Digital Detectives

Digital Archeaology is a thing now. I thought that was at least 5 years out, but obviously I was wrong. Along those line, last year my co-workers and I put together a video to show kids about being good digital citizens (please don’t judge me too harshly for my “acting” skills. We had fun, the kids thought it was funny, but it was a one-off.

I love simulations (I know that I have mentioned that before). When it comes teaching digital citizenship, of course that is where my mind naturally wandered to. Working the unbelievably understanding fabulous Sitwat, we combined a lesson she was already doing with her students based on Common Sense Media with my simulation idea. Since we both teach similar ages, we didn’t need to adjust the level for our students.

Sitwat came up with an amazing way to tie-in Breakout Edu with teaching kids these habits, which I plan to use early in the year (in the future) to get kids into good habits and start a discussion.

Later in the year, when students inevitably begin to make mistakes or forget or get sloppy, we can do a refresher course with digital detectives.

The basic premise is to review lessons on digital citizenship and what it is, what it looks like, and all the issues related to it. Then, later, assign a few students to be detectives and investigate a claim of “being a bad digital citizenship.” They will look through the blogs or any other online activity or presence (pre-chosen by the teacher) for evidence to this effect. Then the culprit (pre-selected and coached ideally) will be “arrested” and placed on trial.

Students will be assigned roles as the judge, prosecution, defense lawyers, and the jury. Each person will need to use the information from before and any other research they can find as evidence and how they are making their decisions. After the verdict is read out, students can go onto their blogs or other online presences to make any changes and have a discussion about why this matters and the potential consequences, and how easy it is to forget.

I am hopeful that by adding a new element to the digital discussion, kids will be more engaged and it will be more meaningful than lessons like this I have done in the past. And the fact i plan to have the students wear actual Sherlock Holmes’ hats and other props for my amusement and possibly theirs? Merely a coincidence.

A Tale of Snapchat and Service Learning

I am not a fan social media (for personal life). I think I last updated Facebook 6 months ago, but I have been toying with the idea of posting that I just paid off my student loans (shameless brag). I didn’t have Twitter until 2 years ago, and I didn’t start posting until I went to ISTE in June this year. And yet I just signed up for Snapchat. I know, I’m surprised too!

There’s two reasons for this, and the first is that it should have happened a year ago, but I’m lazy.

I did a Service Learning project with my students last year, and part of it was that they had to do an awareness campaign for the various issues. There was the usual roundup of videos and skits and posters, but one stood out and was really popular with the students – Snapchat. They created a Snapchat account and everyday of their awareness week would post different stories, pictures, videos, and links to the organization we were working with. By the end, almost every student in our middle school was following them and checking it multiple times a day as it updated. Regrettably they deleted it, but it was such an innovative idea and tailored to their age group that it should have made me sign up then. Bonus – my students for this year remember it!

This year I used it as an example of how social media can be used for positive ideas, and how a small change/action can lead to big change. I gave the students very few boundaries on their projects last year, and this is what grew out of it. If they can have that impact in our school in 1 week, what could they do if they had more time? Now that they really know I mean it when I say “be as unique and creative as you can,” are they willing to rise to that challenge? Here’s hoping!

I also believe there is room for a discussion with the recent US election and the spread of vitriol and fake news on social media, and how powerful it would be if we could reverse that and replace the negative messages with kind and inspiring and accepting ones. If the internet can use used for hate, surely it can be used for love as well.

Fair warning, the second reason is not quite as directly connected to the main topic of this post and gets a little weird. 

Sigh, so this happened recently.  Posed by students.
Sigh, so this happened recently. Posed by students, picture pulled from Snapchat.

I also did so because I was becoming a Snapchat star amongst my students and I never got to see it. I have a tendency to get a little weird in class, and I figured instead of trying to stop the kids from doing what they are going to do anyway, I may as well make it an open environment. Rules are they can include me but no other students (without permission), I get copies of any pictures or videos from class, and no hidden recording (meaning if they are filming, I can see it happening). It’s actually been pretty liberating, and I have some…let’s call them interesting…pictures of my teaching in action. When I got Snapchat, kids were literally running to show me how to use it

It only looks like I'm winning. I lost. Bad. Twice.
It only looks like I’m winning. I lost. Bad. Twice.

(I’ll spare you the stories of their agony as I pressed the wrong thing and acted like my mom did when she was trying to type), and immediately following me and asking me to follow them. I try to post at least 1 thing everyday of something that happened in class – usually the weirder moments, but the other sections always want to know “why were you arm wrestling Jack?!” the next day, so at least it’s a talking point.

There has been an unexpected side effect – I see EVERYTHING they put on Snapchat. Pictures from my class? Yup. Pictures of them at home being silly? Oh dear Lord, yes. Pictures from their night at the music award show? WAY more than I ever needed to see.

Happily, nothing I’ve seen has been too inappropriate or disturbing. I like joking with them about the things they post and they get red as a tomato when I point it out – but they don’t block me. It actually works really well to start small discussions with them about posting online without having to do it in a formal lesson where they know all the things to say that we want to hear as teachers. I also get to work their pictures/videos into conversations that they may prefer I not. Example? Since you asked so nicely, ok!

Me: What are you struggling with on this writing project?

Student: I dunno – no ideas. My brain is a desolate wasteland of creative inspiration with a distinct dearth of imagination.

Me: LIAR! I have seen you tell a 5-minute story to your sister about why you got in trouble with your parents. Instead of the truth, your version involved evil fairies, unicorns, and a lightsaber!


Me: Snapchat. I got weird(er) looks on the subway because you made me laugh out loud (literally, not the usual snort through the nose that LOL means). It was really funny and creative! Why not start with that story as your basis and we can go from there?

Student: WOW! I never thought of that! You are the best teacher in the whole wide world!

I took a few liberties with the phrasing (but so subtle I doubt you even noticed it). The story is real though, and has happened a lot. Maybe it doesn’t relate to class, but I have said “if you have time to do the Single Ladies dance at 2am, you have time to read for 20 minutes at home.” The point is, many of them have realized that their digital life and school life are way more interconnected than they think. Also, that they can be exposed at any moment for what they have put online. Hopefully it will make them think twice about what they post or what they say. Maybe, just maybe, it will make them a little more honest and thoughtful and kind. *fingers crossed.* I like to think maybe having more accountability will make them more aware and responsible.

Thoughts on Snapchat in the classroom or positivity instead of hate on the internet?

Dancing with the Dinosaurs

Creative Commons copyright by Randal Droher
Creative Commons copyright by Randal Droher

I attended cotillion as a young teenager. Supposedly I was going to learn to dance, have proper table manners, and be a nice young lady. I only agreed to it because it was in the Natural History Museum and meant I could dance under the dinosaurs. However, other than than that Thursday night every other week, I would forget pretty much everything I had learned. Why? Because doing it occasionally wasn’t enough to teach me and engrain in me the skills and manners I was supposed to learn. But hey, 18 years later and I know which fork to use at all those fancy dinner parties I don’t go to!

Digital citizenship is like that. If kids are only taught it

once in a while, or in one particular class, how likely are they to remember it? Or make a habit of being a good digital citizen? If my students forget that they need to use capital letters for proper nouns the instant they walk out of my classroom because they are no longer in English class, how likely are they to remember to properly cite photos and sources when posting online? About as likely as a snowball’s chance in the tropical heat of Barbados, I would say.

Forgetting Curve Copyright under Creative Commons
Forgetting Curve
Copyright under Creative Commons

I am very guilty of not always being the digital citizen role model I should be. Part of my reasons for joining COETAIL were to try and fix this behavior – and it’s working so far! But my kids are not me. They are (much, much) younger. They have grown up with the internet and very little idea of digital citizenship. Now it is being taught more and more in the younger grades, but my current grade 8 students had very little exposure to that term or the ideas before middle school – all part of the evolving life of living in such a digital world.

Digital citizenship should be taught everyday in every class. It doesn’t need to be a big lesson or even a lesson. We are supposed to be modeling good beahvior, so teaching digital citizenship begins with us. Everything we do digitally that the students will see is teaching them. Everytime we enforce the idea of citing your sources, of giving credit for images and videos, of reminding them how to post online, of who their digital is, and everytime we go online we are teaching digital citizenship. This is not just the purview of the computer science teacher anymore – it is responsibilty of all educators to make sure that every class, every day reinforces digital citizenship.

The obvious answer seems to be that every school/division should have a clear policy for digital citizenship, a specified class or advisory where the main lessons are taught, and then the guidelines/citizenship should be enforced and made clear in all other classes. I know many districts and schools are moving to this model, but like many other well-intentioned things, it sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. I would like to see my school create a coherent, school-wide digital citizenship program with school-wide standards and expectations of digital citizenship. Has anyone helped create one? Any suggestions?

PS, I know I could have made many regrettable puns about dancing with dinosaurs and how old I am in my kids’ eyes, but wanted to keep you reading until the end, and then it feels unfair to punish you.


Melania, Richard, Vanilla, and Kylie, oh my

Photo credit: ArtsyBee via Flickr and CreativeCommons
Photo credit: ArtsyBee via Flickr and CreativeCommons

I am a big fan of simulations in my own classroom, and my first thought on teaching copyright was how I could do a simulation that would be meaningful to grade 8 students? While I was ISTE this past summer, the inspiring Ben Smith, a physics/engineering teacher, did a great presentation on student entrepreneurship in the classroom. One of the most intriguing methods he used in his HS engineering class was having students patent their work/methods/steps. Should other  student wish to use the patented work, it would cost them a few points off their work, and those points would be awarded to the team/student holding the patent.

I am still trying to figure out how to work this in, but I have thought about secretly recruiting a couple of “black hat” students to help me by copying the work of other students to create outrage and then lead to a discussion. This might actually be helped with the fact that almost every week I hear students talking about downloading and torrenting files. While technically illegal here in Hong Kong, it is an accepted fact that you will not get caught and it is basically treated as legal unless a specific complaint is lodged against you.

I, and all of the educators I know, believe that our jobs extends far beyond our content areas. We have an obligation to help guide students, and that means guiding them so that they always make the right decision. Ok, most of the time. I’ll settle for half of the time. But I digress. The point is of course we have to teach students about copyright and respecting it – even if no one else around them is. No one ever thinks they are going to get caught, so the consequences often do not seem real. So how do we get students to this realization when it is something that even adults struggle with?

Photo Credit: Disney | ABC Television Group Flickr via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Disney | ABC Television Group Flickr via Compfight cc

A few resources came to mind – Melania Trump and Richard Prince. Think you won’t get caught for being sloppy with your sourcing and trying to pass off someone’s work as your own? Think again (though hopefully less public). Think making tiny changes makes something yours and nobody will notice or comment on it? Think again (and yes, the voice yelling at me that Richard Prince’s “work” is art and beginning a philosophical discussion of what art is is my brother. Hi Jake!). Heck, let’s go ahead and throw Kylie Jenner into the mix so I can pretend I am relevant and up-to-date on pop culture. And of course there is the ever popular Vanilla Ice/Queen bass line case.

YouTube Preview Image

I like to tell me students to work smarter and not harder and to let others do the work for them. I usually mean this in collaborations and pooling resources and avoiding repeating work, but maybe it is time I address it in more detail and have an open discussion with students about how we can use other people’s work to build on and to enhance our own while giving due credit and protecting the intellectual property of others.


Whoops…I’m not perfect

I think it is increasingly obvious that “online privacy” may be a bit of an oxymoron. While I embrace the possibilities of the internet and technology and a more networked and globalized world, there is always the specter of my loss of privacy and some embarrassing comment or picture surfacing when my student cyber-stalk me. And then there is the government stalking us, our pictures becoming fodder for scammers to use on dating sites, and even our health records being compromised.

Photo Credit: Visual Content Flickr via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Visual Content Flickr via Compfight cc

The US presidential election has made headlines (again), and it has made me think about a number of things. No politics here, but I did think of Donald Trump’s digital footprint. I’m currently working some of them into a future lesson with my kiddos about digital footprints, or contrails as so aptly worded by Steve Weatherell. Many news sites and political satirists have already done this for me by throwing up old tweet contradicting his stance on climate change as an exampl. I see this as a chance to have a conversation with students though – putting aside the fact he is a divisive politician, we all have posted things that we would prefer not see the light of day. Can’t we use that as a reflective tool? Show how far we have come? Explain the reasons that we initially thought/said/posted that and the reasons why we have changed our opinion on it? Is this not along the lines of a growth mindset?

Obviously it would be better if we never posted anything we were ashamed of

Photo Credit: Reiterlied Flickr via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Reiterlied Flickr via Compfight cc

and if everyone in the world respected our privacy, but in the world where that

happens, I am frequently late to work because the lego-unicorn I ride to work gets stuck in traffic caused by a puppy stampede due to the sun glinting off of a triple rainbow. AKA, that is just not realistic. 

Since I am currently teaching 8th grade, I give a little pep talk before parent-teacher conferences every trimester. Kids are always worried about what their parents will say. So I pitch it like this: 8th grade is the best time to fail. Colleges don’t see your grades from this year. You don’t have your ideal grade? Great! Let’s learn how we can recover from this, move on, and do better. Then you will always know that even if you slide down, it is always possible to climb back up. 

Of course, we all know it would be better not to have slid down in the first place. But when it comes to digital privacy, my kids have already been on devices and social media for years. They have already shared pictures and information that maybe should be kept private. That doesn’t mean they can’t do better and try to undo what they have done. Keeping the growth mindset in place, we can start to be more careful about what we post online. Where we post it. Who we share it with.  How we think about privacy. Hopefully we can prevent any future mis-sharings and strive to always be more vigilant and aware.

Poor Ken Bone

Of all the memorable things that happened in the US presidential debates this year, one man stood out. Not Donald Trump, but Ken Bone of the second debate. He became an adorable internet sensation overnight and, almost inevitably, a quick fall from grace. His downfall was his history of comments and contributions to reddit on some less-than-adorable topics. He could not have had any idea

Photo Credit: Download Youtube Videos Online Flickr via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Download Youtube Videos Online Flickr via Compfight cc

One thing we should stress to our students, is that no matter how hard we try, you cannot completely separate your personal and professional selves. It is terrifyingly easy for people to find you online. Case in point, many of my former students call my McCoolpants. *Hangs head in shame.* I changed my name on some social media sites to use that so students wouldn’t be able to find me. Even with all the privacy settings on max, they did it by playing leapfrog from one friend to another, to eventually teachers, and found my name that way (though happily nothing else). Maybe we are more vulnerable as teachers, considering the natural tendency of students to question and seemingly want to stalk, but I do not think there is any foolproof way to keep everything completely separate.

One of the ways we build a PLN is having a digital presence, isn’t it? One of my goals this year is to build more of a digital presence. Partly to build my PLN, partly to communicate more with students and families, and partly to help when I leave my current school and am looking for a new position. I have had multiple administrators tell me that they prioritize applicants who have a digital portfolio or blog. This seems to be common sense to me – a digital portfolio (or any presence online) allows the school/hiring body to get a more accurate picture of you as a person and an educator. You can only express so much of yourself in a short resume, and lets be honest, many resumes look very similar. While I have trying to build my professional presence online, I noticed that I have toning down (although honestly there wasn’t much to tone down) my personal online presence. I realized that since I am trying to connect more with students online, they may be able to find things about me online that I would rather they not know.

Many years ago I saw a webcomic where someone made a sticker to put on a phone. The sticker read “consider everything on here public property.” There is a very good possibility I will make some of those myself and print them for students when we focus on digital privacy. I know so many people my age who all agree that we are darn lucky there was no Facebook when we were teenagers. Myspace was barely getting started when I left high school, and thank goodness for that. Our students absolutely need to understand that wHatever they put

online can spread far beyond where they intended. This is such an abstract idea for them though, since they are not having to consider professional ramifications for almost a decade (with my kiddos anyway), and they are so used to their little bubble of social media contacts that it is difficult to think of the larger picture. I am thinking of using Ken Bone and his example to them of how things can come back to haunt you. I also think we need to emphasize the powerful things that can be done online and through social media, using the example of Alaa Basatneh (of the incredible documentary #ChicagoGirl) to inspire students and show the positive impact they can have on the world through sometimes minor things (and use that to think about the power they can have if they choose not to be positive as well).

If anyone has any ideas on how to incorporate these into the classroom and engage students, I’d love to hear it!

Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité

I both love and hate election years. I love them because it allows me to do so much with my students and apply the skills we are learning to real-life situations and allows us to watch politics and social issues change. I hate them because of the vitriol that they inspire in people, and that was even before this historically nasty election. We have watched the debates in class, and I have never seen students cheering, booing, and shouting out their own questions and comments to the screen!

This year is (hopefully) unique and has inspired students in a whole new way. Even though very few of my students are actually US citizens, they all can list ways that the US election will likely impact them personally. Many of them have gone and done research on both candidates. Ok, so they don’t call it research and they usually swing towards researching Donald Trump, but they ARE researching and of their own volition! The divisive speech and pure venom that is coming out of this election is what is driving the student interest, and I have been trying to figure out how to keep this interest going past the election and to help them look past the insanity and flashiness to more substantive issues.

Oh wait, don’t I teach a unit on the US and French Revolutions? Didn’t most of my students do an extensive unit on Syria in their Humanities class last year? Haven’t there been many revolutions

source: wikimedia commons
source: wikimedia commons

in the past 10 years based on the same type of frustrations and divisions that we are currently seeing in the US?


Hence, my unit planner is for my unit that will be coming in April or May, featuring revolutions.

I have based the idea on some great work I have seen from fellow Hong Kong teachers at HK Teachmeets and at ISTE, and some of my COETAIL readings. I want to incorporate VR for my more advanced students, have all of them combine maps, news, analysis, speaking, interviews, and writing skills as they build a more human and meaningful idea of what a revolution is, how it impacts individuals, and how people reach a point where revolutions can blossom.

I would ideally like to build connections with teachers and classrooms in the areas that we research so my students can talk to kids their age who are experiencing/impacted by these events. Helping them build their own version of a PLN, as well as helping them empathize with other people, and build historical connections while letting them be storytellers.

As is typical with me, I have a lot of ideas I want to do in this unit, and not enough time. I think I have distilled them to the most crucial, but I do have my work cut out when it comes to being able to explain this project to my kids to get the work I know they are capable of (specifically my ESL students), and to make it manageable for them (instead of overwhelming), but I am looking forward to developing and implementing this unit.

One of the things that I sort of knew but the COETAIL readings really reinforced was the idea of authentic and publishable work. I have tried to build that into the unit, and I know that I still have development in this unit.

I would like to do more with the publishing and the audience to make this more authentic, but I feel like this is a good start, and I know I will have new suggestions once I open it up to the kids.

I would love any ideas or suggestions people may have for this!


How Far Might We Go?

Research online collaborative projects that you might be able to use in your classroom. Write a blog post reflecting on how technology is changing the learning landscape and global education.

There has been a lot of talk about how important students doing authentic work and publishing it is. I think every educator knows the opportunities that technology offers to students these days (research, outlets for creativity, and a global community to share/discuss are the most obvious). There are some amazing ways that schools and educators are using technology in schools in remote areas, as well as allow access to the rest of the world. But what about in my own students? How can I inspire them and give them free rein so they become lifelong learners?

As I thought about these questions, I realized that a lot of the “innovation” that I’ve heard and read about is really just repackaged traditional education. Even lists some ideas that are well-meaning and a good first step, but is “have students complete a written classroom activity as if it was online” really any different than doing it in their old-fashioned writer’s notebooks? To be fair, the last step does mention publishing student work online.

When it comes to publishing student work, blogging is the obvious first step. Ok, done that. How can I expand on this? Get other people reading and commenting on their blogs? Working on that. What about incorporating the design cycle? Maybe this can be connected to our service learning and going beyond basic service and thinking to a real “think globally, act locally,” situation. iEarn has some fantastic ideas that I am exploring to get started with, including one that looks near and dear to my own heart, “Don’t Waste, Create.” I’ve started looking into, but it is fantastic and super encouraging to see these massive projects going on and the potential that is out there.


One thing that I have noticed with my own students and myself, is the dangers of being exposed to so many great ideas. It is so easy to just mimic a great project or idea. That is absolutely NOT a bad thing. However, to be truly innovative, doesn’t it require doing something different? I overheard a discussion between some of my students trying to decide what to for their Renaissance Fair booth where they were just deciding which example to copy from a few websites. I quickly nixed them in that endeavor, but it made me think and sent up a, not quite red, maybe a fuschia colored flag for future work.

Even before we started collaborating with other classrooms about our blogs, the kids were excited to see that people in France, Germany, and Brazil had looked at their blogs. I’m still scratching my head about that, but embracing their excitement! If they get that excited about people just seeing a small sample of their work, what if we were actively promoting and sharing our work? How far might we go?


The Zombie Apocalypse

I’ll admit, screens scare me. Not just the Black Mirror type of screens (which is an excellent series, if not surreal and hopefully not too prophetic), but the screens of my students. Specifically, the amount of time they spend looking at screens in a day. This week I noticed just how much time in my class has shifted towards being “screen time.” While I do think the class overall is stronger because of a number of factors, I’m concerned.


As a self-professed luddite, I am fully aware of the irony of talking about this in a blog post for a class on educational technology. But maybe this is a case of less is more? There’s an interesting theory that planning your time and fitting specific tasks into specific time frames can actually lead to getting more done. It’s basically the same principle that led Tim Ferris of the Four-Hour Workweek to fame. So maybe it’s not so crazy to try and limit the amount of time kids spend on their devices and staring at screens. Especially not when the average teen spends 9+ hours staring at a screen in a day.

No matter the task, kids (and adults) are constantly tempted when they are on a digital device. It is so easy to jump from one app or webpage to another and still be “working,” or to at least convince yourself you are working. Consultant Tiago Forte points out that “What has become exceedingly scarce (and therefore, valuable) is the physical, emotional, attentional, and mental capability to sit quietly and direct focused attention for sustained periods of time.” This ability to focus is one that will serve our students well in the future – shouldn’t we be supporting it?


We’ve talked a lot in our blogs and seen in our reading how education needs to change, how important it is that kids do work that is important and matters to them. I would like to add that it is just as important, to me at least, that we continue to balance technology and the benefits of it with the benefits of screen-free time. I don’t want a class of zombies, which is what has been staring back at me a few times in the last few weeks.

They are doing great work. They are being critical thinkers. They are improving their writing and reading skills. They are also not talking or interacting much when there is a screen in the equation. In some cases, not at all. There are some excellent reasons not to limit screen time, but what about offering them engaging non-digital alternatives instead of explicitly limiting it?

I know, I know. Not new. Not original. But something I had not seriously noticed before. I was aware of my concerns this summer when I was ISTE and whenever I see pictures (including my own) of classes of students all staring at their own screens. But I got so excited with the amazing opportunities and potential offered by technology and some of the great work my kids were doing. Trying


to avoid falling into a professional fixed mindset though, I am going to try and be more aware of striking a balance and not just paying it lipservice. I need to use technology to enhance engagement and skills and content instead of always turning to it first. “Having fun, collaborating, communicating, and being creative are my some of my main goals for my students, and I need to pay more attention to whether they are engaged or actually learning and benefitting from what we are doing.

In my quest to create a more inquiry-based classroom, I am looking for ways to use technology more meaningfully and get more bang for my buck. Anyone have ideas or techniques that have worked well for you before? Share them! Please? So I don’t accidentally start the digital zombie apocalypse?

Don’t Walk Behind Me

While reading “How millennials challenge traditional leadership,” I remembered something I heard when I was working as a college orientation staffer many moons ago. I wasn’t able to find the actual study, and my Googling skills are not as great as I thought because I couldn’t even find anything close to what I was looking for. The general gist of the idea though, was generational differences. My grandparent’s generation did one job for one company and retired with a gold watch. My parent’s generation did one job for several different companies before retiring. My generation does many different jobs for many different companies. And apparently the millennial generation would prefer to be leaders or own their own companies.

Group of 3D guys follow the leader.

While the idea of letting kids figure out their own way and follow every tangent their little hearts desire is tempting, we cannot just put them on a computer and call any digital product learning or thinking is anything more than giving them a textbook. Teachers are still the guides. Students will get lost, take a wrong turn, get distracted, and need someone to talk to when things don’t go as planned. Technology gives us an infinite number of options for students, but we can’t throw them into the ocean of information and hope they swim instead of sink.

This ties in very neatly with a noticeable shift in education in the last 10 years since I left school. all of my classrooms growing up had the standards neatly posted on the wall or the board, al detailing what we were supposed to know; New Mexico history, the dates of the American Revolution, how to use passive voice in science writing, and on and on. Now? Teachers are posting the essential questions instead of facts. Even some of the standards themselves are focusing on the questions/skills more than what is taught. Considering how the world is changing and who knows what challenges our students will face in the future, this is only logical.

“It is also through the process of actively “interrogating” the content using provocative questions that students strengthen and deepen their understanding”

Jay McTighe & Grant Wiggins


Similar to an IB statement of inquiry, an essential question, as explained by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins,  is that “typically will not have a single, final, and correct answer.” It is *gasp* un-Googleable! It requires problem solving, thinking, analysis, debate, and inspires inquiry. THIS is what we need our students to be doing – answering “How are stories from other places and times about me?” instead of “Who is the protagonist?” I tell my kids questions are more important than answers and point to all discoveries we have that came from mistakes or asking the right questions instead of be design – X-rays, radiation therapy, penicillin, pace-makers, microwaves, fireworks, and sticky-notes. When your mind is open to anything, imagine what is possible.

This applies to teachers as well as students. Are we willing to plan a unit and end up somewhere completely different than we thought? Or will we revert to our comfort zones and stay the course? Can we be bold enough to give students choices and let them run in any direction they want? Or will we pull them back to the path we think is best and give them a nudge to what we see as the “finish line?” Can we let them be leaders and let us be their followers? Or can we create a harmonious equilibrium where we are ALL leaders and followers?

I am trying a little of that in my class right now and I have had two of the best teaching days in my career as a result. We are putting on a renaissance fair/museum in November. Students are making the booths/exhibits and students are curating the fair/museum, down to designing the layout of the hall approving each other’s exhibits and coordinating the performances and timing. It is terrifying to not have a game-plan, but it is also unbelievable liberating to watch a group of 3 reluctant learners asking if they can get started designing the hall already, deciding the best way to communicate with students in other classes to give feedback, and hear the ideas they have (all new and fresh and more than I had!), as well as the cry of “No! Class can’t be over! We just got started!” 40 minutes after they actually got started.

I do so love the honeymoon period (of anything, not just class), but this feels like more. They are all working as leaders, they are writing their own essential questions, they are collaborating, and they are taking charge of their learning. Oh, and the fact that I am not tearing my hair out trying to arrange it all like I have in past years is just a lovely, lovely side effect! The potential for some epic failures is in the back of my mind, but I have relegated it to that corner where doubts about the wonderfulness of my beloved Yankees and whether Todd Rundgren really is the best musician live. Ultimately, I must revert back to my camp days and a song that I think perfectly models what the future of education is:

“Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow

Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead

Just walk beside me and be my friend”