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Saturday, June 28, 2014

5 keys to creating a positive digital footprint

No matter how hard you try not to make an imprint, with each step you take you leave a footprint. In the digital world you create a digital footprint with every keystroke you make. In the world of devices and apps it is of utmost importance to keep this in mind whenever you get online, share a photo, send an email, tweet, voice your opinion on facebook, click the mouse, and make a keystroke. Whether you want to believe it or not, each of us has a digital presence. If I didn't remove my muddy boots and walked across white carpet I would get myself in a lot of trouble and may make a mess that I couldn't erase completely. Now hopefully none of us leave muddy footprints everywhere we go and we take of our shoes when they are dirty, that being said there are many people who do 'muddy' up their digital footprint by not realizing the impact and implications of their digital footprint.

I have a few thoughts on digital footprints. Before we get to them I think it is important to realize that each one of us that is using a device of any sort is making a digital footprint. There is no way around it. Sure some techies can get creative and cover up their steps, but even doing that makes an imprint of some sort. Knowing you are making a footprint is really the key to begin creating a positive digital print.

1. Take control of your digital footprint. If everything we do online can be used either for or against us, make sure whatever you post is for the good. You have control over what you say, share, post, forward, like/dislike, etc... Social media can be a great way to share and connect with others no matter where they are, it can also be a place where people muddy up the floor. You have control over your online image, cultivate it with care. Be smart in what you share, that includes opinions as much as images, for all of it has the potential to cause you embarrassment or much worse. My personal rule is that if I wouldn't share it with my grandparents then I shouldn't post it. Believe me you will never regret not posting something, the same can't be said once you click submit. Quite literally the world is watching, make sure you show them your best self. Post things that are uplifting and encouraging, that show you in a good light. Don't be degrading, rude, condescending, vulgar, profane, etc... I know that most businesses search your name when you apply and see what comes up. Frankly I don't know why they wouldn't. Be smart about what you say about your job, your boss, your coworkers, they may not see it, but someone else will.

2. There is no such thing as private. Just get that out of your head right now. This includes texts, tweets, emails, etc... Just assume everyone can see what you post. Sure you can set up a private account on social media and only allow certain people to see what you post, but just remember they can show others, they can copy/paste, they can screenshot, they can forward and share whatever you post. Once it is out there you have no control over where it ends up. There are many sad cases of people who shared private information with friends and family only to end up losing control over whatever it is they posted. There are sadder cases of jobs lost, current and future, over things shared in private. Just keep in mind there is no such thing as private and you will save yourself any heartache.

3. You can never take it back. Sure you can delete something and minimize the damage, but you can never take it back. Once posted you then lose control over where it ends up. Written words can be read over and over again. Be smart about what you say and to whom you say it, for you can't take it back. Sarcasm and joking can be easily misunderstood over text, intentions can be misinterpreted when you aren't there in person. Consider the grandparent rule before you post or share.

4. What you post is your resume. I consider this blog my resume. I share ideas, thoughts, as well as successes. I tag each entry so that when my name is searched I have some control over what one can see about me. I also tag entries using the criteria that I am observed on so that I can give more proof than a quick 30 min observation. You want to impress your principal, tag your blog with the main criteria you are observed on, believe me they will be impressed. If I interview for a different position I definitely plan on using this blog for my benefit.

5. The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. Don't wait to take charge of your digital footprint. Start now. Make wise decisions about what you share and say, remember anything can be used for or against you. Share your successes. Keep a record of what you do well. We all are leaving an imprint with every keystroke, start to craft your online image. Take control of your digital footprint and begin creating a path that leads to success.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Students as Teachers Global Connection Project

I like big ideas. They excite me. In planning for next year I started thinking about the possibilities and opportunities that are available now. Being a geography teacher I can't help but think about the possibilities global connections. I have done some of this the past few years with varying levels of success. In all cases I know that the students like the idea of working with students from around the world, but it is tough with time zones, scheduling, technology, and just having the right activity, among a myriad of other issues that can make it challenging. Through it all I do believe that the overall experience is valuable it's just finding the most effective way of doing it. In other words there has to be something more than just talking with students from around the world. That is fun, but loses its novelty quickly. There has to be some inherent academic purpose in connecting. I have been pondering just what that is for the past few years. Then I came upon this quote:

“If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself.” Albert Einstein

The wheels in my head started spinning and I got excited. Keeping in mind the following graphic I couldn't help but think that the academic purpose should be to have the students teach each other.

But here is the kicker: Why not connect with six/seven year olds and have my students teach them the concepts we are learning. So here is my idea, my class of 14-15 yr olds connects with a class from another state, or even country of younger students. It could be done as a mystery skype in order to introduce the different classes and then my students would have to teach some of the concepts that they are learning to the younger class. They would become guest speakers/experts for the younger class. My students would have to really know their stuff in order to teach it to the younger class. I can conceive of writing children's books or creating videos on different topics and then having them read the book/watch the videos and come up with any questions as they go along. There would be storyboarding and editing involved, class and peer reviews before attempting to teach the younger students. There are so many things you could do with this! Really the possibilities are as unlimited as your own thinking.

Instead of taking another quiz or test you would have to teach a younger class. How bout that for authentic assessment?!

Next school year will come much sooner than you know. I want to start planning for this right now. If you are interested in participating please let me know. You can leave a comment, send me an email, or reach me on Twitter @mrjfawson

I get that each school or class will be unique and come with its own set of procedures but I believe that we can make this work and not only connect, but have an extremely valuable academic experience for all involved. There is a lot more to work out, but I figured I needed to get my thoughts down as soon as I could.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The dangers of complaining and how to change the conversation

I have never been a big complainer. I just have never really seen the point in doing it. Complaining about students or a group of students or an entire class has never really been something I view as productive. Sure I have had my share of tough students and have done some my fair share of venting, but even in such moments the purpose is not to indict a student or throw my hands up in the air and say "Woe is me". For me it is recognizing that what I am doing is not working and that I need to figure out a better way. I am a positive person by nature, so dwelling on the negativity is not how I like to do things.

One of the things that bugs me is when I hear that a particular class, I don't mean 5th period, I mean this years 8th graders, of students is 'tough' or 'behind' or some other less than desirable characteristic. It is very rare that I hear positive traits attributed to classes. Basically I see these blanket statements about a class of students as way to keep expectations low, vent, and make excuses as to why students are not performing well. Overall I think it is a bunch of garbage. Sure there are some kids that are tough and that may be behind among other things, but to label an entire class as such goes against just about everything I believe in as a teacher.

First of all how is helpful to make such a statement? Are you just making an excuse for why students aren't doing well? Is it a way to vent and wash your hands of how things are going? I can't see a real good reason for making such statements. They make you treat and feel differently about your students than you should. I for one never feel better about students that I have complained about. If anything it makes me less likely to help them out, not more.

Secondly I have never seen any issue get better with complaining. Certainly issues need to be addressed. There is a huge difference between noting shortcomings and failings and setting forth to improve than to just outright complain about something. Typically in these conversations there is little said about what can be done, or here is what I am doing to make improvements. I get the need to vent at times but I don't see labeling a whole class of students as a good way of doing it.

I guess I can't really write a post about this without making some suggestions. Here is my first thought. Don't let anyone dictate how you think about a particular student let alone a group of students. I have had countless students do great in my class that were tough in other classes. I only have control over what happens in my room. Sure I want all students to behave and do well in all their classes, but ultimately I really only have control over how I treat them.

When I do have trouble with students I look first at myself. Many times how I handled the situation has led to problems. There are many reasons students may be tough, I try to make sure I am not one of those reasons.

One of the most effective ways to get others to stop complaining is to first not feed the flames. When those around me engage in such talk I don't add to it. The quickest way I have found to end such conversations is to say "Well I really like this group of kids" or "I really like _______" Almost as soon as you say it the complaining will cease.

One of the most productive statements I have found is to say "How can we help ________ out?" The entire dynamic of the conversation shifts from condemnation to concern and action. There is an admission that we can and need to do better in some way. That while these students have many things in their lives that are out of our control, we can and do have an impact when they are in our classrooms.

I believe that each one of my students is capable of learning and of doing great things. If I label them this will limit what I believe they can do and it does effect how I treat them. It is foolish to believe otherwise. Complaining about students has never made me better. It doesn't inspire or motivate me in anyway. Teaching is not easy and certainly there those that make it tougher than it needs to be, but complaining does little to improve situations. As we prepare for new students let us keep an open mind and make our own expectations and focus on the present instead of dwelling on the past.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

End of Year Reflections and changes for next year

I started having students blog during 4th term and have decided to have them do it throughout the entire year. Basically the blog will be the their homework. They will update it weekly and get credit for their updates. I don't think I should grade the blog, just give them credit for doing it. If you have read this blog before you know that we did video zeitgeist that highlighted the major happenings worldwide throughout the year. I am going to have on entry per month in which they evaluate the current world and local events and determine which ones should be in their end of year video.

One of the final things I have students do is a final write up in which part of it is to give me feedback. One of the things I ask is what was your favorite activities/lessons/assignments. I have used the Genius Project idea for the past few years and students really like it. This year during fourth term students created a blog and then updated it weekly. Since my class is studying geography I told students they could pick anything 'geography related' for their genius project (which if they realize it, is just about anything). Their homework for the term was a weekly post, updating their findings. In the end they presented their blog and their genius project to the class during the last week of school. It was neat to see such a variety of projects from researching myths and legends from around the world to saving the great barrier reef to a history of Arabic music to the northern lights.

Here are some of their thoughts:

"My favorite assignment was the Genius Project. It let us think outside the box. I had a great time learning about my topic."

"My favorite assignment was the Genius Project. This is because it gave us an opportunity to make decisions on our own on whatever we wanted to do. You gave us total freedom...which is the best kind of homework."

"My favorite assignment was the blog. It was cool to be able to study and figure things out by yourself. Everyone picked something that reflected who they are and through it I got to know each person a little better."

"I really loved the Genius Project. I was able to write about something I was passionate about, and share my experiences with others."

"I really liked getting to pick what I was going to study and learn about. It helped keep me on top of my assignment and I feel I learned more than I would have if I chose from a list of topics."

Based on these thoughts as well as my own here are the changes I am making for the upcoming year:

Have students blog weekly through out the year for homework. Once a month on current events for Zeitgeist. Once a month for genius projects Once on what we have learned in class. With extra research on application and extension of knowledge. The other will be an open topic. 9-10 entries per term.

First week will set it up. They explain purpose of their blog and what they think geography is and what they hope to learn about during the year. They will do a term write up each term on each of topics. First few times will get lab to help them out. Periodically will get lab for same purpose.

I think creating a positive digital footprint is of utmost importance. With that in mind I am going to teach how to tag, comment, use CC pics, embed video, so that when their name is searched they have a lot of positive things to show for it.

This post if more me thinking out loud, but I welcome any suggestions of things that have worked well for you.