All posts by kshevy

Reflecting before Relaxing: Ending my School Year

When I end the school year, I try to take a moment before I reach full blown summer mode to reflect on my year. Today I chose to sit down for a few minutes and decipher my report card: the survey my students take to grade me. It includes quite a few questions that I take to heart: have I treated them fairly, am I easy to understand, do I care about them. I’m a huge proponent of getting feedback from my “customers” and unlike the local retailer who has to bribe consumers with coupons or chances to win $100 gift cards, my students gladly take the time to be honest with me, especially when I give them class time to do it.

In August, I set out to make my classroom a place of readers and writers. So, this year I added a few specific questions about each. Did student attitudes about either change? Answering on a Likert scale, here’s what my students responded.

Reading

For the most part, attitudes changed for the better. I was generally pleased, but that bottom end still bugs me. I know there is still work to be done.

What I did:

I tried desperately to create a culture of reading. Students were to read at least two hours every week. On Fridays, they would have a book talk with their group members where each would share one assignment from this grid. Based on the standards, I wanted students to try to make more meaningful connections with their books. Plus the assignments gave them something to talk about. I also shared what I was reading, and we had whole class book recommendation time. At the end of each trimester, we would make book trailers and write reviews on Goodreads.

What I would change:

I would no longer require students have their grid assignment done for homework. I want the focus to be the reading. Instead, I would give them time just before book talks to do some sort of reflection for the week, then share that. I’m considering dropping Goodreads and somehow incorporating their reviews instead into student blogs. I love the online community, but we just don’t have time to utilize it. Also, I would do more individual book conferences. In a 47 minute class period it takes me a week to get to every student, but the one time I did accomplish it this year, it was powerful.

Writing

Like reading, I’m very pleased with the attitude change. The negative attitude (1-2) dropped significantly. Of course, still work to do!

What I did:

I wrote a blog post about this a few months ago, but basically, I kept my promise. We wrote every day and we shared in some form every day. Monday-Thursday we wrote in our journals and Fridays we blogged. In addition, we wrote many other genres: stories, essays, letters, etc. In a nut shell, we wrote a lot.

What I would change:

First of all, I would personally write and share more. I can stop what I’m doing for three minutes and write at the beginning of each period with my students. The times I have shared my writing, the students loved. It’s powerful to be a model. Sometimes I forget that. I would also try to carve more time for personal feedback. Whether that’s an official writing conference, or even just an email or comment on a Google Doc. I need to make it a priority to make sure I give each student something to improve. It’s how we all grow.

It was a great year, and I’m thankful my students thought so, too. Now, it’s time to start summering. The stack of books on my nightstand are waiting. 

A Bittersweet Goodbye

I opened up my blog the other day and was shocked! I haven’t written anything since DECEMBER? Seriously? What the heck have I been doing? Oh, yeah. I’ve been finishing my Master’s degree in Education Technology. As I finish out my last week (the work is DONE!), I can’t help but think about what I’ve learned.

  • Pedagogy over Tools. When it comes to incorporating technology in the classroom, teachers can be quick to try a tool because it seems cool. But sometimes, a piece of paper and a pencil is better. Technology can open a world full of possibilities, but always make sure the tech is chosen because it is the best teaching tool for students. Think pedagogy first. Always.
  • Data Sees All. Having to complete an action research project where I am scrutinizing quantified data and coding qualitative data, opened my eyes. I often think a lesson or unit is working in my classroom, but is it really? Collect data and you’ll know for sure. Often, the results are not what you anticipated.
  • Read. Read. Read. There is nothing more powerful than reading research. Yes, it’s dull and time consuming, but actually diving into other researchers’ data, can be incredibly enlightening. Plus, you might win an argument at the lunch table or sound really smart at a staff meeting.
  • APA Kills. I was quite sure the fifth draft was fine. I was wrong. I swear. APA is like a blood-sucking mosquito. There must be a reason for its existence, but no one cares what it is.
  • Time is Precious. When you’re a mom with a full time job, then decide to add a degree program, you learn quickly that time is one thing you cannot spare. I feel incredibly lucky to have such support around me, keeping me organized: most notably, my husband. And Google Calendar. In that order.
  • Facebook is a Stress Management Tool: No, not reading about your fabulous weekends or dinners at exotic locales, I mean the constant questions, rants, memes, and other snide comments that created our iMET 18 Facebook Group. I was honored to have shared this journey with 13(ish) other tech-loving professionals. It was in the Facebook group that we could have the honest conversations and just generally help each other out. I would often laugh because our professors wanted us to have authentic online conversations so badly. We did. It was just out of the school’s earshot. This group of amazing individuals were my lifeline. I will be forever indebted to them.

While I am thrilled to be done with all my coursework, I will miss the camaraderie our group created. Getting to see my cohorts in person a few weekends a year was an added bonus. It’s the one factor I loved most of all about the program: not all of it was online. My cohorts connections allowed us to be honest and truly learn from one another.

I asked a few of them to share what they learned in the iMET program:

The biggest thing I learned wasn’t the theories or the tools, it was in fact the level of intelligence, the passion, and the commitment that my fellow iMET cohorts had to teaching. Teaching, as it turns out, isn’t about saving the world or even a child. It’s about education, not through the mechanism of schools, but to provide the tools, whatever it may be for students to be able to read the world and become productive participants of their society. This is where technology fits in education.”–Chong Yang (Engineer)

I learned how to use digital tools to reach students using different learning modalities. The use of student created audio and video resources have been valuable in making me a better teacher.” —Graham Stewart (Middle School Social Studies Teacher)

–Brianna Strang (5th Grade Teacher)

“I learned about collaboration on-line, as well as designing curriculum for online spaces. I learned that there are still injustices in classrooms throughout our country. Oh, and I learned that results were mixed in whether or not VR is better than 2D learning.” —Josh Breese (Community College English Teacher)

On Saturday afternoon I don my robe an hood (YES!) and receive the piece of paper for which I’ve been working. I must say I’m a little sad to be saying goodbye to the iMET program, but at least I still have Facebook.

Cheers, iMET 18!

If you want to see my projects, check out my iMET eportfolio

How Daily Writing Saved My Life

Walking on campus this past August, I made a commitment: my students will write EVERY DAY. Little did I realize how powerful this one commitment would be. Not just for them, but for me as a teacher.

Ask any teacher, there never seems to be enough time in the day to really teach every standard that is required. The answer: prioritize. I decided we would start the class period with writing. That way, it would always happen. Besides, I had some phenomenal ideas from my colleagues at the Area 3 Writing Project, the life-changing institute I was lucky enough to attend over the summer, and I was itching to implement all of it!

How I Organize

Each day has a new type of writing prompt. I set a timer and we stick to it, even if students don’t finish. The prompts range from short video clips (the students’ favorite) to different writing techniques. We will also read short articles, work on vocabulary or use the time to practice and review needed skills. However, often I tell students to ignore my prompt and write what they are feeling passionate about at that moment. After all, they are teenagers. Sometimes they just need a way to vent. Our daily writing has really become more of a writer’s workshop in only about 10-15 minutes a day.


During writing, I might circulate the room, but never read over any shoulders. That journal is theirs. Students can choose what is shared and what isn’t. It’s practice, and practice is messy.

daily-writing-examples
Writing rules written by Edna Shoemaker

What I’ve Noticed

For one, we are writing and sharing every day. YES! Our classroom is now an environment of writing. We are writers. At the beginning of the period I often hear, “What are we writing today?” Of course, their favorite part is sharing and listening to their classmates share.

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On most Fridays, my students are asked to go back and choose a piece to revise and publish on their blog. The blogs are so much better than I’ve read in years past. I believe having a journal full of rich ideas gives them a place to start. Plus, they are in the habit of writing now. It just comes easier.

When my students write, I try to write, too. Well, try. That’s the one resolution I have going forward. I know how powerful and therapeutic daily writing can be for me. Time to practice what I preach.

The Sounds of Learning

I have always been an auditory learner. I can recite commercials heard years ago on the radio, and when I don’t understand a passage I am reading, I read it aloud. As a writer, I also know the power of listening to my own words. I never publish or share a piece without first reading it in my best Leslie Stahl voice. It’s no wonder I push this proofreading technique on my students.

My first “podcast” with my students was last spring. After writing and publishing their “Now I Know Better” stories, my This American Life spin on the personal narrative where students tell stories of epic fails from childhood, usually involving a trampoline and/or torturing by an older sibling, I had students simply record themselves reading their already graded stories. I thought it would be a fun way to share, especially since a podcast was what inspired the assignment. We listened to a few in class, and I encouraged the students to listen at home. We simply ran out of time. Here are some of them:

This year, however, I decided to try something different. Instead of waiting until after the piece was graded, I decided to have students turn in their audio at the same time as their final draft. My thoughts were two-fold:

1. Make each student read the story aloud to hear any mistakes

2. Create an easily shareable format for other students to enjoy classmates’ stories.

It was a resounding success! And this time, I carved out time to allow students to listen to the stories on Chromebooks. Not only were the stories better, but students loved hearing their peers words read by the peers themselves. It was quite powerful.

Of course, my auditory journey did not end there. After going to a session at FallCUE a few weeks ago and hanging out with my buddy, Roland Aichele, he inspired me to do more. Why not record collaborative discussions? So I bought a super cool microphone (the Blue Snowball) and set it up one day last week. I plugged it into a Chromebook, set it to record on Twisted Wave, and plopped it down at one table each period during a discussion. It was AWESOME! Listening to it later, I was giddy hearing the academic discourse, mixed in with the silly 8th grade commentary. It was authentic, it was real and those kids totally rocked the discussion. The best part was I could listen to it after and really assess what each kid was understanding. It is often difficult to get to around to each group, especially in a short discussion. This was an effective way to engage my students, (they were totally on task), and check for understanding.

Now I just want eight more microphones!

 

5 “Dangerous” Things Teachers Should Do

Every kid should have the opportunity to use power tools, drive a car, climb trees, burn things with a magnifying glass and even play with fire, according to Gever Tulley. Of course, he doesn’t mean my children, right? As a parent, I find myself cringing and visibly shaking at the thought of my kids getting hurt. The first time each of them learned to ride a bike, I could be seen running along side them, lecturing instructions. As a teacher, I know this is ridiculous. I know taking risks is exactly what kids need. So why are teachers still in this overprotective mindset, not allowing their students to try two wheels on their own? Breaking away from this attitude is exactly what educators should be doing. It’s time for the training wheels to come off.

In his book 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do) and in his 2007 TED Talk, Tulley emphasizes ways parents can encourage their children to be more independent and foster critical thinking. He believes by allowing kids to do things we might consider dangerous, it gives them the opportunity to recognize and mitigate risk. If you allow your kid to drive, (on your lap he advises), your child will understand better the seriousness of navigating traffic, as well as the concentration a driver must have to maneuver a 4,000 pound machine. Wouldn’t kids be more likely to pipe down in the back seat in stressful traffic conditions? He argues that with these real life experiences, children will better understand safety and the world around them. Moving this idea to the classroom, we also want our students to be independent and critical thinkers who can make real world decisions. Perhaps pushing them to take risks is just the way to do it.

I began teaching in 1995 at a middle school in Southern California. Being wet behind the ears, I was eager to implement any new strategy that was thrown at me. I said yes to every workshop and even tried some pretty horrible programs in those inaugural years. Soon, I was working with a highly motivated team and running a project based language arts and social studies classroom. Then the new standards came out (now the old California Content Standards) along with No Child Left Behind. Things were about to shift.  My life changed, too. Becoming a mom, I decided to take some time off and focus on that role. It was really perfect timing.

Eight years later I returned to a classroom where my students were expected to read passages and simply answer multiple choice questions. I was baffled. Where was the writing? Where was the critical thinking and problem solving? Well, if you wait long enough, education policy always shifts. Enter the Common Core Standards. The problem is that the rigor required to implement these new standards hasn’t been present in so many classrooms for years. It’s time to remember how to ride that old bike. Let’s dust off that old banana seat, shine those spokes and show our students how to pedal down the path of learning. It’s time to be a little “dangerous.” Here’s a few things we can let students do:

Steer: We live in a new age. Yes, I mean the digital age. Information is at students’ fingertips. They can find the answer to just about any question in a matter of moments, assuming the wifi connection is cooperating. Then why are we giving our students the answers? I was once in a workshop conducted by a dear friend who asked the question: “Why are you standing at the front of the class giving students information, when they can look it up themselves?” This blew my mind. Game changer. Mind shift. Time to rethink my classroom. Instead of lecturing, I should be posing questions and having students try and find their own answers.

Remember Project Based Learning? That was good stuff. A huge part of that requires inquiry. It is organized around an open-ended driving question.  How does climate affect the way we eat? How could the Civil War been avoided? A great idea is to show a video of an experiment/concept. Before the end, stop the video. Instead of just giving the answer, ask students to predict what would happen and why. You’ll be amazed at the outcome. I rarely answer questions in my classroom anymore. I just ask them. I’m learning to let go of the handlebars.

Choose the Path: I am a HUGE proponent for choice in the classroom. Heck, I’m a huge proponent of choice in life. I want to pick my car, my movies and even my ice cream flavor. Why should students be any different? In fact, studies show that it’s not just choice but the perception of choice that makes humans buy in. Anyone who has been in a long term relationship knows this. When I want my husband to do something, I hint at it until he thinks it’s his idea. Since it’s his choice, he’s happy to do it! Choice is an extrinsic motivator that, in turn, can create intrinsic motivation.  In the classroom this means that if a student believes he has a say in his own learning, he will be far more motivated.

I have seen this first-hand by implementing Genius Hour in my classroom, a concept made famous by Google, where 20% of work time is spent on a project of the individual’s choosing.  Ask any of my 8th graders and they’ll tell you, it was the project on which they worked the hardest, and the one they loved the most. Stop telling your students what you want them to learn. Let them tell you what they want to learn. And it’s okay to trick them, like a good wife. Students will be motivated to choose their own path to pedal.

Fall and Get Back Up: John Dewey, that pedagogical rock star, once wrote, “All learning begins when our comfortables ideas turn out to be inadequate.” We learn when our status quo is no longer working. We have to change something. Try something new. This often means failure allowing for mistakes. (Failure implies we are setting students up not to succeed, when it is exactly the opposite). As teachers, we need to give our students opportunities to make mistakes, but in a safe environment. Creating a culture of safe risk taking should be a priority of instruction. Students should feel comfortable sharing ideas and work with the entire class. And if something is done incorrectly, that is simply a growing moment.

Creating an inquiry based environment allows students to find their own answers. Often, they find incorrect ones. This is just as valuable as getting the answer right the first time. One of my students once did a “How to” demonstration on cookies.  She had researched and practiced many different ways to bake cookies, finding what she deemed the “perfect” one through her experiments. She messed up her presentation terribly, but was able to tell us why. (She even explained the science of her mistake). Being able to communicate to the class her mistake made it still a success! Human beings learn best when they fall short. As teachers, we need to foster this, pushing our students to take risks, but still scaffolding in layers of support. They fall off the bike sometimes, but we can help them back up.

Ride with Others: Students now have access to infinite possibilities outside of the four walls of the classroom. Why not let them? We know that collaboration only makes our students better, and through technology we can introduce them to a world where they can learn and share with real, authentic audiences, beyond just the teacher. Students also have easy ways to share what they’ve learned with each other in the classroom in effective and efficient ways. Allow students to find their own answers and showcase their expertise and educate their peers. Let them teach each other.

Through Google Hangouts and Skype, it is now possible to connect with experts all over the world. Why not arrange a video call with an author? My favorite way to connect is through blogging. Getting students’ words out on the internet gives their writing an authentic audience. My students have connected with other 8th graders in two different states simply through their writing. In the classroom, students can share their own ideas through sites such as Padlet, a virtual bulletin board. Here members of the class can research their own topics, find critical thinking solutions, make videos, then share with the entire class. Give your students an audience in and out of the classroom. Let them pedal together.

Ride for a Reason: Teachers have always prided themselves on student projects. We’ve had our students build missions, make book floats and even make animal reports in Google Slides. But this isn’t real creating. These are not authentic. Who is the audience? What is the purpose? Simply to have something up at Open House for parents is not a real audience. Checking a box that you used technology is not a real purpose.  

Instead, imagine your students creating real world projects. Maybe the local park needs to be cleaned up. Students could design a commercial asking for volunteers. Perhaps the cafeteria needs a menu reboot. Students could conduct surveys and prepare a report for the administration. Maybe a student feels his parents are being unfair. He can create a convincing proposal to change their minds. The possibilities are endless. The key is, get students to buy in with choice, keep it open-ended, and allow students to create something that has an authentic purpose and audience. Simple, right? Students need teachers to provide the hills to ride, so they can pedal to the top.

The point of all this is that it’s time to be a rebel. Get dangerous. Break some rules. It’s time to step out of the front of the classroom and teach from your students’ side. Our role as educators is to guide, motivate and support our students to be better thinkers and better producers. They can do it. They want to ride. Give them a push and get out of their way.

 

A Writing Affair to Remember

Dear Area 3 Writing Project Summer Institute,

Please don’t think of this as a “Dear John” letter, but it is with a heavy heart that we must part ways. Sadly, it is time for me to go back to my family and my obligations. Regrettably, back to reality. The time we have spent together has been some of the most meaningful I’ve ever experienced. The love was real. The passion, palpable. You have taught me more about myself than I could have imagined. I came here to learn how to be a better teacher, but you made me look deeper. You led me to explore myself as a writer. You pushed me, encouraged me, then celebrated me. For this I will be eternally grateful. Our time together will never be forgotten. You have changed me.

You have made me a better person. I have always thought of writing as something to DO. Something to finish. Something to publish. You have reminded me that it is far more than that. It is a therapeutic process that allows me to process my emotions, organize my ideas and sometimes just have a conversation with myself. I had forgotten that writing doesn’t always have to be published. Writing can be just for me. Thank you.

I came to you hoping to learn strategies to be a better teacher. You gave me that in spades. What I didn’t expect was you to change my attitude about teaching writing. Putting myself in my students’ shoes has given me insight to my own teaching, and how I have fallen short. I feel like I need to write a letter of apology to so many students who had a voice and I stifled it into a box, where I thought it needed to be. No more. I learned about genre blending and how to make the revision process effective. The demos were probably my favorite part. I could watch how other teachers incorporate good teaching into their classrooms all day long. I often would find myself in awe of the people in the room. I want to spend more time with them. Thank you for bringing these people to me. Thank you for your insistence on coaching each of us to shine. Your gift will fill the air of my classroom for years to come.

It is not only their teaching that has impacted me. Getting to spend time with these exceptional individuals has helped me grow personally. From my carpool group and our great conversations, to coaching groups, lunch dates and writing groups, you have given me friendships that I hope will continue to help me both professionally and on a personal level. Being surrounded by people who feel as passionately and borderline nutty about kids and teaching as I do, is a blessing. And it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

Even though we are saying farewell today, know that you are always in my heart, my soul. I will carry you with me always. You have opened my world to a network of extraordinary educators with whom I plan to stay continuously connected. I really didn’t know what I was missing, until I met you. So, this is not goodbye, but a see you soon.

Photo Credit: http://quotesgram.com/its-not-goodbye-quotes/

Love always,

Kristina

This One Time at Writing Camp

I have spent the last two weeks engulfed, submerged in the Area 3 Writing Project Summer Institute. Others who have attended tell of how it can be life changing or at the least, fulfilling. As I mark my halfway point, I am finding myself already lamenting that it will be over soon. Don’t get me wrong. I’m exhausted. But so far, it’s been so worth it. Why? Here’s a glimpse:

The Learning I have been blown away at the amount of strategies (real classroom application stuff) that I gather each day. From actual lessons I can incorporate in my classroom in August, to changing my mindset entirely about writing and reading. More than anything I’ve learned that writing doesn’t fall neatly into three text types: narrative, argumentative and informative as many have interpreted the CCSS to demand. In fact, that was never the intention of the writers of the standards. Writing can cross many types. What we should instead challenge our students to do is write often and through many kinds of genres. What’s really important is that we teach students to write for authenticity, keeping in mind: audience, purpose, content, context and structure. With this in mind, a student could write a review convincing someone to buy a product, using facts, persuasion and even a story. That would encompass all text types. We have been doing our students a disservice by limiting them. I am so guilty of this. I wonder if there’s writing teacher confession. Forgive me Father for I have sinned by teaching formulaic writing…

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The Writing A big purpose of the Writing Project is to create a community of writing teachers who actually write.Because how can you be an expert on something you never do? One of my fellow attendees joked that we were spending our summer at writing camp.  This couldn’t be more true. Coming into this, I was excited about the prospect of filling up my composition book. I love writing, and I couldn’t wait to have time in a structured setting to do so, instead of stealing moments between soccer games and grading papers. So far, though, I’m having a hard time. I’m used to writing essays for my master’s classes and blogging, but those are very different audiences. My essays are written for my professors, who are looking for specific regurgitated content. My blog, well, it’s written for me. I publish it on the web, but really don’t expect much of an audience, maybe a few loyal friends. At the Summer Institute, we share writing, aloud, in writing groups. We will eventually be asked to publish four to five pieces in an anthology. This authentic audience is freaking me out! I know it’s only a matter of time before I relax. The more I write, the more comfortable I’ll get, I’m sure. Sure makes me think about my own students. I think that might be on purpose. Well played, A3WP.

The People Each member of the Institute, 19 of us this year, is required to do a demo. This is a 75 minute lesson presentation and walk through, demonstrating writing strategies taught in the classroom. This is a truly magical experience. Let me preface with an introduction to the qualifications of admittance to the Institute. There is an application and interview process, and the coordinators are very good at choosing phenomenal candidates. Teachers, administrators and curriculum coaches all fill the seats with various levels of expertise, but the same passion for kids that drives the best educators. I am humbled to be in the room and blown away at their demos. I have learned so much from these amazing educators. I have laughed with them, cried, but most of all, I feel I’ve found yet another professional learning family that with whom I will continue to collaborate for decades to come.

Only two weeks left…
But I’m guessing those will be two weeks full of more learning and sincere emotion than any two weeks I have experienced all year, or maybe even for years to come.

4 Reasons I Went to Cue Rockstar Math

When given the opportunity to attend Cue Rockstar Math Edition this weekend, I answered the way I always do: “Yes!” Later, I realized I might be asked to actually DO math. What? This English teacher was shaking in her figurative boots. Turns out, there was no reason to fear. Here’s why I’m glad I went:

1. I need to stop saying, “I don’t do math.” I used to be very good at math, but I didn’t enjoy it. I made up my mind as an early student that I’m just not a math person. Well, when you tell yourself that, it’s true. With pushing myself to a growth mindset mentality, I decided to stop. I tell my students often, in fact it’s posted on my wall: “We are what we believe.” We must model this as teachers. I am a math person! Well, I’m learning. I’m learning by failing. But learning.13124858_10208443507759593_3674246873527755293_n

2. Good teaching is universal. Math teachers have a certain way of approaching things. They are problem solvers. They are infinitely patient, and they don’t seem to mind taking extra time to work with students who are not getting it. They are masters of differentiating. Sure they like correct answers, but more than anything they want students to SHOW THEIR WORK! (I think I just heard you grumble.) As students, we want to get to the answer and move on, but a good math teacher is all about students understanding the process. And she or he won’t give up until every student in the room understands. That tenacity is a model for any teacher. Plus inspiring as heck.

3. Awesome math teachers have even awesomer ideas. The hardest part of a Cue Rockstar is deciding on what sessions to attend. You couldn’t go wrong at this camp. I started Saturday with John Stevens and his amazing ideas about assessment. He walked us through GoFormative and Quizizz , while looking and benefits and limitations of each. We also were able to have honest discussions about how to use assessments, including having the students assess us as teachers: a very powerful tool I will implement, right away. Ending the day with the other Classroom Chef (buy their book), Matt Vaudrey  was all about how to get the perfect classroom culture: Be nice. Be wrong. Sunday, my BBQ buddy Ed Campos, Jr. showcased how he transformed his class into a 360 degree learning space. It was mind blowing. I was sad not to have seen the incredible concepts Lindsey Blass, Michael Fenton and Fawn Nguyen. Of course, just hanging with them and even listening to their shreds, I grabbed some great teaching nuggets.

Rockstar Math Peeps. photo by @LindseyBlass1

4. Math teachers are fun! Apparently it takes a certain person to teach math and those people are CRAZY. In a good way. They had me laughing constantly, never leaving a dull moment. Plus all the awesome math t-shirts! I mean, I didn’t get some of them, but hoping my new found tolerance for math will lead me on the journey to understanding.           

Session 3: Debriefing. Photo by @LindseyBlass1

While, teaching language arts will always be my passion, learning from other teachers is never a bad idea. Of course, making new friends is an even better idea! Cheers.

Is Google Spying on your Child?

I spend a good portion of my time these days doing homework, not blogging like I’d like. Recently, I had the opportunity to research and write a paper on a subject that fascinates me: is Google Apps for Education safe for students at school? I must say, in diving deeper into the subject, I was growing more skeptical. I certainly see the fear some may have. In the end, though, my optimistic nature took over. I tend to lean toward naivety rather than armageddon. You can all laugh at me later when, funded by corporations, singularity occurs, robots become self aware and the world implodes. Deal?

Here’s the paper I wrote arguing that Google has the best intentions and parents needn’t worry:

“Almost one-third of all students—elementary through high school—already use school-issued digital devices, and many of these devices present a serious risk to student privacy. They collect far more information on kids than is necessary, store this information indefinitely, and sometimes even upload it to the cloud automatically. In short, they’re spying on students—and school districts, which often provide inadequate privacy policies (or no privacy policy at all), are helping them” (Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2016). This statement on the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s website could cause any parent to march down to his child’s school and demand some answers. This is exactly what happened a few months ago in Roseville, California. Jeff, a parent of a fourth grader, made fervent objections to his daughter using Google Apps for Education. This got the attention of not just the district, but national news. Electronic Frontier Foundation has since filed a claim with the Federal Trade Commission. The question becomes, does this argument hold any merit? In short, where there has been a bit of a learning curve integrating technology safely in the classroom, including adopting Google Apps, parents can be assured that their child’s privacy is not at risk.

First and foremost, Google is not personally tracking your child. More than 50 million teachers and students are using Google Apps for Education (GAFE), especially now with the inexpensive Chromebook making technology accessible for schools. According to Futuresource Consulting, a researching firm that tracks school technology purchases, in 2012 Chromebooks made up less than one percent of all laptops in schools. Their latest data shows that Chromebooks account for 51% of sales to schools (Petersen, 2015). On a Chromebook, students are forced to use Google Apps. This presents a huge concern for parents like Jeff who believe Google is tracking their child. The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s (EFF) staff attorney, Nate Cardozo believes, “Despite publicly promising not to, Google mines students’ browsing data and other information, and uses it for the company’s own purposes. Minors shouldn’t be tracked or used as guinea pigs, with their data treated as a profit centre” (Gibbs, 2015). Cardozo and the EFF insist that the data Google is collecting will be used to target students with ads. However, this is not true. While Google admits to tracking user use, the purposes are not to collect private information. On Google’s blog it states, “The GAFE Core Services— Gmail, Calendar, Classroom, Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Contacts, Groups, Vault and Hangouts — are the heart of Google’s educational offering to schools. Students’ personal data in these Core Services is only used to provide the services themselves, so students can do things like communicate using email and collaborate on assignments using Google Docs. There are no ads in these Core Services, and student data in these services is not used for advertising purposes” (Google Apps for Education, 2015) The GAFE suite has never had ads, nor will it ever, we are assured. Google is committed to transparency of their use of data and the protection of student privacy. The collection of information is simply to make the user’s experience more effective and productive.

In addition, Chrome Sync data is not used to target ads to individual students. One of the best features of Chrome is the convenience of being able to move from one device to another, syncing information like browsing history, bookmarks and passwords by simply logging into your Chrome account. This feature called Chrome Sync is under fire by EFF.  EFF claims that this is dangerous for children. When a child is at home or uses other sites like Youtube, Maps and Google News at school, their data can be collected for ad use. These sites are not considered part of the GAFE suite and contain ads. Citing Chrome Sync as a privacy violation, Google also addressed this on its blog. It states, “Personally-identifiable Chrome Sync data in GAFE accounts is only used to power features in Chrome for that person, for example allowing students to access their own browsing data and settings, securely, across devices. In addition, our systems compile data aggregated from millions of users of Chrome Sync and, after completely removing information about individual users, we use this data to holistically improve the services we provide. For example if data shows that millions of people are visiting a webpage that is broken, that site would be moved lower in the search results. This is not connected to any specific person nor is it used to analyze student behaviors” (Google, 2015). Again, Google holds true to their task of simply gathering data to improve student experiences when using Google products. Of course, in trying to put student’s first, they also recognized that not all consumers (teachers or students) would find this explanation enough. Therefore, the company reiterates that districts can turn Chrome Sync off or choose what apps to sync. Google has given so much of the GAFE control at the school district level, understanding that the needs of all students are not the same. Districts can control the use of additional Google consumer services, like Blogger, Youtube and Maps if they desire. Giving the district administrators control strengthens Google’s commitment to the integrity of student education.

Furthermore, the gaps in student privacy legislation are closing. Another real concern is not just with Google. There are so many apps and providers working with GAFE that privacy has become an issue. Khaliah Barnes, an associate director at the Electronic Privacy Information Center believes, “Students are not getting the kind of security and privacy protection they deserve” (Petersen, 2015). The laws written in the 1970’s do not require parental approval for vendors for whom school districts choose to do business. This is a bit tricky when it comes to online data. A 2013 study showed that 95% of districts relied on an online cloud service, but only a quarter of those actually informed parents. Even worse, fewer than a quarter of service agreements included what student information the district was disclosing and less than 7% restricted vendors from selling or marketing data about students. In an age of an abundance of digital information, this is really disturbing. Most parents at GAFE districts were never asked for permission, nor were they even told the school was converting. This is disconcerting and alarming to any parent, especially ones like Jeff, who are deeply concerned for the protection of privacy. However, according to an analysis by the Data Quality Campaign, in 2014, 28 student data privacy laws were signed into law across 20 states. According to edweek.org, in California, the Student Online Personal Information Protection Act, or SOPIPA, (SB 1177) “Prohibits operators of online educational services from selling student data and using such information to target advertising to students or to “amass a profile” on students for a non-educational purpose. The law also requires online service providers to maintain adequate security procedures and to delete student information at the request of a school or district” (Herold, 2014). This is considered one of the strictest laws passed nationwide. Therefore, even another online vendor other than Google has to abide by the rules of not collecting student information for non educational purposes, as well as delete student information when it is no longer needed. In California, another law put into effect in 2014 was AB 1594. The bill puts stricter regulations on contracts with vendors and what information they are allowed to obtain and disseminate. According to Joni Lupovitz, vice president of policy for Common Sense Media, a site dedicated to the education and advocacy of safe technology, “Together, it’s really a landmark regulatory scheme. The whole idea is not to stop education technology; the idea is to create a trusted online environment so kids can just be kids and focus on learning”(Roscorla, 2014). Both of these were a leap in the right direction for the privacy of our children.

Districts are also following suit. They are wising up and not staying ignorant on who has their student data and for what purpose. In Roseville, every vendor is required to fill out a vendor compliance agreement, answering specifically to AB 1594 and agreeing to not violate the privacy of the students through sharing any information, including passwords, names and birthdays. (See Appendix). Instead of using student names as identifiers in email and logins, the district is moving to using student identification numbers. Laura Assem, the Chief Technology Officer in Roseville, stated that it is vital students cannot be found online by their names. Removing the use of names is a logical step. As Assem stated, “Unfortunately, technology advances faster than legislation, but you can’t remove technology from education because it’s an accelerator” (Petersen 2015). Districts are recognizing their shortcomings with keeping kids safe, but the benefits of using technology in the classroom are still worth being patient.

GAFE provides students with an experience in the classroom and at home that has not only invigorated learning, but is preparing our students for a 21st Century world. Of course, with every new step we take in technology, there seems to be a concern. However, we must understand the benefits of using technology clearly outweigh even the most minor uncertainty. A study conducted by Adam Schoenbart, an educator in New York who surveyed his own staff and students in 2014, the early stages of GAFE implementation at his site, found that most students and teachers found the use of GAFE had a positive impact on student learning. Of those surveyed, 65% of teachers saw a difference and 60% of students. These were just in the first years of implementation. One district in north Texas, the Arlington Independent School District (AISD) believes that by using GAFE, their collaboration as teachers improved greatly with shared Google Docs. They also improved access to technology for students across socioeconomic levels. A school district in Buffalo, New York, Amherst Central School cites Google Apps for providing individual learning opportunities (Google for Education, 2015). The testimonials seem to be plentiful on Google’s blog. More than anything, providing inexpensive ways for all students to access the internet, create content and collaborate with peers and mentors is inarguably the best option for schools.

As far as the opposition goes, there will always be those that let fear rule fact. They will argue that Google is simply lying to us; that they are storing our children’s information for use in ways we can’t even imagine. However, there is absolutely no merit to that argument. There are those that fear a security breach where our children’s information will be stolen. Unfortunately, in a digital age, that is always a valid concern, but not one that can be specifically applied to Google Apps for Education. Your Social Security number could be stolen from any of a number of secure servers by a gifted hacker. It is the risk we live with in a digital world. Understandably, prior to 2014, the laws were outdated, and companies, like Google could have used student information for profit gain in advertising or some other form. The thing is, there is no evidence it did. Rest assured though, school districts and legislatures are paying attention now. Those gaps are closing and our children are safer than ever. As we move our students to 21st Century skills, we are also moving their privacy to 21st Century security. So, let your kid check his email, work on his Slide presentation and collaborate with his buddy on a Google Doc. He’s safe. As far as dealing with the ones who still object, the Roseville father, Jeff, has come to an agreement with the district. His daughter has been issued a Macbook where she uses the internet and creates Word documents and Power Points without signing into her Google account. She is missing out on the collaborative piece, but sometimes districts have to do what’s best for every child, even if that means simply appeasing a parent.

 

Appendix : https://goo.gl/ZOe0ka

 

References

California Protects Student Data Privacy with Two Bills. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2016, from http://www.govtech.com/education/California-Protects-Student-Data-Privacy-with-Two-Bills-.html

Gibbs, S. (2015, December 02). Google accused of spying on students in FTC privacy complaint. Retrieved February 27, 2016, from http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/dec/02/google-eff-ftc-privacy-chromebook-gmail-spying-students

Google for Education:. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2016, from https://www.google.com/edu/case-studies/amherst-central-schools/

Google for Education:. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2016, from https://www.google.com/edu/case-studies/arlington-independent-school-district/

Google for Education: The facts about student data privacy in Google Apps for Education and Chromebooks. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2016, from http://googleforeducation.blogspot.com.au/2015/12/the-facts-about-student-data-privacy-in.html?m=1

Google for Education: Tools schools can trust. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2016, from https://www.google.com/edu/trust/#has-google-signed-the-student-privacy-ledge

Peterson, Andrea. (2015, December 28). Google is tracking students as it sells more products to schools, privacy advocates warn. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2016, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2015/12/28/google-is-tracking-students-as-it-sells-more-products-to-schools-privacy-advocates-warn/

The Schoenblog. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2016, from http://www.aschoenbart.com/2016/02/gafe-impact-report-part-3-summary-of.html

Student Privacy. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2016, from https://www.eff.org/issues/student-privacy/

Because I Can’t Resist (or Say No), The 1,2,3,4,5 Challenge

If you spend anytime with me, you know my kryptonite: the direct question. “Will you….” No hesitation, “Yes.” I was challenged by Trisha to write a blog post, so here it is:

 

  1. What has been your one biggest struggle during this school year?

Hands down I will say time. I started a master’s program this year, as well as started taking on more gigs of presenting at conferences and teaching workshops. As any sane person can imagine, making time to create fabulous lessons has suffered. I often find myself flying by the seat of my pants. Of course, I’ve learned a lot about myself in the process.

  1. Share two accomplishments that you are proud of from this school year.
  • The relationships I’ve fostered with my students. It’s funny, all the flying by the seat of my pants has actually made me relax a bit more in the classroom. I’m not so uptight about following my plans. Instead, I find myself giving far more one on one time to individuals. We have more conversations, and I feel like I’m meeting their needs better than I have in the past. I know them as people. When the structure falls apart, the human emerges. It’s pretty awesome.
  • The relationships I’ve fostered with other educators. From my coworkers at my site and in my district, to my PLN on Twitter and Voxer to my cohorts in my master’s program, I am surrounded by amazing people. I’ve managed to collaborate on so many levels and learned so much from these incredible individuals. Plus, I’ve formed friendships that have already proven valuable, and I will cherish for years to come. I feel darn lucky!
  1. What are three things you wish to accomplish before the end of the school year?
  • First, I want my students to not notice I’ve left the room. I want them to be so engaged in their own learning, that I am not needed. I seriously can’t wait to start Genius Hour in the next few weeks!
  • Second, I want to get a handle on where I’m going. Next year will be a big year for me doing my Action Research project for my masters, but I still feel I’m floundering as to what I really want to accomplish. This tends to be a common theme with me. I want to do everything, but have such a hard time narrowing my focus. I’m working on it.
  • Lastly, I just want to survive. Taking three classes this semester, along with all the other extra hats I wear, has been exhausting. I miss my family, even though they’re in the other room as I work away on homework. I’m looking forward to when my classes end in May.  Then I can turn my attention to my students, too. Being the only 8th grade language arts teacher at my school, I’m not only very involved in the end of the year activities for my kiddos, it’s also a very emotional time for me. They are my babies and sending them to high school always wrecks me.
  1. Give four reasons why you remain in education in today’s rough culture.
  • The KIDS. I couldn’t imagine not hanging out with these guys on a daily basis.
  • The opportunity to constantly improve. I think it’s a rare job that allows you to simply stop what you’re doing, change direction or start all over when things aren’t working. I love that about my day. I’ll teach the same thing five different ways sometimes, just to see what works better.
  • My colleagues. I’m surrounded everyday by people who love their job. I know I’m lucky. Very lucky. Who can say that?
  • The chance to be a goofball. The one thing I love about my job is that I get to dance at a rally, wear silly outfits, compete in a pie eating contest, and during a lesson, throw myself on the ground in a gesture of dramatic despair. It’s all in a day in middle school.
  1. Which five people do you hope will take the challenge of answering these questions.

Travis Phelps @TravisPhelps80

Cate Tolnai @CateTolnai

Brandon Blom @brandonkblom

Josh Harris @EdTechSpec

Ryan Poulsen @ryanpoulsen79