• Check your outrage at the door.

    Posted by Tim Mangan on 12/16/2019

    I was listening to an interesting podcast the other day that explored the phenomenon of “outrage” as it occurs on social media.  The basic premise is that it’s difficult to have a balanced opinion, a rational discussion, or a calm reflection on the Internet and still get attention.  If you don’t post something outrageous, it doesn’t get noticed.


    As teachers, this rings so true to our classrooms and the everyday interactions with students.  It’s not good enough to express frustration rationally, students often feel that there needs to be spectacle and drama.  And as teachers, we are trained to respond to student expressions calmly and thoughtfully.  But what lessons can we give our students when they are online and acting on their own?

    The first thing we can do is encourage students to practice a pause and reflect approach to posting online.  Pause to remember that it’s a real person on the other end of the conversation.  And remind yourself that statements on the Internet never go away.  Then reflect on the message you are about to post or send.  Put yourself in a context.  If you were walking together through Krape Park, would you be having a different conversation?  Are you trying solve a problem?  Or are you trying to “score points” with the perfect comeback?  Sometimes, the best approach is to separate yourself from the conversation for a while and come back later with a more controlled response.

    Second, consider the people on the other end of the conversation.  The reality is that humans have always been passionate, argumentative, and outraged.  But when you live in a community and rely on each other, it’s generally a bad idea to burn bridges.  If you get a reputation for treating the server poorly, you might find that it’s difficult to get a reservation at your favorite restaurant.  Interacting with people in person creates a different dynamic than online social media interactions.  Online, we often have no bridges to burn.  It’s much easier to post inflammatory statements when there are no repercussions to your daily interactions.  In fact, some research suggests that posting your outrage galvanizes your supporters, but at the cost of alienating everyone else.  This creates ever increasing silos in our online world.

    Of course, this is all easier said than done.  We all get frustrated.  And even the best of us say things we regret.  That said, we keep trying to always do better.

    Additional Resources:

    "Moral outrage in the digital age," by Molly Crockett, 2017.


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  • MAP Data and Informing Instruction

    Posted by Tim Mangan on 11/22/2019

    I recently had the opportunity to participate in a workshop for regional administrators to discuss MAP data and reporting.  Even though the workshop was held in Deerfield, the participating districts included a diverse representation from around the state.  From the presentations and discussions, I walked away with three major themes to how MAP data is used in schools.

    First, MAP data is being used at the classroom level.  Each of the presenters emphasized how their teachers use MAP data for unit and lesson planning.  A quick look at the class breakdown by goal report will show how students performed on sub skill areas.  Teachers are using this data to prepare upcoming units of instruction.  One example showed a 2nd grade class where it was evident that three of the students struggled with reading Informational Text: Key Ideas and Details.  The teacher could then look at the upcoming units and supplement the text with leveled reading, arrange students in flexible reading groups, or target interventions for the lowest performing students.  

    A second key takeaway is that teachers are NOT doing this alone.  In all of the presenting schools teachers have a network of supporting colleagues to help analyze the data and plan for lessons.  It sounded a lot like how our PLC model is supposed to work.  In the above example, it would make sense that the team would work together to identify the leveled reading texts that could be used and the interventions that might be useful.  Working as a team to look at common data makes planning and decision making a lot easier.

    Finally, it’s all about instruction.  At the end of the day, the sentiment from all attendees was that it’s all about improving classroom instruction.  Using MAP data to make instruction meaningful for all students is going to be key to helping students meet their growth goals.  We must get to the point where we are not using a “one-size fits all” approach.  And we can’t jump immediately to starting an intervention process for every outlier.  One presenter was very clear that the lowest performing student’s MAP score wasn’t qualifying him for interventions.  There were multiple factors (social-emotional skills, past assessment scores, current classroom efforts) that are considered before a student is assigned interventions.

    If you are interested in learning more about how to use MAP in your classroom, start by taking a look at the following guidebook:

    Reporting and Data For Teachers and Teams

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  • When Good Tools Go Bad

    Posted by Tim Mangan on 10/22/2019

    We all know that the pace of change in the Tech world is very fast and unpredictable.  But nothing is quite as surprising as finding a once treasured website or eLearning tool has been warped by the Internet.  Our Internet filter keeps pace with these changes and filters accordingly.  But sometimes end users wonder why is my great tool suddenly blocked?

    Take for example, Pintrest (https://www.pinterest.com).  For years, Pinterst has been a great source for classroom layout and organization tips, bulletin board ideas, and crafty holiday art projects. 


    But Pintrest isn’t all craft paper and stickers.  Pintrest openly advertises that “Some nudity is okay for Pinterest, some isn't.  Make sure you understand our policies.”  And with that seemingly innocent phrase, a great resource has been compromised.

    Another great resource gone bad is Weebly (https://www.weebly.com).  Weebly advertises how its users can build a free website in under 30 minutes.  This sounds like a great tool for teachers, and as expected, it quickly became a hot topic among educators. 


    But as Weebly’s business model and public exposure grew, the number of suspicious sites using the service also grew.  Turns out that Weebly is so easy to use that literally anyone looking to create a free website can create one – and that’s not always a good thing. 

    I know that sometimes staff and students get frustrated with our Internet filter – especially when the website worked yesterday and not today.  But this just means that our filter is working exactly the way it’s supposed to work.  Part of the design of our systems is that they update regularly.  So as new threats are detected and new inappropriate sites discovered, our filter will adjust.

    That said, our filter can’t solve everything.  For example, take a look at Scratch (https://scratch.mit.edu/).  Scratch was developed by MIT to help students learn programming.  It is a web-based block coding project.  It has pre-built snippets of computer code that help students build games, presentations, animations, and more. 

    Their website proclaims that “The ability to code computer programs is an important part of literacy in today’s society. When people learn to code in Scratch, they learn important strategies for solving problems, designing projects, and communicating ideas.” 


    It’s a noble goal.  However, students have learned that they can add background music to their coding projects.  As such, Scratch has become a treasure trove for students who can’t get to YouTube, Spotify, or other streaming music services.  As a result, we get requests from some teachers to block Scratch, while others are asking for help putting this great tool to use in their classroom coding projects.

    Hopefully, this blog posting gives some insight into the challenges of Internet filtering and the ever-changing nature of the world wide web.  If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.


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  • Adjustments to YouTube Access

    Posted by Tim Mangan on 9/27/2019

    This week the FSD145 Technology Department took steps to limit student access to YouTube.  Access for staff remains unchanged. These changes are in response to several recent events.

    The first and foremost is the ransomware attack targeting the Rockford Public Schools.  Anytime a crisis of this magnatude hits close to home, it triggers some reflection on our own policies and practices.  A second trigger was the release of a statement from the FTC summarizing the $17 million settlement against Google for COPPA violations on YouTube.  

    When looking at our own practices, we realized that YouTube was one of the most frequently used sites by our students.  YouTube access from August 23rd, 2019 to September 27th, 2019 resulted in over 130,000 videos viewed on our network.  Looking at just one day, (September 19th), we see that 6,000 videos were viewed by 740 users.  This doesn't include the 873 videos that were blocked by our Internet filter.


    With this data in mind, we looked at different options for better monitoring YouTube access during school hours.  One of the nice features of our Internet filter appliance is that we can restrict access to programs during school hours, but allow access for homework. For example, if a teacher shows a YouTube video during class, students should always be able to view that video after school. This feature has been in place since last year, but didn't seem to be having an impact on student use of YouTube. So we decided to take additional steps.

    First, we restricted YouTube access for K-8 students.  COPPA clearly spells out that Internet access for children 13 and under must be handled more carefully than access for students over 13.  The FTC settlement with Google shows that Google has been irresponsible in that regard.

    Next, we restricted YouTube access for high school students.  We are not under the same COPPA restrictions for high school students, since they are over the age of 13.  However, the initial data showed that students were spending a lot of time watching YouTube.  We even dived a little deeper into the data to see what students were watching.  It turns out that the none of the top videos were educational.  Students were spending most of their time watching music videos and memes. Our filter has another feature that lets us block YouTube videos according to category.  If you've ever searched for an educational video, you might have seen this toward the bottom of the screen.


    Turns out that a lot of the videos that our teachers were using are already categorized as "Education." Khan Academy is probably the most widely known educational video series on YouTube.  We didn't go so far as to ONLY allow educational videos.  Instead, we set the filter to allow any video that had been assigned to a category.  That way we can still allow students to view TED Talks, Nova documentaries, News, and more.  The key is that the video must have been categorized.  This means that the video can't "fly under the radar" and needs to have some peer reviewed merit.  Our filter also allows us to filter these categories and adjust as needed.  Currently most music sites and entertainment videos will be blocked.

    As a result of our first attmept at restrictions for YouTube, we have seen a dramatic decrease in the number of videos viewed.  A snapshot of the data one week later shows that 949 students watched aprpoximately 1,000 videos.


    Moving forward, we are open to suggestions that would support instruction.  We can unblock sites (like the Pretzel Pride Network) to make sure that all of our students have access to the sites they need.  If you have a suggestion for a site that is currently restricted, but should be allowed, please contact the Technology Department and we will look at the best way to make your request happen.


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