“I need someone to be the victim.” Laughter echoes through the elementary STEM lab on a frosty Saturday morning in Grand Haven, Michigan. Two girls giggle, surrounded by wrinkly chart paper full of messy writing, as they attempt to recruit actors for their anti-bullying video. A third girl rushes over, and the trio huddles around an iPad. The space is fairly noisy, maybe more so than a typical classroom, with pockets of kids spread out around the room. Looking beyond the mess and the noise, you might notice ten third and fourth grade students all highly engaged in learning. You might also notice a few adults coaching kids and asking questions. What you would have a hard time seeing is who is in charge.
3rd Grade Teacher, West Ottawa Public Schools.
Red Cedar Writing Project, MSU, 2008 Fellow
Writing Project Site
So what lessons have I learned from this whole process? For one, I need to realize that digital spaces, including social networking sites, are hot button issue. One challenge of using technology to take learning beyond the walls of the school is that you're taking learners into the real world, a place that causes some parents to have anxiety, for valid reasons. At school there's a certain structure enforced by school policy that just can't be enforced in the same way digital environments. I understand that.
So if I were to try this again, I would do many things differently. I need to spend time educating parents on the importance of using these tools under the guidance of a mentor. I need to spend time allowing parents to voice their concerns. I need to make clear my goals and objectives for this work.
I was told, “Facebook is a disaster!” Parents wondered how I could justify kids sitting around at school playing on social networks. And I understand. There is a cultural belief that social networks can be only used for wasting time.
Yet, I have to disagree with it. I like to think the metaphor of driving a car. Every person looks forward to the rite of passage of turning 16. Being legally allowed to drive alone is implicitly declaring a teenage to be a trusted adult. As a third grade teacher, I know that even 9 year olds look forward to that day. I could not imagine a world where, without any preparation or guidance, a new 16 year old is given a key, and told to be a good driver. That would never happen.
First an email came in. Then several more. Some were apologetic. Some were not. Before I even had a chance to make a decision and inform parents of our unit-to-be, I felt the pushback. I was taken completely by surprise.
Kids, in their excitement, had told parents that our next unit would be online book clubs. Parents had made it clear: I don’t want my kid using any kind of social network. I was perplexed as, in my mind, this wasn’t different than blogging using Kidblog. Parents had been more than willing to permit that. So what was different?
The process setting up for this inquiry project has been year-long. To prepare students for the challenging work of not only a book club conversation, but navigating a social space to facilitate this conversation, I knew I had my work cut out for me.
Timeline of Preparation: