Category Archives: 5 Learning Environment

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility: Digital and Global Citizenship in the 21st Century

With great digital power comes great civic responsibility.

As our world and its digital interfaces overlap more and more, they become increasingly conflated. The gap between being a global citizen and a digital citizen is closing quickly; being an active and engaged citizen of one means being an upstanding citizen of the other. As a Social Studies teacher, this idea really resonates with me. I seek to teach students about their own civic responsibilities, about how their ethics determine those same responsibilities and shape how it is they choose to live in their community, society, and world. I would be remiss to forego educating them about how ethics should shape not only their communal but their digital behavior, and how the responsibilities of citizenship follow them in every step of their lives, no matter the forum.

In the 1990s, Doug Johnson, the Director of Media and Technology in Mankato, Minnesota public school district, foresaw the coming of the Digital Age in which students would need to undergo training in the rights and responsibilities of the digital citizenship. In his blog, Johnson details how teachers can educate students about ethical digital behavior by appealing to students’ sense of ethics. He writes, “the terms “ethical,” “safe,” “moral,” “appropriate” and “legal” are all used when discussing whether technology behaviors are right or wrong,” but cautions us to remember that just as in moral ethics, digital ethics are not always black and white — we as humans tend to think of most things on an “ethical continuum” (Johnson, 2002). For instance, Johnson offers, “A student using a school computer to view sports scores is not illegal, but it could be considered inappropriate if it violates school guidelines” (Johnson, 2002).

I find Johnson’s moral appeal very compelling, and know my students would connect far more deeply with the conversation surrounding digital citizenship if they could connect it to a philosophical exploration of their own moral judgement — what is right? What is wrong? What is in between? And why?

One of my classmates kindly referred me to The Global Citizen Foundation at, a nonprofit dedicated to educating and cultivating responsible digital citizens. The website offers digital professional development techniques that they urge be implemented school and district wide. The website also has several resources for teachers, and led me to historypin, a website designed for putting together local digital history projects — certainly a resource my students would enjoy! The Global Citizenship Foundation suggests that in order to be a knowledgeable digital citizen, we must be well-versed in solution, information, creativity, media, and collaboration fluency (The Global Citizen Foundation, 2016). Again, I couldn’t help but think about how transferable these fluencies are to global citizenship. I wonder if we can yet drop the “digital” when talking about digital citizenship, and consider just how universal our code of ethics can and should be.


Johnson, Doug (2002). Developing ethical behaviors in students. Retrieved from

The Global Citizenship Foundation (2016). Global digital citizenship guide. Retrieved from


The Drill Sergeants and Quiz Day Fridays: Classroom Management and the Learning Environment

The Learning Environment program standard stipulates that a teacher must be able to “foster and manage a safe and inclusive learning environment that takes into account physical, emotional and intellectual wellbeing” (SPU Program Standard 5). My Classroom Management course has helped me determine that such a safe space is created through clear classroom expectations, presented to students on the very first day of class. Such expectations create a structure that allows for intellectual liberty and genuine exchange. Within this structure students assume responsibility for their own learning. In my AP U.S History course, for instance, my mentor teacher detailed all of the expectations and procedures of her classroom in a detailed syllabus that she asked students to read on the very first day of school.

In particular, the classroom syllabus addresses Quiz Day Fridays. On Fridays, students are expected to arrive to class having read the textbook chapter for the week. They are also expected to have handed in their “Key Terms”– which ask students to identify and explain the significance of events, people, and concepts that appear in the chapter – at 8am that morning to be stamped in as in “on time.” These key terms  are returned to the students at the start of class.

While the Friday schedule is well detailed in the syllabus, students learned that very first Friday exactly how things were done. As Wong and Wong explain, in a well managed classroom, “Students know what is expected of them and are generally successful” (85) and that first Friday our students learned the ins-and-outs of Quiz Day Fridays.

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So here’s what it looks like. Students walk into the class and are given five review questions right off the bat regarding concepts from the week’s chapter (one such review sheet is pictured above). With their table partner, students begin right away about answering the questions, and are expected to write a paragraph response to the question they find the hardest to answer. Component 5.3 explains that the systems “for performing noninstructional duties are well established with students assuming considerable responsibility for efficient operation,” and students do just this as they set about investigation on their own. Fay and Funk explain that students “have a strong need for control,” and giving students the freedom to answer these tough questions by themselves and choose which question they would like to answer in more detail gives them a sense of ownership and choice within all of the structure of our classroom (28). Students really do cherish that sense of control and choice.

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After half an hour we review the question(s) students grappled with most as a class. Students then get into their “quiz formation” (we sound a little bit like drill sergeants when we call out for students to get in “quiz formation,” hence the photograph of my mentor and her mighty gavel pictured above). Students are old experts by now at their “quiz formation.” They separate their tables, sit on either side of them, place a backpack in the middle between them, and then await patiently for their scantrons and quizzes. As Component 5.2 stipulates, the transitions on these quiz days (and every day) “are seamless with students assum[ing] responsibility in ensuring their efficient operation” (SPU Program Standard 5).

Quiz Day Fridays have allowed me insight into just how important it is to practice these types of routines and procedures. The students like knowing exactly what to expect. The structure of these Fridays actually allow students a great deal of liberty as they go about exploring these review questions on their own and take ownership of each and every transition. I believe my ability to explain and model these expectations for students has developed significantly and I know that I will create clear and established routines such as those used on Quiz Day Fridays in my future classroom.

The effect of this type of structured safe space on student learning is considerable. I watch every week in amazement as these students approach their individual learning in genuine and self-motivated ways. In moving forward, I’m curious to see how I can bring the efficiency and effectiveness of Quiz Day Fridays to other days of the week when I myself am in front of the classroom. I want students to start each day by writing the day’s date and the topic at hand in their Table of Contents for their notebook, and immediately turn to a piece of blank paper — titling it with the date and day’s topic again — ready to take notes and participate in the day’s activities.

I am lucky to have a mentor teacher that has already made expectations for the class so clear. I get to ride on her coattails for now, but the real challenge will come in establishing this type of efficiency and structure on day one in my very own classroom next year.


Works Cited:

Fay, Jim & Funk, David. (1995). Teaching with love and logic: Taking control of the classroom. Golden, CO: The Love and Logic Press, Inc.

Wong, Harry K. & Wong, Rosemary T. (2009). The first days of school: How to be an effective teacher. Mountain View, CA: Harry K. Wong Publications, Inc.

KWL and Student Voice

The Know, Want to Know, Learned (KWL) chart is an incredibly important instrument for the Constructivist educator. In the classroom in which I student teach we have used this method a few times, particularly with topics to which students have before been exposed. The KWL chart worked particularly effectively during a lesson on slavery in colonial America in my AP US History class. With an issue as important and charged as slavery, my mentor teacher and I wanted to make sure we weren’t just covering what students already knew about the oppressive institution. We wanted to get them to start questioning deeper into the institution itself — question slavery in ways they had never thought to before.

We began that particular lesson on slavery, then, with students writing down what it was they felt they knew. We then had students write down remaining questions they had about it — what they still wanted to learn, gaps in their own knowledge and understanding. We then asked students to share these questions with the class, and wrote several of them on the board. As students began sharing, more thought up new and thought-provoking questions like how did this all begin? Why African slaves in particular? What about guilt? Morality? Does morality itself change with time? How do we reconcile anachronistic notions of “right and wrong” when studying slavery? Are we willing to forego morality for profit always? Do we do this now? How directly in front of us need oppression be to see it as wrong?

These types of questions got the whole class reeling. They were stimulated by their classmates’ questions, and kept coming up with more of their own. They were so genuinely curious, astonished, confused, and angered by the whole institution in a way I am certain many had not been before. The energy in the classroom was intense — I hadn’t seen anything quite like it before.

When my mentor teacher began showing images to the students of the Middle Passage ships, shackles, whips, the students shifted uncomfortably in their seats. They didn’t keep quiet though. Once the questions had begun, there was no stopping them. The students now knew what they wanted to know, and they wanted their questions answered right then and there. They realized some of their bigger questions would never be satisfactorily answered that day, and that was an important lesson to learn.

At the end of the lesson we asked that students write a third column after “What I know” and “What I want to know,” titled “What I learned.” The students took up the last five minutes of class writing fiercely away. We plan to collect these notes during our next notebook check to see what questions they felt we answered, and what new questions the lesson spurred in them. What we were most interested in, of course, is getting these students to think in a different way — a more investigative, anthropological, intense, critical way — about slavery than they ever had. I think we achieved what we had set out to do. Those KWL charts will certainly tell us more.

The Lessons Learned (So Far) in Learners in Context

Over the past several weeks, our Learners in Context (EDU6132) class has worked together to discuss issues of child and adolescent development and their implications for the classroom. We began our discussion by addressing the age old debate of Nature versus Nurture. As a class, we found that Michael Pressley and Christine B. McCormick in their Child and Adolescent Development for Educators (2007) confirmed what the vast majority of us already believed — mainly that both biological and environmental factors influence intelligence. Pressley and McCormick suggest that people are born with a range of capabilities, but it is our environment (from the proximate family-unit to the cultural opportunities afforded to us by the nation in which we live) that determines what range in our intellectual potential we will actually reach.

The issue of privilege featured prominently in our class discussion of Nature versus Nurture, as we discussed the implications of “high achievement” in Seattle classrooms and in our own lives. We came to the sad conclusion that socio-economic advantage and the educational opportunities it affords is instrumental in intellectual growth. So too, however, is a loving and supportive familial or other type of close-knit unit, which allows its benefactors its own set of intellectual advantages. Our class agreed that we as educators share a key role in helping our students reach their intellectual potential by providing both instructional and emotional support to each and every one of our students. The more we believe in our students’ capabilities, the better they perform.

Pressley and McCormick argue that certain motor, physical, and intellectual capabilities come in generally age-specific progressions. They explain, for example, that motor development starts quite early and improves dramatically from ages two to six (Pressley and McCormick, 42). Physical development too begins rapidly and slows until adolescence when puberty — and its concomitant physical changes and growth spurts — takes center-stage.

Pressley and McCormick rely heavily on Piaget’s four-stage theory of development to explain changes in human intellectual capacity. Together they describe Piaget’s sensorimotor stage, preoperational stage, concrete operational stage, and formal operational stage, explaining children’s’ transition from the use of unconscious motor skills to abstract thinking and problem-solving (Pressley and McCormick, 64).

By the latest stages of intellectual development, students are capable of engaging together in moral reasoning and discussion. Thomas Lickona’s techniques for stimulating socially responsible thinking and behavior were discussed at length in our class forum with classmates highlighting the fostering of cooperative learning, the discussion of moral issues affecting society, and the modeling of moral behavior at the instructional level as particularly important to moral instruction (Pressley and McCormick, 83).

It seems to me that my classmates agree that within the classroom, the teacher can certainly benefit from diagnosing his or her students in terms of Piaget’s stages. This allows teachers, many in our class argued, to better develop lesson plans that engage students’ intellectual capabilities and still push them to explore in collaborative and investigative ways that which lies beyond their capacity. This latter method can be called “cognitive conflict,” which Piaget argued as essential to cognitive development (i.e. the awareness of a lack of knowledge, and what needs to be known to accomplish a task). It is important to mention here, however, John Medina’s findings in Brain Rules (2014), as he dives into exploration of the neuro-anatomical makeup of the human brain, in that each individual brain is wired incredibly distinctly. The wiring is so distinct, in fact, that cognitive and motor functions may originate from different sections of the brain depending on the person (Medina, 96-97). Medina’s findings suggest that nothing can be so easily categorized in the neurological world, which is partially why neo-Piagetian theories that attempt to re-adapt the stages and skills explained by Piaget have sprung up anew with expanding research.

A discussion of particular interest to me has been that of constructivist approaches to education. In his chapter on Exploration, Medina discusses how by focusing too much on state standards and standardized assessments, it is all too easy to lose touch with the joy of learning and intellectual exploration (Medina, 256-257). My fellow classmates agreed with Medina and, like him, have made clear through our class discussion that student-centered, investigative learning, in which teachers introduce engaging and active activities to the classroom, is by far the most effective type of instruction. Students are more likely to remember and understand information they worked actively to explore themselves (Medina,139-140). Pressley and McCormick discuss Deweyan, Piagetian, and Kolhbergian progressive approaches to education, concluding that “such natural interactions permit the child to construct understanding of the world…resulting in much more complete understanding than would cultural transmission of the same ideas” (Pressley and McCormick, 84).

We as instructors can literally help shape our students’ brains — along with their active participation, of course — and help them reach their fullest potential. Just as Medina says, “when you learn something, the [very] wiring in your brain changes” (Medina, 86). If that is true, it is best that we as educators understand a bit about how the brain changes and develops and how deliberate instruction can influence this process at every age, in every new classroom, and with each novel piece of information.

Characteristics of an Effective Educator

Describing the qualities of an effective educator is no easy task. You have to see such an educator in action to best understand the ineffable.

If you were in fact lucky enough to see this particularly fine educator, you’d see one who, while possessing great knowledge of his or her subject, viewed him or herlsef as among equals in the classroom. Effective teachers know they have just as much or more to learn from their students as they do to teach them.

The effective educator knows that he or she is an eternal learner and student as much as he or she is a teacher. Quality teachers aren’t always at the front of the classroom, then – sometimes you’ll find them seated among students, engaged in discussion, other times students are at the front of the classroom as these teachers sit at a desk attentively. The effective teacher may even change up the classroom composition all together so there is no more front, or back, to the classroom at all, just a group of eager learners thinking together.

The effective educator prizes not only knowledge of particular fields, but also – and in some ways, even more importantly – the learned gift of critical thought. While this teacher may present his or her students with information from a variety of texts and sources and facilitate discussion about them, he or she always asks students to dive into deeper inquiry. This teacher expects his or her students to investigate in order to form opinions, and once opinions are formed to forcefully express them and be willing to change them all at once

The effective educator forces students to think for themselves, even when such individual thought seems uncomfortable or daunting, for he or she is always there to help question and contextualize.

The effective educator knows that education spans far beyond the classroom walls. These teachers help arm their students with the skills needed for them to begin and engage fully in meaningful household conversations, community projects, and civic movements. The effective educator leads his or her students out of the classroom, bringing them to new places around the city – the country, the world – and asks students to discover their surroundings – and new places – through innovative projects of investigation.

The effective educator arrives before the school day begins and is present for his or her students long after the school day is through, for he or she knows the job, and learning, extend well beyond the school day. These teachers live and breathe their job, because teaching to them is as integral to their body and soul as breathe itself. This is not to say that the effective educator has no life of his or her own. No, quite the contrary! The teacher must constantly be doing, learning, and growing. Whether it is through a new, challenging social interaction or an eye-opening, educational trip, the effective educator is constantly learning and applying that fresh and gathered knowledge to all aspects of the school environment.

In sum, the most effective educators are committed and open to life-long learning as well as the lessons of their students and the world around them. Though all of that hardly does them justice!