sing your life
 “I'm calling on our nation's governors and state education chiefs to develop standards and assessments that don't simply measure whether students can fill in a bubble on a test, but whether they possess 21st century skills like problem-solving and critical thinking and entrepreneurship and creativity,” said President Barack Obama on March 9, 2009, in an address to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Twenty-first century skills are of the utmost importance in today’s public educational setting. Yet, as a public school educator in a socioeconomically depressed area, it feels as though each year, fewer and fewer leaders are taking steps towards establishing critical thinking and problem solving educational settings.

With mandates for higher standardized test scores, schools that do not perform at required levels must use state-approved programs that flush out teacher and student ingenuity. Creativity and innovation are no longer harnessed in early grades, while communication and collaboration are shunned for teacher-concentrated lessons in higher grades. The lack of student involvement in personal education goals must be remedied with more options than just paper and pencil activities. America’s public schools are stifling, not only current students, but also future cultural and economic growth.

To address the issue of the lack of 21st century skills throughout American public school students, the following questions must be addressed:

How can public school curricula help students become:

• Critical thinkers?

• Effective communicators?

• Superior collaborators?

• Information and technology literate?

• Flexible and adaptable?

• Globally competent?

• Financially literate?

An educator-based taskforce must guide governors and state education chiefs to move forward, offer students options in education, and pilot the U. S. global consciousness. Brain-growth experts, literacy proponents, and education leaders that are not part of the political machine must be appointed to work in the best interest of all students side by side with lawmakers. Public curriculum that uses Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy and multiple intelligences must be made available to all students, not just those whose schools achieve specified levels of standardized tests. All American students should have access to current technology, must be guided by superior educators, and need to be held to high standards.

Students must leave the American public school system with specific interpersonal and intrapersonal capabilities. Effective interactions with other humans are critical to success, and can only be achieved with adequate communication, collaborative, and leadership skills. Making sense of such interactions requires logical, analytical, and evaluation skills. Personal growth necessitates self-assessment, goal-setting, and metacognitive skills. Allowing students to leave the public school system with anything less is an injustice to society, nationally and globally.

Challenge-based learning must replace the standardized testing norm. Students must be taught to guide their own learning initiatives, while educators and parents must be taught how to fully support students in such endeavors. All parties must be ready to invest time, patience, and effort into what is considerably the most important part of America’s cultural and financial future— 21st century skills.


Dear Mr. Orsini:

When I first read this article about you, a New Jersey principal who sent out an email urging parents to ban all social media access from their children, I was aghast. I have been tossing your email in my head for the past couple of days, thinking about the pros and cons of social media in the hands of our youth. As an educator who's taught at the middle school level for several years, as well as being a journalist in three different mediums, I feel my background knowledge sustains my belief that your request is doing our youth and parents a disservice.

This specific quote upsets me to the core:
There is absolutely no reason for any middle school student to be a part of a social networking site!

Of course there are, Mr. Orsini! Here are just a few articles explaining why some of the most popular social networking platforms are important in today's educational settings:

NYC’s 140 Character Conference Explores Twitter in the Classroom
Twitter for Learning – 55 Great Articles : eLearning Technology
Twitter in the classroom: 10 useful resources
Twitter in the Classroom: Studies Find Increased Student Engagement

25 Facebook Apps That Are Perfect for Online Education
100 Ways You Should Be Using Facebook in Your Classroom
Facebook Strategies For The Classroom

How to Use YouTube in the Classroom
Using YouTube in the ESL Classroom
llowing Safe Access to YouTube in the Classroom

Social Networking in general:
How to Use Social-Networking Technology for Learning
Social networking in the classroom?!

Wikis, Blogs and Social Networking in the Classroom
How to Use Social Networking Technology for Learning

Another part of your email hit me like a ton of bricks:
Some people advocate that the parents and the school should teach responsible social networking to students because these sites are part of the world in which we live. I disagree, it is not worth the risk to your child to allow them the independence at this age to manage these sites on their own, not because they are not good kids or responsible, but because you cannot control the poor actions of anonymous others. 

I'm not sure I understand how not teaching children or students about something that is a part of their world can lead them toward being more responsible, safe, or respectful. Instead of sharing ideas, role-playing situations, and engaging in deep discussions, do you really believe it would be better to act like the social networking gestapo? How could parents have open and honest discussions about anything with their children after your suggested reaction?

If I were to continue using your logic, I would also say parents should ban many books, most television and radio programming, and pretty much everything on the Internet. The basic message says, "Parents, there are bad people outside, so don't allow your children to go out there, not because you can't trust your children, but because you can't control anyone else." Parents never know when someone else will try to influence their children, but, according to you, it's better to just cut off all ties to the real world than try to teach children how to deal with real-world situations.

Maybe you have not had positive experiences with social media, Mr. Orsini, and therefore have decided to severe it completely instead of using other methods of fighting cyber-bullying, immaturity, and illegal Internet use. Here are a few suggestions that I feel would work better than an all-out social networking ban:

1. An Acceptable Use Policy (AUP), either school or district-wide, should be shared with all staff, parents, and students at the beginning of the school year, as well as throughout the year.

2. Teach media literacy either in all subjects or as a core subject. This Edutopia article explains how to use media literacy to foster critical thinking, which might be beneficial to your students beyond just the standard "because I said so" expression.

3. Update your pedagogy, whether through college classes or online webinars, of how to help students and parents progress with 21st century technology, instead of fighting it.

4. Give parents tools for all that you ask them to do, even the items you listed in your email. Many parents may not know how to log onto Facebook, search Internet history, or  set parental controls on tech gadgets. Show them how to not only access their children's information, but how to speak to their children about such issues. Hold parenting classes for media and communication.

5. Last, yet certainly not least, remember why you became an educator. You are part of your students' lives for a short amount of time. How (not only what) you teach them now will affect them for the rest of their lives.

George Lucas' Edutopia Foundation made a video that is completely biased towards arts-infused, challenge-based learning in today's classroom, and I love every minute of it. I don't see how any progressive educator could ignore such a strong argument for media literacy. Sad part is, larger class sizes, fewer resource dollars, and higher standardized testing stakes do not mean progressive educators will be able to actually teach anything not on the state tests, especially media literacy.

Even sadder still, students with little or no practice in higher-level thinking skills about media will most likely never receive any education at home. Otherwise, if the parents of those students had any idea what "predatory lending practices" were, we might not be in the economic situation we are currently in.

We're not at a complete loss, though. States like New Mexico, where poverty levels are some of the highest in the entire country, have begun to teach media literacy in public schools. Come on, California legislators! Media literacy isn't an elective in life-- it's mandatory for being able to live in American society.
For anyone who looks to the Internet for socializing, discussing personal and professional ideas, and building a network of real and virtual connections, there are plenty of sites to keep one engaged for hours a day. It's a fact: Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, and Second Life, among other social media sites, suck the life out of life sometimes. Now, studies about the black hole of virtual socializing from OSU and UNH are sending educators, administrators, and even students mixed messages about the real-life implications of time spent in a virtual world.

So, does social media help or hurt students? Is social media a time suck, or is it the answer to collaboration and communication restrictions? It all depends on how students use social networking, and of course, on whom you ask.

Take, for example, this Edutopia poll, where readers were asked if they believed social media helped or hindered learning.  Several responses supported the view that technology is important in today's learning environments, yet the face-to-face experience of discussing and interacting with peers must not disappear just because technology has made communicating via phones and computers so easy.

The most difficult part of using social media may be the ability to stop and listen, then think, before responding. Twitter discussions may not be the best place to try and engage deep conversations. Just try to keep up during an #edchat session! Social media is, after all, self-centered and narcissistic, but that doesn't mean that education can't take advantage of bringing people (students, professors, professionals) together who want to talk about their experiences and opinions on a given subject matter. Social media goes hand-in-hand with education because education has a social core. For real-life learning to occur, social concepts of cooperation and compromise, as well as being able to express ideas and thoughts to a group of people, are required.

One crucial component of using social media in the classroom is to make sure the medium reflects the amount of depth that questions require. For example, use Twitter for quick, to the point answers, or wikis to examine longer questions with layers of opinions. Facebook and MySpace can be used for interactive conversations on specific interests or application-worthy discussions. YouTube can be used for video responses that illicit even shorter written responses as comments from viewers. Second Life and Flickr can be used for those students who need visual illustrations to accompany conversations.

Obviously, the uses of social media in educational conversations are boundless, but in the end, what really matters is not how much students say, but what they say using technology.
Viral media has become an inexpensive way to spread a brand or message quickly. Yet, low upfront expenses may be nothing compared to how much negative brand image may cost in the long run.

Take for example Brandt Andersen, the owner of the NBA Development League team the Utah Flash, who is trying to restore his team's image after a  social media experiment gone awry.  In an NPR interview, Andersen said, "What we didn't think would happen, actually happened," after posting messages on Twitter that Byron Russell would play Michael Jordan during half-time. Andersen goes on to say, "We were testing some viral media stuff. That started to set a crazed expectation."

Well, Mr. Andersen, when you tell people that Russell and Jordan are facing off during half-time, expect that people will believe what you are selling. Using viral media may seem easy and fun, but just like any other form of advertising or journalism, don't forget who the audience is. And never underestimate the backlash of negative press coverage.

As Anderson begins to make reparations, might I make a suggestion? Hire a social media manager who advises on how to correctly use social media, viral media, and 21st century journalism for increased positive brand reaction and maintained image in the future. Even if hiring a media manager is too much, the most basic of any business plan should be don't lie to, cheat, or steal from the customer.
According to Penn Olson's Willis Wee, Facebook has an astounding number of users, 350 meeellion to be exact, and more than 45 million subscribe to some kind of Group. With stats like these, educators need to reconsider how fb is used as an educational platform. Here are My Top 5 Groups that may lead to further use of fb in education:

1. Facebook in Education
2. Arts Education is Absolutely Necessary
3. Using Wiki in Education
4. Integrating Technology into Education
5. Media Literacy

Of course, fb as a collaboration tool is easier at the college or university level, yet K-12 educators must continue to fight for media literacy, even if administrations refuse to open the pearly gates of social media to staff or students. Parents and students must stand up for their own learning, and remind schools that social media requires practice and explanations, not censorship.

In my current district, social media depends on what sight you toil on; fb is open to staff computers at the junior high and high school levels, yet blocked at the elementary levels; student computers block fb on all campuses. I am appalled that not only am I, as a professional educator, treated in an untrustworthy manner, but that my students are not able to access such a popular site that will no doubt play some kind of role in their lives. Do school districts really believe it is easier to not deal with parent complaints or inappropriate use by students and staff than to educate all parties? Ignoring social media won't make it go away, and students may never get a chance to learn the correct way to use the Internet with such a large part of our online culture being blocked.

*Read what International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Connects has to say about the effects of blocking student Internet use here.

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    21st Century Journalism
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    Social Media
    Viral Media