Miss Night's Marbles

Musings, mumbles, marvels, and sometimes mockery, live from kindergarten.

Backtalk

Quite some time ago now, the Toronto Star published this article: How a Kindergarten Class Uses Twitter to Learn About the World, about my use of Twitter in my classroom.  It was tweeted and re-tweeted for a few weeks after it came out. Most of the response was overwhelmingly positive (I did a lot of blushing), but some of it was critical. Much of the criticism was along the lines of the Projects By Jen post I responded to in my own very first post about Twitter in kindergarten. This is a kind of criticism I can respect, as it comes from a place of honest reflection, and leaves room for ongoing dialogue.

One tweet, though, rankled, because it included an accusation of recklessness. I followed up with the tweeter (@ginrob_PT), and after some back-and-forth, he offered to write a blog post explaining why he thought my use of Twitter with my young students was dangerous. His post can be found here: Should Kindergarteners be Using Twitter?

I wanted to know what he had to say. I was honestly worried that he was going to present some incontrovertible evidence that tweeting with kindergarten was profoundly threatening to my students. I had already prepared myself to share the link to his post with my administrators, and to engage in a discussion that might lead to the discontinuation of our kindergarten twitter accounts. I was willing to cancel the entire Kindergarten Around the World project, which would have involved disappointing some 60 teachers all over the globe. THAT is how seriously I take my students’ safety.

Seeing his post on the screen, I was relieved. There was not an argument there that I have not encountered before.  The criticisms raised were not new, not scary, not earth-shattering. Furthermore, they were not even particularly TRUE. Indeed, I found (and still find) it hard to read his post without feeling like there was some deliberate misunderstanding of what Twitter use in kindergarten actually LOOKS like. That said, as this year’s round of Kindergarten Around the World begins to take flight, it seems timely for me to share my rebuttal.

So:


Argument #1: the “Terms of Use” argument.
It’s true. Twitter’s previous terms of use state that users had to be over 13. Their new terms of use require that users be able to “form a binding contract with Twitter and are not a person barred from receiving services under the laws of the United States or other applicable jurisdiction. You may use the Services only in compliance with these Terms and all applicable local, state, national, and international laws, rules and regulations.” These new terms of use are considerably more ambiguous than that previous “13 and older” policy; however, even if they are interpreted as conservatively as possible, and taken to mean that only adults over the age of 18 can access Twitter… my situation with kindergarten is not in violation of those terms.

I created our class account. It is linked to my e-mail address. I approve every single one of our followers, and I choose who we follow. I type every tweet we send, and I read every tweet we receive (in advance of sharing it with the children). My students are not operating a twitter account when we tweet with our friends, any more than they are driving the car when they ride in the backseat, strapped into their car seats (to be clear, they do get considerable input into which roads we follow. More on this car metaphor later). They are not being let loose on the Great Wide Internet. The account was created and is completely managed by, me, a 30-something adult. If what I am doing is violating the terms of use, than so are parents who create twitter accounts to record the cute things their young children say, and pet owners who create accounts as if their golden retriever or Siamese cat were tweeting the minute details of life in their household.

Argument #2: the “You don’t really UNDERSTAND what you are DOING” argument.

This whole argument is condescending, and based on assumptions about me as a teacher and a person. Mr. Tucker never entered into dialogue with me about why/how/when I decided to use Twitter with  my students. He made no effort to get to know me as an educator or a user of social media. If you know me, if you get to know me, it becomes (I hope) very clear, very quickly, that I am a deliberate, intentional, and thoughtful, teacher and social media consumer. I do not dive into tools/toys/ideas/techniques simply because they are New! And! Shiny!, or because I talked to someone who was doing it. The decision to create a Twitter account for my class was made slowly, thoughtfully, deliberately, with much conversation with my administrators, my colleagues, my PLN, and my students’ parents.  My colleagues tease me constantly about my first response to any issue: “Let me do some research.”

And so, while I will not subject the entire Interwebz to the details of my process, let me just say this: I did the research, I did the reflection, I thought carefully about how/why/when to fit Twitter into our classroom culture and routines. My entire approach to teaching is tied to developmental appropriateness (backed by my graduate degree in child development), so Mr. Tucker’s argument that the Twitter environment cannot be cognitively understood by 5-year-olds does not hold water with me. My students understand Twitter as a giant bulletin board, where we post notes to our friends, and they post notes back to us. They know that what we post can be seen by ALL of our friends, and that what we post therefore needs to be kind, respectful, friendly, and safe. (This, honestly, is a better understanding than most adults have of Twitter, in my experience.) We talk about internet safety and digital citizenship, and I know that they “get” it, because they go home and tell their parents how “we have to choose our words carefully so everyone understands us, and we don’t have a lot of words, so we have to say what really matters most.” That seems pretty clear evidence of comprehension, to me.

My reasons for using Twitter in my classroom have never included the “eventual participation” argument referenced by Mr. Tucker. That said, I think it is sadly misleading (and deliberately melodramatic) to lump social media in with drinking or sexual activity. While there is NO appropriate way for kindergarten children to participate in either one of those activities, there are many appropriate ways for young children to reap benefit from careful, thoughtful, integration of social media into the educational environment. The third activity mentioned by Mr. Tucker as something “children will eventually do” is driving, and to that comparison, I will simply say this: an argument that children should not be exposed to Twitter until they are of an appropriate age to operate it independently is analogous to saying that children should not be allowed to ride in cars as passengers until they are old enough to drive. To continue that particular analogy, it would seem to me that children who ride in cars operated by careful thoughtful drivers, and who engage in conversations about road signs, traffic laws, and safe driving habits, are better equipped to become safe drivers, themselves.

In re-reading Mr. Tucker’s post, and this response, for the umpteenth time before clicking “publish,” what comes to me is this: Mr. Tucker opened his criticism with a tweet accusing me of recklessness,  and his post, while perhaps more diplomatic than his original tweet, remains essentially that: an accusation. It is one thing to say: “I have done the research and reflection, and I came to a different conclusion than this person.” It is entirely different to say: “Because I do not agree with this person’s decision, she clearly did NOT research and reflect.” The first builds a bridge to a  shared space for deeper understanding. The second builds a wall.

It is my sincere hope that this blog is, and will always be, more about bridges than walls. Respectful conversation makes us all better. Your thoughts and comments are welcome and encouraged, as always.

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I heard them say, love is the way

A few weeks ago, we started a new project in my classroom: Kindergarten Around the World. I will spare you the minute details (hit me in the comments if you want to know more), but it is, basically, a virtual exchange between our class, and a partner class overseas. For my 20 Canadian munchkins, we found a partner group in East Borneo, Indonesia. Both classes have created an imaginary friend, who attends our partner school. (For the curious, our imaginary friend is a little girl named Ella. She is 6 years old, she has blond hair, brown eyes, and brown skin. Her gender and name were decided by vote. Her age and appearance were drawn at random.) We use Twitter to ask research questions of our partners, and the answers allow us to write stories documenting our imaginary friend’s experience in another country. Each child has a journal for the project, where they record things they have learned. It being kindergarten, the recording mostly takes the form of drawings. The children dictate text to go with their drawings, and then copy that text onto their pages. We are working on a Prezi presentation to share our learning with parents and other classes. We have made a video to teach our “Indonesia friends” about snow and how to get dressed for recess when it is very cold.


When my team conceived of this project, I knew it was going to be cool. As mentioned in my previous post about Twitter in kindergarten, I love love LOVE that my students are building real connections with other children their own age. This project brought it to another level, by pushing them to imagine themselves in a completely different setting. (As we graph the often FIFTY degree difference in our daily temperatures, I often imagine MYSELF in a completely different setting, too!) I knew that this project was going to take us in unexpected directions, and there is no doubt that it has. In the 3 weeks since it started, we have learned:


  • That  a map is  picture of a place, taken from up high, and helps us see where things are.
  • That blue parts of a map are always water.
  • That when we are at school, our Indonesia friends are sleeping, and vice versa, and that that is because the Earth is rotating, and Canada and Indonesia can’t face the sun at the same time.
  • That voting is a fair way of making decisions as a group, and that just because something is “fair” doesn’t mean that everyone is happy about it.
  • That orangutans eat more fruit than any other animal.
  • That baby orangutans stay with their mothers for 6 years.
  • That adult male orangutans live alone, but still visit their mothers.
  • That orangutans can yell so loud you can hear them from 1.5 km away.

(We REALLY got into the orangutans. Our partner school is located close to an orangutan preserve, and once we’d had a virtual fieldtrip using a link they sent, it was all orangutans, all the time…)

  • That, shockingly, not only can kindergarten teachers be men (as we have learned from some other Twitter friends), but music teachers can be men, too.
  • That in warm climates, many schools have outdoor swimming pools RIGHT AT SCHOOL, and that this is possibly the very coolest thing about Indonesia.
  • That “temperature” tells us whether it is hot or cold, and that “weather” tells us what the sky looks like. 
  • That “Fanta” is another word for “orange pop.”

Every single time we log in, we learn.

And, then, today, we learned about tsunamis. 

Some of my students had heard about the events in Japan on the news, and that Indonesia was among the countries facing a tsunami watch. They were curious and concerned:

What is a tsunami, Mme? It’s a big big wave, bigger than you can imagine, big enough to wash away cars and buildings. 
Is it dangerous? Yes, it can be very dangerous.
Could we have one  here? Probably not, because we live a very long ways from the ocean. 
Our Indonesia friends can see the ocean from their classroom, could they have one? Yes, it is possible that they could have one, but the people in charge in their country are watching carefully, and they will evacuate if it looks like a tsunami is coming. 
What is “evacuate?” If something dangerous like a fire or a tsunami or a really bad storm is coming, the police and the army will help people move to safer place until it is okay for them to go back home. 
Where would they go to be safe? They would go somewhere further away from the ocean, probably somewhere higher and drier, until it was safe. 

Can we tell them to come here? They are our friends, we can take care of them, they will be safe with us, and they could go to our school. There’s only 6 kids in their class, we have room for six more. Can we please tell them to come here…?

I knew this project would be amazing. I knew it would make me proud. I knew my students and I would learn things I never expected, and that there is magic in learning TOGETHER. 

I didn’t know it would be the thing that made a faraway tragedy into something real. I didn’t know that it would leave me humbled by my students’ simple statements of generosity. I didn’t know how REAL those 6 little people, on the other side of the world, were going to become to my 20 little people. 

They are our friends. We can take care of them. They will be safe with us. We have room.

I didn’t know that this project would lead me to think that the world might be a far better place if foreign aid and international disaster relief policies were written by five-year-olds. 

They are our friends. We can take care of them. They will be safe with us. We have room.


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it’s not the world that I am changing

Wow, the response to my last post about tweeting with the munchkins has been nothing short of overwhelming, in the best possible way. After 500+ page views in 3 days, I am a little nervous that NOTHING I write is going to measure up to that.

The attention drawn by that post has made me think A LOT about my online presence. While I do not use my real name here, my real name is “out there.” In the last few weeks, all 4 kindergarten classes at my school have created Twitter accounts, and my school community is increasingly aware of my involvement with a Twitter-based PLN of kindergarten teachers. After some soul-searching, I shared my last post (and some other posts ABOUT my post), with my boss. That post may lead to other collaboration opportunities, and collaboration with other ACTUAL PEOPLE does not lend itself well to remaining anonymous… And, of course, at the same time as I was wrestling with all of this, along came the case of Natalie Munroe, who was suspended from her teaching position due to things she wrote in her blog…

So, I have made some changes. I have carefully re-read and re-worded and re-thought anything that mentioned my colleagues, my students, or their parents. While every single word I have ever written here has always come out of love: for the children, and for the profession of teaching, that same love has compelled me to reconsider how to use this space.

It breaks my heart a little – telling honest, messy, complicated, joyful stories about CHILDREN was what compelled me to start a teaching blog in the first place. Writing out my struggles is a tremendous coping tool for me, and I received positive, precious feedback from others who read those stories. While I want to believe that anything I wrote about “my” kiddos always conveyed my heart-breaking love for them, I also love them too much to make them vulnerable here. I have kept the drafts of all of their stories, and perhaps one day will find a means to share them again, in a way that protects both the children and me (ideas, anyone?!).

The post about Twitter has opened up a world of possibility for me, and I am humbled by the recognition I have received for it. It is all a little tainted, though, by knowing that it has come at a cost.
For now: I am hopeful that my voice here will remain my own and that you will continue to read my stories… And, if you are a teacher who blogs: how are you dealing with all this? What is your approach to the questions  of anonymity and confidentiality? What are your thoughts about Natalie Munroe? Remember: anonymous or not, comments are like crack to bloggers!

Happy Sunday to all, and happy long weekend to many.

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To Tweet or Not to Tweet

So, as most of you know (I think?!) I belong to a community on Twitter called #kinderchat. You can read about it here, if you are so inclined.  Last night’s topic was “Integrating Social Media in the Kindergarten Classroom,” and boy, did it turn out to be WAY more controversial than I bargained for…

So here’s the (apparently controversial) scoop: My class tweets (well, in English, we “tweet.” In French, we “twitte.”) I set up a private Twitter account just for them. We follow about 12 different classrooms, scattered across the globe, and are followed by about 25 people — a mix of classrooms, teachers, and students’ own parents.We have been tweeting a few times a week since early January.  I project our account onto our Interactive Whiteboard (IWB, the generic term for a non-Smart brand Smartboards), we check our messages, respond to any questions, and ask a few questions of our own. Our Twitter sessions last about 15 – 20 minutes. The kids dictate all of our content, and I type it. They LOVE it, and get worried if we go more than a day or so without checking in with our twitter friends. We tweet in English and French.

Now that we have been tweeting for over a month, I could write an extensive list of all the learning (both expected and unexpected) that happens during and because of our Twitter sessions.  As wonderful as that list might be, however, nothing on it would reflect what REALLY matters to me about using Twitter in my classroom. I honestly never planned for Twitter to be primarily a literacy/numeracy exercise. I wanted my class to be on Twitter because I knew what Twitter had done for me as professional. With my fellow kinderchatters, I feel part of a professional network that far exceeds the bounds of my own school, city, country. And THAT is what I wanted for my students: to see themselves as part of a huge network of children, kindergarteners, learners, and students, who all go into classrooms, have teachers, play games, sing songs, read books, play, giggle, and learn new things. I wanted kindergarten, as an experience, to exist for them beyond the bounds of our four walls. Our school, being an international and UNESCO school, commits to graduating “active, global citizens” and that begins with an awareness that there are children! in other places! who go to school! just like us! That, to me, is a powerful understanding.

I chose Twitter as a tool to facilitate that understanding for many reasons:

  • Already having a network of kindergarten teachers myself, I knew I could find us a handful of comparably-aged “tweeps” pretty easily. 
  • The format — short, succinct sentences — is well-suited to the attention spans and language skills of my 5-year old munchkins. 
  • Unlike live-chatting programs (both video and text), Twitter is very forgiving of time zones, last -minute schedule changes, and hiccups in our wireless network.
  • I was comfortable with the degree of privacy and anonymity afforded by a protected Twitter account. 
  • Finally, Twitter is, by definition, a conversation, and that, more than anything else, is what I wanted: a way to participate in ongoing dialogue, between my students and others. I didn’t want to wait for comments on a blog or online story/presentation. (To be clear, I see the value of blogs, voicethread, prezi, etc. They were just not the best tools for what I had in mind…)

And for this, most important goal, Twitter is working, and better than I had ever dreamed. We recently read the Ezra Jack Keats classic The Snow Day, which required me to explain the concept of school being cancelled due to snow (this did not compute in their western-prairie minds: we have snow, we have school. End of story.) Within 24 hours, one of our twitter class friends reported that they had just had a snow day. The exclamations of: “Snow days really happen! They are a real thing! Our twitter friends had one!” echoed off the classroom walls. When we watched the animated story of Martin’s Big Words on January 17th, and our twitter friends reported that they had watched it, too, my students were proud that they knew about a man who was so important outside of our classroom, school, and country. They felt a part of a large group of children, their age, who had learned and talked about Martin Luther King Jr. They were proud to participate in the conversation. I was proud of them for being proud.

In the name of full disclosure: our conversations are not always about literature or historical figures. Being 5-year-olds, we also talk about Pillow Pets and Silly Bandz. We compare notes on rest-time rules, snack routines, classroom jobs, specialist teachers. They want to know the colour of the chairs in other classrooms, what others do for indoor recess, whether EVERYONE wears uniforms like we do, if their classrooms have windows, a sink, a coatroom. We learn about the weather, and that the seasons are not the same everywhere at the same time. We have discovered that EVERYONE has a 100th day of school, but that it doesn’t fall on the same day for all classes. We have proudly taught our Twitter friends the French words for a great many things. We  have learned that some schools have a church on their campus, that some classes have only girls in them, that some kindergarten teachers are MEN!!! (This last being perhaps the most amazing discovery of all). Not too long ago, we followed a link to a Storybird story, written by some 4th grade students. We read the story, and used it as a jumping-off point to talk about real vs. imaginary. We then tweeted that class to share how we had used their work in a lesson. To quote one of my kiddos: “They will be proud that we used their work to LEARN! They were kind of our teachers today!” There was such power and also such humility in that moment.

Yes, they are also beginning to pick out sight words, in 2 languages, on the screen; they notice the letters and comment on the sounds in the words I type for them. They make connections between other classes’ avatars and their screennames. They compose concise, clear, thoughts and questions. They count backwards as Twitter tells me how many characters we have left in a given tweet. They have developed a passionate interest in maps and geography…. But all of that? That is gravy, compared to this:

Tweeting is allowing my students to directly learn from and teach, other children, in a way that feels real and meaningful to them. They are aware of themselves as participants in a big conversation, and feel a sense of responsibility around contributing to that conversation regularly and thoughtfully.

And that? Is a pretty huge thing to be happening, just 140 characters at a time.

 The children keep their own, hand-drawn maps, and add new twitter friends as we meet them.

For a different viewpoint on the question of Twitter in kindergarten, please visit the lovely @jenwatson’s blog, here.

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