Sunday, March 3, 2019

From a #TeacherMom: Raising good digital citizens

Raising kids in the digital age can present constantly-changing challenges. Just when you think you have everything figured out, something else presents itself and you feel almost as if you have returned to square-one. That may or may not actually be the case, but that feeling is overwhelming. Learning to navigate this and raise good digital citizens becomes a role for both parents and educators and the kids need to have an active roll in it all as well.

Over the last week, social media has exploded with articles, personal accounts, and a large number of opinions on the so-called "Momo Challenge." While the challenge itself, at this point, appears to be a grand hoax (in fact, once that circulated, dissipated, and returned), the challenge of navigating social media of various sorts is very real. The latest developments of the week indicate that we all, adults and kids alike, have a lot of work to do and diligence is a must. This week it was the "Momo Challenge." In the past it has been the "Blue Whale Challenge" and there have been less sinister challenges such as the "Ice Bucket Challenge." A year ago, a group of my students put together a video in an attempt to shine some light on what challenges (real, actual challenges) living in this age present when students get bombarded with "challenges" and social media influences. Peer pressure has reached a new height with all of this.

The seemingly harmless "Kiki Challenge" even posed a danger. Yes, let's jump out of a car while it is rolling and dance next to it. What could possibly go wrong?! (Notice my sarcasm there.)

I have embraced for a long time that I feel perfect in my imperfections. I have had to remember that and I have had to take my experiences and learn from them.  Some are easier to get through than others. My son got his first tablet when he was six or seven. It was a Christmas gift. I made sure to go through and set all settings in an effort to protect him from things I did not want him to find online. A few months later, a non-repairable system issue required me to return the tablet in exchange for a replacement. It arrived, we got him signed back in and off he went, with the whole world once again at his fingertips. I never thought to go back and check settings just to be sure. Lesson learned. I will keep the details out of this post, but I will share that we all learned very valuable lessons. Settings ended up being put back in place and I found additional settings I could manage. I also implemented random history checks and opened up a dialog with him. Additional parameters were placed for where he could use his tablet, as well. Here we are a few years later and I still check in with him about what he watches and otherwise "consumes" in his online activities. The same is true for my daughter. The conversations take place frequently not just between the kids and me, but between them as well. I can learn a lot listening as they talk to each other about what they are watching. What they watch has also influenced the things they want to create.

About two years ago, another issue arose. My kids were huge DanTDM fans. As "dabbing" became more and more popular, DanTDM made a video about starting the "Dab Police." It was, I am sure, innocent enough in his mind, but it became something very upsetting to my family. He was encouraging kids to stop other kids from dabbing. We were at a large function with friends and family, but there were lots of people we did not know. My kids played with all of the other kids in their general age-range. A couple of boys put my son in "jail" for dabbing. It started out kind of funny and fun for everyone, but the boys got rougher about it and essentially manhandled my son. It was very upsetting for him, and for me. After we left, I engaged him in a conversation about the origin of the "Dab Police." I asked him to show me DanTDM's video. And, DanTDM was banned in our house. I did not stop there. I went on to attempt to contact DanTDM. I sent him an email. Had he contacted me back and, perhaps, engaged me in a discussion about digital citizenship and his role in the lives of young children, I may have lifted the ban. To date, I have yet to receive a reply and my kids have not watched another of his videos. I liked the positive influence he had on my son originally. My son was learning from him. When that learning in relation to gaming was tainted by being hurt by two older boys at what was supposed to be a fun, family gathering, our relationship with DanTDM viewing ended.

How we act online, regardless of age, can and will be influenced by those around us, as well as by our viewing and other online habits. What we read, what we watch, who we engage. Additionally, with every post we make, we are adding to our digital footprint, or digital dossier, if you will. I use this in my attempt to teach lessons about acting as good digital citizens not just at home, but in the lessons I do with my eighth grade students. Two years ago, following these lessons, my group of eighth graders created a video on the impact of online behavior titled "Footprint 0." What they do even today could potentially catch up to them as they go on to college and into the professional world. The habits they develop today will certainly be instrumental to their habits later on. I encourage them to read multiple sources and fact check what they read. I also teach them to think before they post.

My top three suggestions to parents and educators:
1. Open and continue conversations with kids.
2. Look at what the kids are watching and use that in the conversation
3. Check settings periodically and look at the search history too

I think it is also important to practice what you preach: fact check, consider sources and use more than one resource, check your settings, talk to others, avoid bullying behavior and tactics.

As soon as we figure out how to navigate Facebook, Instagram comes along, then SnapChat, then WhatsApp, and on and on. Remember, too, that YouTube is technically a social media platform as well. It is not necessarily easy, but it is worth it. Whether the "challenge" of the week is real or a hoax, they do remind us that it is important to engage our children and be their guides through this journey to becoming good digital citizens. The "Momo Challenge" is proof of that. While the "challenge" itself is likely a hoax, as it reemerged, people felt the desire to place the image in videos and make it a thing. What started as hoax became a real concern. No child should be afraid to watch their cartoons anywhere. One thing to consider is this: use trustworthy sources on YouTube and help your children to find them, bookmark them, and use them for their viewing. I try to make sure that we stick with "official" pages on YouTube. I know not all of our viewing happens on those, but much of it does. We are perfect in our imperfections. We are constantly learning. We are constantly navigating this ride through life in the digital age. As difficult and tricky as it is, it is worthwhile.

Want to learn more bout Digital Citizenship and navigating life in the digital age? There is an event coming up in Salinas on May 18. Monterey Bay CUE will host a DigCit Summit for educators, parents, and students. For more information, please check out the website by clicking on this link.

What are some tips and tricks you use at home or in the classroom? Please share them in the comments here, or by responding to where you saw this posted/shared.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Glance at the mirror, then keep moving forward

Feeling inspired first by former President Obama, then by my children, and lastly by fellow educator Ryan O'Donnell, I have spent the past couple of days reflecting on what impacted me, inspired me, and challenged me in 2018.

From my post at this time last year:

I expect that 2018 will be a year of more writing and more podcasting and more connecting.
I expect 2018 will be a year of growing more as an educator and passing that growth onto my students.

Growing as a Reader

I expected to do more writing in 2018, but found that I did more reading and allowed myself to focus on that. I understand reluctant readers and work to help them find books that hook them because I have been a reluctant reader myself. If you looked at my home library or the shelves behind my table in my classroom, this may surprise you. I love books. I am relatively well-read. However, I have a history as reluctant reader and I can trace it back to the end of elementary and beginning of middle school. Reluctant readers are not bad readers nor are they bad students. In fact, they are just as I describe: reluctant. I truly believe there is a book for every reader. Even in my reluctant approach to reading, I have always found something to read. I have always loved non-fiction especially. I am drawn to personal stories, to history, to learning more about people, religions, cultures, places. (This may also be connected to my passion for travel and the places I choose to go.) As a writer, I know that I need to read. The two go hand-in-hand. Over recent years, I have stared growing as a reader. I am still more inclined to choose non-fiction over fictions reads, but I have read more in recent years than I had for a very long time. I read education books and work to improve my craft. However, in 2018 I branched out a little more and found that I can grow as an educator from reading biographies of people and embracing more fiction. I was 40 when I first read Tom Sawyer. Yes, 40. I was going to assign it to my students and knew I needed to read it, as well. It was at this point that I first gave Audible a try. I started using a combination of physically reading books and listening to the audio books of the same titles. I spend a lot of time in my car, even with my shorter commute to and from school. Still, I can work my way through books more efficiently if I use the driving time to listen to the books.

As a child, we would spend a portion of our summers visiting our property near Santa Maria and staying in a cabin in Big Sur. During this summer trips, we would read as a family. I have especially fond memories of reading the Chronicles of Narnia this way. CS Lewis remains by favorite author because of this, I am certain. His ability to write both fiction and non-fiction offers inspiration to me. My next favorite author is John Steinbeck. The more I teach Steinbeck to my students and read with my students, the more I want to read of his works. (More on Steinbeck later in this post.)

To end 2018, my children and I read the first two Harry Potter books in part with the help of the audio books. We are all three hooked on these wonderful stories! Jim Dale does an exceptional job of narrating the books. We enjoy his voices and how he brings the books alive. Awesome side note: as I took a break from writing earlier, I had a chance to catch Jeopardy and one of the categories was Quidditch. I nailed every single question in the category. That is something I would not have done two months ago. It excited me especially because I know I knew the answers because I read (or "read") the first two Harry Potter books with my kids.

I am also working on reading Becoming by Michelle Obama. I started it with the audio book and have now ordered a hard cover copy of the book that I will enjoy physically reading when it arrives this weekend. Mrs. Obama narrates the book herself and does so with elegance, eloquence, and grace. This read is serving as my bridge between 2018 and 2019 as I started it in late November, but took a break for Chamber of Secrets to finish out the year.
My favorite book of 2018 was a new release and one I read through quickly. Leslie Odom, Jr. released his memoir Failing Up: How to take risks, Aim Higher, and Never Stop Learning. I have loaned the book to my 11-year-old son who started reading it. Unfortunately, he left it in his desk at school, so he has had a two-week break from it and will need to resume upon our return to school next week. I devoured this book, reading it in just a few days. Any chance I had, I picked it up to read. Each chapter led me excitedly into the next. For those who may not know, Odom premiered the role of Aaron Burr in Hamilton: An American Musical. Reading his story of learning and growing his way through his career offered inspiration, as well as insight. It offered insight to me especially as an educator. We, as educators, make differences in the lives of students every single day. Reading stories such as Leslie Odom, Jr.'s hammer this point home. I have considered before the story of the starfish in my approach to education and my approach to collaboration with my peers. This offers another example. We, as teachers, will not necessarily have a strong, memorable impact on every single student who crosses the threshold of our classroom, but we will have an impact. 

Through the years, I have received notes and messages from students and parents that have warmed my heart and affirmed what I am doing as an educator. I appreciate feedback. I appreciate constructive criticism. I appreciate things that help me do what I do better. Sometimes, though, sometimes I need to hear that I am doing what I set out to do. I need to hear about the things I am doing right and that I am making a difference. So, along with reading books and magazines, newspapers and journals, I appreciate reading positive feedback from parents. Here is an example:
"But as a mom with a child who is 'out of the normal box' I applaud you for helping her learn and understand what everyone else in her grade is."

Though I am imperfect, I can embrace that and I can take the things I do well and carry them with me as I strive to do more and to do better.

Give a Listen

I absolutely love music. Although I have listened to more books and podcasts in recent months than before, I still need music in the car. On our last driving trip of 2018, we alternated between audio books and music. I created a 112 song roadtrip playlist at the end of the year. A variety of music is essential to me and my life. My daughter is a "country girl" with a few pop songs she likes and my son loves a little of everything. I, however, love music. Period. Some songs are more fitting for long drives than others. Our roadtrip mix includes everything from musicals, to older country music, to newer country music, to dance songs, to hard rock, to classic rock, and so much more. Music does amazing things. It motivates. It inspires. It teaches.

I started using Hamilton: An American Musical in my teaching in 2016. I am selective about the songs I use and how I use them. I incorporate them at appropriate times and the students typically soak it in and learn from it.

Other times, I use music in the background. This year, I have a class that loves to sing. Whether music plays or not, they sing, they hum. Music is a part of who they are. Sometimes I play classical/instrumental music as they work while others, I play songs that include lyrics and that the students know. In my prize box, I offer two levels of music rewards. Students can "purchase" individual music choice which means that they can listen to their own music using headphones. Alternatively, they can "purchase" class music choice and the student can select music for the class to listen to as they work. I, of course, have oversight (aka "veto power") and can help guide when the selections take place. These two reward options are new this year and have been received well. I believe music plays an integral part to learning. Though, I also recognize that background music in the classroom can play a positive role for some, but become a distraction for others. We must navigate music carefully and use it effectively. This is a lesson that I learned in 2018.

Side note here: my kids and I are excited to see Hamilton at the end of July in 2019! A parent helped make my Christmas gift to my kids become something extra special. She helped me create shirts. My son knew as soon as he saw the shirt while my daughter needed to see the certificate for the tickets to make it come into focus for her. My young children have an appreciation for history and know more about early American history at the time of the Revolution than many adults because of their appreciation for Hamilton. For that, I am thankful.

In 2018, I saw some great concerts, most notably: Shania Twain, Culture Club and the B-52s, and Metallica. I also saw two fantastic musicals: Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera. (Get the idea of how eclectic my taste is now?) In 2019, I am seeing P!NK, NKOTB and others on the Mixed-Tape Tour, Hootie and the Blowfish with Barenaked Ladies in concert and I'm taking the kids to see Hamilton in its return to San Francisco. Music is life!


In 2018, my son and I co-presented at two education conferences. This was a game-changer. To see this dream come to life was amazing. It has also given way to discussions and ideas that will flourish. I know they will. I keep the discussion to a minimum here and now, but stay tuned. My hope is that it will come alive over the next 12 to 18 months. What we do as educators requires the input of kids. How we impact the lives and learning of our students should absolutely include the voice of students. The more we include these students in the professional development of teachers, the more we can learn and grow.

Beyond the  professional development, one of the game-changers is the interaction we have with students. As a part of that, the engagement of students both in and out of the classroom will make a difference. So far this school year, I have done two hikes with students and families. These hikes made learning happen on weekends (one on a holiday) that cannot happen in the classroom.

Additionally, this year, my eighth grade class was included in a field trip with three other grade levels at our school. We visited a local salmon hatchery and then a park for lunch and a hike along the Merced River.

Highlights and Looks Ahead

Best book read: Failing Up by Leslie Odom, Jr.
Best series started: Harry Potter
Best App Added: Audible
Best family adventure: Atlanta, Georgia
Best TeacherMom Moment: Presenting with my son at ETC!
Best Eduawesome Adventure: Merced Hatchery
Best Lesson: Nazi Europe Unit study and graphic novel assignment
Best Personal Moment (Educator): Presenting My Leroy's Big Idea at CUE18
Best Personal Moment (Mom): Connor submitting a solo presentation proposal
Favorite Movie: A Wrinkle in Time
Favorite Movie Cliffhanger: Avengers: Infinity War
Favorite Television: This is Us and about anything on the Food Network
Big Adventure Ahead: Toss-up between Trip to Tennessee and Surfing Lessons in Capitola (both with kids)
What I'm reading: The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King and Becoming by Michelle Obama
Music Event: P!NK
Musical: Hamilton
Field Trip: Steinbeck/Salinas trip with 8th grade (my annual favorite)
Favorite Video App: WeVideo
Favorite Classroom App: Google Classroom or Prodigy (Math)
What I love: My students and apps that play nicely with Google
What I strive for: Excellence
Goal for 2019: Be my best for the best of my kids (my children and my students)
My word: Empower
How to live: River

My daughter mastered riding a bike in 2018. For Christmas, Santa brought her a mountain bike. It has gears, hand brakes, and a kickstand. These are all new features for her. It also requires a little learning and ability to adapt. She was anxious to get out and try the new bike. She wanted to adapt and learn quickly. I can relate to this as I received an Instant Pot for Christmas. The idea of using a pressure cooker scares me. Well, scared me. I knew I didn't want to goof anything up because I knew I did not want my kitchen to explode and burn down. So, I had to jump in and give it a go. I needed to learn and set aside all fear.

Kiera's approach to the new bike and my approach to my new Instant Pot both proved successful. And now, it is time to take the same approach to education. We need to live fearlessly. We need to take risks. We need to invest in our students and give them our all. We need to not fear the pressure cooker. We need to not fear falling. We need to do our best for our students. We need to empower our students. We need to empower each other. We need to empower ourselves. All of this will lead us all down the road to an eduawesome adventure like no other. Are you ready? Let's ride!