Every day it seems, the world gets smaller. Studies show that 244 million people worldwide live in a country other than their birthplace. Doesn’t sound like a lot? In fact, it’s a 44% increase from the year 2000. Where it used to be sufficient to teach students how to thrive in their home country, that falls woefully short in a world where the internet reaches everyone, anywhere, where geopolitical borders have little effect on international activities, where the customs and culture of a country have a significant impact on student learning. Today’s challenge is to teach kids how to accept other worlds without judging, preaching, or rejecting.
I’ve been on the hunt–for a long time–for resources that help students develop global awareness and perspective-taking while learning to reject the judgmental attitudes that seem to fester unchecked among those who don’t know the truth. Enter Empatico, an initiative of The KIND Foundation, with a goal of connecting 1 million students in twenty-five countries from disparate socio-economic backgrounds.
Their thinking is that the more empathetic children become, the more in tune they can be with the needs of their peers, the more they will collaborate and find creative solutions to global problems. Developed by teachers and using a free online learning tool, students broaden their worldview through meaningful interactions with peers across the globe. Teachers are provided everything necessary–lesson plans, materials lists, a video conferencing platform, and more–to make this happen. Activities range from 2-3 hours, spread over multiple meetings (called ‘Short Spark Activities’) to 8-12 hours (called ‘Longer Fire Activities’).
In 2013, 71 percent of the U.S. population age 3 and over used the Internet
- 94% of youth ages 12-17 who have Internet access say they use the Internet for school research and 78% say they believe the Internet helps them with schoolwork.
- 41% of online teens say they use email and instant messaging to contact teachers or classmates about schoolwork.
- 87% of parents of online teens believe that the Internet helps students with their schoolwork and 93% believe the Internet helps students learn new things.
Since so many kids come to school with a working knowledge of the Internet, teachers feel comfortable using it as a teaching tool but just because students use the Internet doesn’t mean they do it safely and wisely. In fact, despite that the UN considers access to the Internet a human right, many adults and even more kids don’t know how to act as good digital citizens when visiting this sparkly and exciting world. When they first arrive, all of life’s rules seem to be upended. Users can be anyone they want, break any cultural norm and even be anonymous if they’re careful, hiding behind the billions of people crowding around them.
I first considered this topic at a presentation I attended through WordCamp Orange County 2014. I had several trips coming up and decided to see how I addressed issues of being away from my writing hub. Usually, that’s when I realize I can’t do/find something and say, “If only…”
I am finally back from three conferences and a busy visit from my son–all of which challenged me to take care of business on the road and on the fly.
Truth is, life often interferes with work. Vacations, conferences, PD–all these take us away from our primary functions and the environment where we are most comfortable delivering our best work. I first thought about this when I read an article by a technical subject teacher(math, I think) pulled away from his class for a conference. Often in science/math/IT/foreign languages, subs aren’t as capable (not their fault; I’d capitulate if you stuck me in a Latin language class). He set up a video with links for classwork and a realtime feed where he could be available and check in on the class. As a result, students–and the sub–barely missed him. Another example of teaching remotely dealt with schools this past winter struggling with the unusually high number of snow days. So many, in fact, that they were either going to have to extend the school year or lose funding. Their solution: Have teachers deliver content from their homes to student homes via a set-up like Google Hangouts (but one that takes more than 10-15 participants at a time).
All it took to get these systems in place was a problem that required a solution and flexible risk-taking stakeholders who came up with answers.
Why can’t I work from the road? In fact, I watched a fascinating presentation from Wandering Jon at the Word Camp Orange County 2014 where he shared how he does exactly that. John designs websites and solves IT problems from wherever he happens to be that day–a beach in Thailand, the mountains in Tibet or his own backyard. Where he is no longer impacts the way he delivers on workplace promises.
Here’s what I came up with that I either currently use or am going to arrange:
An efriend and former NYC teacher, Steve Koss taught in China (winner of a top spot on the annual PISA best-education-in-the-world) for part of his career and was not surprised China came out with some of the best test scores in the world. He shared his experience while teaching there. Compare what he saw to what we have here in America keeping in mind that we languish somewhere below middle on that international PISA test.
- Every classroom was a bare, cinder-block-walled enclosure, no heat in the winter, no cooling in the early summer, virtually nothing decorating the walls. Students spent their entire school day in the same room – teachers came to them.
- Every classroom held 48 – 50 students, lined up in traditional, ramrod-straight rows. Textbooks and workbooks for students’ full set of the day’s classes were piled on and under their desks – no one had a locker.
- Teachers lectured from a dais at the front of the room. Students sat quietly at their desks and listened, took notes, occasionally recited in unison or responded, standing, to a direct question from the teacher. Questions from students were a rarity.
- Many, if not most, lectures were straight from students’ texts, sometimes nothing more than
- teachers simply reading from the textbook.
- Teachers appeared at students’ classrooms just before lessons began, departing back to their subject area offices immediately upon finishing their lessons. Casual student-teacher interaction was minimal at best. Teachers spent much of their office time (they only taught two class periods per day) playing video games and reading the daily newspaper.
- Copying of assignments was rampant – and tolerated. As, all too often, was cheating on exams. Scores counted more than how they were achieved.
- I saw no evidence of what in the U.S. we would call “student projects.” Classroom activity appeared to be the same lecture and recitation style every day.
- Students were actively discouraged from asking questions. I was told on more than one occasion that students’ parents could actually be called into the school so that a teacher could complain that the child was disrupting lessons because he/she was asking too many questions.
- Schools had no clubs or activities and minimal if any organized sports teams. One school where I worked claimed to have two or three interscholastic sports teams, but only for boys.
- Students typically took seven or eight classes each semester, leaving no time for activities even outside of school.
- Never once among the hundreds of students I saw and taught did I see a student with a physical handicap or a visible learning disability. I don’t know where those students were, or if they were even still permitted to attend school by high school age, but if so, there was no inclusion.
- Physical education consisted mostly of lining students up in straight rows and performing low-impact calisthenics and movement.
- The last semester of senior year is dedicated nearly exclusively to preparation for the gaokou, the national, three-day-long, college entrance examination.
- Schools were evaluated, and principals and teachers rewarded, according to their students’ standardized exam results.
- Teachers earn extra income from tutoring. They are allowed to accept money from their own students (or gifts from those students’ parents), a sure-fire disincentive to effective teaching in the classroom setting.
- There was no parent involvement in the schools whatsoever. Parents visited a school for only one of two reasons: to be roundly chastised for their child’s behavior/performance, or to present a gift for extra tutoring services rendered.
I’m thrilled to have Maria Lindqvist from Finnish educational social media platform, Petra’s Planet for Schools, as my guest here today. She shares her advice on using social media safely and effectively in schools.
21st century learning using social media
Advice from Finland
Social media doesn’t have a place in the learning environment; it is simply a tool for people to keep their friends up to date with their lives…or is it?
If we look at the process of social media we can start to consider its place in the learning environment. Taking Facebook as an example of a social media site, as users we set up a personal page and profile and start to communicate with our friends. We want the information we write to be interesting, amusing and informative; how do we best convey the message we want to get across? We read messages from other friends and if their communication is worthy we chose to ’like’ it. Writing effectively can therefore decide how many ‘‘likes’ you receive; an important thing for young people. We then have to decide whether we want to illustrate the message with an associated picture image; this can’t be too large a file size so we may need to use a graphics editor to resize the image.
One of our Facebook friends could be someone from Turkey who we met on holiday last year. She writes about her family’s religion and the celebrations she attends. Her prayer in the mosques is called namaz, but generally she prays at home. Over the summer she is going to work at a farm in her village, picking fruit which is the most common type of work in her remote area of Turkey. Suddenly I have a new interest in this country and want to understand its cultures and economy. When we start to study world religion in school, I contact my friend to gather information. It is so much more real coming from her than from a book.
It is clear to see the potential educational benefits of social media in the classroom.
Are you drowning in students, sure that the flood of bodies that enter your classroom daily will destroy your effectiveness? Does it depress you, make you second-guess your decision to effect change in the world as a teacher? Do you wonder how you’ll explain to parents–and get them to believe you–that you truly CAN teach thirty students and meet their needs (because you must convince them–of all education characteristics, parents equate class size to success)?
Take heart while I play Devil’s Advocate and offer evidence contrary to what seems by most to be intuitive common sense. I mean, how could splitting your finite amount of time among LESS students be anything but advantageous? Sure, there are many studies (US-based primarily) that support a direct correlation between class size and teacher ability to meet education goals, but consider how you–personally–learn. Sure, it occurs through teachers, but just as often by trial and error, peers, inquiry, student-centered activities, play, experiencing events, differentiated ways unlike others. Educators like John Holt believe “children [and by extension, you] learn most effectively by their own motivation and on their own terms”.
Is it possible the root of the education problem is other than class size? Getting Beneath the Veil of Effective Schools: Evidence from New York City (National Bureau of Economic Research) indicates that traditional success measures–including class size–do not correlate to school effectiveness. According to this study, what doesn’t matter is:
- class size
- per pupil expenditure
- fraction of teachers with no certification
- fraction of teachers with an advanced degree