Monday, October 16, 2017

#DigCitWeek

October 16-20 is Digital Citizenship Week. Schools around the country take this opportunity to build awareness and educate students on a very important topic in their lives; how we behave in digital environments.

Internet safety? Creative copyright? Fake news? These things might not be part of our core curriculum, but they are still crucial lessons that must be taught to our students so they can protect themselves in an increasingly digital world.

I have three rules for teaching this stuff to kids:

1. Be Proactive - Focus on what students can change in the future to use technology more confidently and wisely. Focus less on the mistakes they have made in the past. When you go negative and slam kids for screwing up, they shut down. Keep your message positive and about what they can do better.

2. Guide without using Fear - There are many scary things online that can place children in unsafe situations. Rather than focusing on the fear of these things, we want to empower students to know how to handle these situations and harness digital technologies in positive ways. They should not feel afraid or hopeless -- we want students to feel empowered and safe when they use technology. The internet should not feel like a minefield.

3. Focus on Behavior - Somebody once said, "It's about neurology, not technology." And while I don't know who uttered this powerful quote, I respect the concept a great deal. When we teach kids how to use digital tools in safe and legal ways, we are teaching behaviors, not technology skills. The best digital citizenship lessons don't even involve using technology.

If you want to get equipped to have these discussions or would like resources to start empowering your students to inhabit digital environments, start these these resources:

  • Common Sense Media: A full curriculum loaded with resources and activities to work through with your students. This goes way beyond one week, and that's amazing!
  • Google for Education Digital Citizenship Training: A full course for you as a teacher to explore to learn more about digital citizenship and how to teach it in your classroom. Nothing can prepare you better for teaching this stuff than learning everything about it first.
  • Google's Interland - An integrated online web-based game designed to teach the fundamentals of internet safety to younger students. A fun and engaging way to learn about behavior in online environments.
  • MediaSmarts: Resources for digital literacy and safety including overlooked topics like excessive internet use and managing online privacy.
  • NetSmartz: Online training, lesson plans, and student project kits for teaching digital literacy and citizenship.
  • Teach InCtrl: Inquiry and collaborative lessons and learning activities designed to teach key digital citizenship concepts. 
This is just the tip of the iceberg. If you want more resources, or just would like to follow along with the conversation and the movement, check out the hashtag #digcitweek on Twitter. The more we all talk about this stuff and champion it's importance, the more kids we can empower with this knowledge.

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Trouble with Templates

I’ve written about creative struggle before. Specifically how creativity is work and there’s not creative gene. A side effect of not working to be creative manifests itself as a low expectation for students to be creative as well.

Many teachers believe that creativity is innate in students. That students who are creative are just random, and that some students have “it” and some don’t. This is an issue with the way we teach as much as how we train teachers. Little work is ever put into teaching creativity or the creative process. We know that many teachers struggle with being creative themselves, but do you ever think about how this can impact students when teachers don't understand creativity?

First, a history lesson.

In times gone by it used to be that creativity was a natural part of everyday life. Back in the days of artisans and artists, innovation was just what people did to get by. It wasn’t until the industrial revolution that routinization of tasks became a necessity. Since most jobs required mastery of repeated processes, there was less need for artisanal work. Less need for thought. Less need for innovation. And schools were developed to support the model of development of basic skills for routine labor. That was key in the development of our nation. This was a template for the way we needed people to operate to maximize efficiency and productivity.

But in a post-industrial society, this template can be quite harmful. While we still need productivity and efficiency in our lives, much of what remains of our industrialized society is automated. We no longer need to train people on basics like we did before. We don’t need to template their lives to be ordinary workers carrying out simple tasks. What we need to do is more encouragement of innovation, free thought, expression, and creativity.

We need to teach students to develop their ideas and own them. Stop borrowing and start stealing. Templates can be a great thing, but when they become a crutch, we rob students from coming up with their own methods and ideas. If we search for a template every time we get started with a project, what will we do when we come up against a challenge for which there is not template? How will we ever innovate if we are always looking for blanks to fill?

We need to encourage motivation for creativity by not assigning grades to the creative process. Creativity and innovation is stifled if we standardize what achievement or effort looks like. I know we need things like rubrics to help develop feedback models and we need assessment data to gauge the needs and progress of students, but do we really need to slap a grade on everything? Too many opportunities to get creative are wasted because students want to get the best grade rather than chase their curiosity or find an inventive way to do something. Grades scare us away from creativity. More recognition of effort and process. Less emphasis on product and assessment.

Sometimes creative efforts in others don’t seem creative to us. When my daughters draw pictures of hearts and rainbows, I often see cliche representations of things that have been done a thousand times before. It is so easy to criticize these types of efforts and not see them as the first steps to something greater. The problem is, we don’t see those first steps in the process of being creative. We let it stop there, thinking these students don’t have “it”. This is just the starting point. This is where we need to start encouraging creative thought and innovation. “How can you take this farther? How can you experiment with this idea? How can to tweak this design to make it personal to you? A heart stands for love...how else could you express this?” In the classroom, these are often the most powerful conversations I have with students -- the moments when we are being reflective about the work we’re doing and how we can make it a more personal reflection of who we are and what we care about.

Demonstrations are tricky. When we show “the way” we make our own vision seem definitive. It doesn’t challenge students to create their own vision, rather it pressures them to create a carbon copy of what we have done. As an example, often in my class we would create video book trailers. I would show them one I had created in the past -- this would inevitably lead to 25 different takes on my process, my layout, my music, my transitions, etc. Ultimately I was disappointed because these projects were not popping with student personality as I hoped. I learned that by allowing students to lead the demonstrations, having them learn the tools but not see my process and vision explicitly, we were able to emphasize their own creativity. We have powerful projects that were fun, creative, and exploding with personality.

Speaking to that, we probably show examples too much and don’t spend enough defining the problem. Explaining the why. Are we just asking students to Xerox an idea or a process? Or do we want them to experience and immerse themselves in in those ideas and processes? Something I learned was to discuss problems with students. Have classroom conversations about big ideas. Challenge them to address those rather than just showing them an example and having them create their own version.

These and other problems contribute to the templates we find ourselves stuck in. Many of us can’t take a risk or get creative because we have build such rigid walls of what school is supposed to look like. Something to think about: How are you challenging students to get creative? Do you make creativity a cornerstone of the work you do in your class? Do you ask students to address problem or create projects? Do you emphasize the process of creation or the completion of the task?

Reflect on this and consider how you might be able to make creativity something you model and emphasize in your classroom every day.