We receive requests semi-regularly from staff who want to have a particular web resource blocked for a variety of reasons.Â Usually, the reason is that the resource or site is a distraction, that students are focusing on the website rather than classwork.Â Below is our standard response to such requests.Â If you want assistance in managing student technology use, we’d love to help – don’t hesitate to give us a call, send us an e-mail, or reply in the comments to this blog post.
If you have a tip on classroom management with technology, share that in the comments, too.
Here’s the response:
Thanks for your question.Â When we implemented our new filter this school year, we looked at all the things we were currently blocking, what things were required to be blocked by law, and what we were blocking that we shouldn’t be.
What we’ve decided is that we will no longer use the web filter as a classroom management tool.Â Blocking one distraction doesn’t solve the problem of students off task – it just encourages them to find another site to distract them.Â Students off task is not a technology problem – it’s a behavior problem.Â It is our intention that we help students to learn the appropriate on-task behaviors instead of assuming that we can use filters to manage student use.Â Rather than blocking sites on an ad hoc basis, we will instead be working with folks to help them through computer and lab management issues in a way that promotes student responsibility.Â We know that the best filter in a classroom or lab is the people in that lab – both the educational staff monitoring student computer use as well as the students themselves.
This opens up possibilities for students and staff using websites for instructional purposes that in the past were blocked due to broad category blocks.Â It requires that staff and students manage their technology use rather than relying on a third party solution that can never do the job of replacing teachers monitoring students.
That said, we will still block sites that are discovered to violate CIPA requirements.Â If you discover one, please do not hesitate to share it with us.Â Also, if you discover a site that shouldn’t be blocked, please pass that along so that we can open it up.
I hope this makes sense.Â I’d be happy to speak further with you if you have further comments or questions.
The library is the hub of information in any school and the people who work within its walls are powerful resources for helping students and teachers find and gather information.
This morning, Bud and I had the chance to work with the Library Media Clerks in St Vrain Valley School District and introduce them to a couple of tools they can use to stay on top of the information stream.Â The theme used to carry our message was the concept of becoming an “Info Ninja” – after all, who else but a ninja could be powerful enough to harness the vast amounts of information on the web?
The theme was kitschy but brought a little bit of fun into the session. Here’s an overview of what we did.
You can’t just walk into a session and start talking about ninja skills without setting up the context, so the first couple of minutes were spent reviewing Info Ninja skills (click the image to see a pdf of the intro slides):
They invented the internet
They’re in control
Once that context was set, we dove into 4 tools of the Info Ninja:
Del.icio.us Subscriptions. Del.icio.us subscriptions are an underused but easy way to gather newly bookmarked sites. You can read more about using subscriptions here. Our point was to show that if you’re interested in a particular topic or want to follow a tag used by a particular user, you can keep track of that information within your Del.icio.us account. Del.icio.us subscriptions can also be a way to create a common directory of links between users. If your group agrees on a common tag, all you have to do is use that tag in any bookmarks that might interest the group, then subscribe to that tag to follow along.
Google Alerts. These have been around for a while, but it’s a perfect way to keep current with news and information freshly posted to the web. Plus, it’s easy. Just pull together a good query, decide how often you want to get updates, and then figure out how you want the information sent to you. It’s pretty easy to have it sent to an email address, but Bud brought up a good point. It’s even more powerful (especially for an Info Ninja) is to save that alert as an RSS feed and then post that feed on a web page such as a Virtual Campus site for those in SVVSD.
Wolfram Alpha. When students come looking for data, a simple Google search isn’t always the best tool. WolframAlpha has the advantage of taking massive tables of information and feeding it out to the user in a way that makes sense. We used the examples of periodic table elements and data on cities or countries of the world. What’s really interesting is when you start to use this as a tool to make comparisons between data sets.
Google Squared. This is a tool that still sitting in Google’s experimental labs, but has a lot of potential for those quick and routine searches that seem to be requested often from library staff. When you’re looking for a quick data list of something like American Poets of the 1800s, Google Squared returns a table of commonly requested information that you can then expand or export to use in many ways.
Our goal was to give the media clerks resources beyond a basic Google search when looking for information. Underlying all that was the realization that for many projects, the process of searching for information becomes the project in and of itself.
With the right tools, the information becomes a product that can support much more complex things. And that’s where we want our learning tasks to go. Away from discrete facts as the outcome. Toward deep connections between ideas and deep conversations about how those facts are woven together to create a fabric of understanding.
As we were wrapping up with Google Squared, one of the media clerks exclaimed, “I wish I had known about this two weeks ago.” A social studies class in her school had been working on developing a list of early explorers so they could use the data they gathered to answer the question “Which explorer was the most influential in the discovery of new lands and why?” As the project progressed, the students were spending more time finding the information they needed and less time debating and analyzing the data. Tools like Google Squared bring the perspective back on what the information allows us to think about.
Over the last couple of years, folks here in St. Vrain have been having lots of conversations about how a standard classroom should be equipped in terms of technology.Â Last fall, our district Technology Steering Committee made a formal recommendation (PDF, pages 6-8, Item 7.2) to the school board that a standard classroom in the St. Vrain Valley School District should contain the following technology:
An instructional computer
A data projector
Audio enhancement system (teacher microphone)
A multimedia system to tie the pieces together as simply as possible for the folks using the room.Â (We selected, and have implemented in several classrooms, this system.)
That recommendation sat for a while – and we want to update it as we move forward with future plans.
We need your input.
Earlier today, we sent out a survey to St. Vrain instructional staff regarding their use of these particular tools as well as their feelings regarding their relative importance to teaching and learning.Â We will be using the information that we glean from that survey to help us as we move forward in the implementation of our classroom standard. While that’s a private conversation, we’d love to hear from you here, too.Â What are the essential pieces of technology that you need to have available to you to support teaching and learning?Â Which ones are distractions?Â What should the district focus on in terms of equipment needs?
(Access to the Internet is another question.Â Or is it?)
Michelle and I are fortunate to be attending the first in a series of lectures hosted by Skyline High School in conjunction with their STEM program.Â The best part is that anyone with an Internet connection can join in, too.Â I hope you’ll take some time to join us for the first Skyline STEM Lecture, focusing on computer science.Â The live blog of the event is embedded below.
Here’s an obvious statement: Communication is important.Â It’s also a useless statement unless we’ve spent some time thinking about what, why and how we communicate.
This morning, the Assessment and Curriculum folks for theÂ St. Vrain Valley School District spent some time thinking about and creating blogs that they’ll use to communicate with the district and the larger world about resources, best practices, curriculum outlines, professional development opportunities and more.
One important question was discussed at length: Why a blog and not a web page? Here’s the answer: We not only want to tell you stuff, but we also want to hear what you think. We want people to see that communication is a two-way street. We want to make sure that you see us as partners in the work of educating students. Comments suggest conversation.
They’re working to build a series of blogs that we’ll be linking to and mentioning in future posts here. OnceÂ the Curriculum and Assessment blogs areÂ published, you’ll want to pay attention to what theyÂ share. You’ll also want to make sure you useÂ their blogsÂ as a way toÂ ask questions and giveÂ feedbackÂ to them.Â That’s what makes communication work.
So, you’ve acquired a set of computers to use in your library. Congrats! Now, how are you going to make them part of your library learning environment?
Linda Bryan at Lyons Elementary shared with us a series of interactive books published by Usborne that link traditional print media with web links and online activities.Â Â In this edition of Field Notes, Linda demonstrates how she’s set up a center for students to use while browsing the books.
The District is pleased to offer staff and students access to the St. Vrain Virtual Campus, our online classroom space for teaching and learning.
In the past, accounts for this service were offered on an as-needed basis, but as of Fall 2009, that process has changed.
All students and staff with District domain accounts now have access to the Virtual Campus using their District Domain (student computer lab) logins and passwords.Â You can learn more about logging in to the Campus by clicking here.
How are you using the Virtual Campus to extend opportunities beyond the classroom walls?
It’s the start of a new school year, which means there’s a lot of bustle and activity in schools and in the District Technology Services offices.Â On Monday, Executive Director of Instructional Technology Joe McBreen held a kickoff meeting with the DTS staff where he shared the vision that will form the core of our work this year.Â His message is one that will resonate through all our efforts and is worth sharing with you here. So we are.Â Give it a listen below.
We hope you’ll pick up on an important point in Joe’s message – it’s all about student achievement. Everything we’re about in terms of supporting technology use in the district will point back to the essential question: “How will this make a difference for our students?”
Welcome back! Bud and I hope you enjoyed your summer break and are excited about the start of a new school year.
This yearâ€™s first Elementary Lab Managers meeting for our St. Vrain folks is scheduled for Monday, September 14 from 1:00-3:00 in the Central Elementary School computer lab.Â Weâ€™re interested in knowing what youâ€™d like to learn during our time together and if there are questions youâ€™ll bring to the meeting for discussion. Feel free to email Bud and/or me to let us know what youâ€™d like to see included in the meeting agenda.
If you’re not a lab manager at one of our elementary schools, we’d still like to hear from you. Share your best ideas for working in a technology lab setting.