Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Free Computer Classes for Students and Parents Teach Tech, Digital Citizenship, and Media Awareness

Hi this is teacher Jon Schwartz announcing that free computer and technology courses are being offered to students and their parents at Garrison Elementary School in Oceanside, CA.
Every Wednesday morning from 7:15-8:05 I'm teaching a computer lab full of kids in grades 3-5 about digital citizenship, internet safety and research, media awareness, search engine optimization, blogging, and Miscrosoft Word and Excel.
Parents have to complete a handwritten request and meet with me before I set up their child with a blog and the blogs are anonymous and not available to the public. Here's what the permission slips look like. They are available in English and Spanish. 

Over 80% of my second grade students have their own personal blogs, which is a continuation of a blogging program called Kids Like Blogs I started three years ago when I was teaching a 4/5 combo class here at Garrison. If you want to see my second graders blogging and using Photoshop go here and click on the video called "Teaching Kids to Use Blogs and Photoshop: Classroom Technology"
The work that we started with Kids Like Blogs  two years ago got an enthusiastic response from educational websites like Edutopia, education professors at CSU San Marcos like Dr. Leslie Mauerman and Dr. Jacqueline Thousand, the North County Times, and we were featured on TV by Fox 5 News San Diego.  
A well known reporter from Fox 5 TV named Christina Lee actually came to our classroom and produced a segment on the educational value of our blogging program. It was great because the kids participated in the planning of the segment and got hands-on experience in media work, video production, and interviews. It was like a graduate course in journalism, video editing, and public relations. Best of all they got to watch the TV show they helped create that night on TV!
In the same spirit of  bringing tech to elementary education, this year we're teaching blogs to kids and parents. Twice a month of the first and third Wednesdays of every month I'm teaching a free tech course for parents of Garrison students. Of course I teach this to my own second graders in my homeroom second grade class, but this is the first instance of me being able to teach tech to students outside of my class at Garrison.
We're starting off with basic computer and internet skills and then we will progress to blogging, email, and simple website creation. Pictured below are two of the adults in the night class. One is a mother of one of my second grade students, and the other is a woman with whom I often practice my Spanish before school starts when she drops off her child. She was kind of hesitant to grab hold of the mouse and by the end of the session she was clicking away!
Instruction is offered in English and Spanish for the parents. I speak a lot of Spanish but because teaching tech requires me to convey things precisely and accurately without delay, I have enlisted the help of my bilingual wife, who grew up in Michoacan, Mexico. My two eldest girls are bilingual and they are also assisting the parents. Here's some of them helping the parents at the night class.
Below is a group photo of the first tech class that we for parents. That's my wife on the left in the light purple and my daughters (and a friend of one of our daughters that wanted to help out) are interspersed throughout the group. It was awesome! Is there anything cooler than seeing people, for the first time, learn something as important as how to click a mouse, open a word document, and learn how to navigate the internet?
I sent out fliers announcing the free tech courses for students and parents and we had an overwhelming response from students. The one lab I am using for kids has about 28 working computers so the first 30 kids that showed up the first session earned a spot, and the rest are on the waiting list. My dream would be to have 75 wirless laptops outfitted with Photoshop, iMovie, and Garage Band, where kids and parents could assemble in the multipurpose room and receive tech instruction that I was delivering on a a huge LCD screen. That'd go a long way in helping this community bridge the digital divide.

I'm concerned that people in less affluent communities have less access to decent computers and tech instruction. How will they be able to participate in our increasingly computer-based world if they don't know how to operate a computer and use the internet as a tool for learning and communication?
Somehow, all the parents that came to the free tech club at night are Spanish Speaking, which is interesting because the invitations that I sent out were in English and Spanish. Here are the bilingual invitations I sent home and distributed by hand:
If the news hasn't gotten out, English is spoken at the night classes! In fact you'll first hear my English and then you'll hear my wife and girls translating it to parents who need it delivered in Spanish.

I'm offering instruction to any parents that show up, and I will cater the lessons to whoever attends the classes. I will announce the parent sessions again in a bilingual notice that will be sent home next week. In the future if the school can find some money to buy Photoshop or some video editing programs and some computers that will handle this software, I hope to teach digital design and movie making too! We've been use technology like blogs, Photoshop, video editing, and multitrack audio recording in my class as an educational tool for years. Check the video below as an example:

Above is a photo of some of my second graders using Photoshop. In this particular instance, these kids hand drew some artwork related to our class blues band called The Kids Like Blues Band. They then scanned it into the computer by themselves, and edited it in Phoshop independently.

Below is a student that drew a guitar freehand while we were filming our official music video, Chuck Berry's "Let it Rock".
After the student drew the guitar he scanned it to the computer and manipulated it in Photoshop and added text. These skills will help him if he wants to become a graphic designer. I like providing my kids with skills they can utilize in the job market.
Next students upload the images to their blogs which their families can read from any computer or mobile device. Here is one of my second graders logging into his private blog on Kid Blog.
I have a video of his mother explaining how she enjoys receiving updates when he blogs, and how he is motivated to continue blogging when she posts comments on his blog. Here is a still photo taken from the video of her explaining how this all works. Her interview is shown in the tech video that I embedded above.
We keep the internet address to their blog anonymous to ensure child safety and they only share it with people their parents choose. I also train them on how to navigate the web safely and they sign a contract indicating their understanding that they understand the restrictions I place in internet usage. We post this right above our computer workstation.
Kids know they can do research on things related to what we are learning in class, including science information like the rock cycle and volcanoes, US History related to the CA State Standards,  music related to our blues band work, and geography.
They understand that Sponge Bob, Justin Beiber, and Angry Birds are not related to our education standards and they are prohibited from using the internet to search for such information in class.
To see more about our work with blues music that has been featured by the US Dept. of Education and KPBS TV, go here.

The 12 parents that showed up to this first ever free evening tech club are just starting out on computers, and it's a thrill to be able to participate in their technological awakening. Hopefully they will continue to come and gain skills that will enable them to fully participate in all of the things in our world that require computer knowledge.
As the weeks unfold we will be moving into more complex technology and my goal is for the parents to be able to use the computers to communicate, get news, access the digital marketplace, and even create their own websites and blogs for self expression or the marketing of their own services if they have any. Isn't that what those of use use the internet for anyway?
Teaching Media and Internet Awareness

Another thing we are learning is internet safety and media awareness. I'm teaching students and parents about Page Rank, Search Engine Optimization, keyword searches, and trying to to help them develop a healthy amount of skepticism and media awareness. I want them to be savvy internet users. When they come across information, images, or websites on the internet that have an agenda or are trying sell them something, I want them to be able to make informed decisions. Educating them enables them to use the information for their benefit or skip it entirely. Without awareness and education, they're more likely to be manipulated by the information they find. There's no helpful librarian guiding your selections when you navigate the internet so people need to be "hipped" to the fact that while the internet can be a great resource, it is also a racket and a potential source of misinformation and junk.

To teach the parents and students this, I show them what happens when someone innocently tries to get information on tigers for a school project.  When you type in a term like "tigers" on a search engine like Google, guess what comes up near the top of the search results?
The Detroit Tigers baseball team! Part of the reason this occurs is that Google is set up to link you to content that is most often accessed by others. It's like a librarian saying, "Here, look at this website, because it's popular." The problem is, Google isn't smart like a librarian, and Googe doesn't have a conscience.

Unlike a helpful and well trained librarian who can learn about you through a short conversation and recommend things that look like they'd fit with your persona and stated interests, Google just gives you the sites that are popular that match the exact word you typed in.  It assumes you wanted to look at the Detroit Tigers because that's the most popular website linked to the word "Tigers".
But that's not all! The internet is a marketplace. Companies want your eyeballs on their websites. Before the internet when the world was just brick and mortar shops, the physical location of a store was ultra important, hence the phrase "location, location, location!" that was smartly heeded by shop owners in towns. You'd be silly to open up a news stand in an area where no one would see it, because you want people's eyeballs to see your storefront.

That's the way the internet works- it's all about location. The difference is that instead of the all-important location being on main street,  a good location means being at the top of the search results. This requires potentially expensive SEO (Search Engine Optimization) work to make your website be recognized by search engines like Google as a site that they should show others.

For example, the below advertisement was put up by an SEO company offering website owners the chance to pay to make their website go to the top of search results. Every large company has an SEO budget so their site is high in Google.
This is important to know for anyone using the internet, and I have an interesting way to teach it that kids and parents can relate to and quickly understand. I have personal experience with website optimization. During the summer I work as a writer and fishing photographer.

I get more "hits" to my site and sell more images when my site comes up on the first page of search results for "fishing photography". To make my site end up on the first page, I have to optimize my site by loading up the page titles and meta tags with the right search terms, and then I have to load the site with content that is full of fishing related words and images, I have to update the site often, and I have to have content that gets my site noticed. Otherwise you'll never see my site when you type in "fishing photography". This work is all done behind the scenes and most people aren't even aware that it accounts for what they see on the internet.
Also, there's a thing called "Page Rank". This is more than just the place Goggle gives you in the pecking order. Google assigns a Page Rank (PR) to every website, and sites go up in PR when they have been around for a long time, are updated frequently, get lots of hits (visits) and also, when other high PR sites link to them. These are called backlinks. Backlinks are a key tool in getting one's site recognized. My fishing photography website is a PR 4. I know this because I did a Page Rank search and came up with this result:
To teach students about Page Rank and SEO, I tell them about an exciting time when I became part of a huge international press story. I have tons of images and stories to illustrate this and it really draws people in to the way the internet works.

It goes like this: Several years ago I was on a press boat taking pictures of marlin in a fishing tournament in Hawaii. It ended up becoming a worldwide story that made my site more valuable.  Being on the thepress boat, we weren't supposed to be fishing, but the captain couldn't resist putting a lure out. When a huge marlin grabbed the lure we were dragging, it headed right back at us and slammed into our boat!
I was lucky enough to grab a camera and got some incredible images of the huge fish heading straight for us.
Because I knew that the story and images had major mainstream appeal, while still on the boat I called up my media contacts and pitched them the story. Within days it went "viral". One of the photos made the cover of a magazine. To me, the most valuable thing that happened is that Yahoo, the world's most visited website, featured my image and story on it's homepage. The marlin story got millions of hits on Yahoo and stayed on the homepage for two straight days next to news items like international conflicts and Supreme Court confirmations.

Because I wrote it all up on my site and required the Yahoo contributor to link to my site, I got a backlink from one of the top sites in the world. Google recognizes these backlinks as a sort of endorsement; to Google, it was like Yahoo said, "Jon Schwartz's fishing website is my personal friend". As a result, my website soon climbed to the top of Google searches and my Page Rank increased.
When people clicked on the picture, they were led to my fishing photography website, and within hours of the story breaking, I was getting tens of thousands of hits to my site! This makes my site more valuable, and if I wanted to sell advertising on my site with banner ads, I could charge more money because I now have a higher page rank.
By going to the "back end" of my website and checking my website statistics, I could monitor how many people visited my site, where they lived, which websites referred them to my site, which words they typed in to find me, and this is all information that I can use to tailor future posts that I make.  If they found by typing in the phrase "Big Fish", I will see that in my stats and write more stories that have that phrase in the title to attract future viewers. The above screenshot shows the spike in viewership my website received when that marlin story hit Yahoo. And guess what? These graphs are great tools to teach kids math standards.
This sounds complicated, so you might wonder how this relates to kids and parents learning about computer use. If a kid, parent, or classroom has a blog where they can check the stats and see how many hits they get from their family (kids the website should be kept anonymous from the public), even if they are only getting 2 hits on Monday, if they get 8 hits on Tuesday, that's a 400% increase and you can bet their eyes will bulge when they see the increase in traffic to their blogs. They can even see which browsers their audience is using, and they get the data in pie charts, which is a real world application of statistics and math.
I should mention that I set up younger kids with blogs using This platform is a junior blogging program that doesn't have these tools.  To teach these younger kids SEO, Page Rank, and media awareness, I share with them my own personal blog stats and we also maintain a class blog- the one you're reading right now! Students help me add to the blog with verbal suggestions and I am the only one that knows the password so they can only read the content, they can't directly access the blog to modify it. We open up the stats as a whole class using the LCD projector and check our stats this way.

Another great motivating factor about blogs is that I can set it up so that everytime the kid posts aa new writing, called a "post", their parents and I get an instant email update alerting them to the post, and the parent can then post comments that their child can read. I've had kids blog over vacations; I'll read the posts from wherever I am and post comments with constructive writing tips even though were in the middle of winter break. How's that for continuing the academic discussion outside of classroom hours!

Companies like the Detroit Tigers spend hundreds of thousand of dollars to get experts to craft their site so Google shows it to you first. That's why when you type in "Tigers" you see their site first.
It's not a simple "pay to play" deal, but website optimization (the term used to describe the science of getting search engines to show your site first) is a huge business, and many people are unaware of how it works.

It's important to understand it because without awareness of this process, one can assume that whatever they see on the internet is something that is a quality match for their needs.

To illustrate this, let's talk about how the public misperception on the dangers of sharks, and focus on the media's coverage of shark and dog attacks. Have you ever wondered why you always hear about shark attacks on websites like Yahoo home page? Yahoo knows that you are likely to click on pics and stories of shark attacks no matter how infrequently they occur, how few people are affected, and regardless of the severity of the injury. If they concentrated on things that were more likely to affect you, before they concentrated on shark attacks, they'd be featuring pics and stories about dogs attacking people, because that occurs much more frequently. If you want proof with stats, google "Dog Bite Statistics" and compare them to how many people get hurt by sharks annually with a Google search on "Shark Bite Statistics".

Yahoo puts up what will get clicked on because when you click on their content they can show to advertisers that they are getting lots of visits to their sites, so they can charge a lot. If a person in Hawaii gets a bloody toe from a shark, which just happened last week, it makes international headlines, but chances are there are people who live near you that have been hurt worse by dogs; it just didn't make headlines. And for that matter, that's why TV has "Shark Week": because millions will sit glued to the screen, the network that shows it will be able to get prime dollar for the commercial advertisements that are shown while that program airs.

How does this relate to training kids and parents to internet searches and teaching tech? The big take-away idea here is that the sites that show up first when you google things are not the result of some kind, wise person showing you things that match your needs, but rather, they are the things that are 1) most often looked at by others on the internet, and 2) sites that website professionals rig so that their site will come up for the term you punched in on the keyboard. When people have this knowledge, they are more likely to use the internet as a tool to learn and communicate, and are less likely to be lured into being a passive consumer of goods and information that is not helpful to them. It's all about raising awareness. Of course, another approach would be to clamp down on internet use, but I don't think that is realistic and I know that kids in more affluent areas are being taught these skills. If we who are teaching people in less affluent areas stay so "old school" that we don't teach these skills out of fear, we're handicapping our students and they won't be able to compete with kids who have tech training.

This healthy dose of media awareness is something that I try to teach students of all ages. Someone asked me if this concept is too complicated for kids, and the answer is no. If you show them how the process works with exciting examples that they can relate to and use kid-friendly language, they get it right away. It's often adults who take longer to "get" it!