21st Century, Communication, Digital Life

What’s Up With WhatsApp?

Note: This post was written by me and was originally posted on all Grade Four class blogs at my school following inappropriate use of WhatsApp group chats by a small group of fourth grade students (outside of school hours but impacting life in the classroom). I chose not to provide a link to the Harvard issue as the nature of the inappropriate use by those students far exceeded what is necessary for a fourth grade student to know about. If you are curious about that event, look here


What’s Up With WhatsApp?

cultureAt MIS we hope to empower our students to make good choices. Every choice made, both in and out of school, is a chance to show people who you are, what you believe in, and what is important to you.

We know that technology is powerful. We also know that educating our students on appropriate use of technology is just as powerful. We believe in developing responsibility through education instead of banning technology through fear.

With that said, we are also mindful that the interactions that occur between students outside of school via technology, have an impact on what happens in our classrooms during the school day. Specifically, this is happening with some students via group chats on WhatsApp.

Are there regulations for WhatsApp?

Let’s start with looking at two key points from the terms and conditions that are agreed to by WhatsApp users:

Age. You must be at least 13 years old to use our Services (or such greater age required in your country for you to be authorized to use our Services without parental approval). In addition to being of the minimum required age to use our Services under applicable law, if you are not old enough to have authority to agree to our Terms in your country, your parent or guardian must agree to our Terms on your behalf.

Legal and Acceptable Use. You must access and use our Services only for legal, authorized, and acceptable purposes. You will not use (or assist others in using) our Services in ways that: (a) violate, misappropriate, or infringe the rights of WhatsApp, our users, or others, including privacy, publicity, intellectual property, or other proprietary rights; (b) are illegal, obscene, defamatory, threatening, intimidating, harassing, hateful, racially, or ethnically offensive, or instigate or encourage conduct that would be illegal, or otherwise inappropriate, including promoting violent crimes; (c) involve publishing falsehoods, misrepresentations, or misleading statements; (d) impersonate someone; (e) involve sending illegal or impermissible communications such as bulk messaging, auto-messaging, auto-dialing, and the like; or (f) involve any non-personal use of our Services unless otherwise authorized by us.

In a nutshell:

  • you need to be 13 or have parental permission to use WhatsApp
  • you may not use WhatsApp to send messages that are obscene, say things that are not true, are trying to make someone feel bad, are lies.

There are many examples of people who have been in chat groups and who have violated agreements such as the one for WhatsApp, and the content of their group chat has been made public. This is embarrassing for these people but more than that, it has cost them in other ways: the most recent being students who had their acceptances to Harvard University revoked after posting inappropriate content on a group Facebook page for incoming students.

Be Internet Awesome

There is a new online curriculum called Be Internet Awesome.

The parts of this program that relate to appropriate use of services such as WhatsApp are: Be Internet Kind and Be Internet Smart. Full details of the Be Internet Awesome program can be found here in the resources section.

Be Internet Awesome is a self-paced, game-based approach to reinforcing awesome behavior on the internet. We should not need a separate code of behavior depending on if our interactions are online or in person. As our children are becoming more active on the internet we need to ensure we are guiding them in a way that educates them to make better choices.

Make it a Family Affair

A family commitment to safe digital citizenship starts with a conversation at home and is reinforced with a pledge to practice being Internet Awesome—smart, alert, strong, kind, and brave—when online. Consider working through the Be Internet Awesome program as a family. It is never too late to make a change to the way we do things.

If you have any questions about appropriate use of the internet or how to build an ‘internet awesome’ culture within your family, please reach out – we would be happy to hear from you!  Please contact your child’s homeroom teacher, Junior School Learning Technology Teacher, Junior School Assistant Principal, or our Junior School Principal.


 

How do you handle misuse of technology/internet by students? 

As I left school today, I was talking with a parent who doesn’t have 4th grade students but children in higher and lower grades. I was explaining about this issue and another parent chimed in, “See! I told you Grade 4 was too young for a phone!”.  This really bothered me. I don’t think age determines whether or not you should have a phone. I think we have to remember we are not just “giving them a phone” – we are handing them 24/7 anytime, anywhere access to EVERYTHING. If it were “just a phone” – a device to make calls on – there wouldn’t be an issue. There has to be education that comes with getting a phone and how “the phone” is used by parents will have a huge impact on what kids think is and is not ok. A colleague with small children suggested that simple things such as seeing parents plug their phone in to charge outside of their bedroom or in a shared space and not taking it to bed would be a simple step to model for kids before they even get their own device.

What also surprised me was that the another question was “Were they sending messages at school?”. I explained that the messages were all sent and read outside school hours but the impact of these messages was playing out in the classroom: distracted students, students not wanting to work with each other, withdrawn students upset at the content of the chat. This seemed to genuinely surprise the parent I was talking to. It is possible she was going to ask why we were getting involved if the messages were not happening on school time – I don’t know. What I do know is that we have to work WITH parents to help kids navigate their online world. We can’t have two sets of rules for home and school and it can’t be a list of “things that you can/can not chat about”. It has to start with a big picture understanding of choices, respect, and who we are. What we believe shouldn’t change between home and school. Our beliefs should run through everything we do and reflect the person we are and this includes online behaviors.

If you have thoughts as a parent or teacher (or both!) or have links to other sites that promote responsible internet use, I would love to hear about them in the comments below.

Approaches to Learning, Communication, PYP

Needs-Based Planning

Screen Shot 2017-05-22 at 15.07.52

I recently saw this graphic on Twitter. Posted by Bethany Hill , it was retweeted 48 times and liked 71 times, so obviously it was resonating with an audience.

I have been thinking a lot about communication and how we communicate. I was also thinking about how we communicate through things like our unit planners and the ideas we choose to focus on in our classroom.

Over lunch today, a colleague and I were discussing the idea of planning units based on observed needs of the students at our school. It just seemed to make sense to us. What if we were to observe our kids and identify things that stand out to us (both positive and negative) and build units of inquiry with those things embedded in them? What if we were to consciously plan to help kids address issues that continually arise within and across grade levels?

Sometimes it can seem like the issues that arise have to be put aside because of time or other things that need ‘covering’ but what if the issues were the thing? How might we plan differently if we started with the needs of our kids in mind?

In reviewing the Program of Inquiry, I would suggest we answer these sorts of questions:

  1. Are there needs not being met?
  2. What social skills do our kids lack?
  3. Do our kids have multiple ways to communicate?

What other questions should we be asking? Lets move beyond “vertical and horizontal articulation” and ensure the things we are choosing to focus on in our classrooms are reflective of the students in front of us.

Communication, Empathy

More Thoughts on Empathy…

Last week, I was telling a fellow Masters student the story of my first year teaching in Munich. I was a new mom to a 10 week old baby when I started work at MIS. My husband would bring her to work so I could feed her and occasionally this would mean one or two kids would see her on her way in or out.

Until the day she stayed to say her ‘official’ hello a few weeks into the school year.

1240040_10151610806000143_1954660921_n
My little Lulu at 12 weeks old, visiting with Papa at school.

My class of 18 4th graders were enthralled. So much care and concern was shown for her: was she warm enough? was it quiet enough? did she have enough personal space? did she need anything? how could they help her? This was quite different to the way they treated each other upon arrival to fourth grade. About a third were with classmates from the previous year. A third were new to the school. The other third were returning students but hadn’t been in the same class before. They didn’t show this same concern for each other.

When I asked them why, their answers were quick to come: “She isn’t going to make fun of me.  She isn’t going to be mean to me. She can’t talk back to me. I have to think about what she needs rather than what I want.”

It seems children are naturally empathetic, yet something drives that deeper within them to the point where it is not always their first response. Until it is. Until empathy is the first and only option.

So, why not tap into that as a basis for all that we do in the classroom?  I am a big fan of “starting with why” but I am becoming a bigger fan of “starting with empathy”. I really think that when kids are given the task to think of what they can do for another person/place/situation, the learning will flow from that.  Maybe that is idealistic but I don’t actually think so. I think it will work.

This following video talks about what empathy is but also how to start on a journey toward building empathy through the exchanging of stories. In particular, it highlights the importance of listening – really listening – as others tell their story, which is a key feature of empathy in the Design Thinking process.

 

I like this RSA animated short from Brené Brown on Empathy (which is actually referenced by one of the participants in the previous video). She describes empathy as making a connection with another by examining yourself first. I like this idea: that we each have to look to our own experiences first.

This last video was created by 8th grade students. Again, I think it highlights the idea that empathy is naturally present in the children we teach, we just have to place importance on it. The social issues that exist in many schools are a result of a lack of empathy for each other. If empathy was naturally a driving force in everything ‘school’, wouldn’t this also change the social culture of school?

What role does empathy play in your teaching?

Communication

Great Conversations – Great Achievements

“The quality of our conversations matter. Great achievements only come after great conversations.”

—John O’Leary, communications advocate 

Someone I respect and admire sent me a TEDx talk and told me it was worth my time to watch it.  She wasn’t wrong.  John O’Leary’s talk is a great reminder of the power our words can have, either spoken or not. His talk outlines the massive connection between conversations and the success (or failure) of your endeavours.

According to John, the quality of conversations influences the quality of our decisions which dictates the quality of our outcomes.

While this is not entirely new information to anyone, he shares examples of very high profile incidents in which conversations lacked the quality they needed to ensure good decisions were made.  So why are we not constantly engaged in quality conversations in which people speak their mind?

John speaks about three myths that keep people silent when they are asked to ‘share their thoughts’ to new ideas in meetings:

Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 20.39.45

Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 20.40.07

Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 20.40.35

Saying “I really want to know what you think” is not enough to overcome the barriers that many people have when it comes to sharing their thoughts in a conversation so John offers up these techniques to change the context of a conversation:

Independent deliberation. (Asking people to come prepared with their ideas written down and a rationale for them). Result: Either a natural consensus which builds confidence that the direction to be taken is a good one, or people will bring very different ideas to the table – offering exciting opportunities for exploration and change.

Devils Advocate/Red Team. The leader assigns a group to poke holes in an idea.  The task is to see all the failings and lay them out. O’Leary says that by giving people permission to do the things we wouldn’t typically expect from a group discussion, you are testing the strength of the idea before launching it ‘live’. (Think “putting on the black hat” aka Edward DeBono’s Thinking Hats).

“Conversation is used to draw out the pitfalls but conversation can also be used to inspire, and to engage and to bring people into an ambitious endeavour.”  As I watched John’s video I thought how effective it would be to “assign” this TED talk to a group or team before a meeting in which big decisions needed to be made.  How empowering it would be for a team to know their leader valued and appreciated their voice and how the only thing that was important was everyone’s ability to engage in the conversation.

While we are not launching rockets or starting wars as teachers, we are dealing with educating children which is certainly worth having a conversation about. What is the quality of your meeting conversations? Are you setting  up yourselves, your school, and most importantly, your students, for quality outcomes?  What do you need to change in the way you facilitate meetings in order to be the best team of teachers you can be?

If I could add anything to John’s talk, it would be to conclude with this image from Hugh MacLeod of Gapingvoid:

Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 21.48.41