Should Online Forums be Open For Business in the Elementary Classroom?

Last week in my blog, I posted a story of how a twitter exchange between a Grade 2 classroom and an author ended up in a pretty cool online sharing project. Twitter is a pretty open environment that has seen its fair share of negativity. And this may be why some educators shy away from using open forums and platforms such as Twitter with their students.

However, I do believe that by eliminating opportunities for students to connect to the outside world and discuss ideas, ask questions and learn from others is also hurting our new, online culture.

For this blog post, I’m going to do things a little differently. I want to explore the pros and cons of connecting students online in a more elementary setting (Grades 3-6) and look at different options for students to connect.

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CC Image via Pixabay by Mizter_x97

PROS FOR USING ONLINE FORUMS (mainly Twitter)

  1. Connecting to the experts. Using platforms such as Twitter, students can basically tweet out to anyone in any profession. Students can ask authors about something in a book they have written (J.K. Rowling, Peter Bently) And in some cases, their favourite characters, such as Mo Willems’ Pigeon.
  2. Following relevant hashtags. This allows students to “keep an eye” on events that show interest, without having to follow a lot of unknown people. Some examples are: #globalkids, #comments4kids and #photodujourmars )
  3. Students and classrooms can invent their own hashtags to follow a discussion and invite others to join in on the comments.
  4. Syncing Blogs with Twitter for maximum exposure. As students work on blogging, by syncing blogs to a classroom Twitter account will allow for a more open exposure to what they are writing beyond 140 characters.
  5. Students learn more about being in an online and open community and how to apply netiquette manners.
  6. Classrooms can live tweet an event that parents might not be able to attend. For example: field trips, concerts, plays, etc.

Some ideas came from the following articles:

Article 1; Article 2; Article 3

Now, these are only some of the advantages to using Twitter in the classroom as I am sure there are much more. But what are some of the Cons that scare educators away from it?

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CC Image via Pixabay by 3dman_eu

Cons For Using Online Forums (mainly Twitter)

  1. It would certainly be the “unknown” of Twitter. Teachers who shy away from using technology other than to research or type assignments often don’t understand how forums such as Twitter are used.
  2. Who is out there reading about us? If you follow pages such as Mashable or BuzzFeed on Facebook, you can almost guarantee a daily story about how Donald Trump uses Twitter to post controversial opinions and how celebrities berate him and “shut him down“using Twitter. Is this what we want our students exposed to – using an open platform to try and destroy someone else with words?
  3. Students who are not “allowed to be on the internet”. We still have a number of students whose parents will not allow them to photographed or named online. Twitter is too much of an open platform for some parents (and teachers).
  4. Does the world really need to see what we are doing on a daily basis? Is there too much exposure by using an open platform?

I’m sure there are also many more cons that come up with using Twitter in the classroom, but I believe these to be some of the main points (based on conversations with fellow colleagues and parents). But none of them deny that allowing students an opportunity to discuss what they are learning and to learn from others is a bad idea. So what are options if teachers are not comfortable using Twitter?

Closed or Limited Forum Platforms Similar to Twitter

  1. Twiducate: Twiducate calls itself the Twitter for Classrooms. I used Twiducate to do an Inter-School Novel study a couple of years back. My Grade 8 class and a class from another school were reading the same novel. We used Twiducate to discuss the novel and ask questions. Twiducate is a closed forum where students are placed into various forums. If you weren’t invited to the group, you cannot participate in it.
  2. TodaysMeet: This is more of a back-channel site where students participate during lessons. However, teachers could use it as part of an assignment where students meet with a particular login code to answer and respond to questions.
  3. Bookopolis: This is more of a limited forum. Here, students can discuss books they are reading to an open audience, however, students cannot reply to reviews and it is heavily monitored for appropriate use. This is one of the forums my Module Project group is using for our Grade 3 Treaty Education unit.
  4. Google Classroom: Google Classroom offers a “discussion” option when adding to the classroom. This discussion option allows students from the class to discuss a question or comment that the teacher posts. Only students from the class can post to this questions.

Regardless of whether you fully embrace open platforms such as Twitter in your classroom or you prefer the more closed experience, teachers agree that students need an opportunity to share what they are learning and ask questions that allow their peers to reflect and respond.

The Fear of “Who Is Really Out There” In A Virtual World

I was drawn to Schwier’s post on Shaping the Metaphor of Community in Online Learning Environments because I believe that major learning opportunities are being missed when we deny students access to communicating with the online world. Schwier remarks,

Virtual learning environments happen when the process of learning takes place outside the boundaries of face-to-face contact, typically online. But environments are not necessarily communities. For a community to emerge, a learning environment must allow learners to engage each other intentionally and collectively in the transaction or transformation of knowledge.

I agree with his statement that environments are not the same as communities with regards to the levels of engagements and interactions with others. But their is still this underlying fear that their are more people on the internet with more intentions to do harm over good. I, however, feel that it is much the opposite.

Here is an example of how a simple Tweet changed a complete day of learning…

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“Twitter” by Andreas Eldh is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Grade 2 came to visit me in the library and we read a new and exciting book called “Those Magnificent Sheet in Their Flying Machine” by Peter Bently. In the book, some daring sheep borrowed an airplane and visited the world. They pondered visiting places such as Timbuktu, Kalamazoo and Saskatchewan. Well, the students were over the moon that Mr. Bently would include Saskatchewan in his book. After our reading, I decided to tweet Mr. Bently about how amazing his books were,

Well, he responded…

And his question…

Led to this “small” assignment from the class…

Even though the teacher did most of the tweeting, the students played an integral part in communicating with the author. How amazing to share their story with someone who is already established in the writing community. This could be an example of a “ringer” as described by Schwier.

When teachers choose to keep social media out of the classroom, what important learning opportunities are we missing out on?

Back to Schwier, our learners need to be able to interact with others outside of their everyday lives in order to be able to grow themselves. We need to be able to teach them how to be safe and smart online, but also how to access people that can help us online as well. But how to do we do this with such young minds?

Our module project is geared for Grade 3 students. We certainly are not going to set them up with individual twitter accounts and begin their digital identity for them. But I think it is important that they understand that there are safe places for them to discuss ideas, provide opinions and share with a much wider audience.

laptop-819285_1280One of the forums we discussed to allow students to share their ideas and thoughts is using Bookopolis.com to share about books they are reading. Last semester, I did a vlog about Bookopolis and how it can be integrated into the classroom. Because our module is based on the new OTC documents, and we plan to use literature as a resource to provide more information, students can use Bookopolis to share their ideas and opinions on the books they have read with a much wider audience then their peers in the classroom.

We are using the LMS Google Classroom to create our module. Within Google Classroom, we can create a questions that students can respond to and reply back to fellow classmates. This may seem more enticing to some teachers as it is a more closed circuit and can be monitored more closely than open platforms such as Twitter or Instagram.

However, if we want the class to reach a more open environment, Twitter would be my go-to platform. In this particular case, I would create a hashtag in reference to our module (maybe something like #SKFNpastpresent or #SKtreatiesprepost – obviously something to play around with). By using a hashtag, we can keep track of responses we get from the Twitterverse. I would invite a couple of students to ask an open ended question about what they learned from the module that day to ask out to my followers (or the class followers) using the hashtag. As the teacher, I would vet answers for appropriateness and share them with the class using Storify.

It is great when students get an opportunity to discuss with their peers about what they are learning, but I believe that by introducing them to a much wider environment (such as the world) their are plenty of opportunities to grow their community and their learning environments. If we begin to teach them at a young age about how to use the Internet for good, then that will last them their lifetime. But, if we shy away from it, then what are they missing out on?

Will Adobe “Spark” Something New For Me?

With this being my 4th class with Alec, I am always learning new things, but this particular week challenged me. I needed to find something “new” to try with regards to teaching with technology. A lot of the suggestions put forward by Alec and Katia are ones that I have already tried or am already using as often as possible. It was Jenn that inspired me. She has spoken quite a few time about Adobe Spark and I wasn’t all that familiar with it.

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CC image via Flickr by Vernon Chan

Bates wrote:

Different media have different potential or ‘affordances’ for different types of learning. One of the arts of teaching is often finding the best match between media and desired learning outcomes.

These particular sentences resonated with my own personal belief about teaching. No two children are alike, so how can we teach one way to all of the children? Back in my days (yup, I’m about to date myself…), we were only taught one way – with notes, worksheets and textbooks. That was fine for me, but, as I look back on my classes in elementary and secondary school, I can “see” the struggle that some of the students in my classes had. In elementary school, my particular group was known as “that class”. It was quite challenging in terms of behaviour. However, maybe it was because some students were never offered what they needed in order to feel successful. Granted, technology today allows for those students to explore more options in terms of what they need in order to learn. Today, I feel that it is my duty as a teacher to make sure I explore all different types of media that will allow my students to be successful. So I was up for this week’s challenge! I wanted to create something that would supplement our Module Assignment and fit a Grade 3 learning level.

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CC image via Pixabay by JeongGuHyeok

I thought I would put together an Adobe Spark Page that described how First Nations used all the parts of the bison. The Smithsonian Institution National Zoo already has an amazing, interactive piece that describes all the parts of the buffalo, so I decided to re-create it using Adobe Spark. I would have likely just directed the students to the Smithsonian link, but I knew that for some students it would be difficult to navigate the very wordy sections. Using Adobe Spark Page, I was able to narrow down the text to just the information they would need. Thankfully, the Smithsonian site has a great terms of use policy that allows for usage with proper attribution, which I greatly appreciated.

I did like using Adobe Spark as a teacher, but I feel it is beyond the capabilities of students younger than Grade 5 without a lot of help from a teacher. I chose to do an Adobe Spark Page because it had the most options I was looking for. I could make it interactive (links), it was visually appealing and it had more features to it.

Adobe Spark Post confuses me. From playing with it, I gather it is simply a “digital poster making” page. I did not see a use for it based on what I was wanting to accomplish.

Adobe Spark Video was my original choice. However, I soon realized that everything needed to be pre-recorded and saved to my laptop. I could not pull from YouTube and it would not connect to my laptop camera. This was a major negative for me. The editing features appeared to be easy to use, but unfortunately, it didn’t have the 1 feature I really wanted: to be able to record directly from my computer or pull video from YouTube. It would appear that I will have to have a chat with Stephanie to see how she managed it!

Adobe Spark Page is a new way to create a PowerPoint or Slides presentation. You do need to have a log in and password to access it, which is always a nightmare when working with younger students. However, as a teacher, it is a new way to provide information to students. The ability to share it with an online link or an HTML embed allows teachers to share the content in various ways with their students.

I would recommend that you give it a try and see if it is for you. I could see myself using it again, but it isn’t necessarily my first choice.

Parts of the Bison

Learning the Past Using the Future

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CC image via Pixabay by geralt

This week, I received some excellent news! I was able to join a group of amazing and talented fellow ECI 834 folks to work on the online/blended course prototype project. Friday night, using Zoom, Chalyn, Justine, Aimee and I met to work out some ideas on what we wanted to do as a project. Very quickly, we sorted out that we were all interested in working in a primary age around the topic of First Nations, Metis, Inuit instruction. As luck would have it, this past summer, I worked with the Ministry of Education in the Office of the Treaty Commission on the new 2016 TreatyEd documents (that are unfortunately STILL in draft form) and we decided that this would be a good place to start.

After perusing some of the drafts, we chose to work on the Grade 3 document which leads with the inquiry question: How have the lifestyles of First Nations people changed prior to and after the signing of treaties?

We are still in the planning phases and, using the information provided in the document, we are brainstorming ways of teaching this using blended and online learning. We have already set up a Google folder and within it we have a PDF copy of the Grade 3 TreatyEd document and a Google Doc in place for us to record our ideas, questions, comments and discussions.

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CC image via Pixabay by congerdesign

The major first step is complete! Now comes the fun part about researching ideas, preparing the lessons and making it all fit seamlessly together! I’m really looking forward to this project and working with some amazing colleagues!

I look forward to seeing what we can come up with and what everyone has in store for their own projects.