Search This Blog

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.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

"I'm not going to show you how to do it..."

After reading my own words in previous posts and reflecting on my teaching practices with young kids and technology, I tried something sort-of new recently.

1st time using a brand new application!
As part of our digital citizenship instruction in 3rd grade, my students are going to create posters for the computer lab using Comic Life 2. When we learn a new application, we usually spend some time looking over the menu, toolbars and general layout of the program before we get to work. At times, I break skills down to the very basics, as I did with using 4-button mice with Google Earth, but for the Comic Life unit, I took a different approach just to mix it up and hit a few other learning styles. While Digital Citizenship posters will be our final project, we start by making a simple poster of ourselves (I wrote about last year's experience here). On our first day with the program, we did the overview together, then the kids got to work choosing a simple template, taking some pictures of themselves, and dragging words around the screen. I gave them each the checklist of required elements for their first poster. This was done during the final 15 minutes of class, so we didn't get far.

A week later, when the kids returned to technology class, I set up a slightly different work environment. We briefly reviewed how to find their files and quickly looked over the buttons and techniques we learned previously. And then I told them they had the remainder of the class to continue their work (and hopefully finish it), but I wasn't going to show them anything else about how Comic Life works.

"I'm not going to show you how to do it...I'm not going to teach you anything today."

Insert dramatic pause here. 

The first reaction I heard sounded something like this: "WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU AREN'T GOING TO TEACH US ANYTHING? YOU'RE THE TEACHER!!" I laughed a little bit on the inside, but addressed some students' panic with further explanation. I told them that the day was going to be "an experiment." Other than showing them where the help menu lives, I wasn't going to give them any direct instruction on how to use the tools in Comic Life 2...and they were not allowed to ask me for help. They could, however, share ideas and new tricks with the student sitting next to them, so if one learned something new, they could spread the wealth, or if they needed help, they could ask for it from a peer. They just couldn't ask me. Now, for some of my students, this was uncomfortable, and I heard more than once the beginnings of my name being called out followed by "never mind," as they turned to their neighbor for some advice.

Some of the discomfort was mine as well, as I yearned to jump in and show them some cool tricks, or answer their questions and fix things for them. Teachers are natural question-answerers, and the restraints I'd put in place were just as hard on me than my curious 3rd graders. I was holding out on them, however, because I really wanted to give them the time to explore on their own and find out what they could learn themselves, unburdened by the constraints I might place on them, or limited by my skill or vision, or held back by fellow students who don't all naturally pick things up at the same pace.  I wanted to give them the opportunity to teach each other and perhaps I might learn something new as well (the upgrade to Comic Life 2 happened over the summer so it was somewhat new to me, too).  Kids, whether they know it or not, teach me constantly, and developing this shared learning space is important to me. I also believe students retain more of what they've taught themselves through trial and error...I know I do. Teaching yourself something new is greatly rewarding and empowering, and after reviewing my teaching strategies from previous projects, I wanted to give the kids the absolute freedom to try whatever they wanted and just see where it took them. 

Though I tried to "set up" the environment and clarify expectations enough to keep things manageable (the concept of a free-for-all day in the computer lab is somewhat fraught with peril), the kids, once again, exceeded my expectations. They dove right in and got to work, and the room was unusually quiet for the first 15 minutes or so. As they started to discover new techniques or hit roadblocks, I heard several "How did you...?" and "Try this!" conversations happening. I was still very present for their learning, wandering the room and observing their interactions with each other, complimenting their skill and problem-solving abilities, and offering general encouragement. One student in particular was experimenting with tools no one else had discovered yet, and he quickly garnered a few kids in his corner to be taught something new. The end of class time is almost always met with a few declarations of "Aaaawwwww, I'm not done yet!" This day was no exception, and it was exciting to see how much they had accomplished. 

A week later, I asked them for feedback on the grand experiment. Did they like it? Was it frustrating? Should we try it again? Responses were generally positive, and some were downright thrilled that they had gotten a chance to learn things that I didn't teach them. A few pointed out their frustration at not being able to ask me for help, and though I sympathized, I think it was a great opportunity for them to develop some self-confidence and self-reliance, that they could effectively manage their own technical setbacks. Later that day, a student who would normally ask for help (or more accurately, ask for affirmation that what she was doing was correct) got stuck and just couldn't move on without my input. When I turned it around and asked her "What do you think you should do?" she had the answer right there, and a look dawned on her face of suddenly realizing that she didn't really need to ask for my help. That moment was priceless.

We decided as a group to try a few more of these experimental days during the rest of the year, and we want to build in more time to allow sharing of newfound skills with the larger group. I had initially asked the kids what they do when they get a new video game or toy that requires assembly. Do they read all the directions first? Or do they just dive in and try it out? It's always a surprise to see how they answer, but many of them, like me, learn through experimentation. We do this in class every day, mind you, but I think setting aside a special time just to explore on one's own has tremendous benefits.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Digital Citizenship in 3rd Grade

Now that we've gotten five placemarks into our Google Earth tours, and the kids don't have another field trip scheduled for a little while, we have shifted our focus for a bit. Last week I introduced Digital Citizenship to the third graders, not for the first time in concept, but probably the first time with official vocabulary attached to it. After all, citizenship is a big important word, and we really need to know what it means. Forever.

Sometimes my best planned lessons go completely astray, and other times, when I'm engaged in conversation with these young people, amazing things happen that I couldn't have planned in my wildest dreams. Last week, I had one of those really wonderful days, and I was so energized by the participation and understanding demonstrated by the kids, I felt like I gained a whole new way to teach this important concept.

When the kids walked in the door, I handed them a notecard and a pencil, and instructions were written on the board to "Write down one rule that you have learned to keep you safe on the Internet." It didn't matter who taught them the rule, I just wanted to know what came to mind when I asked this question. I collected the cards as the kids got to work on their keyboarding practice, and I flipped through them as they concentrated fiercely on the homerow position. I definitely saw some patterns to their answers, but I was curious to find out if they would see them also.

When keyboarding time was up, I had them gather on the rug with me to go through the cards, but before I read them aloud, I briefly introduced what we would be talking about, explaining that today's kids are growing up in a digital world that is, in many ways, unfamiliar to people significantly older than they are. How do we behave in this environment? Is the digital world different than the real world? Are the rules different? What does it mean that so much of our lives are now online?  My students have never really known otherwise, but those of us from other generations are still adapting to the rapidly changing landscape of this "connected" culture, and sometimes it is hard to keep up with how quickly everything is evolving. My favorite quote of the day came when I asked them to guess how long YouTube has been around. Answers ranged from 10-40 years; it was pretty hilarious. When I told them the answer was actually 7 years, there was that brief moment of "I can't believe it" silence and then this:
WE are older than YouTube!
Yes, indeed. Our digital world has become so interwoven with our real world that many of us can no longer even imagine a day when we couldn't just look up information (or watch our favorite video of cats doing silly things) online, even though it wasn't really all that long ago that we couldn't.

So, back to the cards (spelling changed for your benefit) and the rules we've learned so far: 
  • don't give out your full name or location (never write your last name; never ever give people your name if someone asks you to; never put information about yourself on the internet)
  • don't hack into other people's computers
  • never share your username or password with anyone
  • don't make friends that you don't know in person (NEVER be friends with somebody you don't know; don't chat with other people you don't know; don't talk to strangers on the computer about personal stuff)
  • don't go on pop-ups (don't click on strange pictures or ads because it might have a virus in it; don't click on something unless you know what it is)
  • if you see a bad picture on the internet, tell a grown up
  • don't go to YouTube or Google unless they (your parents) say so; don't go onto websites you are not supposed to or you have been told not to; don't look up bad things
  • don't leave mean comments
  • log out of your accounts when you're done using them
  • don't buy things!
Wow. From what I was seeing, it was quite clear that these kids have heard several messages about safety, which is great! Of course, these rules make a lot of sense for 8 and 9 year olds, but they will inevitably change and adapt as the kids grow older (especially that one about buying things).  I asked them if they noticed anything (anything at all) about the cards as I read them.  Many pointed out that they heard repeated messages from fellow students, that clearly a few of these were so important, everyone knows them. Then one child raised her hand and said, "They all start with DON'T."

Here's where this lesson magically transitioned into my best introduction to Digital Citizenship yet.

I shared with the kids some websites devoted to Digital Citizenship and we looked at a few different pages as we tried to put a definition on the concept. 
"Digital citizenship can be defined as the norms of appropriate, responsible behavior with regard to technology use."   --Mike Ribble
This particular definition, while adequate, did not seem "third grade" to me. They hear appropriate and responsible a lot, but who the heck knows what a norm is... While the Nine Elements of Digital Citizenship are detailed and helpful, and apply to people of all ages, I was really looking for something simpler that we could sink our teeth into. I particularly wanted to find something they could understand that didn't start with don't.

So here's a definition that I thought was simple enough that we could break down the key points once we really defined the terms being used.

Digital Citizenship means using technology
  • safely
  • responsibly
  • critically
  • proactively for the good of society
I didn't spend much time on "safely" or "responsibly" because we talk about that ALL THE TIME, and I wanted my students to know that there's more to being a good digital citizen than just staying safe. We looked at the word "critically" in more depth, because many of them associated the word with something negative, like "criticism" or "being critical of others." I explained to them that using technology critically was actually a good thing, necessary and wise. Referring back to the cards about ads and pop-up windows, I asked the kids what could happen if they didn't view those things with a critical eye? What happens if you go ahead and click every "You just won a FREE iPad!!" pop-up they see without reading it carefully and looking critically through the fine print? Being a critical consumer of digital media is extremely important, and most of the kids have already been critical users of technology even if they didn't know it. People today are bombarded by media all the time, and it is imperative that we learn how to sift through it all, weeding out the good from the bad. Being critical is critical, if you know what I mean.

I say we didn't spend much time on safety or responsibility, which in a way is true, but we had already spent all that time talking about our rules on the cards, all of which had to do with safety and responsibility. "They all start with DON'T," remember? As we arrived at the fourth way to use technology, "proactively for the good of society," we talked about what we DO, and what we SHOULD DO. Good citizenship isn't just about the don'ts. Of course, we need to follow rules to maintain some semblance of order, but there's so much more to citizenship than that. If we spend all our time focusing on what we shouldn't do, how do we really know what we should do? If we focus only on the ways technology helps us waste time or stir up/get in trouble, how do we see all the ways technology can actually make things better? As citizens of this digital world, we have certain responsibilities to ourselves, but we also have responsibilities to each other. How can we use these abundant digital tools to better our society? What positive contributions can we make? Technology is helping young people all over the world tackle some pretty serious problems. I shared one example, in fact, of graduate students playing video games to crack scientific codes that have baffled AIDS researchers for years (oversimplifying this incredible story)! Technology makes amazing things possible.

The 3rd graders and I ended up having quite a conversation about digital citizenship, and this was just our first shot at it. I was so pleased that the notecards led to the discussion of "don'ts," which naturally fed into the discussion of "do's." I have been trying to shift the students-and-technology conversation toward the positive for a long time. Though safety and responsibility will always be important, those messages have been drilled into them so much that I don't really worry about them as much anymore. Using technology critically and proactively, however, are concepts that need more of our attention. 

As we move toward our talks about digital footprints, I want the kids to think of all the ways they can make sure theirs is a positive one. That might mean that some of their early-childhood don'ts have to change eventually: 
  • Using their real name will be just one important step in crafting an accurate digital footprint. 
  • In our interconnected, global society they will most likely end up chatting with or meeting people online that they don't know in person (remember writing to penpals, anyone?) -- I safely communicate with other educators that I've never met in person all the time -- and at the right developmental age, this will be an okay thing for our students to do. 
  • Parents and teachers won't always be looking over their shoulders to make sure they are visiting appropriate websites, but we still want them to know the difference, consider the consequences of their choices, and know what to do if they get into something they shouldn't. 
I strongly hope that by empowering our kids to be safe, responsible, critical, and proactive, they will grow into thoughtful, contributing members of our digital world.

Also posted @ Ethics 4 a Digital World