Some may be surprised to learn that I have a fondness for and mixed appreciation of Waldorf education, and that I am a Waldorf parent.

I appreciate much about the Waldorf approach, including its attention to developmentally appropriate learning, its emphasis on storytelling and mythology, its peaceful, calming, and focusing rituals, its embrace truly and deeply of whole child education, its naturalism, its “handwork” instruction and emphasis on craftsmanship and “making stuff,” and, in part, though I am conflicted about this, its affirmation of and mixed contributions to the cultivation of the imagination and creativity.   The students write and create their own books throughout the grades, which I think is terrific, for example.

Its philosophy about the exclusion of technology in the lower grades I can accept, up to a point; I think there are perfectly good and logical reasons to reduce or minimize technology in the early years of learning, though I draw the line in a different place than does Waldorf (a difference of degree) and I don’t draw it quite so absolutely in my own educational vision.

The concentration upon handwriting which seems to me to take up an awful lot of classroom time is a bit misplaced in the 21st century, but this is hardly a central issue when considering broadly Waldorf educational practice.   I’m given much greater pause by what is to my observation an inordinate amount of K-12 class-time used having all students doing exactly the same thing in unison.  It rubs me the wrong way, watching entire classes using an hour to draw exactly the same picture  or write exactly the same words or recite exactly the same math facts following the teacher’s modelling and always commanding direction.   I value diversity of educational philosophy across the breadth of our planet’s many schools, and I certainly respect Waldorf education’s right to use this approach, but this particular widespread practice is not to my preference.

So it is with particular interest that I read today’s New York Times front page article on the Waldorf school in Silicon Valley: A Silicon Valley School that Doesn’t Compute. 

Let me make my position clear: this is not journalism that belongs on the front page of the Sunday New York Times.    I think it is a very disappointing bit of snarky journalism that informs readers, a little bit, about Waldorf practices, condescendingly, but has as its primary purpose a not-so covert agenda to advance the paper’s ongoing attack on the use of computers in learning in its problematic series, Grading the Digital School.   The Waldorf school in this piece then, and Waldorf education in general, is only a pawn for the reporter Matt Richtel’s antagonistic crusade, and I want to caution Waldorf supporters from happily accepting their work being exploited this way.

What do we learn in this article that is being showcased on the single largest journalistic stage in any seven day cycle, the front page of the Sunday New York Times?   That some digital company executives  send their children to an expensive private school in their region, which they are among the few in the region to be able to afford, which doesn’t use technology for teaching young children.   (what percentage of the digital company executives? The article doesn’t say, but surely it is very small)

This is an anecdotal and almost entirely meaningless report: after all, every industry has among its many employees a wide diversity of educational philosophy.

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In the previous three posts, I shared the three digital citizenship workshops we presented our students in grades seven through twelve last week.  We decided it made more sense to separate our the sixth graders, many of whom are still ten, and presented them their own modified version, designed by Middle School Head Heather Faircloth, Librarian and Director of Information Literacy Laura Lee Calverley, and School Counselor Kim Peace-Steimer.

DAY 1: What is Digital Citizenship?

1)  On Board – What do we use technology for? How does it help? How does this hurt? (5 minutes)

2)  What is “Digital Citizenship?” (8 minutes): Digital citizenship can be defined as the norms of behavior with regard to technology use.

* Brainstorm words that could be associated with Digital Citizenship

*  Have students help come up with a definition. Break into groups and work on for 3 minutes.

3)   REP = Reputation (more…)

In the previous post, I shared our three day program we are presenting this week to our students in Digital Citizenship.   This post shares our Managing Digital Distraction session, which I developed with the close collaboration of our Tech Director, Andrei Henriksen, and the advice of a group of students we convened.

Our goals for this session have included:

  • providing our students more information about the problems and issues of digital distraction and problematic “multi-tasking;”
  • developing in our students more self-awareness and metacognition about their own issues of digital distraction;
  • asking them to get closer to the emotional experience of disrespect digital distraction causes;
  • and providing tools and techniques for better management of digital distraction.

Our session, which is fully laid out in the slides, opened with my explanation about the challenges all of us, adults and kids, are facing in this day and age of digital tools and distractions.   I also acknowledged the issues  around multi-tasking are complex and hotly debated in many circles, but that we believe students should work hard to be more informed about the costs of multi-tasking and tools/techniques to alleviate those costs and be effective learners.

We began with a five minute session intended to help students experience the feeling of the effect of digital distraction.  Working with a partner, we asked them to take turns trying to talk to someone and get their support about an upsetting situation (“I’m so mad at my parents; they don’t understand me”) while their partner focuses attention exclusively on a digital device, texting, for instance.   (more…)

Vodpod videos no longer available.

This session is one of three (see previous post) sessions delivered this week to all our students as part of our Digital Citizenship bootcamp.

This session was developed and presented by Dean of Students Fred Roberts and English Teacher (and St. Gregory graduate of the class of 2006) Corinne Bancroft;  Jeremy Sharpe, St. Gregory class of 2006, also contributed to its development.

Our session began by showing a Good Morning America video regarding death threats to Rebecca Black.  The reason for this is to show the extent to which social media can go viral, even out of control, and in such a negative way.  This also leads into a discussion of how each person who responded to the It’s Friday video create and leave a digital footprint.

What is the relationship between social media and one’s digital footprint?

On the Internet a digital footprint is used to describe the trail, traces or “footprints” that people leave online. This is information transmitted online, such as a forum registration, e-mails and attachments, uploading videos or digital images and any other form of transmission of information — all of which leaves traces of personal information about yourself available to others online.

Much of our digital footprint is left through the use of social media.  This is where many of us will spend a lot of our ‘digital time’ and may not be as aware of the ramifications of what we are engaged in.  In a more relaxed atmosphere, such as chatting via Facebook, users are more likely to say something they may regret later. The message with this is that regardless of turning in an English assignment of chatting on Facebook, users must be aware of what they are sharing.

Discussing students’ definition of social media. (more…)

This week we are staging at St. Gregory a three day Digital Citizenship bootcamp, (DCbc), for all our students.

[Interested?  Read this post and the following three posts which you can find clicking on the digital citizenship “tag” on the right.]

This project was launched at our end of the year faculty meetings last May, during which we reflected very thoroughly upon our first year of being a 1:1 laptop school.   As at so many other schools, our biggest concern was about the problem of digital distraction: students sometimes play games or check social media when they ought to be doing school work.

As the conversation proceeded, others said that they were just as concerned about the ways students were communicating on social media, and the problem of cyberbullying.   Someone pointed out that we hadn’t really taken a distinct and intentional effort to educate our students about our expectations and the issues involved in these three areas, and it was then that our digital citizenship bootcamp concept was born.

Some have confused this with a “digital skills” bootcamp– that we’d be teaching,  for instance, the use of Google apps.  Rather, this is about citizenship, not skills: it is  exclusively about how we all can be better digital citizens, using digital tools more responsibly and respectfully and in ways which strengthen our community.

Each day this week, our students are rotating through, as paired grades (7&8, 9&10, 11&12) each of our three sessions:

  1. Managing Digital Distractions,
  2. Cyberbullying and What You Can Do About it,
  3. and Social Media Responsibility and your Digital Footprint.  

Our sixth graders have had their own specially designed, developmentally appropriate sessions on these topics.

It is my intent to share, in a series of posts, each of these sessions.   Below (or after the “more” button)  is the program, including the powerpoint slides and the two videos, for our Cyberbullying presentation, (more…)