Something New: Codey McCoderson

I cannot wait to see what my friend Daniel Schneider is going to post about his Computer Science adventures!!

Mathy McMatherson

So here’s something new: I’m gonna try writing at a new blog for a while. It’s called Codey McCoderson because good jokes only get better with age. Here’s why:

I’ve spent this last year mostly out of the classroom doing quasi-administratory-things as a Math Interventionist. I’ve managed our online credit recovery program, gathered & analyzed data, and created personal relationships with our intervention students to the point where our school has a pretty robust math credit recovery program for our students who fall behind or transfer students whose credits never made it with them. I’ve also helped bring ST Math to our school (based in a large part on a recommendation from Christopher Danielson) which has been a huge boost to our ELL Math program we’ve developed. I’ve written grants for manipulatives, recruited tutors to participate in the class, and gotten to the point where basically a team of 3…

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Three Lessons for Schools from the Wannacry Ransomware Attack

All weekend, computer systems around the world have been hit by a ransomware attack termed “WannaCry.” Ransomware is a nefarious cyber-security attack that essentially holds your computer and its files hostage until you pay the requested amount of money

to unlock it. Ransomware attacks have been on the rise over the years, but this weekend’s attack has been especially widespread and nefarious, attacking the NHS in the United Kingdom, public and private businesses (such as FedEx), and likely more governmental entities than any of us would like to consider. The cyber-attack, however, also highlighted a number of easily fixable security holes in home and business computers. If your students are interested in talking about this event, here are some best practice tips you can give to them to keep their systems safe and secure:

Keep Your Systems Up to Date

The majority of the compromised systems were out of date. For example, a large number of them were running Windows XP. Microsoft stopped releasing security updates to its Windows XP system more than two years ago. Even so, an alarming number of systems still run on this out-dated OS. Others were running more recent Windows operating systems, but they had not installed critical security updates. As comfortable as we get with our operating systems, it is imperative to keep them up to date for this very reason. I’ve heard people comment that they don’t update because they “don’t want their computer/phone to stop working.” The reality is, the opposite is true! By not running critical security updates, your system becomes susceptible to malware and hacking, which will at best slow it down, and at worst, will lock down your system.

Don’t Use Pirated Software

Aside from the ethical implications, pirated software is a significant security risk. First, you never really know what you get when you download and install that package. Additionally, if you run unregistered software on your machine, then you also cannot run critical security updates. This easily compromises your system. Wide-spread software piracy is prominent in some countries, most notably China and Russia. However, I’ve also seen it in a number of offices and homes right here in the United States. For example, rather than pay for an office/home-wide Microsoft license, users will purchase one or two licenses and install on multiple devices. Cutting these corners also might safe you some money in the short run, but the security loopholes leave you at greater risk.

Educate Yourself about Phishing

phishing

Courtesy of Edward Richard Contrera https://www.flickr.com/photos/35484468@N07/4894714911

Phishing is a nefarious means of getting a user to click on a link or a file to install malware onto their device. Some phishing attacks are sloppy and obvious; they are replete with typos and non-sequiturs. However, phishing attacks have gotten more sophisticated, including spoofing accounts to make an email look like it came from a friend or a colleague. Always exercise caution and skepticism when opening an email that doesn’t quite “feel right.”

As more data is moved to the cloud and we are reliant on digital systems, the more commonplace cyber-attacks will be. Educating your community and students about the current attacks can help to prevent the next one!

The Smart Device – Our Savior or Overlord?

Smart Devices have taken the United States by storm. While smart locks (allowing you to remotely open your home without your keys), smart thermostats (programmable and controllable via your device), and a myriad of other “smart tools” have been around for years, what has been really pushing these devices has been the influx of new smart speaker/hub devices – Amazon’s Echo series, Google Home, and the newly release Microsoft Invoke (there are rumors of an Apple Siri driven device coming this year). Now, with only your voice, you can set a timer, turn on/off your lights, adjust your thermostat, stream television shows, and (with Amazon’s new Alexa update preempting the release of Amazon Echo Show) call or text your mom. By the way, this is a limited list – you can do far more!

Reliance_Smart_Client

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

So what does this mean for us? With the proliferation of smart home devices, I’ve seen legitimate concerns and excitement across the aisle. Privacy has become a more prominent concern among tech consumers. While I have my share of tools and devices, I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t concerned about what data was being collected and how it is being disseminated. This is not just a concern about marketing (although many think it’s creepy that they purchase an item at the physical store and then find ads for it on their browser). Now that our digital lives, which seamlessly intersect with our physical ones, are becoming more cataloged and accessible, what does that mean for our future career and personal aspirations? Amanda Hess, columnist for the New York Times, recently wrote an op-ed entitled “How Privacy Became a Commodity for the Rich and Powerful.” If you have not yet read this piece, please do. It’s a powerful look at how our lives are now becoming monetized in ways that we cannot even imagine. Additionally, where does privacy end for us when it comes to government investigation? Edward Snowden’s exposure of NSA surveillance should remind us all that even if we are not under criminal investigation, our data is being collected and mined by the government.

However, on the opposite side of the coin, these devices do make our lives much easier. Yes, I do mean largely in the mundane – while my hands are covered in food residue I can just ask Alexa to set a timer or have her (when did I start thinking of “it” as a “her”?) turn off the lights after I leave a room so that I don’t have to walk across my living room in the pitch black, risking stubbing a toe or tripping on shoes. Of course it makes my life easier – just as Waze makes my drive home faster through Miami traffic, but perhaps I’m a little reliant on convenience! However, smart devices are having a profound impact on individuals with disabilities. It empowers them to be more independent and safe. For example, NBC news recently highlighted the experience of Todd, a quadriplegic 48 year old man. He spoke powerfully about how smart devices have enabled him to have lead a more fulfilling an independent life, and to be a better husband to his wife.

“A spouse should be your spouse. Your lover and your friend. Not a free caregiver,”

Todd’s experience is not unique as many individuals share how life-changing and impactful smart devices are for them. If you don’t believe me, check out the comments on Amazon Echo’s page. Their affordability (through their proliferation on the consumer market) make them accessible across socioeconomic divides; a user doesn’t need to fight an insurance company to gain access.

So what is the answer with smart devices? What level of privacy (if any) should we expect to forfeit? Who should over see this? How do we educate ourselves as well as children? To me, the last question is the most important. These technologies have exploded and common practice and legal overlay has not yet evolved to tackle them. If we don’t know what privacy we are giving up, then how do we know if it’s worth it? If these tools have become necessities (as many argue the internet now is), then is it legitimate to sacrifice our privacy to use them?

What do you think? What answers do you have or do you think we should explore?

3 Ways Schools can Help Users to Protect their Accounts from Malware, Phishing, & Cyber-scams.

Recently, G-Suite users were hit by a large phishing scam. Users were sent an email that appeared to be from Google and asked to click on a document for collaboration. The

nefarious document then gave the sender access to your whole account, including your directory, enabling it to spread. While phishing is nothing new, it has become more problematic and sophisticated. As such, it’s especially important to include some cyber-security basics as soon as students start to have access to digital tools.

Identify Scams

Most scams are pretty easy to identify. You are sent a typo laden email from someone you don’t know asking you to “check this out.” However, as email spoofing becomes more prominent, it’s important to not just open an attachment even if you know the user. There are a few red flags: the email is full of typos and errors, it doesn’t fit the tone of the sender (e.g. would your teacher be sending an email that says “check this out!”), or it just doesn’t feel right.

Keep your Operating System & Security Software Up to Date

Yes, updates can be annoying – they take a long time and may require a hardware restart in the middle of the day. However, keep your operating system and security software up to date is essential to cyber-security. While you may not want to update to the latest Windows or iOS software on day 1 (a brand new OS may have a bug or two, as early iOS 10 adopters learned when it bricked several phones), you should do so shortly after the release. Critical security updates should be installed regularly as they plug security holes and fix exploitable bugs.

Enable Two Factor Authentication

Two factor authentication is a security measure that grants you access to your account or device only after you have presented two methods of authentication (e.g. your account password and a code texted to your phone or sent to an email). It has been around for a while, but many users never enable it. Two Factor Authentication may feel like a pain, but it is the best possible defense against potential hackers or nefarious users. If you have ever been locked out of your account because another user has gained access, you know how difficult it can be to regain access and the damage that can be done to your reputation or your pocket book. Enable two factor authentication on all of your sensitive accounts (bank accounts, email, social media, etc). The extra 30 seconds it takes to log in will be worth it!

These are just a few ways that students can protect their devices and accounts from malware, phishing, and cyber-scams. However, as cyber attacks become more sophisticated, network administrators and users must become more savvy. It’s important to keep up your skills and consistently train your community. I encourage administrators to attend cyber-security webinars and workshops, such as ATLIS’s Cyber-Security Workshop in Chicago this summer.

Teaching the Holocaust – Resources for Education

As a history teacher, I am also struck by both the impact and magnitude of teaching the Holocaust. The Holocaust was neither first, nor sadly the last, targeted genocide in world

Holocaust_Memorial_Berlin

Holocaust Memorial Berlin – Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

history. However, due to the meticulous record keeping of Nazi’s and the fortitude and resilience of the Jewish people, it is a powerful lesson that educators must tackle in their classrooms.

One of the best resources for teaching the Holocaust can be found at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Under the Teacher Resources page, educators can find a myriad of tools to help them cover not only this horrific event in history, but means of applying the lessons of the Holocaust in the modern day. Lesson plans are divided by grade level and subject matter. Teachers can incorporate various activities using multiple modalities to help teach their students about the events leading up to, surrounding, and impacted by the Holocaust. Educators interested in learning more about the Holocaust and impactful teaching strategies should check out the Professional Events and Resources page where they can learn about the annual conference, workshops, and other professional development opportunities.

3 Ways to Use Google Classroom Outside of the Classroom!

Google Classroom is finally available – outside of the classroom! Previously, you could only use Google Classroom if you were a G-Suite for Education user and within your own domain. This new flexibility provides some great opportunities for use outside of your own classroom. Here are NUMBER ideas of how you can use Google Classroom, outside of the classroom.

Disseminating & Collecting Data from Organizations you Lead

Google Classroom

Courtesy of Google Blog

Whether you’re an educational technology specialist, a topic specialist, or head up a cos-play group, Google Classroom can be a great way to organize and collect information. For example, if you head up the Parents Organization of your children’s school, you can use Google Classroom to disseminate the updated bylaws for review, comment, and/or edit. If you are leading a professional development workshop on AP Spanish, you can collect videos or written documents using Google Classroom’s “assignments” feature.

Organizing Groups & Consortia

If you lead an educational consortium (e.g. AP Chinese Teachers or Educational Technology), Google Classroom is a great and easy way to create a closed system for discussion and collaboration. This is a great way to collaborate with professionals at other institutions or organizations.

Organizing & Collaborating on Projects with Disparate Contributors

You don’t have to be a teacher to appreciate the power of collaboration. If you are working on a project that requires you to engage users throughout the community, then Google Classroom is a great way to bring it all together. For example, if you are organizing a charity walk, you can use Google Classroom to seek feedback on your marketing (sharing posters and flyers for review, edit, and/or comment), collect multi-media resources that you have delegated to other volunteers, and engage in asynchronous discussions in a walled group.

There are numerous ways to use Google Classroom outside of the classroom. Anytime that you need to readily organize a community, disseminate or collect media, or create a walled community, it’s a great resource to explore!

4 Take Aways from ATLIS 2017

ATLIS logo.pngI returned from ATLIS 2017 last Wednesday invigorated and, to be honest, a little exhausted. It wasn’t just the time change (although that was a challenge in and of itself). Rather, it was from participating in so many robust and deep conversations with my peers, taking part in various presentations and workshops, and the depth and breadth of the conference in its entirety. I’ve taken a few days to reflect on the conference experience (one of the key tenants of the ATLIS mission). Here are some of the key take-aways I had as both a Tech Director and an Educator.

Coding & Computer Science are More Vital Than Ever

Coding and Computer Science have been primary topics in education for the past few decades. However, the significance of coding has become even more vital. Jaime Casap, Chief Education Evangelist at Google, kicked off the conference with a humorous but compelling keynote where he highlighted the need for young people to learn both Computer Science and Coding. Computer Science jobs are still both high in demand and well paying. He was also sure to point out that children can often learn coding on their own (with the self-directed software today). However, we as educators must prioritize the role of Computer Science (and not just of the AP kind) in becoming central to our educational priorities. This concept was further driven home in various sessions.

Doug Kiang of the Punahou School and Mary Radlhammer Kiang of St Andrew’s Priory led a deep dive session on Teaching Coding for the Non-Coding teacher.

Using some key techniques and incorporating games, they demonstrated how even non-coders (like myself) can incorporate coding into their curriculum.

Justin Curtis of the Bryn Mawr School discussed the challenges and rewards of building a robust K-12 Computer Science curriculum (still a rarity in the country that built the first home computers and developed the internet).

All of these hammered home to me that we need more computer science and coding in schools in the whole curriculum, not just a one off course in the Middle or High School.

Cyber-Security is More Important than Ever

With the rise of hacking and ransom-ware, institutions need to be more savvy about how they protect their systems and educate their community. Hospitals remain the number 1 target for attacks. However, schools (especially independent schools) are quickly catching up. As they are repositories of information (social security numbers, credit cards, names and address, etc), schools need to be especially vigilant about the security of their systems.

Denise Musselwhite of Trinity Preparatory School and Jamie Britto of Collegiate School led a deep dive into Cyber-security and Independent Schools. This was a robust look into security policies (like two factory authentication), training sessions, and phishing tests. It’s a precursor to their two day cyber-security workshop in Chicago this summer.

In addition to Denise and Jaime, other presenters led sessions on security, highlighting that cyber security and systems are a key element for Technology Directors around the country. Building systems and keeping them secure is an ongoing struggle as every upgrade brings new vulnerabilities and every day brings new potential attacks.

Equity in Education & Tech

Equity was a prominent topic this year. While equity is often on the forefront of public education, it is a concern for independent schools as well. What made this conversation unique, however, is that it was not just about equity for students, but for administrators as well.

As a woman in technology and education, I was especially struck by Renee Hawkins of Garrison Forrest and Jeff Dayton of Madeira School in their session on “What do Girls see in IT?”

Information Technology is a community within a school that can staffed entirely by men, even when many EdTech faculty are women. Disturbingly, the percentage of computing occupations held by women has been declining since 1991, while women who do enter the profession quit at a rate double that for men. What can schools do to counter the message that IT jobs such as network and systems administration are nearly exclusively masculine?

When I popped into this overflowing session room, I walked into a robust discussion about the role of women in technology and leadership. As someone who has solely operated in co-educational institutions, it was especially striking how male-dominated technology departments are – even in all-girls schools. How does that impact the next generation of young women and men?

In addition to gender, there were several sessions about equity and access. For example, Margie Llines and Rurik Nackerud tackled Equity in BYOD. Many schools with even the most robust scholarship and needs programs still do not include technology and access as a part of those packages! This is especially concerning when a school has a mandated BYOD program. I touched on this issue in my own blog post “Growing Number of Poor Americans are Phone Only Internet Users – What does that Mean for Education?

It is (or should be) About the Kids

The kind of Tech Directors you find at ATLIS are a little unique. We are the Tech Directors that don’t demand “lock it down” systems… in fact, we often rebel against them. ATLIS Tech Directors focus on what is ultimately best for the kids and education. It is always great and refreshing to see that be the focus once again. Whether it’s talking about coding and computer science, how to set up devices, equity and access, or how to support faculty, the center of the conversation was always “what is best for the kids and education?”

As an ATLIS Board Member, I am always excited to watch it grow and evolve. This year, the conference blew me away. I’m excited for the coming year as we develop more robust professional development opportunities, publish our first academic journal, and take technology at independent schools to the next level.