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?