Tag Archives: Empathy

Teaching Empathy: Cultivating Communities of Kindness in the Digital Age

The next sessions I’m attending is “Teaching Empathy: Culivating Communities of Kindness in the Digital Age” with Andrea Hernandez  of the Martin J. Gottleib Day School in Jacksonville, Florida, Vinnie Vrotny, the Director of Academic Technology at Quest Academy in Palatine, Illinois, Devorah Heitner an educational consult, and Mike Kirchberg, a parent at the Sacred Heart Schools of Chicago.

Courtesy of WIkimedia Commons

Courtesy of WIkimedia Commons

One of the key elements with the digital world is taking advantage of teaching opportunities – students will make mistakes and it’s important to use them as a chance to redirect and guide them appropriately. For example, commenting on other student blogs requires thought and productivity. Students write their own commenting policy for their blog, e.g. “do not use text talk,” “be kind not rude.” These types of lessons can help them when they go out and comment on other peoples’ blogs. Not only do students need direction on this, so do teachers. They promote concepts of digital footprints.

Another key element is that there is a lot of fear for access (what will kids find) and the mistakes that they make. she highlights Carl Hooker’sTwo-Eyes, Two-Feet App;” you must walk around the room and see what your students are doing. You cannot leave them to their own devices. Additionally, you have to address parental concerns – will their students’ content be global, local, or entirely private. Additionally, it’s important to include formal and informal parent conversations in the form of connect coffee houses and evening workshops. Parent involvement and knowledge is an important piece of the picture. Overall, it’s about building a community. This aids in building a common language and promoting kindness and compassion among the students.

Vinnie Vrotney, the Director of Academic Technology, discusses his role as both a Director of Academic Technology as well as a parent who struggles with this content. Quest Academy focuses on PK-8th. Quest focuses on gifted children and also focuses on important personality traits such as respect, responsibility, generosity, gratitude, self-discipline, honesty, etc. These character traits are important for students to grow not only academically, but socially as well as emotionally. Quest promotes personal growth and development that demonstrate leadership. All of students’ actions go back to Quest’s Character Traits.

One way that they do this is through Design Thinking that emphasize: empathy, definition, ideation, prototyping, and testing. So the first step on this path is empathy – even within courses such as design and engineer. They also hae a citizenship program (no longer digital citizenship) and moved away from a “though shalt not” model. Instead, they focus on “mindfulness of attention.”

Vinnie also highlights the important role of parents – empowering parents to learn about content/apps, that they need to be open to what their kids are doing, and that they need to learn to say yes or no. The digital world can eliminate the personal connection and vulnerability. As such, adults need to model for children effective behavior.

Devorah Heitner, of Raising Digital Natives, whose job it is to teach educators and parents about social media and activities. Schools need resources for students, teachers, and parents. She likes to combine their educational goals with their citizenship goals and ultimately how they can use content that they create and share online. So it’s not just using the internet as a mirror, but as a way to improve the world around them. Additionally, it is important to foster a safe community so that students can approach adults when they come across something that makes them uncomfortable. Additionally, promote mentoring among students – older students can help to guide younger students.

Think about what skill you would like to see the children have, social and emotional skills, uncomfortable face to face conversations, and how to interact with the world around them in a myriad of ways. We need to get around the fear factor and prepare for what we will do when students make mistakes. It is important to encourage accountability and integrity with online content – be recognized for who you are. It’s also important to recognize that anonymity can breed poor choices and behavior.

It’s important to teach children to be kind online as well as in person.

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Mapping of Bonobo Chimpanzee Genetic Code Reveals More About (Us) Humans

Bonobos at the Cincinnati Zoo (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Scientists have recently mapped and published the genetic code of the Bonobo Chimpanzee (Pan paniscus); our closely related primate cousins. Bonobo Chimps, sometimes called pygmy or gracile chimpanzees, share 98.7% of their DNA with human beings (on par with the common chimpanzee, Pan troglodytesThe two species of chimpanzee share more than 99% of their genetic code, but have clearly distinct social constructions and inherent behaviors.

Common chimpanzees are characterized by not only their intelligence, but their often violent (sometimes inexplicably so) behavior. Whereas their primate “siblings,” Bonobos, are inherently peaceful, egalitarian, and matriarchal (the only group of great apes with a female-focal social construct).

Scientists hope that these new genetic revelations will help us to understand concepts of ‘inherently human’ behavior – specifically concepts of empathy, cooperation, and peaceful negotiation (all behaviors human beings can and do express).

“If you look at bonobos, chimpanzees and humans, what you can see is that there are some specific characteristics that we share with both of them.”

Scientists hope to study the genetic distinctions to help understand what is inherent versus learned social behavior that we may have genetically inherited from our distant, primate ancestors. To learn more about this research, see the articles: “‘Hippie Chimp’ DNA may shed light on our Dark Side” at MSNBC and Bonobo’s Genetic Code Laid Bare at the BBC.