School Week Round-Up: Week Eighteen

WE MADE IT TO WINTER BREAK!

Lessons: I used this activity from from Eric Curts for most lessons this week. The kids really enjoyed it, once they got the hang of it! They had done clicking and dragging before, and they had added images to Slides before, but copying and pasting from one slide to another was a new trick for them. Once they got it, though, they really got it.

Here are just a few that got done:

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Support: This past week I came across this piece written from the perspective of an NPR IT specialist. It touches really well on my support struggle from last week.

Almost everyone I’ve ever helped through a computer crisis has been in that frame of mind, and in more than a few cases fixing the computer problem was much less challenging than fixing the user.

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Not everyone can be a technical expert, but if you’re going to trust the important pieces of your life to a computer, you owe it to yourself to know the basics of how it does all the wondrous things you wouldn’t want to live without. To do otherwise invests those magical black boxes with more power than they deserve. And it leaves you open to being prey for people who don’t mind exploiting your ignorance for their own gain.

To me, it’s always better to understand why doing something a particular way is the right way — rather than doing it just because you’ve been told it’s the right way.

Michael Czaplinski’s job is to help people with the problems that they have with their technology, whether that problem originates with the technology or with the user. The way I see it, my job is to teach the “magic” – the how and the why the technology works, and what you need to know to work well with it. I want my students and colleagues to become the wizards, or at least know enough to trust only the wizards wearing pants under their robes. (I like this metaphor. It makes me feel like Professor McGonagall from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry).

Also fun, on the last day of school before break started (the day when many teachers are showing movies while students enjoy hot cocoa and cookies as a reward for cleaning out their desks and lockers) our building’s wi-fi went down. And not just our building’s, a couple other buildings in the district were affected. The IT guys spent hours working on it, to no avail. Our improvisation skills were tested!

As for me, I had to do a test-like task with third grade that we missed last week during our snow day. The assignment was on Edcite and sent out to students on Google Classroom… well, at least it was supposed to be. Without internet, that wasn’t happening. Luckily, I had printed out a blank master copy for some reason. I made copies for students, gave them pencils, and had them go at it old school style. It wasn’t ideal, but neither would be waiting until January to do this task… we already have another similar tasked scheduled for then! To their credit, not a single student complained about having to use pencil and paper instead of the computers. Santa, if you’re reading, Mrs. Dawson’s third graders from Parkway Elementary probably each deserve an extra treat this year!

Things I Did Well: 
Improvising. Always, after, I come up with so many other possible solutions I could have run with. But, in a time crunch, I came up with some solutions that I was able to pull off. So did things go perfectly? No. But sometimes “good enough” has to be good enough.

Things I Will Do Better: I was not able to help everyone to their satisfaction this week.

Cold Prickly: This kept coming up in my brain while the wi-fi is down. (For all I know, it’s still down.)

Warm FuzzyOne of the bus drivers is truly a light. (The other bus drivers are probably also very nice, but I usually take the same kids out to the same bus at the end of the day, so I know for a fact that that particular bus driver is the absolute best.) A school bus driver deals with a lot of difficulties — class management, but on wheels! — in addition to weather and traffic hazards. They are not compensated the way I wish they were. It’s a challenging job. So, for a bus driver to be someone else’s light at the end of the day astounds me! She’s got a smile on her face, always, and I hope we help it stay there.

Method to Morning Announcements

einstein-1173990_1280This is how we make our morning announcements at our school.

First, I downloaded free, no-attribution-necessary videos from Pixabay to make into our Intro and Outtro stings, as well as our regular announcements like birthdays and weather. I added free, no-attribution-necessary music from Youtube to them, to make it more fun.

Next, students record clips of themselves doing the daily changing announcements using Quicktime. Usually they use my laptop, since it’s faster than the lab computers. Sometimes they eat lunch in the computer lab and work on them days in advance, since things like the lunch menu can be figured out in advance. They name the clips something like 1027lunch, 1027news, 1027history, so that I can import them into iMovie all at the same time. I also only change the Outtro every couple of weeks, since that script is more permanent. I will have students re-record as we start rotating new kids in this month.

We do have one student records audio and not video, so I download pictures to go with that report, either from Pixabay or Wikimedia Commons. I try to get ones that I don’t need to attribute, but if I do have to attribute, I make sure I copy and paste the necessary attribution into the video description when I upload it. (Thanks Creative Commons!)

Then, I put the clips in the order that I want them. And I make sure visual images sync up with audio where necessary. This is something I’ve turned into a template. I hope that by the end of the year, the students will be doing much of this behind-the-scenes work. But, we’ll see.

Next, I make sure the “titles” are updated. I use titles to identify the students reporters, to credit news sources for current events, and to overlay changing information over videos that stay the same. For example, I just click on the weather title and re-enter the forecast info for each day.

Finally, I share the project to Youtube, altering the date and making sure it’s set to public. I linked my Youtube account to iMovie to do this. I also set up a Youtube playlist that automatically grabs any video I upload with “WPKY News” in the title. I also usually shoot out a reminder email to teachers with a link to the announcements.

I really liked how we did announcements last year on Google Hangouts, because teachers could tune in live if they wanted, and our efforts were automatically uploaded after. But I like this way too. We can do more in advance (like recording Monday’s announcements on a Friday during lunch if I have a meeting in another building). We can re-do individual bits if we have to and change them out (I expect this will happen to the lunch menu sometimes when we have snow days). We can try and try again when kids stumble over pronunciation.

But it is a work in progress. There are days when I thought I updated a clip but I didn’t, and send out a video with yesterday’s birthdays or lunch. Sometimes when I add a new clip, I forget to delete an older one. I tried to get it going on a lab computer so that kids could do more of the editing independently, but the machine was so slow that both the kids and I got really frustrated with it. I want to incorporate regular segments like “Tech Tip Tuesday” but scheduling is a pain.  But some mistakes stay in on purpose. For example, when kids struggle with words but self-correct, I like to leave it in because I think that’s good modeling for younger students still learning to read.

I’m uploaded the pre-produced clips to Google Drive, so you can use them if you want, or get a sense of how to make your own. I really do encourage making your own, or having students make them, to go along with your school culture!

“What Should You Be Working On?” Spreadsheet (3rd Grade)

So I was trying to think of how to explain Alice Keeler’s Participate In a Twitter Chat template to a colleague planning to moderate a district Twitter chat next week. I used the template to participate in a #gafe4littles chat last week and I thought it might make good training wheels for coworkers just getting started with Twitter chats.

And it occurred to me. Why am I not using this for my kids?

I have been struggling with delivering feedback effectively to third graders in particular, given that I only see them once a week in the computer lab. It stinks that some kids fall behind in some activities (due to absences and other things), while others are ready and rarin’ to go for more. It’s not fair to hold either in holding patterns while I struggle to meet all their needs.

So today I made a “What Should You Be Working On?” Spreadsheet and posted it into their Google Classroom.

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The spreadsheet was easy to put together once I figured out which kid fell behind in which activity. I copied and pasted my list of students from Google Classroom into the leftmost column. Then, in Column B, I put their “first priority” activity – which was both a title, and a link to where I had posted it before in Google Classroom. In Column C, I put their “second priority” activity, and I even had a Column D “third priority” list, though it didn’t go that far across for most students. The doc linked to in “Choice of Sponge Activities” is a simple list of educational fun or game sites I know the kids enjoy (that is also contained in the “About” section of Google Classroom). For the first time in five years, I was able to tell students they had “choice time” without several of them asking which activities were “allowed.” The doc itself also contained names and links, and no child who used it needed it explained to them after they had used the spreadsheet.

What was amazing to me was how little I had to explain. I feel like I showed it in detail to just a couple of kids, and they helped transfer knowledge to each other. They are already accustomed to navigating tabs, clicking links, and using their Google accounts to log into other sites. It was really convenient, because this class had a new student in it, and I needed to take some time to set up his accounts and guide him. I think the kids really liked it too, because it simplified for them what exactly they should be working on! They could tie loose ends on one thing, and they knew what they needed to or could do next without checking in with me first. It was very freeing for them, too! I am so excited to try this with the other third grade classes this week.

In terms of delivering feedback, I am betting I can adapt a spreadsheet even further to indicate to a student how successful they were at a task, or provide a link to feedback they can follow. I am not all the way there yet with that challenge, but I feel like I’m getting closer.

I feel I am definitely getting better at seeing something that works for someone else, and adapting it to work for me, my students, and my environment.

School Week Round-Up: Week Four

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LessonsStudents are getting into the routines! And it’s really helping! Most of the confusion has been where our routines differ from last year’s routines, but the more we practice new routines, the better we get at them. Also, on Wednesday morning a second grader asked me a really good question — I forget what the question was, exactly, but it inspired me to use more specific language. We use our usernames to log into the computer. Then we use our email addresses to log into Google Chrome. The first part of our email address is our username. The second part of our username is our domain name. I’m not expecting kids to absorb this right away (though some kids definitely are). But I think it helps to use accurate language in the computer lab when it really is aspecific topic. An email address is a username and a domain name. On the other hand, there are several ways to successfully navigate to Google Classroom. It’s like — it doesn’t matter if a kid walked to school, got dropped off by a parent, or rode the bus. We all got to school, it doesn’t matter how we got there. So in the tech lab, sometimes things are very precise. And sometimes we can be flexible and do things different ways. I think my goal is to emphasize precision in vocabulary, but flexibility in methods.Helped, of course, by ideas I’ve found via Twitter, such as color coding keyboard rows and login cards.

Support: The kids are getting better at new routines in the lab, and kids and teachers are all improving at routines outside the lab, as well! I don’t think I was called on for support so frequently this week. However, I did call for support with computers in the lab that were working so slowly that they were not good choices to use during a fifty-minute class period. Two of our tech folks came out and not only fixed all but one computer, but they showed me a few tricks I can try next time desktops operate crankily. (And the one they didn’t fix? They took it with them to see if it needed new hardware. So progress is still being made.)

Things I Did Well: I think I am doing pretty well with keeping consistent with my language choices between grade levels. In the past I was tempted to simplify things for first grade students — maybe to the point of oversimplifying. But over time I see that doesn’t help the kids as they move up to the next grade, and it certainly doesn’t help me that I need to reteach more than I would have needed to otherwise. So I’m trying to do a better job of it this year, because Future Me will appreciate it next year.

Things I Will Do Better: More than once this week I was late to something because I lost track of the time, or almost late to something for a similar reason. I wasn’t blindsided, because I had been told accurate information in advance. I just didn’t do a good job keeping on top of my own calendar this week. I will regroup and make an effort to do better on this next week.

Cold Prickly: I had another meeting about the RESA again (this time with my principal and superintendent). It was a cold prickly because, if I fail the Second Lesson Cycle again, it will affect my employment status. But it also was a warm fuzzy because the administrators really want to support me doing this, they do not want me to fail. We came up with some ideas about how they could support me without violating RESA submission guidelines. I feel really good about this, really. I just wish I weren’t in this situation to begin with.

Warm Fuzzy: Speaking of the RESA, I had to call their customer support. I had forgotten that I signed up with a personal email account, not my work one, so when I tried logging in with my work account, I got confused. I was further confused when I wasn’t receiving password reset emails. So I called their support number, and the patient person who answered the phone reminded me that I had used a personal email account. Oof! I was embarrassed and at the close of the call, I said, “I hope I’m the worst call you get all day!” And, no joke, this person responded, “It’s okay, I love you.” He said “I love you.” It’s a silly thing, and I think it was just a temporary lapse in professional etiquette you could blame on autopilot, but I’m taking it as a sign. RESA also really wants me to pass the RESA this year!

Christine Pinto’s Conditionally Formatted Login Cards… With a Twist

Login cards. My favorite thing! A couple years ago, that would have sounded sarcastic. But these days, I mean it sincerely! Really!

Every year I get better at making login cards. I learn what works in the lab, and what’s not worth the effort. At the start of the school year, I was very proud of the login cards I had made. And yet we’re just halfway through September, and I can already think of several things I will do differently for next year.

One of those things is making color coded conditionally formatted login cards — at least for our incoming first graders. It’s a brilliant idea, I think. Not only could I use them in the lab, I can share them out via Google to the first grade teachers, who could use them when they use Chromebooks in class.

But I only stumbled onto this idea this past Monday or Tuesday, and this was a week sorely lacking in spare time for me. So rather than recreate the login cards I made weeks ago, I just adapted the ones I already had.

20160916_163624First, I color-coded the rows on the keyboard with little highlighter-style stickies (I have Mac desktops in the lab, not Chromebooks). I had five different-colored stickies leftover from when I used to teach a reading class; we used them to highlight ‘sticky words’ in passages. I had green but did not use it, because once it was on the keys it looked very similar to yellow. Also, I trimmed them to be consistent in size only after a couple of days. When I left them long, they were easy to accidentally knock askew, loosening the adhesive. Hopefully now that they’re shorter, that won’t be the case.

Then, I took login cards that I had already made and went at them with wet erase markers. I didn’t want to use dry erase markers because I didn’t want the color to come off too easily. I also didn’t have dry erase markers that match the stickies’ colors. Here are sample photos of some login cards. Don’t worry, these aren’t real cards — they are ones I made typos on; neither of them is a student’s real username.

20160915_120018 “K” was in the yellow row, so I colored it yellow. “I” was in the orange row, so I colored it orange. “N” was in the blue row, so I colored it blue, then I patted it with my thumb a little to make sure you could still see the letter. “A” and “L”? Both in the yellow row. The numbers at the end are all in the pink row, but I didn’t have a pink marker — so I used red and then thumb-patted it a little, just like with the blue. Our usernames are entirely numerical, so I didn’t color-code those as they would all be the same color.

Because this was a little time-consuming, I only did first graders’ cards intentionally. I did do a couple of second and third graders’ cards, if they were struggling still. I also used the color code system to help them spell words. “‘M’ is in the blue row… ‘u’ is in the orange row… ‘s’ is in the yellow row… ‘i’ is in the orange row… ‘c’ is in the blue row.” When I did this for older students, I told them I was “practicing” for the first graders. But they adopted it, and I heard them guide each other to keys by telling their classmates which color row to look in.

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All in all it’s a very effective system. It’s particularly good at helping with similar-looking letters and numbers. For example, the number “1” and the letters “I” and “L” are all in different colored rows; confusion between them is collectively our single biggest obstacle to logging in successfully in the lab. At best it helps your kids adjust to a QWERTY keyboard, especially in a setting where they’re used to seeing letters in alphabetical order. At worst, I guess you can still figure out which students might be colorblind?

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I even added stickies to the finger-placement keyboard posters hanging around the room.

Update, September 27: Here is a short video showing this system in action. It may not be perfect, but it’s better than nothing, when we’re still getting used to the QWERTY keyboard!

School Week Round-Up: Week Three

LessonsOne of the advantages of being a “specials” teacher is repeat performances. My schedule is such that I see every class in the school once per week for approximately fifty minutes. I teach one class of each grade per day. Usually (but not always) I teach the same or similar lesson to an entire grade level. So by the fourth or fifth time through, I really have it down pat. Makes me feel sorry for the kids who get that lesson first, though, because my fear is they’re not getting my best version, and that’s not fair. I need to figure out how to do better.

Support: There was one day this week where I was on the brink of turning into a puddle like Larisa Oleynik in The Secret World of Alex Mack if another person said to me, “Can I just ask you a favor…?” But that was only because I heard that phrase quite a lot in a surprisingly short span of time. It was just one of those days, when the printers jam so hard you think they ought to play roller derby, but your schedule is already booked with diagnostic testing.
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But it made me really appreciate that I have coworkers who schedule things in advance when they can, and take initiative in asking for help, and are very descriptive when describing tech issues. I am also very grateful for the gentleman we call in to fix our multi-function printers when their issues are outside of my ability to fix!

Things I Did Well: I’m trying to foster some growth mindset in the computer lab. I reflected on how I’ve previously said that computer lab is a lot of training before we can get to the learning, and I wondered how to make the training part more transferable. So when I give a set of directions, I am trying to leave room for what the kids know or figure out along the way. For example, there are multiple ways to get to a particular website: you can type the address into the URL bar; you can use a search engine. You can type on the keyboard, you can use the microphone and dictate.You can use auto-complete, even, if you’re careful about it. And when kids make mistakes and end up in the wrong place, it’s not the end of the world. We can learn what to do so when we make a mistake again, we know how to fix it. One student in a class accidentally directed Chrome to ciassroom.googie.com (typing i’s instead of l’s) and a classmate made the same mistake fewer than five minutes later. So I sent her to advise him, since she had just learned what to do!

Things I Will Do Better: I will try a little better on the home front, actually. I am rocking it so hard at work (or at least trying to) that when I come home I turn into Himouto! Umaru-chan. I think maaaaybe that’s getting to be a bit much for my partner. I cannot remember the last time I cooked, did the dishes, or cleaned the bathroom. I can remember the last time I vacuumed, but only because it was before we got married, almost three and a half years ago.

Cold Prickly: We had a meeting about retaking the RESA (because I failed the Second Lesson Cycle task). Counts a cold prickly because, as a human, I psychologically recoil from being reminded of my shortcomings. I have to pass the RESA this year or else I have to retake coursework. Or, I could just become a yam farmer. First order of business would be learning the difference between a yam and a sweet potato, once and for all!

Warm Fuzzy: A new student gave me a big hug on his way to the bus yesterday and said, “I love school!” The feeling that gives you? That’s the high every teacher is constantly chasing.

Teachers, Challenge Your Misconceptions in 2016

That’s my younger brother there, bound for an Ivy League university this fall. He’s a smart guy, but even smart people fall into the trap of believing something that’s not quite true because someone with authority told you.

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I don’t blame my father. I think the whole “sky blue because it reflects the ocean” is a pretty common scientific misconception. And when kids “learn” things at a very young age, they may spend years taking them for granted without even examining their ideas closely until they face a direct challenge. This is well-documented in science, but I remember having some false beliefs about Catholic teaching that I got from my mother giving me short, simple answers — and me filling in the blanks for myself. Kids might do this on their own, too, by observing simple cause and effect in everyday life. A child might notice that water freezes when cold and becomes hard ice, whereas cheese melts and becomes gooey when exposed to heat. This child might become very confused when gooey cookie batter becomes hard, blackened discs when left in a hot oven for too long. Maybe the right idea enters their head, but sometimes they come up with their own private explanation that’s actually far off the mark.

It’s a phenomenon I’ve become more familiar with as an adult. I’ve said things to students that seemed, to me, like passing remarks — but a student took them to be carved in stone. I try to be careful and admit when I don’t know something, maybe even model how to find it out. But I also try to guide students through evaluating sources such as those on the Internet, since I don’t want them to accept everything they hear and read unquestioningly for the rest of their lives.

So, I forgive children this mindset. And I forgive the adults who tell them things. Kids in certain stages of development have to have very concrete ideas that we can hopefully move towards more abstract ones. But this happens at different speeds for different children. Some kids can wrap their minds around theoretical ideas with relative ease; others, like my brother, graduate high school without fully understanding how sunlight gets scattered by molecules in Earth’s atmosphere.

It’s also not entirely children who fall into this trap, either. Adults might have misconceptions about any number of things, and if you don’t pause to examine them, you might never recognize that they’re misconceptions at all. And this is not something that has to do with intelligence. Sherlock Holmes famously had no idea how the solar system worked, which most sixth graders could probably reasonably explain. Smart people fall into wrong ideas all the time. The fact that we can filter the sources that reach us through online news and social media doesn’t help this; humans tend to choose to listen to things we already agree with. We have to continuously question the authorities we trust and examine our beliefs.

I personally strive to confront my ideas when I encounter information that provokes deeper thought, and sometimes I have to seek out a larger variety of perspectives in order to do so. I hope that doing so makes me a better model for my students, and helps me better understand them as they struggle to reconcile difficult concepts.

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!

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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.

Why My Students Shouldn’t Friend Me on Social Media

I just started using Snapchat in earnest this past weekend. My 14-year-old sister just left for her eighth grade class trip to our nation’s capital this morning, and I wanted to make sure I would be able to receive the Snapchat messages she would send out to family members. Currently I am more than a little enthralled by the filters available, particularly the “face swap” option. So far, though, most of the Snapchats (snaps?) I have sent were pleas for help from my sister: “HOW DO I SEND A VIDEO? HOW DO I MAKE SEVERAL IN A ROW? HOW DO I SAVE WHAT YOU SEND ME?”

I can see how this app appeals to the younger set. It’s immediately gratifying with decreased risk of longterm consequences. There’s a lot of creative elements to it. And it’s fun!

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In fact, I feel that way about a lot of social media — that there’s a lot of positive things about it. Social media is a great way to keep in touch with people you know, personally or otherwise. You can interact with businesses and other institutions. You can spread good news or ask for help. Sure, there is potential for negative interactions, but that’s a risk you take every time you leave your home.

So I can see why kids younger than thirteen want to use social media.

However, in the United States at least, there exists a law called the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). This law does not state that kids under thirteen may not use social media websites and apps. However, the law does detail what responsibilities an operator has to protect children’s privacy and safety online. These responsibilities are numerous and burdensome enough that many social media operators simply opt out by officially disallowing kids under thirteen from using their services.

I am not sure how I feel about this law. I can definitely understand why it would be created, and I do feel some protections are necessary, especially for children. On the other hand, I believe children need to be mentored through the online world and start developing some sense of digital citizenship pretty early. It’s one of the reasons I am glad our school uses Google Apps, especially Gmail and Google Classroom. (“Most recognized non-profit organizations are exempt from most of the requirements of COPPA,” according to the Wikipedia article.) I have also read that Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t agree with this law (though I suspect his reasons may have more to do with profit than with education).

However, no matter how I feel about this law, I will comply with it, for the sake of my job. If a student connects with me on social media, and I know that they are under the age of thirteen, not only will I refuse their connection, I will report their account to whatever website or app we are using. (Whether I accept the connections of former students over thirteen is a separate issue, as is whether or not I accept connections from students’ family members.)

This is an interesting topic to me and I think I might like to use it to power a discussion with my third graders on Google Classroom. After all, they are affected by this law more directly than I am, and more directly than the people who made the law. It would be interesting to learn their perspectives. So if anyone can point me to any writing on the subject that is around a third-grade reading level (or could be adjusted to a third grade reading level) I would appreciate it!

(Also, I am curious as to whether there are any educational ways to use Snapchat, even if I can’t use Snapchat that way myself.)

Update: I saw on Twitter this morning that a local university has a Snapchat schedule, where different student groups “take over” the university Snapchat account. It’s a way to bring awareness of niche interests to a wider audience of students. I imagine such an idea could be tooled for an elementary setting. It could be a classroom job the way we have line leaders, paper collectors, and so on – “social media manager.” A student or two could take over the classroom’s social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook page, Snapchat) to send content out to parents throughout a given week. The accounts would still be managed mainly by an adult, but students could share responsibility for content and delivery.

Update Again: One of our first grade teachers used Snapchat to take photos of students using the “dog face” filter, then printed them out. Students used the photos to decorate their writing prompts, “If I Were a Dog.”

The Positive Side of a Negative School-Related Youtube Experience

2406468228So, at my school, I have a team of third grade students who are responsible for the morning announcements for our school. They are responsible for writing and recording all the news that’s fit to share in our elementary building. They use the Youtube account affiliated with my school email address. I set up a specific computer to keep my password saved if you use a specific login. Other than that, they largely do this themselves at this point. The teachers in the building either check the Youtube website, or subscribe to it in order to share the announcements with their classes. (We use live streaming to record the announcements, but rarely does anyone tune in live, because we are not super consistent when it comes to starting at the same time every day. Plus, teachers share the announcements when it works for them — first grade classes have different morning routines than the second or third grades, for instance.)

I’m very proud of them for this. So I thought some of them could handle an April Fool’s prank version of the announcements. I sought help from friends on Facebook and rewrote our morning announcements in Japanese. (I used to teach in Japan, so I have more contacts who speak Japanese and a better handle on it myself than other non-English languages.) Then, I wrote it out phonetically in the English alphabet. Students took it home and practiced in advance. We still had some pronunciation issues when it came time to record — students pronounced “kyou” as “key-yo” for example — but overall I thought we did quite well. In fact, let me share it here:

We did two different takes, and I spliced them together to make one video, thinking it would be more convenient to the other teachers. I had it up around 8:30am on April 1st, then sent an explanatory email around 8:40am in case anyone was truly confused.

Then, at 9:39am, I received an email notifying me that the video had been removed from Youtube for violating the community guidelines.

This was frustrating, firstly because I simply did not agree that the video violated Youtube’s community guidelines. I assume, even now, that someone flagged it in error. However, the email included this sentence: “After reviewing the content, we’ve determined that the videos violate our Community Guidelines. ” Ugh! No reasonable human reviewed that content and genuinely determined it inappropriate. I expect Youtube runs algorithms to do some sort of initial sorting. I’m annoyed that the algorithm was so far off, yet reassured that the machines are not yet ready to take over.

A bigger issue than that would have been that my account would be “in bad standing,” which locks up some of Youtube’s features for channels. In this case, it would have lasted six months, and I would have had to find some way other than live streaming to do morning announcements. Finding a new way to do morning announcements would not have been the biggest challenge; the biggest challenge would have been re-training my news teams when it’s the last quarter of the school year and they have standardized testing coming up. They don’t need that extra stress!

Luckily, Youtube has an appeal process, which I made use of immediately. It took almost a whole day, but the video was ultimately reinstated and my account is back in good standing.

Am I happy that happened? No, but I am grateful for it. Social media, including Youtube, is, well, social. And not every social interaction, on or offline, goes the way I want it to every time. Sometimes that means I have to revise my expectations. Sometimes that means I have to reflect on what I say, what I do, how I say it, or how I do it, and make a change. Sometimes I have to give someone else the benefit of the doubt. But I don’t want to just opt out at this point. I might be able to live the rest of my own life off of social media… but will my students? If I back away after I get an email that makes me feel sad, I may not be qualified to mentor my students in the digital era. I can not promise to make the online world completely 100% safe for them and their feelings anymore than I can promise that they’ll never fall off the monkey bars on the playground. But I can show them what to do and how to manage their reactions when they come up against an obstacle.

UPDATED TO ADD: I feel better about my experience with (likely automated) censorship when I read about the lady whose photo of a cake got her Instagram account suspended.