Monday, October 25, 2010

Massachusetts Districts Considering Teacher Facebook Policies

Two very interesting, thought provoking articles this weekend in the Boston Globe and Herald about what some school districts are considering as social networking policy for their teachers. Recently, some teachers in New York have been terminated or face disciplinary measures for inappropriate relationships with students that included contact on social networking websites.

This is a great opportunity to ask your students what they think about this. Do they think that it is appropriate to be friends on Facebook with their teachers? Why or why not? Please comment!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Bullying Story on 20/20 and other Resources

This past Friday, ABC news magazine program 20/20 aired a story about bullying. While the title of the story was "Bullied to Death", they did mention that bullying (and cyberbullying) effect victims in non-lethal ways. One of the most staggering statistics that the segment mentions is that 160,000 children stay home from school each day out of fear from being bullied. Needless to say students who fear being bullied in school can easily fall behind in their studies. Another interesting part of the story was the interview they had with two students who identified themselves as former bullies. They talk to the students about the different reasons they bullied others. You can view the video online here.

Tech & Learning has released a free e-book entitled "Keeping Students Safe Online: What Works". The book covers some research on internet safety as well as tips for when students go online. Microsoft has also released a free internet safety e-book online. It is called "Own Your Space, Keep Your Stuff and Yourself Safe Online". It is actually a print book that was published a few years ago. This is a great resource to give to students and parents or to have as a part of your internet safety curriculum.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Safe Driving Law Takes Effect in Massachusetts

The new Safe Driving Law has taken effect and it is now illegal for anyone to read, write or send text messages while driving. State and local police are already handing out citations to drivers who are caught violating the new ban. Drivers can be expected to pay a $100 fine for their first offense. Fines can reach up to $500 for repeat offenders. 16 and 17 year-old drivers may also face a 60-day loss of license and mandatory driver training. All cellphone use while driving is illegal for 16 and 17 year-old drivers (except for emergency 911 calls). While older drivers are permitted to make calls on their cellphones while driving, police can give out $35 fines for improperly using a cellphone. These offenses include anything that might interfere with driving, such as not having at least one hand on the wheel. For more information on the Safe Driving legislation, please click on the link below.

Massachusetts Safe Driving Legislation

Friday, September 17, 2010

Verizon Grant Supports Effort to Raise Awareness About the AUP

The Boston Public School district will roll out the Everyone Needs to Know the AUP initiative in fall 2010, thanks to financial support from the Verizon Foundation. Verizon joins Microsoft, Boston Society of Information Managers and Bunker Hill Community College in supporting the five-year-old City of Boston's Cyber Safety Campaign.

Last spring, with the increase in cyber safety issues facing students and school districts, combined with the new Massachusetts' anti-bullying law now in place, the BPS Office of Instructional and Information Technology (OIIT) decided to use the opportunity to ratchet up the focus on the Acceptable Use Policy (AUP). OIIT's TechBoston unit director, Felicia Vargas, led the process to revise the Boston School district's Acceptable Use Policy for computer usage in the school district.

This past summer, OIIT's TechBoston unit hired 14 high school Cyber Safety Mentors and three college-age supervisors. The cyber mentors worked over an intensive seven-week period conducting over 60 internet safety presentations throughout the city of Boston. The mentors also developed podcasts and presentations about the district's new AUP.

Beginning in September, OIIT will be working to increase the visibility and understandability of the Acceptable Use Policy for all students. With Verizon's financial support, OIIT will hire several BPS graduates and will deploy these Verizon Cyber Mentors to conduct cyber safety presentations in BPS schools during the year. The Verizon Cyber Mentors will be paired with schools to help educate the entire community about internet safety.

The AUP materials that the Cyber Mentors developed this summer are now posted online where the teachers, parents, administrators and students can access them throughout the school year. Check out the lesson plans, glossaries, and cool podcasts developed for all grade levels at

For more information about this initiative, please contact Felicia Vargas,, or Eric Esteves,

Photo Caption: BPS Cyber Safety Mentors pose for a photo with Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley after briefing her on the cyber safety during a visit to her office on August 19, 2010.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The City of Boston Announces Anti-Bullying Contest Winners

Back in March, the City of Boston invited all school-age children to submit creative ways of addressing the bullying problem and incorporate one of two contest themes. Students in grades K-5 are reminded to "Be Kind Online", while students in grades 6-12 are urged to "Keep it Social".

With nearly 300 submissions, the citywide Anti-Bullying Contest was a wonderful success. Mayor Menino acknowledged some of the winners who were present at the BPS Tech Day held at Wentworth Institute of Technology on Saturday, June 5, 2010. All of the grand prize winners received a prize donated by Microsoft. The winning submissions can be seen online at

Grand Prize Winners:
K-5 Poster: Julia D. - Guild Elementary
K-5 Written: Adonis A. - Grew Elementary
K-5 Written: Cameron J. - Grew Elementary
6-12 Poster: Tucker G. - Boston Latin Academy
6-12 Video: Cindy S., John P., Edison D., Spencer B. - Madison Park TVHS

Honorable Mention:
Vivian L. - Boston Latin Academy
Hayleigh O. - Tynan Elementary
Wingyiu W. - Boston Latin Academy
Ming L. - Boston Latin Academy
Maryn S. - Boston Latin Academy
Sean & Annie C. - Perry School
Yara B. - Fifield Elementary
Quinn R. - Bates Elementary
Jazlynn S. - Bates Elementary
Jason D., Jordan D., Jason C., Jahkai Y. - Emerson Elementary
Jolanda C. - Fifield Elementary
Kaia W. - Fifield Elementary
Sabrini C. - Boston Latin Academy

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Globe Article on New Anti-Bullying Law

Here is an interesting viewpoint from the Boston Globe about the new Massachusetts anti-bullying law. According to the principal featured in the story, the new anti-bullying law does not give principals any more authority in disciplining bullies than they had before the law was passed. In fact, students cannot be expelled for bullying according to this principal. The law calls for more training and compels teachers to report incidents of bullying. Principals or other administrators have to investigate those incidents. The feeling in this article is that since there is no money for the training and since administrators are not given the ability to expel bullies, the law will not do much to deter bullying in and out of schools.

What do you think?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Internet Safety Presentations at the Sarah Greenwood School

The Sarah Greenwood School hosted OIIT for two afternoons of cybersafety lessons last week. Eric Esteves and Joe Kidd went out to the school to talk with students about cybersafety strategies and cyberbullying. They traveled to eight different classrooms and spoke with students in grades four, five, six, seven and eight. In grade four, the presentation focused around the BPS CyberSafety Heroes, while the upper grade presentations focused on cyberbullying. They were very impressed with the knowledge of the younger students about cybersafety and bullying issues. The older students were also receptive to talking about bullying and the effects that bystanders have on bullying situations. There has been a lot of focus on bullying lately, and one of the groups that trainers have been really trying to target are the bystanders. We want students to understand that bystanders have the power to stop bullying, and that they do not have to necessarily stand up to the bully publicly, but can walk away from the situation and not give the bully an audience. Bystanders can also call the the Boston Anti-bullying Hotline at 617.635.5050 to report a situation.

OIIT would like to thank the students and teachers at the Sarah Greenwood for hosting us last week and being so attentive.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Few Articles...

BPS cybersafety expert, Eric Esteves, sent me a few interesting articles over the past couple of days. The first one is a new sexting bill that was signed into law by Governor Patrick a couple of weeks ago.

The new law closes a loophole in the state's obscenity law that caused a conviction to be overturned by the state's highest court. Apparently, the law only covered visual representations of sexually explicit material but now will include text messages, email and other electronic communication.

The next article covers the bullying youth summit in which students from TechBoston Academy took top honors for their video about cyberbullying. We will have a complete recap of the event with pictures of the students at a later date.

The last article comes from the latest Sunday Globe Magazine and is entitled "The Secret to Stopping a Bully?". The premise of the article is that maybe the best way to stop bullying is to educate the bystanders or audience of the bullies themselves. The theory is that by getting the bystanders to walk away, or not pay attention to the bully, it will stop the bully. Bullies draw much of their satisfaction from the reaction they get from their peers. If there is no reaction, then there is no reason to bully. This would be a great discussion to have with your students. Is this even a possibility? What would schools need to do to train their students not to be bullying bystanders? How does cyberbullying play into this theory? There is the potential of having thousands of bystanders to bullying when it takes place online. How could you possibly reach all of those bystanders?

We would love to get your opinions and comments.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Massachusetts Lawmakers Approves Anti-Bullying Law

The Massachusetts legislature unanimously approved an anti-bullying law this afternoon. The bill will now go to Governor Deval Patrick's desk for review. The law would require all school employees to report instances of bullying and require principals to investigate them. You can read the Boston Globe article here.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Check Out the Facebook Safety Center

Ever wonder how you can report abusive behavior on Facebook? Are you a parent or a teacher who wants to learn some best practices of keeping your kids safe on the the popular social networking site? Well, go straight to the source and check out the recently overhauled Facebook safety center. Facebook wants to send the message to its users that they take the subject of online safety very seriously, and as such, have created an updated safety center with sections for parents, educators, teens and even law enforcement. So, if you are constantly tagged in embarrassing photos or you are being bullied online, go to the safety center to find out what you can do about it.

Now if they would only add some video tutorials or a safety orientation, like our BPS cybermentors suggested to Mayor Menino in February, then we would really be getting somewhere!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Common Sense Media Announces New Digital Citizenship Curriculum

Common Sense Media is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to "improve the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in a world of media and technology." Their website includes age recommendations and reviews of televisions shows, movies, books, video games, websites and music. They also offer a parental advice section. Coming soon, they will offer a digital literacy and citizenship curriculum designed for 5th to 8th grade students. Based on Dr. Howard Gardner's research on digital ethics and the GoodPlay Project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the new curriculum will include five units, including:
  • Digital Life. How the anytime-anywhere-everywhere nature of digital media requires responsible choices.
  • Privacy and Digital Footprints. How to manage privacy online.
  • Connected Culture. How to build respectful one-on-one, group, and community relationships online and protect against cyberbullying.
  • Self-Expression and Reputation. Who we are in various online contexts and how to protect your reputation in the process.
  • Respecting Creative Work. How to get credit for original creations and respect other’s creative property.
You can also preview the Privacy Unit by clicking here.

Monday, April 5, 2010

ABC World News Reports on Boston Bullying Hotline

Over the weekend, ABC World News Report aired a story on how the city of Boston is trying to combat cyberbullying. The report featured a pair of students from Charlestown High School who were recent victims of cyberbullying. They were both interviewed about recent cyberbullying incidents involving Facebook pages. They called the new Boston anti-bullying hotline to report the incidents and get the pages removed from Facebook. There was also a recent Boston Globe article about the hotline, which is answered by staff at the Boston Health Commission. To report any incidents of cyberbullying in the city of Boston, please call (617) 534-5050. You can view the ABC News story below.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

TechBoston Academy Students Win PSA Contest!

Students from TechBoston Academy have won the 2009-2010 MARC Public Service Announcement Contest for grades 6-12 for their video about cyberbullying titled, "Anti-Social". The Massachusetts Agression Reduction Center will hold their annual youth summit on April 30. The summit is a free event open to all students in grades 6 to 12 and their teachers from any schools in Massachusetts. Students from all over the state talk about their school's programs and strategies to combat bullying. During the summit, the TechBoston Academy students will receive their award for winning the contest. They also get a limo ride to the event which is being held at Bridgewater State College. You can read more about the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center by going to their website. Below, you can view the "Anti-Social" video.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Massachusetts Legislature Approves Anti-Bullying Legislation

Last week, the Massachusetts House of Representatives unanimously approved an anti-bullying bill in an effort to "secure our students from bullying, both during the school day and after school hours." The Senate previously approved the measure. According to an article in the Boston Globe, Governor Patrick has indicated that he will sign the bill after it has been reconciled in committee between the House and Senate. Also from the article, in the House's version of the bill, bullying is defined as "the repeated use by a perpetrator of a written, verbal, or electronic expression, or physical act or gesture...directed at a victim that causes physical or emotional harm or damage to the victim's property; places the victim in reasonable fear or harm to himself or of damage to his property; [or] creates a hostile environment at school."

The legislation requires school officials to report bullying to the school principal and that the principal must contact law enforcement if it is determined that the incident is a criminal act. The bill also includes funding for training school officials and teachers on how to identify and respond to bullying. You can also read about the legislation from an article in the Boston Herald.

Friday, March 12, 2010

City Announces Anti-Cyberbullying Contest

The city of Boston has announced an anti-cyberbullying contest that is open to all residents of Boston who are enrolled in grades K-12. The contest calls for "artistic submissions promoting healthy online behavior". Works of art can include posters, videos, songs, poetry and more. Students in Boston public schools, charter schools, and private schools are all welcome to apply. The contest is broken up into two category themes. For students in grades K-5, the theme is "Be Kind Online". For students in grades 6-12, the theme is "Keep it Social". All submissions are required to include the city's new anti-bullying hotline, (617) 534-5050. Entries are due by April 30, 2010. One winner will be selected from each grade level and will be publicly recognized my Mayor Menino. For more information about the contest, please go to the BPS cybersafety website to download the contest flyer and guidelines.

Friday, March 5, 2010

PBS Frontline Special: digital_nation: Life on the Virtual Frontier

Two weeks ago, PBS Frontline aired its special "digtial_nation - life on the virtual frontier". This new look into how digital media has transformed our lives is from the same producer that brought us the ground-breaking Frontline special, Growing Up Online, back in 2008. The 90 minute documentary takes a closer look at both the positive and negative effects that are the result of our now constantly connected lifestyles. There is a fascinating look at a group of MIT students and how the distractions caused by multitasking with technology may be a disservice to them. There is also a look at a high school which values technology as a vital teaching tool for today's students. The documentary does a very nice job of not creating a viewpoint that is slanted for or against technology, but the impact that technology has on many different facets of our lives. You can watch the video in its entirety on the PBS Frontline website, or you can watch it in smaller segments. The website also has lots of extra videos that weren't included in the original airing of the episode.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Mayor Menino and Superintendent Johnson Host Meeting with Cyber-Mentors at City Hall

As part of the Mayor's ongoing campaign against bullying in the city of Boston, he and BPS superintendent of schools, Dr. Carol Johnson, hosted a meeting about cyberbullying with past and present Boston Public School's cybersafety mentors. The cybersafety mentors are BPS high school students who have been hired during past summers to create materials and perform presentations to educate others in the community about the importance of cybersafety. Two weeks ago, Mayor Menino announced the city's campaign against bullying which included a hotline in which students and parents can anonymously call to report incidents of bullying. The hotline is up and running through the Boston Health Commission and has already received some phone calls according to this article from the Boston Herald. The bullying hotline number is 617.534.5050.

Another part of the campaign was to meet with students to solicit their ideas on how the city can better respond to bullying, what schools can do to help parents and students and how the city can work with social networking websites on providing protection for victims of cyberbullying. As both the mayor and superintendent stated during the meeting, the students are the experts when it comes to cyberbullying and social networking issues and it is important that they play a key role in the way the city and schools respond to cyberbullying incidents. Mayor Menino hosted 16 cybersafety mentors for lunch in his office to get their input. The students had a number of great ideas including:
  • We need to find a way to get the message out to parents. a lot of parents don't know what their kids are doing online...we should have classes for parents.
  • A group task force should be created to specifically deal with cybersecurity and cyberbullying in the city of Boston.
  • Companies providing the technology should provide the user with basic safety knowledge. Facebook and other sites like it should provide online training tutorials to educate the user how to properly use the site. Scenarios about cyberbullying with instructions on what to do if you are cyberbullied should be included on that.
  • Facebook and other social networking companies should make you go through a safety training before allowing you to create a profile.
  • Advertise the bullying hotline on the MBTA. Students are always taking trains and buses, the anti-bullying campaign should be publicized there.
  • There should be a city wide cybersafety week to highlight all of the issues. There should be activities during that week to educate students and parents about cybersafety.
  • Educate all people on the statistics of cyberbullying. How many victims there actually are. People respond to statistics.
  • Create a fan page on Facebook so students can forward information and follow the campaign.
  • There needs to be clear, appropriate consequences and consistent enforcement of cyberbullying policy in the district that will act as a deterrent to those who are thinking of bullying someone.
  • There should be counseling services available not just for victims, but for the bullies as well. A lot of times people bully others because they are suffering from low self esteem or they have other problems in their lives.
Mayor Menino and Superintendent Johnson will take a closer look at these recommendations from the students as they expand and define Boston's anti-bullying campaign this spring. There is also a planned spring forum on social networking that will take place and possibly include representatives from social networking sites Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and MySpace.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Mayor Menino Announces Anti-Bullying Campaign

Mayor Thomas Menino made an appearance at the McCormack Middle School Health and Wellness Day last Friday to speak to eighth grade students about bullying. The McCormack school Health and Wellness day featured community organizations making presentations to students on a variety of health related subjects. The Mayor used the event to announce a campaign against all types of bullying. The Mayor has proposed the following for the residents of Boston:
  • A new hotline for young people to report incidents of bullying
  • Outreach efforts to parents and families through flyers, letters and workshops
  • A letter to parents from the Mayor and Superintendent Dr. Carol Johnson about the efforts to confront the issue head-on
  • Providing increased training for employees who work directly with youth to help identify and prevent bullying
Mayor Menino will also be meeting this week with a group of cyber mentors from the Boston Public Schools to discuss what else the city can do to support students and their families. The cyber mentors are high school aged students who have been hired by the BPS in the past to create educational materials and deliver presentations to younger students about cyber safety. The Boston Globe and the Boston Herald both ran articles about the event.

During the event, students from TechBoston Academy also unveiled a video PSA they created about cyberbullying. The PSA can be downloaded from the BPS Cybersafety website, or viewed here.

Cyberbullying PSA: "Anti-Social" from Joe Kidd on Vimeo.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Sumner School Students Use Technology to Raise Funds for Haiti

This is a great example of schools using technology for the good of humanity, please contribute if you can!

Schools from all over Boston have come together to help the Haiti Relief Efforts. Many schools have been devising ways to raise money for the earthquake ravaged nation. Some schools have raised money by having bake sales, while other schools have raised money by having special non uniform days, such as "crazy hat day" and "pajama day". You can view a list of what schools have done on the Boston Public Schools Support For Haiti web page.

The Charles Sumner Elementary School in Roslindale is using technology to help raise money for those in need. They used a Flip video camera to film their students and started a web page on the Partners in Health website with the goal of raising $1,000. Kate Klein, the technology teacher at the Sumner, sent me an email about the project. In it she wrote, "The earthquake in Haiti has affected our school deeply. Our students have family members who perished there. Our school is trying to empower our students. We are currently making a video of them to raise funds for Partners in Health (one of our teacher's fathers, a doctor, is currently in Haiti through this organization)." The video they created is below. If you would like to contribute to their efforts, please click on this link:

How an 8 Year Old Can Help Haiti from Sumner Elementary, Boston on Vimeo.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Massachusetts Cyberbullying Tragedy

As you may have already read, a student in South Hadley took her own life last week. The student was allegedly cyberbullied by other students in her school via text messaging and Facebook. This event again brings up the conversation of new anti-bullying legislature which has not yet been passed. Cyberbullying continues to be a growing issue for parents, students and school systems. If you feel that your child or student is a victim of cyberbullying, it is very important to talk to them. a lot of times, victims of cyberbullying will not talk to an adult about the problem. You may even want to talk to one of their friends about it if you can, but anything you can do to get information and try to stop the problem can be very important. While it is rare that victims of bullying commit suicide, they are negatively affected in other ways. Watch for signs of depression, anxiety, fear or anger especially after using the internet or getting a text message. The Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use has some very useful resources for parents and educators. You can also look back at some of our other blog posts about cyberbullying for more links and resources.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Think Before You Post

Wes Fryer, author of the educational technology blog, Moving at the Speed of Creativity, posted a link to a very clever YouTube video about cyberbullying. The video, called RE: Cry of the Dolphins, is less than a minute but gets it's point across about how some people post hurtful comments to blog and video posts. Part of teaching our students how to be good digital citizens also includes teaching them how their online words effect others. This would be a good video to show your class if you were going to do a blogging project and you were teaching them how to make constructive comments to other student's posts.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Common Craft Video - Protecting Reputations Online

Common Craft is a company that makes very useful, informative videos using paper cut-outs that cover different subjects "in Plain English". They have recently released a new video entitled "Protecting Reputations Online". The two and a half minute video does a very nice job explaining what can happen when you post material online and how it may stay online even after you delete it. This would be a good video to show to both students and their parents. You can view the video directly from the Common Craft website.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Cell Phone Security

Usually, when we talk about cell phone safety the conversation is about sexting, cyberbullying or the dangers of texting while driving (Don't do that!). However, CNET published a good article today about a different type of Smart Phone safety. It is a look at the most frequently asked questions about the biggest security threats for mobile phones including:
  • Theft/loss
  • Malware delivered through email or text message
  • Phishing text messages
According to security experts, the biggest threat for a mobile device is loss or theft. They suggest that if you store any personal or sensitive data on your phone that you should keep your device password protected. Also, just like with your regular computer, you should be very careful about who you give personal information to. Social security numbers, credit card numbers and PIN numbers should not be sent via text or email from your phone, especially if you received an unsolicited message asking for that information.