Teaching Digital Natives with Marc Prensky

Ok, I’m glad this post is juxtaposed with my last post on digital natives.

Just because I dislike the term “digital native” does not mean that I dislike Marc Prensky or his message.  In Marc Prensky’s workshop, he didn’t really talk about digital natives, and we didn’t even spend that much time talking about technology.  He focused on making learning relevant to the world in which students are living…  moving beyond test scores and grades and toward building portfolios or resumes in which real world problems are solved. He talked about using student passions to fuel learning. Now this is a message I can get behind.

In his book Teaching Digital Natives: Partnering for Real Learning, Prensky does a great job of emphasizing the “verb” of the learning and allowing the tech tool to be simply a tool.  Again, preaching to the choir here.  I’m 100% behind this message.

My dislike of the term ‘digital native’ stems from teachers saying things like “these kids either all know how to do [insert random technology assignment here] or “they all know how to figure it out on their own” without taking the time to learn it themselves or providing any support in the classroom to ensure student success.  This makes no sense to me.  Why do we assume that because students were born into a world full of technology that they just “get it”?  They were also born into a world in which spoken and written English is everywhere, and they don’t all naturally write and speak English correctly.  Most aren’t born appreciating the beauty and power of language.

For example, my 9th grade students studied teen stress and stress management strategies.  In collaborative groups, students shared their research, infographics, videos, photography, and animations on websites.  Our main goal was to encourage our student body to think carefully about their schedule registrations and about how they will juggle their academics, extracurricular activities, and social life.  We wanted to spread the #challengesuccess gospel using valid medical research to support our claims and to make that information as accessible as possible to our student body by taking advantage of different forms of multimedia.  Our other goals included applying the CRAAP test to information that we found online, using the C-D-C format in our writing, and applying MLA-style attribution.

I didn’t just say, “Hey, make a website.  It’s due in a week.  Peace out.”

We talked about information hierarchy, graphic design, copywriting for the web, and copyright.  They made practice websites one day individually to make sure that everyone knew how to make a website on Wix.  We didn’t even code this website from scratch; we used a page builder.  Sure, half of the class could have figured out Wix, but the other half the class would have probably taken a zero without the scaffolded support.  All of the websites were better because we talked about the “science” behind the things we were doing.

My main gripe with the term “digital native” is that it too often provides teachers with an excuse to be lazy.

In the workshop, Prensky validated much of what I, too, wish for education.  I hope that more teachers in our school system buy-in to his message.  Overall, a worthwhile PD.

If I have any constructive critique of the workshop, it mostly came from the student panel in which I feel like the overarching message was lost.  I’m not saying that the student panel wasn’t informative; it just went off on a tangent for a little too long.  I would also like to see specific examples of teachers/students who are implementing this message successfully because Prensky relied a little too much on “super special” scenarios as evidence.  Maybe he could film short interviews with a few teachers and students so that his audience would be more likely to accept that this mindset can work in normal classrooms with normal teachers and students.

I’m a believer that this can work, but he doesn’t have to convince me.








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Digital Native… *cringe*

Some people dislike the word “moist.”  I cringe when I hear the term “digital native.”  Like nails across a chalkboard, like teeth on a metal fork cringe…

Maybe it’s not that bad… Actually, I approach that term in the same manner that I approach terms like the Lochness Monster and Bigfoot.  I love both of these entities; I would love for them to exist.  But for now, they have to be relegated to the realms of myth.

I feel that students are comfortable with technology as long as they are CONSUMERS of technology.  When it comes time to be a CREATOR… not so much.  When it comes time to be a CREATOR with a purpose, well, even less.

Today, my freshman comp class focused on sending an appropriate email– appropriate in format, message, and tone.  You may say, “Email is soooo outdated.”  Well, most universities and jobs still use email on the regular.  I just completed another round of grad school, and yeah… my professors and I EMAILED each other.  I teach online classes, and yeah… I EMAIL my students.  My husband teaches online classes, and yeah… they EMAIL each other.  The local engineering sector?  Yeah, they EMAIL each other.

We covered the in’s and out’s of emailing, and I asked my students to email me.  I can’t describe the level of discomfort.  It was as if they hadn’t had a bowel movement in days.

By the end class, my students sent me emails that wouldn’t be a terrible embarrassment.  I returned their emails.  We’ll see where it goes.

But you know where it’s not going?  To Shangri-la.  To El Dorado.  To Atlantis.  Because they’re mythical places, in case anyone’s confused.

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Embracing Tech Change

Our district PD included a visit from Eric Sheninger.  He shared his school’s tech revolution and how they kept it standards driven.

I agree with his message, but it did feel a little canned and a little dated.  To me, anyway.  But honestly… It was a message that some of our teachers needed to hear.

In our school district, we have one section of teachers who embrace technology and seamlessly integrate it into their lessons.  We have a second section of teachers who agree with the concept but who don’t put into it practice as often as they should.  We have a third section of teachers who just aren’t going to change, unless they’re held accountable, anyway.

For example, I think filming and editing a video is such a basic skill that I think all teachers should be doing this regularly.  I think blended learning should be the norm.  Social media… I am reduced to guttural noises on this topic.  I could generate quite the list on this topic, but I’ll spare you.  I appreciate our district’s patience with change and their respect for teacher autonomy, but I’ve gotta say… they have more patience than I do.

I wish I could say that Eric Sheninger provided the motivation that Sections #2 and Section #3 needed.  At best, it reaffirmed Section #1’s efforts, and I suppose that’s better than nothing.



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Student Stress #challengesuccess

I had the opportunity to attend the Challenge Success Workshop at Stanford.  I like to say that… “at Stanford.”

We put a great deal of stress on students with school, homework, and extracurriculars.  Do we justify this stress by thinking, “We’re just preparing them for the real world”?

Are their brains even ready for this kind of stress?

During the conference, I kept thinking about my own children and the roller coaster of time demands our family endures.  Some days, it feels like they should have more to do, and other days, it feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day.

I feel that, as a teacher, I should continue to be flexible with the amount of homework I assign and with deadlines.

As a member of our school’s #ChallengeSuccess team, I can spread the gospel.

As a school system, I feel that some of the takeaways of the conference were out of my hands.  We are a district that prizes its number of AP courses, its test scores, and its scholarship dollars.  We award weighted credit for more difficult classes; we pay students for passing AP scores.  We award improvements of ACT scores with exam exemptions.  We have class ranks.

I understand why we do these things.  BUT… it does conflict with much of the #challengesuccess agenda.


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I attended the Better Conversations workshop with Jim Knight.

It was a half-day workshop, and honestly, it was one of the better workshops I’ve attended.  Such a simple concept.  We’re teachers– we talk all the time, right?

But are we really listening?  Are we conveying our message as effectively as possible?  Are we making an effort to create meaningful relationships and partnerships?

It got me thinking about my body language, proximity, eye contact, tone of voice, etc., with my students.  I’m going to make more of an effort to make sure all my students feel connected.  I want them to feel comfortable sharing their work and asking questions.  I want them to value my feedback.  I quite often lump “them” all together when I should be focused more on the “he” or “she” level.  You’ve got to have a relationship with individual students for this to work.

It also made me think about how I interact with other teachers and with admin.  I think I’ve been slack in this area in recent years.  We’ve had a fair amount of teacher and admin turnover, and I am certain that I haven’t cultivated the relationships with our new arrivals that would make my workplace more enjoyable and productive.

It requires an intentional effort to develop a rapport.  If we’re going to collaborate and make cross-disciplinary connections, we have to feel comfortable talking to each other.

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Making New Teachers Feel Welcome!

Our school system revitalized the mentorship program, and I spent my afternoon trying to put together a “care package” for our new English teachers.  I probably spent way more time thinking about this than I should have, but it was either this or dusting my classroom.  I really dislike dusting.

The gift boxes...

The gift boxes…

If you have new teachers at your school– whether you’re a mentor or not– remember to make them feel special and supported during their first weeks.  Feel free to adapt this list to your own subject area, budget, etc.  Even a simple gesture like a coffee or a candy bar can go a long way when one starts to feel overwhelmed.

Your Box o’ Stuff: A Gift from Your English Peeps

  • Recycled Notebook

Because you need to remember to see worth in the students that others have passed by

  • Tissue

Because you or the students may be sick or crying and some students may just need to stretch their legs (And because it’s hard to teach if you’re not at school and hard for your students to learn if they’re absent)

  • BandAids

Because people get hurt (and because someone is going to try to get out of class and go to the nurse for a Bandaid and you’re going to have a Bandaid ready and shut that down)

  • Hand Sanitizer

Because some of our students are gross (and because they deserve love, high fives, and fist bumps, too)

  • Magnets

Because you need a place to hang the many flyers that will end up in your mailbox and to showcase exemplary student work

  • Wall Hanging Mounts

Because you will want to take pride in your environment and provide your students with a place that makes them want to learn (And there’s a good chance someone will go crazy if you use duct tape or hot glue on these new walls)

  • Post-Its and Stick-Its

Because you will feel overwhelmed with the amount of information coming your way in the next few weeks and now is the time to employ all those note-taking strategies you teach your students

  • Highlighters

Because you should never forego an opportunity to shine light on those who have gone above and beyond

  • Binder Clips

Because organization keeps you from losing papers (and your mind)

  • Electronic Wipes

Because we are blessed with technology and we want to take care of it (And remember to organize and plug-in classroom iPad and lap top carts or you WILL hear about it)

  • Red Pens

Because students need consistent constructive feedback from you and from each other

  • Purple Pens

Because students also need positive praise from you and from each other

  • Pencils

Because students who are forgetful or lacking shouldn’t be punished academically for failing to have supplies on hand (Just give them a pencil, book, paper, etc. There are bigger battles to fight.)

  • Thank You cards

Because you will want to thank people like Phillis Gaines, Nancy Reyes, Becky Ruhlman, Wanda Neilson, Judi Brown, Dotty Miller, Mrs. Oliver, Mrs. Huskey, the counselors, assistant principals, Mrs. Lambert, and especially the janitors, because they will take care of you

  • Tech Tip Sheet

Because you will want to showcase all your accomplishments and ask for advice when you need it

  • Popcorn

Because it’s going to take a few days to get back into our school schedule (a 12:40-ish lunch time is a loooong time to wait until our tummies adjust to the schedule)

  • Relaxing Face Mask

Because you’re going to be tired and maybe even cranky (And you deserve some me-time so that you can face the little monsters… um, students… tomorrow with your best self.)

  • Hot Chocolate

Because it’s chocolate… Duh! (And because you need to reward yourself for bell-to-bell, engaging instruction, efficient classroom procedures, and fair but firm classroom management)

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This summer, I attended the Certiport conference in Orlando.  It was Certiport’s first annual Certified conference, and it felt like it.

The conference workshops were limited to one track of workshops spread out over two days, and there was even repetition of “workshops” by the second day.  That was disappointing.  The workshops led by Certiport employees and marketing peeps were, well, not good.  For example, in the training for how to test students, we never actually saw the “guts” side of things… just text-based slides– not even screenshots– describing it.  I know no more about how to set up by classes or the tests than I did before I left.

The workshops led by actual teachers were much better.  It would have also been nice to be organized by our certification areas.  There were many Microsoft certification teachers, but I found a whole table of Adobe certification teachers the second day by accident.  There wasn’t much back-channeling on Twitter at this conference.

I would like to see more student stories.  The videos they shared of particular classrooms (Brooklyn Technical High School, I believe) were inspiring.  I would also like more industry evidence and more practical classroom experiences.

The keynotes were solid.  I loved the insight provided by a global law firm and why the firm encourages MOS certifications as a part of its professional development.  To see evidence of increased efficiency within the workplace was inspiring.  I also enjoyed learning about Florida’s certification numbers and the role of certification in general education from Florida’s Rod Duckworth.  The concluding keynote was Ron Clark, and his universal message of enthusiasm and high standards loosely applied to certification but certainly applied to the field of teaching.

I learned that GMetrix seems to be the standard test prep software for the actual Certiport exam and nothing else really comes close.

We ate like kings and queens, and I did learn to appreciate certification more.  We could definitely do more with certification in Madison City, but the teachers have to be trained and certified themselves before this can work on a bigger scale.  We need to network with local industry and figure out the certifications that would most benefit students’ employability.

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Google Classroom AND…

At this point, Google Classroom can’t stand on its own.  My school system seems to be a fan, and I’m a team player.

One day, in a galaxy far, far away, Google Classroom might be able to stand on its own.  Until then…

How shall we supplement it?

First of all, as I’ve mentioned I hate that scrolling news feed.  My courses don’t have textbooks.  Or digital textbooks.  It’s all me and a thousand other voices on the internet.

What’s a girl to do?

I’m not certain, but I think I’m going with Versal.  It seems to provide a wonderful static space for the delivery of content.  I can still customize its integration into each course with Google Classroom.  I can even incorporate Google features with Versal.

Even within the “static” content, I can incorporate some sense of real interaction between the content and the learner or with interactions between me and my students.

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What’s Your LMS Personality? Take THIS quiz!

There’s no quiz.  It would be great if you could take a quiz, which would then point you to an LMS that fits your subject area and teaching style.  If we’re dreaming big, we might as well wish that it would also fit your students’ individual learning styles.

Our school system has a long, storied history with learning management systems (LMS).

It began with Desire2Learn, which was the platform adopted by A.C.C.E.S.S., which is Alabama’s online learning program.  I don’t recall its exact inception, but I feel like I’ve been teaching online courses forever (realistically, probably 7-8 years).

The Madison City School System then introduced Moodle, though they didn’t dedicate enough server space for it to operate smoothly.  We used it until we gave up.  I liked Moodle, and once I separated its glitches associated with its lack of server space from its functionality, I believe I still like Moodle.  Those who hated it, well, they probably knew nothing about customization.

Then came Edmodo.  We were so happy that its mobile app worked and that it had plug-ins.  It was “prettier” than Moodle, but I never liked that scrolling newsfeed.  Folders or no, there’s something to be said for customization.

Then Schoology.  I had an all-to-brief rendezvous with Schoology.  I won’t claim to be an expert here.  Probably due to time constraints, I jumped shipped and returned to Edmodo.

And now Google Classroom.

I do not dislike Google Classroom.  As a matter of fact, I love when something integrates apps I already use.  It isn’t terribly complicated– if you’ve use any of the above, you should transition smoothly.

But if you’ve used any of the above, you might also be a little disappointed.

Maybe I’m a fickle LMS personality.  I see, in my mind’s eye, what needs to be in my LMS.  I wish I had it all– a static page to hold folders for each unit that I could easily transfer from course to course, a scrolling news feed for immediacy, a discussion forum, an assignment area, a quiz area, enriched multimedia and gamification, social media integration, a mobile app, and the moon.

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It’s been awhile.

During the spring, student publications like literary magazines and yearbooks are in frenzy mode, and the only way to handle the frenzy is through effective time management, organization, delegation, and prioritization.  Each of these topics in relation to student publications is worthy of its own blog post, so I’m going to focus on the one most evident:


Reflection is important, but sometimes when the current is moving quickly, it’s all a blur.

This blog, an evidence of my reflection or lack thereof, reflects something just as important– my priorities.  Right now, my students and their success as communicators and thinkers and our actual student publications are my priorities during the school day.

Once we have the printed literary magazine in hand and its corresponding website popping and the student news site updated for the final time for the year, I’ll think of plenty of could haves and should haves.  They’ll probably wake me up in the middle of the night and will most likely manifest into blog posts.  I’ll then calm myself by thinking of this year’s successes.  These will probably be blog posts, too.

Right now, the current is swift, and my students and I are in this together.  I’ll stand at the water’s edge soon enough.

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