Facebook for Parents

FBI recently gave a presentation to middle school parents about Facebook.  The goal of the evening was to get parents on Facebook to show them how to sign up, how to set privacy settings, how it works, and why someone would use it.  The ultimate goal of the evening was to give parents the tools necessary to have informed discussions with their children about Facebook.  The night was a success.  I had about 20 parents attend and, though some parents could not get on (because of the confirmation email problem), they all engaged in conversation around middle schoolers and Facebook.  Out of the 20, only 2 parents had existing Facebook accounts – and the range of the other parents varied from no interest in online social networking, to conservative Internet use, to full embrace of the Internet.

One of the issues that came up was, what is the appropriate age for kids to join Facebook?  There seems to be plenty of sixth graders who are on Facebook right now even though the TOS requires kids to be 13 years old.  I like to adhere to the TOS as a good model especially for students who are often tempted to misrepresent themselves online.  Though I am no expert on the middle school aged brain, I tend to think 11 and 12 year-olds are too young to fully understand the complexities of online socializing; they have a hard enough time face-to-face. To me, 13 seems young enough.

The other issue that came up was, should you friend your child?  People seem to be split on this one.  I think kids need their own place to socialize.  I equate friending them with sitting in the room with a bunch of kids – the dynamic of the situation changes. Now that we are teaching kids how to set their security settings and using groups to filter news, parents may not be able to see as much as they want to see. I don’t think parents should get a Facebook account to spy on their kids; I think parents should get accounts to understand the medium and they just might find it useful in their lives.

There is a lot more to talk about and I am excited that our Middle School Director has decided to make technology a “theme” for next year for parents, faculty, and students.  We will be working together with our school psychologist to really take a look at technology and how it fits (or doesn’t fit) into a middle school brain.  Parents already seem more at ease now that they know we are talking about technology and that we have already begun to plan for workshops and parent evenings next year.  We have started a Facebook page for our parents and we encourage parents to follow us on Twitter.  This is just the beginning of a conversation that I hope will enrich all who take part in it.  When it comes to social networking and technology, we need to educate our students (and our faculty) as well as our parents in order to have full success.

I have embedded the slideshow I used with parents below – please take what you need from it.

Advertisements

“Speedy” Professional Development

I’ve been thinking about summer lately.  Mostly because we still have some snowbanks that haven’t melted and I am longing for the warm sun these days, but also because I’m starting to summer wasting...plan for technology workshops for teachers at the end of the year.  I came across this post from Kim Cofino, from the ISB (Bangkok), about “SpeedGeeking”.  What a great idea.  She, and her technology team, ran a professional development workshop like a speed dating set up.  They had 12 tables, each teacher rotated around each table and heard about a technology project for four minutes, and then moved on.  It gave teachers a brief introduction to new things going on in their own school.

The buzz in the room was amazing! Teachers were visibly excited and energized by the discussion and it was obvious that everyone found at least one thing that sparked their interest in the 30-minute session.

What a great idea – I hope I get a chance to run something like that here.  Thanks to Kim for thoroughly capturing the day in her post (as usual).

Photo credit – “summer wasting…

“It is incredibly empowering”

This morning, this blog article by Gary Hamel of the WSJ, “The Facebook Generation vs. the Fortune 500“, caught my attention.  Even though he wrote this list in with a focus on the management of companies in the coming years, one could easily adapt this list for education. Laura Blankenship had the same thought and posted her take on Hamel’s list in the context of education.  It’s a good list, I’ve pasted in below.  Item #8 is one that is rattling around my head this morning: 8. Power comes from sharing information, not hoarding it. As far as teachers go, I think they are not necessarily hoarders but if they aren’t connected to other teachers online, they haven’t seen and experieinced the power of sharing content and ideas – it’s fast, it’s easy, and it works.  Read this great post by one pre-service teacher who experienced sharing through her blogging and twitter – here’s a great quote:

I have never learned so much in my entire life until taking this class, and it was through sharing. Just like teaching, learning needs to be wide open and full of networking. Instead of handing in that assignment to one teacher, I am handing it in to the world and saying, “Take a look at me and what I think”. It is incredibly empowering when you think about it.

In addition to encouraging our teachers and students to share, schools, specifically independent schools, need to become more transparent to parents, faculty, and the community.  In the past, schools have tried to limit parent contact with teachers and administrators to certain times and certain avenues of “appropriate” communication.  (It took our school a long time to agree to post faculty email addresses on the school website).  Reasons for these limitations were to prevent the “helicopter parenting” syndrome, to help the students become self-advocates, and to prevent parents from questioning the ways and means of the school.  These are valid reasons but limiting communication and sharing is not the only way to achieve these goals.  If schools provide parents with more information and ask for more input, they become more transparent and provide parents less opportunity to question because the answers are all there.  Schools should provide more forums for parents to share and connect (this will help build and sustain the school community); they should have a informative website that is easy to navigate; and they should provide curriculum descriptions and assignments so parents can keep up with what their kids are doing at school.   The communciation needs to be “wide open” and I think schools will find that “it is incredible empowering”.

Here’s Laura Blankenship’s list and comments – see which ones resonate for you:

1. All ideas compete on an equal footing.

Instructors should value what students bring to the class and try to create an environment where the teacher isn’t the only expert in the room.  Both student and teacher bring value to the class on equal footing.  I try to point out when someone posts something interesting on our class blog that I didn’t know about or has an idea that didn’t occur to me in order to encourage the idea that student ideas are as important as mine.

2. Contribution counts for more than credentials.

The teacher at the front of the room obviously has more credentials than the students in the class, but teachers can work to encourage contribution from the students so that that is what’s valued in the class.  This is similar to #1 above, but  can be harder to overcome since students often look at credentials as a way of authenticating that the teacher’s contribution is more important.

3. Hierarchies are natural, not prescribed.

Again, because of the received dynamic of the teacher as the expert, this is a hard one to aspire to, but it is true that certain students seem to rise to the top of in-class or online discussion.   The thing to watch out for is that the ones who don’t get an opportunity to contribute.  I think in a classroom, one actually wants to eliminate hierarchies as much as possible.

4. Leaders serve rather than preside.

Approaching teaching as something your doing for the students rather than as some kind of power mongering (I’ve seen this very rarely anyway) can really make your classroom a thriving place for your students.  Offer articles for papers, offer to meet to discuss ideas, and come to the classroom expecting to learn something rather than teaching something.  There’s a balance to be struck, of course, in that you have a limited amount of time, but being generous with what time you do have can go a long way.

5. Tasks are chosen, not assigned.

I actually try to do this in most of my classes.  I don’t give topics for papers and sometimes give rather vague directives about page length, about image inclusion, etc.  I simply ask that it be argumentative and lean toward the academic rather than the casual.  This is very difficult for most students.  They’re used to doing what they’re told.  While assignments are generally necessary, giving students as much freedom within those assignments can help them learn how to choose tasks for themselves.

6. Groups are self-defining and -organizing.

Anyone who teaches has watched groups of students form–those who sit together every class, who comment on each other’s posts or in-class comments.  One can capitalize on this by assigning those students to group projects.  I’ve heard feedback from my students about our small groups that they like to choose their groups.  Sometimes it may be necessary to organize groups for a particular kind of experience, but consider at least trying to let groups form on their own.

7. Resources get attracted, not allocated.

In a classroom, this probably doesn’t apply, but in the larger context of an institution, it would be nice if resource allocation were open to an extent that allows people to gravitate toward interesting ideas.  Instead, there’s still a top-down allocation process.

8. Power comes from sharing information, not hoarding it.

In the classroom, I always try to be as open as possible and I encourage my students to be as well.  That’s why we blog in public.  I think it’s important for students to see each other’s work and ideas.  At the institutional level, it would certainly be good to have that kind of sharing of information.  Technology could help with this process, but most institutions I know of haven’t yet gotten to the point of being able or willing to share information across the institution.

9. Opinions compound and decisions are peer-reviewed.

I’ve done this in many classes, posted potential readings and assignments and let students choose.  I’ve also allowed them to change the direction of the course by voting on it.

10. Users can veto most policy decisions.

I’ve done this in class too.  It’s great when the students feel some ownership over the class.

11. Intrinsic rewards matter most.

This is a value I try to impart, but it’s very hard since many students are used to external rewards such as grades.  I, myself, like external rewards, but those can be very simple and usually I receive the greatest external rewards for projects that have had an instrinsic value for me.  I don’t have grades on individual assignments and I have students evaluate themselves, mostly focusing on what they learned from the class.

12. Hackers are heroes.

I celebrate the student who presents a contrary view–as long as they do so without hurting someone.  Class and blog discussions are most interesting when someone says, “I disagree and here’s why.”

Seven things you don’t need to know

Thanks to Liz Davis for tagging me on this meme over the holidays.  Let’s see if I can come up with seven:

  1. I’m not fond of talking about myself – so coming up with 7 things is hard for me to do 🙂
  2. My favorite color is blue
  3. My car once ended up 10 feet from the ocean (stopped by a tree) – I had left it warming up outside my house and the emergency brake gave way and down it went!
  4. My favorite movie is Fried Green Tomatoes
  5. I love to chop wood (yes, by hand)next winter's wood
  6. My first live concert was  Duran Duran
  7. I like to have a bowl of hot oatmeal for breakfast -the same kind that I have had since I was a kid – maple and brown sugar

Now, on to tag a few others:

Jeff W

Sharon B

Sarah S

Peter G

Demitri O

Bob S

Edwin W

Happy New Year!

flickr photo, next winter’s woodhttp://flickr.com/photos/lunaspin/2240987771/

Social networking is…a good thing

A MacArthur funded study was just released regarding the activities kids are involved in online.  It’s an interesting read for all educators and parents.  They conclude that the “hanging out”, “messing around”, and “geeking out” that kids do online helps students gain media literacies and skills they will need to fully participate in the 21st Century society.  Here’s a quote from the summary of the report:

New media allow for a degree of freedom and autonomy for youth that is less apparent in a classroom setting. Youth respect one another’s authority online, and they are often more motivated to learn from peers than from adults. Their efforts are also largely self-directed, and the outcome emerges through exploration, in contrast to classroom learning that is oriented by set, predefined goals.

In the conclusion, the report goes on to say, that schools (and parents) should not see social networking as a waste of time:

Rather than seeing socializing and play as hostile to learning, educational programs could be positioned to step in and support moments when youth are motivated to move from friendship-driven to more interest-driven forms of new media use.

Another point made in the conclusion is that kids find learning from their peers highly motivating:

Peer-based learning is characterized by a context of reciprocity, where participants feel they can both produce and evaluate knowledge and culture. Whether it is comments on MySpace or on a fan fiction forum, participants both contribute their own content and comment on the content of others. More expert participants provide models and leadership but do not have authority over fellow participants.

And finally, the report concludes with this (among other) question:

what would it mean to think of education as a process of guiding kids’ participation in public life more generally, a public life that includes social, recreational, and civic engagement?

You can access the summary “white paper” or the entire report here.

Blog Revival

The months since my last post have quickly gotten away from me.  A crazy summer combined with the usual frantic pace of the fall has driven me out of the blog habit – both reading and (especially) writing.  Today I’d like to start back up.  I’d like to bring my blog back as a source of information for the faculty and staff in my school for new tools, old tools, and many “how-to’s”.

dabbleboard_logoI thought I’d start by introducing this online whiteboard tool could be a valuable tool to many of my teachers.  Dabbleboard brings the whiteboard to your computer – when used with a projector in the classroom, it can do many of the things an interactive whiteboard can do.  The best feature I think is the ability to save work or templates for use in multiple classes or just in finishing up work from the day before.  Visit Dabbleboard, sign-up for an account and begin to play.

A few tidbits

I haven’t had a lot of time to write these days.  School is winding down and end-of-year details are winding up: budgets, purchasing, NCLB applications, and many, many events.  I wanted to share a few things that I’ve read and watched lately:

The first, in following with the end-of-year theme, is the commencement speech by Barbara Kingsolver.  I’m a big fan of hers.  I really enjoy the humor she injects in to her writing (and this speech) as well as the content she writes about.  If you haven’t read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle yet, I highly recommend it.  Here’s a quote (from the more serious side of her speech):

In the last 30 years our material wealth has increased in this country, but our self-described happiness has steadily declined. Elsewhere, the people who consider themselves very happy are not in the very poorest nations, as you might guess, nor in the very richest. The winners are Mexico, Ireland, Puerto Rico, the kinds of places we identify with extended family, noisy villages, a lot of dancing. The happiest people are the ones with the most community.

The second piece is a video called “Learning to Change” by the Digital Arts group at the Pearson Foundation for CoSN.  It’s another video that you should show to  teachers and stakeholders in your schools.  Take a look: