Digital Smarts Blog

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Bullying Handout

An excellent handout on bullying behaviors for parents was recently made available to download from the Glenview Elementary School in Oakland, California. The 2-page guide helps parents and teachers not only define bullying and recognize how it shapes the school environment, but to also understand how bystanders to bullying are affected.


Helping Teachers Meet the Challenge of Smartphones in the Classroom

The policy debate over smartphone use in school is one that has been ongoing. The Edutopia Mobile Learning blog recently posted an excellent summary of how teachers are using smartphones to engage students and promote learning. Smartphones: From Toy to Tool has some great examples of how teachers are using smartphones in their lessons, and includes tips on how teachers can get started.


Potential College Applicants Wise Up on Facebook Posts and Tweets

There is evidence that high school students have received the message that whatever they post online can be reviewed during the college admissions process. Test prep company Kaplan has found that college admissions officers are finding fewer things online that negatively impacted that applicant’s chances of admission compared to the past few years. The decline comes as the survey found more students believe colleges are factoring social media into the application process. Despite the fact that social media searches are in fact becoming more common in the college admissions process, most colleges admit that grades and test scores are still the main factors, calling an applicant’s online persona a “wild card” in the admissions process.


Schools, Social Media and Burglars

A Michigan school district recently used their new technology system to help solve a crime committed over winter break. Officials used social media to get out the message that a school building had been broken into, and shared photos and video of the young burglars taken from video surveillance footage. Within minutes they began to receive responses about the identities of the suspects and were able to supply that information to police.


Instagram Becoming the Platform for Breaking News

An interesting new article predicts that Instagram users are beginning to use the site as a social news service instead of just for photo sharing. This would potentially make Instagram a serious threat to Twitter, which has hitherto managed to dominate the social-news niche. Instagram is easier to use than Twitter, but remains harder to search for or categorize information, something the company is well aware of and working on. Cofounder Mike Krieger tells users to expect improvements in searches in 2015.


Posting Online –Lessons Learned

Middle-school students who are part of teacher Bill Ferriter's #sugarkills project recently learned some valuable lessons about writing for a public audience when a critic challenged the accuracy of one of their posts. In a blog post written about the class project, Ferriter discusses the lessons learned and shares his growing concerns about using an open forum to garner an authentic audience for student work. This is something you might want to take a look at if your children are posting their work online for a class project, or if they are sharing their own material on a personal blog. It is important to understand what can happen and appropriate ways to handle disagreeable commentators.


Cybersecurity – Some Lessons

Online security and data breaches are likely taught to your children in school, but if these topics are not being discussed you might want to look at Teaching About Cybersecurity: Taking Steps to Improve Online Safety and Prevent Data Breaches on The New York Times Learning Blog for ideas on how to get a discussion started.  It is important for kids, as well as adults, to understand the kinds of cyber-attacks that are underway these days and the risks they pose for companies, organizations and individuals. Not only do the materials point out the current issues but they also introduce steps individuals and organizations can take to better protect their data online.


Are “Gadget Free” Zones Key to Happier Relationships?

In a study published this year, Pew Research found that 25 percent of cellphone users in a relationship believe their partner was distracted by their cell phone when they were together, and eight percent said they had argued about how much time one party spends online. Other studies have found that texting too much within a relationship could leave partners very dissatisfied with their overall communication, and that paying too much attention to a cellphone could ruin relationships with loved ones and friends. All of these studies suggest the need for limiting when and how much time is spent using devices. Creating “gadget free zones” could be a solution by designating a space where you don’t have to worry about technology interruptions, such as in the bedroom or dining room.


Apps Receive ”Privacy” Grades

Even when parents take practical steps to limit the information they and their children publicly share online, they may not be aware of the magnitude of information that apps and websites can collect from children. Now parents can check out what type of information is collected by many game apps at For example, the popular app Fruit Ninja, a free fruit-slicing game, collects information about a user’s location, phone number and the phone’s unique identification code, apparently for the purposes of tailoring ads to users. The app received a D grade for privacy.


CAPTCHA Codes May (Almost) Become a Thing of the Digital Past

For years, many websites tried to block spammers and bots by making Web users read a distorted series of characters and asking them to type back what they saw, as a way to verify it was a human entering the site. The theory behind these CAPTCHA boxes is that what machines see as gobbledygook, humans can still decipher. In April, however, research from Google showed that computers are just as good at defeating these security systems. Now sites that have adopted Google’s new human-verification system will only require you to check a box saying “I’m not a robot.” Don’t get too excited yet though, those CAPTCHA boxes will still show up when Google's algorithm decides it needs extra proof beyond the checkbox.


Girl Scout Cookies – Selling Online

After years of selling cookies the old-fashioned way, the Girl Scouts are about to go digital, bringing their sales to the internet. The move to allow troopers to have a digital presence and sell cookies online was announced recently by the national organization, and has been met with mixed emotions by parents, officials within the organization and privacy advocates. Concerns include exposing so many girls, as young as 13, to the potential for cyber-bullying, online predators and other dangers of the Web. Some say the idea is long overdue: How can you teach entrepreneurship to a generation of young women without developing their digital skills? Others are worried about encouraging so many children -- there are 2.3 million Girls Scouts in the country -- to court friends, coworkers of parents, acquaintances, and other consumers through Web sites that have little organizational supervision.

A Girl Scouts spokesperson said that only a girl's first name would be part of her custom site -- similar to a seller's page on eBay. Her last name, location and other identifying information won't be listed by default. The organization also made sure that all customer and scout data is encrypted. Girls won't be required to set up Web sites, but those who do will have to take a pledge for online safety, plus lessons on issues such as cyberbullying and dealing with strangers online. Of course the most important thing will be for parents to monitor activity and keep talking to their daughters about online safety.


YouTube Parent Resources

A new survey from KidSay reveals YouTube is the number one website amongst “tweens” (ages eight to eleven), despite the policy that you must be 13 or older to create an account. If your tween seems to be spending more and more time on the video site you may want to take a look at the tools and tips sections of the Parent Resources section of the YouTube site. There, the number one piece of advice is to visit the channel your child or teen has set up. Check out their favorites and which YouTube channels they are subscribed to. Favorites and subscriptions can give you clues about what they are watching on the site.


Twitter Releases Safety And Anti-Harassment Features

Twitter, one of the most widely used social networks, has until now had few ways for reporting harassment and abuse by users. They have recently rolled out new tools in attempt to control vitriolic or abusive messages its members send to each other. The process is not yet automated, so Twitter users still have to report each account that's harassing them. Additionally, Twitter manually reviews each complaint, which also slows the process down, however they are working on improvements.  Bystanders are able to report on a user's behalf, and the company plans to improve the speed at which it responds to campaigns. Another new feature includes a more detailed look at users you've asked the service to block, and the company said it plans to add even more tools in the future as well.


The 12 Best YouTube Channels for Kids and Teens

With winter vacations and snow days ahead, take a look at this list of 12 fun YouTube channels to help keep your kids from clicking something totally age-inappropriate. The list includes something for everyone from preschool-age to teens. Want a sample? Try Smart Girls, a project of actress Amy Poehler that includes interviews with female celebrities, Q&A vlogs with Poehler, and tours of girls' lives around the world.


Parenting in the Digital Age: A New Report

The Family Online Safety institute recently released its latest research report, "Parenting in the Digital Age: How Parents Weigh the Potential Benefits and Harms of Their Children's Technology Use". According to the survey, 42 percent of parents think the potential benefits and potential harms of being online are about equal, with 93 percent of parents believing that their kids are somewhat safe online. The report also discusses the concept of “cyber-reality”, the idea that online safety should not only acknowledge and discuss risks, but cultivate a culture of responsibility in young people, parents and even seniors.


Bullying Hurts

Knowing that bullying is becoming more and more pervasive, it is disheartening to find that a new study shows bullying may actually be affecting children's brains. Researchers at the Children's Hospital Los Angeles found that students who reported high levels of peer harassment at age 9 showed significant differences in brain structures at age 14. The amygdala, associated with the ability to process emotions and react to stress, was larger in volume among 14-year-olds who had been bullied as children. Moreover, previously bullied adolescents had thinner temporal and prefrontal cortexes, areas critical for processing information and regulating behavior.

The study comes in the wake of new research on changes in the brain caused by early, "toxic" stress, such as parental neglect or abuse. While stress from peer harassment is not generally as severe a trauma as something like the death of a parent, these results suggest even moderate chronic stress can affect students' brain development in ways that could interfere with learning and behavior in school. This research also gives even more evidence of the need to understand and disrupt cycles of bullying in school and online.


Tips for Doing Better Online Research

Learning how to conduct online searches safely and effectively is a skill that is important for young people to have.   A student-friendly interactive map of the research process, called “How To Do Research,” spells out the steps for making the most of the research process, from planning to searching to taking notes and ultimately using gathered information effectively. Many teachers and parents like the map because it doesn’t focus exclusively on web research, but instead provides a broader list of tools such as library catalogs and reputable magazines that can be just as helpful for students. If you want to help your child with online research, Google’s Search Education is another useful site that offers a plethora of beginner, intermediate, and advanced search lesson plans on searching for information, understanding results and evaluating the credibility of sources.


Cyberdating Abuse an Emerging Concern Among Teens

While “sexting” and texting are well known as being part of the high school dating scene these days, data in a new study is showing the connection between cyberdating and physical and sexual violence in relationships. This study is the first clinically based look at cyberdating abuse among young people. Most commonly, victims reported that abusive partners were using mobile apps, texting and other social networks to harass the victim. Dr. Miller, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, notes “When we are showing young people what controlling and abusive behaviors look like, we need to include the use of social media. Many young people consider this normative behavior instead of letting them know it’s truly not OK.”


Preventing Bullying in the Digital Age – Reporting is Key

As Amy Williams reports in her blog post “What Bullying Looks Like in the Digital Age and How to Prevent It,” a big problem with bullying is that it is being underreported. She writes: “Recent studies show that an astonishing half of workplace bullying and 40 percent of school bullying will go unreported. Whether this is because of insensitivity toward the issue, a normalization of the practice in our culture, or simply an inability to identify it, something must be done to rectify the situation.” She feels that the most obvious way to prevent more bullying is to say something if you see something. This is an important topic of discussion for kids and adults alike yet again.


Teaching Kindness at School May Help Reduce Bullying

In the blog post “Why Teaching Kindness in Schools Is Essential to Reduce Bullying” Lisa Currie touches on how modern education must encompass more than just academics, and that matters of the heart must also be a priority. Some of the benefits of nurturing kindness in school include increased peer acceptance and less bullying, and alleviating the feelings that school is frightening or a chore, and more like being part of a caring extended family.