Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Gateway Tech Tools for Tech Tentative Teachers

In every school community there are a handful of great teachers – the teachers who are passionate about their students, experts in their content, and beloved by the families they have served – who are also kind of scared of technology. Either they have little experience using tech in their personal lives and therefore do not see how it applies to the classroom, or they have been burned by bad technology rollouts and learned to rely on their tried-and-true non-tech strategies. No matter the reason, they are great teachers and there is a way to change their experience with technology to benefit both them and their students. Often it is up to the instructional technology coaching staff to help facilitate the transition. Here are a few tools and strategies that I've seen work, and that might work for you.

Traditional Teaching Strategy: Slide Decks
Gateway Technology Tool: Pear Deck

Especially at the secondary level, teachers have relied on slide decks to structure lesson instructions and content delivery for decades. Remember when Power Point was the latest in EdTech? Power Point has come a long way, but direct instruction is on it's way out. The tool that is helping some slide deck traditionalists make the shift to hands-on instruction is Pear Deck. Using the Pear Deck platform in a BYOD or 1-to-1 classroom, each student connects to the teacher presentation, answers interactive questions or challenges, and then learns from the resulting data from the peers in the classroom with them. A few teachers who have invested a lot of time in designing their slide decks over the years have started experimenting with Pear Deck and their students are the beneficiaries.

Traditional Teaching Strategy: Video Clips
Gateway Technology Tool: PlayPosit

Pulling quick but effective video clips from YouTube, Khan Academy, Vimeo, and other sites is a long-standing practice of teachers everywhere. Many have gone farther and have started using the simple cameras on their phones to create and share their own instructional videos. While having students watch a video is a good first step, it is not interactive or hands-on. PlayPosit allows teachers to import videos from any of the platforms I just mentioned (and more) and then add interactive elements like questions, reflective pauses, and hyperlinks to enrichment resources online.

Traditional Teaching Strategy: Writing Assignments
Gateway Technology Tool: Blogs

Alan November has been encouraging
teachers to help students publish their
work for years. Image source.
When student write for their teacher, they are invested in the writing process because of the grade they hope to earn. When they write for an audience that could include their parents, extended family, friends, or the world beyond they are invested in the writing process because they know an audience includes people they care about and people they don't even know yet. First impressions are important!

For G Suite schools with well-established digital citizenship programs that have prepared students for online publishing etiquette/responsibility, Blogger is a good solution. It integrates well with the programs that students and teachers are already using and the dashboard is consistent with other online publishing tools.

If your technology administrators want more control over hosting, safety, and security then it is worth considering CampusPress, from the same company that brought us EduBlogs and WordPress. Another option is GoEnnounce. It combines the ability to share student work with a digital citizenship curriculum to help students and teachers understand why online sharing is important.

The great thing about starting with blogs for publishing student writing is that blogs have the potential to help students publish so much more. They can embed photos, videos, simulations, and even the code they write themselves as they advance in their academic careers. Soon, their blog will be more than a record of their writing. It will be a full-on digital portfolio of their creations.


If there are excellent teachers at your school who need a little nudge to unleash their teacher-power with edtech, one of these three strategies and tools might be the key that unlocks their potential.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

What Would George Washington Think of the Internet?

The way we communicate is more instantaneous and media-rich today than ever before in history. But both history and modern times are peppered with testy relationships, varying personalities, and complicated politics. While we sometimes think that life is so different today from the start of U.S. history, we have more in common with the people who lived at the beginning of our nation's story than we think. This also means that we struggle with communication in many of the same ways. Using the lesson and materials below, you can help your students feel more connected with history by talking with them about the ways they connect with one another online.

Earlier this week, Safer Internet Day was observed in over 100 countries all over the world including the United States. This year's theme is Be the change: Unite for a better internet and the event was held at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia and was hosted by ConnectSafely. Throughout the event, the speakers and performers reminded the nearly 200 students in the audience that their actions and voices are more important than they think. The young users of technology today are creating the internet of the future with every swipe, keystroke, and photo/video upload. In the same way our nation's founders were shaping the future as they drafted the Constitution, we are influencing the future every time we hit post or publish.

I was honored to help design and kick off the student activity portion of the day. We asked the participating students, who hailed from schools in Philadelphia and the surrounding towns, what early U.S. citizens and residents might say about the way we use the internet today. Their answers were inspiring and we captured a few with photos.

"I keep my family secrets but I see photos of yours every day."
These girls learned that James Madison's stepson struggled with addiction
and debt. Madison did his best to help without making the struggles public,
but many people overshare that kind of information online today.

"Although I don't agree with you I respect your opinion"
These boys learned that Thomas Jefferson built strong friendships with John
Adams and others who had differing opinions. He thought those relationships
were important to maintain.

"Burr! Your comments are killing me!"
This group learned about the rivalry and tension between Alexander Hamilton
and Aaron Burr that eventually led to a deadly duel.
They tried to imagine how they might interact on social media.

"Internet? Massah told me not to read."
The materials included profiles of Americans who represented perspectives
not included in the creation of the Constitution, like Frederick Douglass. These
boys poignantly pointed out that even online information is only available to
those who are educated and able to access it.
Slaves were forbidden from learning to read.

You can help your students make the connection from their digital lives to the revolutionary lives of our early countrymen, too. Click the image below to access the lesson resources.

Click here to access the lesson materials.

Here are a few ideas for how to use the resources in your classroom:

  1. Digital Lesson with Memes: Let students screenshot the portraits and then put the photos into Skitch, Phonto, or some other free image annotation app. Students can create memes in which the individuals featured in the lesson materials answer the questions based on the biographical information and direct quotes provided. Memes can be submitted via Google Classroom or some other LMS assignment submission feature. 
  2. Low Tech with Post-Its: Print and post the 8 portrait photos with corresponding info-sheets around the room. Divide the class into 8 groups. Each group takes 3-5 minutes at each of the 8 stations to read the info-sheets and write an original quote on a Post-It note from the perspective of the person in the portrait. As groups rotate, they are challenged to avoid repeating the quotes on the Post-Its from the groups that preceded them. 

It is important to close the activity with a class discussion and reflection. In our case, we asked for student volunteers for a final panel. Panelists ranged in age from 10 to 18 and shared their greatest takeaways and how they plan to take what they've learned back to their school communities.

If you use this lesson, or some version of it, at your school and in your classroom, please share the results on Twitter and tag @ConnectSafely and me, @KerryHawk02. Also use the official Safer Internet Day hashtags #SID2017 and #SIDUSA. Tiffany Hall from Florida did and her students' work is impressive!

We want to help amplify your students' voices so they can be the change and know their ideas are essential as we unite for a better internet.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Prepare Children for the World They WILL Live In, Not the World We WISH They'll Live In

When we put powerful devices in the hands of adolescents and teenagers, they will make mistakes. There is no doubt about it. Recently, I've been pressed by fellow educators and parents, both in person and via digital communications, as to whether it is truly worthwhile to give children – children with brains that are not fully developed – these powerful tools when we know with confidence that they will make mistakes while using them. They will play games when they should be doing homework. They will get sucked into text messages during class time when they should be taking notes.

For many adults, this is new territory. We did not grow up with these powerful devices and an endless internet at our fingertips. How can we possibly set limits to the limitless world that our children now live in?

Over the past few years, some research has emerged that can help us explain to our children why they (and we) are so drawn to our screens and to technology. One reason is dopamine. It is a chemical that is released in our brains that creates good feelings. When we eat, exercise, and engage in stimulating social activities dopamine helps us feel those healthy good feelings. It turns out, dopamine is also released with certain screen-based activities like leveling up in a game, talking about ourselves on social media, getting likes on our posts, and multitasking between apps and tabs. Generally, this is still a good thing. But too much of a good thing can desensitize us to the effects of dopamine and we are then driven to trigger it's release more often. In other words, food, exercise, or screens can become addictive.

On the other hand, our children are doing amazing things thanks to technology and screens. They are coding to design apps and teaching their friends how to do the same. They are designing and printing 3D prosthetics. They are even starting social movements that are really creating positive change.

The amazing things our students – our children – are doing with these devices are the precise reasons we must put these powerful devices in their hands. The research on dopamine is also an important reason to teach them how to manage their technology use in a healthy way while they are still under our purview. A parent from my school recently shared this quote with me, and gave me permission to share it with you:

Together with my colleagues and fellow digital learning specialists, Julie Cremin and Elizabeth Solomon, I have recently developed this tip sheet for parents with links to helpful resources and questions that can serve as conversation starters. It is a great resource to share with both parents and teachers as they work toward developing strategies for working with the adolescents and teens in their lives.

Let's be real: We are using technology and screens as an organic and inherent means of doing business, communicating, and creating the products we need to do our work as adult professionals. It makes sense for our children to do academics, communicate, and create using these same technologies and screens as they prepare to be adults in the world that exists. What's more, our children are already engaging with technology outside of school when they use their smartphones to access social media, stream videos and movies on their TVs, and play video games on all devices. They are already growing and developing in a tech-rich world. Let's make that development positive and structured in our schools to help them navigate that world.

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 is 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.