Be Internet Awesome

We’ve been using a pretty great resource from our friends at Google this year to kick off our conversations about digital citizenship and digital literacy. There’s an entire curriculum titled Be Internet Awesome for teachers and students to navigate through. What I like about it is there are teacher-led activities and there is also an online game component that reinforces what the lesson’s focus was. So far we’ve tackled privacy, sharing, and settings within apps to limit access, and phishing scams.

One of the biggest mistakes I see a lot of teachers make is assuming our students know how to interact with technology in a school setting. We know students grow up with devices and are constantly connected. It’s easy to assume our students know how to use technology and will utilize it appropriately in a classroom setting. But, similar to how we embrace discipline in our schools with Culturally Responsive Positive Behavior Intervention Systems, so too do students need to be taught how to use technology.

The Digital Citizenship movement has been gaining traction for several years in education, but I have always found it to be a little lacking. So much of the focus was on what NOT to do, stranger danger, etc. and less on the why we need to learn how to make these types of choices with technology. Students need the opportunity to explore when we should trust someone with information, what signs to look for, and thinking through what may or may not happen in a given scenario. While students KNOW what they’re supposed to do, they don’t always do it. And neither do we as adults, right? I mean, I know I’m supposed to get 3-5 servings of vegetables every day, but I don’t always do it.

So our conversations with students have to be about more than just what we know we should and shouldn’t do. We have to educate them on the why and the reasons behind our expectations around any behavior – whether technology is involved or not. Of course, it starts with relationships and creating an environment of trust and openness. We have to establish and maintain rapport with our students, we can’t ask them to take risks while at the same time sending the message that we don’t trust them by banning sites or cell phones.

How are you teaching your students to Be Internet Awesome? 


School is finally in session here in the Capital City and our students are busy settling in to new routines, earlier mornings, and getting to know their friends and teachers. When I was still in the classroom, one of my favorite things was to spend the first week getting to know my students, learning about their interests, getting their feedback on what they wanted their classrooms to look and feel like, and having them create digital collages and word clouds representing themselves.

Just as we can work hard to make our classrooms warm and welcoming, it’s incredibly powerful when an entire school gets involved and sets a theme for the year. One of the schools in our district – Sheridan Road STEM – embraced the theme of kindness this year, inspired by the book Wonder by R. J. Palacio. In fact, the entire school is reading the book and doing a book study around it, the themes it represents, and embracing the idea of being open to others, being kind to all people, regardless of their appearance, circumstance, or background. What a powerful message for our young people to hear, especially in our current political environment.

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This is a powerful message that schools across the country are embracing and using to connect with others. Some of the things being shared on Twitter with #choosekind are incredibly inspiring. I personally haven’t read this book yet, but I am very excited to participate in the book study along with the teachers and students at Sheridan Road STEM. 

How will you #choosekind this year?


Permissions and Challenges

Something that’s been rumbling around in my brain the last couple of days after attending a training  and a recent update in privacy policy from – what responsibility do software and “web 2.0” companies have to schools and students in regard to student information and privacy?

There are literally thousands of websites and resources for students to create digital products, share their knowledge in different ways, or interact with the world at large. However, common among so many of them is the requirement of creating an account, which asks for some kind of information for students. Presumably, many of these companies keep this information to email students, market to them, sell their emails to other companies, etc. I know many websites have their privacy policies and terms of conditions labeled on their websites, but they often have a requirement for students to be 13 or older to use their sites.

Working with many K-6 teachers, it is often a big challenge to find good (free, or relatively cheap) sites, that do what teachers want, and is appropriate for younger learners. This got me thinking – what responsibilities do technology education companies have to the people they are claiming to serve?

I know this isn’t a black or white issue and there are probably a lot of things I’ve left out or haven’t fully unpacked, but I’m interested to hear your thoughts. What say you?


Social Media and Students

If you’re reading this blog, chances are pretty good you find value in connecting with and learning from others on the Internet. One of the easiest ways to do that is through social media channels. As an avid Tweeter, I cannot express how much Twitter has changed the way I learn and grow professionally. Through a variety of educational chats like #miched, I have connected with teachers and administrators throughout the country. Nothing is more powerful than posting a question and getting many responses within a few minutes. It’s so great to quickly see what kinds of learning and professional growth is happening in other places as well.

While many teachers utilize social media in their personal lives, many are reluctant or hesitant to include it in their instruction. Even though it’s one of the main ways our students connect with one another, teachers and schools often ban social media, blocking the sites at the server level, and monitoring students’ cell phone usage. Just like any distraction, students need guidelines and scaffolding to recognize how and when to use any tool. Kiddos can be distracted with a pencil – tapping out a rhythm, drawing or doodling when they’re supposed to be taking notes, writing to a friend instead of working on their math practice. As teachers, our job is to help students learn how to use technology as a tool and a support rather than just a passive distraction.

There are many great pockets of examples of how Twitter and Instagram are being used in classrooms across the country. Just recently, George Couros wrote a blog post about how Twitter allowed him to make a connection between a student, a teacher, and himself. It’s hard to imagine how this connection would have been possible without technology. Kindergarten students are engaged in learning on Twitter with help from their classroom teacher – and getting incredibly excited to connect with another classroom. This makes their learning so much more meaningful and personal.

Recently, I read an article from EdSurge – “Three Reasons Students Should Own Your Classroom’s Twitter and Instagram Accounts.” The author discussed three big ways that posting on these social media channels has changed her students and their learning. We know students must be good digital citizens, since they will have almost their entire lives captured and documented online. We must make learning meaningful and relatable, not just “Don’t post personal information because it’s bad!” Students need to learn about digital citizenship in an embedded, purposeful way. What better way to model, demonstrate, practice, and learn how to be good digital citizens than through a classroom Twitter or Instagram account?

In Michigan, there currently isn’t a law regarding the use of social media in schools. But, Representative Adam Zemke has proposed HB 4791 which would require districts to “adopt and implement a policy regulating social media interactions between students and school personnel.” While I believe this is forward-thinking in being realistic that social media channels are an integral part of how students today connect and communicate, the fear is that this type of policy may cause an undue financial burdens on schools. For example, if each district is allowed to set its own policy, each district will need to meet with legal experts to determine appropriate language, implications, etc. and this could cost a lot of money in legal fees. For cash-strapped districts, many might look at this and decide to ban social media interactions altogether. Schools across the state – not just those in struggling urban and rural areas – are being asked to do more with less. Penny pinching and belt-tightening has become a way of life throughout the state. I can envision an administrator who doesn’t understand the power of social media in empowering and engaging our students looking at the potential costs involved and deciding it’s not worth it.

Your Turn: What do you think? Should schools have a social media policy? What would yours include?

Digital Citizenship and Acceptable Use Policies

It’s the end of the school year here in the Mitten. Several area schools finished on the 5th of June and have been enjoying some well-deserved time away from the classroom. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t been learning! Last week I led a two-day Professional Development training with teachers at one of my schools. This particular elementary building is becoming a GAFE school, which I’m incredibly pumped about. I swear I’m not paid by Google (but if they’d like to…), but knowing another school is going to get on board with GAFE makes my heart happy.

We spent an awesome and productive two days just skimming the surface of all the amazing things GAFE will do to help make integrating technology more seamless. Before we were able to jump right in to the Google pool, I wanted to help set the groundwork for teachers by having an honest and frank conversation about Digital Citizenship. This is such an important topic that really helps to lay the groundwork for staff and students, yet it is often overlooked. Maybe it’s because it’s not as “sexy” as a fun tool like Kahoot or productivity apps, but it is essential to setting up expectations for technology usage. Beyond that, it is an essential skill our students do not have and we as educators are tasked with teaching them. Often we assume that because students grew up with technology they know how to use it appropriately. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. More often than not, students don’t have a real understanding of the potential ramifications of their technology usage.

To kick off our two days of training, I had teachers experience a Digital Citizenship lesson from a student point of view. I acted as the teacher and the rest of the staff went through the lesson as the students. I used The Trillion Dollar Footprint lesson from Common Sense Media’s Digital Citizenship Scope and Sequence. The gist of the lesson is, utilizing only the social media profiles of two candidates, students are to decide which candidate to hire as their talk show host of a new show – Trillion Dollar Footprint. It was very interesting to hear the conversation about the types of impressions staff made about the candidates after only reading a few things about each of them. Staff were instructed to make a decision on who they would hire, but there were some strong opinions about which candidate should be hired. We had rich discussion about who shapes our digital footprint and why it’s important to be mindful of what types of things are “out there” about us.

We transitioned into looking at the school’s Acceptable Use Policy. One of things I’m passionate about in helping building develop their technology plans is taking a hard look at their AUPs. In many cases, these documents haven’t evolved in many years, are stuck in the back of a student handbook, or is one of those screens you click “I Accept” when you first get a device. A lot of times these forms are not written in language that is easily digestible or engaging to read. Prior to our PD time together, we examined a lot of different AUPs and agreed that framing it in terms of values and behaviors would be the most meaningful. In this way, all parties involved are invested in the usage of the technology. We also are asking parents and students to sign off on this AUP so that it’s more of a communal document rather than a school directive. Of course schools have a responsibility to ensure that students use technology appropriately and responsibly, but we felt that by framing our AUP in terms of values, it helped to answer the “why” piece.

Establishing a shared vision, a set of agreed upon values, creating a culture of acceptance and trust, and upholding those ideals are essential to a successful 1:1 implementation. We ended our discussion with staff feeling more comfortable about the types of expectations the school will have for students. There are currently plans in place to begin the school year co-teaching with the classroom teachers some digital citizenship lessons. Setting the expectations early, revisiting them when necessary, and reinforcing them as the need arises will pay dividends in helping to create a culture of excellence.