CommonSense Media Report: A View from the Classroom

CommonSense Media has released a new report culled from a survey of teachers on the topics of technology and media. The report is called Children, Teens and Entertainment: A View from the Classroom. At the site, you can download the full report or look at various elements of responses from teachers. I do wonder about the population of teachers who took part in the survey. I say that because there is some criticism about CommonSense Media and its mission around helping parents and teachers navigate the media-saturated world, and how the group sometimes comes across as a bit of fear-mongering. As for me, the teacher, I have found its resources for teaching about digital citizenship and digital footprints a wonderful resource. As for me, the parent, the site has not been necessarily all that insightful.

But I found this study interesting and while I might quibble with some elements of it, I do find it be a fairly honest assessment of teacher perceptions of the impact that technology is having on our students and children. Notice I said “perceptions” because part of me thinks, too, that if we judge the literacies of young people today (influenced by the media world, for sure) against the very traditional classroom learning environments, then there are going be things lacking.

I’d argue that we, as teachers, need to be finding ways to tap into those literacies of students, and not necessarily shift all of our teaching practices and expectations of students, but certainly, look for the intersections and ways to engage students. If these results are right, and writing and other areas of academics are getting worse due to technology and media, then we need to do more than recognize it and complain about it. We need to adapt to the changing environment, in meaningful ways for rich, interactive learning classrooms.

And, I would agree with Common Sense Media on this: we need to arm our young people with the critical thinking tools they need to see through the entertainment empire and shift from being consumers of media and technology, and becoming the creators of their own content, taking back agency in the digital world. There has never been a more critical moment for teachers to do this.

Stepping off my high horse, now, check out some of the findings from the report:

This was interesting, too, as they broke down the kinds of technology and media that seem to be negatively impacting learning. I wonder if this is a result of disconnect, and teachers not understanding the range of literacies that can go into playing a complex video game. (I’m not talking Angry Birds here)


And as a teacher and lover of writing, this section was intriguing and disheartening, all at the same time:

This perception of writing is no doubt influenced by the use of informal write/speak by students during formal writing assignments. U know what I mean, right? It may also be a result of shorter bursts of writing in their lives outside of school, and so, sustained writing activities are difficult. I see this in my classroom, and have found the need to do more and more graphic organizing, more thinking through a topic, and more strategies on how to stretch writing out in meaningful ways.

What do you think? Check out the report. Does it mesh with your perceptions?

Peace (in the data),



Where’s all the Conversation at K12 Online Conference?

I’m a huge fan of the K12 Online Conference. There’s always a roster of thoughtful educators sharing out engaging ideas and projects, and I always find myself thinking about the possibilities of new ideas after listening to the presentations. One thing I do wish, though, is that more folks would get engaged in the conversations about the presentations. I almost always try to leave a thought or a question on the K12 Online site after watching the presentations, but often, I think I am one of the only ones to do so.

It makes me wonder why that is. I’ve even written about this same topic in the past, and I can’t quite figure out why more folks are not using the opportunity to ask presenters more questions or asking for advice on implementation. I am even over at a P2PU Course right now that is using the K12 Online presentations as a launching pad for discussions. There have been a few lively threads, but not too many.

I suppose folks are either waiting to watch the presentations (which is one of the benefits of the conference, as it all gets archived and available for the future), don’t have the time to post a comment or question, don’t know what questions they have to ask, or don’t realize that the site is built as a blog, allowing for and encouraging user engagement. I, for one, would love to see more discussions, particularly if the presentations represent shifts in teaching and learning.

That said, I have been enjoying a number of presentations so far in the 2012 K12 Online Conference (more get released just about every day or so), including:

  • Karen Fasimapaur’s keynote about encouraging new ways of looking at curriculum development, and opportunities for learning for kids that fall outside the traditional expectations of the classroom. Karen (whom I know via P2PU) offers an insightful look at how we might engage all kids, in project-based learning opportunities.
  • Gail Desler and Natalie Bernasconi give an inside look at a digital citizenship project that is emerging to help teachers help students understand their digital footprints, and how to best manage their identities in a digital world. Really, we all need to be doing much more of this kind of work with our students.
  • Bud Hunt’s talk about making and hacking and playing … spot on!
  • Valerie Burton showed off how to be begin building student digital portfolios online with some free tools that also teach students about information management and design elements.
  • Jane Krauss gives an inside look at the computational search engine Wolfram Alpha, and I am still trying to wrap my head around how I might bring that into our class research projects. I appreciated the time to play around with it, and Jane also shared some resources about using data from the engine to create infographics.
  • Bron Stuckey gave us a tour, with student voices, of the Quest Atlantis site, which is an immersive community for students and built around gaming and inquiry and communty. I’m intrigued but need to learn more.
  • Ben Rimes showed how simple video collection can transform math story problems with real-life examples. All it takes is a cell phone and a good eye towards examples of math in real life.
  • And Matt Needleman’s keynote about apps (It’s not about the Apps) was a great reminder of agency, and how we as users (and our students as users of technology) need to bend devices and technology to our own needs. He talks about photography here, but his larger message is about making shifts from users to creators.

I hope you find something to pique your interest at the free conference, all online, and engage in discussions about these great ideas. I’ll see you there.

Peace (in the exploration),


Keynote Video: Digital Kids, Digital Literacies

I finally got around to editing and uploading some footage from a keynote address to the Western Massachusetts Writing Project on the topic of digital literacies. I cut the presentation down as far as I could, but it is still sort of long (20 minutes). I hope it helps you frame some ideas around legitimizing the digital literacies of our students.

and this is the file with the keynote presentation slides:

Peace (in the prez),


An Inquiry into Technology, Student Voice and Social Justice

I’ve written about this a few times, but our inquiry theme this year the Western Massachusetts Writing Project is digital literacies. A keynote address that I gave the other week at a WMWP event centered on valuing the emerging literacies of the digital age.

And yesterday, as a follow up to that keynote, I helped facilitate an inquiry session with about a dozen WMWP folks around the idea of valuing student voices. In particular, much of our discussion and exploration centered around the ways that podcasting and audio recording can open up doors for expression for students.

We began with a writing prompt, on which we wrote about one of those “aha! moments” around technology — that time when something happened that you suddenly realized some possibilities. We then used Audacity to share out some of our moments. We didn’t save the audio file, however, since it was an experiment in the session and I was working on the school’s computer. But here is a podcast version of what I wrote about, centering on a student with learning disabilities who discovered some tools that helped re-envision himself as a writer.

We then spent some time on the National Writing Project’s Digital Is website, considering the rationale and reasons why technology can have an impact on learning, and empowering students. In particularly, we read and watched the videos related to this fantastic resource by some friends in California: The Change Writers. What we really loved is how the resource shows a project that merges the power of digital media and production with writing and research, in a meaningful way. That resource also connected last year’s of WMWP around social justice with this year’s digital literacy theme.

Check out one of the videos from the resource that really shows the value of podcasting and Voicethread for student voice and motivation and audience:

Finally, we used Voicethread, too, and we began with a short writing prompt, asking the folks what kind of change they would bring to the world. I’ve kept the thread open, if you want add your ideas, too. Please, do.

And for a final reflection, we used Wallwisher to add a final thought to the inquiry session. I was happy to be part of this group, diving into the possibilities of digital literacies and tools, and keeping our focus on student learning as writers and as producers of content.

Peace (in the inquiry),


Digital Citzenship: A K12 Online Conference Keynote

My National Writing Project friends Gail Desler and Natalie Bernasconi have given the first of a handful of keynote presentations for this year’s K12 Online Conference, and it is such a wonderful and insightful, and important, look at the need and imperative of teaching all students the merits of digital citizenship and digital footprints.

If you are not moving into this content area with your students, you probably should. And Gail and Natalie give a great overview, with examples, and a path forward. Check out their Digital ID Project presentation.

Peace (in the sharing),

Digital Kids, Digital Literacies: A Keynote Address

Here is the presentation from my keynote address given on Saturday at the Western Massachusetts Writing Project Best Practices Conference at the University of Massachusetts. We also captured it on video but I have not yet gotten around to the editing of that footage. Here, you can at least see some of the themes I was tracking as I talked about the literate lives of our students outside, as well as inside, of our school, and how technology is becoming a part of that fabric of reading, writing, speaking/listening, and the mechanics of writing.

Peace (in the share),


A Teacher’s View: Student Research Queries

instagrok teacher view

One of the things I like about using Instagrok with my students on our research project is that I can “look over their shoulder” at the kinds of searches they are doing and websites they have visited, as well as the amount of time they are spending (including out of school). This screenshot is pretty typical of the research that my students are up to. Neat, eh?

Peace (in the research),


Mozilla X-Ray Goggles: The Intentional Hack of My Blog

For a year or so, I have had friends in the National Writing Project run Hackathons or Hackjams, using various tools to show how hacking skills are another form of literacy, and how those skills are becoming ever more important to young people in a digital world because it provides them with agency via remixing and a lens to critique online sources.

One of those tools is the Hackasaurus Xray Goggles, a handy bookmarklet from Mozilla that lets you change the text and design of a website. I finally got around to checking it out, and boy, it is pretty fun to use.

Check out what I did to my own blog site here — compare it to the real thing:
A Hacked Meandering Mind

I wonder how this might be used for the political season? And it does bring up questions of ownership, right? Who owns a webspace and what does it mean when you hack it? I see that Mozilla is working to create an unique URL for sites that get hacked via Goggles. (Right now, you can only save the HTML code of the hack). Interesting …

Peace (in the hack),


Research and Writing and the Web

I’ve been asked to give a 50 minute literacy-based workshop to my upper elementary colleagues today (sort of a last minute request) and since my professional goal this year is to really dive into developing research skills with my sixth graders, I am going to share out some strategies for using technology to help students conduct research. As luck would have it, this week, I got a book that I had ordered about research and am already loving it, sharing it and will be using part of it today.

The book is by Christopher Lehman and is called Energize Research Reading and Writing. (Lehman is a colleague of Lucy Calkins and collaborated with her on the Pathways to the Common Core book that I have also shared.) This book outlines the rationale behind the push for more research-based reading and writing in the new standards, but also offers up a lot of practical advice. I will do a more formal review when I dive deeper into Lehman’s book.

Here is my agenda for the session today. Understand that while this handout succinctly focuses in on tools and standards, our discussions and activities are all framed around student research and writing. Our state standards call for research in the earlier grades, ramping up over time until sixth grade (which I teach) when suddenly the research component expands greatly. I’ve been revamping my curriculum to shift basic research skills early in the year so that my students have some knowledge about search queries, citation of sources, and more.
Research and Writing and the Web

Peace (in the search),