What the Tech?

Working through questions about technology and education

Revisiting the Curriculum Trails

In my post, What is Curriculum?, I laid out my thoughts by explaining, “To me, curriculum is the map at the trailheads of a network of bike trails” (Westwood, 2020, para.1). I suggested that the students were represented by the riders and the educators were represented by the trail guides. It follows that the entire educational journey is represented by the trails and not all riders take the same trail. I am happy with this metaphor but works of authors, Dwayne Donald, Ted Aoki, Maria Montessori, and Kieran Egan have inspired me to take a second look at the trail map.

The trail map has some stops where the Indigenous peoples of Canada are discussed; the history stop is fairly well trampled but there is much more to learn. For example, I doubt that any Indigenous person would appreciate me referring to them as “of Canada” since Canada is a settler label. This is where my trail map really falls short. It was drawn by settlers for settlers. Donald states, “What is needed is a decolonizing form of curriculum theorising that conceptualizes Aboriginal and Canadian perspectives as relational, interreferential, and mutually implicative” (Donald, 2009, p. 24). This seems to suggest that riders may travel the same trails but they may observe things along the journey in a number of different ways, including Indigenous perspectives. Perhaps, they ride a bit slower with a bit more care or in groups that share knowledge and ways of knowing with each other. The problem for the guides is that many have no idea what those perspectives are. In addition, I believe some of the perspectives differ from community to community. How can someone write an Indigenous perspective to be “covered” in the curriculum if the perspective of Indigenous people from W̱SÁNEĆ differ from those of the Secwépemc? Donald argues that we need Indigenous peoples to share their inherited wisdom and “teach the dominant society about balance, justice, peace, and living well on the land” (p. 27). With Indigenous experts on the trail, telling the guides and riders what to notice, in time, the guides will become skilled in sharing that knowledge as well. The Indigenous perspective cannot be written up in a provincial curriculum document, it must remain part of the lived curriculum.

Aoki’s writing makes the distinction between curriculum-as-plan and the lived curriculum (Aoki, 1993).  The curriculum-as-plan is the set of curriculum statements laid out by curriculum planners. This element is what I usually think of when someone mentions curriculum and is represented as such by the trail map in my metaphor. The trail map is posted for all to see by officials who have never met the riders on each trail. The lived curriculum is the one that educators must tune into but is not necessarily visible. This is the one that is affected by practicalities and personalities, the uniqueness of learners and pedagogical situations, “the more poetic, phenomenological and hermeneutic discourse in which life is embodied in the very stories and languages people speak and live” (Aoki, 1993, p.261). Aoki posits that the educator must move between the curriculum-as-plan and the lived curriculum so in my metaphor, I envision the educator dashing back and forth between the trail map and the rest of the goings-on on the trails. Educators have to respond to every broken spoke, every skinned knee, every unique discovery, and change their practice for all their learners as well as the individuals. As an aside, I also enjoy how Aoki describes the curricular landscape as arboreal as that is how I see these bike trails.

Finally, how do the writings of Maria Montessori fit into my metaphor? Montessori (1912) wrote that schools “must permit the free, natural manifestations of the child” (p. 25).  She believed that external rewards and punishments force learners to complete unnatural and barren tasks in unnatural and barren settings. She added that under such conditions, a learner could never become a master. It follows that in order to become a master, one must study according to one’s passions. One hundred years later, Kieran Egan would likely agree. “One of the problems with much schooling is that we do not spend time enough to find topics ‘become sweet’, indeed, we skip across the surface of so much learning that the whole enterprise can become to many students ‘tedious and distasteful.’” (Egan, 2020). It is easy to permit kindergarten students to explore freely and follow their interests. The trail map is designed to give them room to follow their passions. That said, I know many educators continue to use prizes and punishments to modify learners’ behaviours, completing tasks and sitting up straight at circle time. Because learners’ movement and inspired whims are more easily indulged in Kindergarten, it is easy to envision the many trails meandering through the trail network as learners explore on their own or in small groups. What I do not often see, is the top of the trails, where I believe learners are forced on narrower, steeper trails in order to qualify for post-secondary education. How many learners at the top have opportunities for learning in depth?

In Kindergarten, when young learners are grappling with what the expectations of school are, they do not necessarily seek to pursue in depth learning. It is the work of the educator to observe and listen to learners, to discover their interests, and encourage them to explore topics to greater detail. This, I know, is a place where I need to work on my own practice and have been for the past few years. I need to spend more time as a guide and less as a park ranger. An even higher priority is my need to decolonize Kindergarten. How will I incorporate Indigenous ways of knowing beyond greetings and counting to ten in SENĆOŦEN? I need to find knowledge keepers who are willing to share their ways of knowing. I need to find different ways of exploring the trails with my learners. I must observe and discover my learners so I can make the most of our lived curriculum.

 

Evidence Review for EDCI 565 Assignment #3

Our focus for our project was centred around three outcomes: building community between educators and elementary school learners, building community between learners and their peers, and supporting parents and caregivers as their involvement in schooling is forced to increase.

When asked to share evidence for why we gathered resources for building classroom community, our first response was, “Why? Isn’t it common knowledge?” We would be hard-pressed to find an educator who does not agree that building an inclusive classroom community is a top priority for successfully teaching children. After all, many educators are familiar with Lev Vygotsky’s theories about social interaction and cognitive development, as “he believed strongly that community plays a central role in the process of ‘making meaning’” (McLeod, 2018, para. 2).

Classrooms are places of constant interaction and it is these interactions that educators depend on to get to know their learners. Many such interactions start with the educator sharing information about themselves, ideally setting the tone for an inclusive space. Hoskins et al. (2016) explored discourse as a means to build classroom community. They contest that classroom interactions should take place on “a level horizontal plane with speakers, namely the teacher and students, conversing as equal contributors in a cohesive dialogue, independent in their thinking and contributions” (Hoskins et al. (2016), p. 295). An article by Zhang et al. (2017) cited Cutler’s 1995 publication that also discussed the idea of discourse in the classroom, stating, “the more one discloses personal information, the more others will reciprocate, and the more individuals know about each other, the more likely they are to establish trust, seek support, and thus find satisfaction” (p. 335). It is the sharing of this information that can make an educator seem more likable and relatable than someone who is standing at the front of the room demanding attention. 

Song et al., (2016) took this notion of disclosing personal information further by exploring relationships in distance learning situations. They conducted a study that found that many educators in distance-learning situations did not spend as much time engaging in interpersonal communication practices as face-to-face teachers do. They concluded that it is critically important for online educators to disclose personal information about themselves to online learners, more so than in face-to-face learning environments. They added that “(o)nly when teacher SD (self-disclosure) helps build positive teacher-student relationships, can it positively influence learning outcomes” (p. 441). In other words, if educators disclose personal information that learners value, learners are going to respond to the relationship more positively, possibly with admiration or trust.

In our experience, once trust is established, learners begin to open up and become comfortable in the classroom setting, asking questions, sharing ideas, and seeking approval with both teachers and peers during instructional and social times. “Students of varied ages, experiences, and backgrounds who perceive their teachers to be supportive of their needs and interests are more engaged, more motivated, more self-directed, and more socially connected at school than their peers” (Saul, 2015). Furthermore, when “students have opportunities to talk and listen to each other, provide emotional support, share learning experiences, and develop respect, they are more likely to feel that they belong and are understood and cared for by their peers (Furrer et al., (p. 106). The result is a culture of inclusion and respect.

It is important to make sure this culture of inclusion and respect carries over into the educators’ relationships with parents and caregivers. While caregivers of home-schooled children volunteered to become deeply involved in their children’s education, the COVID-19 crisis has forced all caregivers to become involved whether they like it or not. On the bright side, Barnard (2004) found that when parents become involved in their child’s schooling at an early age, the benefit can last until at least the age of twenty. As well, Huber and Helm (2020) quoted other studies that have proven “a caring educational style, in which parents, peers and teachers support students’ basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence experience and social integration, is positively related to volitional competence, including persistence and perseverance” (p. 249). The downside, according to Barnard (2004), is that many educators are not certain how to engage parents in a way that does not feel patronizing. Parents need to be welcomed into the process of schooling, not just the fundraising. COVID-19 has dragged parents and caregivers into a new level of school involvement and they will need educators’ support to be successful. 

Creating a classroom culture filled with trust and reciprocating discourse, along with a variety of activities and learning engagements, encourages learners no matter where they are to interact with their educators and peers. Classroom culture has never been more important than during this time of uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During online learning, it will be these shared experiences that will enhance the educator-learner connection and lead to a more positive learning experience for all involved. 

 

References

Barnard, W. M. (2004). Parent involvement in elementary school and educational attainment. Children and Youth Services Review, 26(1), 39–62. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2003.11.002

Furrer, C. J., Skinner, E. A., & Pitzer, J. R. (2014). The influence of teacher and peer relationships on students’ classroom engagement and everyday motivational resilience. National Study for the Society of Education, 113(1), 101-123. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/248702173_The_Influence_of_Teacher_and_Peer_Relationships_on_Students’_Classroom_Engagement_and_Everyday_Resilience

Huber, S. G., & Helm, C. (2020). COVID-19 and schooling: Evaluation, assessment and accountability in times of crises—reacting quickly to explore key issues for policy, practice and research with the school barometer. Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability, 32(2), 237–270. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11092-020-09322-y

Lloyd, M. H., Kolodziej, N. J., & Brashears, K. M. (2016). Classroom discourse: An essential component in building a classroom community. School Community Journal, 26(2), 291-304. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1124019.pdf

McLeod, S. (2018). Lev Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory. Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/vygotsky.html

Saul, R. (2015, November 24). What is the influence of teacher-student relationships on learning? EdCan Network. https://www.edcan.ca/articles/what-is-the-influence-of-teacher-student-relationships-on-learning/

Song, H., Kim, J., & Luo, W. (2016). Teacher–student relationship in online classes: A role of teacher self-disclosure. Computers in Human Behavior, 54, 436–443. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2015.07.037

Zhang, C., Du, J., Sun, L., & Ding, Y. (2018). Extending face-to-face interactions: Understanding and developing an online teacher and family community. Early Childhood Education Journal, 46(3), 331–341. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10643-017-0864-8

Thoughts on Play and Play-Based Learning

Over the past four years, I have been teaching in a Kindergarten classroom. When I first started, I was guided by a draft of the new BC Curriculum (B.C. Ministry of Education, 2018) plus the mentorship of the other Kindergarten teacher at my school and the principal. The word “play” and its variations appear in the Kindergarten document less than ten times. Consequently, my concept of Kindergarten play came from my mentors. Recently, my district has been promoting play in the primary grades, but with the emergence of the COVID-19 crisis, efforts have stalled. My District Teacher Leader for Early Literacy and Learning mentioned that she was excited about the new Play Today B.C. Handbook (BC Ministry of Education, 2019) so I am happy I was able to make the time to read it. In addition, I found two articles to examine alongside the BC Curriculum. These readings brought clarity to my thinking around play and play-based learning.

In the article, A Scoping Review of Research on PlayBased Pedagogies in Kindergarten Education, Pyle, DeLuca, and Danniels (2017) determined that research on play in schools is divided into two types, free, or child-directed, play and teacher-directed play. They recognized the two types could be combined into mutually-directed play, led by children and teachers cooperatively (Pyle et al., 2017). They found that while most teachers agreed that free play is important for social-emotional development, many struggled with the value and efficiency of play for teaching academics.

Teachers expressed concern about time and the academic pressures of curriculum, parents, and teacher colleagues (Pyle et al., 2017). I shared these concerns. Though I know that our curriculum and district are now promoting more play-based approaches, I also know that my grade one teacher colleagues have certain expectations for their incoming learners. Also, I feel pressure from other kindergarten teachers in my school who use didactic methods. Consequently, I often fall back into traditional methods of instruction, reducing play time. Pyle et al. (2017) conclude that researchers focused on free play found positive connections with cognitive, social-emotional, and self-regulatory skills, while researchers focused on teacher and mutually-directed play found positive connections with numeracy, literacy, and other academic skills. They add that researchers and educators need to move toward the integrated concept a continuum of play.

Curious about the continuum of play, I explored, A Continuum of Play-Based Learning: The Role of the Teacher in Play-Based Pedagogy and the Fear of Hijacking Play (Pyle & Danniels, 2017). This article defined five categories: free play, inquiry play, collaboratively designed play, playful learning, and learning through games. It placed them on a continuum from child-directed to teacher-directed.

The article provided some concrete examples of each category of play which allowed me to see that my own practise has already begun to change. I have always used large chunks of free play time and employed some learning games. I am continuing to build my repertoire of learning games and playful learning activities. Inquiry play and collaboratively designed play are more challenging as they require new skills and making more room in our day. As I increase learning games and playful learning strategies, I hope to spend less time helping dysregulated learners to catch up on academics during play time. The only challenge left would be overcoming my compulsion to keep all the adults happy.

Convincing parents, guardians, and my teaching colleagues that increasing play time in its various forms is best practise for kindergarten, and beyond, will be easier now that the education ministry has published the Play Today B.C. Handbook (BC Ministry of Education, 2019). It cites a variety of research to support its statement, “Play-based learning opportunities in primary grades challenge children and contribute to strong communication, critical thinking, ability to make friends, take responsibility, collaborate, persist, investigate, solve problems, innovate, acquire reading, writing, numeracy and digital literacy skills, and cross-cultural understanding” (BC Ministry of Education, 2019, p.22). The handbook contributes to educators’ understanding of play by describing four categories: functional play, constructive play, dramatic play, and games with rules. It adopts the continuum put forth by Pyle and Danniels (2017).  The handbook provides examples that help define the educator’s role. With this ministry-supported document, I feel I have something to point to when questioned by adults regarding my practise.

These readings are important to curriculum because they supplement the specifics of what to teach, the Big Ideas and Learning Standards, from the B.C. Curriculum (B.C. Ministry of Education, 2018) with ideals about how to teach it and why. It helps define my role in play-based learning. Whether these ideals and definitions should be included in the curriculum itself is a question of teacher autonomy and access. Including them might affect teachers’ abilities to decide their methods. If excluded, teachers may not assess or access them at all. If memory serves, the old B.C. curriculum included suggestions linked to learning outcomes. This may be a wise approach for implementing play-based learning strategies in the new curriculum. Because they are suggestions, autonomy would be protected, but teachers who wish to embrace play can find concrete ideas to begin building play into their practise. Should the rationale for play be included in the curriculum document? I think that there could be a link to the rationale in the document, but I still believe that promoting the rationale should fall to ministry, district or administrator-initiated professional development. After all, the switch to play-based learning is not simply a concern for Kindergarten but for all primary grade teachers and beyond. It should not be the responsibility of one keen teacher to sell a new doctrine to an entire staff.

The Rationale Behind Our Three Outcomes

As primary teachers, we are well aware that the relationships we form with our students are the key to helping our young learners be successful. This past spring, our online experiences revealed that there will be new challenges this coming September, especially if we have no in-person time with students. Often learners don’t like to talk, even when you meet them in person. Our meetings online with students resulted in a mixed experience. Some students participated less with their parents present in the room, and it was really hard to get the safe community feeling of the classroom back again.

The role of parents and caregivers of primary-aged students is different from that of older learners as adults often have to take on the teacher role as well as tech support, counsellor, and manager. For example, younger learners need help with planning their time, using the technology, printing and organizing assignments, managing their energy, as well as completing and submitting work.

Because classroom culture and community are such a huge part of a primary classroom, our goal with our project was to find resources to keep that community feeling going during remote learning. In our post, Building Community With and Between Our Learners, we decided to look at the relationships between the teacher and the students as well as between the students themselves. In Tips for Supporting and Connecting with Families, we also explored resources written to help with parent communication, which we also felt was a challenge during our time of remote learning, because parents immediately became members of our class experience, too. Below indicates the outcomes we pursued for this project.

Outcome #1: By the start of the year, primary educators will be able to build appropriate online relationships with their learners.

  • Identify activities to facilitate appropriate relationships with each/all learners.
  • Curate resources to facilitate and build digital citizenship skills
Outcome #2: By the start of the year, primary educators will be able to build appropriate online relationships between their learners, both in-class and online.

  • Identify activities to facilitate appropriate relationships between each/all learners.
  • Identify safe ways for students to socialize online.
Outcome #3: By the start of the year, primary educators will be able to build appropriate online relationships with their learners’ families.

  • Identify safe ways for parents to facilitate student social interactions
  • Identify ways teachers and parents can effectively communicate
  • Identify ways teachers can support parents with technology
  • Identify ways teachers can inform parents on how to support their children with the curriculum/assignments

 

We began this project by searching the internet for articles, blog posts, and Twitter feeds that addressed the concerns of building online and blended communities, and supporting parents. Below are some of the search engine descriptions we used:

We then began to check them against a rubric for evaluating resources. We used the Berkeley Library’s rubric for evaluating resources. We found this rubric to be clear and concise, with additional information to think about if we were unclear about a specific resource. The following is an example of how we used the criteria against the Berkeley rubric:

 

Resource Evaluation
Five Virtual Ways to Build a Classroom Community
  1. Authority – Who is the author? What is their point of view?
    • Shelly Bautista is a 7th year primary teacher at Carson Street STEAM Academy in Carson, CA.
    • Masters in Education Technology and Media Leadership
    • PBS Early Learning Champion
    • Works to empower others to use technology in fun and creative ways
  2. Purpose – Why was the source created? Who is the intended audience?
    • To give educators of young children a place to start when planning to teach virtually
  3. Publication & format – Where was it published? In what medium?
  4. Relevance – How is it relevant to your research? What is its scope?
    • Resource is intended for primary educators
    • Gives clear ideas for starting and maintaining relationships with young learners
  5. Date of publication – When was it written? Has it been updated?
    • April 1, 2020
  6. Documentation – Did they cite their sources? Who did they cite?
    • No citing, but there are links to the resources and ideas the author writes about

Some of the resources we found are not backed by prominent organizations and PhDs so, in addition to the Berkley rubric, we evaluated them against our own expertise and experiences with our own learners. Also, we are unsure of how to assess these sites and posts for accessibility; however, as all of our resources are web-based posts, platforms like Google and Twitter have built-in tools that can be used to assist with many accessibility issues. Almost all of the posts we gathered information from scored well against this rubric. The most commonly missing element was the documentation of sources within the post. Many resources are also plagued by advertisements so users need to beware of corporate interests. We found the resources we chose grouped themselves into five main categories:

  • Sites like Edutopia and ISTE, backed by foundations or organizations with things like boards of directors or mission statements, often had posts that were written by higher-level educators about topics within their field of expertise.
  • Other sites, such as the ones from Bored Teacher, We Are Teachers, Tech & Learning, had well-written posts by teacher contributors, but the sites might also have posts related to sponsored content. These sites also identify with the “Teacher Lounge” idea as a place for teachers to share their advice and classroom ideas. For these posts, we had to look a little harder to find the information needed to mark them against the rubric.
  • Some of the curated posts were not specifically associated with a primary classroom, but we felt that the ideas or resources described could be adapted to meet the needs of a primary class. Posts like Engaging Students: Puppets in Online Education, which is intended for English as a Second Language Educators, or Caring for the Parent-Teacher Relationship during COVID-19, which is aimed at the middle school level, had adaptable ideas to help with either creating community or parent relationships.
  • Social media links, such as from Twitter and Instagram, posed a different problem when marking against the rubric. Some Twitter searches yielded great links to interesting ideas or sites, but it really depended on who you followed or which hashtags you found. Luckily, we had been in recent contact with Alec Couros who mentioned a relevant question he had posted. As well, Pernille Ripp’s Twitter stream was recommended by a fellow cohort member and we noticed she has over 71,000 followers including many educators we know and trust. In exploring both Twitter feeds, we have discovered more educators to add to our Personal Learning Networks.
  • We had only one or two sites that had good information for parents but were obviously trying to sell a specific program or platform. However, we felt that the information given could be applied to other situations and offered some good tips.

This past spring, we discovered that some of our tried and true in-class strategies did not work in the emergency remote learning environment. We needed to experiment with new techniques; some that worked for our colleagues did not work for us and vice versa, especially with primary learners. Because every teacher is different and every group of children is different, introducing new ideas for building a responsive, safe, social “classroom” community may also need to be experimental. The resources we gathered have ideas that may be proven for the authors but meet varying levels of success with different educators. We believe this list offers some exciting ideas, and we are looking forward to implementing many of them in the likely event that we will be engaged in some form of remote learning this coming school year. We know they will meet with varying levels of success, but we believe in the value of trying new things. We invite educators to try them with us and join the conversation at #remoteteachingresources.  

“Everett At School” by Joe Shlabotnik is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

“3d man with magnifying glass looks at folders. Choice concept.” by solutionist999 is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

What is Curriculum?

“Sports and Activities” by FamiljenHelsingborg is licensed under CC BY 2.0

To me, curriculum is the map at the trailheads of a network of bike trails. Educators are the trail guides, responsible for knowing their sections of the trail. Often, the trail guides learn about their section of trail from other guides rather than looking at the map. The learners are the riders. The bottom of the trail is kindergarten, a wide, open space where learners can meander, play, and explore as they gradually learn the skills they need to get started. Some will wobble their way along with their fellow riders and little guidance from the trail guides. Others will need the guides to hold their seats a little longer. Still others may need training wheels. The goal for the guides has traditionally been to help every child get the tools, skills, and/or technology they need so they can travel the main trail. Many riders are happy to stay on the main trail with their fellow riders, enjoying the stops along the way. Others find the main trail too flat, too steep, or too crowded. The guides may choose to send them up different side trails where the knowledge and skills differ, but they will eventually rejoin the main trail. It doesn’t matter if riders take the corners high and slow or low and fast, as long as they do not wipe out, they will still get around the corners.

Near the top, the main trail splits and riders can choose which trails they want to use to complete their journey. At times, the guides at each section may invite riders to explore a choice of trails on their own or even to try blazing their own trails through the bush. The guides cannot lose sight of the riders and must use their own skills to make sure each one makes it to the next section of the trail. The guides are on bikes too and are developing their own skills on the trails so they can best help their riders. Over time, unused trails will grow over and new trails will emerge. Riders and guides are increasingly putting motors on their bikes, technology that will move us through the trails at a different speed and require different stops. The trail guides will help each other when it is time for a new map.

Looking Back to Look Forward

As our cohort heads back into the virtual classroom and I prepare to get back into blog posting again, I found myself looking back at one of my previous posts, Remote Kindergarten. It was a bit of a rant about the overwhelming nature of what has come to be called Emergency Remote Learning or providing Learning Opportunities for our students. What is coming for the next school year in September, however, is not supposed to be more of that same model. It is supposed to be something more sustainable. I hate it when I hear the word ‘sustainable’ because it implies that this COVID-19 situation is going to last a long time. That is unsettling by itself. In B.C., the ministry’s plan is to say nothing of the plan until the third week of August. I can’t decide if this is a good or bad for me. Not knowing means I can do little about planning for September. On the other hand, it means I can do little about planning for September. Yes, I repeated myself. I can’t decide if I would like to know now and have multiple contingency plans in place or if I would rather have something somewhat more definitive later and not stress over it through the summer. I am leaning toward the latter because I am confident in my ability to put together a good program on the run. This is especially true as my kindergarten colleagues and I were able to work very well as a team. The hardest part will be facilitating the social learning.

In the concluding paragraph of my aforementioned post, I said, “In the end, the most significant thing we can do is talk with them, connect as much as possible, and facilitate connections between them.” This is a big concern for me because unlike this past school year, this coming September I may have to do this without ever meeting the children. Last year’s group and I had a good rapport before the onset of Remote Learning.  How do I create that relationship with children who may never sit in the same room as me? Kindergarten has the disadvantage that, other than younger siblings of older children in the school, most of the students are new. They don’t know or trust me.

I am excited about the resource that our cohort is working on in in our Learning Designs course. I think it is a great idea and I am, of course, gravitating toward how to create social relationships with and between my students (and their families). I hope I am able to find some great ideas. I hope we are able to make a resource that is truly helpful for ourselves and our colleagues. I wish we had more time. The course is done at the end of July and there is so much to talk about!

Am I an Open Teacher?

“opencontent” by jlori is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

So last week we read about privacy and keeping your data protected. This week, we are reading about putting it all out there. In their chapter, Designing for Open and Social Learning, Alec Couros and Katia Hildebrandt talk about learning through Open Courses, Personal Learning Networks (PLNs), Open teachers, social media (2016). In We Need a Massive Surveillance Program, Maciej Cegłowski argues for throwing privacy concerns out the window for a good cause, namely tracking the spread of COVID-19 (2020).

How do I apply these readings to my practice as a Kindergarten teacher? First of all, Kindergarten is all about Social Learning but their experience needs to be primarily inside the classroom. They are learning about Copyright and intellectual property by learning about sharing, giving and taking credit for ideas, and not taking things that do not belong to them. As pre-readers, their internet searches are restricted to what they can access through icons and images provided by adults so copying and pasting off the internet is not really an issue yet.

Their Personal Learning Network is primarily within their family and the school community. They are not at all ready to pilot their own social media. It may be that some children have their own social media but these sites are overseen closely by adults. I am considering starting a class Twitter account. We would discuss together each Friday, what significant thing from the week do we think others might be interested in seeing. What is appropriate to show or say? Who do we want to follow or engage with through hashtags and mentions? I would shape their PLN’s with guests and experts from the community such as veterinarians, firefighters, or scientists. This would be an ideal way to model digital citizenship.

I have talked about FreshGrade before. This is a way to share student learning with families at home. While FreshGrade does have a student app so students can upload their own work, in kindergarten, it is not an easy thing to do so their uploads are in my hands. That said, because of COVID-19 remote learning, I have just given control of the students apps to the parents at home so they can share student work with me! I might continue this practice is post-pandemic kindergarten since many children exhibit significant learning at home.

What about open teaching? I would like to be an open teacher but at present it seems pretty impractical and time consuming. I do use open software such as Libreoffice and GIMP but I admit, that was not through some notion of being an open teacher. Not so long ago, our district began using open software in response to the contracting budgets of the former provincial government. After the district switched to Microsoft, I merely continued to use what I had become accustomed to.

Couros (2016)

Am I a networked teacher? Not really but I am getting better. Up until I started UVic courses last year, I kept a pretty low profile on social media.  I was a lurker on Twitter. I certainly did not blog about my professional learning. Even with family and friends on Facebook, I am not a prolific contributor. Mostly, I can never find the time.  Before COVID-19 remote learning, it was not uncommon for me to be puttering at school until 6 or 7 pm. 

I wish I could say that I use only open resources but I have found that it takes less time for me to make my own resources than sift through the sparse open resources I have found that apply to kindergarten. I do use free resources from sites like Pinterest, Teachers Pay Teachers, and various teacher blog sites but I am not sure if they count as open resources as they are often meant to be teasers for other paid content.

What would be ideal is if all the content on the internet was considered open content. If creators want it to be copyright protected then they need to find a mechanism for keeping it private just like, if I want my student’s data to be private, I have to go the extra mile to protect it.

BIG DATA vs me

“Who’s Watching Big Data?” by cogdogblog is licensed under CC0 1.0

This week, I read the paper, Ethical challenges of edtech, big data and personalized learning: twenty-first century student sorting and tracking (Regan & Jesse, 2019). I also read the blog post, We Need A Massive Surveillance Program. The Regan and Jesse paper talks about the ethical impact of educational technology and big data. They raise six privacy concerns: information privacy, anonymity, surveillance, autonomy, non-discrimination, and ownership of information. It is an alarming paper because it seems to confirm what I have long suspected, anyone who really wants my data can get it regardless of how I feel about it. For ordinary people like me, the only solace is believing that no one is likely to be all that interested in attaching my data to me personally. There are people who are so far advanced in their computer skills, it would be easier to get rid of my cell phone and go live off the grid in the woods than it would be to protect my data from those who want so badly to use it.

Thank goodness for people like Maciej Cegłowski, who defines himself as a privacy activist. These are the people with the knowledge to really battle big data. The best I can do for myself is read the privacy agreements on the apps I choose to use, be critical of what advertising or click-bait comes my way, and be wary of what I am putting out into the world. As an educator, however, it’s a different story.

As a teacher, I rely largely on the expertise of the information technology (IT) staff at the school district office. Even so, when they came along this week and said I cannot use Zoom for conferencing with my home-bound kindergarten class, I was irked. At first the reason appeared to be the threat of Zoombombing and I was convinced I had it licked when I figured out the safety settings from the Zoom website. Then it came down that the provincial government had purchased licences and I thought, surely now, I could have some face-to-face time with the littles. But, no. Our district claims they need to wait for actual access and then conduct their own analysis. Again, irked.

“Maple Leaf Forever.” by Just a Prairie Boy is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Along with the latest news also came the revelation that Zoom stores its data in the United States and the new licensed version would store our data in Canada. UGH…okaaaay. I have heard this argument before. When the district was pushing us toward FreshGrade, stored in Canada, rather than Seesaw, which is stored in the U.S., I was not happy. I found Seesaw to be a simpler tool than FreshGrade just as I see Zoom to be a simpler tool than Microsoft Teams, which the school district supports.

Then there’s Google. The district is apparently letting this one go because there is no alternative readily available. The district solution to possible privacy issues with Google was to make guardians of our students sign a permission form. That way, the liability lies with the adults responsible for their children. However, I doubt very much that many of these responsible adults have any idea what the possible issues are with exposing their children’s data. Parents place a lot of trust in the teacher’s knowledge when it comes to internet safety and privacy (Knauf, 2016). They do not know that I knew about as much as anyone up until a few months ago. Even now, while I have come to believe that I should do my best to protect my data and my students’ data, I am not sure I know what data is being collected and what is being used for. I am not sure guardians of my students should be trusting me when it comes to these things. It makes me wonder how much the IT staff really know. Is it worth the worry if data can be reidentified anyway? Is it enough to teach people how to protect themselves from criminal activity?

As an educator, my concern needs to lie with protecting children as well as I can and fostering the development of humans who are critical of the information that travels to and fro on the internet so at some point, the government will be overwhelmed by their demands for data protection. We need more people to become privacy activists. For my part, I will teach digital literacy to my students while taking care to maintain their privacy as well as possible. If I must publish their work, let it be on a password protected site storing its data in Canada. If students need to communicate over distance, let it be over district approved, data stored in Canada video conferencing site or email. I will do the best I can with what I know, even if it is irksome.

As for Cegłowski’s suggestion that the fight against COVID-19 would benefit from a massive surveillance program. If it saves lives, I am all for it. If it is true that the necessary data is already being collected then do it. That said, I would like to think that Cegłowski’s blog post is based in the U.S. and no such surveillance exists here in Canada though. I would like to think that Canada is the moral centre of the digital world and that all data is safe here. Wouldn’t that be nice?


References

Cegłowski, M. (2020, March 23). We Need A Massive Surveillance Program (Idle Words). https://idlewords.com/2020/03/we_need_a_massive_surveillance_program.htm

Knauf, H. (2016). Interlaced social worlds: Exploring the use of social media in the kindergarten. Early Years, 36(3), 254–270. https://doi.org/10.1080/09575146.2016.1147424

Regan, P. M., & Jesse, J. (2019). Ethical challenges of edtech, big data and personalized learning: Twenty-first century student sorting and tracking. Ethics and Information Technology, 21(3), 167–179. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10676-018-9492-2

Remote Kindergarten

This week’s blog post is supposed to be about Makerspaces and fostering creativity with digital tools. I am not sure if I’ll get to that but I would like to talk about the realities of designing remote learning for Kindergarten. The BC Ministry of Education is asking kindergarten educators to provide one hour of educational opportunities per day. That sounds easy but before we can do it, we have to examine what our learners, and their families, really need.

We must first consider that the remote learning experience necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic is not like the distance learning programs organized by school districts. In Distance Learning, there is a home-facilitator who has thought about all the demands of home schooling and consciously made the decision to dedicate their time to educating their children. The facilitator and the learners, no doubt, have many innate qualities that make them suited to teaching and learning at home. The situation for parents and guardians suddenly dropped into the role may be quite different.

There are some parents that I spoke to this week that are thrilled to be forced to be at home with their children. They have been on homeschooling websites and Pinterest. They are building forts, skate ramps, collages, and paper maché globes. Natural makers! They have bought commercially available workbooks because, “He loves that kind of work!” These children are hungry for learning and the families are happy to keep working along their own way. What they are hoping for are opportunities for their children to interact with their friends. Then there are the others.

For a start, every teacher of young children has seen that students behave drastically differently with family than with adults and children at school. Some children are much more likely to resist schooling at home than in a classroom where perceived authority, well-practiced routines, and peer pressure help to keep learners moving forward. This resistance may result in increased tensions in the home at what is already a stressful time for many families. These families are looking to us to provide something structured for their children to do. They are hoping that if they can say, “Your teacher says you have to do this,” the child will be more inclined to do it.

Some adults have the added challenge of having their own jobs to do at home. Older caregivers simply do not have the energy to keep up. We are in week one and I have already spoken to three adults who are struggling with their children/grandchildren. High quality education is not the goal as much as keeping them busy.

Now add diversity and inclusion to the mix. Then, there are the scary things: children living in poverty, children living with abusive adults, and children without good nutrition. For some of these children, school is the safe place, where they are immersed in social connection.

And finally, there’s this email note from a parent:

We are not used to using technology in our house – it’s very limited, so, despite my awareness that it’s useful at this moment, I would love to maintain our guidelines at home. When work is provided, I’d love it to be…based on doing the activity (paper/pencil, hands-on, etc) with technology as a means of communication and supplemental learning resources, not the sole tool. I think what I’m trying to say is I don’t want anyone to become ‘used’ to using technology because of this ‘school at home’ phase we’re in. 

Now take all these considerations and put them in the hands of educators who are phenomenal at their classroom jobs but are terrified of technology. Don’t get me wrong, there are many tech-savvy teachers out there, but the ones that need help, need A LOT of help.

So what does all this mean for designing remote learning for Kindergarten? For us it means providing as many choices as we can. We design with some routine activities, ones that students can do independently because they have done them before. We design some open ended activities so they can get creative with those keen parents and siblings. We design with activities that can be printed out and activities that can be acted out. We design with some activities that can be completed online and some that can be done orally. We design some activities that use apps for the tech savvy, and some that use paper and pencil for the technophobic. We search out photos and videos and make our own photos and videos, and ask for them to send photos and videos. We design activities that can be done indoors, outdoors, and out the window. We create far more than one hour of activities per day. Then we tell our home facilitators that the social-emotional wellbeing of their family is the most important thing and they don’t have to do any of it if it causes any undue stress.

In the end, the most significant thing we can do is talk with them, connect as much as possible, and facilitate connections between them. I would like to video conference with them so they can all see each others’ faces, even if only for the few minutes their attention spans allow. Because nothing online is ever simple, we have to wait and see if our school district will permit us to use Zoom. Zoom could very well be the most import digital tool for my little learners. We could use Microsoft Teams but because we can only see four faces, it won’t be as engaging for the littles and I won’t see the quiet ones. I will stand in their driveways to see them if I have to, because while I may be a remote Kindergarten teacher at the moment, I refuse to let them be invisible.

Learning with Digital Tools in Kindergarten

free images Hagerty Ryan

This week’s class, we looked into design thinking, open data, and citizen science. There was a lot going on and in reflecting on it, I found myself inspired for an activity to do with my kindergarten class should online classes go ahead. Normally, in Spring, our class would go for daily, morning walks in our neighbourhood. It is normally a highlight for the students as many of them do not seem to get outside enough. I was already thinking about the problem of how to get my students out into the neighbourhood, learning about nature and our community. Maybe it is not quite a wicked problem as it need not be a one-shot operation and I retain the right to make room for trial and error.

T. Westwood

 

When I saw the Project Noah Website, the wheels began to turn for an outdoor activity or set of outdoor activities for my students that would address the science, math, social studies curriculum that we usually approach each Spring. What if I gave my students a photo or video mission each week? Then I thought about the Padlet we used in class this week and thought that might be an easy way to share and sort our photos and videos. Perhaps a different mini-mission for each day of the week.

Because of social distancing, I would need to create a schedule for arriving at certain destinations so students are not clustering at any one place at any one time. Other potential problems would include: children cannot find an adult willing to take them out; children do not have access to digital tools; or the province goes into lockdown and children are not permitted to leave home. The third one would be likely be the biggest one, but being in the suburbs, many of our students have access to backyards. Perhaps, I could make missions accessible while staying in a car. Many of our students have access to back yards. Many of our students have access to technology at home. We may have to share the data of fewer children but it would still be fun to talk, draw, and write about.

Now the websites that we looked at this week were focused on citizen science and data collection. I would not be able to monitor the data collection of my students so we could not contribute to any public citizen science projects, but we certainly could look at the photos together, talk about whether they had photographed the same squirrel more than once, or if they had thoroughly searched an area for insects. We could analyze, sort, and graph our own data and talk about how accurate we think it is.

Anyway, I digress.

What kinds of digital tools promote and encourage critical thinking? 

In Kindergarten, we encourage critical thinking through provocations. We could give them deep questions to explore, or we could start with their wonderings and help them formulate deep questions to explore. We could give them a solution and ask them to find out how to get there, or we can give them access to materials to create and invent. Children come into kindergarten at different stages. Some walk in with a well developed growth mindset, ready to experiment, explore, try, fail, and try again. On the other hand, some have never learned how to lose or fail, or to try something on their own, or to persist.

So what digital tools promote and encourage critical thinking? What digital tools act as provocations? The most significant tool we have handed children in kindergarten is a tablet such as iPad. A study by Couse and Chen (2010), found that not only can young children learn quickly how to use a tablet to represent their ideas and learning, but also that they were seldom frustrated with setbacks and persisted in their work. When you hand an iPad to child, they are happy to play with it. The brightly coloured little icons and tactile functions are easy to use independently. It seems that most children readily adopt a growth mindset when it comes to digital technology.

Of course, there are many ways a child can interact with an iPad that engage little critical thinking. But even games can leave space for critical thinking. I am not referring to educational software that would be characterized as review-and-drill games. Games for children that encourage critical thinking require players to create something and/or make decisions that contribute to the story; this could be as simple as creating your character or avatar (Ellison & Solomon, 2018).

In kindergarten, digital tools that enable children to express their thinking include speech to text technology, cameras, video recording, voice recording, and fun expression apps such as Draw and Tell, PuppetPals HD, and ChatterPix Kids. These tools, once they know the basics to use them, are engaging provocations. When it came to PuppetPals HD, all I did was point it out and show one child the basics. Soon there was a crowd of four and they were all playing, learning, and creating a story together. It is important to give them a chance to play with technology.

The tools that allow them to explain their thinking with their own voice recording eliminate the mechanical barrier of printing which, for developing writers, can be time consuming and interrupts the process of expressing their thinking. Tools that allow them to express their thoughts with pre-made images or stickers eliminate the mechanical barrier of drawing which, for children still developing fine motor skills, also affects the fluidity of expression (Arrowood & Overall, 2004).

So what tools  promote and encourage critical thinking in Kindergarten?  The best tools for kindergarten are the ones that spark curiosity and wonder, the ones that motivate and encourage persistence, and the ones that facilitate expression.

 

Bibliography

Arrowood, D., & Overall, T. (2004). Using Technology to Motivate Children to Write: Changing Attitudes in Children and Preservice Teachers. Proceedings of SITE 2004–Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference (Pp. 4985-4987). Atlanta, GA, USA: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE)., 4985–4987.

Buchanan, R. (1992). Wicked Problems in Design Thinking. Design Issues, 8(2), 5–21. JSTOR. https://doi.org/10.2307/1511637

Couse, L. J., & Chen, D. W. (2010). A Tablet Computer for Young Children? Exploring its Viability for Early Childhood Education. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 43(1), 75–96. https://doi.org/10.1080/15391523.2010.10782562

Ellison, T. L., & Solomon, M. (2018). Digital Play as Purposeful Productive Literacies in African American Boys. The Reading Teacher, 71(4), 495–500. https://doi.org/10.1002/trtr.1657

Rosling, H. (2006). The best stats you’ve ever seen. https://www.ted.com/talks/hans_rosling_the_best_stats_you_ve_ever_seen

 

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