Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Education Technology Website Review: GENi revolution (Financial Education)

This blog post is a review of the free Personal Finance website, GENi revolution. Really, it is...but first you get my back-story.

Technology integration is my passion, but it is not what led me to become an educator. I entered the world of high finance in 1993, becoming a licensed stock broker shortly after my 22 birthday, and didn't leave the industry until 2005. During that time I had many positions, from quoter (someone who give stock quotes over the phone) to a investment specialist/relationship manager working exclusively with clients investing a million dollars + with the firm. I taught many different seminars, specializing in educational seminars for women. I thrilled in teaching my clients about WHY they needed to invest and why my recommendations were sound. I did not believe in just telling them what to do and expecting them to follow my instructions with no questions asked (that is not a wise investment strategy). I LOVED the educational aspects of my career, but I HATED sales, with a passion. Especially when my firm would tell me to push a particular product or service, even when I did not feel a client needed it. Finally, after much soul searching and prayer, I came to the conclusion that this was no longer where I needed to be, and that if I truly wanted to affect the financial futures of others, I needed to start in the classroom, before they could go into debt or waste 20 years of not investing in their 401(k). So, I left the world of finance and became a teacher.

I was very fortunate. I did not have to complete an educational degree program before I could get into the classroom. Because of my prior experience in one of a select group of careers, and the fact that I live in Arizona, I qualified for a provisional Career & Technical Education certificate. I had to prove extensive experience in finance to get my certificate. Then I had to get 2 years of teaching experience, pass certain AEPA exams, complete several college classes in CTE education, and get a favorable review to allow me to get a regular certificate. I don't know if you know how hard it is to convince a school to hire you, with no formal teaching experience (not even student teaching) and not being in an education program at a university. All I had was a certificate that said I could teach business and marketing. Thank goodness computers falls under that, because I finally found a school trying to fill a recently vacated computer teacher position 2 days before school started. Long story short, I was hired and  I soon convinced them of the importance of personal finance education, especially for our particular student population. The course is now required to graduate from our school, and I couldn't be happier!

I actually use a paid program from Knowledge Matters to supplement my teaching of Personal Finance, but I recently came across GENi revolution, created by The Council for Economic Education. This is a free online game that teaches students key financial concepts and I LOVE it! I will be supplementing all future courses with "missions" from this game. The quick and dirty is that it requires critical thinking, applied business math, inquiry, and online research skills. And it's a GAME! That's FREE! It has 15 missions covering investing, budgeting, savings, career choice, post-secondary education decisions, financial planing, and economic outlook. Did I mention? It's FREE!

As an educator, you have the ability to add students, create teams, create classes, and monitor progress through a very simple interface.

If you notice, students can play a desktop or mobile version of GENi. But there is also two additional games: Murktide Invasion and Beyond the Mission which allows students to dig even further into more advanced financial concepts. I will leave the discussion of those two games to a later date.

The interface for playing the game is actually very intuitive and easy to work with (BTW, you can also play). 

Students start with the Situation Map to choose a mission. Missions do not have to be done in order. The focus for each mission is listed below:

Based on the way I teach my Personal Finance course, I would group all the missions involving investing together and have students work through them in the order that compliments my teaching plans. You have that flexibility with this game.

Every mission has a briefing that gives students their objective. The missions require students to view short, informational videos about the subject (found in the backpack), use a regular calculator as well as various financial calculators, and answer questions throughout the mission to check for understanding. They receive immediate feedback and recommendations for next steps if they are struggling with the questions.

The game feels like you are solving a mystery and requires students to find the information needed to answer questions, so students are challenged to think critically. But the students are also engaged and enjoy playing the game.

This game is a great learning tool for any teacher interested in teaching any or all of these financial concepts. There is a book (Supplemental Materials) that you can purchase for use in the classroom to complement the game, but it is not required to be able to play the game successfully. The audio and video component of instructions, along with the students ability to replay as many times needed, allows for immediate differentiated learning for all students. The game also allows those students with stronger skills to move ahead at their own speed.  It challenges students to think, requires the use of math skills, and allows them to analyze information and make a decision based on that information. All around, it is a great learning tool.

So, I hope you will check out GENi revolution. It is free and easy to access.  Our students are graduating HS without the basic money skills they need to survive in this world. Including some form of financial education in your social studies, econ, math, business, etc. class will better prepare your students to be successful in the real world.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Bit Torrents, Peer2Peer File Sharing, and Copyright Infringement

I am a teacher. I teach, and am passionate about, Digital Citizenship. Part of what I teach is about illegally downloading materials. I actually just finished teaching this part of the curriculum to my current class. One of my students is my own 18 year old son. I have also discussed this with all of my children for years. So, they know right from wrong. Despite that, we received the following email from our internet provider this morning:

The email went on to list all the details of the illegally downloaded game, when, where, and how it was downloaded, and advised us that further behaviour like this would result in us losing our internet. My youngest son had downloaded an illegal copy of Jak and Daxter. He tried to deny it at first. Then I told him I had received an email with all the details. So now he tried to justify it. His argument was sound, and one that, while I agree with his reasoning, is not recognized by the courts. But, unfortunately, it is an argument that many believe will protect them from civil suit.

His argument was this. He had bought the disk a few years ago, when the game first came out. However, because games on CDs are not very durable, his game was no longer readable by the game system. He looked for a used copy at GameStop and tried to find a way to buy it online, but there was nothing available. He felt that since he had legally purchased the game originally, but could no longer play it, it was okay for him to download a free copy. He even tried to argue that this was his digital backup (which actually is a valid argument that I will discuss later). The issue here is that the courts have not recognized original legal ownership as a valid excuse for downloading through a Bit Torrent  or peer2peer file sharing site. In addition, anytime you download from bit torrent or P2P sites, you risk infecting your computer with viruses. 

Note: bit torrent is the way files are shared through P2P, but I list them separately, as some sites call themselves bit torrent and some call themselves P2P. I want to make sure that students are aware that BOTH can be illegal

Based on what I have read, the argument about digital backup (Copyright FAQ) applies when you have a DVD or a CD that you make a copy of on your computer. Producers of music and videos use to try and prevent you from copying this material, stating it was to prevent piracy. Since then, it has been ruled that you have a legal right to make a backup (or archive) copy of media that you have purchased on a disk. In this case, it does not apply. If he had made a copy from his original disk, he would have been within his rights. But downloading an illegal copy from the internet is not protected under this rule.

I am not a lawyer, but I do pay attention to this because I teach it. I do not necessarily agree with all of the laws, but it is not my place to argue the laws in the classroom. It is my job to teach the laws the way they apply, advise my students that it is always better to err on the side of caution, and if they don't like the laws, to go about changing them the right way.

As educators and parents, it is our job to share this information with the youth in our care. Google copyright infringement penalties sometime and see just how seriously the RIAA takes this and how many lives have been ruined over a few songs downloaded from a bit torrent or P2P site. Sharing copyrighted material is NOT allowed without the express permission of the copyright holder. In our digital world, where everything is immediately available, it is hard for many people to comprehend that just because it is on the internet does not mean it is legal. Most people would never walk into a store and steal a DVD, CD, or game. But when it's on the internet, the lines between right and wrong get fuzzy. Copyright is not a tangible thing in the digital world. Since we cannot hold it in our hands, it is harder for some people to make the connection with a real item to be sold for the benefit of the creator of that product. It is not always an easy topic to teach or comprehend (as shown by my son's challenges). But we must continue to teach our students that when someone creates something, it is theirs. They own it, and we do not have the right to access it and share out without fair compensation to the creator.

Below are some good websites to help teach this concept:

Respect Copyrights written to appeal to those who have received a take down or copyright notice.

RIAA Tools for Parents website by the people who actually pursue copyright infringers.

Don't Be a Douche Yes, Jack Black says douche. But this is an entertaining way to explain why copyright law exists. 

BBC Story on Tracking Illegal Downloads this shows how tracking illegal downloaders has become an entire industry that is taken very seriously.

Copyright Alert System article on CNET about how internet providers are tracking illegal downloads.

Center for Media & Social Impact a great resource for all things copyright and fair use. Intended for college students, but the lessons work well with my HS students.

Minnesota Woman Fined $220,000 for Illegal Downloads I have followed this story for years, she should have taken the original ruling of $30,000.

Nintendo Copyright FAQ right from the horses mouth. How Nintendo feels about piracy.

Ignorance of the law does not release the violator of those laws from the responsibility of their actions. With all of the articles, media, and sites out there dedicated to informing the public about copyright laws and an equal number dedicated to telling people how to get around the system, claiming ignorance would be pretty hard. We must do our best to teach our students and children what the laws are, but more importantly, why they exist and how illegal downloads hurt everyone.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Grade Papers Using Google Forms w/Eric Berngen

I am not huge on linking to other people's blogs, but in this case, I will make an exception.

Mr. Berngen is a technology teacher in Chicago who has come up with a very innovative way to grade papers using Google Forms. So, I have included a link to is blog where he has 3 videos showing you how it works and walking you through the process. I will tell you, this will not work unless all of your students have email addresses.


Grade Papers Faster with Google Forms

Friday, February 21, 2014

Digital Citizenship - Who should be teaching it?

Who is responsible for teaching youth to be safe online? Shouldn't that be the responsibility of their parents? Why can't they wait until they get in high school and learn it as an elective class? Digital citizenship doesn't really have an effect on my classroom...

The questions, statements, and arguments about digital citizenship go on forever. The subject is nearly as controversial as sex ed (sexting is a dig cit issue) and the arguments about who should be teaching it are heated.

The question we should be asking ourselves as educators is this, "If we don't teach this, who will?" Sex ed, we can ASSUME that a parent is capable of having that discussion with their children, at least about the basics. If they have had children, they at least know what sex is. The information may not be the best or most accurate, but at least they should be capable of providing SOME information, or at least we would hope.

When it comes to online behavior, safety, avoiding scams, etc., I can tell you from experience, most parents are clueless. Even parents who are reasonably digitally savvy. All you have to do to verify this is watch the FB posts or forwarded emails from friends who you assume are reasonably intelligent and have been using computers for more than a few years. 

How many of you have seen this shared? Or something similar? Maybe you have shared it yourself. The same rules that apply to life apply double to the Internet, if it sounds too good to be true, it is! Bill Gates is not giving everyone who likes his picture money. There are no free XBoxes, and that Disney page with only 300 likes is NOT the real Disney page and you aren't getting free tickets to Disneyland. That cute boy that says he is 14 is actual a 41 year old online predator (Online Sex Offender). That hot 14 year old girl who sent a fried request to your teenage son? It is an adult TEACHER who is a sexual predator (Young Girl is Predatory Teacher ). Things on the Internet are not always what they seem, and many parents are not aware of the dangers. So it is up to us, the educators, to learn everything we can and share that knowledge with our students.

There are other reasons that may require teaching digital citizenship to our students. Does your school receive eRate funds to help pay for your Internet? Then as of July 2012, it became required for your students to receive digital citizenship education. 

 The April 19, 2012 FCC Report 11-125, second page, under the heading Rules That the Commission Amended added this: 

The report continues on to tell what it expects the schools to do to implement this:

For more information, you can access the report here:

Failure to comply with this can adversely affect a schools eRate funding. And we thought the Department of Education was the only government entity that had a say in our classroom.

So we have been told that we, as educators, are supposed to teach dig cit. But WHICH educator should be teaching digital citizenship? In our school, it is easy. Digital Citizenship is a required course, and a pre-requisite to ALL other CTE courses (which make up the bulk of our elective courses). I teach this course, and when a student is enrolled, they put the students in my class as soon as it is available. I cover everything from computer basics (since many of our students have had little to no education in computers), using Google search properly, sexting, cyberbullying, social networking, digital footprints, online relationships (we also cover dating abuse in this), and copyright & fair use. By the time the students leave my class, they have a good understanding of what it means to participate in the online world.

But what if your school doesn't offer a course like this? Maybe computers is a once a week special and they only learn how to use applications and software. Maybe a digital citizenship course if offered, but not required. Maybe no one has even discussed this in your school. Then it is time for you to step up and start the discussion. The best case scenario, in my opinion, is a required course that all students take, no matter what age. In elementary school, the course could be as simple a few 30 minute lessons on being safe online. We used to learn about Stranger Danger. Now it is time to teach about Stranger Danger on the computer. Middle school students could learn this in another required class, like health or PE. When it comes to protecting a students from predators, sexting mistakes, and bullying, this makes a PE or health class a natural fit. High school students need to take a full course in this that is more in depth and really talks about the uncomfortable issues (predators, sexting, abusive online relationships, cyberbullying). Again, in my opinion, every high school students should be required to take at least a 1/2 credit course on digital citizenship.

Digital Citizenship is not just about avoiding predators, not being charged with child pornography for sexting (Sexting Teens Risk Child Pornography Charges), recognizing an abusive or controlling relationship, or how to deal with online bullies. Students MUST be taught about the long-term effect of the things they do online. Employers, colleges, future partners; they all look up everything they can about us online. The things that are done as a 15/16 year old have long lasting effects. That picture of a student with a beer in their hand has just cost them a college scholarship. The sext a  then 16 year old girl sent to her boyfriend is now on a revenge website and her potential new boss just found it. The parents of the girl he was going to ask to marry him found the pictures of him smoking a bong. The things that our students put on the Internet are permanent, and once it is put out their, they no longer have control. Even an embarrassing picture that is deleted may have been screen captured by someone else. Now there are even apps and websites that are making worse by implying that users are completely anonymous or that pictures are "deleted" after a set period of time. NOTHING on the Internet is private. These are the things that teens and tweens do not consider when they go online. That is why we, as educators, need to make them aware of the online dangers. 

Okay, now what? Talk to your administration. Come up with a plan to educate students. Then implement the plan. Don't know WHAT to teach students? There is a plethora of great resources available, just Google it. But some of my favorite resources are included below.

Common Sense Media This website provides a complete curriculum for every grade level, including lesson plans, assignments, videos, etc.

MTV A Thin Line This source if more appropriate for high school students. It has a lot of videos about various digital citizenship subjects, interviews with celebrities, and a very good movie, (Dis)Connected, that covers all the major issues with social media.

NBC Dateline - To Catch a Predator Again, more for high school students. Some of the information in the clips is VERY raw. Very good online safety kit.

Stop CyberBullying This website has a great personal assessment that allows students to review their own online behavior.

What is Digital Abuse This whole website is about dating, but this particular page is a great guide to helping students identify potentially abusive digital relationships.

CyberBullying Research Center Great resource for middle school and high school about cyberbullying. Includes worksheets and activities.

Digital Footprint Teaching Guide Created by an educator. Includes videos and activities to help teach about digital footprints. Middle to high school.

There are many, many more great resources. Find what works for you and your student population. But start the discussion somewhere. The digital world is our "home", for the foreseeable future. Our students must learn how to be good digital citizens so they can not only survive, but THRIVE in this world. And WE must be the ones leading the way.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Like and Share to win FREE (insert item here)

A few days ago, I was cruising Facebook and saw where one of my friends had "liked" and "shared" a pictured from Disneyland, Inc. to win free Disneyland tickets. The FB page claimed to be THE Disneyland. Well, I am a bit of a Disney fanatic (come on, I own annual passes and we live in PHOENIX!) and I have "liked" the OFFICIAL Disneyland page, so I knew he had been had.

So I posted the following warning on my FB page:

"To all my friends & family: PLEASE be aware of the pages you are "liking" and the "share this to enter our free giveaway" pictures you are sharing. Groups use legitimate company names (Disney & Southwest Airlines are the largest victims, but Apple & Microsoft show up frequently, too.) These scam groups are NOT giving anything away. Their whole goal is to get as many likes on the page as possible, and then they SELL the FB page to another group. (Usually an undesirable group that you would NEVER want to be associated with or a group trying to steal personal info). One of the easiest ways to see if it legitimately is the company is to go to the profile. If it is Southwest Airlines and they only have a few hundred or thousand likes, that is your first clue it is not legit. Also, VERIFIED corporate pages have a little blue circle with a check-mark in it. When you hover over it, a pop-up that says "Verified" comes up.

Southwest Airlines does do legitimate giveaways, however, it is NEVER a like and share. When you go to their page, they have an actual entry form that you have to fill out. If you want to see their giveaways, go to the REAL SW ( linked at the beginning of this paragraph) airlines page and like their page and you will see their contests. Also, many SMALL companies do giveaways this way, hoping to increase their social media exposure. Just make sure they are a legitimate company before liking their page.

There are no stacks of unopened iPads or XBox 360s sitting around waiting to be given out. And Bill Gates is NOT giving away money to everyone who shares his post. However, Larry Fitzgerald does do that on occasion. Not money, but game tickets, swag, and a share of a lottery ticket when the pot gets big. To participate in his giveaways, make sure you like his FB page and follow him on Twitter.

The point is, BE CAREFUL! When you like a page, you are granting those groups access to certain information on your profile. Make sure that your are entering contest from LEGITIMATE companies, not scam artist. Why am I posting this? In the last week, I have seen no less than 20 of my friends/family members getting conned by these groups and it bothers me. I don't want any of you getting scammed or having personal information compromised."

Most of my friends ignored me, because they are just SURE that they cannot be fooled. But I decided to press on with my desire to educate the public, hence this post.

At the time I was writing this blog, I went looking for an example of one of the fraudulent companies, but having a heck of a time. They are pretty quick about selling off the page and changing the name because they know the REAL company will come after them.  So, while I don't have an example of a fraud right now, I do have a legitimate site.

Some things to help you in recognizing a fraud:

The first clue that this IS a valid page is the blue circle with the check mark in it. This means that Facebook has verified that this is the real company and the page is legit. This is usually only done on HUGE corporate pages. So there are other, official Disney pages (D23, Annual Passholders, Holidays, etc) that are really Disney pages, but that have not been verified.

The second clue is the number of likes. The page that scammed my friend had 100 likes. Disneyland only having 100 likes? Come on. But he wasn't paying attention to that. All he saw was free Disneyland tickets, so he went for it.

The third clue is the name. On the scam page, it said Disneyland, Inc. A few seconds on Google will show you that the official Disney name is The Walt Disney Company, and all US parks also fall under that company. They don't have their own corporations.

There are a lot of things that scammers do to convince you that their giveaway is real. They will SAY they are the official page, they will copy the logo that the official page has, they copy info from the real page, and even include a link to the real company website. But if you just take a few minutes to look the page over, you can quickly see the scams.

Be careful. This time of year, we are all looking for a bargain or a great freebie. Just make sure you are doing your research. And go with your gut. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

My first TpT item!

Woo hoo! I have posted my first item on Teachers Pay Teachers. Once I get the hang of this, I hope put a BUNCH of Dig Cit & Tech stuff up there. Some will be free and some have a cost. But this is my first go round!! Check it out.
Operating Systems on Teachers Pay Teachers

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Power of Digital Scavenger Hunts

As a kid, I had a love hate relationship with scavenger hunts. I loved the excitement, the adventure, the competition. I hated talking to people I didn't know. When I was a kids (and it WASN'T that long ago!) it was still safe to roam the neighboorhood knocking on doors and asking for paperclips, bananas, etc. But today? Kids rarely go outside and interact with the world. It is school, home, maybe do some homework, then TV and/or video games. You rarely see kids playing street hockey, or cops & robbers in a front yard. Lack of play is affecting the brain development of our kids. Here is just one article (with references) on the affects:

My point? Maybe we, as teachers, can use an assignment to allow kids to use the technology they are so addicted to AND get out and play.

Ok, more back story, last week, I participated in GISHWHES (Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen). Google it. It's put on by Misha Collins of Supernatural fame. It is crazy. It's insane. And I have not had that much fun in a LONG time! It required creativity, problem solving, communication, stepping out of one's comfort zone, and a lot of abnosomeness. (Google it!) The whole purpose? To try and get people to STOP worrying about what others think. To dance in the rain. To try something new. To challenge yourself. To talk to people you have never meet. To send e-mails to CEOs and congressman requesting monkey hat pictures and Beyonce videos. We had one girl on our team who is terribly shy. She took on one of the tasks, had panic attacks over the requirement to talk to people she did not know. But she did it. Her reflection after the event was that she learned things about herself she never knew. She feels stronger and more confident.

I believe education has become too "safe". We don't challenge students to take risks anymore. Everyone gets a trophy, there is no failure. And if you ask a student to do something they don't like, expect a call from a parent. The results? We have an entire generation that think getting a job is "too hard".

So, let's step out of that safety net just a little and challenge the kids in a fun way. Digital scavenger hunts allow students to record their finds/creations/completing of a task, and submit it digitally. They don't have to require students to talk to strangers. But they can challenge them to talk to congressman, potential future employers, people who have lived history.

For example, a history class could require students to send an email to their congressman about an issue that concerns them, record a veteran talking about his/her experiences in WWII, visit a local national/state park or landmark and record the visit with video/photos, visit an American history museum, etc.

Science: record examples of (fill in the scientific term) that you see everyday. Visit the local science museum, collect photos of plants/insects/birds you see in your neighborhood.

There are so many potential ways to wake our students up to the world around them while letting them play a game. And don't forget to encourage their creativity. Have them dress up as their favorite historical person or literary character. Re-create a historical event out of the toys you have in your house. Do a simple kitchen science experiment and video the process, all dressed as Einstein. The potential is unlimited.

My point? We have got to wake our students up to the world around them. They can not just explore the world through Google Earth or view nature by watching Shark Week. We need to engage them in life. Reawaken curiosity and a desire to explore. And I believe digital scavenger hunts are one way to accomplish this.