"We are living a public life on a global stage, the ones who can express themselves best, will be heard." -Laura Hill Timpanaro, Artist, Author, Educator

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Why I Write With Children, Part 2

by Laura Hill

I am often asked to speak about how my daughters, then 5 and 8, tricked me into to writing a book series with them about a land where all the stories ever written come to life, The Great Story World Mix-Up.  I have to admit it’s been a huge undertaking.  Now two years and eight books later the process has given me a lot to reflect upon, much of which I feel is relevant, even in step with the ideas surrounding changes being implemented in progressive schools around the globe.

When my daughters first asked me to write with them my initial reaction was, NO! How do you write with children? What ideas could they possibly have that would develop into a good story arc?  What I found was that their ideas were much more relevant than mine as they were the same age as the market we were writing for. Time and time again they bested me with their ideas even with the series title, The Great Story World Mix-Up, which I had proposed be called The Rainy Day Club.

This got me thinking. How many other artists and authors have gotten their great ideas from children?

Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series began as bedtime stories for his son. Mary Pope Osborne thanks two children for their ideas and inspiration in her first Magic Tree House book Dinosaurs Before Dawn.  Martin Scorsese made the book Hugo into a movie at the suggestion of his 12-year-old daughter, Francesca. Walt Disney made Mary Poppins into a movie at the urging of his daughters.  And Harry Potter was originally published because a book executive's child begged him to do so.

So what is it with kids and their great insight?

I think it’s that kids see what “is”.  They don’t necessarily focus like adults do, through lenses colored by what is “supposed” to be.  They don’t try to fit an idea into their long term goals or a set of tasks. They are living in the moment and they know a good thing when they see it.  I also think kids give more freely and emotionally connect more deeply than adults. Any parent with a child who has a stuffed animal collection knows what I am talking about.  I believe this is because they are just starting to empathize and develop the emotional intelligence that makes us become compassionate or hard, ruthless or kind; and they are not yet jaded by the world’s definition of success.

The question that persistently pesters me is how then can we expect kids to be creative and emotionally connected when we constantly tell them their ideas aren't correct.  We start in kindergarten and pre-K when we tell them to use a blue crayon to color the sky. I’ve seen fiery sunsets filled with purple, orange, pink, red and gold, so have you. Why isn’t this an option?  As we continue trying to develop ways to educate a student body who is more adept at technology and more adaptable to thoughts that will foster new invention, we are going to have to try really hard to balance our listening and guiding.

My daughter’s are ready to go out and execute their own ideas but they still need help, and they are forward thinking about what they want to accomplish.  We are now adding video components to our books that magically appear on the page to give young readers another layer of experience that gets them excited about reading.  My daughters are brainstorming ways to update our website to make it more interactive and to bring each land in Story World that our heroes Penelope and Jilly have fixed to life.  The more I step back and give them the opportunity to run with it, the more they will.  

We need to open our minds and give kids credit for the great ideas they come up with.

If we want to foster a generation of great thinkers we need to be guides and listeners who not only applaud good ideas but who help children get those ideas into the world AND give them credit for it. To do this we need to shake loose from the shackles that conform our thought to set routines so that when flashes of brilliance arise we are flexible enough to steer off the beaten path and try something new. And fail. And try again. 

My older daughter is moving up to middle school today. She will not be recognized for being the student who taught her classmates how to present with Prezis and websites.  She will be one of the many who are not recognized because their talents don’t conform to those measured in our district, despite her excellent grades.  She is well grounded because she knows first hand that her talents are valuable.  But what about the kids who don’t.

Today, next year, while you are teaching, you have the opportunity to not only celebrate the talents in your classroom but to create a culture of learning that will lead to amazing ideas that you can help students execute upon.  We are so close!  You as educators are doing so many amazing things in your schools, but it's not enough, be bold!  I don’t want my daughters to grow up feeling like they are wasting their time because they are bored in class.  I want them to feel that they have had the opportunity to come in contact with extraordinary educators and peer groups who helped guide and shape their great ideas into reality.

Be brave, don’t give up…we are counting on you.

Kayla did win an award tonight in a new category for Language Arts!  It made me excited and inspired to think that anything's possible....

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Turning CyberBullies into Digital Citizens

Yesterday, in the neighboring High School, a 15 year-old boy was arrested for using the social app YIk Yak to make shooting and bomb threats against his school.  A student in his grade saw the threats and alerted his parents, who then alerted school officials, who called the police.

This wasn't the first time a bomb threat was made using Yik Yak.

Yik Yak is a social app that allows users to post anonymous messages to anyone in a 1.5 mile radius. In schools where BYOD is policy, (and where it’s not), apps like Yik Yak, Whisper, Snapchat, Kik and Tinder make it easy for cyber bullys to post malicious, hurtful messages to entire student bodies.  And though Yik Yak has enforced the use of geofences, technology that limits access within a defined radius of middle schools, because users are anonymous students using these apps to bully, intimidate or threaten other students will largely remain identified.

This is a cultural problem.

In today's teen culture it is easy to express feelings of anger, hatred and frustration in ways that are socially unacceptable. What's frightening is that irresponsible behavior is no longer constrained to on-line. Rude or mean comments made face to face, dishonest and cruel behavior have all been amplified and in some instances have resulted in tragedy, as in the case of the BFF killers; best friends who killed one of the trio after the implied threat that embarrassing photos would be leaked on-line.

Education about digital citizenship is not enough.

In a myopic world where social isolation breeds insensitivity, teens need to understand the effect their actions have on others, and on their own futures.  By creating a digital footprint they are creating a history that employers and college boards take into consideration.  Case studies of teens being denied opportunities due to actions, postings or photos put on-line are becoming commonplace.

Why not teach students how to use social media to improve themselves?

On twitter, thousands of teachers join together each day for professional development, reaping the collaborative benefits of sharing ideas and programs that make their jobs more effective, fun and relevant.  Are we giving students the same opportunity?  In addition to teaching them about being good digital citizens and decent human beings who act responsibly towards each other, we should be showing them ways to use social media to work together for social good.

How much would your students benefit from a self run anti-bullying twitter style forum? Or a collaborative that works to improve the community within the school or even outside it's walls?  How about directing attention towards betterment through real life experience by interviewing local business people, politicians and others to build a living history and explore potential job opportunities. Or even simply setting up a homework study group where help can be found 24/7.

Cyber bullying is more than an action it's a reaction to isolation and lack of self-esteem.

Companies like Yik Yak, who just secured $1.5 million in funding after an initial $10 million infusion are not going away. With more and more time spent in cyber isolation teens and adults need to relearn the value of community and there’s no better place to start than your classroom. Instill the values of working together for common good and hashing out problems in inventive positive ways. You'll be showing your students there are alternatives to problem solving that are much more effective than using apps to lash out anonymously at helpless victims.  Sure there will always be those who resort to bullying but wouldn't it be great if your class was the one that started a culture of community in your school, your district and your town?  You'd be teaching students how to succeed in life while making their world a better place. Isn't that what teaching is really all about?


Being Brave For Peace: Big Idea for children

by my daughters Ava and Kayla

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Whatisschool May 7, 2015 Digital Safety

Digital Citizenship and Cybersafety – is it a subject to be taught or integrated into everything?
This week we welcome one of the most passionate educators I have in my PLN, Beverly Ladd. Beverly is a 2nd Grade Lead Learner from USA and it is my pleasure to have her co-moderating with me.
This week we take a look at digital citizenship, cybersafety and digital footprints. A core subject area that links across all curriculum areas within our schools. With more access to technology brings more opportunities to connect and engage. This opportunity also brings negative consequences. As 21st Century Educators we need to support our students through quality digital citizenship learning.
whatisschool digcit1
This week #whatisschool takes a look at digital citizenship and how in today’s 21st century classroom, educators across the globe are tackling this topic.
Our chat times for around the world are:
  • Thursday 4pm Pacific Time
  • Thursday 6pm Central Time
  • Thursday 7pm EDT
  • Thursday 11pm GMT
  • Friday 7am Singapore/WA (Perth) Time
  • Friday 9am AEST
  • Friday 11am NZT
DIgital Citizenship
Join the conversation on Thursday 7 May at 7pm EDT (Thursday 11pm GMT, Friday 9am AEST, 11am NZT, 7am Singapore) as we discuss What Is School? #whatisschool
Questions #whatisschool, May 7, 2015 7PM EDT
1) What does Digital Citizenship mean to you? How are you a responsible educator?
2) What are the Characteristics of a digital citizen? Does it differ between age groups? How?
3) What does Digital Citizenship Learning look like at different age levels?
4) How can we make Digital Citizenship part of a school’s culture?
5) What is the most important element of a Digital Citizenship Program and why?

6) Share your favourite Digital Citizenship resource, image, video, link, article or program.


Read the books I write with my children.