Student safety


This blog has had a good run, but much like the Scotch Tape store, I think the singular look at just blogging leaves me too confined when I’m pushing so many more things each week. ClassroomBlogging won’t be going away, but my holiday goal is to get a much broader look at classroom technology going and get back to posting on a weekly basis. My secret desire is to have a semi-regular podcast on there as well. Oooo, this could be real fun!!

So, for now, this last post of 2008 centers on using multiple tools to create the writing idea generating rolling. For example, if we are blogging at this time of year about family traditions, why not add some photos of families from the classroom. “Wait a minute there! You can’t publish student pictures and keep them safe!!” Well, Alarmist Al, yes you can.

We’ve probably all Simpsonized ourselves long ago. The process is simple enough: take your photo, upload it, press the button that makes you look like you belong on The Simpsons, and export for your avatar. With just a little effort, your students can do this to create a web-safe photo of themselves and even make one for each family member.

“But what do I do with 5 family photos?” You have a bunch of options, oh one so full of questions. The easiest would probably be to just import them into a Powerpoint slide and export it as a jpg. You could draw on the slide for more effect. My favorite, however, is to put them into FireWorks or Photoshop. Using FireWorks, I drop the new photos onto a page, each on their own layer. Backgrounds are put on other layers. I can reposition each item at will until I get the photo composition the way I want it. I use the effect and fills to add even more realism or creativity to the photo. I export a copy as a jpg file and them upload it to my blog or web photo storage site. With that, I have a photo-realistic picture of a traditional event but with no real people having their identities splattered across the internet.

Here we were in NYs Central Park in November 2007.

Here we were in NY's Central Park in November 2007.

Simpsonizing oneself doesn’t take long and is fairly simple. Simpsonizing your family in the midst of a traditional setting for y’all can be creatively engaging and give the student plenty to write about.

There are many other graphically creative tools online for students to use. Put the ‘fun’ back into fundamentally good education for the students and you may find their writing and communication skills will have a new experience to use. Merry Christmas to you all and to all, a good blog.

My biggest concern with student educational activities online has to do with Student Security. There are tons of security analysts and private consultants who will go to your school and scare the bajeezes out of you, your students and/or their parents. The point I hope to eventually make is that we don’t need to wait for something bad to happen or for the fear environment to hit before steps are taken to protect our students.

One gentleman I heard speak was Dr. Russell Sabella, a professor of counseling out of Florida. He spent a day presenting the present environment of internet safety to teachers and parents. It was nice, but the best part for me was that he puts his whole PowerPoint out there for everyone to use. Most of his workshop of Guarding Kids Against High Tech Trouble can be found online to be used on your campus with kids and/or parents.

Two other website that I want to mention are also leading sources for education. iKeepSafe.org and NetSmartz.org provide schools and parents with many tools for child education. There are a number of lessons, printable posters, and some engaging media that provide a platform for getting the attention of any age-level environment.

In the classroom environment, we spend much of our time teaching students to be responsible and there is no better place to emphasize that than when working with blogging. The possibly anonymous nature of blogging presents so many avenues for problems that some organizations keep blog sites blocked. I am a huge advocate of providing the climate of responsibility and being self-accountable so that young learners understand the possible dangers and learn to avoid them. So what can teachers do in the classroom to promote student security on the internet?

  • Accountable Communication: Do not allow totally anonymous comments. Have students use their initials or another identification schema when writing their ideas. Students can still be held accountable without divulging personal information. “I disagree with R.L.’s comment because on page 33, the author…”
  • Naming Strategies: I really liked what a South Carolina school did one year. Each 4th grader in the class adopted the name of an author. Dr Suess would respond to Gary Paulsen about the Science question. They were anonymous online and had a new opportunity to research and create a biography on famous authors.
  • Information Protection: Students should be aware that anything posted online can be used by someone else. The negative side of that is how predators can learn to identify people by following their text chats or blog posts. A short video (older elem thru high school) that demonstrates this is Tracking Teresa found on the Netsmartz.org site.
  • Classroom Bill of Rights: Have the students create a Bill of Rights for the classroom. Having ownership over their guidelines encourages self-policing and self-responsibility. I once deleted a comment where one student told another, “Hey stupid, you aren’t supposed to use real names!” Uh, half of the battle was won.
  • Parental Permission/Awareness: Sending all passwords and login information home to parents encourages their involvement. Knowing parents can read it helps raise the importance of their writing content. I’ve also had a parent respond to a writing prompt which had a really nice effect on that day’s blog comments.
  • Having an internet contract in addition to the regular classroom student behavior contracts would indicate the increase importance of responsible behavior online. One good example of a student contract is the Kid’s Pledge found at safekids.com.

All too often, the greater powers block sites and close lanes of communication because there MAY be something negative out there. My 7 yr old is already learning to chat with children on Disney sites and is learning now how to be responsible for himself and how to be more safe. He still needs to be protected, but with guidance, he will continue to learn how to be safe. As teachers, we need to provide that safety education as we increase our internet presence with our students.