Approaching Digital Citizenship

I am sometimes consulted on issues relating to students developing digital citizenship, and this has only increased since our one-to-one program has begun in Goochland. Sometimes these discussions with teachers or administrators focus on undesired behaviors from students, such as playing games, forgetting to bring the iPad to school, or having it charged.

Students have been playing games on computers since I’ve been a teacher, so that’s nothing new. Forgetting an iPad is not terribly different than forgetting to tie a shoe or bring a pencil to class. It happens.

I know it’s frustrating to deal with these behaviors as a teacher when you’ve spent time and energy designing a great lesson that will make use of the iPad or computer. It’s like encountering a slow truck ahead when driving to work, if you could only get around the impediment, life would be sweeter. We don’t want to slow down on the road, we don’t want extra steps to take, and having to deal with Johnny’s (I chose ‘Johnny’ as that was my nickname as a five year-old) 15% charged iPad with a home screen littered with all the best as-of-yet not unfiltered web games requires–a really deep breath!

It’s not that I believe game playing, or behavior within Schoology, or remembering to charge an iPad are trivial things that we should ignore. I think they all are addressable as developing digital citizenship. Let me elaborate!

Reconsidering Behaviors

B. F. Skinner is probably the most-recognized authority on behaviorism. His experiments showed us that we could induce certain behaviors, or curb others, through conditioning. These ideas have been translated into instructional design. Learning to drive a car is a very behavior-centric pursuit: we get guidance from an instructor about how to operate a car on the road based upon common rules everyone will follow. It might be boring, but it works. Once you’ve met the standard, you get a license, and you’re ready to roll.

Johnny knows the speed limit. It’s 35 here. And he knows what a speed limit is. Yet, his behavior is to go 40-45 in the car, and each time, the driving instructor taps the brake to slow Johnny down. Before Johnny takes his test, he may need reminding about driving the speed limit (or below) multiple times. Hopefully when he’s a licensed driver, he remembers to mind the limit and slow down.

Imagine another way to learn to drive: every sixteen year-old gets issued a bumper car. There are no rules, per se, anymore. Eventually, a system of rules will establish itself, and once everyone stops bumping into one another, we can remove the bumper.

In the first scenario, we are introduced into a prescribed system and the outcome has to be compliance with the system. In the second, the system is formed from experimentation, trial and error. I like the system we have for learning to drive a car, but learning to ride a bike is closer to the second example. We put on training wheels and you learn how to make adjustments so that eventually you can remove the trainers. It’s only through that experience of self-discovery does the habit stick.

Constructing Understanding from Experience

Who said “once you learn to ride a bike, you’ll never forget”?

When it comes to learning digital citizenship, we have to decide whether we’ll take a behaviorist or constructivist approach to learning about citizenship. The problem is, one is not very impactful, and the other would be way too chaotic! I think more than likely we need a dual approach. Society at large, and our schools specifically, already have rules about how we behave in general and how we behave when armed with technology. We have an acceptable use policy, and the government has laws and expectations about things like copyright and libel. And universities especially have rules around things like academic honor. So, part of the discussion should include what rules exist and why we have them. Teaching “what” the rules are and not “why” would be silly, right? Driving on the wrong side of the road seems obvious, but with how we behave in online spaces, it’s less obvious to some.

Johnny knows he can’t drive on the left side of the road because oncoming traffic would hit him. But when Johnny shares disparaging comments to his peers in an online discussion, he doesn’t feel the emotions his peers feel when they’re hurt. It’s through that experience that Johnny may come to understand the impact his actions have on others.

The constructivist way of learning about citizenship takes longer and is messier than looking at rules. But it has the highest potential of sticking with us. When we experience hurt feelings by another student in an online forum, it’s emotional and we’ll remember it. When we write an email to an adult and get support for funding for a project we want to take on, it’ll mean something when we took the time to perfect our letter-writing skills. And when we get in trouble for playing a game in class, it’s an opportunity for us to not simply remind Johnny he shouldn’t have been playing a game, but to figure out why Johnny made the choice in the first place. We might just learn that the lesson is boring to Johnny and he’s coping with that boredom. We might learn that Johnny is already to move on to the next concept, or that Johnny is stuck, and needs more help.

I don’t suggest we don’t have rules and just let “anything go.” But I want to remind everyone that giving kids devices and giving them tools to explore and communicate can’t be totally controlled by setting expectations or rules. Kids will bump into things and it is our job to help course-correct their “driving” with digital technology.

Approaching Citizenship with our Gadgetry

The best approaches when it comes to applying behaviorist principles to establishing rules include consistency. A rule for one teacher should be the rule for another. Kids only get confused when one teacher has one set of expectations, and another teacher’s are different, or contradictory. Take the time to discuss rules that work well with your colleagues.

Most important is when rules help students define a moral position. As educators, we might adopt a “games are evil, games are anti-education” moral stance on games. Not educational games, mind you, but, the games that are for pure entertainment.

It’s easy to understand rules when they align with moral positions. But it’s confusing when a moral position is not aligned with a rule. When we make exceptions to rules (i.e., “you may play games when your work is done”), it help sets a moral position about games: they’re appropriate awards for completed work. But how do we explain to students the rule in the AUP with no game playing, and why it exists?

When it comes to the constructivist mindset with citizenship, we have to both design opportunities for learning in this area, and approach it regularly to see how everyone is doing. That includes continual dialog with students and designing lessons where students can be successful in applying twenty-first century skills as part of the learning. That means giving kids opportunities for communication, research, and inquiry, and using their devices to accomplish some of these tasks. Hopefully they take our recommendations and follow our rules, but when they don’t, it’s still a valuable learning experience. And remember some kids will need those experiences to really learn.

I firmly believe that if we are all “tuned” to addressing digital citizenship as a regular, quotidian task, then ultimately it becomes easier to address this important aspect of having and using technology each day. And hopefully issues, like those I’ve described, become less frequent and less frustrating to those of us in the classrooms.

G21 Projects Provide Deeper Learning Experiences

Congratulations go to our three sets of G21 Award Winners, recognized this year at our annual 2016 Convocation.

G21 is our project-based learning program that is focused in how we use technology to foster twenty-first century skills, deeper learning, and student-centered instruction.

Each August we recognize three superlative projects from the past year.

  • Elementary Award – Jennifer Gates and the 4th Grade Team at RES
  • Secondary Award – James Frago
  • Divisionwide Award – Ariel Perry (GES Kindergarten) and Jennifer Abbott (9th grade English)

G21 Awards 2016



The Hum of Scrum

Scrum is a method by which software developers work together on efficient teams to rapidly collaborate on application development. Focused around the idea that the effort of many can trump the efficiency of just one person, Scrum, or the process as it is called– scrumming–helps companies that employ the technique to maximize the potential of its team members.

So why did the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) choose to feature an article highlighting the work of educators Joe Beasley (GES) and James Frago (GMS) in its quarterly publication, entrsekt? Beasley and Frago began using Scrum this past school year (first at GES in Beasley’s classroom, and later at GMS, when Frago became a long-term substitute teacher) and really noticed that the process or method for working together was helping their students.

Scrumming with MInecraft

In the picture above, Beasley’s students at GES are using the Scrum technique, using a shared file folder and sticky notes (called a Scrum board) to organize their efforts at a building project in Minecraft EDU as part of a unit on literature they’re reading in language arts.

The magazine is distributed to ISTE’s members all over the world. The publication of the article highlighting their experience using Scrum in the classroom debuted at this year’s ISTE conference in Denver. I am so proud of Joe and Jim for trying this in our schools and finding success in showing kids how to work together effectively towards common goals. Watching kids using Scrum in the classroom is exciting, because amid peaks of chaos that can result from a number of simultaneous discussions taking place among each team, we see students truly engaged with their tasks, communicating effectively, and developing their skills and knowledge in a very learner-centered modality. It is especially exciting to see our students featured in this article, and to have Goochland County Public Schools represented on the world stage with educational technology.

My thanks go out to Bea Leiderman, our secondary ITRT, who has taken a special interest in Scrum and helped make possible the opportunity at ISTE for Joe, Bea, and Jim to present the technique and the outcomes of the method with a captive audience. We are hoping a free version of the magazine becomes published soon for all of our local stakeholders to read.


Past Blast 1

In the first of several blog posts, I want to highlight some of our “history” with technology by looking back at old podcasts, newsletters, and examples of artifacts and tie these back to the current day. From 26 March, 2009, is a podcast episode (#128) about Learning Hacks.

The county-wide PD session focused on some of the idea from the book, Brain Rules. I think they are as valid then as they are now, and certainly more research is growing now about the connections with neuroscience and learning. How do the these ideas resonate with you, today, with our mission of maximizing the potential of every learner?


Thinking in #Hashtags

Some of the things I do from day to day are intentional, meaning, I guess, that I go out of my way to do them for a purpose beyond the act itself. One example is using the pseudo-word automagic instead of automatic. There’s a certain cache to the word that commands especial attention, but beyond that, it signifies something special about the experience. I don’t just slip when I say automagical, but instead I purposefully choose it.

I also have recently gotten into the habit of summarizing thoughts and ideas. The practice of summarization was one of Robert Marzano’s techniques for learning that he found was effective across classrooms. In essence, students know material when they can summarize it. Whether it is for me, or for the benefit of students, I believe the practice of summarization is generally a good thing to do.

So, I’ve been thinking, what is the ultimate summary? It’s a single or even a series of hashtags. Hashtags are words or phrases used in online social spaces to label a concept in a simple way. They first came to light in social bookmarking sites like Socially creating hashtags or keywords is actually called folksonomy and there is some study around this and its benefits for organizing information.

So here’s my big idea for a Friday: Consider a movement towards hashtagging with students. Show them first, then ask them to follow. You can even camp it up by creating the hashtag symbol/movement with two sets of fingers. It will feel silly. The students will certainly roll some eyes. But in the end, you’re pushing them to think about concepts through summary.


And by the way, for our Tweeting teachers. If you think something you’re doing in school is well-aligned with our strategic plan, consider adding our hashtag to your tweet: #inspire2020

iPad Collection

Goochland’s 1:1 Program Recognized

I’m proud to announce that our 1:1 program with iPads has been recognized as an Apple Distinguished Program for 2015-2017. Roughly 300 schools and districts have been recognized around the world; beyond the U.S. in places as diverse as Singapore, Mexico, Canada, Great Britain, Malaysia, Thailand, and Brazil.

Goochland’s program began in 2013-14 as a pilot program in grades 3-5 at Goochland Elementary School before expanding to additional schools. This school year the program provides iPads for students to take home across the division in grades 4-7, in addition to the third grade at GES. Next year, the division plans on expanding the iPad program to grades 3-8. Creativity, personalization, individualization, and student passion are at the heart of Goochland’s approach to learning with individual technology. With iPad, teachers and students are working together to redefine learning, as it supports achieving the division’s mission of maximizing the potential of every learner.

The Apple Distinguished Program designation is reserved for programs that meet criteria for innovation, leadership, and educational excellence, and demonstrate a clear vision of exemplary learning environments.

This designation will place us in contact with other schools implementing 1:1 programs so that we may continue to grow and learn in this evolving process. It also opens up the opportunity to host other educators from across the region to visit Goochland and see our environment and work towards deeper learning.

At the start of November, we will publishing an interactive ebook in iBooks format that communicates our vision for the program and highlights the components that we believe make a strong 1:1 program. Stay tuned to our homepage for the publication of this book.

Thanks go to our teachers, school board, and technology staff for making the dream of a 1:1 possible!

For examples of other superlative programs, visit Apple’s iTunes portal for other iBooks-compatible resources that share stories from other schools and programs.

Focus on iPads: Screentime

Recently, at one of our parent nights for our iPad 1:1 program, a mom approached me about my thoughts on screentime, and specifically, what did the research say about it? Were kids possibly being put at jeopardy with too much time in front of an iPad?

I have a couple thoughts on this, that I have shared with a number of parents. Some of these thoughts were also echoed by our teachers in the program.

  1. Our iPad program does not prescribe students being actively in front of, and using, an iPad all day long. It’s hard to say how much time per day a student is looking and interacting with an iPad (or laptop for that matter), but within a 1:1 environment, that time might range from between 60 minutes to 3 hours per day.
  2. All screentime is not the same. We have traditionally thought of screentime as time spent in front of a television. Later, video game systems were lumped into the concept. Now, it’s any time facing a backlit screen. We know that your brain is doing very different things between watching a television show (passive) to working out a puzzle game on an iPad (active). So, if we think if “screentime” as a way to kill off brain cells and waste time, video games, Google searches, and creative pursuits using software on a device are all actually brain-developing pursuits of time. That said, we do be believe there is a healthy balance and we hard to maintain that at school. It’s important for parents to help with that when the iPad goes home. Students still need active time away from all electronics, and hopefully interacting with peers and family face to face.

On the side of research, this study recently came out specifically looking at younger children from the American Academy of Pediatrics. They seem to echo my sentiment about choosing brain-active activities.

This 2008 report details how families used technology in the home, and more recently, this 2015 report details how teens are relying upon technology for romance. Both articles do not make a case whether or not technology as a whole is good or bad, but its presence in our lives is changing the way we spend our time.

There are two difficulties I see in proving or disproving whether or not technology use by younger students is appropriate or not. The first is that looking online will reveal a range of opinions. For instance, this blog post is in support of technology being a part of an early childhood education program. And research studies, like this dissertation, don’t exactly answer the question, and may be difficult for everyone to understand. The second issue is that because technology use is so ubiquitous today in many American households, it would be hard to conduct a true comparison study to look at child development with the absence of technology.

In the end, our 1:1 program is being developed to stand on a foundation with a few core beliefs. Among those is that the use of technology in a classroom should aim higher than simply replacing a the types of tasks that were undertaken by students without technology being present. Using the SAMR model, our aim is to provide, invent, and design new types of tasks that take advantage of ways of learning that would not have been possible without the technology being present. Another belief that does not parallel the first, is that technology can be used to make learning more efficient–both for the instructor and the student. We do not emphasize this, but tend to think of it in more student-centered ways. For instance, if assessment of student needs and strengths can be streamlined using technology, it can equip our teachers with more time and ability to individualize learning and based on a student’s needs.

Our final iPad Night for parents is tonight, Monday, October 5, 2015. We have loved the opportunity to engage with parents and love all the questions.