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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)

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:

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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.

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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!

21 Things Every 21st Century Teacher Should Do This Year

The Past mixing with the Future #selfie

The Past mixing with the Future #selfie

A new school year always brings about new ideas and hopeful ambition for teachers. However, it’s almost 2015.  Gone are the days when we can use the excuse that “we don’t do technology”.  Part of being a teacher in the 21st century is being creative in integrating academics and learning into student’s digital lives. With access to content being ubiquitous and instant in student’s out of school lives, we can either reject their world for our more traditional one, or embrace it.

While some of the ideas that follow may seem a bit trendy, it’s never hurts to model ways to interact with all this new media as a covert way of teaching digital literacy and citizenship.   The great news is, you don’t need every student to have a device to make these happen. Heck, in most cases all you would need is a single smart phone.  All you need is an open mind and some student-led creative thinking.

And so, I present the 21 things every 21st century teacher should try in their classroom this year:

1. Post a question of the week on your class blog

One of the best ways to engage student (and family) interaction with your classroom is to have a class blog.  While these are becoming more common, I like the trend of having a weekly student “guest author” write up the ideas and learning objectives discussed in class.  This is also a good place to discuss appropriate commenting behavior on blogs and websites.

2. Have a class twitter account to post a tweet about the day’s learning

Just like a blog only smaller.  Nominate a “guest tweeter” and have them summarize the day’s learning in 140 characters or less. Then ask parents to follow the account so they can also get a little insight into the happenings of the school day.

3. Make a parody of a hit song

The ultimate form of flattery is imitation.  The ultimate form of stardom is when Weird Al makes a parody of your song.  Why not take that to an creative level and have students re-write lyrics to their favorite hit or a popular tune?  Sure, this might take more time than it’s worth academically, but the collaborative sharing and engaging aspect of producing such a thing can be a positive.  Who knows, maybe someone in history class will remake “Chaka Khan” into “Genghis Khan” or something like this classic:

4. Create an infographic as a review

Those clever little graphics are appearing everywhere from Popular Mechanics to Cosmopolitan. Why not make one as a way to help visual learners review and remember information?

5. Go paperless for a week

Depending on your grade level, this might be harder than you think. Even in a 1:1 district we still print or have need to print things from time to time.  The idea behind this challenge is see if you can figure out ways to make things more digital.  Maybe instead of a newsletter you print and send home, you write a blog or send a MailChimp?  Or instead of asking kids to write and peer-edit each other’s papers, you ask them to share a Google doc?   If your students don’t have devices, then challenge yourself to try this personally for a month.

6. Have a “No Tech Day” just for nostalgia’s sake

And then have your students blog about the experience.

7. Create your own class hashtag

Tell your students and their parents about the hashtag and have them post ideas, photos, and questions to it.  It’s a great way to get people from not only in your class but also around the world to contribute to your class conversation. You can also use this with your blog posts (#1) or classroom tweets (#2). Bonus points if you use something like VisibleTweets to display your posts in your class.

8. Create a List.ly list to encourage democracy in your class.

It could be as simple as a list of choices for a project or something as grand as what is one thing you want to learn about this year?  Whatever the choice, use List.ly to create a crowd-sourced voting list and let your students have some say in their learning!

9. Integrate Selfies into your curriculum5b7df7199ed9f846a52813b021033049

This one might take some outside the box thinking,  but I’m guessing that there are students in your class that could come up with a creative way to do this.  Maybe take a selfie next to a science experiment? Or a selfie with an A+ paper? #SuperStudent

10. Curate a class Pinterest account 

Pinterest is a great visible way to curate resources but why not create a class account that has a different board based on projects throughout the year.  Add students as collaborators and let them post their projects to the board.  You could also have a board on gathering resources and information for a topic which would be a good time to mention what is and what isn’t a valid resource?

11. AppSmash Something

Besides just fun to say, you should definitely take multiple apps on whatever device you use and smash them together into a project.  Check out this post for the basics and remember, it doesn’t have to be you who is doing the smashing.  Let your kids come smash too!

12. Participate in a Twitter Chat

Twitter can be like drinking information from a fire house at times, but finding a good twitter chat on a topic and participating can be a great way to learn and grow as a teacher.  Check out Cybraryman’s list of twitter chats and times to find one that interests you. Don’t see any you like? Make your own! Remember in step #7 when you created your own class hashtag?

13. Make part of your classroom “Augmented”

Why not make take an app like Aurasma and hide some easter eggs around your room? You could make them about a project or just secret nuggets about you.  It’ll keep kids (and parents during back to school night) engaged and turn dead space in your classroom into an interactive learning opportunity.  Need some ideas?  Check out Lisa Johnson‘s List.ly List (Remember, you know how to make those now from #8!) of over 50 Augmented Reality apps.

14. Create a recipe on IFTTT.com to make your life easier

With all of these tools and social media platforms, it might be a good idea to create some ways to automate tasks in your classroom.  IFTTT.com has some great pre-made “recipes” to combine some of your accounts into simple workflow solutions.  You can even have your plant email you when it needs water.

15. Create a Class Instagram Account 

Have a daily student photographer who’s job is to post an example of something your class/students did that day. If you don’t want to mess with “do not publish” lists, you could ask that it be of an object or artifact, not a person.  This would also be a good time to talk about when and how to ask permission to take someone’s photo.  Mix in your class hashtag(#7), throw in an IFTTT (#14)recipe, and all the sudden you can also auto-post selfies (#9) to your class Pinterest board (#10)

16. Perform in a LipDub Video 

This can be either a solo project or for even greater effect, tie in your parody song (#3) and have your students act out their learning throughout the video.  Don’t forget to hashtag it. Bonus points if said video goes viral like this one:

17. Make a class book

The ease with which you can publish books now is amazing.  Using a tool like Book Creator or iBooks Author, you can publish to the iBooks store or Amazon.  Don’t want to do something that intense? Keep it simple and make a book using Shutterfly and then have it printed as a keepsake.

18. Participate in a Mystery Hangout

This sounds a lot scarier than it is but essentially think of playing the game 20 questions with another classroom somewhere in the world. Here’s a link to a community page with more resources. It’s a great way to increase cultural and global awareness and you could event invite the other class to add to your Pinterest board (#10), vote on your List.ly (#8), comment on your blog (#1) or maybe co-collaborate on an eBook (#17).

19. Produce a class Audio podcast

Have students create a podcast highlighting classroom activities, projects or students.  To get it to the web quickly, post it to Soundcloud.  For the more advanced user, use a podcasting site like Podbean.com and actually get the podcast posted to iTunes.  That way mom and dad can listen to the weekly recap while going on their evening walk or driving to work.

20. GHO on Air with an expert

With so many resources and experts available, it only makes sense to bring in someone from “the real world”. This not only creates interest in the topic, it adds an air of authenticity.  Using Google Hangouts On Air means you can record this session on the fly and post it to your class site or embed it on your blog to generate discussion at home.

21. Become an activist for a worthy cause.

If the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge can teach us anything, it’s that sometimes a little creativity is all you need to awareness to a cause. Whether it’s helping a country in need or finding a cure for a disease,  our new connected society can be a powerful thing when galvanized for good.  Participating in a global project gives students perspective on their own lives while helping others with their own life challenges.

BONUS – Let your students drive the learning

While you could do all of these challenges by yourself, the real power comes in letting students own a piece of it.  They have the curiosity and the digital acumen, it’s the teacher’s job to give them instructional focus and empowerment.  We live in wonderfully connected times.  Despite all of technology’s perceived misgivings and the apocalyptic fears that we are losing ourselves as a society, why not use some of this power for good?

Just know that as a teacher in the 21st century you ultimately hold the key to unleash this creative beast.  So try something on the list this year that may force you a bit out of your comfort zone because there is no better way to learn than trying.

Just be sure you blog about it when you are finished as learning in isolation helps no one.

Oh….and be sure to hashtag it.

 

Update: Thanks to Sean Junkins who made this great little graphic for the challenge.  Collaboration at it’s finest!

Thanks to @sjunkins

Thanks to @sjunkins

Digital Parenting 101: An iTunesU Course For Parents

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Digital Parenting iTunesU course

Part of having any type of success in a school is to have the support of parents.  While some schools can overcome a lack of parent involvement or support, most depend on the idea that “it takes a village” to raise a child.  The same is true of any successful mobile device initiative.  I’ve had over 50 talks/discussions/trainings with community members and parents in our district since the launch of the LEAP iPad Initiative in Fall of 2011, and that’s still not enough.

We’ve hosted panels of parents discussing their concerns and values with technology use.  We’ve brought in experts on cyber-bullying and internet safety.  We’ve even had back-to-school nights where we’ve invited parents to see and use the device as a child in the classroom would.

Knowledge is a powerful thing and lately, many parents are looking for more and more materials on what to avoid online, what to turn off and restrict, and how to help “stay ahead” of their kids digitally.  The hard truth is parents will never be able to stay ahead of their kids digitally.  Kids have more time and much less responsibility on their hands which means they can spend their free time trying to figure out ways to “game” the system and push limits.

As parents, our job has never been so important, but at the same time, so challenging.  We must now manage the lives of our actual kids and the virtual life they portray online.  One of my darkest moments during our 1:1 initiative was also one of my finest hours.  Following a highly attended parent orientation, I was encircled by about a dozen angry parents asking why we were “doing this to them.”  In their worlds, they (thought) they had control over screen-time, online behavior, obsessive gaming, etc.  Now the district has placed a device in the hand of every student and completely disrupted that well-maintained home life.

As the parents pointed their fingers angrily and voiced their frustrations over this disruption…a strange smile crept over my face.

“HOW CAN YOU BE SMILING?!?” they shouted.

My answer was simple, “I’m actually happy we are having this discussion right here, right now, when we can all do something about it.” I calmly stated. “In a few years, when your child has left for college, there is nothing I can do to help them with their digital lives.  But because they all have devices from our district, we can now join forces with parents to better educate our students.  After all, we aren’t raising children.  We are raising adults.”

Flash-forward a couple of years to this past spring.  While parent turn-out at “Digital Parent nights” and various other events were good, we were still missing a large chunk of parents who couldn’t attend due to their own schedule.  We decided to LiveStream several of these events, which helped with exposure, but I wasn’t sure we were really reaching those parents struggling to “keep up” with their kids.

After much bantering on my part, I finally decided to blackmail myself and set a date by which parents could sign up and be a part of an online course for digital parenting.  Publishing that date and sign up forced me to create the course, hence “blackmailing myself.”

I created the course in iTunesU and did so for a couple of reasons:

itunes U_edited-1

1. iTunesU is super-easy to manage.  The only time consuming part is gathering content and resources.

2. I wanted the parents to use their student’s iPad if possible to take the course. This helped model some of the educational expectations of the device at home.

So, on February 17th, I launched a 6-week iTunesU course titled: Digital Parenting 101.  I broke the course into 6 sections and rolled out content each week to parents that were enrolled in the course (I ended up with 43 parents enrolled). My sections were broken out into the following categories:

Week 1 – Digital Wellness in the 21st Century

Week 2 – Internet Safety, filters, restrictions & security

Week 3 – Screen time & the Brain

Week 4 – Social Media & Gaming

Week 5 – Guidelines for the Household

Week 6 – Building a Digital Footprint

At the end of each week’s content (designed to take 2-3 hours a week), I gave a brief 10-question quiz to check for understanding.  Parents that scored 80% or higher were emailed a ‘secret code’ that they would use to enter in the final exam to prove they completed each section.   In addition, I used a free platform called Moot.it to create a discussion forum for Q&A and to stimulate some discussion over the weekly topics.

All in all, the course went very well, but still needs some room for improvement.  I’ve asked the “students” in the course to email me feedback and will use that to craft the next course I offer in the fall.

That said, I’ve been asked by several colleagues to share the course with the public.  So, with a little iTunesU magic, I duplicated the course, removed the links to the private forums, and made it public for anyone to use.  I share this backstory and course with you in the hopes that you’ll continue to work with parents on educating them about their children’s digital future.  I also find a course like this strengthens the bond between school and parent in collectively raising their child.

Enjoy!

Eanes ISD Digital Parenting 101: iTunesU Course

The Magic of Lending a Hand

Last spring I was called in to help collaborate on a video project for an elementary school.  This isn’t unusual as there is usually a campus or two that wants to work on something for their local community. However, this project was different, and I could tell from the beginning, it was going to be something that all kids, not just those at Eanes, could benefit from. The principal had sent me a song, that I thought was surely commercially done by some sort of Disney song-writer and singer.  She explained to me that actually a couple of students had written a song as part of an anti-bullying project and they made the song over the weekend (with the help of their Uncle, a guitarist for Kelly Clarkson).

I met with a team of staff and the kids’ parents in mid April to discuss the possibility of making this into a music video.  We listened to the song several times together as a group to get various ideas of how we wanted the video to look. My first thought when hearing the song “Lend a Hand” was that kids would slowly start to join their cause throughout the video.  The premise behind the song is that bystanders can be just as guilty as bullies and instead of standing idly by, they should “lend a hand”.

We had 5 graders develop vignettes for the verses of the song and we plot pointed parts of the playground and areas around the campus to shoot all of this.  Originally, the thought was that we would lipdub the entire song in a single shot.   While this can be tricky, it does make editing very easy.  I had some experience with this from the previous year and Forest Trail’s “Project Firework” which got on the news when Katy Perry decided to post it on her Facebook page.  The only problem was, I shot that entire shot moving forward.  This one would be the opposite, and require me to walk backwards, film and give direction.

Needless to say, the ending footage wasn’t very desirable.  (click here for never-before seen rough cut footage) It was blurry, not in HD, and bouncy since I had to walk backwards. I ended up enlisting the help of the Westlake broadcast journalism department and a couple of their aspiring videographers.(interested side note, these two students actually attended Eanes Elementary when they were younger!)  While the idea of filming the whole song in sequence remained, we decided we could shoot from two different angles and give it more of a music video feel.  As a director, it made my life a whole lot easier not having to worry about the camera and focus on what the kids were doing. We could zoom in and focus on the vignettes that the kids had made too, which I felt weren’t seen in the original. To put the finishing touches, the parents enlisted the help of Austin Children’s choir to sing the ending chorus and refrain. The end result was a purely magical video created by students for students.

Here’s the official HD video:

Thanks to the Westlake Film Crew, Eanes Elementary, students Alethia and London for their amazing song, their parents for supporting this and Julia Fortman for thinking enough of me to ask me to come help!

Click here for the full KXAN news story