Or am I? Yes, I’ve finished making and uploading my Course 5 final project video. But making the video is not the end to my COETAIL experience.

Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur
photo taken by me

I’ve really only started. Now, I won’t have to report to Jeff or be ‘graded’ anymore, but I will be building on what I’ve learned in COETAIL and still connecting and collaborating with much of the PLN I’ve formed here.

I’m super excited to move into my new role as Information Literacy Specialist (like a tech integrator) at ISKL, Malaysia. I never would have dreamed I’d be working in a tech position like this, as I always felt so intimidated by tech. Now with COETAIL under my wings, I’m ready to take it on and SOAR!:)

Who’s in Control–Me or the Device?

I picked up a book while back in the States over Christmas.

I used it in a mini-lesson with my fourth graders to talk about balancing screen time. After the read aloud (one of my kids even picked up on the author’s ‘name’!–Ann Droyd:), the kids were challenged to log their screen time for a week–writing down how many minutes they watched tv, texted, went on the computer or ipad or ipod (and for what–to play games, do homework, watch a show, etc.). After the week, we came back together to analyze the findings. What a great discussion we had. Who knew 10 year olds could think that deeply!

Anyways, it got me thinking about my own screen time. I even showed my students that AMAZING cell phone commercial about disconnecting to connect. See below.

I’ve started to really become aware just how connected we (at least people in Abu Dhabi) have become—but not necessarily connected to other people, connected to our devices.

Everywhere I look, I see people walking, eating, biking, talking with another human being–but all with devices in hand! It’s almost become addicting–we can’t seem to live without checking our device when we feel that buzz or hear that ding, song, swoosh, doorbell, dog bark, or whatever other annoying sound people have programmed to alert that a new connection (email, tweet, text, call, facebook comment, etc.) has been made.

Here’s my theory: we’ve gone from none to all in a flash, and it’s hard to stop or slow down.

What I mean is that when you think back 25 years ago, it was very costly to connect to the internet. I remember good ol’ AOL bleeping and blurping as it dialed up, charging my parents each minute I was online. It took awhile to finally get booted up and running. Plus, I had to go the guest bedroom to use the enormous desktop. Not the most effective use of my time. So, I didn’t connect that often.

Now, fast forward to present day. First, I had a laptop. Much faster than my parent’s desktop with AOL, but still, I had to turn it on, wait a bit, and then I was connected. Last year, I got an iPad. Now I was more mobile, and I had apps. Checking facebook was much faster. It made me then check it more often. This year, I finally got an iPhone (I think I’m one of the last on the planet–seriously, does EVERYONE have one????). Anyways, now that I have my iPhone, I am connected…all…the…time.

It’s a great thing and an awful thing. Great thing b/c I feel so much closer with my family back home as we talk on a daily basis now, and I can quickly and effortlessly send photos of the grandkids. Awful thing? I’m connected all the time!

But the first step to solving any problem is awareness, right? That’s why I absolutely love that commercial above. It reminds me how important it is to power down every now and again, especially when my kids are around.

When I was teaching my class about balancing screen time and connecting face-to-face with people, I told them how important it was to look at people in the eye, not down at your device, texting away, as you talked. Well, just after that lesson, I was called out by one of my kids. He exclaimed, “You just did what you told us not to!” as I apparently continued to finish typing something while another student asked me a question. I guess even the big kids need reminders:)…


Whose Fault Is It Anyway???

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Finger pointing always happens when things go wrong.

Education in the U.S. has been in the gutters for awhile now, especially when compared to other countries in Europe and Asia. Now, a scapegoat has finally been found to take the blame for this decline–technology.

I often worry when I see a big-name media outlet, like The New York Times, publishing articles that make some pretty heavy accusations.

The reason I worry is because people can be incredibly impressionable, taking what something, like the NY Times, says as God’s (or Allah’s or Buddha’s or whatever higher power you may believe in:) word.

Technology Changing How Students Learn, Teachers Say

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This is the article’s title that just came out on November 1, 2012. If you were to only read the title and skim the first bit of the article, it would give you the idea that technology and screen time is what’s wrong with education, and that it’s distracting the youth and preventing them from paying attention to teachers.

“Kristen Purcell, the associate director for research at Pew, acknowledged that the findings could be viewed from another perspective: that the education system must adjust to better accommodate the way students learn…”

YES! THIS is where we need to direct our attention.This reminded me of a TED Talk by Heidi Hayes Jacobs (see below) talking about how our idea of schooling, as well as our actual schools, have not changed much in 100 years! Why is every other business on earth moving forward with the times, except education?? It just doesn’t make sense!

With a swipe of your smartphone, you can pay (check-out) at Target or check out      e-books from your local library or scan QR codes off the bottom of your cereal box. Yet, in education, we are still giving the same standardized tests we did in the 80s!

Another quote from this NY Times article really got me thinking…

“Similarly, of the 685 teachers surveyed in the Common Sense project, 71 percent said they thought technology was hurting attention span “somewhat” or “a lot.” About 60 percent said it hindered students’ ability to write and communicate face to face, and almost half said it hurt critical thinking and their ability to do homework.”

I’m curious as to how many (if any) of those 685 teachers interviewed implement a digital citizenship program at their school. Do they TEACH the students about balancing screen time? Have they TAUGHT students how to find valid and reliable information on the web? Do they actually USE technology in the classroom to enhance student learning?

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To me, it’s simple. If we spend time looking at the root of this apparently huge problem (which is too much screen time), we can start to remedy it. Kids were born into the digital age. There was no learning curve for them when using the iPad or searching on a smartphone. It just happened…almost like magic.

Now, what DID NOT just ‘happen’ was the education behind how to use it effectively and appropriately. Enter digital citizenship. Just as it’s not innate for kids to say please and thank you, nor is it instinctive to know how to balance screen time or understand boundaries with giving out personal information on the net. IT MUST BE TAUGHT. And not in the old fashioned schoolroom style of the 1900s!

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In my team meeting last week, we were looking at our upcoming research unit in writing. My teammates were worried about the limited number of resources we had (nonfiction books in the library and classroom). I had to stop and remind them that  we have a bountiful resource at the mercy of our fingertips–the world wide internet!

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I see this happening in education all the time–we are teaching our students to do things the way that WE learned how to do things back in the day, EVEN THOUGH, we may not be using those strategies anymore. For example, when I grew up, if we needed to find the correct spelling of a word, we would raise our hand and when allowed to, walk to the back of the room where the dictionaries were shelved. (By the way, by the time I made it back to my desk, I almost forgot what I had gone back to do!) Nowadays, if I’m writing something on the computer and need to look up a word, I will just go to the dictionary icon on my screen. I don’t even know where I would find an actual hard copy of a dictionary!

Or, if I’m researching a disease that I found out a relative has or planning a holiday, you won’t find me driving to the library. It’s all within fingers’ reach now. As educators, we MUST leave old ways behind us and embrace new ways of thinking, researching, and learning about the world around us.

The time has come, and we have technology to thank.


Expanding Horizons at ISTE 2012

It’s all kind of a blur. ISTE 2012, that is. It was an amazing 4-day ed tech conference in San Diego, chock-full of great ideas and like-minded professionals all with the goal of using technology authentically and purposefully to enhance student learning.

Here are my top 10 highlights:

1) Building my PLN! I connected with educators from all over the globe that I WILL contact in the near future:)
2) As an aside to #1, I discovered some global collaboration opportunities that I’m super excited about, including connecting with some of my new PLN, as well as looking into using ePals, edmodo, and/or Skype in the Classroom. I need to sit down and vet them to make sure the tools I choose to use serve my purpose and don’t overlap. Anyone with experience in any of the above, please share any advice.

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3) I grew more confident as a Twitteree;) I recruited some more followers (I literally made them take out their phone on the spot and follow me;), and then some people that I didn’t even coerce are following me! Pre-ISTE I had 9 followers and post-ISTE I’m up to 22–WOO HOO! Knowing that I have an authentic, global audience motivates me to write with more volume, clarity and inspiration. It makes sense that students would feel the same way if they are blogging their writing! I’m interested in having my students blog their writing rather than use the paper/pencil notebook. I spoke with a teacher doing this, and she said the quality of her kids’ writing rose exponentially when they were able to share their work with a wider audience as well as write and receive comments for and from others. Anyone doing this with success? Or doing this and NOT having success?

4) I learned about 2 tools, Poll Everywhere and Today’s Meet, that I cannot wait to use with my students (and colleagues). They are web-based tools that allow you to gather data in real-time. You should have seen how engaged all the adults in the room were. I can see this being used in the classroom for quick, formative assessments and even to start off the day with a fun question or end the day with some type of reflection of something they learned that day. So many possibilities.

5) Visiting exhibitors in the 5 and 1/2 football-length hall. I felt like a kid in a candy shop sometimes as I grabbed free highliters (yes, I’m a dorky elementary teacher who loves nothing more than to color-code) or signed up for the myriad of raffles. More importantly, this is where I was able to speak  with people from Evernote, ePals, Poll Everywhere, Edmodo and other wonderful booths to see how I could better utilize their service with my students.

6) Poster sessions. As an ISTE first-timer, I had seen these in the program and thought they were just random people presenting random things that weren’t ‘good enough’ to be one of the workshops or sessions. Man, was I ever wrong! This was one of the meatiest parts of the conference! Here I was able to talk 1-on-1 with real people out in the trenches putting this technology to good use.

7) Keynote sessions. Sir Ken Robinson and Dr. Yong Zhao were particularly inspiring for me. You can view their keynotes here: Sir Ken (start watching at 45 min. mark) and Dr. Zhao (start at 53:45). Both are funny, funny guys.

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8) San Diego! I went to university in this beautiful city many a year ago, and it was GREAT to be back, even though the majority of my time was spent rushing from room to room in the gi-normous convention center. I did take time to go biking on Coronado Island and visit my MOST favorite spot on this planet–La Jolla Cove.

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9) Filling in some of my tech knowledge gaps. I finally learned how to use QR codes. I didn’t even know what QR stood for (it’s Quick Response for those who also don’t know;). There was a fantastic QR 101 article I read in the ISTE publication Learning and Leading that I read on the place to the conference. Then, I got to put it into practice as I paraded around booths zapping codes.

10) I was thrilled to gather several resources to teach global citizenship and internet safety. I feel really strongly about explicitly teaching these skills to kids. If we focus more on the hardware and what tool we’re putting in kids’ hands, we are putting our kids at a loss and setting them up for disaster. It’s just not fair. I think one of the biggest things we need to remember is that there’s no guarantee that our kids are going to be 100% safe and never see an inappropriate image or word, even with all the citizenship lessons we give. As an adult, I come across spam email or inappropriate comments or images on blogs all the time, but I know how to handle them so that they don’t interfere or distract me from my work or whatever I’m trying to do. We need to teach kids how to do that as well…rather than just installing cyber-nanny-blocking services on their devices.

11) Okay, so I know I said this was my “Top 10″ list, but I have to put in 1 more…Spending 6 days with my husband and without my kids. I love my kids more than ANYTHING in this world. It’s important though to balance oneself–whether it be between work and home lives or making time for yourself or a loved one. Balance is key to production…and sanity.

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The tricky part now will be to sort through everything I learned and decide what my priorities will be. As I write this on the plane ride back to St. Louis, I’m starting my ‘To Do’ list. As much as I want to put everything in the number one spot, it’s not realistic. I don’t want to set myself or my students (or colleagues) up for failure, so my goal is to start small and grow from there.

Mind Your Digital Manners!

This weekend my husband and I celebrated our anniversary at this fancy-schmancy restaurant. (We were WAY out of our element!) I couldn’t help but notice this family that came and sat next to us after our appetizers arrived. They came with their 2 young children. In 20 minutes, not one word was exchanged between any of them (except for the 1-year-old who kept shouting at his dad). Mom and dad sat across the table from each other texting away.

Two thoughts came to my mind as I sat there watching them:1) Mind your manners! It’s a shame these days how people are prioritizing digital conversations when a face-to-face human contact conversation is sitting right in front of them!  2) Those young kids are growing up thinking that is okay! Then, the cycle just repeats itself and those kids end up doing the same thing as they age.

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So how do we break the cycle?

By teaching digital etiquette.

Just as we teach our kids (or students) to say please and thank you and not to run in the hallways, we must also educate them so they know what is appropriate and what is not in the digital world.

Our school is going 1:1 in the high school next year. I have heard some of the parent community rumbling about how now that it’s going 1:1 the kids will be living and breathing their computer and lose touch with human contact and conversation.

Now, of course the students will not be ONLY working on their computers in each class. Teachers are bright; teachers will still have the kids discussing and analyzing in small and large groups. HOWEVER, it is imperative that schools place VALUE on educating students on etiquette and equipping them with digital citizenship skills. In order to do this, time and effort must be spent. Some things must come off the plates of teachers in order to do this. But, in my opinion, it must happen if we really want to live up to our school vision of creating effective 21st century learners.

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Are We ALL Bullies At Some Point?

I think the term “bully” is overused sometimes. It reminds me of what happened in the States with ADHD. All of a sudden, every child and their brother is diagnosed with ADHD because they have a little energy. Danah Boyd’s article, “Bullying” Has Little Resonance with Teenagers, addresses the complexity of bullying and what it actually means. This is part of the problem. Bullying means different things to different people.

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I agree with Boyd in that kids shut down when they hear adults start to lecture them about bullying. Everyone thinks they aren’t a bully, even the bullies, ESPECIALLY the bullies. So how should we attack this problem? Teach empathy. Switch places. As Boyd says, we need to have kids see things from someone else’s perspective.

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NY Times article, When Dad Banned Text Messaging, really took me for a loop. At first, I was on the daughter’s side, then on mom’s side, then on dad’s side, then I started to read all the comments and I felt bad for the author, Tara Parker-Pope, as everyone felt they could judge her as a mother and a person.  As I now stand on the pulpit, here are a few of my thoughts:

1) Our kids are growing up in a different age than we grew up in–they are living and breathing the digital age. For many of us, we didn’t grow up with computers and certainly not texting. Our kids, on the other hand, can’t imagine a world without it. When are we going to stop fighting things that are foreign to us just because WE didn’t use them?

2) Kids need to be taught how to be good digital citizens. Part of that is leading a balanced life. Just as it is rude and disrespectful to look away while someone is talking to you, it is also rude to be having a virtual conversation while you are having a physical conversation with another person. This may not, unfortunately, be common sense to some kids, so we better make sure we teach it. It’s vital to ‘disconnect’ from our online living every now and again in order to stay connected to other real, live, breathing human beings.

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