Don’t Blame Technology for Bad Decisions

April 15, 2009

As a technology professional one of the hardest parts of the job is balancing our students’ access to information and technology for educational purposes with the potential threats and temptations that pique our students’ curiosity. While we abide by our legal responsibility to filter the internet for inappropriate material as mandated by the Children’s Internet Protection Act we often struggle with the boundaries of our responsibility to filter information. Should we filter Facebook? YouTube? Flickr? GMail? Where do we draw the line? At what point do we begin to block access to materials that have legitimate educational value on the chance that they might offer access to some inappropriate materials? These are tough decisions and we grapple with them often.

As a school we have blocked access to sites such as MySpace due to the perceived threat of exposure to predators. We understand the need to limit our student’s exposure to external threats such as those posed by potential predators on MySpace, but now we face a new range of threats that are not easily blocked. These threats are internal; they come from inside our firewalls and content filtering. They can occur 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days year. The latest and greatest threat to our students is themselves.

Sexting is the “in” term. Thanks to some highly publicized cases in Barnstable and Holbrook, most people have a familiarity with the term. But for those that don’t, sexting is the sending of sexually explicit or inappropriate photos from a cell phone. Often the recipient of the photos will then forward them to other contacts creating a chain letter type spread of the pictures. What may have started as a personal and private communication between two people quickly can turn into a mass distribution of inappropriate materials. To make matters worse, if the subject of the photo is under the age of 18 years old the photos qualify as child pornography under current laws. That means anyone sending these photos can be charged with distribution of child pornography and anyone receiving them can be charged with possession. If convicted this could lead to our students and your children being labeled as a sex offenders for life.

Often our initial reaction to threats such as these is to blame the technology. That was the reaction many had with MySpace, block it or ban it. However in truth we must begin to deal with the crux of all of these problems, poor decision making. Deciding to meet with stranger you met online or forwarding explicit pictures of yourself is a personal decision that can not be blamed on a webpage or cell phone. Children today need to understand that these types of decisions can have drastic and far reaching effects. These are real life decisions that have real life consequences. Sexting has led to criminal charges and in some drastic cases suicide. Middle School students may be young and immature but if we are to entrust them with the responsibility of technology they must be expected to make proper decisions when using it.

Sexting in most cases is not a school issue, it is a home issue. The schools will be developing a technology safety plan to begin to educate all our students (K-12) on responsible use of technology. We will educate our students on proper use and safety but we can not do this alone. Your children are connected nearly every minute of every day. You control their access and a cell phone, in the right hands, is a wonderful device. Be aware of what they are doing and how they are using it. Take the time to discuss these issues and the potential consequences with your children. Help them understand that poor decisions may have a serious impact on their lives. Simply blaming the technology is too simple a response; it doesn’t address the fundamental issue of why a child would decide to engage in this behavior.

If you feel you would like to learn more about sexting or internet safety please visit the following web sites.

www.netsmartz.org

www.wiredsafety.com/

www.isafe.org


From budgets in the red to schools in the green

February 13, 2009

The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis’. One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger-but recognize the opportunity.  John F. Kennedy

There is no need to waste many words describing the economic crisis we all find ourselves in.  Schools across the country are taking catastrophic losses of personnel and programs.  Bailouts and stimulus packages offer promises to soften the blows but most likely will only have minimal impact on schools next year.  There is no “golden parachute” for schools,  for us we must make hard choices and budget cuts that have more impact to students than they do to spreadsheets.  Programs and services will be cut, positions may be lost, resources will be scarce, but perhaps, once we accept that we can begin to search for opportunity.

A single strand of opportunity that we must grasp next year is conservation.  We have the tools and the resources available to us now to become a greener school district.   Technology offers us the ability to change the way our school uses resources.  We can easily become less dependent on paper, toner, postage, and copy machines by challenging ourselves to be more responsible consumers of these resources.  This requires changing our own personal habits and comfort zones.  The benefit in the end is worth the initial discomfort, not only are we moving towards being more ec0-friendly, but we will save more of our precious dollars.

Lets look at some ways we that our district can go green.

  1. Shut off computers when not in use – Easy to do but not done enough.  Simply turning off your computers, monitors, printers, dvd players, etc. when you go home at night is a great start.
  2. Submit assignments digitally – Have your students use an online dropbox such as drop.io or use Moodle to submit assignments as a file instead of on paper.
  3. Give tests and quizes online with Examview – If you textbook came with the Examview program consider using it to administer tests and quizes.  Not only will you use less paper but it will cut down on your correcting.
  4. Use and online classroom – Use Moodle to extend your classroom online.  Moodle is an online classroom application similiar to Blackboard.  Through Moodle you can provide your syllabi, provide important resources, use discussion boards, have classroom chat rooms, give quizes and assignments, and much, much more.  Imagine not having to make 500 copies of the periodic table this year simply because they can access it online when they need it.
  5. No more paper newsletters – Use e-mail and the school webpage to distribute school newsletters, announcements, reminders, fund raising materials, etc.  You should be able to reach the majority of your audience this way.  You’ll still need to provide paper for those with Internet access but it will mean a lot less printing and copying for your staff.

These are just some simple opportunites we should grasp in these tough times.  The forces causing our recession are beyond our control, we must play with the hand we are dealt.  But if we look hard enough and are willing to adapt that hand might hold fabulous cards.



The Digital Disconnect

October 26, 2007

I’ve been rolling around a question in my head for about the last six months. The basic question is: Is there a difference between how students and educators define technology? Really, what does a student consider technology? A computer? Probably not, they been using computers their entire life. The Internet? Once again it’s been there for them for most of their lives. Cell phones? I-Pods? I-Phones? When we express our desire to integrate technology into their classroom experiences are we talking our technology or theirs? Wouldn’t it be interesting to hear what students thought about our attempts to integrate technology?

I just finished reading a very interesting report entitled The Digital Divide: The Widening Gap Between Internet Savvy Students and their Schools. This report looks at the student side of Educational Technology. It attempts to hear the student’s voices about whether or not we are effectively utilizing the internet in schools. The report asks the students if they are using internet in schools, if not, why not? It also looks for the students to provide examples of effective integration of technology, and, in their minds, poor integration of technology.

The report finds that as expected our students are heavy users of the Internet. They regularly use it to complete homework assignments, collaborate on school work, research, communicate with peers, and gain access to information that is not readily available to them in school. The disconnect is that almost all of their use occurs outside of the school day. Why you ask? The students tell us it is due to a variety of reasons. First of all, access at school can is beset by barriers, such as slow computers, slow Internet, or stringent filters and firewalls. They also see teachers that don’t feel comfortable using the Internet, or don’t understand how to effectively use it in their classroom. Often the Internet assignments they get are boring and don’t leverage the power of the Internet.

The clear implication is that the students feel comfortable online, and want to use the Internet in their classrooms. They understand the benefits it can bring to education and are discouraged when their use is limited or blocked. In many cases their only chance to utilize the vast array of online resources is to wait until they get home. And clearly those students without computers at home are put further behind their peers that have access.

Reports such as this one make it clear that schools need to continue to grow their technology resources and expertise. We are not meeting the needs of the students in this area, and they know it.


The shortest route between Point A and Point B… Hey that’s not a straight line!

May 4, 2007

An excellent opportunity for you to merge Geography and Geometry in your lessons is to discuss Great Circles. Simply put great circles are circles that mark the shortest distance between two points along a circumference of a sphere (such as the Earth) . When trying to get from point A to point B on a sphere you need to take the curvature of the sphere into account in order to find the shortest path. This is done all the time in the airline industry to determine the shortest flight path. What it does do is distort the “straight line” when viewed on a flat map.

The web site Tall Eye can be a great tool to help clarify this concept. Tall Eye allows you to plot a straight line course between two points on the Earth. Basically it allows you to see what areas of the Earth you would pass through if you walked a straight line, in any direction, between two points. While this is sort of cool in and of itself, it becomes valuable to Geography and Geometry teachers when one looks at how the straight line gets represented on a flat map. It clearly is not straight. Any student using this web site probably will have the same reaction, Why? Your teachable moment has arrived.

Lets look at straight line due east from Massachusetts to Massachusetts.

Great Circle

If you want to see the full path here is the link.

This is a simple way to present a more complex issue in an engaging and interesting fashion using technology. Have your students examine how the circles change as you get closer to the equator or the poles. What happens to the curve as change the direction of your path? There are many opportunities for you to use Tall Eye to help your students make the connection between Geography and Geometry.


Kinder-Blogging

April 10, 2007

Here is a quick little entry to show you an example of how blogs can be used even in primary grades.  The KinderKids Classroom blog is a blog for a Kindergarten classroom in Deerfield, NH.  I really like this blog because it allows the children to contribute in several ways.  First, the children get to write their own blog entries and receive feedback from other students, friends and family.  Second, they incorporate podcasts into their blogs to allow the viewers to hear them sing songs and tell us about their class.  This is a really good way to incorporate technology into a primary classroom.  Through this one blog the students are reading, writing, singing, speaking, typing, and sharpening their technology skills.  As a reward they get to share their work with their family and friends and receive positive reinforcement from them.  Check out the blog and see think about ways you can incorporate blogging into your classroom.

By the way the KinderKids Classroom blog is run from Class Blogmeister which is a free blogging site that gives the teacher the ability to review and approve blog entries before they can be viewed by others.


Express Yourself Through Comic Strips

March 28, 2007

A brand new website was launched today that allows users to create their own comic strips. Toondoo is a site that allows the user to create their own unique 1, 2, or 3 panel comic strip and quickly publish it to the Toondoo website or a blog. Now I have zero artistic ability and under normal circumstances I would never be able to express myself in this format, but Toondoo makes it easy. Toondoo provides a series of backgrounds, characters, props and text boxes to choose from, or if you prefer, you can upload your own pictures and use them. Once you pick your elements you can resize, rotate, or move them around the page as you like. You get total control of your comic strip. When your done you can publish with a single click and your comic is viewable on the Toondoo site by all.

This is a free website that can easily be used in classrooms from elementary to high school. As we look for new and exciting ways for our students to express themselves, websites such as Toondoo offer even the right brained challenged an easy way to create a visual statement. Utilizing a website like Toondoo is a good way incorporate art, technology, and content in a fun way and get an attractive and potentially meaningful product.

Here is my Toondoo comic strip.

Rapid Change Happens!

I challenge you to make your own Toondoo comic and post the link in the comments section.


Building a better web page for Auburn

March 26, 2007

The technology department is in the middle of working on a new web site for the Auburn Public School District. We are working hard to develop a web site that is functional, informative, and attractive. In an effort to perhaps prompt some discussion on this blog I would like to know What would you like to see on the new Auburn Public School web site? Leave a comment below and tell me what you would like to see on the new website or what you would like to do through it. I’m sure some of you have ideas we have not thought of yet. I can’t promise everyone’s idea will make it to the site, but we will do our best. So leave a comment below and help us shape a site in which we can all be proud.