The Research Habits of Digital Kids

The Pew Research Center, along with the College Board and the National Writing Project, recently released the results of a survey of middle and high school teachers on the topic of technology’s influence on research skills of students. (You can read more about the study here at the NWP website or download the whole report from Pew).

The results are not surprising, I think, but they are worth sharing and discussing. A few things become clear from this report and my own daily observations of my students, and I think many of teachers see this in their own classroom: While the Internet and other forms of technology have opened up amazing doors for information and connections for young researchers, it has also created the problem of filtering that flood of information into manageable and useable ideas. The role of the educator in regards to online research is never more necessarily than now, in this information age, particularly around the teaching of reliable sources, navigation strategies, citation of sources and more. We need to be doing more explicit teaching of these practices.

Here are some bits and pieces from the survey overview that stuck out  for me:

Virtually all (99%) AP and NWP teachers in this study agree with the notion that “the internet enables students to access a wider range of resources than would otherwise be available,” and 65% agree that “the internet makes today’s students more self-sufficient researchers.”

Large majorities also agree with the notion that the amount of information available online today is overwhelming to most students (83%) and that today’s digital technologies discourage students from using a wide range of sources when conducting research (71%).

The teachers surveyed rated students particularly low on their ability to recognize bias in online content (71% rate them fair or poor), and patience and determination in looking for information that is hard to find (78% give ratings of fair or poor).

42% of the teachers surveyed report their students use cell phones to look up information in class. At the same time, virtually all teachers surveyed report working in a school that employs internet filters (97%), formal policies about cell phone use (97%) and acceptable use policies or AUPs (97%). The degree to which these different policies impact their teaching varies, with internet filters cited most often as having a “major impact” on survey participants’ teaching (32%), followed by cell phone policies (21%) and AUPs (16%). Teachers in urban areas and those teaching the lowest income students are feeling the impact of these policies more than others. In particular, teachers of students living in poverty are at least twice as likely as those teaching the most affluent students to report these policies having a “major” impact on their teaching.

This infographic from the report gives a good idea of the responses.


These kinds of reports reinforce the need for us as teachers to really bring these skills into our classrooms. Mostly, librarians have been leading the way, and that is great. But all of us need to be finding ways to do more of this, and if you are a Common Core state – with its emphasis on research skills and using sources and synthesis of ideas — you really need to make inroads here. I’ve been doing more and more of this with my own sixth graders, setting the stage for larger research projects in the coming years.

Peace (in the research reflection),

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),



Digital Writing Month: I, Hyperlink (a poem)

I had this urge to write a poem about hyperlinks for Digital Writing Month. You know, hyperlinks are the most powerful feature of the Web, in my opinion, for the ways they can connect texts and ideas together, and we often take the hyperlink for granted. But it is a powerful idea that allowed content on the Web to become … well, the Web, and not just some assorted random content.

I, Hyperlink

I embed; you interact.

I’m the link inside the seam
with the power to attract
this idea to that idea and then off again to the next –
I’m underlined and powerful
sitting here inside this text.
You might think me odd
as I transport you from your spot –
an elevator shaft of movement
in associative thought.

But take a breath and look around
and see where you have landed
and tell me, reader of this link,
if you are not now standing
deep inside the chamber
of some other writer’s mind
which is where you needed to find yourself
after a bit of time, so …

I embed; You interact.
We weave ourselves
inside this map.
We create this journey, you and I.
You, the reader, open to adventure
as I, the link, draw the lines.

You can also listen to the podcast version of the poem:

Peace (in the poem),


Kicking off Digital Writing Month

As I have mentioned, I am going to be following Digital Writing Month, and I am creating a series of webcomics to go along with it. I don’t expect to meet the 50,000 words. But I hope to do some exploration and tinkering and playing around with mediums.

Here is a comic that I created yesterday:
DigiWriMo 2012

But then, I thought about the idea of using a webcomic platform to create a comic in a comic, in a comic. It was sparked by the thought that code might be text in this kind of challenge.

Digital Writing Month MetaComic Kickoff

Yeah. That’s how my month might be heading …

Peace (in the frames)


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),


Book Review: Ungifted

Cover image, Pop

When my 12 year old son finished reading Ungifted by Gordon Korman (Mr. Prolific), two things happened. First, he said “this is the best book I read all summer” and then he asked if he could find a website that calculated his IQ. I let him give it a try, although we talked about the validity of online tools and about why IQ is just one measure of a person. But he was curious because Ungifted (read excerpts) centers around a school for the gifted, and what happens when a “regular student” enters their midst and messes things up, for the better.

Donovan Curtis is a troublemaker from the public school, who is always instigating one mess or another, and when one of his impulsive decisions goes completely awry and causes damage to his school, he finds himself unexpectedly and mistakenly in a school for gifted kids, thanks to the bumbling school superintendent. The story quickly becomes a rather predictable tale of the outsider changing the group in a good way while the group changes the outsider in a profound way. I enjoyed Korman’s storytelling, as always, but felt as if he dug up one too many stereotypes of nerdy kids, anxious school superintendents, and other characters that pepper this story.

The climax scene, involving a robot named Tin Man Metallica Squarepants (great name!) and a rival robot, Potzilla, is quite amusing and fused with high energy and humor, and Donovan shows some true colors as the story progresses as a friend with a large heart. Maybe that is what my son was talking about.

Peace (in the gift),



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),


The Atlantic Magazine Series: Why American Students Can’t Write

Education Debate bug

Have you been following the ongoing series of posts at The Atlantic Magazine on the theme of writing?

I’ve been back and forth over the past few weeks as the magazine first featured a controversial but very insightful article about a turnaround school that focused its writing curriculum almost solely on expository writing and grammar instruction. This was spurred on by poor test scores and the admission that its students were struggling to write even complete sentences. What the real theme of the series centers around, it seems to me, is the role and balance of creative, narrative writing and expository information writing — which really drives into the heart of the discussion of the Common Core. The first article by Peg Tyre kicked off a series of other posts about the craft of teaching writing with students, and the pieces have been very interesting to read and think about.

I take my hat off to Cindy O’Donnell-Allen (a National Writing Project colleague) who argued that teachers need to be writers, and viewed as writers, for students to really take writing seriously as a means of expression. And there have been insightful pieces about the creative process (about developing strategies for ideas) and the need for poetry in the curriculum to nurture logical thinking, and how organizations like Dave Eggers’ Valencia 826 writing centers have energized and supported young writers.

And a high school student even responded with a fantastic piece of writing, talking about how some of her best teachers have shown her how to see her own writing through various lenses.

And then there are the two technology-related pieces that caught my attention.

The first piece talks about how teachers need to start envisioning the assessment and support of student writing with technology as a tool. The notes in the margins to students rarely get read. What if our time was spent more wisely, the authors write, in the early stages of writing, conferring directly with students (or outside of class, with online conferences) and using the technology tools to help with the grammar and syntax. The authors also suggest that the advent of software to read essays might be one of those tools. I’m still not sure about that.

The second piece makes interesting connections between traditional writing skills and programmers creating code, and ponders the question of whether software would be less buggy and more innovative if programmers had better writing skills. He notes that documentation of software is often a mess, and that writing focuses a person on logic, and sequence, and clarity.

I also appreciated that Tyre came back after those other articles were posted, and responded with another insightful piece, arguing again about the need for balance. Of course, if you look at how The Atlantic frames the series — with the overarching title of Why American Students Can’t Write, you get a sense of rhetorical stance via writing, right? The unspoken answer is that students can write because teachers can’t teach writing. Or don’t.

Here’s how Tyre ends the series:

What I have seen in my many years writing about education is that teaching creative writing in place of the mechanics of writing is a disaster for children at the other end of the economic spectrum. Many enter high school unable to write a coherent paragraph. At the tender age of 16 or so, at a time when affluent children are thinking about SAT prep classes and service projects in warm countries, it becomes obvious to some underserved students that they have not acquired the ability to reflect, analyze, and dissect ideas in writing – a set of skills that will enable them to persist through high school English and history and into college.

Others, unable to keep up, simply become bored, disengaged, and academically disconnected. They drop out and, if they are lucky, begin working a job or series of part-time jobs for hourly wages behind fast food counters, in retail, in a garage, or for a cleaner or landscaper. At the end of the workday, the conditions of their employment often causes parts of their bodies to ache.

I suggest to you that these young people needed more from their teachers than inspiration and a safe space. All students should have a chance to write poetry in school. But all students need the opportunity to gain the basic skills that will allow them to move forward in school and make a decent life for themselves and their children. Shame on us if we fail to provide that.

from The Atlantic

Peace (in the writing),