Category Archives: Parents

When Should I Give My Kid a Smartphone?

We recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of the launch of the iPhone. That means the iPhone has been in production two years longer than my oldest child. Every student in elementary school today cannot fathom a world where smartphones don’t exist. I LOVE this Douglas Adams about technology in our lives:

 

With the invent of the smartphone being so new to those of us over 35 yet part of the natural way of things for those under the age of 10, you can see how this can become a major topic of contention. One of the major discussions amongst parents in my community and others is when is the right time to give a child their first phone. This is an ongoing debate in the Hooker household as well. While my kids have access to devices like iPads (both at home and at school) there are times where it might be helpful for them to have access to a phone.

Here’s one example that was shared with me recently:

When we were kids and we went to a friend’s house, we had to call our parents to let them know we had arrived.  The only problem with that solution today is that many households are getting rid of landlines which makes it hard to communicate with your child when they aren’t within your grasp.

Now, some could argue that may seem like more of a convenience then anything and to just get your kid a “dumb phone” for that purpose. While we’re still on the fence about when to give our oldest her first phone, here are a list of reasons why it might make sense to do it sooner rather than later.

Becoming a Good Digital Citizen

What does it mean to be a good citizen much less a digital one? Much of this practice happens at home at an EARLY age when we teach our kids how to be respectful, say “please” and “thank you” and not to chew with their mouth open. While there is much more to being a good citizen than just that, we do start building those traits as soon as our kids can speak for the most part.  Enter in the smartphone and the world online.

While many of the rules of modern society apply to an online environment, some do not. The ability to be “anonymous” (I put it in air-quotes because no one is truly anonymous online) on the internet can bring out the worst in some people. Just look at the comment section of any online discussion or better yet, listen to the story of Lizzie Velasquez (video below), who’s father I used to work with. Lizzie was looking at YouTube one day when she came across a video that was titled “The World’s Ugliest Woman” and was shocked to find footage of herself on the video. While this is an extreme example of what the online world can do to people, her reaction and subsequent inspirational talks turned what could have been life-devastating to life-defining.

The sooner we start to work with our kids on appropriate online behavior the better. When we thrust them into this world in the middle of their teen years, many bad habits have already started to form. Throw in the fact that they have “teenage” brain and don’t believe a thing their parents try to teach them, and you start to see that it might be more beneficial to have those conversations about online behavior at an earlier age.

Handling a Cyberbully or Troll

Lizzie’s example from above was just one of countless examples of cyberbullies or trolls that you can find on the web. Bullying has been around long before the days of Eddie Haskell on Leave it to Beaver. With social media and instant communication, it is now easier to torment or harass someone. Every year it seems, there are stories out there about teens committing suicide due to being the target of a cyberbully. Your first reaction as a parent is to protect your kids and prohibit them from entering this online world. I know that’s mine. You figure, if they aren’t online, they won’t have to deal with a cyberbully.

These stories are tragic and shouldn’t be ignored, but we also shouldn’t completely put our kids in a cyber-bubble. The numbers of teens that have experienced or witnessed some form of cyberbullying is nearly 90%. However, bullying behavior, whether online or face-to-face begins as early as Kindergarten. As kids get older, they tend to be more reluctant to report bullying to parents. While this may not seem like the best reason to give your 10-year old a phone, one thing is for sure, the sooner they learn how to handle this sort of online behavior with your support, the better.

Regardless of when you give them a phone, you need to be actively involved in your kid’s online and daily life. That means understanding the social media sites they frequent. While we may not understand the fascination with the SnapChat dog-face filter, we should look for opportunities to have our kids teach us the ins and outs of a platform while we play the role of student. Not only will this open up lines of communication, but it will also give you an opportunity to relay some life wisdom to your child and discuss scenarios of what to do when a troll or cyberbully attacks.

Again, just like with citizenship, when our kids are in their primary grades they is a strong likelihood they will witness, become a victim, or participate in some form of bullying. We need to be involved and on the look out for signs like depression, anxiety, anger or fear. Unlike face to face situations, we have a multitude of digital tools to help us monitor and track when a cyberbullying situation may be taking place. I like the advice given in this article which includes setting up a Google Alert for your child’s name. The sooner we can have these hard conversations and problem-solve the solutions the better.

Data Privacy

This past year, I started having social media and cyber safety talks with 4th and 5th graders. I did this for many of the reasons stated in this post but mainly because I felt like a lot of bad online habits were already forming by the time students were in middle school. One of the most interesting discoveries in talking with 10 and 11 year olds wasn’t that they don’t know what a floppy disk was (although I found that depressing), it was that they were adept at identifying what information to not tell a stranger online.

They knew not to give out their personal information, address, credit card number, etc. whenever they were involved in an online discussion or game. However, when I showed them the terms and services agreements that often pop-up where a company wants access to your information, most just said they click “ok” or “I agree” and continue on (Parents are guilty of this too). A stranger can come in all different forms, from an online person acting like a child to a multi-million dollar company stealing your information and selling it to others.

Be careful what you agree to…

Having kids check with their parents before downloading malware or accepting terms and agreements that make their data privacy vulnerable is important. When kids enter middle school, they are testing their independence and for the most part, decide they can make these choices for themselves. While it’s important that they gain some independence, we need to scaffold and build a foundation of understanding in them early on when it comes to their data privacy online. Otherwise, they might all be trying to give a Prince in Nigeria money by accident.

Learning How To Balance Life

Research shows that most habits and much of a child’s personality are formed by the age of 9. One thing we started working with our kids on as early as 4 was self-monitoring their screen time and appropriate times to use technology in everyday life. While we as parents don’t always model this the best, our kids have begun to internalize the best practices that come with using technology and social interactions in everyday life.

By scaffolding these skills early on in their life while their habits are forming, we will likely be more successful battling against things like internet addiction or social isolationism. Will there still be battles in the future as our kids become teenagers? Absolutely. But by building those habits in their early years, we’ll have a strong foundation to build on. My wife and I are far from perfect parents and still have moments where we battle this digital balance with our kids. However, as the years go on, we’ve found that our kids have become much more cognizant of an overuse of screen time.  Recently, during my usual Sunday football viewing, my middle child told me, “I think that’s enough screen time for the day, let’s go out and play.”  This type of internalized self-awareness doesn’t happen without tons of practice while they are in their highest habit-forming years.

Building Healthy Relationships

Part of that life balance besides just screen time, is building the skills to have healthy relationships both online and in person. Many adults and older teens, to whom the smartphone is still considered “new” have struggled with the management of peer-to-peer and parent-to-child interactions. Some of this is due to the instant gratification and distraction that comes with constantly checking our phones.  Modeling when to be on our phones and when not to is one of the best ways to show how to have healthy relationships and interactions. Modeling can only go so far in teaching our kids the best practices of relationships though. Having some access to a device to “practice” and fully internalize this skill early on will help as they enter their later teen years.

Avoid Parent Shaming

At this point I should put a MAJOR disclaimer: This post is not to be considered a persuasive essay on why we should give every kid a smartphone at the age of 6. Let’s agree on something – every child and family is different. Some kids can easily handle the social pressures of online interaction early on in life. Others have noticeable changes in behavior just by having access to a screen for more than 5 minutes. Regardless of which child you are raising, teaching them to be digitally aware is not easy. But then again, neither is parenting.

Much in the way that I won’t judge or shame a parent that gives their child a phone in first grade, I won’t judge or shame a parent that has chosen to wait until they are in high school. We all carry with us a variety of ideals and ideas when it comes to raising our child. I have respect for those that are choosing to wait to give their kids a phone until later in life. A smartphone is an expensive device that requires a level of responsibility that some kids can’t manage. The truth is, as a parent, we’ll never know the perfect age to give our child their first smartphone.

But keeping it out of the hands of our kids hands because of our fears or worry of being shamed isn’t right either. This post is more meant to give parents that have chosen to give their kid a phone some skills to work on and be aware of. Why not take advantage of building those skills early on in life rather than later when the more harmful online encounters happen?  Doing so could give your child an edge on their peers when it comes to online and social interaction. It could also create a trusting, open line of communication between child and parent throughout their teenage years and beyond.

 

13 Reasons Why You Need to “Talk Tech” With Your Kids

The Netflix phenomenon “13 Reasons Why” based on the Jay Asher novel of the same name has captivated the teens of the nation. There are countries banning it and others applauding it because of its awareness (and graphic nature) of teen suicide, sexual assault and “slut shaming.” The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) even released a white paper about the show.  I asked my Facebook friends what their thoughts were on the series. The responses ranged from this:

To this:

The reality is each child is different and this is ultimately an entertainment series, albeit a dark one. The fervor around this show does highlight a larger issue when it comes to modern media and our kids….we parents don’t understand it and as a result, don’t want to talk to them about it.

Here are my 13 reasons why you should “talk tech” with your kids:

1.  Device Responsibility

Kids are getting smart phones earlier and earlier in life. Whether you give your kid a phone in 1st grade or 8th grade, there needs to be some level of discussion around the responsibility of such a device. One mom I spoke with recently gave her daughter a responsibility test by giving her an old iPhone with wireless access only. She explained that she expected it to be plugged charged every night and to know where it is at all times. If she was able to do this for 6 months, then she earned the responsibility to own a working phone. Within 2 weeks, her daughter had lost it. We need to remember the financial and social responsibility around these devices and have a discussion BEFORE we hand them the power of the world at their fingertips.

2. Give them room to grow

When we give our child a bicycle, we put training wheels on them so they won’t fall until they learn their balance. The same should be true with technology BUT we also don’t want to keep the training wheels on too long. If you do, the second they turn 18 and leave your house, the training wheels come off and they fall down for the first time without your support. Another analogy a student shared is “social media is like water, you can either teach us to swim or we will drown.” If your teen is interested in social media, don’t just let them run wild with multiple accounts, but also don’t shut them out completely as they’ll never learn how to swim in that world.

3. 24-hour rule

So now your kid has a device and a social media account almost immediately they get into some mischief. It might be a good time to talk about the 24-hour rule. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) instituted a “24-hour rule” when it came to an air traffic controller making a mistake. If they make a mistake (that didn’t result in a fatality) they have 24 hours to admit and report the mistake without any punishment. The thinking being that the FAA can learn from the mistakes if they are reported. Instituting a similar rule with kids could come in handy when it comes to reporting wrong-doings and learning from them. The alternative would be NOT reporting something they did wrong for fear of punishment which doesn’t give them the opportunity to discuss and learn from the mistake. In the show 13 Reasons Why, many of the kids have drama in their life that they don’t feel like they can discuss with their parents.

4. Crowdsource household rules

Creating some household rules with input from your entire family is important for them to take on ownership. You might have to massage in some common sense rules covertly, but if your kids have input in the rules and punishments, they’ll be more likely to follow them.

5. Rules are a two-way street

Don’t forget that household rules apply to everyone in the household if they are to truly have meaning. If you have a rule of “no technology” at the table, that should apply to mom and dad too. I used to struggle with this for years and had an awakening moment when my daughters told me that they thought I’d rather pay attention to my phone than them.

6. Experience vs. Newness

When my niece started her SnapChat account in 2015, I wasn’t sure what it was and how it worked. (I could argue that’s still the case)  However, I asked her to show me the features and the ideology behind it. I then used that moment of me as learner and her as teacher to flip the script.  This was an opportunity to share my wisdom and life experience with her while she shared her social media experience with me. Never pass up the opportunity to have these discussions with kids. Letting them teach you something also opens up their receptors to your words of wisdom.

7. Oversharing

You’d be surprised what kids have to say when I ask them, “If you wanted me to tell your parents something about social media, what would you want me to tell them?” The response is generally the same, “They share too much.” Parents can be equally guilty of oversharing too much information online as kids. Have a discussion with your kids about when, what and why you should share images, posts, and links on your social media accounts. You might be surprised with what they have to say.

8. Digital permanence

When the SnapChat phenomenon launched, there was a tremendous amount of excitement around the idea that photos would magically disappear within seconds. Of course this was immediately proven false by the ability to take screen shots on phones. One thing I shared with my niece was the fact that photos don’t magically travel from phone to phone(see images below). They go from phone to internet to server to internet and then back down to phone. Along that path an image is captured and retained on that server. Always a good reminder that nothing shared digitally is truly temporary. In the show, one of the many reasons for the young girl’s suicide revolves around the fact that there is an inappropriate image of her making the rounds.

 

How we think messages/photos are sent

How messages/photos really travel between phones

9. Sleep is good

In his TED talk, Dr. Russell Foster mentions that teenagers need 9-hours of sleep at a minimum but many get less than 6. Part of what affects that sleep is the circadian rhythms that are upset by bright lights and screens. A child that doesn’t get enough sleep is prone to frustration, anxiety and ultimately, depression. Making a house rule of “no devices in the bedroom” can help with this as there is less temptation to check in with friends and have late night texting conversations between friends.

10. Ask about their interests

The show highlights the fact that parents are generally too busy to chat with their kids except for a few drive-by conversations at dinner or breakfast. Keeping involved in your child’s interests on more than a passing basis will help build a stronger relationship and also alert you when there is a change or sudden lack of interest in a hobby or sport that they previously were gangbusters about.

11. Likes don’t equal self-worth

Recent research about teens (especially girls) shows that some are affected emotionally by the attention (or lack there of) of their posts. If they dont’ get enough “likes” or “hearts” or “favorites” on their social media posts, then you must not be important. I’ve spoken with some teens who mention that they’ll pull a photo off Instagram if it doesn’t get enough likes right away. There is a lot of social pressure already in the world today, adding a layer of social media pressure can cause teens to do or post things they shouldn’t which could add even more drama to their lives. A lack of self-worth can lead to depression, so it’s an important conversation to have with your kids when they enter this world.

12. Immediacy and empathy

In my interview with Devorah Heitner (author of the book Screenwise), she mentions a story about an 11-year old girl being completely distraught because of her friend’s lack of response to a text message. In today’s age of instant-gratification, we all tend to lack patience when waiting for someone to respond. In the case of the 11-year old, she started to send multiple messages asking for a response, each message adding stress to her life that her friend wasn’t happy with her. After a couple of hours and a complete melt-down, she gets a response – “My parents don’t let me text during dinner.” One thing I liked about the show was that it really highlighted the lack of empathy for the main character. It’s something that becomes even more important in today’s fast-paced world.

 

13. Reflection and mindfulness

There is a lot of research out there about the balance of our connected lives with our non-connected lives. Professor David Levy at University of Washington actually has a course on “Mindful Tech” where he teaches his students how to mediate, reflect and just “be”. There are some tremendous mental health benefits associated with movement, the outdoors, and sitting and reflecting on a day gone by. When my youngest was 6 months old, I remember vividly feeding her a bottle and checking Twitter on my phone at the same time. I was missing one of the most important things in my life and it was right in front of me just to stay connected.  While it’s important to talk with kids about meaningful use of technology, we also need to help them train their brain to be still and enjoy the “now”.

Discussing these 13 reasons may or may not help your child cope with a social-media, tech-crazed world. But I can tell you one thing for sure, you never know until you try.

Teaching Kids About Fake News

fakenewsgraphic-001Unless you have been living under a rock, the last several months in the U.S. has meant an onslaught of news stories around our election and the political aftermath that followed a Trump presidency. As someone who works closely with students and teachers, I’ve been traveling to various schools both in and out of my district to talk about a great many things surrounding social media. Lately, many of these talks have turned towards “fake news” and the premise of what is real and what isn’t.

As kids learn and grow up in the 21st century, they quickly realize that information is cheap. Unlike hundreds of years ago, where only the literate could relay information (sometimes with their own spin), now we have everyone, including the leader of our country sending messages directly to the masses in 140-characters or less. While this level of direct communication may seem like a great way to filter out the “fake news” types, it also means that news is not being vetted as it reaches our inbox or Twitter feed. Students (and adults) today now need to take every post, tweet, or website with a grain of salt.  Kids may be able to get information freely and instantly, but it takes work to determine what is real and what isn’t.

“Fake news” isn’t new

In 1938, Orson Welles decided to get behind the microphone of his radio show and realistically re-enact an invasion from aliens in a show he called “The War of the Worlds”. As people believed that anything from the radio was true, hearing this tale of aliens taking over the planet created a state of mass-hysteria. Back then, as the radio was the only means of mass communication, it meant that intermingling news with entertainment happened from time to time. People not privy to this fact were indeed sent into hysterics as they ran outside their homes looking up for the UFOs that would surely be landing at any moment. Making it seem real was what made it so believable.

Images drive historical and modern media

The original click-bait - courtesy - https://www.flickr.com/photos/gazeronly/20452052572

The original click-bait – courtesy https://www.flickr.com/photos/gazeronly/20452052572

Thousands of years ago, ancient civilizations told their stories by drawing pictures on walls in the form of hieroglyphics. We are now experiencing a revitalization of that image-driven movement on the web. Memes, animated gifs, and infographics now clog most of our social media feeds as an eye-catching way to get a click. Look on most major websites and you’ll see links to several stories with sensational titles and an image to make us click.  Headlines like “What happened next will shock you” with an image of a man with a shark behind him seem to crowd my “recommended stories” section of most websites I visit. This too, isn’t a new thing with mass media. The National Enquirer in some ways was the original “click bait” before the internet even existed on a wide scale. Grocery store shoppers standing in the check-out isle would see the headline about batboy or the latest from Brad-gelina and be tempted to purchase just to see more details inside.

Most sources have a spin

Between the direct messages we can receive on social media, there are also professionally published news stories that reach our stream one way or another. A couple of months ago this image  went viral as it broke down various news agencies based on range of complex to sensationalist vertically and liberal to conservative viewpoints horizontally. This is a great image to share with students because it shows that while all of these websites, newspapers and broadcast shows are technically “news” they do come with their own biases. Vanessa Otero actually created the original infographic and has a great breakdown of the Reasoning and Methodology Behind the Chart that really is worth the read. She even points out that she created the graphic because we are in a day and age where we don’t read everything and that we are more and more visually driven (see previous point).

So how do we teach kids about all of this?

Teaching kids to think critically about all of this can seem like a monumental task. During my talks with 4th and 5th graders this month, I’ll show them a series of websites and images and ask them to determine if they are fake or real. One of the best recent resources I’ve discovered comes out of a study taken last year from Stanford University. The study (executive summary here), shows a variety of activities shared with high school students to determine whether or not a news story is real or not. One example that I’ve used from the study is the Fukushima nuclear flower picture and post below:

Nuclear flowers? via http://imgur.com/gallery/BZWWx

Nuclear flowers? via http://imgur.com/gallery/BZWWx

Many students immediately say the picture is fake or photoshopped. When I reveal to them that it is actually a real photograph, most claim that it must be a true photo and probably happened new Fukushima, Japan. However, when I ask them how they know it was near Fukushima, they realize that they poster of the image could have made that up, especially given that the site imgur lets anyone upload and comment on images without vetting the sources.

Having these sort of activities with students can cause them to pause and be skeptical of sources and not just take them at face value. And while sites like Snopes are essential in the critical thinking tool kit, students should still check multiple sources before validating and image or resource. Need help getting the conversation started in your class or school? Check out this 2:10 video on how to quickly fact check fake news sites via Channel 4 FactCheck to help kick off discussion.

As I’ve shared, this isn’t a new phenomenon, but now the variety of channels of mass media and a contentious presidential election has brought this issue to the forefront and it’s time we started having these discussions with our students. Seriously. Let’s get real.

Other resources on this topic:

My slides from my Elementary “Tech Talks” with 4th and 5th graders

Connected Teaching and Learning post – How Can You Spot Fake News? via Ann S. Michaelsen @annmic

The Problem with Fake News (and how our students can solve it) – (video via John Spencer @spencerideas)

The Truth About Teens – Everything is Social Media

 

It’s interesting what we think of when the words “Social Media” are mentioned. For parents, our minds drift to a couple of different places mainly; Facebook and bad things with teens.  For kids, it’s actually a very different experience.  Looking at the definitions above (courtesy Merriam-Webster), the technical definition of social media is “Spending time together interacting and communicating(social) through a system which can be spread to a large number of people(media).”

This past month, I had multiple opportunities to host discussions with students of all ages when it comes to social media and technology.  The first opportunity was with my very own Westlake High School students. The second was with the students of Casady School in Oklahoma City, OK (home of EdTech guru Wes Fryer @wfryer. Here’s a link to his post about my visit). I wanted to use these opportunities as a chance to not only have conversations with kids about social media, but also pick their brain about what they think is happening online and better yet, what they think adults think about their use of social media.

Given this dedicated time with students who live and breathe in this world, I wanted to make the most of it.  Here’s a break down of some of the challenges I did with students during our time together.

2-minute challenge

In teams of 3 or 4, I challenged the students to name as many social media platforms as they could in 2 minutes.  While I knew this would bring about some silly answers, I also knew that the competitiveness would kick in at some point.  Many of the teams had more than 25 different responses, including 32 from one team of middle school students.  I did my best to collect these quickly and have students explain the ones I didn’t get.

Here are a couple of the lists from the Westlake group (excuse my bad handwriting):

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 11.59.43 AM

 

Some of the usual suspects were shared by both groups:

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, Hangouts, Skype,Vine, Reddit and Tumblr

Some of the messaging faves:

Kik, WhatsApp, GroupMe, Text Free

Some not so usual suspects:

Google+, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Omegle, Soundcloud, MySpace, Weibo, 4Chan 

There were some mentions of dating sites as social media:

FarmersOnly, Tinder, Christian Mingle

There were some sites I have never heard of:

Phhhoto, Discord, Twitch, and 9gag

And some we warn our kids about:

Yik Yak, Brighten, AfterSchool

Then things got interesting.

One of the students stood up and said “Amazon”.  I went to write it down and paused….”You mean, like the place you go to buy stuff?”

Yes. The student began to explain his thinking.  He says that if you recommend something you can actually use that space to interact with customers and companies. Therefore making it “social” in nature.  Looking at our definition of social media stated above, I would say he’s actually on to something here. At that point students began to mention many other platforms and places where they are social online.

Social media sites we don’t consider as social media:

Amazon, NES (Nintendo Entertainment System), Google Docs, XBox Connect, Yelp, Text Messaging

This left me somewhat floored.  Not only were these lists growing, but now EVERYTHING could be social media?  It actually reminded me this video that Wes had shared with me a month ago:

(Note: This is satire…not everything on the internet is real)

Using comment sections on any site instantly turn it into a social media site. I don’t know about you, but I want to check out this new “Happy Fast Kitchen” site.

Agree/Disagree Challenge

The second activity we participated in was a game I call “Love/Hate” or “Agree/Disagree”.  In this case, I asked students to stand or move to one side of the room if they agreed with the statement.  If they disagreed, I asked them to stay seated or move to the other side of the room.  Here are the questions and some of the results:

Statement 1: Cyberbullying is getting worse.

Agree: 65%

Disagree: 35%

At Casady school, as it was done in a large performance hall, I used my CatchBox to elicit audience response. It’s always a dangerous thing to give a teenager a microphone in a large crowd, but the kids at Casady were honest and respectful when answering.  Here’s what it looked like: (thanks again to Wes Fryer for capturing this)
https://vine.co/v/ij7tq9BqH0g/embed/simplehttps://platform.vine.co/static/scripts/embed.js

Responses: Many of the students agreed with the statement with the rationale that because there are so many more social media sites out there, there must be more cyberbullying.  Some students mentioned the ease with which you could be anonymous now on many of these platforms, which makes it easier to cyberbully.  Those that disagreed said that they felt their generation is much more aware of the permanence of their actions online and how everything has a trace, even if you think it’s anonymous. According to this report by U.S. News, it’s actually been on a steady decline since 2005.

Statement 2: You can post a photo, then delete it and it will be gone forever.

Agree: 0%

Disagree: 100%

Apparently students at both campuses have heard this loud and clear.  Not a single student even stood up as a joke.  They know that if it’s online it could be accessed. However, when I relayed my story about my niece Jordan and her first run in with SnapChat, it made some of them squirm in their seats.  I told Jordan that I could hack the SnapChat server (like this guy) and access all the user accounts, including their photos.  Her face began to turn pale as did the faces of many of the kids in the audience when I relayed that story.  So while they believe in this statement, their actions may not necessarily follow suit when it comes to posting “temporary” photos.

Statement 3: Adults don’t understand what teens do on social media.

Agree: 50%

Disagree: 50%

This one and the next statement had the groups the most divisive.  Those that agreed with the statement mentioned in some cases that parents hear a negative story about an app or a kid on social media and assume that means only terrible things are happening online. Another mentioned that his parents just don’t take the time to ask and understand what an app is and how he is using it.  One student summed it up by saying, “Imagine if their (adults) parents told them to stay off the phone because someone could potentially prank call them. That’s how we feel sometimes when it comes to social media and our parents.”  For those that disagreed, they mentioned that parents are much more tech-savvy these days.  They have smartphones, access to other parents easily (via social media ironically) and can Google search just about anything.

Statement 4: I think my social media use could help me get into college or land my first job.

Agree: 50%

Disagree: 50%

Another statement that had the groups split right down the middle.  In fact, it was almost corollary with the previous statement in terms of who agreed and who disagreed.  Those that disagreed with the statement claimed that it depends on the type of job, which might make this statement false.  They also said that they had been made so scared to get on social media that they hoped it didn’t hurt them in the future. Many of the students that agreed mentioned how it could help build their online profile and make connections with them that would help in the future. One precocious 12-year old girl shared that “more and more colleges and businesses are looking at your online profile everyday.  That means their is a great opportunity to use that profile to help you land a job or get into college.”

I relayed my own story of how I screen our Ed Tech applicants through social media. While it doesn’t hurt the applicants not to have anything online, it doesn’t help them either.  This CareerBuilder.com press release goes into great detail about how many companies are looking at social media profiles and what they are finding that is either helping or hurting prospective employees.

Google Yourself Challenge

For the final challenge, I asked the students if they have ever “Googled Themselves”? Most of the students raised their hands.  When I asked some of the students to share what they discovered, there were some amazing and hilarious stories.  One of the students mentioned that his name comes up as a local car dealership for Mini-Coopers.  Another shared that he shares the name (and look) of a famous soccer player. When I asked them how many had googled their teachers, about half the hands were raised (along with some snickers and giggles). About the same amount admitted to Google searching their parents, where one teen mentioned that she discovered that her dad had been part of a pretty famous rock band before her time.

As part of their “homework”, I asked the kids to consider things they could do to improve their online profile and also ways that they could use social media for good.  I also asked those kids that were sitting during the statement about parents “not understanding” about social media that they use this as an opportunity to have a discussion with mom and dad about all the good things they are doing online. (I asked the parents to do the same at a parent talk later in the evening)

I’m sharing all of this because I think schools need to be having these conversations with kids and parents.  We can bring in an Assistant DA to scare kids and parents away from social media, but the reality is, we need to work together on ways to understand these new methods of interacting, communicating and well, being social. That doesn’t happen when you tell kids what they should be doing. It happens when you ask kids what they think they should be doing. I’m hoping that if you’ve read this far, that you will try something similar with the kids in your school or neighborhood.  Please post comments below and share your social media story.

When we share, we learn!

Courtesy Wes Fryer's Flickr - https://www.flickr.com/photos/wfryer/26095959761/

Courtesy Wes Fryer’s Flickr – https://www.flickr.com/photos/wfryer/26095959761/

Choosing the Next Device: A Method for Crowd-Sourcing Input

In the spring of 2015, our district passed a bond which included over $5 million for a line item called “Student Mobile Device Initiative.”  For the past 4 and 1/2 years we’ve been a 1:1 district K-12 using the 16GB iPad2 as our device of choice. With the passing of the bond, we now had an opportunity to not only reflect on the first few years of the program but also to garner input from a variety of sources. This post is an inside look at the process we used and the ultimate results of that process.  It’s my hope that other districts will do the same when investing money into devices and also realize that purchasing the device is the easiest thing, it’s changing pedagogy and creating meaningful learning with technology that is the hard thing.

Formation of the Digital Learning Task Force

With opportunity comes great responsibility.  Ok, so maybe that wasn’t the exact Spiderman line, but we knew that going forward we needed to make sure we had several voices represented in choosing our next device. Rather than just form a “Technology Committee”, we decided to create a “Digital Learning Task Force” (DLTF).  The name was symbolic in that this was much more than just a selection of a device. The task force would be made up of teachers, students, parents, community members and administrators.

In the summer, we publicly posted an application for members of the district community to apply to be a part of a newly formed task force that would ultimately recommend the final device. (Here’s a copy of the application) In September, we gathered some board members and administrators to look through the applications in an attempt to bring a diversified group of parents from different schools in our community.  We then did the same thing in choosing our teachers, students and administrators to be a part of this team.

In our first meeting we discussed the two goals of this group:

  1. Look at what our current reality is when it comes to integration of technology AND
  2. What do we want our preferred future to be?

The task force then constructed multiple ways to not only gather input from the district community but also to learn and investigate the current state of devices in schools.

Digital Learning Symposiums

In an effort to create more discussions around digital learning, we decided to host several symposiums open to the community as a launching point for these conversations.  Each of these were captured via Livestream for those parents that couldn’t make it in person or wanted to watch at a later date. The first one was an expert panel made up of industry experts, university professors and people from the local start-up community. The second was a panel of teachers from across grade-levels and disciplines and included some round-table discussions as well as the panel discussion. The final symposium was made up of students from 1st grade to 12th grade and also included some round table discussions.  During the teacher and student symposiums, we asked students to submit their questions via video to the staff.  We also had a different person moderate each symposium.

Also the symposiums, feedback posters were placed around the room that correlated with online feedback walls.  The four posters asked the following questions (links to virtual walls included)

  1. What are some things we are doing well with technology?
  2. What are some things that we need to improve?
  3. What other things do we need to consider when it comes to tech? What’s next?
  4. What future ready skills do our students need?

Site Visits

One of the first assumptions from the public community was that iPads were not really being used much at the K-2 area.  There was a feeling that we could provide laptops or higher end devices to the high school students if we just took away the devices from the lower grades or went to a shared model. Before any decisions were made on that front, it was decided that the task force visit an elementary, middle and high school campus first.

Though those visits, the task force saw that the in fact some of the most meaningful uses of the devices were happening at the lower levels of elementary.  While they had the devices the least amount of time, they actually had integrated them much more fully than even some of the upper level high school classes. It was through these site visits that another recommendation would come in that we need to do a better job of communicating what’s happening in the classroom and which apps are being used district-wide.

Focus Groups

As the symposiums were very public, it makes it difficult sometimes for people to share honestly what they were feeling or concerns they had. As a result, we hosted focus groups for students, parents and teachers at each of our campuses and even hosted a central one just for parents. These focus groups provided some great qualitative data as well.  It’s through the focus groups where we heard the most about the day-to-day issues with distraction and the need to occasionally have access to other devices when needed. One other outcome as a result of this is the idea that even though we’ve made our final device recommendation (skip to the end to see that), we want to continue to have these focus groups yearly so we can make necessary adjustments on the initiative.

Online Interactions

As many on the task force mentioned, not everyone can get to a physical meeting or symposium.  We all live busy lives and it only seemed to make sense that since this was all about digital learning that we have an online component.  So besides the symposiums being posted online and the interactive feedback posters (via Padlet.com), we also created a Google Community. The community was a place where anyone could join and post questions or resources when it comes to digital learning. We also used the #EanesDLTF hashtag whenever information was shared or posted as a way to gather data. This hashtag would also be used as a way to curate questions for the panels at the symposium.

Survey, survey, then survey again

One of the final methods of data gathering was the use of many surveys.  Each survey focused on a different segment of our population and were focused on gathering information on both the current reality and our preferred future.  Here are copies of our surveys that your are free to look at and remix for your own purposes.

The results of the surveys were very diverse and gave us a wide range of feedback.  We saw a general tendency that the older the students were, the more they wanted to have a physical keyboard or laptop. Here’s an example of some of the data we shared with the school board on that first survey.

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 11.51.32 AM

As a result of this and a discrepancy at the high school in terms of what students and teachers preferred, we decided to send a follow-up survey once we had narrowed down the device choices. Many of the students and teachers that preferred laptops wanted a high-end MacBook as their preferred machine of choice.  As budget for the program wouldn’t allow for a $1200 device and for the uses they had outlined being so varied based on class, we needed to land on a base-level device to use for all classes. We then took the final three devices (Macbook Air 11″, Dell 3350, and an iPad Air 2 64GB w/keyboard case) and made them available for viewing a week prior to sending the final high school survey. Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 11.57.45 AM

We sent out follow-up surveys to both the students and staff of the high school to land on our final decision.

Final Recommendation:

One thing for certain, was that no matter what the selection, there would be some groups happy and some upset with the choice.  After 600 hours of focus groups, discussions, meetings, presentations and symposiums as well as over 6000 survey responses, the task force voted unanimously for the option that gave us the most flexibility, with the best support model as well as ease of integration. In choosing the iPad Air 2 (64GB) for all levels, we are giving students and staff a model of iPad that goes 12 times faster, holds 4 times as much memory and now allows for split-screen multitasking. We also added a keyboard component for upper grades and some options for keyboards at the lower grades. This also honors the work of many teachers who have utilized the iPad to improve student learning in their classrooms for the past 4-5 years. It also reinforces the work we have been doing on the horizontal and vertical alignment of tools and curriculum within our district.

For more information I created this infographic which was distributed along with a press release today. (blog coming later on how I made the infographic using Keynote):

DLTF recommendation infographic

 

Sexting And Cyberbullying in Schools

When students have access to mobile devices in school, either in a 1:1 or BYOD environment, much of what happens in their school lives cross over into their personal lives.  Here at Eanes ISD, over 80% of our secondary students have smartphones that they bring with them to school on top of the school-issued iPad they are given.  While we have some say about the activity on the school device, students’ use of their phones for inappropriate activity is an issue both in and out of school.  Last year, I wrote this post about the app YikYak and this one about Secret photo-sharing apps.  I wrote these (and accompanying letter to district parents) not to scare adults into taking away kids’ phones, but instead to spark a conversation between child and parent.

Today, I sent home the following letter about sexting and cyberbullying via a couple of different apps that we’ve become privy to here.  I share this letter with the rest of the world in the hopes that other schools and communities will also start having this conversation, no matter how uncomfortable it might be.

The following is a letter sent to all parents of secondary school-aged children at Eanes ISD on January 11, 2016:

———————————————————–

Parents of Secondary Students,

Adolescents today have access to knowledge and learning right at their fingertips.  They are accessing and creating content on their school-issued iPads and on school computers.  More and more of our students also have their own smartphones to access the web and social media.  With that access comes greater responsibility and education about the appropriate use of technology and social media.  This letter is intended to help raise awareness with families about some trends around the country and possibly among our own students.

Sexting

There have been several recent instances at high schools around the country of teenagers transmitting illicit images of themselves to other students (also known as “sexting”).  Here’s a recent case at a Colorado High School – http://www.cnn.com/2015/11/07/us/colorado-sexting-scandal-canon-city/  

In the case of the school in Colorado, many students used a photo vault app like the one we shared last year that looks like a calculator. Students exchange these photos like trading cards, and in some cases, students feel pressured to share inappropriate photos with other students.  Once these photos are shared, they can be shared with others and even posted on the web.

Cyberbullying via apps like Brighten and After School

Bullying is not a new occurrence in schools, unfortunately. With technology and social media, there are now new venues for this same bad behavior. Two particular apps that have been brought to our attention as pathways for cyberbullying are  the Brighten app and the After School app. Brighten was originally intended as a way for people to send random compliments to each other to “brighten” their day; however, students have used this platform to anonymously bully, make racial slurs, and post other inappropriate comments about other students. Brighten has a way to issue a “time out” if inappropriate behavior is pointed out, but they are not actively monitoring posts.  When I reached out to them, they responded with this: If you are seeing specific instances of bullying, please send people to alec@brighten.in and I can personally take care of it.”  

The After School app is promoted as a way to anonymously post messages about your school or those in your school.  According to After School data, currently 363 Westlake students are listed as users of this app. When I reached out to them, they responded with the following: We are very, very sorry about the experience some of your students are having on After School. Our moderators and I are keeping an extra close eye on Eanes Independent School District . We added extra moderators. We are launching an investigation.”  They also shared this link: 5 Tips for Parents on Monitoring Their Child’s Social Media Use, which contains some good nuggets of information.

Why are you telling me about this?

We are sharing this news with you to both raise awareness and also to encourage you to have conversations with your child about these apps and sexting. While we can monitor school-issued devices, we can not directly monitor what students are doing on their personal devices. However, if we suspect a student is doing something inappropriate with their personal device, we will confiscate the item and contact parents.  

What do I do if my child receives an inappropriate photo or is cyberbullied?

Many students are afraid to turn in other students or afraid that they themselves will get in trouble when it comes to having sexting-like messages on their personal devices. Some students actually feel pressured to take illicit images of themselves as a form of cyberbullying. If a student receives an image and reports it immediately, there will be no punishment as the infraction is being reported. However, if there is intent to possess or promote inappropriate or illicit images, there will be disciplinary action. 

What does the law say about this in regards to sexting?

While there are some differences in terms of age (18 years old being the line between minor and adult), the possession or promotion of illicit content of a minor via sexting is similar to being in possession or promotion of child pornography. According to Texas SB 407 – (http://beforeyoutext.com/modules/3.html) A student in “possession” (having illicit content for an unreasonable amount of time) or “promoting” (sending/sharing illicit content with others) can be charged with anything from a Class C misdemeanor to a second degree felony.  

What is the district doing to help this?

Our counselors and administration are aware of the situation and ready to help any students that come forward with information around this topic.  In addition, we are holding “social media talks” with student groups at the high school as well as discussing digital citizenship and online safety at all levels.  For parents, we will continue to host parent talks during booster club meetings and also send out information on our Digital Parent Newsletter (you can sign up here). Starting in the spring, we will hold our 4th “Digital Parenting” course (for more information go to http://eanesisd.net/leap/parents).  We have formally requested, as we did with YikYak last year, the app developers put up a ‘geofence’ around our schools.  A geofence would block use of the app even on personal phones. However, these companies are not required to comply with this request and even if they do, the geofence is only active around the school, not at home.

What can I do as a parent?

Again, we think it’s important that you have repeated critical conversations with your child about their use of personal technology.  Talk to them about the risks of inappropriate use when it comes to sexting and cyberbullying, including breaking the law. Also, most smartphones have ways of checking which apps are being used. For instance, on an iPhone, owned by over 70% of our students, there is a way to check battery usage in settings (with iOS9).  Through this check,  you can see what apps your child has accessed in the last 24 hours and last 7 days. (see below)

Screen Shot 2016-01-11 at 8.37.27 AM

Please report any situations that you are aware of to either the local authorities or school administration.  We want to make sure our students know that we are having common  conversations between home and school when it comes to sexting and cyberbullying.

Thank you for your support, and please let us know if you have any questions or concerns.

———————————————————-

 

Secret Photo-Sharing Apps…The Latest Teen Trend

Much like the Yik Yak incident of last fall, I’ve recently been asked to communicate to our local community about another trend with our students.  These particular apps an element of “secrecy” and some social sharing involved.  I also have to admit, some of them are very clever in terms of how they can be disguised. In light of some recent incidents with our high school students, I created a letter as both a source of awareness but also a resource for tools.  What follows is the letter that was sent out to all Eanes ISD secondary school parents on the afternoon of February 10, 2015:

This past week we discovered a new trend among teens with their personal use of technology.  While seemingly innocent on the surface, the latest in hidden photo-sharing apps could potentially cause trouble with our youth down the road, especially in the area of “sexting.” While the Eanes ISD staff have taken the necessary precautions to block/restrict these types of apps on our network and devices, students still can engage in misbehavior on their own personal devices which can lead to serious distraction and, even more severely, possible prosecution. 

Similar to last semester’s issues with the Yik Yak app, we are once again asking for parents to keep an eye out for the following apps (or similar ones) that might be making the rounds on your child’s phone.

We are sharing these tools and resources with parents in order to promote discussion around responsible decision making, to correct poor choices, and open up a dialogue between parent and teen about their digital lives. What follows is information about some specific hidden photo-sharing apps, next steps to take, and where to go  for help and support as a parent.

Keep Safe Private Photo VaultScreen Shot 2015-02-10 at 7.53.49 PM

Keep Safe Private Photo Vault is one of many new “secret vault” type apps making their way through the app stores of Apple and Android. This app is  advertised as a way to keep photos and videos safe behind a private PIN and not post them on your public photo roll.

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 7.54.00 PMThe app is easy enough to identify (see icon here) however, if you share iCloud accounts or check your child’s photo roll regularly, you  won’t notice it as photos don’t appear there. While hiding photos is one issue, our concern is with the “Invite friends” premium feature. With this enabled, kids can potentially share photos privately without anyone knowing. One additional premium feature is called “Secret Door”. This allows you to make the app look like another app. Pressing and holding down on the “fake” app enables the PIN pad.

Next steps –

If your child is a Keep Safe Private Photo Vault user, (or a user of other “private vault” type app) a conversation should happen with him/her about why they feel the need to hide their photos and share them privately. If you don’t see the app, but suspect it may have been downloaded, you can also check in the Updates section of the App Store under “Purchased” on your child’s phone. Any apps ever downloaded are stored in there.

Additionally, there are new apps that are disguised as a calculator or a folder on the device, so it’s becoming harder to find these. Two such apps include Fake Calculator and Best Secret Folder   (Both pictured here)   

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 7.56.31 PM

These apps look innocent and most of the calculator apps actually are real WORKING calculators. However, if you punch in a secret combination of numbers and symbols, you can “unlock” the secret photo compartment hidden behind the calculator.   Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 7.54.25 PM

Rather than checking every single app on your child’s device, one quick way to check on an iOS device is to go to  Settings->Privacy->Camera. There is a list of every app that uses or has used the camera at one time or another. 

While deleting the app takes care of the immediate issue, there may be a larger issue at hand when it comes to the use of private photo sharing by your child. Please take this opportunity to have that conversation about how NOTHING on the internet is truly anonymous or temporary. 

So….Why should I worry about this?

Much like with Yik Yak in the fall, it is likely that many students will learn about these apps from friends and be curious to try them.  Teens have a certain level of curiosity and experimentation anyway, but with the added peer pressure, it could lead to a more serious issue like “Sexting.”  Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton goes into the details of sexting laws in the state on this site. While the majority of these cases are tied to state courts, here is some more information on the federal side of things.

What else is out there?

Besides those stated above, there are many other apps being made that provide the same service.  Here is a Mashable.com post that describes 7 different apps for iOS and Android that are out there to hide photos and videos.  Much like social media and kids, the best method of avoiding any type of negative behavior with this technology is openness, awareness and communication with your child.

Where Can I Get Help and Support?

Common Sense Media always has helpful resources for parents and kids.  Here is an article for parents on how to discuss sexting with your teen.

Eanes ISD also provides multiple resources and platforms for parents to get assistance or to report any issues that may be discovered down the road. On February 25th we’ll hold our second annual “Parent University” at Riverbend church to discuss these and many other issues with raising kids in the digital age. Click here for more information on Parent University. I also send out a monthly “Digital Parent Gazette” to interested parents to alert them of any concerns and showcase some great examples of how technology is being used in the classroom.  To receive this newsletter, sign up here.

Finally, I’m offering another “Digital Parenting  101” iTunesU course this semester.  This is a free 12-weekScreen Shot 2014-09-26 at 10.01.02 AM online course offered to the public that covers a variety of topics such as social media, screen time, gaming, and helping your child make a positive digital footprint.  The course has already started but it’s not too late to sign up.  It officially runs from February 2nd through May 1st.

Click on this link on your iOS device to enroll today

(note: download the free iTunesU app before enrolling)

Thank you for taking the time to not only review all this information but also to talk with your child.  We know that it may be difficult, but it is important to have an ongoing conversation about social media and digital footprints. If you have any other questions or concerns, please contact either your campus administrators, counselors, or me.

It takes a village to raise a child.  The more we communicate, the better the learning experience for our kids.

Thank you!

 

Giving Parents a Voice in a 1:1 or BYOD Environment

Our focus in education has always (or at least should always) been on the kids.  They are the reasons the school building exists.  However, we’ve blurred the lines in modern education between school and home. Once you start inviting technology into your school (via BYOD) or you start supplying the technology (via 1:1) you instantly put some pressure on parents to not only comply but be on board.

Where most districts fail (and where we failed initially) is that thinking a “parent night” type meeting or newsletter would be enough to notify parents of this disruptive change. I use the word “disruptive” here not as hyperbole, but to really drive home the point that many parents are not ready for the digital world that lies ahead for their teens.  Whether you are doing any type of mobile device initiative or not, there NEEDS to be conversations taking place on your campuses about this from elementary through high school.

I feel like as a district, we’ve improved from the unidirectional communication methods to more of a collaborative conversation with our parents around technology usage and their kids. I’ve written in the past about our Digital Parenting 101 course.  This semester’s 6-week course had over 130 parents involved and one of the best parts of the course is the discussion forums.  As an administrator it’s such a blessing to be able to have insight on the struggles of the community with screen time, gaming addiction and social media troubles.  It helps me stay informed as well as finding resources to help parents in this digital era.

Yesterday, we took the discussion a step further.

With the help of a parent (Jeff Brantley – father of 3 boys and a guru at facilitating discussion) and a couple of my team members (Tim Yenca and Kacy Mitchell), we started our first of many parent-led collaborative workshops.  In the spirit of sharing,  here’s just a few highlights and a fabulous infographic that Kacy designed to summarize the meeting.

Sticker Dot Activity (before the meeting begins) –

As parents walked into the meeting they were presented with some sticker dots.  Around the room, we had posted the top 5 biggest issues for parents (based on the discussions in the iTunesU course and informal discussions with community members).  Those 5 issues were:

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 9.15.27 AM

We gave every parent 5 stickers and told them they could place as many as they wanted on the posters.  In retrospect I would have only given them 3, which would have forced them to decide on just their top three topics.  Doing this tells the facilitators which topics are the most pressing for the parents.

Line-up Activity:

B2u6gOECUAAj3TC.jpg-large

Social Media partner activity

Following some brief introductions, we asked parents to line-up based on how “Social Media Savvy” they felt they were.  I first saw this done by Tim Lauer at iPadpalooza last summer.  Once the line was successfully flattened (they tend to group in the middle) we folded the line in half so that the least savvy person was paired up with the most savvy person.  Once in partners, they discussed their views on social media both with themselves and their kids.  After a few minutes, we had the pairs group into quads and continue the discussion.  This served a couple of purposes:

1. It forced the parents to be in groups with people other than their friends, thus avoiding the “echo chamber effect.”

2. It opened up discussion amongst each other around ideas and strategies when it comes to social media.

Round-robin Activity:

Staying in their teams of 4, the groups then went to one of the 5 topic posters around the room. It worked out that there were 5 teams in the room, but you could have them combine if there are more. Once at their poster they were given three different color post-it notes to relay either strategies, problems, or quotes they hear around their house about these topics.

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 9.15.36 AM

B2vBInZCcAAG25K.jpg-large Parents discussion strategies, problems and quotes.

The discussions within these groups were incredible!  After rotating every 5 minutes and insuring that every group had time in front of a station, we had them come back and regroup for a final activity.

Final Report Out:

Now that parents had spent time in at a station, we let them choose the one that they were most concerned with and regroup with “like-troubled” parents. The final group’s job was to discuss the problems and report out some final strategies that parents can use to solve the challenges presented.  While we didn’t solve everything we did open up several connections within the community and came away with a wealth of discussion and resources.

Here’s an amazing infographic that Kacy Mitchell captured and created to synthesize the day’s activities:

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I’m looking forward to continuing these parent-led collaborative workshops throughout the year and the data that they will yield.  One word of caution is that it may be necessary to frame the day for parents prior to starting. Mentioning the goals of the workshop are to find solutions rather than ranting about issues would be a good thing. It could be easy for one or two parents to turn this from a positive experience to a negative one if they have an axe to grind so going over norms would be good.

What If We Said “NO” to 1:1?

Last night, I had the opportunity to present in front of our School Board on the state of technology in our district.  We reflected on the first three years of our LEAP initiative that brought 1:1 iPads to hands of every student at Eanes ISD.  We talked about successes and we talked about mistakes and how we’ve fixed them. While we are still far from where we would like to be, I am blessed to have such a supportive staff, community and board that have helped make this program a success.  In the coming months there will be discussions about what to do with future technology funding.  While I made a strong case to continue the program, we know it costs money and that money has to come from somewhere.

As I slept last night, a vision came to me in the form of a dream.  It was a vision of an alternate universe that would have been my life and the life of this school district if we decided in 2011 not to pilot this innovative idea of 1:1 iPads.

In this dream my life was pretty boring.  I was doing a lot of training on Powerpoint.  We were constantly struggling to buy enough digital cameras for classes.  My budget was getting burned up on licensing Adobe software for film-producing and photo-editing. But as boring as my life was, it was worse for kids.

As I visited classrooms, there was no technology except for the A/V equipment and the teacher’s desktop. The computer labs were still there, but they were now 7-8 year old machines that barely worked.  Teachers fought for 45-minute time periods in the lab when they could, but ultimately, many decided it was better not to even go. We had mobile technology in the form of netbooks (maybe this was more of a nightmare than a dream) that were really nothing more than expensive paper weights.

When I woke up this morning, the dream/nightmare stuck with me.  I started thinking…what if we didn’t go 1:1? What if we took the easy way out?  What would be different?  What would be lost? Here’s just a few things that came to mind:

Apps would disappear

ASL App Not_edited-1

ASL App no longer exists…

When we first bought the iPads, the common perception was these were solely consumptive devices.  You could read books with them and that was about it. I couldn’t disagree more. I’ve seen students creating amazing works of art, publish books and produce movies because they had the power to do all of that at their fingertips.  One very creative example came from Westlake High School Student Michael Bartmess. He was in need of an app to help himself and classmates with ASL finger spelling.  When he couldn’t find one in the App Store, he decided to make his own.  Where would his motivation to create this have come from without these devices?  In this alternate universe, his app wouldn’t exist and thousands of kids would struggle with finger spelling in ASL classes around the world.

The library would just be a library

One of the most inspirational spaces in our district is the “Juice Bar” at Westlake High School.  It’s a unique mix of Starbucks cafe and Apple Genius bar all-in-one. Digital librarian Carolyn Foote’s vision for this space was transformative and ahead of its time.  It provides students with a place to plan, collaborate and troubleshoot. In the world without 1:1, this area of the library would just be a sleepy corner that exists for 10-year old reference books to collect dust.

The iVengers would just be computer lab teachers

I am blessed with the best team of Educational Technologists on the planet (a.k.a. the “iVengers”). In a 1:1 environment, the role of a Ed Tech as technology integrator is vital to success. Prior to our 1:1, this position was based primarily in a computer lab (because that’s where the technology was) and was centered mainly around delivering 45-minute lessons once a week. Now they are truly coaches working to collaborate, co-teach, and design lessons with teachers in the classrooms.  In this alternate world, I think this position and the highly successful rock-stars holding the Ed Tech title would be long gone from this district and our teachers and students would suffer as a result.

Sir Ken at iPadpalooza in 2013

Sir Ken at iPadpalooza in 2013

A Global Learning Festival Would Not Exist

iPadpalooza was born out of the idea that we need to gather as a group and share our successes. While it’s turned into a global event, at it’s core it’s still based on that idea that learning and sharing can be engaging and fun. In my bizarro world, this festival wouldn’t exist and the thousands that attended would have missed the inspiring words of a Sir Ken Robinson, the creative madness of a Kevin Honeycutt, and the thought-provoking questions of Sugata Mitra and the creative conversations amongst colleagues.  After all, who would want to attend “Netbook-a-palooza?”

Parents would be in the dark about digital footprints

Having a 1:1 means having continual and ongoing conversations with parents about their role in the lives of our digital kids. I’ve spent hundreds of hours talking with parents, working with parents, and now teaching parents online about what it means to raise a kid in the 21st century.  While I’d like to think that would have happened regardless of our 1:1, the reality is, in a world where every kid doesn’t have a device, what is the motivation for a district to support parents in this realm?  We blurred the line between school and home, so we need to be the ones helping in both fronts. Without this initiative, the parents of our 8000 students would be left on their own to figure out how to navigate the world of social media, how to balance screen time, and how to help their children build a positive digital footprint for themselves.

There would be a few less trees in the world

We are far from a paperless district.  However, we have more and more content being moved digitally across our network then ever before.  Pulling up our Google Drive stats today reveals that we have have more than 170,000 files, docs, sheets, and forms that have been uploaded or created digitally since 2011. Moreover, we just had our 50,000th document shared.  That’s a lot of collaboration that doesn’t take place if everyone doesn’t have a device.   If you take into account that many of those files would have likely been photo-copied and distributed and that a typical tree is made of about 80,000 pieces of paper, think about how many trees would not be here now if we said “no” way back when?

Students’ voices would be muted

iPadLess_edited-1

Blank screens instead of blank stares

While it’s nice to save paper, create an app, redesign a library and connect with community, this one to me is the most important. Students that are trusted with a device are also empowered.  Traditional schooling exists to teach kids how to answer questions rather than ask them.  Empowered students can amaze the world and we’ve been lucky enough to have multiple examples of this over and over again in our 1:1.  From an entire class of 3rd graders becoming published authors in the iBook Store to a student creating an entire website to help her nephew with his illness, when you give students an opportunity to express themselves, you’ll be amazed at what they produce.

In this no-student-device universe, their voices might not be heard.  A universe like that means that a teacher’s job might be a little easier because they don’t have to change anything about their practice.  It means a parent doesn’t have to even think about what their child is putting on-line.  It means that administrators don’t have to wrestle with Apple IDs or filters or restrictions.  It makes the lives of all of those people a little more easier and a little more boring.  But who are we forgetting in that scenario?

Students.

They are the reason schools exist, not the other way around.  We need to do everything we can to prepare them for an uncertain future and that means NOT taking the easy way out.

For me, it means never resting until that becomes a full-fledged reality for this world.

It means more work and less sleep.

But in reality, why do I need to sleep when I’m already living the dream?

Social Media Awareness: A Letter for Parents

This week some of the students and staff at our high school felt the affects of when social media can be used to harass with the app Yik Yak. While the app in this case is blocked on our devices and network, students were using their phones to participate in this harassment and cyber-bullying. What follows is the letter I sent to all Middle School and High School parents in our community.  I’m sharing this with you all in the hopes that we can all be aware of not only this specific app but also the fact that we need to have a constant communication between parent, school and child.

(UPDATE: Since sharing this, we were interviewed by the local news here)

In light of this week’s incidents involving the inappropriate use of the app Yik Yak to harass Westlake students and staff, this is a good opportunity to open the door to a greater conversation we should be having with our kids about social media and their “digital footprint.”  While we at Eanes ISD have taken the necessary precautions to block/restrict these types of apps on our network and devices, students still can engage in misbehavior on their own personal devices which can lead to serious distraction and, even more severely, possible prosecution.

We are sharing these tools and resources with parents in order to quell bad behavior and open up a dialogue between parent and teen when about their digital lives.  What follows is information about Yik Yak itself, next steps to take, other apps that can be inappropriately  used,and where to go for help and support as a parent.

More about Yik Yak

Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 10.00.45 AM

Yik Yak is the latest in a line of social media apps using location services to post messages to those around the user.  These messages are
anonymous,
but they are not untraceable. This app has had many issues across the country at both high school and college level. While Yik Yak claims to have set up a Geofence (blocking cell data) around our schools, there are cases where students have been able to go out of range to post their messages. Here are some steps you can take as a parent to identify if this app is a problem for your child and what you can do to prevent its use.

If your child has the app, you can search what Yaks they have posted by clicking on “Me” and “My Yaks” inside their app. This will show you what they have posted, but know they can delete their yaks. However, you can see if they have ever posted on Yik Yak (even if they deleted the posts) by checking their “Yakarma” points in the upper left corner. By default, it’s set to 100.  If they voted on a yak, posted a yak, replied, or shared, the number will change.

Next steps –

If your child is a Yik Yak user, a conversation needs to happen with him/her about why they feel the need to be on the app. We are recommending all parents delete the app from their students devices, especially since Yik Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 10.00.54 AMYak policy states that you need to be of “college age” to use the app.  If you don’t see the app, but suspect it may have been downloaded, you can also check in   the Updates section of the App Store under “Purchased” on your child’s phone.  All apps ever downloaded are stored in there.

While deleting the app takes care of the immediate issue, there may be a larger issue at hand when it comes to the use of social media by your child. Please take this opportunity to have that conversation about how NOTHING on the internet is truly anonymous or temporary. 

Here’s a great article by Psychologist Diana Graber about 3 Things Kids Need to Know About Yik Yak.  I particularly love this excerpt from the article about Yik Yak and other apps that may follow it:

Here are articles about students being arrested for improper use of Yik Yak.  They can help our students understand the seriousness of bad behavior on social media. 

Yik Yak Working with Law Enforcement

Arrest Made at University of Georgia

So….What Else is Out There?

Like the above article states, there is always a new “something” when it comes to technology and social media.  Being aware of what else is out there doesn’t necessarily solve the problem, but it is a good place to start for parents.  Here are a few apps/sites to be aware of that have been making the rounds with teens nationally:

Kik

Ooovoo

Ask.fm

WhatsApp

Omegle

Yo.

Whisper

Secret

For a complete list of these and other social media sites gaining popularity with Teens, check out this Common Sense Media article on 15 Sites and Apps Kids Are Heading to Beyond Facebook

Again, awareness is just the first step.  We need to continue to have an open conversation about this and everything else happening in their lives.  Social media may be a new thing, but there has always been a need to discuss issues and problems with our teens well before Yik Yak and long after it’s gone.

Where Can I Get Help and Support?

Common Sense Media is a tremendous free resource for information from age-appropriate ratings of movies and video games to “best of” app lists for parents and kids.  We especially encourage you to check out the “How-to” section on Cyberbullying.  It includes many great resources for parents to use when addressing these topics with their kids including things like: “How do I monitor my teen online without “spying”?” and “What should I do if my kid is bullied online?”

We here at Eanes ISD are also providing multiple resources and platforms for parents to get assistance or to report any issues that may be discovered down the road.  Individual campus Booster Clubs have offered to host “Parent Tech Talks”  led by me throughout the next several weeks. (Contact your local booster club for more info) I also send out a monthly “Digital Parent Gazette” to those parents interested to alert parents of any concerns and showcase some great examples of how technology is being used in the classroom.  To receive this newsletter, sign up here.

Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 10.01.02 AMFinally, I’m excited to announce this year’s “Digital Parenting 101” iTunesU course.  This is a free 6-week online course offered to Eanes ISD parents that covers a variety of topics such as social media, internet filters, device restrictions, and helping your child make a positive digital footprint.  The course begins on October 6th and runs through November 21st.  Click here for more information and to sign up!

Thank you for taking the time to not only review all this information but also to have this conversation with your child.  We know that it may be difficult, but it is important to have an ongoing conversation about social media and digital footprints. If you have any other questions or concerns, please contact either your campus administrators, counselors, or me.

It takes a village to raise a child.  The more we communicate the better the learning experience for our kids.

Thank you!