Monday, January 26, 2015

Quick & Easy Cell Phone Web Filtering for Kids (*and limitations)

Please note, as of February 28, 2019, Curbi is no longer available and some of the suggestions below are outdated.

Please see Apple Screen Time a Huge Win for Everyone, Including Parents! for a great solution to use instead.

As parents, we certainly can’t be with our children constantly to monitor all the inappropriate material they may encounter when using a smart phone. We we can help them learn to make good choices and discuss what to do when they do come across inappropriate content.  We can also use technology tools to help limit the amount of exposure to inappropriate content which I highlight below:

Option A
One of the quickest, easiest ways to put a filter on a cell phone is to use Restrictions (more details and instructions).  On Apple and some Droid devices, Restrictions allow you to create a separate password from your child's screen lock and limit web content (on iPod/iPad/iPhone), app installs, purchases, ratings for movies/apps/explicit language, and much more.  I am more familiar with Apple than Droids, but from what I've read it looks like Droid Parental Controls/Restrictions unfortunately won't filter web content, so see option B farther below.

The default setting for websites that are restricted through Apple iOS is pretty strict, but seems to offer the best option at this time.  You can add a few sites to a whitelist, but your child may need to go to a desktop computer with a more robust filter or need you to enter in your Restrictions password to temporarily access some sites.  I think this inconvenience is a small price to pay for the benefits of having this safeguard in place.

[Added April 2015]
Option A2
Curbi is a great option for parents to filter and monitor their child's Droid or iPhone/iPad and provides valuable data to spark conversations around the use of technology. Read more here in a later post.

Option B
There are also services you can purchase that will help you filter your child’s phone such as SafeEyesMobiCip and NetNanny, but it is important to realize that these products only filter the internet when accessed through that app.  These products have you turn off the cellphone's web browser, such as Safari on an iPhone and Chrome on a Droid, and then they have you also turn off the ability for your child to install and remove apps without your password. This is their solution to preventing your child from not using the filtered web browser/app.  (For example, see NetNanny's FAQ Disclaimer #9: Can Net Nanny filter inappropriate content within "other" apps?) However, if your child accesses a webpage link through any other app with its own built in web browser such as Schoology, Instagram or Facebook, it bypasses the filtered web browsing app. This is a major limitation, which is why I feel that cellular providers need to offer a solution to filter all internet traffic to and from the device, which leads us to Option C.  But don't get optimistic about this third option:

Option C
Some cell phone providers may offer content filtering services parents can choose to activate. My family's carrier, Verizon Wireless, used to do this for 3G services, but hasn't for 4G LTE now for years.  So there is no option for parents to choose this for a smartphone, despite the misleading promise that Verizon lists on their website stating that these services are available to parents.  

From looking around, it seems that AT&T, Sprint, and TMobile also don't offer these services for smartphones, either.  If you know otherwise, please let me know.  To learn more, you can Google your service provider and add the words "parental controls", but be sure to read the fine print to see if you can filter websites your child can access through her/his smartphone.  I had started a petition to get cellular companies to offer these services for 4G LTE but that closed. 
Option D
Some phone companies like Kajeet specifically offer filtered phones for children with a variety of additional control options.  Kajeet does offer filtering for Sprint devices, but that won't cover WiFi, so that brings you back to Option A and A2. They also offer unlocked and contract free phones, which unfortunately are a no go for most parents who want everything on one bill under their Family Plan, etc.  

Other filters to consider:
Turn on the free tools within Google and YouTube to activate stricter filters on web, image, and video searches by logging into these apps and websites with a Gmail account and locking them in SafeSearch mode. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Great 1:1 Program Evaluation Questions for Student, Parent, and Teacher Surveys

It's that time of the school year when educators are looking to evaluate their 1:1 programs.  I've had three requests in the just past two weeks to share the surveys we've developed and used.  I figured sharing these here could be valuable for others, too.  Feedback has always been and will continue to be an important part of our project as we study the impact of this initiative.   We continue to work intensively with our teachers as they learn to integrate iPads into the curriculum, and this input helps to shape our training. 

I just launched our annual iPad Program and Technology survey last week for the fourth year, seeking input and feedback from our 4,500 iPad students in grades 7-12, their families, and their teachers in preparation for late February and March reports to the School Board.  

Over the years, we have found that iPads increase student engagement, collaboration, communication, organization and efficiency, better individualize instruction, provide real-time feedback, and increase 21st century skills like problem solving and critical thinking. You can look through past School Board presentations on this master list of our iPad program resources at  The links to past Board presentations include PowerPoints with graphs of the results to the past three years of our survey questions. The results of this year's survey will be posted in March 2015.  

Below are links to copies of the surveys we used last year.  Initially we asked more questions four years ago and we have cut out some over years.  Since the first semester of our first year of the program had half the students/parents/teachers without iPads, we asked both groups the same questions multiple times in year one and made some notes of the differences between them.  You can see these differences in Board Reports from our first year of one to one iPads.  Now instead of surveying the groups two or three times during the school year, I now just do it once.  (We’ve noticed some survey fatigue…)
If you'd be willing to share your survey questions for program evaluation, I'd appreciate it!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Tip #3 for a Successful 1:1 Implementation: Use Schoology as the Classroom Hub

Image created by Ben Stanerson
One of the strengths of our 1:1 iPad program has been our decision four years ago to use Schoology as the central hub that allows teachers and students access to digital content. Our choice to use the Schoology learning management system (LMS) has helped enhance the integration of iPads into classrooms by providing teachers with an easy tool to post and collect digital content. Students also have easy access to that content through the Schoology app and Safari. This one common tool allows for communication and collaboration between teacher and student.  Students use Schoology daily to get materials like class notes, worksheets, web links, videos, take online quizzes, and post content to discussion boards. Schoology has become an extension of our physical classrooms.  

Image created by Ben Stanerson
It is super easy to manage a digital paperless iPad classroom through Schoology along with Google Docs, Notability, and other apps like iMovie, etc.  There is no need for a teacher to set up specific Google Folders, deal with sharing permissions, track missing or late work manually, or require students to name files in specific ways.  Schoology tracks and takes care of all of this for teachers, creating more time for them to spend on more important things.  The Schoology app even allows teachers to annotate in digital ink on students' assignments when grading, making a paperless classroom even easier!

There are many more benefits to using Schoology in a 1:1 program, including the automatic posting of assignments and tests into students' calendars--they don't even have to open Schoology to see what is due.  Alerts and notifications can be set up through email and also text messaging.


The community collaboration and support that students have for one another in the program is also huge--students also serve as a great resource in assisting others with questions through an online course in our eLearning environment. All students and teachers in the iPad program are enrolled in this course which serves as a central online knowledge base for users. Questions are often asked and answered by students, with little need for staff technical assistance. The online course provides 24/7 support. 

Parents also have access to all of this through one account for all their children. There is no need to learn a separate system and remember passwords for each teacher their child has, etc.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Parenting with Purpose in the Digital Age... Managing New Devices Received at the Holidays

Teaching kids to use technology responsibly is the responsibility of both families and schools.  In an effort to help parents
, we've been offering parent education talks on the topic for about the past seven years, such as one this Thursday, Parenting Tech Savvy Elementary Kids 101, January 8, 2015, 6:30–8pm, in the Excelsior Elementary Auditorium. My colleague, Kelli Whiteside, an Elementary Media Specialist, and I will be presenting.  We offer free transportation for parents in the school district that may not have a vehicle. Our elementary session description is:
Tablets, Smartphones, Minecraft, Instagram, Snapchat . . . Technology is a big part of our kids’ world! Keeping up can be challenging, but a positive and well informed approach can have a big impact on your child’s future and habits. Learn how to help your kids develop a balanced and healthy use of technology.  Get tips to develop safe and effective research habits, ideas for maintaining open dialog about technology, and understand the significant role you play in helping your child be responsible and safe in today’s high-tech world. Numerous ideas and free resources like Common Sense Media will be shared. This presentation is geared toward parents of children in E – 5th grades.
A link to our handout with all of these tips and resources can be found at Some of our tips include:

  1. Celebrate and Encourage Positive Uses of Technology
  2. Proactively share values, consequences, expectations away from home
  3. Model a Healthy Balance and Limit Entertainment Screen Time vs. Educational Screen Time 
  4. Actively engage and monitor, keep informed of trends, pop culture
  5. Set up a filter and restrictions for all screens
  6. Talk about respectful etiquette and cyberbullying
  7. Avoid Violent Video Games

At school with students, we begin this process early in elementary school, with media specialists using the Common Sense Media curriculum with our students whom they see for direct instruction each week.  At our secondary level, we are embedding the Common Sense Media curriculum into our announcements and also some of our advisory/homerooms.  If you haven't ever looked at Common Sense Media, it's great.  I'm always recommending this site to parents as a great place for up to date news on the latest trends, reviews of movies, apps, video games, etc., and advice on parenting in the Digital Age.  We keep updating information to share with our students' families about cyber safety and digital citizenship on our website, including tips such as instructions about installing home internet filters and links to other resources. We started a District Task Force on Digital Citizenship this past summer. We've also refreshed a poster campaign, with some elementary and secondary examples pictured below:


Our hope is that by repeatedly reminding and educating both students and parents through multiple mediums and means, our students will be safe and responsible digital citizens. 

Watch a 90 minute Minnetonka Parent Digital Citizenship Presentation for Secondary Students or 60 minute webinar.

See also:

Parenting with Purpose in the Digital Age... It's Complicated

Parenting in the Digital Age Part 2: How Much Should Parents Snoop?