Monday, November 3, 2014

A Funny Thing Happens When You Teach Media Literacy: Kids Get Smarter

Cross-Posted on Media Literacy Now.

The average 8- to 18-year old spends more time with media than they do with their parents or in school. They are assaulted by media messages nearly eight hours per day— 10 hours and 45 minutes if you account for multitasking — on smart phones, tablets, laptops, televisions, and computers. Much of this media comes at them unfiltered, as few gatekeepers (formally known as editors) check the veracity of things posted on the Internet (like this blog post) that can be written by just about anybody.

Yet little to no “media literacy” is being taught in the American school system.

It is being taught, however, at the school my kids attended. That’s because I asked the principal if I could teach “media literacy” as part of our Cyber Civics curriculum and he, surprisingly, said yes. That was five years ago and now our robust, three-year Cyber Civics program includes:

Digital Citizenship in 6th Grade
Media Literacy in 8th Grade

Students spend the entire 8th grade year—one hour per week—using critical thinking skills to evaluate media messages. After a primer class on C.R.A.P Detection, courtesy of Howard Rheingold (if you don’t know what this is read about it here), we dig in, critically evaluating and discussing images, video, music, text, and more. We grapple with stereotypes, extreme photoshopping, online scams, and urban legends. These students leave middle school equipped with critical evaluation skills that will help them in high school and beyond.

Even though media literacy and digital literacy is embedded in the new Common Core standards, few schools take the time to teach these skills, but they should. Not only because it’s the job of schools to pump out literate students, and today literacy encompasses a broad spectrum of media, but also because it makes students smarter.

At our school STAR test scores have risen consistently and significantly (the highest point gain in our district) since we started teaching Cyber Civics, despite the hour per week from “academic” time these classes take. When I tell fellow media literacy educators about these outcomes they are not surprised, because media literacy teaches critical thinking… and critical thinking makes kids smarter.

And it’s as simple as that.


Diana Graber is Co-founder of Cyberwise.org, where you can visit our Media Literacy Hub. She also created and teaches Cyber Civics™, learn about it here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Digital Literacy Has a Winning Weekend

(Cross-posted on iKeepSafe's Blog)
Project Tomorrow "Innovation in Education" Award Finalists

Last week in California, the 2014 Project Tomorrow Innovation in Education Awards were presented at the 21st Annual High-Tech Innovation Awards dinner reception. This high profile event, held in tandem with the O.C. Tech Alliance’s corporate awards, attracts over 300 business and community leaders each year. It recognizes corporations, schools, and individuals demonstrating innovative uses of science, math and technology in the classroom and community.


Our school, where I teach Cyber Civics (or, “digital literacy”), was a runner-up for this program and received a grant to expand it (the well deserved winner was the Jose Sepulveda Elementary School). Even though we didn’t win, we felt like winners nonetheless…simply because “digital literacy” was invited to the table. We were honored that Project Tomorrow and the OC Tech Alliance recognized the important contribution that digital literacy—knowing how to use digital tools wisely, competently, and safely— makes to the world of innovation.

Longtime digital literacy evangelist Glen Warren of McPherson Magnet School, who I met through working on iKeepSafe’s BE a PRO Digital Literacy program, was also a Project Tomorrow finalist. So for our mutual cause of digital literacy, it truly felt like a double-header.


Upon the heels of the Project Tomorrow gala, educators from several western states gathered for the Educating the Whole Child in the Digital Age Workshop at Journey School. They came to learn about our “innovative” three-year, middle school Cyber Civics program and how, and why, to take the lessons back to their own schools. I was honored to present alongside Waldorf educator, mentor, and cognitive development expert Patti Connolly, longtime media literacy educator Patty Page, and Cyber Safety Cop and online safety expert Deputy Clay Cranford.


Educators left the workshop enthused about sharing lessons on digital citizenship, information literacy, and media literacy with their own students, as one educator put it:


I’m inspired by the program, the brain research, and the critical thinking skills. I love the words cyber civics, ethical thinking, and social cognition. This workshop raised my awareness and I’m committed to adding this to the curriculum.
It was a great weekend, and as it turns out the real winners will be the students empowered with “innovative” digital literacy skills.


Friday, February 28, 2014

iPads Coming to Your School? Be Prepared!

This post is reprinted with permission from A Platform For Good. It is about Journey School's 8th grade class getting iPads in the classroom.


The educational landscape in Los Angeles experienced a shake-up last fall, when the LAUSD, the nation’s second largest school district, initiated its $1-billion plan to equip all of its students with iPads. Immediately after the devices were issued, the program made headlines when hundreds of students bypassed security measures and started accessing, from home, sites like Pandora and Facebook. School officials quickly recalled many of the devices as they tried to figure out what to do next.
Yesterday, we handed out iPads for the first time at Journey School in Aliso Viejo, CA, just south of L.A., so I shared this story with my class. When I told them that the kids in L.A. had “hacked” their iPads in only 10 days my students had just one question.
“What took them so long?”
Kids, you see, know a lot more about all this technology stuff than we do. Watching the LAUSD story unfold was a good wake-up call and reminder for educators (and parents) that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Our preventative program started four years ago, with Cyber Civics, a three-year, digital literacy class I teach starting in 6th grade. These weekly classes equip students with the skills they need to use the Internet safely and wisely; still, we wanted to implement an additional precautionary measure.
Online Safety for TabletsSo we downloaded A Platform for Good’s Online Safety Cardsfrom this site; these are excellent resources for a parent or teacher planning to hand a digital device to a child. These cards set some terrific ground rules, so to ensure our students’ buy-in and, more importantly, their input, we used these cards as a template to craft our own agreement between the students and the school. 
I asked students to recommend changes/additions to these “rules” and was surprised by all of the “what-if” scenarios they imagined.
They wanted to know:
  • What happens if an iPad is broken or the screen is cracked? Who pays for it?
  • Do the devices have warranty protection, or protective covers?
  • What about passwords? Security settings? Shouldn’t we set these up together as a learning experience? (Since they could likely hack anything we set up without their input, they may as well learn how to manage the security settings on their own devices, right?)
  • Should there be rules about taking/posting photos of other students? What about their privacy?
  • Should they have a class email account?
  • What about educational apps? Could we set up an approval procedure for possible downloads?
And on, and on. The point is that while kids know an awful lot about how to get around our measures to “protect” them, they can also be taught (by us) how to protect themselves.
I’m thinking about hiring these kids out as consultants for future iPad rollouts, what do you think?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Gift Kids Really Want: A Digital Parent!

Yesterday I taught one of my favorite Common Sense Media lessons during a 6th grade Cyber Civics class. Called “Chart It,” this lesson challenges students to think through online ethical dilemmas — like a friend posting an unflattering photo on Facebook, a classmate cutting and pasting freely from the Internet for a homework assignment, or a girl posting misinformation on her blog. This lesson helps kids explore whether online acts like these are intentional or unintentional, and meant to be hurtful or helpful.

We spend a lot of time in this class sharing examples of online interactions like the ones above. And parents, I really hate to be the bearer of bad news, particularly right before the holidays, but guess what? Most of their examples involve us. Here’s what the kids say:

-My mom intentionally posted an unflattering photo of me on Facebook that was embarrassing and hurtful.

-My parent posted a picture of our family in Hawaii unintentionally showing us away for the holidays. This could end up being helpful to burglars.

You get the idea.

After one of these lessons, a boy said to me, “You really should be teaching this class to our parents.”

Get Digital is a course created exactly for this reason.



This series of online, self-paced lessons helps grownups understand the essentials of digital life. In fact there is a whole unit of classes in this course on “Digital Citizenship” that includes many of the lessons I’ve been teaching to kids for the past four years. Just launched in time for the holidays, this CyberWise Certified course makes a great gift for teachers tasked with teaching digital literacy, parents looking to understand the digital world our kids inhabit, and administrators looking to understand how digital media impacts education. It’s a gift that delivers lifelong returns.

When I told the kids about “Get Digital” for grownups, they immediately wanted to know if it included lessons about the social networks they love most, like Instagram, Tumblr, and Snapchat. (It does).

Here are a few other precious take-aways for parents from the kids:
  1. Don’t talk so much on the phone in the car or in public places.
  2. Learn some of the online games we play, and maybe even play with us.
  3. When something bad happens, instead of restricting us from technology, help us understand and talk about it first.
  4. No smartphones or iPads/tablets at school and sporting events, please.
  5. Help me do my schoolwork online (telling me not to use Wikipedia doesn’t count).
  6. At least try to learn more about social media and technology so we can talk about it with you.
In other words, get digital. We hope to see you online!

A Case for Cyber Civics

Cross-Posted on iKeepSafe's Blog.

My daughter, who is busy working on her college applications, received this message from her counselor yesterday:

Just received an email from the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC)… a friendly reminder that colleges are reading your social media.

Today, in addition to having a sky-high GPA and equally impressive test scores, kids also need to have a squeaky clean “digital footprint.” Unfortunately, by 12th grade that “digital footprint” might as well be set in stone, it’s permanent and it started taking shape the day they posted their first picture on Facebook.

Last week I introduced the concept of the “digital footprint” to a sixth grade class just starting to use social media to define themselves to the world. Pretending they had to hire someone for a job at their school, students conducted “background checks” on potential candidates by studying each applicant’s social media accounts. What they learned through this exercise is that everything you say and post online, and everything other people say or post about you, becomes part of your “digital footprint.” This is the same digital footprint that college admissions officers will potentially see and judge them by; the same digital footprint that will help shape their future.

I’m fortunate to be able to spend an hour per week with grades 6-8 teaching CyberCivics. We cover important topics like online reputations, online safety, copyright, plagiarism, cyberbullying, and more. According to research conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, our kids are spending more time online than in school or with their families. So I was surprised to read in the L.A. Times earlier this week, this concern posed about teaching students lessons on “copyright”:

"While it's certainly a worthy topic of discussion with students, I'm sure some teachers would have a concern that adding anything of any real length to an already packed school day would take away from the basic curriculum that they're trying to get through now," said Frank Wells, spokesman for the California Teachers Assn.

That was a concern at our school too, however in the three years of our pilot program the school’s API (Academic Performance Index) score has risen steadily and significantly, despite the loss of “academic” time. It’s also given the administrator more time too, as incidences of “cyberbullying” and such that used to find their way into his office a couple times per week have virtually vanished since we started the program.

It's ironic that the prevailing attitude is that there is no time to educate students about their digital behaviors when it's these very behaviors that could prevent them from pursuing a higher education in the first place.



Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The CRAP Kids Learn in School


Cross-posted on iKeepSafe's Blog

Digital Media Literacy education is primarily a top-down endeavor: adults design curriculum based upon what they think kids should know about the digital world. It’s sort of like Martians deciding what Earthlings need to know about life on this planet. Sure we do our best, but at the end of the day many of us are still trying to sort out the difference between a text, a tweet, and a timeline. Additionally, while we generally cover the risk-prevention/online safety stuff well; we're not so good at imparting the skills that actually empower kids to use their digital tools masterfully.

So why not ask kids directly what it is they think they need to know?  Believe it or not, they will generally give you some very smart answers.  

For example, at the completion of a three-year pilot program in Digital Citizenship, Information Literacy, and Media Literacy at Journey School, what we call Cyber Civics, I asked the kids to tell me which lessons they found most valuable.

The overwhelming answer?  CRAP Detection. Yes I admit, that’s an acronym hard to forget. But it’s also an incredibly useful tool for finding the trees in a forest of online information. In short, CRAP Detection comes from the book, NetSmart: How to Thrive Online (2012) by Stanford University Professor, Howard Rheingold.  It suggests that we evaluate online information based on the following criteria:

Currency -
          -How recent is this information?
          -How recently has the website been updated?

Reliability
          -What kind of information is included in the resource?
          -Does the creator provide references or sources for data? Or quotations?

  Authority          
          -Who is the creator or author? What are their credentials?
          -Who is the publisher or sponsor? Are they reputable? 
            
Purpose/Point of View -
          - Is this fact or opinion? Is it biased?
          - Is the creator/author trying to sell you something?

The second two things the kids liked learning about most were Copyright and Plagiarism. Now this was surprising to me, because those aren’t topics you’d think an 8th grader would remember fondly, yet as one student wrote,

“I liked learning about copyright rules so I don’t get arrested or kicked out of high school.”

Here are the other lessons the students liked most:  

“The most valuable thing I learned was to check to see if websites are trustworthy.”

“That every time you post something online it sticks onto your digital footprint like permanent glue.”

“That technology shouldn’t take over our lives.”

“That passwords should be around 8 characters w/symbols and numbers.”

“That people in magazines are photo-shopped and no one is perfect.”

And finally,

“Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your parents to see.”

Amen to that.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Ask.fm and Ask Again


By: Piper Graber, Age 14. Piper is the narrator of What Kids Are (Really) Doing Online. Cross-posted on iKeepSafe Blog.

Image is from home page of Ask.fm, account is public (user is not subject of this story).
Last month my mom wrote on this blog (see below) about an incident that happened in my 8th grade class surrounding Ask.fm, a website that lets users pose and answer questions anonymously:  

A student in our class was the recipient of a cruel post on Ask.fm. In this case, the victim was smart, and shared this information with a trusted adult. Their teacher turned this unfortunate situation into a terrific learning opportunity by addressing the situation in class, and also alerted the parents. The parents responded largely by advising one another to have their kids drop the site.

This post is a follow-up:

After spending a good part of my last week of school discussing a “bullying” situation that happened on Ask.fm, I was shocked when I saw a post on Instagram by the same girl who was bullied. She posted, “Ask me questions” with a link to her re-opened Ask.fm account.

After my initial disbelief, I decided to click on the link and see for myself if she really had reopened her account. Lo and behold, she had. I was angry and upset that she decided to ignore all the advice given by her teacher and classmates after three long days of discussing the incident. After all, we had all come to the conclusion that given her situation, it would be best for her to discontinue her account on Ask.fm. Her mom even sent emails around to all the parents of the class assuring everyone that her daughter would never use that site again (and suggesting that we shouldn’t use it either).  

So I decided to “ask” her this question:

“Why would you put yourself in the same situation after making such a big deal about being bullied the first time around?”

Thoroughly puzzled by her motives, I was anxious to see the answer she would give me, but the answer I received was not quite what I was looking for. Instead she responded eloquently: 

Go  (blank) a (male’s private parts).”

Now the thing I’d like to point out here, is that the device did not make her respond the way she did. In fact, it did not force her to respond at all. This was a result of her own thinking skills. So before you blame the tool, remember it’s not the phone’s job to raise your child. It’s yours.

And taking away the shoe isn’t going to stop your child from walking.

So my advice is this: When it  comes to digital tools and your kids, don’t just ask once, but ask and ask again. Here is a helpful list of things to ask your child:
  • If you can’t take the heat of a potentially cruel statement online, should you be using that app or website in the first place?
  • Do you ever post anything that you wouldn’t want your grandma to see?
  • If something cruel has happened to you before online, have you taken steps to make sure it won’t happen again (like blocking anonymous questions on Ask.fm)?
As a daughter, I would rather have my mom ask me these questions and even ask to look at my social network accounts with me, rather than going behind my back, or worse, not asking me anything at all. So remember, just ask, and ask again.

Unfortunately in this case my peer didn’t get a chance to be in the Cyber Civics classes in 6th and 7th grades where we talked about all this stuff. Too bad, because then she wouldn’t be asking for more trouble on ask.fm.