their background is relevant. If you have a grandfather who fought in the Vietnam War and the topic of study is Southeast Asia, invite the parent to come speak to the class. Or assign students to interview their own parents about a classroom topic and present their findings to the class.
  10. Finally, keep parents’ phone numbers handy. Don’t restrict communication only to negative or disciplinary remarks. Call parents when students do things that are remarkable. Share students’ achievements with one another, their families and their broader community when possible. Celebrate success and establish an expectation for excellence.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Twitter on fire - what I relearned at ISTE

Sometimes it takes a long time to “get” twitter. ISTE11 solidified my belief that social media is here to stay and that twitter, or some form of it, as a powerful means of sharing information is here to stay. This is an idea that I first came to personally understand during the 2010 turbulence in Bangkok, Thailand.

Bangkok on fire, in a bad way
Let’s go back to March 12, 2010, when the UDD (commonly called Red Shirts for well, the color of their shirts) began a prolonged demonstration in Bangkok, Thailand, calling for the Thai PM to resign and hold an election. This was months before the December 2010 “Jasmine Revolution” (emboldened in part by Facebook) that started in Tunisia and spread around the Middle East that came to be known as “Arab Spring.”

Thailand’s military controls many of the media outlets, so it was difficult to find unbiased information. I wanted to know who was doing what, why, what they were saying, etc… Twitter came to my mind. Quickly I discovered a rather robust and daring group of journalists documenting what was happening in the city. There were even reporters who translated speeches from the red encampment into English and tweeted them line-by-line.

Go forward to Wednesday, May 19, 2010. The situation had been precarious for two months. I had become known among our school’s Facebook community as the news source, for I linked what I found on twitter to my status updates on Facebook. Few teachers were on twitter and the pictures and reporting coming out of the protests did not make news that would register on the ex-pat radar, (news sources largely controlled by the military) living in our bubble, unless we lived in the “red zone.” Otherwise, our shopping was inconvenienced and some roads were closed. But for tens of thousands of people camping in the city and the tens of thousands of others indirectly involved (business people whose shops were closed, schools that were forced closed, the travel industry, etc…) this was a major event.

The Thai Ministry of Education told all schools in Bangkok to close from Monday, May 17 through Friday, May 21. Monday and Tuesday were largely uneventful – if you can call a mass protest and fires fueled by tires uneventful – compared to what was to come. I woke early in the morning on Wednesday, May 19, to check the news. The pictures were not good. By about 4:30 or 5:00 am, tanks were beginning to roll through the streets of Bangkok. This was most definitely an escalation. Again, without twitter news sources or proximity to what was happening, the ex-pat community in Bangkok was largely unaware of what was going on. The day was filled with gunfire, arson, injuries, death and sorrow for Thais fighting Thais.

It was largely because of twitter and the brave journalists and those at the protests covering the event that I was able to have any understanding of what was happening in the beautiful city of Bangkok. This was the first time I understood the value of twitter.

ISTE is on fire, but in a good way
On Sunday, June 26, I travelled to my first ISTE conference. I had been following blogs, nings, and tweets to prepare for the conference, but none of the information prepared me for the enormous scope of the conference, both online and off. You would have had to have been blind not to notice the number of “electronic devices” lighting up the room. Some of the topics that were covered well in twitter included:
  • Powerful quotes from our speakers
  • Notifications of changes in the conference agenda
  • Links to relevant online learning tools, email addresses and urls
  • Back channel questions for speakers and amongst audience members
  • Notifications that Dr. John Medina’s book was on sale for only $2.99 on kindle
  • Opportunities for social gatherings
  • Organizational information for the flash mob
  • And other “unconventional” tweets that made attendees giggle

Fortunately, there was no need for tweets such as I saw during the red shirt protests. We were not warned to avoid roads because of burning tires or bamboo barricades. But I will say that the PACC was “on fire” with learning both face-to-face and via twitter.

Now I get twitter.

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