Thursday, October 27, 2016

Babies, Bathwater, and Students on the Internet: How to protect student's personal information and integrate technology

Babies, Bathwater, and Students on the Internet:  How to protect student's personal information and integrate technology

The internet is teeming with websites dedicated to personalizing student instruction and assisting teachers with running a paperless classroom.  Sites like Class Dojo for behavior management, online grade books like ThinkWave, and content providers like Sumdog, Prodigy, BrainPOP, and NoRedInk tantalize educators with digital solutions to many instructional and time-centered issues in the classroom.  Have you ever considered how many sites you, and consequently your students, may have accounts with?  All of those accounts require the sharing of personal information...which may be sold, hacked, or abandoned if the company behind the site collapses.

National parent group Parents Across America have begun sounding the alarm regarding the use of student information on the internet, specifically concerned about personalized learning and the over-abundance of student information that is shared by our schools with software vendors.  This informational/watchdog group is concerned with the potential for student information not only to be hacked, but the amount of information stored "in the cloud" about individual children.  This information can include individually identifiable information like last name and birth date, as well as sensitive information such as behavior data, instructional data, or survey results.  Parents Across America have recently addressed this issue with the video below.

"But don't we have laws preventing such sharing?" you may be asking.  Well sure we do, both COPPA and FERPA address student information sharing.  However, to prepare for online testing during the implementation of Race to the Top, now the Every Student Succeeds Act, the laws that protected the sharing of student information were loosened.  This alteration allowed schools to share identifiable student information with software and hardware vendors, purportedly to help improve their products, but it also allows for them to share information with other vendors and developers, most often without notice to the parent, teacher, or school district.

Many parents, fearing the loss of control over their child's personal information, have begun refusing, or "opting out of", any and all website subscriptions for their child.  This means school districts and teachers cannot use the multitude of digital products with specifically opted out children in their classroom.  Imagine being the teacher of a classroom of 20 students where two of them cannot use the internet, an iPad, a laptop or Chromebook, or websites that require an individual subscription.  This effectively means the classroom teacher plans two separate lessons, or decides not to use technology at all in their classroom.

The release of student's personal information to vendors who may or may not use it carefully and wisely is understandably a scary idea for teachers and parents alike.  However, we don't have to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  There are steps that can be taken to assure student's are gaining the appropriate digital skills while keeping all their information safe.

Knowing what websites and apps are being used by your child’s teachers is the first step in balancing instruction and safety.  Some questions you may want to ask are:

  • What websites or apps are you using in the classroom?

  • Do these sites/apps require my child have an individual login?

  • Has the school taken steps to be sure my child’s personal information is safe?

In addition to the questions above, ask the school to follow the following guidelines when creating individual logins or accounts for your child (which they should already be doing, but it's prudent to make sure they are):

  • Use only my child’s first name and last initial when possible

  • Avoid sites/apps with excessive amounts of advertising

  • Send home any parent codes that are available for sites/apps so I can monitor my child’s use

  • I reserve the right to refuse to allow my child to participate in web-based activities if I feel the site is not respectful of my child’s personal information

Notice the recommendations do not include banning the use of the internet all together. As we move to an increasingly digital world, it is important our students receive the information and skills to live, work, and play safely in a digital space.

There is a way to check on how tech companies are using the information they gather.While there is no federal or state clearinghouse for “safe” sites that use children’s personal information in a responsible way, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) authorizes a variety of independent reviewers to review each gadget to make sure it aligns with the Child Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) standards. Here are some companies that FTC has given permission to act as "safe harbors:

If you have questions about a particular site or app, the companies listed above may have reviewed it already for COPPA compliance.  Use these companies to check on the sites/apps that are being used in your child’s classroom as well.
A strong partnership with your child’s teacher/school and the information above should help you with keeping your child’s personal information safe while they use the internet.  While some parents have just banned their children from the internet for safety reasons, a more realistic response in our increasingly digital world is to monitor your child’s online behavior, communicate with your child’s school, and teach your child to protect their own personal information.
What is your opinion on student use of technology at school, or at home?  How do you make sure your child's personal information is not shared in an unsafe way?

Or have you thrown the baby out with the bathwater???

Out on a Whim,


For more wild ideas about tech integration

or check out my website

Saturday, March 5, 2016

3 Reasons You Should Let Your Students Do Your Work (And the Tech You Can Use to Help)

Students creating their own materials
      As a veteran (my students would say old) teacher of 25 years, I am a huge proponent of not recreating the wheel.  In addition to that, any time I can save preparation time (which I don't get by contract) by having the students do it is a bonus.  This gives me back my lunch 20 minutes, which we just won in our last contract.  So, if you're like me, you are always looking for an instructionally appropriate way to have your students do your work.  Here are 3 reasons for you to do just that, and suggestions for the resources you need to accomplish it.  First let's discuss reasons:

     1) Time
                Teachers never have enough time.  Even if you have planning time, you don't have enough.  Releasing the responsibility for creating materials to the students means you are not spending that planning time organizing their learning, rather you are curating developmentally appropriate instruction to present.  Make the students responsible for their learning by making them responsible for the materials they use, rather than handing materials to them.

    2)  Differentiation
                I know, it has become one of those "faculty meeting bingo" words that administrators and professional development specialists have ruined by (excuse my language) bastardizing the poor innocent concept.  However, like many once great ideas that have been ruined by corporate greed and overuse - see also exit tickets, bell-ringers, and cooperative learning, it can be done well and is necessary because (news flash) kids are different, cannot be standardized, and learn at their own pace.  Having students create their own materials allows for each student to adjust the materials to their learning preference and needs, within guidelines and parameters that you as teacher can set.

    3)  Research (pay attention - here's the important one for your administrator!)
               Decades of research have shown students who can create/design/develop/formulate/construct (Bloom's revised taxonomy-top level.  See what I did there?) are functioning at the highest level of cognition.  It even has a name, the protege effect.  To take advantage of this, having the students develop their own materials, and materials for others, allows them to demonstrate their highest level of understanding in a concrete way.  It also frees up your planning time to make that call to Greg's mother about the incident with the dissection frog.  Fun times.

Now - the suggested resources, which will always be free.  I hate a tease, or a blog that suggests sites my district won't pay for.  I am neither of those.

    1)  For assessment recently I've been using Kahoot to have the students create quizzes for the class.  They enjoy the creation, and they enjoy playing the quizzes they and their classmates have created.

   2)   For collaborative work my students enjoy Padlet.  In February we created a Presidential Library, with interesting facts about our favorite presidents.  There is a paid version of Padlet, but I am using the free option quite successfully with all my classes.

   3)  For collaborative writing, we are creating stories in Boomwriter.  Currently our story has two chapters, and we are ready to write our third.  Personally I like the voting feature, where students choose the next chapter from peer submissions.

  BONUS SUGGESTION:  I just started using Classcraft for positive behavior support.  I cannot comment yet because we just started, but this will be the focus of a future may want to look at it yourself.

Let me know what you think of these resources, or if you have questions about how to encourage kids to take responsibility for their learning!

Out on a whim,


For more wild ideas about tech integration

or check out my website

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Easiest Way to Force Teachers to Use Technology

Maybe you'd love an interactive whiteboard - or maybe you'd treat it like nothing more than a huge projection screen

    Force is an aggressive word, I'll admit, but when an individual school or entire district spends thousands or tens of thousands, or (gulp) more on equipment or software they are desperate to have that equipment used as often as possible.  How frustrating for them when parents, or God forbid board members, walk through and see the document camera gathering dust, or the SMART Board covered up with a filing cabinet and table shoved up against it - like in some classrooms in the schools where I currently teach.  Why would this happen, you exclaim?!  How could a teacher not avail themselves of such wonderful resources!?  There are many reasons, but the biggest one is the answer to the blog title.....they never wanted it in the first place, and it doesn't fit into the way they teach, or the way their classroom or instruction is designed.

   How do you force an educator to use technology?  The simple answer is, you don't.  Educators aren't pets.  You don't reward them, and you don't force them.  They're professionals.  You support and respect them.  Way back in 2011 and even before that administrators were encouraged to include teachers in the planning stages of technology purchases.  I hope the majority of school districts operate in this manner, but I hear too many horror stories of educators with equipment they can't use, spending precious time writing grants and proposals on for the equipment they long for to believe it's true.  

    Educators should be encouraged to use technology because, according to the SAMR model of integrating technology into instruction, it allows for the creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable.  Only the classroom teacher can conceive of the task they want the students to accomplish, and what skill that student will gain and knowledge they will demonstrate from accomplishing that task.  Therefore, only the classroom teacher knows what technology and support they need for that task.  By leaving them out of the selection decisions, we are left with the opposite, forcing teachers to reverse engineer instruction and tasks to fit the technology they are given.  It should not surprise us when educators decide that their most precious resource, time, is not worth the gargantuan effort this would require.  The benefit simply does not merit the expense.  Technology integration should always start with instruction, not with hardware or software.  What do they need to learn, not what can I do with this?

    You force an educator to use technology by including them from the beginning of the procurement process.  Why do we need it?  What do we want to accomplish?  What are our requirements?  What do we already have?  How do we maintain it?  What are the hidden costs?  What are our training needs?  How will we replace it when necessary?  Who will use it?  Who do we need permission from?  Do we need to write or change policies and procedures?  How will we evaluate progress or success/failure?  These and a million other questions need to be answered before one purchase order is signed.  This takes time, and there's the rub.

    Often this step of involving more people is avoided specifically because it takes an investment in time and trust.  However, I imagine the ROI (Return On Investment - to use a beaten to death business term) when the decision is made collaboratively and the equipment actually gets used is much more impressive than when the decision is a top-down, administrative SNAFU (US Military term - censored, but you get it).

    What is your experience as an educator?  As an administrator?  How do we make sure it happens in the best way for everyone, especially our learners?

Out on a whim,


For more wild ideas about tech integration

or check out my website

Saturday, November 9, 2013

How Teachers are Creating the Stupidest Generation

     The Greatest Generation - no, not this one! My grandparents',  the one that lived through two World Wars and two major conflicts and a Depression.  This one's stupid, The Stupidest Generation,  and it's my fault, at least partly.

     During a learning opportunity last week, a well respected educator confirmed my suspicion that for most of our students, education still looks like it did for The Greatest Generation, and it's allowing them to become The Stupidest Generation. During a staff development presentation I was lucky enough to be invited to by a neighboring school district, Alan November, ed tech pioneer and dedicated educator, jokingly told us he wouldn't answer any questions you could "Google" the answer to....but it made me think, "Why should he?".
Why waste a great opportunity, a great resource, a great mind like his that way?  Every day we waste kids' time, effort, and minds, on "Google-able" stuff.  Not that Google's a great research resource, and kids have no idea how to search effectively or evaluate the results critically, but that's a separate topic for another day.
Ask yourself,  could my students Google their way through my class? Their assignments and homework?  This test?  You're enabling the stupidity.  I confess that I am too.  Hi, my name is Melody, and I have enabled my students' stupidity.  Beware, it ends today.

      Sir Ken Robinson, another educator whose insights always make me reflect on my professional practice, has this to say about education "reform"
      “Education doesn’t need to be reformed – it needs to be transformed.  The key is not to standardize education but to personalize it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions.” – Sir Ken Robinson

     True, teaching in NY State, in a district that mandates modules makes transforming education into a personal and individual learning environment for each child is near impossible, it just doesn't allow for it.  We have to imagine the push back from parents and grass roots groups like BATs and National Opt Out have succeeded in ridding us of corporate ed reform and high stakes testing, and we can all get back to effective teaching practices like problem-based learning and using the computer hardware purchases and infrastucture upgrades done for online test prep/PARCC/SMARTER Balanced testing for quality technology integration.  I dream of that day, it's what keeps me teaching during these dark days.  Once that happens, or if you're ignoring district/admin mandates about instruction (good for you!!), how do you stop enabling stupidity?

      Start by examining your student assignments.  Are they the same ones you've been using for the past 5 years? 10? 15? Don't make me say 20..... Do they resemble the ones you were given as a student?  If so, they're probably not good, possibly garbage.  OK, they're probably crap, sorry.  Why?  Mainly because they're generated by you, not the students.  Teachers work too hard; scaffolding, designing, building, flipping and creating.  Students should be doing the work, demonstrating they've learned the material by doing.  You're doing all the doing.  Try this: you design the instruction, deliver the material.  They design and do the work to demonstrate they have learned the skill or the material.  No worksheets, no cookie cutter assignments, nothing you've assigned before.  Much harder to grade, much better for students.

       Obviously the younger the student, the more guidance you need to give, but that doesn't mean you're back to worksheets.  Choices, ideas and examples maybe.....but those small people are some of the most imaginative and creative, mainly because those things haven't been squeezed out of them yet - the system hasn't had as much time with them.

     Students are collaborative, inquisitive, creative, and social, and education beats it out them.   We design our classrooms, instruction, and assessment to stifle these natural gifts children have, and then wonder why our colleges and workplaces complain we have not prepared our graduates to be successful.

     Try it one day, in one subject, with one lesson.  The Stupidest Generation will thank you, by Tweet.

Out on a Whim,

Friday, March 8, 2013

3 Important Questions to Ask if You're District is Going BYOD

School districts across the country are saving money by rewriting, or simply ignoring existing student codes of conduct, and beginning to encourage students to use all those smart phones they were banning and confiscating just yesterday.  They may have happily announced it at a faculty meeting as BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), and I wrote about why you'll hate it here, but I'm sure it didn't stop them.  If your district is one of these, you have millions of questions, and once you really get into it, you'll have millions more.  Here are 3 you should start with:
  • Where's the policy?  Even if your district/school/classroom is in the "Pilot Stage" of  a BYOD initiative, there should be a policy/procedure written and approved by your board of education or school's governing body.  It should include an explanation, responsibilities, expectations and consequences for inappropriate behavior.  There should be a long "legalese" version and a shorter, one-page, real language version to go home with a place for parent and student signature. It should be posted on your district website as well. You should read BOTH versions.  Here's a nice example.
  • What's the expectation?  Ideally you should have been part of the discussion before the decision to introduce this type of innovation into your classroom was made, but let's move into reality.  You need to learn from department chairs, principals, and others who were in on the decision-making process what they anticipated the outcomes of this decision to be.  Do they expect all teachers to embrace this technology and plan for it, or just a few?  Did they poll the students and parents to see who would take advantage of this rule change?  Are the technicians in building aware of the additional strain on the wireless access in the building?  Which leads me to question 3.......
  • How much support is available?  Having enough training/support can be a big issue with BYOD, especially since this is often used as a money saving idea; what is the support plan for teachers?  Multiple different devices coming from outside the school onto the school network means kids may  need help - is it available?  Some kids won't have a device, or won't bring it, or it won't work, will there be any available?  Teachers now will have to alter the way they plan - for kids who have many different devices, or none - will there be support or professional development?  If the kids are disruptive with the devices, rather than working - what then?  Can I choose not to allow personal devices to be used in my classroom at all - and will that choice be supported?
In my last post I promised you resources when your district when BYOD, and I didn't forget.  So when you get the answers to the three questions above, start here for more info!

Out on a Whim,
Check out my website for more tech stuff:  douintegrate?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

BYOD: The Newest Tech Trend for Teachers to Hate

If you haven't encountered BYOD yet, get ready! I'm sure it's coming to a faculty meeting near you soon! With cash-strapped districts around the country not able to purchase new technology, or update the stuff that's getting moldy, and the politicians screaming our kids are left behind, the idea of encouraging the students to Bring Your Own Device to school to use in the classroom for school work is catching on faster than the Bubonic Plague.

The idea is that many students have the most updated equipment sitting at home, or in their pockets, book bags, or lockers, on a daily basis.  Why don't we tap into that and allow them to use that equipment during the school day for their school work, instead of using precious school resources to purchase often inferior products (or at best duplicate products) or fighting with them all day to put those items away?  The advent of the "cloud" for online storage, and widespread use of online apps for productivity like Google Docs and the like have allowed for the idea to become much more feasible than ever before.

What could be wrong with such a great idea?  Saving money, integrating technology, teaching kids to be 21st Century Learners with the equipment they actually own......I'm sure from the title of this post you know where I'm headed with this - or at least you should.

Why would teachers hate it?  Let's start with:

  • Not everyone will have the same technology -  Good teachers are already differentiating their instruction for ability levels, now add different types of devices.  Some kids will bring laptops, some tablets, and some smartphones.  Some will be IOS, or Apple products, and some will be Android or PC - yup, platform issues.  Techies will answer, no problem - because you'll be using "the cloud" which is platform neutral.  Teachers will cringe in horror, rightfully so.

  • Not everyone will have something - What will we do about kids who don't have any type of technology, or whose parent won't let them bring their five hundred dollar iPad to school?  Is it fair to the have-nots to just say too bad?  What will we do the day they forget it, it's broken, or not charged?    Does the school now have to provide extras?  If so, are we still saving money?  Are we writing two plans for every tech-integrated lesson now, just in case?  Double work? No thank you.

  • Tech Support -  How much do we provide to equipment that doesn't belong to the district?  Can we trust equipment going back and forth to homes be free from viruses and other nasty stuff?  One virus will take down an entire school to prevent that?  Not a teacher issue really, but when one student can't get on the wireless internet it certainly can disrupt an entire much tech support do we need/expect/provide.  Headache #912.

  • Help - We all know with the cut-backs, professional development was the first to go, and support staff was the second.  So where does a classroom teacher get the support necessary to learn how best to integrate this technology into daily classroom activities?  If the district bought a cart of iPads or laptops, you probably have gotten some professional development time or visits from an Ed Tech Specialist to make sure the district's expenditure was money well spent.  With no monetary layout from the district in a BYOD initiative, what is their responsibility for training? They have no "skin in the game" as it why would they lay out resources to make sure you are supported? 
This last issue, Help, is my greatest fear.  Watch this space next week for resources to help yourself with your school's BYOD initiative, so you won't be overwhelmed.

Out on Whim,

Check out my website!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

You Can't Cure Bad Teaching With Cool Gadgets: 3 Reasons Why Even Great Teachers Fumble with New Technology

     OK, my title may be harsh, but you can't deny its truth, and a great blog I just read suggested I be brutally honest- and have numbers in my blog title. (It really was it here)   After I read that great blog, I vowed MY next blog would follow Marilyn's sage advice, and that it would be about how technology - in itself - will not save, reform, or even change education, no matter how much those who make money from it (Mr. Gates, Mr. Zuckerberg, and whomever is now getting Mr. Job's share) and those who hope it's the easy way out (school administrators, education reformers, politicians, et al) think, hope and pray it will.

   One of my previous posts, The Why Question, discussed in part, the trend of districts rushing to adopt new technology because of the "cool factor", without thoughtful planning the why and how they would use the technology they were buying, with disastrous results.  This blog dives into 3 reasons even the greatest teachers often fail when we dump new technology into their classrooms, how poor teaching isn't helped at all by it, and what we should do instead.

1.  Adding technology doesn't really mean "adding" something.
The most common complaint I hear from even excellent classroom teachers is "You want me to do something else...I don't have time for all the stuff I'm suppose to do now!"  No, I don't want you to do something else...I want you to do what you're doing now...differently.  If putting a piece of technology into a classroom means you're suddenly doing something additional you're doing it wrong.  Technology is a tool, like a pencil or a piece of chalk, that should be used like one.  The iPad fad that is causing such a tizzy in classrooms across the US right now is doing so because teachers are trying to add it to their already overcrowded day rather than figuring out how to use it to enhance the things they already do.  A tool by definition should make our work take less time, or less effort, or do the job better in another way, or it's not doing its job and we shouldn't use it.  Figure out how to do the things you already want the students to do, with the new technology tool.  Start there, let everyone get comfortable, and then branch out into one new project that stretches everyone's creativity and comfort.  Learn together.  More thoughts on that here.

2.  Technology is disruptive.
"I can't have (insert technology device name here) in my room.  The kids know more about it than I do".  Maybe.  Maybe not.  What I've learned about the students in my ten-plus years in educational technology is that they know more about entertainment technology than most educators, but that those skills are generally not the ones employers want.  In fact, those are the ones employers complain about and block on employee computers.  So, while our students can sure download songs to their iPods, and get around Angry Birds and Facebook on their cellphones while they surf the 'net, those things aren't helping when they bring their cruddy, misspelled, poorly formatted resumes to the job fair.  The advantage the students do have over educators is that they are not AFRAID of the the technology.  They aren't skittish to click, try, drag, experiment, and fail and start over like the staff are, and that is their biggest strength.  They don't want a manual or tutorial or to wait for instructions or training, they want to explore and play and create and try.  The classroom teacher's challenge then, is classroom management and structuring that excitement, and if you don't have that, you're toast!

3.  Technology projects take time.
Every teacher who gets some type of new technology in their classroom does the same thing.  Plans a ginourmous (yes, that's a word) project using the new technology and announces they will present it to the Board of Ed right before either Spring Break or Graduation.  The same thing always's never finished.  Why, because it's new technology to the teacher, the students, the school.  The project's too big, and time consuming, and the software they need isn't compatible, and the technicians are on vacation, and the star of the video they're creating gets chicken pox, and the class hamster dies.  The moral of this story.  Start slow, and small, and private.  Learn how it all works and get the bugs out first.  It takes twice as much time as you think, and the first time nothing works right.  If it did, no one in IT would have a job, and IT's a big business - I know, I've been doing it for 10+ years.  Need some pointers?  Read this.

Out on a Whim,