Social uncertainty: What is the social netiquette?

Back in the day it was Ann Landers or Dear Abbey who vetted socially uncertain situations. Just as Mom dutifully made dinner, they made sense out of social norms and protocols appropriate to the time.

In the new social landscape we meet situations lacking precedence or comparison; new situations arise as we connect in new ways. Depending on your social circle you may or may not have peers (most of my IRL friends do not use Social Media beyond Facebook) to ask for opinions. The examples of the socially uncertain situations I have encountered in the last year highlight the merging of the facets of my life into one. I don’t have the right solution to any of them; these are new challenges we face as parents, friends, colleagues, social beings.

1. As a parent:

I have come across some of my daughter’s friends “saying things” on social media that concern me (none related to self-harm or violence). But I don’t know the context in which they say what they do. I recognize that they use social media is very different way than I do.

Do I talk to them directly? Do I talk to their parents? Do I say nothing and just continue to be watchful?

2. As a teacher:

I have observed several former and current students who post pictures of themselves under the influence and/or with alcohol. One former student in particular concerned me, so much so I asked my Twitter network for advice.

Do I contact the former student directly? Do I contact the parent? Should I un-friend them on Facebook so I don’t feel painfully uncomfortable?

3. As a colleague:

I have encountered several situations where one teacher has used another teacher’s work, with no mention or credit.
I have seen several other examples where there is slanderous information posted about a teacher.

Do you tell the offended teacher? Do you confront the offenders? Who do I tell?

4. As a female:

On Facebook I have connected with people from high school and beyond. Although it has been great to see these friends from long ago, it also has its complications. In one instance I had a friend who FB messaged me to ask if I would join him for a weekend in a hotel in Vancouver. Um, well for one I am married and for two, that is just rude. This made my interactions with the group we are both involved with extremely awkward and strained. Moreover it made me vacate Facebook as every time I was on-line, he would start a convo.

Do I call him out in public? Do I ignore him? Do I simply un-friend him and then have others ask me why?

These are the new social uncertainties for me.  I can only imagine how they are for our kids.

Who creates the learning story in the classroom?

We all have story to tell. But sometimes we forget that others have stories too…

In her Ted Talk (featured below) “The Danger of a Single Story” Chimamanda Adichie describes how her narrative was influenced as she grew up reading exclusively Western literature (by the way this would be a great Ted Talk to watch in History or English class to discuss perspective or point of view). It struck me that this danger could also exist in our classroom spaces.
Whose learning stories get told, is it always from the adult’s perspective? (Learning is easy, learning is fun, don’t you get it yet?)
Is there space, trust, and a regular invitation for student’s to craft and tell their learning in their own way?

Crafting narrative builds context and richness for students that is often missing with new content. The creation of even a small story invites the learner to make sense in their own words and in their own way. Creation invites students to pull the content and their background knowledge out from the chaos and embed it in a meaningful way.

Below are some activities that invite students to create and own the learning narrative. Any of these could stand alone or could be done in a sequence to build larger collective narrative. I have used a Biology example but could easily be altered to fit any topic!

Offered in order of time commitment:

1. #sixwordstory
At the start of a unit or topic show students a related image. For example in Biology class I shared the image below to our Facebook group page. Students were asked to create a #sixwordstory about the image and then are given the choice to either Tweet, post to our Facebook group, or write story on a sticky note. If they write on a sticky note, I post their story for them. In the example below, 16 students selected to post here and the rest Tweeted. My favorite #sixwordstory related to this picture was “Man’s feats can demonstrate nature’s marvels.”

This activity can be used anywhere you want students to synthesize or reflect. It is fast, fun and students can choose how they would like to participate.

6 word story

2. Found Poem
If you want to take #sixwordstory’s up a notch, students can turn their stories into “Found Poems”. The simplest and easiest way to create a found poem is to ask students to read their #sixwordstory aloud one after another as quickly as possible to add some tempo to the poem.

Found poems can also be created from readings. Student select their favorite sentence or phrase from the passage or chapter and then read these aloud. It is always amazing to hear how many will select the same phrase or sentence and this supplies a refrain like quality to their collective poem.

Found poems could easily be extended into a larger project or simply end with the reading.

3. Phonto
Phonto is a free app that allows you to easily add text to a photo. This is a great way for students to use their phones and leverage their love of taking photos. There is a phonto app for both Apple and Android. The example below is one I created. You could combine #sixwordstory and Phonto for more story telling fun!

phonto (3)

5. Animoto – Want to turn the found poem, or the phonto photos into something more?  Take them and throw into an Animoto video (open an educator account to start) for a collective, professional looking Found Poem.

I share below an Animoto I show to my classes at the start of the school year to make my “we all have stories to tell” point.

6. Using Whiteboards to tell stories – Low tech and multi-purpose, whiteboards are a fun way to invite student to tell stories.  It might look messy to you, but it is amazing to hear the narratives that students share when presenting their stores to the class. Everyone loves a good story! Students can archive these by taking photos of the whiteboards and adding to their digital portfolios or to our Facebook page.

Robot Unicorn Attack.
Robot Unicorn Attack.

The question remains, who tells the learning story in the classroom?
How will your students tell theirs?
Do you have any ideas to add to the ones here? I would love to here about them!

Teaching or Learning?

“Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.”
― Isaac Asimov

Ok. I am having a little bit of cognitive dissidence and I need some help.
I am not sure if I am confused or I have clarity. I thought I HAD clarity. But as things go lately, I am now confused about that clarity.

Let me explain.

Over the course of the past 2 years I have been on a journey that shifted my focus from one that was primarily centered on my teaching (what I did) to a focus on learning and mainly on what students do (both physically and mentally). Over the course of this journey, I have moved away from, in my mind, thinking of myself as a teacher. Increasingly I have felt much more of a learner than anything. This has led to a subtle shift but significant shift in my language (for example using I can statement instead of The learner will be able to statements) and…sigh…my whole view of education….no big deal.

Anyway. I am a still far from being able to fully articulate this cosmic shift in any reasonable fashion and sketch a clear picture for you. But some of the shifts I have experienced and observations I made are as follows:

As a teacher I designed a learning sequence and the learner followed it.
As a learner I walk along a path of learning shoulder to shoulder with the student, the outcomes not yet determined.

As a teacher I set up problems I hoped the student would find interesting and if they didn’t, oh well, try again next time.
As a learner, I did not set up problems. My students presented me with problems they found interesting and wanted to solve with me.

As a teacher I did most of the mental heavy lifting for mt students. I organized, I condensed, I chewed up.
As a learner I jumped in to the deep end with my students and we all figured it out together even though at times it was uncomfortable.

As a teacher I had a big tool box of  strategies I would apply to students to activate learning.
As a learner I let the situation, the problem, the collaboration,, the validity of all these activate the learning.

As a teacher I judged for the student whether or not I thought learning was going on.
As a learner I trusted that the student could and would make that decision for themselves.

As a teacher I was warded value in the room de facto.
As a learner I earned value through the process of sharing my learning.

As a teacher I believed my efforts increase the quality of learning.
As a learner my connection to other learners amplified the learning.

And no, I did not full manifest the learner I describe above. I was still in the process of letting go off the vestiges of my teaching practice. The glimmers i did experience were enough to shift my definition of teaching and learning in a profound way.


Have I wandered off into the deep grass and got myself turned around? Do I need to scramble back up the hill quickly and get back on track? (and if so, how do I get there?)

Is this difference as significant as it feels to me?

We are all #edustars

I love having heroes. At any given time I have several people who I look to for inspiration and growth. They are usually people who you might know too, edustars. Some of my heroes are Eric Mazur, Paul Andersen, Jon Bergman. They are people who appear to have deep passion for their work and as a consequence are out on the cutting edge of their field. They are ground breakers and guides for the rest of us.

But they are also people. Just like you and me.

Sometimes the shine from our heroes can blind us. Sometimes the shine is just that and we need to look for the source of the shine; the hard work, the circumstances, the connections. I am no way trying to diminish the greatness of my heroes. Just sometimes I just have to watch that I don’t forget that the greatness resides in all of us.

Each and every one of is an edustar. Each of us is a hero for someone else. Each of needs to remember to foster our shine and not just run in the direction of someone else’s shine.

So this week my heroes are…

Judy, who fearlessly dove into Twitter this week. I am really proud and inspired by you.

Robin, who is becoming an ed tech coach and ready for the challenge.

Stacey, for being authentic to who you are as a teacher and owning it.

Amy, a brave and ferocious learner creator who shares willingly and consistently.

Brad who patiently and lovingly shared how he creates his inspiring notebooks.

The students who stood up in front of adults to celebrate their learning.

Chris who so enthusiastically presented and gave his whole heart to it.

Nick who worked with focus all week, has 35 books on his list to read and is fired up to get back to school.

We are all #edustars.

What can I get you with that shame sandwich?

At school:

Carolyn, you are just different. other teachers just aren’t willing to put in the time.

We can’t expect everyone to change!

Well we need to hold students responsible for their learning.

It’s too overwhelming to mention ‘all that’ to teachers, we need to go really slow with this.

Can we buy a new test bank? I don’t have time to make up tests all the time.

The Scantron is broken, we are going to order a new one for $5,00 cause the school can’t function without one.

Don’t share too much, it makes others feel bad.

Don’t go for what you want, wait your turn.

On Twitter:

Teachers who use packets are lazy and unimaginative.

You’re still using grades?

You alone can change the system!

Go for it!

Celebrate you work and share.

Teachers don’t question how education is done.

That’s just pseudo-teaching.

Lazy teacher’s are the real problem.

On parent night:

What is my sons mark?

Is there any bonus work they can do to bring they mark up?

On no, my daughter has to get an A to get into to nursing!

I really like when my son comes home with notes so I can help him study.

At home in the yard:

Are you on holidays again? You teachers got it so good!

How come you are home early?

In my mind:

You aren’t doing enough.

If everyone really knew what went in your classroom they’d think less of you.

Why can’t I change?

Why am I afraid?

Next time I’ll get it right.

Why so I slip back in to old habits?

Why can’t I keep up?

In reality:

Is there one?


Eat the shame sandwich and like it. You decided to become a teacher didn’t you?

Now what can I get you?

Starting with WHY. Course outline, e-portfolios and non-content standards.

This year I wanted a course outline that signaled to students right away that this course was way more about them as individuals than about a long laundry list of learning outcomes. I also wanted to establish a shared “why” for us as a class and to invite students to formulate their own personal “why” for the year ahead in Biology. This idea gave me a lens for the course in general and one which fits perfectly with Biology; unity and diversity (or individual and community).

I also decided after much internal debate to embrace the e-portfolio as a mechanism for students to collect, document and showcase their own “story”. To that end students will use 9 standards (drawn heavily from the work of Chris Ludwig) to organize their evidence as we go along.

Below is the outline and 9 course standards. Students will collect evidence for each of the 9, but only the first 7 will be as evidence for a letter grade in the course. I will be using Weebly for student portfolios. After much debate this seemed the simplest (although there is a cost for student sites). I have more detailed standards (some still to write) for each unit. This is still very new for my brain and I am by no means an expert, but I am excited to dive in and try.

The Animoto video was shown to students to model the “we all have stories” idea (even us teachers!) .

Biology 12
We all have stories to tell.

I. Why?
We share similarities and simultaneously each of us is unique.
Using themes is one way in which we can learn about the living world around us. One such theme is unity and diversity; understanding how life is united and similar but at the same time how species (Homo Sapiens) and individuals (you) are different.

We could summarize this as:
How are WE all the same? How are YOU unique?

This is the theme we will use this year to guide our study of Biology. Hopefully this will give us a deeper understanding of how we share experiences (birth, death, growth etc.) and at the same time have unique traits (ex. fingerprints, DNA) and combinations of experiences that are uniquely our own.

To make this theme more “student friendly” and relevant to “real life” , we will refer to this as “telling our story”.  Each of us, has a story to tell (part of what makes us unique) and as we tell our story, collecting artifacts and evidence, this will hopefully provide insight into the shared experience of being a human being.

II. How?
How will you tell your story?

Create a self-sustaining community of self-regulating learners.
This year we will work as a community to support, encourage and catalyze each other as a self-regulating learner. In this space we will work towards collaborating as a group of learners, to allow each to find and tell their story.

We will work individually to create your own unique story that spotlights and focusses on our own story. But we will work to recognize and embrace that collaborative work is key to understanding and telling of our story.

III. What?
Create your story.
Create an e-portfolio which tells your story. To this end you will be responsible to collect evidence and artifacts and evidence around the standards below. Your portfolio will focus on 3 areas: Performance, Progress, and Process.

1.    Content: I can accurately use key terminology, specific facts, and explain key concepts related to biochemistry, cell structure and function, bioenergetics, cell reproduction, genetics, and evolution.
2.   Research: I can examine past and current research in the biological sciences and articulate its impact on society and consider pros and cons.
3.   Lab Skills:  I can explain the principles and purposes behind the techniques introduced in laboratory experiments.
4.   Experimental Design:  I can carry out scientific investigations to solve problems, formulate hypotheses, and design controlled experiments.
5.   Data Analysis:  I can interpret and manipulate data in a variety of formats, such as graphs, tables, and charts, to analyze results and derive and defend conclusions.
6.    Tech Savy:  I can select and apply contemporary forms of technology to solve problems, compile information, and communicate with a global audience.
7. Communicator: I can communicate clearly and logically in essays and multimedia presentations.

8. Metacognition:  I can evaluate my own learning, recognize areas of strength and weakness, and can describe the next steps for growth.

9. Community Member: I can contribute to the learning community in our classroom through meaningful participation in group work, modeling of good work habits, giving my best efforts, and working towards displaying a positive attitude.

Much thanks goes to Chris Ludwig whose blog was invaluable in my learning around e-portfolios and standards.

Reflect b4 it’s too late!

As I scramble today to gear up I thought I better do a serious reflection before I re-enter the “teacher time zone”. This semester I reflected more than usual; I tweeted, I collaborated and I brainstormed on a regular basis about the flipped class transition. My reflection was not as regular and as public as I had hoped , but it never is enough is it? However I am going to grab this opportunity before it’s too late……..

What Stays?

1. Archived videos – in lieu of synchronous class instruction. OK, my videos are not perfect. I am not Paul Anderson (I wish I was as well spoken) but the videos are a better way for students to access my organization of the content. I hope to improve the videos as I move ahead. Truthfully though, it felt epic getting them all created, loaded and figuring out how to use them to their best potential.

2. Journals – From their journals I read what topics, ideas, routines the students were struggling with and why. The journals allowed me to be compassionate when reading about life challenges some students are facing. Some students are much more communicative in the written word. Many took pride in their journals and took the process to heart. I did not expect all of this and so was pleasantly surprised here.

3. Whiteboarding – Next best thing to candy as far as I can tell. Students seem to rise to occasion whenever we whiteboard, they all participate, the energy level in the room goes up.

4. Inquiry Labs – I am hope to move majority inquiry labs and make cookbook labs a thing of the past next semester. These do eat time though so I will continue to find ways to stream line this process.

5. Good bye Multiple Choice – See my other post on goodbye multiple choice.

6. Multiple Assessment Opportunities – Students could apply for an out of class assessment 2 days in advance. They had to produce evidence that they had done significant prep and were ready to challenge the outcomes again. This was one of the best new things I tried!

What Goes?

1. Re-assessment without evidence – I got rushed by the end of the semester and was not being as strident in this regard. I will go back to insisting on seeing quality evidence produced prior to the writing of a re-assessment.

2. Watching videos in class with no earphones – Self-evident!

3. Hot Seat – I found this process of doing a one to one interview with students prior to an assessment became redundant. I was talking to each of them well in advance and the students became more in control of seeking me out when they needed to.

What to Add?

1. Classroom routines with a time management focus – I struggled throughout the semester to balance allowing students to make choices but not so that they would get left behind.

2. Open my door to other teachers – This semester my focus was inward and on my own practice. I would like to look out again and invite other teachers to come into to view the flipped class if there is interest.

3. Offer alternate projects – to demonstrate mastery of standards.

4. SBG – no points! I did a blended approach this semester and students slipped back into “how many points”,  “is this for points”,  “how much will this change my mark”.

5. Improved use of student phones or PEDs – create a class policy around appropriate use of cell phones with the students the first week of semester.

Phew made it!!