Monthly Archives: December 2013

Course Two: Final Project

 

Photo Credit: Anirudh Koul via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Anirudh Koul via Compfight cc

For my final project, I worked with Laura Blair, the middle school tech integrator at our school, to create a unit in which students create a tourist website for a Francophone city or region. AISC has increased the amount of material that middle school language students cover at every level this year, and I have found it challenging to finish the materials that I am supposed to cover with my students this year. Although I think that our students do need a rigorous curriculum to be prepared for high school world language courses, I find myself trying to teach so much vocabulary and grammar that learning about Francophone regions has taken the backseat. My students do absolutely need to be able to conjugate verbs in order to be successful at more advanced levels of French. However, they also need to learn more than just the “foundational skills” of vocabulary and grammar that are the cornerstones of our language program. As a new teacher in this program, I am still working on finding that balance. I wanted this unit to address some of the AERO World Language Standards for Cultures, since I am sometimes feeling that I am not devoting adequate classroom time to these standards in my rush to cover enough grammar to prepare my students for high school. Laura and I designed this unit together, and then she also shared this unit with a friend of hers, and this other teacher is planning to use it in her classroom in Florida.  I always enjoy working with Laura, since her technology background is so extensive! My original thought was for students to create an online travel brochure via Prezi or a comparable site, and to collect notes on Diigo (Laura’s friend suggested also creating a Diigo group to aid in the organization of that material). Student will collect the images they use via Compfight, since the NETS-S Standards we included emphasize the importance of digital citizenship. Laura suggested that instead of doing a Prezi-type brochure, my students could make a website. She said that the former French teacher at our school had created websites with students successfully. Personally, after having seen how difficult it was for many of my students to do their VoiceThread projects as my Course 1 Final Project, I am interested to see how this goes. I admire Laura’s ambition on the project, and I am glad that she is back from her pregnancy leave, so she will be in my classroom to support my students when we do roll out this project in the upcoming months. I’m really fortunate to have a tech integrator who also speaks French!

Link-filled Life

Photo Credit: diesmali via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: diesmali via Compfight cc

 

 

So, I read two weeks before writing this blog entry that I had to do this blog post about hyperlinks and how I use them… and after two weeks of thinking, I still found it really hard to answer! The reality is that the question of how do you use hyperlinks almost feels like asking “How do you use oxygen?” Now I’m back to editing this post a month later, and I am still finding it really challenging. Sometimes the things we use the most in technology seem to be the hardest ones to actually articulate. The same way my résumé may have included a line about “skilled at using email” if I were teaching in 1997, now that skill is such an obvious one to have that I can’t even imagine my life without it. To articulate how I use email…. or in this case, the importance of hyperlinks to my online life… feels a bit like explaining the obvious. It is important because I live in 2014, not in 1994, or even 2004. I live in a hyperlink saturated world.

I don’t think about hyperlinks; I use them automatically. I follow links within blogs all the time. I follow links within news articles. I also have been linking to other sites within this blog (for example, in my previous blog post I included two hyperlinks). My friends send me links to articles. Hyperlinks are used all the time online because they are useful. They direct us to other potentially relevant or interesting material, and we often follow them for that reason. Yesterday a friend here in Chennai posted a link to an article in the NY Times about the 52 Places to go in 2014. Chennai is #26 on that list! Within about 3 hours, I had over a dozen friends repost that same hyperlink. They linked to the article because it was relevant, because they thought their friends near and far may be interested, and they posted it out of a feeling of pride to have our city included on the list. I also had two friends in the US email me a link to the article. Within the article itself, are a plethora of links to information about these 52 places. I followed some of them, for example, the one to learn about the Tren Crucero in Ecuador, which was still under construction during my trip there last winter.

In my classroom, I use links often to find relevant teaching materials and ideas, and I also send them to my students. For example, I may send my 8th grade students to Radio France Internationale to listen to a portion of the news in simple French or to read an article. I have never had a student ask why words are blue and underlined; our students know when they see a hyperlink that it is there to take them to further information. Clicking those links to access new information is as easy for them as it is for me. The beauty of the hyperlink is in the simplicity.

No one thinks, “I’m the Bully.”

Photo Credit: nist6ss via Compfight cc

I loved ‘”Bullying” Has Little Resonance with Teenagers’ by Danah Boyd. Boyd writes about how the real problem is not new technologies making bullying easier— the problem is a lack of empathy. Young people (along with many who aren’t so young) don’t see their actions as “bullying.” In short, teens think of “bullying” as picking on someone who doesn’t deserve it. And since they think that those they ridicule or exclude are deserving of such treatment, they don’t view their actions as “bullying.” The fact that society glorifies “drama” makes this situation even worse.

How can we, as educators, teach students empathy? How can we cultivate kindness, both online and offline? I think that we have to start by modeling empathy ourselves. We also have to have direct conversations with our students about how others’ feelings are impacted by our words and actions. We have to have these conversations all the time. I think students would also benefit from watching videos like those on Common Sense Media, which give such clear examples of the consequences of bullying. I think that it is valuable to also ask students to think about what the aggressor might have been thinking as he/she did the bullying. How does a person justify bullying?

I worry that our students picture “bullies” as 100% bad kids, who are out to bully someone for the joy of bullying. While I know that those types do exist, it is also often a former friend who feels hurt and then reacts by bullying, or someone who has been excluded from a group who then also excludes. Clearly, having been hurt doesn’t give someone the right to bully, but by casting “bullies” as one-dimensional total jerks, it makes it easier for students to think, “I’m not a bully. I’m a nice kid.” It also makes it more difficult for them to see actions as bullying when they experience those hurtful acts themselves. Can a bully be a total jerk all the time? Sure. Can a normally nice kid also bully? Definitely. I teach a lot of nice kids, and I am sure many of them have bullied others at some point in time. I’m also pretty sure that few of them would categorize their actions as bullying. There really is a disconnect.

Asking a student if he/she has ever bullied someone is likely to get a negative answer, but showing examples of what bullying can look like and what can be the initial cause for it to begin would encourage students to think more critically about how they treat others, and how others treat them. Empathizing with those in the videos can be a first step towards students having greater empathy as they interact with their peers.

Is privacy too much to ask for?

Photo Credit: hyku via Compfight cc

I like having control of my privacy. I like it a lot.

I don’t mind sharing about myself as I get to know people. I don’t mind opening up to people in an organic way. I share, the other person shares, and a personal or professional relationship develops. I’m not secretive at all when I’m having a face-to-face interaction with someone, even if that person is new in my life. That said, I absolutely hate the idea of someone I have just met going online and searching for my name. Do you want to know something about me? Ask me. I won’t mind. I enjoy a good conversation. But asking Google? That thought creeps me out, probably way more than is rational. I want to be known in a human context and not a digital context.

I am at a new job, and have had a number of co-workers become my “friends” on Facebook. I have mixed feelings about that. Do I want to build friendships? Absolutely! I enjoy their company, and we are in the process of building real relationships; at the same time, I find it a bit odd and more than a bit uncomfortable to give instant access to all the photos from my past few vacations to every person I meet. I find it equally strange to be able to see so much about what they were doing a month or a year before I met them— or even what they are having for dinner tonight! In some bizarre way, I think I might treasure things more if I hold them a bit closer to myself instead of having them be public.

I also strongly value being able to change my opinions. What I think personally, and professionally, is different today than it was a few years ago. I hope that my views continue to evolve in the future. That is one major reason for why I don’t have a personal blog. To speak truthfully, I’m still not really embracing having this blog either. What seemed like a good idea for my final project for Course 1 already seems inadequate to me now. Sure, I’m in these courses to grow professionally, so not everything needs to be perfect now. I know that, and I would hope that others who look at this blog know that too. But the part of me that values privacy also thinks that I grow better when I can wrestle with ideas alone, and not have to worry about who will read my thoughts.

Watch where you step…

Photo Credit: Abizern via Compfight cc

We all have a digital footprint, regardless of whether we want to have one or not. As an international educator, or any professional for that matter, it is important for us to be aware of what is in our footprint, and for us to create as positive of a footprint as possible. We can help to make sure that happens by establishing a solid professional presence online.

Out of curiosity, I just put my name into Google. The first several links for “Hannah E. Kingsley” were to this blog. Most of the other sites were information about someone by the same name who died in 1850. I guess that woman won’t be posting anything online, so I’m not too worried about someone mistaking information about her as information about me. If I leave out my middle initial, things become a little more interesting. I get links that include my own Facebook page, some links to other Facebook pages under the same name, and some photography websites. One of the other Facebook profiles that shows up is not one that an educator would want turning up in Google search results, but the reality is that we have no control over other people’s digital footprints— even if they happen to share our name! I’d imagine that anyone searching online for information about me would have the common sense to figure out that the same as I’m not the Hannah E. Kingsley who died over 160 years ago, I’m also not some of these other people.

As far as the impact our students’ digital footprints can have on their futures… the thought actually terrifies me. So much of students’ lives are conduced online now, and much of the data associated with it will not go away with time. When I was in middle school, I kept a journal. I’m sure it was nothing to be horrified by, but I’m still glad it isn’t available to be found by a Google search. Sometimes I wrote about how my mom was driving me crazy. Sometimes I wrote about what boy I had a crush on. Sometimes I wrote about a little argument I’d had a friend (and, of course, how I was right in this argument). Then I closed my journal, stuck it on a shelf, and went on with my life. Thankfully there is no permanent digital record of what I thought when I was twelve to come back and haunt me now.

Our students’ have things so differently than I did at that age. Instead of keeping a private journal, many of them post their feelings on social media. Instead of writing a paper for a class, getting a grade, and being done with the assignment, they write reactions to books and ideas on blogs that might still be found years later. We can guide them to only post appropriate things online, to be responsible, to think about long-term implications of what they post. Hopefully, they will do all those things. The reality, however, is that even if what they post is perfectly acceptable, they might not agree with it in five years (or even in five minutes!). I know this is just the reality we live in, but it still freaks me out quite a bit! I can’t imagine if I had gone off to college, met new people, and then gave them all access to my journals from high school or middle school. I can’t imagine people I meet now being able to read what I wrote about politics when I was in high school. I am glad that I have the luxury of not having to explain that I feel completely differently than I may have felt when writing a persuasive paper about politics in high school. Our students don’t live their lives with such a degree of privacy, and teaching them how to navigate these tricky waters is so important. It is also absolutely terrifying.