Friday, September 30, 2011

DIY Guide to Keeping Children Safe Online Without Costly Filters

With ominous acronyms being thrown about such as CIPA and FERPA and COPPA, it’s no wonder educators are running scared when it comes to internet use and that filtering companies are profiting from the culture of fear that results. Unfortunately, doing what is most convenient (blocking and banning sites) is often not what is best for children or teachers. It is not uncommon for the tech-savvy teacher to throw up her hands because too many sites are blocked to be able to work effectively. Students have similar frustrations. The reality when it comes to filtering is that schools have not lost funding due to opening up access to valuable content for children. Of course this must be done responsibly, but it does not require the costly filters that don’t exist in the real worlds of our children. 

Here are some ways you can empower children to stay safe at school and in the world and they don’t cost a dime.


It is important for schools to take responsibility for children's safety online. Here are some ways to get started.

Responsible Use
The most important thing we can do is teach children to be responsible online. I and several of my colleagues have experience teaching in a no filter zone where instead we focus on empowering students to use the most important filtering tool available: The one between their ears. The reality is that in most cases, students don’t feel comfortable having inappropriate content come up in their searches. This is generally not something they want to engage in at a school setting. Empowering students to know how to do their own safe browsing is not only a good thing for them to know in school, but a good thing for them to know in life. Empowering them to know what to do when something inappropriate comes up is also a necessary skill for use outside of school. 

When we stop fighting and start partnering with our students, the results will pay off. We can also empower students to self monitor by having discussions about responsible use, consequences, and asking them, rather than the teacher, to hold one another accountable. In my library media center, I had several students designated with badges as “Responsibility Officers.” They supported other students in staying on track. These also often happened to be the students who typically might be more likely to get off track.

Responsible Teaching
One of the reasons I had few problems teaching in an unfiltered environment was because students knew exactly what to do. Part of lesson planning when using the Internet requires teachers to outline what sites students should be visiting and options for how to create meaning. I knew what sites my students were visiting and they were pre-screened and vetted by me in advance. 

We can’t make rules for that one child who may stray, but instead for the majority of the students that will be excited to learn relevant content using technology. That one child can get around the filters anyhow and likely one day will be employed by one of those filtering companies.


The Internet of the 21st century has safety features built in. Teach your parents and, if appropriate, your students how to use these effectively. Doing so will keep students safe at school and in the world for which we are tasked to prepare them.

Safe Browsing
Most web browsers have safety features installed. You can make your browser safe by activating its safety features. Here is how.
  • Parental controls
    There are a variety of parent control add ons available. Decide which one is right for you by doing a search in your browser for “Parental Controls” and your “Browser Name.” Read the descriptions, install the one that best suits your needs and try it out.
    • Internet Explorer Check out this guide to discover how restrict web browsing in IE.
    • Safari This site will show you how to set up parental controls in Safari.
    • Firefox
      article from Read Write Web suggests one option for safe browsing that looks geared toward elementary school students. Firefox also has suggestions for filtering inappropriate web content here.
    • Chrome
      Chrome doesn’t have built in parental controls. Instead they recommend using an add on such as
      Web Filter pro or for Windows users installing something like Windows Live Family Safety which provides safe internet filters, reports to monitor computer activity and even set time periods when the computers can be used.
Safe Search
You can ensure your students search safely online with three simple steps.
  • Activate it! You can go to Google advance settings and select SafeSearch which will filter out sites that contain content you would not be comfortable having children see. You can select strict filtering to help filter out explicit text as well as images. You can modify your computer’s SafeSearch settings by clicking on Search settings at the top right of the Google homepage.
  • Lock it! You can protect this setting with a password so it can’t be changed without your knowledge, using SafeSearch Lock. Just click on Search settings in the upper right corner of the Google homepage. Choose “Strict Filtering” and then click “Lock SafeSearch.” Once locked, the Google search results page will be visibly different to indicate that SafeSearch is locked.
  • Customize it! Create a personalized, customized search engine that searches only across sites that you specify and displays results that you want your children to see with a Google Custom Search Engine (CSE). You simply choose the websites and pages you'd like then follow a few simple steps which you can find here to create a CSE. Search engines can be created by all the teachers in the school and can be aligned to various subjects or units of study. Some teachers might consider having students create custom search engines too.
You can learn more about safe search at 12 Ways To Be More Search Savvy.

Safety Features in Frequently Used Sites
Many frequently used sites have safety features. For instance, teachers know YouTube is the #1 tool for learning, but at many schools it is blocked due to unsafe content. Check the site’s safety settings and activate them. Here is how to do this for YouTube.
  • YouTube When you opt in to Safety Mode on YouTube it means that videos with mature content or that have been age-restricted will not show up in video search, related videos, playlists, shows or films. It is also designed to hide objectionable comments. To activate it, click on the link at the bottom of any video page to select Safety Mode and lock it for that browser with your YouTube password.
  • Other sites Determine what the frequently used sites are at your school and enable their safety filters. Empower your parents, and, if appropriate, students to do the same.

While it is certainly easier to plop down money for Internet filtering software, doing so is not what is best in preparing our children for success in the real world. In fact often there is a false sense of safety, and important conversations about responsible use are overlooked. Additionally, paying for filters in school does nothing toward preparing children for safety and success outside of school.

While it is true that outsourcing safety is easier than taking on the responsibility, it truly is not what is best for children.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Building your personal learning network infographic

Well this is pretty cool.  The folks over at the ThingLink and Learn blog used the image tagging technology provided by ThingLink to create this embeddable info graphic to share my ideas about developing your personal learning network.  Check it out by mousing over the image on small dots.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

20 Things Students Want the Nation to Know About Education

It's rare for education reformers, policymakers, and funders to listen to those at the heart of education reform work: The students. In fact Ann Curry who hosted Education Nation's first *student panel admitted folks at NBC were a little nervous about putting kids on stage. In their "Voices of a Nation" discussion, young people provided insight into their own experiences with education and what they think needs to be done to ensure that every student receives a world-class education. After the discussion Curry knew these students didn't disappoint. She told viewers, "Students wanted to say something that made a difference to you (adults) and they did. Now adults need to listen."

Here is a video of the student panelists followed by a recap of some of the sentiments they shared.

Below are the sentiments shared by these current and former students during the segment.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Why I Don't Like Standardized Tests

Guest post by Cathy Earle
As an educator, I am sometimes called upon to teach children test preparation skills. I do so because these particular children are going to have to take a particular test – it's a reality. However, the first step of my test prep lesson is to tell the children that I don't like standardized tests, especially high-stakes tests. I don't believe they should have to take them, and, I tell them, I didn't subject my own kids to them.

Here are my major reasons for my antipathy toward standardized tests:

Monday, September 26, 2011

7 Filter Myths to Keep In Mind for Banned Sites Awareness Day and Always

As part of the American Association of School Librarian's "thinking outside the ban" blog series for banned websites awareness day, Doug Johnson dispels the following seven filtering myths. 
  1. The Childhood Protection Act (CIPA) is specific and  broad in what must be filtered in schools. 
  2. It’s the filtering company that determines what is blocked. 
  3. Some sites must be blocked due to bandwidth limitations. 
  4. The processes for re-consideration of print materials don’t apply to online resources.
  5. The technology department must determine what is blocked. 
  6. Internet filters are so good that supervision of students while online and instruction in online safety and appropriate use is not necessary. 
  7. Internet filters and intellectual freedom are mutually exclusive.
To read the truth behind each of these myths, check out the original article here.

For more information about Banned Websites Awareness Day resources and support materials, please visit AASL Essential Links.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

AASL Thinks Outside the Ban with Banned Websites Awareness Day - September 28th

Editor's Note:  This article was also posted on the American Association of School Librarian's site.  If you'd rather read it there, go here.  

Banned Websites Awareness Week image designed by Kalan Lysenko, New Canaan High School class of 2013More than a decade into the 21st century and the very tools and sites we need to ensure student success in the world are banned and blocked in many school and learning centers. Though banning and blocking is more convenient, it  is not what is right when it comes to preparing children, who will need to use and navigate these waters, for success in the 21st century. The American Association of School Librarians (AASL)  is bringing awareness to this problem by naming September 28th “Banned Websites Awareness Day.” This serves as an extension of the American Library Association’s long-standing censorship awareness campaign, Banned Books Week, beginning September 24. This new campaign directs national attention to the important conversation of the impact filtering has on our students.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

What's Popular This Week on The Innovative Educator

Here’s the roundup of what's been popular on The Innovative Educator blog this week. Below you’ll see my top weekly posts along with the number of pageviews in the past 7 days. I hope there's something that looks of interest to you.  If it does, check it out. If you’re so inspired leave a comment.

Sep 15, 2011, 54 comments
 1715 Pageviews

Sep 18, 2011, 4 comments
  1666 Pageviews

Sep 21, 2011   1
551 Pageviews

Sep 20, 2011, 1 comment
   1530 Pageviews

Apr 22, 2011, 6 comments   1
472 Pageviews

Sep 19, 2011, 2 comments    1
376 Pageviews

Sep 22, 2011, 1 comment
    1272 Pageviews

Sep 16, 2011
   1161 Pageviews

Apr 26, 2011, 11 comments
  936 Pageviews

Friday, September 23, 2011

Rethinking Learning with A Child-Centered Lesson Plan

Editor’s note:  After reading How Andgragogy Might Look in the Classroom on the Mystified Mom blog, I asked if she could pull out the parts regarding lesson plans so that people could get a better idea of what a learner-centered lesson plan would look like. 

Guest Post by Mystified Mom

People often claim that learner-centered methods are not practical for mass delivery systems due to the fact that standards have to be met. As a veteran educator, I have not found this to be true. To follow are the eight parts of a lesson plan and my comments about what could be added to gear them toward how students learn best. 

The header typically include the teachers name, grade level, topic, and time allotment. This is all standard information. The one piece of information that can be rethought is the time allotment. Unless things have changed, the typical time allotment for a lesson is 30 minutes to an hour. Every now and then, I will see lessons that take longer or will span the course of a few days. Students and teachers should allot more time to do lessons. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Mobile Phones in Schools As A Lifesaving Tool

Guest post by Erik Endress, Founder & CEO

I met Lisa Nielsen, creator of The Innovative Educator blog, a year ago after learning of her stance on enabling students to use mobile phones in school as a learning device.

Proponents will say that you can't let kids use their phones because they might use them to take photos or video or text. I want them, and their teachers, to do just that when their school goes into lockdown, when their is an active shooter in their school, when they are witness to criminal behavior and anytime they need help.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

School redesign as a community project-based learning challenge

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
-Albert Einstein 

If you’ve ever complained about the way things are in schools today, now’s your chance to stop talking and start acting by participating in the Reinventing School ChallengeThe challenge is a program that begins with a simple mission: Encourage life-long learning, promote alternative learning environments and equip learners with 21st Century skills. It takes a fresh and different approach to school reform in the following ways.
  1. Inviting the whole community to get involved.
  2. Giving the community a framework to collaborate and fashion solutions for their own school communities.
  3. Providing a platform to present, share and celebrate what's possible and what really works.
The program uses design, collaboration, technology, play and social media to engage and empower young people to effect positive change in their school community. It starts by encouraging participants to reframe problems as opportunities. Ask beautiful questions, spark imagination, provide a framework to research, generate ideas and rapidly prototype and test design solutions. Doing anything less, results in remaining passive observers, making slow progress, losing interest and leaving all the work policy makers and Government. If they fail to deliver, we will simply blame them and much will stay the same.

This new Design Thinking Challenge runs for 8 weeks from now until November 7th and again in March. It uses design, collaboration, technology, play and social media to engage and empower young people effect positive change in their school community. It encourages life-long learning, promotes alternative learning environments and equips participants with 21st Century skills.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Disorganized Sports + Unstructured Play

When asking children: 
What is your favorite part of school?
    It is not uncommon to get this answer:  
      I still like to play :)
      Sadly, in schools today, recess is on it's way toward extinction.  On a parenting group I belong to, student's back to school schedules were shared.  Sadly, very few included time for recess. Yet at a recent conference I listened to brain researcher John Medena  who shared that activity, movement, and exercise is crucial for boosting brain power.  Not only does play make you smarter, this article points to play being a great way to alleviate ADD / ADHD symptoms. Unfortunately, educators are in a state of panic in our test prep obsessed education system, no longer able to think clearly about what is truly best for our children. 

      If today's teachers and administrators had the opportunity to pull themselves away from the worksheets and bubblesheets they would find that play is an essential component of student success as pointed to in the article Can We Play by Psychologist David Elkin.  In the article Elkin shares that recess is already extinct in more than 30,000 U.S. schools that have eliminated recess to make more time for academics and that children’s time spent outdoors has fallen 50 percent since the 1990s.

      Monday, September 19, 2011

      If School Was Causing Your Child’s ADD / ADHD Would You Remove Him?

      During a recent conversation with friends and family, the topic of ADHD / ADD came up and I shared my belief that this is not a disease that should result in people being drugged, but instead a personality type (like mine!) that should be honored.  My friends and family looked at me stunned.  They wondered how an educator like me didn’t know better as this new epidemic was clearly documented as a disease.  I then found out that a few of those among us had been drugged or had been responsible for drugging their children.  They were offended by my words! Fortunately, I'm used to this.  

      Sunday, September 18, 2011

      School is Not School. A Place Where The Community, Not The School, Provides Learning.

      I recently shared three radical ideas to transform education without school.  In it, I shared Linda Dobson’s timeless article, When the School Doors Close:  A Midsummer Night’s Dream where she outlines the transformation that would occur if schools ceased to exist and instead we engaged in community-centered learning.  Rather than compulsory, age-based facilities, with community learning people choose to attend and learn about topics of deep personal passion and interest.  There would be many options available to individuals of any age.  The community takes ownership and responsibility of the learning and well-being of others.  As my wise friend Jeff Pulver recently said, “The only difference between a dream and reality is making it happen.”  

      There is a community that is doing just that.  I learned about this community from Arif Hidayat.  Although we aren’t the same age, live on opposite ends of the earth, and don’t speak the same language we are connected by our passion to  provide children with learning opportunities that best fit their needs. Through the wonders of Google Translate we have been able to engage in an ongoing dialogue where he has shared stories about two Learning Communities in Indonesia. 

      Saturday, September 17, 2011

      What's Popular This Week on The Innovative Educator

      Here’s the roundup of what's been popular on The Innovative Educator blog this week. Below you’ll see my top weekly posts along with the number of pageviews in the past 7 days. I hope there's something that looks of interest to you.  If it does, check it out. If you’re so inspired leave a comment.

      Sep 15, 2011, 37 comments
       2,947 Pageviews
      Sep 11, 2011, 28 comments
       2,679 Pageviews
      Sep 14, 2011
        1928 Pageviews
      Sep 13, 2011, 1 comment
        1870 Pageviews
      Sep 5, 2011, 1 comment
        1672 Pageviews
      Jan 9, 2011, 22 comments
        1450 Pageviews
      Jul 15, 2010, 19 comments
         1202 Pageviews