Tag Archives: Education

A Coming-of-Digital-Age Story

13 Mar

A Coming-of-Digital Age Story
By Nancye Blair Black
Performed by Laney Blair

Used to be, learning at school was a bore.
Textbooks and textbooks and textbooks. Snore!
In class, teachers would talk, students would hear.
It was the same old story year after year.

Until one day, our principal suddenly appeared
With a class set of computers. The students all cheered!
Our teacher showed us what these new tools could do.
We played fraction games. We Skyped with the zoo!

And then it was our turn. She turned us all loose
To research and learn about a topic we choose.
I tried simulations. Collected data, too.
I emailed an expert. Read cutting-edge news.

Next, it was time to share what we’d learned,
To demonstrate knowledge and mastery earned.
In front of my classmates, I started to doubt,
But then all of a sudden, the words just poured out.

I showed them my slideshow with media galore.
My friends clapped and asked questions and begged me for more!
My teacher joined with them. Could this really be?
That along with my teacher, now a teacher was me?

It was hard to believe, but the message seemed clear;
My work mattered enough to see, read and hear.
And if sharing my ideas could matter to you,
All this work would actually be worth it to do!

So, I darted online to blog on my day.
Would the rest of the world really care what I say?
I posted my project as my global debut.
Other teachers and students were soon commenting, too!

And now, I can’t count all things I can share;
I’m an author, filmmaker and scientist extraordinaire.
My voice makes a difference. I now know it’s true….
And technology helped me to share it with you.

Sept 11 Reflections: Democracy, Citizenship and Education

11 Sep

CC License: Photo by Flickr @North Charleston

What should a good citizen do?

The question of “what a good citizen should do” in a democratic society begins with an assumption of a universal ethical imperative within democracy.  Perhaps this follows from the concept of democracy itself.  At the onset of American independence, the writers of the Declaration stated that it was self-evident that “all men are created equal” and that with that equality of nature comes unalienable Rights, such as Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  A democratic society could secure these rights through a government that derives its just power from the “consent of the governed.” 

Consent of the governed.  Perhaps, too often we overlook this essential democratic freedom, the Freedom of Consent.  The idea that democracy requires consent of the governed supports an imperative for the people of the democracy, the good citizens, to actively give a say, to give a consent or descent – through speech, voting, the practice of beliefs or religions, exercising their other freedoms – on the positions and actions of the government.

More than ever, it is vital that American citizens actively exercise their own rights and freedoms, while also working to promote the rights and freedoms of others.  Through both speech and actions, we must declare our consent or descent and encourage the equal participation of other citizens to do the same.  Howard Budin stated that “the heart of democratic action is collaborative decision making,” making “decisions with their fellow citizens to improve their lives and the life of the community or nation.”  In this way, all democratic citizens are benefited by the increased voice and involvement of others, even of those with whom we disagree.  To asymptotically approximate the ideals of democracy, citizens must have equitable opportunities, freedoms and rights to participate… and must actively exercise these opportunities, freedoms and rights within the collaborative society.

Too often in education, we speak of citizenship simply in terms of being honest, neighborly or kind.  Joel Westheimer and Joseph Kahane call this the “personally responsible citizen,” though they warn that this concept of citizenship alone does not necessarily foster equality, justice and democracy.  “Indeed, government leaders in a totalitarian regime would be as delighted as leaders in a democracy if their young citizens… don’t do drugs; show up at school; show up at work; give blood; help others during a flood; recycle; pick up litter; clean up a park; [and] treat old people with respect,” they write in “What Kind of Citizen? The Politics of Educating for Democracy.”

Somehow, the concepts of participation and activism are missing from much of today’s education on citizenship. In fact, when I asked, “What should a good citizen do?” to my twelve year old daughter at the dinner table yesterday, she responded with “don’t kill people,” even though she is active in community service and often engages discussions about social justice at her Montessori middle school.  She did not automatically associate those participatory practices with her responsibilities as a “citizen.”  Perhaps this is because what is often considered “good” behavior or citizenship at schools is not always aligned with the promotion of justice.  Frequently, the “good” child in class is the one who follows the rules, even when those rules are enforced in unjust ways.  It is important, especially in education, not to confuse the promotion of personal responsibility with that of standardization, compliance and obedience.

Instead, the good citizen needs to have the ability to transfer the qualities of personal responsibility to critical reflection, active participation (participatory citizen) and the promotion of social justice (justice-oriented citizen).  The good citizen must go beyond personal responsibility to participate in giving consent or descent, in effecting change and in encouraging equity.  In this way, the rights and freedoms of all citizens can be maintained and expanded in order to improve the quality of life for citizens and the collective life of the community or nation.

As educators, there are many opportunities to exercise our roles as citizens and to promote participation and social action in our students:

  • Register to vote, vote, and encourage others to vote, too!
  • Investigate educational issues being discussed in politics, not just in the Presidential race, but also at the local and state level.
  • Call, email and write letters to your School Board or Congressmen, supporting funding for education.
  • Provide community service learning opportunities to your students – serve meals at a homeless shelter; coordinate a canned food drive; raise funds to support cancer research or the creation of a local park.
  • Engage your classes in student-driven action projects and competitions that focus on solving real world problems, like Heifer International Education Programs or the Siemens We Can Change the World Challenge.

Today is September 11th.  Yes, we mourn and remember the lives lost and the bravery of so many Americans eleven years ago, but we also celebrate the freedoms we enjoy in this democratic society.  Freedoms that we shouldn’t take for granted.  Freedoms that were earned with blood, sweat and tears.  Freedoms that we should exercise and should harness to advocate for equal rights for all people… here in the United States and around the world.

Get Back-to-School with the 2012 Learning 2.0 Virtual Conference

20 Aug

Uniforms are neatly hanging in bedroom closets. School supplies are flying off shelves. Yellow buses are getting reacquainted with neighborhood streets. This can only mean one thing…

It’s time to go back to school!

Of course, this is not just an exciting time for students. This is a time for us as educators to dream of educational ideals and new beginnings, to imagine the next great learning adventure. It’s a time to take a chance and try something new in order to make a difference in the lives of our students.

This week, I encourage you not to dream alone.  In the midst of the hustle and bustle of back-to-school, I encourage you to take advantage of a unique opportunity to dream alongside educators around the world through the Learning 2.0 Virtual Conference.

As part of Connected Educator Month, the Learning 2.0 Virtual Conference is “a global conversation on rethinking teaching and learning in the age of the Internet.”  From August 20-24, the conference will feature powerful interviews and keynote talks from experts like Howard Gardner, Yong Zhao, Heidi Hayes Jacobs and Sugata Mitra, as well as a diverse offering of concurrent sessions.  A full schedule of the conference can be found here.  And the best part?  Participation is free!

So, check out Learning 2.0 and join me in kicking off the new school year by building a new dream for improving student learning by harnessing the amazing technological resources of the Internet age!

Re-envision Technology Integration in your Classrooms

25 Jan

With all of the advances in technology tools and 21st century learning strategies, it can be hard to both keep up… and to nail down just what ideas are the most important. My latest article in NAESP’s Principal magazine aims to help you do just that.

Technology Integration for the NEW 21st Century Learner

You can read it online here.

OR

You can view the full color PDF of the article here.

I would love to hear your thoughts, feedback and implementation ideas as we work together to use technology to make a difference in our schools and in the lives of our students.

This is Why I Teach: NaNoWriMo

16 Dec

Forty-six days ago, I took on a challenge that I did not believe that I could accomplish and that I did not even intend to fight to achieve. That challenge was writing my first novel alongside sixteen of my fourth and fifth grade students as part of National Novel Writing Month. When I first looked into the NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program, I saw it as a unique opportunity to encourage my students to write while participating in a global endeavor. Having a clear beginning and end point, along with the knowledge that other kids were simultaneously writing all over the world was very motivating for my students. That, plus the idea that they would receive a real printed copy of their novel launching them to “real author” status, set the group of us into motion.

When the students sign up for the Young Writers Program, they are given the option to choose a word count goal to work toward. NaNoWriMoYWP recommends various word count goals for each grade level, allowing teachers and students to take on the challenge at a level appropriate for their individual ability, time, and motivation. I shared these recommendations with my students, along with an all day write-a-thon opportunity that we would have at the beginning of the month. Though a couple of students did ask what the minimum they could choose was, most shot for goals beyond recommendations, even when I tried to talk them out of it… even when their parents tried to talk them out of it. And so, they prepared to begin with goals starting at 2,000 words and quickly rising to several at and above 9,000.

What I did not realize when I signed up for the program was that, even though my students were able to set their own word count goals, the automatic word count goal for an adult is 50,000 words. To be honest, I do love to write, but it’s what I love to write that is important at this point. I was a philosophy major. I typically write theory, non-fiction.

50,000 words sounded impossible.

To me.

Yet to my students, 50,000 words seemed like just the right kind of challenge that their teacher should take on if they were going to be writing between 2,000 and18,000 words themselves. Whether or not I thought I could do it, these sixteen students believed I could do it. So, I signed up and signed a contract with all of them committing to the goal.

As November started, we wrote. Before school, during school, after school, even meeting at a local restaurant on a Saturday to work on our stories. The kids were excited. Even a handful of students who traditionally dread writing tasks in class excelled in this project, surpassing their goal by hundreds or thousands of words.

In eight years of teaching, there is no project in which I have participated that compared to the way this one promoted:

Goal setting,

Task commitment and anti-procrastination measures,

Encouragement between peers,

Self-motivation outside of class, and

Two-way inspiration and shared energy between teacher and students.

Five days before the challenge was to end, I will admit that I had only written 23,000 words, not even 50% of where I needed to be. To be honest, I was ready to quit. Not quit writing, but quit trying to reach the goal. Sure, I would write more, but looking at the unbelievable workload still ahead of me, it was seemingly impossible to reach the 50,000 word goal.

But then something happened. As I was working on my computer, I checked the NaNoWriMo website. Throughout the month, the students and I had been posting updated word counts. Even though it was the last Saturday of Thanksgiving break, their numbers were going up. Going way up. Some were even starting to surpass their goals. Seeing this growth in my students, seeing them posting updated word counts even during Thanksgiving break, and seeing them rise to this incredible challenge changed me.

I was inspired. I was not just inspired to write; I was inspired to finish by November 30th. Over the next four days, I wrote day and night, even with a full teaching schedule… and completed 27,000 words. At 7:46pm on November 30th, I wrote my fifty thousandth word.

I never could have written this novel without watching them write theirs. Never would have finished this challenge if I hadn’t watched them fight for each and every word. They were a true inspiration.

So, on the second to last day, when I walked into the lunchroom and my fifth graders were asking for my “number”… and I shared 40,000, not nearly where I should have been at this point in the month, I was rather surprised when one of the students who had already completed nearly all of her 9,000 word goal looked up at me with the biggest smile on her face, saying “You are so inspiring!” Me? The one who had nearly given up with less than half of my novel done just four days before the deadline?

Yet, they continued to surprise me. Later that afternoon, a student who had finished a week early came by my classroom “just to check on me.” And on December 1st, when I showed up with donuts and supplies to show them that I was proud of them, it was those same students who came running into my classroom to tell me that they were proud of me.

My students are now more empathetic, more genuinely interested in each other. They are significantly better writers and significantly more confident in their abilities than any score on a standardized test could have possibly achieved. And where a five paragraph essay had once seemed daunting work, now sitting and writing a thousand words sounds like child’s play to these incredible students.

And the added bonus? Watching this group of kids write novels was infectious. What started out as a class project spread to two other whole classes… and, on the second to last day, to four other 4th graders who committed to reaching a 400 word goal in just one day. The school librarian is even thinking about ways to promote reading the works of these motivated students once we have copies in the library. Copies in the library? Wow.

So, NaNoWriMo, you have changed our lives for the better and taught us that we are capable of achieving much more that we could have possibly imagined. And you turned us into a family in the process. Thank you.

To find out more about the National Novel Writing Month Young Writers Program, visit ywp.nanowrimo.org.