Saturday, December 13, 2014

A Funny Thing Happened As I Spied on My Students . . .



     I know I'm supposed to monitor my students' technology use, but outside the occasional thrill of ejecting a kid from his personal email, using Hapara -- Chromebook's version of Teacher Dashboard -- has always made me feel kind of creepy.  In my mind, I'm that grumpy battleaxe from Jef Mallett's Frazz, wandering up and down the aisles of my digital classroom, rapping the knuckles of all who stray from the virtual straight and narrow.

     "FUN?  We'll have none of that here!"


     Then something unexpected happened.

     One of my objectives this year is to teach my students how to find what they want on the Internet.  I want them to accumulate a number of reliable websites and master the art of crafting the perfect search phrase.  In my opinion, the best -- the only? -- way to achieve this is by providing opportunities to develop the knack.

     Brainstorming for a pros and cons essay on "Keeping Animals in Captivity," the students had just finished summarizing a news article on Siberian tigers who'd starved to death in a struggling Chinese zoo.  Their next task was to find an online news article to support institutions like zoos and aquariums.

     After the initial round of "Is she or isn't she looking?" -- EJECT!  EJECT!  EJECT! -- the students began bumbling their way around the Web.  Except -- this time, some weren't bumbling.  One student consulted a classroom poster for the web address to our local newspaper.  Hearkening back to our fall research paper, another went straight to ProCon.org.

     While I do have an aversion to spying, I can never resist the urge to butt in on my students' thinking.  I know . . . but this moment was too good to pass up:

     "Hey!  I see someone remembered ProCon.org!"

     Voice from the back of the room:  "Yeah, but there wasn't anything good there."

     "Oh.  Well, what about nieonline.com/austin?  Has anybody thought about going to the newspaper archive?"

     (Of course, someone has, you dissembler -- you see it right there on the screen!)

     The students' screen choices started to take direction.  Kids began calling out search ideas.  Other kids listened.  Wait a minute!  Was this that "educational dialogue" thing I keep hearing about?


     Finally, Grace struck gold.  She'd stumbled across a webpage for a large urban zoo:

     "Hey, Everybody!  I bet all the big zoos have news articles about how they've helped animals!"

     "Yeah!  They're not gonna print any bad stuff;  that's for sure! - ha-ha!"

     I relaxed at my desk.  No longer an odious online operative, I'd become a "guide on the side," shepherding my students along the path of responsible digital citizenship --

     "SQUEEEEEE!  Y'all!  The San Diego Zoo has an animal cam!"

     EJECT!  EJECT!  EJECT!

     Sigh.