The Futility of Filters

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Zach Klein

My new principal just shared this NPR article with me about LAUSD students hacking their shiny new iPads to access blocked content (like facebook) and to disable software that “lets school district officials know where the iPads are, and what the students are doing with them at all times.” The original LA Times article seems shocked and awed that students would hack the devices so they could use them “for personal use”.

I understand the need to focus on student privacy and safety, particularly in the U.S. where CIPA and COPPA. But it is totally unreasonable to give locked-down iPads to students (any students!) and expect them to not find ways around the blocks. Even the Chief Information Officer of LAUSD thinks so:

The district’s chief information officer, Ronald Chandler, says he wasn’t really surprised that students bypassed blocks so quickly. He says that hacks happen at all levels, whether it’s secured parts of the federal government, or student iPads.

“So we talked to students, and we asked them, ‘Why did you do this?’ And in many cases, they said, ‘You guys are just locking us out of too much stuff.'”

To the credit of the the school district, it sounds like they will review their policy. They have, however, currently halted the home use of iPads “until further notice.” Hopefully this is so they can find ways of finding a more student-centered policy rather than finding another way to lock down the devices.

The questions I have are these:

  • What is LAUSD doing to teach students how to act responsibly and how to make good decisions while using technology?
  • How was LAUSD envisioning the use of iPads by students (and teachers) with all of the blocks and filters in place?
  • How much time and money were spent setting up that doomed-to-fail system?

If you know anybody who is working in LAUSD, I’d love to hear from them. If you have any thoughts or comments, I’d love to hear those too!


Where Did That File Go?

The launch of the 1:1 tablet program at UNIS has coincided with a move towards a paperless school. I don’t know if this move was part of the grand vision 5 or 6 years ago but it is certainly a reality on campus. Students in the Middle School/High School do not have access to any printers on campus. They aren’t even given notebooks or binders, for the most part, so teachers don’t give out physical worksheets. All handouts are printed from Word or PDF files into OneNote and then edited/manipulated with the keyboard or with digital ink. For many students, the only work that they do on paper are end-of-unit summative tests. There is also still the odd notice that get printed and sent to parents and, of course, our reports are still laboriously printed for parents to keep in their ‘permanent records’.

Because of this, we expect students, over the course of their stay at UNIS, to collect and create hundreds – possibly thousands! – of documents. How can we help them keep track of them all?

From the beginning, we’ve instituted a naming convention that should be used on every instructional file. The goal is for you to be able to recognize immediately the general contents of that file before it is even opened! The generic convention looks like this:

Subj – Unit – Assignment Name

As a teacher, I might create the following documents:

  • Math08 – Linear Equations – Graphing Slope-Intercept Form
  • Eng07 – Folktales – Writing My Own Folktalk
  • Physics – Nuclear Physics – Fission Experiment

There should be no doubt what you will find when you open any of those documents. As the student has downloads the document to the correct location, she only needs to add her first and last name to end of the file name.

By doing this, it is easy to see when a file is out of place or misnamed. For the students who choose not use some sort of folder structure, this ensures that files from each subject are automatically grouped together when sorted by name. It also makes it easy to search for a file since we know what it should be called.

What do you do to help your students stay organized?

Digital Citizenship Violations

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Some of our grade 6 students have been a bit naughty recently…

First, some background:

Last week I was tasked with writing a new AUP for our school. (I’m still waiting for feedback from Admin, but if/when it undergoes any changes, I’ll be sure to let you know.)

One of the issues I was toying with was what to do if somebody violates the AUP. If we believe that “access to technology and information is no longer a privilege but a necessity” how can we use the threat of denying access? Wouldn’t that also mean denying students the tools necessary to learn?

After a quick tweet out to my PLN, I got a couple of great responses:


Back to our naughty grade 6s:

Before this AUP even made it out to the school community, I was faced with a situation: some students were having a good time sending chain emails to the entire Grade 6 class. It was then compounded, when either people would reply to the chain email or would complain about the email by hitting “Reply All”.

After hearing about it, I dropped by each of the Grade 6 homerooms and had a “discussion” (it was more like a monologue) about chain emails and how they were disrespectful and irresponsible. We decided to let bygones be bygones and start fresh, knowing that we would no longer pass along chain emails.

Less than 24 hours later (24 hours!) they were at it again. I got a tip from a disgruntled student. I met with the three offenders and gave them a research project:

1. Research two or three potential dangers of email chain letters and spam.

2. Come up with a plan for dealing with email chain letters and spam in his inbox.

3. Write a 3 or 4 paragraph summary (in English, Vietnamese, Korean, or another language of his choice) describing what he has learned. It is important that he include links to the websites that he found when doing his research in steps 1 and 2.

I will post his findings anonymously on my school blog to help further educate other students about the dangers and precautions related to email chain letters and spam.

Was I too harsh? What would you have done?

Classroom Management: Now with Audio Inside!

Thanks again to all those in my PLN who gave me some great suggestions regarding classroom management in a 1:1 classroom. After posting my draft version, I made some minor revisions – most of them cosmetic, to be honest.

I gave this presentation today to about 16 teachers, mostly from the middle and high school and my highest turnout to date. I also had the principal for a good portion of the hour. I recorded the entire discussion and have now linked it to the presentation. There are some times when the discussion wanders a bit but it is all still (mostly) relevant to the topic at hand. If you’ve got 45 minutes or so, I invite you to take a look. Or you could browse through the pretty pictures…

Classroom Management in a 1:1 Enviroment Draft

I’ve been hearing a lot of concerns from teachers about how our students are using their TabletPCs. Most of the concerns, in my mind, are not technological concerns but rather behavioral and social concerns that happen to be manifesting themselves when the tablets are present. So I’ve decided to host a discussion of classroom management practices in a 1:1 environment. I have borrowed heavily from the works of others in the creation of my slide deck, most notably those in my Twitter Network who answered my call a few weeks back, Ann Krembs, the Irving Independent School District, Jim Heyndericks at, Mike Hasley on Tech Learning, and the Always On podcast.

Here is a draft of my slide deck to date. I really would appreciate any feedback, comments or suggestions. Thanks!

A Criterion Based Gradebook

The Problem

I’ve searched everywhere for a digital gradebook solution that can handle the rigors of criterion-based assessment. The MYP isn’t predicated on percentages (how can you give an 84% for an English essay anyway? How does it differ from an 86%?) but rather descriptors of performance. A mark of 4 out of 8 doesn’t mean the student got half of the things correct; it corresponds to a description of the work. A good description of the nuances of MYP assessment can be found here (.pdf).

Since I couldn’t find a decent ready-made solution I decided to create one. I’ve tailored it to the needs of my school: we are a tablet PC school so I thought it would be nice to use the stylus to input the marks. I’ve also created several iterations for different MYP subjects to fit with their specific criteria and grade boundaries. The Math version is linked below. It’s nothing fancy; just an Excel document with a few macros (nothing malicious, I promise!). It gets the job done, though.

The Walkthrough

Summative Grades – This is for the major summative tasks. Each task may be assessed on more than one criterion so it is important that you input date and title for each criterion used.

Formative Grades – This is where homework can be recorded. You can also assess classwork on specific criteria or record results from quizzes. I was thining of the old +, √, – method here and used a numerical equivalent.

ATL Skills – Approaches to Learning, for the un-MYP among us, are specific study skills that are explained in detail through the program. I found it useful to track these ATL skills to better provide reporting data.

The Macros

At the end of each reporting period the teacher is required to determine at what level each student is performing for each criterion. To aid this, I’ve set up a simple sort macro which groups all of the same criterion grades together in chronological order. You can then return it to its original order by using the date sort. It’s probably a good idea to put in the reporting period headers and date first before sorting by criteria so that you have a place to put your final assessment.

The Disclaimer

Like all work on this site, these gradebooks are shared under a Creative Commons 3.0 Non-Commerical Share Alike license. If you find ways of improving upon this, I would love to know!

MYP Gradebook Math;
MYP Gradebook Language A
MYP Gradebook Language B
MYP Gradebook Humanities
MYP Gradebook Science

IDK – Homework Edition

IDK – I Don’t Know. (Title for this post blatantly borrowed from Mr. K over at Math Stories.)

Yesterday while talking with a student and her parent I had a brainwave! As a math teacher, when I check homework, it is mostly just to check that it’s been done. I know that there is a lot of copying going on, I know that there are arguments for and against homework. I’ve certainly toned down the amount of homework that I give over the past few years, particularly as I have been teaching more and more middle school classes. What drives me absolutely batty, though, is when I look at a blank piece of paper and the student gives me the “I didn’t know how to do anything and I looked at each problem and didn’t know what to do for any of them” spiel. That could very well be true. That could also very well be untrue. How am I to know? (Some say I’m pessimistic.)

So here’s the solution that I thought of right in the middle of my conversation: if you find yourself in this situation, instead of leaving it blank, write down the questions that you have about the problem!  

Simple, elegant, and everybody is happy. Why did it take me years, YEARS, to come up with that?

What are you solutions to IDK on homework?