Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Our Goal Should Not Be to Teach Kids How to Identify Fake News

Teaching our children and students how to recognize fake news is a good first step, but it should not be our goal. I wrote about the spread of fake news recently and shared a variety of research, data, and resources for teachers to help students develop media literacy skills. But I think that I – and many of my peers who have written and shared with urgency about fake news – stopped short of what is really needed.

We need to go farther. We need to teach our children what to DO once they have determined an article or image is fake news. Here's why we need to take this next step, and how we can do it together.


At it's worst, fake news has caused violence – as in the case of the man firing a rifle in a pizza shop after reading a fake online article that the restaurant was "harboring child sex slaves" inside. Sadly, the man in this situation is not the only adult who has fallen for fake news. Pew's recent research indicates that nearly a quarter of adults admit to sharing fake news in the past and most of them didn't know it was fake when they shared it. (I'm not sure whether it is more or less disturbing that some of them shared fake news that they knew was fake.)

Taking action to debunk fake information and prevent it from spreading is essential if we want the internet of the future to be a positive place where we can find what we need, communicate with others, and grow together.

One way to help your students understand how sharing fake news can lead to misunderstandings, anger, and even violence is to share this video with them.

Don't worry, I've checked to ensure the accuracy of the information in the video on After showing the video, ask your students if they have:

  • seen fake news in their social media feeds (these are some examples from the election of 2016 in this Buzzfeed post)
  • seen their friends share fake news by mistake/on purpose
  • shared fake news by mistake/on purpose
  • reacted to/seen others react to fake news with emotion
It is critical that these conversations do not include blaming or finger-pointing. Adults and children alike have been fooled by fake news and have shared fake news. Make it clear to your students that we are learning together and need to become better consumers and sharers together.


Step 1: Identify Fake News

Right now my favorite resource is this ten question checklist from The News Literacy Project and This easy-to-use list is starting to gain traction at both the middle and high school levels. I like it because it helps students calibrate their gut-check when it comes to online information.

While it is important to teach students how to investigate the reliability and origins of an author or website, their gut check will help trigger those investigations. This list of questions from ConnectSafely can help learners dig deeper when investigating fake news.

But once students have identified that something is fake news, is refusing to share it enough? For decades we have told students to stand up to bullying and teasing and that being a bystander is not permissible. We need to apply this same standard to fake news. We need to teach our students and friends how to stand up to fake news without provoking more conflict.

Step 2: Find Confirmation

Teach students how to confirm that information in accurate. The most viral articles and images that turn out to be fake news are outed quickly on websites like Snopes (my personal favorite), FactCheck, PolitiFact, and Poynter. For instance, one of the most shared fake news stories in the midst of the election of 2016 was a story released by the Southend News Network reporting that Pope Francis has endorsed Donald Trump. If a student used the 10 question checklist above and believed the story to be fake news, that belief could be corroborated by reports on:

Step 3: Take Action!

Adolescents, teens, and adults who see fake news and simply scroll further down their feed are acting as bystanders to the fake news phenomenon. For decades we have told students to stand up to bullying and teasing and that being a bystander is not acceptable. We need to apply this same standard to fake news. We need to teach our students and friends how to stand up to fake news without provoking more conflict. We can do this by scripting comments and responses. Here are a few examples:

  • Hey, friend! A lot of people are concerned about this. It turns out that it is fake news. Here is a link that explains what's going on.
  • Thought you'd want to know that this is fake news. You might want to take it down so people don't get confused. This link goes into more detail.
If your learners are even more progressive and are willing to share the truth on their own timeline – and not merely in the comments responding to the posts of others – here are more examples:

  • I've seen many of my friends post links to websites and articles claiming _______. This post explains the truth. Let's spread the truth together. Please share!
  • In case you've seen posts about ______ and have become concerned, this information will clear things up. Lots of people were confused. You're not alone!

We can all raise the bar together. Our end goal should not be to merely teach student to analyze the media they consume, but also how to create a share media that makes the internet a better place. Use these strategies when you use social media and be sure to share these strategies with your students, too.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The 4 Perspectives of Education Technology

I'm an educator in many ways: I'm a learner, a teacher, a parent, and a leader. Each role makes me better informed and better qualified to fulfill the other roles. I value all four of these vantage points, and here's why.

1. Learner

Over the past few months, I have developed skills in privacy policy vetting and app deployment for the teachers and students at my school. I've also started to develop a library of openly licensed education resources in content areas and grade levels where I have never taught as a classroom educator. These skills and resources only came with significant research, collegial support, and practice. And these are only my most recent learnings. One of the best parts of my role as an education technologist is that I know the field will continue to develop and change. I'm still learning and exploring the potential of virtual reality thanks to offerings from a few companies my school works with and the free apps available on iOS. I will always be a learner. I will always be challenged.

2. Teacher

In the classroom with students, I provide insights as they research and design projects. What are the most reliable websites? Who are the experts the can contact for insights and interviews? How can you best evaluate, compare, and analyze the information you've gathered? What is the best medium to share your findings? Should you use an infographic, public service announcement, podcast, essay, animation, coded simulation? Once you've decide the right medium, which tools will help you create the highest quality product and learn new skills? When you decide to share what you've learned, what is are your responsibilities as a digital citizen when you publish online?

3. Parent

My 2nd grader's teacher sent me this photo of her
using manipulatives to solve math problems
with a classmate in the fall.
My young children, ages 8 and 5, want to be just like their parents. They see us video chatting with our friends and family, emailing for work, writing and designing original creations, streaming and downloading music and videos that matter to us, and more. To me, this means it is important to introduce them both to online gaming, Google Drive creation and storage, YouTube, and even Snapchat. While they do not yet have accounts on ALL of those platforms, they do have accounts on some. Those accounts are private, monitored and controlled by their parents, and exist so that their digital learning is just another part of their early learning about socialization, communication, and service. When they are ready, my children will decide when and if they want to share what they've learned and created with the broader internet.

Just as I'm teaching my children, their teachers are teaching me. Often, I get updates via email or a home-school communication app or website with photos of my daughters reading, learning, and even dancing and singing during their school day. These updates sometimes include photos, which I love to share with my children in the evening as a conversation starter about their day, and sometimes include links to valuable online learning resources that we can use to supplement what is happening at school. I've been able to learn with and from my children thanks to these resources.

4. Leader

As a blogger, speaker, digital learning specialist, and director of education I often find myself working with colleagues to lead the charge when it comes to policy changes, pilot programs, and professional learning in education technology. This role gives me opportunities to experiment, make mistakes, and share my findings with others.

In the end, no matter the role you fulfill in education technology, you should feel like you can experiment, make mistakes, and share your findings too. This certainly does not mean that we should not take responsibility for doing prior due diligence when it comes to student data privacy and essential security measures. But it does mean that when we have put reasonable safeguards in place, we need to be able to take chances for the sake of advancing student learning and engagement. We should ask ourselves, "What does technology make possible?"

Thursday, December 15, 2016

What should educators do about fake news?

The fake news phenomenon has been developing alongside the growth of social media for years, but it is getting more attention presently because of the important role accurate and inaccurate information can play in a presidential election. Since 50% of young adults get their news primarily online, and teachers observe their younger students doing the same, many educators have growing concerns about their students' abilities to identify the real from the fake news on the internet.

The most alarming statistics came recently from the Stanford Graduate School of Education. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, 82% of middle schoolers were unable to distinguish between "sponsored content" and a real news story on a website. When these young learners do academic research and find out about the broader world through the internet, are they be able to tell the difference between real and fake?

Together with my colleagues at school and my peers in other schools, I am developing strategies and plans for addressing fake news with our students. Before we start talking with students, however, it is important to check on our own ability to accurately identify fake and real news. Pew Research Center released a study today that, among other information, shows one in four adults have shared fake news.

What's more, the results of an Ipsos Study released last week showed that, when tested, adults rated fake news as "somewhat" or "very" accurate at least 75% of the time. They even broke down the percentages of adults who recognized and believed certain fake news headlines were true.

Source: Buzzfeed

This data about adults' abilities to identify fake news is concerning. It means that we have to remain vigilant and provide ongoing professional learning for teachers on fake news. Not only is it important for our students to be critical consumers of media, it is essential that teachers remain up-to-date with the new and best methods for evaluating information.

Here are a few resources that educators can use to get started:

1. DigCit@SJP - Deep Dive: Communication & Responsibility   
Developed by my colleague Julie Cremin and I, this page is part of a larger website that served as training modules for our faculty on digital citizenship and continues to serve as a resource for our entire school community. The page linked above is full of our favorite resources – including Snopes, Common Sense Education, ConnectSafely, the Harvard Berkman Klein Center, and more – for helping students understand the importance of being critical consumers and of being honest and positive contributors to the internet.

2. Stanford History Education Group - Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning 
Start by reading the executive summary from the Stanford study mentioned at the top of this post, but continue scrolling to see the activities researchers used to carry out the study and samples responses. It is a powerful read and it would be rather easy to use the same activities with the adults and students in your school community to help get the conversation about fake news started.

3. PBS NewsHour - Lesson Plan: How to teach your students about fake news
Not only does this lesson plan realistically tackle fake news in a 50 minute class period, it is full of links to studies, articles, and websites that you and your students can reference as you work together to evaluate online information moving forward.

4. ConnectSafely - How and why to avoid sharing fake news 
This short article explains what fake news is, how to help yourself and your students recognize it, what to do once you've spotted it, and how we can all work together to combat fake news and make sure the information we find online in the future will be grounded in fact and analyzed with honesty. 

Although Craig Silverman has been consistently warning us about fake news on Buzzfeed for the past 6 months, it is an issue that all of us must take responsibility for as consumers and creators of online media. School administrators and teachers can work with students to help them understand the difference by recognizing that research and information gathering has changed in the past decade, paying attention to media patterns as they shift over time, and giving students ample opportunities to be critical consumers.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

How to Talk About Sexting

The advice for the past few years from parents and educators everywhere has been clear:

Don't do it. 

That advice has been less than effective.

So, here we are. Sexting is still going on and may even be "the new first base" for teens. In fact, 80% of adults admit to sexting within the last year. The reasons that adults and teens engage in sexting behavior is often different, and schools and parents are usually rocked by scandal when teen sexting comes to light in their community. In the mean time, many adults are afraid to talk about it because it seems so taboo and uncomfortable.

This post is meant to provide enough information to empower educators and parents to start talking to their adolescents and teens about sexting proactively. The discussions need to happen before the scandal breaks and in an effort to prevent it, not in reaction to the scandal. This information should make adults feel empowered, not frightened.

Also, as a disclaimer, this post is not meant to be the ultimate and final guide to sexting. There is much more to the topic than can fit in one blog post. Many educators and parents just need a place to start. This post might be that place.


For some girls, sexting seems unnatural and unimaginable. We should never assume our daughters or female students are engaging in this behavior and open with accusations. But, if and when these girls show interest in boys and start communicating with them using messaging technology like iMessage or Snapchat, it is not unreasonable to assume they will be asked for "nudes" from those boys. (Worth noting: "Nudes" can be spelled almost any phonetical way such as "noodz" and many others.) We can start by asking them what they have heard about sexting and if anyone they know is sending those kinds of pictures.

According to the research of Nancy Jo Sales, girls are caught in a tough spot. If they refuse to send a naked picture, they are called "prudes" or even blackmailed with personal information they do not want others to know. If they do send that naked picture, they lose control of it and it can be copied and shared widely by anyone who receives it. Both options are a potential black hole for their reputations to fall into. It might be worthwhile to listen to the podcasts and read through the articles on Sales's website and choose one to share with your daughter. Ask her what she thinks and if she is worried about that happening to her. Let the conversation happen organically and go from there.

What we do know, as Teen Vogue's recent article makes clear, is that telling girls "just don't do it" is ineffective and tends to make them less likely to be willing to talk with their adults about sexting and the social pressures that go with it. Sometimes a girl is so consumed by these pressures that she might send "nudes" even when they are not requested because she thinks that is the expectation when she likes a boy and wants him to like her back.


For some boys, the idea of asking a girl for "nudes" or of sharing a "dick pic" (an unprompted penis picture) is way outside their comfort zone. Not all of our adolescent and teen boys are engaged in sexting culture or even have a desire to be. We should not start the conversations about this topic with accusations, but that does not mean we should not be having the conversations at all. Start by asking what they know about sexting and if they have heard other boys, even their friends, talk about sending, asking for, or receiving naked pictures.

Based on information from Dr. Powell-Lunder, who calls it Clark Kent Syndrome, boys are programmed from a young age that being the alpha-male – a sort of superhero status – is what they should strive for. Even boys who are quiet and unassuming in person can act out that ideal on social media or via private messages. If a boy who is shy in-person can contribute "nudes" to a "slut page" – an Instagram, Facebook, or Dropbox where teens collect nudes that have been sent and shared – then he can help make progress toward the superhero ideal.

It is important to note that some boys do not initiate the sexting and are pressured into exchanging "nudes" by a girl. Ask your son about these dynamics, what he has heard about or seen, and how he feels about it.

Where to Go From Here

It all starts with the courage to ask questions and the patience to listen. Most of the time these conversations will not end with answers that you or your children/students are comfortable with. In fact, most of the time the conversations will be a little uncomfortable. After all, there is a lot at stake and the people involved care a lot about each other. For this reason, a couple of resources I like are ConnectSafely's Tips for Dealing with Teen Sexting and Common Sense Media's Guide to Sexting. Both resources acknowledge that there can be legal consequences involved, but in many scenarios that might not be the best path. They also state up front that there are many relationships affected when sexting happens and there are no easy answers.

Ignoring sexting because it is scary or because we adults are worried about what we might find out will not help our children/students navigate this complex and mature topic. Starting and continuing conversations with our children and students in a way that lets them know we care about them is the best way to get started.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

My child knows more about #edtech than I do!

A common concern I hear from parents is that their children know more about the devices and technology used in school than they do. Even parents who work in technology-rich careers may not be familiar with education technology. As a result, day to day monitoring of what their children are doing is awkward and difficult. Sometimes it isn't until their child is hooked on a video game or social media platform that they initiate any discourse about healthy technology use. When families wait until there is something wrong to have these talks, it is bound to be tense and unpleasant.

Some parents have reached out to our school's technology team to ask for advice on monitoring apps or software, parental controls, and other easy fixes. Our response to these requests is consistent with the message we have shared at parent orientations, parent council meetings, and parent webinars:
  • Have proactive conversations about twice a month.
  • Open these conversations by asking, "Can you show me how you use your Chromebook, iPad, laptop, smartphone to do school work?"
  • Follow up questions might include, "What have you created?" or "How do you keep track of everything on this device?" or "Do you ever get distracted by text messages/games/social media when you're trying to work?"
Much like parents have proactive conversations with their children about healthy eating, dressing appropriately, and how to treat others, parents can and should have proactive positive conversations about healthy technology use.

One parent recently contacted us – my fellow digital learning specialists Julie Cremin, Elizabeth Solomon, and I – to let us know that she decided to have one of these conversations and to tell us how it went. Here is her account:

Inspired (and reminded) by the Digital Learning Specialists/Super Heroes, I sat down last night with both of my boys to get a tour of their iPads. Fun!! One bonus that had not occurred to me was to do it with both of them at once. As my junior whipped through his apps, talking about features he liked about one or another, my freshman, kept interrupting: "Wait, how did you do that?" or "You can do that?!" I slid into the background as the junior started lecturing him on the importance of collaborating with his classmates by setting up group chats for every class, creating shared Quizlet decks (for world languages in particular), and arranging study sessions before and after school.

One item that stood out for me was the diagram below. My junior was studying physics with a friend before school. He has Mr. X, his friend has Mr. Y. My junior liked his friend's Mr. Y notes, so he took a picture of them and put the picture in Notability. Then, during his Mr. X class, he took a picture of the board, and pasted it onto the same image (lower right corner). And finally, he had a few extra notes he wanted included, so he wrote them in himself (note the different handwriting on the right side that begins with 'avg speed').

My junior is a kid who struggled academically in his first year and a half in high school, and now he's learned to harness the tools that are available to him to really excel (an A+ in Physics, and straight A's and 1 B first quarter).

Thanks for the work you do!
No parental controls or monitoring apps could accomplish what they accomplished with this conversation. It is certainly possible that one of their sons may struggle with healthy technology use at some point in the future, but because these parents have engaged them in positive conversations about how they use technology for school work, it will be easier for them to have those tough discussions later. Their teens appreciated an opportunity to teach their parents something and will be more likely to share what they are doing in school moving forward.

As educators, let's encourage our students to share what they are doing in school with their parents at home, and let's communicate often with parents to give them conversation-starters to help them initiate those discussions. As parents, let's practice what we preach with our own children and share our successes and struggles. Every family and school community is learning how to navigate this new connected era. Parents, children, and educators can work together to be proactive, positive, and to make progress.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Ugly Sweaters of Education

The ugly sweater. No matter your faith, it is a recognizable holiday phenomenon. Some wear them proudly, and yet it is only because they are messy, loud, and noticeable. The time when they were fashionable has past (decades ago) but there are some trends that stick around because they are hard to forget.

There are certain teaching and learning strategies that are no longer en vogue, but are so valuable they have quietly lasted decades in many classrooms. In many cases, the tools used to carry them out and the names used to describe them have changed.


Yes, I said it. Even as a teacher who has criticized the practice of lecturing quite often, I do believe it is a tried a true practice that can be effective –– if done well. Educators who are masterful lecturers understand that a quality lecture is interactive, thought-provoking, and entertaining for all participants. Great lectures are not solo performances, they are engaging experiences.

Pear Deck is one platform that allows educators to thoughtfully plan for personalized and collaborative learning activities that are built into the lecture slide deck. Another option is to offer for participants to engage in a backchannel using TodaysMeet. Then review the transcript and respond to ideas periodically during the lecture. Finally, if you want to take specific questions live from your audience, consider using Google Slides and it's kind-of-new Q&A feature.

Daily Quizzes and Exit Tickets

These strategies are worthwhile because they are frequent check-ins on student progress, but any teacher who really actually used them daily is superhuman.  I don't know about you, but I had between 120 and 130 teenagers walk over that classroom threshold on a daily basis. Is it possible for a mere mortal to create, read, and assess that many exit tickets every 24 hours (especially when you consider the daily lesson/project planning, summative assessment creation and correction, and 6-7 hours of sleep that are also required to function)? These tried and true formative assessments were too much work before, but digital tools have changed that.

Poll Everywhere offers a live survey-style effect to close out your class period. Formative offers a variety of questions types that can remain private or can be displayed live, based on teacher preference. Socrative even has an exit ticket built in their dashboard for teachers to use spur-of-the-moment.

Bell Ringers or Bell Work

I like to call them "activators" because I like to think they activate the kind of thinking needed for a particular activity (and also because some schools no longer mark time with bells). The truth is they are just as much a class management tool – designed to get students to engage in classwork and resist messing around as soon as they enter the classroom with their friends – as they are an opportunity for learning.

Steal from the project based learning playbook and make your activator about a real world problem that connects with the topic of class for that day. For instance:

  • About to embark on a long term research project? Invite students to try to solve A Google a Day. The exercise teaches them the valuable of un-Google-able questions and includes hints on how to properly navigate search engines. They will be better prepared to author their own research question and to find the sources they need to complete their research.
  • Planning to introduce students to the concept of velocity and how to calculate it? Start by showing them this downhill skateboard racing video. Start by reminding your students that these racers are professionals (or reckless at the very least) and they shouldn't attempt such a stunt. But then appeal to their curiosity. How might we figure out how fast they are going? What information would we need? Are there clues in the video – like the regular dashes on the side of the road and the ticking seconds in the YouTube timer – that might help? 
Opening class with activities like these will surely result in a room full or students who are more invested in mastering the skills and content at hand.

While lectures, daily quizzes, exit tickets, and bell work might be old fashioned ugly sweaters to modern connected educators, they are methods that have been around for decades. They might not fit in today's classroom in their original form, but when the best edtech tools and resources are used to make them more engaging, manageable, and powerful... they're back! Just as with fashion, what is old can be new again, and we need to remember that great teaching and learning should never be pushed aside and replaced by a new trend "just because."

Ugly sweater photo from flickr

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Be Honest About PD

My favorite way to learn as a professional is to find opportunities for my colleagues and I to have the time and structure for the conversations we aren't having at school. When at school educators are limited by scheduling, the defined boundaries of titles and roles, and cultural norms or routines for "how things are done" day to day. This is why you'll often find me at regional or national conferences with my colleagues. Sometimes we are co-presenting, but more often we are eager to talk with other teachers, curriculum and technology coaches, and administrators so that we can learn from them and bring inspiring ideas back to our teachers and students.

I realized this is the most effective form of professional learning for me because I was asked to intentionally think about it today.

This week I had the opportunity to work with a team of teachers and administrators from my school at the Future Ready Summit in Boston. We worked together as a team, and also learned from leadership teams from schools and districts throughout Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and New Jersey.

In one activity we analyzed the best and worst of our own professional learning experiences. These are some common examples I heard from participants on my team and on other district teams:

What was your worst professional learning experience?

  • The presenter did a data dump without carving out an opportunity for my colleagues and I to reflect on that data or use it to develop a plan.
  • I was forced to have conversations that required vulnerability with people I'd never met as part of "turn and talk" activities throughout the day.
  • There wasn't enough time to process the information before moving on to another topic.
What was your most effective professional learning experience?
  • The organization/trainer took the time to learn about our school, develop data, and then create an experience that was customized to the needs of our school and our students.
  • Expectations were set from the beginning to allow for us to make mistakes, iterate, and then learn from that experience.
  • We were able to work in small groups to apply the information we had just learned to concrete situations and real-life classroom scenarios. Then we could take it all with us and use it the very next day.
  • The school encouraged peer observations and I saw colleagues from across content areas applying pedagogical practices I'd never considered. It changed the way I think of using classroom space, balancing noise and quiet, and handing over learning ownership to students.
Without even referencing the research, the educators in the room had identified some of the key elements from Linda Darling-Hammond's work as they discussed effective PD:
  • genuinely collaborative
  • concretely connected to student interactions and student work
  • customized and ongoing, not one-and-done
So, what's next? Well, the education leaders in the room had to face reality and consider the professional learning experiences of their district's teachers in the past year or two. If asked to rate them, would teachers classify those experiences closer to worst or closer to most effective? What changes could be made to provide more effective professional learning for teachers in the future?

The activity concluded with more detailed discussions in district teams and some groups developed plans. Many shared their existing personalized professional learning models in this document so that everyone could benefit.

Here's the point of this post: Have you asked yourself these questions recently? Which professional learning experiences were the worst for you? Which were the most effective? What kinds of experiences are you creating for your colleagues? Have you asked your colleagues for their feedback on those experiences?

If we are going to make real positive progress in our schools, we have to have real honest conversations with our colleagues and with ourselves. These two questions are one place to start.

For more great questions that will trigger district reflection and change, take a look at the Future Ready Framework and consider using their dashboard to complete the self evaluation with your own district team.