Final Assignment: The Giver

Things definitely happen for a reason.  It seems like all the stars are aligning at once…hopefully we can pull off this end-of-the-year project.

The Giver

Photo credit: Tara Siuk, Flickr
Photo credit: Tara Siuk, Flickr

I’ve been teaching middle school English for nearly four years now.  My first year in the position, I was fortunate enough to inherit a rather large classroom library.  One of the books caught my attention, since we had so many copies: “The Giver” by Lois Lowry.  I knew that I could never possibly read every book that we had in the library, so the idea passed.

As the years went by, we introduced initiatives such as 1:1 class sets of iPads, mobile labs, and BYOD.  I found myself relying less and less on our classroom library, and getting more and more techy.  Tools such as Actively Learn provided digital copies of many of the same books, as well as several others, so there was never a time when we ran out of copies.  Plus, organizing the classroom library was time-consuming, and generally a pain.  So, I didn’t put up much of a fuss about passing on our classroom library to a new teacher who inherited my room this year.

(Sidenote: I now recognize the value of a balance of media, both digital and print.)

Interestingly enough, “The Giver” resurfaced somehow in conversation a few months ago, most likely with other English teachers in my PLN.  As opposed to picking up a copy in the classroom across the hall, I decided to download it in the Kindle app on my iPhone.  It took me a long time to get to it, but I’m glad that I finally did.

I’m not going to ruin the book for you, but let me just say that if you haven’t read it, you probably won’t be disappointed.  I am a huge fan of The Hunger Games. This book addresses similar themes, but I do believe it came first.  I really enjoyed it, in that it has even more ethical considerations about dystopian societies.

Yesterday, I was pleased to see that it was made into a movie and available for rent from Redbox.  I literally just finished watching it…haven’t cried or thought so much from a movie in a long time.  Even though I know most of what would happen already, it was magical to see it unfold in front of my eyes.

My Students

The school year is winding down, and my students will soon leave for high school.  It is a bittersweet occasion…I really wanted to teach this particular group of eighth graders, because it felt like everything was coming full circle.  In our K-8 French immersion school, students began taking English class in second grade.  For many of them, I was their first English teacher when I came in 2008, so I really wanted to also be their last here.

In addition, over the years, I have worn many hats at the school.  I have taught this group of incredible young people in some capacity for at least five years, if not more.  As a result, we have formed an incredibly strong bond, that feels more like a family than anything else.  Truth be told, I am having a hard time letting them go, but that’s a blog post for another time.

Anyway, another thing that makes this group unique is their ability to dig deep and have rich discussions.  This year, we have addressed topics, with wisdom ranging well beyond their years: systematic injustice, abuses of power, media bias, medical ethics, euthanasia, and more. I have never witnessed such a level of maturity and passion.  They have taught me just as much as I have taught them.

I always tend to ramble when I talk about my kids…I will attempt to get back on track.

The Grand Finale

In these last days of school, we will not have a lot of class time together, as there are various end-of-the-year celebrations, trips, and other activities.  In our curriculum, we are wrapping up the unit on Drama (their final projects are due June 1), and beginning Author’s Study.  To be quite honest, in these past four years of teaching middle school English, I have rarely even skimmed the surface of the final unit, particularly because the students get carried away with Drama, and I let them (hee!).

This year will be different.

I already promised my students that their Drama project would be their last assessment grade.  However, I never said it would be their last project.  After watching “The Giver,” the skies opened up, the angels started singing, and my plan smacked me upside the head.

After the final SRI test on Tuesday and Wednesday, we are going to watch The Giver together, to kick off our author’s study of Lois Lowry.  As we do, the students will reflect by blogging about many of the themes in the movie (prompts TBD).  This viewing/blogging process will take approximately three class days (quite possibly our last three class days).

That right there could be the end…”have a nice summer, don’t forget to visit,” etc.  But for us, it will only be the beginning.

I really want to learn with my students, and read the other three books of the series.  Thanks to my PLN, I now know how effective a Voxer book study can be.  I’m very excited to use a this model with my students, especially now that group admins have more control.

Our book study will go on indefinitely, open to whomever in the class who would like to join.  Hopefully students will take me up on the offer, as I think it will achieve multiple goals.  This will allow them to remain in contact, even after they leave the school.  In addition, and most importantly, we will continue to learn together.  My hope is that when we finish the series, students will recommend other books that we can read.

Fingers crossed.

Student Privacy on #PeriscopeEDU

I’ve been using Periscope for over a month, putting it into practice two days after its release at #edcampSouthJersey.  There, I was able to Periscope the session board, the raffle, and other things.  Since then, I have used the app several times to live-stream my presentations, and those of friends, for our colleagues who may not be in attendance.  However, most fascinating to me has been the use of the app with students.  (Pro tip: Feel free to substitute “Meerkat” every time I say Periscope, depending on your preference.)

As conventional wisdom goes, students tend to exert more effort when they know they have an audience.  My PLN has helped my students with suggestions about portfolio design, argumentative writing, digital citizenship, even soccer.  Students have even begun to ask me to Periscope their activities in class.

Keep in mind that I am acting as a human filter.  Since the app’s release, it has undergone a couple of updates, which allow users to restrict comments only to people they follow, or to leave the broadcast on private.  I tend to go with the former, as 99% of the people I follow are educators.  Since I have begun using this option, the occurrences of foul language and annoying refrigerator references have been eliminated.  Now, I feel comfortable projecting my phone onto a screen for all to see (still haven’t tried it though).

Why not just allow my students to use it in class on their own devices, or install it on the school iPads?  The short answer is that there is too much room for error.  The people my students follow are not the same people whom I follow.  Even if there were a magical way for me to go through and approve my students’ followers, it would be a very likely disaster that someone would forget to enable that third option.  Someone may say something awful to them, and I just don’t want that on my conscience.  Yes, my students are all over 13. To my understanding, I am well within my rights under COPPA to use it in this way; however, I don’t think it would be very ethical.  I will revisit COPPA shortly, but speaking of ethics…

My Criteria for Periscoping with Students

Periscope is a new app, although the process of livestreaming has been around for some time.  However, with all of the hype surrounding Periscope, many teachers (like yours truly) are learning about the process and curious to see what it can do for education.  My personal opinion, after more than a month of usage, is that it’s a total game-changer.  Usually, I lose interest in shiny new things after a few weeks, but I think Periscope (and Meerkat) are here to stay.

When I started using the app, I would film over my students’ shoulders and not show faces, in order to protect their privacy.  This is still a good idea to do when in doubt.  However, I have come up with four simple criteria to decide whether or not I will show faces:

  1. The student has a publicity release on file.  Our county sends home publicity release forms with students on the first day of school.  The parents have the option to check whether or not they give permission for their child to be shown online or in any other medium.  An affirmative response is mandatory for student athletes (who account for approx 3/4 of our middle school…hee!).
  2. The student is 13 or older.  Told ya we’d come back to COPPA 🙂  I teach 8th grade English, so all of my students met this criterion by October.
  3. The student gives his/her consent to being livestreamed.  This is probably the most important of all, because it is basic human respect.  We should not film those who do not want to be filmed, regardless of age.  Period.
  4. I disable replays. Mostly from my own overprotectiveness, I immediately tap on the progress bar as the Periscope prepares for playback.  This disables anyone from going back and watching it.  However, I have also auto-saved my Periscopes to my camera roll by clicking on the gear icon in the top right corner of my profile page, and then enabling auto-save.  If, for some reason, it becomes necessary to share the video later, I have it on my phone for easy uploading to YouTube or whatever.  (Pro-tip: This may be very helpful for flipped instruction.)

Of course, there are exceptions to the rules.  For example, part of the reason the sports players have to sign the release form is because spectators might post videos online.  So, it’s expected that if you play, you may be taped.  I therefore have no problem Periscoping students from grades 6-8 playing school sports.  (Yet another pro-tip: It’s nice to have this video for your school website or YouTube page.)

Periscope is a fantastic tool, with many great implications, but we have to be sure to keep respect for students at the forefront of our minds.  Again, when in doubt, it’s best to leave out any identifying information.  I’ve loved using the app to make my classroom a bit more transparent and glean suggestions from my PLN, and am looking forward to what the future holds with livestreaming.