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Twitter – Some Positive Uses By Schools

Twitter sometimes gets a bad rap. Early on, education critics bemoaned the idea of kids communicating in 140 characters and warned they would never learn to write properly. But Twitter, like all sorts of social media apps, has now made peace with many educators who have learned to harness its appeal to help them teach, as well as discuss with students the power and the possibilities of social media in an effort to drive digital literacy. A recent article entitled Teach Students To Use Social Media (The Right Way) And The Possibilities Are Endless on the National Public Radio education site (nprED) outlines many of the positive ways educators are using Twitter. This is a good read for parents who may be skeptical or just want to know more about how teachers are incorporating social media into the classroom.


Critics Target Facebook’s Messenger Kids App

In an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg, a coalition of children's health and education organizations individuals have called on Facebook to shut down Messenger Kids on behalf of the well being of children. Messenger Kids is the parent-monitored chat, photo, and video messaging service Facebook launched in December 2017 for children as young as six years old. The minimum age for regular Facebook users is 13.


This letter was published by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and signed by a host of other organizations. It argues that introducing children to social media at an earlier age will increase their dependence on digital devices, negatively affect their mental health, and impact their ability to form relationships. "Younger children are simply not ready to have social media accounts," the group wrote. "A growing body of research demonstrates that excessive use of digital devices and social media is harmful to children and teens, making it very likely this new app will undermine children’s healthy development."


Tips, Tricks and Texts Enhance Learning

Researchers at Stanford University's Center for Education Policy Analysis Labs are sending to parents and caregivers text messages containing educational games and tips on how to engage young children. These "nudge" techniques are designed to prepare children for school and to support their literacy, numeracy and social and emotional skills. The texts seem to be appreciated by parents who find, that since they arrive on their phones, they can scroll back to them and try the ideas on another day if they are too busy when the text first arrives or the resources to do the activity are not at hand. Texts are short and to the point usually suggesting things that can easily be done by parents, but truly enhance a preschooler’s literacy and numeracy.



Should Facebook Be More Like Instagram?

Facebook is trying very hard to fix itself by dealing with the proliferation of fake news on site and doing what it can to keep the trolls at bay. But what if Facebook just needs to be more like Instagram? That’s the premise of a recent article in The New York Times entitled What if a Healthier Facebook Is Just … Instagram?.

It is an interesting idea. Instagram, while having some issues, has not been overrun by misinformation, hasn’t been as exploited to the same degree and, (this is a good reminder to the older generation) is vastly preferred to Facebook by younger users. It is a simpler cleaner interface with no external links and no ways to “reshare” others posts. Is this the wave of the future? Less is more?


The Battle Against Digital Distractions

Students may believe they can manage digital distractions via multitasking, but some research shows that multitasking leads to lower grades. Educators now are testing ways to help manage digital distractions, such as taking technology breaks. But what really drives the distraction? Most researchers feel that the prime suspect is FOMO – the “Fear of Missing Out” and that very human foible is very hard to fight.


Making a Speech in Class? Some Tools That Can Help

Are your children making a speech in class or a presentation at a science fair or entering a speech competition? Here are a couple of tools that can help:

  • Say What?: Kids (and parents) sometimes struggle with how to pronounce words that are part of a presentation on an unfamiliar topic. The Howjsay English Pronunciation Dictionary is available on the computer or as an app and gives you the standard pronunciation or alternative pronunciations (if applicable) of a wide variety of terms. It also supplies alternative definitions and synonyms.
  • How Long is That Again?: The Speech in Minutes tool is helpful when kids are preparing for presentations or competitions in which they have a certain length of time to speak. Instead of timing their speech, they can use this tool to find out how long their talk should take and at what pace they are going to have to speak to get it all in. To do this, you first add your rate of speech (below average, average, above average) and then the number of words in the speech. The program tells you how many minutes you’re going to be talking.


Doing a Finsta

Here is another vocabulary word for your ongoing discussions with your teen about the world of social media, “Finsta.” In the same kind of move that teens have employed for years on Facebook, creating one Facebook page for public consumption and another for their more private revelations, teens who want to post more freely on Instagram start fake, secret accounts known as "Finstas”. This is a combo of the words “fake” and “Instagram.” Teen’s Finsta accounts are typically more unfiltered than their regular Instagram accounts, and are designed to get around those parental and teacher warnings about being careful what you post because school and college administrators, parents, potential employers and others could view it. The term has been around a while but because Instagram seems to be the hotbed of cyberbullying these days, it has surfaced once again.


On the positive side, such acts of digital self-surveillance make sense against the backdrop of widespread media coverage of social media gaffes that teens have probably heard about or witnessed. This includes employees losing their jobs after publishing a distasteful image or a tactless tweet, or a teen losing a spot on a sports team, or a school leadership role because of sexually charged or derogatory items they posted online. But at its worst, Finsta accounts warp into a space where anonymous users hide scandalous or sexual behavior or partake in cyberbullying.


One other thing that you and your teens should know is that even if what a user posts is part of a private Finsta account with an anonymous username, account creators can be traced back by analyzing followers and Instagram activity. And those seemingly private posts can easily surface online if anyone takes a screenshot or records a video of the content. Once again, it can be very difficult to hide even in the seemingly anonymous online world.


Facebook Tops the Charts

Over 2 billion people around the world used a minimum of one of the top five social apps- Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp, or Twitter  - every month in 2017, with Facebook taking top spot in the US and France and its WhatsApp messenger app dominating in the UK, Spain, Russia, Germany, India and Indonesia, per App Annie. Instagram's monthly average user numbers in the US have risen 30% in the past two years across both Android and  Apple’s iOS.


Facebook Users Vet New Sources

Facebook's latest news feed update will include a prioritization of news sources rated as trustworthy by "a diverse and representative sample" of its users, the company's News Feed chief Adam Mosseri wrote in a recent blog post. Publications with lower scores could see a decrease in distribution while there will also be an emphasis on promoting local news. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO, recently writing on the same subject said that prioritizing news from trusted publishers is part of Facebook’s broader effort to revamp the News Feed and “encourage meaningful social interactions with family and friends over passive consumption.”


Tech Free Rooms in Play

As an answer to the problem of technology addiction and not enough just plain old “face time,” school resource officers in the Hamilton Heights School Corporation in Indiana have created technology-free rooms in the middle and elementary schools.

The rooms were made available by the district following concerns about the social and emotional effect of screen time on young people and made available to students for 30 or 40 minutes during the day as a reward. Once they arrive at the room, kids have a chance to play board games, Jenga and foosball –all for some downtime with face time possibilities.


Citizen Science Resources

Have a young scientist to be in your midst? Looking for a way to make science more “real world” at your house? Citizen-science projects -- those that involve the public in collecting data – may be a way to encourage an active interest in science and find out what it takes to be a scientist. Try these links to find citizen science projects that might work for you: SciStarter, Zooniverse, Citizen Science Central from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Galaxy Zoo, Citizen Science from the Smithsonian Institution, and Citizen Scientists from NASA.


The Black Mirror Effect

Recently the term “Black Mirror effect” has been cropping up more and more in literature on digital safety, and if you are not already familiar with the term, as a digital safety savvy parent you might want to become so. Black Mirror is a British science fiction show that appears on Netflix that examines modern society, particularly with regard to the unanticipated consequences of new technologies. The “Black Mirror effect” seems to be that young people are beginning to question the role of technology in their lives, as are their parents, because even when technology seems to have been developed for good, someone is always trying to pervert it into something bad or highly unsavory. Of course what that boils down to is that we don’t have a technology problem, we have a human one.



Connected Toy Company to Pay Privacy Fine

The Federal Trade Commission said online connected toy company VTech will pay a $650,000 settlement in a case in which children's email addresses and other data were gathered via online platforms called Planet VTech and apps like Kid Connect and then were hacked in November 2015. This is the FTC's first case involving toys that are connected back to the toy company online.


While both the online platform and apps are now defunct, VTech was accused of violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, which requires companies to obtain parents' consent before collecting personal data about their children under the age of 13. That law also requires companies to post privacy policies that offer complete descriptions about the data that is collected and give information about reviewing or deleting that data. The children's privacy law also requires companies to use reasonable data security practices to protect personal data.


Defining Online Harassment: Everyone Has A Different Idea

According to a new Pew Research Center survey, defining online harassment is just as complicated for the average American user as it is for huge social media companies — and the line on what is and isn’t harassment gets even more fuzzy when gender or race come into the picture. The survey polled 4,151 respondents on various scenarios and asked them whether each one crossed the threshold for online harassment. For example in one scenario, people had widely varying opinions on when the harassment begins between two friends whose online disagreement becomes public, with one friend eventually being threatened by uninvolved third parties.


Men and women also widely disagreed on when an issue online became sexual harassment for a woman whose post is shared by a popular blogger resulting in her receiving vulgar messages, threats and having her photo edited to include sexual imagery. Men, by a wide margin, didn’t find that to be harassment versus the vast majority of women who did. And even when 82% of respondents found messages in one scenario to include racial slurs and harassing insults, only 57 percent thought the social media platform should step in.


These results show that there are roadblocks in addressing the issue of online harassment when people often have trouble agreeing on what qualifies as harassment in the first place, especially when women or minorities are involved. It also paints a troubling picture where even when people do define behavior as harassment, many still hesitate to hold the offenders accountable for it. This lack of agreement on when the social media platform or others should step in seemingly has troubling implications for those who are cyberbullied and how the matter should be handled.


Apple Vows New Parental Controls Amid Child Phone Addiction Fears

Jana Partners LLC and the California State Teachers' Retirement System, which together own a $2 billion stake in Apple, asked the company in an open letter, recently, to address the issue of phone addiction among children. Among other things the letter asks Apple to create an option for phones to be set to an interface according to their age group which would include options for limiting screen time, restricting use to certain hours, reducing the available number of social media sites, and setting up parental monitoring.


In response, Apple has stated that it has plans to create new software features that will make the parental controls – many of which already exist on the iPhone – more easy to use with more choices. The current Settings app on every iPhone has a parental control section that allows adults to restrict website access, control in-app purchases, and install or delete apps, among other things. Of course, in the end, common sense about what is and isn’t too much use of digital devices for your own children is the best course of action, still it will be interesting to see how Apple handles this question about it’s role as a company in the issue of phone addiction.


Smart Speakers Ownership Rapidly Rising

An Accenture study reveals more smart-speaker owners use their smartphones less for entertainment (64%), purchasing (58%) and information searches (56%), and instead rely on devices such as Amazon Echo and Google Home for those purposes. The firm projects that by year's end, 40% of Americans will own a smart speaker. The question is will smart speaker manufacturers add an etiquette feature that some parents have asked for since children seem to be picking up on the idea that there is no need to add “please” to a request when talking to an electronic device? Parents have reported that this lack of awareness spills over into children’s relationships with humans!


Use of Recording Devices By Students in Schools in Question

The 1st US Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston is expected to take up a case regarding a Maine student's right to carry an audio-recording device in school. The student in question has autism and a neurological syndrome that affects his speech and he cannot talk to his parents about his school day so the family is fighting for the right for him to carry an “always on” recording device to ensure he is being properly treated during the school day. In other states, parents of special education students have secretly placed audio recorders on their children to expose abuse, which have led to firings or settlements. Opponents say though that this raises serious privacy concerns for other students and that it would actually be “disruptive and detrimental” to his education.


Especially now that every cell phone has a recording option, you may be wondering is it legal for a student to record a teacher? That may depend on whether you live in a one party or two party consent state. While federal law allows for recordings as long as one party to the conversation consents (known as "one-party consent"), several states have stricter recording laws. California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Washington all require every party to a conversation to consent to recording (known as "two-party consent"). Most states make illegal recordings a felony. For instance Florida's wiretap law makes illegal recordings a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. If you live in a one-party consent state, you (or your children) are probably OK recording a teacher or professor as long as you are present in the class, since you're a party to the conversation and by your action have given your consent to be recording. If you're in a two-party consent state, or are placing a secret recorder on your child, things may get a little trickier. Of course the easiest way to get around the issue may be to let everyone know you are recording, but as these parents in Maine are finding out even that may not satisfy everyone. If you or your children are thinking of doing any kind of recording at school or at college, be sure to check with the institution first.


Is Partying Going to Become a Thing of the Past?

Students who were born in 1995 and later -- known as iGen teens -- are spending less time partying than previous generations of students, data shows. And it is not just partying – college students, for example, are spending an hour less a day with their friends than previous generations.  Of course that means one less hour a day building social skills, negotiating relationships, and navigating emotions up close and personal. One possible reason is that teens are more connected than ever via social media. But what are they doing with all that extra time that they aren’t spending with friends? It isn’t social. Think screen time, including binge watching. Interested in more on this phenomenon? A new book entitled iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood—and What That Means for the Rest of Us by Jean M. Twenge takes up the topic.


More on the Screen Time Debate

The weather outside has been frightful which may well mean your kids have parked themselves in front of a digital screen more than usual. So what is the latest thinking on that? National Public Radio has pulled together 5 Things To Know About Screen Time Right Now and there are some things there that you need to know to guide your rules and guidelines about screen time. Some of the items on the list you probably already have discerned for yourself such as technology brings young people both opportunities and risks and young children are spending more time with small screens. But interestingly a new UNICEF report on the subject takes a “Goldilocks approach" — not too much, not too little — and encourages parents to focus more on what children are doing online and less on how long they are online. Another recent study along those same lines even found that limits on screen time over the course of a month were not necessarily associated with positive outcomes in children. On the contrary, the researchers found small links between moderately higher screen use and the children's good moods. The researchers concluded that caregivers, and their doctors, should do a cost-benefit analysis before "setting firm limits."


New Term for Parents: Challenge Based Learning

Home-School Connection, Digital Learning

Education is full of acronyms and as a parents it is always good to know when a new one comes along, especially one that involves technology. You may be familiar with the term “project-based learning (PBL),” an approach to teaching that tries to get students actively involved in their education by asking them, for example, to decide where the Spanish should put their 22nd mission in California in 1820, and thereby helping them learn about the Spanish and Native Americans through their research, rather than having them read a text book on the subject. Challenge based learning (CBL) raises the stake one more step when students are asked to find a problem that needs solving and then use tech tools to help them work the challenge. It is another way to get kids started exploring the world where students do the work, often without teachers supervising their every step, by looking up the information online, finding experts and vetting their expertise or maybe watching YouTube videos describing how others have solved similar issues or on how to build working models.