Free Tools & Strategies to Protect Your Kids When Gaming or Browsing Online

Social Media, Password Policies, and Meaningful Discussions At Home

In an age where digital entertainment and online resources are an ever-present part of our student’s lives, it is also important to be prepared with a simple toolbox of tools and guidance to help you not only manage the screen time of students but also their vulnerability to online threats and inappropriate content. I have identified a few simple suggestions and resources which I use in my own home that I think will be helpful to you as well.

Charge & Use Gaming Computers, Laptops, and Chromebooks In Central Locations

Children who are using devices should never be allowed to isolate themselves in their own rooms or have too much control over their own access to the devices. Keeping devices in central locations like living room tables, kitchen counters reduces the likelihood of responding to an inappropriate online chat request or visiting inappropriate sites. It is also an opportunity to start a conversation with them around how and what they use the device for and develop positive and regulated work habits with digital technology. Consider dedicated on and off times for devices and charge devices in an open area or parents’ bedroom.  Always ask your children who they chat with online and create a dialogue at an early age.

Review Policies of Apps & Resources

Talk with your child about the age-appropriateness and content found on specific apps like Instagram, Tik-Tok, and Snap Chat. All of these social media apps have an age requirement of 13 and above. These restrictions are part of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA) enacted in 1998 ( https://icac.scag.gov/age-child-use-social-media/). Be sure to monitor devices you have provided your child for social media accounts that may have been created without your knowledge.

Discuss Creating Safe Passwords

Discuss with your children the value of their personal identity when creating a username and good password. Safe passwords reduce the chances of hacked accounts and online security concerns. Be sure passwords have as many numbers and symbol characters as possible and do not include common words or keyboard sequences of characters. Try to have passwords be as unique as possible between different sites.

To review your own or your child’s password which uses a Google Account visit the tool http://passwords.google.com and do a review of the strength and security of all of your passwords using a specific Gmail address.

Create Schedules For Devices In Your Home

Both Verizon and Xfinity have parental control apps that support controls for managing app usage, device connectivity schedules, and restricting access to specific sites. I personally create child profiles and monitor the dedicated time on a specific app or restrict usage past a specific time. Use the links included to begin investigating the tools and try to use them to manage your child’s connection to your home network. I would add that the benefit of these tools beyond managing your child’s devices is that they assist in helping you to perform your own network analysis of the devices, usage, and network security and connection speeds. The links below are the links for Xfinity and Verizon parent controls.

Xfinity Parental Controls

Verizon Parental Controls

Review the Appropriateness of Movies and Digital Resources Together

Use the request of a movie or digital resource from your children as an opportunity to use www.commonsensemedia.org to review the age and content appropriateness together. This website which also has an app is an amazing way to quickly review the age-appropriateness and content present in movies and digital resources. This site will assist with starting a dialogue on what types of content is appropriate for your children’s age and allow you to make decisions together and develop a method for reviewing content they request in a way that you can both understand.

All of these resources, tools, and strategies require creating a sustained dialogue with children on their choices and habits with using technology independently. It also requires a commitment to discussing appropriate resources regularly and monitoring your child’s behavior online consistently. No one tool or resource will fully protect your child and you need to be proactive to understand how they use technology for social connection and entertainment. Develop a plan for managing the devices in your home and have regular conversations with children about the sites they visit, the resources they use, and who they connect with online.

A Year Of Shifts: Reflections On Pandemic Digital Education

Which of these items do you think will stay at the forefront of the discussion?

When we look back a year, two years, or even a decade hopefully we will be able to identify some of the shifts that happened in 2020 that caused us to look differently at the world of digital education and student learning. I wanted to take a moment and share a few of the broader topics that I have encountered as part of a COVID time capsule of the shifts in digital education. Which of these items do you think will stay at the forefront of discussion?

Technology Reliance In Education

During the peak of the pandemic, the increased frequency of the use of technology and its reliance as an instructional tool created learning environments that were the bridge for incredible enhanced collaboration between teachers and students and opened the doors for global communication and sharing of resources, instructional approaches, and tools. 

Based on the frequency of collaboration online still happening as the return to the classroom begins the ever-present opportunity to meet virtually or share resources in a digital format should remain. I think many have learned that it has become the most efficient and offers many features in-person meetings don’t offer such as each collecting feedback through video conferencing add ons like polls and digital whiteboards.

Deeper Dives Into Effective Instructional Models

The deep dives educators and leadership have taken at reviewing the variety of instructional models has pushed a new level of active creativity with educator style, delivery, and resources. Whether the approach was remote or hybrid the ideas and concepts shared to how these models support the wide range of student needs was solution-based and provided a rich opportunity to review best practices.

Internet Connectivity & Bandwidth

Creating solutions for the increasing divide of internet connectivity for students and families with limited access was brought to the forefront during remote learning. Districts needed to plan to support these needs and grants became available from the federal government to provide wireless hotspots but in the long run, it serves as only a band-aid to a larger problem.

Ideally, the federal government will use the data collected regarding the need to support more households with devices and internet access and create more federally sponsored opportunities for schools and families to utilize the benefits of high-speed connectivity. This is an issue that existed prior to the pandemic and hopefully has developed some steam and much-needed attention.

Increased Comfort Level With Digital Tools 

Moving forward, opportunities for educators to build upon their experience and continue to enhance the learning and application of new tools need to be supported with new and unique professional development options. These options should be considered in all formats from virtual conferences, hybrid approaches, and offerings that support the deep dive many educators have taken to deepen their learning to meet the expanded student skills set that has come with long-term remote learning.

Enhanced Collaboration & Sharing: Student & Educator Technology Skills & Enhanced Resources

Many of the learning groups (Facebook Groups, List Serves) that I have followed related to teaching resources continue to thrive and share resources broadly. There has been a window in the past several months in which the strategies for new ideas and shifts in approaches of in-person learning have been discussed. We are yet to see the depth of how technology will be implemented upon school return and the desire of educators to maintain their implementation of tools and resources in digital portals and learning management systems. The remote learning period has marked a tremendous level of improved technical skills and a greater level of comfort with the adaption to more technology in the classroom

Hopefully, these shifts cause us to look differently at the world of digital education and student learning in a time in which technology supports so many solutions. Many educators are anxious to return to their classrooms and begin to work with students in person. There are however several important experiences that we have all gained from the struggle of adapting to new learning and teaching modalities that have framed the past year of educations and there is much to gain from a review of those experiences.

5 Focus Areas For EdTech In 2021

New Expectations, Technical Adaptability, Equity, Wifi 6, Data & Digital Literacy Skills

Evolving Pandemic Topics & Focus

After a year of shifts, changes, and challenges to best meet the needs of students, educators, and parents in the adaptation to remote, online, and hybrid methods I wanted to write a post on what I feel will be key focus areas for EdTech in 2021. These are areas that I think will be of particular focus and many of these topics will evolve and refine the landscape of educational technology in the coming year. In the big picture, many of the topics introduced below ask new questions.

Adjusting To The New Expectations Of The Role Of Technology In Education

The challenges met in the adaptation to online, remote, and hybrid models also pressed the technical adaptability of educators, students, and parents to use a range of new video conferencing, collaboration, and digital tools to submit learning artifacts and assessments online within portals and classrooms. The backbone of this process required an upskilling of all stakeholders to learn the nuances of these environments from all sides. Now that these are known skills, will we return to the old way of doing things? What will the buy-in look like as we move forward?

The buy in on these resources and the digital transformation will require significant financial support to maintain the infrastructure of digital tools, devices, resources, and training to maintain. How prepared are districts to support these needs moving forward?

Equity and Equality In Technology Distribution and Support

How scalable did districts find their technology infrastructure? The ability to provide devices, hotspots, and remote learning support from a learning and technical perspective is a luxury that needs to be part of the strategic technology planning process moving forward. The demands of any district’s model will always rely on the planning the district has done to support it. Equity and equality in the deployment of these resources need to mirror the support needs and desire for equitable instruction and measures of student learning to identify student learning gaps and support staff growth.

Reliable Wifi and Device Access

What will future school-based infrastructure look like? As we move into more implementations of Wifi 6 into educational institutions. Wifi 6 will bring expanded coverage areas and larger throughput for devices and enhancing student learning spaces with this type of connectivity. This will require additional federal and state grants to support these upgrades. I have included a few articles below which describe the value of these types of upgrades.

Impact Of Widespread Implementation Of Wifi 6

Wifi 6 Whitepaper

Adapting To New Workflows and Data Management

More technology equals more opportunities for expanded data collection opportunities. The benefits of high-level data management are the ability to identify new ways to secure data, impact student learning, and support staff.

The challenge is finding the skillsets, support personnel, and the vision to design beneficial workflows. These new digital assessments and data collection opportunities will require new data processes for data integrity, data privacy, workflows, and specific skillsets for managing the information in effective safe ways.

Institutional data, student learning data, staff data, and the workflows of managing and organizing the use of this data is currently transforming the background of education.

Expanding Students Digital Literacy Skills For Next Level Learning

Students are spending a tremendous number of additional hours per day online since the onset of the pandemic. Please check out this article on the comparison of time online pre and post-pandemic. It is essential that we continue to moderate and support the student learning of proper digital citizenship and proper device use while navigating the web to support their learning. We must continue to bridge the gap between passive web browsing and video viewing and more skill-based use of technology to support learning.

I do believe the enhanced and increased use will support increased student interest in Computer Science, Digital Arts, and Video Production using digital tools. We can look forward to a more embedded Computer Science curriculum and demand for these skills as essential at the elementary level and the demand to secure students understanding of skill sets and knowledges related to Digital Literacy.


Thanks for reading. These areas are on the top of my list in the coming year and I am sure that as we move forward these targets will shift with the ever-evolving landscape of educational technology. If you have any thoughts or comments please feel free to email me at danielmdowns@gmail.com or ddowns@nrpsk12.org

December Elementary Digital Bloom's Choice Board:

Seesaw Video, Creative Coding, Analyzing With Google Slides, Vocaroo, Jamboard for Graphic Organizers and Student Understanding

This month’s resources put together by the North Reading Digital Learning team at the Elementary Schools highlight a range of instructional methods with digital tools to meet students’ needs with Bloom’s action verbs and student assessment.

Please use this link: http://bit.ly/decemberelementarybloomboard to access the pdf with the links to the resources included below or go straight to the bit.ly links. These tools highlight the usefulness of Jamboard for students, capturing student's voice,s and empowering students as creators.

December: Celebrating Computer Science, Data Privacy Updates For Chrome, Streaming Video Technology and The End Of Flash

Celebrating Computer Science, Data Privacy Updates, Chrome Extension Data, Google Read&Write, Flash Support Ends, Installation Of The Hudl Camera

Computer Science Education: Celebrating The Hour of Code With Virtual Speakers and Hybrid Teaching

During the week of Dec 7th-11th students in the North Reading Public Schools participated in the “Hour of Code”.  The “Hour Of Code” event is a global event in which students are urged to participate in a coding/programming orientated lesson for one hour.

This week often inspires and motivates many students to pursue more coding, programming and interest in learning about our digital world.

Due to restrictions this year we reached out to our community to see if there are parents/family members or others who may be interested in recording a 5 minute video as a virtual speaker we can share with our students grades K-5, 6-8, 9-12 to show the value of Coding Skills or Computer Science/ Engineering in real world applications. Areas of our request included software, programming, hardware, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, machine learning, engineering/devices. Please check out our virtual speakers page here:

Our Community Question: Do you work in the Computer Science/Engineering field and recognize the value of these skills in students' futures?

To see our virtual speakers please visit our "North Reading Hour of Code Virtual Speakers Page" We appreciate the time and effort our parents put into sharing their skills and knowldege.

The event is sponsored by Code.org who provides a tremendous amount of activities, lessons and resources to support student engagement with the hour of code through their website: http://hourofcode.org which can be done at home or at school.

In all schools the Digital Learning Specialists are integrating the “Hour Of Code” activities into their work on a daily basis during the week both in person and online. This included the sharing of content specific coding lessons in science and cool grade level activities for elementary students. The event is a great opportunity to have students understand the value of understanding the value of computer science in their current education and future.

Data Privacy Updates : Kahoot Approved

As we began to roll out our district data privacy intiatives in the past few years one of the most requested applications was the game based website/app Kahoot. One of the challenges for this app to become approved was that the developer had no obligation to sign a data privacy contract with any US Entity. Recently however, they have signed a Data Privacy Agreement with a Massachusetts district and now we can add them to our district based contracts with specific applications. The Kahoot App is a great engaging resource for Teachers to assist students with content recall and game based engagement. As an additional resource I have provided the link to our Data Privacy Process for app/resource review.

Why Districts Limit Extensions and Add-Ons In Google Apps For Education

Ever wonder why your school device is locked down from adding certain extensions and Google Add-Ons? The answer is that because many of these apps and resources are createrd by 3rd party developers who may be using your data for their purposes. This could include selling or marketing purposes. These apps/resources and extensions can also act erratic and prevent proper function of the device or browser.

It is important that prior to using an extension that you read reviews,understand what types of data it does or does not collect and how it can change the function of the device. Also, check out this article on how Google is now going to work on limiting some of the data collection practices of these resources here. Google Is Limiting How Chrome Extension Developers Can Use Your Data

Innovative Assitive Technology: Read & Write for Google Chrome

Read & Write for Google Chrome is a powerful tool to support student learning with Text to speech, line reading, text and picture dictionaries, word prediction and line highlighting. Be sure to check out the range of uses for this tool and check out my video link below on how to get started. Also note that teachers can get a free premium subscription by going to the link below after installing the trial.

Getting Started Video:

https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/readwrite-for-google-chro/inoeonmfapjbbkmdafoankkfajkcphgd?hl=en-US

Teachers can get a FREE premium subscription to Read&Write for Google Chrome.  To register and activate your subscription, go to texthelp.com/en-gb/products/read-write/free-for-teachers/  after installing the Read&Write for Google Chrome trial.   

Digital Learning In The News: End Of Flash 

For those who have been using edtech tools for the past 10-20 years you are definitely familiar with the depth that Flash had embedded itself into our tool kit for enabling animated images, video files and animations. Often used in science simulations, website home pages and other interactive web content flash enabled the web to have the next level of interactivity.

With the upgrades to web development with HTML5 and the rocky relationship with Adobe and Apple to support flash across browsers effectively Adobe effectively announced the end for Flash support a year a ago. As an homage to Flash I have linked the Best Flash Sites Ever. Please review your favorite interactive sites for any change of support based on end of support. Conclusively here is the official Adobe page anouncing end of support. If there are workarounds they may not be secure or function well due to lack of support. Many resources should at this point have rolled over to a HTML5 option. https://www.adobe.com/products/flashplayer/end-of-life.html

Cool Tech: Installation Of The Hudl Camera

This past month I had the opportunity to assist with the install of a Hudl Camera in the North Reading High School gymnasium to support live and recorded streaming of games to external stream sites like YouTube.

The process of install was extremely easy and all the camera requires is a dedicated ethernet connection and an installation at a specific height and angle to support its cameras lens. The Huddle app also enables configuration to check the set up of the camera angle to the device for capturing video.

Once configured the coaches were able to link their existing Huddle account to the camera and set up specific stream site channels. The elements of this install were identifying the wall, configuring a wired ethernet connection and checking the installation angle and height.

For more information on the Hudl camera visit their website here: https://www.hudl.com/products/focus


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