I’ve wanted to try a mystery video conference ever since I first heard about it on Twitter. As you may know, it involves two classes from different places asking yes/no questions about each other’s location and trying to figure out where the other is from. This game offers so many opportunities for learning that I just had to try it with my students.
So I researched it further and started laying the preliminary groundwork for myself and my grade six students. First, I got on Twitter to find a teacher that would be willing to try this with us. Once I found a willing participant, Kari Schroder, we agreed to take some time to prepare our grade 6 classes.
In order for my students to start thinking about specific locations in a way that would force them to zoom in from the largest land mass they are on (continent) through to the next (country, region, city), I introduced an activity I call ‘Google Earth Photo Story’. Students had to choose a location, then use Google Earth and Power Point to create a slide show that showed what continent, country, region, and city the location was in. The final product looked like this:
Next, we did a couple of mock ‘mystery’ conferences where students first had to question me then each other about a chosen location. At first they were getting stuck pretty quickly, so we started to developed strategies to overcome that. We started to think more critically about the questions we were asking and how we were wording them. We looked at a map of the world and talked about what other features (other than political division lines) we could use to help us zoom in on a location, such as lines of longitude and latitude or using the first letter of the name of the country (“Does it start with A-M?”). We had to talk through what getting a yes or no answer meant for many of the questions, about what we could eliminate. For example, if the country’s name did not start with the letter A-M, they could deduce that it had to start with N-Z. So their next question could be “Does it start with N-S?”, and so on. Students soon started developing their own strategies and ways of keeping track of the answers.
The day finally came when we were supposed to have our first Mystery Hangout. I assigned roles to each of the students based on the strengths I observed they had during our mock sessions. We had a greeter, questioner, answerer, two runners/communicators, photographer, two recorders, and the remaining students chose to be either Google researchers or part of the think tank that sat on the carpet and looked at the wall map, globe, and atlases we had available. Because of timetables and different time zones, the two classes only had 20 minutes in common. Soon after we made contact we discovered that the other class could not hear us. We tried to troubleshoot and get the technology to work but we just could not get them to hear us. Disappointed, we had to wave goodbye.
Two weeks had passed before I saw this class again. Since that morning, students from this class have been coming up to me and asking if we were going to try another Mystery Hangout. Thankfully, although I secretly questioned whether the students would still be excited after the flop two weeks earlier, I did arrange for another one (through Twitter, with Jessica Weber). This time we would have more time (about 40 minutes), and I made sure the microphone was working properly. The kids wanted to do another quick mock hangout, but I soon discovered that they did not need one. They remembered their roles and worked well together to communicate information and come up with questions. We only got to Province/State in out mock hangout before we heard back from the other class that they were ready. It was show time, and we were super excited (and me – nervous). I spoke to the other teacher for maybe 5 seconds before we turned it over to the students, thankfully all the tech cooperated this time.
Then I stood back and watched the magic happen. It was incredible, they were so engaged and eager. Everyone knew their role and did their best, and supported one another. Even though we had a few students get overly excited at times, calling out their question/answer or frustrated when they felt like they were not being listened to, they were quickly able to follow my non-verbal cues to pass on their messages to their respective ‘runners’ as we practiced during our mock sessions. I was so proud watching the students work together researching the location on the computers, helping each other along. They pointed out facts if someone made a suggestion that contradicted them. They re-grouped and backtracked if they got a ‘no’ answer to their question. Most importantly, they worked together with very little interference from me.
So What Did I Learn That Day?
- Student enthusiasm does not fade easily if given a chance to do something they are really interested in.
- Adopting a “Growth Mindset” is just as important for teachers as it is for students. Had I given up after the first failed attempt at a Mystery Hangout and not scheduled another, the students would have been very disappointed and we would have missed out on a great learning opportunity.
- Giving up control and trusting the students to take charge can lead to magic.
Here are some student reflections of what they learned:
This post was originally published on the Peel21st Project 188.
What happened with Cecil the lion is a great tragedy. Children worldwide are sure to notice and ask questions about it. It is the perfect opportunity to tap into this natural curiosity and work on developing their questioning skills, as well as have some great discussions about needs vs. wants, human entitlement to the earth’s resources, and the reaction and effects of social media in its aftermath.
Lately I have been giving a great deal of thought to questioning skills and how to engage kids to ask deeper questions, particularly those that will inspire them to want to find out more and start an inquiry. Some of the strategies I’ve used in the past included playing 20 questions, doing a mystery Skype, using visual prompts or a mystery item and the Q-chart. However, those strategies usually failed to elicit that deeper questioning I was after. I came across two great picture books, “The Mermaid and the Shoe” by K.G. Campbell and “I Wonder” by Annaka Harris that help to introduce the concept of questioning for the purpose of inquiry and to illustrate its value.
Then I came across another picture book, “The Cloud Spinner” by Michael Catchpool, that made me think of Cecil the lion. In this book a boy is able to spin delicate threads out of clouds to later make into fabric. He is wisely taught by his mother that “enough is enough and not one stitch more”, so he makes enough thread to meet his needs, to make a hat to protect his head from the sun in the summer and a scarf to keep him warm in the winter. All is well until a greedy king noticed his scarf and demands that he make him one that’s just as beautiful only much longer. Despite the boy’s reasoning that the king does not need a longer scarf, the king insists. He later demanded that the boy make him a cloak and dresses for his wife and daughter. This leads to a cloudless sky and a big drought in the kingdom, until the king’s daughter returns the garments and the boy is able to spin them back into the sky.
It’s easy to see, from an educator’s perspective, why I fell in love with this book. It offers so many opportunities for making analogies to our own lives, to what is happening in the world, and asking deeper questions that will hopefully lead students into rich inquiries. Making the connection to Cecil the lion would provide students with a real life example of what can happen when humans feel entitled to take more than they need or deserve, simply for their own twisted sense of pleasure.
For more resources, feel free to visit my Pinterest boards or share some of yours in the comments.
My family and friends often seem puzzled when I tell them that my six year old son doesn’t really know how to use a computer. After all, I teach technology to kids as young as three. This might seem a bit hypocritical, but I’m not the only techie to do that. Actually, according to an article in The New York Times, the tech guru himself, Steve Jobs was a low tech parent. So why are some techie parents reluctant to emerge their kids in technology? Here are my reasons and why low tech parenting works for our family:
1. The Dangers
Being so immersed in technology myself as a result of my job, I am well aware of its pitfalls and dangers. From encountering inappropriate material and cyber bullying to becoming addicted to the use of electronic devices, I am not willing to let my son have unsupervised or unlimited time on a computer or tablet. When the time comes and he needs or wants to use the internet to do research, social media to connect with others, or other online tools to create media, I hope to teach him and give him the tools to do so appropriately and safely.
2. Timing is Everything
The question of when to introduce a child to computes should really depend on when they show an interest in some of the things they can do using technology. As soon as my son began to draw, I introduced him to drawing programs on the computer; but as it turned out, he preferred to use crayons, markers, and especially paint. Then he started reading and, being a tech teacher, I showed him some online reading programs. Well wouldn’t you know it, he enjoyed cuddling up together with one of his parents to read real books far more than sitting in front of a computer. He’s also shown an interest in watching music videos from YouTube and playing online games, but I limit the time he spends doing either, and it’s always with adult supervision.
As every working parent knows, the quality time you have to spend with your child is limited by the fact that they are at school and you are at work for most of the day. Then there’s other responsibilities and commitments, such as cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, swimming lessons, etc. I don’t really want to spend the little free time I have with my child in front of a computer teaching him research skills or digital citizenship rules unless I really have to. That is something I truly believe should be taught in school and reinforced at home. And of course, I would not be comfortable with him going on that “playground” without any adult supervision. However, I’d much rather go on a bike ride, play a board game, or visit a country fair and have some good old-fashion family fun.
4. Active and Purposeful vs. Passive Engagement
I worry about the amount of ‘screen-time’ my child gets without actively engaging in a purposeful task. That does not only include computers but also watching television. I think that there are other activities he could be involved in that will encourage his creativity and social growth a lot more. That’s not to say that I never hand him an iPad and sit him in my shopping cart while trying to decide what to buy in a store. I do my best not to make it a habit though.
5. Tech/Life Balance
There is no substitute for human contact, especially when it comes to children’s interactions with their parents. Kids watch what we do, then shadow and learn from it. That is why it is especially important to me to try and model a tech/life balance for my son. In today’s tech filled world it is crucial to teach children how to relate to others, without the use of electronic devices. It is important to talk and listen to them, instead of messaging and replying. Taking the opportunities to do that on a daily basis; at the dinner table, during a stroll in the park, while visiting a new place, or getting ready for bed is what keeps us connected. Or not talking at all, allowing for reflection and developing an awareness of self and nature. I have recently come upon a couple of great picture books that deal with this very subject. One is Dot. by Randi Zuckerberg:
and the other is Doug Unplugged by Dan Yaccarino:
Both authors deal beautifully with the importance of a balance between technology and real life. For more about the tech/life balance see my earlier post here: Living vs. Documenting the Moment
A while back I wrote about my love for picture books, and how I’ve used them to introduce various concepts (especially ones related to technology) in a post titled Using Picture Books to Teach Tech. Since then I came across several other great books that I have used in my tech program (or that I can’t wait to use soon) that I wanted to add to the list of Great Books to teach Tech. Here they are:
But I Read it on the Internet by Toni Buzzeo
This book is about evaluating, verifying, and citing sources. Although it deals with primary, print and online resources, it focuses on website evaluation and provides a handy checklist for that purpose. It also explains the meaning and importance of URL endings (.com, .edu). It’s a great book for introducing kids to online research. For more about this topic, see my earlier post: I know it’s true…I read it online
The Dot by Peter Reynolds
The possibilities are endless for using this book by Peter Reynolds. It’s about motivation, determination, creativity, believing in oneself, and ‘passing it forward’. In my tech classes I have used it to inspire students to create their own dot pictures, as seen here: Grade 2 Dot Day Art
It Looked Like Spilt Milk by Charles G. Shaw
Although not new, I recently discovered how this gem of a book can inspire young artist to see and create different objects from ‘spills’. Take a look at how we have modified this classic with my students, giving it a different spin: It Looked Like Spilt (Chocolate) Milk
The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt
In this fun book, the different colours of crayons write a letter to a child about why he should use them more or less often. Students can have a lot of fun writing a response letter to a crayon of their choice, explaining why it’s needed and why it shouldn’t quit. See our grade 1/2 example here: Dear Crayons
Our resource centre is in full Forest of Reading mode, with everyone super excited to read the new books. One of the nominees for Blue Spruce this year is Oddrey by Dave Whamond (@DaveWhamond). It’s a story about a young girl who’s a little ‘odd’, but very creative and surprisingly positive despite the fact that she does not really fit in at school. I instantly fell in love with this character and was reminded of some of the “Oddreys” I had the pleasure of teaching over the years.
However, the reason for this post is not Oddrey, but her teacher. This is the second picture book I’ve read in the past couple of months (first one being Al Yankovic’s My New Teacher and Me!, another great read) where the teacher is portrayed as unsupportive and discouraging of the child’s creative ways. This made me reflect on the teaching profession, past and present. At first I thought that these authors may be writing from experiences they had at school when they were students. Surely, the teaching profession has moved above trying to get kids to conform at all costs. We have long since realized the value of play based and experiential learning. We know that drawing on our students’ strengths is the key to their success. We encourage creativity and divergent thinking. We do, right?
Allowing students to express who they are and build on their interests in class often leads us off our path and requires us to give up some control. Are we always comfortable doing that or do we make up excuses so we don’t have to? We’ve all been there; curriculum needs to be covered, units need to be finished, progress needs to be evaluated and reported. It’s not that we don’t want to encourage creativity in our students, it’s the conflicting demands of our job.
So what do we do? Do we make the curriculum and the tests our priority, nurturing student creativity only when we have the time to do so? Or do we make students the priority, encouraging their curiosity and creativity while allowing the curriculum to take second place? What struck a chord with me in reading both Oddrey and My New Teacher and Me! is how detrimental the former is to the students that we serve, to the teaching profession, and society in general. I used to think that the most important role of a teacher is to instill the love of learning in his or her students. I now realize that children do not need us to learn how to love learning; being naturally curious, they love it already. Our role as teachers is to feed that love through our encouragement, our support, and our guidance. To paraphrase Sir Ken Robinson (How Schools Kill Creativity), our role is not to kill it with content they are not ready to learn and practices that promote conformity instead of exploration. In her book Wonder, R.J. Palacio wrote: “When given the choice between being right, or being kind, choose kind.” Similarly, I would propose that as teachers, when faced with the choice between adhering to our lesson plan, or nurturing the creativity of the students we teach, we should choose students.
As I welcome this new year, I find myself reflecting on the old and all it had brought with it. 2013 is the year I started blogging. It wasn’t my idea though, I needed a push. Thanks to Dean Shareski, I already knew it was important for me to share, and that I probably had ideas worth sharing. But I was already doing that on Twitter, wasn’t that enough? When Jim Cash asked me to write about my first year as a technology teacher to help others new to the role, I decided it was the right time for me to start a blog.
I’ve been contemplating it for a while, but being a busy teacher I needed that extra push – the dreaded topic. Thank you Jim for providing the first one for me. I didn’t need to do any research for my first post, I was writing about my own experiences so I figured it should be a piece of cake. Surprisingly though, it still took me a while to publish it, I think I worked on it over most of March break. After all; I had to choose what blogging platform to use, decide on a name for my blog, choose a layout, and the format for my posts. Then, I had to reflect back on the year and the things I’ve done in my role as a tech teacher. As I started writing, I was surprised at how much I have accomplished over the year. Not only that, I also started to see a clearer picture of what else I wanted to do and how I could improve my practice for the next year.
When I was finally done, I was excited to share it with Jim and to post it on Twitter. Not only has it been a great experience to write, as it allowed me the time to reflect on my practice, but it was a great opportunity to share and potentially help other teachers just starting out in a similar role. You can read my first blog post here: Tips and Tricks from a First Year Tech Teacher
As happy as I was with how my first blog post turned out, I really did not have much hope for following it up with another anytime soon. Time was the main factor; but also, I didn’t really think that I would have much to write about. I’ve been getting many of my lesson ideas through my Twitter PLN, people who have done really remarkable things in their schools. What I was doing seamed like small potatoes in comparison, what could I possibly contribute? Yet, here I am – ten months and eight posts later. Here is what I wrote about:
My blog has been viewed in 47 different countries, and my posts have had over 3000 views so far, so maybe I have contributed in some way. Maybe someone out there has delivered a lesson to their students that was based on one of mine and saved some time not having to re-invent the wheel. Maybe they have been inspired by one of the topics I have written about and had a meaningful discussion about it with their students. That is my hope, at least. Regardless of whether or not I have been successful in ‘paying it forward’, I know that writing a blog has helped me become a better teacher. It has forced me to reflect, organize, and even to plan ahead (as was the case with my latest post: I know it’s true…I read it online)
So if you are thinking of starting a blog, stop thinking and just start it. If you’re thinking you don’t have anything worth sharing, think again. What have you got to loose? Whatever time and effort you invest in it, it’s worth it. Besides, you just never know how far your efforts will travel and who they will impact.
Recently I came across an interesting article. The headline read: “Lawsuit Paid In Full: Samsung pays Apple $1 Billion sending 30 trucks full of 5 cent coins” (from The Blade Brown Show). Outrageous, right? Well, this got me thinking – how would students react to this article? Would they question it or accept it at face value?
I’ve been meaning to do some lessons with my junior classes on website evaluation, and this article just reminded me how important that skill is in today’s digital world.
I’ve dug up some great resources I’ve found over the past few months and I’m currently attempting to organize them so that I can teach the lessons in January. Here is what I have so far:
To introduce the lessons I plan to show my students some photographs and have them assess if they are real or photo shopped. Here are a few examples:
A tornado sucking up a rainbow
For an interesting article about the authenticity of this photograph click here.
Click on the picture for more photo shopped pictures of the first lady.
Two websites about extraordinary animals:
One website is full of ‘information’ that is totally fabricated, the other is amazingly true. My goal in the lesson is to have students read and discuss the information from both websites, then decide which one is true and which is false, with reasons why they think so. I’d like students to collaboratively come up with a set of guidelines for evaluating the validity of information they find online (see below for a great guide to help teachers moderate the discussion).
Michael Gorman’s (@mjgormans) Seven Steps to Website Evaluation for Students:
A is for Author
B is for Bias
C is for Currency
D is for Domain Anatomy
E is for Effectiveness for Purpose
F is for Facts and Content
G is for Good Links
This is That:
This website is full of articles ranging from plausible to totally ridiculous, all in a news style format, that students could evaluate using the criteria they created. Here is a sample:
Finally, I’ll have students visit the website I mentioned at the beginning of this post:
They will be asked to read the article from the website and convince me and their classmates that the information contained there is true or false, giving reasons for their choice. I’m hoping through these lessons students will think twice before taking everything they see online at face value.
(photo design by Liene Karels, from the University of Michigan Library)
Okay, so it’s a made up word – doesn’t mean the fear is not real.
I have been teaching for nine years now, a little over a year in the capacity of a tech teacher, and I have just recently begun to face my fear of teaching about copyright. Not that it never came up. On the contrary, there have been plenty of teachable moments over the years that I have always chosen to ignore, ‘sweep under the rug’, and hope it goes away. Why? Not because I don’t care or don’t think it’s important. Truth be told, I never quite understood copyright laws. Not only are they written in legalspeak, they are riddled with hypotheticals and exceptions. Also, they are constantly being amended to keep up with the ever changing landscape of the Internet.
Another reason (excuse) I gave myself for not teaching about copyright is that I never believed kids would ‘buy it’ (no pun intended). Although perhaps it had more to do with my ability to ‘sell it’ so that they’ll ‘buy it’. How do I convince kids that it’s not okay to download copyrighted music from the internet for free? Or that just because you pay $5 for a DVD copy of a movie that’s still in theatres is illegal despite the fact that you ‘paid for it’? How do I explain that they cannot just copy and paste any image they found on the Internet into their slideshow/presentation/movie without the owner’s permission. And even if I convince them that it is wrong, will it change their bahaviour? Will they stand up for what’s right, or will they ignore, ‘sweep under the rug’, and hope it goes away like I have done for so many years. Sadly, I didn’t really believe that me teaching about copyright would make much difference in their lives.
But I did it anyway, given a nudge by various circumstances and one conscientious colleague. After all, facing your fear is an important step in overcoming it, right? And in order to face copyrightophobia, I needed to learn more about it.
I went online and got more information, found some kid-friendly websites, and started to make some sense out of this copyright business.
It has never been my intention to get philosophical on this blog. My goal from the beginning was to write posts that are going to be practical and hopefully useful to other teachers. However, I needed to get this out because I have a feeling that there might be some fellow copyrightophobiacs out there that need a little nudge themselves in order to teach this topic. Before I lay down the practical though, I just want to share a student post that inspired me to write this.
Just a few days after I taught my first lesson on copyright I was shown this (by the conscientious colleague I mentioned before, Loretta May):
They were listening! And they took it seriously! And they took action! Now, I understand that their response here is a little harsh and misguided, but nevertheless: They were listening! And they took it seriously! And they took action! I’m ashamed at how grossly I have underestimated them.
So here is the practical, or what I have so far:
This is an excellent tutorial not only about copyright issues (slides 34-43), but also about online over-sharing, cyber bullying, and plagiarism. In it, teachers are encouraged to promote respect for the intellectual and creative property of others.
One way to do that is to apply empathy. A good time to start teaching about copyright issues is after students have spent a lot of time and put in a great deal of effort into creating something of their own. In our class students created a timeline using Smart Ideas for a biography assignment they were working on. Lead a discussion about how it would make them feel if they posted their work online and someone copied it and used it in their school assignment without acknowledging the person who created it.
Another way to promote respect is to challenge some social codes students may believe are norms with respect to online materials. One of those may be that “copying isn’t stealing” (slide 39), another that “it’s okay so long as I give credit” (slide 40). The logical next step is teaching kids how to find resources online that they are legally allowed to use. Here is another great Media Smarts resource where you will find information about Public Domain, Creative Commons, and Fair Dealing.
Here are a couple of great interactive websites for students from a blog post shared with me by Tina Zita (@tina_zita):
I’ll be the first to admit that I am not an expert on copyright laws. I know that there is still a lot to learn and that I will probably make mistakes along the way in how I use, and teach about the use of media. However, I’m glad I started the conversation with my students about this important topic.
How do you approach the issue of copyright in your classroom?
I have just returned from Bring IT Together, this year’s ECOO conference that was held in Niagara Falls. I really don’t know where to start or how to describe the amazing learning and sharing that took place at this conference. I have met some incredible people, many whom I have been following on Twitter and was able to have some face-to-face time talking and learning with them. I have also made 26 new connections which, thanks to Twitter, will only grow stronger with time. I was inspired by the keynotes and presentations of many of my colleagues. I learned of many new programs and tools I can now utilize in my school to help kids learn. I also got a ton of new ideas on how to incorporate technology into lessons in order to make learning more meaningful to students. One of those is making a “We Can See” book that I was inspired to create based on my experience at ECOO13. It was from a workshop I attended presented by Angie Harrison and Jocelyn Schmidt entitled “We can see…all around the world”.
For more information about their We Can See project, visit their blogs:
Here is ECOO13, from my perspective:
I have also had the privilege to present to my colleagues about some of the things I’ve learned and done as a tech teacher in the past year and a half. Here is the description of my workshop from Lanyrd:
The turnout for my presentation was better than I expected, given that there were so many amazing presentations going on at the same time, not to mention – lunch. The feedback was very positive and humbling:
— Jeremy Brock (@jerbrock) October 24, 2013
— Debbie Axiak (@DebbieAxiak) October 24, 2013
— Sam Robinson (@samro33) October 24, 2013
@TechMagFront Thanks for sharing today, Magdalena. I took away some good ideas to try out with my students.
— Sam Robinson (@samro33) October 24, 2013
Here is a link to my full presentation on Prezi:
A few days ago I attended a lecture by Dr. Alec Couros at a Leadereship Launch for Peel educators. During his talk, Alec showed a few images of people using their phones or other PEDs to take pictures or send text messages while in the midst of important life events (a kiss, a reunion, a plane crash). He pointed out that although technology can make us more connected, there is a potential danger of missing opportunities to live in and enjoy special moments with those who are physically around us at the expense of constantly documenting our experiences for others through social media.
As he was saying this I was trying to connect to the Wi-Fi network with my iPad, and although my heart was in total agreement with his point, my mind was racing with curiosity about what others were tweeting about the lecture. As Alec went on, my palms were actually getting sweaty from pulling down my twitter feed, hoping the Wi-Fi would finally connect. I realized, as I sat there trying to focus on the amazing lecture, that I have become like the people on the pictures, not able to fully engage in and appreciate the moment.
When did this happen? I used to be the person telling my husband to put the camera away during family vacations or special occasions. I constantly reminded him that we should enjoy whatever experience we were immersed in, instead of capturing everything for others to see later. Yet here I was, after looking forward to Alec’s talk for days, all stressed out and frazzled over a poor Internet connection.
As our school’s Open House was scheduled to start at six o’clock that same day, I had to leave the lecture early and rush back to school. On the short drive back I went over some of the things I wanted to communicate to parents about the use of technology in our school. However, the thought that kept running through my mind was how uncomfortable being ‘unplugged’ made me feel during the lecture, and how disappointed I was with myself for feeling that way. Was I becoming a Twitter ‘junkie’? Did I need a social media detox, a fast from all electronic devices to help me appreciate being in the moment?
Recently, students at Rick Hansen S.S. did just that, for 23 hours. The idea was to give up using all PEDs in order to raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving. During their overnight fast, students stayed at the school and “took part in a variety of team building exercises and workshops to build skills in face-to-face communication and advocacy” (http://www.marketwired.com/press-release/-1838082.htm). Although some reported that being without a cell phone was difficult, the majority of tweets after the event were very positive:
That evening I spoke to many parents during our Open House, mainly discussing the use of technology in our school. However, I also ended up having some honest conversations with several parents about the need for balance when it comes to technology. As much as I am in favour of using social media to collaborate and make meaningful connections with people around the globe, I think it’s increasingly important in today’s tech-filled world not to do so at the expense of truly appreciating and experiencing real life events. Without the temptation of using our mobile devices, it can actually be liberating to purposefully unplug once in a while (just like the students at Rick Hansen S.S. have done) and allow ourselves to fully appreciate the moment. So, as the saying goes, I’ve decided to make a conscious effort to “stop and smell the roses” more often, instead of taking their picture to post for others to enjoy on social media.