Virtual Endangered Zoo

I’ve been working with one of our second grade teachers (she of the superior graphic organizers) on a project with her reading/social studies class.

We have now reached the culmination of our project, and the Virtual Endangered Zoo is now open for business! Each child researched an endangered species of their choice, and built a website about them. Their teacher, Mrs. Pancake, created a hub website where you can easily access all their sites.

This was a fun project that also turned out to be easier than I thought it would be. Firstly, students did research projects earlier this school year, so they already knew research methods basics. Secondly, Weebly For Education was very easy to use once we played around with it. We discussed other ideas such as publishing an eBook, but I thought more parents would be able to see a website than would be able to download an eBook. Plus, Weebly uses responsive web design by default. This means that their sites adjust accordingly when viewed on a smartphone or tablet. My guess is that means even more of our families will be able to see our sites, since not every family has a computer hooked up to the Internet at home, but many may still have smartphones.

In addition to research methods we used in the past, we added a social media element for kids who were up for it. When a student got stuck with one particular detail, we sought out a zoo or aquarium we thought might know the answer. Then, we tweeted them. Students wrote their question on a dry erase slate and I took a photo of them and tweeted at the zoo or aquarium. This got us around Twitter’s 140 character limit, and I think it also displayed to others that these were real kids asking questions.

How long does it take to tweet a zoo? Minutes, fellow educators. Mere minutes, even if you include a photo or a video. (I’m trying to convince more of my coworkers to sign up for Twitter, can you tell?)

On Weebly, we could even embed the responses to our tweets thanks to the “embed code” widget!

(Another thing I really liked about Weebly for Education was its image search. It has its own search engine for images, and if you include a free-to-use image, Weebly automatically appends the site with a Creative Commons attribution. Digital citizenship win!)

I would like to thank the following zoos (particular whoever runs their social media accounts) for their help:

The students who did not use my Twitter account still may have used social media in the form of Youtube. We used specific search terms and checked that videos we put on our websites were from sources we trusted, like the Oregon Zoo or National Geographic.

Students who finished early also entered the Akron Zoo’s snow leopard naming contest that we discovered from looking at their website. So if anyone at the Akron Zoo peeps this, sorry for the sudden influx of multiple entries from my and Mrs. Pancake’s email accounts!

5910559136

Thank you again to the zoos and aquarium that reached back out to us over social media. I got excited simply because I’m a giant nerd, but our students were excited because they felt like someone out there was listening to their questions and taking the time to answer thoughtfully. It’s hard to put into words how respected that makes a kid feel, to be taken seriously by an adult they don’t already know. So thank you for taking the time to teach us about animals, as is surely your mission, but also thank you for making the effort to reach out to a kid hundreds or even thousands of miles away.

On “Digital Mentoring”

A Facebook friend of mine linked this article from The Atlantic — Parents: Reject Technology Shame. The author describes three different attitudes parents may have towards family use of technology: enablers, who “take their cues from how other kids and families use technology”; limiters, who “focus on minimizing their kids’ use of technology”; and mentors, who actively try to guide their children through navigating technology use.

kids-computers-1-1437235-639x426

As a technology teacher, I am very interested in this topic. I like to think of myself as mentoring students through using technology appropriately. If I don’t teach them, who will they learn from — and what, exactly, will they learn? (Disclaimer: I teach early elementary grades. I might take a different view if I taught students of a younger age, though I think my view would be similar if I was teaching slightly older grades.)

A student’s misstep in the digital world can also be a learning opportunity for teacher (or parent). I would not know how to anticipate the things that could go wrong if students didn’t keep me on my toes! Students may click on advertisements that ask for financial information or install malware-like browser extensions; that means I need to teach them how to evaluate whether a link is okay to explore. Students break or damage various pieces of technology, and learn a little about how to treat these components and take care of them better. Students send each other messages, and learn that after you click “send,” you cannot completely scrub or delete a missive from the internet. Students bring up inappropriate images during a search, and it can become a lesson in turning on “safe search” or choosing search terms more carefully — and, even more importantly than that, they learn that they can tell a trusted adult when something comes up on a screen that makes them uncomfortable. That’s an important thing because I want students to know that they can come to me if someone else sends them something inappropriate, whether it be adult content or a bullying message, and I won’t react with suspicion or disrespect — I can and I will help them navigate that situation. (Would I prefer that a child not have to see things that make them uncomfortable when doing an innocent search? Yes. But I don’t determine the content that already exists on the web. I can only filter it and teach a child to filter it.) The mentoring itself is a work in progress, as it always will be, as technology continuously builds on itself, changing and evolving. And I am willing to learn as we go — an important attitude to model for students as well.

An additional bonus to letting a child make missteps is that they understand the consequences of that misstep, no punishment necessary. (Obviously egregious abuses of technology, particularly after specific instruction, are different – but that hasn’t happened very often to me, either.) If a student can’t make these mistakes and learn from them in a safe environment, then I fear them making these same mistakes at a time in their lives when the stakes are higher.

What it boils down to is, if you want to be the primary source of information and guidance on a given topic, then you need to be proactive about providing information and guidance about that topic. If you are not proactive, your child might end up learning about it from another source you don’t agree with or approve of.