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Making Digital Communications More Accessible

While written for educators, the article Making Digital Communications Accessible on the Edutopia site is also useful to parents who may need schools (or parent/teacher associations) to use some accommodations to make sure the information they provide is accessible. By adding captions to Facebook pictures or turning on image descriptions in Twitter, communication improves. Adding captions to videos and posting transcripts of podcasts and videos by using transcription software can also make it easier for those with hearing or vision issues. And why bother? Accessibility is a matter of civil rights and can also be a legal issue. There are several districts across the country`` that are currently under investigation for issues related to website accessibility. 

A Disconnect on Home- School Communication

Among several digital communication options, most parents say they prefer to receive text messages from their child's school regarding the types of technology they should have at home [data from Project Tomorrow's Speak Up program]. Only 16% of parents said Facebook was an effective communication tool. Although, 78% of district communications officials favored it as a way to convey information. Parents said they prefer texting because it is convenient, timely and recognizes that they may be too busy to sign into Facebook on a regular basis.

Game Jams

Do you have a child who is interested programming or wants to make a difference in the world? Something that might spark their interest is a game jam, a hackathon-type event where kids get together to design a computer game or app based on social issues such as immigration, climate change, or future cities. Want to know more? Check out this article called Taking Advantage of the Power of Play on the Edutopia site for ideas on how to get started.

Civility is the Enemy of Bullying

Who are the bullies at your child’s school? Many would believe they are kids with multiple challenges – unpopular, at risk, or with issues at home or other special needs. While many times those students do tend to act out, a recent National Research Council report on bullying has found that most bullies, especially in high school, are actually the socially skilled, popular students who are hurtful as they try to establish and maintain social dominance.

How are schools approaching this finding? Many have come to realize that the “rules and punishment” approach to bullying and cyberbullying doesn’t work, and could even make the bullying worse. Evidence shows that often students will not report hurtful incidents for fear that it won’t help or just make things worse.

One new approach being suggested by many experts is getting schools to switch from bullying prevention to ensuring a more positive climate. One group that is working to bring about that kind of change is Embrace Civility in the Digital Age. Their site is full of ideas and resources to help school staff, students, and administrators to lay the foundation to fight bullying by creating a school environment where hurtful behavior is incompatible with the accepted social norms. 

Setting a Cell Phone Policy – Schools and Classrooms

With kids getting cell phones at younger and younger ages (10 is now the average), schools are struggling to catch up on establishing proactive policies about when and how the devices can be used. If your school is working on these policies, or if you are interested in how teachers are handling the situation in other schools, check out 3 Tips for Managing Phone Use in Class. While this article is written for teachers, parents may also find it useful in setting up a policy for home, using the questions posed for starting a dialogue about cell phone use.

15 Great Apps for Kids

Looking for some new learning apps that will engage your children? Take a look at this list from eSchool News that provides suggestions for kids in Kindergarten through grade 12. Some examples include SPRK Lightning Lab - an introduction to coding and robotics, and Comic Life, an app that creates comic strips from your images. Coach’s Eye is a great tool for young athletes that provides instant video feedback, allowing kids to capture and review their strengths, as well as see areas for improvement, while engaging in their favorite sports. They can then share their video with friends and teammates.

What’s My School’s Policy on That Social Media Site?

Do you know what the policies are at your child’s school for visiting sites like Blogger, Facebook, Google +, Skype and Twitter? In Indiana, the Department of Education has complied a map that includes every school district in the state with information about their technology plans and social media policies. It is a good resource for parents to learn about the policies that are in place and the kind of technology that is being offered to students, including guidelines on filters, access at home and the use of social media sites. Even if you don’t live in Indiana, it can be informative to get a glimpse of how other districts handle technology use and what they do when social media influenced issues arise.

Limiting the Checking of Online Grading Portals

Leaders in some school districts are placing limits on when -- and how often -- parents can check online grade portals, writes teacher and author Jessica Lahey. In a commentary in The New York Times, she shares the potential downside of parents "overchecking" grade portals, writing that in high-pressure school districts, parents will view the district’s invitation to constantly monitor grades and scores on the portal not as an option, but as an obligation. This obligation adds to the mounting anxiety students and parents feel in these districts.

Texting May Offer Intellectual Value

Parents and teachers often lament the proclivity of students to text rather than email or call, even attributing it as the downfall of writing, but according to new research from Missy Watson and Madhuri Karak of the City College of New York, texting offers intellectual value and actually helps students improve their communication skills. In a recent commentary that outlines their study, they discuss findings that students tend to think more deeply about how they communicate while texting. This includes using texting as a form of journaling, negotiating via text, and receiving the benefit of slower communication to actually think about what they want to say and how they want to say it versus the back and forth conversation of a phone call.

Would the President’s Tweets Get Him In Trouble at School?

Many of President Trump’s tweets have recently been scrutinized by bullying experts, notes a recent article on CNN.com. The article states that while his tweets about television personalities like MSNBC’s Mika Brezinski and Joe Scarborough would probably not be enough to get him suspended or expelled were he still in middle or high school, they would be enough for school officials to intercede and make him accountable for his behavior. The experts remind parents and teachers that the most important message to give young people who are fascinated by his questionable tweets is to remind them that other people stood up to him, including members of his own party, and pointed out that just because someone has a position of authority does not mean they are entitled to belittle and shame others online.

10 Social Media Issues That Landed Students in Hot Water

As a parent, when you sit down to have a discussion with your child about the ways social media can get them into trouble at school (or with the police), it can be really helpful to have some examples. Education Week has taken the time to examine ten such incidents that made recent headlines. From references to school shootings to racist rants to complaints about water quality, students’ social media posts this past school year have resulted in suspensions, expulsions, arrests, and lawsuits. It is an eye opening read including how much trouble students can get into for filming videos on school grounds (even if it was to expose the bad quality of the water supply in school water fountains, or as a backdrop for a rap video), or even for posting images of texts sent by others in an effort to expose racism. After you finish reading this article you may feel like telling your kids to refrain from posting anything at all! That, of course, is very unrealistic, but these examples do provide context to the advice “think before your post.”

Tech Helping Schools Overcome Language Barriers

School districts across the country are using machine translation, human translation, or some combination of both to help bridge the barriers for English-language learners. Some districts are using Google's Website Translator plug-in for translations on anything from homework worksheets to school lunch menus, while others have adopted mobile apps such as TalkingPoints to translate text messages, allowing non-English speaking parents to communicate with teachers in more than 20 languages.

Student Data Privacy – Learning Your Rights

Are you wondering what happens to data collected on your child at school? Do you know what data is collected, why, or how it is protected? One resource available online that can be useful in learning the rights of parents and guardians as part of the information gathering process is the Data Quality Campaign site

Parent Alerts Work!

You can sign up for text alerts for everything from bad weather to shipping updates, so why not a text alert for when your kid skips class? New studies show that text alerts to parents regarding students' academic performance and absences do work and increase parental engagement. Peter Bergman and Eric Chan of Teachers College at Columbia University recently found that among middle- and high-school students whose parents received such texts, course failures were down 39% and class attendance was up 17%.

Engaging Your Android Phone to Do Real Science with Your Kids

The mobile app Science Journal, ideal for ages 10 and up, is a tool that uses the different sensors on your Android phone to conduct experiments and record findings. Parents and teachers can check out the Making & Science website for activity ideas that go along with the app, such as building musical instruments that respond to light.

Enhancing Book Reports

Are your kids interested in using technology to enhance projects for school? Take a look at the article 5th grade teacher Jesse Buetow has written on Edutopia site entitled Using Technology to Inspire Independent Readers. Although the piece is written for teachers, the list of apps is a great resource for parents as well. Many of the apps he suggests are free like TouchCast, an inclusive video production app that has features such as video graphics, text, and links. The green-screen option in the app also allows your kids to place themselves in the book and even create a professional-looking commercial.

Helping Kids Learn to Read Deeply on Digital Devices

Children are doing more and more reading and assignments on digital devices, but day-to-day interactions with digital devices have instilled bad habits in many kids, including breaking away to text or check social media. These habits make it difficult for them to delve deeply into digital texts the way they would do with materials printed on paper. Teachers are developing methods to counteract these diversions and to teach students how to read for content and context. Interested in trying some of these methods with your own children? Check out Strategies to Help Students ‘Go Deep’ When Reading Digitally on the KQED news site.

Poll Shows Mobile Technology Connects Teachers and Students

A recent survey conducted by Project Tomorrow looks at how teachers are using mobile technology in the classroom. The study finds that although digital devices have improved communication between students and teachers, 31% of teachers and librarians surveyed responded that their students do not have regular access to mobile devices in the classroom.

What Do Companies Really Do With that Data They Gather on Your Children?

When you think of digital safety you probably think about cyberbullying, identity theft, and hackers... but what about the online dangers your children are exposed to through the data that is collected about them at school? To learn more about how this data is collected and used, take a look at the article How Companies Learn What Children Secretly Want to help safeguard your kids and understand the targeted marketing that is going on while children do their schoolwork.

Audio Books – Listening isn’t Cheating

Many popular books, including many that kids are required to read in school, are now available as audio books. This technology can be a great option for older students who already have learned to read. If you have concerns, take a look at Ki Sung’s article, Listening Isn't Cheating: How Audio Books Can Help Us Learn. In fact, listening is actually a critical component of Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts, and as many dyslexic students who rely on audio books point out, it actually takes longer to “read” a book this way.  This may be a good article to have in your arsenal if you have a child who might benefit from listening to books.