Classroom Blogging with a Purpose

I am always extremely encouraged when I hear about teachers who incorporate blogging as a tool for students to reflect and evaluate. There are some really great classroom blogs where teachers have provided some guidelines about blogging and expectations for their students. One good example of a classroom blog is the South Titan Government Blog. Read the posts, but also read the guidelines from the teacher on the side.

Unlike the above example, I have found that some teachers assume students already know “how to blog” and, therefore, do not provide any structure. In most cases, these are classrooms where the teacher is not a blogger and is simply unaware that students need some specifics about blogging topics, expectations, and even etiquette.

There is a big difference between knowing what a blog is and blogging with a purpose.

Here are a few tips and resources for being planful with your students in class blogs:

1. If you are an educator who does not blog, be sure to read some education blogs* first.

  • You need to understand a little bit about the nature of blogs yourself before opening them up to your students.
  • Feeling confident? Start your own edublog!

*Not sure where to go to find edubloggers? Try Jolene Anzalone’s “Blogs in the Classroom” page. Also, check the blogroll on the right side of this page. When you jump to another blog, view that edublogger’s blogroll, too. OR– use a search engine to find blogs about education.

2. Provide guidelines. Discuss digital citizenship and responsible, constructive blog posts and comments. Check out this network for discussion about digital citizenship by kids: http://digiteen.ning.com.

3. Classroom vs. Individual Blogs: Make the decision about having a classroom blog (one blog with many contributors), or each student create his/her own blog. If your school subscribes to a service such as Gaggle, students can blog within their own accounts in a safe environment.

4. Encourage constructive commenting. Remember the advantage of blogs vs. journals on paper is the instant feedback option.

  • Students think more about their writing when they understand it will be read by more than just the teacher.
  • If their classmates are reading and providing comments as well, students tend to think differently about what they write.
  • Empower your class by allowing them to comment on each others’ blog posts. With appropriate guidance, students can help each other grow as writers by commenting constructively.

5. Start with something simple. Try any of these suggestions… they may be used in any subject/content area:

  • If you’re not quite ready to turn over blogging to your students, start a teacher blog and allow students to comment on your blog posts. After you’re all comfortable with the functionality of a blog, you might consider a classroom blog or allowing students to have their own blogs.
  • Provide your students a writing prompt for a blog post.
  • Ask your students for a reaction to a class activity. What did they like most? What would they have changed about the activity? What did they learn from the activity? How could they learn more? (this could easily tie into using a graphic organizer for K-W-L-H activities, with the L and H sections added to the blog post!)
  • Students can post blog entries about an assigned reading. If you already have your students journaling about assigned readings, adapt the journal activities/assignment for blog posts instead. Again, encourage students to read their classmates’ blog posts and comment constructively.
  • Ask your students to debate one side of an issue as a blog post. They should include justification for their stance on this issue.
  • Within students blogs, start a “Good Questions” category or tag for blog posts. When you ask students to think about good questions for a specific lesson or unit, they can enter these questions as a blog post and tag or categorize them as “Good Questions” for easy access later.
  • Use a classroom blog for virtual trips and journal entries. Take your students around the world and then ask them to generate a class post about their experiences.

There are endless possibilities to how you might use blogging with your students. What is most important, however, is the impact on student engagement that good blogs can provide. Again, with proper structure and teacher guidance, blogging can add to a teacher’s ‘tool box’ for good instruction and learning opportunities.

Looking for some more resources and examples? Try these:

Using Blogs to Promote Authentic Learning in the Classroom – guidelines, help, more resources, blog examples

Collaboration Nation- A Middle School Blog – middle school blog from a Connecticut school

Rach’s Blog – a blog by a student from Australia

Mr. Klein’s 5th Grade Blog – classroom blog from Plainfield, IN, US

Creative Writing Chronicles – a literary journal from Stratford High School

Primary 5 L/W Class Blog – a primary class blog from Carronshore, Falkirk, Scotland

Stretton Handley Primary School Blog – a year 6 class from Derbyshire, UK

Accentuate the Tech Positive

Techno-fear: a state where humans feel they are losing control due to advances in technology.*

Nearly every day, I’m bombarded by statements – in person or via some news outlet- expressing “techno-fear.” If a young person is in trouble due to something posted to a social network, there is a negative focus on the public nature of the social network. If an adult is fired due to inappropriate photos posted on the web, technology is to blame.

When I begin presentations on web 2.0, usually there is a least one person rolling his eyes or shaking her head when I start to talk about social networks and multi-user virtual environments (MUVEs). The audience assumes I’m going to talk about the dangers of these web environments.

Instead, the focus should be how these tools are used positively, how they can elevate thinking, and how they engage users. We can also discuss privacy and web permanence… but those don’t have to be scary topics.

How could we all approach these ideas positively with kids?

5 quick starts:

  1. Begin by exploring social networks and MUVEs for yourself. If you don’t understand these environments, you can’t speak the language… nor can you make any accurate judgments about their usefulness. (Darren Draper wrote a great blog post today about “immersion.”)
  2. Start genuinely talking to kids and asking them what they do online. Be open-minded and really LISTEN.
  3. Take note of all the good things that are happening online with kids; e.g., young people were more involved in the 2008 election than ever before, because of online political groups, forums, blogs, etc.
  4. Remember- technology is only a tool. We have to learn to use tools properly. When we don’t, we make mistakes. If students have no guidance about online activity, how will they know what it takes to be good digital citizens?
  5. Stay positive. Think about all the amazing things technology provides us today. Personally, I’m thankful that I don’t have to grind my own ink and write with a quill.

Finally…

look again at my definition of ‘techno-fear’:

a state where humans feel they are losing control due to advances in technology

and remember “control” is an illusion.

*This is my own definition of ‘techno-fear.’ You can find Webster’s definition of technofear at dictionary.com.

What Kids Learned from the 2008 US Election

I haven’t been able to get this out of my mind recently… even though I’ve tweeted about it several times, posted notes on my Facebook account, etc.

I have a genuine concern for what kids learned from the election process, and it definitely ties into 21st century skills, too.

Web 2.0 has changed politics forever. With 24/7 information, media saturation, billboards, text messages, blogs, groups on both MySpace and Facebook, young people in this country (and even those in other countries) have been inundated with political opinions. In fact,  you would have to live under a rock to have avoided hearing anything political in the US during the last year.

Sure, satire is one thing (SNL had some really funny skits!). But what messages did young people really receive from this information deluge? More importantly, beyond the messages from the media, what did our children learn from the adults around them?

In my opinion, they learned:

  • It’s acceptable to verbally bash the candidate(s) who are opposing your chosen candidate(s)- or translate that verbal bashing into blog posts or status updates.
  • Adults can join groups or add badges/bumper stickers to their social media that portray a political candidate in a derogatory manner.
  • Adults don’t have to “agree to disagree,”  even though that’s what they preach to kids.

Is that really what we want our kids to learn about democracy? Does the right of free speech negate our obligation to make responsible decisions about what we say and publish?

I listened to my own children, their friends (all teenagers), and younger children in our community… and I have to say that I’m very disappointed in what they’ve gleaned from this process. I’m also disappointed in my peers: for what I’ve read on Twitter, on their blogs, on their social sites. It was equal opportunity bashing… for every person badmouthing Democrats, there was someone badmouthing Republicans. Maybe I expected too much from people I respect; or that, because they are educated people, that they would make better choices in what they display in online forums.

Because… aren’t we all advocating that students be taught about responsible, digital citizenship? Don’t we tell kids to think carefully and thoughtfully about the comments they make online– constructive critique is always better than flaming or insulting comments? What do we tell kids about publishing disparaging remarks about someone else?

Are we modeling what we expect from digital kids?

Blog Action Day 08- Poverty and Access

Today is Blog Action Day 08, and I started thinking about experiences I had while I was in the classroom.

I taught in a very small school, and there were very few families of “average” socioeconomic status. There were many well above average, and many well below. It was an environment somewhat foreign to me, as I attended schools where most students were all about the same.

During the time I was there, I remember thinking about the achievement levels of all the kids– how those levels mostly fell into the patterns we were taught (from college methods classes) to expect. There were, however, a few kids who completely defied the stereotypes.

There were 4 in particular who amazed me with their accomplishments. According to all definitions, they lived in poverty. Additionally, their parents were either non-existent at home, abusive, drug/alcohol dependent, or all of the above. Yet these children were THRIVING at school. They made the superior honor roll. They were involved in multiple activities- because it was such a small school, kids who were involved in anything were usually involved in everything. They were leaders in their classes, had excellent senses of humor, and were well-liked all around. No one seemed to care that they often wore rags or didn’t have the latest, greatest technology.

I often asked my colleagues, “What is it about these kids that enable them to excel when, all factors considered, they should be struggling?” We often shrugged our shoulders and felt grateful for those kids.

Now, I think back on those kids… I still don’t know what it was that helped them initially, but I do know that all the positive forces in their lives helped them to CONTINUE to thrive. I’m happy just to have been in their somewhere, whether my contribution had much of an impact or not. I know that, somehow, they experienced something or someone who gave them advantages that other children living in poverty didn’t receive. They were lucky.

But then I think about the other kids who were growing up in the same types of households… the ones who didn’t thrive. I remember the school nurse quietly offering t-shirts to kids who came to school in dirty clothes everyday. Or the principal allowing some kids to arrive really early in the morning, so they could take a quick shower in the locker room and then head to the cafeteria to eat a hot breakfast. As much as we tried to help, and as much as we wanted them to be successful, some of them were not. They struggled to read. They struggled with basic math skills, even in high school. They struggled with relationships with other students. I often wonder, what could I have done better to help them? Would they always be “behind” in life?  (Are they still behind now? )

Now, while I’m in a different position in a different place, I think about the kids in our schools who have similar situations. The “haves” walk in the door with their designer clothing and backpacks, cell phones, iPods, laptops- and although they’re asked to put those ‘distractions’ away at school- these kids have ACCESS. They are always connected. What about the students who aren’t as connected? Are they already behind in school on what educators view as traditional curriculum? If so, how much further behind will these kids be in 21st century skills? Do these kids have the same opportunity to learn the media, information, and technological literacies as their more affluent peers?

With what you know about your own schools, think about the following:

  • students who struggle with basic ‘traditional’ literacy skills spend more time on skill/drill and re-teaching activities– and less on critical thinking, problem-solving, and creative activities.
  • which kids in your schools struggle the most? Are they given time to think critically, or are they doing skill and drills?
  • which kids in your schools spend the most time connected to the internet during school? Those who have access at home already, or those who do not?
  • when you or your teachers use technology as a tool to facilitate learning, are you (they) replicating pen and paper activities with technology, or using the tools to ask good questions, solve problems, create new products and gain deeper understanding?

Now think about these statements:

Education is supposed to be the great equalizer.

Some have said that technology is the new great equalizer.

I think that, if we don’t make changes in our schools NOW, we are going to experience one of the greatest divides ever between those who can afford to be connected, and those who cannot. What are you going to do about that?

September Think-About: Questions

When you think of 21st Century Learning, what comes to your mind?

  • What are the skills that people need to succeed in the 21st Century?*
  • Is it all about the technology, or are there different approaches to thinking and acting in the 21st Century?
  • In addition to the core subjects, what should schools be adding to their curriculum?
  • How should schools change instruction to meet the needs of 21st Century kids?

I’m not bringing up a brand new topic that hasn’t been discussed over and over in the “edublogosphere,” but I wonder to what extent these issues are discussed in education in general. In other words, if you don’t have a “techie” in the room (and that could be a technology integration specialist/facilitator or any other person in a school district reponsible for overseeing technology in the schools), do these questions ever come up? I hope the answer is YES.

Does your curriculum and instruction provide opportunities for your students to:

  • tell stories?
  • solve problems?
  • take risks?
  • question and explore?
  • collaborate with others?
  • create and invent?
  • express themselves?

One of my favorite education quotes of all time is attributed to Roger Lewin: “Too often we give children answers to remember rather than problems to solve.”

With the major problems in the world today, I don’t want answers that go nowhere (or that I could find myself). I want problem-solvers, creative thinkers, risk-takers.

Are your students learning these skills?

*Looking for a common definition of 21 Century Learning and the associated skill sets? Try 21stCenturySkills.org and click on the Route 21 link in the lower left corner of the web page.

photo credit: cgines. “Puzzle pieces.” cgines photostream. 26 Nov 2007. 30 Sept 2008. http://flickr.com/photos/cgines/2065486997/

A Call To Act Now

I’m in a very frustrated state lately… mostly due to my impatience with the direction I feel education should be going vs. where it actually is. I usually feel this way after I attend summer conferences… it’s a natural after-effect of the energizing discussions that take place at those conferences. But I’m even more unsettled right now than I usually am.

In my opinion, if we are supposed to be educating our youth and preparing them for success in life, we have to step it up right now. Not after we get all our teachers and administrators caught up on the latest technologies… not even after we get 10% of them caught up. Not after we have enough money in the budgets to implement a 1:1 laptop initiative. Not after we convince all the parents that their kids are better off knowing how to be responsible digital citizens. NOW. It’s time to pull our heads out of the sand and challenge ourselves to do and be better. [Image from Adam Roberts1]

Is it fair to the students who are in our schools now that there’s such a disconnect between what they learn in the classroom and what they will need to know to be able to enter the job force? Absolutely not.

Jeff Utecht’s latest blog post asks us: Do we need another Sputnik to push us into moving along? I hope not, but it’s a great point. Should it take what many consider a national (international?) crisis to force us to make the necessary changes? Or maybe a better question is… are we already there?

We often hear the term “educational malpractice” applied during discussions pertaining to problematic issues of grades, promotion, and graduation. I’m posing these questions to YOU– is it educational malpractice to exclude digital literacy as part of the curriculum? Is blocking Web 2.0 tools from kids during the school day a necessary measure to protect them? or is it actually educational malpractice? Is ignoring the wealth of information and knowledge available on the web justified because of all the garbage on the web? Or is it educational malpractice?

As I meet with educators in my own district this upcoming school year.. as well as those educators who have invited me to their districts and institutions to present… this is something I plan to discuss at length. I would very much appreciate your comments/discussion here so that I have something with which to open the face-to-face discussions.

So the flood gates are opened… let us hear what you have to say.

1 Roberts, Adam.”Ostrich.” Spartacus007’s Photostream. 5 Jul 2005. 17 July 2008. <http://www.flickr.com/photos/spartacus007/23860934/in/set-547019/>

July 2008 Think About-Digital Literacy and Administrators

Discussing Digital Literacy with educators usually brings about a list of excuses why they can’t implement teaching digital skills in the classroom:

1. I have too much curriculum content to cover, and I don’t have time to teach anything else.

2. I don’t know enough about Web 2.0 (or even what that really means) to help kids… besides, the kids already know more than I do, right?

3. Is anything about digital literacy on the ‘tests?’ No? Then I can’t teach it.

4. My administrator doesn’t support anything that isn’t research-based or a tried/true approach.

… and the list goes on. And for most of them, these are valid reasons for being hesitant, especially #4. But I’ve never really heard a good list from administrators. And without administrative support, classroom teachers can’t really move ahead either.

Jeanette Johnson is a principal who is also a blogger. About a year ago, she posted a top ten list of “not so good reasons… why educational leaders don’t embrace digital technologies.” It’s worth reading, whether you’re an administrator or not.

I’ve been saying for quite a while now that our kids don’t have time for the adults to catch up, but at the same time, I need to be empathetic to the needs of administrators and teachers. Do administrators need to step up? How could they even begin? My suggestion to many has been — start doing something that you haven’t done before:

1. Do you blog? If not, start by reading other educators’ blogs. If you’re reading mine, check out my blogroll on the right side of the page. I’ll be adding more later today.

2. Have you ever ventured into social profiles? They’re not all bad, even though there’s a lot of garbage out there. Jump into one, or better yet, have a kid show you what they do. That’s the best way to introduce yourself.

3. Find an educational podcast– or any podcast that you find interesting– and subscribe to it.

4. Talk to kids about what they do when they’re not in school. How much time do they spend on the web? Do they satisfy a direct need from what they do on the web? Or is it simply communication to them? How many of them post videos to sites like YouTube? Are they involved in any groups in MySpace or Facebook? Why? Do they podcast? Do they listen to podcasts? Why?

5. Think about the websites that are blocked by your school’s internet filter in the name of “safety.” How many of those sites are really unsafe for kids, and how many of them are considered a nuisance by you and/or your faculty? Brush up on the CIPA requirements and then compare your blocked list. And then… ask kids what they think.

Will kids think you’re weird or old school for not knowing about these things? Probably. But they already think you’re old school, right? So what’s the harm in asking?

21st Century Learners need educators who understand them and know what they need to learn to be prepared for their world. Educational leaders have to help their staff members to be prepared to teach 21st Century learners. If our leaders/administrators are behind, who will help them?

Why I Think Mark Bauerlein is STILL Wrong

Mark Bauerlein is the author of The Dumbest Generation.

Will Richardson makes his argument here. There are a lot of comments on Will’s post, both for and against Bauerlein’s assumptions, for lack of a better term.

Mark Bauerlein is also interviewed here.

What Bauerlein still fails to understand:

  • Yes, most adults say that young people are “tech-savvy.” Bauerlein argues they are not. I agree, only in the fact that young people know how to use the technical aspects of new technologies. They do not always understand the WHY’s, the SHOULD’s, and the SHOULD NOT’s. (See one of my previous posts regarding the three classes of the Digital Divide, especially Class II.) Does this make them dumber? NO. That would be like saying to a person, “Here’s a car, but I’m not going to teach you how to drive it” — and then telling them they were stupid for driving the only way they knew how.
  • The reason that many young adults know how to design a mind-blowing MySpace layout, but not really anything that will help them in the workforce (his assumptions, not mine) is that many of the adults in these young people’s lives won’t take the time to learn what their kids/students are doing. Without guidance and positive role models, many young people are turning to the things that merely interest them… usually social things like friends’ comment walls or who’s “pwning” whom in World of Warcraft.
  • Bauerlein asks: Who do they want as their heroes? Pop stars, or George Washington, Margaret Thatcher, Jesse Owens . . .?” Is the technology to blame if they choose pop stars, or is it society? Are our young people less intelligent if they would rather watch Hannah Montana… or revel in the schadenfreude brought about by the fall of Britney Spears? Honestly, is this because they are a “dumber generation,” or is this typical of young people in general… as well as our society (who makes the news more often? Britney or Warren Buffett?) I’m fairly certain that a teenager in 1957 was more interested in Elvis Presley than what the Russians were doing with Sputnik. As a fact, a preference does not make one more or less intelligent.
  • I have no argument with Bauerlein as he notes that reading and literacy are incredibly vital to one’s education, experience, writing skills, etc. I love books and wouldn’t trade reading a book for reading a blog, commenting on a social profile, or playing around in Second Life. But I can do ALL OF THE ABOVE. I have the maturity to know I need to have all those experiences. My 15-year-old doesn’t have that maturity. Her experience is dependent upon what I help her learn… but also what her school helps her learn. If her school and/ or parents never introduce her to Web 2.0 technologies, she is left to her own devices to know how to use those tools. I have encouraged her to blog to improve her writing skills, including self-assessment and revision. In blogging, she can choose to write about whatever she wants, and will probably be more engaged. On top of that, she can have instant feedback from more than one person — most students’ writing never sees an audience beyond their classroom teachers. If she uses this tool, she has opportunities to learn above what she can do with pencil and paper, but someone has to help her learn about online responsibility and accountability.
  • I don’t think that Generation Y is dumber… and that they don’t care (see Bauerlein interview linked above) . I think many of them are more socially aware of their world than anyone in my generation ever was… because they are more connected to that world. My teenagers know about what has happened recently in Myanmar and China. There are groups in Facebook, groupw\s started by TEENAGERS, who are sending donations of food, clothes, and money through accredited, reliable sources to help the people of those regions. My generation’s social awareness (at the same age) would have been entirely bankrupt without Bob Geldof, Quincy Jones, and Michael Jackson writing songs that happened to be on MTV and happened to be about helping others. We thought it was cool because it was a bunch of musical superstars getting together to sing “catchy” tunes. Did I really know anything about the plight of the children in Africa? No, but I could tell you who was singing which line in “Do They Know It’s Christmas.”
  • What Bauerlein also doesn’t understand is that generalities tend to influence people in power– the very same people making decisions about testing school children, writing policies that dictate what can be taught or used to teach. When older generations read his book, his “citations” of statistics, they automatically label an entire generation. Are there some kids who care about nothing other than Halo? Yes. Are there others out there scoring higher on ACTs and SATs than ever before? Absolutely! Perhaps our education standards and measurements are more to blame for the statistics Bauerlein cites so proudly. When we measure kids in our public schools with tools that were used to measure kids 10 years ago, 20 years ago… in some cases even 50 years ago… then WE as adults and educators are failing that generation. When we have kids failing because they can’t read, is it because they’re too “dumb” — they don’t care, they’d rather play video games? Or is it more because the older generations haven’t figured out how to be relevant and meaningful to a generation who needs career preparation for jobs that don’t even exist yet?

To be completely honest, I do cringe when I go to the mall or to the movies and encounter young people who use offensive language as if it were everyday, acceptable language. When I see young men with their waistlines sagging below their knees, I just want to throw a ball of twine at them and shout, “PULL UP YOUR PANTS!” When I hear my daughter and her friends say the word, “like,” 62 times (yes, I actually counted this once) within the course of a 10 minute conversation, I want to take an ice pick to my eardrums. However, do I think they’re dumber because of who they are and when they’re growing up? No. If I see a child with bad manners, my first thought is, “Why isn’t there an adult in this person’s life teaching this kid some manners???”

I’m also pretty certain that adults in 1957 thought that kids who listened to that crazy rock and roll and followed that devil, Elvis Presley were the dumbest generation. If you do a search for successful adults who were teenagers in 1957, whom do you find?

If you really want to call a generation the “dumbest,” Mr. Bauerlein, why don’t you point the finger at the generations before Generation Y… and call them out for not owning up to their responsibilities in properly educating, preparing, and engaging these young people? We must prepare them for THEIR world… not ours. Our world is gone. Their world is now.

The Digital Divide- Not Just the Haves and Have-Nots

For quite some time, the Digital Divide has been a term describing the existing gap between the “Haves” and “Have-Nots” — pertaining to access to technology. Essentially, the Digital Divide classifies people all over the world into two classes: those who have access to and know how to use digital technologies, and those who don’t (to read more, go to the Digital Divide Network).

The more I work with kids, however, I feel there are really three classes that need our attention:

Class I: this is the class of students who have digital access, at school and maybe at home– who are creators, producers, problem-solvers, etc., who have been given the opportunity to work with educators in digital environments. They have had guidance concerning how to use these tools responsibly (from educators and parents); and at some level, this class of students understands the implications of what they create and publish for the world to see. These students work in digital environments in and outside of the classroom and view their digital experiences as learning, socializing, and global responsibility opportunities. In some cases, these students also will have had an opportunity to learn about a healthy balance of “plugged in” time vs. “unplugged.”

Class II: these students also have access to digital environments, but have had less guidance from adults as to best digital practices. In their schools, their personal digital devices (e.g., cell phones, mp3 players) are usually banned, and computer use and web access is most often viewed as a reward rather than the norm. Academically speaking, this class of students will use web resources for research, but are usually digitally unaware of validity and reliability of said resources. There is little to no guidance for this class of students, either at school or at home, about what is acceptable, appropriate, and responsible behavior on the web. Their view of digital environments is generally limited to socializing opportunities… envision a social networking page with multiple inappropriate comments, photos, and videos. These students tend to stay “plugged in” more than their Class I counterparts. Although this class of students has digital access, these students probably will not have the advantages and preparation for post-secondary education and adult life that the Class I students will have.

Class III: these students do not have digital access at home. If their schools do not provide the proper balance, these students are often cheated of digital experiences entirely. In schools where technology is viewed as an extra or as a privilege, many of these students fall behind at extraordinary rates. They do not create, publish, produce, or problem-solve in digital environments, and they are usually relegated to the state of consumer in the classroom. Higher-level thinking skills are only nurtured within this group by outstanding classroom teachers; however, without the digital experiences, this group is so far behind the Class I students, they may face an unsurmountable disadvantage as adults in the 21st Century.

This post is not promoting an initiative for all schools to add a 1:1 laptop ratio into every classroom, assuming that a laptop is the panacea for the Digital Divide. Nor is it an assumption that students can’t learn higher level thinking skills without technology. Think, however, about the following examples:

Jack: has access in school and at home, has a web-enabled cell phone he is allowed to use to find answers and to communicate with the world around him, has parents who set reasonable limits for the time he spends “plugged in” and have guided him about responsible behavior. Jack creates his own podcasts about how to use digital video editing software, writes his own blog about the upcoming US elections, and creates public service announcement videos for teens that may be seen on YouTube and sometimes even local television stations.

Brittany: covertly text messages her friends during classes at school- where cell phones are banned, populates her MySpace page with provocative photos of herself and her friends, chats with strangers online and pretends she is much older than she truly is, publishes her cell phone number and home address on all her social networking sites, and writes a research-based paper for her science class on global warming using only the first five returns on Google. Brittany has no limitations on how much time she spends “plugged in.”

Delanie: Delanie does not have a cell phone or a computer at home with internet access. The only time she has any digital experiences is when her classroom teacher takes the entire class to the computer lab. There are some computers in her classroom, but she has a more difficult time in school than her peers and it takes her longer to finish classwork. The computer in this classroom is a privilege and may be used only after worksheets are completed and turned in to the teacher… with no mistakes. Delanie has no idea about the world of blogs, wikis, podcasts, etc., except for what she hears other kids talk about.

Do you know students like Jake, Brittany, and Delanie? Would it surprise you to know that, even though I changed their names, these examples are students I actually know?

How would you classify your own students? What can you do to help bridge their Digital Divide?

Digital Natives and their Digital Immigrant Parents

As we continue our attempts in helping adults understand how children are learning– and how they need to learn in school– we tend to forget about one very important group of adults: PARENTS.

At one point, I assumed parents would advocate for finding new ways to engage students in their own learning. Who wouldn’t want their own children to have the best possible learning environment? What I’m finding, at least in our area, is that parents sometimes are the ones more concerned with standardized test scores, with how their child is competing with the next… and the Web is simply something that kids do on their own time.

eSchoolNews posted this yesterday:

“American parents agreed by a wide margin that digital media skills are important to kids’ success in the 21st century, but they also expressed skepticism about whether digital media could contribute to the development of skills such as communicating, working with others, and establishing civic responsibility…

• 67 percent of parents said they did not think the web helped teach their kids how to communicate.
• 87 percent of parents said they did not believe the web helped their kids learn how to work with others.
• Three out of four parents did not believe the web can teach kids to be responsible in their communities.”

Maybe they haven’t heard about students at Wells Elementary School in Wells, Maine who use blogs and podcasts to learn collaboratively. In this Apple Education featured profile, teacher Bob Sprankle is quoted,

“Instead of me teaching the kids discrete skills in isolation… in the process of making podcasts they’ve started teaching each other these skills… Creating the podcasts has completely changed their writing and language skills.”

And maybe parents haven’t noticed that young people are creating groups daily in Facebook, such as  “Helping Orphans in Myanmar” or “Relay4Life”  where important information, dates, donation websites, and other calls for action may be shared with anyone who joins the group and wants to help. These groups don’t always make the traditional news media… and a lot of parents don’t have a clue what their kids are doing on Facebook. It’s not just about stocking up on friends anymore.

My kids are so much more globally aware than I was at their ages. They have genuine concern for what’s going on in their world, and they want to do something about it. When they can’t find an avenue to help, they blog about how they feel and ask if anyone else feels the same way.

And maybe these same parents haven’t heard about The Pitot House entry on Wikipedia. Will Richardson talked about this particular Wikipedia entry at a conference I attended recently. This entry in Wikipedia was first added by an elementary teacher and her 3rd grade students, not by any historians or community experts in New Orleans. Here’s a real-life experience for these kids… they had to research the landmark and then decide what to tell the world about it. This wasn’t a report that only the teacher would read.

To be certain, there are some concerns about the chaotic nature of the Web. As a parent, I can understand the hesitancy. But as we continue to press educators to open their minds to the educational possibilities of the Web, it becomes more and more obvious that we need to invite all the stakeholders into our discussions… and parents most definitely need to be involved.