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, I have seen myself working in his tradition of the lifelong educational “yearner” (i.e. those who seek continually to find better methods of creating learning environments for students). I home schooled two of my three children for several years before sending them into the public schools and myself into the formal classroom. After forty-three years working on behalf of innovative education, at The Harley School in Rochester, NY, next year I will leave the classroom to work part-time on the development of Citizen Science program for students in N-12 at this same school.
This is a documentation of some of my experiences working as an independent classroom teacher utilizing some of the tools and programs of on-line social network learning with grade five and grade six science classes over the past fifteen years. It concludes with my most recent efforts and success. In describing this work, I hope to highlight the possibilities of working as a solo explorer in situations where one’s place of work is not yet ready to initiate changes. The benefits of being a pioneer are to model the possibilities as well as help lay the ground work for others to follow more easily. Class or subject area: General Middle School Grade level(s): Middle School (with appropriate modifications for age, applicable Elementary and High School) Specific learning objectives: • Big Idea – prepare students for their on-line world via a social learning network • Students will know how to access and use the tools of the free LMS Edmodo • Students will be able to transfer skills learned via Edmodo to other on-line experiences • Students will understand on-line communication demands a responsibility to use supportive, appropriate language • The freedom of material available on-line requires the self-discipline to access information that is valid, relevant and age appropriate • A requirement for successful work with any technology is the ability to handle the challenge of problems that arise as a curiosity or puzzle to solve rather than a cause for frustration . • Parents of participating children will understand the reasons for the introduction of Edmodo for students to augment their learning with on-line collaboration, research and communication
Anniversary Book Project
Social Networking with Middle School Students
By: Robin Long Creative Commons License: CC BY-ND Author contact: email@example.com
In the summer of 1992, when a colleague with whom I was collaborating on a paper managed to get me a college based Internet connection in order that we could work together over the summer despite his need to be thousands of miles away in New Zealand, I discovered the potential of the Internet. Even with the countless frustrations of this early digital experience (his Mac and my PC could barely talk to one another) by the time the paper was complete, setting up my middle school science classroom for similar communication had become my summer goal. Before the start of the new school year, I obtained the donation of a pre-286 IBM computer and a dedicated landline for a connection. No one else in the building had used the Internet and I had to go to my twelve-year-old son and his savvy thirteen-year-old computer adept friend to bring it on-line. Watching them work, it was clear that as educators we were already far behind the loop of at least some of our students I work at an Independent school where experimentation does not have to be approved by State guidelines before it can be tried in the classroom. On the other hand, there has never been State or Federal funding for the large initiatives that one might be able to access in a public school system. As a result, my efforts to integrate technology into my middle school science classes have moved in fits and starts, frequently with limited hardware. During this time, I have seen students move from overt amazement at the black/white dos driven on-line text on our one classroom computer to an attitude of nonchalance with their daily use of cell phones, tablets and smart boards. I have also witnessed increasing problems with inappropriate on-line behaviors. My school community is still in the throes of developing an activity based K-12 curricula to articulate the behavioral expectations when working on Internet sites, but the progress continues to lag far behind the technologies students use daily. The gap between the ever increasing number of students who handle the latest digital technologies with ease, albeit often without wisdom, and the adults who instruct them remains a challenge for all of us. Herein is a short overview of what I have achieved and failed at since that time with the hope it will help others in their efforts to adapt the tools of social networks for their classrooms. An Overview As soon as the technology made it possible I began to experiment experiment in my classroom with wiki-based homework sites, student blogs, class projects based on communication via wikis, individual student gmail accounts as well school-to-school on-line projects. My successes have always been partial. In the early days, the unpredictable nature of the connection was an ongoing issue. Frequently the “on-line” was off. Moreover, data overload happened regularly reducing information feeds to a pace much more like a dirt trail than a superhighway. I learned early to always have a back-up lesson. Additionally, maintaining parent support was, and is even today, problematic. Given the ambivalence of the cultural struggles to understand how, where, when and why to use on-line technologies in education, it is not surprising there are always families who wish to keep their children away from technology as long as possible. This is especially true during middle school years as leave they leave the more predictable time of childhood for adolescence. Technology becomes a place for many to take a stand, commonly for reasons fed by the most recent news report citing Internet dangers. With uneven home support, much of the communication I hoped to build home-to-school as well as student-to-student was never able to grow beyond a small cadre of students who routinely communicated via the homework site. They and their parents were enthusiastic supporters, but I was blocks way from having a seamless way to communicate with all of my students and miles away from seeing them regularly engage in meaningful communication regarding their learning. What was
missing even with my many of my regular on-line learners was a sense of ownership. For personal research, the Internet had moved from side-line to main-line. Classroom presentations via Powerpoint and Prezi were likewise commonplace, but the tools of social networking remained merely incidental and/or without depth even as I approached school year 2011. Social Networking: The “Paleozoic” Early Time: KGS KGS, Kids as Global Scientist, was a combined offering from the University of Michigan and the University of Colorado. Foreshadowing the Citizen Science programs available today, it involved schools across the country, and globe, sharing weather information. We participated for several years and I have a DVD of the last year’s efforts, but unfortunately, the technology has changed so much I can no longer run it on any of my classroom computers and I have only memories of dutifully collecting data and entering it on-line. In the final analysis, I found all of the participating students whatever their cultural background to be only vaguely interested in data and much more in exchanging information about favorite sports or music groups, which was to be expected. However, I never saw even this communication move past the level of exchange I experienced as a middle schooler in the 50’s via the traditional snail-mail pen pals. If we had had access to Skype for these projects, I believe it would have moved this experience to a higher level. I draw this conclusion in part based on the experiences of my sister’s graduate students in her microbiology courses where students expressed strong connection to on-line collaborators in Africa only after they were able to Skype with them face-to-face Social Networking-“The Mesozoic” Middle Time After my somewhat disappointing experiences with KGS, my classes did continue to take part in a variety of other on-line exchanges from large data sharing-program such as Journey North to a school-to-school program with a small Ecuadorian rainforest school that had no on-site Internet connection, but worked through support of a program in a nearby city. Instead, we exchanged snailmail with one another: drawing, letters, craft objects and most notably video tapes of our individual schools, grounds and general environments. As an adult, I treasured the authenticity of the tape we received finding in it a remarkably realistic picture of life in a small rainforest rural school. For my students, the experience was less enthralling which I believe this was due to several factors. One, they were somewhat jaded when it came to seeing other cultures having grown up on a steady diet of cultural information from many places in the world due to the wide dissemination of this information on children’s television, films and the VHS tapes then flooding home livingrooms. That our video was personally created for them was not a strong enough lure to make it stand out from this background. They wanted person-to-person contact, instant reply to questions, etc. Secondly, I believe the experience suffered from being presented via the limited focus of a science class. Had it been integrated with the social components of a history and/or English program, I think there would have been much more gain. I made efforts in this direction, but the limits of schedules made it less than it could have been. Interest in the rainforest vanished instantly at the sound of the fifty minute bell ending the period and students’ social needs to connect as much peer-to-peer in their brief hallway liberation took over. Social Networking-“The Cenozoic” Current Time In 2010, I agreed to take part in the 20/22 program organized by the National Association of Independent Schools (http://bit.ly/20-20NAIS) but open to participation by schools in any location, public and/or private. While past experiences had left me somewhat skeptical of the real value of
such programs, the web site indicated that the focus of this program was school-to-school scientific collaboration as opposed to the simple exchange of data and/or letters that are the heart of most other on-line exchanges. The web site had videos that appeared promising and the program demanded that administrators sign-off on any teacher that wished to participate. I applied by the June deadline, but had to wait until September to see if I had a match, somewhat problematic for lesson planning, but I was game. In September, I was made group leader of two different 20/20 projects. One involved another American school and a school in Qatar, a small country in Northwest Africa about I knew nothing. A Google search turned up a State Department report indicating that its greatest issue with human rights was the mistreatment of emigrant workers and it greatest environmental concern was the availability of fresh water. For the second project, I was partnered with an American school and a school in Quito, Ecuador. I dutifully sent off emails to all enrolled teachers and suggested we set up some kind of Internet site for class-to-class communication. The only school that ever replied, after numerous emailed efforts, was the Independent School in Quito which had attempted to participate in the 20/20 exchange the two previous years with no success. The results of the Quito exchange can be found at the following address: https://sites.google.com/ site/2020naisglobal/ Under Beginnings, the interested reader will find the early planning undertaken with the teacher in Quito. It was an auspicious start. Based on what I had told my students about the project possibilities, they envisioned a period of getting to know one another via on-line sharing and finally working on our assigned 20/20 problem, Global Warming. They were enthusiastically onboard. By the January project deadline, it was clear that our partner school lacked the same access to the Internet available to us as well as the time needed to communicate frequently. This led to a misunderstanding on my students’ part which they highlighted via critical public display at our Science Fair documenting what they had hoped for and what they received. It was a learning lesson for all of us to understand and accept the challenges of being pioneers in social networking. In the end, my students can to accept that our Quito partners had acted in good faith and the results were the best that could be achieved. Nonetheless, they also realized they had not experienced a collaboration, but rather a simple exchange of a pictures and facts. The next year, I agreed to try once again with the 20/20 program as long as the Quito school was also willing to participate, but by now I knew the need to minimize my students’ expectations. I did not hear from Quito until well into September. They did want to participate, but warned me that their access to technology would be more limited than what had been possible the year before and a new teacher was assigned to the work. I suggested that rather than work with a Google site, each of us produce a one time Voicethread presentation that would allow whole classes to respond to either verbally or via keyboard. Voicethread ( http://voicethread.com/about/features/ ) lends itself to large group participation with only one computer. Once again, the results were a minimal exchange with one difference; this time my students were prepared for the reality that school-to-school exchanges may fall short of the projected plans. On the positive side, they all learned how to present a Voicethread and thereby gained access to a new tool even if its use for school-to-school learning remained elusive. Edmodo In 2011, in search of another avenue down which to expose students to the potentials of social
networking, I choose Edmodo. I went in this direction after a summer’s reflection because it was free, economic issues having become increasing important in today’s recession-driven world, and because students obtain personal pages without having an email addresses. This latter benefit meant I could avoid a problem with families who did not wish their children to have private email accounts. Edmodo is an on-line learning management system that allows for documentation of class work, building a library of resources to encourage independent student learning, reporting grades and social sharing. With it, I have finally found the true beginnings of the student driven learning that is possible via social networks. While not the high end science collaboration that I had initially hoped for (and still work to achieve), what has been gained this past year via Edmodo has been an extensive genuine student-to-student communication that has enriched notably both their science experiences and their understanding of social networking. Among the lessons learned by students this year are: • “OMG” as an on-line response, perhaps appropriate in private messages, may offend peers and/ or parents • YouTubes that seem to meet the guidelines as being in the interest of science learning may be “science sham” – always check sources • Peers can be helpful in explaining information given in class • Peers can be helpful in explaining on-line information • Sharing science information – from video to text is fun – and there is an endless amount of authentic material on-line • Wasting site space with silly replies is not appreciated by peers • Work can be shared, organized and debated via membership in on-line groups • Inappropriate messages need to be reported immediately to a teacher, but NOT responded to online • Technology will continually provide new tools. Learning how to use them may be an uphill climb. Learn to meet the challenges as puzzles for solving rather than frustrating traps. • The value of on-line tools needs to be continually discussed and reassessed with just as the use of any educational tool. Among the lessons I have learned are • Work closely with all members of the school community when introducing new social network skills and/or programs • The best efforts to define the goals of and the behavioral expectations for the use of social networks before students go on-line may not be enough for a few parents • Meet parental objects with an open mind and patience • Highlight the success of social network learning via whatever method of communication is available • Use student work resulting from social network sites to demonstrate it’s value • Plan for incidences of inappropriate use of the site by students • Turn any inappropriate incidence into a learning situation • Never penalize students for technical glitches related to working on-line. Be as available to help with problems of technology as other learning challenges • Expect them to take responsibility for seeking help as quickly as possible. • Stay open to new approaches, suggestions and ideas
Despite a legacy that may speak more to problems than successes, I have never doubted the responsibility I have as a teacher to help students learn how to navigate the changes resulting from digital innovation. Paradigm shifts of any nature are inherently upsetting and have a long reach. Fortunately, this particular shift has also resulted in a world wide network of potential support, but that is a topic for another chapter. Below are a few samples of Edmodo work pulled from the past year.
References Voicethread http://voicethread.com/about/features/ Edmodo http://about.edmodo.com/ 20/20 Challenge Classroom https://sites.google.com/site/2020naisglobal/) KGS – Kids as Global Science Program http://www.umich.edu/~icls/proceedings/pdf/McDonald.pdf This study was completed in the context of the One Sky, Many Voices (OSMV) (Songer, 1996; Lee) research and design group (www.onesky.umich.edu). OSMV designs and studies reform-based technology-rich weather curriculum for middle school students. Facebook and Twitter should be used in schools as learning tools, says new report http://bit.ly/HxBehF Social Networking In Schools: Educators Debate The Merits Of Technology In Classrooms http://huff.to/HrmYYT The Department of Education’s Karen Cator Answers Your Questions about the National Education Technology Plan http://bit.ly/IgCs2Y SUMMARY: Karen Cator on the National Education couldn’t agree more. Student privacy will be maintained, student privacy is ensured. Furthermore, she believes everyone of all ages should be digitally literate. Three aspects of digital literacy: 1) Information literacy 2) Understanding how to publish, communicate, collaborate on the web 3) Digital citizenship - how to keep info secure, privacy etc. For Edutopia, 1/25/11 Editor’s Note: Today’s guest blogger is Audrey Watters, is a technology journalist specializing in education technology news. She has read all 100+ pages of the National Education Technology Plan released by the U. S. Department of Education last November, and she has summarized it below. “But a plan, of course, is merely that -- a plan.” http://bit.ly/IgF94o How to Use Social-Networking Technology for Learning http://www.edutopia.org/social-networking-how-to Caroline Knorr, parenting editor at Common Sense Media — an independent group that reviews the media in kids’ lives — keeps an eye on kid-oriented social networks. “The key to all of this for parents — for getting the most out of social networking and all technology,” Knorr says, “is understanding the technology, setting usage rules, setting privacy settings and, most importantly, training your kids to practice responsible on-line behavior.”
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