Toddlers and Tweets? One Story of a Remarkable Educator

This post is part of a promotion of Alter Your World, an Alt Summit project aimed at celebrating actions, big or small, that focus on good in the community.

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We live in a world that reminds us of technology’s presence every day. We find ourselves continually wading through screens full of texts, tweets, emails, and moving pictures. At times overwhelming, it can be easy start to wonder if we should eject ourselves and our children from technology altogether.

I am more prone to wonder: 

What if we pull back from the debate about “whether or not” to expose children to media, and alternatively investigate “how” we can incorporate technology into meaningful learning experiences?

Danielle Charron is an extraordinary teacher who embraces this question in big ways. She is working on earning her Masters Degree and Early Childhood Teaching License through the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program. As part of this year-long program, Masters candidates spend a week studying world-renowned educational practices in Reggio Emilia, Italy. As Danielle prepared for this trip in March of 2015, she began to consider ways to stay connected to her class of toddlers. 

A child offered one way: 

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This child reminded Danielle of the natural empathy and keen awareness young children possess. Since the children were interested in her journey, Danielle wondered if she could use Twitter to invite them along and continue to engage as their teacher.

What she did next was simple, yet remarkable: 


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Danielle invited her class to follow her journey on Twitter, which offered: 

  • A way for Danielle to bring the classroom with her. 
  • A way for parents and children to share excitement and curiosity about their teacher’s adventure. 
  • A way for the children to engage with technology as a tool. 

Last but not least:

  • A way for the children, families, and co-teachers to travel along, asking new questions, engaging in new conversations, learning new things, and building deeper relationships along the way!

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T’s Mom shared: “T loved this and was excited to have me read your notes and talk about how they corresponded to the pictures. He especially loved seeing Crocodile (his imaginary friend). There was also one photo that showed a window shot of another building. This started a conversation about what we see out of windows and what you were seeing out the window on your trip. Thanks for allowing us all to follow along!”

When M gave Danielle the rock that sparked this story, he told her it was “for your trip”. When she returned to her physical classroom to share her stories in person, she showed M that his gift was still with her. 

“It went to Italy and all the way back here!”

Indeed, didn’t they all? I am in awe of Danielle for her willingness to embrace the possibilities that technology and social media offer!

When we spend time debating “whether or not” to accept technology into our lives with young children, we might just miss extraordinary learning opportunities like this.

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A coding resolution for the new year (deja vu?)

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Image Source: http://coachtoddreed.com/2013/make-this-new-years-resolution-stick/

I have not traditionally been a person who makes New Years resolutions. I do believe resolutions are important, as the act of declaring some kind of promise with the intention of self-improvement is a wonderful practice. I simply believe it can be worthwhile to declare resolutions throughout the year.

This being said, I have recently come to realize that perhaps there is something I have overlooked about the practice of declaring resolutions for a new year. There is something important about the time between Winter Solstice, marking the shortest day/longest night of each year, and the first day of the Gregorian Calendar, January 1. This stretch of roughly eleven days can easily cause disruptions in one’s mental and physical health. Cold, darkness, holidays, travel, and an increase in social obligations cause typical routines to shift. For teachers of all kinds, the stretch between semesters can provide time for rest, but can also necessitate more time spent finishing work from Fall semester and planning and organizing for Spring semester. All of this can leave us feeling disconnected and anxious, creating a need for self-renewal.

January 1 isn’t necessarily the day when I feel my energy needing a specific renewal effort, but I do always feel that need at some point in January. My typical formula for self-renewal includes more yoga, more tea (less coffee), less sugar, and more quality time with friends and loved ones. This year, I am adding an additional variable to my formula: more coding. More specifically, I’m re-committing myself to the resolution I made almost 4 months ago to learn to code. Continue reading

Metacognition: Thinking About My Coding Thoughts

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Image source: http://www.gizmag.com/ibm-supercomputer-simulates-a-human-sized-brain/25093/

If metacognition can be considered a hobby, then it is definitely one of mine. (I fully realize how nerdy that sounds.)

I love thinking about thinking! When you work with young children, you have to become a “thought detective”. Young children’s brains are developing so quickly and efficiently, and teachers have to know how to support that. We have to be able to speak and interpret lots of different languages, many of which are nonverbal.  In order to do this, we have to really dig deep into our own analytical brains and constantly evaluate and reevaluate things we see happening in front of us.

We have to be able to think about children’s thinking, but also about our own! Continue reading

“It’s Never Too Early to Develop”…Is this Brilliant, or Simply Novel?

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Photo Source: Codebabies.com

(from website) It’s never too early to be standards compliant! Show your little ones HTML markup code along with letter forms to get them started on the visual patterns and symbols that make up the essential building blocks of the Web. The first in a three-volume set, originally designed by a NYC Web Designer for his baby, this beautiful book is a fun and colorful introduction to the world of web design for babies.

I’m not too sure how I feel about this!

On the one hand:

I mean…I know that giving any book to a baby is better than giving no book to a baby.

Exposure to print is great (and necessary) for babies’ pre-literacy development.

I also know that exposure to simple, clean designs with high contrast is naturally interesting and engaging for them, while also supporting their ocular development.

I also know babies have an incredible capacity for learning language before the age of 3.  The more language exposure babies get results in more foundational neurochemistry being established for learning languages later in life.

I also know that part of the barrier to learning to code is just being exposed to it, and NOT thinking that it looks and sounds alien. (I know this from experience…I can say that now!) Thus, this simple exposure could provide some foundations for code being accepted as a cultural reality in one’s world.

I also think this is clever! I mean…”It’s never too early to develop”…that is fantastic! Continue reading

Should Everyone Learn to Code?

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Should everyone learn to code? Maybe, maybe not…but that is not exactly what I aim to debate on this blog (although I welcome the debate if it happens!)

I do, however, believe that every child should have a shot at understanding and learning about coding. Because of that, I’ve come to believe that in the not-too-distant future, teachers will need to know something about computer programming. We should know what code is, know how to write some of it, and know about the types of thinking it takes to successfully write code.

Why?

Because it will make us better teachers!  As our world becomes more and more computer-driven, there will be more and more conversations about computer programming.  More and more children will want to explore and learn coding. Should all those children be encouraged to become professional computer programmers?  Not necessarily, but their natural interests and curiosities around coding and computer programming should be encouraged and supported as they figure out whether or not programming is something they’d like to pursue.

Further, How can teachers support the interests and curiosities if they themselves have no idea what coding is or how it can be used?  We can sit children in front of computers with Hour of Code, or a Scratch tutorial, but if we ourselves don’t know what they are doing, how can we help and support them?  Are we really being good teachers?

I think much of the debate around “should everyone learn to code?” largely misses the point.   Continue reading

Inspiration: Learning By Doing

The article, American Schools Are Training Kids for a World That Doesn’t Exist, by David Edwards, provides some incredibly important perspectives for educators to consider: http://www.wired.com/2014/10/on-learning-by-doing/

Describing current educational trends, the article states: “We ‘learn,’ and after this we ‘do.’ We go to school and then we go to work. This approach does not map very well to personal and professional success in America today. Learning and doing have become inseparable in the face of conditions that invite us to discover.”

The authors go on to describe some important movements bubbling up through the cracks of our institutions: “Discovery has always provoked interest, but how one discovers may today interest us even more. Educators, artists, designers, museum curators, scientists, engineers, entertainment designers and others are creatively responding to this new reality, and, together, they are redefining what it means to learn in America.”

Part of the reason I’m learning to code and writing this blog is because I believe that In order for students to adopt and maintain attitudes of discovery, teachers need to be discoverers too.  We  must play, design, experiment, and find joy in the process in order to be effective in our jobs and nurture the natural creative genius in our students.  I’m not yet sure if I believe that every teacher will need to learn to code, but I do believe that every teacher needs to find and nurture their own creative passions and seek new creative challenges to tackle.

What will it take for our schools to provide professional development that fosters teacher discovery?

What will it take for teacher education programs to nurture discovery mindsets in new generations of teachers?

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Fighting Back Against “I’m Terrible at Math”

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Many teachers, and many people in general feel terrible at math. In the article, The Myth of “I’m Bad at Math”, by Miles Campbell and Noah Smith analyzes this phenomenon and makes a very compelling case for why this is so dangerous in our society.  They say “We hear it all the time. And we’ve had enough. Because we believe that the idea of “math people” is the most self-destructive idea in America today. The truth is, you probably are a math person, and by thinking otherwise, you are possibly hamstringing your own career.”

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I grew up thinking I was bad at math.  Many of us did!  I believe this phenomenon is part of why I’ve never (until now) considered that computer programming was even worth trying to understand. “I’m terrible at math”, is something that many of us feel completely comfortable and even proud saying to pretty much anyone.

When we think about a teacher proudly proclaiming “I’m terrible at reading!”, it does not seem acceptable. We’d all probably think less of this person. So why is it acceptable with math and not acceptable with reading? This is a question all teachers need to examine. There really shouldn’t be a difference between the two.

Continue reading