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Monthly Archives: May 2008

I’ve finally settled down to read David Warlick’s book, Classroom Blogging, after using it for reference purposes for several months now. This quote really caught my eye, and forced me to seriously reflect on the long-term mission of both KIPP and Teach for America. It also made me wish I was a better writer so I could effectively put all my reactions into a nice, organized, well-written post, rather than the rambling you are about to read. If only I had begun blogging in 8th grade…

“Facts are a mouse-click away, and our students can click it faster than we can.”

Two main thoughts come to mind.

1) We talk, read and think frequently about the achievement gap in our schools and with our students. It begins when our students often come in as 5th graders significantly behind grade level, and continues into high school where statistically many students from our communities have a lower chance of attending the college of their choice.

If the ability of students to teach themselves, using all the tools available online (ie developing your own personal learning network), is becoming commonplace in areas where students are able to click the mouse at a much faster rate (in homes where computers and the Internet are as common as televisions), then are we not actually widening the achievement gap by not giving our students that opportunity in our schools?

If we know that many of our students do not have the tools at home, and we do not give them the opportunity to learn those same skills at school, then not only are we stealing their knowledge of the most basic computer skills, but we’re also stealing from them the ability to continue their learning independently using online resources to teach themselves and expand their learning network. So while students in more well-resourced communities leave school to head home and spend much of their evening online expanding their personal learning networks, our students are falling even more behind, instead of beginning to close the gap through their hard work at school.

2) Are we as teachers also contributing to a widening achievement gap by not being tech-savvy ourselves? I frequently question this in my own classroom. There have been days when I introduce a new Web 2.0 skill and several of my students are already familiar with it. This gets to the root of what I believe David is suggesting with his comment. It pushes me to think about what role we (as educators) are playing in actually widening the achievement gap if we are resisting to learn the very skills our students so desperately need to even run at the heels of higher performing schools, let alone actually catch up.

How scary to think about all the hard work we put into our unit plans, daily materials, decorating our classrooms, and designing vocab chants, and that it could actually be undone by the omittance of computers and technology in our classrooms. We sometimes forget that it’s not just about being able to use a mouse and keyboard (although that is definitely a prerequisite that many of our students have never been taught, as I learned rather quickly on my first day of teaching last year), but it’s about being able to navigate the plethora of information that is now available with just the click of the mouse, IF you know how to find it and use it.

Where are those skills being taught now? How are our kids being taught to continue to teach themselves, outside of school so they stop falling behind?

To close out our Web 2.0 unit (that didn’t get nearly as much time as I would have liked), we are going to be discussing Internet Footprints for the next two days. In retrospect this should have absolutely been done first thing, because we’ve actually been changing their footprints throughout the unit as we became more involved in online discussion and conversation.

The goal of teaching the idea of an Internet Footprint is to get students to think about EVERYTHING they create online. The idea that what they put on their MySpace profile can affect college and job options in the future, your blog can be found and looked at by ANYONE, not just your intended audience. Comments you leave on other blogs and VoiceThreads wlll reflect on you, and again can be read by many more than what you originally expect.

But the question I’m struggling with is how much of your Internet Footprint do you really control? Clearly you have most of the control over your MySpace profile, but what about pictures that others tag of you, or comments that others leave on your page? Yes, you have control over your blog, but what about others who reference your blog in theirs? That becomes part of your Internet Footprint, because when someone googles your name, that web site will also appear. I have a picture that was taken at a American University basketball game where I look ridiculous decked out in my red, white and blue that was featured in a recent EagleBlog post. While I did pose for the picture, I didn’t have any control whether or not it appeared online. But again, that has become part of my Internet Footprint. So where is the focus when we teach this? Simply on what we are posting online, or the idea that the Internet is everywhere. We have to be aware everywhere because you never know what could end up online, and eventually impact your Internet Footprint?

I would love thoughts on this, and how to teach it, before we dive in next week!

I received an e-mail from a KIPP listserve I’m on that made me think…

“I also recommend using technology to block myspace, facebook and other social networking sites – make sure that you are also blocking proxies which allow people to bypass your firewalls and access those sites.”

What this e-mail suggests is that we take two things that many of our kids love, and spend a ton of time on at home, and do whatever we can to completely remove them from our schools. Our instinct when we hear the words ‘MySpace’ and ‘Facebook’ is to quickly block them at our schools because most students are not using these tools properly. Isn’t it our job to teach them? Not just about math, english, history and science, but about life? The choices they’re making on MySpace and Facebook at home are life choices that have the potential to put them in danger and lose their jobs and future opportunities, or at the very least cause some embarrasment and regret about pictures posted and comments made. Yet we, as their teachers, do nothing but try as hard as we can to completely block them from all school computers.

Here’s my thought (and I’d love to know yours): What if our curriculums actually included a unit where we explicitly taught MySpace? That’s right, we teach them how to use MySpace in our schools. We could teach everything from how to create a page, how to design it, how to upload pictures, how to ‘friend’ people, and how to then communicate with other MySpace users. The students would understand that coming in to school every day they would be bringing up their MySpace profile on school computers. My guess is, even if there were no school created regulations as to what content they could include on their MySpace page, they would naturally become more selective in what they include, knowing they would pull it up on a computer screen in a classroom with 20 other teammates and a teacher. Isn’t that what we want to teach them? That their profile is actually public, despite how private it feels in the comfort of their own home?

In this curriculum other uses for MySpace could be introduced. When they teach themselves about MySpace at home and with their friends, the most appealing use is for socializing. However, there are a ton of ways MySpace could be used for educational purposes. Imagine if people created groups based around shared interest in books, and then pursued discussions with other students, at other schools, all over the country? What if those interested in music could share ideas and upload songs they themselves had created? What if students interested in poetry creation and performance uploaded VoiceThreads with their own poetry performances? (If you don’t know what VoiceThread is, check this out!)

My fear is that MySpace has turned into what it is (as Miletha, one of my 8th graders, described, ‘A place that is truly ours, with no rules and no adults watching’) because of a lack of explicit instruction about what it looks like to create an appropriate, or productive, MySpace page.

I guess the bottom line is that I detest the idea of taking the tools that engage our students the most OUT of our schools, instead of implementing them INSIDE our schools to help our students become succesful academically, and in life.

The more incredible education blogs I become addicted to, the more I am amazed by those educators who are able to make time to post so frequently. I’ve clearly fallen a little behind as I’ve gotten completely wrapped up in my most recent unit. I’ve taken David Warlick’s idea of personal learning networks that he fascinated me with at NCETC in March, and have adapted it into 8th grade objectives. Not only has it pushed me as an instructor both in design and implementation, but it’s also allowed me to be consistently wowed by what 8th graders can produce when given the tools and a little independence. Our MySpace discussion was just one example.

This week we’ve expanded our discussions to the wonderful world of VoiceThread. For those of you who have never heard of it, it’s an incredible online tool that allows you to build conversations around pictures and videos you upload in a slideshow format. The coolest part is that you can comment with both text and voice. So on many voicethreads you have actual conversations occuring. No microphone on your computer? No problem! Use your cell phone! The possibilities of what you can do with VoiceThread are limitless, with some examples being:

1) Documentation of school trips that allows students to add their own perspectives/memories for each picture.

2) Discussions around historical pictures/pieces of artwork.

3) Classroom videos that can be observed by other teachers for ideas, or so others can offer feedback and suggestions to improve instruction.

4) My most recent favorite… Dramatic readings of different kinds of poetry and plays. This is what we’ve been working on most recently in class. I’ve created a slideshow with three different photographs, each representing a poem (or scene) they’ve read recently in English class. Then students have the opportunity to record their interpretation of the poem as they perform it. I’m told you can embed VoiceThreads in blogs similiar to YouTube videos, but seem to be having technical difficulties with that recently, so I’ll just include the link. Hopefully I can fix that soon… Check it out and feel free to leave comments for the students! The more they realize they have an audience, the more I see the desire in class for them to improve their work, so feedback is MUCH appreciated 🙂

2012’s Poetry

Their thoughtful (most of them) comments generated around a collection of pictures

While I recognize that this is a KIPP blog, I also recognize that many KIPP teachers come from a Teach for America background (myself included). So on that note I can’t help but put in a plug for my most recent reading. Received a book in the mail this morning from my grandparents called “Relentless Pursuit; A Year in the Trenches With Teach for America”, by Donna Foote. Began it this evening and it’s incredible how dead on it is with everything from Institute to the cycle of a first-year teacher. This author has clearly lived the life of TFA teachers, and it’s refreshing to read as someone who has tried relentlessly to explain to both family and friends what it is that TFA, and KIPP, are all about.

Highly recommended from what I’ve read so far. Will keep you posted as I continue to read…