Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Digital Citizenship

As technology becomes ubiquitous in many classrooms, teachers are utilizing their tools to inspire students to become engaged learners and responsible, inspiring citizens. Having access to resources from around the globe, our students can connect, communicate and collaborate with peers, experts and leaders from across the globe. These are indeed exciting times for educators, but with these new opportunities comes the added responsibility of teaching our students about digital citizenship.

As soon as students log in in to the internet, open an email account, download an application, they have become digital citizens and we shouldn't assume that our digital natives have all the necessary skills and knowledge about how to behave online. In order to get the best out of the internet we need to teach our students how to become secure ethical users, capable of making appropriate decisions that empower them to make a positive contribution. Fortunately, there is a growing collection of resources available to guide us.

The Digital Citizen website provides students, parents and teachers with a variety of excellent games, videos and activities to promote online safety. An infographic on the Educational Technology and Mobile Learning site would stimulate a great discussion with students about the components of digital citizenship. For more videos and articles to help kids make the most of social media visit Common Sense Media. Teacher favorites include Brainpop, Edudemic, TeachThought and Edutopia. But I believe the best resources can be found in our own classrooms.

Kids will make mistakes; it’s a fact. No educator ever wants to hear the words, “The Secret Service would like to interview you right now.” I have. Being a resident alien I immediately assumed I had unwittingly committed some awful crime against the state and quaked in my boots as I headed for my interrogation…I mean…interview. Instead, it was in regard to one of my students who had made a poor choice online. As mistakes go, it was truly a doozy. It could have been dealt with surreptitiously, it could have been swept quietly under the carpet but it provided too much of a powerful learning opportunity. By sharing the mistakes they have made with their peers, and the lessons they have subsequently learned, students become the ultimate teachers of digital citizenship.

As educators, students and parents we are all exploring unfamiliar territory. We have new collective responsibilities as we experience the excitement of being a part of a global online community. Teaching digital citizenship is critical. Take the time to talk to your students about their online activities, explore the many resources available to you, and most importantly embrace mistakes and turn them into significant teachable moments.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


I noticed today that I have a totally involuntary body reaction to a very specific situation. I literally get goose bumps when I am in the presence of somebody who lets their genius out! That happened at least twenty times today during my Sciracy class.

Sciracy class aims to promote scientific literacy, or the knowledge and understanding of scientific concepts and processes required for personal decision making, participation in civic and cultural affairs, and economic productivity. Sciracy is a neologism created by my students because it rhymes with piracy- and they like pirates! Students learn to ask, find, or determine answers to questions derived from curiosity about everyday experiences, and to describe, explain, and articulate their thoughts about the world around them. During Sciracy, I want students to synthesize their learning and challenge them to generate creative solutions to real world problems.

Our current focus in Sciracy is Project Cope, a lofty mission they have embarked on to eradicate poverty in rural Zambia, and boy did they let their genius out today! An untrained eye would see chaos, commotion and tumult if they were to peek into this class. A trained eye would see project based learning in full flow. Students are on iPhones, iTouches desktops, laptops and tablets. Hammers are swinging, debates are raging, kids are on the phone, on tables, on the floor, but most importantly they on task. Having decided to take up the challenge to raise $12,000 for a two wheel tractor, they were on fire today generating ideas for fundraising. Students were making jewelry from used gift cards they have collected from local businesses. Others were calling the organizers of an upcoming local event to secure a table, some were busy writing an E-book they plan to publish and sell. Flyers and brochures were being made, letters calling for sponsorship from local businesses were being written, video interviews were being uploaded to the You Tube Channel the kids created, and genius was spilling out all over the room.

“Can I ask my pen pal in Japan to get her school to do a fundraiser?”

“Can we contact the organizer of the Birmingham Halloween Parade to see if we can join in?”

“Can we research how to make Project Cope tax exempt?”

“Can we set up a Project Cope Instagram account?”

“Can we Tweet about Project Cope?”

“Can I create a Project Cope App?”

And it goes on: Idea after idea after idea. The energy and enthusiasm is exhausting; my head spins and I can barely breathe, let alone keep up. So why do I do it? Because it makes my flesh bump!

While I often think this might just be the class that kills me, it’s also the class the makes me feel most alive. It’s the class that makes me believe I am fulfilling my calling to be a teacher. Project based learning can be hairy and scary. It requires a teacher to relinquish control, to go with the creative flow, to not know all the answers, to become a partner in learning. It’s organic and messy and so worthwhile because it empowers our kids to let their genius out.

 If the thought of embarking on PBL is too daunting, dip your toe in; invite your students to get involved in Project Cope. Ask them how they could contribute, how they would solve this problem, how they can make a difference. Then just sit back and listen and be prepared to get your goosebump on!