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Just Block EVERYTHING

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So this blog post idea has been running through my head for a while now.  I’ve tried to really figure out how to say this and what exactly I wanted to say.  I know I’m going to ruffle some feathers, but don’t we need that sometimes? These thoughts are completely my own.  So here it goes....

I try to be creative.  I try to think outside of the box.  I try to prepare my students for the “real-world”.  And isn’t that my job?  Wasn’t I hired to inspire and educate children?  Not to take a test, but to be prepared to interact and change the world around them!  

The world we live in today is a technology driven world.  When I was in High School (in the early 2000’s) only a few of my friends had cell phones.  Now, not only do most of my 5th grade students have cell phones, but now many homes, period, no longer have “land-lines”, but use their cell phone as their main phone line.  As a senior in High School in 2003, I took a class on how to write HTML, because my high school was preparing me for a world of technology!  HAHA!  I don’t know many people now who could read HTML, much less write it!  There’s so many more ways that technology has advanced just in the last 5 years.


Technology moves fast, yes.  And as teachers we should be incorporating as much technology into our classrooms as possible.  We should be teaching our students digital citizenship and how to create/share/interact with people from all over the world.  Our students are no longer confined to the walls of their home when they go home.  Whether we like it or not, kids are using technology.  And using it A LOT!

I know some educators are reading this right now and thinking to themselves “You’re RIGHT! But my district’s internet filtering blocks everything!” or “my administration doesn’t support my students using much technology” or “my district encourages technology but they want to make sure that they can control every aspect of everything we use.”  And I know it’s frustrating.  I’ve dealt with it all too!  And I’m fed up.  I’m to the point where I just want to throw my hands up and say, “Why don’t you just block EVERYTHING!?!?”.

Students and Social Media

 

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I’ve fought very hard the last few years for the right to use certain education tools in my classroom.  Nothing good ever comes without a passionate teacher willing to fight.  I’ve had to show time and time again, “Student’s will use technology correctly, IF WE TEACH THEM TO!”  But that is so hard when everything we used is “blocked”.

Do I think we should have absolutely no filtering software at schools?  No, that’s not what I’m saying.  But teachers should have a say.  Far too often we have people in positions of power who decide what can and can’t be used and it’s been YEARS since they’ve been in the classroom.  Teachers are in the classroom NOW, and teachers know how much education has changed just in the last 5 years.

Social media being blocked is one of my biggest pet peeves.  I’ve heard the reasons..
- It’s to keep the kids safe.
- Kids will write inappropriate/mean/bad things.
- Kids should be learning, not on social media!
- There’s no educational value to social media.
- Well if we un-block it, they’ll just be on social media all the time
- and on and on and on

To that I say, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?”  Whether we like it or not, our students are on social media when they leave school (and in all honest, most are on social media AT school!).  Students are not stupid.  They are figuring out ways around filtered internet.  They have cell phones with data plans and whether you like it or not they’re on social media at school (in the bathroom, hallways, practice, etc).

Today’s parents are busy.  Many don’t train their children how to correctly interact in an online world.  And that’s because growing up, those parents didn’t have to!  But as teachers, since it is our job to TEACH, shouldn’t we be teaching our students how to have good digital citizenship??  I have used a type of social media in my classroom the last few years called “Edmodo”.  Edmodo is similar to facebook in design.  The major difference?  Students can’t send messages to individual students.  Because of that singular fact, I have been allowed to use it in my classroom.  And great, I get it.  I’ve tried my hardest to teach my students how to correctly interact online, but they’re not using Edmodo at home or when they get older.  They’re using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and more.  Yet everyone of those tools are blocked in many districts.  We hear the horror stories of kids bullying others online or posting inappropriate pictures or worse!  But imagine if those kids were TAUGHT that things posted online can never be deleted.  Ever.  More than just TOLD how to act, what if we TAUGHT our students how to use Facebook, how to interact on Twitter, how to share photos with Instagram or videos on YouTube?  If we used that media as instructional tools we could not only teach our students how to use it correctly but also save them from major heartache later down the road from making mistakes.  

Kids LOVE technology, that’s why they’re using it at home.  And when they come to school and are told to put everything away and get out a sheet of paper and a pencil, of course they won’t like coming to school!  We aren’t meeting the student’s needs at all.  We’re actually hurting them.  Those districts that are blocking every single thing or making it almost impossible for teachers to even use great educational websites, are hurting their students more than they even realize.  And I really believe with all this high stakes testing, many administrators or school districts have lost sight of what our job is.  NOT to teach a test, but more to teach a whole child.

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Education is shifting.  More and more schools are starting to unblock Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and more because they see the educational value that those tools CAN hold.  Students are social beings.  They want to interact and share with people from all over the world.  When we as teachers bring those tools into the classroom we have that “hook” that gets those kids interested in learning!

Imagine if students were tweeting out what they were learning that day from a class Twitter account, or if parents were keeping up to date with their child’s teacher by checking a school/class facebook page, or a homework assignment that required a student to take pictures and upload them to their instagram account, or find/create a video and upload it to a class YouTube account?  Now hold on.  I know what some School Districts may be thinking as they read this, “Well as an educator, can’t you just find another tool/website that will do the same thing, that’s ‘safer’”?  And my answer to that is, what’s the point?  Why introduce a ‘safer’ alternative to the students that they will never use again in the real world?  It makes absolutely no sense.

The possibilities really are limitless.  School districts, superintendents, technology directors, administrators, school boards, I beg you...WAKE UP!  Stop being so afraid of the social media world.  Our students are on it.  Period.  End of story.  And as educators we should be using it to teach our students and prepare them so that they don’t keep making those mistakes we hear about all the time on the news.  Now, will there be mistakes?  Will kids post or find mean/inappropriate things?  Of course, they’re kids.  But we need to stop, evaluate the situation, and use it as a LEARNING opportunity to teach the kids about consequences and what is and isn’t accepted.

Teachers and Social Media

 

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Now on the same hand, it also confuses me why some districts have the ability to block things for students that are different then they block for teachers, yet tools such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube are still blocked.

And again I’ve heard the arguments...”teachers will just spend all their time on social media” or “why do they need it unblocked at school?  Can’t they just get on at home?”

And again I say, just like students, teachers are getting on social media at school whether it is blocked or not.  They’re using their phones just like students are.  Will teachers sometimes spend too much time pinning on Pinterest?  Yes they will.  Teachers are human, and they make mistakes.  But a whole district should not be punished for one teacher’s mistake.  That teacher may also need to be TAUGHT what is expected.

Is there educational value in Social Media? To that I shout a resounding YES.

Take YouTube.  Our district had it unblocked for teachers for the first few months of school.  Every teacher on my campus was using it to find awesome ways to use Media to teach.  I was also using it to post instructional videos my students created on our class YouTube account.  It was great!  Then a decision was made to block it.  For fear that students could get on a teacher’s computer and access something inappropriate.  And I understand that fear.  I really do.  We need to protect our children.  But when they go home they can access YouTube...anyway.  But while it was unblocked in my class I was using it to showcase the power that Sharing knowledge online with a global audience can do.  My students made some INCREDIBLE videos when they knew people from around the world were watching and commenting on their creations.  They wanted that positive feedback.  They wanted to know that people they had never met enjoyed and were using what they created.  They loved watching their ‘view count’ go up.  It was amazing!  And after it was blocked and trying to explain to them why, they still didn’t understand.  They said “Well why can’t we use it?  There’s bad things yes, but we weren’t looking at those bad things”  And I had to explain to them, that yes, they weren’t but someone could have.  And their response was “Well then why couldn’t THAT PERSON be punished” and I thought, wow, so true.  Out of the mouths of babes.

Now, take Twitter.  I started using Twitter professionally in May of 2012.  I tweet often about articles I’m reading, things I’m learning, what my class is doing, and so on.  But more than posting I’m LEARNING from other educators from around the world.  As of this writing I have over 1,600 people who value my tweet enough that they were willing to “follow” me.  People from Australia, UK, Canada, Venezuela, Turkey, Russia, and more.  Through my time on Twitter I’ve been able to connect with, interact with, and learn with people from all over the world.  It has been the greatest Professional Development I have ever received and will ever receive and all for FREE!

I have been able to meet and have my class Skype with an Olympic Gold Medalist (@SteveMesler), a 15 year old who invented a test to identify pancreatic cancer that costs 3 cents (@JackAndraka), Classes from Sweden, Canada, Venezuela, Australia, and the UK.  I’ve been able to speak with Ron Clark (@RonClarkAcademy) and attend the Ron Clark Academy and more...all because I sent out a Tweet.

I have participated in countless Twitter chats (#satchat, #txed, #21stedchat, #flipclass, #5thchat, #IAedchat, and more!) and those have provided me with just about every single idea I have used in class this year.

I can’t express enough the professional power there is in Twitter.  I have done training after training on how to use Twitter, yet I still hear of MANY districts who refuse to unblock it, even for their teachers (my district included).  

And image a class Facebook account!  I know just about every one of my student’s parents are on Facebook.  Do I have to “Friend” them?  NO WAY!  Do I want to “Friend” them? NO WAY! haha, but imagine if I created a class Facebook account that they could “Like”.  I could post info about upcoming events, pictures from field trips, links to homework and so much more.  “Well on Edmodo or a School Website you could do that too, right???”  Well, yes, but what parent wants to remember 20 different logins for all the sites that their kids are on?  If our parents are on Twitter/Facebook/Pinterest/Instagram why can’t we just meet them where they are and not require them to create an account for another website they either won’t access or won’t use ever again when their child is out of your class?

So what can we do?  How can we make School Boards, Administrators, District Technologists, Superintendents and more see the power that Social Media holds?  I’m not quite sure what the answer is to that (Though Theresa Shafer @TheresaShafer wrote a GREAT article here http://theresashafer.blogspot.com/2012/08/seriously-stop-blocking-banning-for.html?m=1 ).

There seems to be a very deep seated fear in giving any power to the teachers in the classroom.  We live in a world where every time we turn around someone is suing someone else.  But as a teacher, as an innovator, as a out of the box thinker, I refuse to stand by and watch my students gain an education that isn’t preparing them for the world they are entering when they leave my classroom.  I will continue to speak everywhere I can about the power of social media and how if we take the time to teach our students how to use it, they will surprise even us with the things they’re capable of.  So, I close with asking, will you join me?


***I would LOVE to hear other ideas you may have with how to use social media in your school/class.  Please leave a comment below, Tweet me (@TechNinjaTodd), or email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Currently teaching 5th grade math in TX. One of "The 3 Tech Ninjas"; an organization that exists to train educators in finding new and creative ways to bring technology into the classroom. Find me on Twitter @TechNinjaTodd

Comments

  • Michael Graham
    Michael Graham Sunday, 17 February 2013

    Agreed.

  • theresa shafer
    theresa shafer Sunday, 17 February 2013

    Love your evident passion in this post. As you know from my blog we completely agree! I do find it really amusing that you can almost tell our age by what our computer classes were in HS...me? Class of '85 I learned to write "go to" statements, you? 2000's HTML. I wonder what defines each decade? That might be a good post! Sadly, for many kids it may be the same thing for the past 3 decades: go to computer lab once per week, practice typing for the 1st 10 minutes. Learn how to add a graphic in MS Word and then work on PPT for the next X number of years....thankfully that is changing in more and more schools!

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