Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Cyber Bullying


As shown in the video published by the Virtual Global Taskforce, the Internet provides an avenue for abuse. Communication that can lead to abuse or even bullying happens in the home, sometimes in the same room as the parent or guardian. This seems like it is a problem that should be dealt with at home, but due to the lack of understanding of cyber safety, schools need to be a part of the solution. Especially since many of the social interactions and bullying that begins at school can continue anywhere through the use of the Internet.
Cyber bullying (bullying through the use of cell phones, email and Internet forums) brings with it all of the same types of hurtful, embarrassing and threatening qualities yet it has a way to penetrate places that physical bullying has not been able to do. This type of bullying is increasing in severity and frequency due to the ease of use and the ability to hide behind different technological devices.
After listening to the podcast “Cyber(Smart:)” put on by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, (2009) as well as reading some highlights from Wikipedia, I have discovered six main differences between cyber bullying and traditional type bullying:
1. Electronic bullies can stay virtually anonymous by using temporary email accounts or alias names in chat rooms.
2. Cyber bullying is very easy and requires less courage to carry out the attacking type behaviors when it is so easy to hide behind these forms of communication.
3. Electronic forums lack supervision. It is virtually impossible to supervise all of the places these students will find themselves talking and chatting together.
4. Personal messages between a bully and a victim are completely hidden from the general public’s eye and unless the victim talks to someone, which is typically not found to be done with boys or with teenagers, the communication will remain that way.
5. It can happen any time of the day. Traditional bullying usually would have taken place during school or around school, but now bullying can continue throughout the day no matter what time it may be. This is especially true if it is through a cell phone, the user will need to keep it on and close to them for legitimate purposes thus making them a perpetual target for the attacker.
6. Cyber bullying can penetrate the walls of the home, which normally has been the safe place for victims of bullying.
Cyber bullying is a serious problem that needs the attention of teachers as well as parents. The podcast mentioned that some of the cases lead to the victim even committing suicide, simply because to the victim there was no escape. Survey findings in Australia showed that cyber bullying is starting as early as primary school. It also showed that 16 % of girls admitted to being victims of cyber bullying while only 7% of parents thought their kids were being bullied. As educators, we have a role to play in creating awareness of the problem as well as providing education in cyber safety. There are ways for the victim to get away from these attacks and possible solutions need to be communicated before the victim feels like there is no way out.
It seems impossible for a teacher to handle cyber bullying when it happens around the clock and over the Internet. It is, however, a social problem and we need to educate our students and teach proper social interactions. The podcast interview goes on to suggest that we need to teach victims what to do if it happens to you so that they can get some of the power back. Clear guidelines and expectations need to be created and communicated to the students about how the school will deal with this type of behavior.
My initial question that I had when listening to the podcast was what do I tell my students? What are the important steps that victims of cyber bullying should follow? I was thankful for the nice summary given that illustrates some important steps to follow when cyber bullying is taking place.
Steps Victims of Cyber Bullying Can Take:
1. Always keep a record. Mobile (see here for mobile phone tips), chat, email, anything (includes a time and date).
2. Tell somebody. Whether it be a parent or a trusted teacher, you need to let an adult know about it.
3. Contact your phone or Internet provider. They could set up a block from that sender.
4. Get in touch with the police for serious threats and messages. These type of messages are illegal.
5. Don’t reply to bullying messages. It will only give the bully what they were wanting.
6. Change your contact details. Create a new username or email and only give that out to your closest and most trusted friends.
As educators, we must get involved. We need to educate our students every year and we need to find ways to pass this information on to our parents. It must be made clear to victims that there is a way out and hopefully through all that we do in education, there will be less incidences of cyber bullying.

Here are some very usefull websites on cyber safety:

Mobile Phone Safety Tips
Internet Safety Tips
How to Report Cyber Bullying
Chat Slang and Acronyms
How to Report Emails with Full Headers
Parent Tips

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Group Work & Collaboration

Teaching grades 5 & 6 most of my group work experiences have been centered around hands on type learning experiences. The types of assignments I give to my class have focused on manipulating different types of materials in building or achieving a specific learning outcome. I find myself using group projects in social studies or science when I want the students to experience specific materials or to research and present specific topics to spread out and share their findings. There are times where I’ve created centers of information and the group will split up and become specialists on their topic and then they are to come back and report on their information they found with the rest of the group members.
I tend to have my students produce some type of product (PowerPoint presentation, poster, display “model”, maybe even a skit). With these projects the goal is to have the students learn to work together, share responsibilities, produce a product for others to see and learn from, as well as become familiar with the specific material.
I have encountered all kinds of benefits and struggles in my experience with group work. Students usually enjoy working together on projects and it helps them to be motivated and engaged with what they are learning. Weaker students benefit from working with the team, although sometimes a strong student will bulldoze the group and the contributions and ideas of others. Classroom management can be a challenge, especially with a class size of 27 students. You are always encountering difficulties with students staying on task, group dynamics and struggles, as well as using work space effectively in the room if you need them to share materials or spread things out. There will always be students who don’t do anything and students who will want to do too much.
I have learned to deal with the challenges of group work and one of the best strategies I’ve come across would be by assigning each student a role. If you are able to assign each person a different role (most of the time I’ll let the students decide what role they want to be) you will find that there is less arguments, more students are on task and they product is usually better. Here are some of the roles I’ve used when planning group work assignments:

Task Master – this person is in charge of keeping the group on task. They keep track of time and the requirements of the assignment. They have been given the right to mention to the group (in a polite way) when they are getting off topic or are becoming non-productive.

Scrounger – this person is in charge of gathering the materials and resources that are needed for the group. This role helps to reduce the amount of people wandering around in the classroom and allows for better use of classroom space. If you have a general bin of materials for the entire class, it is only the scroungers that are allowed to access the bin and bring things back to their group.

Discussion Director – Many times I’ll assign groups to discuss questions. This person is in charge of how the group communicates. They will make sure that everyone has a turn speaking (including themselves) and they make sure that everyone has an opportunity to share their opinion. This role really helps you as a teacher because you can’t be at each group all at the same time. Most of the groups work quite well with a discussion director and that will allow you to be free to move to the groups that may be having difficulty in this area.

Help Seeker – This person is in charge of communicating the groups’ questions and/or difficulties to the teacher. They are the only ones able to come to you with questions and again this helps with effectively using the classrooms space. It also frees you up because you don’t have 20 kids coming at you at once.

Presenter – This person is in charge of presenting and communicating the results of their groups findings to the class.

There are many more jobs that can be created, depending on the type of project the group is working on. The names can be changed or modified to be interesting and appropriate for the role they are playing.

Group work has been a fun part of teaching and after learning and reading about the possibilities web 2.0 tools have to offer I’m getting very excited about adding more variety and opportunities for my students to work together and build on their collaboration skills. Just today I have been learning more about Wiki’s and I have gone through and set up a Wiki space for my students using pbworks.com. I’m only in the testing phase and I’m already seeing a project that I’ll develop for my next science unit of study. I’m using the “free” version of the site and I have added some pages and infrastructure for my students to research and report on different information they will need to learn about wetland ecosystems. I like that pbworks wikis have the ability to be private or public. You can be in complete control of the users and setting up users for my students was a breeze. I particularly liked the ability to create student users so an email address was not required for each of my students. This works well for me as many of my students do not have permission from their parents to have email accounts yet. When I set up the accounts it automatically generated a page with passwords all divided up so I can just cut and hand out the log in information for my students. I think both my students and I will enjoy this wiki assignment.

In reading of some of my stimulus material I came across an article which talked about teacher collaboration. Teacher collaboration is important and it is during times like these (writing and reporting on blog posts) that I feel that I am growing professionally. I love the ease of sharing ideas this way and I love the ideas I’m getting from others as well as the new ideas that come from this entire process. In order for true teacher collaboration to work and continue to work there still needs to be some incentive. Getting a grade and credits has provided incentive for this class. What can be done to help provide incentive for us teachers to continue to provide ideas and collaboration?

In our Canadian conference there is a website where teachers can contribute their ideas online in two different areas, “Teachers-Talk” and “Technology”. If we submit our ideas in an article form we are given some financial reward. I have read and gained many benefits from this website and I have had many opportunities to be a contributor as well. But the only challenge I see with this forum being so broad, is that we don’t have the exchange of specific teaching ideas for the curricular areas that we need to teach. I think that each of our conferences should have areas were we can collaborate, but not only that; we need more specific areas of collaboration.
I think that all the teachers in our conference that are teaching similar grades or subjects could and should have the opportunity to collaborate and just simply share ideas. The problem with setting something like this up is that very few would participate unless we are given the proper opportunity to do this. Yes, a small financial benefit would help provide incentive but I don’t think it would be the right solution. It takes time, to contribute, it takes time to read and see what others are doing, and time is not something teachers have an abundance of.
Providing time would be the best situation for teacher collaboration. I don’t know in what form this time could come in, but if we were given the time to share ideas, we would all benefit. Maybe there could be a teacher collaboration day set up to occur once a month in our school calendar where we would not have to teach. On this teacher collaboration day we could begin our contributions about what it is I’ve been doing in my classroom that I find to be really working. Others that are teaching similar grade levels at different schools can also add their contributions. Discussions and reflections could continue throughout the month of course, but this way we are given specific “time” to begin this collaboration. This type of collaboration would actually cut down on professional development costs for our conference as we are then not paying for transportation costs, room and board costs, or even food costs to bring all of the teachers in our conference together.
Collaboration and group work benefit from the different web 2.0 tools and it is exciting to be a part of education with these tools being readily available to us.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

My Digital Story

For my digital story I decided to go with option 3. The subject I chose to work on provides me with great inspiration and having being assigned a digital story where I could create a video I decided to sink in a few extra hours not only to fulfill the requirements of this week's assignment but also to have something that I can add to my personal video library.

I am a teacher that believes in the importance of building relationships with my students and by doing so I have always shared a part of myself with them. I'm excited to use this digital story in the classroom to help my students learn more about my family. I will also have this digital story now to use as an example of what can be done with still pictures, video, and audio.

I really enjoyed working on this assignment and I appreciate having the final product even more. I'm excited to learn more about the other types of digital story formats such as bitstrips and podcasts. When I get more time I'll try them out too.

I did have a great subtraction story done on PowerPoint that I have used in my grade 5 math classes that I tried uploading to Slideshare. I was disappointed in this since none of the effects are captured. It is simply just the slide that gets saved. If you have text that is layered and designed to come in with specific effects it just won't work with Slideshare.

I can see many benefits with digital storytelling. I want to incorporate this into my creative writing classes. I would also incorporate this with history and research projects in my social studies classes. In science I'd love my students to build a story to illustrate global awareness issues such as conservation. We also study wetland ecosystems and my students could put together a story illustrating the importance of reducing waste and taking care of our environment. The possibilities are endless.

video

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Digital Storytelling

Digital storytelling is a project based style of learning that will impact our students in many ways. It allows them to process, research and gather a variety of multi-media forms of information. It builds on student collaboration and allows them to synthesize their knowledge as they work together retell events in history or even create an original story that illustrates concepts they have been studying in the classroom. Digital storytelling also incorporates many different learning styles allowing for a wide range of creativity.
Digital storytelling can incorporate all types of media, from video, pictures, audio and music. Student motivation and the quality of work displayed are improved when incorporating these types of technologies. The final project is rewarding and can easily be presented.
The great thing about this type of project based learning is the availability of the final product. It can be displayed for parents, friends and even extended family like grandparents who live far away. Audiences can also include other classmates or other students studying the same topic from other schools or even for the general public. Many times by having an audience this grand you will solicit higher quality work and effort from the students on their work.
Stories in history can be retold through the research of pictures and video clips. Students then can demonstrate their knowledge and understanding as they create a storyboard of their own to retell an event. New stories can be written based on favourite characters from books or movies or even tv shows. This creativity will call upon a higher level of thinking from each of the students.


I think that digital story telling would be an appropriate activity to engage my grade 5 & 6 students. Some of the formats would be quite technical and difficult for them to work with but I have seen them all get excited about creating a PowerPoint presentation so I would incorporate the technology of a Slideshare. A Slideshare presentation would be an excellent form of displaying the creation of a story and could be used as a creative writing assignment with grades 5 & 6. The story could be written up on paper and then can be recorded as an audio narration with pictures or video clips illustrating the story. Many of these stories could be created for younger audiences and could be posted for the lower grades of their school to view and enjoy. Writing younger, children stories for a younger class in the school has worked well before and I can see how the digital storytelling would be a big success. The students would be very excited to incorporate pictures, photos, drawings or even video clips to go along with a story they have written. It would be quite exciting for the students to create it and because of its high motivation factor; it would bring out the best story writing in my students. They would also be very excited and proud to present these stories to a younger class.
I could see the presentation of these stories done in a number of different ways. You could use a projector and set up a presentation class period where you could invite a younger class to watch the various digital stories. You could also work on a rotation in a computer lab and have one-on-one sharing of the digital stories. I would have each of my grade 5 & 6 students log in and open up their digital story while the a younger class could rotate throughout all of the computers to see each of the different stories. We could encourage the younger students to ask questions about the story and about the process of creating the story.

My Review of Examples of Digital Storytelling

A History of Radiology – from the website Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling
This eight minute presentation narrates and illustrates the history of radiology and its impact on health and medicine. It is quite informative and displays pictures of the scientists involved in this research. I think this would be a very appropriate way of presenting this information at my school. It could be used as an additional link for students to view at home for an assignment if they are to study and learn about radiology. It also could be used as an example to show how an informative digital story can be told.

Architecture in Math – from the website Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling
This five minute presentation illustrates the different types of architecture that specific mathematical equations produce. I can’t see this specific video used in my school as it deals with high school math. It would be very useful to a high school math teacher who is introducing a practical usage of the formulas they are graphing and studying.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

My Google Reader Experience

I must say that I have seen the acronym RSS but haven't really learned what they are about. I think it is a great idea for tapping into these feeds and using a program like Google Reader to be surfing the net for you. As teachers we are all about finding the time. This is brilliant. I now can tap into any information that pertains to me and the subject areas that I teach and have this info delivered right to me. Not only that, but I can now tag it myself or share it so that my students can get the news feeds, pictures, podcasts, or web applications that I want them to have with a simple click of a button. I enjoyed doing this assignment very much.

At this point I don’t see the initial value in this technology with my grade 5 & 6 students. I’m not sure what information I want to organize for them to visit and stay tuned into. I’m sure with experiencing this more I will gain an insight as to how I might use it with my students.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Web 2.0 & SAMR Model

Looking at the many tools and changes that web 2.0 provides to education is both exciting and overwhelming at the same time. I have found myself to love the benefits of technology and feel that I’ve incorporated many neat ideas that have enhanced my teaching or learning experience for my students, yet after truly exploring the tools that web 2.0 has to offer and the ideas of what might come with web 3.0 I feel way behind. With each new idea, I get excited about the changes I could make in my classroom. But with each excited feeling come time, research, and development.

Many of the skills mentioned from the article “a day in the life of web 2.0” by David Warlick's refer to amazing ideas that are producing a very dynamic learning experience for the students. Blogs and wiki’s are a great way to allow students to see and benefit from each other’s ideas. Some teachers even record and podcast their classroom discussions which many community members and parents will subscribe to. Being informed by these podcasts, parents then can have specific conversations with their kids about what they are learning at school.

These ideas and skills are great, but they are quite a bit above the level of grade 5 & 6. They will just be introduced to the technologies involved with doing these projects let alone to be working at a high enough comprehensive level to use them in this manner. At what grade level can students begin to work at this interactive level in the life of web 2.0? This leads to my question about what I should be doing in my classroom with grades 5 & 6.

What are the first basic technological skills in web 2.0 that I should be building and giving my students experiences with. My stage is the beginning and what are the beginning stepping stones that I need to be teaching to prepare my students for what they will be asked to do in later years? Are there any guidelines to follow or do I just begin with what I think is most relevant for them in hopes that it will be the right skill they will need in a few years.

After learning about the SAMR model of technological implementation in education by Dr Reuben Peuntedura, my question now is to what level of this model do I push my grade 5 & 6 level students to do? Maybe my questions will be answered as I creatively think of or find classroom activities that will incorporate each of the four SAMR levels.

S – Substitution
At this level in the model Dr. Peuntedura explains that technology is just simply substituted for something that has been used before to perform a specific task; Such as a word processor now being used instead of a typewriter. The additional functions and tools of the word processor is not utilized at this level, it is just simply used and substitutes the use of a typewriter.

Class Activity for Substitution: My Book About Me – Writing Project
One of the writing projects I have down with my students every year has been a book they write about themselves. They actually write eight chapters and two of the chapters are written by a family member or a close friend who has known them for quite some time. This entire project has been designed to be a keepsake for the students and the final project is bounded and laminated and full of pictures and writing.
During the writing stage I have used technology to do something a little different. I have incorporated a password protected page from our school website, that each of the students has used to do their writing. Our website is one of the SimplyUpdates websites provided by the NAD which provides a fairly easy and user friendly updates web application to edit the articles on the website. Because of the nature of the assignment the student’s web page articles are not open to the public or even open to their classmates. This is an area where they can edit and write at school or at home, or even grandma’s house (wherever they have Internet). They don’t even have to worry about USB drives, or even emailing word documents back and forth from home and school. This also allows me as a teacher to see how their progress of their writing is going. I can post some comments and recommendations right in their chapters on their pages as I have administration rights to each of their pages.
It has worked extremely well for the writing stage of the project, but this technology has only substituted writing on paper or writing in a word document.

A – Augmentation
At the augmentation stage, technology is used as a direct tool to substitute with enhancement. In the word processor analogy, the tools and functions such as copy, cut and paste, or the spell checker are used. This does make enhancements to what has been substituted but doesn’t involve much change.

Class Activity for Augmentation:
One of the substitution activities I’ve done with technology involves two different types of study games I play with my students to help them review material that they will be tested on. I have set up PowerPoint presentations that are hyperlinked throughout the slideshow that allows me to maneuver through questions. They styles and games that I have created are set up to play a “Jeopardy” game as well as “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” Both are taken off of game shows that the students are familiar with. I have now begun loading them to my grade 5 & 6 class website. By doing this I’ve enhanced the document to allow for multiple users to play it simultaneously and my students love going home playing these games on their own. Parents have gotten on board with these games now that they are online, and I’ve noticed a big improvement in my students test scores as their study time at home has increased.

M – Modification
At the modification stage, technology allows for significant task redesign. The involvement with the task and learning is changed now with the interactive tools of web 2.0 that will allow for feedback and change of up to a global audience.

A Classroom Activity: Electric Car Contest
In grade 5 science “Mechanisms Using Electricity” the students could be challenged to create their own unique design of an electric toy car using a simple circuit with an electric motor and a variety of materials to build their car. A web resource for the students to access at home could be set up to link a variety of resource ideas on wiring a simple circuit to other resources giving students ideas about building a toy car with working axels.
YouTube videos could be linked to provide students with a moving example of how they could create their toy car and get it to move.
To push this activity to the modification level, I could have a blog site created for students to share their progress with other grade 5 students across the province. Here they could load their pictures and blog about some of the problems they encountered and what solutions they have come up with. They then can go back to their design to make additional modifications to it after this interaction has taken place.

R - Redefinition Level
At the redefinition level, technology is used to create new tasks. What could I do that I could never do before?

A classroom activity that would use the redefinition level of technology could be doing the same science experiment with the electric toy car but we could open up the audience to which they post their ideas and challenges. The students could video tape their design and performance of their electric car and post this video to YouTube to gain feedback from a much broader audience. Students then can ask the questions, “How could I make my car go faster or farther? What changes could be made to allow it to travel on tougher terrain such as carpet or even roll over obstacles?” They then could get feedback which would allow them to gain more ideas and suggestions on making improvements to their design or completely changing their task altogether.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

21st Century Skills – Importance and Cautions

This week I’ve had a good look at the debate about 21st century skills and their importance in our education system to help prepare our youth for the global economy that is driving our world today. 21st century skills such as creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, communication, innovation, technology literacy, self direction, and global awareness are suggested to not only help prepare students of today for the workforce but also prepare our students to be global citizens. I have mixed feelings and ideas about this debate and how it should be impacting our education system and educational pedagogy.

The first pressing argument seems to be fueled by the rapidly changing world, especially in the technological sense. New technologies which cause a new way of life for all of us is changing so rapidly that it has brought about a sense of urgency in the need to change how we teach our students. Arguments presented by Chris Johnson and Ken Kay have really emphasized the need to make rapid and immediate changes in our schools and classrooms.

Johnson suggests that the “perception” of what schools should be is not preparing workers for the 21st century. His main argument is wrapped around the learner, the student. What our students are “doing” now is directly related to what school now means to them. Students today no longer want what our schools are currently providing for them. Kay suggests that students now don’t know how the content areas of Social Studies, Math and Language Arts translate into global citizens. Although Kay’s perspectives does see the need to make learning relevant to our current learners, his arguments also pointed out the importance of still holding on to the content that we teach.

The document, 21st Century Skills, Education & Competitveness – A Resource And Policy Guide, created by the Partnership for 21st century skills has pointedly stressed the importance of making immediate and rapid changes to how we educate our students. “Our ability to compete as a nation—and for states, regions and communities to attract growth industries and create jobs—demands a fresh approach to public education. We need to recognize that a 21st century education is the bedrock of competitiveness—the engine, not simply an input, of the economy” (Partnership for 21st Century Skills).

Although I can see the importance of making changes, the biggest question that I have is how much. In some ways I wonder how much change has already taken place in our teaching pedagogy. Many of the skills mentioned as “21st Century Skills” seem to be skills that have been stressed as important ways for students to learn for quite a few years now. Creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving and communication have always been a priority in my teaching career as well as a priority for me when I was a student. I guess my concern is how quickly we will jump on to too many changes which will cause a pendulum swing that will eventually need to come back. Jay Mathews writes about this question in an article titled, The Latest Doomed Pedagogical Fad: 21st-Century Skills. He cautions the changes suggesting that it is an all-at-once syndrome. He questions why these changes need to be made all at once.

One of these all at once changes is wrapped up around the “content” that we teach. With technology, we have immediate access to a wealth of content which we can communicate, and collaborate at very rapid speeds. The movement seems to suggest that we don’t focus as much on content, but stress the “skills” needed in accessing it, interpreting it and communicating it. I wonder how successful we will be if we don’t establish a foundation in content. I believe that students will have a harder time using these 21st century skills if we evade the foundation of content. It’s like teaching someone the skills to read, and to read quickly, but their comprehension of what they are reading is what is lacking. What use is the skill of phonetically sounding out language if we cannot understand what we are reading? I believe with a foundation of knowledge and content, students will be able to evaluate and use their 21st century skills that are needed in this day and age.

Teaching upper elementary students I see a need for knowledge and content, but yet the use of these 21st century skills can help us keep students engaged and actively involved with the content. Getting students to collaborate, communicate and solve problems are always a big part of my classroom experience. Having technological literacy is also very important and that is the piece that will continue to change the most. As educators we need to be willing to incorporate those changes which will not only aid us in our teaching by keeping students excited and motivated, but it will also develop their literacy in technology. If we teach our students to be critical thinkers and good communicators while stressing creativity, personal best and innovation it is inevitable that we will be helping our students be prepared for the world they will be participating in. But we must hold on to our content to build a foundation that will provide understanding for our students.