Social networking to gain social skills?

I decided to try something different from what I had tried before for my project for ECI 832 this term.  I wanted to see if I could set up a blog site for some of my learning support students that have various forms of autism, mostly asperger syndrome, to use for future planning and social skills training.

Children with asperger syndrome often have difficulty with reading social cues such as facial expressions, voice tone, sarcasm, etc.  They often do not deal well with changes in routine and have difficulty making and keeping friends.  They can also have difficulty planning for new situations such as moving from middle years to high school or thinking about what they would like to do in the future.

Learning support teachers, such as myself, are often struggling to find  the best way to  teach social skills.  The most common way is presented through social stories, but they can appear babyish and middle years students will often brush them off saying  they don’t need help, even if it is something they really struggle with.  I wondered if I could get them engaged with a blog site and use video and projects involving various tech tools to help them with social skills?

The other part of my idea was to try to involve my educational assistants with the blog.  I need them to be available to the students, but I like to promote as much independence as I can in my students, so I thought I could build in a professional development component to the blog site to keep them busy with something important and useful,  while the students were working.  They could be available, but not have to hover.

I didn’t really have long enough to fully try out my idea, but I really feel there is potential to it with a bit more development.  One of the things I was hoping to do was to get the boys doing more collaborating.  Not necessarily with each other, but with people of like interests.  For example, I have one student who is very artistic and who wants to pursue a career in that area.  I wanted to get him connected to other artists and have him collaborate with people who might not only share common interests, but might be able to provide him with some encouragement as well.  That will have to be part of phase 2 of the project.

I have just started the boys working on some individual projects using some tech tools.  Once those are finished and published, I hope the finished products will open up some opportunity for discussion.

Jeff Greenslade was my critical friend.  He did an awesome job of reviewing my site and gave me some excellent suggestions.  Jeff is a high school chemistry teacher and I am a k-8 learning support teacher, but it was a great opportunity to take a look a critical look at someone else’s world.  One of the suggestions Jeff gave, was to give the students an opportunity to take more ownership of the site.  Let them develop their own bios, add pictures etc.  This is also something I would really like to incorporate into phase 2.

The blog site seems to work well for educational assistant professional development.  I was able to find some videos for them to watch, but I would like to add to this portion of the site as well, and give them opportunity to collaborate with each other on the topics they are learning about.  Our educational assistants get very little professional development and I hope to be able to continue to tailor it to suit each individuals specific learning needs related to their assignments.

The blog site was never meant to be evaluated for student assessment, because it has been set up with individual programming goals in mind and not curricular outcomes.

I took the opportunity to ask my principal to look at my project and critically evaluate it from the eyes of another learning support teacher.  We work together with most of the learning support students that are using the site.  She really liked the idea and felt it might be an opportunity for some of these students to connect to social skills in a different manner.  She agreed that it can be difficult to get these students to engage in social skills training.  She also felt that the collaboration portion was lacking and would be an excellent thing to add to the project.  She liked to professional development portion and wanted me to encourage the educational assistants to access the site at other times in their schedules when they may have spare time for various reasons.

All in all I am very pleased with how my project turned out and I am glad that I spent the time organizing it and getting everyone started.  It was interesting to focus in my own area and find a way to incorporate my students rather than thinking that I could not do anything like this when I did not have a classroom. I want to thank everyone who helped me with this idea.  I can see many opportunities to expand my project and can’t wait to take it into phase 2.

Master teacher or master learner?

I pondered what direction to take my on-line PD for ECI 831.  I had already done one post a few weeks ago after watching a presentation on media literacy by Michael Wesch and was looking for a different direction.

Earlier this week I was involved in a few conversations about the new RTI, Response to Intervention model that our school division is moving to in an effort to support diverse learners.  Every school in our division will have a RTI teacher next year that is not assigned classroom time.  The whole idea behind this teacher will be to provide support to classroom teachers and students in the areas of curriculum, differentiated instruction and program planning for diverse learners.  Part of the discussion behind this movement was the type of teacher that would best fill these positions.It was brought up that these teachers should be “master” teachers.  What is a ‘master’ teacher exactly?  The first thing that popped into my mind, and I am sure many others, was someone with curriculum experience, classroom management experience and probably  a vast bag of tricks.

Interestingly enough, I came across a blog post at the Technology Fridge related to the idea of ‘master’ teachers. It presented a slightly different view.  “You cannot be a master teacher, until you are a master learner.”  Well now, that changes things, doesn’t it? Could a ‘master’ teacher be a teacher who may not know everything, but has a desire to learn?

I am a strong believer in life long learning and I give the credit  to my father.  He is an avid reader and researcher in his own right.  I often share things with him as he does with me.  He may not understand my world, but he has a desire to know about it.

Now, could we not learn from my father and relate that to  our own classrooms, with our own students?  We may not totally understand their world, but we should have a desire to know about it and be open to it.  Should we be open to the idea that our students may have as much or more to teach us as we do to teach them?

I just finished watching a short presentation given by Anglea Maiers, at the K12 Online Conference, on the topic of passion.  I thought she added to this idea even more.  She retells a story about a very endearing little kindergarten student that was passionate about animal rights.  The point of her presentation was for educators to learn how to follow our students passions. If we use student interests, hold them to high standards and expose them to web 2.0 tools we should be able to turn interests into passions.   It is possible to learn from our students by give them opportunities to lead with their interests and turn those interests into passions.

It is difficult for educators to change the way we look at information delivery.  I think we are held back by the idea that our students might know more than we do.  Since we are so used to being the expert in the room, the idea that the student may be the expert, and we could learn from them, is unusual and sometimes even scary. According to George Siemens, “instead of controlling a classroom, a techer now influences and shapes a network.” We don’t teach subjects, we teach students.

I also watched another K12 Online Conference presentation this morning given by Paul Curtis, a high school teacher who teaches at the New Technology High School in Napa, California. His presentation was on building a culture that empowers students.  This culture is based on trust, respect and individualized learning.  He talked a lot about co-constructing rules for fair use and how we need to let go of the idea that we need to control students.  He even went so far as to put out the idea that students can learn the curriculum on their own.  We need to create a culture by empowerment and hold students to the culture of the community that they helped to create.

Will Richarson at Weblogg-ed, blogs about the same topic and he states, “More and more, though, as I look at my own kids and try to make sense what’s going to make them successful, I care less and less about a particular teacher’s content expertise and more about whether that person is a master learner, one from whom Tess or Tucker can get the skills and literacies to make sense of learning in every context, new and old. What I want are master learners, not master teachers, learners who see my kids as their apprentices for learning.”

I feel like I am jumping a bit all over the place with this post, but everything is so interrelated, it is difficult to separate.  The bottom line seems to be…we need to teach kids how to learn, and we can only do that by being learners ourselves.

Should we teach digital citizenship?

I had  difficulty getting started on my blogs this week, mainly because I was suffering from what I call WAD-Web Attention Disorder.  I am so easily distracted from my cause.  I can’t help myself, I go to search and read about something and pretty soon I am web miles away from my starting point and I can’t even begin to find my way back.

The whole idea of digital citizenship did catch my eye.  My professor, Marnie McMillan, for my ECI 831 course set us up with, a choose your own adventure activity this week.  You can probably tell, from what I already said,  that I would have trouble staying on one adventure, because they all seemed so interesting and took me off in many directions, but at the same time, they were all full of related and connected ideas, at least in my mind.  Some of the things she asked us to look at I had already seen, but it was still good to go back and give them more thought.

I started the week with a bit of a bad moment of finding out that some of my staff were not making as much progress into the tech in the classroom idea, as I thought they might be.  My presentation at the staff meeting on Monday even managed to arouse some anger in some…but that  is a discussion for another time.  Whether people buy into using new tools and technologies in the classroom or not… or I think the problem really is buying into the idea that children can learn in non-traditional ways… I still think we have a responsibility to teach them to be good digital citizens.

We spend a lot of time in school teaching them to be healthy, contributing members of society.  We try to teach them to be good citizens in our community and in our schools.  Is anyone teaching them what it means to be good digital citizens?  Whether we buy into the idea of learning through new technologies or not, our students are spending hours of time exploring and communicating in a world that they have not been taught to use properly.

I think it really comes down to fear, once again.  We are afraid to try to teach them about things, we perceive, they know much better than us.

I realized that I had been so busy teaching my grades 4/5 students to blog properly, so they could express their ideas, and to comment properly, so they could open up a dialogue and be encouraging to others, but I had forgotten to teach them anything about copyright and the whole idea about creative commons.  We had been inserting things on to our blog site without giving credit to a single source! Oops!  There are a lot of good videos explaining the idea of copyright and creative commons.  I found one that I had never seen before.  A new take with the same idea.

Last blogging class was spent discussing digital citizenship and what that means, specifically focusing on the idea of copyright.  I taught them how to properly search for images that fell under creative commons and what that meant.  I also taught them how to check whether or not they could use a source and how to properly give credit to sources they were using.  I know that is a small part of digital citizenship, but an important one.  I really used  one site we were directed to, in adventure 3, on creative commons licensing , to help me out.

In my own search about digital citizenship I came across some excellent resources:

1.  The web page, “Digital Citizenship: Using Technology Appropriately“, offers information and ideas about teaching digital citizenship and outlines what they believe are the nine themes involved.

2.  Alex Couros has a  post about digital citizenship in his blog, “Open Thinking: rants and resources from an open educator.  The  topic of his post is summed up with…

“I’m just beginning to rediscover what digital citizenship means. I know it needs to cover more than safety issues, literacy and etiquette. I know it is not just about our rights as online citizens. It needs to concern itself much more with social responsibility and social learning than is currently being addressed.”

3.  Alex also gives a link off his blog post to his wiki about digital literacy that is full of excellent information.

4.  A response was given to Alex’s post at Teacher Friendly tech that was also interesting.

I am not sure we can keep ignoring what our students are doing, seeing, manipulating and using on-line. The issue of cyber-bullying is getting more serious each day.  Our students are exposed to huge amounts of information on a daily basis.  Will they sort that out and use it appropriately without being taught how?

I was excited to come across some excellent information and resources that I can use during our vertical sessions with our grades 6/7/8 students.  I think I have mentioned before that my principal and I have all of these students together once a cycle and we spend most of our time on citizenship and leadership skills.  This is an excellent opportunity to introduce some ideas and open up discussion on issues such as on-line gaming, creative commons, cyber-bullying, use Facebook etc.  I spent some time looking at the videos and teacher/parent resources at and found many useful resources there as well, including real-life stories told by teens that had been involved in unfortunate situations related to internet use.

Not all teachers are at a place where they can embrace, or in some cases even acknowledge, the educational off-shoots of our student’s digital experiences.  Some may not like it, but that is where our students are and I think we might regret leaving them to figure it out on their own without any guidance.

Taming the technology beast!

Does anyone else ever feel like their on-line world is getting out of control?  I am starting to feel like my bookmarks have created a life of their own.  I have so many projects on the go and for every project it seems like I have 100 ideas and 100 links.  When I first started to use Delicious for bookmarking last term in ECI 831, I did not think that I would use it that much and did not always take the time to tag properly, thinking that I could easily find a bookmark in a page or two.

Boy was I wrong…   my technology world exploded and now I have book marks everywhere. Every time I go on the web, reading and looking, I find at least one or two more sites that I would like to check out.

Last Friday, my technology consultant graciously agreed to sit down with me and help me put some organizational structure into my tech life.  He showed me how to properly tag my delicious bookmarks.  He also had me download a free add on for Delicious that allows me to automatically tag an address and offers suggestions for tags that I might use for organizational purposes.  He helped me set up an optional sidebar that lists my tags and my bookmarks.

Wow, I could not believe how much better that felt.  Of course I would still have to go back through my previous bookmarks and add tags, but at least it started to tame the beast.

We spent some time working on my blog site as well and he helped my get some RSS feeds going and add some links on to my site, so that I could automatically go to my favorite blogs.

I know that for most of you this is probably not that astounding, but for me it was very helpful and gave me a new outlook on life.

If I had any advice to give right now, I would say don’t underestimate the power of a tag and take the time to tag  carefully and it will save a lot of time in the future.

I am always open to help and suggestions, so if anyone has any advice for me, I would be happy to have it.

Am I out, because I am old?

I don’t know whether I am having a sensitive week or not, but I am starting to take offense to  some of the blogs  I am reading that imply because I am old, I am not tech savvy or willing to learn to be.

Now I would not describe myself as tech savvy, but technology rich…I am!  I hate to admit that I am getting close enough to retirement to start thinking about it seriously.  I am not counting down the days or even the years, but I am not in the first 1/2 of my career either.  The up side is that I can start to feel that warm sun of Mexico on my face when I look it up on my Blackberry!

We teach students all the time to not stereotype or discriminate, but when I hear myself being lumped into a stereotypical category of “sitting around waiting to retire, and not wanting to try anything new”, I get a little hot and indignant.

I don’t think that technology integration, or lack there of, has anything to do with age.  Now, I have never done any formal research and can only go from my personal experience.  When I look at my own school, for example, I see “younger” teachers that are not really doing much technology integration at all and “older” teachers that are doing it all the time. When I was looking for a classroom teacher that would be willing to join me in a blogging project, it was one of the “older” generation that jumped right on board.

I have listened to discussions about technology immigrants vs technology natives.  I can’t really say that I like the terms myself.  I guess you could call me a technology immigrant and it would not insult me.  I was raised with black and white TV and party lines for heaven’s sake. I definitely remember life before internet and I-pods.    Just because I am new to the world does not mean that I am not enthusiastic, willing to try new things, and trying to stay up to date as anyone else.

I think students would consider most of their teachers technology immigrants…we could never know as much as them, no matter what our age.  We are trying to adjust to a world that they have known all of their lives.  My daughter thinks it is weird that I have a Facebook account and for some reason refuses to put me on her friends list.

Now what does all of this tell me?

That I should just get over my indignation and not worry about it?

That I should stand up to the “younger” generation of teachers and show them what I know?

Well, I guess it should tell me…

  • that I need to keep encouraging all teachers to become technology comfortable, no matter what their age.
  • That I need to offer support to others in my profession.
  • That I need to keep trying to explore new tools and integrate those tools into my student’s lessons in a meaningful way.
  • Probably most of all…I need to share my ideas with others.

Don’t write me off because I am old.  I will be twittering and keeping up with Facebook even when I am living in my condo in Mexico!  Maybe my daughter will even agree be my friend…