Instead of snow days . . .


Students, say goodbye to snow days, reports CNN. If you can’t go to school, it will come to you. With a series of blizzards closing schools, virtual schooling is catching on.

Pascack Valley High School (New Jersey) English teacher Matt Morone was maybe a quarter of the way through his morning coffee when students began to respond to The Autobiography of Malcolm X on Twitter.

. . . For students, it was a lesson in time management and self-driven learning, one he’s sure they’ll take to college. For teachers, it was a chance to try ideas they’ve only pondered before. For everyone else? Proof.

“We are in a fortunate position here … but you don’t need a whole lot of infrastructure to do some of the stuff we’re doing,” Morone said. “There are means by which to do this. A lot of Twitter discussion is through iPads, cell phones — whichever glowing rectangle you want to use, that’s fine.”

Sophomore Zak Terzini contributed concisely to the Malcom X discussion. He had 140 characters to make his point. He listened to the tweeted views of classmates whodon’t speak up in class. Later, “he listened to a teacher explain some algebra concepts, completed some history work and forced himself to figure out some stoichiometry problems that he might’ve given up on if he’d been in the same room as the chemistry teacher.”

Going into Pascack Valley Regional’s virtual school day, teachers feared some students wouldn’t log in, despite warnings that the day’s assignments would count toward their grades. It wasn’t a problem: The virtual school day had higher attendance than they expect on a normal school day, the superintendent said.

“It was energizing, invigorating,” said social studies teacher Karen Kosch, who has taught in Pascack Valley schools for 28 years. “I don’t mean to sound corny, but we were all in it together.”

Knowing that snow was in the forecast, the high school sent home laptops with students who needed them. That works if most students already have digital access at home. And it helps if the power doesn’t go out all day.

District monitors students’ social media posts

In hopes of preventing violence, drug abuse, bullying and suicide, a suburban Los Angeles school district is monitoring middle and high school students’ social media posts, reports CNN.

Glendale is paying $40,500 to Geo Listening to track middle and high school students’ posts on Twitter, Facebook and other social media.

When the idea was piloted last spring, monitoring identified a suicidal student. “We were able to save a life,” said Superintendent Richard Sheehan.

Recently, a student posted a photo of what appeared to be a gun, but turned out to be fake, Sheehan said.

“We had to educate the student on the dangers” of posting such photos, Sheehan said. “He was a good kid. … It had a good ending.”

Geo Listening sends a daily report to principals on which students’ comments could be causes for concern.

A 12-year-old Florida girl committed suicide after months of bullying on social media, her mother says.

Student suspended for Twitter budget ‘riot’

After the Cicero-North Syracuse school district budget was rejected by voters, students debated possible budget cuts on Twitter at #shitCNSshouldcut. The hashtag’s creator, high school senior Patrick Brown, was suspended for three days, reports the Syracuse Post-Standard. He’d called for cutting the executive principal’s job.

“I was called down to the office and told I was being suspended for harassment of teachers, which no harassment was ever committed,” Brown said. “I proved them wrong and instead they suspended me for cellphone use in class and disrupting the education process because the trend I started created a social media riot.”

Brown admits using his cellphone in class. But he doesn’t think that’s why he was suspended. “It’s wrong that I can’t express my opinion on Twitter without being punished,” Brown said. “They didn’t like our opinions, but that doesn’t mean we can’t express them.”

A lacrosse player, Brown said he’s never received a detention or any other disciplinary action at school.

When word of the suspension spread, someone created #FreePatBrown to discuss freedom of speech. Let’s hope that doesn’t start another social media riot. We wouldn’t want high school students discussing school policy and budget priorities.

Stopping cyberbullies

Predatory adults are rare on social media, compared to mean girls and crude boys, writes Emily Bazelon in How to Stop the Bullies in The Atlantic.

Facebook gets millions of complaints a week about cyberbullying, she finds. Employees are expected to decide in a few seconds which have merit.

Henry Lieberman, an MIT computer scientist, is working on a program to spot nasty posts immediately. In middle school, he  was a “fat kid with the nickname Hank the Tank,” he tells Bazelon.

. . . he and his graduate students built a “commonsense knowledge base” called BullySpace—essentially a repository of words and phrases that could be paired with an algorithm to comb through text and spot bullying situations. Yes, BullySpace can be used to recognize words like fat and slut (and all their text-speak misspellings), but also to determine when the use of common words varies from the norm in a way that suggests they’re meant to wound.

In tests, BullySpace caught 80 percent of the insults flagged by human testers.

Lieberman also hopes to use “ladders of reflection” to persuade kids not to harass others.

Think about the kid who posted “Because he’s a fag! ROTFL [rolling on the floor laughing]!!!” What if, when he pushed the button to submit, a box popped up saying “Waiting 60 seconds to post,” next to another box that read “I don’t want to post” and offered a big X to click on? Or what if the message read “That sounds harsh! Are you sure you want to send that?” Or what if it simply reminded the poster that his comment was about to go to thousands of people?

“Ash” and “Katherine,” members of the hacker group, Anonymous, publicized the identities and vicious tweets of four high school boys who were harassing a 12-year-old girl with rape threats and suggestions she commit suicide. She’d followed one of the boys on Twitter, then angered him by un-following him.

At first the boys railed against Ash on Twitter, and one played down his involvement, denying that he had ever threatened to rape the girl. But after a while, two of the boys began sending remorseful messages. “For two solid days, every time we logged on, we had another apology from them,” Ash said. . . . Katherine thought the boys hadn’t understood what impact their tweets would have on the girl receiving them—they hadn’t thought of her as a real person. “They were actually shocked,” she said. . . . we started talking to them about anti-bullying initiatives they could bring to their schools.”

“When i found out she was hurt by it i had felt horrible,” one of the boys e-mailed Bazelon. Perhaps a few seconds of reflection would have helped.

Anti-bullying laws can conflict with free-speech rights, argues Eugene Volokh, a law professor. A proposed Minnesota law bans “interfering” with an individual’s ability “to participate in a safe and supportive learning environment.”

Say that students are talking over lunch about how a classmate committed a crime, cheated, said racist things, treated his girlfriend cruelly, or whatever else, which causes people to feel hostile towards the classmate. That interferes with his ability “to participate in a … supportive learning environment.”

Bullying may include speech or conduct that “relates to the actual or perceived race, ethnicity, color, creed, religion, national origin, immigration status, sex, age, marital status, familial status, socioeconomic status, physical appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, academic status, disability, or status with regard to public assistance, age” of the individual or his/her associates.

Anti-bully tweets praise of classmates

An Iowa City teenager and his friends are cyber-praising classmates in protest of cyberbullying, writes USA Today.

Jeremiah Anthony created a Twitter feed to compliment his fellow West High School classmates after reading about bullies who use social media to harass other students. Anthony and two friends send kind words to classmates and teachers under the Twitter handle @WestHighBros.

Unplugged — and unheated

Superstorm Sandy forced digital kids to unplug, notes a lifestyle piece in the New York Times.

BLANK screens. Cellphones on the fritz. Wii games sitting dormant in darkened rec rooms. For a swath of teenagers and preteens on the East Coast, the power failures that followed Hurricane Sandy last month represented the first time in their young lives that they were totally off the grid, without the ability to text, play Minecraft, video-chat, check Facebook, or send updates to Twitter.

And so on. Some poor teens were forced to talk to their parents.

Unmentioned are thousands of kids and their parents who’ve been freezing in the dark for nearly two weeks. They don’t have running water or toilets that flush. No wonder they think they’ve been forgotten.

Why Twitter is not a good teaching tool

Once a “cool teacher” who advocated teaching with social media, Paul Barnwell now thinks Twitter and Facebook Are Not Good Instructional Tools.

While summarizing is a real skill, do we really want students to further fragment their thoughts and attention in this age of incessant digital distraction and stimuli with 140-character blurbs? Do we want students to spend even more time in front of a screen, bypassing opportunities to converse and collaborate face-to-face?

Web applications and social media tools may engage students at first, but the wow wears off quickly, Barnwell writes. Teachers waste time on gimmicks. Students “become dependent on technology that requires too many templates, cheapens thinking, or relies on flashy graphics and movement.”

The “net generation” isn’t truly tech savvy, he adds, citing a report by the Economic & Social Research Council, which interviewed British college students. They “use Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr, most often as distractions from their studies rather than learning tools.”

Do many students you interact with know how to do much more than Tweet, post to Facebook, or browse YouTube? Email is antiquated to students; after all, many kids are so used to fragmenting their thoughts that writing a substantial email is drudgery. Twitter is all the rage for teenagers and is a constant source and depository of mindless banter and instant gratification. Being tech savvy should include the ability to synthesize ideas and media forms, and create something original.

Barnwell is no technophobe: He teaches a digital media and storytelling course at a Kentucky high school, teaching students to use technology to create “photo essays, audio slideshows, and short documentaries.”

The Millennial Teenager

Today’s teens are “digital natives.”

The Millennial Teenager

#AskArne on Twitter

Education Secretary Arne Duncan will participate in the first-ever #AskArne Twitter Town Hall on August 24 at 1:30 p.m. EDT.  Education journalist John Merrow will moderate. The discussion will be broadcast live on ED’s ustream channel.

Twitter users can submit questions now using the #AskArne hashtag.

Here’s the discussion so far.

Admissions staff check Facebook profiles

In the college application, you’re a teen-age saint who tutors the underprivileged and picks up trash in the park. Online, you’re a party guy or gal flashing gang signs and strewing beer cans.

College admissions officers are looking at applicants’ Facebook profiles, according to Kaplan’s 2010 College Admissions Survey. (Here’s an infographic.) They also check Twitter and YouTube. Sixty-two percent said social-media profiles usually help applicants get accepted; 38 percent said  online profiles hurt students’ chances.