Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Using Technology to Combat Obesity

By Jacob Gutnicki

Over the past few years there have been numerous articles that have reported that the increase of childhood and adult obesity is growing at an alarming rate. Additionally, various medical journals have documented that obesity related diseases including diabetes and heart attacks have sharply increased. In fact, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention the following alarming trends have occurred over a period of 20 years;

- In 1990, among states participating in the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, ten states had a prevalence of obesity less than 10% and no states had prevalence equal to or greater than 15%.
- By 1999, no state had prevalence less than 10%, eighteen states had a prevalence of obesity between 20-24%, and no state had prevalence equal to or greater than 25%.
- In 2008, only one state (Colorado) had a prevalence of obesity less than 20%. Thirty-two states had a prevalence equal to or greater than 25%; six of these states (Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia ) had a prevalence of obesity equal to or greater than 30%.

In the meantime, varying interest groups and politicians have pointed the finger of blame at a number of items including portion sizes offered at restaurants, sugary school foods, the inclusion of trans fats, video games, school fitness programs or rather the lack of one, as well as other mitigating factors. Needless to say, there are plenty of people who can be blamed for this perplexing problem. However, in the final analysis blame will not change our situation. In the end, innovative solutions are needed to combat this problem. With this in mind I will share with you a couple of promising ideas.

1. Spark People is a Social Networking web site which shares inspiring diet stories with its users, offer tools to create sensible nutritional plans, a nutrition calculator for the purpose of calculating caloric intake, varying fitness tools, instructional videos, and other tools to track your progress.

2. iGoogle Calorie Calculator is a Google Gadget that lets you plan your meals according to your caloric needs and includes a database of more than 70,000 foods to choose from. Using calorie calculators is a convenient way of planning your daily nutritional needs and can be used to track and adjust consumption decisions.

3. Wii Fit- Traditionally, video games have been blamed for the increase in childhood obesity. This is largely due to the fact that video games can be addictive and subsequently involve a great deal of seat time- hence the term couch potato. Fortunately, Wii Fit differs in its approach as the participant is required to stand on a "balance platform" and perform a variety of exercise such as running, yoga, aerobics, and other rigorous activities. As a result, numerous studies have shown that this tool has helped participants lose weight and become more fit.

4. Dance, Dance Revolution requires the participant to conduct a variety of aerobic exercises. More importantly, a study in West Virginia demonstrated that Dance, Dance revolution helped overweight students become more physically active and lose on average 10-15 pounds. Additionally, other school districts have achieved similar results.

5. iPod Nano + Nike, or and iPod, or an iPod Shuffle- Whether you carry one of the newer or older iPod models this device can be used to exercise in numerous ways. The shuffle is a convenient way to enjoy a jog in the park. If you want to track your run, the Nano allows you to track the pace of your run and compete with other runners. Both the iPod and Nano model are excellent for the gym as you can watch your favorite television show or movie while using an elliptical or similar exercise machine for an extended period of time.

6. Garmin Sports Watch- If you are looking for a device that offers more tracking options to co-inside with your run then the Garmin Sports Watch will definitely meet your needs.

7. is a community web site for runners and joggers who want to stay healthy, lose weight or train more effectively. More importantly, Map My Run is also used to share varying jogging routes a runner created and tracks related statistics.

8. Calories Per Hour is a web site that allows users to calculate what their caloric needs are, use a BMI calculator, and calculate how many calories are burned conducting a variety of activities including walking, jogging, running, weight lifting, swimming, as well as other physical activities.

9. iPump is an iPod application that includes;

· A variety of workouts drawing from thousands of unique exercises and equipment such as barbell, exercise ball, dumbbells, kettle bells, BOSU, foam roller and more.

· The ability to search workouts by location (hotel, home, gym, etc.), goal (arms, abs, cardio, etc.) or keyword.

· An exercise database with incredible variety. My favorites - squat thrust to push up with a med ball and 180 swings with a kettle bell.

· Videos of each exercise.

· The ability to edit workouts or create your own

10. Exercise Pod Casts- There are many free pod casts available for download that offer quick tips and other useful hints. A good place to start your journey is with My Free Trainer. My Free Trainer offer pod casts both for men and women with Pod Casts for beginners, intermediate exercisers, and an advanced level. Additionally, it provides a calendar of classes. For example, Wednesday's class focuses on the legs and chest, while Monday's class focuses on Pull ups, Crunches, and using Dumbbells. There are many other free pod casts on the Internet which can easily be found in the iTunes store under the Pod Casts tab with the category Fitness and Workout.

Final Word- The following is a small list of possible methods to get your body moving. I happen to immensely enjoy jogging and weightlifting to music. I also enjoy watching television shows and movies while exercising on the elliptical. That being said, one does not need technology to exercise. It is simply another approach to exercising. If you enjoy playing volleyball, soccer, swimming, competing in half-marathons, or a run in the park, go for it, and don't forget to Keep on Moving.

Do The IWBs or Clickers You (want to) Own REALLY Help Meet Learning Goals?

The reason I don’t use interactive white boards or clickers is because I use technologies that will help me with productivity or help my students meet their learning goals in faster/better/or never previously possible ways. These items don’t help me do that so I don’t use them. If you are considering an IWB or clicker purchase, these questions should be considered and answered by school staff before you invest your money in such a purchase.

Just because a school has extra funds to spend on technology doesn’t mean it is always better to do so. Here are two stories of effective teachers who had tech imposed upon them that they didn’t want (story 1) or need (story 2) as a result of these questions not being addressed.

Story One - Literacy
An excellent literacy teacher in a one-to-one middle school loved her tablet and projector and exquisitely modeled writing during her mini lessons using her equipment. She demonstrated 21st century writing using a laptop with all the features that writers use. For instance in her modeling she’d show her students how she would type, cut, paste, right click, not slow down thinking with spelling errors the computer identifies, get synonym suggestions and dictionary definitions. She may get a bunch of text down first then chunk and place it where it belongs. She sat facing her students at eye level during instruction engaged in deep discussion. Her back was never to them.

None of this is done more effectively in a writing classroom with an IWB yet this teacher’s supervisor had a school full of em and she wanted them used. It didn’t matter that her students were writing with keyboards, not pens or that the teacher wanted to face or class or that the teacher felt modeling meant using the keyboard real writers use. The administration had lots of expensive boards and she wanted them used. The teacher left the school the next year.

Story Two - Unnecessary Purchase of Clickers
In story two a one-to-one school which extra funds succumbed to an IWBs companies sales advice that the next step for a school that had an IWB for every teacher and laptops for each student was to purchase clickers. The school was even covered by a news channel for the great work they were doing. Ugh. in the clip the teacher was up at her IWB and the students were at their desks with laptops and clickers. As I watched the news clip my heart sank. They were fooled by a salesman and had just wasted $2400 per class. They could have done exactly what they were doing with the clickers with the laptops every student had, or if the school didn’t ban cell phones, they could have used those.

What would I have recommended a school with extra cash to spend on tech do? Well, it’s what I’ve done with the educators and students with whom I work. Have a tech day and bring in a multitude of vendors from smart pens to iTouches, to flip video cameras etc. Have the teachers and students together explore this equipment and discuss ways these items can innovate instruction. Have teachers and students write proposals for the technology that can help them meet their learning goals. Provide the equipment for teachers with the agreement that they will publish what they are doing so others can learn. See for an example of what this might look like.

But, how’s one to know?
Administrators need not turn to vendors for purchasing decisions. Instead turn to your staff and students and invite them to think, “What are my learning goals and what are the tools necessary to achieve them?” Do not turn to vendors for the answer. There are many innovative educators that can help guide purchasing decisions virtually or face-to-face. You can find them by reading blogs and developing a personal network for learning available in places like Facebook, Twitter, and Classroom 2.0. And, if you don’t have that yet, you can always start here, with me, The Innovative Educator.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Got Money for a Really Expensive Set of Training Wheels? I’ve Got An IWB to Sell Ya.

Editor’s note: Here’s another in the series for those who have been following the great debate going on here at The Innovative Educator over the effectiveness of Interactive Whiteboards (IWBs).

I’ve never understood how the IWB companies could fool so many into needlessly wasting their money by misinforming them of the capabilities of the device which I believe provide no value over the Tablet / projector combo, yet cost as much as $1000 - $3000 more. Yet the debate about the device has helped answer this question thanks to many who’ve contributed comments, including, most recently Peter Kent who sums up some of the debate to date here at The IWB debate - where do you stand?

In our latest round, Mr. Kent acknowledges in his comments that he agrees with my belief that “everything that could be done with an IWB could be done with other / cheaper technology,” however, he shares that this is besides the point. As I read through his insights into my misguided flaws in thinking, I realize, he’s right indeed. He breaks it down in two parts. Here is an excerpt from Part 1 where he helps me understand why schools are wasting thousands of dollars on these devices when money could better be spent on resources for students.

The problem is with the message you are weaving, the narrative. It is misguided, though well intentioned, and if there has to be a right or wrong in the issue – you would be wrong.
    • 1st Wrong Thing - Humans are emotional and are not rational, and you are insisting that teachers act as if they are absolutely rational.

      In your posts you never mention the broader context in schools that we need to consider. Non-techie teachers (the vast bulk of teachers) are not comfortable with technology, with the concept of computers within classrooms, and while it is not rational we need to accept that. Prior to IWBs (last century) the concept of 2 or 3 computers in a classroom used to freak out the vast majority of teachers. They were however comfortable with the concept of a ‘Board’ in the room. This was the revolutionary nature of IWBs, and still is. For emotional and non-rational reasons it was technology that the vast bulk of teachers were prepared to buy into. This is what I think IWB manufactures talk about when they use the term ‘bridging technology’.
      An IWB is like the training wheels that teachers need as they come to terms with and hopefully eventually move to a richer and more diverse range of technologies within the classroomSo the while the detail of what your posts say are true on the surface, they are wrong within the context of ‘the real world’.

Mr. Kent is correct. I lack some of that social emotional empathy that others have and in it’s place have a more black and white view of things. A decade into the 21st century and I’m tired of the training wheels already. Especially when the funds to purchase those extraordinarily expensive wheels means fewer resources for students. I’d prefer to save those dollars by spending some time with teachers showing them how they can teach more effectively when they ditch the board, and have a seat to get down and dirty with their students (who may or may not be in the same room as them) and get to the work of learning. I understand that many teachers cling to what they believe is their rightful place, front and center of the room, but there is a better way, and it involves tying learning to people not places. And, if you’re wondering, that doesn’t mean I’m suggesting abandoning direct instruction, but rather that we make a shift in the thinking about the place from where it is delivered. When we break down the wall between the teacher up front and everyone else behind him or her we can all move ahead into the 21st century together regardless of physical location of the teachers or learners.

Note: For my response to his 2nd wrong thing about my thinking, read the comment section here.

Write for Real. 3 Ways to Help Writers Get Into The Grove of Publishing

When I worked as a literacy coach in partnership with Teachers College Reading and Writing Project (TCRWP)I just loved how students were referred to in a whole new way. They were no longer boys and girls. Instead, every student was referred to as readers and writers. This was a big shift in thinking. We were no longer preparing students for life as readers and writers. They were readers and writers today. In fact in general with the TCRWP writing was no longer the thing you did when you read other’s books. Instead you wrote your own stories, books, articles, etc. At the end of every single unit of study (i.e. Poetry, How To Books, fiction) students were published authors who celebrated work through publishing parties and those books were placed in the class or school library for others to enjoy.

This was a huge shift and big advancement in thinking about our students and ourselves as authors. However, the difference between these student and teacher authors and real authors is that real authors write their book not just for an audience of one (the teacher) or some (the class or maybe school), they write their books for an audience of many (all the people in the world who might be interested in a book on the topic). But to do that, you need a publisher, right? Well not anymore.

In the web 2.0 world authors don’t need to wait for publishers to provide the stamp of approval to distribute their works. There are a variety of innovative ideas for the writer looking for an author. Here are some.

The Justin Bieber

One way authors can get their books shared with audiences is to go the Justin Bieber route and make a video of themself reading their book like Billy Bloom a long-time friend of mine from volleyball did here.

I encourage you to take a look not only at the video, but also at the comments from viewers giving Billy publishing advice. Of course, the next thing to do after publishing it online is to find your audience and share. In the case of this video, the author would want to find mommy groups, blogs, etc. with whom to share this book. And, to get it published, he’d want to find children’s author groups with whom to connect. Facebook is a great start for this.

The I Did It My Way

Real authorship accessible to anyone with the desire to do so for free at places like Lulu and Blurb. Whether you’re writing a children’s book, memoir, how-to, fiction, picture book, etc. these sites have the self-publishing resources necessary to bring their ideas to life – and sell it to an eager audience around the world. As the Lulu site says, “Go ahead: share your wisdom with friends, generate income, raise money for your favorite nonprofit; in short, conquer the self-publishing world.” Both sites are free to use and provide free software tools.

Once published you can sell your book to the whole wide world. Books are published for as little as $6 and the author decides exactly how much they want to earn from each sale. Along with the published book, every author gets their own ISBN. Additionally, authors, classrooms, schools, or districts can build their own online storefront to generate direct links, and more sales and forget inventory - when a book is bought, it gets printed, shipped and delivered on demand.

Read how to get started here: Innovative Educators Can Help Students and Themselves Become Published Authors.

The Talk About It, Talk About It

Lyrics | Lipps Inc - Funkytown lyrics

Authors who want to kick it up a notch can publish on Book Glutton,. A site that releases reading to the readers with a transformational tool that combines eReading with the social media experience. Readers can comment, chat, and discuss away. When I registered for the site I was thrilled to see some of my favorite educators (Susan Ettenheim, Paul Allison) were already onboard. They had formed a group with 43 of their students and colleagues and were reading books collaboratively. Books can be made available on the site for free or purchase, but however they’re accessed, one thing’s for sure. The students love it.

Here’s what Susan and Paul’s students are saying about BookGlutton.

"Reading on a website is much more convenient then having to flip the pages of a book or worrying that you'll lose your page. BookGlutton is a great way to encourage students to read, chat, and share their opinions!"—Ammym

“I'm a student and I like the fact that I can come to this website and read books that may not be available to me at school or a library. I think that this is a great site for students who, like me, like to read, this is a great way to encourage students to read. —Allesia

Get Into the Grove

Unlike writers of the past, the wild, wild world of web 2.0 offers an entry point for anyone with a story. Now all you have to do is select a way to publish, find your audience, and share your story with the world.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Getting Smart about the Real No’s No’s of Teaching with IWBs - A Photo Compilation

I was speaking with Marc Prensky last month lamenting about how interactive whiteboards were dumbing down instruction and sharing how teachers could be much more effective by ditching the boards and just using a laptop (or doc camera) and projector. Marc said, sometimes you need to show not tell.

That conversation came to mind as I ran across this slideshow from a presentation sponsored by Smartboard about using Smartboards in a 1:1 classroom. The presentation was filled with lots of examples of the dumb ways in which people use interactive whiteboards.

Even though Smartboard used these photos in a presentation to sell the device, they're their own worst enemy sometimes. I invite you to view this photo compilation which can serve as a model for what not to do when using IWBs.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

IWBs are Not the Stars. They’re the Overpaid Extras with A Great Agent

I recently explained Why I Hate Interactive Whiteboards Too which like my other posts on the topic received numerous responses. Kent3, who clearly cares about helping students succeed, wrote a thoughtful (three-part) comment which deserves at least a blog entry (or two) in response. I enjoy being challenged in thought-provoking ways on my views and respect those who can move or help grow my thinking.

In this case, though, it’s another opponent in the ring who tried to change my mind about IWBs being tools of needless, misguided spending that has not changed my beliefs. Like the IWB companies who masterfully market to educational institutions to gain huge profits from schools (and all those who they pay), ), Kent3 (surely unintentionally) is confusing the power of the internet, laptop/tablet, projector, speakers with the power of the extra very expensive IWB add-on.

This doesn’t surprise me as these companies spend countless dollars to lead people to believe that the device runs the show. Confusing the masses into believing this, which means big profits for them. The reality is the co-star of this show (aside from the teacher and students) is the internet, which is supported by that fabulous laptop or even better the supah stah...***The Tablet***. Putting them up in lights, is of course, none-other-than the beloved... projector!!! Providing sound is those powerful, but very affordable (under $40) speakers.

The IWB is merely a highly overpaid insignificant extra that can be replaced by any number of other free and more effective substitutes.

IWB just has a very good (marketing) agent that fools you into believing he’s the star. I did read Kent’s entire research report supporting IWBs. Not surprisingly what I found is there is not a single instance where IWBs aren’t given credit for the work of the real tech stars of the show: the laptop/tablet, internet, projector, and software (which can/and often is run independent of the board, whose functionality can be accomplished with alternate free software as well). Examples include:
  • A photo was displayed on the IWB and revealed in portions using the ‘spotlight tool’.
    -Ahem, you don't need an IWB to display a photo or to use a spotlight tool.
  • Speaking Activity – Students reported on current events using Internet News websites via an IWB.
    -Huh? What does the IWB have to do with bringing us current events or websites that have current events. The other hardware stars are responsible.
  • Selected student’s work was displayed on the IWB at the end of the lesson using the visualiser.
    -Ummm...I don't need an IWB or visualiser to display student work and actually, I'm more interested in where this work was authentically published and the global community who was involved in the conversation.
  • Using the IWB students had to write their name on a continuum identifying ‘How well do they swim’.
    -Okay, why do I even need any tech for this??? Let's have students line up and have cool conversations with classmates about where they belong to do so.
  • There's lotsa arranging and prioritizing.
    -We can do this easily, more efficiently, and with more interactivity without an IWB. Why on earth are we using and IWB to prioritize? Not necessary.
  • Downloading onto the IWB and playing the song ‘Come on the bay’ engaged the boys who were usually reluctant singers.
    - Ahhhh! You didn't download on the IWB. You downloaded on a computer. No IWB required.
  • Students were being read to by a ‘talking book’ on the IWB.
    -Well, umm, no. The talking came through the speakers and the book was on the laptop. IWB is unnecessary.
  • The teacher displayed a work sample on the IWB while the students were completing the task. This allowed students to complete the task without having to be continually reminded of what to do.
    -Really? Do I even need to explain why the $2.5K investment is an extra with an overpaid agent here????
There is more than one issue. The extra on the set (aka IWB), really just dumbs down and detracts from the show. When I’m placed in the role of movie editor, the IWB is left on the cutting room floor and in it’s stead, I hire a more reputable, non-biased casting director who could recast the show more powerfully. That cast would trade in the $2.5k-ish salary of the IWB and replace it with any number of more worthy characters able to accomplish all the extras for free and more effectively.

If I had the extra bucks to throw around in these cash-strapped times, I would instead cast a shiny class set of student response systems or Smart pens or maybe 10 iTouches or netbooks. These extras would no doubt soon rise to the role of supporting actor or maybe even steal the show. They certainly would be more worthy of idolization then those overpaid IWB extras who are typecast to a boring front and center role, never mingling among or even having the opportunity to go home with their audience. Instead, my stars would shine, connected to a student, rather than that of an immobile (but valuable) Midas star stuck helplessly in front of the room. The reason that’s important and all the other flaws of using an IWB vs more effective means of teaching and learning is the topic of yet another post indeed.

Stay tuned.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Telling the NY Times that “Texting” does NOT = Failure to Communicate

In the article Failure to Communicate the New York Times blames in part texting for students ineptness at resolving conflict. This is yet another example of digital immigrant critics blaming the tool rather than addressing the issue at hand. The director of housing laments that lately they are noticing something different: students seem to lack the will, and skill, to address ordinary conflicts. “We have students who are mad at each other and they text each other in the same room. “So many of our roommate conflicts are because kids don’t know how to negotiate a problem.”

How is it that the director assumes texting someone is a less valid form of communication then his preferred method? Students who’ve grown up digital are communicating in ways much different then those who (in this case) are directing them. It’s a shame that this housing director didn’t realize that, although they were not communicating in a way in which he preferred, the kids were communicating. Adults would be more effective at supporting students in resolving conflict when they realize that there are multiple ways to communicate. Just because students choose a different medium to do so, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Instead, if adults embrace the communication whatever the medium and support students in navigating in that medium, we’d all be better off. In short we need to stop blaming the medium and start supporting students in succeeding in their digital environment.

It seems that supporting students in communicating in their environments is something that never crossed the minds of these digital immigrant administrators who speculate that reliance on cellphones and the Internet may have made it easier for young people to avoid uncomfortable encounters. What these administrators don’t acknowledge is that students are communicating in more ways then ever and many educators/administrators are not taping into any of them except the traditional face-to-face method in which they are comfortable.

The article poses the question, “Why express anger in person when you can vent in a text?” My answer is why do we believe we should only express anger in person? What is wrong with trying to address conflict via text, IM, BBM, or other means if that is the communication style more comfortable for our students. It’s a method I personally have had success with during tiffs with my boyfriend. I’ve found many advantages of texting over talking...and, yes, even when we’re in the same room. One advantage is that if others are around they don’t have to hear our business. I’m sure in tight quarters with the roommates in this article that’s often the case. Another advantage is that, especially in times of conflict, it is often more effective for me to get my thoughts together first in text (instead of spoken words). It provides me a moment to express, review, reflect, and decide if I actually want to hit send. Additionally, communicating without the heated emotion of voice can often convey a message in a way that seems less critical and emotionally charged.

In the article an assistant director in the office of residential life laments the fact that dissatisfied students rarely take them up on an offer from a resident adviser to mediate, complaining that “We don’t have a lot of mediation. We have a lot of avoidance.” While in the next breath the article says kids are publicly addressing conflict on Facebook. That doesn't sound like avoidance to me. Perhaps the students are not interested in mediation support because the mediators have a DSL (digital as a second language) accent, that they just don’t really understand and they feel these mediators don’t understand their digital communication methods either.

Perhaps if the educational system was less busy banning and/or criticizing students for their preferred communication style educators and administrators could instead stop complaining and start getting to the business of teaching students socially appropriate behavior in these environments.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Just Say Yes to Publishing! Exposing The Man Behind the Curtain If He’s Still Saying No.

“At some point we have to get over our fear of letting students publish!” exclaimed Alan November at the #blc10 conference I recently attended. This is an explicit call to action we’ve heard from the many education thought leaders who are talking, writing, and making videos that make a similar point: If we adults, as responsible educators, administrators, parents, and families, could just, “get past our fear of the unknown and embrace the very tools we are blocking (which are also essential tools for the global economy) then we could build much more motivating and rigorous learning environments. We also have an opportunity to teach the ethics and the social responsibility that accompany the use of such powerful tools.” - Banning Student Containers, June 2007

Sadly, there’s much work to be done. When I speak with educators about this idea of Publish It Teaching, I am frequently met with responses that go something like this.

“Yeah, sure. Publishing and all the tools you talk about are great, but I can’t do any of that because my district bans it.”

It’s time we expose the man behind the curtain who is harming children because s/he refuses to think outside the ban. Our students no longer live in a Nancy Reagan world and while just “saying NO!” to everything is certainly easier, the point of education is not to do what’s easiest for adults. Instead, we need to be doing what is critically important for our students...even if it takes some effort.

Not every leader is a nay sayer
superintendent Michael Davino tells his schools, parents, teachers, and community, “You shouldn’t have techies, who have an easier job if we filter everything from students, making instructional decisions. When he became superintendent he lifted the curtain and unblocked the sites that his students needed to learn and his teachers wanted to use. He also formed a learning network for educators to participate in so they could start sharing, connecting, and getting smart about operating in 21st-century environments.
Another innovative leader, principal Eric Sheninger knows that Banning is the Easy Way Out. He explains that as educators it is our task to teach students how to make responsible decisions, think critically, solve problems and communicate effectively in order to succeed in society. He finds it unfortunate that in some districts, instead of rolling up our sleeves and tackling an issue head on we prohibit students from potential meaningful learning experiences both in and outside of school.

And, where does this fear come from anyway? Perhaps fear of the unknown. In many cases it’s educators, administrators and others who aren’t active digital citizens themselves and/or with their children who are raising these concerns. If they were participating in these digital worlds, there might not be such a fear.

The facts are in and they may not be what you think
Despite the sensationalism of shows like Dateline’s To Catch a Predator,” in his post, Just The Facts, Dean Shareski shares that no one has been able to link the posting of an image on the internet leading to danger associated with predators. He shares information from the Congressional Internet Caucus to shed some light on the real dangers of online activity which indicate that IT IS NOT GIVING OUT PERSONAL INFORMATION THAT PUTS KIDS AT RISK. It’s not having a blog or a personal website that does that either. What puts kids in danger is being willing to talk about sex online with strangers or having a pattern of multiple risky activities on the web like going to sex sites and chat rooms, meeting lots of people there, kind of behaving as what we call an INTERNET DAREDEVIL.

Social Media Researcher at Microsoft and a Fellow at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Danah Boyd asks this...

Why are we so obsessed with the registered sex offender side of the puzzle when the troubled kids are right in front of us? Why are we so obsessed with the internet side of the puzzle when so many more kids are abused in their own homes? I feel like this whole conversation has turned into a distraction. Money and time is being spent focusing on the things that people fear rather than the very real and known risks that kids face. This breaks my heart.

What about cyberbullying
There are also those folks who bring up the issue of cyberbullying. If they do, use that to make your case! If adults were in these worlds, aware of what students were doing rather than looking the other way or banning access so that students had to sneak such behavior, would the instances of bullying go down? Absolutely. More importantly, as Danah Boyd mentions above, it’s not the medium that is the problem. It is the behavior. Just because the transparency of the internet makes problems like cyberbullying or inappropriate conduct more transparent, that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening in other areas. Adults need to provide outlets for students to talk and share when they are experiencing inappropriate behavior online or offline.

Students know not to take candy from a stranger in the physical world. What advice are we giving students for operating safely in the virtual world?

Just as we don’t close down or ban playgrounds where bullying is occurring, similarly we shouldn’t be banning or looking the other way when it comes to online environments. The platforms — the playground or the website didn’t cause the issue. Social outlets, whether virtual or physical, are wonderful necessary places. Instead of banning or shutting them down we need to ensure students can go to such places safely and be armed with the knowledge of what to do when danger arises.

No one said educating our youth was supposed to be easy
Successful innovative leaders know that there will always be Roadblocks to Change but that shouldn’t stop us. There is no evidence that these unknown, unnamed people who make the district’s policies are doing anything more than making their jobs easier and/or using scare tactics as smoke and mirrors to misinform the public (often unintentionally because they don’t know better) that they are doing something in student’s best interests.

As a former librarian, I remember how my colleagues and I all knew that the most organized and immaculate libraries had the least student activity. Getting down and dirty with learning can lead to messy environments and that means extra work. As educators, that is the work we signed up for.

Those in districts and schools that don’t enable meaningful learning to occur should find out what procedures are in place to revisit outdated policies. If there are none, that needs to be exposed. It is far too often that rules were made for a time that no longer exists and refusal to revisit and revise is certainly not in anyone’s best interest.

It is the moral imperative of those whose job it is to prepare students for success to question administrators and policy makers who are blocking and banning access to the point of making school a place of irrelevance and the world outside of school a place where learning and creating can occur. Don’t accept this for your students, our future. Find out who these people are. Speak to them. Educate them and make them allow you to let your kids learn, succeed, and be prepared for the connected society in which we now live.

Partner with students to make your case
You don’t have to do this alone either. Partner with your students. Their voices are powerful. Take as one example Dan November. At home he picks his applications and easily moves from one to another. He is self-taught, self-directed, and highly motivated. He is locally and globally connected. As his father, Alan November shares in his Banning Student Containers article, today, School is a "Reality-Free" Zone.

Dan is not totally engaged at school. He is not self-directed or globally connected. For instance, he isn't allowed to download any of the amazing academic podcasts available to help him learn, from "Grammar Girl" to "Berkeley Physics." He is not connected via Skype to students in England when he is studying the American Revolution, for example, which might create an authentic debate that could be turned into a podcast for the world to hear.

He cannot post the official notes that day so those who subscribe to his teacher's math blog via an RSS feed can read what's going on in his class. His assignments do not automatically turn into communities of discussion where students help each other at any time of the day. His school has successfully blocked the cool containers Dan uses at home from "contaminating" any rigorous academic content. It is an irony that in too many schools, educators label these effective learning tools as hindrances to teaching.

As a result, Alan November argues, we, as educators, have decided that the tools or containers that Dan uses when he is home are inappropriate for school and learning. We have decided that because we don’t always like the content students produce on blogs without adult supervision we will not let them near a blog, even with adult supervision. What do we think would happen to student motivation if we actively tapped the containers our students want to use? Educators should co-opt them. What if we had blocked all use of paper at one point because, early on, a student had written some inappropriate content without a teacher's guidance?

I recently met another such student, Blake Copeland, who as a high school freshman was featured on his district’s website for developing an iPhone app. I spoke to Blake at length and learned that everything he knows about programming apps he learned on his own. While his school featured his work, it is not work that is embraced in school nor has anyone at his school or in his district approached him to share his expertise with others.

Do we really want school districts to be celebrating students for the work they can only create outside of school? Does this district really have something to be proud of, or should they be ashamed that upon scratching the surface, this student’s creativity had nothing at all to do with what is offered, or perhaps even allowed, at his school.

Blake is doing exactly the kind of thing Mitch Resnick believes all students need to be doing to become successful today. Resnick, who directs the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the Media Laboratory at Massachusetts Institute of Technology develops new technologies to engage people (particularly children) in creative learning experiences. He says that being able to create is at the core of becoming a creative thinker. Sadly, much of this important creating can not happen inside of schools, because students are banned from doing so. Resnick explains “Digital fluency” should mean designing, creating, and remixing, not just browsing, chatting, and interacting. Authentic publishing with tools such as his Scratch allow us to democratize digital expression, though all too often schools stand in the way of this and educators are accepting this helplessly while children (who are dropping out in droves) suffer through an education that to most seems irrelevant and meaningless.

I want my students to have these opportunities
Now, to provide full disclosure, I’m writing this post, in part for selfish reasons. You see, in my life as a Technology Innovation Manager I am working with educators to help students publish to real audiences and in most schools the results are nothing short of transformative. But, in some schools, I’m told students can’t participate in many of the activities because policy from above (the mysterious man behind the curtain) won’t allow it. And with that, the teachers often feel they’re off the hook and are helpless to change the fact that they can’t support their students for real-world success.

At the same time other principals who are taking advantage of the opportunities available to their students have experienced great results in just a few short months.

Here’s what they’re saying...
  • Our 5th grade students publish their work in public spaces and get critical feedback. They write for a large audience. They are taking more pride in their work. Their level of attention to the quality of their work has increased.

  • Students are excited about responding to others through the blogs.

  • Publishing work for a broad audience and getting feedback helps students to be more reflective about their work.

  • As a result of the PD, our teachers are engaged in taking students’ writings to a higher level. Students are posting and sharing their writings and enjoying the pride of publication.

  • Teachers who attended the PD came back with ideas for posting student work on websites. The level of teaching and learning and the increased motivation on the part of teachers as well as students is apparent.

  • Our students are not only writing at a much higher level, they are learning to critique their writing, and to help review writing of their classmates. What impressed me as I observed a session in a classroom was that what they weren’t seeing in their own writing they could identify in someone else’s. Their criticisms were in a positive tone; they would make comments like “That wasn’t very clear. Maybe you could…..” The conversation was elevated.

If you are the type of educational or parental leader mentioned above, bravo!!! Please spread the word so that we stop depriving students from results like these that occur when we open our eyes, let go of the fear, and become partners in, not those who ban, opportunities for students. Yes, some adults will argue that we can’t allow this because when children go online they write all sorts of inappropriate things, but where are the adults showing them what is appropriate? Why do adults feel it’s okay to look the other way and not be responsible partners in our student ' s online lives? It is not.

The student, parent, teacher, leader partnership
Dean Shareski tells of a school (it might be his) where students receive a domain upon entry into the school. The parents, teachers, and administrators partner with students to jointly take responsibility for the development not only of the site in particular, but of the student’s digital footprint in general. They know that it’s not good enough to just be a citizen. Today’s students live in a world where we’ve shifted from “Private by Default and Public with Effort” to “Public by Default and Private with Effort” and it’s the job of educators to help students develop a purposeful and meaningful digital footprint of which they can be proud beginning in the primary grades.

Students need us to help them become accomplished creators and makers
Digital ethnographer, Michael Wesch explains it this way. While some educators have come to refer to students as digital natives, the reality is that many students, even those who seem fluent in using technology aren’t quite literate and they need the support of adults. They can read, but they can not write. As innovative educators we need to support the next generation so they become creators and makers. We need to enable students to create meaningful things to express their ideas in many different ways.

The best learning happens when you are creating as part of a communities, and it is important to help students cultivate creative communities. Educators and learners need to realize that copying is not cheating (when credited). It’s an honor to take someone’s work and extend it (as I’ve done with this piece of writing). Schools need to move from helping students to be passive users of technology toward helping them become active shapers. It’s not just about trying what others have done, it’s about making your own creations. In the end if we don’t allow kids to interact and connect beyond the face-to-face then as educators we are contributing to their irrelevance. Students need to be creators and work in community of creators. It’s the only way they will be able to become critical thinkers and full and active participants in society.