Comic: Shifting Perceptions of Educators in a Pandemic

Perception of Teachers

This comic oversimplifies the sense I am getting in listening to our School Committee meetings, observing local social media postings of residents and local elected officials, and reading the news — but it does seem as if the goodwill towards that educators that came in the Spring when the Pandemic hit, and we working non-stop to reach and engage our students via remote, has shifted to more finger-pointing and negative tone as plans to re-open developed, at least where I am.

Some of the comments in the second panel are actual versions of things I have heard said or read in the last few weeks, and while I know this represents only the vocal people who are worried about how to balance it all and that the quiet ones may be supportive, it’s still disheartening that educators are becoming targets of scorn when it is a lack of a national effort to deal with the virus that has put us all in this spot.

Also, it is important to acknowledge that the current landscape is complicated for everyone, whatever their views. It may be that I am defensive in what I hear because it feels like educators are targets in a political scene, fed by the president.

I’ve been making comics since Spring about the Pandemic and its impact on education — you can view the entire collection of more than 50 comics here.

Peace (together),

Evaluating Technology Tools (But, It’s Not About The Tech)

Dr. Torrey Trust, of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, has been a pretty active and reliable voice in teaching circles since the Pandemic hit, as her academic focus is on teaching with technology. She also writes regularly about privacy issues in relation to students and families and more, and I appreciate her advice and suggestions, and insights into difficult topics related to technology.

I came across her Online Tools for Teaching and Learning site the other day, and while it is focused on the surface on tools, it’s really about the viability of how to use technology to engage students in learning.

Each platform reviewed (which are curated by use and also by year reviewed, with a bunch of recent ones added to the mix) is looked at by her team of academics (I think, or least, that was how the earlier ones were done as part of a graduate class) with analysis on qualities, privacy, accessibility and use by educators. Most come with helpful “how to” advice, as well.

Check out Online Tools for Teaching and Learning

Peace (exploring it),

Graphic Book Review: The Machine Never Blinks

From the prison thought experiment of the Panopticon (where every cell is visible to the guard) to today’s video street surveillance that uses face recognition algorithms, people have long and rightly worried about how to protect their privacy. In this graphic non-fiction book — The Machine Never Blinks: A Graphic History of Spying and Surveillance by Ivan Greenberg and Everett Patterson — the steady erosion of our privacy in public spheres is made evident and alarming.

Greenberg and Patterson have a progressive agenda here — it’s that the government should never be trusted with our data and that citizens must act against invasion of privacy and remain vigilant against such intrusions — and the stories of generations of spying on citizens is nothing new. Gathered in this one book, the collective stories become a powerful indictment of how technology has increased the pace of our loss of privacy and data — some of which we have willingly given up (social media, etc.) and some of which we have allowed our government to do in the guise of safety.

I’m not convinced the graphic format is the right format for this topic, however. In this book, the pages are crammed with text, reducing the reader’s ability to absorb the visual information. Which is why one would use a graphic novel format in the first place. I wish they had done more to leverage the use of the visuals on the page. In too many frames, it’s just people talking with speech bubbles or overflowing text boxes. I understand there is a lot of information to get out, but  better use of symbolic visualization and experimental art would have helped make the point, in my opinion.

And the point of the book is important and for those of us concerned about privacy and data, The Machine Never Blinks is another look at the topic. This book would appropriate for high school students but might be too dense with concepts and vocabulary for younger readers.

Peace (pushing back),


Thinking on HyperDocs for Flexible Teaching and Learning

I’ve been meaning to spend some time looking into the use of HyperDocs — sort of an updated version of Webquests in which a single document with hyperlinks provides students with multiple entries of engagement and exploration. It’s a concept that I have seen from time to time, and thought, yeah, someday, I’ll take a look.

But it was a post at Middleweb by a National Writing Project friend, Jeremy Hyler, another middle grade teacher, and then an interview on NWP Radio with Jeremy on the topic that provided me with a reason to sit down with HyperDocs with intention and ponder how it might be a good fit for a school year of remote and hybrid learning.

I quickly discovered that I appreciate HyperDocs as an approach of using a single document with multiple strands of activities for students, although it obviously requires, as Jeremy notes, work at the start by the teacher to think through sequences of learning activities and also choice opportunities for students to demonstrate understanding, with room for extension for those students who need a bit more.

While I come to the concept via NWP and Jeremy, I want to note that Laura Highfill, Kelly Hilton and Sarah Landis are prominent voices in the mix. The three educators facilitate and oversee the HyperDoc website, along with assorted course offerings, and they say they coined the term and concept in 2013.

At their website, the HyperDoc founders note:

A true HyperDoc is much more than some links on a document.

  • Creators deliberately choose web tools to give students opportunities to Engage • Explore • Explain • Apply • Share • Reflect • Extend the learning.
  • Digital collaboration is choreographed to give every student a voice and a chance to be heard by their classmates.
  • Critical thinking and problem-solving skills can be developed through linked tasks.
  • Students have an opportunity to create authentic digital artifacts to show what they know and connect with a wider audience.

In some ways, HyperDocs consolidates much of what teachers were already doing with research and online media exploration, but maybe doing even more so during forced closures due to the Pandemic. It leverages the resources of the Web, but also integrates well with any online platform, such as Google Classroom. Where I used to have multiple posts with different steps, spread out over a week, let’s say, a HyperDoc contains the entire sequence of activities, with media and text set explorations, in one document, allowing a student to move through the expectations at their own pace. The term “flexibility” comes up a lot with HyperDocs.

While there is no set structure of a HyperDoc, most seem to start with some essential questions and inquiry, leading to application of understanding, and then extension opportunities, with lots of places for reflections on process. Take a look at some samples to get a better sense of the HyperDoc concept. It’s important to note, I think, that you could easily design a HyperDoc as a simple website/blog post, in any text format that has links to the Internet, in Google Slides or presentation software, etc. It does not require a Google Doc, since the most important parts are links to follow, opportunities for reflection and sequencing of information.

The HyperDoc site has samples and lots of information, and I even ordered The HyperDoc Handbook from the HyperDoc folks just to have another resource handy. But there are plenty of other places on the Internet where teachers are sharing templates and ideas. I’ve “borrowed” a few (including the one that Jeremy talks about in the NWP podcast) and have been busy adapting for my own needs.

At this point, I have four different HyperDocs under construction for the start of the year: an icebreaker Back to School Hyperdoc, a literature-themed Hyperdoc focused on a short story and exploration of literary concepts, and a civic action HyperDoc that explores student agency.

HyperDoc Sample

Here is a link to a fourth HyperDoc I am creating as part of a Professional Development I am co-facilitating at the start of the year with colleagues on Project-Based Learning. This HyperDoc that I created utilizes the idea of the tiny Public Service Announcement (inspired by AJ Juliani) to show teachers a way to simulate PBL, and it can be adapted for the classroom, too. It has been built off a design that Jeremy had shared (thank you).

What’s great is that with some initial instruction and guidance for students (I even found a HyperDoc that explains HyperDocs to students), I can use HyperDocs for independent learning in both a Hybrid model (when I will see only half my students at a time but they are expected to be doing things the other half of the time) and for a Remote model (where none of us are going to want to be on the video screen for long stretches of time).

The flexibility and leveraging of online resources, plus the integration of other technological platforms like Padlet, Flipgrid, VoiceThread and others for reflection and sharing points, seems like it could be a winning way to use technology effectively for teaching and learning.

Peace (linked),

Book Review: Kids Who Are Changing the World

We bought copies of this book for teacher-participants in a spring professional development that connected history (Shays Rebellion, which took place as a resistance here in our area and led to the Constitutional Congress) to modern civic engagement projects with students. Kids Who Are Changing the World is a beautifully done book, with impactful stories of what the title says — young people who saw a problem and then worked to address it.

Inside, you can find dozens of examples of activism on issues of the environment, health, politics and more, with kid-friendly language and stories and images. There’s also plenty of advice for young readers on how to proceed with their own ideas for change in the world.

I enjoyed this book so much that I ordered a class set for my classroom, and intend to use it as a launching pad for some local civic engagement projects with my sixth graders later this year. I’m hoping they will be inspired by the many stories — many of which focus on neighborhoods and local communities.

I appreciated the many links to online resources, some of which are sites set up by the kids in the book and others, related documents and information that might help inform my students on a wide variety of issues.

Peace (changing the world),

Podcast: Nice White Parents

If you listen to podcasts, I would suggest a listen to Nice White Parents, a five-episode look at a school and district in New York City on themes of integration, segregation, education and activism in the neighborhood. Its premise is that white families, whether inadvertently or intentionally, are often the roadblock to systematic change in many schools, and it often comes under the banner of diversity.

From the series’ blurb:

We know American public schools do not guarantee each child an equal education. Two decades of school reform initiatives have not changed that. But when Chana Joffe-Walt, a reporter, looked at inequality in education, she saw that most reforms focused on who schools were failing: Black and brown kids. But what about who the schools are serving? In this five-part series, she turns her attention to what is arguably the most powerful force in our schools: White parents.

I found the series, by Serial/New York Times productions, to be compelling listening, as the reporter — Chana Joffe-Walt, a white parent herself who also calls into question her own bias and thinking in the podcast — interviews over many years a range of parents, students and school officials and others amidst changes happening now in her school district, while she also digs deep into the historical records for a view of New York City schools.

Peace (listening in ),