Meet The Parents

Last week on #edchat we discussed the myths of social media and how it gets a bad reputation. The conversation was scattered in many directions, but most came back to one simple solution: transparency.

Social networking is nothing new, just like incorporating tools into content driven curriculum, the technology has evolved the game while maintaining the fundamentals. When I was in High school we were all part of a social network. We made fun of each other (wall posts), passed notes (private messages/DM), snuck out of our houses to meet up with

girls/boys (texting), got in fights (cyber-bullying), talked about sex (sexting) , drugs, and tried to keep ALL OF IT from our parents (facebook privacy settings).

Social media is nothing new. Sometimes we act as if we were all home schooled in the past and we never socialized. And now with the ease and accessibility of communication we want to say it’s taboo and too private. I can assure you the generations growing up prior to the Internet age were just as mischievous and private. In fact, now parents can at least summon a status update to know (pending it is true and their son or daughter has allowed them in to this realm) where their precious child is.

No matter the decade there has always been one common goal among adolescents: “Don’t let Mom and Dad find out.” I always found it funny to hear my Dad reveal stories of his youth to me in front of my Grandparents. We would always laugh about it and it seemed completely innocent.

In education technology is simply a new tool that is helping drive the content. Teachers are, and will always be necessary. Classrooms are still a good place to provide direct instruction. And yes, direct instruction is STILL relevant and necessary, however, there should be a balance between DI and independent…(insert the newest buzzword here).

My solution to all of this…invite the parents to the social networking in your classroom. Let them be a part of the process, the analysis, and the reflection. Use social networking in your classroom to your advantage. Make it completely transparent and allow parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins to participate in the learning. Before this can happen, you need to train them.

One of my initiatives for this upcoming year is to take two nights per month and hold free workshops for Parents, Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Teachers, etc. and show them how to access all these cleverly named tools that we are consistently using in school.

In the past I have seen districts provide workshops to parents on how to use the school website or to access the parent portal. While this is a great idea, it is only scratching the surface of how we can include parents in the game. School websites are great for information and updates, but are very static in nature. They are usually non participatory and serve as an overpriced message board.

Here are some of the workshops I am suggesting that you provide to parents. I plan on implementing this bi-monthly, but depending on your schedule and you may want to create your own schedule.

1. Google Docs and Applications

Even before you pitch the idea of twitter to them, show them a basic web tool that is easy to use and will allow parents the opportunity to see student work throughout the year. Incorporate a Google Calendar into your classroom website and show them how they can track student homework and see daily and weekly agendas.

For my AP students I invited all students and parents to our classroom wikispace and embedded a Google Calendar that housed weekly assignments and updates. Parents and students subscribed to this calendar and most students and parents could receive text or email updates when the calendar was updated. At the end of the year last year I showed all parents and students how to set up their own Google Calendar and then showed them how they could receive update via their phone and via email.

In Google Docs show parents the basic functionally of the site. Explain to them that his is just like MS Office, but you can access it from any computer that is connected (Do we even need to say this anymore?). Show them the chat window, how to access a documents history, and how they can collaborate on a document at the same time.

Some of my parents were awestruck by this type of tool and had no idea it was even out there. Some asked how much it cost or what’s the catch. Overall this presentation went fairly well and after about a 90-minute session on these tools, I had most of my parents using Google Docs and exploring new applications.

2. The Classroom Website

Most teachers are now required or choose to maintain their own website that houses information about their specific class. There are various platforms that teachers use depending on what your school offers. Some are using Moodle, Edmodo, Wikis, Google Sites, Schoology etc. Whatever the platform, give them a basic overview of what the site can offer. Encourage them to check in daily or set a time throughout the week that they check in with their son or daughter. This is your opportunity to really get the parents involved. Plus, this type of classroom structure will allow for easier parent teacher conferences throughout the year.

A wikispace has always been my tool of choice when it comes to class pages. The collaborative nature of the page has always been one of the top selling points for me as a teacher. I like that students and parents can take ownership of the page and really make it theirs.

Start by showing Lee LeFever’s Common Craft Video on “Wikispaces in Plain English”. Review the video and ask them, “What is a wiki?”, “How can we use this in the classroom?”, etc. The combination of this short, simply stated video combined with a few simple questions will allow parents to understand the relevance of this tool and why we are using it.

Follow this up by creating a dummy wiki that all parents can access (or you can simply use your classroom wiki). Show them the basic functionality of the page and explain that every page – pending it is not locked – can be edited like a word document. Hold off on showing them how to embed photos or videos initially, but focus on navigation of the page and accessing the page.

There are many other tools out there that you may want to show parents in order to bring them into your classroom. Introduce them to the positive attributes of social networking in the classroom and explain that it is not cutting them off, but simply bringing everyone together. Show them it is safe and private. Students will not be exposed on the Internet and all work will be safe. I assure you, the social networked classroom is something you do not want to keep from Mom and Dad.

*Photo courtesy of CC image by Erica_Marshall via Flickr

Creating a Summer Reading Network

NOTE: The following post will be cross referenced with a future post at Edutopia.

This summer I created a summer reading network that allowed me to monitor the progress of my AP English Language students. They are reading 1 Dead in Attic by Chris Rose and I have asked them to read and annotate the text very closely. I also wanted to monitor their progress by questioning them throughout the summer at varying intervals and compose a response journal. This is all standard, but how could I provide oversight and seamless communication with my students who are scattered around Philadelphia, the Jersey Shore, and Senegal?

I used these tools:

Google Voice
Google Calendar


I first created a wikispace for our summer reading assignments and communication. This forum has always worked well for me and allows for transparency and ease of use. Plus, students can take ownership over the site and can make the site theirs. The wikispace is also a great starting point for students to post external links to their blogs.

Once the wikispace was up and running I introduced all of my AP students to the website after school. I spent 30 minutes covering the basics of a wikispace – edits, posting, linking, etc. – and also showed them how I could see every edit they made. Yes, big brother will always be watching. Any time you use a wikispace, stress the history tool and how you can see everything that is edited.

After I set up the wikispace, I had the students create a blogger account and give it a title. Their title could be anything they wanted as long as it was appropriate. Once they had their blog created they copied the link to our blog roll on the wikispace and created an external link on their name.

I embedded a Google Calendar on the wikispace and would post new assignments via our calendar and post handouts using attached Google Documents. All of my students carry cell phones and probably check them more than my parents check the weather. I can easily type up a mass text message to my students via Google Voice and remind them to look for assignments and also any updates I have to convey. This allows for ease of communication and I can always be reached if they have a question. For those who like to be left alone in the summer, you may just want to stick to email communication or pigeons.

The Results

My students are reading weekly and responding to the assignments on their blogs. We are in constant communication via Google Voice and they check the Google Calendar embedded on the wikispace every Monday for assignments. They have are genuinely interested in reading each others blogs weekly and commenting on what their peers are writing. And remember, this is all happening during the summer months. My students are basically learning year round, only the classroom structure is missing. I feel confident and excited coming into the beginning of the school year knowing that my students were engaged readers and writers all summer.

This type of assignment can easily be incorporated during the school year and it may be something you want to set up and have ready for the beginning of the school year. The setup is the most work for the teacher, but once you have the elements mentioned in the above process set up you can easily manage your class room in the summer and during the school months.

This is the way I like to set up my classroom. You may want to explore other platforms for classroom social networking such as moodle, edmodo, schoology, facebook, etc. However, the wikispace has always been a platform that allows for seamless student participation and classroom transparency. Please provide comments if you have tried this type of assignment. I am interested to hear positive and negative feedback concerning your experience with building a classroom social network. Maybe you used twitter in conjunction or one of the aforementioned platforms for housing your student work.

If you would like more information on this assignment and future assignments, please feel free to contact me.

Image courtesy of

Where Do You Live?

Today I started my class with a prompt.

Would you rather have someone comment on your facebook status or give you a compliment in real life?

Before I get to the responses, let me take you back to how I came to this question.

I find myself ensconced in social networks. That’s right, I have completely draped myself in social networks. As the anti-hero George Constanza once uttered, “I would drape myself in velvet if it was socially acceptable”. And although it may not be socially acceptable to drape oneself in velvet (although it’d be a lot cooler if you did), surrounding yourself with tiny networks is perfectly fine.

The latest social networking forum to hit the web is Google Buzz. Yes, we are all now buzzing, however, we are also tweeting, blogging, skyping, ning-ing, and facebook-ing. Verbs are flying all around the Internet, but in reality, who can possibly keep up. Furthermore, who has time for reality when you have such a presence elsewhere?

In my end of decade post eloquently titled, My Decade, I predicted that one day, in the not so distant future, there would be one device that houses one, cohesive social network. It will simply be called Awesome. The Awesome…sorry, the developers at Google just locked down the patent for this name. I will now refer to my idea as “The Artist formerly known as Awesome” or TAFKA.

TAFKA will connect everything and everyone in one central forum. It will have a sleek interface and users will only need one username and password. This username will actually be affixed to all birth certificates after the year 2015. The filtering system on TAFKA will allow users to see all of their threaded conversations and happenings in real time. You will even have the ability to block content or users that constantly remind us in status updates that, “Today is a gift, that’s why it is a present”. I am not going to apologize if this happens to be your current status or a bumper sticker currently affixed (yes, the second time in one paragraph) to your Dodge Stratus, however, I will block you from my TAFKA feed.

Unfortunately, TAFKA is only a dream.

Last week, while I sat packed beneath mounds of snow, I began buzzing. I felt really guilty as I started to set up my new social networking tool. I felt like I was cheating on facebook. In fact, when I logged into facebook later that day, I received an error message followed by a hand reaching out from my screen and slapping me in the face (all are true, save for the Internet coming to life and slapping my face). Surely this was a sign of facebook’s disdain for my actions. But not to worry facebook, the buzz is slowly wearing off.

Throughout our daily lives, we are all connected in one form or another. Many of us subscribe to multiple forums that demand consistent attention. Some of us have encountered the awkward moment when you see a friend in real life, but have not yet replied to him or her in your virtual life. So how do we manage it all? And how do we find time to focus on real life when our social networking life is so demanding? Or, how do we find time to keep our network strong and vibrant and at the same time, manage the daily schedule of real life?

And this is how I arrived at my prompt.

I wanted to ask my students what they prefer when it comes to a simple compliment. Is it facebook compliment or verbal compliment?

Here are their results. Please leave a comment so they can see the world come filtering into their classroom.

In modern day life, I would rather have people in real life give me a compliment because it makes me feel like a better person having someone give me a compliment. On facebook there isn’t really any difference because of the fact that people are doing the same which is giving you compliments that can be posted on your facebook for a long period of time. But that person on facebook will just comment on your picture. What they see on your facebook can be different from what they see in person, which is why I would rather have people comment to me in person


I would rather have someone give me a comment in real life than on facebook.

Reason being, is some people make some smart comments on facebook that can really upset someone. Sometimes these comments can start big fight or disagreement between two people. In real life you can talk to that person about the disagreement rather than try to make fun of someone on facebook. That’s why I would rather have someone make a verbal comment to me than on facebook.


I would rather have someone give a compliment in real life than from facebook

because it means much more than if it comes over the Internet. I think if it’s a compliment over the Internet then the person that said it could just be saying it just to say it. For example, you may like a girl because of her looks on the Internet and when you meet her in real life then she isn’t what you expected her to be. I think a compliment in real life means more because you can tell if the person really means it or not and how they act without finding out later.


I would choose getting a compliment on Facebook. I would choose to get a comment on my status because more people notice. I would rather get a comment on my facebook, because more people can show their appreciation at one time. Someone can also comment and tell me what I need to do to do better than what I am doing. This is what makes a comment come first than a compliment in person.


I would want someone to give me a compliment in real life because it’s face to

face and you know they mean what they’re saying. Facebook comments are the same but you don’t know if friends mean what they are saying. I think compliments are better because they are more meaningful to you.


I would rather have someone give me a complement in person than on my Facebook

status. The reason why I prefer a complement in person is because when you comment a status everyone can see it and people may be all up in your business, and most people don’t like that. So Instead of people knowing what I talk about with my friends on Facebook I’d rather talk in person and have a good time with out spectators.


Create An Online Resource Library; Enjoy A Butterfinger

In years past, we all used to browse through endless web pages, bookmark the ones we liked and then scroll down a long list trying to locate that “great site we found but cannot remember what it was about”. Sometimes, if we found a site that had a dancing hamster, we would bookmark and e-mail it to friends and relatives. In my district, there is always the one teacher who loves to send out a mass e-mail that is simply a link to a great site that he or she found. It is a kind thought, but working on a PC at school gives me reservations about clicking. What if I click and instead of a great new blog I get dancing hamster ninja porn and all of my districts computers are infected right before final grades are due!!!!
Wanna get away…

No, this is not an ad or link to an even cheaper Southwest Airlines flight, but a new way of organizing your web content. It’s simply called Diigo. Yes, another quirky web 2.0 tool name that will have all your colleagues asking, “Diigo, who? Diigo, what?” What is a good blog without a little Jay-Z humor!

Diigo is a very easy to use site that allows users to bookmark a site, define the site and then categorically organize your sites. The web interface allows you to tag all of your websites you save and access them easily by each tag. You can also create groups and add friends to share in all of your bookmarks. When you add a colleague you both will be able to share and exchange bookmarks.

Creating a Diigo group is a great way to organize your department this fall. Before you get into all the chaos of the school year, e-mail your department colleagues a link to a Diigo group. Tell them that this year you want to create an online resource library for links and blogs that fit your discipline. For those who say, “Now what? Something else to sign up for and receive junk mail” bribe them with candy. I usually go with Butterfinger, but also provide moist towelets, because no one wants a sticky keyboard!

Once you have them hooked, branch out and look into creating cross-curricular groups! Create a digital bridge with language arts and history; math and science. With Diigo, users have the ability to create wonderful learning communities and collaborate with each other. Building an online resource library should be on the “To Do” list of ever teacher this summer!

As always, I look forward to hearing your feedback and how you have created your online resource library. If you want to see one in action, feel free to join my Diigo group at We are building an online resource library for web 2.0 blogs that focus on education. It is an extension of my last post, The One Comment A Day Project. Please join and expand the learning possibilities!

The One Comment A Day Project

After my last post on discovering your Personal Learner’s Network (PLN), I had a brief epiphany. This vision came in from simply adding a comment to a bloggers post that happens to reside in my PLN. I read the post, processed the information and responded constructively. Simple. Painless. Helpful.

At this point I thought, wouldn’t it be great if everyone in my PLN did this at least once a day. Yes, it would!

So here is my idea…

I’m calling it the “One Comment A Day Project”. This project will help promote educational collaboration throughout the blogosphere and promote and stimulate educational dialogue. All you have to do is pick one blog a day (you can obviously choose to read more) and leave a positive, insightful comment for the blogger. That’s it! One comment a day and you can change the blogging landscape and make a blogger smile.

Here is the process.

1. Read a blog

2. Post a comment that is insightful and constructive.

3. Tweet a link to the blog and your comment. Use the hash tag #OneComment

EXAMPLE: I just read a great piece on iTeach blog, check it out! #OneComment

4. Bookmark the blog and return to it another time.

It is just that easy! This Project will help create a positive forum for all who blog and comment. There are so many good educational blogs out there and I look forward to hearing your feedback and engaging in your comments!

The second phase of this project will be a featured blog a week project. This forum will review and promote one educational blog per week. It will also try and introduce new edu-blogs into the learning community. I will be setting up a Ning for this venture. The sole purpose of both ventures is to promote learning and create an engaging dialogue between so many great academic minds. The twitter hash tag for this will be #1Newblog

Please send me your thoughts, suggestions and feedback on both new ventures!I would also like to put together a small team to help with this venture due to the time consuming nature of the project. If you would like to help your fellow bloggers and be an integral part of this venture, please contact me at

I have also set up a separate twitter account for this second phase. It will be @1commentproject. Please follow it for blog updates and blog promotions. When we spread the word about great blogs, we all shine!

I would be looking for help with the following:

1. Finding new blogs

2. Posting Reviews of Blogs

3. Archiving a Blog roll on the Ning

4. Monitoring the Ning

I am very passionate about this project and am putting a lot of time and energy behind it. My belief is that we can all learn from each other and have endless technologies to help us collaborate! I really hope to see my PLN jump on board with me and help promote the edu-blogging community!

One Comment Project T-shirts, beach towels and pillow cases to follow!

Discover your Personal Learner’s Network (PLN)

One of the best things I did last school year was create and enhance my Personal Learner’s Network or PLN (as we, “in the know” say). At first, all the different networks and abundance of information that was coming my way overwhelmed me. In one week I joined several Nings, set up a twitter account, set up my iGoogle page and subscribed to several blogs and wikis. The week after, I was swamped with so much new information that I could hardly find anytime to read it all. Information overload!

I found the conversation and new information about education very positive, but at the same time I wanted it to be centralized so I could filter what I wanted and reap the benefits of stimulating content. I also discovered that my PLN was much better than any Professional Development my school had provided in the past few years. I was now privy to a plethora of engaging conversations and progressively helpful content in my field. I was learning at my own pace and not sequestered to an auditorium on a bright summer day. Like the Verizon commercials, my network was ubiquitous.

Since starting my PLN I have weeded out the junk and managed to stay current with educational trends. I have a constant flow of information that appeals to my educational palate arriving on my screen daily. I have met and regularly correspond with many new educators, innovators and bloggers that are always willing to share and listen. In short, this is what every educator wants his or her school to be, a constant flow of information and collaboration. However, this is not the case in most districts.

By now you are bursting at the seams, you want to get started and begin developing your own PLN. Here are five things I would recommend to start your PLN before the beginning of the next school year.

1. Join the Classroom 2.0 Ning

This was my first step in developing my PLN and joining a Ning is simple an easy. But first, you might be asking, “what did he just say? A ning? Sounds like a Monty Python and the Holy Grail reference!” A Ning is an online platform for people to create their own social networks. A ning is basically your own personal facebook page tailored around a specific subject. You only have to provide basic information when setting up your Ning profile and in minutes you can be communicating and collaborating with thousands of like minded educators.

The Web 2.0 Classroom Ning allows members to share links, events, blogs and topic discussions. Members can also e-mail and chat with each other through the Ning website. As a Ning member, you will have your own personal page where other members can leave comments, add you as a colleague and can see your action log – basically shows anything you have posted or commented on throughout the Ning.

The Ning is a great start to develop your PLN and will have you collaborating and communicating with educators from all over the world in minutes.

You can access the Classroom 2.0 Ning at and you can access and start your own Ning at You can also read an earlier blog post of mine that focused on setting up a Ning in your school district.

2. Join Twitter

At first I was hesitant about twitter and didn’t really buy into its intrusive nature, however, I have grown to really appreciate this platform. Twitter allows you to maintain a constant stream of information coming to you throughout your day at a rate of 140 characters per tweet or CPT. As a Tweep (a person who tweets), you can follow whom you want and block those you don’t want.

As a member of twitter I can keep up with colleagues in my PLN on a daily basis. I can read articles they post and respond to them privately or via the main feed. With twitter, I suggest finding a few good people to follow initially and then slowly expand your radius, as you get more comfortable with tweeting. Twitter also allows you to post photos, videos and links.

What I have gained most from twitter is the ability to access articles and information that I may have never seen. I have been turned on to new bloggers and many good books that have surfaced in tweets. Like any network, you have to weed out the material you want and not get overwhelmed by the one tweep who will post 300 tweets a day. There are also several desktop platforms that you can utilize to filter and showcase your twitter feed. The one I recommend using is TweetDeck. It can be used on any OS and its user interface is simple and user friendly.

Finally, Twitter employs a unique language. At times, this can be intimidating to most newbies, but fear not, there are plenty of twitter guides out there that are free and online. Three Twitter aids I recommend for the twitter newbie

A) Twittonary

Twittonary is a database of all the words utilized in the twitter lexicon. You can type in a word or simply select a letter and begin studying up for your Twit-cabulary Quiz this Friday!

B) Watch this Common Craft video

C) Watch this Great Slide show

Please feel free to follow me on twitter @andycinek and happy tweeting!

3. Read and Comment on Blogs

I have been turned on to many great blogs as a result of the previous two items listed above. As a blogger, I put a lot of time into my posts and try and promote an atmosphere of collaboration and communication. I never blog for the stats, but simply, to share information in my field without any concern for fame or fortune (Although if Scorsese ever returns my calls, we might be talking iTeach: The Movie!). Therefore, when I read other blogs I want to spend a few moments to take in the content, process it, and provide the author with my feedback. Leaving comments on others blogs is also a great way to get your own blog noticed. Again, not for the fame and fortune, but for the exchange of ideas and opinions.

Each week, dedicate yourself to reading several blogs and leave a constructive comment on one of those blogs each day. If you want to leave more than one, good for you! However, if you choose one a day to comment on, you will truly be sharing in the learning community and you may meet some new colleagues for your PLN!

4. Become Familiar with iGoogle and Google Reader

iGoogle is a great start for organizing your PLN. If you want to really filter your content, iGoogle is the place to start. iGoogle lets you create a personalized homepage that contains a Google search box at the top, and your choice of any number of gadgets below. Gadgets come in lots of different forms and provide access to activities and information from all across the web, without ever having to leave your iGoogle page. Here are some things you can do with gadgets:

* View your latest Gmail messages

* Read headlines from Google News and other top news sources

* Check out weather forecasts, stock quotes, and movie show times

* Store bookmarks for quick access to your favorite sites from any computer

* Design your own gadget. ***

***Courtesy of

Google reader is another application that you can access directly from your iGoogle start page. Google Reader is Web-based aggregator, capable of reading Atom and RSS feeds online or offline. It allows you to take all the blogs you subscribe to or authors you enjoy reading and access them all in one place. Google reader has become one of my best friends and definitely beats book marking all of the blogs and authors you read. Google reader can also be accessed on most new smart phones. The iPhone has a great interface for iGoogle and Google Reader as well as the Android.

5. Attend a Conference

Attending a conference can not only bolster your PLN but also bring it to life. At times I feel like I know all these people whom I correspond with daily via twitter, nings, blogs, etc., but never really meet them. Attending a conference allows the little square photo icon to come to life. Plus, attending a conference will bring to life many of the discussions and conversations you have on a daily basis.

One way of keeping up with your PLN conference schedule is to create a google calendar with several members of your PLN. All users can share this calendar and when someone adds a conference to this calendar it will show up. I currently share a conference calendar with a colleague of mine and an esteemed member of my PLN. Her name is Donelle O’Brien and you should leave this blog and begin reading hers at

I hope this helps and will give you something to experiment with before you get back to school and are too overwhelmed with texts, schedule changes and parent teacher conferences. I hope to see you in my PLN in the near future!

Why Is Everyone Afraid of Social Networks?

A colleague of mine recently informed me of her troubles with incorporating the idea of a social network into her classroom. The primary concern is the safety and privacy of her students. This cause for concern is completely warranted and should be addressed anytime you allow students to engage in a web based social network forum. However, my concern with the social networking scare is that our children and students are privy to a social network everyday of their lives. It is called school.

The 21st century student is connected in myriad of ways. Most have a cell phone, iPod and a digital camera. Some simply have an iPhone. These devices allow students to connect, share and collaborate with anyone. Furthermore, students have more accessibility to each other outside of their social networks. The social network, whether it is facebook or myspace is exactly what, those of us who grew up in a pre-online social network world, did everyday!

We took pictures of our friends. We hung them in our rooms or dorms. We relayed secretive notes to those who made our heart flutter through back channels. We snuck out late at night to visit our significant other while our parents were fast asleep, just to steal a kiss down at the end of the block. We sent letters to each other in college and would call from our telephone. Instead of texting in class, we would doodle or write notes about plans for the weekend. Instead of “sexting” we would just write dirty notes to our girlfriends or boyfriends. We had hundreds of friends at our disposal everyday at school and every Friday night at dances when the neighboring schools would join.

Facebook and myspace are not a new concept. I repeat, this is nothing new. I once had a corkboard in my bedroom as well. This is what was displayed on it along with the facebook equivalent:



Pictures of friends posted with pushpins

Pictures of friends posted via digital


Clippings from the newspaper that were of interest to me or that featured my

favorite team or friends.

Links to websites that feature our friends, interests or favorite teams.

Buttons from elections or causes

Digital clip art that represent our causes and political affiliations.

Notes from friends

The Wall

Birthday cards

300 birthday wishes from your network (two who actually say something more than just “happy birthday”

Again, social networks are nothing new and we should not be scared of them. Yes, there have been awful stories about the downfalls of all of these networks, but in the grand scheme the stories that get the headline news coverage are…

A. About as frequent as hearing about a plane crash.

B. Dramatized and sensationalized for ratings.

C. A Situation that is unmonitored and unstoppable in any social forum.

So what is the big scare with social networks? We are all a part of them everyday and have been without knowing for years. Today’s student simply has the abridged version of what we had all but 15 years ago. Let’s be honest, today’s student is lazier then we have ever been. Yes, they are precious and we are all, “so proud of them”, but lets face it, they have it pretty good (well that’s if you exclude graduating into the worst economy in history).

There are many great upsides to allowing students to be part of social networks. One of them is the website called Zinch. Zinch is a social networking site used by many major colleges and universities across the nation. Like facebook, Zinch allows pre-college students to set up a profile that lists all of their major academic achievements. Universities and colleges actually look at this information and in some cases, students can even apply for scholarships directly through this site. It is a great way for students to access heaps of information and showcase themselves in a positive manner.

The fine line between virtual networks and actual socializing is that you can veil certain elements of your life. They allow you to be someone else; someone you are not (although we are transplanting faces now). In any case, social networks belong in the classroom. There is no way of pushing back what is already a part of our students’ life. With anything, we as teachers and administrators, need to set parameters for the social networks we decide to use in our classrooms. There needs to be…

1. Open invitations to all – parents, administration, superintendent, school board, grandparents and cafeteria ladies (yes, they no more about our students than you would think!)

2. There needs to be complete transparency with any virtual social network. Like reality, all content should be on the surface for all to see.

3. The social network should focus on content only. It should be viewed as a social forum for academic dialogue, nothing else

4. There should be a district wide “Social Networking Constitution” that every parents, faculty member and student should have to sign. A team of all of the above including administration should create this document.

There, fairly simple. With great power comes great responsibility. Venturing off into a social network with your students should be taken very seriously, however, you should not be afraid. If you plan it out and cover your bases it should be a wonderful, collaborative environment.

I hope all who read this understand that social networks are nothing new. They have been part of our lives for years. The functionality is all the same, however, the medium* has changed greatly. Please leave me feedback on the parameters your school district has set for using social networks. And let’s collaborate on the best practices for implementing social forums into the classroom.

*This aforementioned medium will be outdated tomorrow

Go Threadless! is a user generated t-shirt site that promotes user design and sale of a t-shirt. The basic concept can be seen here from an image from…

Users log in, and submit an original design that they created. The design is then put into a forum for users to critique and praise the design. If the design receives enough recognition, threadless will put it on a t-shirt and feature it in their store for sale. I liken this site to a student-writing contest. The author submits an original idea and gets recognized for it and in some case, will receive a monetary gift. Plus, imagine applying to art school with a best selling t-shirt in your portfolio! That will surely get the attention of admissions officers!

I think every art classroom should make a strong push to have each student design a t-shirt for threadless. Even if the students’ design is not selected they are interacting with their peers and getting the opportunity to see and learn from other designs. Just by replying on a threadless forum, students are networking with other artists. This forum can create opportunities and lead to possible internships or job experiences.

I’ve never taught art, but if I were to incorporate threadless design into my art class, here is what I may cover.

  1. Students create an original design that has to focus on
    1. A specific style of art (cubism, impressionism, abstract, etc.)
    2. An artists style (Warhol, Monet, Picasso, etc.)
    3. Take an object and make it into a design
  2. Students create their design and present it to the class. They have to address their process and inspirations for creating the design as well as field questions and criticisms from their peers.
  3. Once they have been through the class presentation gauntlet they will submit their design to and report back on the responses they receive.

This is a fun project any art classroom should welcome. It incorporates technology, creativity and social networking. Plus it gives the student portfolio a little extra flare!

I hope you give a try and I look forward to hearing how you have used or plan on using this site in your classroom!

We are the Knights who say…NING!

As the school year dwindles down towards summer days and departmental planning for next year, why don’t you take an educated risk and start a Ning in your school or department for next school year!

A what now?
A Ning! A Ning is a social networking platform that allows users to create their own network! It is very easy to setup and use, plus the collaboration aspect is excellent! Creating a ning allows users to share information, such as links, personal blogs and even create discussion forums. You can make your Ning private or open it up to the entire world. Users can send messages, write on your personal page and share, share…share! Plus it would flatten the walls of your department and allow you to collaborate easily in the summer and over vacations.
A district wide Ning would be a great idea, but starting small within your department would be a more practical idea for next fall. Plus, when you and your department are talking about this cool new word next year and sounding like a movie reference from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, you can then begin to pass on the great idea to other departments.
If you are still confused and still trying to figure out just exatcly what social networking can do for your school or department, I will leave you with a brief video courtesy of Mr. LeFever. Enjoy and I look forward to hearing about all great departmental Ning’s you have created!