The challenges and promises of migration

How many have slipped on an Oculus or Odyssey headset and experienced virtual reality? Recently a colleague and I intentionally introduced seventh grade students to a unit on migration by seeing firsthand what life is like in a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. Za’atari is home to more than 80,000, with over half the refugees being children. Students are exposed Sidra’s world,a tent-city where the 12-year old has lived the more than half her life. Clouds Over Sidra, available at no cost, was created to support a United Nations goal of developing resilience in vulnerable communities.

The decision to hook students through this experience was founded upon a desire for students to emotionally connect and hopefully generate not only greater interest and understanding, but ultimately empathy. As students followed Sidra through the camp, into a classroom, onto the football field, and into a shop baking a thin, flat bread called saj, curiosity piqued. Students were partnered so one could act as note taker, recording all that was wondered. For example:

*Why are there more kids than adults?
*How do the people here get money aside from donations?
*How does this affect children’s well-being?

After partners switched roles, students were asked to complete a three question survey.
*What is one word to describe how you felt, seeing and hearing about Sidra’s life?
*What did you see and/or hear that led to your feeling this way?
*Did you enjoy doing the VR?

The overwhelming majority of students responded favorably to the third question. To enhance the depth of emotional response and explanation, students were provided with the Mood Meter. Marc Brackett, Yale professor and founding director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence developed this evidence-based road map to emotions. In a nutshell, the tool supports building vocabulary and also measures the energy and pleasantness of a feeling. Over 50 percent of students surveyed indicated unpleasant and high energy emotions. Words like, “concerned,” “stressed,” and even “peeved” were selected.

Further, one student explained why she thought felt this way. “I felt stressed because looking at her life, I don’t know what she is going to do next. Or how she is going to survive through the war.” Another shared, “I felt angry because I was appalled by the fact that rulers can be so dumb. That they make decisions to destroy other people’s homes, just to have POWER. I mean WHY, why would you do that? To get power by destroying other people’s houses? Who does that? So mean!” The level of emotional response was clear. So too was the empathy. Exactly what we were hoping to cultivate.

But this is just a beginning.

Following empathetic awareness, students will explore the myriad reasons for why people migrate and how migration impacts people and places. Through deeper understanding, the goal is to empower students to ultimately transfer their learning in meaningful ways. As a culminating project students will create documentary films of stories from individuals in our community who have experience with migration. The films will then be submitted to the The United Nations International Organization for Migration Film Festival. Ultimately the intention is capture the multitude of challenges of migration but also the promise.

Whatever Brings You Joy

So last week I overheard two friends of mine having a spirited debate over when the correct time was to get out the holiday decorations and to put up their tree. One friend firmly believes that as soon as Halloween is over it’s time to start singing the carols, and the other one absolutely believes that you have to wait until December before the lights can go up. Well, in normal years I tend to agree with my December friend but this year, with all that’s going on, and with all of the craziness that 2020 has sent our way, I say put up that tree today! As far as I’m concerned, the winning argument is, “whatever brings you a little bit of joy in your life”, and if hanging the decorations up and playing Jingle Bells full blast puts a smile on your face then what are you waiting for?

With a month left before the holiday break, and with the lockdown still in effect, it is absolutely essential that we all find joy and happiness everywhere and anywhere that we can, and we need to prioritize taking care of ourselves and each other as we speed toward 2021. It’s also important to find ways to be thankful for the things that we have in our lives that do bring us joy, and with American Thanksgiving coming up this week it is the perfect time to reflect on all that we have to be grateful for. Even though I’m not American, I’m absolutely going to use that day to celebrate my friends and my family, and to be grateful for all of the gifts that life brings to me every day when I open my eyes. I’ll keep this post a little shorter than usual this week, as I have the sudden urge to go wake up my kids to Frosty the Snowman playing loudly on Spotify, and I might even dig out the decorations from the garage if I can convince my wife. 

Anyway, I want to leave you with this beautiful quote from Marelisa Fabrega, who reminds us all to be grateful for the little joys in our lives, and to try and bring a sense of gratitude to our everyday experiences. She says, “Gratitude should not just be a reaction to getting what you want, but an all the time gratitude, the kind where you notice the little things and where you constantly look for the good, even in unpleasant situations. Start bringing gratitude to your experiences, instead of waiting for a positive experience in order to feel grateful.”

Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other…and whatever brings you a little bit of joy in your life, particularly in the world these days…then go and do it! 

Quote of the Week…

Rules for happiness: Something to do, someone to love, something to hope for

-Immanuel Kant

Inspiring Videos – 

An Attitude of Gratitude

Inner Child

The Show Must Go On

Interesting TED Talk – 

Helping Others Makes Us Happier

Related Articles – 

What it Means to Seize the Day

Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier

Use the Good Stuff

Pssst! Hey buddy, I can get you a 3 slide, 37 word report on Tornadoes, super cheap. Interested?

Has any elementary school student in the history of the world tried to sell their Google Slides project to anyone? No you say?  So why do elementary schools spend time each year forcing students as young as 2nd grade to attempt to follow arbitrary citation formats for images they re-use after grim, confusing lectures about “Copyright” from the head of the class?

We’ve all seen it: the three slide presentation with a title, a few sentences, an image or two and then the attempt at a citation, usually below the image which then mars the aesthetics of the student’s work.  Instead of focusing on how to use the tool, to format things for readability or follow design principles, we get nine year old novice keyboarders taking eleven minutes to mis-type a URL. I walked in on this “copyright/citation lesson” so many times as a tech integrationist; you could literally see the enthusiasm for both the subject and the technology draining from the student.

The idea of dropping citation instruction from elementary digital learning programs will cause some serious pearl clutching among some of our media center and teacher colleagues, and let’s be clear—nobody is saying you can claim another’s work as your own, that is common sense.

What is not sensible is the way “copyright” is almost universally mis-taught in schools.

As “taught”, it not only discourages kids from following their natural inclination to be innovative and inquisitive using digital tools, more importantly, the endless focus on copyright denies the stronger argument that almost everything a student does as schoolwork falls under “Fair Use” and would be/is therefore exempt from any/all copyright claims in the first place. 

In US law, fair use has four broad categories. They are:

  1. Effect: Whether the purpose and character of the use are of a commercial nature or are for nonprofit educational purposes.
  2. Nature: Whether the nature of the copyrighted work itself is primarily factual or creative.
  3. Amount: How much of the work is used, or how substantial is the part used, in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole.
  4. Purpose: How the use affects the author’s ability to market and realize a profit from the work.

Fair use is almost always granted if it is noncommercial, for schoolwork or education and not being used to try and make money, obtain views, etc.. As well, re-purposing an image is not using the entire article, webpage, etc., as your own.  Student reports are not meant to be public repositories to inform others about penguins or cats or tigers, and when students use images and information in their assignments, it’s nearly always for non fiction work, which is almost always granted fair use. 

At a minimum, schools should be balancing the boogeyman of copyright with the freedoms of fair use. 

What is nearly as frustrating as the focus on copyright over fair use is the tone deafness to the fact that Western culture largely rests on and is entirely enthralled by sampling, reusing and repurposing material. Popular entertainment is so often based on sequels and spinoffs, rehashes and remixes!  We should be encouraging creative transformation and re-use in schools, not haranguing primary school kids about copyright.

The good news is that some things can be improved by actually doing less, not more! Please pass this link of resources from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) to your teachers, your integrationists and your media center colleagues. Because, to cite the Foundation’s main point behind creating the resource, “Students need fair use information, not copyright intimidation.”

Reform: affordances and hindrances … and crowdsourced success

I suppose there are lots of teachers who are fine leaving schools as they are. Traditional schools have educated a whole lot of people, after all, and the world is working fine. (Or is it? Over 70 million people recently used their vote to endorse Trump’s unpresidential behavior.)

But there are also a lot of teachers who would like to reform school. To shake it up, to do things differently. The overwhelming majority of these teachers work in traditional schools, and the overwhelming majority of schools are traditional. So it’s probably not a bad idea to consider, for a bit, how to bring reform to traditional schools settings. What are the affordances and hindrances?

The affordances. I want to start with these, because so often when we talk about reform we slip into but-but-but … and then we throw our hands in the air and give up. 

So the affordances. What is working in our favor? What factors are on our side?

At the classroom level, we usually have quite a bit of autonomy. The class is usually ours to teach. We are generally allowed to try out new approaches to teaching, and often new content. We can make mistakes in our classroom that won’t necessarily haunt us – probably no other adult in the school witnessed an activity gone bad, that peer review that didn’t work, those presentations that didn’t hit the mark. That autonomy is something to build on.

A math teacher at our school experimented with standards based assessment about five years ago. Just in one class, just for a semester. She helped kick off a schoolwide switch to standards based grading. We are in the second year of that now. 

I volunteered about the same year to create a class for a group of students who just didn’t fit in the schedule anywhere but needed one more elective. Perhaps because I helped make the schedule work, I earned greater freedom in both content and my approach to teaching. We learned languages that year, any language or languages the students picked, with online tools. And I discovered eduScrum when I needed a better way to organize student workflow. eduScrum led to a focus on pulling agile into education, which is still going strong, and influencing many teachers.

eduScrum itself is a great example of a teacher using the affordances of his classroom to bring about reform. Willy Wijnands, teaching chemistry in his Dutch high school, began experimenting with his own class. The students still did well on the tests, so Willy was able to continue with his unique approach to instruction. He started sharing with others. And now eduScrum has representatives in over 30 countries. Maybe this is too big an example. You don’t have to influence other classrooms to contribute to school reform. You just have to influence your own.

The point is: We can use the autonomy given to us to experiment and create small reform. All of us can.

We have a great affordance in online professional development. It’s accessible and, now more than ever, omnipresent. And it’s often free. There are high quality podcasts and Meet Ups and webinars and other opportunities. There are social networks we can use to share ideas with people working in similar ways, puzzling over the same issues.

And there is a growing, worldwide conversation about school reform. About the need to reconsider current practices, current curricula, and beyond a doubt, current assessment policies, from the classroom level all the way to the federal government. It is easier to think and act a bit differently if you know others are trying to think and act differently, too. They are. This is a huge affordance.

Now the hindrances. There are many. There is tradition (how we were likely taught). There is inertia (it’s easy to find English, science and history teachers; but try finding a Collaborate teacher or a Growth Mindset teacher). How do you break out of the traditional set of subjects if your pool of teachers are trained only in the traditional set of subjects? There are state and federal laws, university admissions, cultural expectations, a dearth of alternate models, book publishers, square school buildings, square classrooms, square schedules … Right angles everywhere, really, in a world that is obtuse, curvy, and unpredictable.

But there are affordances. You, in your classroom, can do a little more of this and a little less of that. You can start a small shift. Your small shift can join other small shifts. You just have to take the affordances available to you and start. And tell others about it. And listen to others. 

Imagine the combined result, if each of us did just a little. Nothing short of seismic. 

GLOBAL BOOK REVIEWS

Two novels about censorship for elementary/middle school

One of my favourite books ever deals with the topic of censorship. Alan Gratz handles it in a smart way in Ban This Book. I read it in two evenings and loved it. This is a brilliant, funny story based on a very real concern, that of banning books in school libraries. Gratz skillfully deals with both sides of the issue in a great way. He leaves the power to solve the problem to the kids, especially to Amy Anne who loves her school library. But the book also manages to show parental concern, the responsibilities of school boards and – most of all – the importance of having a real librarian in the school library and the influence books can have on a child’s life. The story shows how school libraries can be critical to the development of children. His main character grows and changes throughout the story. Gratz neatly quotes real titles, real authors (Dav Pilkey is a visiting author in the story) and refers to real book banning cases, wrapping up all loose ends in a satisfying manner. Highly recommended for kids, activists, parents, school administrators and all library lovers.

Starscape, Tom Doherty Associates. ISBN 978-0-7653-8558-1

I had the same high expectation for another book on the same topic, with an attractive cover: Property of the Rebel Librarian by Allison Varnes.

But what a disappointment. Seemingly out of the blue, June’s parents decide that, even though she is in Grade Seven, a book about ghosts is too scary for her. They not only take that book away from her but also any and all books she owns. Then a moving van shows up at her school and all books in the library get removed. June slowly collects books again and lends them out to other. While the topic is an important one for young readers to learn about, and even touches on Little Free Libraries, I found this book too unbelievable to ring true for me.

Yearling, ISBN 978-1-5247-7150-8

Margriet Ruurs is the author of many books for children and conducts author visits via ZOOM.

A Clear Focus

So I’ve been taking advantage of the absolute gift of being on campus with students so far this year, by spending a considerable amount of time in classrooms, and it has been a truly joyful experience for me. There are so many things that have impressed me about our teachers lately that I’ve been able to see first hand, not the least of which is their ability to engage and inspire our kids in the face of all the restrictions that we have in place, and of course, the incredible effort that they are giving each and every day to try and make school as “normal” as possible for our young learners. If that wasn’t already enough, what I’ve seen lately throughout many of my classroom visits has inspired me to no end. 

You see, over the past several weeks, I’ve sat in on many lessons where the clear objective and focus from teachers has been on preparing our kids to be better people for our world…change makers for our community, and delivering the academic concepts and content in a way that uplifts and unites, and gets the students to think and act beyond themselves. I’ve seen many lessons lately where students have learned to be independent, and how to resolve conflict, and how to work as a team, and the importance of seeking to understand another person’s perspective instead of judging or dismissing…all the skills that the world truly and desperately needs these days. I’ve seen lessons where the focus has been on tolerance and inclusion, and empathy and diversity, and where teachers for example have chosen an interactive read-aloud that celebrates the strength that all of our differences bring to the building of a community…so good. 

In line with this, I just happened to watch the Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, the other day, which I highly recommend. It reminded me that there are forces at work in our society that are very good at isolating, and dividing, and polarizing us through our experiences with social media, and how easy it is these days to be splintered away from each other…pitted against each other by using our differences to divide us instead of to unite us. We live in such a tricky world these days, with so much that can be disconnecting, which makes it even more important that we teach our students how to be the people that we need for our future…and to model this for them as educators. 

I’ve been inspired these days by what I’ve seen in my classroom visits, and I want to encourage even more of it. We have an opportunity, no, we have a responsibility as educators to find ways to use our time with our students to unite, and to uplift…to create the change makers that our world needs and that our future deserves. We need to keep a clear focus on teaching our kids not just to be good students, but to be good people for each other and for our world. People who are kind, and compassionate, and empathetic, and independent, and who seek to understand and unite as opposed to being close minded and dismissive. I want to thank all of you who have really taken this to heart, and I want to encourage you to double down in your efforts to keep this clear focus at the heart of your lesson planning. I see the effort that you are all putting in to create little change makers for our community and for our world, and it’s a beautiful thing. Have a wonderful week everyone, and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

Quote of the Week…

Be the reason someone smiles. Be the reason someone feels loved and believes in the goodness in people. – Roy T. Bennett

Inspiring Videos – 

Halloween Gesture – Beautiful

Ballerina Dances Again

Saving a Pig

Alex Trebec tribute

Surfing in Cold Water (oldie but goodie)

Inspiring TED Talk –

The Language of Being Human

Related Articles – 

Teaching Kids Kindness

Teaching Kids About the World

Creating Kindness

Social Skills and Academics

Supporting the Whole Child

G-Suite Enterprise for EDu, Are You ready?

We have fully implemented the new G-Suite Enterprise for Edu.

For the backend people, I have gone through all the reporting and admin features as well.

Obviously, some of these features are not being used yet, but they are interesting. If anyone is interested in doing an online meeting to review the process of getting the license from a vendor, managing the licenses, and all the other ins and out, message me on LiN or email me directly. I will put something together.

I think a webinar walkthrough would be an excellent format if people are keen.


 tony.deprato@gmail.com 
 #edtechchat #googlemeet #gsuiteforeducation


Tony DePrato | Follow Me on LinkedIn

The Scab Faerie

If that title doesn’t get your attention, I’m not sure what would. The Scab Faerie is a whimsical children’s book about the many fairies that visit our homes at night. It’s not just teeth they are looking for!

I had the pleasure of putting this book together with Sonia, a sophomore at my alma mater, St. Olaf College in Minnesota, USA. I studied creative writing there, among other things, and this year, 36 years after graduating, luck put the two of us together on the adventure of taking a book from start to finish, author and illustrator, combining creativity with an attempt to publish a story that might actually sell a few copies. Fingers crossed.

At the end of the project, Sonia, the illustrator, sent the most wonderful email. It took me several days to figure out exactly how to reply. I was somehow quite moved. In her mail were two brilliant nuggets for educational consideration, though that wasn’t her intention. But we teachers tend to notice examples of educational moments that truly matter. I think Sonia happened to deliver.

Sonia wrote: 

Your whimsy, open-mindedness, and abundant creativity made it easy and gratifying for me to share in such a bright creative spark. Illustrating and describing our faeries didn’t feel like a chore, but an adventure.

Ah yes. When work isn’t a chore, but an adventure. When school isn’t a slog, but a sprint. When we hit a state of flow, as Czikentmihaly puts it, and the difference between work and play disappears in the buzz of purposeful, joyful production. Are we doing school with the glow that comes from finding that state of flow for our students and ourselves?  

Sonia continued:

Having to … edit things let me know that we were treating the project seriously, as well.

Sonia does good work. And I think my text was pretty good. But of course, we had different ideas about different parts of the book. We also had ideas that seemed good when we imagined them but didn’t look as good after they were drafted, which then required flexibility on both our parts. In short, we collaborated and compromised, from a position of true investment in the outcome.

During our adventures in school, are we setting projects up so that first tries, however hard we work on them, aren’t good enough? Are we setting projects up in a way that require collaboration and feedback from multiple sources? Is feedback something that is acted on? Or is feedback mostly a mark in the gradebook?