Monday, November 26, 2007

Cyber Bullying Tragedy

Last week it was reported that a 13 year old girl from Missouri named Megan committed suicide last fall after a fight with an online friend. One of the most disturbing facts of the story is that the online “friend” that she had a fight with was made up. The mother of one of Megan’s former friends posed as a 16 year old named Josh reportedly to see what Megan would say about her daughter. She created a profile on MySpace for this fictitious teenager and befriended Megan for several weeks. “Josh” then abruptly ended his relationship with Megan, who had suffered from depression. Megan killed herself later that same evening. The parents of Megan found out later that Josh was made up by a family that lived down the street that they considered friends. Prosecutors have not pressed charges against the family and are still reviewing the case.

Suicide attempts related to cyberbullying, while rare, are not unprecedented. There is the much publicized case involving Ryan Patrick Halligan which is spotlighted in the iSAFE training videos and curriculum. Officials in Japan report cyberbullying as a growing problem in their country. One boy committed suicide after classmates posted a nude photo of him on a website and sent him emails demanding money.

One of the major difficulties parents and teachers face when it comes to combating cyber bullying is the victim’s reluctance to share what is happening. A lot of times, victims will not tell their parents that they are being bullied for fear of how their parents will react. A new book entitled Cyber Bullying: Bullying in the Digital Age was published by researchers at Clemson University and offers information and education for parents and educators. One of the book’s authors, Susan Limber, offers this advice to parents, “Probably the most effective way to prevent and address cyber bullying is to make sure that parents and educators have an ongoing dialogue with children about it, including expectations for online behavior and what to do if you are cyber bullied or witness someone else being cyber bullied.”

Internet video giant YouTube has started a campaign to combat cyberbullying in which people can post anti-bullying videos and messages. and are both sites that contain research and information about cyber bullying.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Attorney General Releases CyberSafety Plan

Attorney General Martha Coakley released a plan to fight cybercrime last week according to an article in the Boston Globe. Part of the plan includes a partnership with Microsoft to train 250 law enforcement officials on computer forensics. The training will involve teaching the law enforcement officials how to investigate IP addresses, websites, emails, chats, IM’s and other important techniques needed when processing digital evidence. The attorney general's office recently received a $207,679 grant from the Justice department to help the state fight cybercrime. Attorney General Coakley’s plan includes six key priorities for fighting cybercrimes which not only includes training but also includes funding for cybercrime programs, and amending existing law.

The BPS cybersafety mentors must have had a positive effect on the Attorney General this summer when they traveled to her office and presented their cybersafety products to her and her staff. Read about it on the OIIT blog. You can read the Attorney General’s plan here.

The Attorney General’s website has some internet safety resources on in, including an internet safety video entitled “Ask the AG about CyberCrime”.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

BPS Presents CyberSafety Campaign at CEMA Conference

Felicia Vargas and Joe Kidd of OIIT presented at the Connecticut Educators Computer Association Conference in Hartford, Connecticut on Tuesday. The title of their presentation was "Designing an Internet Safety Campaign" and was about the initiative in Boston to bring cybersafety to its schools and community members. Felicia Vargas, who is the director of TechBoston, leads the effort in the district to educate all BPS community members on internet safety. She was featured last year in an article in Ed-Tech magazine in which she states the importance of educating children about cybersafety. Felicia and Joe presented to approximately 60-70 educators from Connecticut about how Boston's cybersafety initiative began and where it was headed. Educators who attended the session received sample internet safety materials that BPS high school students created including buttons, trading cards and posters. Many of the teachers asked questions about iSAFE and how the curriculum was being implemented in schools across the district. Some of the teachers stayed afterwards to get more information about the BPS initiative and expressed that they would like to start their own internet safety initiatives in their school systems. We look forward to future collaboration with those teachers and their schools!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

CyberSafety at the Community Transition School

Technology Support Teacher, Alexis Oosting of the Community Transition School has been working with her high school students to educate them about cybersafety. The first topic that they explored was intellectual property and copyright. She started with a background of what intellectual property and copyright are as well as how they are related to plagiarism. She then incorporated the lesson into the school’s unit on entrepreneurship. She used stories about illegal file sharing court cases and quotes from famous artists about the issue. She then had students support or ague against the issue of whether or not file sharing is copyright infringement. This type of lesson might become more and more important as record companies begin to seek monetary retribution from people who illegally share music files online. In a precedent setting verdict handed down by a federal jury earlier this month, a Minnesota woman was ordered to pay $222,000 for sharing copyrighted music online through the Peer 2 Peer sharing network, Kazaa.

Alexis also taught a lesson around online predators and personal identity theft. She told me that the students watched some video clips from iSAFE and discussed the dangers of giving out too much information on social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook. She also did a jigsaw activity about different internet safety tips. She told me that she was personally surprised at the amount of her students who told her that they have or know someone who has met up with people they met over MySpace. Unfortunately, some children put themselves into danger by chatting with strangers and then meeting them offline. One example of this was in a Boston Globe article today in which a 13 year old girl was allegedly assaulted after meeting a 20 year old college student with whom she had been chatting with online. He allegedly told her that he was 16 years old.

If you have a lesson or internet safety event that you want to share with the BPS community, please email me with the details at .

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Personal Information is Valuable

October has been named National Cyber Security Awareness Month by the National Cyber Security Alliance. Their website, has listed their "Top 8 Cyber Security Practices to Stay Safe Online." CyberSecurity tip #1 is "Protect your Personal Information. It's Valuable." Personal identity theft can cause major problems for your credit. Although you can not always prevent your valuable personal information from ending up in the wrong hands, there are steps you can take to protect yourself. The National Cyber Security Alliance has tips on how to help you keep your important personal information private including:

  • Don't open unsolicited or unknown email messages.
  • Shred junk mail, especially credit card applications.
  • If you are shopping online, make sure the vendor is using a secure website to process the financial transaction. A lot of times, you can tell the site is secure by the url. If the site has an "https" address, it is a secure transmission. You would also see a lock icon on the browser status bar. However, this does not always mean it is secure as some scammers will place false security icons on their sites.
  • Do not give personal or financial information through email request. Companies, especially financial institutions do not ask for personal information through email requests. If you are not sure, call the company and talk to a customer service agent on the phone.

The Federal Trade Commission calls personal identity theft one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States and can have devastating consequences on its victims. Their website has a lot of valuable information about identity theft including a video that helps to explain the dangers of having your identity stolen.

How would you know you are the victim of identity theft? Some things you might notice are:

  • Fraudulent or inaccurate information on your credit reports
  • Receiving credit cards or credit card bills you didn’t apply for
  • Being denied credit for no apparent reason
  • Getting calls from debt collectors about merchandise you did not purchase

You should check your credit report with one of the three major credit bureaus. You are entitled to a free credit report once every 12 months. The FTC has information on how to request your credit report.

What should you do if you are a victim of personal identity theft?

You should immediately contact one of the three major credit bureaus and put out a fraud alert on your information. Once you call one of the major credit bureaus, they will alert the other two. Another thing you should do is call your bank and credit card companies to send you new cards and account numbers. Finally, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by calling their Identity Theft Hotline, toll-free: 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338). You may also need to file a police report in the community where the identity theft took place.

You might not always be able to prevent identity theft, but you can take steps to minimize the dangers and know what to do if it ever happens to you.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Internet Safety Webcast!

As part of National Cyber Security Awareness Month, a free online internet safety webcast will be broadcast on Wednesday October 17, 2007 at 10:30am Eastern time. The broadcast will feature an interactive play geared toward 4th and 5th grade students that will cover a variety of internet safety topics. The play will touch upon cyberbullying, communicating in cyberspace, cyber etiquette, keeping personal information private, and more! Registration to be part of the webcast will come on a first come, first serve basis. Please click here if you would like more information about the event.

October is Cyber Security Awareness Month!

The National Cyber Security Alliance has announced that October is “National Cyber Security Awareness Month”. Their slogan for the month is “Protect Yourself Before you Connect Yourself” provides “free and non-technical cyber security and safety resources to the public, so consumers, small businesses and educators have the know how to avoid cyber crime.” The website also includes the top 8 cyber security practices. We will look at each of these practices a bit more closely during the month of October. Stay Safe Online also has cyber safety information split into different sections for home users, K-12 educators, small businesses, and higher education.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Stop Cyberbullying!

Cyberbullying is considered the intentional harm of someone through the means of electronic communication. Almost all of our students know how communicate electronically by instant messaging, email, text messaging and social networking. This makes cyberbullying a problem in schools and school districts all around the world. According to a survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, about 1/3 of teens say they have experienced some form of cyberbullying. Bullying has always been in issue in schools, but cyberbullying is a little bit different. Technology today has given us the opportunity to stay connected with each other 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Unfortunately for those who are being cyberbullied, this means they do not get any safe haven away from the abuse or humiliation they feel. Nancy Willard of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use has written a very resourceful book about cyberbullying. She has also posted many resources for students, parents and educators about cyberbullying on her website. The resources are in PDF format and offer an explanation of what cyberbullying is, the types of cyberbullying that take place and strategies to help prevent it from happening.

I strongly suggest that you explore these materials so that we can teach students the effects that cyberbullies have on their victims and make the internet a safer place for everyone.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Plagiarism Education

As the new school year progresses, it is important to remember that you must cite your sources when writing an essay, research paper or PowerPoint presentation. Sometimes it can be difficult for students to understand why they have to do this. Copyright Kids is a website created to educate children about copyright law. It even includes a challenge quiz to test your knowledge on copyright issues. The site also includes a section for parents and teachers with links to educational materials to teach students about copyright law. Education World also publishes a student guide to avoiding plagiarism which gives students tips on how to correctly cite the information they use in their work.

For teachers, there is which has a wealth of information and resources about plagiarism, including FAQ’s, information about different types of plagiarism and handouts to give to students on how to avoid plagiarism. There are a lot of resources on this site!

Feel free to add comments on some other sites you use with your students!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Is Your Computer Protected?

For a lot of students and parents, the start of a new school year means that you are going to use the computer more and more. Students are using the internet to help with homework, perform research and communicate with others. Now is especially a good time to make sure that your computer is adequately protected from viruses, spyware and other malicious programs that can infect your computer and diminish its performance. A couple of tips:
  • Make sure your anti-virus software is up to date and is set to automatically download updates.
  • Make sure you have a firewall running while connected to the internet.
The United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team has posted Cyber Security tips online to help describe and offer advice about common security issues. For example, there is a section on Understanding Anti-Virus Software as well as a section on Understanding Firewalls.

There are a lot of anti-virus programs out there to choose from and it important to make an informed decision about which software is best for you. has a section on reviewing anti-virus software, giving a description of each piece of software it tests and a rating. PC Magazine also has a review section on security software.

Remember, no security software is 100% successful at blocking attacks or detecting viruses, but keeping updated security software running on your computer will go a long way to keeping it safe!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Welcome Back to School!

Welcome back to all students, teachers and parents. I hope everyone had a great summer! The cyber safety mentors were hard at work all summer creating materials that can be used at home or in the classroom to educate students about internet safety. The 14 student interns involved in the summer program did an amazing job. They were trained in internet safety, they worked in teams to complete internet safety projects and they presented those projects to lots of important people around the community. Some of the materials they created were buttons, t-shirt designs, folders, computer wallpaper, an internet safety comic book, and an internet safety video starring the real life BPS Cyber Safety Heroes. They presented their work to the Massachusetts Attorney General's office and to representatives from Microsoft. Most of the materials will be available for download on the Boston Public Schools cyber safety website at The video should be ready for distribution sometime in the fall. We are hoping to spread cyber safety education into all of our schools throughout the year. If you have any questions on how your school can get involved, please contact Joe Kidd at BPS Cyber Safety Initiative

Have a cyber safe school year!

Friday, July 27, 2007

TEACHBoston Program Promotes Internet Safety

16 high school students from the Boston Public Schools who are attending the TEACHBoston program have been trained in internet safety and are preparing to educate elementary school students on how to stay safe online.

The TEACHBoston Program is designed for rising BPS high school students who have an interest in exploring early childhood and elementary education. Students who are accepted to the summer academy are assigned as teaching assistants and mentors to summer school classes in the city of Boston. They also take classes and earn credit from Wheelock College. As part of their completion of the program, the students are required to create and deliver a lesson plan to their students. Wanda Speede, the director of the TEACHBoston program, felt that internet safety would be a great subject for them to teach to younger students. The TEACHBoston students completed a two day internet safety training and began working on their presentations to the students. Wanda Speede was impressed with the effort of her students and said, "The TeachBoston scholars could relate to the information they received about internet safety, and were enthusiastic about sharing this information in creative ways with the summer school students at the Trotter elementary school."

Students were placed into groups of four and given an internet safety topic to educate their students about. While all the groups did have to put together a PowerPoint presentation on their topic, they also got to be creative with their activities. One group was planning and rehearsing a cyberbullying skit, making their PowerPoint presentation look and sound exactly like and instant messaging exchange between students. They plan on showing students what to do if they encounter a cyber bully online. Another group was planning using a rap to teach the students about the importance of keeping their personal information online private and creating good passwords. They planned to have all the students rapping along with them.

Ms. Speede was pleased with how all of this related to the goals of the TEACHBoston program. "The 2007 TEACHBoston scholars were able to integrate the development and implementation of Internet Safety lesson plans into their exploration of the teaching profession. They offered students in summer school classes from grades 3 through 6, information, examples, and hands on activities as part of this exploration."

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Internet Safety Comic Book

As the BPS Cyber Safety Mentors spend their summer hard at work creating internet safety materials I got to sit down with one of the teams to talk about their project. Team "Design Five" is comprised of Felix, Germaine, Chase, Lissette and their team leader, Alexandria. They are creating an internet safety comic book/safety manual for students as a classroom or home resource. "It is comic book about the Cyber Safetyheroes, an internet villian and a boy named Danny", Alexandria told me. "Each story also has internet safety activities for the kids at the end of them." The group decided to target children ages 6 to 11 when they were planning their project. They feel that this book will help educate students in a fun, interactive way. They also hope that students will use these materials in both school and at home.

Each member of the group has their own role, "But we also come back and work together" Lissette said. Felix, Chase and Germaine are the designers of the group and have been using Adobe Freehand to create the pictures for the comic. Specifically, Felix and Chase have been creating the frames for the book while Germaine has been working on character profiles. Alexandria and Lissette have been working on the internet safety manuals and activities that will be inserted with each story. They are also using a program called Comic Life to publish the final product. The entire team brainstormed the storylines together at the beginning of the project!

Friday, July 6, 2007

Cyber Mentors Hard at Work

The summer internet safety internship has begun for fourteen Boston Public School students! These fourteen students are completing their first week on the job which included some internet safety training, a group brainstorming of ideas and individual proposals of plans for internet safety materials to be created this summer.

The student interns are all now certified Cyber Safety Mentors through the iMENTOR program from iSAFE. Each mentor went through two days of internet safety training on topics such as cyber predators, cyber bullying, cyber security and intellectual property. After the training, the mentors held a group brainstorming session in which they shared their ideas about materials that can be created to educate younger students on the importance of internet safety. Each student then wrote an individual proposal about an internet safety product they would like to create this summer.

The students were then placed in groups based upon their proposals. Each group has to name a project manager and create a group proposal for their projects to be presented in front of deputy CIO Melissa Dodd and TechBoston Director Felicia Vargas. To help prepare them for their proposals, the Cyber Mentors will receive some presentation training at Bunker Hill Community College.

So far after only one week, the program is off to a fast start. The students are eager to bring their ideas to life and get to work. We will have updates on the projects they are working on and their progress throughout the summer.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

BPS Kicks-Off Internet Safety Initiative

Boston Public Schools officially launched its internet safety initiative on June 12 at the Boston Latin Academy. While many teachers and schools have already been educating their students and parents throughout the year on internet safety topics, the kick-off event featured an announcement by Microsoft Corporation to help Boston hire high school students to become internet safety mentors. Microsoft is generously donating $25,000 to hire 10 Boston Public Schools students this summer to create internet safety materials to be used to educate children around the community. The event featured remarks from Mayor Thomas M. Menino, Boston Public Schools Superintendent Michael Contompasis, Boston Public Schools Chief Information Officer Kimberly Rice, Boston School Committee Chairperson Dr. Elizabeth Reilinger, Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis, Assistant Attorney General Kathleen Healey, Microsoft Corporation Northeast District General Manager Ted Maclean and Boston Latin Academy student Anthony Kret. Anthony has also been hired as one of the Cyber Safety Mentors as a result of the Microsoft donation. Anthony and nine other students will work on internet safety projects throughout the summer. They will also be trained as certified internet safety mentors through the iSAFE program. Next school year, cyber safety mentors will partner with elementary schools to educate students about staying safe online. You can watch a portion of Mayor Menino's speech below.

Along with the announcement from Microsoft, the event marked the launch of the Boston Public Schools internet safety website. The site was designed by Helen Chan, a former Boston Public School student who will also be surpervising the students hired this summer along with former Boston Public School graduate Chhorvy Ly. The site will be available for parents, students and teachers to use as a resource for internet safety education. Materials are available for downloading, including activity pages and posters of the Cyber Super Heroes. Links to other internet safety websites and resources are also included on the site.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Take 25 For Internet Safety!

On Friday, May 25th, the District Attorney's in conjunction with the National Center For Missing and Exploited Children held an internet safety event at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center. The event included tables set up outside with child and teen safety information, free food, and music provided by the Jam'N 94.5 Street Team. Inside, there was an internet safety discussion with local area high school students, many of whom were from the Boston Public Schools. Assistant District Attorney Chris Kelly moderated the question and answer session in which the teens spoke about internet safety topics including cyberbullying and online predators.The event also included remarks by District Attorney Dan Conley, a deputy superintendent from the Boston Police Department and Boston Public Schools Chief Operating Officer Fred McIntyre who spoke about the BPS internet safety initiatives and the Cyber Superheroes.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Welcome to the BPS Internet Safety Blog!

Welcome to the first post of the Boston Public Schools Internet Safety Blog! We hope that this blog will serve as a resource for parents, teachers and students about the importance of internet safety! Did you know that a recent poll released by C.S. Mott Children's Hospital at the University of Michigan names internet safety as a top ten concern with parents?

The Boston Public schools is committed to educating parents, teachers and students on the importance of internet safety. We have launched our new website with resources and information on how to stay safe while surfing the web. We hope that you use these resources to educate your children and teach them how to make the right decisions while online.