Category Archives: Education

All Blogged Out

My last writing prompt asked students to write about what they would change if they ran our school. While there was a variety of ideas, there was a number of that repeatedly showed up. We are the only school in the city that requires uniforms and while some students mentioned the benefits (no one makes fun of each other for your clothes, modesty, easy to identify students) this was the first thing that a majority of students would change. Next was use of cell phones. Our school has banned personal smart devices for k-8 students. I was not surprised by this, although reminding them that one student live streamed a class, was something that change a few minds. The third most common change they would bring to our school was gum. The amount of gum found on floors, desks, walls, etc., led to the school banning gum. Teachers are left to enforce it. In my class it has become a power play with one student, she refuses to stop, I have her get rid of it. It is a small but perpetual battle and it would appear the class has painted me (or at least the rule) as the villain.

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Overall this was the most interesting blog for me. It gave me insight into what each student enjoys or dislikes about our community. A number of them treated it like a persuasive letter. I did mention that I would read and reflect on their ideas, so this was probably my influence. It was a great way to end our project and gave them a chance to share their concerns in a calm and reflective way. It was gratifying to see my goal realized. We had created an online community where they could share different ideas and actually discuss it without filling the page with bile. A few students who struggle with this in real life were some of the best commenters. Imagine that! A social media project led to someone being kinder!

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I ended this unit with a voluntary survey. By Friday night I received 13 responses, a little over half the class. I added an “other” option to each question which made the results more diverse.

Google Forms- Blog Survey Results- Personal Communication

I was surprised not to get at least one “I didn’t care” response. A majority didn’t think the assignment was hard, followed by technology issues and forgetting to finish it. As the teacher technology issues were my biggest struggle. Our tech is limited and a few students genuinely had blogs get lost somewhere in the digital ether.

Google Forms- Blog Survey Results- Personal Communication

I had expected the largest response would be how short the assignment was. One paragraph was the minimum. The fact that the majority enjoyed that it was something different is making me reconsider my assignments in the future. Two respondents enjoyed getting to know more about their peers. This was not an option I had posted and I found it oddly wholesome.

Google Forms- Blog Survey Results- Personal Communication

This was the survey question I was most curious about. I was grateful to see a majority of students preferred to post positive messages, but disappointment that 3 students said they had to stop themselves from writing something mean. While you might think this was a sarcastic comment, the previous survey questions did not indicate they were taking this as a joke. That is not to say I was surprised. We have had discussions in class around why we treat people unkindly and admitted that sometimes people think it is fun.

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Finally I asked two short answer questions; starting with “What could I do better next time?” This question exposed me to a trap that I see my students fall into; miscommunication. My intention was to find out what I, as in the teacher, could do better for them, the students. They read the question as a personal one. Most responded with write more or be kind in the comments (breakthrough!). Two students understood my intention and asked me to open the blogs in front of them to avoid losing marks for missed assignments (which I had done a few times) and make the assignment longer so students could express themselves more (second breakthrough!).

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I ended with “How was this experience different from regular social media?” A few didn’t notice much difference, however half responded with it was “safer” and “positive.” One student responded that they usually get bullied on social media and this project made them feel respected and listened to. I think these responses have ensured I will do this project again.

In the end I am very happy with the results of this project. It forced me to rethink how I assign literacy, acted as a media literacy lesson, and created at least one safe place for them to share and exist as digital citizens. My one regret is not adding the following question, “Did this project change how you use social media?” I want to think they would write about how they post kind things online, they stand up for each other and push aside the trolls. Maybe they would, I think I will live in that safe place for now.

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Online Activism: Awareness, Apathy, and Animosity

I do feel that online social media activism can be productive.  It can build awareness in a way that conventional media fails to by removing the authority figure from the distribution.  We do not need mainstream media or governments to forward the information. The public can actually go around those authorities to comment on movements they may shy away from or wish remained hidden.

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This does of course mean that those who wish to attack others can do so in a similar manner. My version of what needs to change may be in direct conflict with someone else.  Just think of the conflicting activism between those who promoted Covid precautions and those who railed against it.  What you view as activism might seem authoritarian to others.

This is where a productive conversation turns to a mess of personal attacks.  The internet provides a bubble of protection, like swearing at someone in your car who cut you off.  How often do you read a thread and actually see a divisive topic calmly discussed? Both sides see the anger but both are blind that the debate is over.  I think there is the possibility for civil discord, but it seems rare. At least in person there is a chance at expressing yourself calmly and less chance for misunderstanding.  Tone is difficult to get across in a comment.

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While the internet is full of vitriol it can provide a safe place for those to gather who would not be able to do so in reality.  This works in spaces that have strong and supportive communities, those that can rally around those that are attacked and maintain strong but fair guidelines. As I recall discussing in EC&I 830, social media allows those who have to remain hidden, a place to exist and thrive. Fear and bigotry may have halted someone from expressing themselves in their personal space. Safe online places provide much needed support and community.

The use of social media to uplift voices and stories, create awareness, and build and strengthen relationships creates a space for organizations, activists, and citizens to demand justice

A Guide To Activism in the Digital Age- Maryland University

These safe places provide the launching point for online and real world events. With social media people can get organized quickly. A rally that once relied on group meetings, a poster campaign, phone lists, etc., can now begin with one post. Word of mouth is a retweet that reaches thousands instead of whoever is in earshot. This global reach is one of the greatest powers that online social media has.

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The responsibility of educators in this field is something I struggle with. I am comfortable discussing how social media can be used in activism and how it has been used. I am still caught up in what we were told in the past, remain neutral. I will do my best to provide both sides of the argument, but I’m not oblivious that my own bias bleeds through. In the past I have chosen “safe” subjects to use social media to promote with my students. There are very few people who get angry at supporting those struck by a natural disaster.

Being a good digital citizen is about so much more than being safe and responsible online.

Dr. Katia Hildebrandt- July 6th, 2015

I do not think I am a good digital citizen yet. I stay silent too often. I see friends post hateful things and stay quiet. I avoid the confrontation because I know the hours of sleep I will lose over their replies. My own mental health can’t handle it. This is the reason I left twitter, reddit, and “snooze” so many people on Facebook. I have started to speak to these people directly, it’s easier to express myself and I have found they are far less defensive when there is not a digital audience to our conversation.

While I have participated in online activism it has been those safe subjects I discussed in class. I did the ice bucket challenge, and despite the backlash, it was not a bandwagon, virtue signalling act for me. My father died from a similar disease and it felt good to do something. I joined my friends Run for the Cure. In fact if you would like you can donate right here.

CIBC Run For the Cure Banner

Like anything online, social media can be beautiful or terrible. It’s a perfect place for activism to exist. The entire point of activism is to shine a light on that part of humanity. My goal is to turn on the light more often. The dark is much more comfortable; perhaps because in the light we are awake.

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Student Blogs Week 1 and 2

I was initially concerned with how my class would participate due to the slow submissions. Thankfully by the day after it was due I had most submitted. Having samples online made it easy to discuss what was successful and what they could implement into their own future blogs.

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The first writing prompt was “What are the differences between public schools and faith based schools? ” I reminded students to be respectful, but encouraged honesty. In class we discussed the difference between observations and attacks on other schools. Like any assignment it was a mix of effort, however I had more submissions that showed some genuine effort than usual.

Student’s that were the most successful wrote in an informal style that had some engaging and interesting reflections. Others made lists of differences, which answered the prompt but lacked insight. What has impressed me the most is the amount of self awareness that has been brought up by giving students so much freedom. The following quote is from a student who discussed the typical answers; at public school you have to worry about harram food and activities, at an Islamic school you can be with more like minded people, etc. After this they brought something up that many of my students do not consider until they leave our school.

However, public school students get to experience how they are discriminated in society religious-wise often, meaning that in the future it won’t mind them that much because they grew up with that type of stereotype, but students in Islamic schools don’t get to experience Islamophobia which most likely causes them to adjust with society in a difficult way. For example, if you get stereotypes in a public school often about your religion, you will eventually know how to overcome that problem, but in Islamic schools, all the students are (M)uslims so there is a less chance that you will experience Islamophobia, so when you go out in public it will be unusual and it takes a hard time to adjust.

Student Blog referenced with permission of student and parents.

I was very impressed with how insightful this blog was, showing me how deeply they have thought through the topic. This is the type of response I had hoped for and I was grateful to see it appear in week one. The remaining blogs were largely successful, answering the prompt clearly. A few went for the simple list response, but at the very least everyone wrote a paragraph.

The comments were all short, but nearly everyone showed me that they had actually read the blog. All followed my requirements and provided constructive feedback or made their own connections to what was said. It does seem like my requirement for everyone to comment on different people has been effective. Some have enjoyed the ability to comment on each others work so much they have commented on most blogs. The engagement I have seen with some students that typically struggle has been encouraging.

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Week Two has been a much slower start. I received far fewer entries on time, which lead to a number of students messaging me that they could not see everyone’s entry. While this is discouraging, it does show me that a number of students are still very engaged in this process.

Next Steps:

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  • I need to have students who are struggling to finish their blog, write it in class so they are done and more likely to type it at home/at school.
  • I need to go over how visual elements can help break up text and make it more appealing.
  • While I have provided time in class with technology, I need to ensure I have enough ipads to allow students to work on their blog during downtime/study hall.
  • I need to have another mini-lesson on writing informally.
  • I think it would be helpful to also go through examples of effective comments.
  • I also need to remind them that part of the goal behind this is to create a positive online environment. While it has gone well so far, I do not want it to slip into the typical online interactions some of them have.

So far this has been successful, although the slow start on week 2 is discouraging. There is an interesting “fame” element I had not considered. Students are enjoying that recognition that the comments are giving them and the fact that I am discussing this project in my masters class has really motivated some. When I asked one student permission to reference their blog another student said “You’re going to be famous!”

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Project Post #1: And so it begins…

Basic Outline:

I have decided to have my students write weekly blogs. I am keeping it brief with a suggested length of one paragraph per writing prompt. I will also have students comment on three blogs per week, making sure each following week they comment on three different peers. When our unit concludes I will have students write a reflection on their experiences working in our “sheltered” social media environment.


It seems like half the arguments I deal with these days have occurred online. Students tease or troll each other in discord and often see comments as a way to rile people up. Many of their favourite influencers and creators are those who spend their time attacking others and causing drama. I am hoping a few weeks participating in a common activity, with constructive and supportive feedback will normalize the simple act of being kind online.

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To keep our blog isolated and easy to oversee I have created a google classroom specifically for this unit. Each week will be a topic and each student will be an “assignment.” This assignment will be where I post their individual blog. This will allow students to open and view the post and use the comment option to participate. I reminded students that social media is a dialogue, so they will be participating in an online conversation.

Example of my blog setup.
Example of my blog setup.

While this is not a typical setup, google docs and google slides can be made to look like a blog. I made a few simple examples for my students and posted them in the classroom. We will also do one as a group so students can see the step by step process. I may make a video as well.

Example of using google slides to make a blog.
Example of a blog entry using Google Slides

To be transparent I told my class I would be discussing this assignment in my masters course. I made sure they were aware that I would not use any of their names. I did mention that if I found one of their entries interesting I might post a picture, however I would ask permission from them and their parents. I also let them know I would cover up any information that would identify them (names, pictures, etc.). Finally I informed parents of this new unit on Edsby and sent a letter home with my students.

This is also their blog so I wanted their input on what it would be about. I gave them a few proposals; Life as a first/second immigrant in Canada, Life as a grade 6 student in Canada, and What it is like to go to an Islamic school in Canada. I opened it up for other suggestions, but they were most interested in the last suggestion.

Going Forward:

Each week I will provide an open ended question for students to write about. They will create their response and share a copy with me. I will then upload this file to their individual assignments. Throughout the week, at home or at school, they will read and comment on three blogs.

Our first writing prompt.

By submitting their paragraphs to me I will be able to review posts before they go live. While they will be able to comment independently, our rule going forward is they ensure their name is included in each comment. I have also encouraged parents to get their children to login and show what everyone is writing. In our school especially this will encourage students to keep comments appropriate.

Wrap it up already:

I realize this entry was very dry, future entries should be more interesting as I observe how my students participate. They did seem excited, especially because I would be graded on my own reflections. While I am interested to see how they decide to write and present their blogs, I think I am most interested in seeing their final reflections. Will they gain any good habits, will this help them develop digital citizen skills, will they see this as a complete waste of time? Probably all three. Either way it will be an interesting road to travel. Hopefully I do not get run over by my ambition.

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Welcome to my journey in introducing social media to my students; or more accurately helping my students use social media safely and effectively. As my students rush towards their teenage years, it becomes more important that they develop these abilities before the tumble into the mistakes that so many of us have fallen victim to.

As the epitome of the cliche’d “life long learner.” I will be joining my students on this adventure as I explore social media as an educator, not just a digital citizen.

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