Internet Safety: How to be Safe and Savvy in the Classroom

During our kick-off week of professional development for the 2009-2010 school year, I did a presentation for our staff on being safe and savvy on the internet.  As of this year, we are drastically reducing the number of websites that we filter (yes, this includes Facebook and MySpace).  I was tasked with presenting this new direction to the staff, how to keep our students safe on the net, and how to help them be effective consumers of digital media.

I have been asked by several people to post my presentation on SlideShare.  I am choosing not to do this and write about it here on the blog for two reasons.  1) Most of the information in the Keynote is tailored to my building and my district and 2) I don’t put a great deal of information on my slides.  I use them primarily as an aid for visual learning and to keep myself on track (I’m a big fan of Presentation Zen).  So I hope you don’t mind that I don’t post the Keynote.  I believe writing about the ideas in the presentation here would be more helpful and easier to understand.

The following is an overview of the main topics included in the presentation.

Essential Question: How do we teach students to be safe and savvy on the internet?

  1. Explanation of new district internet filters
  2. Internet Safety
  3. Effective consumers of digital media
  4. Classroom management strategies

District Internet Filters

This year, our district has decided to minimize internet filters. A district email explaining this decision outlines the 3 main points for our new direction:

“…the reason for opening access is multifaceted: One, school should be a place where kids can stay engaged and network, both of which help creativity. Two, broader Internet access gives students the opportunities to learn responsibility, acceptable Internet behavior and time management. A third reason for increasing access is for staff to be able to better communicate with kids on their channels…”

We discussed the Child Internet Protection Act (CIPA) requirements on libraries and school computers.  A portion of this federal law states the requirements for libraries and schools with computers as follows:

An Internet safety policy must include technology protection measures to block or filter Internet access to pictures that are:
(a) obscene
(b) child pornography
(c) harmful to minors (for computers that are accessed by minors)

I spoke about the complexity of this process and how our IT people can’t just “flip a switch,” as it were, and make all the good sites appear and all the bad sites disappear.  It will be something we will have to work on as we go.  Also, in an effort to preserve bandwidth, we will be limiting sites with streaming capabilities.  Sites such as Facebook and MySpace will be “squeezed,” meaning they are only allowed to use a certain percentage of the bandwidth.  Teachers were asked to be aware that laptops are not the only devices that students will be using on our wireless network.  Student’s personal cellphones and iPod Touches will also be present and should be monitored for appropriate use.

Safety Tips

It is our responsibility to support parents and to help our students use the internet safely.  With this in mind, we discussed the idea of a digital footprint, along with its implications for teachers and students.  I asked teachers to check their own digital footprint by Googling themselves, including an image search.

A question that I had gotten from teachers earlier in the week involved whether or not it was appropriate to “friend” students on social networking sites.  Our district does not have an official policy on this issue, so I presented my own opinion with a large disclaimer that our district does not have an official policy on the issue at this time.  I’ve sent a request for a “district approved” response up the chain of command and it is in process of being considered.  I feel strongly about this issue and I am choosing not to elaborate on my perspective here at this time so I can stick to the point and make this a shorter read.  I may post more on this issue in the future.

I believe the most effective way to help students use safe internet practices is to involve and encourage their parents.  They are more involved than we are and understand things about their child that we never will.  Making sure that parents are educated and involved can make a huge difference.

The following is a list of more specific tips that were presented and discussed with reference to teen internet use:

  • Avoid posting identifying information.
  • When posting pictures, use the “Grandmother Rule” (would you want your grandmother to see this picture?)
  • Familiarize yourself with the privacy settings of the site you are using and select the appropriate choices.
  • Keep your passwords secret! (with the exception of providing them to your parents)
  • Download with caution.
  • Meeting online friends in person: Probably not the best idea for minors, but teens need to be educated on two things to help them stay safe in the future.  If you are going to meet an online friend in person you need to 1) Meet in a public place and 2) Bring at least one friend.
  • Be able to spot the signs of internet scams.

We discussed the issue of cyberbullying and I presented the following reaction steps to teach our students if they are being bullied.

  1. Do not respond.
  2. Take 5: Walk away from the computer for 5 minutes so you have a chance to calm down a bit.
  3. Keep a record of the incident.
  4. Inform a trusted adult.

I was asked to address another concern that unfortunately seems to crop up anytime you have laptops and cellphones in a high school: pornography.  We discussed the issue from our school’s perspective and I outlined the appropriate teacher response if they spot this type of material on a student laptop.

We encourage teachers to use internet sites that enhance instruction.  However, in doing so, the teachers need to ensure that students are safe and their privacy is protected.  With that in mind, we went over the following tips for using class sites on the web:

  • Never use a student’s full name.
  • No “real” pictures – Students are welcome to alter their photos so they are not recognizable with fun paint and warping tools.
  • Avoid any identifying information of students.
  • Teachers may identify themselves and their school (this is helpful for allowing collaboration and sharing of examples between educational colleagues and PLNs).

Effective Consumers of Digital Media

What has search overload done to our students? They are exposed to so much content, it is difficult for them to analyze what is useful and what is not.  I used the above clip to introduce the concept of “Filter Failure.” While our students need us to teach them how to find resources, I believe it is more important for us to guide them on how to find and analyze useful resources.

“The difference between good and poor learners is not the sheer quantity of what the good learner learns, but rather the good learner’s ability to organize and use information”
-Frank Smith, B. Keith Lenz Et al. Edge Enterprises

As educators, it is our duty to teach our students the critical thinking skills needed to analyze the different types of media they encounter.  We also need to teach them the skills necessary to “organize and use” their information.  Otherwise, they can be either overwhelmed by the vast amounts of information or they could just use the information that is the easiest to access (which is not always accurate information).

As an activity, teachers worked in groups to complete a website analysis using the instructions and the form listed below.  They had the chance to familiarize and re-familiarize themselves with internet domain names such as .gov .com .edu .net.  This knowledge is helpful when analyzing the usefulness and accuracy of web sources.  (Note: This assignment was adapted from the assignment found at the bottom of the page here.)

Website Evaluation Instructions

Website Evaluation Form

There are many aspects of a web source students can analyze, much like a primary document in history or English.  Aspects to consider when analyzing for accuracy and bias include:

  • Source and/or Sponsor
  • Publication Date
  • Audience
  • Ads
  • Purpose

“There is a good use for Wikipedia.” I’m not sure I have ever uttered those words in public before, but I did say them!  I explained a little about Wikipedia and focused on the references section found at the end of every entry.  This is where the controversial “research” site can be a useful tool.  If a student is having a hard time finding resources on a subject, they can check the references on the Wikipedia article and use them as a spring board to locate more appropriate sources.  As long as they are aware that these sources can be biased just like any other, it can be a good starting place.

209 References on Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor's Wikipedia article on the day of access.

Classroom Management Tips

The following is a list of classroom management tips for students using laptops.  These tips were sprinkled throughout the presentation and were modeled for and with the audience.

  1. Do students have a specific reason directly related to instruction for having their laptops out and open?  If not, please put them away.
  2. Will students be doing an activity on their computers? Have them wait until you have finished with your directions and answered any questions regarding the assignment before opening their laptops.
  3. Be present.  Whenever students are on their computers, move around the room. This helps you better monitor their learning and on-task behavior.  Bonus: Students tend to ask more questions if you are in close proximity.
  4. Consider your learning environment.  Can you easily see every students’ computer screen? If not, consider rearranging.
  5. For students on the Mac Side (We have dual platform laptops) – Use the Expose and Spaces options to easily see the windows a student has open.  You can also see which programs are open by the small dot under the icon on the dock.  For Windows – Observe which program windows are open in the task bar.  Remember that there are ways of hiding the Mac dock and the Windows task bar, but it is good to know some of the things you can look for.
  6. Be Aware.  Familiarize yourself with the websites your students regularly use.  Note: Recognize that you can’t know everything about technology, so it is ok to focus on a smaller number of sites that you know your students regularly use.

I realize that many of these strategies may seem like “gotcha” strategies.  I informed teachers of these ideas so they are aware of some different options for classroom management and can choose what will work best for them and their students.  Please feel free to add other ideas in the comments section.

I concluded the presentation with a quote that comes to mind whenever I think of bringing down the internet filters:

“With great power, comes great responsibility.”

-Stan Lee

As with everything, there are good and bad things about offering our students more access.  Overall, I feel that this is a great opportunity to teach and learn with our students.  We are now able to provide more guidance in order to better prepare them for the world beyond our school walls and the time when we can no longer protect them.  It is my hope that they remember the lessons we have taught them about critically analyzing sources.

This is an ongoing process in my district and far from a smooth road.  We are working our way through things for which there seems to be little precedent.  I would love to hear from people who have undergone a similar process in their district, along with the challenges and rewards of that process.  I may be posting here on the blog about our own experiences in the future.  Please feel free to leave comments, questions, suggestions, or anything else that you think would be helpful in furthering our collaborative understanding.

Works Consulted:


4 thoughts on “Internet Safety: How to be Safe and Savvy in the Classroom”

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