Thursday, February 23, 2012

Strait of Hormuz, Explained

Gas prices are on the rise, and your students may want to know why. Here’s a great, plain-English explanation to help satisfy students’ curiosity, from Just Explain It, on Yahoo’s Daily Ticker:

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Six Guidelines for Safe Use of Online Resources

As teachers and students incorporate online resources and new technologies into daily classroom activities more frequently, it is important to be aware of some laws and policies designed to keep kids safe online.

1. Always protect student information from appearing on public web sites or blogs.

MC900230550Two federal laws, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) require that most students’ personal information be kept private at all times. COPPA states that it is unlawful to collect or display any information that would identify or locate a child (ages 13 and under) without parental consent. CIPA applies to every computer user in our schools and restricts “unauthorized disclosure, use, and dissemination of personal information regarding minors. [under age 18]” Personal information includes, but is not limited to, first and last names, addresses, telephone numbers, likes/dislikes or other personal preferences, or any other information that could be used to identify and/or locate an individual student. Always check with the office staff in your building before publishing or posting student images on the Web, but avoid listing names, etc., with those images.

Never identify a child in anything that is visible online.

2. Always moderate your blogs, websites, videos, etc.

Protect the EarthOnce again, CIPA and COPPA apply here. If you create a blog, wiki, or personal network for students in class and expect them to contribute to it, or create or subscribe to podcasts or video clips that you share with students, make sure you turn the moderation features on. This will require that you approve all comments, edits, and content before they appear publicly to a world-wide audience. If you have a blog, a wiki, a personal network, a web site, or a podcast, you are responsible for all the content and all the comments posted on it. You are also responsible to remove any comments or content that might identify students’ personal information (see above). Many sites now have ways to turn off all commenting features – find out what they are and utilize them, or ask your building or District technology coordinator (Hi… My name’s Matt…) for ideas.

Always turn moderation features on, and always read through all comments and preview all content before posting.

3. Always offer a paper/pencil alternative to technology-driven assignments.

Excited Student With A Composition Book Not every child has access to technology resources at home, and sometimes your classroom’s or school’s computer resources may not be available to students for a variety of reasons. Therefore, students should always have an alternative way to participate in an assignment or class activity that is not dependent on technology. If you want kids to participate in blog posting, allow them to submit ideas on paper as well. If you want kids to do research, encyclopedias and books often contain much more reliable information than some online “wiki-based encyclopedia-type” resources, and so on. Also, make sure that the paper/pencil option is worth exactly the same credit toward a student’s grade as the electronic option.

Never penalize a student for not having a computer or Internet access at home.

4. Always use your school email for communications with students.

MC900250261According to the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), “Schools ... are required to adopt and enforce a policy to monitor online activities of minors” (below age 18). We cannot monitor what we do not provide. Always conduct any electronic communication with students using your District email account. School districts are required by law to keep an archive of all electronic records involving communication with students. This is an effort to protect students, teachers, and school districts from potential liability issues should the student end up in trouble or endangered through use of an email account. Yahoo!Mail, Gmail, Hotmail, and the hundreds of other free online email services do not allow school districts to quickly obtain an archive of electronic communications. Using third-party email services exposes all parties involved to potential legal risk. Therefore, our District’s current policy is, and has always been, to neither provide nor encourage student email accounts for classroom use. We currently have services like Moodle, Learn360, and other avenues to assist you with electronic communications – safely – and we are working to expand these opportunities for you. But for now, to avoid exposing yourself and your kids to these risks, avoid requiring the use of free email accounts with students, and always use your District email for any student-related communications.

5. Discuss your online instructional activities with your school administrator.

MC900439347It is always a good idea to make your building administrator aware of your intention to use the technologies mentioned above, and discuss potential ramifications with them before you incorporate these resources in your classroom activities. Even if you follow all the above procedures and take every precaution you can think of, something might happen that you can’t foresee. Always provide your administrator the URL (or “web address”) of your classroom website, wiki, blog, etc.  They make administrators sit through all those school law classes for a reason, y’know!

6. While it may sometimes be easier to gain forgiveness than permission, it is always easier to gain permission than bail!

(Thanks, Mom & Dad, for THAT pearl of wisdom during my formative years!)MC900334236

The only questions building administrators, District administrators, Technology Department Staff, or even your wandering tech coordinator can’t help you with are the questions you don’t ask. No one wants to see you or your students get into unpleasant situations. There are lots of options that we can help you with that may not be out there among the popular culture but will accomplish the same goal as more commonly-known sites.

Please let us help you find solutions before they become problems!

For more information about laws governing student privacy while online, please visit:

Federal Communications Commission on the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA):
Federal Trade Commission on the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA):
OR download their Power Point presentation at

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

One in 4 Teens Cyberbullied, British report

MC900056487According to this article, a recent British study reports that 28% of students aged 11-16 have been victim of bullying through the Internet or mobile phones. Harassing text messages was the largest avenue of bullying at 13%, while around 10% reported bullying from social networking sites (services like Facebook, YouTube, instant messaging, etc.)

How does cyberbullying affect kids?

MC900232130Like any form of bullying, cyber harassment can have lasting effects of students, the study says. One out of every 5 students in the study reported they were reluctant to go to school because of it. Eleven percent said cyberbullying had caused them to become depressed, and 3% had even attempted suicide over it. Six percent reported that ‘sexting,’ receiving sexually explicit messages or images, had made them feel uncomfortable.

How does cyberbullying affect teachers?

Ten percent of teachers participating in the study also reported cyber-harassment, with 15% feeling afraid for their own or their family’s safety. Their research also shows that teachers average around 6 hours/week dealing with cyberbullying, equating to an annual estimated cost to taxpayers the equivalent of $28.5 million (British Sterling Pounds converted to US dollars).

How did British teachers handle it?

The most effective means of dealing with bullies was to report the sender to or block the sender from the communication service. Just ignoring the messages only worked about half the time, according to the study.

How should we handle it?

MC900433819The most widely accepted strategy for dealing with cyberbullies is STOP, BLOCK, and TELL. Here’s how to explain the strategy to your kids:
STOP: Do not respond the the bully’s remarks or messages. Bullying is all about controlling how others feel and behave. Striking back at them shows that they are able to manipulate your emotions and control your behavior. When you react, the bully wins.
BLOCK: A person who bullies you is not your friend. Most social networking sites and instant messaging services have features that let you block others from becoming your “friend,” or to “un-friend” people you are connected with. YouTube offers users the option to turn off the commenting and rating features associated with videos you post. Most cellular service providers, Internet service providers, and email hosts have ways to block certain persons from sending messages to you. Learn how to use these features, and put them into action if you feel harassed or uncomfortable.
TELL: “Telling” and “Tattling” happen for very different reasons: “Tattletales” are trying to get someone else in trouble. Most teachers understand and can identify this behavior quickly. However, those who “tell” are trying to protect themselves or someone else from getting hurt or getting into trouble. Teach children the difference, and encourage children to report bullying of any kind to a parent, a teacher, or another trusted adult. Help children learn how to report cyberbullies through the social networking site, Internet service provider, cellular service provider, etc.,

What if that doesn’t work?

If STOP, BLOCK, and TELL doesn’t work, it may be appropriate to get local law enforcement involved. In Illinois, “cyber bullying”, “cyber stalking” and “cyber harassment” are considered criminal acts. “Cyber stalking,” for example, is considered a Class 4 felony and is punishable by 1-3 years in prison and/or $25,000 fine for each occurrence. After the third occurrence it is considered a Class 3 felony, and the prison sentence increases to 2-5 years.

The Bottom Line

Don’t ignore online bullying. It’s affects can be dramatic and can reach into every classroom, regardless of the grade level or subject matter taught. Taking action can be as simple as teaching kids how to STOP, BLOCK and TELL. The impact can save a child’s life.
For more information, please access the following resources:
For a collection of Internet Safety activities, grouped by grade level, visit my web site.

Monday, February 6, 2012

ISAT Preps

ExamHere are some quick links to help your students prepare for the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT).

Internet Safety

Protect the EarthIt is never too early to think about Internet Safety and how we are helping kids stay safe online. The law in Illinois says that students must receive Internet Safety instruction at every grade level in grades 3-12, but saying that you have satisfied this mandate by teaching kids how to cite an online source in a research paper is not enough. It’s important to remember that our kids’ needs should drive what we do, not a curriculum guide or a textbook. And kids need guidance when it comes to staying safe.

Teaching Internet Safety doesn’t have to take a lot of time out of your day or out of your curriculum coverage. There are many activities – both online and paper/pencil, both whole-class and individual – that might take only 10-15 minutes every now and then to help reinforce the skills kids need. I’ve put together a number of these activities, organized by grade level clusters, here:

The Illinois State Board of Education has announced it’s 3rd Annual Illinois Youth Digital Safety Contest on its Internet Safety Web page.  This year’s theme is “Bystander Intervention.” Students can enter individually in groups of 2 or 3 in either the Poster or Electronic entry divisions at their grade level cluster (see the Web site for details). The goal is to highlight how kids and parents can support those who witness or are directly influence by cyber bullies or other online predators.

Please help your students be safe by teaching them the skills they need to respond appropriately to online threats, and encourage them participate in this year’s Internet Safety contest.

Compost Bin DIY

It’s early February and around 50 degrees in Illinois today. Odd as that is, it does make people start thinking that Spring may be just around the corner. For those of you looking for ways to get your students outside (or if you’re like me a find getting your hands dirty to be therapeutic), here’s a great idea for an early Spring Science project, from NC Worm Farm and LifeHacker.

Materials List:

  • 2 inexpensive plastic bins (called “totes” in the video)
  • 1 lid for above
  • 2 wood blocks for spacers between the two bins (could also use large gravel, rocks, etc.)
  • Cordless drill (or something to make holes in the bins – BE CAREFUL!)
  • Optional: 6-inch square of window screen (a piece of cloth will work, too)
  • Optional: Hot glue (or other non-water-soluble adhesive for screen)
  • Peat moss, shredded newspaper, old corrugated cardboard, etc.

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