Citizenship, Respect and Safety are NOT Lessons to be Checked Off!

“I have no country to fight for: my country is the earth, and I am a citizen of the world.”

~ Eugene V. Debs

172/365  I Want to See the World

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by martinak15

When we first began our blogging journey with eight year olds, two years ago, a HUGE amount of groundwork was laid prior to our very first post. Looking back, those first building blocks seem SO insurmountable … but … we’ve done it, and I wouldn’t change a thing about it! Learning WITH the world has proven to be a POWERFUL way to personalize and DEEPEN our curiosities.

Prior to beginning this “new” way of learning, we spent a great deal of time exploring other class blogs to see all the “possibilities” and to get a sense of our hopes for our new blog. You see, this was a pilot project – the very first classroom blog in our system. We knew that, if it was going to be a success, we needed to be VERY clear about what success would LOOK like!

As I write this post, I see this process much like the steps needed to build a strong, durable, long-lasting structure. There is the “planning stage” … drafting the vision out; it is an extensive AND intensive process that is necessary to ensure a successful project. Next, there’s the building stage … from the ground up.

The foundation, for us, included extensive thought around how we would keep these young students safe. Because this was a pilot project, we were responsible for drafting a permission form for parents so that they were very clear about the blog being available, online, for all the world to see. Some of the information in this consent form included:

Screen Shot 2013-07-23 at 2.37.54 PM

Once all consent forms were completed and returned, it was time to begin the process of “getting our feet wet” as a class. This included activating background knowledge to see how many students knew what a blog was. It was no surprise, that first year, to see that only one or two students could explain what a blog was. This was because family members had personal blogs! Gathering this information, as a class, allowed some students to share their personal experiences as we moved toward the unknown.

Within the safety of a classroom setting, we began to explore a variety of educational blogs with our young learners. What did they notice? What did they like? What would they change? These first steps, laying a solid foundation together, proved to be valuable learning experiences. It was exciting to listen to their conversations as they explored, and heartening to hear their critiques and compliments as they surfed through a variety of classroom blogs.

We knew immediately, that our blog would NEED to include a “flag counter” and a revolver map … this was a HUGE hit with our learners. They LOVED the idea of collecting flags from around the world and SEEING who was checking our blog out on the revolver map. The visual nature of these two tools helped to foster greater curiosity about the world we all share.

Digital Citizenship and Freedom

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by John Spencer

Safety, both on AND off line, was ALWAYS at the forefront. Blogging with these students provided authentic discussions, lessons and experiences DAILY. What made these lessons AUTHENTIC was the fact that they were not isolated lessons … they were woven in and through our blogging journey each and EVERY time we engaged in learning online.

Early on in our connected learning, we lost ALL our flags. There was HUGE disappointment with students AND adults alike. When I say “lost”, I mean I had to disable the flag counter widget. I was heart broken … but … at the same time I KNEW that I could not have my eight year olds exposed to the “less than appropriate” advertising that would come up if they “clicked” on this widget to learn more about the countries that were visiting us. I actually DREADED having to go into the classroom on Monday morning to tell these excited students what I had done.

After a few tears, and an AMAZING conversation about WHY … we began to “problem solve” together. They fully understood the importance of safety and the responsibility we ALL shared for being safe and thoughtful bloggers … SUCH amazing eight year olds! In the end, I ended up paying for a yearly subscription to our amazing flag counter. It has been worth EVERY penny to continue our learning AND our safety!

he's got the whole world

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by eren

Introducing your students to learning WITH the world, by FLATTENING your classroom walls, requires on-going thoughtfulness about safety and citizenship. These issues have ALWAYS been a part of classroom life … but … now … it ALSO includes how to be safe and responsible while learning ONLINE. I truly believe that the YOUNGER we begin discussing these issues the more personally responsible decisions our children will make for themselves as they get older.

There are SO many wonderful sites available to support these conversations with our learners:

A Simple Guide


Digital Citizenship Livebinder

Digital Citizenship Development Guide (Alberta Education)

Digital Citizenship Resources

Early Learning in a Digital World

Learning Lab

Social Technology and Digital Citizenship

Student Blogging Guidelines

21st Century Learning and Teaching

More 21st Century Learning and Teaching

UpTo12 Learning

These are just a FEW of the amazing resources out there to support going global. What works best, though, is continual discussion, thoughtfulness and reinforcement of these concepts in and THROUGH your daily learning experiences.

ANY time we’re working with learners, there are opportunities for valuable mini lessons:

  • first names only
  • what personal information IS okay to share?
  • how to respond respectfully to comments left behind on your blog
  • how to LEAVE a respectful comment on ANOTHER blog
  • using someone’s photos and ideas fairly, (creative commons attributions) … yes … even eight year olds understand this!
  • how do you know whether to trust a site’s information or not

These are just a FEW of the possibilities for discussion that come up NATURALLY through your connected learning experiences. The goal is to help our learners develop an effective filter between their ears. We won’t always be with them. They WILL go online when adults aren’t around. These tools are NOT going away. We will CONTINUE to learn with the world … so … the SOONER we start with our children, the BETTER. After all … we want them to be SAFE, THOUGHTFUL global citizens … both on AND offline  … and for GRANDMA to be PROUD!

“The most important thing an institution does is not to prepare a student for a career but for a life as a citizen.”

~ Frank Newman

TRUE Confessions of a “Global Classroom Teacher”!

“It is not that I’m so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer.” 
~ Albert Einstein

What follows are my TRUE confessions as a “global classroom teacher”. Oops … did I say that? I meant “reflections”! Ahh … well … maybe this will be a BIT of BOTH!

I have JUST completed my SECOND year in a “flat classroom”. What does THAT mean, you ask? Well, for the past two years, I have been FORTUNATE enough to have been BLESSED with piloting a classroom blog. It came about innocently enough … as a way of sharing the connection we made, the year prior, with an NGO working in Peru. Along with my partner Tannis Emann, who was taking her Masters, we began to delve into some of the amazing classroom learning being shared through Twitter. Suddenly, it struck us … blogging would be a PERFECT way to share our Grade Three learning journey! True confession #1 … prior to that … I had NEVER given blogging a first OR second thought. Yup, you read that right … we were SHOCKED to discover that people had been blogging with their classrooms for YEARS before we tentatively began to wade into the water. I STILL can’t believe that it took me THIS long to discover the POWER of learning with a global audience once you have flattened your classroom walls.

Connecting and learning with the world = engagement + deep powerful learning.

Connecting and learning with the world = engagement + deep powerful learning.
Photo by Global Grade 3s

True confession #2 … it’s not always easy. This is where the “frogs” that @iEARNUSA talks about come in! Often, you have to eat a  LOT of frogs, as @iEARNUSA so aptly says! There will be problems … Skype connections won’t always work, technology will fail. Sometimes your PEOPLE connections aren’t as reliable as one would hope. These are all FANTASTIC learning opportunities for our students. I like to call it “grace under fire”! That’s not to minimize the frustrations this can create, because these issues can ALL cause angst. But, as Einstein so brilliantly stated, “It is not that I’m so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer.” With persistence, patience, passion, perseverance AND occasional perspiration, the ENTIRE adventure is absolutely worth it. I will NEVER go back to teaching alone within four walls EVER again. There, I said it. I am a complete and TOTAL advocate for blogging with children. I firmly believe that the YOUNGER they start, the SMARTER they will be … responsible, aware, safe GLOBAL citizens with a CLEAR insight into what it means to be a MEANINGFUL member of the GLOBAL community.

There are SO many incredible books out there to help you learn ABOUT the world ... learning WITH the world DEEPENS that learning. Photo by Global Grade 3s

There are SO many incredible books out there to help you learn ABOUT the world … learning WITH the world DEEPENS that learning.
Photo by Global Grade 3s

After all, connecting and learning with a global audience provides both you AND your students with immediate experts in the field … it’s like a global PLN, (professional learning network), for your classroom. Who WOULDN’T want that? This global connection, whether it’s from comments left on your blog, or people you are Skyping with, can push the learning within your classroom deeper than you could have ever imagined.

True confession #3 … it’s OFTEN messy. Learning IS messy. When you pursue student questions, you connect with experts in the field, you learn … and …  INEVITABLY … you walk away with MORE questions. Talk about personalized, meaningful and engaging learning! FURTHER pursing their questions and curiosities is where the passion, enthusiasm for learning, personalization for your students and deeper understanding comes in. It’s a WIN win situation. Again … who WOULDN’T want that?!?

True confession #4 … time will ALWAYS be an issue. For us, it was finding a balance between the prescribed curriculum mandated by our Province AND pursuing, in depth, our inquiries and global “focus”. From the beginning, it was ALSO important for us to model effective skills for replying to our readers … and … this commitment gained us some faithful and INSPIRING readers who OFTEN pushed our learning even DEEPER. You would be RIGHT if you recognized that THIS commitment ALSO took time. This was truly time WELL spent! Surprisingly, although there was amazing learning shared in each of the posts, even DEEPER learning frequently occurred within the comment section through our interactions with readers!

During these two years, my students and I have been TRULY blessed to interact with and learn from the BRILLIANT Ross Mannell. Although a retired teacher, this AMAZING man frequently leaves comments for children on their classroom blogs. When I say comments, this does NOT do them justice. As a matter of fact, Ross has a SPECIAL blog he writes to provide students with EXTENDED comments. IMAGINE my students’ SURPRISE at reading this extended comment … AND receiving a VERY treasured surprise in the mail … all the WAY from AUSTRALIA! Echidnas have nothing what so EVER to do with our curriculum. But, animals and life cycles sure do, and … you should have SEEN the fingers flying on our iPads, as students conducted FURTHER research on our new echidna! The excitement in discovering MORE about our new class pet, Spike, was palpable!

A SURPRISE pet ... all the way from AUSTRALIA! Photo shared by Ross Mannell

A SURPRISE pet … all the way from AUSTRALIA!
Photo shared by Ross Mannell

Although time will always be an issue … many, MANY skills can be woven in and THROUGH each and EVERY global classroom  and blog post experience. For us, having a global audience … an AUTHENTIC audience … increased our skills AND our desire to write. It was THRILLING to see students begin to develop their voices … and slowly gain command of “reeling the reader in”! Although our blog has primarily focused on issues in Social Studies … Ross has helped us to delve even DEEPER into some of our SCIENCE and MATH curriculum. I am SURE that, because of his thoughtful and detailed replies to us, SOME of these bloggers may EVEN become GEOLOGISTS!

Scree samples from New Zealand ... thanks to Ross!

Scree samples from New Zealand … thanks to Ross!

True confession #5 … it is SO worth it. If you haven’t tried blogging with your students … do! I have NEVER looked back. Instead … I look FORWARD, in GREAT anticipation of where this journey will lead us.

It is NEVER too late to connect your classroom globally. Go on ... GIVE it a try! Photo shared by Global Grade 3

It is NEVER too late to connect your classroom globally. Go on … GIVE it a try!
Photo shared by Global Grade 3

I wonder:

  • what is one of the most POWERFUL lessons you’ve learned through blogging with your students?
  • what are some of YOUR true confessions as a result of becoming a “global classroom teacher”?
  • what advice would you give to someone THINKING about flattening the walls of their classroom?

This blog post has been cross-posted on The Global Classroom Project.

WORK – a FOUR letter word for MANY … but … NOT me!

It’s the second week of Summer holidays. My husband looks at me like I am the WEIRDEST person he knows. He may be right. As he heads out the door to work, not his FIRST choice for how to spend this beautiful Saturday in July, he peers at me oddly after I answer his query “So, what are your plans for the day?”

Atlas, it's time for your bath

Creative Commons woodleywonderworks

You see, I told him, through my HUGE grin, that I would be moderating a global classroom chat on twitter! Yup – I was choosing to spend at LEAST an hour dedicating my time to an online chat about the powerful benefits of using a classroom blog to “Enrich Global Citizenship Inquiries”. It isn’t the FIRST time he has given me the look that silently says, “Honestly, Laurie … I CAN’T believe how much you love your job. Don’t you think it would be better to hang out in the garden? Read a good BOOK? KNIT? Paint your TOE NAILS? Rejuvenate yourself before heading back in September?”

Don’t get me wrong. He supports me.  He is THRILLED that I am a learner and he “gets” that I love my job. Truly, he reinforces, for me, just how BLESSED I am. I know SO many people who look at their jobs as JUST that. A way to pay the bills. A means to an end. WORK. That word has so many negative connotations for so many people.

I am not deluded. Teaching is NOT an easy job. It is CERTAINLY not the 9 to 3 with TONS of holidays that MANY people envision it to be. It is fraught with worry. Am I fitting all the mandated curriculum in? Am I meeting everyone’s needs? Am I supporting, pushing, encouraging, INSPIRING my learners to the best of THEIR ability and to the best of MY ability? Am I communicating clearly and effectively with parents? How will they perform on their Provincial Achievement Exams … I KNOW it’s just a “snapshot in time” … but … if I’M this stressed over “our performance”, even though it isn’t a full clear well rounded shot of each of my amazing students’ skills, growth and future goals … how do my STUDENTS feel?

Yup. Just a little insight into the workings of my mind … generally around 3 in the morning … when lots is going on. Never mind the “politics” that can sneak its way into the profession. Or the seeming lack of gratitude, occasionally. Two little words #youmatter … #thank you … so simple, so easy to say … so rare. But, I am not big enough, brave enough or strong enough to have those conversations … yet! Maybe when I am 70!

Despite all this, when I am in my classroom, I am empowered. My students inspire me. Yes, we have our ups and downs … just like ANY family … but we work through them TOGETHER. I love that no two days are the same. I love that I DON’T have to know all the answers … and the POWER of learning and growing together is what fuels me.

So … why are my summers filled with continued learning? That’s who I am! Honestly, I just finished moderating this incredible chat with such inspiring educators … and I am INSPIRED. Each time I reach out, each time I actively participate and join a chat through twitter, I walk away ENRICHED  and EAGER to discover MORE!

This is the second time I’ve had the privilege of moderating a #globalclassroom chat. Our backgrounds and experiences are diverse and THAT is what makes the learning rich! It enhances our own learning and that of our students!

This year has been a year of SO much learning and growth – no time to stagnate or to get “tired” of the work that I do … and THAT is the BEAUTY of teaching. It is ever evolving. And, Twitter has provided me with the BEST PLN and PD to DATE. The learning, the support, the relationships are UNsurpassed. It is a positive space. For THAT I am blessed. For THAT I am GRATEFUL. #youmatter

I feel SO fortunate to be a part of this journey. Never before has the prospect of educating seemed to hold such limitless possibilities for me. Technology and the support of the incredible people I get to interact with and learn from each and every day, online, make being a life long learner SO rewarding.

Don’t tell my husband … I started planning for this #globalclassroom chat at 9:30 this morning. The hour long chat FLEW by. I learned a TON. I made new connections with inspiring keeners like me. I ate lunch. And … then … it hit me. I have to BLOG about this! I am not sure whether I should bless or CURSE the inspiring educator who challenged us all to the “Summer Blogging Challenge”! Just kidding. My personal blog is quickly becoming ANOTHER inspired passion! Shhh … it’s now 4:11 pm. WHERE did the day go?

I wonder:

  • Do YOU have a specific education chat hashtag that you are inspired by?