Inspired by Jackson 4th Graders’ Common Sense

Yesterday, someone sent me an email about Warren T. Jackson’s 4th Grade Class led by Ms. Campbell. In part of the email, Ms. Campbell explains,

Earlier this year, my students were inspired by the Apple Education Summit and its introduction of interactive, digital textbooks on the iPad. In class we tied what we learned about this new technology in with American history to produce our persuasive essays titled, Common Sense: 2012,” inspired by Thomas Paine’s original “Common Sense in 1776.

In their writing my students discussed and persuaded why textbooks on the iPad were the inevitable replacement of the paper textbook, and the time is NOW.

Their ideas were so spectacular, Dr. Reich encouraged us to film them. I took it a step further by applying for the PTA “Teaching in Excellence” Grant. We ended up winning and produced it as a professional movie!

I am inspired by Ms. Campbell’s classroom leadership and educational innovation. I am inspired by Dr. Reich’s administration encouragement. I am inspired by the support of the PTA. I am inspired by one of my local, public elementary schools! And I am inspired by those amazing 4th graders. KUDOS to you for what you created and for that which you are advocating! [Watch them at to be inspired!]

Schools promote drivers ed – learning by driving with guidance. Schools should do same with social media.

When students reach a certain age and responsibility level, I believe that school should permit – promote even – the use of various social media tools. I think we should “Be safe and teach them to drive.” If we truly  are preparing students to lead and serve in a changing world, then we should teach students to utilize respectfully and responsibly the methods and processes that can be used in an engaged and purposeful citizenry. Literacy in today’s terms essentially demands that schools take an active role in educating our learners about how to connect with others from whom we can learn and with whom we can contribute to causes of import and worth.

I regularly think and engage with others about the reasons why students should or should not be allowed to use social media as part of school. These sessions, of course, include the opportunities, as well as the potential consequences. Perhaps soon, I will try to write a post that summarizes more of these ledger items, arranged as assets and liabilities. For now, though, I am focusing on two aspects of social media that I crave for my students: 1) encouragement and interaction from a wider, more authentic audience, and 2) opportunities to engage in civil discourse to develop one’s thinking and understanding.

1. Encouragement and Interaction from a Wider, More Authentic Audience

On Friday, December 23, 2011, I published a blog post entitled “Homework – Conforming to School Norms, Opps for Exploration, Unnecessary, Essential?” Moments after pressing the publish button, the following response came via Twitter (see image).

I know @occam98 personally; we work together at the same school. As a colleague and as an educator, I admire and respect @occam98, and I value his feedback and encouragement. To my knowledge, though, I have never met @bauerphysics. Because @occam98 tweeted about my blog, I now have encouragement and support from another educational thinker and teacher. Such feedback is wonderful. And, thanks to these two immediate responses, I may garner more comments on the actual blog post that will help me further to develop my thinking and understanding about homework as a school practice.

What if my exploration about the practice of homework were more confined, as if I could only talk to my immediate classmates and my teacher about my developing thinking and research about homework? I would have fewer potential network nodes on which to connect my thinking and learning. For students, I wish that they could engage in such connected communication through appropriate use of social media in schools. Some schools permit such use. Some schools promote it. Other schools forbid such use. Yet many students use social media independent of school. Duh! I prefer that students have the opportunity to benefit from the co-pilots, navigators, and coaches who are their school teachers (in addition to their parents). With such over-the-shoulder Yoda-dom for the emerging Luke Skywalkers, I believe students can safely interact and receive encouragement from the “teachers” whom they’ve never met in person…without turning to the Dark Side.

2. Opportunities to engage in civil discourse to develop one’s thinking and understanding

On the same day that Twitter brought the responses detailed above, I also engaged in another Twitter discussion with an acquaintance and a never-before-met-face-to-face person. If I am remembering correctly, I believe I met @SarahebKaiser at a Solution Tree event. But I have never met @Paul_Mugan. As in the above example, Sarah tweeted a blog post that I had written (“Pracademics”). I deeply appreciated the tweet and the encouragement, like I appreciated the support from @occam98 and @bauerphysics. In this second example, though, my learning advanced as a result of a different kind of online interaction than I had had in the first case. During this second case, I enjoyed participating in a fairly vigorous civil discourse, from which I grew immensely.

@Paul_Mugan, a follower of @SarahebKaiser, disagreed with an idea that Sarah tweeted – an idea specifically drawn from my “Pracademics” blog post. What then transpired was a fabulous learning opportunity for me…with a “stranger.” In the Scribd document below, I provide a taste of the dialogue and discussion. I did not capture the entire conversation on Scribd, but one could find the full exchange on Twitter. In total, I think over 30 exchanges occurred. We discussed and debated the nature of learning – acquiring versus applying knowledge. My views and opinions on the topic were both reinforced and altered. I grew tremendously in my understanding of learning – a topic that I think about quite actively. And thanks to an acquaintance and a “stranger,” I was able to think even more actively through the course of a civil disagreement and interchange. The back-and-forth provided a great opportunity for me to develop even more perspective consciousness about the complex domain of learning.

I would love for students to experience more opportunities for such civil discourse. Potential debates and discussions and teachers and learning opportunities are everywhere. With open minds and open media, we can immerse ourselves in invaluable conversations.

Also, as students engage in more project-based learning, I believe that their school activities increasingly  will tend to address various issues that confront our communities. Through such connected-communication tools as WordPress and Twitter, our students could write about their growing understanding of the issues (like our Writing Workshop: Environmental Studies eighth graders do on WordPress). Blog posts could be tweeted and readers from around the globe could engage in great discussion and civil discourse about the issues. With coaching from trusted teachers, our students could both solidify and expand their understanding. Students could connect with other thinkers and advocates on such issues as obesity, the importance of sleep, computer-assisted language translation, mass-scale window gardening, and developing better prosthetic limbs for amputees (all topics that have recently benefited from open-source problem solving). I would love for more students to contribute to such problem finding and problem solving.


Because of the connected learning in which I am involved, I believe my knowledge and understanding has accelerated exponentially in the last two years – yesterday alone provided a hyper-speed movement of my thinking on homework and learning. “School” is anytime and anywhere for me now. What’s more, on a sociological level, I tend to believe that people are good and want to help – I experience such examples from “strangers” on a daily basis now. And as a teacher, I want these lessons and perspectives for my students, too.

Synergy 8 Update – Week 3

Last week in Synergy 8, our team of 26 established and integrated our triad of foundational course-communication tools – Schoology, Posterous, and WordPress. After all, a learnopolis needs an infrastructure for advanced communication. Additionally, we began utilizing and practicing our #1 tool in Synergy – the observation journal. In the upcoming weeks, our team observations will allow us to develop projects of our choosing that address community needs about which we are curious…and about which we care.

This week, on Monday, August 29, we began Synergy with this short piece:

We wanted to use a compelling hook for enlisting the students in a prototypical project. By engaging this project as an “alpha project” for this semester’s Synergy 8  team, we could “learn by doing” within the context of a project – a project started by last year’s Synergy 8 crew. After watching the video, we coached the team through a process of determining methods and action steps for researching the perceived problem of keeping Malone Dining Hall clean. Based on the team’s gamestorming, we focused on four possible methods: 1) direct observation of Malone, 2) interviews with homerooms regarding KP, 3) interviews with Malone staff and director Robert Nash, 4) student body survey.

On Tuesday, we used Poll Everywhere to explore how we might operationalize our teams. Based on the results, we decided to jump into a “spontaneous lesson plan shift.” If we were playing football…we called an audible. We used the results to walk through eight mediated journal prompts created on the fly. We explored graphical analysis and numeracy, and we examined some misconceptions about what the Poll Everywhere data were telling us. The data revealed some teamwork issues, too, and the team members proposed solutions to the issues. We then implemented a solution and retook the Poll Everywhere survey.

Now, the Synergy 8 team is distributed in sub-teams, and we are working to develop the action steps needed to implement our community problem-solving. Before jumping in too deep, though, we paused to read Dan and Chip Heath’s Switch chapter on “Finding the Bright Spots.” We believe there is so much to learn from the example of Dr. Sternin and the Vietnamese-nutrition project. Now we plan to:

1. Enlist the community as partners in the problem-solving process, instead of swooping in and acting like we have all the answers.

2. Study the bright spots of what’s working and strategize how we can do more of that good stuff.

3. Empower the community to sustain the change needed to improve the situation.

Through this alpha project – the KP Challenge – we are addressing a serious community issue, we are bridging the work begun in Synergy 8 2010-11, and we are modeling a project process that can frame future projects that we undertake in Synergy 8. All the while, we are integrating content and skills that are typically distributed and segregated among various “departments.” We are engaged in a scientific process, we are collecting and analyzing data, we are discussing human psychology and sociology, we are drafting persuasive pieces and developing interview questions and protocols.

I cannot wait to see what tomorrow brings!

A World of #PBL Possibilities

I am training myself to see more #PBL possibilities. Through the years, and from reading such works as Dan Pink’s A Whole New Mind and Carol Dweck’s Mindset, I am convinced that being an artist largely involves practicing the acts of looking and seeing. Why would becoming a “PBL-ist” be much different?

Here are a few examples of how I am practicing being a PBL seeker, with resulting ideas for PBL. Oh…that’s project-based learning, problem-based learning, etc.

1. Using TED talks to spur thinking.

Each morning, thanks to an RSS feed, I watch at least one TED talk – it’s delivered to my computer, like a newspaper to a house. Before I even touch that beautiful red “play” arrow, I ask myself, “What is this going to show me that could be related to PBL?” This morning, I watched Geoffrey West’s “The surprising math of cities and corporations,” which I have embedded below. Throughout the talk, I imagined middle schoolers studying our city of Atlanta – understanding its historical growth, its environmental and business challenges, its political scene, etc. In my mind’s new PBL-eye, I could see students collecting the type of data that Geoffrey West describes, and I could see the students Skyping with other students in other cities as they exchanged city data and ideas. I could see them applying science thinking and sociology thinking and economic thinking to some of the issues our city faces.

2. I use my iPhone and iPad to capture pictures that spark inquiry and curiosity in me.

This week, I happened upon this growth in a nearby building. I wondered why this was growing here…what is it…how could we prevent it from growing here again? What a strong possibility for students to integrate science, math, history, and persuasive writing to enact a plan that addresses this unanticipated indoor fungi!

3. I combine #1 and #2 – I think in my mental Rolodex about what I have photographed and what I have seen on TED.

For example, with colleague Mary Cobb, I recently completed the 6th annual hanging of the Junior High School Permanent Art Collection (this is one of my greatest joys each summer!) This year, as we hung student art, we discussed Amit Sood’s TED talk, “Building a museum of museums on the web,” which I have embedded below. Can you imagine the “coolness” of students building such an online gallery of our JHPAC? Then, can you imagine this resource potentially being linked with Amit Sood’s project? The JHPAC could be another virtual gallery alongside the MoMA and the Louvre.

4. I listen to and talk with faculty.

Colleague Danelle Dietrich has become increasingly interested in various capabilities of the TI-Nspire (a graphing calculator and software). On Thursday of last week, she was sharing her excitement as she was thinking about the mathematics of leaf veins. She had some great ideas for importing leaf images and studying the vein-ation of the leaves. We started to brainstorm about the relationships of blood vein-ation to leaf vein-ation. Then, we hypothesized about the relationship of computer networks and communications veins to leaf veins and blood veins. Can you imagine students writing letters and websites to city politicians explaining their study of the communications systems of Atlanta and the need to rethink the vein-ation of our networks around town?

What ideas are you imagining? It all starts with imagination…just like a young child imagining a pretend world. We are only limited by our capacity to realize our imaginations through creative expression. And our capacities can expand – with teamwork, practice, and persistence.

Get your #PBL-lenses on!

Be safe and teach them to drive!

Safety is paramount! Safety is really rule #1. As a parent and as a professional educator, I believe fervently that safety is critically important. Safety, precaution, and care come in many different forms. When my boys, now ages four and six, were infants, my wife and I “baby proofed” our house. We used stick-on pads around the brick-cornered hearth, plastic-insert caps for the electric outlets, etc. We essentially restricted use of these items and places. However, as our boys grow older, our precautions are taking different forms.

We are a family of water enthusiasts and boaters. We require that our boys wear life jackets when they ski, tube, and kayak. When I kayak, I wear a life jacket, and I use safe boating practices. I clip a safety whistle to my jacket, for example. For my kayak paddle, I even employ a leash so that the paddle cannot get away from me if I capsize or run into other trouble. I boat safely, and I teach my sons the critically important rules and expectations of boating safety. They see me utilize these safety practices, and they hear a lot from me about how to have fun in safe, appropriate ways. When they learn to drive, I imagine I will use similar processes, just as my parents did for me – from a perspective of experienced, wise use.

Engaging in social media and technology for the purposes of fun and education should follow a similar philosophy in my opinion. Just as I ready my boys for safe, responsible use of boats and water equipment, I believe we must ready our students for safe, responsible use of the Internet and social media spaces. When they are “too young,” we should even restrict their access to certain tools and places. However, as they reach a certain age, the best education is teaching and modeling wise, responsible use.

My school is forwarding a substantial technology shift for us: moving from PC to Apple, and moving closer toward 1:1. As we do so, a number of policies and foundational philosophies are becoming exposed, reconsidered, analyzed, and re-examined. That is a good thing! However, a few people seem to be allowing fear and media hype to cloud perspective. Let’s not be guilty of letting the 1% of bad overshadow the 99% of good…even though media tends to report 99% of the time on all that could go wrong. Think: chances of being in a plane crash vs number of safe journeys that happen everyday…and what media reports when a rare crash does occur. Same trend happens with regard to tech use (particularly with “social media”) among school-age learners.

Safety, of course, is paramount! Restricted access to particular services, sites, and domains for certain ages is certainly part of the equation. Nevertheless, deliberate teaching of digital citizenship is a MUST DO! In addition to those shared in the introduction to this post, a few other metaphors and analogies come to mind:

Driver Education

For safety’s sake, we would probably be safer (in the short run) to restrict driving until about age 22-25. But we don’t. We educate children how to drive. That education occurs each and every time they ride in a car with an adult, and it continues with drivers’ ed and preparation for a learner’s permit and a full license.

As adults, we teach teens how to drive by modeling for many years. Then, when the time nears for the teens driving themselves, we take a seat in the passenger position, and instruct them how to drive. We do this from a perspective of years of driving ourselves. Many times, my parents wished they had a set of pedals and a second steering wheel – if their body motions from the passenger seat were any indicator. My dad pumped an imaginary brake and grabbed the dashboard more than a few times. He cringed when I ground the gears learning to drive a stick shift. My dad and mom encouraged, fussed, hollered, and praised. But they never said, “You are not driving until you are much older!” They knew I was preparing to drive myself, and they prepared me for the real responsibility of driving as a good, careful citizen of the roads.

We do not give the car keys to 10 year olds. The example in this video would be ridiculous!

But we do give the car keys to 15 and 16 year olds. And they learn by doing. I believe responsible use of the Internet and social media should be similar. I do not believe 11 year olds should be using Facebook or Twitter. But by age 13, I think we should be teaching them how to drive – by modeling and instructing. By letting them learn by doing.

Freedom from Chemical Dependency

When I was an undergraduate, majoring in economics, I studied the economics and public policy of vice and substance use/abuse as one of my focus areas of application. Through the lenses of demand and supply models, I came to understand the critical importance of demand-side intervention for drug abuse. Because of the profit margins in drug sales (unfortunately), supply-side interventions fall short – there sadly seems to be an endless line of folks who become willing to sell and supply. Therefore, consumer education rises as a fundamental, primary strategy. People must know the dangers of what they are doing/might do if we hope to win the war on drugs…if we hope to curb demand of the bad stuff. Part of that education must include information and practice of how to achieve natural highs…if we hope to build demand for the good stuff.

Use of social media is similar. The tools and services are human dominated. A supply-side only restriction is doomed to failure in a market place with strong demand for the commodity. So we must educate our consumers. We must teach good use, model good use, practice good use, and advocate good use. We must enhance demand for positives and decrease demand for negative/harmful use.

A Number of Interesting and Excellent Resources

Articles abound on Internet safety and school-age children using tech tools such as social media. The articles tend to run a spectrum – from total restriction of use to teaching safe, responsible use. Here are a few:

Social Networking Policies for School Employees
By Christopher P. Stief, Fisher & Phillips, LLP (Philadelphia)

Kids Connecting With Adults Online
Teach students how to learn with adults from around the world.
January 2010 by Will Richardson

Why Parents Should Both Monitor And Empower Kids Using Social Media
From the Huffington Post by Tina Barseghian

For me, two of the most powerful resources are these next PLP (Powerful Learning Practice) posts. In brief, I think they both speak to us educators (including us parents, of course!) being prepared and PROACTIVE about learning and teaching wise, responsible use of technology tools – especially the exponentially growing category of social media spaces and applications. Forest Hills Elementary Schools is developing a purposeful, deliberate scope and sequence curriculum for instructing elementary students about the safe and SMART use of social media.

Thinking SMART about Digital Citizenship
By PLP team members from Forest Hills Elementary Schools

All Principals Should Be Tech Savvy
By Lyn Hilt

In the book, Communicating and Connecting with Social Media, authors Bill Ferriter, Jason Ramsden, and Eric Sheninger end the book this way:

Most importantly, though, social media tools are redefining the way your students are interacting with one another. In fact, three out of every four online teens are already using services like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter to stay connected with one another (Lenhart, Purcell, Smith & Zickuhr, 2010). Isn’t it time that we worked to respect, rather than ridicule and ban, the spaces that our students are creating? Wouldn’t responsible teaching involve showing students how the social tools they have already embraced can be leveraged for learning – and couldn’t experimenting with new spaces for communication and professional development leave you better prepared to find ways to responsibly integrate social media into your building’s instructional practices?

Those are the kinds of powerful questions that are waiting for your answers! (73-74).


1. Let us adults model good, wise responsible use of the Internet and social media by engaging in these practices ourselves – let’s show kids the great ways these tools can be used for learning and positive engagement and change.

2. Let us adults empower students to learn to drive themselves, to boat safely and enjoy the water, and to understand the dangers, as well as the countless opportunities, that exist in the virtual, connected world.

It’s about learning!

Works Cited:

Ferriter, William M., Ramsden, Jason T., Sheninger, Eric C. Communicating and Connecting with Social Media. Solution Tree Press, Bloomington, IN: 2011.

NOTE: Thanks to @gcouros for the link to the YouTube video “Should Kids Be Driving Alone?”