Child’s Play in Changing Times

After 9/11, we watched children build wooden block towers and crash them down. Children of all ages, working through the unthinkable images they’d seen and heard about.

On Monday, after the recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai, I remembered those block towers and watched children play again (I’ve been long term subbing as a team teacher in a classroom with K, 1st and 2nd graders.) Many of the students hadn’t heard the news, and most of them were spared the kind of graphic descriptions and images modern reporting makes possible–but not all of them. And one student has family in Mumbai (not physically hurt in the attack). We had some simple discussions. We expressed care and love for our classmate who will soon travel to India to see his family. He’s bringing our Flat Stanley visitor with him on the trip, as well as cards and notes with classmates’ well-wishes. Mumbai hasn’t bubbled up in play, yet–although it has in a few conversations.

Today, Wednesday, many of our students began “constructing” toys: building them with tape and paper, drawing with pencils, and bits of plastic strips one student had brought in from the recent home installation of a hot water heater. Some students were asking the best construction engineers in our class to create models for them. Other students were elaborating on the theme, adding attachments and enhancements. It was a quiet classroom fascination during indoor recess (weather didn’t allow us to go outside).

Today’s play was a reflection of our changing world, I thought, and I was a bit relieved to think it wasn’t a reaction to scary times. I found watching this day’s play helped me. It helped me to be hopeful about a peaceful future. These 5, 6, and 7 year olds weren’t building guns, or laser weapons. They weren’t fighting space battles or bad people (although they’ve been known to do that!). They were getting connected, they were creating a flat world. They built miniature Ipods and handhelds. They drew on screens, control wheels, speaker grills. One student constructed a docking station for his, and then went on to build a miniature computer, and removable flash drive.

It’s a connected world, alright.

Treasures from the Trenches–or at least my compatriots

I’ve got little time to do much else but point to the wonderful treasures those in my RSS and twitter and mailing lists are pointing me to these days. They are sustaining me, and enriching me, while I am having this wonderful experience being a long term sub in a K-2 classroom and not finding time to reciprocate as I would like. I still miss this wonderful community, and their conversations, but only have the time to be a listener these days.

Rather than flood my colleagues’ email boxes with links for them to check out, I thought I could at least point to things here that I would spend more time sharing if I had a ‘mo…as it were.

I just ran into David Truss, who was referred to on Twitter (that exploration has proved worthwhile to me) whose wonderful post about the two wolves works wonderfully with our “social studies” theme in the K-2, about emotions, feelings, and self-control. Plus, it just works!

The person who brought my attn to David, also brought to my attention this diverse (and certainly not the current popular media vision), andcertainly mind-ful look at autism –thank you, Dave MacLean, truly worth your viewing. (So glad you followed me on twitter, so I checked out what you shared there, and found this video!) I have had the amazing privilege of meeting Ari, and Amanda, and many others on that video. My son Alex introduced me to these peoples’ point of view (in order to help me understand him, and advocate for his needs).

Two videos and this story were relatively new to me, perhaps not to you… about the power of music to make change

Now, to gather info about paper airplanes, to enrich my aeronautical 2nd grader and help him prepare a presentation for his classmates.


I’m looking forward to a year of honing my teaching skills and catching up!  Last year was a year of “immersion” learning: learning of development, marketing and admissions skills at the small school where I work. It was exciting and exhilarating to see my tech skills pay off in ads and postcards–heck, I even scripted a radio commercial–and to see a positive effect in the real world results of increased interest in our school–but it was also exhausting to take that on and keep teaching my specials classes.

This year, I’m pleased to drop the administrative hat and concentrate on teaching. Catching up will take a little bit.  I’ve hundreds of blog posts to read waiting in my RSS feeder, and new (to me) products and services to evaluate (for instance, what are the latest options for student blogging? It’s been a year since I checked that out!).  I’ll be checking back in with the people and blogs who were so inspiring to me to start with–everyone from Will Richardson to Rick Biche.  I have a new colleague or two who I expect will be leading me into new, cool tools and effective practices, too.  I want to read about what has been going on with gaming and online collaboration. I want to experiment with “wow” services like Twitter and see if they’ll really be useful and who they will be useful to. I’m really looking forward to resuming reflective practice.


I expect to be blogging again, but probably not before March. In October I committed to taking on a bunch of extra work which gives me very little free time. What I’ve done with what free time I have gotten has included traveling to Edinburgh, Scotland, to meet my young grandson. While there, I also enjoyed three castles, the Elephant Cafe, a super daughter and her mate, and his family! I took hundreds of digital pictures, of course.

I hope things will settle down and my schedule will become more rational by March. I still value the reflections about my own practice, and the connections with others and what they do, that preparing to post entails for me. I’ll still participate in the online world by reading others’ blogs, checking in to classroom2.0, and mining others’ writings for inspiration in my teaching!

Until March, then. In the meantime, why not check out some of my first posts, they still speak to me!

“Blog to find out: __”

Tools and techniques used in the right way can scaffold learning.

Teachers often use them to direct student learning experiences. When students engage with those same tools and techniques for their own purposes, their successes increase motivation and independent learning.

For example, teachers often tell young students to “read to find out”–setting a purpose for their reading. This focus technique helps students learn to monitor their own comprehension. If, as students progress, instead of the teacher setting the purpose, the students approach their text and set their own purposes for reading, the students engage in self-satisfying strategy use. Setting a purpose, seeking strategies that will help the students to reach their own goals, and then actually using the strategies and fulfilling the goal is highly rewarding. The benefits include increased student comprehension as well as ongoing (hopefully life-long) motivation.

The point at which the students know and have practiced teacher-led focusing strategies enough to began to practice self-regulated reading by choosing for themselves from among their personal repertoire of strategies and tools is the point at which the teacher can move away from setting the purpose for the students and turn to helping the students develop potent purposes of their own. It can be an energy-filled, exciting, and sometimes disconcerting time.

“Powerpoint to show,” and “Blog to explain”

We often tell students we want them to demonstrate their own learning by instructing others, because we know that they need a deep understanding to be able to do so. Having students create a genuine product with real communicative purpose and an audience of peers, where they gain recognition for their knowledge and for their skills can scaffold learning. In the same way as self-directed purpose in reading increases student learning and motivation, I believe self-directed purpose in this creative process can also magnify those benefits for students.

Last year I had middle school students research current technology developments or terms (such as wiki,, urban legends) and produce a short powerpoint about it to present to their classmates. I primed the pump by presenting the students with articles bemoaning Powerpoints as the scourge of modern life or as the answer to everything. We talked about “endless Powerpoints” and read a few articles about what not to do, and saw some cool things that were being done. After making our first, basic, Powerpoint (we continued with this popular activity for a bit, I still have students asking me if we can do more!), the students were required to learn a new Powerpoint technique, and explain it during their presentations, as well.

I presented the students with a list of possible topics, and after our first Powerpoint round, I conferenced with each one about what they wanted to learn, and to learn to do, next. Some chose to add sound, some to design their own backgrounds, some to have transitions, and so on. As each student presented their slide show, their classmates and I had feedback sheets to record constructive criticism and kudos (I collected the sheets and gave the student a summary with my feedback). Students would point out their new technique (often with a second run-through of their presentation), and we would discuss its effect on the overall presentation. Students wound up asking each other “show me how you did that?” and deciding they wanted to try something similar on their next presentation.

I remember one student after her presentation, in the darkened tech studio. Her classmates thought her presentation was cool, and they’d also enjoyed what it included about how to unmask an urban legend… I saw a self-motivated, independent learner. I wanted to tell her about TED Talks and challenge her to learn how to put a video of one in her next slide show. But, we had to move on to another unit.

This year, I’m trying to do something similar with blogging tools and widgets and whatnots, and hoping to open up the results to a wider audience using a blog. We’ve just begun, and just like last year, there’s a good deal of “but how do I do that?” and “what’s a widget?” There are a couple of more experienced students who already blog, and they will be consolidating some learning by sharing their knowledge, but I hope to get them into that exciting, disconcerting new learning zone, too. It’s going to be a wild ride, I hope!

Code of Ethics vs. list of rules

It’s been 4 years, just about, since our first set of technology studio rules were created by middle school students. The rules worked very well: there were only a few, they were positive statements, and easily understood by lower school students.

Computer Use Policy (Old Version)

  • Get Permission! (To get online, to make changes, to alter anything, even the furniture)
  • Do Take Care of the Hardware (Watch out for cords, keep food away)
  • Do ASK before making changes
  • Do use computer facilities for legitimate schoolwork only
  • Respect others’ work and others!

This year, since I want to lead students into creating more content on the web, I took the opportunity to fold several things into the beginning of the year unit on technology safety and behavior guidelines.

We began with discussing these short videos:

This one, the Ad Council’s public service announcement directing teen girls to “Think Before You Post”

Download Video: Posted by mjhasley at

In a brief discussion afterwards, I learned that many students felt that this type of commercial and related news stories were over-emphasizing the dangers and, mostly, serving to make their parents overly fearful. My students felt they understood how to be safe online, and that the dangers were remote.

Obviously, I whipped out two more videos in response–current news stories which I had picked to help us discuss what kinds of things are getting posted, and what very real repercussions they can have. (More examples crop up every day-it’s not hard to pick up current ones.)

I played this story about the alleged blackmail plot against Miss New Jersey, using pictures that she had posted online for “friends only.”

This story of a Pennsylvania college student whose 4 year investment in a teaching career was waylaid at the last moment because she’d posted a picture of herself partying online, even though she was of legal drinking age at the time the picture was taken.

The students and I talked about how families have a very real desire to know that students are not going to be caught by surprise, as the people were in all of these examples. Whether or not what happened to them was unfair or unpredictable, we agreed that parents would like them to minimize risks by putting their best public faces forward.

The middle school students agreed that one good way to reassure their families was to demonstrate that they know how to be safe online by proposing updated rules for our Acceptable Use Policy.

Rules or codes of ethics?

We discussed three models–our old set of rules, a list of 9 rules I had gleaned from another school, and David Warlick’s A Student & Teacher Information Code of Ethics.

David Warlick’s Code of Ethics

points to four areas of concern, and lists proactive considerations that students and teachers should apply to every information decision that they make. …

  • Seek Truth and Express It
  • Minimize Harm
  • Be Accountable
  • Respect Information and its Infrastructure

Under each of the four areas, David provided a list of examples of good practice. I really liked David’s work.

The students discussed the three models. They discussed each of David’s four areas. They checked to be sure that everything was addressed that needed to be covered in each of the models. They decided to compose…their own set of rules.

Yep, a set of rules. They felt it will be easier to explain rules to the younger students, and it’ll be simpler to apply. They brainstormed a short but comprehensive set of rules, and are writing them up to propose them to the school. They’ll be posting our rules on their blog, as their first post, as they get adopted.