Be Kind, Please Rewind: Creativity and Finding a Place for Teaching Internet Safety

In our jam-packed curriculum, where I teach all subjects, except French, in a Grade 7/8 class, I struggle to fit in the thousand plus expectations we are to address. So, as good teachers are to do, I take the “integrate, cross-curricular” approach as much as possible. It’s still an impossible task. However, my participation in the Powerful Learning Practices: Leadership in Schools project has brought focus onto an area where I have been lax. I know, we’re suppose to be kind to ourselves, not beat ourselves up about what we haven’t done right, as we grow professionally.

Yes, I have grown!  I’ve learned a new language full of new vocabulary such as social networking, PLN, and retweets, all in an effort to increase my digital footprint. I have shared this growth process with my students (Gr. 7/8 students always want to know what you’ve been doing when you’re away). But… gulp…. in doing so, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve done a lousy job teaching them about online safety. I mean, they know this stuff – don’t they? They text, email, chat, share on Gdocs, Facebook and recently, tweet. They are tech-savvy. But this week, as I shared my digital growth stories with them, their facial expressions (shock’n awe) showed they are naïve when it comes to the shape and size of their own digital footprint – footprints that are showing up where they don’t want them seen.

This week, as they sat at their desks with their notebook computers, I googled myself on the Smartboard and showed them the various results that popped up, including my recent twitter comments. Then I had them do the same to themselves and people they know. The room erupted. Following the many, “OMG’s”, the discussion turned to story sharing ranging from a friend’s sister who didn’t get a job because of pictures found online, to the benefits of Facebook for planning grade 8 grad. So, as the saying goes, (funny… it relates to old technology), “be kind, please rewind”. I am going to do just that. After the Christmas break, in addition to the already packed term two, with its mandatory PLC writing, math units, book clubs, etc., I am going to slow down and back up. Using the somewhat creative approach, I’ll link my online safety lessons to the Personal Safety and Injury strand in Health. After all, what could be more important right now, as we focus on 21st Century Learning, than our students’ online personal safety?

Text Versus Handwriting? Don’t Forget Grandma’s Christmas Card.

Recently, in the Ontario PLP forums, the question was raised whether or not handwriting is dead.  As a teacher who admits to having terrible penmanship, I embrace the opportunity my students have to type any and all assignments.  But as I posted these words in the forum, I felt guilty for some reason, thinking of the last piece of written material I have from my grandmother.  It’s a 15 year old Christmas card that I keep in my bedside table.  At the time, I couldn’t really understand why I felt this guilt.  Last night, I got my answer. 

This weekend, two different schools of thought appeared in the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail newspapers on the issue of students texting versus handwriting.  The Globe & Mail’s Erin Andressons, reported on the improvement in spelling and essay length from students who text, based on a Stanford University study.  (Text appeal, GR8 news: We’re entering a new era of literacy.  Best of all, for those of us who can’t stand to read a u, i or lol in an essay, the students know by university age to drop the text-speak in their essays.  Good news, right?

Interestingly, this weekend, the Toronto Star reporter, Andrea Gordon, posted a similar article but with a different slant and a very enlightening view!  (The Death of Handwriting.–the-death-of-handwriting)   Her article starts off similarly enough with my favourite lines: “Kids can text in the dark. Their fingers fly over keyboards like Rachmaninoff at the piano. But give them a pen and most resort to printing. Asking them to write a thank-you note in cursive is the equivalent of handing them a slide ruler.”  However, she clears a new path as she refers to the work of Dr. Jason Barton, a neurologist and Canada Research Chair at the University of British Columbia. 

According to Dr. Barton, when we recognize someone’s handwriting, it’s like seeing their face.  His groundbreaking research points to the fact that while the left side of the brain decodes written language (text), it’s the right side that allows us to identify and connect with the writer, just like we would when we recognize someone’s face.  Instantly, we set off a series of sensory triggers which bring up emotions and connections to that person.  Texting does not to the same extent.  That’s exactly why I keep Grandma’s Christmas card.  Her right slanted, elderly penmanship takes me right back to being with her on the farm. 

Like me, the Star reporter has kept her Grandmother’s letters.  So while there’s still emotion transferred through texting, Andrea’s last line sums up what I felt uneasy about.  “We are more connected than ever before but it’s a connection that threatens to leave no trace.”  I will make sure I leave something written (neatly!) for my kids and grandchildren.

Why Blog?

I never saw a need to blog, nor really understood the why.  Reading another teacher’s blog is great when you need to learn something, but why post my thoughts?  Who would care?  But after becoming involved with the Ontario PLP community this fall, I am beginning to get it. These folks air their beefs, discuss what’s worked in the classroom and where they want to go next.  Makes sense!  My students and I have stumbled and conquered together on a number of cool projects.  So yes, reflecting and celebrating are good reasons to blog.  But for me, most importantly, I want to remember this journey, and with a memory like mine, that means writing it all down and… well….blogging.   So now I get it.   Blogging for me is my permanent travel log as I paddle through these somewhat murky and sometimes clear waters.

Paddling with my son, Dunlop Lake/09