Improving STEM Education and Skills Conference – Day one

Well, I earned my keep as a network node today. I attended the ‘Improving STEM Education and Skills Conference‘ in Melbourne and tweeted myself silly for near on 8 hours. Tweets become my form of note taking at most conferences I attend, and they serve the dual purpose of providing a virtual presence for those people in my network who can’t attend.

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(Thanks Stuart Palmer for this image)

Conference organisers these days must be pretty happy when someone who tweets for purposes like this appear in their crowd. Most conferences I attend advertise the hashtag being used (in this case, #stemeduau) and the amplification of the ideas being shared bode them well, especially if the conference is one that operates annually.

Our school is committed to improving the STEM skills of our students and a team of teachers are exploring ways of making this happen. If you’re interested in STEM education and what was shared at this conference today, then click on this link and you’ll arrive at my Storify of collected tweets from today’s proceedings. Day two of the conference is tomorrow, but I won’t be there. I’ll be following the hashtag though!

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Helping students understand location settings

In the last week of school I had an opportunity to discuss with students from Years 7 through to 11 the importance of thinking about their use of Social Media while they are on their holiday break. There was a consistent resounding cheer when I mentioned they were about to immerse themselves in their various social networks when they finished school for the year and were in the enviable position of determining what it was they wanted to do with their day. For many of the students I teach, that means communicating with their friends over Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.

Sometimes I feel a bit like a broken record reiterating the ‘think before you post’ message, important as it is. I’m always on the lookout for articles, posts or videos that can help me tell the story that needs telling. I find video a really effective way of getting a point across, but it can be hard to find new material. Having a son who trawls YouTube for a living (or so it seems!) proved fortuitous on the weekend before my sessions. He had come across a Social Media Experiment conducted by YouTuber Jack Vale. It was perfect for the message I wanted to convey about making sure your privacy settings are set to friends only and turning off location settings on apps that don’t necessarily require them. Take a look yourself.

Before watching, I did preface with the students that the people in the video were expressing surprise and some of their reactions were bleeped out. It was fascinating watching their reactions during the short few minutes. Many of their faces echoed the expressions of the people on the screen as they realised that all of this information was shared publicly and these people could be found easily because of the location data embedded in photos shared in spaces like Instagram. It was effective across all Year levels, with many of the younger students coming to me at the end of the session to get help finding where location services was located on their phones so that they could turn it off in Apps not requiring it for functionality.

Sometimes we assume our students are savvy users of technology, but my experience tells me they often need direction. Finding opportunities to share and discuss information in our often crowded curriculums is difficult, but we need to make time. Parents are often not in command of knowledge like this and can’t provide necessary guidance. My message to my students at the end of the session was that there is a need for them to be informed users of technology, not ignorant users who can make serious errors by sharing information unknowingly. This means understanding dashboard settings of programs they use on their computers and general settings of devices such as phones that are a part of their everyday lives.

It was time well spent!

School’s out Friday

Now, if you’re not a Twitter/Facebook/Instagram or any other social network user you might not have any clue what Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake are going on about in the video above. If you do use a social network where hashtags are a common form of curating ideas around a theme or conference experience, or expressing an opinion or statement about how you’re feeling, then you’ll be smiling and possibly laughing along as you watch.

The hashtag is an artform in itself. Don’t use it, and you may struggle to find the tweets you’ve shared, overuse it, and what you tweet is in danger of being lost in a form of hashtag hell. New York magazine has identified seven kinds of hashtag abusers, and the first on their list is the kind that I think delivers you into hashtag hell. Here’s their description;

1. The Hashtag Stuffer

The most common form of hashtag abuse. The Stuffer is incapable of simply sharing a photo of his July Fourth fireworks; he festoons it with #firework #fireworks #july4th #July4 #pretty #boom! #red #white #blue #1776bitches! (Not an exaggeration. A quick search of #fireworks took me here.) Sometimes #he hashtags random #words in sentences.

So, lesson for you all out there. Avoid at all costs the temptation to become the Hashtag Stuffer. Your tweets will become those that are passed over in the stream, avoided at all costs because you can’t see the words for the invasion of hashtags polluting them.

Enjoy your weekend. Grand Final day here in Melbourne tomorrow, and my team are contenders. Go Hawks! :)

 

Teenagers and Social Media – new research from Pew Internet

The Pew Internet American Life Project conducts regular research into the use of technology by all sectors of the US population. Their latest research focuses on teenagers and their use of Social Media sites. Here are some of the key findings from the report:

Teens are sharing more information about themselves on social media sites than they did in the past. For the five different types of personal information that we measured in both 2006 and 2012, each is significantly more likely to be shared by teen social media users in our most recent survey.

 Teen Twitter use has grown significantly: 24% of online teens use Twitter, up from 16% in 2011.

 The typical (median) teen Facebook user has 300 friends, while the typical teen Twitter user has 79 followers.

 Focus group discussions with teens show that they have waning enthusiasm for Facebook, disliking the increasing adult presence, people sharing excessively, and stressful “drama,” but they keep using it because participation is an important part of overall teenage socializing.

 60% of teen Facebook users keep their profiles private, and most report high levels of
confidence in their ability to manage their settings.

 Teens take other steps to shape their reputation, manage their networks, and mask information they don’t want others to know; 74% of teen social media users have deleted people from their network or friends list.

 Teen social media users do not express a high level of concern about third-party access to their data; just 9% say they are “very” concerned.

 On Facebook, increasing network size goes hand in hand with network variety, information sharing, and personal information management.

 In broad measures of online experience, teens are considerably more likely to report positive experiences than negative ones. For instance, 52% of online teens say they have had an experience online that made them feel good about themselves.

The research is from the US, but I do think there are messages to take from this that are applicable to the Australian experience. My discussions with students indicate that Facebook is on the wane, with many gravitating to sites like Instagram for their social network experience. My observations in discussions with parents is that Instagram is not seen as much of a threat to their children as is Facebook. There’s more of a comfortable willingness to allow their children to participate there. I think we need to help our parents understand that sites like Instagram are social networks, not just photo sharing places. They require just as much open discussion about things like oversharing, managing privacy settings and who you add as a friend as does a site like Facebook.

There are some very encouraging signs in their key findings with quite a high percentage of teenagers actively managing privacy settings and taking steps to manage their reputation online. What does concern me is teenagers apparent low level of concern about 3rd party access to their data. The report says that insights from focus groups suggests that teenagers may not have a good sense that their data is being used by any third parties. Again, this finding echoes some of my experiences with students who seem unaware that sites may be sharing information or mining their data to discover their likes and dislikes. We do need to find room in our busy curriculums to have discussions with students about social media and what might be happening with their data. An informed citizen is in a position to make sound decisions, and surely that’s what we want for our young people in today’s world.

I’d encourage you to follow this link and take a read of the full report.

School’s out Friday

Aahhh…Google. They do it well. Take delight in their clever advertising campaign about Search. If only all advertisers understood that a good story, cleverly told, is the most powerful tool at their disposal.

I’ve been Googled today. Not in the search sense, but in the Google Summit sense. I’m in Maroochydore tonight, which is close to Buderim where the Google Apps for Education Summit is being held at Matthew Flinders Anglican College. Today was the first day of their two day conference, and I was very pleasantly surprised that there was so much learning to be had today!

My twitter stream is literally flooded with information and links that I shared. If you care to, take a look at #gafesummit on Twitter and you’ll see some of the great tips and ideas that were shared today. I’m very interested in Chromebooks and their potential for use in schools and tweeted that I had to get my hands on one to check it out. Suan Yeo, the head of Google Enterprise Education efforts, saw my tweet and replied asking me to find him out to talk about that. I did during the next break, and he gave me a Chromebook to try out for the day. Very cool! I was very impressed. A Chromebook is a thin client device – it contains no hard drive and relies on the Google Chrome operating system and obviously an Internet connection. I was using a Samsung Chromebook. It was very light and had a USB, SD Card and HDMI port. You’d be relying on your Google Drive account and the Chrome App store for creation tools, but that’s pretty achievable these days given the options available there. I think I’m going to invest in one of these in the near future and see how it goes in a school setting. At around $350, the price point is good. Given the demise of netbooks, this is looking like a viable alternative for schools with the infrastructure that can support them.

I’m going to Storify my tweet stream and try and write a halfway decent blog post about the summit on the plane journey home tomorrow night. I need to take the opportunity to write in the air, because that kind of dedicated lack of distraction time doesn’t come my way all that frequently these days.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow and the learning to be had. Better charge those devices in preparation!

School’s out Friday

Have you figured out yet that I am madly in love with the mind of John Green?

Mental floss on YouTube. Just my thing. Those kind of random, weird, but strangely addictive pieces of useless information that make for the most interesting discussion fodder. I wish John Green lived next door to me. We’d have a lot in common. I’d invite him over for a cuppa or glass of wine and I’m sure we’d laugh into the wee hours. I’ll just have to get my dose of John Green via YouTube, cuppa or glass of wine in hand. I’ll laugh by myself, and maybe leave a comment on YouTube. If you’re anything like me, you’ll subscribe to Mental Floss on YouTube, and the videos might just be some of the most entertaining parts of your week.

Off to bed for me. I’ve just posted this tweet on Twitter.

Sometime, over the last week, I sent out my 20,000th tweet. The last five years here have been the best prof. develop. I’ve had. And all free.

Some of you might be thinking that I’ve wasted a lot of time on Twitter. Nothing could be further from the truth. The learning made possible from the network there has been a decisive part of my growth as an educator. I’m forever grateful to Clay Burell for introducing me to his network and supporting me in my early days there. You were very generous Clay – I am indebted to you.

Have a wonderful weekend. The weather looks good for Melbourne, and I intend to spend some time outdoors appreciating it. I hope you have a similar outlook where you live. :)

The little things…

Neglected.

I believe that’s the word you’d use to describe this blog of late. Aside from the regular School’s out Friday posts (my saving grace, really), it’s been a barren wasteland for the last month or so. I shouldn’t beat myself up, because starting in a new position, even when it’s at the school you’ve taught at for years, is fraught with finding your feet and trying to establish credibility for yourself amongst your peers.

Me, I’m my own greatest critic. If I’m not moving mountains then I think I’m falling short. I’d love to say I’ve single handedly transformed peoples’ approaches to using technology in their classrooms within weeks, but you’d know I was lying. I’m trying hard not to beat myself up or place undue pressure on myself, but it’s proving difficult. What I have to do is tackle things in a systemised way, make some things a priority, and take heart from the fact that I’m doing what I can with the hours there are in a day.

A little thing I’ve done that I think might be a good start to building a learning community is to create a hashtag for our school and start curating Tweets in a Paper.li (it’s like a online newspaper). The hashtag is #tcplc (Toorak College Professional Learning Community) and the Paper.li created I send out in an email daily to staff. To help them determine if there’s anything there of import, I provide a brief summary of some of the posts/articles that have been curated. I’m very lucky to have a couple of other teachers at my school who are Twitter users, and they are helping with the curation. Hopefully we’ll start to see more teachers become aware of the wonderful professional learning opportunities available from the Twitter community and maybe, just maybe, some will sign up and become part of the curation process to benefit all of us.

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It’s a little thing, but it does take time and effort to curate those links. I’m an avid Twitter user (all my best learning happens or begins from there)  so it’s a great way to make that learning transfer to others who aren’t Twitter users.

Little things go on to become big things. I’ll try and keep this Chinese proverb in mind as the year unfolds,

“It is better to take many small steps in the right direction than to make a great leap forward only to stumble backward.”