Category Archives: 21st Century

Our Mystery Hangout

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:google earth

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.

IMG_5850

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.

IMG_5851

So What Did I Learn That Day?

  1. Student enthusiasm does not fade easily if given a chance to do something they are really interested in.
  2. 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.
  3. Giving up control and trusting the students to take charge can lead to magic.

Here are some student reflections of what they learned:

gho pic collage 3

This post was originally published on the Peel21st Project 188.

5 Reasons Why I’m a Low Tech Parent

digital playground

~Kevin Honeycutt via Heather Lister

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.

3. Priorities

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:dot

and the other is Doug Unplugged by Dan Yaccarino:

doug unplugged

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

The Student or the Lesson Plan?

forest of reading1

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.

Living vs. Documenting the Moment

concert

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.

 

%d bloggers like this: