DigCit in Elementary Classroom

When kindergarten students are given a book, teachers patiently guide children though picture walk and read-aloud activities to scaffold knowledge and skills necessary for becoming independent readers. When the time comes for kids to start driving, parents send them to driving schools to build new knowledge and skills with an expert. Throughout their childhood, kids develop life-long skills with support of an expert adult, and their mastery level often determines how successful their future may be. Demands of the 21 century flooded education with thousands of interactive web tools, online resources, global e-communities, opportunities for instant publishing, and diverse technology gadgets that kids bring to school. When Katrina Schwartz wrote in her blog: “It’s becoming less and less effective to block students from websites,” I thought of all don’t-s and not-s we list for our students when teaching them about digital citizenship and the Internet safety. How effective are we with such strategies? Is it better to focus on do-s and how-s instead?

Every educator and parent would agree that teaching how to use the Internet safely and effectively is a necessary topic that needs to be addressed in schools. Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America 2013, a Common Sense Media research study, is a certain confirmation of how imperative it truly is. Teachers cannot afford to ignore technologies in a classroom with an excuse of keeping students safe on the Internet. Instead, it is an emergency skill that needs to be introduced to students at an early age. The most difficult task for teachers and parents is to balance the safety of students with the benefits and learning opportunities that come with the Internet use (Richardson, 2010).

As an elementary school teacher, I think planning and testing is one strategy teachers should use to keep students safe online. Teachers should preset online resources for students to utilize in researching activities. Videos and all comments for them should be previewed before shown in front of students. Teachers should seek and learn information about kid-friendly search engines and digital media resources, explore different safety settings and modes, terms of use, and model appropriate behaviors to students. In my opinion, Common Sense Media is an outstanding resource to learn such information and participate in self-directed professional learning.

Another powerful strategy for teaching the Internet safety is integrating it into everyday curriculum. Teachers should use reading passages and writing prompts that address the topic of online safety. Such integration will increase student understanding of the issues. Edutopia (specifically the blog section of it) is full of lesson resources, tips, and specific strategies on how digital citizenship may become a content base for teaching the core curriculum. NetSmartzKids is a student-centered resource that can be easily implemented in daily instruction and allow children to explore the Internet safety topics and practice skills for appropriate online behavior.

The Internet safety is more than not publishing students’ names and pictures online. It is about responsibilities, expectations, and trust (Richardson, 2010).  Building a classroom community where these characteristics are embedded into everything students and teachers do is one more strategy that can help kids stay safe when using the Internet. An open and consistent communication with students and parents is crucial in developing an environment like that. In addition to kid-friendly curriculum ideas for elementary classrooms, iKeepSafe is a powerful resource teachers may utilize in educating parents about the Internet safety through classroom newsletters or after school workshops.

There are many great websites that can help us educate students about safety online and digital citizenship, but, in my opinion, the best online resource for this topic is the #digcit on Twitter. I encourage every teacher to participate in their biweekly chats at least once to experience the power of social professional learning.

References

Richardson, W. (2010). Blogs, wikis podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms. California: Corwin A SAGE Company.

Learning with Screencasts

Screencasting is one of the tools I have been looking forward to learning about for a long time. I knew what screencasts were and saw multiple possibilities for implementing them in a classroom, but I have never created one myself. Our fourth grade team asked me for directions on how to set up projects in wikispaces. We all had a busy week, so it was impossible to meet in person for a short training session. I decided it was a perfect opportunity to face my new challenge and create a screencast. I was in love from first try, and I felt silly for not utilizing this tool before. The simplicity and convenience made it possible to provide support to teachers without calling a face-to-face meeting.

I used Screencast-O-Matic to record, edit, and upload the video to my YouTube channel. In twenty minutes, I was able to email the link to teachers and was overwhelmed by their responses. They thought it was the most convenient and effective way to learn how to use a technology tool and to do so on their terms. Teachers loved the fact that they could pause, rewind, and replay the video as many times as needed, while clicking along the presentation. Now, I am looking at all handouts I have ever created and see a plan ahead of me – creating screencasts and make them available to teachers on demand.

I think screencasts deserve a place in any classroom. Ether we flip instruction, create resources to support individual needs of our students, or assess their work, screencasting is a perfect tool to utilize in any grade level. In elementary school, students need constant support in learning how to use technology. Screencasts can save valuable instructional time and teach kids to learn independently how technology tools work. Short screencasts on how to save a file, upload a picture, or navigate an online learning management platform can help teach students how to follow step-by-step directions and take ownership of their learning. With this purpose in mind, I’ve created a screencast for second grade students to learn how to set up a Hangman vocabulary game in itsLearning, a new online platform we utilize this year.

I downloaded Jing and gave it a try, too. I love how simple it is to navigate it. I have learned how to create my own hot key from the video tutorials Jing offers. After setting one up, I am able to use it at any time on my computer.I think the annotation tool opens many possibilities for teaching students about digital literacy. It may be a powerful strategy for kids to utilize when researching and analyzing information online. Students can snap a picture, highlight a part of a text or an image that may be confusing or fascinating for them, and immediately share it in a discussion board, Padlet wall, or Google Doc.

Since we are a BYOT (bring your own technology) school, I see screencasts being used by students to demonstrate how different apps may be used in creating presentations, working on projects, taking notes, and managing different learning tasks. It will help students expand their knowledge about tools for learning and show teachers the power of learning from students. Teachers do not need to know every app for every device out there. Instead, they need to empower students and allow them to share their expertise and personal strengths. Explain Everything, Educreations, and ScreenChomp can be used for this purpose since Screencast-O-Matic and Jing are not available for iOS devices.

Present Pedagogical Ecosystem

Social networking is not a bubble filled with colleagues we know. It’s precisely the opposite – an enormous, continuously changing environment in which we choose to collaborate and learn from people we may not know personally. It’s a new pedagogical ecosystem that takes down classroom walls and makes our teaching transparent. We must allow ourselves to be vulnerable to appreciate the power of social networking in education. Unfortunately, many teachers are afraid to take that risk today.

Edmodo is a great example of a dynamic online environment that helps build a learning community in which every member is given a voice and empowered to influence another. I’ve used Edmodo for two years, and I find it to be a perfect platform for teaching digital literacy and writing. Either it’s a brainstorming activity or feedback on a rough draft, Edmodo offers features to do it effectively and efficiently. There is something special about being able to post a question, sit back, and watch kids think and communicate online. I know who my students truly are because Edmodo conversations let the students run the learning show while I am offstage, assessing their skills and academic performance. I love the annotating tool within assignments, too. This feature allows me to comment on student work submitted in any format (documents, Power Point presentations, images, and etc.), converse with a student about mistakes, and continue a one-on-one writing conference in this manner. One click, and students are able to see my notes, start revisions, or ask questions. As each draft improves, Edmodo keeps track of all submitted versions which enables me to see how well students analyze feedback and are able to improve own work. In addition, a few Edmodo apps that support writing instruction in a classroom are available for purchase. Teachers can join Language Art or Writing communities to collaborate with other professionals on specific topics, strategies, or lesson ideas.

To me, Google Docs are a well-packaged collaborative platform, and its possibilities are limited only by one’s imagination. I know many of us create documents and presentations to share with others, but we often forget the purpose of this tool: creating something together, revising, and perfecting it. I imagine Google Docs being an engine for writing instruction. For example, a document can be a place for groups to brainstorm ideas, categorize them, and develop a plan in the pre-writing stage. While writing rough drafts, students can evaluate each other’s work using requirements of a rubric and provide specific feedback to improve it. Writing itself can be collaborative: students may work in pairs to develop a story. Teachers would not need to carry thirty composition books home to read and comment on student writing. Instead, they can dive into it with Google Docs, comment on strength, and define weaknesses upon which students can act immediately.

I also imagine teachers writing together with Google Docs. Why not to set up a document that would serve as a lesson plan template? Teachers can divide and conquer multiple subjects or units at the same time. While one is developing lessons for math, another teacher finishes language arts activities. With no emails or hard copies, both have access to the ready-to-go  lesson plans. Google Docs can help us teach kids how to plan, execute, and evaluate work that is accomplished collaboratively. The same approach can be implemented when developing teaching or professional learning resources. Collaboratively created presentations and documents can then be implemented in classrooms and/or become a part of the school resource library. Below is an example of a short presentation that offers some suggestions on how technology can be implemented in writing instruction.

Honestly, I do not even remember what I did to gather and record information before I learned about Google Forms. Did I take notes on every response and then manually combined them into a data sheet? That’s a scary thought…Today, I use Google Form almost everyday. For example, I fill one out every time I observe teachers and provide feedback on their technology integration strategies. I have developed a simple form and set it up so the feedback is automatically emailed to teachers as soon as I click the submit button. The feedback is immediate, and I have a summary report for every observation I conduct. Then I analyze the combined data, represent it in numbers and graphs, and share it with the staff. I have implemented other forms for the kindergarten registration process, app suggestion surveysthe end-of-the-year technology check list, and many more. Just like social networking tools, Google Docs are a convenient way to support creativity, communication, and collaboration among teachers, students, and parents.