We Need To Talk About Smartphones


A recent article in The Atlantic titled Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?  asserts some dire outcomes due to the use of SmartPhones by our children. While I would say that the headline is a bit hyperbolic, I do think that the article is a must read for all parents and educators.

Here are a few of the excerpts that caught my attention, along with some of my thoughts and questions:

 The arrival of the smartphone has radically changed every aspect of teenagers’ lives, from the nature of their social interactions to their mental health. These changes have affected young people in every corner of the nation and in every type of household.

Sadly, I don’t think that SmartPhones have radically changed the way that teenagers are educated. I can’t help wondering if we were more proactive in seeing the opportunity of a web-connected device in every student’s hand if we could have avoided some of the negative consequences outlined. What if we had embraced SmartPhones? What if we at least talked about the implication of these devices for our kids and worked with families to come up with a plan to help our students find some balance?

The more time teens spend looking at screens, the more likely they are to report symptoms of depression.

Electronic devices and social media seem to have an especially strong ability to disrupt sleep.

I can’t help thinking that there is a direct connection to the time spent on devices looking at social media and the lack of sleep. I would love to know the percentage of teens who have their phones in their rooms and are looking at these devices late at night.  I know teens tend to be sleep-deprived in the best of circumstances, but in how many cases is this due to the presence of a SmartPhone in their room?

As the technology writer Nick Bilton has reported, it’s a policy some Silicon Valley executives follow. Even Steve Jobs limited his kids’ use of the devices he brought into the world.

I realize that restricting technology might be an unrealistic demand to impose on a generation of kids so accustomed to being wired at all times.

We need to help our kids understand the impact that devices are having on their lives. Are they suffering from Fear of Missing Out? I wrote a bit about this back in February of 2016.

This brings me to my next area of discussion which is about the behavior of adults in our device-laden world. I am sure that I have not always done the best job modeling for my kids in regards to the importance of being present and enjoying some tech-free time. I am guessing that I am not alone in this… How many adults are also stressed out and/or depressed due to the prevalence of SmartPhones in our world?

While we could spend a great deal of time looking at all of the areas of concern outlined in this article, the more constructive activity would be to start creating supports to ensure that we do not continue these destructive patterns.  Thankfully, we have resources like Jennifer Casa-Todd’s Social LEADia  that can help us as we build this support system in our school community.





Three Great Resources To Help Students Fight Off Fake News

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In my previous post on the topic of Fake News, I mentioned that Fake News is nothing new. There have always been individuals and organizations that have tried to influence people by presenting them with stories that stray from the truth. While these stories vary in the degree of factual information they contain, the more important question regards the ability of the reader to delve into these articles and blog posts and pull out where things veer from fact to fiction.  The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) highlights the following skills for students in its 21st Century Literacies Framework:
  • Students in the 21st century must be able to take information from multiple places and in a variety of different formats, determine its reliability, and create new knowledge from that information.
  • Students in the 21st century must be critical consumers and creators of multimedia texts.
In order to attain these skills, teachers are encouraged to reflect on the following questions:
  • Do students analyze the credibility of information and its appropriateness in meeting their needs?
  • Do students use information to make decisions as informed citizens?
  • Do students strive to see limitations and overlaps between multiple streams of information?
  • Do students analyze and evaluate the multimedia sources that they use?
While the bulleted items above are just an abridged look at the skills and questions that are outlined in NCTE’s Framework 21st Century Literacies Framework, an equally important issue is in regards to the resources that are available for students to utilize to determine the credibility of sources of information that they come across. The resources below are a few of the ones that I have come across to help support students in this complicated task:
  1. Truth, truthiness, triangulation: A news literacy toolkit for a “post-truth” world  – (A great post from Joyce Valenza on School Library Journal’s Website)
  2. FAKE NEWS vs. REAL NEWS: How to Determine the Reliability of Sources – (Website from Northern Essex Community College

Forget Fake News

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Let’s face it, fake news is really nothing new. The only thing that has changed is that it is getting more headlines due to its prominence surrounding the presidential election. In referencing this, I have to admit that I am hesitant to even mention fake news for fear that the conversation will quickly devolve into politically-based finger-pointing, but I think it is important to talk about this phenomenon and discuss what we are doing to educate our students in the area of reliable sources of information.
Getting into the habit of simply tossing a news story or blog post quickly into the category of fake news is not the recipe that will alleviate the problem.  There are a number of issues that we need to review before we come to the conclusion that a story is fake. One is that there is a stark difference between a story with an honest error and a story that is developed with the primary intent of misleading the reader. More important is the question about how we come to the conclusion that a story is not accurate. Are we going to take someone else’s word that a story is fake or are we capable of figuring it out for ourselves?  It is important that we avoid the categorization of news into one of two piles (fake and not-fake) and dig deeper.
The first step in increasing the depth of analysis on the topic of  on-line news sources.  We have a gaping knowledge deficit in this area that we need to quickly address. This is not simply a digital citizenship discussion, this is a citizenship discussion. If we are going to adequately prepare our students to be responsible and well-informed citizens then we need to reinforce the skills necessary to discern between reliable sources of information in all subjects. As long as this is left to one department in the school that teaches a lesson or two involving research, we will miss our target by a long shot. We need to help students find reliable sources for their health, their wealth, and whatever else they decide they would like to learn more about.
So let’s stop talking about fake news, an exercise that is likely to lead us down an inescapable rabbit hole, and start talking about reliable sources of information. For every topic where research is needed, let’s begin by having our  convince us why what they found should be deemed a reliable source.  I firmly believe that our students enjoy an authentic challenge and the only way that they will solve the complicated riddle regarding the reliability of sources of information is if we offer them our guidance.

What Do You Do When You See Inappropriate Social Media Posts By High School Students? (My Top Post from 2015)

This post from January of 2015 was far and away my top post from last year with twice as many views as post #2.

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of social media as a tool for learning. In order to stay on top of the various conversations that I like to follow, I have a number of lists that I have created. These various streams sometimes lead me to inappropriate posts by students. These instances concern me as to the amount of guidance that these students are being given in regards to the things that they post online and the possible ramifications.

As an educator, I feel it is the job of all of us to support students and ensure that they are fully aware of the implications of their online activities. Therefore, when I saw the tweet above from a local student-athlete, I decided to send the e-mail below to his Principal. I encourage others to take similar actions when they see this type of behavior. (I have removed the name of the student and the school because the truth of the matter is these things are happening at all of our schools). 

Dear Principal Name,

I wanted to ask you to please have a conversation with Student Name about his use of Twitter. I stumbled across it while looking for some local high school basketball scores last night. While I do not think most student profanity on Twitter or other social media is a school issue, I have a concern for students who say things in this forum who may fail to understand the implications. As a former high school Principal and a current Assistant Superintendent, I am a big advocate of social media use and I continue to push for the constructive use of social media by all members of a school community. 

My concern is that I do not want to see students lose out on opportunities due to comments they make on Twitter or anywhere else on social media. At one point when I was a high school Principal, I pulled all of my juniors and seniors into the auditorium and shared some of the comments that I had seen them using and talked about the ramifications with them in regards to the question on the top of the slide below. I worry that someone would make a judgement about the type of person one of our students is because of a single social media post. However, the fact of the matter is that this might be the only evidence of social interaction from that individual to which a school or employer has access and when there is a pile of other applicants it is easier to move to the next option.

In addition, The New York Times article They Loved Your G.P.A. And Then They Saw Your Tweets highlighted the fact that some college admissions offices check the activity of students Just this week, USA Today had an article titled One Bad Tweet Can Be Costly To A Student Athlete. While I know most student-athletes aren’t concerned about scholarships, they should know that employers and college admissions offices actively check social media accounts of applicants and make decisions based on what they find.

 In most cases, a quick Google search by a students using their name  + Twitter would quickly bring you to their account information.

I was going to tweet to Student Name directly, but I did not want to bring attention to this.  I have little doubt that he is a fine representation of a student-athlete at your school and I hope he will consider cleaning up his social media accounts. While I don’t condone the use of profanity and such, I remember being a high school student and the fact that many of these same conversations and comments were common in the locker room or hanging out with friends or teammates. My concern is that now many of our students are having these conversations online without a full awareness of how public they are.
Anyway, sorry for the long e-mail. I wish you the best during the remainder of the school year and trust that this will not be a disciplinary matter but just a “teachable moment.” Good luck to Student Name and the team for the rest of the year! 

September Tech Savvy Parenting Night – Elevating Your Child’s Social Media and Digital Presence

This post originally appeared on the BPSEdTech Blog

The BPS EdTech Team is thrilled to announce the first Tech Savvy Parenting Night of the 2015-2016 school year. This event is part of our ongoing Digital Bootcamp Series which was launched last year. Our September Parent Tech night, taking place on Monday, September 28th from 6:00-7:30 p.m. at the Marshall Simonds Middle School Library Commons features Alan Katzman. Katzman is the founder of the New York City based Social Assurity and is a nationally recognized digital citizenship expert. Katzman also serves as a member of the #digcit Twitter chat moderation team.
Alan’s presentation, “Elevating Your Child’s Social Media & Digital Presence for Better College & Career Opportunities” will help parents and students understand how to leverage social media tools proactively and purposefully. The new reality is that “social media has completely changed the college application and job recruiting process.” Katzman will help parents and students learn how to showcase their skills and talents in innovative ways and ultimately get noticed by college admissions representatives. He will share how students can take advantage of social media to create an impressive and discoverable digital brand. In today’s digital world, students and their parents MUST understand how they can use various technology tools to gain a competitive advantage and achieve their higher education goals.
Don’t miss your chance to learn from one of the nation’s leading experts on digital citizenship!
-The News Diva
This event is open to all Burlington Public School parents. The session is ideal for parents who have children in grades 7 through 12. Pre-registration is NOT required, however in order to prepare for the event, the BPS Edtech Team asks attendees to complete this Google Form.
The BPS EdTech Team looks forward to seeing you and your children on Monday, September 28th!

Parenting In The Digital Age Presentation

BHS Instructional Technology Specialist Jennifer Scheffer co-presented with me this evening at our Parent Technology Night on the topic of Parenting in the Digital Age. We are sharing the presentation and links to resources that we discussed during the hour session below. We look forward to this ever-evolving conversation regarding the online lives of our students and how we can continue to support and educate parents in supporting their children.

The evening began with the great video below What Kids are (Really) Doing Online from Cyberwise.org.


Links and Resources shared tonight

Parent Resources from the Burlington High School Student Help Desk

How To Follow Your Child (or Anyone) On Twitter Without Joining Twitter

Resources from Google’s “Good To Know” Guide to Staying Safe & Secure Online
Resources from Common Sense Media
Parent guides provided by ConnectSafely.org
Resources from Facebook’s Family Safety Center
Resources from Joe Mazza- Lead Learner, Knapp Elementary School, Penn.
eFace Today-Joe’s parent centered blog
Resources from Edutopia
Transition Resources for Parents (elementary, middle, and high school transition advice)
The PBS Parents Page (Resources for Pre-K through high school)
Resources from parent, author, blogger, and speaker Will Richardson

Some Thoughts On Online Etiquette

New devices for Christmas!
Christmas Has Brought More Devices Into Our Home and More Worries…

My son Tim is a sophomore in high school and we spend a lot of time in the car going to one of his sporting events or one of his two siblings. Recently, I told him how much tougher I thought it was socially for him than it was for me when I was his age. There really aren’t a lot of private moments for our kids nowadays as they tend to take photos and share information without forethought whenever they get together in small or large groups.

While I see some very positive effects from the connectedness of our kids, I often worry about the negative impact that a momentary lapse of judgement might have on the short-term or long-term future of Tim or one of his friends.  Thank goodness some of my poor decisions as a teenager were not archived online for others to see!  My only defense for my own children and others is to talk openly about this issue and provide concrete examples of the poor decisions of others.

With this in mind, the story of Justine Sacco is one that we should all be sharing with our teenagers. Tarun Wadhwa outlines the story of this regretful tweet in his Forbes article, Justine Sacco, Internet Justice, And The Dangers of a Righteous Mob.  For those who may have missed this story, Justine Sacco is PR Executive who made a racially insensitive tweet prior to boarding a flight to Africa. Unbeknownst to her, the tweet went viral and became a national news story as she made the lengthy flight to Cape Town. In the interim, she lost her job and who knows if she will ever be able to repair the damage done to her reputation.

There are clearly two lessons here.  First, there is the basic warning about thinking twice before you share something online. This one that we cannot share enough with our children. The second lesson here, however, may be more important. This lesson is the one about jumping into a hateful or insensitive mob in the name of righteousness. As Wadhwa points out in his Forbes piece:

 “this wasn’t really about fairness, it was about entertainment… Sacco’s comment was terrible and indefensible, but there is no shortage of offensive things said frequently in public across the internet… We’ve “democratized” witch-hunts; a paparazzi is nothing compared to the digitally-empowered righteous mob. The next Sacco might not be such a clear case and instead of pointing and laughing now, we’d be better served by analyzing how best to react to similar cases in the future.”

As I continue to reflect on these viral situations where individuals are caught up in these web controversies that may or may not be of their own doing, I will ask my children to consider the importance of not adding more hate to and already hateful commentary.  My wish is that my children will see the hypocrisy in the actions of those who promote tolerance with ugly remarks about those who are intolerant.  There will come a day when we will all seek to be pardoned for something and that is the time when we will reap what we have sowed with our network.

Related articles

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Are You Sure Your Child Isn’t Using Social Media?

What Apps Is Your Child Using?
Just because your child does not have a Facebook or Twitter account does not mean they are not using social media resources.  I have been hearing rumblings from various communities (including Burlington) about elementary and middle school-aged children making poor choices with social media resources.  I am certain that in many cases that the parents of these kids are unaware that their kids are over-sharing personal information, posting and viewing inappropriate pictures, and having inappropriate conversations with friends AND STRANGERS.
The bottom line here is that parents need to check on every app at that their children are adding to their iPod, iPad, iPhone, or other web-enabled device. We have moved so quickly from the days when our biggest web-based concern regarding our children was a desktop computer in a common area of our homes. As we are well aware, many of the gadgets that they carry in their pockets can do so much more than those desktops could ever do. With new social media apps and websites coming onto the scene at a breathtaking pace, it is not surprising that parents can’t keep up. 
A Little Advice For Parents

So as I navigate this landscape with my own kids, I want to let you know that just keeping your kids off of Facebook and Twitter is a far cry from keeping them off of social media.  In an effort to promote awareness, I have a few questions for parents…
  1. Do you know what apps are on your child’s iPad, iPod, Smartphone, etc.?
  2. Do you know which apps are connected to social media resources?
  3. Do you monitor the social media accounts that you have allowed your child to create?
  4. Have you heard of snapchat
If you answered no to at least one of the above questions then you are probably in the majority of parents out there.  If you answered yes to most of the above questions then please share your knowledge with the parents you know to help them stay on top of what is happening.  The fact of the matter is that these sites typically require a user to be at least 13 years of age to register and many kids lie about their age in order to sign up which raises an additional issue.  
In regards to Snapchat, you get bonus points if you know that one.  Snapachat has become known by many as a tool for sexting as a recent Mashable post describes.  The way it works is that an individual may send another individual a picture and the sender decides how long the person receiving the picture can view it (from 1-10 seconds) and then the picture disappears “forever.”  Of course since lesson number-one in the whole social media game is that anything you say online can follow you “forever,” we know this is not true.
From a parent’s perspective, it is tough to connect the current experience that our children are having with social media resources to our own experiences growing up.  All we really had was a telephone to connect with our friends and have social conversations. In addition, most of us had some time limits in place when it came to these conversations. In my opinion, it would make sense for us all to at least have some idea of how much time are kids are spending online and what they are up to.
Some Resources For Parents
Common Sense Media has some great resources for parents to help them set appropriate ground rules for their kids. It also provides parents with great app reviews, like the one below for Snapchat. You can search with the box in the upper right hand corner for a review of most apps and find out some useful information before deciding whether or not it is appropriate for your child.  
We will continue to provide workshops for parents to learn about these issues, but in the meantime I encourage parents to check out a few of the following:
Tweens Secret Lives Online – The Wall Street Journal
If you feel you are a parent who has a good handle on this issue, then please share some of the practices that you think are working well! If you are parent who feels lost and needs immediate assistance, please contact me and I would be happy to offer some advice/assistance (larkin@bpsk12.org).

More Thinking About Balance And When To Unplug

Having played a big part in the fact that there are over 1,000 students in Burlington walking around with web-enabled devices, I do spend a great deal of time thinking about how to continue the important conversation of maintaining balance with regards to the use these devices. I wrote a post on this a little while back in reference to my own device use, which I admit is sometimes imbalanced.

Adding to my anxiety on the topic is the fact that there are articles with misleading headlines like this one – Many Teens Tell Survey They Are Addicted To Social Media, Texting – which recently appeared in the Washington Post.  While the headline is a bit disconcerting, the content of the article makes it clear that this there is a lot more here that we need to discuss. Check out a few of the excerpts I think we need to focus more on and decide or yourself whether the negatives really outweighing the positive.

“Two-thirds of respondents said they text every day and half said they visit social networking sites daily. One-quarter of teens use at least two different types of social media a day.”

“Three out of 10 teens said social networks made them feel more outgoing, compared to 5 percent who said they felt more introverted.”

“Still, half of all respondents said real-life communication is the most fun and fruitful for their relationships. Only 4 percent prefer to talk on the phone.”

As I see my own tweens spending more and more time using their devices to interact with their friends, I can’t help but think of the quote below by Danah Boyd. Is it really the devices and the social media platforms that they are addicted to or is it the communication with their friends? 

It brings me back to Clay Shirky’s thoughts on this topic from his book Cognitive Surplus: Creativity And Generosity In A Connected Age.  I agree with Shirky on the following:

 “when we talk about the effects of the web or text messages, it’s easy to make a milkshake mistake and focus on the tools themselves…But the use of of social technology is much less determined by the tool itself: when we use a network, the most important asset we get is access to one another.” 

I think the thing that our children need help with is learning when disconnecting is necessary to refocus and refresh. In addition, we need to be sure that they are getting plenty of technology-free opportunities for the rich face-to-face interactions and experiences that are so beneficial. This point is clearly articulated in a recent post by John Spencer titled What We’re Missing In Acceptable Use.

What we need to understand is that our children are connecting and collaborating in ways that we were never capable of.  Or as Shirky puts it:

“Although so much of what kids are doing online may look trivial and frivolous, what they are doing is building the capacity to connect, to communicate, and ultimately, to mobilize…The old idea that media is a domain relatively separate from the ‘real world’ no longer applies…”

The bottom line here is that we are never going to be in a comfortable spot with our children if we do not continue to have discussions on this topic. We need to encourage our children to use these  resources wisely and have balance, but we also have to understand that the way they communicate with one another not going to look like the same as how we communicated with our friends back in the day…and that’s OK!

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Thinking About Balance…Am I That Guy?


I had the opportunity to present at ISTE in San Diego last week with my good friend George Couros, an administrator in Canada who I have learned so much from over the past few years. As we developed our presentation for our session, George shared the video above with me from a recent Louis C.K. appearance on Conan. While I was laughing at the scenario Louis C.K. shared of individuals glued to the screens of their devices, I was also well aware that I can be one of these people sometimes who missed out on the real-time occurrence in an attempt to get a picture or send out a message.

With this in mind, I headed to the Portsmouth Air Show over the weekend and decided to leave my devices at home. I have fond memories of seeing the Navy’s Blue Angels flying squad as a young boy with my dad. At first, I was thinking of bringing my iPad with me to get some clips of the Blue Angels on video. But as I thought back to the above clip, I realized that there are plenty of clips of the Blue Angels online that are much better than I could shoot and that I should just stand back and take the whole thing in with my own eyes. (Check out the great Blue Angels Promo video below)

When it was over, I was pleased with my decision, having seen a lot more with my eyes on on the sky and not focused on the device. Not to mention the fact that I probably would have dropped my device when one of the jets flew about 50 feet directly over my head and I caused me to block my ears to save my ear drums.  (See below)

.@patrickmlarkin and @wwollaeger watching the Blue Angels at ... on Twitpic

Anyway, my main point in this post is that we need to continue to think about having a balanced approach to utilizing all of the great technology that is available to us. There are many times in our lives where the best choice for technology is to leave it out of the equation so that we can fully immerse ourselves in the moment. As always, I feel fortunate to work in a school district that allows students to utilize technological resources because I do not think we could have authentic discussions about balance if our first inclination was to deny access.  

So the next time you go to grab your phone, iPad, or camera, take a moment to think whether or not you will really miss something without it or whether you are missing the bigger picture with it…