Saturday, December 23, 2017

Extending Student Voice with Flipgrid

*See classroom samples and a YouTube playlist of tutorials halfway through this post.

If you haven’t heard of Flipgrid yet, you’ll soon find it being spoken of in teaching circles. This discussion platform is relatively new but its value in the classroom is quickly being realized by teachers and students around the globe. It is indeed a powerful tool to enhance student voice.

Essentially, a teacher creates a “grid” which acts as a kind of classroom, or digital discussion board. Within the grid the teacher posts topics. In each topic, you can add a description and if desired a photo or video explanation of what to discuss. Additionally, a document can be linked as well (perhaps with resources or a more detailed explanation), and there are other topic resources and attachments such as image, gifs and video links. Students view the topic and respond with their own video. Additionally, students can respond to each other’s responses. (this feature can be controlled by the teacher) What do I love overall about Flipgrid?

  • Students use Flipgrid for free and do not need accounts. 
  • The interface is intuitive and user-friendly.
  • Student (and teacher) voice is clearly enhanced in a way that all students can speak and respond to each other.
  • Differentiation is supported through self-paced recording; students can record-pause-record-pause, taking their time (or completely delete a recording and begin again); conversely, students can create an edited video and upload or link to YouTube; students who don’t want their face in a video can point the camera away.
  • Teacher-controlled privacy settings (owners of a grid and topic can choose who sees what and moderate posts).
  • There is a Topic Discovery Library with thousands of grids with many ideas.
  • Your own grids and the individual or group responses can be shared via social media, as well as embedded in a variety of learning management systems.
  • It’s fun! 

How have I used Flipgrid thus far? For a Grade 8 unit of inquiry on epidemics and the spread of disease a colleague of mine and I recorded a zombie attack on the school, challenging the kids to create a video that demonstrates they’ll be prepared for a disease outbreak. (so why not make it a zombie virus!) Here is the topic, and here is the lesson document:

In a Grade 9 class we had a more serious unit of inquiry on civil wars. Students had to research the Syrian civil war, giving causes, consequences, peace initiatives, and demonstrate their opinions and deeper thinking by assigning blame to individuals or organizations, and ultimately a strategy for the international community to follow that will end the conflict. Have a look at the assignment here and feel free to copy!

Finally, for a fun school event day of learning activities I used Flipgrid for a One-Act Film Challenge. Students had one hour to conceive, script, and film a video in one hour. We uploaded to Flipgrid. (at the time of writing there is only one video, but a few more will follow and I intend to develop this topic) Have a look at the activity in greater detail here and give it a go!

How will I use Flipgrid in the future? I’m certain this list will evolve and no doubt there are people out there using the tool in these ways.

  • Classroom connections in the “Global Grid Connections” tab (such a “Who am I?” or “What event was this?” in history)
  • A brief description of a current event
  • Beginning of year introductions
  • Student-made tutorials
  • Review (what can you remember in your head)
  • Reflections
  • Debating / Four corners discussions
  • Getting teacher feedback for presentations via Flip
  • Lesson idea sharing 
  • Lesson exit tickets
  • Oral testing
  • For a new Google Educator Group, we’ll direct our members to offer a video introduction
  • Career days - parents who don’t have time to come in can record on the grid
  • Question asking (for a unit or for review)
  • TED Ed Club Grid

Teachers have the choice of the free Flipgrid One or the paid Flipgrid Classroom. Needless to say, you have much more flexibility and more features with the paid version. Like many platforms, there are programs and badges to help motivate teachers to use the tool. How about for students?

As for my own use of Flipgrid, I’m just scratching the surface of the potential.


Want to learn more? Download the 22-page PDF guide or have a look through the Flipgrid Help Center at .

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Strategies for Collaborative Practices & Learning: Working with Text

I had a sense that collaboration can fall into a simple task of doing group work, and confident that I was innovating in terms of collaboration, but had a huge mind shift over the last few weeks while doing professional development with School Reform Initiative. This post focuses on two strategies for working with text: 'Text Rendering' and 'Three Levels of Text'. More strategies will be posted, as I apply them to my own practice. 

The SRI is an invaluable resource for educators and educational leadership teams (and I would argue organisational leaders). The structure and complexity of collaboration is much deeper than I have been practicing, and I came away with some great ideas. Usually I post after doing research, but this is all SRI and a couple of weekends of excellent professional develop. I was so impressed that in the first week and second week I was employing the strategies to my daily practice, with student approval (strategies are “protocols” in SRI language).

Thank you to Margaret MacLean and Tamara Studniski, and St. Maur International School, Nagoya International School, and the East Asia Regional Council of Schools for providing the opportunity. 

Strategy: Text Rendering (looking at text as a group, from individual perspectives) The purpose of text rendering is to clarify and expand our thinking about a piece of text, while working together to construct meaning from that text. The idea is to look at text in a different way, and identify how we may look at text in comparison to others. Participants independently do the following as they read: 

*underline a sentence or two that you feel has significant meaning or resonates with you

*underline a specific word

*underline a specific phrase

*consider writing a concept taken from the text (this is my own addition)

Students then share the sentences and briefly discuss why each was chosen. Identify similarities and differences, and reasons for choices. Next, share and write the phrases and words. Discuss the nature of the text and what you get from it. Are there any new questions that arise? Is there new learning? We must make efforts to cultivate our inner teacher. 

Application: One I have tried is with Grade 12 History students studying the varying groups who opposed the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. They focused on political parties and church organizations. Due to use in an advanced academic History class I chose to add “writing a concept” to get them thinking more deeply. I also followed up with a mentimeter activity that generated opinions on the overall topic. (which included previous lesson content and concepts)

Another possibility is to have students write these on post-it notes, and then have students group the post-its from each category. (sentence, word, phrase, concept) This would be interesting to see how the class might cluster (or not cluster) their thinking. Have a look at SRI's "Affinity Mapping" protocol. 

Strategy: Three Levels of Text (making deeper meaning)
This protocol helps students to grasp a deeper understanding of a piece of text. Students respond to 3 levels of the text: the literal (level 1), the interpretive (level 2), and the implications as they relate to the reader (level 3). Groups will need a timekeeper / facilitator to keep the group on track. 

I recommend that the piece of text be read and annotated ahead of time (such as for homework - a flipped learning model). Students should select a number of passages or ideas that can be discussed as a group. How many passages to identify will depend on the size of the group. Each student will share out their passage, so students sharing later will possibly have their first choice taken. 

The process is as follows:

One person expresses their ideas using up to 3 minutes (the teacher can determine the number of minutes - this will depend on the age of the students and length of the text). Work from one level to the next, and then move on. 

*Level 1: The student reads aloud the passage she/he has selected. 

*Level 2: The student says what they think about the passage (interpretation, connection to past experiences, emotions that were evoked, connections to other learning or knowledge)

*Level 3: Expresses the implications for their course of study or body of research.

The group responds (for a total of up to 2 minutes or a teacher-determined amount of time) to what has been said. 

Repeat the process, and as always, bring the class together to debrief and discuss the piece of writing to address thoughts, ideas, and comprehension. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Starting at a new school or do you have new teachers? ‘Who Moved My Cheese?’ offers lessons in dealing with change.

*See a version of this for teens at the end of this post.

I started teaching at a new school last week and was inspired by an orientation activity in which we looked at the school’s teaching standards in discussion groups. I’ll explain the activity below, but first, the hook. We had a look at Who Moved My Cheese, authored by Dr. Spencer Johnson in 1998. (we actually viewed the first four minutes of the short movie made, and following a discussion with regard to the allegory, we watched this video that brings it all together with a contemporary example using Amazon. I encourage you to think about this as an activity in which you have new and old faculty think of themselves as individuals evolving and learning - what we ask our students to do. Which character are you most like - the two mice, "Sniff" and "Scurry" (who represent the "animal instinct" to adapt to the situation), or the two little people, "Hem" and "Haw." (who are a metaphor for being indecisive)

The Activity
*Feel free to download these activity description and worksheets to meet your school's needs. They can be modified, and used for a paper-based or digital activity. As noted, these are from an inspiring moment at school, original documents, but not my original ideas. You can find other examples in an online search.

The point in this activity was to connect our reservations or resistance to change, have an introduction to the school’s “Teaching and Learning Strands”, and consider where we fall as individuals on a continuum for each strand. There are five strands at the school, broken down into descriptors that we considered in small groups, and with regard to our experience in each strand, placed ourselves on a continuum: Developing - Competent - Proficient - Can Help Others. (there are various models, but I like the four choices that force you to not take the easy middle road) Following this we considered what our “cheese” - what our things we should focus on changing over the course of our transition to a new school, and in general as professionals. It’s a reflection on what we need to do to adapt, because change in inevitable. So how will be deal with that? Be aware that there are criticisms of this allegory, but it’s your choice to agree with the activity as a reflective practice or not.

Want to extend the activity? How about working something with this animated review of Stephen Covey’s  “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”. To what degree do your current habits reflect Covey’s “7 habits”.

Want to use it in the classroom? Here are activities baed on “Who Moved My Cheese? for Teens”.

Resource 1: An extended activity by Learn NC.
Resource 2: A shorter activity from Penguin.

Ann Gerber. "Who Moved My Cheese? for Teens." Web. 14 Aug. 2017.

"Who Moved My Cheese by Dr Spencer Johnson ► Animated Book Summary." YouTube.
21 Jan. 2016. Web. 14 Aug. 2017. <>

"Who Moved My Cheese." 18 Apr. 2014. Web. 14 Aug. 2017.

"Who Moved My Cheese." YouTube. 10 Sept. 2011. Web. 14 Aug. 2017. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

All teachers can teach code! A book review of “Code In Every Class” by author-educators Kevin Brookhouser and Ria Megnin

*Click here for a list of resources to start a coding program, or to simply learn at home, inspired by the book with my additions. Copy, modify and share. Pick up the book for even more resources!

3D-Code+in+Every+Class+(1).jpgHave you been at school and in the middle of one of those “coding” conversations, and felt like you were listening to another language? Well, you were. But it’s a language you can learn pretty quickly, and one that children and teenagers will need for our future economy. The overall tenets of Code in Every Class, a book that encourages us to move away from the “programming geek” mentality to one that empowers us, addresses and critically missing piece in schools - coding. This book will raise your confidence with code. Moreover, the authors make many convincing arguments, such as:

  • We can all learn to code (small children to adults)
  • Coding teaches problem solving, critical and higher order thinking, and creativity - skills for their future
  • Coding encourages children to find problems and work towards solving them
  • Teaching coding promotes social justice and empowers the disadvantaged
  • Coding doesn’t have to cost

Coding ignites curiosity and allows children to create, which is highly empowering. It helps then break down a problem step by step. Teaching coding is about teaching thinking. (see p.19 for a list of skills, and perhaps jump to Chapter 19 for several lesson plan ideas)

Age-Old Excuses Debunked
Screen time may be an issue brought up. The authors echo researcher-author Dr. Devorah Heitner, who points out in her book, Screenwise, that screen time is a management issue rather than a problem. I like the term Brookhouser and Megnin use, “de-distracting”. We have to create a de-distracting classroom environment, not limit the use of educational technology. (they also make an important point that many families cannot afford devices that distract)

Technology doesn’t change too fast; children will adapt. They have to learn flexibility.

Technology isn’t too expensive. Yes, you will need an internet connection, but many coding programs are completely free and come with curriculums, tutorials, and teacher guides. See the resource document I’ve created.

Learning to code can assist in developing other areas such as computational thinking, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

The Challenges of Building Diversity. The authors discuss some of the careers in which the skills from coding are necessary. (indeed, this is really most jobs) They address what they call “the dark side of coding”, the belief that programming is the domain of nerdy white middle-to-upper class white and Asian males. The real problem lies with the lack of coding opportunities at a young age, for all students. Chapter 3 explores how this have evolved and how it has impacted disadvantaged groups, including girls. (check out “Girls Who Code”, a non-profit committed to addressing the low representing of females in computer programming) An encouraging shift is underway, and thankfully is coming from the tech industry itself. (check out a Google office - I’ve been to a few, in Japan, Australia and Singapore, and they are diverse places) Regardless, there is a long way to go until we have computer programming role-models for all children. The good thing is that we can begin that with a coding movement in our schools. (see the excellent work on 501c non-profit,, the organizers of Hour of Code, and perhaps “take the pledge”) Code in Every Class offers classroom solutions to bring more diversity to the tech world on p.51.

Getting a Coding Program in Your School, or Just a Simple Lesson. As with anything new, have a plan. Do some research and, as Brookhouser and Megnin suggest, start slowly and perhaps consider learning along with your students. You’ll model curiosity, build relationships and trust through showing your vulnerability, and empower your students to try, fail, try, succeed, repeat. You don’t need a computer to teach coding (see p.58), and for ideas check out Chapter 9 with a range of K-12 lesson plans to get you started. Some include gamification that will surely be popular. You don’t have to create a full-blown program. Start with a single lesson.

Chapter 7 is a crash course in coding language, why code matters, incorporating code into your lessons, and resources to further your learning. (you’ll even get a clear explanation of binary and the computer language “family tree”) When you have understood the underlying principles of coding, build your expertise. Seek out coding communities. There is a nice analogy to the English language which brings it all home.

If you think you’re ready for a program, jump to Chapter 8 and take the advice on how to launch a coding program. In a nutshell:

  • Create a plan and a timeline
  • Set up the environment
  • Start small and build from there; reflection, revision, repeat (be sure to include play!)
  • Seek support, share
  • Raise the level
  • Celebrate and share the projects (you could take Dive Into Inquiry author Trevor Mackenzie’s approach and have a coding fair that demonstrates learning, and share projects on YouTube as well)

The Fear factor. In building a program or even just trying some ideas, you will likely encounter resistance. Although this is natural, resistance comes from fear of the unknown or fear of failure. The book discusses strategies to getting over the “I’m bad at Math” mentality. (see the fun Google Search activity on p.65) Ultimately, we need to foster persistence, creativity, and effort.

Buy-In from the Community. Another challenge we often face is resistance from school leaders. Concerns about scheduling and meeting curriculum objectives are real and important concerns of teachers and school leaders, but they don’t have to shackle us to the “done and done”. Effective coding lessons, programs and clubs can meet curriculum standards. The free programs available online negate the argument that “it isn’t in the budget”. (again, see this resource document) Granted, the authors acknowledge that online connectivity and some devices are necessary. They suggest another strategy - guerrilla tactics that don’t get you in trouble. Do something with students to show their learning through code, and share it with the community. (administrators, colleagues, alumni, parents) Build on any successes. Get the local community involved to demonstrate how coding skills applies to business, science, etc.

Remember, anyone can code!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Inquiry Based Learning - A Follow-up to Dive Into Inquiry

*Feel free to copy and modify any documents in this post. A special thanks to Trevor MacKenzie, author of Dive Into Inquiry. See his website and follow him on Twitter.

Demonstration of Learning Display
Click here for a 30s video of the display
I’ve done inquiry projects in the past, but never as focused. For the last quarter of this past school year I chose to have my Grade 8 Social Studies classes work on a carefully planned inquiry project, rather than the usual essay that had been done in past years. (students have had plenty of experience writing in Social Studies and in other subject areas) More importantly, I felt it was time for them to have more freedom to choose a topic of interest, within the school’s curriculum. Feel free to skip down to the examples of student work. Another focus of emphasis was the authentic audience, producing work that was intended for an audience outside of parents and their teacher. (and hopefully generating more passionate and higher quality work) I was inspired by Trevor MacKenzie’s Dive Into Inquiry and the clearly laid out approach. I modified it to suit our timeline and needs. As the kids weren’t completely free to choose their topic, as it had to be Japanese history, this was a guided inquiry project. Students are required to use printed copies of this document to take handwritten notes, to help them learn to write key ideas in their own words. (aside from direct quotes) These qualify as part of their investigation grade, along with a bibliography.

The Approach
After I had a general plan in mind I began with a conversation, which sprouted wonderful support from our MS-HS librarian / media centre head. We decided to review the research process: how we explore and determine a topic, employing keywords and related terminology in our search, where to seek initial information to determine whether we have enough resources, where we would focus our research, and developing a strong research question. Through this I developed this Guided Inquiry Task Planning Document. After explaining the assignment to students, emphasizing that it was a 3-month commitment, we meandered down to the library and I let our librarian / media specialist take the reigns for the period. Students knew she was there to support them throughout the process. I usually give students an assessment description sheet, but felt that the planning document and rubric were sufficient. (see how I use Google Classroom to manage paperless assessments and rubrics)

See the Inquiry Project Rubric. (based on MYP style markbands) To differentiate, which was a suggestion from one of our learning support teachers, I created a checklist to help some students (and parents) focus on the key requirements of the task. See the Inquiry Project Rubric (Checklist Version). Needless to say, these students also had other modifications such as extra time to work, and more frequent check-ins form me.

Idea Generation for Demonstrations of Learning
An important step was to generate ideas for what MacKenzie refers to as “demonstrations of learning”. I love that term and now use it. I initially wrote some of my own ideas for the final presentation, but looked at a number of websites and created a document for review. We did go over the document, with me highlighting some of the more engaging ideas. The freedom to choose how they would present their learning culminated in ideas I NEVER would have considered myself. A case in point is this Paper Scroll Story on Saigo Takamori, the real “last samurai”. The student even created a prototype with an Oreo box! (see the image below)

Artist Katsuhika Hokusai Timeline
See the Inquiry Project Ideas document.

Unfortunately, due to a sudden trip overseas the students and I couldn’t plan and prepare, together, an “Inquiry Exhibition” at the school. However, I did have a morning before leaving and put together a display in the Middle School area. I wanted the students to see that their work would be presented to a wider audience. The school community was encouraged to stop by and learn a little Japanese history, and parents were given a document with links to each and every assignment. See a video of the display.

Here are some of the projects.

A museum brochure on Murasaki Shikibu, Japan’s first woman novelist, who may have written created the world’s first novel (pdf)

A museum brochure on Masako Hojo, woman samurai (pdf)

So what did they learn?
Paper Scroll Story Prototype
Beyond research and synthesis, you can see that many of the students have learned about the esthetics of a presentation - text and font colours and styles, colour contrasts, rule of thirds, narrative skills, and audio/video. Morevover, many of them employed storytelling concepts. There is always room for improvement, but for a group of 13-14 years olds they are doing very well, and learning a wide range of skills! (research, analysis, synthesis, oral and visual communication, and decision making to name a few)

What would I do differently?

Saigo Takamori and Masako Hojo Museum Brochures
I think I would more emphatically encourage students to choose topics that are not directly studied in the class. (or perhaps even require it) Many of the topic choices were based on course content, albeit with much deeper research. In the least, students had choice and were most likely interested in the topics. Additionally, I would encourage students to think more about what would be interesting to an audience. There were several screencasts of Google Slides, Keynote, or PowerPoint. This isn’t so innovative. One could argue that using an online comic app to create a presentation is also lacking creativity, but it is much more engaging than a slideshow.  

Monday, July 3, 2017

Google Innovator Program Mentoring: Some Mentoring Reflections

For the past year I have had the good fortune to work with a new Google for Education Certified Innovator, Austin Houp (Google+ and Twitter), supporting him as a mentor. Most of the ideas here are his reflections, along with mine as a mentor. Here is a fantastic New Google Site called Global ConnectEDU that Austin put together to keep the project moving forward, another testament to his commitment to continue this learning journey. 

Although I have been a Teacher / Technology Coach for the past four years, which has obvious elements of mentoring, this is the first opportunity I have had to work with a professional peer over an extended period of time. Some special characteristic of this year-long endeavour was that we worked between Japan and the United States, and more importantly, I could include students in two of my classes. (one for the project, and another with an idea we generated through one of our online Hangouts due to students studying primary source documents on Christopher Columbus) 

The experience has further reinforced my belief that we are indeed very fortunate to have digital technologies that allow collaboration and shared learning across the globe. 

The first key part of the project was to connect students by having them collaborate on a shared Google My Maps map on natural disasters around the world. My Grade 8 students focused on earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions in Asia, fitting in nicely with our course curriculum. 

Austin and I had several great conversations during check-ins and online Hangouts throughout the year as his project evolved. We both agreed that this has been a rewarding growth experience and appreciate the new connections we have made. Although Austin is now moving out of the classroom for a new blended Director of Technology / Curriculum Coordinator position we will be in touch and working with his teachers, in the hope of bringing others into new projects. 

In our reflections, Austin acknowledged that his ambitions were bigger than the final result, accepting that this is often the case. This has allowed me to consider whether I was thinking forward enough, and perhaps could have discussed the scope of the project a little more carefully. The map on natural disasters around the world managed to include schools in Japan, South Africa, China, Turkey, and Australia to work with his school and several others in the United States. In this sense, the scope of the project was wide and very successful. In terms of what more could have been done, I could have thought a little bit more. Our final meeting brought out some ideas that perhaps we could have considered in the beginning. Regardless, in my experience with being part of the global edtech community I've seen the difficulty of getting schools to collaborate. This project involved students across five continents. (if we consider Turkey as European, but could also be considered Asian) 

Austin expressed a feeling that the activity was collaborative, but too passive, and would like a more synchronous approach. It is difficult to have students work together in real time across time zones, and not all students have devices and internet at home, rendering meeting online for homework an incredible (but not impossible) challenge. We've discussed making future collaborations more active, or in the least have students visually see who they are working with, such as video feedback. One of his suggestions is to harness Flipgrid to have students collaborate through video. 

Another area I perhaps could have been more thoughtful as a mentor was suggesting how to reach out to more online communities. Austin did take to Twitter and some of his online communities early on, but suggested that he in should have reached out to Google Educator Groups (GEG) earlier on, though he did as the project progressed. I would have served him better by suggesting this. 

His own reflections also included new ways to add to the student-developed maps, such as creating YouTube videos describing the topic, or drawings and posters that match the project, allowing students to share more of their own self-generated content. Another was to build the use of spreadsheets into the project, but acknowledged that this would be a higher level of learning. (finding and manipulating data) Additionally, further challenges included getting buy-in from classes, and building projects that are more active and less passive - we agree that students ideally meet face-to-face in order to really make that "human connection". 

Some additional thoughts with regard to my part in this process includes a need to think more deeply about how I ask questions throughout the process, perhaps the most important one being "What will success look like?". I needed to evaluate the project plan better from the beginning, in order to offer better suggestions. (strengths, weaknesses, deeper ideas to consider, strategies for reaching out) 

This was an excellent experience for both of us. We managed to maintain contact in spite of busy schedules and time zones nearly half a day apart, both through fairly regular Hangouts and email. It reminds me that the success of a collaborative (and individual) project requires a serious commitment from all involved. Austin was successful on many levels, bringing many people together with his project, and he is clearly thinking about future projects. Indeed, he is thinking of what he refers to as a "Global Collaboration Book" - an admittedly "big idea", but we all know great things start from ideas. As he embarks on a new journey as Director of Technology and Curriculum Coordinator at his school he will be in a prime position to mentor his own colleagues and use this experience to enhance teaching and learning in his local community and others outside of it. 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Children and the Digital Age - “Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World” by Devorah Heitner is Essential Reading for Parents and Teachers


*Updated July 5th to include downloadable resources, linked below, and July 21 with YouTube resources.

Take time this summer to read Screenwise (2016) and Dr. Devorah Heitner’s website Raising Digital Natives, Twitter, and TED. (or find the book on Amazon) Screenwise is essential reading for educators and parents alike - and now that summer break is coming, get reading!

Although it could appear to be a book of strategies for parents to help children deal with the technology “bombardment” at home, as I read I found that I was taking copious notes on the suggested strategies so that I can help the parents of my students, as well as more deliberately guide students to better decision-making as they develop their digital identities. I took 30 pages of notes, but the following is just scratching the surface of those notes, let alone the book itself. I am also very impressed with how Dr. Heitner frequently makes reference to further reading and research, a very important part of the “sharing economy”. My contribution includes three handouts and a Drive document that can be shared with parents, or modified by educators. I would like to thank Dr. Devorah Heitner for granting permission to use widely from her body of research.

Upon writing this post I’ve noticed that I have pulled from various parts of the book at random. This post is also meant to “tease” the reader - the strategies bulleted here are only samples from the book. (I do intend to do further research and create my own parent-friendly resources, crediting the sources used) For now, if you like what you see in this post, pick up a copy of Screenwise and enjoy!

From YouTube: Parent Resources, Teen Safety, Harassment and Cyberbullying, Suicide and Self-Injury (incl. US confidential help services), Privacy & Safety Settings, and Additional Resources.

The Aims of the Book
Dr. Heitner notes three aims in her research and writing:

  1. To support parents in becoming digital mentors to their children.
  2. Find balance in the digital world.
  3. Acknowledge the benefits of technology.

With regard to mentoring, she recognizes that it’s about guiding kids through their mistakes and to empathize with their lives, pointing out that kids feel pressure to keep up with their peers or might feel left out. (FOMO - fear of missing out, making ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ important to their feeling of social standing) It’s also about modelling proper behaviour for children. I would suggest that this applies to educators' behaviour in schools as well. Her research points out that many kids feel there are rules for adults and rules for children. I think that this is probably okay, but adults do have to be careful about hypocritical behaviour. Kids are watching us.

Social Emotional Growth in the Digital World
Heitner notes that devices don’t cause social-emotional turbulence, but can heighten it. As with any time in history, some personalities are “wired for drama”, thus we have to help kids identify when it’s time to plug into different online communities when there is negativity in one. More important than privacy is safety. Bullying has always existed, but these online communities now give bullies a new outlet. Kids need to learn guidelines for when they are bullied, blackmailed or see bullying happen. In addition to this is having a frank discussion with kids about what is online, and what content is made for adults, giving strategies to deal with adult content that kids may come across, as well as how to protect themselves from talking to online strangers.

Kids and Online Content
We can’t always control what online content kids view, but we can influence how they engage with it. Filters don’t actually control children much. They have to learn the difference between .com / .org / .edu / .gov, etc, as well as copyright and information laws, the public sphere vs the private, and how text and images influence content consumers. Young people quickly learn how to get over firewalls, and thus need to learn to assess the content in front of them. Some things about youth and life online that they don’t do well:

  • Deal with peer conflict
  • Handle group dynamics
  • Use privacy settings effectively
  • Understand their digital footprint
  • Understand the functions/power of the apps they use
  • Understand how to demonstrate academic honesty properly

Assessing One’s Own Digital Literacy
An important strategy note in the book for adults is to assess your own digital literacy. How much do you know about the apps your children are using? Developing the ability to mentor your own kids may require finding your own mentor. (a good idea!) Teachers can seek instructional coaches or other teachers; parents can seek help at their children’s school. According to Heitner, studies show that mentorship is more effective at developing positive behaviour that limiting access to apps and devices. Check the idea of “limiters”, “mentors” and “enablers”. (Chapter 3) Families have to stand firm and make choices for what works with their family, not what other families are doing. It can be difficult for parents to talk to other parents about their children’s technology uses. Not sure how to create a “rules for home”? You can:

  • Talk to a teacher or administrator for advice
  • Do careful research on strategies for a home “technology” playbook
  • Teach your children to be confident in saying “we don’t do that at our home”
  • Host gatherings at your home for children so you can supervise, model and perhaps mentor

Working With Your Children
How can you work with your children? (here is a short list of strategies you can use with your child)

  • Ask about the apps they use at school and one their own
  • Explore apps with your child
  • Create a do/don’t list
  • Create a behaviour criteria for connecting with friends online
  • Consider potential drama that could happen with friends online and how to respond to it
  • Learn to avoid geotagging (for safety)
  • Talk about what makes a good friend
  • Games & Apps:
    • Seek out playgrounds, not playpens (Scratch, Minecraft, Code Academy...)
    • Play the games together; have your child teach you to play
    • Try to find apps that encourage creativity, connectivity with friends, and collaboration
    • Seek empathy building games
    • Avoid games that sexualize female characters
    • Determine structured playing time (or even supervised playing time, depending on the age of the child)
    • Talk about purchasing apps, how credit works, how in-app purchasing works, and online purchasing in general (such as buying on Amazon) - empower them to understand the economics of apps
  • Discuss and seek out positive examples of online profiles
  • Discuss the consequences of online mistakes

Get your child to articulate why websites, online spaces, and apps are useful. Some questions to consider:

  • What areas a the biggest time wasters?
  • How does texting (and posting) sometimes lead to conflict?
  • In what situations should a child tell their parents about a negative online interaction?

It’s important to keep in mind that children and teenagers use apps not only for gaming but also to connect with friends. (kind of like hanging out at the mall years ago; kids now hang out in online spaces)

Becoming a “Tech-Positive” Parent
Keep in mind that kids are watching adult behaviour. What habits are they observing? Think about or create family rules together. (such as unplugged meals, screen time, routines and schedules, protocol for posting family images, curating family photos) Consider the habits that will be needed when getting new or first devices. (including gaming devices and cell phones) What will the process be that allows for some monitoring to independence? How will the child be affected by having the device? (will the child be “in or out” of the loop; will they overshare; will they look at inappropriate content; what are the social “status” implications; safety and privacy)

Dr. Heitner suggests the following characteristics of parents who see the value in technology and are proactive with regard to the home “tech” environment. Assume that children are doing the right thing. Understand that not all screen time is a waste - there is plenty of learning on YouTube, television, and creativity apps. The parents:

  • Establish a safe environment at home with plugged in and unplugged time
  • Don’t block, talk
  • Think about their own device and time usage, and model this for the family
  • Requests permission before posting images of their children online
  • Use positive language with your children, praising rather than giving warnings
  • Encourage family collaboration (ie) shared calendars, shared apps / accounts, and perhaps even work on a YouTube channel together
  • Avoid spying apps - build trust instead
  • Follow bloggers that can keep you up to date on new online apps and games (the book suggests GeekDad)

*See a checklist on page 80 of Screenwise.

Empathizing with Your Child
Dr. Heitner suggests empathy being a critical approach to helping your children. Think about their weekly schedule. Do they have too much “going on” to even eat? (which leads to fatigue and poor decision-making) Find well-timed, authentic opportunities to model good behaviour, such as sharing your text messages, or asking if it’s okay to post their image (which indirectly says “this image belongs to you, not your parents” - they’re empowered). This modeling teaches self control. Mentor the proper use of phone conversations and emailing. Understand that children may not want to hang on to old photos - their last few months may have been socially a bit rough.

As a parent, should you choose to monitor texts and posts be sure to have a response to negative content (such as gossip, foul language, negative talk about teachers and other adults). If you choose to monitor, have a plan to move towards the child’s independence. Have the child work with you to create the ‘rules of engagement’.

Dating & Online Relationships
Many young people are already aware that their personality online is different from face-to-face encounters. Dating and friendship haven’t changed but the nature of relationships have a new dimension due to social media and the internet. Work with children to create a “healthy digital and face-to-face” friendship checklist. Does your child:

  • Know the difference between online and offline friends?
  • Know how to be clear about their values and ethical or social boundaries?
  • Understand that popularity isn’t reflected in ‘likes”, “followers” and “retweets”?
  • Identify when a person is being excluded digitally?
  • Identify bullying and meanness online?
  • Act respectfully, thoughtfully and safely towards others and self in all relationships?
  • Know to not take a face-to-face conflict online?
  • Know when it’s a good idea to “unfollow” someone?
  • Identify online cruelty?
  • Identify the difference between online drama and online cruelty?

An important consideration is that children don’t always want to be online. They can get tired of “keeping up” socially. Kids congregate online in social media and gaming communities. Young people need to learn the difference between real friends, online friendships, and followers. Research shows that they do feel snubbed if they don’t get likes and comments. We have to help them understand online conflicts need to be solved properly, not quickly, and how to avoid being “recruited” into someone else’s conflict. When dealing with online relations parents can:

  • Talk about “kinds of friends” (friends vs followers)
  • Discuss that not getting “likes” doesn’t mean they are not “liked”, and a lack of response could also mean the person messaged is offline for a while - teach patience
  • Work with children to understand how their personality plays out online
    • Are they “alpha good” or “alpha bad”?
    • Do they try to please everyone?
    • Are they introverted?
  • Discuss whether “social rules” are different for boys and girls, and why or why not
  • Determine how conflicts can be resolved, including a possible face-to-face meeting

Discuss strategies to deal with being excluded digitally. Here are some conversation starters:

    • Do you think some kids feel left out on social media?
    • Describe a time you felt left out on social media?
    • Describe a time you didn’t post because you thought someone would feel left out?
    • What do you do if you see a post and feel left out?
    • Do you feel like you’ll be missing out if you’re not tagged in a post?
    • Do you think people deliberately post to make others feel left out? Why would someone do that?

Online Social Skills
Spend time talking to your child about healthy behaviour. Some topics of conversation can include:

  • Sharing embarrassing photos
  • Starting rumours anonymously
  • Instigating trouble between two people
  • Pointing out who “unfollowed” whom
  • Starting online communities to deliberately exclude

Here is a social skills assessment parents can use with children:

  • Can your child articulate the difference between a friend and a follower?
  • Does your child realize they don’t have to friend someone to be polite?
  • Can your child self-govern their texting activity?
  • Can your child handle unwanted attention in a clear and direct manner?
  • Is your child comfortable enough with excusing themselves from a group chat that is negative?
  • Does your child take online conflict offline, and keep it civil?
  • Does your child come to you for advice when there is some kind of online trouble or conflict?
  • Is your child aware that photos are a form of communication? (be it a form of code, intentional or unintentional communication)

School Life in the Digital Age
Probably needless to say, distraction is a major issue. Young people tend to have multiple windows open, with multiple devices, music / video and chat apps open. There is such a massive amount of data available that the nature of school work has changed dramatically. (not to mention communication) It’s important that parents learn school technology practices and policies, as well as understand your child’s engagement with technology and homework.

Strategies for home could include:

  • No double-screening (though I would suggest that sometimes the nature of homework may require two screens to be open)
  • Do homework in a common area of the home, such as the living room
  • Do non-internet based homework first
  • Speak to teachers and administrators about homework apps that will appropriately help with homework

With children, parents and educators have to discuss things such as academic honesty, producing original work, how to collaborate, and when sharing work is and isn’t okay.

Works Cited
Heitner, Devorah. Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World. Brookline,
MA: Bibliomotion, Inc, 2016. Print.