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Final Project Research

5 Dec


Social Media has become part of our 21st century lives and shows no signs of being a passing fad. Having said that, most Social Media tools are not without their share of controversies. Facebook is arguably the most popular social media site with 500 million users and counting. It has had more controversies than most with concerns over it’s Terms of Use and Privacy Policies. Despite the issues, educators all over the world are embracing the idea that Social Media sites offer new opportunities to take school beyond the walls of the classroom. This has spurred many conversations and controversies as schools scramble to figure out how to regulate the use of social media in schools. This section of my project will look at the opportunities and issues surrounding the use of social media in schools.

Facebook Criticism

Facebook has been under scrutiny from it’s beginning for it’s Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. It has been criticized for not being transparent with

it’s policies, making it difficult for it’s users to be aware of how their personal information can be used. A change to their original Terms of Use gave Facebook the rights of ownership to all information posted on Facebook, including photos and other personal information. Facebook was openly criticized for this change and in 2009 reverted back to it’s original Terms of Service.

Facebook also promotes sharing of user information for marketing purposes. It came under fire in Canada for this when the Canadian Privacy Commissioner threatened legal action against the site. When users play games or take quizzes on Facebook, they allow access to their personal information. Facebook users must agree to allow access to basic information and allow the application to post items to the user’s wall. This permission screen also contains links to the Privacy Policy and the Terms of Use. These have both been openly criticized for being wordy and long, making it difficult for users to read. The sharing of information to these third party providers is in violation of Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act. Facebook was again under scrutiny for this for it’s refusal to discuss these issues with Canada’s privacy commissioner. What makes this even more complicated is that the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy only applies to users over the age of 18, leaving those 17 and under in privacy limbo. (Facebook restricts use by those under the age of 13 but does not monitor this, allowing younger users the ability to lie about their year of birth.)

If users look into Facebook’s policies and terms of use and decide that they would like to leave the site, Facebook has made it very difficult to do so.

“It’s like the Hotel California,” said Nipon Das, 34, a director at a biotechnology consulting firm in Manhattan, who tried unsuccessfully to delete his account this fall. “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

Das learned just how difficult it is leave Facebook when it took him months of emails and the threat of legal action to have Facebook agree to delete his account. This is because when a user decides to leave Facebook they are not given the option to delete their account, only to deactivate it. Friends will not longer be able to view profiles but this leaves the user’s information on the Facebook servers for years. If a deactivated account is reactivated, the user will find their account as they left it. The only way to truly delete information from the Facebook servers is to delete each and every wall post, picture, status etc. individually. Emails to Facebook’s customer service to request deletion of an account have reportedly gone unanswered for weeks to months at a time.

All of these concerns become amplified when there are children involved as most will not take the time to educate themselves about the specifics of using Facebook. When I began this project, I searched most of my students and discovered that only one student had her profile blocked from public view. I would attribute this to a lack of knowledge of how to do this. Facebook has also been criticized for setting it’s default privacy settings to Public. A user has to manually change all of the 50 privacy settings and their 170 options to Friends Only, for all content to be blocked from public view. After realizing that most of my students had not done this, I went to school and encouraged them to change them. None have.

Issues in Schools

The concern around Facebook privacy is particularly prevalent in the discussion around it’s use in schools. There many reported cases of teachers coming under fire and losing their jobs because of inappropriate conduct with students on Facebook. In one example, a New York teacher was suspended from his job for inappropriate conduct with his students on Facebook. The teacher reportedly friended numerous female students and would leave comments about how sexy their photos were on their profiles. He also used Facebook to obtain contact information for a student and proceeded to send her flowers and other gifts to try persuade him to date her. The teacher denied the claims and the case was thrown out of court but his school board still decided to terminate his contract.

In another case, involving a female teacher assistant also from New York, photos of the assistant were posted on her Facebook profile that showed her kissing one of the male students from the school. An investigation was launched and it was found that she was indeed involved in a sexual relationship with the student. The teacher assistant in question said that both she and the student were not attending or working at the school at the time that the relationship began but the school board nonetheless has decided not to extend her contract further because of these allegations.

In another case, a teacher posted the names of her students that passed or failed her course on a Facebook group intended for use by her students. Controversy arose when the mother of a student who failed the course complained to the school about the post. School administration asked the teacher to leave the school and she has been on paid leave since the incident.

The instances of inappropriate conduct by teachers with their students surely demonstrate a lack of professionalism and common sense. Teachers that conduct themselves in this manner with their students should surely no longer be in the teaching profession. The avenue for their inappropriate behavior is not as important, as they would probably find a way to engage in their behaviors with students regardless of whether Facebook existed or not. As Mark Gabehart, Abilene Texas tech director said, ” The technology is not evil or good, it’s how people use technology that ends up being good or evil.”

Teachers are not only coming under fire for their interactions with students on Facebook but also for the content of their own private profiles. A teacher from Barrow, Georgia was forced to resign from her position after a parent found pictures that they deemed inappropriate and emailed them to the school board. The teacher did not have any students as friends and thought that she had taken all measures to ensure that her profile was blocked from public view. The pictures that were sent to her school board featured her drinking alcoholic beverages on a trip to Europe. She was also criticized for using the word “bitch” in one of her wall posts. She is now seeking back pay and retribution through the court system as the Georgia Professional Standards Commission has found no evidence that there is no probable cause for the school board to sanction barring her from the classroom.

Concern over Facebook in schools does not just include teacher/student conduct but also the effect that Facebook has on students. In a British study, teachers were surveyed about the effects that they believe Facebook use has on their students. The study found that teachers believed that Facebook has effected their student’s attention spans, ability to concentrate and left them distracted in class. The teachers also blamed declining achievement in school on evenings spent on Facebook instead of studying. Teachers also commented that they believe that general computer use has damaged their student’s ability to spell.

Complaints of distraction, procrastination and inappropriate conduct on Facebook in schools has lead to many schools and universities around the world to ban or even block the application in the school buildings. Many school board are struggling with creating policy around using social media in schools and generally, the overall recommendation is to err on the side of caution and just don’t do it. They also point out that there are many education only tools, such as Blackboard and Desire2Learn, that can meet the needs that some teachers are using Facebook to fulfill.

Facebook in the Classroom

Watch almost any commercial on television and you will see Twitter and Facebook symbols at the end or an invitation to “find us on Facebook” The generation of students that are now entering the middle years of elementary school would be hard pressed to remember a time when social media sites did not exist. They use social media to communicate and connect with each other. Up until recently, most of this interaction did not include school related collaboration but as social media becomes more prevalent in mainstream society, many teachers are beginning to explore the opportunity that social media interaction could offer in terms of education. As explored in the sections above, this has been fraught with many issues and controversies but also offers many possibilities that deserve to be explored.

To effectively use social media in the classroom, teachers would have to become familiar with the technology themselves. As Steve Dotto of Dotto Tech said, “Social media are changing our world profoundly, understanding this world is our responsibility and we have to provide some form of leadership.” This comes back to becoming a digital role model for our students. When I think back to discovering that most of my students do not have their Facebook profiles blocked, I now realize that as a digital role model, it should be part of my responsibility to teach my students to successfully navigate social media. Using social media in the classroom would allow teachers to model how to protect their privacy as well as open up a conversation about why they need to. Teachers are already expected to teach students how to critically assess a website, successfully navigate the web and other information literacy skills. Teachers should also teach students how to write for an online audience and share their learning. These are 21st century skills that they now require. Using social media in the classroom would allow teachers to use the technology themselves and model effective and appropriate social media use. Having guidelines and expectations for this could eliminate the need to punish students and teachers for misconduct.

One of the most important skills that students must now develop to be successful in the workforce are collaboration skills. Facebook could allow for collaboration between themselves and their peers as well as themselves and their teachers. Collaboration on this manner brings this skill to a platform that they are already comfortable with sharing on. It could be argued that tools like Blackboard also offer this opportunity but that again is asking students to access another resources that is not part of their everyday lives. Technology offers the unique opportunity to break down the divide between school and “real life”. Collaborating using social media allows students to combine both their school life, social life, and would make them have to present themselves appropriately online. Extending their learning outside the classroom walls also encourages them to see their learning as something that is not separate from their everyday lives, encourages them to become life long learners and combines informal and formal learning.

In one example of successful Facebook use, Miami teacher Brent Solomo, uses Facebook to post lesson reviews, questions, answers, video and assignments. Since beginning to use Facebook with his students, he has seen an 80% increase in assignments being turned in and says that his students and their parents are using it to communicate with him and each other. With more cases such as this being broadcast publicly, Facebook could become the communication/collaboration platform of choice despite privacy concerns.

In an idea situation, we could find a way to use social media like Facebook while still maintaining privacy and professionalism. Perhaps Facebook itself should look to creating a tool that could be used by teachers, monitored by officials and accessed by students through their personal profiles. Certain things like personal information and photos could be blocked (unless tagged for school use) and news from their teachers still could be delivered into their news feeds. Instead of fighting against it, lets make it work for us. Inappropriate conduct will still exist online between teachers and students as it is the teacher that is causing that to happen, not the technology. Creating a platform for school use would allow those that see the possibilities to explore them without fear.

Engaging in this project with my students has put me in a situation that my school board has warned me not to be in but the feedback from my students has made me see the possibilities and I hope that one day the use of social media in the classroom will be encouraged and supported.


Response to Lisa

27 Nov

Last night I read Lisa M Lang’s post Going to Extreams but I realized that I had a lot to say about it so I decided to do it in my own blog.  Lisa writes about the risk, dangers and issues with education reform especially related to social media and technology.  While she raised some points that I agree with and made me think about some things that I had never thought about before, I  would like to address some things that she said.

Before I begin I would explain my position.  I structure my practice from a constructivist position.  I believe that students should be taught to question, discover and share their learning and not be fed what they are to know and asked to restate it in a fancier way or on a test that only those with good memories will do well on.  My belief is that digital media, web 2.0 tools and social networking is only neccesary in classrooms where learning is being encouraged from this inquiry model.  For example, Twitter would not be neccesay in a traditional classroom as it would probably be used by students to ask their teachers if their answer to question 10 is correct.  That is boring and only useful for holding the student’s hands through their learning.

I teach 12 and 13 year olds in a split 7/8 classroom at an upper middle class school in a small city.  My students can read, have supportive parents and for the most part do not have the issues that some students in our city have.  Because of this, I am able to set my expectations for their learning higher than the average 7/8 classroom and they are able to meet them.  Inquiry and Project Based learning have been initiatives of my school board for the last two years but I have been structuring my classroom this way for the last four.  In addition to inquiry and project based learning within the structure of our curriculum, we also throw in a dash of social justice education.  My class uses technology as a support for their learning as it allows wider access and more options. Having explained this, I will now address Lisa.

Lisa says:

1. I am at the center of my learning.
This is good for me — I like it. I want my PLN and my instant information, my Google maps and my blog. But I already went to school, and know how to learn and what might be worth investigating. Is it good for my students, who want to spend all day playing video games? whose idea of the future is after class? Does such an approach encourage narcissism and narrowness? I’m starting to think so.

My response to this is: in the new constructivist classroom, it is my responsibility to help my students narrow down what they are trying to learn about a topic, what their question really is and help them choose what is worth investigating.  I do not leave them to hang out to dry on their own and tell them to google stuff.  I am trying to teach them to be in charge of their own learning and how to do it.  When school is approached in this manner, I think that students should be the center of their own learning. I think that if I do this now at the age they are at, when they get to high school they will be better prepared to think outside the box and do more than what is expected of them. I also think that it will make learning easier because they will know how to analysis what they are being asked to learn and figure out the best way to learn it for themselves.

From Lisa:

2. If I can’t find it, it isn’t there, because everything is on the web.
Everything is not on the web. Most of the sources I used for my thesis are not on the web, nor are they likely to be. And it’s not just a lack of sources. One of my top students, now at university, asked me recently, “what do we need older people for, when we can look up all the knowledge on Wikipedia?” I explained the difference between data or information, a lot of which you can find on the web, and wisdom, the meaning that is developed using information. He understood. Many of my younger students don’t.

This one, I agree with for the most part, especially the wisdom. My students often ask me how I know so much stuff, I tell them that I pay attention to life  AND that when I don’t know something, I find out.  Which means, sorry Lisa, I google it.  This just shows that teachers are still necessary in the classroom.  The web is good for data  and information as Lisa says but we still need actual classroom teachers to mentor students about how to use the data and information and put it into a real life context, or share their wisdom and experience.

From Lisa:

3. My interests are of high importance in my ability to learn.
We keep assuming that engagement is crucial to learning. I haven’t seen evidence of this.

Sorry, but I have. Case in point; I have a boy who is well above grade 8 ability and is bored out of his tree. When he is able to take the content that I am expecting him to learn turn and morph it into something that he cares about, he blows me away with his sophisticated thinking.  When he is not, he does either nothing or crap. (We’re working on the whole, sometimes you have to just learn things even though it’s boring thing, and he’s getting better but, man does he shine when he’s engaged.) I discovered this earlier this year when we were in the phase of teaching/reviewing the Inquiry process.  I was in charge of a group of about 12 “experts” and he was one of them.  This group was supposed to choose a question for inquiry and use it to model the process to the rest of their classmates.  This boy chose “Is World of Warcraft Really Addicting?” I thought “whoa boy,  a project about a video game and how awesome it is, not what I had in mind.” But I let him go on it. When he presented his project, I was blown away.  He used World Of Warcraft to teach everyone about the psychological aspects of addiction.  It was amazing but I was worried that it was a one time shot because he was able to do anything he wanted and that would not happen again.  During his parent conference, I discussed this with him and his mom and stressed that if he could take the material that we were learning in class and do something with it that would make him care about it, he would soar this year.  I guess he listened because he blew me away again yesterday.  We have been learning about how European immigration and settlement changed Saskatchewan’s ecosystem and how it affected the First Nations people. Their culminating assignment is a summary of learning.  He and his partner chose to make a game that we could play as a class.  My experience with student made games has not been great, but I let them go ahead.  Yesterday, they explained how the game works.  If you have played Civilization, you will understand how it works and I am not going to explain their game here because it will take too long.  But let me tell you, I have tried Civilization before and it was very complex.  So, my point is, he is engaged on his own terms and he is learning. You will also notice that there is no technology involved in this except that his inspiration game is online.

Lisa says:

4. My teachers are there to understand my needs and meet them.

I really liked the part of working against your leaning style.  I never thought of that but I will now be challenging them to do so.

and finally the last of Lisa’s statements that I would like to comment on:

So do we try to reform the whole educational system in a way that encourages these extremes? Do we hold up the student in the New York Times article “Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction” as what we want? a young man who cannot get through a book and thinks that you can get the “whole story” of a novel in a 6-minute YouTube video?

As I said earlier, I do not believe that educational reform should be about just digital media, it should be about teaching kids to questions, discover and learn from that instead of being fed information and regurgitating it. That is how I learned and yes, I turned out okay but I only really figured out how to learn for myself as an adult.  Imagine how much more I could have done if I had learned that when I was 8, 12, 15,  or even 20. That is what I think education reform is really about.  Digital media, the web, social networking and all those technologies just give us more tools to do it.

Being a Techie Role Model: An Observation

14 Nov

My Symbaloo Dashboard

In her blog, Roller Coster, Shelly Wright writes about the trials and tribulations of being a teacher that is working towards education reform.  In one section of her post she wrote:

“I also find that my students, although labelled, by some, as digital natives, aren’t all that technologically literate. If you take out Facebook, e-mail, IM, and texting, they use very little technology.  Most of the technology I use, they’ve never heard of.”

This reminded me of something that I noticed last week.  When I demonstrate a new tech tool to my students there are always some students that are enthusiastic about using it and then some that are ambivilent.  This is especially true if it is something that I am requiring them to use.  Having said that, last week I discovered something about my students.  They are just children that copy what adults do.  Case in point:  I was setting up my lap top and the projector to show my students Stixy and Wallwisher, which I plan to experienment with in my class.  When I hooked my laptop up and opened my browser, it automatically went to my homepage, which is my Symbaloo account.  The kids were all very curious so I quickly explained that it was a bookmarking dash board that allows me to access all my bookmarks and accounts from any computer.  I continued on to show them Wallwisher (which would not work, successfully ruining my lesson) and Stixy. While I was demonstrating the sites, one of my girls commented “I love how you know all these weird tech tools to use.”  When the bell rang for recess there were a few students lingering in the classroom.  As I went to ask them to go outside, I took notice of what they were doing.  They were setting up Symbaloo accounts.  A few days later, I noticed another student using his to access our class wiki.   They had copied me because I am a role model for their tech use.

I think that we sometimes assume that because these kids have grown up with technology, they automatically know what is out there, how to find it and what to do with it. As Shelly noted in the quote above, they are not born technologically literate.  They know how to use Facebook, email, IM etc. because it has been modeled for them in the media.  Facebook and Twitter are popular because they all over  TV. They are simply coping what they see adults doing  If we want them to move beyond only Social Networking tools, we need to show them what to use and how to use it and not assume that they just know how.  This is one more argument in support of encouraging schools to develop and employ technologically literate teachers.  There is so much out there to use but without us modeling how to responsibly use it, they probably won’t seek it out on their own.  We need to teach tech to them.

My Project: Update After Student Feedback

14 Nov

Last week I asked my participating students to complete the second survey regarding communication methods with me.  I have posted the results of that survey and my reflections on it below.  Any observations, comments or things for me to think about while I continue would be appreciated.



Results of The Second Survey

This second survey was given to my students on November 9, 2010. It examines their use so far of the three communication options, what they would like to see to make it better and what their preferred method has been so far. I also asked for some written feedback regarding the three options.


What positive comments can you make about the classroom website?

# Response Date Response Text
1 Nov 6, 2010 7:36 PM good homework information
2 Nov 6, 2010 11:05 PM Its design of the page layout is very easy to use.
3 Nov 8, 2010 5:31 AM Its makes easier to go on the wiki!
4 Nov 9, 2010 2:39 PM I like all of the links to things we need like igo, engrade, homework, and notes etc.
5 Nov 9, 2010 11:57 PM The homework stuff !
6 Nov 11, 2010 6:00 PM i think the classroom website really helps to allow me to get to wikispaces.
7 Nov 12, 2010 5:10 AM It helps me remember my homework if I forget my agenda.

What would make the classroom website more useful for you?

# Response Date Response Text

1 Nov 6, 2010 7:36 PM if there was more interactive stuff to do
2 Nov 6, 2010 11:05 PM If it had more links to infrotion we are learning about
3 Nov 8, 2010 5:31 AM Nothing, I think it’s perfect.
4 Nov 9, 2010 2:39 PM I don’t know
5 Nov 9, 2010 11:57 PM maybe put games on it but like school games
6 Nov 11, 2010 6:00 PM if everything was linked to the classroom website
7 Nov 12, 2010 5:10 AM If we could see the actual assignment in case we forget it.

What positive comments can you make about the Senior Eagles Wiki?

# Response Date Response Text

1 Nov 6, 2010 7:36 PM a lot of information on our classroom topics
2 Nov 6, 2010 11:05 PM It has tons of good links to information and easy to use.
3 Nov 8, 2010 5:31 AM It helps you a lot with your homework!
4 Nov 9, 2010 2:39 PM I don’t use it
5 Nov 9, 2010 11:57 PM checking stuff!
6 Nov 11, 2010 6:00 PM that everyone can contribute
7 Nov 12, 2010 5:10 AM Its good for typing stories or documents and access them at school rather than forgetting them at your house.

What would make the Senior Eagles Wiki more useful for you?

# Response Date Response Text

1 Nov 6, 2010 7:36 PM n/a
2 Nov 6, 2010 11:05 PM Nothing, Its great already!
3 Nov 8, 2010 5:31 AM Again, Nothing, I think it’s perfect.
4 Nov 9, 2010 2:39 PM Not sure
5 Nov 9, 2010 11:57 PM the homework !
6 Nov 11, 2010 6:00 PM if evryone used it
7 Nov 12, 2010 5:10 AM Being able to chat with teachers.

What positive comments can you make about having me as a friend on Facebook and what I post on there?

# Response Date Response Text

1 Nov 6, 2010 7:36 PM all homework assignments in one place
2 Nov 6, 2010 11:05 PM I always look at the homework to make sure i am not missing something.
3 Nov 8, 2010 5:31 AM It’s easier to know what we have for homework all you have to do is when you are on facebook just go and check on you wall.
4 Nov 9, 2010 2:39 PM It is good because it reminds me of all our homework so I remember to do it.
5 Nov 9, 2010 11:57 PM Having the homework updates and stuff
6 Nov 11, 2010 6:00 PM it helps because when i go on facebook i can see what i have for homework
7 Nov 12, 2010 5:10 AM That its nice to let you know if your sick or something like that

What could I post on Facebook that would make it more useful to you?

# Response Date Response Text

1 Nov 6, 2010 7:36 PM links to wiki and Ethel Milliken school
2 Nov 6, 2010 11:05 PM Stuff that we will be doing the next day
3 Nov 8, 2010 5:31 AM Mabe when you are on and we need help with something you can go to the chat and talk to us.
4 Nov 9, 2010 2:39 PM I think it is just fine where it is.
5 Nov 9, 2010 11:57 PM i don’t know
6 Nov 11, 2010 6:00 PM limks to all the website we use
7 Nov 12, 2010 5:10 AM Nothing


So far, what is your preferred way of getting information about school from me? Please explain why,

# Response Date Please explain why

1 Nov 6, 2010 7:36 PM I use it the most
2 Nov 6, 2010 11:05 PM I am on facebook almost everyday
3 Nov 9, 2010 2:39 PM because I already use facebook so its a lot easier just to check from facebook
4 Nov 9, 2010 11:57 PM Because i am always on Facebook and i can just check it.
5 Nov 11, 2010 6:00 PM because when i go on facebook i get reminded of what i have for homework if i forget
6 Nov 12, 2010 5:10 AM Because I would rather go facebook than classroom website.

Is there another method of communication online that you would like us to try using?

# Response Date Response Text

1 Nov 6, 2010 7:36 PM e-mail
2 Nov 6, 2010 11:05 PM no dont think so
3 Nov 8, 2010 5:31 AM Just puting it our there not tweeter.
4 Nov 9, 2010 2:39 PM No
5 Nov 9, 2010 11:57 PM no
6 Nov 11, 2010 6:00 PM not that i can think of
7 Nov 12, 2010 5:10 AM No

My Second Reflection After the Results of the Second Survey

November 13, 2010

After reading the results of the second survey that I posed to my participants, my suspicions have proven correct. When I started this project, I figured that the most popular choice for communication with my students would be Facebook. I knew that my students would like it because it is something that they use on a daily basis. What I had not thought about was that having it delivered to them rather than having to seek out the information would make all the difference. It was not expressed in the results of the survey, rather in person during school time, but my students have really enjoying having my posts sent to them. With Facebook, I can deliver any information that I wish my students to have to them and I know that they will most likely see it. If I post information on any of the other sites, only those that are diligent to check them on a regular basis will see it, and that is not very many of them. Facebook seems to combat that problem but at the same time, it is not without it’s own complications.

One of the main complications with using Facebook with my students is privacy. I am not concerned about my own privacy as the account that I use for communication with my students is for school only and does not contain any personal information about me. I am most concerned with the privacy of my students and protecting myself from becoming involved with inappropriate conduct online. I would never require any of my students to become Facebook friends with me as it makes me privy to their outside communication with their friends and I believe that there are some lines that should not be crossed. When I discussed this project with my volunteers I made it very clear to them that by agreeing to help me they would be opening up the potential for me to see their profiles if I chose to. I also made this clear in the permission slip that I sent home to parents. See here:  ECI letter.htm Most students said that this did not bother them but when I began to add my students as friends and was able to see their wall postings, I became uncomfortable with it. I did not like seeing who posted on their walls or when they played a game even. I felt that the professional walls of teacher and student had been taken down too much. Seeing their wall posts makes me vulnerable to having information about them that I may at some point be responsible to do something about. What if they posted something that I perceived to be inappropriate. Would I be responsible to report these things to their parents? Yes, I probably would be and I would prefer not to be. I order to address these issues, I blocked all of their wall postings from my news feed. This helped somewhat but I can still access their information if I wanted to. Friending my students also limits the number of students that will be willing to communicate with me, some will choose not to because it invades their privacy and I do not blame them. I talked to my whole class about this the other day and it was suggested that I create a Facebook Group instead. This allows me to do all of the actions that I could do before (posts, links, video etc.) but does not require my students to Friend me to be a part of it. Problem solved! I now have four more of my students as members of my group but not as friends. In my final survey I will address this development and extend the survey to the rest of my students that have joined the group.

I have come to a conclusion after questioning my students about the effectiveness of the three communication tools that we are using. No one single tool will accomplish all the goals that I have for communicating with my students. Each of the three tools have their own purpose and benefits. In the end I will be choosing which combination of tools I will use and what their purpose will be rather than one single tool. My project has turned into a way to streamline my communication methods rather than exclude options.


My Project

6 Nov

The Concept

After the third class for EC&I 831 I wrote a blog posting about the novelty of technology in the classroom and how students feel about teachers using the technology that they use for social interaction in their classrooms.

“I would like to talk about novelty. I have always allowed my students to use iPods at school, in fact, I encourage it. I like that they have a little computer at their fingertips to help them with spelling or give them the answer to a burning question or give them their own private space to work. At first, I was like, the coolest teacher ever, there were iPods all over the place. Now they all have them and they don’t use them as much. When I give them the option of using some kind of Web 2.0 tool they just want to do a poster or if they are really adventurous, use PowerPoint. When I tell them that they are not allowed to make posters and only posters, they act like I cut their arm off. So why is this? apathy? laziness? Boredom? All of the above? My instinct is that in my school it is leaning more towards laziness and the difficulty of breaking them out of their “old school” ideas. (And I mean old school literally) We have relied on novelty to motivate students for a while now and it have come to the point where the market has become saturated. What do we do now that the novelty is wearing off?”
“There is so much available out there for them to use that it is difficult to decide or learn to use many of the tools. They are familiar with Facebook and things like MovieMaker but when I ask them to use a new tool, they become confused and lost. The thing is, that most kids do not use Web 2.0 tools in their everyday lives. They use social networking tools and when you try to introduce social tools into the classroom, they act like we have walked into their bedrooms. It is hard for them to see that something that they use in their social lives can be used in the classroom and it is hard for them to let go of thinking that it is their’s. I think too that sometimes they find it uncomfortable that their teachers know and use the same networking tools that they do. It makes teachers human and gives them social lives, something that kids don’t think we have. Asking them to use Facebook at school and admitting that you know how to use it is now akin to seeing your teacher buying groceries (remember thinking “they eat food, weird?” I do.) I remember last year one of my students seeing me text after school one day exclaiming “whoa, Mrs. Stinson, you text?” So, social networking in schools is uncomfortable and web tools are unfamiliar, that leaves teachers with yet another task, making it comfortable and familiar. And if you are a teacher that is uncomfortable and unfamiliar, then you have a whole other situation on your hands.”

Following that posting, I was reminded of a story that was on CBC news about a Regina teacher who was being criticized for using Facebook in his classroom. I was intrigued by this story for two reasons; I went to University with the teacher and I have also used Facebook in my classroom. This made me think about how I communicate with my students. I alreadyhave two means of communication with my students. I have a classroom website that has downloadable documents as well as a homework listing and other features. This year I also started a Wiki for all of the grade 7/8 students in my school so that they can all access resources and class material as we are all working on the same projects and learning material this year. This got me thinking about how much my students use these resources that I put a lot of time and effort into and what they would use more often. I decided to survey my students (see results here) and ask them what they use and what they would like to use. This lead to the concept of my project, “S-cool Communication”. (You can view the results of the first survey on this site)

Senior Eagles Wiki

Facebook Page

The Project

To complete this project, I have asked student volunteers (and hopefully some parents) to use and give feedback on three different methods of communicating with them online. The first will be myclassroom website. This site is maintained by Regina Public Schools and has limited capabilities. I have been using this site at various schools for about 5 years. The second will be the Senior Eagles Wiki. This wiki is new to the students this year. The third will be a new school based Facebook account that will be maintained by me. I will be asking participants to give feedback on the usefulness and usability of each during the middle of the project and at the end. I will use this information to decide what method of communication will be most effective for my students and their parents. On this wiki I will record reflections, data, research and the results of my project.

My Project So Far

We have been engaged in this process for about three weeks now. I have eleven students and one parent contributing out of twenty five. I would have liked a larger sample to gather feedback from but I am very grateful that I have students that were willing to help me. One of the challenges to getting students to help me was that they were not allowed to use Facebook for various reasons. In my research section of this project, I will be addressing the issues that parents and educators have with Facebook.

I asked my students to access all three websites at least three times a week. I post “check ins” on Facebook (example: “like” this comment if you have seen it) as a method of keeping track of who is really helping me. I wish that I had a method of keeping track of whether or not they have been using the wiki or the classroom website at all because I really have no way of knowing.

Today I created and sent out the second survey for the project. This survey targets only the people that are helping me with the project. I have asked for feedback on what they are using, what they like and what they could suggest to make it better. My plans are to take the results of the survey an apply their suggestions to the three communication tools. They will then use the new and improved versions and answer a final survey at the end.

I have internally surveyed myself about what methods I prefer. All three tools offer unique options and are useful in their own separate ways. My challenge is to find out which one tool or combination of two tools is most useful and convenient to use for myself and my students. Here is what I have come up with:

Classroom Website: I do not like my classroom website. I find it’s capabilities limited and that has very little use except as a jumping off place to access the other methods of communication. The only thing is, it is the only option that I have that is fully supported technically by my school board. My plan after this project is to use the website as a place for students and parents to find links to the classroom wiki and my grade keeping site, I would like to not have to update this page at all during the year unless I need to add further links. Having said that, the results of the survey that I sent out today could change that.

Senior Eagles Wiki: This has proven to be a very useful tool so far this year. It is a place where all 75 of our senior students have contributed in some form or another. I like that I can post their assignment instructions online. This became very useful last week when I had to call in sick. In my emailed sub plan, I just directed the sub and the kids to the wiki where they found their assignment and the links that they needed to finish it. I also really like that all three senior teachers post the students homework on one page. It allows the students to see that we are working together on the same Outcomes and really solidifies us as a team, not three separate classrooms. It is very useful for content materials, in school use and having access to what we have done in school at home (or anywhere else). Having said that, I think that it can not be used on it’s own. It does not have the real time notification capabilities that I also would like to have with my class.

Sub Plan Assignment

Facebook: I really an enjoying using Facebook with my students. I like knowing that when I post a reminder or a link they will most likely see it as they are usually on Facebook everyday. There has been a few times in the past few weeks that I have thought of something that I forgot to tell them, posted it on Facebook and wished that I had more than eleven students that would see it. I try to post links or videos about things that we have done in class or talked about, even if it was not “curriculum related” just because I thought they would be interested. I also post videos and links that I think will help them with their homework that night. Having said that, I think that an even better way to accomplish this would be via Twitter, where we would not have the complications of having private profiles that I would be privy to (right now on Facebook, I block their wall posts from my News Feed to avoid crossing that line into their private lives). I did not use Twitter for this project as very few of my students are using Twitter regularly but maybe it is something that I can think about discussing using with them in the future. Again, there are ethical issues with using Facebook and Twitter with my students but I will address those later on in my project.

My ideal usage of these three tools would be the classroom website as a place to find links only. This must be maintained because it is available on the school website and that is the first place that students and parents go to access information. I would then like to continue using the Senior Eagles Wiki for it’s school content and collaboration capabilities. I would like to be able to continue to send out short reminders and links via Facebook but would love to have more students accessing it. Maybe after the pressure of having to help me with a project is lifted, more will be so inclined. I am also tossing around the idea of just creating a Facebook Group or Page that they could join without having to Friend me. We will see where this takes me in the next few weeks!

Any feedback on my project so far would be very helpful!  See the full project on S-Cool Communication

Technology Supported Inquiry Learning: An Example

1 Nov

I have written a lot about what I believe to be effective teaching practice.  If anyone has read my previous blogs, you will know that I am a Constructivist, meaning that I believe that my students will learn more effectively when I present them with material and ask them to question it and/or construct their own meaning from it.  For this week’s blog I decided that I will give an example of what that looks like in my room. I am going to use my most successful math lesson to date, one in which I did very little teaching! First I should give you a little background on my experience with math; this is my first time teaching grade 8 math, I have taught grade 7 for the last 4 years and my own math success in school is something that I do not wish to discuss (yes, it was that bad).  When I opened the textbook the other day and saw The Pythagorean Theorem, I thought “oh crap, that is scary and if it is scary to me, it’s going to be terrifying to them.”  So after figuring out what exactly the Pythagorean Theorem was, I came up with a way to make it a little less scary.

We use Math Makes Sense as one of our primary resources in math and from the comments that I hear from other teachers, I think that I am one of the few teachers that actually really likes it.  Most of the activities are really great for getting kids to construct their own learning and understand why they are doing what they are doing.  The introduction for the Pythagorean Theorem however, was not so good. So I decided to try something different.

When my students sat down in their math class that day, these were the instructions written on the board for them:

Go to the classroom website

Scroll down to the math link at the very bottom

Find SS8.1

Play games or watch the videos

You may also search YouTube for videos on the Pythagorean Theorem

By the end of the class, you have to be able to explain some of the theorem to me.

So, they got to work.  As they explored web games and videos in pairs, I walked around the room and listened as they picked up important terms and wrote them on the board.  They quickly discovered that the theorem only applies to right angle triangles and that the triangles have legs and a hypotenuse.  Once and a while I would call their attention to something important that someone had discovered that I needed them all to know.  It was going well.  As they played with the formula I began to hear, “oh…I get it” and then I heard the deep heavy breathing of Darth Vader

Yes, that is right, Darth Vader taught my grade 8s the Pythagorean theorem.  And it worked!  Just look at the comments for the video.  Soon, my students were making their own examples to try the theorem out and by the end of the hour all of them had a basic grasp of what it was all about.  They had created their own connections using tools that I guided them to and ones that they discovered on their own.  The next day when we went over the meat and bones of the ideas they already had constructed meaning and were able to follow  and participate in the lesson and apply it to their practice questions.


I asked my kids if they thought that discovering the theorem themselves was a better way for them to learn it than me standing at the board trying to get them all to understand and they all said yes.  There is a very simple explanation for this.  Instead of passively listening, they all had to engage their brains in thinking about what it meant. They were also able to use tools that would work for them individually to make that engagement happen.  If I had stood and talked, I would have had the attention of three or four students at most.  Putting them in charge of themselves forces them to participate.  Technology simply gives them the tools to make it happen.

On Friday, we had an assembly in the gym and my grade 8s were sitting on a bench that we set up on a diagonal to the corner of the gym. One of my students called my attention and said, “Hey Mrs Stinson, if this were a triangle, I would be sitting on the hypotenuse.”  It was silly, but at that moment I felt like I had succeeded in “teaching” them even though they really had taught themselves and I just made it possible. It was pretty awesome.


My Thoughts about Connectivism and Where We Really Are.

24 Oct

Asking Questions About the Pakistan Flood

“We need to move beyond the idea that an education is something that is provided for us, and toward the idea that an education is something that we create for ourselves. It is time, in other words, that we change out attitude toward learning and the educational system in general.”

-Stephen Downes

October 18, 2010

Huffington Post

That quote was posted during Tuesday’s class by Alec from the Huffington Post.  I first read it in the context of the class and what we are learning about how education can be but then I stopped and re-read it from the context of where education is, and specifically I am thinking about in my classroom with my students.

In this class we are learning about the possibilities of PLNs and social networking in the classroom.  What I have been struggling with in regards to this is that I do not believe that my school board or my students are ready for this approach to learning and that has really been bumming me out lately.  I have been professionally, personally, academically and emotionally bummed and to top it all off, I have had a virus since the end of August! So I did a few things about it, I added a  mental health day to my weekend (which I needed seeing as how I slept for 12 hours and Friday was the first day that I did not cough excessively), I went shopping, caught up on my yard work, hung out with my husband, watched movies and got a massage (oh, and caught up on my work for this class.) The result: not so bummed.  This has left me with a new perspective on things, including this quote which, four days ago, I may have looked at with cynicism and have instead decided to look at it by asking myself, what does it mean for me, right now, within the context of what I am able to do with my students and in my classroom?

In the last two years I have had students that did not want to be in my class and parents that agreed and tried to pull them out.  Not because I am a terrible teacher but because I encourage students to take charge of their own learning and be responsible for what they achieve from their year in my class and I do this through my Constructivist approach to learning.  I have been trying (with some success, I have to say) to develop a classroom that is deeply engrossed in Inquiry and Project based learning that features both curriculum content, social justice issues and global awareness. Not an easy task, let me tell you.  I have also made it a goal to use any and all available technology to support this perspective in my classroom. (It is my opinion that you can not have an effective inquiry and project based classroom without technology but some would disagree).  So when I enrolled in this class I expected to learn about some more Web 2.0 tools to use to support this as well as some discussion about social media in the classroom.  What I did not expect was a whole new concept (PLN) to be thrown into my wonderings about what makes effective learning.  I started off on a mission to incorporate this into my already expansive quest to reform education.  I was hit hard with the realities of it all; the red tape, the skills and experience of myself and my students, the availability of the actual machines to make it happen and I became bummed.  So needed to back up and take stock of what I am doing to facilitate this concept right now, slowly, at a pace myself, my students, my colleagues, my employer and my parents can handle.  So here is a run down of what I came up with in response to how my students are creating education for themselves:

  • They collaborate with each other daily, in every subject.  It may not be on Twitter or Facebook or a Google Doc (yet) but they are doing it and it’s a start.  To facilitate this I have tables instead of desks so they can look at each other and most of our projects offer them the choice of working with others or alone.
  • Their learning is connected.  We try not to separate things into separate subjects.  We try to make their Science, Social Studies and Literacy connect so that they are faced with a large concept not small separate tasks and I think that this helps them connect their learning.
  • True to Constructivist theory instead of teaching my students facts, I am constantly teaching my students to ask questions about what they read, view and hear.  That is the #1 skill needed in my room, how to ask good questions.  From there, they are in charge of what questions they ask and how they find the answers them.  Talk about being in charge of their learning. In fact, I am starting a project with them this week based on this assignment that will hopefully lead them in all different directions ranging from the obesity epidemic to the distribution of wealth and how that relates to food, depending on what their questions and interests are.
  • They can choose how they acquire and present their learning to me in most assignments and I strongly encourage them to use technology as it is so much more interesting than a poster and offers them a much broader audience. In terms of acquiring knowledge, internet resources are just so much more available, expansive and up to date than the print resources that they have access to.  Sorry to all you who like kids to still use books for research but I have given up on that.
  • They have multiple opportunities to communicate with me outside of school; email, Facebook (only as an experiment for this class right now), our website, our wiki and just the fact that I have all of those things connected to my Blackberry.  When I was in school, not that long ago, there was no way to do that.  The first thing I remember was taking ECOMP 355 and thinking it was cool that Alec responded so quickly via email (well, cool and I was a little concerned for his social life) 😉

Now that I approaching what I am doing and what I am learning to do from a “non-bummed” perspective, I see that although we may not be ready for this quite yet, we are starting something and someday, we will be there: