Redefining What’s Possible: Real Lives

‘Redefining What’s Possible’ is a series of blogs that highlights
stand-out tech tools being used at KCS.

Educational Simulations: Real Lives screenshotFor all the technology at KCS, it’s a place full of the human touch. A new tool this year takes the human touch to an unusually moving, global level.

In Ontario, the grade 8 geography curriculum includes the study of human demographics in countries around the world. Students learn about the effect that such things as literacy, birth rate, maternal health and more have on mortality and quality of life. It’s one thing to ‘learn’ these things, but imagine the power of ‘living’ them. Otherwise impossible for these young Ontarians, that’s just what our students get to do using the program Real Lives.

Real Lives simulates a life for each player, based on authentic global statistics. If one-fifth of the world’s population is Chinese, then chances are that one-fifth of a class will be randomly assigned a simulated life that begins in China. They’ll be given a name, photo and detailed profile. The students’ simulated lives will start at birth and unfold naturally, as chance and statistics dictate. With each log-in, their person will age and face decision points. Gender, socio-demographics, health, disease, and natural disasters will also be assigned to these ‘real lives’ based on where they live and all other aspects of their profile. Some students will die young, others will live a long and healthy life. Malaria, famine, and drought will take many. Along the way, real life decisions need to be made by students, such as:

  • Will you help a friend in need, even if it harms you?
  • You’ve found a wallet on the ground. What will you do with it?
  • You are of the age to marry. Will you?
  • What job will you try to get?
  • You’ve come across a mess left by another individual. Will you clean it up?
  • Some friends have decided to take up smoking. Will you?
  • You’ve been drafted into the military. What will you do?

It’s a virtual game of life, where important decisions need to be made, all of which have consequences.

What do the students think of using Real Lives in the classroom? The students were very keen to use this program and to share what was happening to their avatar in the game. It provoked lively discussions about the consequences of life decisions and the plight of people in their country. With Real Lives, our oldest students were immersed in a world vastly different from their own. They experienced first-hand the threats faced by many. By identifying with their ‘real life’, the simulated became real and global empathy started to take root. Made intensely personal, it’s a geography unit that these lucky young Ontarians will not soon forget.

That’s technology with a welcome human touch.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

Summertime online?

tablet device at beachIt’s June and the summer holidays are just around the corner! There will be plenty of fun times, and definitely plenty of free time for families and friends. For many of our children, free time means going online (i.e. gaming, socializing). Thus, it’s a good time to revisit with your child the expectations of being online over the summer months.

10 online topics to cover:

  1. Many children play online games whether via their gaming console, tablet, or smartphone. Know what your child’s favourite games are (are they age-appropriate?) and who they play with.
  2. Set time limits for the duration your child is allowed to be online. How early in the day are they allowed to be online? How late?  Is there a balance between online and offline activities?
  3. Children are starting to enter the social media world at a younger age. Know if your child uses social media (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Vine, Kik, etc…) Ask them to teach you about it if you are new to any of these sites.
  4. How about the new fad of socializing via ‘anonymous questions and answers’ apps? (i.e. Ask.fm, Spring.me, Wut, etc…) An earlier KCS blog broached this topic. Is your child using these? Know who they are following and how they are using these apps. They can be a wonderful source for socializing or a means for hurt and abuse.
  5. Your child may have a number of online ‘friends’ or ‘followers’.  But what happens when someone ‘unfriends’ your child? Be prepared for mood swings, rejection and sadness. Comfort, listen and talk to your child about friendships, peer pressure and relationships.
  6. Has your child checked their privacy and security settings of their various online accounts lately? Be sure that they set these to ‘friends only’ and allow only people they know and trust to be their ‘friend’.
  7. What type of passwords does your child use online? Be sure it is alphanumeric and doesn’t contain their first name or last name.
  8. What are the consequences if any of your expectations are not met? Follow through on these consequences if need be; your child needs to understand when the line has been crossed.
  9. Are online activities a part of daily dinner conversations? Having this set as a routine will provide a safe and comforting environment for your child to communicate all the great (and not so great) things that happen online. Have a handful of responses your child can use if they come across inappropriate sites or behaviours online.
  10. Kids love taking photos. Many post these online as well. Cruise through the photos stored on your child’s device to see what exists and could possibly end up online.

Finally, as digital natives your child will innately explore the online world. It is filled with wonderful opportunities and hazy, grey ones too. As effective role models we can teach them to keep out of the questionable areas and enjoy a safe summer!

Stacy Marcynuk
Director of IT, Curriculum

Further Reading:
http://www.safekids.com/family-contract-for-smartphone-use/
http://www.safekids.com/family-contract-for-online-safety/
http://www.protectkids.com/parentsafety/pledge.htm
http://parentingteens.about.com/library/specials/nnetsafe.htm
http://www.carolinaparent.com/articlemain.php?Technology-Contracts-Help-Keep-Kids-Safe-Online-3866

It’s popular, it’s anonymous, it’s the new social media

anonymous_childFacebook and Twitter are household names. Instagram and Snapchat are becoming increasingly popular with our grades 5-8 students as they focus on sharing photos instead of text. The latest social networking sites gaining in popularity over the past year are those that allow anonymous questions and answers.

These websites encourage users to create an account or login via an existing Facebook or Twitter account. Anyone can post comments, questions and answers to anyone else’s profile, anonymously. Herein lies the opportunity to engage in negative, inappropriate and potentially abusive online behavior.

Ask.fm is the most popular example. Others include spring.me, Whisper, Secret, Wut and Sneeky. Has your child come across any of these? The best course of action is to engage in regular conversations about technology. Share new apps, favourite apps, by-gone apps, funny online photos (cats seem popular) and even ask your child to teach you something about social media and online privacy. Your child may eventually feel comfortable sharing information you may not be aware of. Give it a try!

Stacy Marcynuk
Director of IT, Curriculum

Further Reading:
The Economist – Anonymous social networking, Secrets and lies
Anonymous social networking apps: What parents can do about them
Safety Beyond Facebook: 11 Social Media Apps Every Parent Should Know About
Common Sense Media – 11 Sites and Apps Kids Are Heading to After Facebook

Be Careful What You Believe

WarningThis morning as I was reading the paper I came across this story about a local high school.  When I go home tonight, I will show this to my two kids and remind them, what you read on line is not necessarily the truth.

http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2013/02/11/schools_seemingly_racist_rules_about_africanamericans_an_online_hoax.html

Derek Logan
Head of School

The Jekyll and Hyde of the Internet

Good and BadThe Toronto Star recently published an article asking, “Is the internet bad for us?”. Good question.

Nothing excites me more than each step forward in doing our best for students. Every concern addressed, every lesson made more impactful, and every child we more effectively connect with is the reward that reenergizes us for the next day. While not always the case, technology and the Internet, in the hands of a determined and mindful teacher, frequently play a role in these steps forward. Though I stand firmly in the camp that says the technology glass is more than half full, I’ve seen enough to know that keeping The Star’s question in the back of our minds is an important part of ensuring the glass doesn’t get knocked over.

The article lists many reasons for concern: family time dominated by laptops and texting, decreased ability to converse, constant desire for affirmation, lack of time alone with one’s thoughts or playing side-by-side with others, etc. The social conflicts inherent in growing up now often play out in cyberspace, where slights, or worse, take on a much greater significance than anything the pre-Internet generation had to face. Growing up is hard, and this generation’s abundant use of the Internet amplifies the highs and lows of this critical stage. Raising children is hard, and the Internet has likewise been a mixed blessing for parenting.

The Internet is here to stay, and to bemoan what’s bad is to miss out on all that’s good. But to revel in the positive without attention to what’s not is unwise. Teaching responsible use of the Internet is now part of what schools must do. Monitoring and having reasonable limits on use at home is now part of what parents must do. With these efforts in place, we can happily answer the opening question, “It could be bad, but not in my family.”

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

Technology and Dogs

Dog with paw holding a digital tablet computerMy 16 year old daughter, Alyssa, has been lobbying, begging, pleading for a dog for the past couple of years.  She leaves my wife, Heather, and I messages, demonstrates to us how good she is with our neighbour’s dog when she is asked to look after it, engages my mom to lobby on her behalf, changes the homepage on our computers and phones to a photo of a dog, etc.  We constantly remind her of the responsibilities that go with a dog:  cleaning up, walking it, feeding it, taking it to the vet, finding people to look after it when you are away, etc. etc. etc.  Alyssa believes she is ready for the responsibility.  However, as her parents, we know the dog will be both Alyssa’s responsibility and ours.  When I think about it, it’s the same as when a child gets access to technology, and the world of cyberspace, through a computer or a phone. As a parent, you will strive to play a role in watching your child to make sure he or she is using and taking care of the technology responsibly, however it may prove difficult at times.

One of our faculty forwarded me the following post earlier this week that a friend of hers had posted on her Facebook site.  I understand that it has been on FB for a while, but it was the first time I’ve come across it and I felt it would make interesting and perhaps thought-provoking reading for our families. As well, it may generate some solutions for any challenges parents of wired kids may be faced with.

A kid just got an iPhone from his parents. His mom wrote these [slightly edited] rules for its use:

  1. It is my phone. I bought it. I pay for it. I am loaning it to you. Aren’t I the greatest?
  2. I will always know the password.
  3. If it rings, answer it. It is a phone. Say hello, use your manners. Do not ever ignore a phone call if the screen reads “Mom” or “Dad”. Not ever.
  4. Hand the phone to one of your parents promptly at 7:30pm every school night & every weekend night at 9:00pm. It will be shut off for the night and turned on again at 7:30am. If you would not make a call to someone’s land line, wherein their parents may answer first, then do not call or text. Listen to those instincts and respect other families like we would like to be respected.
  5. It does not go to school with you. Have a conversation with the people you text in person. It’s a life skill.
  6. If it falls into the toilet, smashes on the ground, or vanishes into thin air, you are responsible for the replacement costs or repairs.
  7. Do not use this technology to lie, fool, or deceive another human being. Do not involve yourself in conversations that are hurtful to others. Be a good friend first or stay out of the crossfire.
  8. Do not text, email, or say anything through this device you would not say in person.
  9. and again… Do not text, email, or say anything through this device you would not say in person.
  10. No porn.
  11. Turn it off, silence it, put it away in public. Especially in a restaurant, at the movies, or while speaking with another human being. You are not a rude person; do not allow the iPhone to change that.
  12. Do not send or receive pictures of your private parts or anyone else’s private parts. Don’t laugh. Someday you will be tempted to do this despite your high intelligence. It is risky and could ruin your teenage/college/adult life. It is always a bad idea. Cyberspace is vast and more powerful than you. And it is hard to make anything of this magnitude disappear — including a bad reputation.
  13. Don’t take a zillion pictures and videos. There is no need to document everything. Live your experiences. They will be stored in your memory for eternity.
  14. Leave your phone home sometimes and feel safe and secure in that decision. It is not alive or an extension of you. Learn to live without it. Be bigger and more powerful than FOMO — fear of missing out.
  15. Download music that is new or classic or different than the millions of your peers that listen to the same exact stuff. Your generation has access to music like never before in history. Take advantage of that gift. Expand your horizons.
  16. Play a game with words or puzzles or brain teasers every now and then.
  17. Keep your eyes up. See the world happening around you. Stare out a window. Listen to the birds. Take a walk. Talk to a stranger. Wonder without Googling.
  18. You will mess up. I will take away your phone. We will sit down and talk about it. We will start over again. You & I, we are always learning. I am on your team. We are in this together.

When the walls disappear…

Just recently, Officer Douglas from the Toronto Police delivered a timely talk to our middle school students about social media – the predominant tool being Facebook – where you post and share messages and images.  An interesting fact quickly spreading is that Facebook collects and owns all of the information you post.

Digital ToolsWhen you read and/or post online, you are usually in a safe place: your classroom, office, kitchen, living room, bedroom or the passenger seat of a car. You are usually using your own laptop or smartphone. The setting is one of comfort and security. There are physical walls around you to keep out harm; there are firewalls around your electronic device to keep out intruders. In this comfort zone, you are more likely to submit personal information about yourself (or others) online. However, as soon as you press ‘send,post or submit’, these walls disappear. Poof!

The images and/or words that you just transmitted entered cyberspace where there are no walls, where anyone and everyone can see and hear everything that is online, including the police. Even if you delete it, it’s too late; a copy was made the instant you pressed ‘send, post or submit’.

So before the ‘walls disappear’, think twice about what you post. Will you be worried about the images you‘re uploading? Will you be worried about the text that you‘re about to put out there? If yes, hit delete.

Stacy Marcynuk
Director of IT, Curriculum
Kingsway College School

Blurring the Online Boundary

Parenting and online safetyIf you’ve heard of the ‘information highway’ you’ll know that social media is taking over much of this traffic. If you’ve heard of ‘surfing the web’, you’ve just dated yourself. Students just refer to the web as ‘being online’.

As students begin joining social media at a younger age, the online boundary shifts just a little more. When does it stop? What can we do? Does it need to stop?

Social media is ubiquitous in today’s society and can play a fantastic role in a child’s development. Be an active part of this and let your child share with you what is happening on Facebook or Club Penguin. Have frequent open discussions about the various types of comments posted by users on Grooveshark or YouTube. These are but a few popular social media apps that our children frequently visit. Share your favourite social media apps, comments, tweets or conundrums. It’s okay to let our kids know that we’re fallible and that we also enjoy social media, albeit different social media apps. And of course, within these wonderful conversations, build in talks about privacy settings, risks, consequences and ‘your rules’.  Be strong, yet gentle.

As your child grows older, the boundary will blur and morph. Let it be a natural, agreeable transition. Good luck!

Stacy Marcynuk
Director of IT, Curriculum
Kingsway College School

Some great online safety resources: