Just the beginning

“beginnings are usually scary, and endings are usually sad, but its everything in between that makes it all worth living.”
Bob Marley

Making it real
Making it real

In November I started #AfricaEd with inspiration and help from some newly found friends on Twitter.  I had no idea what would happen.  I had a lot of questions. Would anyone join the chat?  Would I be able to maintain it once I started?  Would it be beneficial to anyone?  But I also realized I had nothing to lose.  Maybe I throw some Tweets out there and end up with nothing.  Big deal. I’d lose a few minutes of my time writing Tweets and checking my feed for responses then fade back into anonymity among the Twitterverse.  I figured I could live with that.

I had no idea the connections I would make, the doors that would open or the time I would end up putting into the chat.  It’s been awesome. I don’t have any delusions of grandeur that this was a world changing Twitter chat or that a multitude of people are sitting at their computers waiting for 7am GMT each Tuesday and Thursday with their homemade #AfricaEd T-shirt and coffee mugs, but I do feel like it has been successful.  There have been a core group of people who have showed up for almost every chat and we’ve had some fantastic conversations.  The topics have been mostly solid and, I think, provided opportunity for real learning and growth among participants.  That’s all I wanted.

As a bonus, I’ve made a ton of “stranger friends”, been asked to be a part of Learning 2 Africa, managed to set up multiple Mystery Skypes for colleagues at school, helped my wife connect with other counselors and start a Mindfulness group within AISA, started collaborating with colleagues in four different countries to develop a Digital Citizenship for Parents program over the coming summer and countless other opportunities along the way.  I reflect in amazement at how 140 characters here and there can open up the world and create connections.

Sunset in South Africa
Sunset in South Africa

So as the sun sets on the year, thanks to each and every person out there who showed up for every chat, dropped by from time to time, stumbled on us once or lurked in the background.  I hope you all enjoyed the chats as much as I did this year.  I have had a great time getting to know so many fantastic educators across Africa and across the world.  Enjoy your summer break and I hope you will come around again in August. Oh, and bring a friend with you too.

Taking on the #GlobalEd #TwitteratiChallenge

Its been a whirlwind of a year for me. I took on a new “part-time” role as a Tech coach during one free prep period, in November started and ran #AfricaEd chat twice a week, started COETAIL, managed to get invited to present at Learning 2 Africa and began planning an EdCamp for next September here in Accra.  Oh and taught four classes too.  So I’ve had my fair share of perfect storm moments when I was certain that it would all come crashing down around me, but here we are at the end of the year. The sun is still shining and I’ve learned more this year than quite possibly in my twelve previous years of teaching.

So when I woke up one day last week to see that @shyj had mentioned me in her #TwtiteratiChallenge, I knew that I would have no problem responding to the challenge.  I’m honestly not one to usually jump at this sort of thing, but I’ve had so much help and inspiration along the way this year, I feel its the right thing to do.  I’ve started calling these people my “stranger friends” as they are people I’ve never met, in some cases might not ever meet, but have come to feel like real friends.  They’re supportive, they challenge me and they make me laugh.  Funny how the internet works that way.  So here are my people, in no particular order.

John Iglar The master of research and I’m sure many other things has been a major supporter and collaborator in the start and development of AfricaEd. I bounced the idea off of him early on and he encourage me to go for it.  Since then he has willingly supported, showed up and made fantastic suggestions throughout the year. I’m excited to get to meet this stranger friend in November at Learning 2 Africa, which he has also supported my course there.

Jessica Raleigh Jessica was one of the first real stranger friends I made on Twitter.  In fact she and Scott Capro who together started #BFC530 were major influences on my decision to develop #AfricaEd.  She exuded positivity even through Twitter and selflessly shared hours worth of work with me in a single click when I began to discuss the idea of trying to hold an EdCamp in Accra.  She even agreed to lead a PD session via Google Hangouts for our staff at LCS.  I’m looking forward to getting to meet this stranger friend at ISTE this summer!

Lissa Layman Lissa jumped in on AfricaEd early as well. Recently, we’ve managed to collaborate and run very successful collaborative chats between #AISQ8chat and #AfricaEd on several occasions. Another stranger friend willing to share resources she gave me her entire collection of tech coach job descriptions as I began to work on creating my own here at LCS.  She’s also an inspirational innovator presenting at a conference in Detroit from Kuwait.  Now that’s cool.

Nigel Winnard – One of the few administrators that has regularly participated and supported #AfricaEd I’ve been impressed with the forward thinking and innovation he applies at KICS.  He’s created a model of social media activity for schools providing transparency and insight into not only his school but his thoughts on education.  His support and willingness to engage has provided a boost for my project and his work at KICS has provided me with many ideas to build upon and investigate.

Jimmy Conrad – I know I’m breaking the rules with this one,he isn’t an educator as in working in schools, but hear me out.  It wasn’t until I managed to get the infamous Conradhino, host of KickTV and USMNT legend, to start a banter with me on Twitter, eventually leading to him coming to visit and play in our Tuesday staff pick up game at LCS (skip to the 3:25 mark) that I realized the power of Twitter.  The experience not only allowed me to claim, by the theory of relativity, that I had played in the World Cup, but it showed me that there is a real power in Twitter and encouraged me to investigate how I might use that power in my professional (education) career.  So Thanks Jimmy for one more aspect of awesomeness that you exude.

So now friends, will you accept the challenge as well? Here is the information you need to proceed with the challenge:
(Sorry, I skipped the video part. A little too much for me, but cheers!)

Twitterati Challenge

Here are @teachertoolkit’s rules…

In the spirit of social media educator friendships, this summer it is time to recognise your most supportive colleagues in a simple blogpost shout-out. Whatever your reason, these 5 educators should be your 5 go-to people in times of challenge and critique, or for verification and support.


There are only 3 rules.

1.You cannot knowingly include someone you work with in real life.

2.You cannot list somebody that has already been named if you are already made aware of them being listed on #TwitteratiChallenge

3.You will need to copy and paste the title of this blogpost and the Rules and What To Do information into your own blog post.

What To Do?

There are 5 to-dos if you would like to nominate your own list of colleagues.

1.Within 7 days of being nominated by somebody else, identify colleagues you regularly go to for support and challenge. They have now been challenged and should act as participants in the #TwitteratiChallenge.

2.If you’ve been nominated, you should write your own #TwitteratiChallenge blogpost within 7 days. If you do not have your own blog, try @staffrm 

3.The educator nominated should record a video of themselves (using Periscope?) in continuous footage and announce their acceptance of the challenge, followed by a pouring of your (chosen) drink over a glass of ice.

4.Then the drink is to be lifted with a ‘cheers’ before the participant nominates their five other educators to participate in the challenge.

5.The educator that is now (newly) nominated, has 7 days to compose their own #TwitteratiChallenge blogpost and identify who their top 5 go-to educators are.

Positive Vibration

Looking at the Responsible Use Agreement (RUA) from a couple of schools was interesting. Its something I had gone over with my students two years in a row, but I honestly had not thought much about it.  It always fell into part of the “we have to do this to start the year” pile of documents and things to sign. Taking the time to really read through it and think about the information and how it was presented was interesting.  I was disappointed with how negative the RUA from our school read.  A big list of things you cannot or should not do. A perfect way to get students to listen, right?  Yeh, no way.

So I partnered up with Matt Fron for this project, who I had previously engaged with through #AfricaEd as well as other blog posts in COETAIL,  to see what we could do to make this user agreement a little more user friendly. We each asked our students what they thought about the existing agreements and if they read them before they signed them.  The responses were not startling.  Very few of the students had actually read the entire agreements, even though they had all signed them.  None of them were overly impressed.

Photo Credit: Brian Lane Winfield Moore via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Brian Lane Winfield Moore via Compfight cc

But is that really any different from us?  How many user agreements have we checked off with out even glancing thru.  They are so full of legal lingo its hard to focus and read even a quarter of the way through them.  To be fair, even the people that write them even say they rarely read them completely.

Its an interesting thing working with someone you’ve never met in person.  Its hard to know how they work, when they work, heck, if they work. I have to say, that this was definitely a positive experience though.  Shared Google documents and folders make collaboration easy, allowing each of us to work when it is convenient, check the revision history and leave comments directly on the document.

I don’t know if asides are legitimate parts of blogs, but I’m going to take one here.  I’ve been a fan of this we don’t have to meet to work together process for years now, and am constantly working on my colleagues to utilize it within the school to work more efficiently.  I also still have to sit back and giggle or shake my head from time to time in amazement of the power of the internet.  Its amazing the work that can be accomplished across distance and time.

Through our collaboration and investigations we managed to make at least the initial part of the agreement more positive and readable to students, but as Matt inquired with the “powers that be” they informed him that some of the stale and negative language needed to be there for policy and to allow for follow up if rules were not followed.  Fair enough.

Co-created with Matt Fron
Co-created with Matt Fron

We also created a poster using Canva (also allowing asynchronous collaboration) to be displayed in classrooms to encourage students to think about their digital footprint and online presence.  I believe the simple, positive phrases and images create an attractive and effective poster.  Each phrase matches with a sub-section of the document and the included QR code links to the RUA document itself for further information.



It is proven that positive reinforcement is much more beneficial than warnings or threats to students, so why do we so often provide them with threatening documents in case they fail, instead of positive documents that assume they will succeed?

Running down a dream

When students are given the freedom, they flourish and most of the time, challenge themselves.  I truly believe that much of student performance is based on our expectations and the tone that is set for our classrooms and schools.

Photo Credit: _ambrown via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: _ambrown via Compfight cc

If we are encouraging, open and allow students to explore anything is possible.

I’ve had so much fun this year teaching Media Design classes. I’d never had the opportunity to teach technology classes before so I jumped at the chance.  I might not have nailed the curriculum part of it, but I feel like it has gone really well.  Here’s why.

You see, I didn’t have time to learn all of the software that students were going to be using in the class, so I pretty much gave them some guidelines and told them to figure it out.  And they did. Consistently, over and over again.  They were working together, they were investigating, sharing, asking each other questions.

Photo Credit: college.library via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: college.library via Compfight cc

I became an observer in my own classroom.  The easiest class I’ve ever taught.  I became a resource when they got stuck.  Not the kind that showed them what to do, but the kind that helped them think through the process to discover a solution.

Given the freedom to work and time to explore, the students did just that. They’ve made public service announcements for the school, advertisements for school events, designed business cards, redesigned landscapes, designed new kits for their favorite football clubs, built skateparks and bridges in SketchUp just to name a few.  Each assignment had a basic requirement, but most of them were open to whatever programs and subject matter they wished to incorporate.

I’ve also introduced Google A Day and GeoGuesser to my advisory class.  GeoGuessr_logoThis group of fourteen students that meet with me twenty minutes a day now begs to play these games.  The two compliment each other nicely as they use their developing search skills to improve their chances on dropping the pin in the right place on earth.  It is really cool to watch.  The twenty minutes that often dragged by as I tried to pull conversation out of them turned into a flurry of activity and collaboration.

In my Humanities class I’ve given them free rein to decide how they want to present research in each project we’ve undertaken.  At the first of the year they struggled. It was too much freedom.  They mostly turned in incredibly boring Power Point presentations.  But slowly, they’ve figured it out.  I’ve gotten Draw My Life style presentations, a rap video made by app smashing Smule and iMovie, an Epic Rap Battle between key playas in the French Revolution, mocumentaries that featured a student’s dog as the lead character and all kinds of other super creative projects.  It took some time for them to see that I was serious and they really could do whatever they wanted as long as they included the material asked of them, but once they did, sharing presentations became a whole lot more fun.

So maybe none of these students are creating the next great novel or restructuring the Scottish school lunch program, but they are building the tools and gaining the confidence to do so when they decide they can.  I see the potential in our students all the time.  The Middle Years Program is great for promoting student activism as well.  With a 5th grade exhibition and a 10th grade personal project students are encouraged to seek out problems and offer solutions.

Photo Credit: ~FreeBirD®~ via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: ~FreeBirD®~ via Compfight cc

It can be an inspiring event to see students working on passion projects, even within the confines of the regular school structure of grading and deadlines.  In almost every instance, these projects found students using their skills to improve the world around them. If we develop a positive atmosphere around students, give them the space and the confidence, they will do good things.


A little more conversation

Digital citizenship. Its a term buzzing around education right now as technology becomes more and more integrated in our schools. Often, the conversation focuses on how students use social media, encouraging them to post or text only safe, appropriate pictures, protecting passwords and not getting lost in their phones.  I agree that all of that is important, but I’ve found when I start to initiate those conversations, students start to glaze over.  They’ve heard it all before.  They nod and agree then go back to trying to sneak a look at their cellphones under the table or send a quick Skype message on their laptop.

Photo Credit: francisco_osorio via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: francisco_osorio via Compfight cc

Maybe there are other sides of the issue that could be make this a more interesting and effective conversation.  A fellow COETAILer recently shared this article bringing up an interesting discussion on internet file sharing and piracy.  I can imagine a classroom divided on the topic and a fierce debate ensuing.  Let’s give the students the reins and let them search for support of their arguments. Maybe they’ll come across something like this

But according to Game of Thrones director, David Petrarca, piracy is not a bad thing and “may do more good than harm” by contributing to the buzz around the series.

Photo Credit: Brian Rinker via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Brian Rinker via Compfight cc

Now we’ve got a conversation going. Has the idea of usage and legality changed over the years?  How does piracy affect the media industry?  Is it ok to illegally download a movie or show?  Are ethics and moral standards constantly shifting throughout time?

As students search through the data, the websites, the opinions, the laws, they are learning, discussing, critically analyzing sources and becoming stronger digital citizens.  This is something they know and is real to them.  Especially in a place like Ghana where a majority of popular media sites are considered “out of market” and unavailable for viewing.

We all know that students are much more likely to become engaged if they are interested in a topic or it has some sort of personal application to them.  So let’s stop preaching to them about how to use the internet and let them tell us what’s right and wrong.  But they should do it with research and reasoning, not just because they want to watch some good TV.  Then maybe the conversation can continue into those basic ideas we mentioned above.  In fact, it probably will organically.


Hopefully at some point it will even come around to figuring out how to get rid of this.

flickr photo by nordique http://flickr.com/photos/nordique/9732206672 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license
flickr photo by nordique http://flickr.com/photos/nordique/9732206672 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license




Typical Situation

Copyright is a constant issue within the classroom.  One that I probably haven’t done the best job teaching about or even following in the past.  It has come up quite a bit in my classes recently though.  Especially in my Media class where we are working with PhotoShop. The version that is installed on our lab computers is apparently a bit older than what is currently available. Several students were quick to offer to share their copy.  Just another typical situation where students had taken advantage of the power of the internet and wanted to share.

Photo Credit: Ross Elliott via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Ross Elliott via Compfight cc

Of course, it was a pirated version that they had downloaded and I had to politely decline and take advantage of the teachable moment.

Students are constantly adding music to presentations or using images from the web or their iTunes library without consulting usage rights or even using proper citation formats. There’s the common concept that if it is there, then it must be meant for them to use it. For the most part, its probably ok, but we need to do better having this conversation with our students.  The issue as usual is time. Where do the these sorts of lessons fit into the current school day?

Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 8.52.24 PMIts definitely an issue that affects more than just students and schools. There are knockoffs and bootlegs of just about anything you can imagine. Just today I saw these posts on Twitter lamenting the difficulties of being a musician in a country where copyrights are difficult to enforce, which creates an issue for the artists.

With that said, I found it amazing that copyright has gone from a 14 year span to a lifetime plus 70 years. I also had no idea that copyright had been around since the time of Jefferson, albeit in a very different light.  In a way, I think this series of Tweets shows both sides of the story.

So how do we teach this in our classrooms? I think currently we have to make sure that we are at least having conversations and creating awareness.  I assume very few of us see ourselves as experts in the area, but we can seize the opportunities that present themselves, encourage Creative Commons usage and hope that eventually our schools catch up with our times Having technology and internet access isn’t enough to improve education.  We all know what Spidey said…

Photo Credit: jason a. cina via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: jason a. cina via Compfight cc

Suspicious Minds

First of all, I’m all for privacy and using your brain as you navigate the digital landscape.  But I’m also for using your brain as you navigate the physical landscape. As Tricia noted in her post last week:

This is part of the reason I think the phrase ‘digital citizenship’ is erroneous.  Citizenship is citizenship.

I think its time we step back and look at this with some clarity. So often we are quick to blindly follow statistics, or worse, basically ignore them. Like it or not, the reality of our times is that the digital world is taking on an ever growing percentage of our interactions.

Photo Credit: Ksayer1 via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Ksayer1 via Compfight cc

Just look at the numbers from the USPS for the last 10 years.  There’s a reason those numbers are steadily declining and it isn’t more front porch sittin’.

Our communication is becoming more and more reliant on emails and social media. Like or not, that’s where today’s kids are spending their time too.  So let’s stop the freaking out and get real. We aren’t going to win the battle of keeping kids off the internet or social media, so we need to teach them life skills, not just digital skills.  I cringed a bit as I read this article seemingly mourning the fall of Michael Phelps because of one picture.  There were choices that led up to that picture being taken.  Choices that had nothing to do with digital citizenship or leaked pictures.

As a professional you have decisions to make.  We live in a world that is constantly online, well most of it, and that should shape the way we think.  Is it worth it to be out partying with a bunch of people you don’t know, or maybe do know, who are constantly posting to the internet.  Its a decision you have to make.

That’s where I think the conversation needs to remain with our students.  Its about the decisions you make. Think about possible outcomes and make a choice. Make those regardless of if it is while you are walking through the mall or Snap Chatting with your friends.  Its not as big and scary world as some would like for us to believe.  In fact there’s a lot of positivity to getting out there and exploring it.

Photo Credit: D.Robertus via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: D.Robertus via Compfight cc

Get to know the facts and let reality settle your suspicious mind.  You can have fun, you can share some pictures and the story of your life’s adventures.  You just have to make sure you’re doing it with your thinking cap on.


Its Tricky

Its always interesting how things seem to fall into place. My students just recently collected five days worth of evidence of their digital presence as part of a history project.

5 days of Social Media
5 days of Social Media

I had not intentionally thought of the opportunity it would present to discuss their digital footprint, I was thinking more primary sources, yet there it was.

The topic also appeared in our #AfricaEd conversation

Shameless Plug
Shameless Plug

this week as we discussed student directed learning and someone brought up students building their own PLNs.

Then, one more time as my grade 8 Humanities class participated in a Google Hangout with a class from North Carolina to discuss teen culture.  Of course, this conversation led to social media and students asking to share contacts. I initially said no, but since have continued to ask myself, why not?

All of this together leaves me with a lot to think about.  We know our students spend time in the digital landscape and we are encouraging them to do so more often as we drive to integrate technology in the classroom.  So how are we encouraging them to do this with discretion and integrity?

Examples of these efforts are constantly appearing on Twitter and Facebook as teachers request retweets or shares to demonstrate how quickly and wide spread an image can travel on social media.  I wonder about the effectiveness of this though as they are asking for the shares, and students aren’t necessarily seeking the fame. More likely, they would come by it unintentionally.  For the typical middle school student I’d wager that they understand how widespread their images can go, it just doesn’t particularly concern them.  They live in the moment.  They aren’t thinking about where the picture will end up, they’re thinking about how much fun they are having with their friends.

Photo Credit: lostinangeles via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: lostinangeles via Compfight cc

I don’t claim to have the answers to this, but I will declare that I’m thinking about it.  There are a lot of great resources out there about digital citizenship and it is taught as a part of our technology classes here at Lincoln.  But how do we know that students are not only listening to the information, but putting it to practice as well as they navigate the social media landscape?

Photo Credit: socialautomotive via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: socialautomotive via Compfight cc

For middle school students, concrete evidence is important. I think reflecting on their usage and the messages they relate in social media is a good first step.  It also needs to be fun.  Sites like Poetweet and Status Cloud provide visually appealing and interesting looks into what you’ve been posting on your accounts.  The chance to create something fun, share it with a classmate and discuss the results in a guided reflection sort of way is a great opportunity.

Then of course, we need to model appropriate use ourselves.

As for my students sharing their contact information with students in the US, the more I think about the more I lean toward it being a good idea. There should probably be some parental consent or at least conversation about it, but, the way I see it, they are building their PLN.  If we are working on encouraging global learning and collaboration it makes sense. Sure students are sharing silly photos and such, but they are also asking each other for help on homework, talking about their classes, supporting one another and building relationships through social media. Isn’t that what we do?