Monday, August 31, 2015

When Schools Use Tech, They Need a Plan

Two years ago, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the nation’s second largest school district, initiated a $1-billion plan to equip students with iPads. Within weeks, the program made headlines when hundreds of students started accessing social media sites, among other things. School official quickly recalled most of the devices and the debacle contributed to the departure of the superintendent and other top staff and led to an ongoing FBI investigation. 

We took this story to heart when designing the second year of Cyber Civics. Although, like the first year of the program, CyberCivics: Year 2 can be taught entirely without technology, many schools (like ours), use iPads for some of these “information literacy” lessons.

Therefore, the very first activity of Year 2 is the establishment of classroom agreements on the use of technology.

This is important, because today’s students spend a lot of time online, most of it away from the watchful eyes of parents and teachers. So any “rules” we set for them aren’t nearly as effective as “agreements” they make together. Kids like being the architects of the norms that rule their digital spaces.

I introduce this activity in my classes by talking to students about what happened in LAUSD; I tell them how the kids in L.A. “hacked” their iPads in only 10 days. The first question?

“What took them so long?”

Then we take a look at the Online Safety Cards offered by Good Digital Parenting. These cards set some terrific ground rules and are a great place to start. To solicit students’ input and, more importantly, their buy-in, we use these cards as a template to craft our own agreement between the students and the school. 

Working together in small groups, students suggest changes/additions to these “rules.” You'd be surprised, as I am every year, by the “what-if” scenarios students imagine. For example, my students want to know:

  • What if a device is broken or a screen is cracked? Who pays for it?
  • What about passwords? Security settings? Shouldn't the class set these up together as a learning activity?
  • Should there be rules about taking/posting photos of other students? What about privacy?
  • Should they open a class email account?
  • What about educational apps? Could there be an approval process for possible downloads?
  • What if/when a device goes home? Whose "rules" apply then?

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 also know better than anyone else how to protect one another.

Last week an update on LAUSD’s technology “plan” ran in the L.A. Times. Here is an excerpt:
In that first year [of the iPad roll-out], students initially could have taken the iPads home; later, they couldn't. The next year, students were allowed to use the iPads only during a single class period, every other day. Last year, students didn't receive the devices until they were in the third month of school. 
Eventually, officials decided that schools need to demonstrate that they can make good use of the devices. Valley Academy was the first to get such a plan approved. As of last week, it was the only school with an approved plan, but other campuses are not far behind, said Bill Wherritt, a deputy director in the facilities division.

Hmmm, I’m thinking about lending some of our students out as consultants to LAUSD to help them with their plan. What do you think?

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Digital Literacy Classes Raise Other Scores

Dr. Jane Karwoski of the Social Network Show recently invited me to talk to her about Cyber Civics, the middle school digital literacy program that equips students to be ethical and competent users of technology. We talked about a lot of topics, including the actual lessons, three tips for parents, and how these classes raise test scores. You can read about it here or listen to the entire podcast here.

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, 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.