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Connecting, Cooperating & Collaboration

June 28, 2011

This post was inspired by Beth Sanders who blogged about PBL and collaboration. Beth’s blog is a unique blog in that it serves the purpose of initiating dialogue. I am cross-posting my response, here, as well because as we work toward a truly 21st Century learning model, it is important to purposefully move projects to a more collaborative level.

I am working through the creation of a wiki for a new course I’m designing called 21st Century Global Studies which is a convergence of participatory citizenship, both authentic and digital, and digital literacy. I will share wiki links once I have more put together. Still trying to work through the tools, as well.


Before a classroom can cooperate or collaborate, teachers, students, & classrooms must first make a connection. Typically, connections come through a PLN. Yesterday I experienced a great example of simple connection, while attending the ISTE ’11 conference in Philadelphia, PA. While in a session about What it Takes to be a Tech-Savvy Principal, a friend within my PLN, David Truss, who is currently in China tweeted that he wished he could listen in on the session. Within two minutes or so, I skyped David in on my iPad and he was able to listen to the entire conversation and contribute to the conversation. This is powerful stuff. David blogged about the experience immediately following. This is the basis on which collaborative learning is built.

Collaborative Learning vs. Cooperative Learning

It is important to make this distinction. From my experiences, true collaboration means students working together to explore big ideas and create a meaningful product. In a recent Twitter #sschat (Social Studies Teacher Chat), this was discussed in terms of group work, however, cooperative learning is often interchanged with collaborative learning. Granted, during the chat, it got me thinking about other instances wherein many have casually interchanged the two.

For the most part, cooperative is a type of collaborative, if that makes sense. Collaboration is a bit higher on Bloom’s taxonomy on the creation scale in most cases wherein collaboration requires wide-scale efforts, often online. Students have equal responsibilities versus leadership, etc. and then they work together to make something cohesive from everyone’s input. The significance of the learning occurs through the process of collaborating; the journey along the way. The end product does not necessarily reflect all of the learning that has occurred throughout the process. Cooperative learning is more structured, specific duties and roles, and often face-to-face in small groups. Both are important and both beneficial. Ultimately, though, if we want to incorporate 21st Century purposeful skills, we need to take cooperation to the next level: collaboration.

In other words, when I group students in class for a small activity and they work on it together, it is cooperative. When my students are building a wiki, online, based on a broad-based inquiry topic with students (either in another class period later in the day, or with students in other states and countries), it is collaborative. Wes Fryer gives a good distinction of this here in this visual:

Image by Wes Fryer on Flicker

I never understood this until participating in projects like Digiteen and Flat Classroom. These projects offer a level of authenticity that makes the learning so much more meaningful. When Beth asks, “How do we make these projects purposeful?” My personal experiences would again offer up authenticity.

Authenticating Collaborative Learning

When students created their own Interest Groups and corresponding, propagandized media campaigns via a collaborative wiki, they authenticated their work by writing to our local state representative. One group made an interest group called Xterminate Cuts to Education. Another group did an amazing wiki on Climate Change The representative visited our classroom. Purposefulness comes full-circle.

When students worked on the Digiteen project (with students in China, Qatar, Houston, Oman, to name a few), based in part on Mike Ribble’s Digital Citizenship in Schools, the project co-founders were able to have author Mike Ribble participate in an Elluminate Q/A session with the students. Some of the things my students asked blew me away. And they logged in from home, on their own time, with no graded ‘requirement’ to be there. Assessment in these instances becomes self-evident. Listening to students question and discuss on this level needs no additional assessment ~ it is transparent and it is self-evident. This is where I believe standards-based practices miss the boat (just IMHO).

Some consider this practice unfair. But really, is ‘equal’ EVER ‘fair’? Why are we still trying to equalize humanity? There is nothing equal about who we teach. Our students are richly diverse in so many ways and we need to capitalize upon it, not extinguish it in the name of standardization. Collaboration and PBL allow diverse aspects to flow. Most importantly, the students truly learn something.

When students were learning about Congressional powers and taxation (which can be incredibly boring for adolescents), they each did their own W-4 and 1040EZ form based on a variety of W-2’s with which I provided them. I made sure there were vast differences in income and at the end we graphed a comparison of how much more in taxes some folks had to pay. The light bulb went on. Several returned to school to relay that instead of paying H&R block, they helped their parents do their taxes (the simpler cases). So, purposefulness? Make it relevant to something in the real world.


Dear Class of 2011

June 9, 2011

In celebration and honor of our graduating class, this message was sent earlier to my students.  Today, they’ve earned their own space on my blog.

Dear Class of 2011

My sincerest apologies…. unfortunately you will not be getting extra credit for any response to this email. Actually, no response is necessary this time.

Later this evening, your high school career will officially come to a close. Some of you are off to college or some other form of higher education, some of you are off to a job, and some of you are off to figuring out your place in this world. No doubt, many of you have longed for this day ALL YEAR LONG. (This I know, because I heard it near daily). I am sure there are a good number of you, though, for whom anxiety is setting in. You may be sitting there, now, thinking, “Oh no. This is it. Where do I go from here?” For some of you, it feels like it’s all happening too quickly. For others, it is taking forever to get here. Both feelings are normal. And whether you like it or not, it is going to come and go like the last week of summer vacation – fun, but a little too fast, with the onset of September lurking larger each night.

Most adults offer the same rhetoric: These are the best years. Enjoy it while it lasts. Youth is fleeting. The real world awaits. Blah blah blah. All of it is quite true, but for the most part you don’t care. Prom night, Class Night, summer jobs, “will our relationship survive when the two of us go to different colleges,” and so much else is on your plate that rightfully trumps a supposed pep-talk from parents and other seemingly well-intentioned adults.

I plead with you to listen to their regards, though, and file them away somewhere deep in your memory. You will recall them one day and be glad they are there.

I need each and every one of you to know how very proud I am of you at this special time. And, I do mean ALL of you, even if I tried to keep you from roaming the halls so that you would remain in class with a better chance of engagement and learning. 🙂 And, I know you learned. You told me so on your final exams.  And, I cried when I read many of them.  I wish I could post many of the responses, but here are some I would like to share with others:

Most importantly, I learned about myself.  You are honestly the only teacher I had during my entire high school career who has called me smart.  Academics-wise, I’m nothing special.  I have a low B average and no scholarships coming my way.  However, in your class, I felt like I was truly learning and grasping the concepts you were showing me.  You taught me to believe in myself, voice my opinion, and have confidence.  For that I thank you truly.

Thank you for taking the exam seriously. Some of your uncanny insights and discussions about what you learned this year that is relevant to the real world and your future blew me away! Some simple, like

I loved the movie Freedom Writers so much that I told my parents about it and I got it as a Christmas gift.

Some more profound and I will find a way to showcase more of them at a later point.

You may all be at a different place in your achievements, but I know that each and every one of you has grown this year. I’ve watched you mature into young men and women. Thank you for allowing me that privilege because in return, I have learned so very much from you.  I learned why choices for students matter and that students learn so much more than what any test can measure.

You are beginning an exciting new chapter in your life. You have the opportunity now to explore who you are and what you may want to become. This is a time in your life to look both inside yourself and forward to what may be. In whatever you choose I know you will do your best and will continue to grow along the way.

I try always to end the year on a very positive note with seniors. It is such a bittersweet time for me. I’ve grown close to many of you, so it is hard to see you go. Unfortunately, the past two weeks have been not-so-good for me with one tragic, traumatic event after another looming large in my personal life. Because I have been unavailable to some of you in the past two weeks, I thought it important to try one last effort to end your Principles of Democracy class year on a positive note because you are a special class. Life happens. And, I had to deal with it. It doesn’t change how proud I will be as I watch each of you walk up for your diplomas  tonight.

It’s been fun and challenging this year. This is your time. Question everything. Aim high. Stay true to your values and remember to respect others’ values, as well, especially when they are different from yours. Remember:

Character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion.” ~ Aristotle

I wish you all the love, luck and success this world has to offer and an interesting journey in finding it.

Best wishes!

Things We Learned, But Did Not Teach: Takeaways from EdCampPhilly

May 22, 2011

cc Image from kjarrett on Flickr Image designed by @mritzius' students

A New Model for Professional Development

Dear Principals & Superintendents, please do not pay obscene amounts of money to training companies for professional development.  Or, at least, let that kind of training be supplemental, as necessary.  There is a better way.

Once again my PLN came through for me.  A special thanks to Shelley Krause  (@butwait) for the invite to participate in this event.  I wouldn’t have known about it otherwise.  Another testament to how real our virtual world becomes and, her brownies were anything but virtual.  (Don’t ever turn down one of Shelley’s brownies ~ they are amazing!)

I attended my first unconference experience yesterday on the beautiful campus of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia where there was no set schedule of events or predetermined workshops, no teachers being paid to attend, and no vendors trying to push their latest and greatest, costly tool onto us.  It was just passionate teachers who wanted to learn and share from & with each other.  And, none of them needed a substitute for the day.  They gave up a Saturday to do it.

There is a movement spreading throughout the United States for this new model of professional development and it began a year ago in Philadelphia by a group of passionate teachers. Fitting as one of my favorite sessions of the day was educaTED:  Getting Educated with Ideas Worth Spreading from Karen Blumberg (@specialKRB), the EdCamp movement reminds me of a TED video where Derek Sivers talks about leadership and how to start a movement:

Transforming Lone Nuts into Leaders

Takeaways from the Day

  • Putting faces & humans to the many twitter handles with whom I interact regularly or have just met ~There are too many folks I met face-to-face to talk about them all here, but meeting Jamie Josephson (@Dontworryteach) and Andy Marcinek (@andycinek) were definite highlights of the day.  I’ve participated in #sschat with Jamie many times but only through meeting her face-to-face did I come to learn how very much alike we are in both professional and personal ways.  Making the human connection has so much more meaning.  I just met Andy for the first time and learned he is originally from a neighboring small-town.  My parents know his parents, yet we were unaware of each other.  In just brief conversations in passing, many new ideas were generated.  Andy & I agreed to collaborate on developing a new course for high school that has a focus on 21st Century global studies, literacy, and citizenship. While some folks question the legitimacy of connections in the virtual world, EdCampPhilly served as yet another reminder of how human those folks are on the other end of the hyperlink.
  • Our educational systemic issues are more universal than we think ~Rich, poor, rural, urban, large, private, or public.  Each type of school has its own set of issues and challenges far beyond test scores and data.  As I’ve suspected for quite some time, this is more of a societal issue.  Most commonly, educational bloggers share their successes.  It can be intimidating for those trying to incite change in our classrooms to only read the success stories.  I needed to hear others talk about their challenges, as well.  I needed to hear Jamie share her experience from  EduCon 2.3 earlier this year where tours through SLA showed even they have their many challenges as a school.  After all, we are all working with teenagers.
  • Smackdown list of tools recorded by Kristen Hokanson ~ I could easily list the multitude of cool new technology ideas, but it is so hard to pick just a few as there are many favorites. Here is the Google Doc with a list of  the tools shared.
  • TED talk videos to use with our students recorded by Meeno Rami ~TED talks can be very inspirational and aide in leading thought-provoking critical thinking activities & discussions in the classroom. Here is a list with specific TED talks and ideas about how they are used.
  • Things That Suck from Dan Callahan ~ Every school should have a faculty meeting like this several times a year.  Period.  It is a comfortable, contained means by which to discuss the positives and negatives about educational issues and what we can do about them.  If nothing else, it provides an outlet for teachers to vent and discuss which could help alleviate too much complaining in the faculty lounge or venting negatively via blogging(although this type is NEVER acceptable.  If you ever feel like saying these things about your students, you should rethink teaching as your career.)  Things That Suck, however, discusses issues within the educational system, NOT students.
    sleep deprived brains

    Image by Will Lion via Flickrl system, NOT students.

Advice for Unconferencing to Future Newbies

  • Get plenty of sleep the night before.  You will be exhausted and you’ll come out with your head spinning.  I made the mistake of sleeping just a few hours.  Big mistake.  It was difficult to think straight at times with so many ideas being thrown about.
  • Don’t let fear get the best of you.  I did a little of that yesterday.  I had so very much more to share than what I did.  My students and I have had many positive experiences that could have been better shared.  I’m one of those types that take a bit to warm up to people I do not know.  I needed to listen and learn yesterday.  I need to get a feel for this model.  I didn’t know what to expect.  Now that I have it, I hope to keep moving and participate in EdCampDC and EdCampNYC.
  • Choose one thing or project that worked really well for you in your own classroom and be prepared ahead of time to present it.
  • It is OK to get up and go to another session if the one you are in isn’t what you thought it was going to be.  I had a hard time with this one, as it is a different feeling than what we are used to in our structured institutional settings.  Imagine if kids could get up and do this throughout the school day and move to the place where they will learn what they want.  Impractical?  Maybe.  Powerful?  Absolutely!

My head is still spinning.  I am inspired.  I’ve learned much without anyone really teaching me anything.  They involved me, they didn’t teach me.  Imagine what Mondays at school would be like if we had this kind of experience every weekend.

What was your most memorable moment from EdCampPhilly?  I’m sure I’ve left out many.

Collaboration Inspiration

May 9, 2011

Simply, beautiful.

YouTube – Eric Whitacre: A virtual choir 2,000 voices strong

While I am unable to take credit for this gem of a find, I felt compelled to share this Eric Whitacre’s work on a Virtual Choir created via YouTube.  This is an inspiring and powerful TEDtalk that shows the power of collaboration via the internet, as well as one individual’s drive, dreams, and unwillingness to give up.

As it goes with the power of collaboration, I came across this video that was shared within a Google Group by Flat Classroom Certified Teacher candidate, Heather Davis.  It moved me enough to share via a blog post.  Thank you Heather for this amazing inspiration.  Collaboration via the internet is sometimes questioned and criticized.  If ever you question its power, this video may change your mind.  Interestingly, the Flat Classroom Project calls upon high school students around the world to create multimedia artifacts using “outsourced” video contributions from students in other classrooms and various countries around the world.

Have a hand in collaboration…  Think of some way today you can engage your students by having them collaborate.  It pays dividends in life experience.

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Loss, Love, & Learning: No Test Can Measure This

May 6, 2011


I write today with a heavy heart and many, many tears as our school community mourns the loss of a student’s mother and the loss of another student’s grandmother.  As I was about to publish a post earlier this week that makes a case for public schools in small, rural areas, our school learned of the loss of a precious life much before her time.

As a faculty, we have experienced losses over the years…  former teachers, fellow faculty members, students and other members of our school family.  We have some pretty amazing students who have lost a parent before.  And, as a faculty, we’ve done our best to help carry them through during their time in school.

Today was particularly difficult given its paradoxical nature.  The day began first in my son’s first grade classroom for a Mother’s Day breakfast during which each student read a story about their mothers.  Of course, when my son read his story about me, I cried.  Most moms in the room cried while theirs was read, too, so I was far from the lone sap.  We passed a box of tissues around the classroom.  I cried again.  And, I cried some more.  And, it didn’t stop.

I cried both out of pride and guilt.  Guilt because while I celebrated the joy of my own child, I would have to leave this setting and lead my Student Council Organization officers into a funeral service in support of a fellow Student Council member who has just lost her mother. And, Mother’s Day is but two days away.

The crying didn’t stop here.


As the day continued on, the motivation behind the tears again turned to pride as I watched many of our students.  While I’ve always known we have great students at our school, what I witnessed and experienced in this room was an overwhelming sense of community.  I caught sight of it earlier in the week as students approached me and suggested we send flowers, send food, and attend the services.

They took care of each other.

They consoled each other.

They talked.  They listened.

They hugged.  They cried.

And, so did I.

All adversities were forgotten amongst students.  They were not segregated.  They were not jocks, or band members, or Student Council members.  They were students.  They were friends.  They were our school family.  And, we all found a lot of comfort in knowing that this student has an amazing, supportive family that will carry her and her sister through such a difficult time.

No doubt, the behavior, love, respect, and support displayed by our students today began within their homes and their own family.  Today made me ever more aware that an entire other family and community exists within our school.


There is no textbook that can teach this and there certainly is no test that can measure or assess the power in the room.  But, I assure you, these students learned today.  They learned a little more about what participation in community means.  One student was nervous and unsure of what to do, or say.  I explained what was appropriate.  I modeled it. And then, we did it together.  I taught some very different lessons today.  Hopefully, that will extend to an increased motivation to be more civically aware and participatory in the future.

Because caring about each other matters.

Doing the right thing matters.  Always.  Even when it is incredibly difficult and uncomfortable.

Because as teachers, caring about our students matters.  Forgive my boldness, but if you do not truly care, you shouldn’t be a teacher.  Period.  As my friend Vicki always says, “Teaching is a noble calling.  Be noble!” And, today I learned it pays dividends.

Teaching is the most noble calling on earth.
So be noble.
Act noble.
Live noble.
Do what is right.

Because today, there was a moment of clarity during which it was evident that my students know that I really care.  And, I do.  I learned again today how important it is to care.  When I returned to my classroom completely deflated, exhausted and emotionally spent, wondering where on earth I’d forge the energy to get through the rest of the day, the following email was sitting in my inbox from a student who has been on an extended leave from school,

Mrs Nestico… It’s been a little while since I’ve been gone….  I was talking the one day to [another student] about a book of yours that he borrowed. Obviously, then,  I wasn’t living my life in a positive way.  I wasn’t making the right decisions and I’m completely aware of the damage I have done to myself and to the people around me. I’m really trying to set my life straight and get my life together strictly because I want to. I’m sick of hurting other people, doing things I am not proud of.  I always felt like I could talk to you about this, especially after hearing what [the other student] had shared with me. I plan on coming back to class within the next week or so and I plan on taking things more seriously. I really appreciate how you were always redirecting me, I know it was for the better.  I plan on working hard in your class, as well as all of my teacher’s classes. Thanks again. See ya soon.

I learned today how much caring matters.  I learned today that in the end, my students really do appreciate it.  I learned today that despite how much I argue in favor of the significance of my online relationships, there will always be some things that can not and will not ever take the place of face-to-face teaching and learning.  I learned today how very important it is to be real and to be human with my students.  Every day, I continue to learn how passion-driven teaching positively impacts those around me.

Through adversity comes strength to trudge onward.  There can be no greater gift during teacher appreciation week.

So Mr. Governor, as you continue on in your attempts to offer school choice and privatize public education in our state, consider the kids above.  I’ve nothing against private and/or charter schools.  But here, students really have no choice.  There is only one other school nearby and it is religious.  That excludes many students from having any choice at all.  This is what community looks like in a rural school.  We are the choice.  Can you really take this away?

May you now rest in sweet peace LBG.  We will do our best to help your babies through.

Why Technology Can’t Replace Teachers, Yet

April 3, 2011

Post inspired by The Future of Learning by Scott McLeod as I am cross-posting my comment here with some additions.

Original Work by Jos Sances

I remember four or five years ago when I received my own laptop cart, dedicated to only my classroom.  Initially, my students were excited.  But, as many others have mistakenly done, I began by using the technology only as a different method of content delivery.  I became the PowerPoint queen.  When a student was absent from school and returned only to ask, “What did I miss yesterday?”, I was able to direct them to a webpage to review the PowerPoint.  I remember a student saying once, “Oh great!  Now, teachers don’t even have to teach anymore.”  Well, I had a lot to learn then. (Come to think of it, I still do a bit of this when referring them to the class wiki.  I’ll be stopping that this week).

And, I still do.

And, if I am doing my job right, there will always be a lot to learn. Always!

There was some discussion about the direction education needs to take/is taking over at Big Think.  As I am reading through the responses, I can certainly understand the hesitation, on the part of some, regarding the ideas put forth by Dr. Scott McLeod, although he isn’t advocating that technology replace teachers, but rather there will be a reduction on the reliance of live humans.   And, I agree somewhat with other commenters. There still needs to be a place in education for real human interaction and it is important we acknowledge that right now as our government looks to cut as much as they can in education. The technology can not replace all teaching. However, there is certainly room for much of what Dr. McLeod notes and we need to adapt to the changes sooner than later. Perhaps learning will become less dependent upon live human interaction, but certainly not devoid of it.

Case in point #1 ~ My students know how to navigate the online world. They are great at FaceBook, but yet struggle with proper online interaction. They still need leadership and guidance to learn the digital citizenship skills to navigate and interact in an online environment appropriately. They need help to develop the critical thinking skills to ascertain which writing conventions are acceptable given the online community within which they are interacting. The best way we, as teachers, can teach this is by modeling and being active in the same manner.  You can only do this if you go beyond the litigious fear and start communicating in their realm ~ FaceBook, Twitter, email, etc.  Given only the technology tools, many students would struggle on their own to communicate effectively and appropriately.

From Wesley Fryer on Flickr

Case in point #2 ~ Just this week, students were debating in class whether or not the adoption of omg and lol into the Oxford English dictionary is a good thing.  One student said, “Isn’t that just going to confuse us more, because it sends the message it is OK to use those conventions in writing?”  Good point.  As with anything in life, sometimes, things are just a matter of perspective, which I of course turned around for the students.  It is a sign that things are changing and really, that students need to learn in what contexts it is appropriate to use them and where it is not.  Learning to differentiate the use of each imparts one type of critical thinking skill wherein alternating between the two different contexts requires some higher-order thinking on the part of the student.  Students still need teachers to teach them this.

Online Interactions are Very Much Social & Emotional

One of the biggest misconceptions about online learning is that it leaves a complete void regarding human interaction and social-emotional learning.  I have to beg to differ, here.  Technology use and online learning can support social and emotional learning when done correctly.  Textbook-like curriculum, delivered via an online interface, is not true, online learning.  It puts far too much prominence on the tool versus the actual learning that should take place.  Those of us in a classroom daily, who do support the use of technology as a tool for learning, know that in order to be successful, we must strike a balance between teaching, learning, and technology.

I would have to strongly disagree with this commenter’s statement,

Basically, the idea of “humanity” has been perverted and trivialized by electronic media. It’s for this reason that I strenuously protest.”

And I disagree, respectfully.  To each his own.  We can’t all think alike.  My next door neighbor (aka – the teacher in the classroom next to me) and I ensue in this very debate near daily.

The above conversation reminded me of anthropologist, Amber Case, and her recent TED talk about the evolution of the relationship between humans and machines.  Perhaps this new idea of humanity and community is just difficult to accept because it is different than what we know.  Case argues that in actuality, technology is connecting us in a way that makes us more human.

While online connections may be just that for many, for some of us, they are the seeds planted that foster and grow into meaningful, future, off-line professional relationships and growth opportunities that would have never presented themselves but for that initial, online interaction.  If you still do not believe online interactions are emotional, one needs only look to the current statistics for cyber-bullying.  Be it negative or positive, emotional well-beings are at stake.  It is our job to cipher out for our students what is OK and what is not.  A student said this week, “But, Ms. Nestico, no one is really teaching us any of that.”  Of course, I’ll be accepting that challenge.

Some of the online relationships I have created with others, while learning & teaching alongside them online, have blossomed over the years into very real and meaningful relationships that have led to face-to-face meetings and interactions. They have, in fact, met just as many of my social-emotional learning needs as colleagues just down the hall from me in school.  I am fortunate to have good colleagues and exceptionally supportive administrators.  Social-emotional support and learning comes from an array of the experiences with which we surround ourselves.  Online interactions serve to enhance what we already have.  It doesn’t take the place of them.

When you become immersed in technology and it becomes nearly invisible, human relationships remain at the forefront.  When you can walk into a room of several hundred people at a conference in your home state, but a person from five states due south, hurries across the room and through the crowd to greet you with a smile and a hug, social and emotional learning needs are met.  When a blogger from afar celebrates your victories and shares in your mistakes & misfortunes, social and emotional learning is enhanced.  The technology is just a mere link to the human on the other end but the key here IS the human on the other end.

Bill Davis recently reprinted Idaho Representative Brian Cronin’s plight to Idaho’s Congress regarding public education,

The skills that are most in demand today, the skills that are required of leaders and followers in this new economy, the skills in which there may be a deficit in the workplace are the skills that humanity has always prized: clear and convincing writing and speech; the ability to collaborate productively with peers; the ability to assimilate and analyze ever growing amounts of information and data; the ability to solve complex problems—often in a team environment, the ability to focus on a single task and see it through to the end; the ability to make relevant and creative connections between seemingly disparate sets of information.

At times it seems that I live and die by my computer. But I know that there isn’t a computer in the world that can teach any of these things. Good teachers impart these critical skills and they always have.

Yeah!  A legislator who gets, “it!”  But, there has got to be a balance between education via technology and the human element.  While our students may not need as much guidance to navigate the digital world, they do need to learn how to operate fully and effectively within it.  So, for right now, no.  Computers can not replace human interaction via teachers.  They can only serve to enhance it.

For those who believe technology really is ‘just a tool,’ please open your minds a little. Start small.  Find one new tool or way to educate yourself first, online, and start playing. You can learn socially and emotionally online.  Be persistent. It pays off.

Why Teachers Need Digital Citizenship

March 29, 2011

It Has to Begin with Teachers 

Photo by Diane Cordell from Flickr

There is much conversation lately about the dire necessity to educate our students and teach them appropriate digital citizenship.  Many are giving tips and resources for instilling digital citizenship in schools for students. Projects like Digiteen focus solely on that goal for students.  But, what about teachers?  Trying to teach our students without doing it ourselves, first, is just backwards.

If you are a teacher and you are responsible for educating and learning alongside of adolescents, you should absolutely have a FaceBook account. You can not teach appropriate digital citizenship if you can not model it. Period.  Many schools do discourage it and of course, rightfully, discourage “friending” students. But the bottom line is this ~ we can’t teach them if we can’t reach them. The world is changing fast and if you want to understand how your students operate, you’ve got to learn the tools yourself. No one can tell you. It has to be experienced, first-hand.

Students are bored & disengaged often because we are not communicating with them at their level. Mind you, I said “at” and not “on” their level. I am not suggesting we compromise our professionalism, but there are ways to do it. More importantly, there are ways to do it safely.

Part of being a responsible Digital Citizen as a teacher is being in the know. And, no, I do not mean creeping around our students’ FaceBook pages ad blurring the boundaries of our relationships with students. As educators, we have to be using the technology in order to protect ourselves, as well. In today’s litigious society, it is difficult to protect ourselves from liabilities we don’t think of too often.  We can not do this unless we first UNDERSTAND this.  We need to learn it not only to teach our students, but to teach and protect ourselves.

Case in Point

While Vicki Davis recently blogged an example of students friending other students, and/or posing as other students, we also need to look at what can happen on the flip-side.

Just several weeks ago, on another bleak snow day in northeast Pennsylvania, a student decided to create a FaceBook account in my name, using a legitimate photo of me. The person controlling this account continued on throughout the day to friend NUMEROUS students at our school, in my name (for the record, I do not EVER friend an active student). As people accepted the friend requests, my alter “Suzie Nestico” began leaving some pretty lewd and crude messages on others’ FaceBook walls.

I am fortunate to live in a small community with some great students and families. Within two hours (although I would have found it on my own eventually because I GET FaceBook and, I GET FaceBook because I DO FaceBook), I received a call at home from a parent informing me that her child received a friend request from me earlier that day but said student reported to parent that something seemed “not quite right” about the profile. The family provided the link to that profile. Thanks to all of my work with Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay throughout multiple Flat Classroom and Digiteen projects, I took immediate action.

  • I screenshot every page, photo, and comment posted on others’ pages.
  • I reported it to FaceBook immediately before any potential damage worsened.  They removed the profile.
  • I notified my administration to make them aware and the situation was dealt with in timely manner before it caused me any professional liability or headache.
  • I chose not to insist on punishment for the offender – this was a learning opportunity for the student. The act wasn’t malicious and there was no pre-existing adversarial relationship. It was simply an attempt to gain attention and try and be funny on the part of the student.
  • If nothing else, I try and remember we are working with kids, after all. I’m not in this business to punish. I just want my students to learn what is right and what is wrong in their online behaviors.

The Bigger Lesson?

If you are a teacher and you do not routinely check your digital footprint, it can have negative consequences on

Photo by Nick Farr from Flickr

your career.  It is YOUR responsibility, not your school’s.  Learn the tools to model appropriate measures of digital citizenship.  Show your students. Prove it and make it clear that sometimes their idea of fun and games can have serious consequences.  Some students told me today that they deleted their FaceBook accounts because there was just, “too much drama.”  After some discussion, some agreed that yes, it might be better to have the FaceBook account  in order to be aware and learn the appropriate way to deal with unfortunate situations.  Don’t get it backwards.  ENTER IT! You can’t afford to stay out of the virtual world for fear of student issues. You need to be in the know.