Sunday, June 18, 2017

Essential Reading for Parents for Teachers - “Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World” by Devorah Heitner Book Review


Link to Screenwise (2016) and Dr. Heitner’s website Raising Digital Natives, Twitter, and TED. (or find the book on Amazon) Screenwise is essential reading for educators and parents alike - and now that summer break is coming, get reading!

Although it could appear to be a book of strategies for parents to help children deal with the technology “bombardment” at home, as I read I found that I was taking copious notes on the suggested strategies so that I can help the parents of my students, as well as more deliberately guide students to better decision-making as they develop their digital identities. I took 30 pages of notes, but the following is just scratching the surface of those notes, let alone the book itself. I am also very impressed with how Dr. Heitner frequently makes reference to further reading and research, a very important part of the “sharing economy”.

Upon writing this post I’ve noticed that I have pulled from various parts of the book at random. This post is also meant to “tease” the reader - the strategies bulleted here are only samples from the book. (I do intend to do further research and create my own parent-friendly resources, crediting the sources used) For now, if you like what you see in this post, pick up a copy of Screenwise and enjoy!

The Aims of the Book
Dr. Heitner notes three aims in her research and writing:

  1. To support parents in becoming digital mentors to their children.
  2. Find balance in the digital world.
  3. Acknowledge the benefits of technology.

With regard to mentoring, she recognizes that it’s about guiding kids through their mistakes and to empathize with their lives, pointing out that kids feel pressure to keep up with their peers or might feel left out. (FOMO - fear of missing out, making ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ important to their feeling of social standing) It’s also about modelling proper behaviour for children. I would suggest that this applies to educators' behaviour in schools as well. Her research points out that many kids feel there are rules for adults and rules for children. I think that this is probably okay, but adults do have to be careful about hypocritical behaviour. Kids are watching us.

Social Emotional Growth in the Digital World
Heitner notes that devices don’t cause social-emotional turbulence, but can heighten it. As with any time in history, some personalities are “wired for drama”, thus we have to help kids identify when it’s time to plug into different online communities when there is negativity in one. More important than privacy is safety. Bullying has always existed, but these online communities now give bullies a new outlet. Kids need to learn guidelines for when they are bullied, blackmailed or see bullying happen. In addition to this is having a frank discussion with kids about what is online, and what content is made for adults, giving strategies to deal with adult content that kids may come across, as well as how to protect themselves from talking to online strangers.

Kids and Online Content
We can’t always control what online content kids view, but we can influence how they engage with it. Filters don’t actually control children much. They have to learn the difference between .com / .org / .edu / .gov, etc, as well as copyright and information laws, the public sphere vs the private, and how text and images influence content consumers. Young people quickly learn how to get over firewalls, and thus need to learn to assess the content in front of them. Some things about youth and life online that they don’t do well:

  • Deal with peer conflict
  • Handle group dynamics
  • Use privacy settings effectively
  • Understand their digital footprint
  • Understand the functions/power of the apps they use
  • Understand how to demonstrate academic honesty properly

Assessing One’s Own Digital Literacy
An important strategy note in the book for adults is to assess your own digital literacy. How much do you know about the apps your children are using? Developing the ability to mentor your own kids may require finding your own mentor. (a good idea!) Teachers can seek instructional coaches or other teachers; parents can seek help at their children’s school. According to Heitner, studies show that mentorship is more effective at developing positive behaviour that limiting access to apps and devices. Check the idea of “limiters”, “mentors” and “enablers”. (Chapter 3) Families have to stand firm and make choices for what works with their family, not what other families are doing. It can be difficult for parents to talk to other parents about their children’s technology uses. Not sure how to create a “rules for home”? You can:

  • Talk to a teacher or administrator for advice
  • Do careful research on strategies for a home “technology” playbook
  • Teach your children to be confident in saying “we don’t do that at our home”
  • Host gatherings at your home for children so you can supervise, model and perhaps mentor

Working With Your Children
How can you work with your children? (here is a short list of strategies you can use with your child)

  • Ask about the apps they use at school and one their own
  • Explore apps with your child
  • Create a do/don’t list
  • Create a behaviour criteria for connecting with friends online
  • Consider potential drama that could happen with friends online and how to respond to it
  • Learn to avoid geotagging (for safety)
  • Talk about what makes a good friend
  • Games & Apps:
    • Seek out playgrounds, not playpens (Scratch, Minecraft, Code Academy...)
    • Play the games together; have your child teach you to play
    • Try to find apps that encourage creativity, connectivity with friends, and collaboration
    • Seek empathy building games
    • Avoid games that sexualize female characters
    • Determine structured playing time (or even supervised playing time, depending on the age of the child)
    • Talk about purchasing apps, how credit works, how in-app purchasing works, and online purchasing in general (such as buying on Amazon) - empower them to understand the economics of apps
  • Discuss and seek out positive examples of online profiles
  • Discuss the consequences of online mistakes

Get your child to articulate why websites, online spaces, and apps are useful. Some questions to consider:

  • What areas a the biggest time wasters?
  • How does texting (and posting) sometimes lead to conflict?
  • In what situations should a child tell their parents about a negative online interaction?

It’s important to keep in mind that children and teenagers use apps not only for gaming but also to connect with friends. (kind of like hanging out at the mall years ago; kids now hang out in online spaces)

Becoming a “Tech-Positive” Parent
Keep in mind that kids are watching adult behaviour. What habits are they observing? Think about or create family rules together. (such as unplugged meals, screen time, routines and schedules, protocol for posting family images, curating family photos) Consider the habits that will be needed when getting new or first devices. (including gaming devices and cell phones) What will the process be that allows for some monitoring to independence? How will the child be affected by having the device? (will the child be “in or out” of the loop; will they overshare; will they look at inappropriate content; what are the social “status” implications; safety and privacy)

Dr. Heitner suggests the following characteristics of parents who see the value in technology and are proactive with regard to the home “tech” environment. Assume that children are doing the right thing. Understand that not all screen time is a waste - there is plenty of learning on YouTube, television, and creativity apps. The parents:

  • Establish a safe environment at home with plugged in and unplugged time
  • Don’t block, talk
  • Think about their own device and time usage, and model this for the family
  • Requests permission before posting images of their children online
  • Use positive language with your children, praising rather than giving warnings
  • Encourage family collaboration (ie) shared calendars, shared apps / accounts, and perhaps even work on a YouTube channel together
  • Avoid spying apps - build trust instead
  • Follow bloggers that can keep you up to date on new online apps and games (the book suggests GeekDad)

*See a checklist on page 80 of Screenwise.

Empathizing with Your Child
Dr. Heitner suggests empathy being a critical approach to helping your children. Think about their weekly schedule. Do they have too much “going on” to even eat? (which leads to fatigue and poor decision-making) Find well-timed, authentic opportunities to model good behaviour, such as sharing your text messages, or asking if it’s okay to post their image (which indirectly says “this image belongs to you, not your parents” - they’re empowered). This modeling teaches self control. Mentor the proper use of phone conversations and emailing. Understand that children may not want to hang on to old photos - their last few months may have been socially a bit rough.

As a parent, should you choose to monitor texts and posts be sure to have a response to negative content (such as gossip, foul language, negative talk about teachers and other adults). If you choose to monitor, have a plan to move towards the child’s independence. Have the child work with you to create the ‘rules of engagement’.

Dating & Online Relationships
Many young people are already aware that their personality online is different from face-to-face encounters. Dating and friendship haven’t changed but the nature of relationships have a new dimension due to social media and the internet. Work with children to create a “healthy digital and face-to-face” friendship checklist. Does your child:

  • Know the difference between online and offline friends?
  • Know how to be clear about their values and ethical or social boundaries?
  • Understand that popularity isn’t reflected in ‘likes”, “followers” and “retweets”?
  • Identify when a person is being excluded digitally?
  • Identify bullying and meanness online?
  • Act respectfully, thoughtfully and safely towards others and self in all relationships?
  • Know to not take a face-to-face conflict online?
  • Know when it’s a good idea to “unfollow” someone?
  • Identify online cruelty?
  • Identify the difference between online drama and online cruelty?

An important consideration is that children don’t always want to be online. They can get tired of “keeping up” socially. Kids congregate online in social media and gaming communities. Young people need to learn the difference between real friends, online friendships, and followers. Research shows that they do feel snubbed if they don’t get likes and comments. We have to help them understand online conflicts need to be solved properly, not quickly, and how to avoid being “recruited” into someone else’s conflict. When dealing with online relations parents can:

  • Talk about “kinds of friends” (friends vs followers)
  • Discuss that not getting “likes” doesn’t mean they are not “liked”, and a lack of response could also mean the person messaged is offline for a while - teach patience
  • Work with children to understand how their personality plays out online
    • Are they “alpha good” or “alpha bad”?
    • Do they try to please everyone?
    • Are they introverted?
  • Discuss whether “social rules” are different for boys and girls, and why or why not
  • Determine how conflicts can be resolved, including a possible face-to-face meeting

Discuss strategies to deal with being excluded digitally. Here are some conversation starters:

    • Do you think some kids feel left out on social media?
    • Describe a time you felt left out on social media?
    • Describe a time you didn’t post because you thought someone would feel left out?
    • What do you do if you see a post and feel left out?
    • Do you feel like you’ll be missing out if you’re not tagged in a post?
    • Do you think people deliberately post to make others feel left out? Why would someone do that?

Online Social Skills
Spend time talking to your child about healthy behaviour. Some topics of conversation can include:

  • Sharing embarrassing photos
  • Starting rumours anonymously
  • Instigating trouble between two people
  • Pointing out who “unfollowed” whom
  • Starting online communities to deliberately exclude

Here is a social skills assessment parents can use with children:

  • Can your child articulate the difference between a friend and a follower?
  • Does your child realize they don’t have to friend someone to be polite?
  • Can your child self-govern their texting activity?
  • Can your child handle unwanted attention in a clear and direct manner?
  • Is your child comfortable enough with excusing themselves from a group chat that is negative?
  • Does your child take online conflict offline, and keep it civil?
  • Does your child come to you for advice when there is some kind of online trouble or conflict?
  • Is your child aware that photos are a form of communication? (be it a form of code, intentional or unintentional communication)

School Life in the Digital Age
Probably needless to say, distraction is a major issue. Young people tend to have multiple windows open, with multiple devices, music / video and chat apps open. There is such a massive amount of data available that the nature of school work has changed dramatically. (not to mention communication) It’s important that parents learn school technology practices and policies, as well as understand your child’s engagement with technology and homework.

Strategies for home could include:

  • No double-screening (though I would suggest that sometimes the nature of homework may require two screens to be open)
  • Do homework in a common area of the home, such as the living room
  • Do non-internet based homework first
  • Speak to teachers and administrators about homework apps that will appropriately help with homework

With children, parents and educators have to discuss things such as academic honesty, producing original work, how to collaborate, and when sharing work is and isn’t okay.

Works Cited
Heitner, Devorah. Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World. Brookline,
MA: Bibliomotion, Inc, 2016. Print.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Have Students Create Content and Collaborate with Google My Maps

*This post has a video tutorial to get you started with My Maps. Not all features are in the video.

Google My Maps, in it’s basic sense, is about content creation and collaboration. See the attached video tutorial on how to set it up. In terms of pedagogy, how can this be used and what are some practical classroom applications? As I’m attending some Google geotools workshops, as well as planning to deliver some, I thought I’d add a post about some of the tools, one by one over time. Access Google My Maps directly here: and / or go to the support center here:

How might we use My Maps? Consider that you can add text, photos, videos, directions, measure distances, import numerical and text data, as well as create “regions” within the map. You can also use multiple layers to show changes over time through data. These features can be applied to many subjects and topics. Here are some ideas:

Natural Disasters Map. My school here in Japan collaborated with others in the US to create a map in which we researched and pinned their writing. Sample:

Historic Places. Take a photos or 360 video of historically significant places in a given location. Your students (or you) create the content. I intend to develop one for Tokyo. (I have four 360 videos researched and filmed but not ready for upload - yet!) 

History Timelines. Have students create a map of a war or period in history. 

English Lit Trips. Map the life of a person in a book students have read, or the events. 

Geography / Science Biome or Animal Habitat Map. Use the Polygon feature to create specific regions in which students differentiate with colour. When students finish research and synthesis, they upload to the map, including photos of each climate region / biome / habitat. 

Environmental Science / Geography CO2 Emissions Map. See changes over time with layers, or compare places with data uploaded to create a visual understanding of the problem.

Mathematics / Science. Import statistical data to learn stats visually.

Creative Writing Travelogue. Have students write a travelogue with images and video. See this "Japan & the World Travelogue Map" sample:

Physical & Outdoor Education. Have students do a nature walk and then create a map with photos and a writeup of each place. 

Religious Studies. How about a map of the local places of worship that includes images and a history of the place? A map of the travels of a prophet or saint? 

Empires in History. How about the expansion and decline of the Roman Empire? The campaigns of Alexander the great? Link to images of those places today. 

Mathematics. Calculate distances and travel time; area and perimeter. 

Science / Business. Create a map of a product’s environmental journey to see how globalization has led to products with a massive environmental footprint. 

Political Science. Forms of government map.

Social Studies. Have students from around the world collaborate on their local culture. (pin significant places with own photos and video)

Social Studies. Map a migration of people. 

Social Studies. Volcanic eruptions / earthquakes statistics map. Import the data to create a visual of the data and then analyze it. Here is a tectonic plates sample: *This is a basic map but could also include information in each "plate" on the map. 

School Trips. Create a map of a school trip. (great for parents) Have student create a map of a school trip using their photos and videos. 

New Faculty Info Map. Create a map for new teachers to your school with info on shopping, transportation, popular restaurants, entertainment, city hall, etc. See this fun sample of craft beer places in  the Tokyo area. (no student collaboration on this one!) Sample: 

Here are some of Google’s picks:

What’s my process? It depends on the topic or task. I am a social studies teacher, so loosely speaking here are the steps I follow (keeping things such as academic honesty / copyright in mind):
  • students determine questions for investigating their topic
  • conduct research: find reliable sources, take notes, find images / video needed
  • synthesize, create content (this may be simply writing, or perhaps also video creation)
  • peer review / edit 
  • publish and share with the world
The map itself doesn’t take a lot of time to produce, so the focus is still on the learning skills with the added bonus of collaborating and sharing what students have learned with the outside world. (embed to a website, share in a blog, QR code posters, etc) 

Look at the links in the Works Cited for more ideas. 

Works Cited
Ditch That Textbook. "20 ways Google MyMaps can enhance lessons in any class." Ditch That Textbook. 15 Mar. 
     2016. Web. 14 May 2017.<

Edutopia. "10 Reasons to Use Google My Maps in the Classroom." Edutopia. Web. 14 May 2017. 

"Google My Maps: Lesson Ideas - Teacher Tech." Teacher Tech. 20 Apr. 2016. Web. 14 May 2017. 

"How to Use Google's My Maps in Your Classroom." Web. 14 May 2017. 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Turn Web Pages to PDF Documents

Sometimes you want to keep a web page or share it in a text format for yourself, colleagues or students. Bookmarking is fine, but what if connectivity is a concern? Working offline may be an option, but sometimes you may want to keep a copy of the page. There are Chrome extensions and Chrome apps that allow you to do this with relative degrees of flexibility. (to learn about Chrome extensions and apps see this Installing and Managing Chrome Extensions video tutorial).

Print Friendly & PDF. This Chrome extension allows you to create a PDF document form as web page. You can delete sections and images, as well as reduce the size of the text and images. The document can be emailed and printed as well. Links are kept active.

Save as PDF. Less flexible as the Print Friendly & PDF extension but links are kept live and images are included.

Web Page to PDF Converter. This Chrome app (different from extensions) allows you to save the PDF to Google Drive directly, and send the PDF by email using your Gmail account directly.

Thinking about the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami victims and survivors in Tohoku.
We're with you!

Saturday, March 4, 2017

YouTube Editor: Getting the Most From Your YouTube Channel

YouTube Tutorials Playlist:

We all love YouTube videos to enhance learning in our classrooms. There are some educators that are getting the most out of YouTube, and others who would like to get more out of it. This series of tutorials shows how you can take your channel development to the next level, whether it is for your classroom, school, or private use. You will learn to use YouTube editor in the same way as you would iMovie. (but with fewer options, meaning fewer distractions) Videos can also be shared with your students as they develop their use and understanding of social media, and in particular how YouTube works technically. Look below for links to free, self-paced lessons on everything YouTube.

Learn to create and edit videos; highlight specific elements of your video with Annotations; access copyright-free audio; add pop-up Cards and Annotations to direct people to your other videos.

The tutorials cover:

Basic Features Overview
Uploading, Visibility, Tagging, Descriptions & Sharing
Edit Multiple Uploaded Videos to Make One Video
The YouTube Audio Library
Add Cards to Your Videos
Add Enhancements for Aesthetic Appeal & Blurring
Add End Screens to Your Videos
Add Annotations to Your Videos

Each video has a description to help you quickly understand what you will be learning.

Connect with me at:

You can also take free, self-paced YouTube lessons online, complete with PDF files and video introductions with advice from top YouTubers. Take a stroll through YouTube Creator Academy and YouTube Creator Hub (for the more serious YouTubers).