Wednesday, May 11, 2011

iReflect - Photo Booth as a Learning Mirror

This term I have made a point of providing space in the timetable for the children to reflect on their learning.  I doubt that many people would deny the importance, for anyone, of taking a step back and thinking about what you have learned, how you have learned, what goals you have achieved (or not) and why. 

The typical day in the classroom can pass by with such speed that it is easy as a learner, and as a teacher, to get to the final bell and wonder how you got there. And then the next day it all starts again. It’s no wonder so many parents complain that finding out about their child’s day is like getting blood out of a stone!
All of us value physical reflection. Could you live without a mirror? Or the odd shop window reflection here and there? Clearly some value it more than others (!!). A mirror gives us feedback about ourselves, and we act to make adjustments in order to improve our appearance. So important is this to us that we will often seek out our reflection throughout the day, even just for a glance - it’s a kind of plumb-line I suppose, to stop us veering too far off track (hat hair!!).
Yet reflection on learning is not something that necessarily comes as naturally, especially for children. Writing reflective statements in a journal, or below their maths work before going to lunch can be quite burdensome - more burdensome than the maths itself for some!  
Because of this I have started using Photo Booth as a tool to capture the students’ reflections. The nature of recording oneself with a webcam seems to integrate the physical concept of reflection with the inner processes that are occurring. I allow about 10 minutes towards the end of the day to look back over what we have learned and discussed, (including the social learning that occurs the playground). They can jot down a few ideas if they like, before finding a quiet place in the room to record their thoughts.

When we started this some students didn’t really know how they should speak or what they should say. To help with this I have given them some reflection tools, to prompt their thinking. The Stepping Stones cards from The Learning Project are ideal for this kind of thing. I love the quote on their website: 

Trying to learn without reflecting and reviewing is like trying to fill a bath without putting the plug in!

We also have a Reflection Circle on the mat at the end of the day, where five or six children can share something they’ve learned, something they didn’t know when they woke up, or something they can do better now, or perhaps a goal for the next day. This doesn’t take up much time, and I believe is worth the investment. It models and normalises the reflective process and is a nice way to end the day.
What tools for reflection do you use in your classroom? Does your timetable prioritise reflection in some way? Please leave your comments below!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

No, we won't be needing a graphic organiser...

I read a blog post today by Dean Shareski, in which he quoted Darren Kuropatwa's question, 'What is it I can do now that I couldn't do before?'.  What a great question, and a constant challenge to those lucky enough to have digital tools in their classrooms that would have been undreamt of in the not too distant past.

This past week my class has started a new term, and a new inquiry 'A Bug's Life', looking at arthropods (insects, spiders etc) in our neighbourhood, and the effect they have on us, as mammals sharing this environment. There is so much scope for wonderment and awe when we look at the world of bugs - beyond what Hollywood sci-fi movie makers could think of in the originality, complexity and freakishness of some of these alien-like creatures.

My students are already excited about it, and I have had jars of collected bugs coming out my ears this week, as they have gone about their house and garden looking for strange creatures and bringing them in (one parent told me, "She's gone bug-mad this week!").  Usually at the start of an inquiry I will spend some time finding out what the students know already, and what they want to learn. I might have done this using a graphic organiser in the past, but I love the fact that now we can really bring this curiosity to life, in relatively simple ways, using video and web 2.0 tools.

Below is a very short and simple video we made, stitching their questions together as soundbites, choosing an iMovie theme, and getting some backing music from Garageband. So easy, and so much more interesting (and shareable) than writing this down on a graphic organiser. What's more, it was our first time posting a video on Youtube, so they were very excited about that.

As you will see on the class wiki link above (A Bug's Life), we used Wallwisher to post some of the things we already knew. Another new experience for the children, and fun at the same time.

I'm really looking forward to getting into the inquiry more, and exploring what it is we can do now that we couldn't do before. I'd really like them to become junior entomologists, and create mini nature documentaries in the style of the late Steve Irwin (The Crocodile Hunter) and New Zealand's own Bugman, Ruud Kleinpaste. We could then enter these in the MADE Awards.

What an exciting time to be a teacher!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

TMI? Children's disclosure of personal information online

The world in which children live is inherently full of risk. Some might argue that a risk-free childhood is no childhood at all. However, the ubiquity of the internet and social media in the lives of children today presents a range of risks which differ not so much in kind with those of the past, but in potential. The ease with which information, text and images can be stored, copied, manipulated, replicated and misused, (Livingstone and Brake, 2010) has created a need for vigilance and action on the part of parents and educators. 

Children's disclosure of personal information on social networking sites in New Zealand is an issue of high public interest, as revealed by the current media attention given to it, such as this report on Close Up  about adolescent use of Facebook. In addition, the 2010 report by the Privacy Commissioner, 'Individual Privacy and Personal Information', identified the information children put on the internet about themselves as the issue that caused most concern among respondents, as it also did in 2008. 

However,  it remains a desperately under-researched field, making it difficult for parents, educators and policy-makers to make informed decisions about how best to impart the skills needed for children to become good digital citizens, with a high level of awareness of their rights and responsibilities towards themselves and others.

Last year as part of my post-grad study I reviewed a lot of the literature around this issue and drew up a research proposal. Perhaps one of the most significant findings of a number of the articles I surveyed was that generally young people are using social networking websites responsibly and consistently with how they conduct their offline behaviour, and that the actual risk from online predators is very, very low. Yet the small percentage of those who do take privacy risks are of sufficient numerical size (considering the millions of users of social networking websites) to justify considerable concern from researchers, educators and parents (De Souza & Dick, 2008; Williams & Merton, 2008; Hinduja & Patchin, 2008).

Below is a summary of the research proposal I put together that highlights many of the key issues and how I would go about researching them.

A further implication of the literature that came through again and again is that any effort to increase privacy awareness and protection skills must include parents. Because many schools approach social networking websites with caution, or block them outright, young people tend to spend most of their online social networking time at home, or on mobile devices. Many studies show that parental supervision of online behaviours reduces the amount of risk-taking behaviour, but that the awareness and skill levels of those parents was often not sufficient to provide the support that young people needed (Ofcom, 2008; Berson et al., 2008; Sharples et al., 2009; De Souza & Dick, 2008; Berson & Berson, 2006; Steeves and Webster, 2008;
Youn 2005; Hinduja & Patchin, 2009; Wirth et al., 2009)

Part of this is no doubt due to the rapid pace at which the technology and habits of use of young people change. It may well be that if a school wishes to be most effective in protecting its young people from the risks of personal information disclosure, then the school has a role to play in educating parents through seminars and workshops, and must see this work as a partnership. Hope (2002) and Ofsted (2010) both affirm the importance of schools and families working together in partnership, with schools needing to be proactive in initiating this partnership. The research mentioned above by the Privacy Commissioner, as well as the fact that increasing numbers of older adults are using social networking sites like Facebook, suggests that there could be considerable demand for such a programme.

How aware are you of how your students are using social networking sites? How does your school involve parents in digital citizenship education? All thoughts and comments welcome!