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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Teens and #DigCit - Attempting to 'Go Viral'

modified from Flickr 
It's been a big week for me in the land of Digital second trimester students published their blog posts a few days ago, and the grand experiment to actually "practice what we preach" is underway once again!

Sam and I have now been working on Ethics 4 A Digital World for over three years. Our thinking, teaching, and practice have evolved right along with the digital landscape with which we are trying to keep up. Always on the lookout for ways to really practice with students the critical thinking that being a good digital citizen requires, I jumped at the chance this year to teach a ninth grade seminar on this very topic.  I love everything about this class...except that I only get to see my students for two days a week for 11 weeks. So my teaching partner (another amazing librarian, how did I get so lucky?) and I had to really think and plan for what we could accomplish in the amount of time we have been given, which, in actuality, is a huge gift...many schools do not make time for digital citizenship at all.

I knew that I wanted to give students as much exposure to as many digital tools as was reasonable, and provide for them spaces where they could openly talk about issues, practice their skills, learn some new things, and start (or continue) to build a digital footprint that reflected who they are as thoughtful contributors to our world. I wanted to show them how they could use social media for good things, to make a difference for others.  I also really wanted to squeeze some media literacy into the course, because I am a firm believer that the future media our kids create has the power to change some minds and attitudes, and not just perpetuate the same tired stereotypes we see all the time (which, coincidentally, is the source of so much "bad" behavior online).  So I began by writing my kids a personal statement about my wishes for them, and why I see our class time as valuable and important as they grow up surrounded by media and technology.

More than half of our 11 weeks together is spent researching, writing, and commenting for a class blog. Current events in tech/media-land play a large role in our discussions, so I began curating my Pinterest boards in a different way, creating boards for some of the broader categories we cover. I put everything on the "Hot Topics" board initially, but that quickly grew out of control. By separating them, I could actually assign kids to find an article to share about a particular topic (in short weekly assignments), and let them start with the board as a jumping off point. What has happened is that each student reads and shares one article in greater depth, but he or she has scanned all the other headlines and images in the search for something of interest, so exposure has widened. I like that. When it came time to finally narrow the focus and choose one topic for a blog post, many kids started with the Pinterest boards, and quickly moved on to find other resources from online newspapers, our class Twitter feed, library databases, and sites like

Fast forward through EdmodoNoodle ToolsGoogle Docs, and Blogger...skill building happens in these spaces, and I don't mean to diminish the real work, but the fun stuff, and what I most want to share, is still coming! (if you're an educator and want more details, please contact me)

Now that we have finally hit the fantastic orange "Publish" button on our blog posts, magic happens. I am cashing in on 6 years worth of building my digital footprint and personal learning network, sharing our work as far and wide as I possibly can with the tools at my disposal. I am encouraging my students to do the same so they can get as much feedback as possible. And, to be honest, I share the visitor stats with them so we can learn a little something about web traffic and analytics...but they've sort of turned it into a contest to see who can get the most hits. Game on!

Local teens sharing intimate "confessions" on Twitter
Sadly, it's stories like this that give teens a bad reputation.
Sharing our work via social media has led to a new development on the horizon. The very day we published our latest round of blog posts, February 13th, my sister was listening to a local talk radio show discussing a negative story involving teenagers and Twitter and heard the host lament that parents and schools need to be doing more to educate kids. She immediately messaged the radio hosts about our blog, and our Ethics 4 A Digital World Facebook feed, and the producer of the show contacted me almost immediately. He invited me and a couple of students to be interviewed on the radio about our class and what we are learning. WOW! Stay tuned for more info on that...

Aside from the thrill of getting everything out there, though, one of my favorite things about this project is the change I see in my kids when they realize that people are actually reading their work and value what they have to say. As one student from first trimester put it in his reflection, "Blogging has been a great learning experience for me. I feel like I'm actually talking to someone, whereas if you're writing an essay it isn't directly at anyone." Some of my students changed their minds a bit after being swayed by earnest commenters, some had to do further research to answer questions, and some found more strength in their own convictions after interacting with others. It was rewarding to witness the process. This time around we have just entered the truly interactive portion of the project, and our blog has become a real space in which we can practice digital citizenship by moderating comments and engaging our readers in civil discourse.

Would you care to join us?
cross posted at Ethics 4 A Digital World

9th Grade Digital Citizenship Blog
Class Website (more project details are available here)
@cwadc9 on Twitter
Ms. Gerla on Pinterest

Student Posts from Trimester 2

My Parents Posted WHAT about me!
Is Technology Negatively Affecting Our Health?
M for Misleading
Are Password Restrictions Doing More Harm Than Good?
My Photo, My Choice?
The NSA: National Snooping Agency?
What is Rape Culture?
Video Games and Education, Can They Mix?
Is the Internet Taking Over Your Life?
Reading Between the Lines: Privacy Agreements
Photoshopping: Crossing the Path of Enough?
Male Ideal Corruption by Media?
Safe and Secure Photo Sharing? Not!
Marketing Tactics Are Taken Way Too Far
Social Networking: It's Harming you!
Tracking You Online...What's Going On?
Your Online Privacy is Fading Quickly!
How Should Cyberbullies be held accountable?
Is Gaming a Brain Drain?
Don't Ruin Your Chances of Getting the Job
Cyber-bullies Should Pay
Online Dating Dangerous for Teens?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Little Bird Tales

For several years we have done a podcast project in 4th grade where the kids record the stories they write during the realistic fiction unit. As technology has changed and applications have evolved, we've changed several things along the way. This year, we went in an entirely new direction and decided to create our "podcasts" online using a website called Little Bird Tales.

SO GREAT! A major challenge when integrating technology into projects, especially with young students, is the amount of time it takes to learn the skills necessary to complete the task. Little Bird Tales is so easy to use, kids were able to start creating their stories within 3 minutes of logging in for the first time. 
  1. Write your title.
  2. Draw a picture.
  3. Record your voice.
  4. Save.
  5. Next page opens automatically.
That's it! 

Here they are, our first LBTs for you to see/hear.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

What the Scrap is Digital Citizenship?

Cross-posted at Ethics 4 A Digital World

A new school year has begun, and the very best parts of my job are back in the classroom with me on a regular basis. As a technology specialist, I spend my time with kids in grades 3 through 9 teaching technical skills, finding great ways to incorporate technology into curricular projects, and best of all, really getting to spend time talking to kids about what it means to participate in our digital world.

Though it's quite easy nowadays to do a quick Google search and find millions of results for this term to help us grasp the concept, creating authentic experiences for our students (or your kids) to actually practice digital citizenship is essential for true understanding to take place. Horror stories abound depicting all the negative consequences of unchecked social media, including cyberbullying, sexting, hate speech, ruined reputations, poor decision-making and the like. Far too often we read stories of adults who have relinquished their responsibility in this realm by writing technology off as something "they don't get."  Well, Sam and I can tell you that the more we work with kids and digital tools, the more we talk to them about behavior. You don't have to "get it" to talk to your kids about the kind of people they are growing up to be. Behavior isn't really about technology at's about the choices we make. Technology just gives us more opportunities to make choices, and sometimes, unfortunately, those choices have bigger consequences because they create a digital trail.

So how do we talk to kids about this in a way that makes sense to them? I've learned, sometimes the hard way, that talking isn't enough. Kids need PRACTICE. But they also need language that they can understand and remember. With my youngest students, I explain to them that technology vocabulary is like learning a new language. Words that mean something in our daily usage of English have a different meaning when it comes to computers. Take the word "menu," for example. When I ask them to find a particular menu,  I'm not asking them to order me an entrĂ©e, amirite? If we need to find something in the dock, I'm not talking about a place you tie up boats.

Thank you technologyrocksseriously!
Language matters!

Last year, when we solicited advice for youngsters from our 8th graders, many groups responded with something like, "Think before you post online."  GREAT advice, right? But what does that actually mean? Think about what? How do I stop and think about the future impact of my decisions when I'm not developmentally able or ready to do that? Looking for help, I found this great infographic from a generous and sharing educator. Breaking down what it means to "think" into smaller elements, and a series of questions that kids could easily understand and answer, helped them get it. And this year? They've seen the posters and read the words, and when I ask them what Digital Citizenship is, they say, "THINK!"

I love that.

So knowing that this whole acronym thing works pretty well with kids, and that I have a new group of bright young minds to introduce to Digital Citizenship, we went back to the drawing board with our official definition.  I shared this with my 3rd graders:

Being a good "digital citizen" means using technology...
  • safely
  • responsibly
  • critically
  • productively
We will spend a great deal of time picking this apart and really figuring out what each part of the definition means in practice, but first we need to remember the words. So let me share the genius of one particular student in this introductory phase.  Having seen the T.H.I.N.K. poster, she looked at my definition of Digital Citizenship and said, "You know, the letters in that almost spell SCRAP." Indeed they do, so we quickly did a little adjusting:

Being a good "digital citizen" means using technology...
  • Safely
  • Critically
  • Responsibly
  • And
  • Productively
I feel another cool poster coming on...

Of course, I still need to figure out some brilliant metaphor for SCRAP in the digital world. The definition doesn't easily lend itself to my cause.

If you have an idea, please share! But for now, we're going with it. Kids tend to remember safe and responsible pretty easily, but we need to really dig into critical and productive to find all the great ways we can use technology for our own learning and to make the world a better place. If SCRAP helps, so be it. 

That's my little scrap for you.  (I tried...)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Little Alchemy Sweeps Through the LS

Fire + Air = Energy
Mud + Plant = Swamp
Energy + Swamp = Life
Earth + Life = Human
Human + Lightsaber = Jedi
Jedi + Swamp = YODA!!

In search of educational games that our students can safely play during their free time, I have wandered far and wide. And here's the thing. ALL games are educational. They all teach something. But the real question is, "What is it kids are learning?"

Well, Little Alchemy appeared on my radar when I noticed this cute purple app had been installed in Google Chrome on my home computer (by my wily 4th grader). "Mooooommm! [you know the one where 'Mom' suddenly becomes a two or three syllable word?] You said we could install free apps from the Chrome I picked this one." She played around with it, I played around with it, I installed it on my school laptop, I sent the link to the Lower School science teacher to check it out, and then I sort of forgot about it.

Then it went viral.

By "viral" I mean I started noticing a lot of kids playing with it in the Lower School during recess, particularly 1st and 2nd graders.  Occasionally the kids all learn some cool new thing and suddenly it's everywhere. Other game sites come to mind, or the flight simulator in Google Earth, or when they figure out how to hide the dock/make the computer talk/reverse the display colors...they all have to try it. Recess in the LS multimedia room is where I learn all the hot things.  And the middle school computer lab during lunch.

Available in the Chrome Web Store
(also web-based, or a desktop app for PC)

Little Alchemy is one of those games, like most, that sucks you in and then you can't stop until you've found all the possible combinations.  You start with the four basic elements (water, fire, earth, and air) and start combining them together to see what you can make.  The science teacher and I talked about how the first few combinations of elements were pretty neat, and even kind of scientific (earth + water = mud), but then as you create more and more elements, it gets a little sketchy on the science (wolf + human = werewolf). In addition, there are combinations that capture the kids' interest and spread like wildfire much more quickly than others (gunpowder, bullet, vampire, unicorn, etc), and there are a few elements that I know they'll eventually find, but maybe won't totally understand (alcohol + human = drunk).


I have noticed an entirely separate set of skills that the kids are picking up while playing this game at recess. They are collaborating to share learned information. They are making hypotheses about what they can possibly create. They test these hypotheses. They are problem solving when combinations don't yield the results they expect. They are remarkably good at REMEMBERING how to create an astonishing number of elements. And let's be honest, they are in competition to see who can figure out the most. Now, there is no shortage of "cheat codes" available to help one accomplish this task. (I myself have just achieved 349/350 by using a variety of web "helpers," and that last elusive element is driving me absolutely bonkers!) But even if you reset and start over multiple times, the challenge remains fun and engaging, and there is an excited buzz in the room as the kids work, share, and show off how much they have accomplished. Sometimes, if I play in the room with them, we start making up our own combinations that we think SHOULD work, and perhaps we'll propose to the Little Alchemy folks. What I notice more than anything is the overall atmosphere of collaboration that exists when a group of students is playing together. "How do you make energy?" and "How'd you get hurricane?" fly around the room, with one or more helpers jumping up from their seat to show a fellow 'alchemist' the what for.
Real science? Medieval History? 

Is it fun? Yes. Is it scientifically accurate? Not so much. But the name of the game isn't Little's Little Alchemy. And it has sure captured the interest and imagination of our kids. Obviously, they are not "learning" to throw cows in the ocean to see what happens (sea + cow = manatee).  But this game, and most others, reinforce many skills we want our students to have. According to Peggy Sheehy, as cited in the article linked below, “Gaming is almost like the scientific method. You get your quest, you form a hypothesis, you try it out, you encounter challenges and you draw conclusions.” In gaming, failure is expected, but in this realm kids usually don't give up, call it quits, and say "I can't do it." They try again. And again and again and again.  What can teachers learn from video games?

World of Warcraft in the Classroom

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Wow. Seems my life has been consumed by calendars for the last few years, and this year hasn't eased up a bit as our school looks to transition away from our old calendar system to something that is more user-friendly in the age of mobile devices and subscriptions to public calendars.  I've taken up the charge to try and figure it all out. I would estimate throughout my testing, both personal and professional, I have created more than 100 different calendars, within multiple user accounts, as I figure out sharing settings, notifications, editing options, and how to create a workable system in an institution as large as ours, that meets the needs of all of our stakeholders without overwhelming everyone with too many calendars and repeated entries.

Say what? ACK!

Since our school's adoption of Google Apps for Education, Google Calendars has been winning the war...the sharing and scheduling options are just too easy, and the subscription options make it far easier to share important dates with our community with the click of a button.  The cultural shift from "pull" technology to "push" technology has been significant, and we seem to want our calendars to automagically do everything for us, remind of us events, notify us when things change, and keep us where we need to be at all times.  Most of the time it is working, but not without significant effort! And that's just for me...this hasn't gone institutional yet.

I thought I'd just take a minute to share a few resources that have helped me on this journey. I've been a Mac user since the dawn of MobileMe account (now iCloud) is so old that I no longer have the ability to change my username (kind of a problem since my name has changed).  To make an extremely LONG story short, I have moved everything to Google Calendars. I have a whole pile of work-related calendars in my professional account, and a few more calendars in my personal Gmail account.  But I still use iCal to view them sometimes, and I use the Calendar app on my iPhone to keep track of all events on all calendars at all times. I prefer it to the web interface of Google Calendars when I'm on my phone. At times, my master "calendar" looks like a magic rainbow of activities, but I'm finally getting used to it, and I'm no longer double-booking because I missed something on one calendar buried somewhere I can't remember. Here are my two biggest "help me!" discoveries:

Syncing Google Calendars to Your Personal Device

(borrowed from our faculty help website)
Perhaps the most frequent, and vexing questions currently circulating are: How can I get all of my Google calendars to show up in iCal on my computer or the Calendar App on my iPhone? The answers are a bit long, but it can be done if you are patient and persistent - good habits of mind!

To add your primary Google calendar and delegate calendars to iCal on your computer, use this Google support link as a starting point.

To properly add your primary Google calendar and any delegate calendars, or even multiple GMail or Google Apps accounts to the Calendar App on your iOS device is slightly more time consuming, but you can do it!

The first step is to make sure your iOS device does not have any of your Google accounts set up as a "Google" account. Counterintuitive? Yes! If they are, remove the account.

Now, use this Google support link to set up your Google account as a Microsoft Exchange account.

You will need to repeat this step for each Google account you wish to sync to your device.

Once your account is set up on your iPhone or other iOS device, point the browser at
It is very important to use the trailing slash!
At the login screen, enter your Google email address and password.
Select the iPhone (or other iOS device) and choose all the calendars you wish to sync.

If you are syncing multiple Google accounts to this device, you may need to scroll to the bottom of the page and sign out of the last account you set up then sign in to the second, etc.

NOTE: None of this was possible with our old calendaring system, or at least not without significant stress, training, cost, and major changes to the way the system is managed. But at the end of the day, even if we had done all that, the calendars would never have been "subscribable" on our website the way Google calendars are. Since that was a clearly expressed need by our constituents, we did not pursue any kind of syncing in the old system.

Subscribe to Calendars Online with Google (webcal links)

If you're like me, your computer was all set up to handle webcal links in iCal, and so when I subscribed to various calendars (like the public calendar for our Lower School or Middle School, or my daughter's soccer club calendar, or the choir calendar, etc.) these would automatically get added to iCal under my .Mac [turned .Me turned iCloud--make up your mind Apple!] account.  I could still get all of these to show up on my phone in the Calendar app, but when I was logged into all the Google Calendars online (on my computer) I couldn't see them. Sooooooo.....I decided to take the plunge and switch my "Handlers" so that all webcal links would automatically get added to Google Calendars instead.  Now I just have to be logged into the right Google calendar (personal or professional) before I subscribe. I used this Google support page to help me out, but here's the gist (if you use Chrome as your browser, anyway):

Open your Google Calendar in Chrome. Look for the overlapping diamond symbol in the omnibar. Click it and switch to Google for webcal links. That's it!

Still a Work in Progress

Technology is advancing rapidly, and just when we think we have one method figured out, another one comes along. There are multiple 3rd party calendar apps that accomplish many of these things, but I am restricting my research to what every member of our school community has access to RIGHT NOW, and we have already taken significant steps to get a few of our PC-based departments using the web interface of Google Calendars quite effectively. If the tech savvy among us decide to break ranks and pursue a different interface to VIEW and INTERACT with their calendars, it's no skin off my nose. But a fundamental understanding of how Google Calendars work has to come first. Once we come to an agreed-upon base level of competence for our workflow, we can start to add support/help for the variety of devices and apps out there. In the mean time...

Monday, September 10, 2012

A New School Year Begins!

Though I have the distinct privilege of working with faculty and students in multiple grade levels, the only class I have that is truly "mine" is my weekly third grade technology class. Transitioning from the summer work of technical maintenance, to the back-to-school joy of enthusiastic kids ready to learn and get their hands on a laptop, has been as challenging as ever.  I know all teachers go through the self-admonishment of "You're starting the year at the beginning, remember? Don't expect these kids to be what you saw at the end of last year..." I've now had that conversation with myself about a dozen times.

When it comes to technology, things don't just change annually, they change DAILY. The media portrays our children as innately tech-savvy little beings because "they've never known a world without the internet and all this technology."  I agree on the level that they don't seem to have the same fear of technology that certain members of older generations do, but they weren't born knowing how to use all the gadgets and they certainly haven't been injected with an extra gene that helps them make better long-term decisions about their behavior in the digital world. I have to re-imagine my curriculum regularly to make sure it's fresh, keeping up with software advances, cloud computing, mobile technology, etc. But in dealing with 8- and 9-year olds, there are so many things to consider when it comes to their developmental levels, their learning styles, their safety and digital identity, and even their physical hand size!

About 10 days ago, on my first day of class with the new crew, my mind could not even begin to comprehend where to start with them. Last year's kids, now thriving 4th graders, accomplished a great deal, and their skills and knowledge at the end of the school year astounded me. I couldn't even remember a time when they didn't just know it all. How naive of me. Thankfully, I had one brave student on hand to point out to me in very specific fashion what I couldn't just assume. After a discussion about school accounts, usernames and passwords, logging into services (all new to 3rd graders), we tried logging into one for the very first time...

Hand in the air.

"Ms. Gerla? Where is that slash-line-thingy on the keyboard? It's in my password, but I can't find it."

I wanted to hug this child and thank him profusely for bringing me back to earth...back to the beginning. I'm so excited to start a fresh school year and see how far we can get this time. The road is open before us.

Let the learning/teaching/sharing/exploring begin!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Digital Citizenship in Practice

cross-posted at Ethics 4 a Digital WorldI wrote this piece as a follow up to a previous post about the need for more "conversation" about ethics and social media.

Several weeks ago, I wrote about introducing Digital Citizenship to my 3rd graders. We were off to a great start, kids were "getting it," and they had a lot to say about what NOT to do when using technology. Fast forward just two weeks and it became ABUNDANTLY CLEAR that talking about good behavior online wasn't nearly enough...

We use Google Apps for Education at our school, and our youngest students have access to Docs only. Well, last year my most tech-savvy little darlings took all of .4 seconds to figure out how to use Google Docs to "chat" with each other, and they quickly strayed into an off-task environment that was very appealing and enticing, even when they knew their teachers could see everything they were saying! This became ground-zero, if you will, for a whole pile of learning about making good choices and appropriate behavior online. As teachers, we could establish expectations for behavior, discuss the benefits/drawbacks (distractions) of technological tools, and point our kids toward using the chat feature in a helpful, productive way. It doesn't mean that they always made good choices, but when they didn't, we were right there to engage them in a conversation about it.

This year, although we have been using Docs since the start of the school year, we hadn't yet done a big collaborative project where multiple users were trying to edit the same document simultaneously, always an adventure! This year's students hadn't discovered the chat feature yet, and in fact, they didn't discover it until the very end of a class period gone completely awry. Interestingly, in completing an assignment about digital citizenship, they forgot all about what it was...

In class, we have defined Digital Citizenship as using technology safelyresponsiblycritically, and proactively.  The assignment associated with this unit is to design posters in Comic Life that teach some of the "rules" in a visual fashion, so before we could get started, we needed to spend some time coming up with those rules, and we had already discovered how hard it is to write rules that start with something other than "don't." I processed about 5 different ways we could build class information and decided to use two methods that would help us brainstorm, while simultaneously showcasing two very different technologies. First, with laptop lids closed, we did a follow up on the previous week's assignment using Inspiration (mind mapping software). Soliciting the kids' ideas out loud, I quickly built a mind map, or diagram, that had some suggestions for rules about using technology proactively.
When we finished, I asked them something to the effect of, "Did anything bother you about doing it this way?" I was hoping someone would point out that I was the only one actually using a computer for the assignment. It is technology class, after all. They got there eventually, and we decided to try an activity where everyone was engaged and using technology. (I should note that we have a rather old version of Inspiration. The kids could have each made their own mind map, but without a subscription to the online collaborative version, called Webspiration, this would have been a solo activity.) So, I introduced the second method of brainstorming, which was to use Google Docs to collaboratively brainstorm a list of ideas all at the same time. We started with a very simple 4-column document:
Knowing this was their first time working on a document shared with more than just one other person, I gave them a small warning about all the colors and user names that would pop-up as people clicked into a box to begin adding content. Our goal was to simply add as many rules as we could think of, starting perhaps with the ones we had written on notecards a few weeks earlier. Deciding which column they fit in was no easy task, but I figured we'd get the ideas down, and then edit for duplicates and wrong categories later. A few students decided right away that they would scroll to the bottom of the page to avoid conflicts with other users, but for the most part, we opened the document and let 'er rip.

I did this with two different classes of students (16 kids in each class...I know how lucky I am), and each handled it a little differently, but in general, they watched all the colored usernames pop up as people joined the document, they spent a couple minutes trying to type things in the table's cells, and then things started to dissolve rapidly....

I watched my sweet, caring, cherubic, brilliant 3rd graders completely lose it, and a very rare few even cackled with glee as they repeatedly interfered with other kids' work and spent their time just clicking all over the screen because they thought it was funny. They were inadvertently highlighting and deleting things right and left. Kids were yelling across the room things like, "YOU SPELLED THAT WRONG!!" and "STOP DOING THAT!" and "WHAT COLOR AM I?" 

Note: as the teacher, you would think I would have put a stop to this immediately. But, this was actually an essential part of the assignment, seeing how they would manage in an online environment where they could do a lot of things, but should they? It was all I could do to let it go on for a while, hoping that they would find a way to turn their behavior around on their own. Self-manage. Peer coach. ANYTHING! 

In one class I had a student near tears because others were vocally criticizing her choice of font size. In the other class someone actually managed to delete the ENTIRE CONTENTS of the document, sending the whole class into a complete tailspin. (I did have a moment of pride when one girl yelled, "WAIT! EVERYBODY COMMAND-Z! UNDO!" The document magically reappeared and a cheer went up. However, there wasn't much useful content there to begin with.)

I hit my limit at about 10 minutes, and then I turned off document sharing and asked the kids to close their lids (our code word for this is "meatball," btw). To be honest, in the first class, I was quite flustered by the time we rolled out the meatballs. I realize how fortunate I am to be in a class where the harshest thing that happened between the kids was criticism of each other's spelling. But to them, it still felt like someone saying, "you're stupid," and feelings were hurt. Every rule we had previously brainstormed about leaving good comments and being nice went flying out the window! "Just because you can doesn't mean you should" was nowhere to be found, even though we say this every single week. Clearly, talking about it wasn't enough. The kids needed to experience an environment where they could put it to the test. And this was an assignment shared just within our classroom, not the world wide web. Students could be identified by their real usernames, not some anonymous ID.

To be fair, I think the majority of kids were actually trying very hard to redirect behavior and get their work done. But we discovered a few "trolls" among us who just didn't listen and could not be swayed from their gleeful interference with other people's work. I could not have scripted this day better if I'd tried.


Now, I'm fully aware that there were plenty of things that made this a challenge, chief among them the fact that it was the kids' very first time doing something like this. All new technologies take time to get used to, and I know that in the future, now that they know what to expect, it will run more smoothly. I'm also aware that sharing one document with too large a group is hard to manage, even for adults. We had a debriefing session about what had happened, what went wrong, what we could improve...and we determined that in our second attempt we would be split into groups, and each group would be assigned a column of the document, so no more than four students were editing in the same general area. Upon opening our laptops again (code word "spicy meatballs") things went much smoother in the next 15 minutes. We had already learned something from our experience, and working together over the next couple of weeks, our document started to take shape:
with a healthy dose of editing from the teacher to remove repeats and help get things in the right category
The kids have since been working on their posters, a few of which I hope to share when they are finished. There were two really great conversations that came out of this experience, though, that I'd like to address.

First, I very honestly asked the question on a lot of adults' minds..."did you learn more (or better) using technology?" When I asked the kids to compare the learning environment in our classroom during the group brainstorm with me creating a mind map versus them editing a shared doc, they could clearly see that things were calmer and at least more orderly during the former. We were able to get quite a few ideas on paper in a relatively short period of time, and because I called on a variety of students to contribute, it felt like just about everyone was engaged in the process. In scenario two, did technology work to our benefit? Or was it just a distraction? The kids definitely thought that it had the tendency to distract, but we also thought that, given practice, we would get better at managing our behavior and we would find more ways to use such powerful tools efficiently. This very idea runs parallel to our definition of digital citizenship in that we start by talking about the do's and don'ts (being safe and responsible), but then we move into the more complicated realm of figuring out how to use technology critically and proactively for our benefit and the benefit of others. Is this the best tool for the job? Can we see other ways to use it that might be helpful? Could this be done better without technology?

Second, when I first uttered "meatballs" in one class, there was total silence as the kids suddenly came out of their haze and took a look around the room. As their eyes found mine, and they read my face, one said, "Oh man, we're in trouble." I assured them I was not angry, but that I had certainly learned quite a bit about and from them by simply watching the spectacle. What happened to everything we thought we knew about being a good digital citizen? How could we have talked about all these rules, but then act like we'd never heard of them? What the heck just happened? We had just experienced an event clearly demonstrating that talking about these ideas is a whole lot easier than practicing them ourselves. I honestly believe they didn't even think we were engaged in an activity that required digital citizenship. This was completely new territory.

In this group, though quite a few kids said "we learned more/better the first way," one brave child raised his hand and spoke very honestly to his classmates. To paraphrase:
Well actually, I DID learn something from this...I was one of the ones doing bad things, and clicking all over the place because I thought it was funny. Now that I can see the effect that had on everyone, I don't think it's funny any more. I'm sorry.
Wow. I couldn't have scripted THAT if I tried, either! Real learning did take place, if not in the traditional fashion. Call it a teachable moment. Call it authentic learning. Call it whatever you want. We need more of it.