Monday, May 29, 2017

10 Parenting Tips For a Tech Healthy Summer with Kids

For many students around the country, summer vacation has either started or is about to begin. This is a great time to help our children practice a healthy balance with their use of personal technology tools and devices. Take advantage of relaxed schedules and more downtime to provide opportunities for your children to reflect upon the role of technology in our lives. It is an opportune time to practice balance, control and moderation, and form healthy habits for the future. Here are  ten tips for making this happen:
  1. Be proactive. Begin talking to your kids now at the start of the summer about your expectations, hopes, and your own struggles.  Check out these parent-child media agreements from Common Sense Media as a starting point. Print one off and add your own rules on the back and discuss consequences, too. A smartphone with an internet connection is a privilege, not a right. You can turn off the internet by using Restrictions to remove access or apps for a while if necessary, but still let your child have a phone for contacting you when needed.
  2. Limit access to adult content. Summer often means less parental supervision. Turn on free restrictions in the settings on a smartphone to reduce the availability of porn sites, inappropriate content, naughty and nasty age 17+ apps. Do the same for your home wifi, too, using a free tool like Open DNS. You can't cut off all access to bad content, but certainly can make it less likely to be seen. Talk openly about why you're doing this, too, explaining why it's important to avoid this content, and do the same for yourself.
  3. Take advantage of tools to help you monitor the time you and your child spend on devices. On an smartphone, you can simply go to Settings>Battery and tap the clock to view the number of minutes per day/week spent in each app. Set goals for reducing times if necessary. If you want a more advanced tool, check out Curbi, which lets you set time limits and create automated rules, remotely toggle the internet on/off on your child's phone, and see what apps are in use.
  4. Summer doesn't have to be tech free.  Entertainment on a screen in moderation isn't bad. Just don't let it be a huge part of your day. Decide what an appropriate amount is for you and your child and try to stick to these guidelines. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends two hours of entertainment screen time per day for kids over age two. Watch movies and play video games with your kids. Common Sense Media has great questions for parent child discussion about most movies, apps, and video games. Have them show you what their friends are up to on social media and talk about it.
  5. Help your child create a positive digital presence. Talk about how your kids represent themselves online and how it will affect their future. Discuss what is OK to photograph and video. Talk through what is OK to share through Snapchats, text, and social media. Nothing is temporary with technology, and anything can easily be stored, re-shared, or screen shots taken. Help your kids T.H.I.N.K. before they post and digitize things Grandma would be comfortable viewing.
  6. Boredom is OK. Help your child learn it's not necessary to always be entertained, watching YouTube, playing video games, surfing the internet, or checking social media to see what others are doing—joy can even be found when missing out. Model this as a parent when you have downtime, too! Get creative and find ways to occupy your time without technology. Encourage physical activity, being outside, reading a book, and playing a board game.
  7. Go off the grid occasionally. Plug your phone in to charge and leave it leashed. Don't take it with you, go do something with your child, and don't post about it on social media. Show children that the time you spend with them is important, doesn't have to be shared with anyone else, and doesn't require likes and comments from others for validation or affirmation. Talk about this with your child, even if this is a struggle for you. Try spending an hour, part of a day or even going longer without technology.
  8. Practice being present. Limit distractions when technology is present (three ways to do this) and be where your feet are. Establish tech free zones like the dinner table, car rides, and on family outings. Friends are especially important to teens, so talk through and agree to boundaries and expectations for vacations, such as allowing an hour of social media/gaming each evening to maintain those connections yet prevent constant distraction and interruption, texting and SnapChatting during the day.
  9. Trust your kids and gradually give them more freedom as they show responsibility. Check in with them and discuss how they are using technology and social media. Let them carry their technology with them and practice not constantly checking it. Turn off notifications and help them not to get caught in the trap of using their phone as a pocket slot machine. When your kids make mistakes use them as teachable moments rather than having super harsh consequences. Don't snoop or spy unless your child is really struggling, having behavior problems or mental health issues--and if they are, don't go it alone--seek out professional counseling.
  10. Talk with other adults about helping kids have a healthy balance with technology. Compare notes with other parents and share successes and struggles. Even though your child may tell you that everyone has an iPhone, Snapchat, and uses Instagram by fifth grade, you will find that's not the case. Many parents don't give kids smartphones in elementary school, many parents keep devices out of kids' bedrooms overnight, and many parents hold off on allowing social media until middle school or later. 
Now take action! If you made it through reading all ten tips, great, but don’t stop! Do something when you finish this article. Learn more by looking through the links below. Subscribe to Common Sense Media's parent newsletter. Remember, you are the parent and can set the rules. Research shows that the most stable adults had parents who set limits and said no to some things when they were kids.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Tonka Online High School Starting Year Five with 40+ Courses & 1200+ Students

Four years ago, Minnetonka Schools started the Tonka Online program. We started small with a few teachers and courses. The program was designed to offer additional options for our high school students, allowing them to take courses in the summer and/or additional courses during the school year in order to "Do More in Four". As stated on our website, "by taking advantage of Tonka Online, you can complete required or preparatory courses during the summer, flex your daytime schedule or pick up an additional class during the school year. By creatively mapping a four-year plan, you now have the ability to complete three years of math in two years, take two music classes during the year, pursue electives that align with your passions, or ensure time for specialty programs during the junior and senior year."

The courses offered are not remedial, and instead are the same challenging, rigorous curriculum with the same high standards of our face to face courses. Content is built by our teachers, not purchased from a third party vendor. The teachers are the same in both settings as well--all are Minnetonka teachers who teach face to face during part of the day and then have one/more courses of online students. None of our Tonka Online teachers are fully teaching online. Students can set up times to meet with their online teachers face to face for help and support, just as they would in their brick and mortar classes. All of our courses are built in Schoology, our Learning Management System, which students begin using in Kindergarten.

This summer and coming school year, there will be over 40 courses offered. Students can take preparatory courses in math, science, social studies, or world language. The can take classes to accelerate their learning in computer science, math, or science. They can also take classes of interest and/or to free up space for other options during the coming year, including art, music, computer science, English, physical education, science, social studies, family and consumer science, and even a model UN course. Courses are open to students in grades 9-12. In addition, this summer we begin offering computer science to students in grades 6-8. Enrollment continues to grow, with almost 700 students taking courses this summer and around 250 each semester during the coming school year. In March 2016, the District was approved by the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) as a Supplemental Online Learning (OLL) Provider, making it possible to serve out-of-district students. The Tonka Online program also has received NCAA approval.

There has been and continues to be a lot of work done to make Tonka Online successful. The teachers are supported by a 0.4 FTE teacher instructional technology coach, Ben Stanerson, who works with them to provide training and quality control for the program, along with one of our high school assistant principals who oversees Tonka Online, Robb Virgin. Ben frequently meets with each Tonka Online teacher, shares effective practices, and reviews courses, content, student participation, and progress. An online course benchmark has been created that provides a baseline for course design elements in order to create an engaging and interactive course. Best practices from the Charlotte Danielson Framework for Teaching & Learning as well as the iNACOL Standards. Students are frequently surveyed to ensure engagement, measure progress, and set the bar for improvement.

We know that more and more learning will move online in the future for both our students and our teachers. Having an online school in house already successfully established and growing will position Minnetonka well for this future. Having staff teach in both schools means they are taking the best curriculum and techniques for both learning environments and all our students are benefitting.  

For more information about Tonka Online, visit the homepage which includes links to the Course Catalog, FAQs, Fees and Payment and more.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Parenting in the Digital Age: Finding a Healthy Balance Webinar Part II

Last week we held the second part of our "Parenting in the Digital Age: Finding a Healthy Balance" parent webinar series. Once again I was joined by Mathew Meyers, a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist from Traverse Counseling. He specializes in family relationships and healthy technology use including video game addiction. Mathew and I have known each other for a few years as he has served on our District Digital Health & Wellness Committee. He has great insight into parenting, kids, and relationships. He and his wife have three children. I always enjoy discussing technology topics and parenting with Mathew.

So many parents are seeking help, answers and advice as to how to parent and manage our kids’ technology use. Keeping up can be challenging, but a positive and well informed approach can have a big impact on a child’s future and habits. We’ve had a great response to this series, and parents have been anxious to get tips and ideas. We had over 300 parents sign up for the first webinar, and almost 250 for the second. Plus, since it is recorded we put the links on our school website for anyone to view at their convenience afterwards.  

We followed up the first parent webinar with a survey in which we asked parents what they wanted to learn more about. So based on their feedback, we addressed the topics that were requested during part two of our webinar. These included discussion of more parenting strategies and tips, digital footprints, cyberbullying, and pornography and sexting. You can view the full webinar here. Part 1 of this conversation about screen time and balance, addiction, attention and focus, monitoring and filtering, modeling and age recommendations can be viewed here.

As educators, it’s so important for us to encourage parents to maintain continual open dialog about technology and understand the significant role they play in helping youth be responsible and safe in today’s high-tech world. As Mathew stated near the beginning of this second webinar, all of us are historically blind--there is not template for parenting kids in the digital age. Helping the parents of the students in our schools focus and reflect on these important topics will help everyone in the long run, from the students in our individual classrooms to the community and society as a whole.

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Related topics:Minnetonka Schools Digital Citizenship Webpage 

Monday, May 8, 2017

A New Twist on a Band Playing Test: Solo Trios with GarageBand

Minnetonka band students have embraced the iPad as an instructional tool and routinely have their iPads on their music stands as pictured, annotating music during practices and touching screens to turn the page.

Our freshman band teacher, Paul Rosen, recently shared a creative twist on the traditional playing test students do for his class. He rearranged a piece of music so his students could play three different parts of it for their playing test using GarageBand. Students recorded the first part, then as it played they recorded the second track and layered that recording on top of the first. They repeated this process again and ended up with a recording of a trio entirely played by one person--themselves--for their individual playing test. They then turned this GarageBand recording in to their teacher through Schoology, our Learning Management System.

Recording a playing test and turning it in through Schoology is a common, standard procedure for our Minnetonka band and orchestra students beginning in fifth grade in our 1:1 iPad program. Music teachers like Paul routinely have students submit audio and or video recordings for their playing tests. They assess the students in five categories using a rubric within Schoology (pictured): rhythm, pitch accuracy, dynamics, tempo, and articulation.

You can listen to a student’s playing test here. Paul explained to me that the students found this trio assignment to be a fun change from their regular playing tests. They stated that they felt like professional musicians. Some students had the metronome playing in their mix while others did not. His complete directions for the task are below.

Another band concert with director Paul Rosen
and students using their iPads.
Back when I was in middle and high school band learning to play the alto saxophone, I remember playing tests. I would practice a piece and then play it individually for our band director. We did this a few times a year. I remember our director would spend a number of days meeting with each student to assess us individually, while the rest of the band would have free time to do other homework or talk with our friends. But additional learning and practice in band did not happen on those days of school.

Taking class time for playing tests over many days has all but disappeared from Minnetonka music classrooms. It has also decreased for many other teacher assessments, too, such as world language speaking tests where students now can record their answers to questions for their teacher to listen to after class, rather than individually during the school day. This is yet another example of accelerated learning possible due to 1:1 iPads in Minnetonka.

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Monday, May 1, 2017

Minnetonka Summer Student Technology Internship now in Third Year

2016 Summer Tech Interns, photo used with permission.
This is the third summer that our Technology Department is running a student internship program. They will hire six students to work from 8am until noon each weekday. The program was started by our Executive Director of Technology, Mike Dronen, and provides students with real world experiences working in the technology support field. Students are able to help out and contribute back to Minnetonka by assisting with some of the summer technology support needs.

Applicants must be at 14 years old to apply. Having a strong technology background and knowledge is not a requirement, and our tech staff train students as needed. Potential interns must have one letter of recommendation from a staff member in order to apply. Applicants go through an interview process and those who are hired participate in an orientation.

Much of the work the student interns do is alongside one of our Building Technicians. They remove the technology from classrooms, such as teacher and student workstations, so each classroom can be cleaned over the summer. Afterwards, they return and set up the equipment back in the room. They do projector maintenance in each classroom, too. Student interns help the tech staff with data closet work and network equipment swapping. They assist with equipment rotation between sites and help install new wireless access points. Interns also do some software and hardware troubleshooting and assist with repair, adding RAM, etc.

Each summer we purchase some new iPads for our 1:1 program and then recycle the older devices from graduating seniors to our fifth graders. This June we will be collecting about 2,500 iPads from seniors and two other grade levels for replacement. The student interns will assist with inspection and cleaning of these iPads before they are rotated to our younger students.

I know the students and our Technology Department staff enjoy meeting and working with one another. This program gives our tech staff an opportunity interact, build some relationships with students and better understand whom they are serving. The student interns also get to do the same as well as learn about some of the behind the scenes work and support staff who are working hard to make their educational experience a success. Additionally, and due to a fuller understanding of what it takes to manage technology in a school district, another result of the internship experience is that interns take on an ambassador role for technology among their peers. Below is the full job description:

Summer Minnetonka Student Technology Internship Program
The purpose of the Minnetonka Summer Student Technology Internship Program is to provide real world experiences for Minnetonka students, working in the technology support field. The program allows students to contribute back to their school district by assisting with some of the summer technology support needs of the Technology Department.

As the internship program is an authentic employment experience, students will be required to meet the standard expectations held by employers. Deep technology fluency will not be required for selection as an intern. Students must be at least 14 years of age to participate in this program.

Application Process
  • Students will require at least one recommendation by a Minnetonka staff member for application to the program. 
  • Application will be made online, will include a criminal background check and mimic a real world application process, possibly including a short interview.
Job Responsibilities
  • Moving, arranging and setting up computers, iPads and classroom technology peripherals
  • Setup and verification of classroom technical systems
  • Basic software installation and verification
  • Assisting with inventory and record keeping of assets
  • Troubleshooting and light repair work
  • Perform other duties of a similar nature or level.
  • Student should have an interest in the technology field
  • Should be able to troubleshoot and do basic problem solving specific to technical systems
  • Should have some experience/leadership in helping others use technology
  • Must be at least 14 years of age
  • Ability to take direction and work as a team member.
  • Evidence of the ability to be a self-starter combining discipline and motivation.
  • Evidence of troubleshooting skills and the ability to learn while doing.
  • Able to maintain confidentiality.
  • Good communication (verbal and written) and interpersonal skills as applied to interaction with coworkers and supervisor.