Casting A Critical Eye

As we work through the COETAIL Courses, I find each new set of readings endlessly fascinating. It has been an absolute joy to rethink different aspects of teaching, and doubly so to collaborate with thoughtful and reflective practitioners around the world.

Course 3 has followed this trend, but probably even more so. My mind is buzzing with different ideas about the profession; and also with adjustments to my classroom, activities to empower my students and ideas to share with colleagues.

I particularly focused this week on visual literacy, use of images and critical thinking.

Wikimedia Commons Public Usage – Inkblot Test – What do you see?

Visual Literacy

Because so much information is communicated visually, it is more important than ever that our students learn what it means to be visually literate – ISTE, Med Lit Excerpt.

Multitudes of images proliferate our world, in a plethora of different forms, from: cartoons, adverts, films, websites, and many more sources (too many to list). Visual Literacy is the skill of being able to view those images and going beyond a superficial understanding. Those accomplished in this skill are able to interpret the deeper meanings of why an image looks a certain way, and the possible intention of the creator/impact on the audience. Through this process, the viewer can make active connections with their own lives, alternate media and the wider world.

With all of this interpretation taking place, it can be suggested that being literate with visuals is the process of reading an image or film, in the same way that we would read written media. Just ask Martin Scorsese:

Critical Thinking

…demonstrate the ability to interpret, recognise, approximate and understand information presented through visible actions, objects and symbols, natural or man made – Todd Finley on Edutopia, quoting

Inference, as a process, simply is not possible without a good grasp of critical thinking. This ‘soft skill’ underlies visual literacy, and (quite frankly) the entire education system. Effective educators should be always looking to challenge students with their abilities to think critically, about a range of subjects, but should also consider critical thinking as a process which can be taught (not just something that will naturally develop over time or is simply innate).

Throughout much of my time so far on the COETAIL Courses, I have looked to use the ideas learnt to try and aid my students with the skills that define their ability to learn, beyond simple curriculum content. This week, I hope to help them with their ability to think critically, about images in particular.

Wikimedia Commons Public Usage, Critical Thinking Diagram

What Do You See?

I already use swathes of images in my teaching; from illustrations that bring story writing to life, to photographs that help my students visualize a historical period, to functional diagrams that explain a scientific or mathematical concept. Yet, I think that there is real value in using high quality images at different parts of the school day; with the specific objective of spending some time to discuss the possible deeper meanings at play, to analyse the intention behind the choice of style or shot, or simply to all stop and wonder for a moment or two.

Closely reading any text, whether written or visual, requires that students move slowly and methodically, noticing details, making connections and asking questions – Michael Gonchar on the NY Times.

I aim to utilise a quality image each week in my class, spending a short amount of time looking at it closely each day. Throughout each of these short sessions, I will ask the children open questions and perhaps provide small amounts of information as we go, with the ultimate ‘big reveal’ of exactly what the image is at the end of the week.

As my students are in Year 3 (Grade 2), I will slowly build up this process as the weeks progress, with different quality images as we go. There should be plenty of opportunities along the way to directly teach the children different critical thinking skills to aid them with their visual literacy. Layla Block, on her COETAIL blog, defines a logical plan for this, which has really inspired me in how this process will work (though obviously, I will alter the sessions depending on how the children learn). I particularly like the way that she set out her activities, which I would aim to build up a week at a time.

Pixabay Free Image – How would you describe your feelings when you look at this picture?

For example…

  1. Children look at the image and simply say what they see. Do they and their peers have different ideas?
  2. Define the image based on technical aspects. Why did the photographer choose that angle, colour, etc?
  3. Can we define our thoughts or feelings about the image? Perhaps we can draw an illustration of our ideas, or make our own images in response to it.
  4. Blog our thoughts, e.g. Layla would ask her pupils to create a new caption.

I think that this will be so beneficial for children to complete, and will have a tremendous amount of cross-curricular relevance. Though all will benefit from it, it will also be especially useful for students that have low levels of spoken English, general comprehension or life experience. As we look at each new image, I will absolutely take time to stop, look closely and wonder as well:

The courage to teach, then, is the courage to expose yourself as you demonstrate your curiosity and wonder for your subject – Presentation Zen.

High Quality Images

If you are going to use visuals, then for crying out loud, make them insanely great visuals – Presentation Zen.

What’s Going On In This Picture? – NY Times.

Indeed! Here are some sources for fabulous images to use in the aforementioned critical thinking sessions:

Final Thought

However, in most communities, media literacy exists due to the energy and initiative of a single teacher, not because of a coordinated, community-wide programmatic plan of implementation – Renee Hobbs on Media Lit.

Yes, that could well be true and we probably do need to include visual literacy to a greater extent in our wider curricula. But, my view is that such change takes time. In the immediate future, teaching our students directly about visual literacy and critical thinking, even in small distinct chunks, is going to help them in so many different areas. Why would an individual educator pass up an opportunity to make a difference?

Spending time looking and exploring with pupils is rewarded by a depth of engagement and a sophisticated level of understanding about a painting’s (or image’s) context, which provides a platform for confident and committed oral and written work – The National Gallery.

What’s Going On In This Picture? – NY Times.

Posted in COETAIL, Course 3, Creative Commons, Critical Thinking, Visual Literacy | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Set In Stone

Design Principles

This animation serves as a clear (and thankfully, well designed) introduction to the principles that are central to effective design. If we are to design media ourselves,  we must not only be mindful of these elements, but also skillfully use them in different ways to communicate effectively.

Indeed, successful design “…helps people to find and consume the information within it with less conscious effort” – Visual Mess. People quickly (see Anne Aula and Kerry Rodden, User Experience Researchers for an enthralling blog about the studies into eye tracking speeds when searching online) make assumptions about the information in front of them, often without knowing it; such as when making links between different pieces of information or alternatively contrasting them. This is the case for most onlookers, as “…most people are inherently visual thinkers, not data processors” – Brandon Jones, Understanding Visual Hierarchy in Web Design.

We live in a world where we are increasingly deluged with information, especially via visual media, and this is especially true for our students. This makes the teaching of these principles of critical importance.

Most kids relate to each other through music or graphics. They are regularly bombarded with images and sound. Most of their awareness comes through the language of moving images and cinema. That’s why it’s so important that they learn the language of it – James Daly, Edutopia, George Lucas Interview.

Reid Wilson, on his COETAIL blog, created a wonderful visual example of the key design principles which is especially clear for Elementary Students. I will certainly use his visual in my teaching. This can be found on: Wayfaring Path.

Reid Wilson, CARP Visual Design Principles for Elementary Students.

Back To School

With this in mind, I plan to teach my class about some of these principles this week. Last week, they used videos via links on Blendspace to research Stonehenge, all as part of their History learning about the Stone Age. They then began to create collaborative presentations of what they found out on Google Slides. The aim of this is for the children to teach each other about the subject, to act as the experts in front of their peers.

Clearly, there is ample opportunity here for the children to not only gain lots of historical knowledge, but also to directly apply the principles of effective design and effective communication in these activities. So far, the children have had a short amount of time to set up their presentations and to type up some of the information that they found out.

As always, children can be the very best teachers. Many of the kids have applied design principles to their presentations already, perhaps unconsciously, and so I have begun to collect some examples of their work to show to the whole class next week. We will link these examples to the video and the CARP illustration above, to discuss and apply the central principles of effective design to a much greater extent. Hopefully, this should help the whole class to become design maestros! The In-Class Flip in practice, eh?!

Wikipedia Commons.

Examples, Examples, Examples

The first young designers have below used alignment to show us that the two pieces of writing are linked. If the alignment was out of order, then our eyes would assume that they were not answering the question at all! Indeed, “Our brains expect related content to be lined up neatly. If something is slightly out of line, our brains assume that there is a reason and try to find it” – Visual Mess.

They have also utilised colour to express the theme of their presentation. Sorry to make you all cringe, but it ROCKS!

Our second young Tokyoite designers clearly have some important information to tell us. Below they successfully include colour in a similar style to our first example (they also picked the same picture, so it must be a case of great minds think…). In addition to this, they added bullet points to add a real sense of emphasis. Lastly, they altered the size of their text to give the heading importance. Awesome!

Using size to clearly distinguish the roles of the different bits of content helps people efficiently direct their attention – Visual Mess.

Third, but definitely not bronze (age) is the wonderful design below. Once more, colour and size is used with a really positive effect. In addition to this, it is also a clean design with the eye drawn to the vital information with the use of a simple straight line. Not to mention proximity of information of course, as all of these presentations exemplify. Exceptional!

Our final designers bring us a striking title page. Text size and colour contrast are again features here. I particularly like how the title borrows colours from the grass, and the text below borrows the hue of the sky. Use of colour in this way gives the presentation a distinctive theme, and is very easy to understand.

Colour can affect everything, from a website brand…to symbolism… – Brandon Jones, Understanding Visual Hierarchy in Web Design.

Lastly, they have also thought about the position of their text. By centering the writing, it increases the importance of it for the onlooker. Fabulous!

I look forward to sharing this with the class, to discuss/reflect and then to see the results. Super sophisticated presentations coming up!

We live and work in a visually sophisticated world, so we must be sophisticated in using all the forms of communication, not just the written word – James Daly, Edutopia, George Lucas Interview.

Posted in CARP, Classroom, COETAIL, Collaboration, Course 3, Online 9, Visual Literacy | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Course 2 Final Project

Introducing The Team

This project was formed through a truly global, collaborative process. I formed a group with Brian Weisenstein and Gene Marie Chagaris; so as a result created this project with course mates in different countries, cultures and time zones. We also work in very different settings in terms of the styles of school and the grades that we teach, so the end result would prove to be made from a mix of perspectives and standpoints on education. That said, we do hold a number of important qualities in common: we are all intrigued about helping our students and colleagues to be active Digital Citizens and want to aid others to embed technology into teaching as much as possible. With these ends in mind, we opted for Option 1: create a 2-4 hour professional development program based on the themes of this course.

Initial Ideas and Research

After deciding on our ‘Option’, we then created a Google Doc as our initial format for collaboration. This is embedded below. This would prove to be a sounding board for our first ideas about the project in general. We used this to analyse the guidelines for the project and looked at previous projects which had been created, such as this one, as sources of inspiration.

It quickly became apparent that we wanted to use the G Suite tools as the driver for our PD session, both in terms of how we presented information and in terms of what we wanted our colleagues to use during the process of learning.

Gene Marie though, quite rightly noted that we still needed a specific focus for our session in terms of a concept that we wanted our ‘students’ to learn. We held discussions on Skype (thanks again to Gene Marie for holding two separate conversations, due to me being busy), via our Document and over email; and as a result aligned with the intention of basing the session on Digital Literacy generally, Copyright and also the ISTE Standards for Students.

We also used this Document to decide on a format for differentiation – we would use an initial Google Form to ask our colleagues to self assess their knowledge of G Suite tools, and differentiate accordingly. Lastly we also shared examples of previous positive PD experience and made the decision to use Google Slides as a tool to present the session.

Action Stations

Once these vital starting points had been established, we were off! It was truly humbling to see how quickly and effectively my group members worked together, despite the vast distances between us geographically. It was direct evidence that the collaborative process is a really positive one, and that us educators have to walk the walk as well as talking the talk!

Here is the plan of the PD Session that we created, and the Google Slides presentation that will be used to deliver it…

After this, we worked together to create the initial Google Form that will inform the differentiation of the session and a Form to end the lesson, to enable our colleagues to give us feedback. We also created Google Documents and a Google Drawing, which will serve as a master copies to be used by the colleagues that are joining us for this session. See below for the latter…

Google Document 1

Google Document 2

Google Document 3

Google Drawing

We decided to use Poll Everywhere at the very start of the process, as an ‘ice breaker’, but also to allow people to begin thinking about the themes of the session. Amongst others, we utilised the following videos to inspire discussions and reflections at each stage of the PD process.

Final Adjustments

We utilised the Document below to review our creation and ask some questions, some of which could be answered quickly within our group and others that required a little more searching. We staged a final shared Skype session (this time with all three members of the team) to iron out the final issues and share the jobs that were remaining. This process proved to be really heartening, as the long process really came together positively.

We hope that this will be an effective PD Session for our fellow educators, that it will provide stimulating discussions based on the importance of Digital Literacy. We also hope it can potentially provide useful guidance on exactly how to avoid copyright infringement in our work, how to teach effective use of it and also how to utilise the ISTE Standards in our settings.

I am really excited to see how this session goes with my current colleagues, in my current school. A huge ‘thank you’ to my course mates Gene Marie and Brian, for their exceptional teamwork and creative spirits – it was a pleasure to work with you both!

Posted in COETAIL, Collaboration, Copyright, Course 2, CPD, Creative Commons, Digital Footprint, Digital Literacy, Fair Use, Online 9, Privacy | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Perception vs Reality

Your World vs My World

The way that you perceive reality is entirely different than the way I perceive it. We all have a slant on the way that we see things; from people’s actions, the events that take place and the way that you react to different situations. It is crucial that we all realise that we have a viewpoint and thus a personal angle on our reality, ranging from the trivial to the consequential (which, in itself, is based on perception).

A couple of examples of this can be found in the location where I currently live and work: Tokyo, Japan. Many of my colleagues experience a language barrier, especially when they first move here. Some people perceive this to be an exciting challenge where they discover fascinating new learning and cultural experiences; while others see this as more of a negative barrier to a comfortable life. Another example would be living in a metropolis of this size. Some love the convenience and opportunities that a big city offers; while others come to dislike the hustle and bustle. Of course, there is a multitude of perceptions beyond this as well.

The following talk on TEDxUIUC summarises this point expertly…

Daniel Simons here explains that we all feel like we are seeing things as they actually are, but we are not at all. He uses visual illusions to illustrate the prescient point that you are only really taking in minute details, which are entirely influenced by your standpoint and prior knowledge. We all feel like we see things in the same way as everyone else. This, however, is extremely far from reality, and we must confront this innate truth if we are to begin to understand the world around us.

Social Media, the Internet and the Power of Perception

Obviously, with the online world comes an accompanying potential for negativity. You do not have to search for long to find examples of cyber bullying, poor self-image, ‘fake news’ and Social Media users who choose to spread bile…naming no names of any high-ranking politicians, of course. Adults and youths alike can come to resent what can be perceived as an interconnected morass of hate, debauchery and fear.

It would be remiss to deny that all of this exists online, and more. Yet, to label the entirety of the Internet as such, particularly Social Media, would be an exercise in only viewing the online world from one particular perception or emotional position.

As educators, we have to play our part in empowering students, parents and colleagues alike to move away from the solely negative perception, if we see that it exists. Websites like Mindset or psychcentral, while not directly linked to Social Media perception, have some important advice on a starting point for changing mindsets. They state that we have to hear our inner voice, and work hard to change the “I can’t” to “I can”. They say that we should recognise that our way of thinking is indeed a choice, and that we can be the ones to decide to be the change. They tell us to take a growth mindset and take actions that foster positive growth.

I would argue that it is so important for us to do this, especially with the proliferation of negative standpoints about Social Media that endlessly fire towards us and attempt to influence our thinking. With this in mind, why don’t we shift our focus to the positive? Inspiring usage of Social Media is out there, at the click of a mouse button, and can help to engage us and those around us with a positive perception. With a perception of possibility and chances to create social change. For me, colleagues certainly inspire, but it is usually students who inspire the most. The following are examples of the inspirational young people that we should share, in order to empower kids and adults alike…

Martha Payne

Martha Payne: “Changing the World, One School Dinner at a Time” from on Vimeo.

Martha gained millions of fans after she began to create blog reviews of her school dinners, at age 9. She was initially banned from blogging by her school, but then influenced the local authorities to improve the food that they gave to their students. Her efforts led her to raise £115,000 for Mary’s Meals, a Scottish charity that helps to feed impoverished children worldwide.

Audri’s Rube Goldberg Machine

From YouTube…

Audri would like to say thank you for the encouraging comments. He is 7 years old and he can read so please keep it positive. He wants to be a theoretical physicist when he grows up and has big plans to study robotics at MIT. He was especially inspired to make this video after seeing OK GO’s This Too Shall Pass.

Here he is at age 5…

Sylvia’s Super-Awesome Maker Show

Sylvia started her own YouTube show when she was age 7, with a mission to show everyone how fun and easy it is to make things (rather than buying them). She gained worldwide recognition and inspired millions to become makers too. In 2014, Sylvia became an author by launching a series of full-color children’s books, “Sylvia’s Super-Awesome Project Books.”

Here is one of her shows…

Kevin Curwick

Kevin has never actually been the victim of bullying, but during the summer of 2012 he discovered that some of his friends and classmates were being targeted by cyber-bullying via anonymous Twitter accounts established for the sole purpose of destroying their self-esteem.  Not wanting this kind of behavior to spoil the good reputation of his high school, Kevin decided to counter the nastiness and vulgarities of these accounts by establishing his own anonymous Twitter account (more via the link).

This Twitter account was full with positive messages about people at his school, in order to make them feel welcome and promote what wonderful people they are. Soon after, copycat accounts were created which followed his lead. The story went viral, was covered on national television channels and he gained thousands of followers online.

Stop Apologising

What could be more inspiring than that? Plus, there are so many more success stories out there. This is only a starting point. Truly, Social Media can be a force for social change…we just have to help people to see the possibilities. If our reality is based on perception, then we have to try hard to perceive the good and the positive.

To finish, I will leave you with a thought-provoking TEDxVictoria chat from Alexandra Samuel. As she says, “Stop apologising for your life online,” and we should, “Create an Internet that feels like it really matters to us. When you spend time on what really matters to you, surprise – the Internet will feel like it reflects some of your values.”

Every time we say it is not real, we limit it’s ability to change us, to change the world we live in and to change our relationships to one another – Alexandra Samuel.

Posted in Collaboration, Connectivism, Course 2, Digital Footprint, Digital Literacy, Growth Mindset, Online 9 | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

An Aspiring Digital Citizen? Bring Your Empathy, You Will Need It!

This video is from the website Common Sense, which is a veritable treasure trove of resources relating to Digital Citizenship. It brings to mind a wise piece of advice that I received from my Step Father; when I was a young teenager, making my first forays into the world of messaging and online interactions.

I had received a message from a friend and had taken exception to it. After, no doubt, a long period of stressing out and tense worrying, my Step Father said, “The words in the message are not actually that negative. If you do not know the intent behind the message, then there is no need to assume that it is an attack on you!” Clearly, I had made some assumptions about said message that were not true in reality and it took someone who was outside of the situation (and with a more developed sense of relationships and human beings in general) to make me realise that.

I am sure that we have all experienced these situations (especially when young), and though making mistakes is a crucial part of the learning process; the fact is that the majority of our interactions online are text based. If our youngest are unable to see the person that they are speaking to, how can we help them to make the most of their time online? How can we help them to develop the skills necessary for positive collaborations on the Internet? How can we help them to be effective Digital Citizens? Surely, empathy is the key and underlies everything.

Wait, what is empathy?

There are different strands within the theories on empathy, and differing understandings of exactly what it is. Wikipedia broadly defines it as, “…the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other person’s frame of reference, i.e., the capacity to place oneself in another’s position.” It then goes on to summarise the different notions of it, and particularly draws on the linked but different terms of: sympathy, pity, compassion and emotional contagion.

A challenging article by Terry Heick on which is found here elucidates the difference between Affective Empathy, chiefly when we experience sensations or feelings in response to others’ emotions, e.g. mirroring stress; and Cognitive Empathy, essentially taking on the perspective of another person.

Though the definitions differ, most people would agree that if a person is empathetic then they can use their imagination to see the world in the eyes of another, especially from their emotional perspective. We would also include in this the ability to understand how another person is feeling, and react appropriately to the situation at hand.

So, why is empathy important?

It’s foundational to embracing differences, building relationships, gaining a global perspective, conducting richer and deeper analysis, and communicating more effectively. This skill is about as “21st century” as it gets – Homa Tavangar on edutopia.

A good grounding in empathetic understanding secures us for a successful life. It is an “essential mindset” as is stated on the article Building Empathy in Classrooms and Schools on This is because it underlies every interaction that we have and our entire view of the world is affected by it. Without empathy; we struggle to make friends, comprehend difference, analyse situations and share ideas. Empathy is a skill which is central in our learning about historical stories, literature and religions. Our best leaders are empathetic with those that follow their lead. Teaching is surely a profession which is entrenched in empathy.

Empathy assists students when they are considering crucial questions, such as: who am I? Who is the other? How do we relate? What do they need from me? What do I need from them? What should I do with what I know? How can I communicate it? (Questions gained from the previously mentioned article.

Can we actually teach empathy though?

Terry Heick, as previously mentioned, suggests: “Teaching always begins with detachment –learn this skill or content strand that is now apart from you. Empathy is the opposite –it starts in the other, and finishes there without leaving.” Though I do not agree that teaching starts with detachment (I prefer to believe that my students are solving challenges that are real to them and developing skills that they will use during their whole lives, rather than just content or cold objectives), I do see Heick’s point in that rudimentary, stand-alone lessons on empathy may not be the most appropriate method.

Sure – we teach the basics of personal, social and health education in this way. But, a skill like empathy has to seep into every aspect of the classroom. It has to be behind our interactions and discussions need to take place regularly on the very subject of empathetic understanding.

Multiple reinforcements and multiple outlets for action can start to shift a class or school culture toward empathy as a strength that’s consciously practiced and cultivated, contributing to life-long health, inside and out – Homa Tavangar on edutopia.

We have to spend energy and time on allowing our students to develop their empathy. We can model it for them and define it; we can discuss the audience that we have for our writing or work generally; we can read stories and discuss characters; we can show empathy towards our colleagues in the presence of our children. An article via the BBC, explains that we can adopt a Buddhist-style approach to this and spend a whole day becoming mindful of every person connected to our routine actions, and “become curious about strangers.”

The Start Empathy website provides a wonderful toolkit which contains a step-by-step method for how to meticulously embed true teaching of empathy into our schools and has amazing ‘Empathy 101’ videos, such as this one:

During these meaningful, everyday conversations with our pupils, we can also discuss problematic issues. We can talk about issues such as bullying, mindless messaging, oversharing on Social Media or boasting (especially about material objects and money). As advises, “We can teach kids about the existence of an empathy gap.”

How does empathy relate to Digital Citizenship?

If empathy runs through the heart of every offline interaction, then our online world does not exist in a vacuum. Yet, I would argue that we need to exercise even more careful readings of situations, especially when emotive and on the Internet. Our skills need to even more precise, given that we may lack a visual of a person and be exposed to a far wider range of opinions and differences.

The ambiguity of context in Internet communication can often be perceived as a threatening situation, and the flight-or-fight attitude is triggered, resulting in an escalating sense of offense as a form of defense – Article on the Huffington Post by Suren Ramasubbu.

Clearly, if we are to help our youngest to navigate these interactions, then we must show them how to consider the emotions and feelings of their audience when they communicate, and also train them in comprehending messages from others with emotional dexterity.

In the same article, Jean M. Twenge explains that there has been a rise in self-reported narcissism online; and Sara H. Konrath proposes that there is a decline in self-reported empathy with an increase in social isolation. A clear and caring teaching of empathy from an early age is clearly an essential facet of education to help our children to navigate the modern world of digital community.

Then there is the current trend for spreading misinformation, full of misunderstandings and all-too-simplistic commentary on serious issues…

To get past the false dichotomy of “objective good versus objective evil,” we need to develop the skill of empathy — and it is a skill – Richard J. Anderson on

Clearly, empathetic understanding has to be at the forefront of our thinking and so much positivity can be the result. The connections on the Internet, of course, is also a wonderful source of opportunity for the advancement of understanding and global togetherness. As Tracy Alloway is quoted as stating in a NY Times article, “…Facebook can break down those boundaries. We can be exposed to different ways of thinking and emotional situations.”

We should not deny our youngest these opportunities, nor set them up to fail. Empathy is one of the keys that can unlock the positive side of online communication for our students. It is time for us to prioritise it.

Posted in COETAIL, Course 2, Digital Footprint, Digital Literacy, Online 9 | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Modelling Without The Catwalk

Instead of teaching students to be afraid of what others can learn about them online, let’s teach them how digital footprints can quickly connect them to the individuals, ideas, and opportunities that they care most about – William M. Ferriter,

Of Critical Importance

The starting point when introducing the idea of Digital Footprints to students is to help them understand how important they are. As I addressed in my previous blog post, I think we have the negative aspects of eSafety covered. In reality, we have solely been covering this side of things for years. That is why this article was such a joyous read, in the way that it debunked many of the myths that surround Internet Safety, as have so often been spoon fed to our aspiring Social Media users.

The positive side of Digital Footprints is what is so often overlooked, and is what I believe should be brought to the forefront of our conversations with students on this very issue. This article and this one list superb starting points for how we should frame both the importance of Digital Footprints, but also their inherent positive potential.

The following video is also an excellent starting point (at Primary level) to inspire such conversations too…

Insightful Questions

The important lesson with managing your digital footprint is that everything we do online should represent who we are and what we stand for and we must have the knowledge that this representation will stick with us potentially forever – Lisa Nielsen on theinnovativeeducator.

Once the importance is established, it is time for us to do some soul searching. There should certainly be a commonality or a close bond between our online and offline selves, for our interactions to be worthwhile, as real as possible and safe. We can ask our pupils questions such as, “what are your likes/dislikes?” “What are your passions?” “What kind of person are you?” By doing this, we can offer children the opportunity to both decide who they want to be in the ‘real’ world, but also the one that is digital. This project sounds like a superb starting point for such conversations and thinking, and though it is geared up for older students than mine, it could certainly be ‘levelled down’.

Boundaries, Guidance and Golden Rules

As is mentioned on the previously hyperlinked Common Sense Media, we then need to offer our children guidance for their first forays into the online world and imprints on the digital sand. Key areas for this, would be: discussions about responsible usage, respectful online behaviour, rules and consequences for actions and adequate training for kids to be empowered Internet users. Beneficial for this process would be a ‘safe’ online platform to make mistakes on first, such as Seesaw, and also discussion of how and why all of this matters (as I mentioned in my previous blog post) to them.

Becoming A Role Model

An essential facet of all effective teaching is for us to model good practice, in one form or another. Crucial to this would be for us to check our own Digital Footprints. I did exactly that this week; through Google searches of my full name, my name and profession together, and also my name and the city that I live in. My name is quite common so there was a whole host of ‘Rory Bells’ out there, from professional ice hockey players, the RBs that are unfortunately RIP, teaching professors (that Rory is clearly always one step ahead) and also random blokes in Scotland and Ireland (my first name has Gaelic origins, I believe).

However, a number of the ‘hits’ were also genuine, and I am delighted with the results that came up. Online, I have a profile which I am personally proud of and does indeed match my offline personality. I also used Wolfram to analyse my activity on Facebook, and though it is always a little jarring to know the extent to which information is gathered about us, it also returned results which I was pleased with.

Once you have investigated yourself, providing yourself as an example to your students is an effective strategy (only revealing what you want to, of course) for teaching about Digital Footprints. I will certainly be sharing my COETAIL blog and vegetarian food blogging with my pupils.

Outsourcing Expertise

Of course, the world of collaboration means that the teacher as the single source of expertise is now a thing of the past. Children will learn so much and more from positive role models on the Web, especially if they are a similar age. There are plentiful examples out there; from children fundraising online, to those doing good deeds, to those raising awareness for charities and causes and also groups of children organising collective action. It is essential that our students enter the online world and learn from these exceptional young people.

Parental Concerns

Finally, if my Social Media is anything to go by – our children are surrounded by adults who overshare online. Of course, this in itself is not a crime, but adults must make sure that they act as positive role models for the Internet users of tomorrow. provides excellent advice for parents and grown ups alike for how to operate online in a safe way which will protect our young ones as much as possible. It also has this brilliant article for the dos and don’ts of sharing photos online.

To bring it down to a very simplistic example, I remember being shocked and appauled as a teenager when my Mum proceeded to get the baby picture photo album out of the loft to show my girlfriend at the time. I can only imagine the horror of having 16 years or so of Social Media oversharing, which is resting permanently on Social Media. Poor them!

In Summary

Digital Footprints are happening, building and permanent. However, they can absolutely be positive forces of digital self-promotion, digital identity and digital positive sharing. Take some time to do some modelling – of Digital Footprints, at least!

It is also important not to confuse managing a digital footprint with being hidden or private. Branding our identities has become more and more important in the digital age and if students and teachers aren’t actively managing their digital footprint, then who is? – Lisa Nielsen on theinnovativeeducator.

Posted in COETAIL, Connectivism, Course 2, Digital Footprint, Digital Literacy, Online 9 | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Essential Life Skills (Whether You Are Online Or Not)

“The fears we don’t face become our limits” – Robin Sharma.

“Fear makes strangers of people who would be friends” – Shirley Maclaine.

“We do not fear the unknown. We fear what we think we know about the unknown” – Teal Swan.

“Feel the fear and do it anyway” – Susan Jeffers.

The Great Unknown

In a whirl of ironic timing, today my colleagues and I had INSET after school, all about eSafety. It was expertly delivered and contained well researched and well pitched elements throughout. However, though it briefly mentioned the potential positives of Internet use for education; it predominantly focused on the perils of the world online, and particularly Social Media.

This reflects an oft repeated message. Articles such as this one bring home the potential dangers for us as professionals, as well as for our students. If all is to be believed, our wi-fi connections are acting as portals for piracy, unsafe situations, poor ethics and legal minefields.

Old fears, rehashed

I totally agree that we should be safe when online. If we are naive to the potential dangers that lurk out there, then we are liable to many a sticky situation. We must heed the advice of the excellent eSafety websites that are available to us, such as The NSPCCKidsSmart or thinkuknow; and give our children adequate guidance to help them lead safe and fulfilling lives.

This intriguing article on tells the story of how, even if we are trying to avoid being found, the trail of information that we leave online garners a footprint. Thus, you really have to think carefully about how you act and what you say when on the Internet. There really is no true privacy online, as is summarised nicely in the following quote (on the same article).

It turns out that people – ordinary people – really can gather an incredible dossier of facts about you – ‘Vanish’ article on

Plenty to be feared then. Yet, we should not let our fears rule us. Even more pertinently, we should not let our fears rule the education of our youngest. Is it time to change the focus of how we teach and learn about privacy online?

The Skills Of Life

…cultivating digital intelligence grounded in human values is essential… – Yuhyun Park on

My mind was entirely shifted on this issue by the writing on by Alia Wong and by Sally Pewhairangi. Truly inspiring stuff which you should most definitely give a read.

Sally Pewhairangi succinctly describes how digital literacy is very different to digital skills. Paraphrasing slightly, digital skills encompass the doing with technology. For example: setting up an email account, creating a story with a Word Processor or creating a database. You know, old English Curriculum content! Digital literacy, however, is the understandings behind how and why we use technology. For the purposes of this blog post, the how and why we protect our privacy or stay safe online.

Our teaching of the how and the why must also extend to the teaching of how and why we interact positively with others. The how and why of empathizing with other people. The how and why of being a kind and considerate human. Just because we are sat at a computer, we should not forget these life skills, and we certainly should keep this in our minds when educating about privacy protection and staying safe on the Internet.

DQ Institute, All Rights Reserved, via

Alia Wong, in discussing the ideas of educators such as Reuben Loewy (his organisation is here and even offers a Digital Literacy Curriculum Overview), comes into some agreement with the above ideas. Specifically, she states: “…(students) need to deeply, holistically, and realistically understand how the digital world works behind the scenes.”

Additionally, an education in the human side of the Internet; such as our online identity, the perils of too much screen time or the merits of digital activism – are now surely essential elements of the communities that we live in. We must move towards a deeper and more meaningful education of online privacy, and technology at large, to truly help our modern learners. Specifically, we understand better how to protect the privacy of ourselves and of others if we combine a knowledge of how and why technology works with how and why people work.

All too often, we invest in expensive technology and then tell our pupils how monumentally terrible it is for us. Fear it, we suggest. Look at all of these frightening news stories! Surely, we should be showing our youngest how positive the world online can be, whilst specifically modelling the all important how and why. Only then, can we hope that our students can protect their privacy and stay safe online. Only then, can we hope that we can produce engaged technology users who can really be ready for the society at large.

You can’t be an informed, responsible, and critical member of society if you don’t have the education – Loewy, quoted on

Posted in COETAIL, Course 2, Digital Literacy, Growth Mindset, Online 9, Privacy | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Copycats Assemble!

…individuals should initiate digital citizenship education in their own sphere of influence…” – Yuhyun Park on

Confession Time

OK, I admit it. Issues like copyright, fair use and remix culture scare me. It is not that I believe that my online ponderings are going to be stolen, left right and centre. No, that kind of arrogance is really not a part of my DNA. Rather, the fear comes into play because I really do not want to abuse someone else’s craft. Their creativity and vision is theirs and theirs alone. I was brought up to believe that to take something digitally without permission is just as bad as taking something like a bike or a car. I also graduated from an educational system of meticulous citation of quotations, which indeed did often take me as long to complete as the actual bulk of the writing that it was based on.

No doubt that these factors come into play with where I find myself now. Nervy. A little unsure. In fact, I surprisingly had not even thought about the whole issue for a few posts at the start of Course 1, before a colleague that is towards the end of their own COETAIL course said something along the lines of…

“Oh! I remember this – one of my first posts. Ha, to think that I used to set out my pictures like THAT! No captions at all…”

Ah. When realisation dawned, I scurried away to my laptop and not only located images with Creative Commons licenses, but also with their links copied in in the form of a caption. Belt and braces. Watertight (see above). Yet, it is the remix culture which I need to learn more about. To become more confident with. Lawrence Lessig alludes (alongside a surprising take on things politically) to an enticing culture in the following video. A culture of taking work digitally and adding value to it, for to then to teach us more about ourselves. A culture surely to be a part of. As the quotation suggests at the top of my post, as educators we need pay attention to and use Fair Use, and also use our influence to teach others about it as well.

It’s That Time Of Year Again

No, not Christmas. That would be random. No, what I am referring to is that my Year 3 students have their class assembly on the horizon. In my school, our assemblies are often quite something. Sure, they showcase learning, as most assemblies do in schools. But, there is also a culture of putting on quite a show. Imagine well timed jokes continuously hitting the spot, musical numbers that should be in theatres and thought provoking imaginings that make even the most steadfast parent shed a few tears in the audience.

No pressure then. The temptation is to use music videos, downloaded from YouTube, wholesale. There is also a temptation to scour the Internet for the best images and take them without asking. All then uploaded to the Class Blog or Google Classroom afterwards, no questions asked.

Well, for this weary and wary educator, it is time to ask those questions while I create the resources for our latest hit show (!). For a robust starting point, and for my own peace of mind, I will start simple and build from there (see the starting points below). This should also provide clarity for the children in my class, those ‘digital newbies’. As I intend to add it all to a blog, this would be a sensible move.

  • We will produce our own media as much as possible, e.g. video, photographs, voice recordings, etc (definitely more fun this way anyway).
  • If absolutely necessary, we will pay for something that is not ours (it is highly unlikely that we will do this, but a conversation worth having with the students).
  • We will make use of images with Create Commons licenses or with permission given. This will require us to become ‘Search Ninjas’, in the words of Jeff Utecht. This is an incredible resource when considering intelligent searching:
  • Of course, permission will be asked for when using images or videos of children.
  • If reusing, we will make sure that we remix media owned by others, using amazing advice such as that on Langwitches.

As I investigate these ideas, and the last one in particular, it will be a joy to help my students to further explore participatory culture.

Participatory culture shifts the focus of literacy from individual expression to community involvement – Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture.

Posted in Blogging, COETAIL, Copyright, Course 2, Creative Commons, Fair Use, Online 9, Remix, Search Ninja | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Course 1 Final Project: Sikhism

A Little Context

The context for the focus of my Course 1 Final Project is a Year 3 Religious Education Unit of Study on the Sikh faith. Within the British National Curriculum, Religious Education is a subject which tends to be much marginalised. The entire Curriculum was re-written in 2014, and RE was not included. Instead, the guidance explains that though there is no statutory guidance, schools should locally agree how the subject is included and to what extent.

I lead this subject area in my setting, alongside another non-statutory subject – Philosophy. Students study one world religion per year as they progress through their time at my school, and Sikhism is the religion of choice in Year 3. This website offers a superb breakdown of suggested content, alongside the 2010 RE Curriculum.

Obviously, I am extremely enthusiastic about RE as a subject, even though I am not personally religious. I feel that it offers a wonderful opportunity for children to learn about different cultures, peoples and ways of life. Empathy should be at its heart. It is also a subject which can potentially empower children as critical thinkers. It can elicit debate, encourage creative ideas and be a host for entrancing learning. This is what I hope to bring to Year 3 with this UbD (no pressure)!


The UbD planning format is a new one for me (UbD in a Nutshell). The proforma forced me to rethink the lesson planning process somewhat, but I found the backwards planning process a really rewarding one. It directly ensured that each subsequent section was relevant to the overall objective. I also found that it also encourages the use of practical and truly embedded technology, a key feature of COETAIL Course 1 learning.

Having ambitious aims for our children and questions that rely on deep thinking is also a stellar feature. Including the ISTE Standards helps us empower our students, as active collaborators who make decisions meaningfully – all key parts of Course 1.

The Planning

I decided on a similar formula for each lesson in terms of how the lessons progress (reflect – independently research – share collaboratively – share on blog), which I hope will allow the children to afford most of their lesson time to learning about the topic at hand and the discussion that hopefully leads from it, rather than on content which does not necessarily link with these key aims. I based each lesson around one or two enquiry questions, as I feel that this will empower the students to think critically and act as a good focus point.

The entire Unit relies on uploading of created content onto a SeeSaw blog, which should bring this learning in line with Connectivist methodology, produce engagement and act as a further source of collaboration. Finally, I decided to ask the children in the last lessons to choose their own digital media options (which they have previously used) and I am really enthralled to see which ones they pick and why.

I am really excited to see how these lessons go in practice and to hear all of the wonderful opinions and findings from the students. My hope is that the technology listed will not only cement understanding of the central aspects of Sikhism, but also allow the children to reflect and discuss their ideas on a much deeper level. I can’t wait to share how it all goes with you all!

Posted in Blogging, COETAIL, Collaboration, Connectivism, Course 1, Online 9 | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Don’t Feed The Trolls!

…70% of 18 to 24 year olds who use the Internet had experienced harassment, and 26% of women that age said they’d been stalked online – ‘Internet Trolls’,

The Dark Side

Only a cursory glance at a Twitter feed is needed to learn that the trolls are out there, fishing. They no longer live in nursery rhymes, but online, connecting directly to our screens. The online world has a dark side, as well as light. As the video above explains, in the most serious cases; the Internet can be used for cyber-bullying, threatening behaviour and the proliferation of negativity.

With the press of a mouse button, we can also see poorly researched views and terrible writing. Click bait and mindless re-tweets. Networks are regularly used poorly and people are experiencing disconnection through connection. As this article lucidly illustrates, poor use of the resources at our disposal online often arises due to desensitization, deindividuation and a mob-mentality.

Indeed, in recent times I saw this happening through my personal social media. In the run in to the last American Elections, I was convinced that there was going to be a wholly different end result than what happened in ‘reality’. Our ‘friend’ lists on Social Media can often be a political echo chamber, where we are only really benefiting (if you choose to see it that way) from a single point of view. This is problematic if you are interested in a measured view of the world. It is a problem if you would like to use the Internet for educational purposes.

Moving Into The Light

As educators, we must model positive use of learning networks and groups, and give students the proper foundations in the effective use of social media – Andrew Marcinek on Edutopia.

It is essential that as our students make their first forays into the connections online, that we guide them as best as we can to be positive Internet users. To fill the world behind our screens with love, as opposed to strife. This article, though written primarily about Wiki Projects, provides excellent guidance on how to fulfill this duty.

As the teacher, we have to model not only how to use the Internet appropriately, have open conversations about how to stay safe online and also treat this as an ongoing learning process, rather than a one-off teaching point. The culture of trust that we have in our classrooms has to extend beyond our walls. Our expectations and goals have to be clear and concise, from the outset of our children’s journey.

Educators must be ready to run into problems, and show students how to navigate the hurdles that inevitably stand in their paths. When interacting on the Internet, we must provide the appropriate vocabulary and show exactly how to be kind to others. In aiding critical thought, we must also guide our students to accept, give and learn from criticism.

Finally, our students need time to practice. None of the above comes naturally, and instead the positivity can be honed through meaningful experience.

The Results Are In

In a previous blog post, I explained how I would use Twitter in order to increase the readership for my student’s writing. One month later, I have found that the children are really engaged in their writing and appreciative of the chance to write to a larger number of readers. The amount of conversations that we now have about writing for our readers has also greatly increased. The community of parents seem to like the idea, and some responded with ‘likes’ and comments.

Feedback from pupils, teachers and parents on samples of the student’s writing.

The expertise has begun to become ‘crowd-sourced’.

…crowdsourcing is suspicious of expertise, because the more expert we are, the more likely we are to be limited in what we conceive to be the problem, let alone the answer – Collaborative Learning for the Digital Age.

But, it is now time to take our PLN to the next level!

Expanding Our Reach

I would like to do this on two fronts: one where samples of writing are displayed to a larger audience (expanding the ‘Twitter effect’) and the second in terms of blogged writing from the children.

As mentioned previously, Pobble seems like a brilliant way to extend the readership for written pieces of work, so the children and me will have a designated time in the week to upload work onto this website.

We will also use a segment of our week at school to blog. The Five Sentence Challenge and The 100 Word Challenge seem like really engaging websites to inspire story telling, with a competitive edge. This will hopefully allow the children to progress with regards to creative thinking and story crafting. We will also model for the children how to moderate and edit their writing before posting, and give them time to evaluate the writing of others through commenting (as in the ‘Evaluating’ section of Blooms Taxonomy Digitally). As an added benefit, it should aid the children’s spelling and typing skills – both crucial targets for my particular Year Group.

The Rule Book

Blogging in this way should provide my Year 3 students with a great way to increase their network and in which to learn how to be positive Internet users, who collaborate and are caring towards others. The activity will all be moderated by me, and protected as such, so it should be a good place to start. I will be there for the children as a regular point of contact, in a classroom which has a culture of trust, to help the children through the process of navigating online connections. We will learn together, and sort out any problems that we find on our way.

The images below show the clear and concise guidelines which I will set out for the children as we start this process.

Would you do anything differently if you brought these ideas into your classroom?

Do you think that these blogging rules are a good place to start?

Posted in Blogging, COETAIL, Collaboration, Connectivism, Course 1, Online 9, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments