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