Digital Smarts Blog

You are here


Evaluating the Quality of Online Information

A newly updated article on the Edutopia site (supported by the George Lucas foundation) on evaluating the quality of resources online is worth reviewing with your kids, especially before they start on any research project. Part of the article addresses how to be a healthy skeptic, providing a particularly helpful list of questions we should all ask ourselves when conducting online research.


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.


Bridging the Digital Divide

Is your local school district trying to find ways to bridge the digital divide and give all students access to education technology, both at home and in the classroom? The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) has developed a free Digital Equity Action Toolkit that is full of ideas for finding cost effective solutions in new technologies. It is a great resource for those looking to address the question of equity.


How Many Students Use Tech to Cheat?

A recent online survey conducted by McAfee has found that about 62% of teenagers in the US say they have seen or heard of another student using technology to cheat in school. The firm surveyed about 3,902 high-school students in the US, Australia, Canada and the UK. Students say it is easy to take a cell phone photo of notes or test answers, then peek at it surreptitiously while taking a test. Many respondents did note, however, that vigilant teachers will be on the lookout for those wayward glances.


Educators Worry About Emails From Parents

Thinking about sending your child’s teacher an after hours email? You might want to wait until the next school day. Some educators in Australia are asking for a break from the burden of answering emails sent by parents after hours and on weekends. The State School Teachers Union there says that some parents expect lengthy, instant responses, which is why they are seeking to include a provision that offers teachers a reprieve in their contracts.


Can Minecraft Boost Problem Solving and Empathy Skills?

Playing the video game Minecraft may help boost students' social and emotional skills, according to a recent survey from Getting Smart and Microsoft. Data shows that 86.6% of teachers who use the education version for group play in their classrooms said playing Minecraft had a positive effect on students' communication skills, including problem-solving (cited by 97.7 percent), creativity (95.5 percent), critical thinking (93.3 percent) and collaboration (91.1 percent).


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.


Coding Books for Kids

Teaching coding to kids is a trend that is on the rise. A number of children’s books are using fictional storylines to teach the fundamentals of coding -  Girls Who Code is releasing two books, a fiction novel called "The Friendship Code," and an illustrated coding manual, and Gene Luen Yang’s best-selling graphic novel series “Secret Coders” follows a group of kids who discover that their school’s janitor has a secret underground coding school. There are also a number of organizations that have developed apps and online lessons to teach kids coding as well. provides free online coding lessons, and has crafted coding curriculums for elementary, middle and high school students. Scratch Jr, a coding program designed for 4- to 7-year-olds, now has some five million users, and last year, Apple released a free app to teach the programming language Swift.


Social Media and “Bro Culture”

While social media has certainly helped fuel a set of behaviors dubbed "bro culture", it is also helping to stop its spread.  In the wake of recent accounts of sexual harassment and assault of women in the tech industry, a spotlight has been placed on “bro culture” which has become synonymous with the dangerous normalization of sexual objectification, harassment, assault and homophobia. In a recent article in The New York Times, author Ana Homayoun looks at the phenomenon online and shares information about several programs that aim to teach healthy behaviors to youth. One violence prevention program called Green Dot had more than a 50 percent reduction in the self-reported frequency of sexual violence and bullying by high school students. The program works with students to shift responsibility from victims to bystanders. Teaching young people that members of a community look out for one another may help reduce the spread of bro culture and other kinds of bullying, advises Homayoun.


Red Light, Green Light

In one Arizona district, high schools have implemented a "traffic light" system to help with managing digital device use in the classrooms. Posters in individual classrooms display red, yellow or green signals indicating if students can, or cannot, use their digital devices during class. Students say it lets them know what to expect when coming into a class and gives them a break to concentrate on the tasks at hand. They also say it helps keep them from getting their phone confiscated.


4 Reasons Your Child Might Want to Become a Hacker

Did you know that not all “hackers” are criminals? Many organizations are looking for white-hat hackers -- people who break down malicious code -- to help defend against cyberattacks, writes malware researcher Amanda Rousseau in a recent article in Teen Vogue. She offers four reasons why students, especially girls, should consider this career path, including the high demand for these jobs and the opportunity to positively affect the world and make a difference in people’s lives.


National PTA –Digital Safety Resources

With school starting you might want to check out this list of digital safety resources suggested by the National PTA. This time of year is a good time to create a contract with your family on how to responsibly use digital devices and to set down some guidelines/rules. One great tool for guiding you through that process is the Smart Talk site sponsored by the National PTA and LifeLock. The process has three steps. Together with your kids you consider various categories including safety and privacy, screen time, apps, texting, and social media, just to name a few. The site guides you through a series of questions that will help you set the ground rules for each category. You can also print your own customized agreement and post it where everyone in the family can see it. The site streamlines what can sometimes be an uncomfortable process and helps keep the conversation on the topics that need to be covered.


Mean Males on Online Gaming Sites Are Literally Losers

According to a study that was recently published in the journal PLOS One, men who were worse players at online games than their peers tended to hurl more nastiness at female gamers. On the other hand, men who consistently perform well were nicer overall to both male and female players. This was found by a pair of researchers from the United States and Australia who examined interactions between players during 163 games of Halo 3 to determine when men were most likely to exhibit sexist, anti-social behavior toward their female peers. Takeaway for parents? Remind the gamer girls at your house that they still should let you know when comments go too far but to keep in mind that a lot of the vitriol they face online may just be raw jealousy.


Managing Media – Practical Advice

As the school year starts, are you looking for advice on issues revolving around managing the media use of your family? One place to look for tips is the Child Mind Institute web site section on Media and Tech. Articles on everything from why you should watch television with your teens and tweens to when you should come between a teenager and her phone are covered. Issues that concern parents of younger children are also examined, including screen time limits for toddlers.


Brain Chemistry and Smartphone Addiction

According to a study of college students, chemicals in the brain associated with anxiety may be contributing to the increasing amount of time individuals spend on social media. Researchers looked at how often college students check their smartphones, and found that feelings of anxiety emerge from chemicals that are released the longer they go without checking in on social media. Notifications popping up on the screen when messages arrive, and even the small numbers next to an app on the screen, also drive anxiety.


Ways to Stop Your Technology Addiction

We are living in a time when adults spend an average of three hours a day on their phones, the average work email gets read in six seconds, and forty-six percent of people would prefer to have a broken bone than a broken phone. We are living in a world with technology addiction. A new book by Adam Alter entitled Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked shares ways to survive in the age of behavioral addiction.

One of the things Atler suggests is to think about proximity. If you don’t need your phone by your side, put it somewhere you cannot easily reach it. He also advises to turn off some non-essential notifications. Another tip is to bury those apps that are the most addictive for you to the last screen page. All of these actions can help you control your phone, not the other way around. Interested in more? Take a look at this article on the Time web site.


A Treasure Trove of Back to School Apps

Looking for apps that can help you and children get ready for the new school year? The AppAdvice site has a list with different categories of apps including those useful for keeping track of homework, projects and tests, as well as shopping for school supplies and lunches. There are even location sharing apps for making sure everyone got home safe at the end of the school day.


Assuring Student Data is Protected – 3 Tips

No one is more concerned about the security of student data than parents. The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy had this in mind when they created its Parent Toolkit for Student Privacy, a set of guidelines that parents and school administrators can reference. An article summarizing what is in that very complete kit appears on the EdTech Magazine site entitled “ 3 Tips to Keep Parents Assured that Student Data is Protected.” The article reminds both parents and schools that the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) gives parents discretion over the types of data about their children that can be used. The writers also remind parents that while teachers can help students recognize that there are consequences to the actions they take online, parents modeling good digital citizenship is by far the most important influencer.


Beyond Facebook – Get Up to Speed on Where Teens are Headed Now Online

With school starting you may want to check out a new article on the Common Media Site titled 17 Apps and Websites Kids Are Heading to After Facebook . The article is divided up into sections that cover topics including secret apps and microblogging, and covers some of the most popular sites and apps for teens, looking at their positive and negative attributes.