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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Voting ends soon in the Imagine Cup!

Right now my students are enjoying Kodu and making Xbox style video games on the PC to teach digital citizenship. Here are some very advanced student projects and I hope you'll vote! (It ends 14 hours from the time of this post -- some time about 4 am EST April 1st, 2011. So, review and vote.

From one of my friends at Microsoft:

"It's no secret that the U.S. is falling behind when it comes to science and math. It's estimated that by 2014, there will be 1 million new jobs in science and technology related fields added to the U.S. workforce, but the U.S. will only be able to fill 50% of those jobs with qualified US graduates. Now, more than ever, is the time to support and encourage the next generation to pursue opportunities in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and design.

Microsoft's Imagine Cup<http://www.imaginecup.com/
>, the world's premier student technology competition, provides a unique opportunity to showcase positive examples of students who are making an impact around the world. This year, over 70,000 students in the US registered for the competition, creating real solutions for real problems while learning valuable skills to prepare them for future.

Today we are launching the People's Choice Awards<facebook.com/MicrosoftTechStudent>, a fun opportunity to meet the finalists, view videos of their projects and vote for your favorite team. Students this year created a mobile app to detect malaria, video games to help teach environmental responsibility and a supply chain system for humanitarian efforts. The Software Design and Game Design teams with the most votes will be crowned champions at the Imagine Cup 2011 US Finals awards ceremony on April 11th.

Check out this video<http://bit.ly/hguWcE> to get a feel for the event and don't forget to vote!"
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Some Day: Inspiration to Find Happiness TODAY Amidst the Stress

The Three StoogesImage by twm1340 via FlickrSome days you open the milk in the fridge and it has gone bad but you don't realize it until a big clump of pre-cottage cheese has fallen on the cereal.

Some days your youngest child comes in with a "Moe" haircut because he wanted to get the hair out of his eyes and couldn't wait until Monday.

Some days you go to school to see that the unexpected air conditioner repairmen have trashed your room and that a full 1/3 of the computers are unplugged.

Some days you try to move the computers back with the help of the janitor and a monitor and table fall on your head while you're back in the corner.

Some days something precious to you has been taken off your desk and you know it is one of 8 students - all of whom deny it.

Some days you turn off messaging when your child is with you overseas and the cell phone company messes up and starts charging you for every message your child sent when they returned and sends you a bill for over $1200.

Some day I'll be happy...

No. I won't be happy someday - I'll be happy today.

Sure sometimes things fall on you like the monitor fell on my head yesterday morning.

Things happen. That is life.

At the end of yesterday (my someday in the story above) I came home, got in the bed and turned on my old time favorite, Little House on the Prairie,  and Mary Ingall's baby died in a fire that Albert inadvertently started when he was smoking in the basement of the blind school. (I found out this script for May We Make Them Proud went on to win several awards for Michael Landon, the author and actor who played Charles Ingalls.)

So, I sobbed. I cried as Mary was lost in insanity for a period as she denied the baby was dead and her husband went to New York to get away from her and Albert ran away. Life is so unfair. It all welled together into noiseless sobs (noiseless so my family wouldn't know I was crying - that upsets them.)

But then, at the end, as usual, there was a very touching scene. Johnathan - Charles Ingalls' best friend, whose wife had also died in the fire - said something like this to Albert Ingalls who had run away:

"We can't bring them back, but the question is, are we going to live our lives in a way that will make them proud?"

I can't undo the computer on my head - I CAN get the cell company to straighten out their billing mistake - I can buy new milk - My son's "Moe" haircut will grow out -  I can buy another of the thing stolen from me - but I can't buy another day ruined by unhappiness of my own making.

These are the things of life.

Some days things just happen like this but we cannot wait for some day to be happy.

If we do - we're never happy because something is wrong with every day - but you know what - something is RIGHT with every day too!

During the day, my baby sister Skyped me and called me as she was driving home to check on me - and she's one of the busiest women I know. She loves me.

After school, I came home, and my oldest son gave up his Xbox game so I could watch 2 episodes of Lost. (That is a BIG deal.) He loves me.

My Mom called me to check on me too. She loves me.

 I ended up yesterday flipping between a show about married people losing weight and American Idol sitting on the bed and laughing with my youngest son and daughter. My husband listened to me vent after we went to bed even though he was tired.

These people love me.

Today I will be happy and grateful for this day God has given me. Today is the someday I will be happy.

How about you?
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Daily Education & Technology News for Schools 03/31/2011

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Questions to Help Examine Your Learning Practices

A round brilliant cut diamond set in a ringImage via Wikipedia
But I've spent the morning captivated. Enraptured. I have a segment of my RSS reader called "hotlist" and into it go the blogs and feeds that I can't ignore - my "media diet" as Mark Hurst of Bit Literacy would say.

Relationship Gem #1: My friend, David Truss
In the first post in my reader -- I had to stop and say - Happy Blogaversary, David Truss - it has been five years and you've given us a heck of a lot more change than a "pair a dimes!" (couldn't resist ;-)

Be part of the lives of your friends. My dear friend Julie Lindsay left a comment on Friday's super-popular Facebook Friending 101 for Schools post - it means a lot for her to fire up her VPN and read my blog sometimes.

RSS Gem #1 from Marshall K + Bookmark #1
I started with Marshall K's post about departing Twitter co-founder Evan Williams. Not only was it touching for Marshall to show what Evan (cofounder of blogger AND Twitter) meant to him but the description of how Marshall K massages and extracts meaning from Twitter was fascinating to me.

Marshall said:

"I’ve used the tool Needlebase to discover patterns and benchmarks in social media activity by leading corporate practitioners around the world by scraping Twitter lists, and to scrape and map people who’ve been listed by other users as Journalists who have more than 2,000 followers and live in the South Eastern US. I used Needlebase to scrape the messages and locations of thousands of Tweets from Twitter staff members and find one needle in the haystack that indicated yes, the rumor that Twitter was opening a data center in Utah may have been correct, since an engineer Tweeted that he had begun work that day and geotagged the tweet from the area."
Led to... Teaching Idea #1
Now, college professors - take that and study it. We're going to look at this one with my tenth grade NetGenEd students today who are studying augmented reality and location based apps.

Led to... Technology #1, Bookmark #2
This led me on a journey into Needlebase and a list of free databases that would be fascinating to use with students. But then, I came across the list of twitter users on Needlebase  that Marshall made in less than an hour. Ok, then I begged for an account on needlebase to understand and test the service.

RSS Gems #2-5 from Stephen Downes
Back to the 30 items in my Google reader widget on my iGoogle start page only to be inhaled by the brilliance of Stephen Downes. Whether he loves me or not, I don't care but he is by far, the most useful and widely read aggregator of education news alive today. If educational blogging had a grandaddy, I think he'd be it. I learn from him every day I hit the reader. Here are the three articles that hit me there:

Led to Bookmark #3

Paul Stacey from BCcampus: Open Education and Policy  - "Paul Stacey is as much an authority as anyone on the subject of open educational resources, and in this interview by Creative Commons he offers a useful resource in the form of a chart cross-referencing OER projects and the licenses they select."
Led to Bookmark #4 and a Comment on the Huffington Post
A link to an article on the Huffington post about Kids Teaching Kids. (The only thing that bothered me is that the writer on Huffington is one of the people who founded Kids Teaching Kids and the article is written very much like a news article - not sure the disclaimer fully discloses there.) Yet, it is a good article that reminds me of the student idea for Aha! (Amateurs Teaching Adults) from Mumbai's Flat Classroom Mini-Conference in 2010. (We'll be back in 2012.)

Led To Teaching Gem #2 for the Digiteen Project

And a useful tool from Media Awareness Network to help kids be safer cybercitizens.

Full of learning, I go back to my reader widget on my iGoogle page.

Vicki, you've got to start writing your post this morning. This is your blogging time, not your learning time, remember?
RSS Gem #3 + Bookmark #5
POW! A post from Edutopia's Betty Ray that aggregates a wealth of writing on Student-Centered Learning. Who needs a textbook when you've got an article like this to read.

Time Elapsed: 25-30 minutes

So, then I came here, to write to you. (My bookmarks will be posted on this blog in the morning automatically by Diigo which aggregates the things I tag for you and posts them automatically around 5:45 am.)

Here are my conclusions.

Questions for You About Your Learning
  • Look at your RSS. I've written about selecting your Circle of the Wise and it is even more important today. Who is in your @Hotlist on your RSS reader?

  • Look at those in your Feed. You become like those you are around and mirror those we are around. Who are you around?

  • Look for inspiration. If you're only around yourself. Only writing about yourself. Only thinking your own thoughts - how interesting are you? Dad always told me that there are two things that can influence my life - only two: the people we meet and the books we read.

    I tell my children now that there are two things: the people we meet and what we read. (magazines, blogs, Kindle - these things are more than books.

  • Get past "Googling" into Thinking. Are the students I teach prepared to go deeper? Most students expect to type something verbatim in Google and get an answer. What happens when they have pre-processing required to figure out what to search. In Digiteen, we intentionally changed up the words we used to force students into authentic research. We've gotten pushback from kids who say "I can't find anything on global awareness and virtual worlds."

    (They are missing that they are studying how various countries are using virtual worlds - HOW do they find information on THAT. It is hard for most students to get to that level of thinking. But if they can't get THAT how on earth are they going to figure out how Marshall K figured out that Twitter was opening a new data center? How could they use something like needlebase.)

  • Take Time to Learn. We need time to amble through learning experiences. We can find meaning and learn a lot.
  • Are you Set up for Serendipity? John Hagal, John Seely Brown et al in the Power of Pull call what I've had this morning "serendipitous learning experiences." Have you designed your start page to bring serendipitous experiences to you?
  • Take Time to Learn! (Yes, I repeated myself!) Can you take 15-20 minutes at least 3 times a week to learn something new. This is about lifelong learners. I just became a lifetime member of Weight watchers - I have made a decision to be healthy and live it out every day of my life. You will make a decision to learn and grow or stew in self centeredness. What will it be? Lifelong learner?
You can't learn everything but you can learn something. Take time today to amble through your circle of the wise. You'll be glad you did.

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Daily Education & Technology News for Schools 03/30/2011

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Be an Expert Advisor or Judge for Flat Classroom or Net Gen! Sign up Now!

Embedding professional development can be as easy as volunteering to judge or serve as an expert advisor for one of our Flat Classroom projects. We mentor you, share rubrics, and bring you into the project as one who can observe closely what is happening.

Being a judge and/or an advisor on a Flat Classroom project is excellent PD and also helps you understand the project better, leading in many cases to teachers putting students into the project the following year.  We also encourage teacher-educators to build this into their course and encourage pre-service or in-service teachers to participate.

Flat Classroom projects have students studying the trends in Thomas Friedman's book, the World is Flat - updating his information and mashing it up with current research to produce a wiki chock-full of information and learning experiences. Then, they create final videos on their topic and outsource part of their video to their partners. Expert advisors mentor students on the wiki-creation process. Judges review and judge the video portion of the project.

The NetGenEd project is run once a year and mashes up the Horizon Report and Don Tapscott's NetGen Norms from his book Grown Up Digital producing a powerful, authentic research wiki on today's hottest trends as they relate to this generation and written by this generation. This is an intense project and one that always teaches us a lot!

We have THREE amazing projects happening right now:
We need Judges and Expert Advisors to sign up NOW. All information is on the sign-up form, leading to wiki links.

We look forward to hearing from you via the online form, and will be in touch again very soon.
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Firefox 4 Browser Basics: The Bookmarking Toolbar and Firefox Sync

I've ignored my web browser for a long time - took away every toolbar and just tried to make it lean. That has changed with Firefox 4. My Favorite Feature of Firefox 4 is the Firefox Sync. I've been using it since downloading the beta version weeks a go and have every computer I use AND my ipod Touch syncing bookmarks.

Let's take a look at my start page and close up on my bookmark bar to show how I use this:

Here is my browser start window. It is the same wherever I go. Firefox Sync handles that. the MOST important page for you is your Browser start page. It should be the launchpad into productivity for you. Note that I removed google cal because that is now a desktop gadget on my Windows 7 computer.
Meet Firefox Sync
You can set up your bookmarks / passwords to sync across all platforms where you have signed in. For security reasons the set up on the second computer and your handheld can be cumbersome, but honestly, I like it that way. My low security passwords and userid's are remembered. (I followed these instructions from Mozilla and it worked beautifully the first time.)

The Efficient Bookmark Bar
My productivity gains came from setting up my bookmark bar over time and working to make it efficient for me. I've used Activewords (recommended by Mark Hurst of Bit Literacy) and enjoyed it and the purpose is to quickly launch and handle keystrokes. I've found that doing this in my browser helps me.

Step 1: Find the Sites You Use Most Often by Looking At Your History
Step 1 to find your most frequently Used Sites. Go to Firefox --> History --> Show All History

  • Open History Window: Click Firefox --> History --> Show All History.
  • Look at This Month. Now that your history is open, click "this month" or if it is the beginning of the month, you may want to click last month.
  • Sort by "Visit Count" by clicking Visit count on the column. If the Visit Count column doesn't show go to Views --> Show Column --> Visit Count. You'll now see what websites you are using most. These are your first target.
My blogging, email, and use of Hootsuite (to access all the twitter accounts I manage) are at the top of my usage list.

Step 2: Put the Bookmarks on the Bar
Go to the sites you use most and drag them to your toolbar by clicking on the icon next to the hyperlink on your web browser and dragging it to the toolbar.  (This is called a favicon.)
Favicon for Blogger.

Once I have them there, sometimes I map out on paper which ones go together. As David Allen talks about in Getting Things Done (I use some of his method but definitely not all) it is helpful to have things in context.) So, I've grouped things and separated them with separators.

At some point your bookmarks WILL run off the bar and you may decide to take a break from grabbing those bookmarks that you use to go ahead and organize the bar.

Step 3: Find the Hard to Find Bookmarks that You Will Have to Hunt For If you Can't find them.
IP Addresses (if you are an IT Administrator), webinar rooms, webinar moderator links, anything "weird" and so long you'll have to search in your email to find or open up a manual on your self. These should also be on your bookmark bar - renamed to make it simple, of course. I do this with all the elluminate / Blackboard Collaborate rooms we use.

Step 4: Rename, Shorten Everything!
Rename. You should also rename most things to be 5 characters or less. My longest folder name is Digiteen. Right click and go to properties to rename the button.
Dissecting my Toolbar: You can see the top left of my browser bar and the things I use most. Note that my Google mail for school shows the mail count because that is a new feature in Google labs not of Firefox. Left to Right: Google Cal, Blogger, Disqus, Cool Cat Teacher gmail, Hootsuite, Google Docs, My Bank, and a Folder of Cool Cat Teacher-related websites. Then, I have my Kindle Daily refresh (a hidden feature of the kindle that lets you see your notes and highlights from Kindle books), my favorite Pandora music station, and then begins my school section of the toolbar.

 On the top left of my browser I have those things I use a TON or want to use a TON (like making sure I check my bank balances.) Note that you should also rename things for privacy - I renamed my bank's name to the word "bank" for example.

Step 5: Add Folders and Separators
Add Folders. By right Clicking on the bookmark bar you can add a new folder and you can also put folders inside folders. It is a bit glitchy sometimes as most folders are added ON the toolbar and not within folders, but I still prefer to see this on the screen instead of launching the bookmark editor. Make these short and efficient.
In my IT Support folder I have links to the things I update a lot (google calendar, website), as well as the IP Addresses for every wireless node, router, and printer on campus. I have all the links for PowerSchool administration, the SAT Studyguide I use in my class and a link to the ordering portal for the main company I use to buy hardware. when I'm in "IT Mode" it is all right there for me. I no longer have to get out my IP Address book.

Add Separators. Separate when you have a new context. You can see I have four basic sections. My personal section, Personal Enrichment Section (Kindle, Pandora), School Section, Flat Classroom Project Administration, and a folder for all the meeting rooms. The only bookmarks that are there twice are those for meeting rooms as they can get unwieldly I put them in two places to make them easy to find.

Here you can see that under Flat Classroom I have links to the projects, websites, meeting rooms, and also a link to Julie's unread emails so I can quickly go to her emails in my inbox. To do this, just click search options, type in the email address for the person you want to create the filter for and say "unread messages" or use a tag and add is:unread to it. Then, drag it onto toolbar.
See how I use the separators there to be more efficient as well?

Step 6: Evolve
I tweak this continually and add things I know I will use a lot (like new Elluminate rooms.)

A Word of Warning
We have a family computer and I didn't set it up on that one. This will give the kids access to "my stuff." So, I have a separate userid on that computer for when I want to use Firefox and set it up to sync to that account. Your browser is a bit of a key to your life so be careful about the administrative key as well.

Go Everywhere
Set this up on all your computers and your handheld. I didn't think I'd use it on my handheld but if I have a quick task or website I need to go to - it is just incredibly efficient.

Take a Look at Your Start Page
The Most important webpage is the page that you start with. Firefox 4 does have a problem of taking me to a standard google page and asking me if I want to restore and I have to figure out how to turn that OFF. Starting up to a well-designed igoogle page is important.

These productivity tricks can save lots of time and keystrokes and time saved is time you can spend doing things you really enjoy.

Remember your noble calling and that there is nothing noble about wasting your time. Don't play the martyr - don't work harder - take a good look at your life and routines. Simplify and be more efficient!

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Your Habits are Your Success

Habits of MindsImage via WikipediaThe great book, The Way We're Working Isn't Working (which I read because of Arvind Grover's review of the book Focus- someone I know and admire) states that 95% of what we achieve is due to our habits.

Do you have rituals?

I've been working on restructuring my habits and I'm finding that I get a lot more done and am at peace with how I'm living my life.

Think on this question today. If it is worth doing it is worth setting an appointment with yourself?

Other great reads on this topic:
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The Case for Digital Citizenship in Schools

Various cell phones displayed at a shop.Image via WikipediaThe Dealia's swimsuit catalog came in the mail for my teenage daughter and I handed it to my youngest son and asked him to take it to her. He padded in the den and I heard him say,

"Here's your bathing suit catalog, sis. Pick something that won't scar me for life!"

Scarred for life? lol. Hmmmm. Not a joke if I think about it.

Scarred for Life.
As I listened to my book on iPod and cleaned the kitchen, I started thinking that that is what is happening to many of today's teens.

We have driver's education because we want to protect kids from themselves. A car is a powerful machine and can kill.

We have sex education because we want to protect children as well. Sex is a very intimate thing that shouldn't be taken lightly. Sex can also kill if one contracts various STD's.

Cell phones and the Internet are powerful vehicles. Yet parents give kids cell phones like they are the latest gadget, ignoring what can happen if a child makes a childish mistake. They can be scarred for life.

Driver's education cannot stop accidents among teenagers - but well done - it can reduce them.

Sex education cannot stop sex among teenagers but it can prevent STD's and have students take it more seriously.

Digital citizenship education cannot STOP the headlines of people who do scarring things through improper use of their technology but I believe it can reduce them.

Margarite's Mistake
In the Saturday New York Times Article "A Girl's Nude Photo, and Altered Lives" ( a story we'll be talking about in Digiteen this week), Margarite is an eighth grader who posed nude in her mirror and sent the picture of herself to a popular athlete, Isaiah.

Isaiah forwarded this to a former friend of Margarite's who then forwarded it to every contact in her cell phone with the message:

"Ho Alert! If you think this girl is a whore, then text this to all your friends."

Pressed Send.

The video went viral and through four middle schools. When parents started calling in to complain, the Middle school principal at one school launched the investigation that led to the confiscation of student cell phones and three students being charged with dissemination of child pornography (a class C felony.)

The county prosecutor, Mr. Peters said, "The idea of forwarding that picture was bad enough," he said, "But the text elevated it to something far more serious. It was mean-girl drama, an all-out attempt to destroy someone without thinking about the implications."

As other kids left school to go home at the end fo the day, Isiah and Margarite's former friend were led off in handcuffs.

Scarred for life.

The article goes on to say that sexting (between adults) is protected first amendment speech and that many magazines are giving tips on "how to look good" in sexting photos. However, as many as 24 % of 14-17 year olders have been involved in "some type of naked sexting." (AP & MTV Poll - PDF)

Forwarding such photos can land you in jail.

Don't Freak Out, Fan Out
I think that banning cell phones and removing them from schools is NOT the right answer. You might as well dam the Mississippi in a few weeks during flood season. See if that will hold!

It would be like banning cars because too many kids die in traffic accidents. Not realistic. We have to co-exist with cars because they are part of our society and the way we get around.

Banning cell phones is not realistic. We must co-exist with cell phones because they are part of our society and the way we communicate.

When someone lost an earring in the grass the other day - we all took a small space and fanned out to find the earring and eventually did.

Likewise, we should all take the "plot of ground" assigned to us. Our classroom. Our Home. Our school. Our community.

We can't do it all but we can do something.

Don't Lecture, Learn.

This should be treated a lot like driver's education which does have a bit of classroom work but a lot of time IN a car navigating the spaces. If a kid is going to have a problem with a left turn or parallel parking you want them to have it under supervision so it is not scarring for life.

The final example from Facebook Friending 101 for Schools (about the student I named "Zipper) that I posted on Friday is from one of our Flat Classroom projects. (I did change the names.) The teachable moment that I discussed in that case study transformed our our kids and they all went in and changed their privacy settings.

Digital Citizenship in Situ
That is why I think effective digital citizenship education is done WHILE students are using educational networks (social networks for education) and cell phones. In fact, that is why we founded Digiteen and spun it off as a nonprofit - because we felt like the kids who came in to Flat Classroom weren't ready because they were clueless about managing their personal identity in safe, wise ways!

Kids DON'T get it, but neither do adults. We are learning as we go.

In fact, I received a SCATHING commenter accusing me of not knowing Facebook privacy settings because she says she has set lists to:

"I friend students. I also have a specific list just for them. This list is restricted so that they can't see:
- any of my default wall posts (unless I specifically select my "students" list, but even then when I post to that one, I ONLY post to students, so that my other friends can't see it)
- anything anyone posts on my wall
- any of my photo albums except for the one of my profile pics
- anyone on my friends list (you can even restrict that, it's just on the privacy screen under "Connecting on Facebook" rather than "Sharing on Facebook")
- any pages or anything else that I "like""

Now, I've got it on my personal PD list this week to check this out and learn if this is indeed the case. Furthermore, I want to test it and see if it actually works that way. I value commenters that let me know that there is more to be told.  

(Of course this commenter didn't do it in a very nice way and that, I feel was poor citizenship, but onwards and upwards - if we cannot learn from those who are unkind to us, then we are letting our emotions restrict our learning potential - aren't we? So, my friends, don't let your emotions on this topic cause you to make a decision not to learn either.)

If I wasn't on Facebook and wasn't blogging - how would I know? It is a MISTAKE to ignore Facebook. You should all also know how to send and receive text messages.

Case Study: Who is Mij Cosby?
I've changed this name because we don't really know if this is a real person or not. However, last week as my class and I were brainstorming our action project for Digiteen, a student said - we need to talk about friending because "WHO IS MIJ COSBY?"

I asked - WHAT?

He said -

"There is this girl over in an adjacent county who has no friends at her own school but who has asked to FRIEND every student at Westwood. I won't friend Mij because I don't know who it is."

We talked for some time and everyone in the class but one person (who said he needed a lot of friends) unfriended Mij because they realized that NO ONE knew who it was.

But I left the question on the board and didn't think another thing about it. My tenth graders came in and saw the board and several shouted out

"WHO is Mij Cosby? I mean really, Mrs. Vicki, who is it?"

They too had been friended - such was the whole day!! We don't know who this is, but what we found out happened is that this person was able to get about 5 kids to friend at our school and then everyone started friending Mij. In 2-3 days at least 50+ kids (that I counted) had friended Mij and NO ONE knew the person!

They admitted that they look to see how many mutual friends they have and then decide if they should friend or not.

Almost all of the students unfriended Mij because we cannot find ONE student in the whole school who knows her. NOT ONE. We don't even know if there is a family in that county of 2800 people with that last name! We think Mij is a fake.

And yet, several kids didn't want to unfriend. ("But I want to have a lot of friends, Mrs. Vicki.") And many didn't want to make their pages Friends only -- some have it set to public. ("I want people to know who I am.")

This live in-situ case study that happened because we were talking about what to DO about digital citizenship caused around 90+% of my students to change their behavior - at least for now. That did more to help them understand friending than anything else. Facebook is unblocked at school (at least for now) so they took action RIGHT THEN.

Get them talking and acting and learning and doing!

Time to Take Action
  • Does your school have to end up on the cover of the New York Times for you to take seriously the need for digital citizenship education?
  • Do you know that problems WILL happen and they will be WORSE if you ignore this issue?
  • Do you think lecture from a fear-based uneducated un-social-media-wise adult is actually going to change anything? Do you want a person without a driver's license who doesn't own a car teaching drivers ed? Get someone who uses this stuff and can relate to kids to lead them in educated discussions - or join something like Digiteen.
  • Do you think you have to find a place for this before you do it? We do what is important.
  • Do you think educating parents on proactive ways to help will do more than scaring them into taking away cell phones? Cell phones are the identity of many kids. Face it.
  • The best defense is a good offense. Are you going to be proactive or reactive? Which will paint you as more of a leader? Be a visionary, that is your job.
  • What are you doing? Share.
Remember your noble calling. Handle this situation with nobility and wisdom and resist the desire to freak out and create fear.

And also remember this, I'm bringing attention to social media in schools because it is IMPORTANT. I will continue to talk about this and share what I know - but if I don't know something (and there is tons I don't know) please feel free to shoot me an email at vicki at coolcatteacher dot com and teach me something. ;-)

You are great readers and sharers. Thank you.
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Friday, March 25, 2011

Facebook Friending 101 for Schools

Facebook has added an incredible complexity to our lives and relationships for one simple reason: it is in writing. The courts have always put things "in writing" in higher esteem above word of mouth. Now that we are inundated with video, text, and photographs and a set of complex relationships - we end up with things "in writing" that are distributed far beyond our true "friends" into  places that get us in trouble.

I don't have all the answers but am wrestling with this problem and want to lay out the facts so you and I can become co-travelers on this journey. I speak from experience, however, having two significant experiences under my belt with the school in this arena, know that there are things that I cannot say about situations that come in out what I share. It can happen because it DOES. This isn't theory.

Defining "Friend"
Anyone who has seen The Social Network finds Mark Zuckerberg's use of the word "friend" ironic as through the course of the movie we see him lose the few friends he has in order to gain the millions that are online. I've heard it is a mischaracterization (come on what billionare 20-something year old doesn't havea  lot of friends ;-) but nevertheless friend doesn't mean what you think.

In "the South" we are taught to be friendly from the moment our Mom's tell us as a drooling tot to "say hello because he just said hello to you." Be friendly. So, we think we have to "friend" everyone who "friends" us - it is good manners, right?


Let's get this straight. We are talking about Facebook Friends (I call them FF's in class) and a Facebook friend has access to everything you put on your wall (unless you "list" them - more on that later.) It means that if you "friend" someone who hates you that they will be crawling your page and your life looking for something bad about you. It also means that if you "friend" your students and you skip school one day and post "I took a sick day to go to the mall." that you've just ratted yourself out -- in writing. Everyone will know, that sort of word travels fast.

I use my Facebook for my professional life.  I don't friend students. I only friended my husband and I definitely don't friend my kids. Let's look at why.

Basic Friend and Publication Structure
How "Friending" Distributes Your Work
You are on Facebook. Your settings determine how people view your content. Check them thoroughly and every month or so to make sure you know what is in there and UNDERSTAND them.

Friends (FF)
Your friends have access to everything you publish unless you override the settings. If you friend someone - they are in your inner circle or your FF's. Do you trust them?

Facebook has allowed "listing" which lets you specify "friends" "coworkers" "high school friends" etc. and specify what content goes to which. I'm not smart enough to keep up with the complexity myself  I started eagerly using lists the day they were released, however, have found that they didn't work as stated and and my primary interface for Facebook (my itouch) doesn't give me access to lists when I accept a friend request there - so it has been pretty useless. It has been difficult in implementation for me.

Update: 3/29/2011 My friend Suzie Nestico (see her amazing new blog Coal Cracker Classroom) uses this feature and has graciously given me some screenshots to show how to hide lists from one another. I'm still not sure how to hide both ways. (i.e. hide students from friends - but I also want to hide friends from students - I guess there is a way to do this.) Also, it is vital that every person you friend get put on a LIST for this to work. And some interfaces (like handheld Facebook apps) don't give the option to list the friend as of the writing of this post. Finally, this is just how to hide specific updates from specific people and the primary concern is still having the two way avenue opened between students and my adult friends.

This is how to make a status update that is hidden from certain people.
Hiding updates from specific people. How many jobs would this have saved? Not sure if you can get at this feature in a handheld app.

Obviously, Facebook realizes this as a New York Times article this week reveals that part of Facebook's strategy is "friend clusters" but that is yet to be determined. The article claims that this will return us to "Facebook intimacy" which is nonexistent in the behemoth we have on our computers today.

If you are "friends only" then only your friends can see your content. Simple enough. It has nothing to do with whether they can see each other's content.

UPDATE 3/28/2011: I have been told there is a setting in the comments below that will allow friends not to see each other. At this point, I've been through privacy settings (as I did before I wrote the post Friday) and cannot find this. If this feature is hidden or possible, please let me know but as of now it is not something available in my Facebook privacy settings.

Friends of Friends (FOF)
This is where we get in trouble. When a person has their settings as "friends of friends" then the friends of their friends can see their pages. In my work with students and adults - most people haven't gone in and edited the new, improved privacy features that Facebook announced last year that give you control over these three areas. Most people around here are publishing to FOF's.

Studies show the average number of FF's we have is 120-130 (New York Times Dec 2010). So, if you have 120 friends and those friends have 120 friends, your page is potentially being viewed by 14,400 people who probably have some loose relationship with you -- If you have your settings to be Friends of Friends.

But here is the trick. YOU may have your page set to "Friends only," however, you have no control over your FF's pages. If your students or the adults you have friended have their pages set to FOF or Public then your FF can go through your list of Facebook friends and see each other's pages.  

You are a living hyperlink between all of your Facebook Friends (FF's).

This is what everyone can see. According to Facebook (May 2010) you

"can't hide your name, profile picture, network and gender (if you provide this info)." 

Be careful on your profile picture, many get tripped up just by posting an innappropriate profile photo. Everyone sees it.

Also, your " facebook network" means  the college, school, or other group you are part of. You are linked to your colleges, schools, etc. and so are your students. Everyone sees this. So, basically someone can pull up your school network and see the profile pics and gender and names of everyone at your school. (Does this bother anyone but me?)

You CAN set your page to public, which means that all of Facebook's users and everyone on the web can see your page. Kids can set it to public as well and many have.

How does this impact Teachers?

Teachers become "human hyperlinks" between groups of people.

 When a teacher uses ONE account to friend students - the teacher becomes a living hyperlink between students, adults, families, etc. This is where we get in trouble.
  • Do we want everyone to know the names of our students? 
  • If our students have their privacy set to public - do we want to accept responsibility that everyone in our friend's network is on the up and up and not a "creeper?" 

We all know and have probably FF'd someone who is strange. You have just accepted responsibility for all of your FF's and are a living hyperlink.

This is why teachers who really want to be on Facebook often set up a "school account" and just friend students with it. But now, remember, you are a link between students. (I'm not saying don't do it, I just want you to understand what this MEANs.)

A true-er picture of the world
 But as most teachers say,

"I want to be part of their lives and all of these other adults are friends with students - why shouldn't I be. Aren't you just talking "theory" here - the real world is that students and adults are friends all over the place!!"

Yes, this is true. The reality is that in the mess of privacy settings and indiscriminate uneducating friending that we do have a mass mess.

Say, an adult with a mental disorder has an argument with another adult and flames on Facebook posting profanity and horrible pictures. Their settings are "friend of friend" - anyone connected to that adult as a friend can see the page. They can be exposed by human hyperlink to trash. It happens and has happened.

If that "human hyperlink" happens to be a school or a teacher - parents can blame the teacher or school for their role in exposing students to that content. I don't like this but even if a child is friend with 100 adults and could get there to that content 100 ways, the school is one of those links and they expect us to be responsible. They blame us. I've taken the phone call, readers, I'm not making this up.

Parents are a Big Part of the Problem
Parents often don't realize that they are causing safety concerns when they friend their own children.
 I believe that if a parent wants to friend their child that they should create ONE facebook account just for friending their child. They should have just as many friends as they have children. Period. If they want to monitor their child's account that is set to "friends only" they should do this.

Otherwise, when a parent friends their child - they can also see everything for their children's friends who are set to "FOF" or "public" but also their child can see everything for the adults in Mom's or Dad's network. Likewise, when the friends of parents can see the child - that is too much information for me as a parent. My job is to protect my children and since I use Facebook more as a professional than personal, it is an overlap I cannot allow. 

I know of parent "creepers" that get into everything going on in a school. These are the ones that friend their children and then proceed to look at all of their friends on an ongoing basis. They know everything to the point that I think it is unhealthy. 

I've also seen kids who are defriended because of creeper parents. Parents have a responsible role to play here. Kids shouldn't be the Jersey-Shore entertainment for adults who don't have anything better to do. But, they should also understand about posting innappropriate content.

Why does sharing matter? A Real-Life Case Study.

I'm going to give a live example with names changed. 

Let's say that we have a large project with kids from multiple schools and one child has a funny name- let's call him "Zipper" and posts a really strange picture of himself as his profile. Kids from another school find this hilarious and start making fun of "Zipper" both in the chat and on the project.

Teachers intervene and put a stop to the behavior to which the student's who are picking on Zipper say "we're just going to take it to Facebook" to which the teacher says "If you take this to Facebook, there will be consequences." Of course, the kids laugh it off -- my school on Facebook, not going to happen.

Zipper now knows what is up and refuses the friend request from these students. (How many "Zipper"s are there on Facebook.) So the kids making fun of Zipper look at Zipper's network and see his school. They go through the school and friend Zipper's friends and ONE girl who has TMF's (too many friends) friends them. She friends everyone including Zipper and these kids making fun of Zipper. She has become a human hyperlink.

Zipper has not realized that his updates are set to Friend of Friend and gets a new cell phone number. He goes in and updates his cell phone number which is posted to his wall. The kids making fun of him and his name are watching Zipper's wall and see his phone number. They start texting him. One bold student calls him three times and leaves a message. 

This happens all in a 24 hour period. Now, how did this turn out?

Zipper's friends took screenshots and brought them to Zipper's teacher. Zipper brought his cell phone and in let the teacher hear the messages (he deleted the first two.) Zipper's teacher takes the documentation and sends it to the school of the students who are cyberbullying Zipper - because that is what has happened in this case. Fortunately, the school which housed the students conducting themselves in this way was a visionary school - the vice principal was involved and put the kids on suspension with notification if they contacted Zipper in any way they would be expelled.   The students were removed from the project and given an alternate assignment while the rest of the project continued.

Zipper's teacher helped him set his Facebook privacy settings, delete his cell phone, and spent time with the whole class using this as a powerful teachable moment on Friends of Friends AND sharing too much information. Everyone in the class set their page to FF only except for two who just didn't want to.

Zipper's teacher notified the principal and his parents and let them know what was happening.

36 hours - issue resolved.

This real-life case scares the dickens out of administrators but it happens. To be ready for this, I think that schools should:
  • Consider the policy for friending and educate teachers and staff. (If some are actually TELLING kids to friend them based upon their role at the school - you have HUGE issues and they need to consider having a separate account.)  Tell them HOW they can friend students not that they CAN'T in any cases. You're not living in reality if you think you can stop it altogether, particularly if faculty have their own children at the school.
  • EDUCATE EDUCATE EDUCATE. It is not an option to ignore facebook. Educate parents, staff, students. Have Facebook Fridays and help kids review their privacy settings (with permission from parents.) You can't talk about this issue enough.
  • Consider multiple accounts for yourself and staff. Thus far, Facebook's efforts in this area have been lip service, in my opinion. They admit the problem is messy.Educators should listen. You don't want to risk being the human hyperlink in the equation of the problems that WILL not MIGHT but WILL happen between students, adults, etc. Faculty can also have pages to communicate with kids and NOT friend students. This is a great middle ground I recommend.
  •  You should get on Facebook. yes, I said it. How can you understand it unless you use it yourself. Decide the purpose for your Facebook account and stick to it. Administrators and teachers not using it at all don't understand it. It is like people telling me how to raise my kids who don't have any of their own.
  • Have a Facebook Page for your school. This is a safe way to get your information about your school from YOU - otherwise the grapevine on Facebook will do it for you. (I'll share how to do this in the next week or two.)
  • Consider a digital citizenship education program like the Digiteen program, a nonprofit that I run, or Common Sense media or Microsoft's excellent Family Safety Resource or the many other resources out there. If you have driver's ed you should have digital citizenship education. Period.
  • Teach kids how to Screenshot. "Stop Block and Tell" sounds nice but it is WRONG!! It is Stop, Screenshot, Block, Tell, and SHARE! (See my free downloadble 5 Steps to Internet Safety (for non commercial use) - you may also buy these posters at my Café Press Store or contact me for bulk printing discounts.) They need to be ready for WHEN not IF issues happen.
  • Partner with those in global collaboration who have an active role in handling projects and the interface between schools so that issues like that of Zipper above can be dealt with quickly.
  • Educate yourself. These issues will be dealt with by administrators and teachers the world over for the forseeable future.
  • Look at Kidswirl for kids, parents, and faculty. This is an excellent option that my students and I have tested. They have some excellent privacy settings. Give a good alternative to Facebook.

And truthfully, Facebook can handle some issues like this. I know of kids as young as 7 on Facebook (with parental knowledge) - the conditions say you are supposed to be 13. If they have to network, try Kidswirl.

I think that Facebook should be able to block the searching of K12 networks when certain types of behavior are seen. There are ways to ferrett out innappropriate use and we know they are tracking our clicks for goodness sakes. But, don't expect it.

Face it, if your kids and school are going to be using Facebook safely, it is up to you!

Remember your noble calling.

This is the first in a series of posts about Social media for schools.
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