Monday, November 24, 2014

Be Small Town: Come Together As A Community

When you hear the word "community", what is your first thought? Probably geography. Where you live, your neighborhood, your closest proximity to a group of people who generally have the same physical location you do.

However, communities can also be defined in broader terms, looking past geography and more into cultural heritage, language, beliefs, and interests.

What brings a community together? Peace, listening to others, common goals, a passion for growth, and healthy values.

What rips a community apart? Disagreement, violence, decreased support for education, voicing opinions and turning your back to opposing views.

We live in a society where it’s not enough to just be a community. There needs to be community development. When negativity comes into our communal systems, we must find ways to plan, empower and grow. We can't stop believing.

When I hear the word community, I still think of my high school in the small town of Rolla, MO, "the middle of everywhere." I moved there at the end of my 8th grade year. Talk about ruining one's life.  I really thought my parents had charged me with the death sentence: forcing me to a rural town eight hours away from my whole beloved family, an only child with no siblings to protect me. Little did I know, it would be one of the biggest gifts they ever gave me. My experiences at Rolla High School continue to have an impact on the communities I serve through my professional and personal life. This is why:

One Space Can Fit All:  
There was only one high school in Rolla. It did not matter what street you lived on, your IQ, if you had special needs, who your parents were, what your religious beliefs were, or even if you wanted to go there or not. If you lived in the city boundaries of Rolla High School, you were a Bulldog! We came from opposite sides of town,  from trailers, apartments, and houses. Some lived with their parents, others with friends, family members or some by themselves. There were kids with money, others with none. There were also a long list of programs which reached out to the different interests of students: 4-H, Foreign Language Clubs,Choir, National Honor Society, a variety of sports teams, Band, Future Farmers of America, Pom Pon Posse, Yearbook and Vocational Tech classes, just to name a few. Multiple communities of students were formed throughout our one high school community.

Everyone Had A Teacher They Loved
I have asked my friends over the years to name which teachers they remember the most at RHS. Everyone has someone they connected with on some level, a teacher who believed in them. For me it was Mrs. Wolford, my creative writing teacher. I never really enjoyed writing until I was in her class my junior year. You know how she inspired me to write?  By getting to know me and one day sending home this thoughtful note to my parents. She had high expectations and we all worked hard for her because she made a point for each student to feel special. Then there was Mrs. Zink, my home economics teacher who showed us just how interesting cooking and nutrition could be, but she still kept a tight kitchen. When you heard her say "Whoop Whoop" you knew you were on the right track. She cared about EVERYONE. Who could forget Mr. Lucian? He let us blow up whatever we wanted to (within reason) during chemistry. He was never boring and I always looked forward to his class. Yes, there were teachers I didn't connect with, but the ones I did, boy did they shape my interest in being a teacher and still encourage me to make learning lively!

Low Water Bridges and Back Roads Inspired Friendships:
My high school years came before social media (thank goodness). Our friendships were not defined by how many “likes” we had, how many times we received text messages, pictures or phone calls from someone. Our friendships were made and grew in different ways which were supported by real conversations, not virtual or digital ones.  There wasn't a whole lot to really do in Rolla (outside of the normal school activities and work), which encouraged us to create our own fun. After school or on the weekends, we would pile in someone’s car and go hang out in nature, talking about school, our families, or just singing songs and enjoying the fresh air. Sometimes the day would take us all out to a field, a low water bridge, or just to some one's house down a gravel road.  I still feel it’s important to not have a care in the world, every once in a while, and be able to take the day as it comes. Deep conversations, belting out a song, or laughing uncontrollably with your buddies outside the four walls of a classroom is just another way we learn. Everyone needs a back road (whatever that means to you) to take a break from life and refuel.

But, We Were Not All Friends:  
Like I said, we all came together to one school, many from complete opposite worlds. Not everyone liked each other, there were fights, and kids were very cruel. I'm certain my big perm and braces didn't help. What I learned from going to a small town high school is that at SOME point, on SOME level, there is connection with everyone in your class. Their family member may have lived down the road from you, you probably had a class with them at some point, or end up in the same school club,  or play on the same team, maybe even have mutual friends or family. Down the road, your paths may cross when you least expect it.  With about only 140 students in my class, you got to know each other whether you wanted to or not. Over the years, I  found this to be a blessing.  I cannot tell you the number of times, having a Rolla connection has opened a door when one has closed. When I think about where all my classmates have landed, it reminds me of how unique that place was on Bulldog Run.

Encouraged To Find Our Own Place:   
Small town living exposes you to people outside of your group of friends, requires you to work with others you may not want to be around and introduces you to someone you may not have ever met if you lived in a big city. Throughout it all, we had an equal opportunity to attend what is now a nationally recognized school, an accredited Technical Institute/Center live in a town with the Missouri University of Science and Technology. We were given opportunities to learn in class, develop our skills, and decide ultimately where we wanted to land. There was an emphasis on graduating, but an appreciation that not everyone needed to go to college. Many of us left, some stayed, and a few returned. We gained unforgettable experiences, special memories, and lessons learned that will forever have a positive impact on our lives.  My former classmates today work in their own communities as police officers, nurses, doctors, farmers, insurance agents, teachers, homemakers, engineers, principals, city workers, firemen, builders, manufacturers, and local business owners. We are fortunate to have those who also serve our country, and others who are in all types of successful careers with or without a college education.

Community is developed through collaboration of people for change. Community shouldn't be defined by just geography, but by circumstances which open your eyes to others who who may not live a life like yours. It takes people believing in each other. You may not always agree, but you learn to listen because that's how you end up in one place, together. As I seek out ways to develop the STEAM Studio in Westport, I feel thankful once again to be part of a diverse community. One place where all kinds of kids can come together and learn in unique ways.

Thanks mom and dad for not listening to me in 8th grade when I said you were ruining my life. I still love coming back to Rolla and always look forward to that back road which leads me home.

I encourage you to get to your back road as soon as you can..Sing it Rodney!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

HOT Blogging: Light Some Fires!

Encourage others to share their voice and their passion for learning will ignite.

Why blog? Who cares? You should.  In a digital world where online communication can be cold and negative, here are some ways to make it HOT and positive.

Two graduate students in my ED  6030 course: Technology in the Classroom at Rockhurst University, did some research about blogging and the important impact it can have on students. 

Ashley Duvall, RU graduate student shares what she learned from her research article:

The issue I have chosen to learn more about for this journal is blogging and its place in the classroom. As an elementary teacher, literacy is a huge area of concern that I need to be on top of for my students. The new literacies created by technology make my job more complex, and finding ways to help students with comprehension and writing skills in this changing society requires that I seek knowledge of new teaching strategies. Blogging has become a hot topic for its effectiveness in helping students with comprehension, synthesis, and writing, and because of this, I wanted to learn more about ways that it can be used in the elementary classroom. The article I read,  HOT Blogging: A Framework for Blogging to Promote Higher Order Thinking  by Lisa Zawilinski (2009), describes a model that was proven effective in a fifth-grade classroom. HOT blogging gives students an online forum to: 

  • voice their opinions
  • do research 
  • see what others are thinking
  • learn to gather information
  • critically evaluate it
  • write about it
  • read other student’s opinions
  • synthesize all of the different pieces together
In the process, they learned about the value in hearing other students’ ideas as well as the importance of supporting their own thoughts with evidence so that they could get their point across. With such positive outcomes, this article should definitely impact the way technology is used in the classroom. It leaves very little question about whether or not it should be implemented. There are questions of privacy, confidentiality, and maintenance, but Zawilinski explains that many of these issues can be taken care of by changing settings during the blog creation phase and by modeling the process for students every step of the way. She mentions a site called  Edublogs  (,  which is just one of the many free blog sites that an educator can use to implement this practice of HOT blogging in the classroom (Zawilinski, 2009). 

I could simply stop at the training I receive here at Rockhurst, but I would be doing a grave injustice to my future students. If a teacher is unwilling to take a risk in learning about new technological tools, their students will be unwilling to take a risk in learning about them too. Likewise, if a teacher uses technology in ineffective ways, students will see no benefit to use them in the future. 

It is my job to show my students the benefit in continuous learning and to lead them and my colleagues in a direction that promotes both growth and effective use in the area of technology

For those of you who are still skeptical about how it can help students....

Carolyn Lynch, 4th grade teacher and RU graduate student further explains her research findings:

 The idea of blogging is somewhat uncomfortable  to educators, especially when the word “student” is thrown into the mix. Student blogging can seem like an incredibly scary thing to conquer, especially for me. Blogging is a difficult concept to understand and it’s hard to know whether students really get significant meaning out of the time spent writing and publishing on a blog. However, some teachers are taking the leap with their students and finding that student blogging is beneficial to students as writers. 

This is just the information I wanted to find when I chose to research blogging in the classroom, as blogging takes technology use to another level. Students can blog on laptops, desktops, iPads, etc. Blogs are very mobile and very easy to make. In fact, I made a blog in about ten minutes. Blogs are not very time consuming, but very beneficial to students’ learning. Blogging pushes them to use higher order thinking and creates audience-aware authors (Davis & McGrail, 2011). Both of these skills are invaluable when it comes to a lifetime for our students. 

Blogging has also proven to be a good writing tool within elementary aged students, so this will impact technology use within the classroom. Students benefit from blogging by becoming more aware of their audiences through writing. Blogging also makes it easier for students to spend time on the writing process. They are able to proof read others’ work and make adjustments to their own work.  This greatly improves their writing process over time. Blogging creates good habits and makes it attainable to proof read and revise work. To further reinforce this subject, blogging research shows that blogging is something we should be incorporating within our classrooms to help our students grow more than they already are.

As a teacher trying to develop life long skills in my students, I will incorporate blogging in to my classroom. Using blogging will encourage my students to try new things, as I will also be new to this process. However, incorporating this into my classroom will not only help them. It will also help me to become a better teacher by pushing myself and constantly growing. This personal growth will then transfer to my students. 

By trying something innovative, I will set a tone of learning and technology use within my school. 

Ed 4030/6030 RU students (and anyone else who would like to share their thoughts):
      1.     These articles covered many benefits about blogging in the classroom. Can you think of any potential issues that might arise in the creation, maintenance, and/or implementation of classroom blogging?

2.     Is blogging something you might want to implement/use within your classroom now? Why or why not?
    Answer these questions below in a comment, please.

Works Cited:
Edublogs (2014).   The world's most popular education blogging service.   Retrieved from http:// 

McGrail, E & Davis, A.  (2011).The influence of classroom blogging on elementary student writing.  Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 25 (4), 415-437.

Zawilinski, L. (2009). Hot blogging: a framework for blogging to promote higher order thinking.   Reading Teacher 62 (8). Retrieved from 

Special thanks to Caroline and Ashley, my insightful students and guest bloggers.

 "....doesn't matter what sex you are, where you are from...don't let anyone hold you back, don't let anyone stop you." Alicia Keys

Let's encourage kids to channel their talents in a positive way. Blogging can be one of those ways. Listen to Alicia Keys sing live setting your life on fire.  Love her passion!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Parents Just Don't Understand! Or Do They? Kids Digital Device Activity

This isn't the late 80s, so get with it!
You know parents are all the same, no matter time or place, they don't understand that us kids are gonna make some mistakes. 
The Fresh Prince with DJ Jazzy Jeff

Over the last month I have had an increase in emails and requests for information revolving one big topic: Kids and Internet Safety, specifically Social Media Communication.

I give workshops, consult and talk at great lengths about how parents, teachers, and the community can be more proactive and promote keeping kids safe online. Parents seem overwhelmed and sometimes feel helpless. They are not sure where to go to get simple, straightforward information that is easy to follow and keep updated on.

I'm here to tell ya, you don't need to read every social media parenting self-help book (many of them are obsolete as soon as they are published anyways because of the ever changing technology), surf the internet for hours looking for advice, or even spend anymore time worrying about it. Hopefully, this blog post will help PARENTS UNDERSTAND the why, how and what they are doing with these devices that seem to making our world more complicated at times.

Simply stated:
  • Developing their dignity: If you ever had a child development course or have read anything about child development in general, you know that there are stages of moral reasoning with kids from babies through adulthood.  We expect our kids to act like adults, when, they really are not. Kohlberg and Erikson, two psycholgists researched the stages of moral development. See the cliff notes version of their research below.  You can clearly see why kids make the decisions they do at the different developmental ages they progress through which also relates to their internet and social media behavior.

Erik Erikson's Psychosocial Stages of Development

Lawrence Kohlberg's Theory of Moral Development.

  • Their reality is not real: Thank you very much "Reality TV." Research shows that kids brought up watching reality shows actually think what goes on is "real." What does this mean? In my opinion, two big issues. First, there will be more drama then their parents grew up with. Why? Have you ever watched a highly rated reality show? More drama, more viewers. Secondly, it (whatever 'it' is) keeps going. Whether it is a comment on a pic or video, sharing of a link about someone, a rude text of some sort...whatever it is, our technology driven society makes easier than ever to keep it going on and on.
  • Porn before puberty? So, this is the real deal, anyone, kids included can see a huge variety of pornography whenever they want. I don't care how many filters, firewalls, locks, security or dog watching you have or are doing, kids can get to it and fast. Then there's the unsuspecting parents  who say, "what's the big deal, I use to look at pics of Playboy when I was in junior high. We all were curious."  The open access to pornographic material out there which kids can view at an instant makes old school Playboy look like G-rated.  Being that it is easy to send and receive pics, texts, sexts, links and videos, kids can actually become numb to the crazy things they see coming across their digital devices. 

Be the proactive parent. I'm not a big believer in quantity over quality, you don't need a list of 20 websites to read, just these.
Check these two out and you should be set.

Some points for solutions:

  • Facebook is ancient to your kids:  Know which social media apps are trending and which new ones are coming out. (listed above) gives parents updated rankings of all social media apps (new and old). See how a fairly new social media app Yik Yak scores here: Each report gives you ratings for categories ranging from violence, sex, language and privacy. The app report also gives talking points for families and valid information about the purpose of the app and the positive or negative capability it has.

  • I did not inhale.  Right. Well, your kids may ask, "did you look at dirty pics when you were my age? Did you send mean notes when you were in junior high?" It's like that age old question about drinking and smoking pot. Should you answer this question? Many psychologists will say that you cannot win this battle. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Meaning, if you share with your child that you did engage in an inappropriate behavior when you were that age, they will come back with something like, "well, you did it!" On the flip side, if you explain you did not do anything of the sort, they will respond with, "then you don't have any idea what I am going through, how could you even relate to what I am feeling?" If anything, you should divert the conversation back to your child by saying something like, "let's focus on you and what you are going through." So, keep the conversation on them and about them. as much as you can, unless you just feel like sharing your past experiences. Many experts like Danah Boyd explain, it's the way you parent through these situations, not the technology causing all the problems.

  • To track or not to track? That is the question. You are the parent, if you want to track everything, some, or none of what they do, it's your call. Curious on how you do that? Check out this website to choose which tracking app makes the most sense to you and what you want to do:,review-2261.html. Some parents sleep better at night knowing that they are able to locate their kids at anytime. Others will sometimes do spot check. Please do talk with your kid(s) about what you are tracking and why. You don't want to be that hovering parent and send them running away from you, but you do want to know they are being safe and wise when it comes to using their device.

Is this really necessary?

  • Get to the root: No one is perfect, especially your kids. As parents, our main goals are to keep our kids healthy and happy, right? Remember that.  Every expert will tell you that the number one way to approach social media issues is to figure out the cause of the behavior. Talk with your kids about the what, why and how: what happened, why did it happen, how can they prevent it from happening again? Consistent casual conversations; in the car, at dinner, while shooting baskets, when you have one-on-one time with your kids are great ways to keep a pulse on what they are doing in their private (or not so private lives).  Use the resources at (also listed above). This amazing website has trendy videos for kids, tweens and teens. Some are cartoon videos, others are real stories about how teenagers have been influenced or affected by internet and technology influences.  A great example of how this website supports proactive parenting is here: This webpage shares stats, conversation starters, resources including activity cards, handouts, videos and more.

Bottom line: Being approachable, keeping that open communication and having a close relationship with your kid is the best way to avoid the downfall digital devices can bring.
Show 'em you DO UNDERSTAND.

There are more tips and resources I can share, so email me or book me for a workshop!

You can sing or dance along as DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince explain this age old issue in the video below.