Last Friday a fourth grade parent received an email from her son with the subject line "Mrs. ****'s Due!" In the body of the message was a photo of the teacher in question, taken (according to the time stamp on the email) during a math lesson. The parent forwarded the message to the teacher, wondering if this was an announcement of an expected arrival. Actually, it was a misspelling of 'Do as in Hairdo.
However innocent the message and intention, we welcomed the unexpected teachable moment that gave context to the usual digital citizenship lectures. It also made us realize that the combination of email, cameras, videos, and an online connection on the iPad offers fertile ground for all sorts of sharing right from the classroom. While I have worked with these students since First grade on topics such as not sharing personal information about yourself, your friends, or your family, and not spreading rumors, jokes, or inappropriate comments via email, none of those discussions came to mind when our student snapped the photo and sent it to his mother. There is no single inoculation for poor decision making about digital sharing. The message must be framed and reframed - and ideally put into a recognizable context. For this reason, the incident was a gift.
I prepared a simple Prezi, and called a fifteen minute meeting which began with a game of telephone. I whispered "Miss Cunningham sure is wearing worn out shoes!" to the closest student. As the rumor was passed around the circle the game was clearly doing its job. Looks of confusion, but a willingness to pass the rumor along kept it going until the big reveal - of nonsense. We talked about rumors and how often they are passed without any question as to their verity, but how if they are in the classroom at least they are staying in the classroom. I then showed the slide with the actual sentence and my own worn out shoes. This brought the conversation about how far this comment, combined with a photo, might go without the knowledge of the subject (or victim as the case may be.)
iPads offer so many ways to share, and their online connection and easy email are part of their appeal in the classroom. Our students frequently take photos to use in projects, yet now I have asked each classroom to create an agreement among themselves about asking permission before we photograph each other and a mutual understanding about how that photo will be used. We found that we, the teachers, had to explain and apologize for eagerly taking photos and videos of the classes at work. Although we have permission from parents to share images of children, we hadn't thought about the importance of modeling asking permission from the children themselves.
I am glad to discover the power of the short, focused discussion on a topic we often save for one big lecture that is overloaded with subtopics and too much detail. My goal is to create a variety of these simple conversations on topics based on our own experiences - a homegrown reality-based digital citizenship curriculum. To that end, the Prezi I shared is available to be copied and edited for use elsewhere. The iPad, while a potential liability where sharing is concerned, is offering great opportunity for us to think about what is important and help shape good habits of thought for our students about their digital lives.