Good Enough

I am sure blogger’s guilt is not something unique to me. Truth be told, the past 3 months have been so all-encompassing that the thought of sitting for more time in front of my computer to type out a blog post is more than I could bear. Hence the hiatus. The short version is that due to the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent campus closures, my family and I have been engaging in distance teaching and learning based in NZ, where we are lucky to be able to stay with my parents.

Back in the ‘Jing

Aside from a 1-week ‘Spring break’, occurring – miraculously – before NZ went into lockdown and domestic travel was still possible, we – like so many families – have been learning while in limbo. Emotionally, it has been exhausting. Before my pity-party gets into full swing, I should say it has come with many, many benefits, not least of which has been the chance to catch up with friends and family while we’re here. That is no small thing and I am truly grateful.

But back to the blog! Many of my contemporaries have successfully described the above, detailing the challenges of parenting, teaching and being away from home. Others have continued to wrestle with the complexities of creating engaging online learning experiences, nudging us ever-forward with thought-provoking ideas and suggestions. My friends, I salute you! You amaze and inspire me and for that, I thank you.

Today, I offer you none of those things. Instead, I will share the things I have found to help me get through these tumultuous weeks. This is by no means a recipe for success, but rather a loose approach to my survival.

#Procrastibaking

I live to eat. It is, quite literally, one of my favourite things to do. I have found much joy in trawling the NY Times cooking section for recipes to try, looking through my favourite online sites, and experimenting with fermenting beverages thanks to a thoughtful suggestion from the effervescent @JoelBirch. So if you want to check out my version of Peanut Butter Blossoms, discuss what to do with those millions of zucchini that just keep growing, or wax lyrical about the variations of Tepache (please see video below), look no further!

Talking

Social media is sustaining for a borderline extrovert like me. As I coach, I know the genuine value of being able to talk through challenging situations can help improve one’s outlook and help you reach solutions you hadn’t considered when mulling things over by yourself. The process of conversation aids thinking. It was a stroke of luck that lead me to connect with Philippa Kruger from Education Perfect, as she invited me to talk through my (then) 7 weeks of online learning on her podcast. You can listen to my conversation with Philippa here. Through it, I managed to identify what was working well for us, what challenges we faced and how to best support students. I also became aware that I had a bit of a gin habit… Regardless, our chat helped me see the many positives of this unexpected situation, for which I am truly grateful.

Gin o’clock

Exercise… Well, sort of

Those who know me are often frustrated that despite doing very little exercise, I remain fairly slim. It’s one of life’s many mysteries. As a New Year’s Resolution in 2019, I committed to doing push-ups every day. I am not fussy about the number – I started with 10 – but I am regularly doing 100 push-ups a day now. I don’t love it, but I do it, no excuses. I have augmented that with occasional workouts on Sworkit (a great app for adults and students, with workouts of all types), walks with my Mum, and that one time I went biking… Seriously, how do people bike anywhere? Those seats are ridiculous! I know I feel better for having done a workout, so I will keep trying to make it a part of my everyday.

A walk with my Mum

Helping others

One of the best parts of my job is being able to help others. If I can help someone else – even if my life is bonkers, I’m not sleeping well and I’ve been wearing activewear for 3 days straight – then I feel better about myself. So thank you to the people who have reached out for ideas, tech-help, unloading and/or advice for keeping me not so focused on my own problems! It’s a very successful diversionary tactic. One example is my former colleague Estelle, who invited me to present at the Africa Learning International conference to assist teachers in getting started with online learning. Given the conference was at 3am NZ time, they kindly let me pre-record, so I can share the video with you below.

Letting go of Perfect.

I like to do things well. Actually, that’s a lie. I like to do things really well. It matters to me to feel I am doing a good job at whatever it is I am doing (I know, I know, it’s a character flaw). Through this process of online learning, I feel I am better able to let ‘perfect’ go. I can’t be the perfect parent AND coach AND friend AND partner AND daughter AND colleague while living out of a suitcase for the 11th week in a row. Most days, I barely hit one of those! I guess my point is that I am growing in my ability to accept ‘good enough, given the circumstances.’ It’s definitely a work in progress, as I actually cried when my hot cross buns failed. I mean, for goodness’ sake, get some perspective!

Ahh well, there’s always tomorrow.

Parenting in the Digital Age – 2019 edition

My colleague Daniel Johnston and I spoke to parents last week on the subject of Parenting in the Digital Age – a topic close to both of our hearts. We reminded those in attendance that we are personally invested in this topic and learning alongside them, as we are parents, as well as teachers.

For this presentation, we based a lot of our information on content available from the following sources:
Amy Blankson – an author and speaker, focusing on “Leveraging technology to help us be more productive, keep our sanity, and boost our happiness.”
Dave & Blake – presenters and speakers for My Life Online which aims to “teach kids to be
safe, smart & kind online.”


We encourage you to explore these sources, as they are full of great ideas to support students and parents.

Below is our presentation to parents. Please click on the cog below the presentation to access the speaker notes.

We also collated some resources on a Padlet, which you can see below, or access via tinyurl.com/gwas2019. We hope you find them useful!

Made with Padlet

More Digital Parenting Conversation Ideas

As part of #MediaMentorMonth, my colleague Daniel Johnston and I have put together some conversation starters for parents. We are always on the lookout for more great resources, so I am excited to share the following with you.

Dave and Blake are two presenters of My Life Online a series of workshops for schools around keeping kids safe and positive in their online interactions. The pair have recently released a 3-part video series aimed at parents, incorporating strategies that aim to improve conversations with kids and present information in a calm, non-sensational manner.

First up, is a video entitled “The 3 Habits Every Kid Needs to be Safe & Responsible Online.” In this video, they focus on helping kids make safe and good choices, on increasing empathy and on considering their online legacy. You will appreciate the easy to remember strategies to pass on to your children, and the fact that it is realistic advice, not the “Guess the right answer” type of advice that has kids cringing on the inside.

The second video in the series focuses on the 4 Myths about Screen Time and How it Affects Your Child. It addresses the myths that:

  1. Social Media is a “Bad Thing”
  2. Kids are addicted to their phones
  3. Kids are losing their ability to socialise in person, and
  4. Kids need online monitoring

Again, what I appreciate about their approach, is they are not demonising social media (which is not helpful in our digital world), but instead are giving parents approaches to improve communication and foster positive relationships with their child(ren).

Lastly, the third video centres around 3 Crucial Conversations To Have With Your Kids About Using Social Media.

One of the most practical tips they share in this video, is considering online posts on the following continuum: Helpful to Hurtful; Self to Others. This can be a great way of encouraging kids to see the impact of their posts may have.

Each video is about 15 minutes long, and well worth the time. I hope you find them useful!

Talking to Your Kids about Sex and Pornography

One of the biggest challenges parents face is how to approach potentially sensitive topics with their children. What age should they be? What should I say? How much detail do I go into?

As we know with parenting, there are so many different approaches to choose from. But before you go down that track, it might be best to examine your own experiences, beliefs and values, so you know where you’re starting, at least.

Here are some results of questions we asked parents at our recent workshop:

Here are some questions for you to ponder:
How did you learn about sex?
Where did you get your information from?

Did you feel well-prepared?
What do you wish you had known?

Furthermore:
Did your sex education focus on mechanics and how to avoid pregnancy?
Did it include aspects such as touching, pleasure, consent, emotions and feelings?
Did your sex education include sexuality education?
Did it include information about gender identity, sexual orientation and relationships?

Director of Wellbeing Daniel Johnston and I have teamed up again to put together some resources for parents about How to Talk to Your Kids about Sex and Pornography.

Our presentation to parents is below. Please view our slide notes (via the settings cog directly under the presentation) to see the points we try to raise throughout.

We also collated a fairly comprehensive set of resources for parents about common discussion points, which we encourage you to explore.

Made with Padlet

Regardless of the content, we encourage you to keep lines of communication open and make the most of those teachable moments that crop up, e.g. when watching TV. If your children don’t feel comfortable coming to you, then they will seek answers to their questions from elsewhere.

Have lots of small conversations, rather than one big “sex talk”. Let’s also make sure we have appropriate, reliable resources for them (books, websites, videos) so they have access to quality information if and when they choose to explore further.

Media Mentor Month

March Media Mentor Month Keynote.001.jpeg

What is it?
Media Mentor Month is an initiative to help parents develop a positive relationship with their children around digital technologies. Just as we want to be mentors for our children in reading or having a healthy lifestyle, we also want to mentor them in their digital world too (see more details about being a Media Mentor here). The trouble is, sometimes we don’t know exactly how to go about that. Media Mentor Month provides parents with some ideas and strategies to help foster and develop that relationship.

Click here to access the A3 version of the Calendar.

Who is it for?
Anyone, really, but probably best suited to parents who are looking for direction to connect with their children around technology. Especially the ones who feel they only ever battle with their kids about being on screens too much (see more about that here).

When is it happening?
Ideally, March, so we’re all on the same page. Realistically? Any time that fits in to your family schedule.

What do I need to do?
You can participate as much or as little as you like. Personally, I would love to see you share some photos of your family engaging in the challenges. Make sure to add the hashtag #MediaMentorMonth so we can follow your progress!

Media Mentors, Not Media Police

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It is a tricky thing to look at one’s own biases: it can make us feel somewhat vulnerable. In the case of screen time however, it is essential that we do so.

Professor Andy Przybylski (University of Oxford) opened the one-day event on Screen Time I had the good fortune to attend, by commenting on the very existence of the phrase “screen time”. Is there similar examination of “book time” or “food time” for example? There is an unfair rhetoric of analogue time being wholesome, good and entirely helpful, whereas screen time is seen as inherently bad, distracting, unhealthy and leading to nothing of value.

This ‘displacement hypothesis’ is such that every digital minute is seen as taking away from an analogue minute, with the insinuation that digital minutes are taking you further away from you being your best, most successful self.

Professor Przybylski argued that the evidence simply doesn’t back up this theory. Any correlational findings (remember, correlation does not equal causation) are so statistically insignificant they don’t justify focusing on – less than 1% variability in terms of correlational findings around sleep, health, functioning and behaviour.

So what does this mean for parents?

Simply put, there is an over-emphasis on limits and not enough focus on thinking critically about how we use screens, particularly how we use screens with our children.

Alexandra Samuel, using data from surveys of 10,000+ North American Parents*, found three main parenting approaches to technology: Limiters, Enablers and Mentors.

Screen Shot 2018-02-06 at 3.49.44 PM

Limiters focus on minimizing access to technology.

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Enablers put few restrictions on access to technology.

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Mentors actively guide their children in the use of technology.

What is especially interesting about these approaches, is that for school-aged students, the children of Limiters were twice as likely to access porn, or post rude/hostile comments online. They were also three times as likely to impersonate a classmate, peer or adult (see Samuel’s article in the Atlantic for more information).

Likening the Limiter approach to abstinence-only sex education, Samuel argues, “Shielding kids from the Internet may work for a time, but once they do get online, limiters’ kids often lack the skills and habits that make for consistent, safe, and successful online interactions.”

Mentors typically make up a third of  parents overall, but Mentors are equally represented in each age range, suggesting that this might be an approach that works effectively throughout your child’s life.

What we like best about these findings is that they reinforce the idea that establishing and maintaining positive relationships with your children around technology is beneficial to everyone. We want our child(ren) to come to us if they encounter problems, knowing we won’t freak out or overreact. For this to happen, we have to show that we care about and value their digital world in the same way we show that we value their other activities, e.g. reading and sports.

Screenwise-3D-e1470087898717

Devorah Heitner, author of Screenwise, suggests, Take an interest in what your kids do in their digital lives. Learn together with your kids. Play Minecraft with them or share photos on Instagram with them. Show them what you are doing online and ask them for advice about your Facebook posts or LinkedIn Profile. Your goal is not to become an expert in technology but to get a window into how your kids think about, and interact with, technology.

With an awareness and understanding that no parent is all-Mentor all of the time, how can we engage in more Mentor-like behaviour with our children? How can we move from being Media Police, to being Media Mentors?

My colleague Daniel Johnston and I came up with a few suggestions, which we have organised into a March Media Mentor Month Calendar (see below).

Click image to access A3 PDF

We know as busy parents, it is unlikely you will get to all of these ideas (especially not only in March!), but we hope this provides a resource for you to explore and find ideas of activities to help you develop a positive digital relationship with your family.

Click to access a larger A3 PDF version

Please feel free to share your ideas with us in the comments below, or add the hashtag #mediamentormonth on social media posts.


“About the data: All the charts in this article are drawn from a series of surveys conducted on Springboard America and the Angus Reid Forum between March 2014 and February 2016. More than 11,000 surveys were completed by parents of children under 18; each individual survey sampled between 500 and 1000 North American parents.” Please note this data has not been made publicly available and is not peer reviewed.

Why the Humble Sandwich Should Be Your Next Graphic Design Project

Ask anyone what their favourite sandwich is, and I’m willing to bet they’ll have an answer for you. “What does this have to do with Graphic Design?” you may well ask. Stay with me, people!

While browsing my Instagram feed, I came across this beautiful post by the good folk at Dschwen Design Studio:

Those who know me, will know just how excited I got by the brilliant simplicity of their Typographic Sandwich project – especially when I thought about the huge potential it has for introducing students to some Graphic Design basics, while learning a little bit about them in the process.

On the surface, one might think there is nothing much to this: after all, change a few words and colours, and you’re done. But there is so much to explore within these restrictions. In the words of interface designer Aza Raskin,

“Design is the beauty of turning constraints into advantages.”

Let me share some advantages with you.

EASY ACCESS
Almost everyone can think of a sandwich combination, even if it’s not a favourite. The entry points are such that students won’t be blocked by coming up with ideas. For EAL learners, options include the use of visuals (a quick search for their favourite sandwich can be done in any language), and/or the use of the child’s home language to create the finished product.

ACHIEVABLE
The Typographic Sandwich is an activity in which all students can achieve success. The font (Helvetica Bold) remains the same throughout. The devil is in the details – and that’s where the CARP design principles come in.

COMPLETE INTRODUCTION to CARP DESIGN PRINCIPLES
Contrast, Alignment, Repetition and Proximity all come into play here. For more insight into each principle, please check out Design Secrets Revealed.

Contrast – All words need to be easily read, meaning they need to stand out sufficiently from the background. A background colour needs to be selected so that every word is readable.

Alignment – This really is the area in which the bulk of the design challenge exists.
Secondary-Click > Align Objects > Left, brings all text boxes into the same alignment on the left.

Similarly, Secondary Click > Distribute Objects > Vertically, equally distributes objects vertically between the first and last object selected.

Repetition – exists here in the form of the font (Helvetica Bold) and the size of the text.

Proximity – the location/position of both the names of the people and the sandwich text are the same in each of the three examples. This is no accident. By selecting the sandwich words, and looking at the Arrange tab on the right, I can see the X position of each item is 281. I can select the items on the other slides and ensure they also have the same position, thus ensuring a cohesive overall feel to the presentation.

COLOUR MATCHING
Using the eye dropper tool in Keynote, students can match colours from images they have found of their perfect sandwich, or they can make an educated guess. Regardless, this is an excellent technique for students to learn.

PASTORAL CONNECTIONS
Connecting to the students in my classes and learning more about them has always been important to me as an educator. While preparing these examples for you, I asked the members of my Tech team to share their favourite sandwiches, and it gave me a unique insight into their likes and dislikes, and I learned a lot too! Karolis taught me that there IS a difference between Aoli (Italian) and Alioli (Spanish), and in his opinion, the latter was infinitely preferable. From Jorge, I learned about Arepas – something I had never come across in my travels thus far. What might this teach you about the students in your class? How might your interaction with them be strengthened as a result of this connection?

If you would like to share your examples with me, please feel free to add them to this collaborative Google Slides presentation. I simply exported my Keynote slides as images, and added them to the presentation.

Why Have a Class Twitter Account?

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There are a whole host of benefits to having a class Twitter account. Allow me to present you with my top 5:

1. Access to Experts

By following the Tweets of experts, such as NASA or Dr Jane Goodall, a class can access up-to-date information in byte-sized packages. Most often, links are included to videos, articles, blog posts and images to explore in more detail

 

2. Connect with Authors

Remember writing letters to authors, mailing them off and never hearing anything back? Today, a significant number of authors are on Twitter, interacting with their readers.

Last year, a G5 class was thrilled to Skype with Gary Whitta (an author of Rogue One, the latest Star Wars film), who spoke to us about the writing process, diversity in film and answered student questions. Talk about relevance! This got the whole class hooked on writing!

Some lucky students in G4 tweeted an author of a book they were reading, and were thrilled when they got a reply. What a motivator for developing literacy skills!

3. Share our learning

We can make a difference to other people’s learning simply by sharing our own. Tweets of student sketching a character’s development, might give another child an idea about how they can represent their own learning. Parents love seeing examples of their child in action during the school day too.

Adding hashtags can allow us to reach a common audience, where we find ideas related to topics we are learning about too, such as #writingworkshop

4. Develop International Mindedness

Part of the PYP is developing International Mindedness, where we seek out and value perspectives from different cultures and communities, and consider the impact of events around the world on different groups of people.

By way of example, @littlemissflint became a powerful role model for taking action after she began tweeting about the water crisis in her hometown of Flint. Now she continues to take action on issues important to her and her community

From a class Twitter account, you can follow the United Nations to learn about what school is like in different parts of the world, for example this school in Gaza.

5. Model Digital Citizenship

We know that modelling positive and appropriate use of social media helps students learn how to be effective digital citizens. Through a class Twitter account, students can see how to interact positively with others online, they can learn to compose Tweets, and develop digital literacy skills such as appropriate writing conventions in digital medium (e.g. use of the @ symbol to reply, and use of hashtags). Having a class account lets students learn these skills with their teacher as a guide and role model – almost like having a safety net there for them as they learn.

A class Twitter account shows that teachers value writing in digital as well as print form, adding weight to the writing students are doing in their lives outside the classroom.

The bottom line is that teachers are there for kids.
We want learning to be relevant, contextual and engaging.
A class Twitter account is just one of the ways we teachers support today’s learners.

3 Things I’m Grateful For: Camera & Photo Tricks

I know, I know. You’re a power user of the camera. It’s one of your most used apps. But stay with me – there may be a use you haven’t tried out just yet.

Markup

This little-known feature in photos is an absolute winner, for so many reasons. Markup lets you sketch, zoom and add text to your photos.

You can access Markup when viewing one of your pictures. Click on the following buttons, which appear under your photo:

Edit photos.001Here’s where the super-cool part comes in… I needed to take note of the dimensions of various places, to see whether the items we wanted to buy would fit properly. Yes, I could have written them in a notebook, but there’s something about being able to visualise the space that helps when considering items.

Space for Microwave

I used markup to annotate the photos I needed, and what I loved best, was that when I was sketching on the photo, it took my wonky lines, and asked if I wanted to make them straight! So helpful! (Makes me appear way more professional, right?) I did sketch the numbers too, but quickly found adding text made them more legible. Whether I was buying a microwave, or figuring how long I needed the hallway carpet, Markup was there to make the process that much easier.

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Memory Making

It’s important not to underestimate the importance of memory making, when in a new country (or anywhere, for that matter!). So whether it’s documenting those firsts (first photo on the lake, spending time at the park, eating some great Swiss chocolate) or sharing photos of your new home/school/workplace with friends and family back home, the camera app is there for you, every step of the way.

Comparing Potential Purchases

Obvious, perhaps. But no less useful. In my humble experience, there is only so much furniture shopping two kids and a dog will put up with, so it’s inevitable that at some point, you and your significant other will not be shopping together. Camera and Photos to the rescue once more!

IKEA Wardrobe.001

Shopping decisions can be made when the kids are in bed, perhaps with a beverage in hand (if you’re into that sort of thing)… Considerably more relaxing (and efficient!) than the alternative.

The humble Camera and Photo apps are powerful allies in the move to a new country, so dust them off, and give them a workout!

 

 

 

3 Things I’m Grateful For: Language Learning Edition

The Alps, fondue, chocolate, skiing and neutrality – these are some of the features of my new host country. Yes, my family and I have taken a great leap and moved to Switzerland. This is our first country move in 12 years, so it’s kind of a BIG DEAL!

With our kids, my husband and I usually spend a few moments each night sharing
3 things we are grateful for. I thought I’d share some ways I am grateful for technology making our lives easier as we transition to our new culture.
Today’s edition is all about language learning.

LANGUAGE LEARNING

We now live in the French-speaking region of Switzerland. Slight problem: I don’t speak French… yet! I am a firm believer that to know a culture, you must make an effort to learn the language. Enter Duolingo, Google Translate & the French keyboard on iOS.

Duolingo
My daughter (11) created a family French club on Duolingo, and each morning, we complete at least 3 exercises. It’s quite simple to motivate the littles – they aren’t allowed any screen time until they’ve done it, so it gets done in record time! They also love the club aspect – seeing where everyone is, smack-talking about who is taking over the leaderboard, and commenting on the activity.

Although Duolingo is brilliant (and free!), I am mildly frustrated that while I can tell you “The boy is calm,” and “The duck is eating a fly,” I don’t yet know the days of the week, or how to ask where the bathrooms are. Still! Great app, which has been super helpful so far.

French Keyboard on iOS
Adding the French keyboard to my iPhone has certainly helped too, particularly the predictive text feature. It automatically helps me spell words I am trying to type, and helpfully adds the right accents, making me feel more professional in my written communication. I do need to pay close attention when typing, because the placement of the letters on the French keyboard is a little different!

Google Translate
For everything else, there is Google Translate! I know, language teachers, I know! It’s not a long-term solution, but it has helped us find baking powder at the supermarket, decipher descriptions of everything from BBQs to cars, and tell the delivery people we are running late. We couldn’t do without it.

I recently downloaded French as one of my offline translation languages, which is helpful when trying to avoid over-using data packages!

I’m sure there are many other language learning tips you could give me! Any great apps I need to load right now? I am willing to give everything a go!


“Aletsch_36” flickr photo by Gipfelwanderer https://flickr.com/photos/150752905@N08/35375628573 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license