Empowering Learners

Q: What are tools, technology and curriculum that we can use to teach K-5 students how to use, understand and leverage technology to set goals, monitor and reflect on their learning in a way that makes sense for them developmentally?

One digital platform that I had heard about and then researched further in order to answer this question was Seesaw – a student driven digital portfolio. In an article I read from TechCrunch, “How Seesaw Accidentally Became a Teacher’s Pet at ¼ of U.S. Schools”, it became clear that Seesaw could be a great way to ease students into using technology to learn goal setting, share and reflect on their work and others, and that this could be done with students in the early grades.  Some key details that got me initially excited about Seesaw were that students can use a QR code to sign in easily, it is free (a paid subscription is available), it connects families to the classroom and can be a way for shy students to showcase their learning in a more comfortable way (Constine, 2016). There is also a potential for connecting Social/Emotional Learning curriculum within it also.    

One frustration that I have had as an educator is that many of the digital education platforms being used in education are too complex for the younger years and so they are not getting familiar with technology early on in an educational way. Instead, they are often using technology purely for games which can lead to not taking tools and technology seriously as a learning platform. In the article, “Supporting Autonomy in the Classroom: Ways Teachers Encourage Student Decision Making and Ownership”, they talk about the idea of ‘Catch’ and ‘Hold’.  Catch is the bells and whistles in instruction used to attract attention and the hold is where we can then engage students in meaningful academic tasks (Stefanou, Candice R., Perencevich, Kathleen C., DiCintio, Matthew, & Turner, Julianne C., 2004, p.105). Often, technology platforms excel in the ‘Catch’ portion of this but the ‘Hold’ is sacrificed because it becomes a game to students instead of a tool for learning. When I connect this to the ISTE standard around Digital Citizenship, this is a key area where digital education leaders can think about better serving students by explicitly teaching them at a young age that learning is happening on these tools and goal setting, reflections and seeing their growth and peers growth is a fantastic way to do this. With Seesaw, the simplicity of the design and input from students, allows students and educators to focus on the ‘Hold’ not the ‘Catch’ of winning tokens, currency, points, stickers or the many ways that apps and platforms ‘catch’ young learners.

Finally, Seesaw connects to the importance of high cognitive autonomy being the essential ingredient in which motivation and engagement can be maximized (Stefanou, et a.l (2004)).  When we choose to use platforms that ask students to take the time to think deeply about their learning, what they are doing and, even more essential, WHY they are doing it, the connection to autonomy is greater. It is not about autonomy based on the choice of organization or procedures within learning but instead active engagement in better understanding of how to explain their own learning, misunderstandings and how/why they think what they think. If students can start engaging with digital technologies in this way early on, just imagine how they may approach learning later on in middle and high school settings!  Instead of compliance around doing what the teacher says, they can be interacting with educators and education in a way that transfers to all content, contexts and disciplines every step of the way from elementary school to college to real life situations.

All of the above connects deeply to ISTE Student Standards 1a and 1c because of the focus on student involvement in both use of the platform and personal articulation being documented on Seesaw.  If we as educators want student commitment, involvement and autonomy which provides a motivation for taking hold of their own learning, then so far, it seems as if Seesaw could be a solution to starting this process in the early years for our youngest learners. Yet, since I have not personally tried Seesaw, I leave many questions on the table still around equity, engagement, and reality of ‘boots on the ground’ when using this technology in the classroom and with the school community (parents, administration, etc). I look forward to reporting back here to reflect on my own learning after I launch into using it.  


Digital Learning Mission Statement

To holistically merge digital and real life experiences through education by promoting digital citizenship with an awareness of individual agency, ethics, mindfulness and digital wisdom.

As a Digital Education Leader, my mission is bridge how we learn to merge our digital lives with our real lives. To do this, I want to approach digital citizenship with a holistic, global and creative educational framework.  My goal as a digital education leader would be to model and teach mindfulness in determining the appropriate context for the application of the digital tools we are working with. This framework would then help inform best practices regarding the use of technology for our students, ourselves and our community.    

Guiding Principles Post:

3 Values that will shape my practice as a digital education leader

Principle #1: Attention to Use, Agency and Balance

ISTE 5a ~ Model and promote strategies for achieving equitable access to digital tools and resources and technology-related best practices for all students and teachers.

Technology related best practices in response to digital tools and resources has changed drastically since 2000 and continues to change at a rapid pace with access meaning different things depending on perspective (Marshall Jones and Rebecca Bridges, 2016).  There is a difference between ‘access to information vs. access to devices’ and fortunately, the access to devices has increased remarkably. Yet, this increase in access has not always led to an increase in how to best access the information these tools provide us with. As a digital education leader, I would like to focus on how to provide equitable access in learning HOW to maintain balance and individual agency as we sift through the overwhelming amount of information out there to find the best way to improve our capabilities as human beings.  Digital tools and resources have the capability of enhancing and extending our innate abilities (Prensky, 2013). Yet, effective deployment and use of tech can compensate for unequal access and bridge the gap when we are talking about the digital divide and how to overcome it. (Marshall Jones and Rebecca Bridges, 2016). I believe there will always be an issue around access and equity but that striving toward bridging it falls on better use of the access that is provided.

In order to best harness this collaboration between humans and technology, it is important to learn strategies to help us interrupt reflexive responses to stimuli and maintain a higher level of attention toward the purpose of why and how we are participating in using technology and digital resources. (Paulus, 2018). This connection to mindfulness gives me hope in that if explicitly taught, this strategy will help create and inspire equitable access for students, teachers and society. Instead of the tool being used as a way to commodify attention, society will demand that developers create platforms that build this collaboration instead of creating distance between society. Individual Agency and reflection on tempering our own negatives tendencies when it comes to balance of technology is essential in moving toward equitable use when it comes to access – using it to deepen knowledge not waste time. “Control is not just time spent online but rather mastery of an ethical space, of the way we live within our socio-technological environment.” (Ticona and Wellmon, 2015)

While attending an EDCamp conference, there was a lot of discussion about how intermediate students will come into an education setting seeming to know so much about technology and the digital world. They quickly know how to use a tool, an app, a game but can not do basic word documents or know how to best seek out information they need for a research paper efficiently, patiently and with awareness of what is a good source. Educating students (everyone, really) to dismiss the distractions of the digital world and instead knowing how to be purposeful, productive and engaged with the information being gathering and applied means even if you have less access, you will have better use of the access you have.

Principle #2: Merging online and offline morality and ethics

ISTE 5b ~ Model and facilitate safe, healthy, legal and ethical uses of digital information and technologies.

Opening students eyes to the realities – both positive and negative – of using digital information and technologies throughout our daily lives is crucial to providing a safe space for use.  The ethical foundations of who we are in real life and online life need to be taught as coinciding narratives. The ‘thinking gaps’ that Carrie James discussed in her book, Disconnected: Youth, the New Media, and the Ethics Gaps, bring a stark reality to the blindspots and disconnects that can occur when people treat online morality and ethics differently than in real life.  How we engage in using technology and the behaviors and choices that are made result in a direct statement about who we are as a whole person in this information age.  It is imperative that we teach and model using digital platforms in a safe, healthy, legal and ethical way so that we do not turn into the detached spectators that can result from having access to everything but committing to nothing. (Dryfus, 1999).

Modeling is an essential first step as an educator, parent and adult because this is where the youngest students/kids first see others using digital tools and resources.  This then becomes how they first experience and try out becoming digital citizens and consumers. Moral development starts in the lives of children immediately and digital morality development needs to be now thought of as an essential development phase in a child’s life. As a digital educator, my goal is to provide strong identity growth that naturally morphs into our interconnected digital and real lives so that students inherently know that there is no longer a separation of who you represent yourself as within our local and global community and our digital communities.  There is currently a mentorship gap because of how technology has developed so quickly and educating ALL in a way that does not incite fear and judgment but instead cultivates conscientious connectivity (James, 2014).

Principle #3: Importance of being Digitally wise and reflecting on the global possibilities of our digital world

ISTE 5c ~ Model and promote diversity, cultural understanding and global awareness by using digital age communication and collaboration tools to interact locally and globally with students, peers, parents and the larger community.

Diversity, cultural understanding and global awareness are positive outcomes of living in a technology driven age.  The ability to engage in far-reaching communication deepens our understanding and appreciation for others. Digital wisdom supports a global vision and the more we teach about mindfulness, awareness, reflection and temperance the closer we get to seeing our digital selves as part of the global digital community.   

One of the most concrete ways that would inspire growth in a global community is to have the ISTE standards be taught right along side core curriculum in schools.  The REP (Respect, Educate, Protect) protocol and guidelines coupled with the C4 model of learning (Collaboration, Creativity, Communication, Transformative Content) gives a pathway to achieving success despite the multi-faceted perspectives that can sometimes confuse and distract us from modeling empathy, connection and purpose. (Mike Ribble and Tessa Northern Miller, 2013) With resources such as Open Educational Resources (OER) and Common Sense Media, we can better collaborate and connect with a wide variety of people and perspectives as well as learn about tools and programs that have been successful in meeting educational technology standards.  Using the resources mentioned, the connections are endless – from a neighborhood across town to a country across the world.

Yet, being digitally wise is crucial to understanding global awareness and different perspectives and approaches. It means making wiser decisions by using enhanced technology but distinguishing between real and ethical issues versus preferences or prejudices. (Prensky, 2013)  As digital educators, if we can bridge the ethical/empathetic gap between our physical and digital selves then we have made great progress toward a more compassionate global society.

Brainstormed list of possible ways to start accomplishing these ideas:

  • Innovative Professional Development for educators
  • School community and public classes around a holistic approach that focuses on the fundamentals of awareness and mindfulness – balance.
  • Creating relationships between developers, educators and consumers
  • Having conversations about mindfulness and attention with the people around us to have these ideas branch out and inspire more discussions about digital addiction and positive use of digital platforms and tools
  • Computer science focus – the creation and bones of the tools and programs we use
  • Combining the ‘old way’ with the ‘new way’ – don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater
  • Mentorship programs for youth and adults to help spread the word on healthy and safe technology use
  • Digital Citizenship programs – certificates you can earn that focus on creating global citizen ambassadors
  • K-12 digital education curriculum and funding for digital education leaders in every school – cross pollination with core curriculum
  • and more…the ideas are exciting and endless…now, to sift out what is best for our global  society and to grow and learn with all the new tools and resources being developed!


James, C. (2014). Disconnected: Youth, the new media, and the ethics gap. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Hubert Dreyfus, “Anonymity versus Commitment: The Dangers of Education on the Internet,” Philosophy of Technology, 641-47

ISTE Standards for coaches. ISTE. Retrieved from: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches.

Julia Ticona and Chad Wellmon, “Uneasy in Digital Zion,” The Hedgehog Review 17:1 (2015): 58-71

Marc Prensky, “From Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom,” in From Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom: Hopeful Essays for 21st Century Learning (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin, 2013), 201-15

Marshall Jones and Rebecca Bridges, “Equity, Access, and the Digital Divide in Learning Technologies: Historical Antecedents, Current Issues, and Future Trends,” in The Wiley Handbook of Learning Technology, 327-47

Michael Paulus, “Attention, Reality, and Truth,” Patheos, March 21, 2018

Mike Ribble and Teresa Northern Miller, “Educational Leadership in an Online World: Connecting Students to Technology Responsibly, Safely, and Ethically,” Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 17:1 (2013): 137-45

Digital Readiness Project

For my Digital Readiness Project through the SPU Digital Education Leadership (DEL) program, I was able to connect and collaborate with the librarian and digital leader at the school I work with.  I proposed a set of questions for her to answer and then communicated my thinking in response to her answers. From there, we used a new digital platform for both of us as a way to house our thoughts and continue our reflections as the school year progress.  Throughout this project, it became very clear that this was a collaboration that will continue from this year and beyond.  She is a digital education leader in training for the school district and after connecting over this project, she invited me to a Professional Development Training later in the year.  This has been a unique and special opportunity to connect in a way that would not have occurred as quickly considering I am new at the school and she is only there part-time.  This project initiated an opportunity to have conversations around topics we are both passionate about and very much aligned with in regards to philosophy and vision yet may not have had the time to discover as early on with the hectic nature of public school education. Below you will see the image I created that shows the ideas we fill most important as digital educators and future leaders. In addition, there is a picture of our on-going collaboration via the stormboard tool that is available online.

It is very exciting to know that this project will live on in a very real and collaborative way as I continue my journey into learning about digital education and having a collaborative partner within my school environment will be inspiring and motivating.

Class Dojo

I have started to use ClassDojo as my main communication platform with families and to personalize the school to home connection.  I know that I am using it very simply right now and that there are many bells and whistles that I have not yet utilized.  What I am enjoying so far is that I can quickly contact families, easily share pictures straight from my phone and have more of a real time update about what is going on in our classroom.  I am also really liking that it takes less time to do than a more typical newsletter but has a more personal touch with meaningful connections for the families of the students in my class. So far, the main downside is that not all families have connected to it so I am only connecting with about 80% of my families.  I am still sending out a newsletter every two weeks or so but I notice that it feels more archaic and has the pace of snail mail compared to the instant and more easy to use Class Dojo platform.  I will update this page when I get a sense of how families are feeling about it and the new ways I am using it as the months go on. One goal for this webpage is to give an authentic glimpse into how teachers try to use new technologies, the ways it works well, the frustrations when it does not and everything in between!  If anyone has used ClassDojo – let me know your thoughts!ClassDojo