Content Filtering and Jesus

So, why at my school do we pay to have a web service filter our student email?

Do we want to identify and stop digital bullying? Yes.

Do we want to stop kids from sharing content they are really too young to be sharing? Yes.

Could it be we want to provide a safe environment where kids can learn from their mistakes with minimal consequences to their digital footprint? Yep.

While all of the above points are important, we filter student email for one major reason, so we can talk to kids about Jesus!

We just had a student send a very simple email to another student, which got flagged and blocked (two small, hurtful words, "you suck"). Knowing that the email didn't make it to its intended audience was a huge relief, but more important, was the opportunity it provided for us to talk about the motives of the sender and the struggle that child has with their personal filter. It gave us the opportunity to share the love and forgiveness of  our Savior. That child needed to hear that the God who loves the intended email recipient is the same God who loves and forgives them. It's only when kids start seeing each other the way Jesus sees them that we will begin to know what true "digital citizenship" looks like. That blocked email gave us the opportunity to have a conversation, not so much about good email etiquette, but rather their heart.

So, was money worth it? I'd have to say, yes!

If you're interested in knowing what service we use, feel free to contact me directly. I try not to advertise too much on this blog :-) 

Image: "THIS DOOR BLOCKED" by Flickr User: pheezy was used under an Attribution, Creative Commons License

Finishing Strong

For those of you who are members of the Technology in Lutheran Schools Ning social network, you received this in an email yesterday. For those of you who are not members, I decided to post it here as a source of encouragement as you finish out these last weeks of the 2012/2013 school year.

How "strong" are you finishing out this school year?

The video below was recently shared by one of my teaching colleagues at morning devotions and highlights the impact of "finishing strong," even when it seems too difficult.

Maybe you are feeling a little beaten up as the school year draws to an end? Maybe this has been an especially difficult year?
Maybe it's been difficult to be the best teacher you can be?

Don't give up! Get back up and finish strong!

Take to heart God's words to Joshua:

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 (NIV)

Not only does God call us to be strong, but He even provides the means by which we can BE strong (He will be with you)! The trumpets of Easter may have faded amidst the planning of spring field trips, looming end of the year report cards, and student portfolio grading, but the victory of Christ over sin and death is enough to strengthen you into and through the final days of this school year!

  So, how are you finishing the school year?

What is YOUR role?

Thanks so much to +David Black for posting "Who Are Your Tech Gurus?"  It is a true blessing to be part of Dave's professional learning network. He is for sure a significant contributor to my professional walk and is part of what I like to call my IronMen Club (Proverbs 27:17). I am a better educator because of his work and the work of many other like-minded educators. Thank you!

His post got me thinking about a statement I once heard regarding the Christian life journey:
"Everyone should have a Paul, a Barnabas, and a Timothy!"
Everyone should have a Paul!
Looking at the Epistles of the New Testament, there is little doubt that the Apostle Paul was an effective teacher and leader to the fledgling churches of the first century. With an eye, ear, and tongue struck with wisdom, he mentored young leaders, gave wise advice, and by the power of the Holy Spirit spoke truth into the lives of God's people. Everyone needs a Paul!

Which personal relationships in your life consistently point you to the cross and teach you? Who is the "Paul" in your spiritual walk?

Everyone needs a Barnabas!
In the book of Acts, Barnabas was one of the first people to "have Paul's back" after Jesus claimed him for service to the Gospel (Acts 9:27). Barnabas and Paul traveled together, taught together, and shared the ups and downs of ministry together, but they also had disagreements. I can imagine how these two friends held each other accountable at every turn. Even after going their separate ways following a contentious disagreement, Paul, in later Epistles, counts Barnabas as a friend and encourages others to recall the grace that was taught them by BOTH he and Barnabas. Everyone needs a friend with whom they can not only share joys, but that can also "tell ya' like it is."

Who walks with you on a daily basis? Who is the one willing to call you out when you need correcting? Who is your Barnabas?

Everyone needs a Timothy!
Timothy was a young pastor charged with leading the people at Ephesus--not such an easy task. Paul didn't just kick Timothy into the arena and say, "Good Luck with that." On the contrary, Paul mentored him through targeted correspondence, encouraging him, exhorting him, and most importantly praying for him! Timothy, being a young man, I'm sure struggled with with his leadership responsibilities, but Paul reminded him time and time again to be faithful in showing God's grace to His people. Keep the main thing, the main thing. I'm sure Timothy needed that! I'm sure someone needs that from YOU too!

Who in your life can you stand next to and encourage, instruct, and lift up in prayer? Who in your life needs a mentor?

Now nothing in life is rarely this cut and dry. I don't know that I could single out ONE person for each of these roles in my life. More often than not, the person who is my Paul winds up also being my Barnabas. The ones who I've spent time mentoring, winds up teaching me an awful lot in the process as well!

It is just neat to see that God has wired us for relationships and relationships of ALL kinds.

These relationships don't just apply to our faith journey alone, they apply to our professional journey as well.
Who in your professional life would you count as your Paul, your Barnabas, or your Timothy. Who can you turn to with unanswered questions? Who do you trust to lead you to good and wise answers? Who in your professional circles can you share the ups and downs of classroom life with and from whom can you get honest feedback? And who have you taken the time to mentor?

There are literally dozens of opportunities each day to engage in one of these significant roles.
As +Bernard Bull  pointed out in his comment to Dave's post, you can play a significant role in someone's professional growth even if it's just being part of the Twitter "collective brain."

As a teacher, you ARE important! Not just in the life of your students, but in the life of your colleagues as well. If the 21st century has taught us anything so far, it's that you can be someone to someone else whether near or far. Take the risk! Be who God has called you to be! Engage the community. Dave and I are better for it....and so will you!

Image: "Community-Manager" by Flicker User: kikembo
Used under a Creative Commons Attribution License

Google Earth Test Video / METC Take-away

After being at METC last week, one of our teachers wanted to give creating flip classroom videos a try. She already has a class blog and is wondering if that is the best place to put the videos.  This post is a test for uploading videos directly to Blogger as a possible solution for posting videos.

I know that uploading directly to her blog is probably NOT the best option, but at this point in the game, we just want to get it up and in a location where it can be seen by students. This is like my scaffold for this staff member! One thing at a time...

The video I'm uploading here was a screencast designed for my sixth grade technology class to answer questions about presenting from Google Earth. I referenced this video as a remediation step for anyone needing an extra reminder about how to save placemarks and execute their "tours."

While I'm waiting for the video to process here in the edit window I thought I'd share a couple of take-aways from METC this year.

1. Global connections for students are important. It's not just a matter of learning ABOUT other cultures and people, but it's actually getting to know them, talk to them, and learn with them that makes a difference.

2. Technology use in the classroom affords us the opportunity to make learning student centered. The devices in your kid's hands free them to identify problems, solve them, and then share that learning with others.

Those are my two biggies. Hopefully I'll carve out some time to share more!

#EdCampSTL--My First Unconference

People who know me understand that I tend to over-state matters just a bit. One of my potential over-statements is the idea that the "unconference" is a revolution in teacher professional development. Now the reason I say potential over-statement is because I haven't ACTUALLY attended one!

From what I understand, attending an unconference is an evolutionary learning experience. The connections and relationships formed at these types of events generate learning sparks which open a whole new world of professional learning for some teachers. I'm hoping that will happen again on Saturday!

Tomorrow is my first EdCampSTL. I have seen EdCamp events all over the United States for over a year or so now, but this is the first time I've seen it in St. Louis.

What I'm most anxious to see is how the day is organized and run. Even before attending an event like this, I've considered throwing together a Lutheran unconference with my friend Mike Kratzer for St. Louis area Lutheran Schools. Beside the no/low cost aspect, we know there are ton of talented teachers in the greater St. Louis area who would be great at sharing their ideas. Many teachers want no part of  presenting a traditional conference sectional, but would be willing to be part of the unconference discussion/sharing model.

So, tomorrow's the day.  I am bummed to be missing the social get together tonight, but I'll be ready of a day packed full of conversation and learning.

Even if you're not attending be sure to check out the information coming from the #edcamptl hashtag and Google Plus Community

Who might even hear about a Lutheran Schools Unconference coming soon to the St. Louis area!

Why I Want My Students' To Work Online

Something interesting happens when a student does a Google search for something and either their own work or the work of a classmate shows up. Today was the first day that actually happened!

A little background first: As a concluding project to studying the "Progressive Era" in American History, our 8th graders have to give a class presentation about a National Park of their choice. This is a "role playing" project which has them take on the persona of a park ranger who must give a presentation to a congressional over-site committee. The goal of the presentation is to convince committee members to not de-fund or close their park. Here's a link to the project site if your interested. As an aside, I like this project, in part, because a component of the rubric has them contacting an actual NP Ranger. Most students just want to email, but a majority wind up having to make a phone call and talk to a live Ranger. We've got to work on our people skills along side the digital ones!

In the process of doing research on their national parks, I was teaching them how to use the filetype: operator in Google to search for KMZ files when low and behold the top entry for a Shenandoah National Park search was from our school wiki page.

The lesson my wide-eyed students took away from this was that their work, which gets posted online, is important. It's not important because they are getting a grade, or because it's for a presentation they will have to give in front of an actual audience, but rather because their work is digitally permanent.

It was neat to see their reactions when I told them that file was uploaded back in eternity ago for a middle schooler! If the work which a student did almost four years ago is coming up in the search results now, what might happen to the work they post today?

The answer to that question has all sorts of implications, many of which I won't get into here, but the most obvious one is of quality. All of the sudden knowing that someone from the future will use their work all of the sudden ups the ante on their effort.

Never discount the power of audience, either now...or in future!

If you're interested, here is a list of helpful search links and/or sites:

  • Google Search Operators--
  • My Diigo sites about Search--
  • Power Searching with Google--

Unexpected Urgency

Over the past two or three years, I've felt a sense of urgency to be creating more computer science related learning activities for students.

There are many likely catalysts for moving in this direction, none of which is my experience with computer science. After all, I was not a computer science major in my education program, I didn't / don't particularly enjoy math and I'm not particularly good at logical, critical thinking puzzles. I used to think I was a good logical problem-solver until I was asked to help troubleshoot the class schedules of our entire middle school schedule and I felt my brain locked up; my thinker just does not feel at home in certain areas.

By nature I'm an end user. If you asked me to figure out how to use something, I can generally do it. Please don't ask me to program it or create a flow chart around the logic of it's design.

So here I am with this glowing feeling of inadequacy about my lack of skill in the process of programming, while at the same time I know I should be teaching my students to THINK like computer scientists!

Then it dawned me...the power of teaching in this digital age of learning isn't that you always have to be the knowledge expert, but rather you need to be be able to help students curate their own learning. While that sounds awkward, it makes quite a bit of sense. I've seen this most to be the case in the electives I have chosen to "teach." The emphasis has shifted away from what content related area do I know that most about, to which subject/class idea has the most resources available to help me facilitate and mentor students! If I stumble as a teacher, it's not that I don't know how to do something, but that I wasn't able to connect my students with the people/resources they need to help them learn.

Now I am NOT saying that teachers should not be knowledge experts. For example, I "taught" a computer science elective this past semester which focused mainly on using the program Scratch. I know how to use Scratch, and I know how to help students storyboard and plan their ideas, I just wasn't quick at the troubleshooting process. My helping students learn to debug involved asking a LOT of questions and relying on other students (near and far) to provide insight:
"Is there a YouTube video about how to do that?"
"What other script could you have used to get the same result?"
"What would happen if you tried the other script instead?"
"Did you find any Scratch discussion forums addressing this same issue?" 
I didn't particularly know the answers to those questions, but nine times out of ten my students where able to learn the correct answer. 

The one thing I do know, however, is it is important for kids to know how to think like computer scientists. Regardless of my adequacy in that area.

Douglas Rushkoff in his book, "Program or Be Programmed" says:
Digit technology is programmed. This makes it biased toward those with the capacity to write the code. In a digital age, we must learn how to make the software, or risk becoming the software. It is not too difficult or too late to learn the code behind the things we use--or at least to understand that there is code behind their interfaces. Otherwise, we are at the mercy of those who do the programming, the people paying them, or even the technology itself. (p128)

So, comfortable or not, it's time to start pushing a little bit more into the areas of programming (slowly learning javascript at CodeAcademy). Maybe not so much the language itself, but the skill sets that accompany them.

Now to be sure, the "discipline" of computer science is much broader and deeper than learning a programming language, but it's not a bad place to start. It is my goal that within the next three or so years, to start encouraging my faculty to integrate the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) K-12 Computer Science Standards (membership to CSTA is free by the way).

I definitely don't have this all figured out, but you've got to start somewhere, right?

image "Binary" by Flickr user: noegrandado
Used under an Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-Alike Creative Commons License.