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Instagram Primer for Parents

No doubt as a parent you have heard of Instagram, and maybe even use it yourself. It seems harmless enough - snap a picture or video, add a caption and then share. But have you taken time to consider some of the issues that the app could cause? To consider both the positive and potentially negative sides of Instagram, USA TODAY has created a primer on using the app, why you should worry about your kids using it, and how you can protect them.


Drama, Drama, Drama – Apps That Can Stir Up Trouble at School

Common Sense Media has posted a list of new social media apps that you should know about that could be stirring up trouble at your child’s school. While many of them are similar in ways to apps you are probably already familiar with, such as Snapchat, Instagram and WhatsApp, some of them have new features such as live streaming and group video chatting.  While you cannot keep up with every single detail of how every new app works, it is good to familiarize yourself with the names and intents of these apps. Of course, the most important thing is just to keep talking to your kids about what they are seeing and doing online.


Video Game Playing in Groups May Improve Communication Skills

Playing video games as a group may help improve communication skills, according to a study by researchers in Scotland. Data shows that after two months of regularly playing video games in a group setting, a test group of students demonstrated improved communication skills, adaptability and resourcefulness. The researchers feel that having video game teams in schools, sanctioned the same way as football or baseball teams, could help students who do not want to (or are unable to) play traditional sports build the kind of life skills often gained by participation in those physical activities.


Bedroom Media Exposure Tied to Adverse Outcomes for Young People

A study in Developmental Psychology done by researchers at Iowa State found that children with media such as TV and video games in the bedroom had increased total screen time weekly, and were more likely to be exposed to violence, and have a higher risk of poorer school performance, obesity, physically aggressive behavior and video game addiction compared with those without bedroom media access. The researchers remind parents that it is easier to not allow a television in the first place than to try to take it out. Although the study focused on television and video games, researchers believe the same or more results would be seen with smartphones and mobile devices.


Some Tweets are More “Newsworthy” Than Other Tweets

The controversy over whether President Trump’s Twitter account should be banned because some of his posts could be considered threats or bullying continues. In recent news, there was a renewed call to bar Trump from Twitter after Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, stated that recent inflammatory tweets from Mr. Trump should be considered “a declaration of war.” Recently, Twitter issued a statement from its policy team saying that it took a number of factors into account when dealing with violations of the company’s user agreement, including the “newsworthiness” of the tweet. Many users took issue with this policy because they feel it violates Twitter’s Terms of Service statement and implies that some users and their tweets, even those that may be considered bullying or threats, are protected because Twitter deems them “newsworthy.”


Twitter Tests a Longer Character Limit

It was not so long ago that some experts were predicting the collapse of coherent thinking in this country because of the 140 character limit on Twitter. Now Twitter is considering doubling that length by testing a character limit of 280 characters. "When people don't have to cram their thoughts into 140 characters and actually have some to spare, we see more people tweeting," a company blog post stated. Twitter said the people who will get to test the 280-character tweets would be randomly selected, and whether that would include prominent Twitter users like President Trump is unclear.


Social Networks Not the Best Place to Choose a College Major?

A new survey by Gallup and Strada Education Network has found that when choosing a college major, most students look to friends, family, and information online for help in making the decision. However, amidst the rapidly changing world of work, the report on the study suggests these sources are unreliable and that instead students should be seeking advice from potential employers or university faculty members who have a better finger on the pulse of industry trends, and can help them assess their strengths and skills more fully in light of future job market predictions.


We Need to Talk

A new book of interest for parents in the digital age is We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter. Author Celeste Headlee mentions new research that suggests even the mere presence of a cell phone can negatively impact the quality of a conversation and that humans, even with all our protests to the contrary, cannot multitask. A podcast of her recent appearance on NPR on September 19, 2017 called “Could Your Conversations Be Better?” can be found on the 1A podcast directory list.


Is It Appropriate to Friend Coworkers on Facebook?

An OfficeTeam survey has found that 71% of professionals feel it is okay to become Facebook friends with coworkers, although only 49% of senior managers said they were comfortable doing so. It is often best to accept requests to prevent hurting coworkers' feelings, especially if you can use privacy settings to adjust what they can see on your profiles, OfficeTeam said. Of course this also means you need to be vigilant about not posting updates or photos that reveal too much.


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. 


The Greener Choice: An eReader

If you are on the fence about whether to stop buying paper books and go with digital versions instead, one of your considerations might be the environmental impact of buying paper. While many publishers are moving towards sustainably sourced paper, there are two greener directions you might decide to go. Joining a library or getting an eReader can both help the environment and unclutter your life. Some advantages of eReaders include being able to read in the dark, no storage room needed, and access to independent authors you may have never heard about before.


The Hurricane Harvey Book Club

Second Grade teacher Kathryn Mills started a Facebook book club to encourage students who were unable to attend school during Hurricane Harvey to post videos about the books they were reading. The Hurricane Harvey Book Club started with 70 members and has grown to more than 72,000 followers. It is a great example of how digital book reports can be done.



Class Notes: Paper vs. Digital

Paper may trump digital when preparing for exams, according to a report from the Paper and Packaging Board. Data shows that 70% of junior- and high-school students use handwritten class notes to prepare for tests, while 81% of college students still use paper notes to prepare. Not to be outdone, the National Pen Company has also put together an infographic that highlights the pros of putting pen to paper. Some of the benefits they mention include having better recall of the information jotted down, making you think about the concepts discussed more deeply, and helping you process the information presented.


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.


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.