My Students and their Digital Footprints

tfk tech
We just launched into a unit (a new one for me) around Digital Lives, which will cover such topics as safety, personal information, social networking, passwords and more. I am mostly adapting a great curriculum developed by CommonSense Media, which has some interesting videos, lesson plans and activities. Yesterday, I began by posting a huge icon with the words “digital footprint” on the interactive board, and then we began to chat about what that meant.

Most had no idea. And once we began discussing the digital debris they leave behind at websites, I could already see some eyes opening up. Clearly, they don’t think much about their digital identity when they are online, and they are online a lot. Facebook, Youtube, and many other sites form the basis of what they do when they are on the computer. Very little computer time is offline.

As it turns out, this week’s Time for Kids magazine was perfectly tailored to begin our discussion. The topic of the main article was about how schools are starting to use tablet computers and technology in order to replace textbooks and inform instruction. They were quite interested in the programs where students get iPads for the year. We then went over the results of a survey I gave them two weeks ago about their own habits of technology. I paused at places where I have seen changes this year (more mobile devices, more confidence in their technical savvy, more viewing of videos online, etc.) and we had a long discussion about Facebook and password protection (to be continued another day).

We ended up talking about avatars, and how one represents oneself in an online space. They have some work to do around brainstorming an avatar for themselves, and then we will be doing some work around avatar creation on Wednesday, using our Glogster community as a place to experiment with representing themselves in an online environment.

Here are some of my notes from our far-ranging conversations during the classes yesterday:

  • They immediately noticed that school districts that are providing iPads seem to be in places that are well-off, which led to a discussion around the issue of the “digital divide” in which the “haves” get access, and the “have-nots” don’t. I was happy to talk about this problem, but it was the students who observed this and who worry about it;
  • We talked a lot about advertising, and how “free” sites aren’t really free. They were startled to learn that YouTube gets 2 billion hits a day, and that Google owns Youtube, and makes money off it by embedding advertising into sidebars and now, more and more, into videos themselves. One student said he took the time to read some of the new privacy policy by Google (praise for him!) so that he could understand what might happen to his skateboarding videos;
  • Protecting reputations was a central focus, and will continue to be, as we talked about the relative permanence of what you put online in sites like Facebook. I reminded them that in a few years, they will be applying for college or seeking a job. It may seem like that is far in the distance, but it is not when it comes to your online digital footprint. It follows you. I could tell that got the attention of a number of students;
  • The Time for Kids article sparked a long discussion (guided by me) around the pros and cons of iPads and tablets in the classroom. The pros included embedded media, cost savings, interactive learning and connection to the outside world. The cons included possibilities of theft, distractions, and the need for constant upgrades.

I’m really impressed by their insights, and thinking, and I look forward to more of these discussions. At ages 11 and 12, this is the time we want them to be thinking along these lines. I want them to be critical thinkers, and critical users of technology. However, as I stressed many times, this is also not to freak them out, and make them so nervous they don’t want to go online anytime. It’s all about managing their identity and my aim is show them some tools to do that.

Peace (in the footprints),


Book Review: Gregor the Overlander

My son and I were about 25 pages into Gregor the Overlander as a read-aloud when I finally realized that the writer — Suzanne Collins — is the writer of The Hunger Games, too. It was an interesting connections — Gregor was one of her first series, and Collins notes in the book that she was inspired to write Gregor after thinking of Alice in Wonderland, and how her fall into the rabbit hole opened up a portal to a strange world.

Gregor the Overlander tells the story of Gregor, and his little sister, Boots, who fall through a grate in their New York City laundry room, and land in the Underland — a world below the surface of the city. Here, huge rats, cockroaches, bats and more live with a forgotten band of human refugees, and the world is in danger.  A prophecy says a hero will come to save the day, and of course, it is Gregor, on a mission to rescue his father (who has been captured by the evil rats).

I can’t say that Gregor is all that original. Even my seven-year-old son asked why so many stories have the sons saving their fathers (to which I replied that I expect him to save me if I ever get captured by evil rats or, as in Summerland, a trickster god. He was non-committal – which makes me a little nervous). And I feel as if Neil Gaiman did a better job of this underworld with his Neverwhere novel, albeit for an older reader. But still, for the age level, Gregor moved along at nice pace, with pretty decent characters, and enough hints to keep the series going.

As luck with have it, a neighbor has the entire series of Gregor and are eager to lend them to us, to share the story. So, I guess we’re going back into the world beneath the streets to continue the story.

Peace (in the world beneath the world),