Tag Archives: Digital Equity

Keeping the Gaps From Getting Bigger: Randomly Connected Thoughts

I don’t know about others, but I have been having trouble mustering much energy or enthusiasm to do anything that required concentration. I’ve kept up my daily journaling (hard to break a habit of a lifetime) but putting together something for outside consumption seemed too hard. But, I do have a few public things I would like say:

Stop shaming teachers and schools for anything, especially if you were not actively involved in public schools on a daily basis prior to the virus. I have seen several pundits shaking their heads over printed instructional packets. One actually used the word “shame” to describe teachers who used them. They may not be the ideal pedagogy, but they are the lowest common denominator in a world that largely gave digital equity lip service until last week. Now, suddenly, educators are supposed to be transforming their education online despite a lack of devices, access and preparation. Schools are busy figuring out how to feed kids. Give them a break.

Read that again: schools are busy figuring out how to feeds kids. Our schools play a much larger role in the community than just teaching and learning, and we consistently underfund them, especially for the most vulnerable children and families. Ditto for public libraries.

Now is when we will discover the true gaps in our broadband access maps and surveys. If you are a teacher connecting with your students online, be sure to do an equity check now and then. Who isn’t showing up either synchronously or asynchronously? Is it because of access? What can you do to open access by using low bandwidth tools that are phone-friendly?

Just as they are feeding kids, schools are working on closing the equity gap. Schools  without 1:1 are doing what they can to get devices to kids. They are sending home mifis and keeping wifi up and running in schools parking lots. I’ve seen lots of tech coaches offering support for both their own faculty and generally for others. The Virginia Society for Technology in Education is offering just-in-time coaching in partnership with UnisonEDU.

There is so much more to consider here. Forget digital equity. I suspect many children in my low income community are being left home alone or in the care of older siblings as parents cannot afford to stop working. The library and community center where they accessed analog, digital and adult support are closed.

I have been meeting with VSTE leaders over the past week, and I am so proud of how they are leading their schools and communities. They were given little or no time or resources to prepare, but they, along with so many other educators stepped up, as they always do, because they understand that they are the first line of defense for so many of our children.

Be safe out there, my friends.

Connecting with Local Community: One Tiny Step

I am a white cisgender woman of privilege.

I am reminded of this every day when I leave my house to run errands in my town.

I live on the edge of one of the poorest communities in Virginia, surrounded by people of color who have no privilege at all. Their lives, their economies, were and still mostly are controlled by white people.

The county in which my town is located includes a segregation academy that, while it now claims to be racially diverse and posts pictures of mixed race groups of happy children on its website, did not finally admit African American students until 1984. Hmmm…the same year that Ralph Northam admits to putting on black face. This is not history. This is now.

I am beginning to find my niche in this community through work with the local 4H coordinator. It is nothing…a small drop…but for a few hours this past month, I was able to connect with some local kids over circuits and coding. I was able to provide some STEM-related fun and learning but the real opportunity was the it gave me a chance to listen to and share with them.

Confronting the Digital Divide One Kid A Time

I like on the edge of a small, impoverished, underserved town* in a county southeast of Richmond. During a Halloween “trunk and treat” event at the local library, I met the local 4H coordinator for the county who came over to check out my Makey Makey screaming pumpkins and talking hat. I followed up because I have been looking for a way to connect with the kids in my town. It turns out that 4H has a coding curriculum that we could use as the basis for a SPIN (Special Interest) club, a short term group around a specific topic. I agreed to facilitate six sessions around STEM to be held at the town’s community center, which is housed in the former elementary school in the heart of some of the worst poverty.

While the 4H curriculum is good and provides “unplugged” activities that don’t require Internet and computer access, we are fortunate to have decent Internet access, my collection of Makey Makey, and a few laptops including a couple that I bring with me. I ended up creating my own curriculum to take advantage of that access.

During the first week, we experimented with circuits using copper tape and playdoh with batteries and leds. On Tuesday of this week, we spent our hour connecting the Makey Makey to Scratch and making simple switches. One of the five participants had experience with the Makey Makey. The others caught on quickly.

Today was the big day, at least in my mind, as I knew I only had an hour to get them hooked on Scratch. So, we dove in and made a simple game using Barb Ericson’s tutorial.  I had three incredibly motivated students who had zero experience with coding and Scratch. but were eager to make their game.

They played my sample game when they arrived so they had an idea of what they would be creating. We worked through each step, and they were also able to customize their games by choosing their own sprites and backdrops. We still have some work to do but you can see their games here: https://scratch.mit.edu/studios/5887105/projects/

One of the boys, the same one who had worked with the Makey Makey, was able to move forward more independently by following the slides in the printed packet so I could work closely with the other two who needed more direct support. By the end of an hour, all three had working games that kept score. Whew!

I’m worried that they didn’t really have to time to process what we were doing, and I want to take time next Tuesday to review the various pieces that we put together. We will make the games harder and add some sounds, I think.

I would *love* to integrate the Makey Makey by having them create game controllers with switches during the last meeting. I think the town mayor may be stopping by. She helped me connect with the community center director so I invited her to stop by to see what is happening.

This is a small, small step. Three boys who are living in the digital divide and deserve the same access and opportunities of other kids. If there is interest, I am committed to continuing our meetings to explore Scratch and other kinds of programming. At the least, I want to hold a Valentine’s Day Card workshop using this great template from makerspaces.com.**

*Use whatever adjective you like: our grocery store closed several years ago so our food sources include fast food, one or two restaurants, and a couple dollar type stores. No local access to fresh food including vegetables and meat. The closest full-service store is 8 miles away. It’s a long way for people who also don’t have access to their own or public transportation.

**The wonderful woman who serves as the on site director for the center came to me today asking about how she might add lights to flowers to Valentine’s Day.  I told her I would bring my kit of lights and batteries next week and we could figure out how to make it work!