Sunday, November 20, 2011

Parent Technology Coffee - Social Networking

We had our second Parent Technology Coffee on Tuesday, November 15th with 8 people in attendance. The conversations were rich and focused on protecting home networks and understanding social media and social networking, the draws, the dangers, and the uses of both.

After introductions we summarized how Open DNS works to filter all devices on your home network. In a nutshell, devices on a network are pointed to the OPEN DNS server instead of your internet provider's server to translate and direct you to the webpage you are seeking. Open DNS has a blacklist of inappropriate sites and when a user points to one of these spots on the internet the site is blocked.
See the blog post "Filtering Your Home Network with Open DNS" to learn more about this free, easy alternative.

We watched two short video clips (embedded into the presentation,) explaining the differences between social media and social networking. The differences are subtle, but it's important to understand them when trying to wrap your head around why these topics are so popular. Social media are the tools we use for sharing and connecting with others while social networking is the tool we use to do the connecting. In the end, the real draw of social media/networking is the ease of which we communicate and share with friends and family and the ability to make new connections. Businesses have caught on and are capitalizing on social media to deliver messages and products, even creating social networks within their organization to connect people.

The embedded presentation provides factual information regarding social media/networking. Probably the largest "unknown" to many is the large social networking community centered around gaming consoles like XBox and Play Station 3, (PS3.) Statistics state that 97% of kids aged 12-18 play computer games. When we informally surveyed (a raise of hands) our MSSD kids regarding how many had gaming consoles in the home the percentage was equivalent. A very large percentage of the 97% are playing games with others via a social network. The need to educate our kids on social networking is of utmost importance so they can remain safe and create appropriate digital footprints.

A digital footprint is like an online reputation. Sites you join and information you post all make up a person's digital footprint. To monitor a digital footprint a user needs to do is google their name. The google results will begin to shape a user's online reputation by describing who they are affiliated with and what sorts of things they do and write. Making sure digital information conveys the information about yourself that is desired is key when navigating the social media/networking waters. Common Sense Media is a terrific website that provides resources for parents and educators related to these topics.

In school students are using social networking on their own. Half of students in grades 6 and 7 are using Facebook despite the account creation age requirement of 13. In 8th grade teachers are using Facebook to share student generated work and to provide thoughtful discussions around content related articles. Following of course material via Facebook is a way to keep current information flowing through a class as students check Facebook and will spend time on thoughtful commenting when in an environment they enjoy. Imagine if students started using social networking to share book reviews or to practice foreign language. The more positive opportunities for social networking we provide, the better they will become at maintaining a positive digital footprint.

If you haven't joined the Facebook groups and pages created by the Manitou Springs School District, do so. Staying in contact with other parents and schools are just the beginning of what social networking can do for us as a community.

MSHS Facebook
MSMS Facebook Group
MSES Facebook Page

The next parent coffee is scheduled for December 13th at 9:00 AM and then repeated again at 6:00 PM. The topic is Information Management and will focus on how we keep up with the information revolution. Bring your device, (laptop, iPad or smartphone,) and you can learn some tricks to managing all this information that seems available but difficult to locate.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Filtering Your Home Network with Open DNS

If you are interested in a free, easy to set-up way to filter your home network so that ALL devices accessing the internet from within your home can be safe from inappropriate sites look no further than Open DNS. This includes gaming consoles that access the internet, iPads and even phones.

DNS stands for domain name system. When you type an address like into a browser the query goes to your internet server provider's DNS server. This DNS server translates the words into numerical identifiers (IP address) associated with locating the website. DNS is sort of like a phone book for the internet. Human friendly names associated with numerical addresses. It's easier for us to type in a name, than a long, complex number that is difficult to remember so the DNS server does this for us.

With Open DNS, you just use them instead of your internet server provider's DNS server. The difference is that Open DNS server has a frequently updated blacklist (blocked list) of sites divided into categories like "adult," "games," etc... Parents can block entire categories or simply set a filtering level of low, medium or high, depending upon need. The advantage is that you now have an account with your dns provider that let's you customize where your kids can go on the net. Most people do not have these capabilities on all devices accessing the internet in their home. In addition to all this protection, a list of visited websites is provided through account statistics that can easily be accessed by parents.

Open DNS is easy to set up and directions for doing so are provided below.
You can also tweet @OpenDNS for assistance in setting up Open DNS if you are a twitter user.

A parent of two middle school students felt this step was essential to providing an internet environment for her kids that was safe from inappropriate websites. She's posted her journey in the MSMS Facebook Group. The staff at MSSD is always available to assist with questions in this important matter as are parents within the community should you ask.

However, as with any filter on your network, it's important to remember that nothing provides 100% safety from inappropriate content. You are your best filter and teaching our children what to do when they encounter such content will be key in keeping them safe in the future.




Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Student Blogging

I've had some teachers ask me to provide them with some evidence as to why blogging might be good to do in a classroom setting.  The list is quite extensive.
I'll start by stating I consider student blogging to be one of the most powerful piece of student learning. They serve as a perfect vehicle for students to demonstrate their learning to a much larger audience, thereby authenticating the learning.  They also serve as the beginnings of a effective e-portfolio, an excellent tool in documenting learning. 
Take some time to review the three student blogs listed below.  These blogs were completed by students four years ago when I taught earth science.

So, now to the evidence for student blogging:
  1. It is FUN! Fun!….. It is wonderful when students think they are having so much fun, they forget that they are actually learning.
  2. Authentic audience – no longer working for a teacher who checks and evaluates work but  a potential global audience.
  3. Suits all learning styles
  4. Increased motivation for writing – students are happy to write and complete aspects of the post topic. Many will add to it in their own time.
  5. Increased motivation for reading –  students will happily spend a lot of time browsing through fellow student posts and their global counterparts. (Ask me about these, I have a huge list of interested schools.)
  6. Improved confidence levels – a lot of this comes through comments and global dots on their cluster maps (visits to their blogs.)  Students can share their strengths and upload areas of interest or units of work eg personal digital photography, their pets, hobbies etc Staff are given an often rare insight into what some students are good at. We find talents that were otherwise unknown and it allows us to work on those strengths. It allows staff to often gain insight to how students are feeling and thinking.
  7. Pride in their work – My experience is that students want their blogs to look good in both terms of presentation and content.
  8. Blogs allow text, multimedia, widgets, audio and images – all items that digital natives want to use
  9. Increased proofreading and validation skills
  10. Improved awareness of possible dangers that may confront them in the real world, whilst in a sheltered classroom environment
  11. Ability to share – part of the conceptual revolution that we are entering. They can share with each other, staff, their parents, the community, and the globe.
  12. Mutual learning between students and staff and students.
  13. Parents with internet access can view their child’s work and writings – an important element in the parent partnership with the classroom. Grandparents can make comments on student posts. Other parents can ‘adopt’ students who do not have internet access and ensured they have comments.
  14. Blogs may be used for digital portfolios and all the benefits this entails.
  15. Work is permanently stored, easily accessed and valuable comparisons can be made over time for assessment and evaluation purposes
  16. Students are digital natives - blogging is a natural element of this.
  17. Gives students a chance to show responsibility and trustworthiness and engenders independence.
  18. Prepares students for digital citizenship as they learn cybersafety and netiquette
  19. Fosters peer to peer mentoring. Students are happy to share, learn from and teach their peers (and this, often not their usual social groups)
  20. Allows student led professional development and one more……
  21. Students set the topics for posts – leads to deeper thinking activities
I can't (and won't) point to increased test scores due to student blogging.  I can and will say that when students have a vested interest in their learning, everything changes. 

Thanks to Gareth Scholes and Karen Mills for their Ulearn Workshop.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Global Education Conference 2011

Announcing the Second Annual Global Education Conference Streaming Live Online
November 14-18, 2011

The second annual Global Education Conference, a week-long event bringing together educators and innovators from around the world, will be held Monday, November 14 through Friday, November 18, 2011. The entire conference will be broadcast online for free using the Blackboard Collaborate platform (formerly known as Elluminate/Wimba).

The conference seeks to present ideas, examples, and projects related to connecting educators and classrooms with a strong emphasis on promoting global awareness, fostering global competency, and inspiring action towards solving real–world problems. Through this event, it is our hope that attendees will challenge themselves and others to become more active citizens of the world. Let us learn, question, create, and engage in meaningful, authentic opportunities within a global context!

Keynote addresses this year will be given by noted thought leaders Alan November Chris Dede, Howard Gardner, Fernando Reimers, Esther Wojcicki, and many more. Conference sponsors include Brainpop and iEARN-USA Partner organizations are numerous as well and many will be presenting their work throughout the conference.

Last year’s conference featured 387 sessions and 60 keynote addresses from 62 countries with over 15,000 participant logins. Sessions were held in multiple time zones and multiple languages over the five days, and are currently archived as a standing educational resource at

For further information, please join our network at and follow us on Twitter (@GlobalEdCon). Conference related tweets will be aggregated using the hashtag #GlobalEd11.

The Global Education Conference is a collaborative, world-wide community initiative
involving students, educators, and organizations at all levels. It is designed to
significantly increase opportunities for building education-related connections around
the globe while supporting cultural awareness and recognition of diversity.

Google Forms

Tech Tuesday was spent investigating Google Forms and the possibilities this piece of Google Docs offers to educators in a classroom setting, particularly pre/post testing.  But really, what I like about Google Forms the best is the ability to capture student thinking in the learning process.

The format of Forms is clean and simple, once you understand the main features. 
For instructions on how to use Google Forms visit the iPads Wiki.

Within minutes a teacher is capable of creating a form to analyze the following:
  • Pre/Post assess student knowledge of an essential learning, topic or unit of study
  • Collect information (Survey)
  • Evaluations of all types (Self/Student/Lesson/Unit/Course)
  • Quick Evaluation for student presentations (teacher fills out while student is presenting)
There are also ready-made public templates covering a wide range of document and report types to help jump-start the process.  These templates are a great place to gather ideas for Google Forms.

A teacher may email the form to students or embed the form into a wiki or blog easily. 

Google Forms offers seven different question types to choose from and response summaries may be viewed in spreadsheet form or in a graphic display.