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Lesson Plan for Teaching Kids to Spot Fake News

Fake News is the phrase du jour. The reality is that misinformation propagates social media (especially Facebook). With the proliferation of Social Media and the use of Social Media (by main stream news organizations, political pundits, and our sitting President), it will remain a platform for sharing information (including the news) for the foreseeable future. Both Facebook and Google have made attempts to tackle fake news. In addition to their own filtering methods, Facebook allows users to flag and report fake news stories. Google has also expanded its fact-check tools to spot and flag fake news.

The reality is, however, that we cannot expect our online platforms to keep up with the deluge of fake media. Media literacy is a necessary skill for our students to learn in order for them to wade through the glut of information available to them online. However, a recent study from Stanford found that most students cannot tell real news from fake.

There is an exercise that I like to do with my students. We talk about the realities of fake news, perhaps ask them to share stories that they thought were real, but later learned were fake. I share with them resources for spotting fake news:

How_to_Spot_Fake_News

Next, I ask them to create a Fake News Story for me. Something that they are likely to see online via Facebook. For this exercise, students often create the obvious: “You Won’t Believe what the Democrats did this Time!” or “Donald Trump is Getting Impeached!” examples. These stories are the most obvious to spot.

The best exercise, however, comes when I ask them to team up and we make a game out of each. Each team presents five news stories. Three of those news articles are fake, two are real. If they are able to “trick” the opposing teams, they receive 1 point for each news article they fool the opposition into believing. They receive 1 point for each article they correctly identify as fake. Students then work really hard to “trick” their classmates – they play off of one another’s known biases, create convincing “news networks,” and spell check like no one’s business! They learn the ins-and-outs of posting and sharing news, viral marketing, and deceptive practices. This makes them better discerners of published media and more able-minded digital citizens.

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Growing Up Under Constant Digital Monitoring

Quite recently, the Washington Post published a provocative article: “Technology allows us to monitor our kids around the clock. But should we?” More than once this week, I have returned to this article as a talking point when discussing topics such as Digital

Citizenship, privacy, and even childhood development. We live in an age where children, from Pre-K through young adulthood, are under constant surveillance by and communication with their parents. Now, any reader of my blog knows that I am not one to stoke fears of children on screens or stranger danger. Much of what “kids these days” do virtually is a reflection and continuation of what they do in the real world. However, I do have a concern about the impact of parental and school over-reach through these devices.

Growing up, I was the exception in high school. I had a home computer and (dial up) internet. When I went off to college in the 1990’s, cell phones had begun to inundate the world. As I drove about 1,000 miles each way to school approximately 4 times a year (Fall, Winter Break, and Summer) and long-distance plans were pricey, I purchased a cell phone with about 100 minutes a month (that was a thing). The reasoning was that I could use it should my used (and not particularly reliable) vehicle break down on I-95 and I could keep in touch with friends and family. This was before texting and unlimited long distance. I called home about once a week. This was also a time before email had truly permeated the ethos. I paid the University of Miami $100/year for an @miami.edu email address and was one of a handful with that privilege. I checked my email a few times a week. Social Media had yet to be invented.

Two decades and change later, the world for adolescents and college students is so much different than the one I experienced. Students often get their first smartphone by Middle School. After this, parents and children are in almost constant contact. Couple that with social media platforms, which many parents access (per school directives), online learning platforms where teachers disseminate grades and feedback virtually, and a myriad of other tools parents employ at different levels to keep an eye on their kids (video monitors, GPS tracking on phones, text/email trackers, and peer parents’ eyes).

A lot has been written about the detrimental effects over-parenting (think helicopter parents and tiger moms), including learned helplessness, anxiety, and delayed maturity. Dean Julie Lithcott-Haims addressed these issues in her book How to Raise an Adult.

To be fair to parents (many of whom are my peers), I believe that a lot of over-parenting derives from a place of fear; fear that is cultivated by the media, schools, and even the best meaning parenting books. In fact, while it has never been a safer time to be a child in the United States, our perception is that crime is higher than it really is.  Add to this regular “digital citizenship” nights that focus on “stranger danger” and worst case social media scenarios (I find it interesting that we don’t do this when kids get a drivers license, even though car accidents are the #1 killer of children) and parents live in a perpetual state of fear. Fear that their child will be hurt or damage themselves irrevocably, that “one mistake” will ruin their lives. The reality is, we hardly let children be alone whether physically or virtually. This does not necessarily breed a healthy (or realistic) dynamic. If you would like to learn more about that, check out danah boyd’s It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens.

While delaying maturity and creating dependence is certainly alarming, my greatest concern with all of this engagement and, let’s call it what it is, surveillance is that it is robbing young people of an important right of passage – separating themselves from their families of origin. When young people went off to school for the first time in kindergarten, that was when children first began to develop a sense of self. Who am I outside of my parents/family perception of me? This includes making your own friends, tackling your own schoolhouse problems, processing challenges and victories yourself, and (perhaps hardest for parents) making your own mistakes and living with those consequences. We have created a world where students do not do this. Sometimes, parents know a child’s grade before the child (and may draft an email to the teacher). Students and parents often text each-other throughout the school day; teachers often bemoan that parents rush to “rescue” a child who has forgotten homework or their round of snacks. Parents snoop through their children’s texts and social media to see what’s “going on” in their children’s private lives. However, this prevents a child from developing themselves apart from a parent, learning to deal with their own mistakes, or processing their victories and defeats without a cheerleader or a sled driver.

I don’t know that there is an easy answer to how much to monitor and engage with your children. I do believe, however, that given your child some distance and privacy (both in real life and virtually), can and does go a long way in helping them to develop into their own, independent self.

How to Use Google’s Data Gif Maker in the Classroom

Google just announced a new tool, primarily aimed at journalists, a data gif maker. This is a great tool for students to use in the classroom as it allows for a new way to convey information (specifically change over time) visually. Check out how to create data gifs on google’s blog.

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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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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?

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.

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.