Digital Citizenship

Parents, Keep Being the Parent

I know I'm not a parent, but I already think it's the hardest job in the whole world. You all deserve way more credit than you're getting. Thank you for the time and energy and tears you put into raising humans. I love the time I get two spend with them in the classroom (just SIX more days!), and they give me hope for the future of humanity. And yet, I know kids can be stinkers sometimes, and it's hard sometimes to keep fighting when they ruthlessly beg you or insist that life isn't fair. No matter, what they say, the boundaries you're giving them are important. Keep on keeping on. 

Keep looking at what your student is doing online.

Although they'll likely say that it's incredibly unfair, it's good to be in your student's business. The amount you're in their business will likely vary from the age of 12 to 18, but it's good to know what your students are doing. You're allowed to (and should do) random checks of their technology when they're in middle school. Look at their text messages and their web history and their emails. Have conversations about it and help your student use his or her time online wisely

Keep supporting your student's passions. 

Please recognize that not all activities that your student does online are created equally. Try to understand what your student is spending most of his or her time doing online. What are they passionate about? Can that be given a real-life equivalent? If your student is using technology to spend time with friends, could you instead commit to having more of his or her friends into your home? If they're watching a lot of sports, could you put it on the TV and watch it as a family or go outside and try the moves you've seen? What is it about the YouTuber they love that makes them want to spend hours watching them? Keep asking your students about how they're using technology, and look for ways to stoke and guide their passions towards people and things of consequence. 

Keep setting boundaries.

It's okay to turn the wifi off at 9PM. Please don't let your kid have their devices in their rooms at night (alarm clocks are pretty cheap these days). It's okay to say no to apps like Snapchat even if every other parent is saying yes. The boundaries you give your kids around technology, especially in middle school, are important in teaching them healthy habits. 

Parents, thank you for the hard work you're putting in to raise positive digital citizens. Continue to share with each other strategies that you have for monitoring your students' tech usage, ways that you support their passions, and effective boundaries that you've set. Please also continue to let me know how teachers can support you as you monitor technology use at home. 

Teachers, Never Sit Down

My students will walking into my classroom for the first day of school in just seven more days. I'm trying to relax in the midst of preparing my brain and my heart and my bladder for kids to enter my room next week. I can't wait.

But here's the deal: I've gotten lazy and the first week of school is always hard. 

In the summer, I drink a whole pot of coffee on my couch every morning. In the summer, I have to work really hard to get my 10,000 steps (It was so depressing I stopped wearing my Fitbit.). In the summer, I go to the bathroom whenever I want to. In the summer, I only wear flip-flops. 

And then it's the first day of school. I drink coffee on the go, I have a bathroom schedule, and I'm wearing pumps. I have to retrain my body all over again. I have to train myself to be on my feet walking around almost every time kids are in the rooms. 

Teachers, I beg you to stop sitting down. You are missing the best moments with your students and making it really easy for them to waste their time in your class. 

When we sit down, we miss opportunities to teach students to work in spite of distractions. Students are sneaky, and they know how to go back and forth between apps and make it look like they're paying attention. When we sit down, it's even easier for them to do this because we're not tracking their progress on the task we've asked them to complete. I think it gets easy to become cynical and just say, "well, they'll have to learn and finish it for homework." But we need to do our best to keep students accountable. They don't like to admit it, but they do like boundaries and accountability. I want my classroom to be a place where they learn to work hard in spite of the distractions that might come their way. 

When we sit down, we miss the most teachable moments. Some things are just hard to assess on paper. For example, teaching students to find credible sources is hard. But when we're watching what students are looking at as they research, we're able to talk to them about why they picked the source and any potential problems we may see with it. By having the conversation while they're in the middle of the task, we're able to give feedback when it's relevant. We need to look over our students shoulders and help them learn throughout the process, not just for the end product. 

When we sit down, we miss out on the joy of kids. The first weeks of August are always miserable for me because I'm in my classroom without students. That's also why I haven't left the classroom to become a TOSA or work in the tech industry. Students give me so much joy in life, and when I sit down I miss out on their joy. I don't see them fall out of chairs. I don't see them help their friends. I don't see their reaction to what they're reading. I miss out on experiencing their joy. 

Therefore, I know it's hard to do, but I encourage you to train your body to never sit down when kids are in the room this year. Greet them at the door. Walk around them as they're writing paragraphs. Ask them about their research. Be involved in the middle of the learning process, not just at the end. You won't regret the joy you experience because of them. 




Students, Be Organized

EIGHT more days until school starts! Wohoo! You've probably gone back to school shopping and your pencils and folders are ready. But is your Google Drive? Is your computer? Part of being a good digital citizen is also knowing where your stuff is so that you can use it at any moment. 

Go to your Google Drive. Search "Untitled." How many things do you have named "Untitled ______"? That's a problem. Take a time out right now and rename them. This post will still be here when you're done. Look, I'm just as guilty and need to take some time to clean up some things as well.

And then there's folders. We require you to use them in your binder to organize your stuff. And I know they help. How do I know? I go through your binder when you've claimed to have lost your homework and find that it's just in the wrong spot or shoved in the front pocket of your binder. If you took some time to put things in the right place it would end up saving you a lot of unneeded stress. 

The same is true in your Drive. It really doesn't take a lot of time to organize your documents. Look at the top of your Doc (or Spreadsheet or Slides or... ). There's a folder right next to the document's title.

By clicking that folder you can organize your document by putting it into the folder it belongs. Or you can even just drag and drop them in your Google Drive. 

Take some time to make some folders. Make one for "6th Grade" and dump all of your sixth grade documents in there. Then add some sub-folders: one for language arts, one for history, one for science, etc. Now do the same for 7th and even 8th. Then as the school year starts you have a place to put things as you make them. I like to put subfolders within those subjects based on the unit we're studying. 

Take the time to do the same thing on your computer as well. Maybe even make a folder for all of those things that you've found on Tumblr that you like. I promise you it will save you from some unneeded stress throughout the year. 

Parents, Utilize Common Sense Media

Hello, parents! Only NINE more days until school starts! I'm looking to having students in my classroom creating awesome stuff and having great conversations. I hope you enjoy this post, which is part of my Digital Citizenship Countdown.

Every time that I find myself on Common Sense Media's website, I'm more impressed by what they offer to families. From conversation starters to book reviews to research on technology addiction, Common Sense Media provides resources to help you understand the role of technology in a student's life and to help you decide what boundaries to give your student. 

Take for example, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, one of the most popular pieces of teen fiction from the past several years. Common Sense Media has read the book, reviewed it, and given parents details about it, such as this graphic, which gives parents a quick information guide about the novel.

I appreciate how they give both rankings through their "dot" system and how they give you more details if you hover over the category. From this information, they also give an age recommendation, in this case age 14+. Based on my own reading of this book, I'd agree with this age ranking. 

In addition, each page has a "Families Can Talk About..." section. This section is filled with questions that parents can have with their students to get to a deeper level and help students process what they read/watch/use. For example, I like this question from their review of The Fault in Our Stars:

"Also, the author's other books, such as Looking for Alaska, are often called edgy. What makes a book 'Young Adult,' and when does it crossover into being an adult story? Does it have to do mostly with the age of the narrator, or something else?"

This is an important question, and one that I have actually been wondering a lot about lately as more and more mature themes input their way into teen lit. It's also one that I don't necessarily know the answer to, but I think it's a really interesting conversation to have with students. 

Common Sense Media offers this same type of reviews for movies, tv, apps, and video games. In addition, they offer a lot of family guides based on the age group of your student(s) and forums with many of the questions you've been asking. And don't forget: there's always the search bar. 

Take some time to explore their site and share with another parent what you found to be the most helpful. They're really trying to partner with parents in helping to raise positive digital citizens. 

Teachers, Use Creative Commons Media

Nobody likes it when someone steals his stuff and claims it as her own. We're outraged at the idea. But, the truth is, we do it all the time. People post photos and videos all the time without getting permission or giving credit to the creator. It's rude. 

As educators, we get certain liberties to use media under fair use. Yet, we often abuse that and don't give credit where credit is due. And even more problematic, we don't teach students these best practices. 

Honestly, I think this is mostly because teachers and students don't know how easy it is to find and cite Creative Commons licensed media. 

What Is Creative Commons? 

Creative Commons is a non-profit devoted to giving the world awesome media that they can use in a legal and honoring way. They allow creators of media to give their work a variety of different licenses that give the rest of the world different levels of permissions for their work. This means they can indicate if you can use it, modify it, or sell it. 

How can I find Creative Commons Media? 

Creative Commons has made it simple by creating a launching point to search websites for Creative Commons media. It looks like this: 

This allows you to visit a variety of sites to find images, music, and videos that people have deemed available for you to use in your work. Note the check boxes under the your search box about if you plan to "use for commercial purposes" or "modify, adapt or build upon" - this changes the level of licensing for which your search will return. 

** However, be careful: people are labeling their own work, and they sometimes do so without really understanding Creative Commons. If an image or a song or something is done by a famous artist, it's still unlikely able to be used. Make sure that the work is actually posted by its creator. **

How should I cite my media? 

"dog" by University of Liverpool Faculty of Health and Life Sciences on Flickr

"dog" by University of Liverpool Faculty of Health and Life Sciences on Flickr

Take, for example, this picture from Flickr. I found it by searching for "dog" at

If you've created something, likely even if you've given permission to use it, you'd like some credit for your hard work. That's why it's important to use citations for your work. There are a couple different philosophies on how to cite media. You can definitely use the MLA or APA format that you're used to (Check out EasyBib for an easy way to do so.)

However, I like to teach students a simple method way to do so: "Title" by Artist on Website. This is great because users can always search for this information and find the picture, even if the link has changed. And it's not the ugly hyperlink that no one will ever take the time to type in. Each site has these items in slightly different places. This is what it looks like on Flickr: 


From that information, then, I can draw out "Title" by Author on Website -- in this case, "dog" by University of Liverpool Faculty of Health and Life Sciences on Flickr. Now if you take that and Google it, you'll find my photo as the first entry. 

Teachers, please use this Creative Commons licensed media. Model it to your students and then require it of them. Set a standard that your classroom will use media that you've been granted to use and that you'll give the artists credit for your use of it. Spend time teaching these steps at the beginning of the year and keep the expectation going all year long; require it on slide decks and movies and posters and any other thing for which students are using media from someplace else. Don't be rude: use and cite Creative Commons licensed media!