An Optimistic Outlook On The Infiltration Of Technology Into Our Lives

I have two books I am trying to cram in during the vacation as I prepare for our next Parent Technology Night on Tuesday January 14.  The topic – “Parenting in the Digital Age” – is a difficult for so many of us because we cannot simply revert to some of the tactics that our own parents used due to the fact that all of this technology simply did not exist.  Whenever I am involved in conversations surrounding technology and our children, the only thing that rubs me the wrong way is responding to people who want to make this something that is either good or bad.  The fact of the matter is that it can be either, depending on the motivations of the person utilizing the technology.

My first book recommendation for those who are techno-skeptics (and everyone else for that matter) is Clive Thompson’s Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds For The Better.  I wrote a bit yesterday about the need for us to reinforce with our children the importance of not partaking in the streams of negativity that can easily be found online.  Thompson points to examples throughout this book of how the internet is being used positively to further our intelligence both individually and collectively.

“At their best, today’s digital tools help us see more, retain more, communicate more.  At their worst, they leave us prey to the manipulation of the toolmakers. But on balance, I’d argue, what is happening is deeply positive.”  Clive Thompson

Stay tuned for some more on Thompson’s book and some thoughts on the second book I am reading, The App Generation by Howard Gardner and Katie Davis.

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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.

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Someone Gave Me Homework…Now It’s My Turn

So my friend Tony Baldasaro tagged me in a chain-blogging task which obligates me to share 11 random facts about myself and then to answer 11 questions that Tony has asked. As much as I dislike chain letters and things of that nature, I am excited to do some writing in this space. My blogging has been limited during the first half of the school year, so I want to thank Tony for what I hope will be a kickstart for my resolution to blog more frequently in 2015!

My 11 Random Facts

  1. I grew up in the “Little Town of Mendon (MA)”
  2. I was a sports writer out of college and covered the Bruins.
  3. I got to attend game six of the 2013 World Series with my son Tim #priceless!
  4. My dad was at game six of the 1975 World Series at Fenway.
  5. My brother Jim was a minor league baseball player and is now the golf pro for Vice President Biden.
  6. I hold the world record for whiffle ball home runs and stink at golf.
  7. I enjoy hyperbole.
  8. I will go out of my way to get Starbucks coffee.
  9. My top two take-out restaurants are Las Olas in (NH) and Sammy’s Deli (Burlington)
  10. I completed a Tough Mudder in 2012. 
  11. I was a drummer in high school and still annoy my children by drumming on the steering wheel when a good song is on the radio.
My responses to Tony’s Questions
  1. Have you ever been to New Hampshire? Yes, I lived there for a few years.
  2. What item could you not live without? For this task, my laptop 😉
  3. What’s the highest peak you have ever climbed? Mt. Monadnock
  4. If you could live anywhere else for one year, where would it be? Ireland
  5. How many TV’s do you have in your house? two
  6. At what age do you think it’s appropriate for a child to own their first cellphone? sixth grade
  7. Who was your third grade teacher? I moved in third grade so I had two…Mrs. Vignone and Mrs. Grady
  8. When is the last time you posted a picture publicly? Today
  9. Other than the birth of your children and/or the day you were married or met your soulmate, what was the best day of your life? The day I became a teacher
  10. What is your most artistic skill? Playing the drums
  11. Who has been the most influential person in your life (non family version)? This is a tough question because I have been fortunate to have a lot of great mentors. I will go with my first Principal, Paul Daigle, who hired me for my first teaching position and then my first administrative position a few years later.
Now for the fun part. I have to find 11 more bloggers to keep this thing going and ask them 11 questions (hoping they have not been tagged previously).
  1. George Couros 
  2. Jennifer Scheffer
  3. Michael Podraza
  4. Brad Gustafson
  5. Daisy Dyer Duerr
  6. Dave Meister
  7. Cale Birk
  8. Dawn Casey-Rowe
  9. Jessica Johnson
  10. Dwight Carter
  11. Anyone who wants to play along! (Just follow the guidelines below)

Here are your questions
  1. Have you ever been to Massachusetts?
  2. What is your favorite sports team (college or pro)?
  3. Besides you, name a blogger that you would recommend to others.
  4. When you were little, what did you dream of becoming?
  5. How far away do you live from where you grew up?
  6. What is your favorite meal?
  7. If you were offered a free trip to anywhere in the world, where would you go?
  8. Do you prefer Macs or PC’s?
  9. Other than the birth of your children and/or the day you were married or met your soulmate, what was the best day of your life?
  10. What is the best movie you’ve seen in the last year?
  11. What is the last live concert that you’ve attended?


The Guidelines for your Homework…

    1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
    2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
    3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
    4. List 11 bloggers.
    5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.
    6. Post back here (in the comment section) with a link to your finished assignment. Go on, you have homework to do.


#HourOfCode In Burlington

Many of our students took part in the Computer Science Education Week initiative this past week and spend an hour learning how to code.  According to the data compiled by the folks csedweek.org, over 15 million students took part in the Hour of Code initiative. Check out a few of the tweets compiled from our #bpschat Twitter feed during the course of the week. You can also check out the activity from around the world by checking out the hashtag #HourofCode on Twitter.

Thanks to all of the staff members who gave their students an opportunity to participate in this initiative! For those who did not participate, the resources are available on the Computer Science Education Week site.  There are also a number of great resources for those who want to continue coding  on the Beyond One Hour section of the website.

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Science Standards In MA – Here’s The Latest

The presentation below was shared with a group of Science educators from around the state today at Marshall Simonds Middle School in Burlington.  Thanks to Joyce Bowen from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Office of Math, Science, Technology and Engineering for coming out and updating us with the latest information on the future of our state’s Science standards.

The key slides in my mind are slides 3 and 19. Slide articulates the rationale for MA adapting and not adopting the Next Generation Science Standards while slide 19 outlines the timeline for the adaptation of the new standards.  The bottom line is that these new standards will not be in place until after the 2015-2016 school year (at the earliest).

In addition, a set of K-12 draft standards are expected to be shared publicly before the end of 2013. If you have questions or comments, they are welcomed at mathsciencetech@doe.mass.edu. Thanks again to Joyce for her time and fielding all of the questions thrown her way.

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PARCC Will Replace MCAS For Most BPS Students

This post originally appeared on Superintendent Conti’s Blog

In case you missed it in the news last week, the Massachusetts Board of Education voted to accept a two-year transition plan to the PARCC assessment. The original plan to implement PARCC testing called for all Massachusetts students begin taking the new assessment in 2015, but MA Commissioner of Education Mitchell Chester has been listening to school and district leaders across the state and has advocated for a more gradual transition:
“I have heard a great deal from school superintendents and others about the importance of pacing ourselves so that schools can implement PARCC and other reform initiatives in a thoughtful way,”he said in the memo. “This transition approach is responsive to the field…”
Many of the concerns schools have is in regards to the online aspect of PARCC testing, something that is new to our state. In order to help facilitate this transition, Burlington has volunteered to help support students and educators across the state in this transition.
We are pleased to be participating in the Spring 2014 PARCC Field Test – and have asked PARCC to expand the sample of our students involved because we believe that this experience will be good for children in Burlington and across the state. The Burlington Community has generously provided us with the technological resources to expand our Field Test to include all students. We are also lucky to have talented people working in the district who are willing to learn from this experience and to share this knowledge with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and across Massachusetts.
Our plan is to use different devices at different grades (i.e. tablets, chromebooks, computer labs, etc.) to determine which environment is best for students. We will be conducting focus groups with students and teachers after each testing window and sharing this information with our stakeholders and other school districts to help prepare for what is ahead.  This district preview will help us to better prepare our students and curriculum for future test administrations.
Because our students are participating in the PARCC, we have the option of opting out of MCAS English Language Arts and Math testing at all grades except grade 10 . Our sophomores will have to take both PARCC and MCAS due to both the state graduation requirement and to qualify for the Adams’ scholarships.  In other words, it appears that we will not be administering the MCAS Test this year (aside from grade 10 and possibly Science in grades 5,8,9)
There are two testing windows for the PARCC assessments. The first, for the Performance Based Assessment (PBA), is March 24 – April 11 and the second, for the End of Year Assessment (EOY), is May 19 – June 6. The PBA consists of three testing sessions and the EOY consists of two. We will share more specifics in regards to dates for each grade as soon as we coordinate them with the DESE and PARCC testing officials.
We have been informed that we will not see the results of the Field Test.  Pearson (the creator of the PARCC test) may share district results but they will not be sharing individual school or student results.  While this may concern some parents, we feel confident in our ability to continue to show evidence of students growth through a variety of assessments that our staff members conduct throughout the year.
You may have lots of questions.  We have lots of questions.  We will be getting out more information as it becomes available.

Parenting In The Digital Age…Join The Conversation

Dealing with digital devices in the hands of our children is a constant struggle for so many parents. How long should we allow them to be online? How can we best monitor their activity? Should we just ban certain websites or apps?  
There is not a day that goes by that I don’t spend some time thinking about these issues. With this in mind, I am looking forward to our next Parent Technology Night in January (see information below) where we will have an open discussion about these questions and others.  
In the meantime, I was struck by the following quote from a great blog post on Slate by Danah Boyd and Eszter Hargittai titled How Politics, Race, and Socioeconomic Status Affect Parents’ Fears About Tech.
While there is a great deal to talk about here, my takeaway is the following:

“The internet is a part of contemporary public life.  Engagement with technology is key to helping youth understand the world around them.”

Over the next month and half, I plan on reading two different books to further my thinking on this important topic:

The App Generation –  by Howard Gardner and Katie Davis.