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Archive for the ‘Social Media’ Category

It usually starts off the day before with someone sending me a Direct Message on Twitter asking if I have seen the forecast. Any snowflake in the 7-day forecast will often warrant a message.  And then it picks up.  I get screenshots from weather apps on a regular basis. There are emails, lots of emails – mostly about the poor conditions that are anticipated on the roads.  By this point people are often commenting on what a big jerk I am for not closing schools yet.   And then usually by sometime in the evening I get forwarded a link from a petition site with students (and others) looking for a snow day.  HERE is an example of one posted last year that was just continued this year with now close to 4000 signing on.   And I try to take some time to have fun with it.  While I don’t have any snow day parody songs, I do try to post the odd funny gif and bring some joy to the situation.

Of course, the truth of it is that making snow day decisions sucks.  You can be sure that half the people think you make the wrong decision.  I get lots of emails about how decisions get made – and it is a bit of art and science.  The goal is to keep schools open whenever possible.  Snow days are a huge inconvenience, and often force parents to take unplanned time off of work, and have huge ripple effects beyond just our schools.  That said, we have to be sure it is safe for our staff, who often travel from long distances to get to work, and safe for our students and families who need to walk or drive to school to be able to attend.

Now back to snow days and social media.  I wonder if it is just the culture of social media use today, but the comments to schools and districts were often just plain nasty this year.  While I experienced a little of it, others I know got a lot more.  The Abbotsford School District has an awesome Twitter account, and their reaction led them to post the following:


I worry that we think a mob mentality is really the right approach.  And I think as Abbotsford pointed out, we easily forget there are real people behind these decisions.  I have never met anyone involved with a school district who wants to put staff or students in unsafe situations, nor have I found anyone wanting to give out snow days like prizes to be won.  Too often I think that if we just get enough people to show enough outrage the loudest voices will win.  As Abbotsford nicely said – Be kind with your words.

So before you think it is all lost, one final social media story related to the snowfall.  I shared on Twitter parts of an email conversation I had with a student last week – and it went viral.  After our snow day on Wednesday, here is part of the message I got:

Well, unfortunately, Thursday was not a snow day, so I checked in with the student to see how the chemistry test went, and here is his response:

This is the social media world I want to live in.  Where we can have some fun, and be respectful.  Others seemed to like the story as well, as outlets from the NS News, to CTV to Vancouver is Awesome all picked up the story.

So what are the lessons:

  • Superintendents are always wrong about snow days (for some people)
  • We can do better on social media and remember there are people behind the avatars and be a little more kind
  • Enjoy your snow days when you get them, but always find some time to study for your chemistry test

Oh, and I am pretty sure that thing about wearing your pajamas backwards and inside-out doesn’t really work.

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At first I was just going to skip over writing a post on memes, it seems so trivial, but the more I have read and learned, the more I realized how important it is to shine a light on the not so frivolous parts of this topic.

This past week I have been struck by the story out of Vancouver and the spreading of offensive “memes” by students. And while this was in Vancouver, and was at an independent school, I think we all know these kinds of activities transcend schools and geographic borders. Media or other commentators who are trying to restrict this conversation to being one about “boys” or “private schools” or “bad parenting” are not following along with what is going on these days on the internet.

This is not my typical blog post, it is more of a call to action in our community and more broadly.  I do think this is all of our business.  We need to do more to collectively focus on ensuring our digital spaces and engagement reflect the same values as our physical spaces – ones rooted in care for each other. And that all of us (students, teachers, parents, community) continually ask ourselves if what we are posting online is truthful, is kind and adds value.

Over the past decade during my time as Superintendent I have taken great pride in our work as digital leaders in education. I see us creating opportunities for learning that are aligned with the world in which our kids live in. It has been incredibly exciting to see the transformation in our classrooms. For example, hundreds of students are engaged in coding and robotics, areas which barely existed five years ago.  I see the relevance to our students learning every day.   It is this leadership that leads me to want to flag this issue.

As an American colleague of mine, Bob Ryan, recently noted in a message to parents, sharing digital content on phones and social media is not a new behavior. But there is an increasingly prominent “meme culture” where posting, liking and saving funny, tasteless or offensive content has become part of regular social life. Unfortunately, too many people can have a difficult time separating what is funny from what is inappropriate, or even horribly offensive. Probably all of us who engage in Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or Instagram have seen these kinds of examples. The impact that this sharing can have is often lost on people.

This is not brand new,  it was the spring of 2017 when the story broke  Harvard rescinding admission letters for 10 students because of offensive memes they shared in a private Facebook group. This story, which gained attention across North America, saw high school seniors posting increasingly vile content in an attempt to be quicker, more clever and edgier than each other and earn more social clout.

Last month the NPR podcast The Hidden Brain  (also pointed to me by Bob Ryan) took an extensive look into the Harvard story and  interviewed one of the students involved. The hour-long episode is well worth your time and provides valuable insights into the digital behaviours of teenagers and the complicated social waters they are trying to navigate. At the end of the episode, the host Shankfar Vedantam summarized the situation:

Nearly everything that everyone says on social media goes unnoticed. And everyone can see you’re getting no traction. This can drive some of us to come up with the edgiest, funniest, hottest takes. Likes and retweets and fire emojis become currency, signaling our worth to those around us. Sometimes the things we post work, and we become stars. Other times, we fall flat or, worse, my joke sets off your rage. When this happens, it’s no use saying there is even more terrible stuff online. There is only a price to pay. The things we post take on a life of their own, and they can be as permanent as a scar.

I have written recently on this blog a couple posts which also speak to my concerns first on the use of cell phones by parents in schools and then more recently on the important differences between technology and social media.  I encourage parents to have discussions with your children about the apps they use, the photos they have and the content they share. I encourage our staff to continue to find powerful ways to teach using technology and model the power of digital tools. And I encourage students to pause before you share.

Daniel Panneton wrote earlier this year in the Globe & Mail:

Even though memes may appear to be the height of triviality, that’s exactly what makes them such serious vectors for dangerous worldviews. Because they’re often composed of inside jokes and hidden references, the ability to read their subtext is now a form of cultural knowledge itself. Meme literacy, which would have been an improbable phrase just a few years ago, has become an essential skill that must be expected of educators, historians, journalists, politicians and law enforcement.

We are just a small part of a larger conversation that needs to be had about how we treat each other in the digital world. We have seen the best and worst of this in our recently concluded Federal election and in the daily news in our country and others. But just because it is a larger conversation doesn’t mean we should ignore it.  And we have an absolute responsibility in schools to insert ourselves into these conversations.  These are all our kids.

For local readers, know that I have had recent conversations with our District Parent Advisory Council about how we can find learning opportunities for parents around students and their digital activities.  This is not just a school issue, but how we treat each other is an everyone issue.

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I share the seemingly global angst with social media. These spaces whether Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat are not what many would have hoped they would be even a few years ago.  And yes, while schools engage in these spaces, they are not core to the learning experiences of our students.  But when I hear that technology is a real problem in our schools and then critics go on to list the problems of social media, they are not being fair to the more broader application of modern learning tools that has come with technological change in the last decade.  We have ongoing work to do with social media and how we treat each other online, but we can say this and still champion the amazing ways technology is being used in our classrooms.

In schools this fall, I have been so impressed with how seamlessly modern tools are used in classrooms.  Whether it is students on their laptops in their Google suite of tools, doing science via Discovery Techbook,  3D printing, VR (virtual reality) goggles or a host of other tools their use to enhance learning and engage students is impressive.  Then there are entire areas, like robotics that simply don’t exist without modern tools.  I often note how less noticeable our digital use is in classrooms.  Technology use is not an event that happens in a specific place, whether in a grade 4 class or a grade 12 class, students often bounce back and forth between technologies, traditional pen and paper and collaborative work – often in unison.   I think for some students they may use technology less now than five years ago, but it is far more purposeful when the do.  No elementary classes are staring at screens in computer labs several times a week.

It has become popular to pile-on technology as a real problem.  We need to be more specific.  Social media, and its use by kids and adults, raises a lot of questions.  We had a recent threat incident in our community that spread via social media from kids and parents in minutes.  And even after the issue was dealt with, the social media continued to echo with hurtful comments and lies.  And yes, schools have ownership over some of this.  We are places where students can learn good habits and have behaviours reinforced, and the community also have great responsibility when it comes to this.  Ten years ago I would say since parents are not on social media they looked to their friends as guides.  Well, now parents are on social media and they need to be good models for their children on how to use these powerful tools.

We have to be smart enough to separate the amazing advances in our classrooms that would not be possible without technology, while still realizing all of us of all ages, are going to have to come to grips with how we treat each other and respond to events in our digital social spaces.

 

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Photo Credit: Mauricio Chandia

I wrote last month about Breaking the Gender Divide – Imagining a New Way to Organize Youth Sports where I shared the script for the recent TEDx presentation I gave with my daughter Liz.  In the spirit of TED, it is intended to be a discussion starter.  Issues of gender and sports are ones that should be given more attention.  I have had the honour of some previous TEDx Talks, but this was particularly special getting to share the stage with my oldest daughter and pursue a topic that is interesting to both of us.

The videos have just been posted, and I want to again thank Craig Cantlie and entire TEDxWestVancouverED team (there are so many great Talks on the website).  They host a first class event, and the videos from past events have, in many cases, been viewed tens of thousands of times – which is a wonderful legacy for these events.

Here is our talk:

If you are interested in other sports related TED Talks, TED has compiled a list of 31 of the most provocative.  My all-time favourite TED talk, on any topic, by John Wooden speaking about The difference between winning and succeeding, is among the recommendations.

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How do we effectively help students harness the benefits of our digital world, while easing the negative effects of technology and making sure that children are equipped with important foundational skills like reading, writing and math? This question is often top of mind for those concerned about the impact of technology on students, particularly in our district, where we continue to lead on the adoption of digital tools for the classroom.

There are two prominent issues around technology that I hear concerns about, and we have also seen these same issues play out in the news on a regular basis. One is related to the content to which young people are potentially exposed, and the other has to do with too much screen time. I’ll take these two in order to address some aspects of both.

Internet Content

Many people believe that we can and should filter out the worst of the internet, and certainly, the provincial government and district technology teams spend time ensuring that accessible sites within our network are safe and educational. But in the real world, always-on access is a very real issue, and students participate in the digital conversation beyond our walls. Just as you wouldn’t send a child to walk to school without instructions and some certainty that they understand and can handle the risks, students need to harness the skills that allow them to use technology responsibly, safely and ethically.

Neither teaching nor parenting is an easy job, and most everyone would agree that it would be irresponsible to leave the role of responsible technology use up to a software package. In a similar vein, blanket internet blocks do not work, partly because students are very adept at getting around such restrictions and then sharing that information with their peers. In an era of fake news and alternate facts, the best defense is to guide and lead the conversation on digital citizenship, so that students can safely and successfully navigate the digital landscape at all times.

This is not a ‘one and we’re done situation’. Our teacher-librarians from every school, already this year, have had a special session on digital citizenship, since these specialized teachers play a key role in literacy and research. We use a common language and have a consistent approach around the district. Responsible Use is addressed. Using sources like Media Smarts our schools teach kids:

• how to recognize false content on-line
• how to make privacy decisions on-line
• about cyberbullying
• about excessive internet use

In West Vancouver, students learn how to find and validate sources and use the vast promise of technology to design, produce, collaborate and demonstrate their learning. This is a vital skill, and parents and educators who share concerns about student well-being and success should embrace the promise and the challenges that technology in education brings. Fear of the unknown is certainly a factor in some quarters, but for those unfamiliar with technology, or the policies and best practices in place, there are resources that can help.

Time Spent on Devices

There is no doubt that everyone is spending more time on their devices, and if it’s purely about consuming rather than creating, that can become a problem. Like I am sure many of you, I am concerned about the mindless consumption of so many (kids and adults) in our world. But the solution is to invest more time in areas like intelligent consumption, rather than resort to punitive measures.

At school, before we implemented bring your own device across all of our schools, we spent considerable time developing the skills of our staff, with a heavy focus on our role as ‘digital citizenship leaders’ – teaching the basics of online ethics, intelligent consumption, intellectual property, online safety and ‘netiquette’. Doing this well means less time spent policing the use of devices and more time getting the most out of what technology can help us do. As opposed to mere passive consumption and entertainment, we ask students to create, produce artifacts, collaborate and demonstrate their learning. They will be doing even more of this as we continue to implement the Applied Design Skills and Technologies curriculum at higher grades.

The International Society for Technology in Education (ITSE) is an excellent resource on technology in schools, and is referenced frequently in our district. The “standards for students” are very helpful, as the document establishes several principles, one of which includes the need to teach good digital citizenship. Schools, in partnership with parents, are doing precisely this work. The aim is to have students “recognize the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of living, learning and working in an interconnected digital world, and act and model in ways that are safe, legal and ethical”.

Schools often require that students unplug and/or close their cases. One example of this in action is what West Bay Elementary School has done by creating “phone lockers” so that students can use them when they will be used for learning, and store them safely at other times. At the same time, we value the importance of face-to-face time and focus heavily on other areas of literacy and basic foundational skills – like math lessons in the forest, reading stories to younger students and encouraging the use of our public libraries.

As to what parents choose to do when children are not in our classrooms, our district innovation support leader, Cari Wilson, mentions a number of great resources, along with several age appropriate tips for leading digital literacy in her recent blog post.

Once students go to secondary school, I believe they need to have greater ownership over these decisions. This can be hard, for us in schools, and for parents at home. On the home front, I think it is crucial that parents act as good models for the use of technology.

With four school aged-children myself, these are conversations that are not just part of my work life, but also my home life. For us, we have a series of rules at home, and they apply to both adults and children:

• no cell phones in the bedrooms so we don’t get distracted at night
• we uninstall some Apps during vacation or other times to limit distractions
• we talk about which Apps we will put on our devices – and which ones we won’t
• we don’t talk about getting phones until at least in high school

Excessive consumption is a tough pattern to break, once it’s set in. But it is up to each of us to model and guide the young people in our care, and we urge every parent to take an active leadership role.

Conclusions

I am amazed at the work students are creating, that we could not have even imagined a few years ago. I see students building and programming robots, creating videos they share with the world, and digitally connecting across the district and around the globe. I also think there will be far more technology in our schools (and our lives) in 10 years than there is today. We have a responsibility to see that as technologies shift, we find ways to use it, and not be used by it.

Thanks to West Vancouver Communications Director Bev Pausche who assisted with this post.  A similar version of this post was also published on our District website.

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school_boyI feel a little late to this conversation.

The idea of using digital badging is not new.  For the last several years I have seen blog posts on the topic, and at online learning conferences seen speakers talk to the possibilities of using badging in education.  It is a conversation that I have not given a lot of attention.  It seemed to be one driven by digitally passionate teachers in select schools, and did not seem to be growing.  It also seemed one more focused at post-secondary than in K-12.  And from a cursory look, I thought we might really be talking about digital ribbons and trophies – and I didn’t think we needed those.

As a background, Erin Fields describes these next generation of Girl Guides or Boy Scout badges in the world of education as:

Badges are a digital representation of a skill, behaviour, knowledge, ability or participation in an experience. What makes this digital symbol unique is the attached metadata. The metadata of a badge is “baked-in”. The “baking-in” process allows issuers to provide information about why the badge was earned that is then attached to the badge image. This information, or metadata, attached to the badge will include the criteria for earning the badge, the issuing organization, and evidence of earning.

I found it interesting that Digital Badging made the front cover of last month’s School Administrator Magazine – a magazine targeted at Superintendents and other district leaders across North America.  The cover story was written by Sheryl Grant, the director of alternative credentials and badge research at HASTAC at Duke University.    She argued:

Kids today build their reputations in a much different world.  They move seamlessly between offline and online networks, some with dozens of virtual peers who share similar interests, often spending hours together as they learn and share new skills.  They create websites, produce movies and play video games where they earn badges and have followers and friends they may never meet face-to-face.

In the same issue of School Administrator, Amanda Rose Fuller from Aurora Public Schools in Colorado wrote about badges as micro-credentialing and as a way to expand access to post-secondary workforce readiness credentials to all students.  She said:

The digital badging program has supported many students throughout their academic journey by providing credentials to open doors.  As students develop 21-century skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, invention, information literacy and self-direction inside and outside the classroom, they have the capacity to earn evidence-based credentials.

It is with some of this recent reading that timing was interesting, as this past Friday I was asked to be a speaker and “Instigator” at the BC Open Badges Forum – which featured a cross section of people ranging from curious to passionate in the use of badges throughout education and outside of education in “the real world.”  The notes from the day (HERE) and the conversation at #BadgeBC on Twitter are both useful to see the thinking of the group.

As I often have written, it is an exciting time in K-12 education in BC, and one of change.  We have revised curriculum from K-12 which focuses on big ideas and is less about minutia that dominated curriculum in the past, there is a commitment to core competencies throughout the system, including having students self-reflect, there are districts looking at new ways of communicating student learning to students and parents, and notions like capstone projects or passion projects are becoming more the norm in both elementary and secondary schools.  There is also a genuine commitment from those inside the K-12 system to find better ways of recognizing the amazing learning that students do outside of school, but is part of the package of their learning.

It is in this context that I wonder about the place of open badging and the opportunities going forward.  I don’t think a collection of badges is going to replace a traditional report card or transcript, but I do think there are possibilities that if our learning partners like the library, community centres, museums, sports clubs and others looked at badging as a way to share what students have done, we could find a way to recognize it inside our system.  I know our very forward thinking public library, the West Vancouver Memorial Library, is already beginning to think about this.  We want students to have portfolios that are rich in information from their school experience but also their larger learning experience, and maybe badges have a role to play.

We have long found ways to give “credit” for students who reach a certain level of Piano, or make a Provincial Soccer Team, or earn a trades credential – but there are so many other areas that are part of learning but marginalized as part of a student’s learning record.

Two months ago, if asked I would have said digital badging in K-12 felt like a bit of a fad, and maybe something for a very small small group of teachers and students.  My thinking is shifting.  If those working with youth can begin to create micro-credentialing in the digital world, and do so in an open-source way that allowed others to do the same, I think we could begin to find meaningful ways of including it in our work.

I am curious to hear the experiences of others in the badging world.

instagagor-badge

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5-reasons-why-blogging-is-so-important-to-your-website

It was about six years ago they started.

And here we are, as we are approaching the mid-point of the 2016-17 school year, and so many of our school leaders continue to share their thinking through their blogs.  While the internet is littered with well-intentioned and abandoned blogs from educators, and education blogging may have lost some of its excitement from just a few years ago, so many in West Vancouver are using their blog to tell stories to their community about their school, tackle big issues in education, and let people know a little bit more about themselves.

Here is just a sampling of what is being shared in West Vancouver:

One of the district’s most regular bloggers, West Bay Elementary Principal Judy Duncan took on the #oneword challenge in her latest post and her focus on voice:

One of our intangible objectives is for students to appreciate and to become accustomed to having and exercising their voice.  As adults that will benefit them individually and, in turn, all of us collectively. This should move us to ensure that whether through sport, music, language, drama or art, every child and every person has a voice in 2017.

In his latest post, Caulfeild Elementary Principal Craig Cantlie shares some of his thinking with parents as they make the often stressful “what school should my child attend” decision at this time of year:

Does the learning at Caulfeild Elementary (iDEC) look like it did when you were growing up? Probably not, but neither does the world. Our students learn the foundational skills of literacy and numeracy, but more importantly the relevant and purposeful use of those foundational skills. Taking those skills and connecting them with the conceptual understandings behind our science and social studies work makes for powerful learning across the grades. Our students are creators, collaborators, communicators and critical thinkers – all of which will serve them well, whatever their future holds.

Scott Slater, Principal at Bowen Island Community School tackled communicating student learning with his recent post, a topic that is one that is being widely discussed among students, staff and parents and Scott asked the important question about whether the changes are just different or if what is being done is actually new.  He looked at a number of areas including core competencies:

The reports continue to include information on a child’s social and emotional development. In the opening comments, in Core Competencies (for intermediate reports), and in other fields, teachers share information on the child’s social and emotional development. Schools share the role with parents of supporting a child’s well-being and development of personal and social skills. In the opening comments, teachers also refer to an aspect of our school goal of students developing their learning character so parents will find comments related to a child’s development of Responsibility, Openness, Ambition and Resilience (ROAR)

Communicating student learning was also on the mind of Chartwell Principal Chantal Trudeau and she focused on the importance of the student reflection:

One of the most important changes this year is the addition of the student reflection piece. Teachers have a few different options to include their students’ reflections into the report card. At the primary level, it can look like a “happy face” worksheet or a few sentences in the student reflection box on the report card itself. At the intermediate level, many students have written a reflection letter which is an insert added to the report card. I have enjoyed reading the students’ self-reflections whilst reviewing all the report cards going home today. I am very impressed by their meta-cognitive ability, thinking about their thinking and learning. Knowing yourself as a learner is a great thing, at any age. It is wonderful to see that our students know how they are doing, and what they need to do to improve and why.

Also looking at communicating student learning is Cedardale Head-Teacher Jessica Hall.  Her post collected feedback from students on the new reports:

The range of experience with new reporting practices amongst my students is broad and in trying to bring about some collective understanding, I sparked up a conversation about the “new” report cards. I wanted to know how students have perceived this change of not having letter grades listed on their report cards. Grade 6 students immediately expressed a sense of relief over not being labeled with a single grade. In a conversation with one Grade 6 student, he explained that the language in the new Communicating Student Learning Document was more descriptive than a letter grade. He stated that in general, the word “developing” has a less negative connotation and that he liked how the Core Competencies provide explicit examples on how to improve learning skills. A Grade 5 student articulated the first moment she understood that ‘communicating ideas’ is a learning skill. She explained that the Core Competencies have helped her identify and value her personal learning style as the “presenter” and that she prefers working in groups, where she has the opportunity to “share her ideas in classroom discussions”.

Hollyburn Principal Kim Grimwood focused her most recent post on executive functioning and ways that parents can support these skills.  She reminded us of the important of the eight executive functioning skills (and then what they had to do with making waffles):

Impulse control: helps us to stop and think before acting.

Flexibility: allows us to adjust to the unexpected.

Emotional Control: helps us to keep our emotions in check.

Initiation: allows us to take action and get started.

Working Memory: the ability to hold information in mind to complete a task.

Planning and prioritizing: helps us decide on a goal and make a plan to reach it.

Self-Monitoring: allows us to evaluate how we are doing.

Organization: helps us to keep track of things both physically and mentally.

Rockridge Principal Jeannette Laursoo used a recent post to update the community on the various ways students have been contributing:

Rockridge’s students have been busy contributing to both the local and global communities. To highlight just a few of the initiatives, the Blush Club collected warm clothes and blankets for those less fortunate,  the Umoyo Club fundraised by selling cookies to benefit Nyaka Orphanage in Uganda, and our community made a difference in the lives of teens by donating backpacks filled with essential items to Convenant House.  We thank everyone for their generosity and support.

And a final sample of the recent posts comes from West Van Secondary Principal Steve Rauh who paid tribute to retiring teacher Bruce Holmes, and included a number of comments from students in his post:

“A student once came in crying; Mr. Holmes took the time to cheer them up and help them.” – Madison Duffy

“I have been in Holmes’ class since grade 8. Not only has he taught me woodwork, but he has also taught me a lot about life.” – Gabriella Langer

“He likes to take you out of your comfort zone.” – Ashley Kempton

“We really like his sense of humour; he loves to gossip and threaten to give wet willies.” – Nicole Torresan & Alexa Harrison

“I appreciate how he never turns down any student ideas no matter how absurd or impossible they sound. He will always stick with you to help you see your ideas come to real life.” – Jesse Diaz

In re-reading these posts, and others from across the district I am reminded there is no one model for blogging.  I find that the range of topics, and approaches is reflective of the various leaders in our schools.  Selfishly for me these blogs are a great way to stay connected to the thinking and work in our schools.  And I know, especially in an era of fewer print publications (an issue I have lamented in the past) these posts are a great window into the work of public education.

Whether you are a current student or parent, or a perspective one, or someone interested, curious or passionate about education, we have so many great leaders publicly sharing their thinking and acting as great models for students in the modern world.

HERE is a link to all the West Vancouver Schools websites that host the school blogs.

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