The Teacher DJ

In preparation for my former IBDP class’s exam session, I approached a grade 11 student with lyrics.  I rewrote the song ‘Frozen’ as a manifesto for students approaching their final exams.  The student agreed to record these rethought lines, and my colleagues were happy to feature in the video above.

We played the video at our farewell-to-the-seniors assembly.  The applause was mighty.  Did I break copyright law?  Hmm.  Parody fits in the exception to copyright law.  Does this cover the screenshots from the film I used with the green screen effect?  I’m not sure.  I’ve searched and searched this one, and I cannot seem to find a definitive answer.

I took a risk, and I remixed the incredibly popular song as an act of love for my departing students.  I live in a culture where remix is king, and the parody is beloved.

Would George Michael appreciate my parody of his hit song ‘Faith’?  If he knew it was to support my school’s literacy week he might.

I believe there is a time and a place for parody.

There is also a time for celebrating the culture Creative Commons is establishing.  That time is…and now.

All the signage in my classroom is made possible via images I have personal created, visual notes constructed by my students, or the wonderfully CC-friendly Haiku Deck application.

Sample Visual Notes Photo by Tricia Friedman
Sample Visual Notes
Photo by Tricia Friedman

Through Twitter, I am constantly gaining access to amazing ideas from other teachers.  One of my favorite online colleagues is Michelle Lampinen

Michelle was kind enough to share an amazing guide to annotating extracts for one of our DP course assessment tasks.

I remixed her idea as a student-constructed project called ‘Astounding Annotations’

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You can see one example of this remixed project here.

I would love to see another teacher grab this concept and do something different with it.  Inspiration should beget inspiration.  That’s why teachers thrive on Twitter.

I made a purposeful decision to tell my class where the idea for the project came from.  I want them to know that I look for ideas, and I try to adapt them to our context.  I’m their learning DJ.

439139934_c1831bf463 Photo Credit: D.L. via Compfight cc

Giving credit where credit is due isn’t just an online attitude–it is something we want our students doing in every context.  As learners, we have so many people to thank.  Our ideas and our learning are the direct result of those we cross paths with: on and offline.  When we are able to better communicate knowledge, we need to frame that communique inside of a series of ‘thank you’s.’

Understanding the ins and outs of Creative Commons allows us to remind our students of their responsibility to construct the culture in which they exist. Technology invites artistry.

The most recent episode of Slate’s Culture Gabfest (available here)

explores the court’s ruling on Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” copyright infringement.  Pitchfork offers this interesting read on the case as well.

It seems to me that the real problem with “Blurred Lines” was not its plagiarism, but the lack of a legal structure for acknowledging that musical debt and repaying it in some measured way. No one disputes that “Blurred Lines” owes something to Marvin Gaye. Maybe not as much as the $7.4 million the jury awarded, but how were they to choose a proper amount? There is no standard. And it’s this lack of a standard—not the fact of plagiarism in music—that needs fixing.

Copyright laws are their very own collection of blurred lines.  This case opens a door to an authentic conversation around artistry, remix culture and law.  Teachers need to take these opportunities.

Never before has it been easier to share content online. Never ever.

As we find ways to invite creativity into our classrooms, it makes sense to promote the Creative Commons culture.


A culture of remix reminds us that creativity is the result of play..not of some imaginary gift.  That reminder takes loads of pressure off.  We don’t need luck.  We need to engage with our culture, we need to listen to the wisdom that exists.  We need to tinker with the art left behind.  Brian Lamb is entirely correct in asking us to make friends with this continued recycling by falling in love with the remix.


Hide or Seek?

The truth is that most of us simply can’t protect ourselves from every threat 100 percent of the time, and trying to do so is a recipe for existential dread. But once we understand our threat model—what we want to keep private and whom we want to protect it from—we can start to make decisions about how we live our lives online. You’ll find yourself empowered, not depressed. Via Slate’s ‘Future Tense’

9472044045_90709cb15b_m Photo Credit: clasesdeperiodismo via Compfight cc

One of my favorite podcasts is an incredible program called Reply All

One of their recent episodes ‘An App Sends A Stranger To Say I love you!’

provides a lot of insight in how technology is erasing boundaries.  Aside from privacy issues, technology has also brought to light what I’ll refer to as our ‘Omnipresence Complex.’  Suddenly, we can be anywhere and everywhere at once.  Comments made in one space can be tweeted into another.  On any given day, those of us online are able to be a part of dozens of conversations simultaneously. How do we keep a handle on that power?

If you really want the right to be unheard, you have to be silent.  The truth of the matter is people eavesdrop all the time.  If you aren’t careful in a cafe, what you say will be heard.  Of course the same applies to our social spaces.  This is yet another way that I think that line between on and offline continues to prove itself erroneous.  What you do matters.  Period.  There is no safe space to pretend to be someone else.  Actions, be them virtual or actual will have consequences.

This is part of the reason I think the phrase ‘digital citizenship’ is erroneous.  Citizenship is citizenship.  Being kind means being kind everywhere.

A former professional snowboarder, Sell believes online privacy should be marketed less like an adult obligation and more like an action sport. “If we would have gone to kids and said, ‘Hey, snowboarding makes your legs strong and your heart healthy,’ it wouldn’t have worked,” she says. “Instead it has to be, ‘It’s rebellious, it’s what the cool kids do, it’s what parents don’t know how to do.’ ” Via Slate’s Lily Hay Newman

Where and when do we need to teach students about online privacy?  Every teacher is a teacher of thought.  Do we need to encourage healthy thinking?  Of course.  Do we need to encourage the kinds of reflection that promote a confident level of engagement with society?  That is why schools are social spheres.

Photo by Tricia Friedman
Photo by Tricia Friedman

 …when companies like Facebook create applications that we use in our everyday lives, for free, the real price is in what we sacrifice for the right to use the application for free, our data. via Forbes “There is No Privacy on the Internet of Things”

In the same way that there is ‘no such thing as a free lunch,’ there is no such thing as a no-strings attached free app.  If we want to take advantage of the connections the online world affords us, we need to acknowledge that someone, somewhere might be watching.

Can we safely engage in a connected world?  Absolutely.  We do this by thinking, not by scaring our students and staff.

As media theorist Douglas Rushkoff observed, we – or, more precisely, our personal information – are “products” to many online companies such as Facebook, Google and AddThis.

The greatest fortunes of the 21st century have been founded on collecting and exploiting the personal information of billions of people, with a level of detail that companies such as AddThis can only dream of accessing.

And they’ve found that providing an easy way for us to share web pages of amazing cat videos and pictures is compelling enough that most of us will freely give them that information. via The Washington Post “There’s no such thing as privacy on the Internet Anymore”

Think about what you are giving away is one step.  Think about what applications take from you.  But please, don’t stop thinking about what you can offer to learners.  A conversation about privacy does not have to dictate your ability to be a prosumer.

Either way, the experiment suggests that internet users don’t seem to value their privacy very highly. Which is misleading, because in fact they do value it very highly indeed. The trouble is that they don’t realise this until it’s been violated. Via The Guardian’s “Nobody cares about their online privacy…until it’s gone”

Perhaps we could start thinking about the way we manage our safety online the way we have thought about it as car drivers.  The modern car has changed drastically in the past few decades.  Have people stopped driving? No.  Do they learn about new features, ask questions, and purchase cars carefully?  Yes.  Know your tools.  If a car dealer offered you a free car, you would want to know what they were getting in the deal.  Read the privacy terms for the applications you use free of charge.  Continue to enjoy the ride, watch the road, and navigate this wonderful world responsibly. After all, isn’t your identity worth a lambo?

6453415915_fbed85d7fe_m Photo Credit: paul_colton via Compfight cc



Around 9am this morning I tweeted an image of work that my grade 11 IBDP Language and Literature students constructed.  Students worked on a project I called ‘Astounding Annotations,’ where they take an extract from Margaret Atwood‘s The Handmaid’s Tale

and they break the language down, look into motifs, themes, etc.  By noon, Margaret Atwood herself retweeted the image.

If that isn’t an authentic ‘digital footprint’ learning moment, I don’t know what is.

Good work attracts attention.  Great work warrants attention.

I have often heard teachers tell their students to post as if their grandmother were reading, so don’t say anything too offensive.  This is misguided.  We should be telling our students to post as if their ultimate mentor were reading.  Because they might be.

The online world is a great big little place.


Photo Credit: Helga Weber via Compfight cc

Engagement online and offline blends together.  This isn’t news.

What if we started to see our students as trailblazers?  What if we assumed that when given the chance, they would put their best selves forward?

The English teacher in me worries about what this author refers to as ‘The Danger of A Single Story’

Too often we tell a single story about the online teenager: dangerous, careless, insulting, uninformed.  That myth needs to stop.

I have worked with students who have been inspired trailblazers.  Take Elena Lie

a phenomenal student who worked together with Jane Ross

on an amazing iBook: Green and Guiltless

Her’s is the story we want to be putting a spot light on.

Expecting More Matters


Our expectations set the tone. If we expect cyber-bullying, if we anticipate prank hacks, if all we talk about are the pitfalls of our screen-clad world that is exactly what we will get.

Instead, if we think beyond doom and gloom, if we anticipate excellence, we might awaken a little inspiration.

I saw this first hand while working with Sheldon Bradshaw and Jane Ross. Sheldon and Jane both saw beyond the what if’s and yeah but’s.

I was lucky to have worked in a 1:1 blogging environment.  We pushed students to thinking bigger in terms of online authoring and started an online eBookstore.


We have to stop thinking in terms of ’empowering’ authorship and start thinking in terms of building the platforms to showcase success.  Students already are artists.  Students already have things to say.  It is our job to help them find their voice, and you cannot find your voice without also looking for ears.

Blog Action Day is another way to galvanize student authors.


Blog action Day is a wonderful tie-in to GIN (Global Issues Network) which depends on student leadership and student collaborative service learning efforts:


What happens when we encourage students to work with one another for change? They help us communicate higher expectations.  Take a look at this IBDP learner’s CAS project, Riveria English:


Look at the ways her blog has reflected her leadership experiences by clicking here.

This amazing young woman is an example–thankfully she is sharing via Twitter, WordPress, and Youtube.  Examples have exponential power through social media.

Examples like these are what educators need to expect.  Stop short-changing students and suggesting that they won’t use social media for learning. Teachers need to model their use of PLN’s.  How aware are students of our own ambitions to learn more together? If we aren’t embracing the opportunities tech facilitates in promoting life long learning, we need to expect more from ourselves.

Key Questions to ask of your school:

1) How does your school work to network students?

2) Where in your school’s online world can we see a space to develop as thinkers and inquirers?

3) How can students find opportunities to connect with positive connected projects?

4) How are teachers mentoring connected learning?

5) When are you making time for students to change expectations?


Transitioning to better connections


So much is available to primary school educators to assist them in providing effective ‘brain breaks.’


Sadly, by the time our students reach secondary school, we rarely encourage them to take the time to transition.  Students race from lesson to lesson, with little chance to switch gears.  It isn’t uncommon to see fatigue in the faces of our secondary school students, but if we don’t teach them to reboot, we are doing them a disservice.

As an MYP and DP facilitator, I am often looking for better ways to embed the IB Learner Profile within the context of my class.  You can access my profile slides here.

It isn’t enough to provide the signage.  We must authentically embed our values in what we do, and how we do it.

Over the past few weeks, I have been attempting to provide a safe space to take creative risks.  At the same time, I’m trying to help my busy students take a brain break.  I’ve been doing this through a month-long doodle challenge.

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Students arrive to the lesson with the doodle challenge already posted.  They have eight minutes to work on their doodle.  When the time is up, I encourage them to share their doodle to Twitter. This allows for students across classes to see the doodles of their peers.  If we don’t allow our students the time to take and share creative risks, how can we blame them for ‘playing it safe?’

There is an amazing resource available here from TED, which reminds us of our duty to keep making creative space: “The thing I most wanted to do was to help as many people as possible regain the creative confidence they lost along their way.”  Creative confidence is developed, not simply recovered.  We have to play a part in providing the tools to develop it.

My UbD unit plan on unpacking this concept is provided below.  I would encourage secondary school teachers to come up with their own subject specific doodle challenges.  I’ve spent a good deal of time helping students and teachers work on visual note taking.  A transition time brain break activity is a wonderful way to reinforce visual note taking.


Creative time benefits the curriculum that we plan.  It also always our students to work as caring, risk-taking, balanced learners.  When this doodle challenge is complete, I will be prompting students to blog about the experience, as well as their thoughts on the creative risks that their peers took.  If I want my students to see themselves as prosumers, I have to check in and ask them to blog-out their findings. Why do I need them to construct this round-up blog?  How will I know how to construct better brain breaks without their feedback?  If I want to foster a connected learning atmosphere, I need to first and foremost be connected to my own learners. You can access the rubric we will use to peer moderate and self-assess these final posts by clicking here.