Saturday, February 27, 2016

3 Ways We Can Give Students a Voice in Internet Safety

We are in the midst or a revolution in information and we have an opportunity. Collectively, we are building the information repository of the future by posting, remixing, liking, and sharing online. Even this post is contributing to that future. This is a chance, if we do it right, to create a place where future generations can find thoughtful, accurate, and positive information.

Simultaneously every selfie, snarky tweet, and dub-smash teens and twenty-somethings are posting is also contributing to the online world. While researchers, policy makers, parents, and educators discuss the future of safety and privacy online, these younger contributors should have a seat at the table. Other stakeholders can agree on best practices and even regulations – well maybe they can – but that will do no good if young contributors to the online world have no input and no interest in following them.

There are three imperative interests:
  • Safety: Protect users of connected technology from predators and scams.
  • Privacy: Protect information belonging to the users of connected technology so that their lives, finances, and careers will not be disrupted by a breach.
  • Positivity: The world, and the Internet that is part of it, is a big and sometimes cruel place. It doesn't have to be that way. We can make it better.
Ok, yes. I know I've simplified these interests. But that doesn't make them less real.

There are already examples of students giving the input they should be allowed to give. These are strategies that can be implemented in classrooms and schools around the country.

1. Strategies from Safer Internet Day

Every February over 100 countries around the world observe Safer Internet Day by engaging students in activities and asking them to contribute their ideas on how to make the Internet a more positive place. In the United States, student voice was front and center at the event hosted by ConnectSafely in two ways:

  • Host a Student Panel - Students who are leaders in their schools and communities can share their perspectives on realistic approaches to combatting negativity online and supporting their peers. Watch the panel from Safer Internet Day in this video and be inspired. Why not ask your own student leaders to be on a panel? Host it in the evening so the adults in your community can attend, ask questions, and come together with your students to make a real difference.
  • Role Reversal Activity - Schools all around the country joined the live audience and asked their students to come up with solutions that experts and policy makers have not solved yet. Why not pose these questions to your students? Ask them to tackle topics like sexting, online empathy, and balancing face time with screen time. The questions and supporting resources – videos and brief articles – are available here. The answers from the students at Safer Internet Day 2016 are here. But many teachers from around the country, from Utah to Florida to Massachusetts, have already taken part in their schools and engaged the students who were right in front of them. You can too.

The next Safer Internet Day will happen in February of 2017, but there is no reason any of us have to wait that long to ask our students to join the discussion.

2. Student Choice in the Classroom

Educators know that when students are able choose how they learn they are more invested in their learning. The first step is to personalize learning. Then, students should have an opportunity to share their work far beyond the four walls of their classroom.

Personalized learning happens when students have choice around how they want to tackle learning goals and challenges. Often, when students get a chance to choose, they choose to access information, collaborate, and create using technology. There is a lot of research on the benefits and tons of information out there on how to manage this type of learning in your classroom. For more information be sure to check out the Blueprint for Personalized Learning from the Rodel Teacher Council.


Publishing their final product can lead to something much more valuable than a grade: recognition. In this article, Should Students Publish Their School Work Online?, two students share their reasons for choosing whether to publish their academic work to the world online. Consider showing this article to your students to open the discussion. When our teens share examples of their best academic work online they are contributing positively to the Internet and building confidence.

3. Student Tech Teams

All over the country, and especially in my home state of Massachusetts, student driven technology integration courses are taking hold. Students are working alongside their teachers to use mobile devices, edtech apps, and lots of other on-hand tech to make learning more collaborative and creative.

These are our resident experts on technology in schools. They can shed light on how and when they and their peers want to use technology and can advise educators when a school is rolling out new devices or new policies. If your school is interested in building your own student tech team, consult with the people who have already done it. Here are a few to check out:
Reach out to the students at these schools. They are already making a difference there and are happy to provide insight into how building a program in your school will make a difference there too.

There are many ways for schools, experts, advocates, and policy makers to engage kids. If they are helping to create our Internet, they need to have a voice in how to shape its future. Which of these options will you apply in your school community? What are some other ways you've invited students to have a seat at the table when talking about safe use of technology? How will you amplify your students' voices once you have engaged them? How will you ensure they have been heard?

Friday, February 12, 2016

Guest Post: My Hoverboard and My Kids

By Sarah Thomas

A Big Change


August 2015 marked the beginning of the most transitional year of my career.

First, a position opened at the district level, coordinating technology with a team that had inspired me to become a teacher leader.  

Almost simultaneously, I was offered a high school position that everything in my gut screamed “YES” about.  I accepted (after disclosing my pursuit of the other opportunity).  This was one of the scariest choices I had ever made.

It was my first time in high school since 1999, when I actually was a student.

It was my first time teaching Technology Education, which I soon found out was very different from Technology Integration. I had taught the latter for six of the previous seven years, and had thoroughly enjoyed gamifying a curriculum of our (the students and my) choice, which included any and everything that we could get our hands on. We coded with Sphero, learned basic photography and video editing, created podcasts, and discussed the possibility of a Minecraft club, among many other things. The new content was heavier on science, engineering, and math.

It was my first time leaving my “home,” where I had stayed for seven years of my ten in the classroom. This was the hardest part, as I said goodbye to the co-workers, students, and parents I considered my extended family.

The change was exciting, terrifying, and full of possibilities. I loved every minute of it.

Settling In


I had no idea what to expect when I started teaching high school. Luckily, my previous school had many students who qualified to come to this magnet high school, one of three with a STEM programs in our county; thus, I felt a similar familial environment here. In addition, I already knew many of my coworkers from various workshops, conferences, and social media. The administration was phenomenal, extremely supportive, and embraced technology.

I won’t lie; despite all this, I was extremely nervous at first. Never before had I worked with students in this age group. Knowing full well my strengths and weaknesses (i.e. I’m a huge softie), I had a couple of sleepless nights, wondering if my classroom management would hold up in this new environment. Should I be tough? Should I not smile until Christmas?

As always, my PLN had my back. As a matter of fact, it was my dear Voxer friends who encouraged me to step outside my comfort zone and accept the position. More great advice followed, such as “just be yourself...they will love you...you have the perfect personality for high school.”  In addition, I decided to listen to myself in this foreshadowing video, that I had made prior to even knowing anything about my new role.

The first couple of weeks, I went into some strange sort of auto-pilot. However, I kept it real with my students from the get-go. We bonded almost instantly, as we discovered that we had a lot in common. 

In applying what I had learned from my PLN, the class was extremely student-centered. The students created the rules through memes, and voted on them. They were encouraged to demonstrate mastery of the content in practically any way that they wanted. They had choice over how they decided to use their time in class, how they structured their groups, and topics that they decided to explore.

The Hoverboard
Source: Flickr
For one of the first assignments, I had approximately 60% of my students choose to create a Google Slides presentation about something called a “Hoverboard,” as a piece of technology that inspired them. When I kept seeing the theme recur throughout each class period, I asked a group of students if it was like the skateboard from Back to the Future. They gave me a proper education, showing me videos of what it was, as well as clips of people riding, some of them falling. I told them it looked cool.



Two Weeks to Remember


In early November – only three months into the school year – I was notified that the promotion came through. I would be working alongside people who had inspired and mentored me as a teacher leader for years. The change would have to happen quickly: I only had 2 weeks to say goodbye to my students. While elated, I knew it would be tough to break the news to my students the following Monday.

My kids (yes, I will still call them that) are mind-blowingly amazing. They took the news incredibly well. We vowed to make the final two weeks together something that we would remember.

Go big or go home.

I introduced students to the Code.org Accelerated Course, which they did for a class period. Afterwards, I introduced another tool to the arsenal: Soundtrap.com. There were several musically talented students in the class, and it allowed them to collaborate using loops and MIDI instruments. The last assignment was an optional PBL that they could carry on without me: use the Engineering Design Process to brainstorm something they were passionate about creating. I can’t wait to hear about the results.

Falling and Getting Back Up



Of course, I couldn’t leave without fulfilling my promise. I went to Amazon to order the elusive Hoverboard.

I wish I could have recorded for posterity the moment when I told my students that the board was in the mail. They had probably thought I had forgotten, but the excitement was palpable!

That weekend I learned how to ride it. The Hoverboard is not as easy as it looks, that’s for sure. It took me about a day and a half to finally get it down, but by Monday, I was sailing down the hallways and around my classroom with ease, even Periscoping on a few occasions.

I whipped up a Google form as a sign-up sheet for the students. Each entry would get them two minutes of riding time, and karaoke rules applied (meaning: you could only sign up again once your turn was over). About 100 kids took the Hoverboard challenge, across my six periods.  I also rode around the classroom, while periscoping for good measure.

Overall, the students were a lot quicker to master it than I was, probably because of neuroplasticity or something to that effect. Some kids started off shakily, but by the end of the class period, they mastered it.  A couple fell, laughed, and got back on it. A few clung onto me for dear life until they were ready to go.  

We had a great time for those two days, and it was the best send-off I could have ever imagined.

About the Author:
Sarah Thomas is a Regional Technology Coordinator in Prince George’s County Public Schools.  She is also a Google Certified Innovator and the founder of the EduMatch movement, a project that empowers educators to make global connections across common areas of interest.   Sarah is a doctoral candidate in Education at George Mason University.