Social Media, Apps and your Tween

tree of multimedia

child watching screenTechnology has been a wonderful addition to our world, with many great benefits. Those benefits have come bundled with dangers. In this series, I’ve outlined the benefits and dangers of several social media apps. I would like to encourage children to be safe in their use of technology.

When we use technology at school, we focus on educational uses, and give a lot of guidance and support to children. When they are using technology independently, it’s generally for short periods, and in close proximity to an adult. We hope that this document will highlight possible issues, and help parents and families implement strategies and practices to keep children safe when using technology.

The Benefits of Technology Use

Technology has brought some wonderful features that we all appreciate. We can keep in touch with family through Skype and Whatsapp, find childhood friends and catch up with them on Facebook, curate resources and share them with each other on Pinterest, create videos and share them on YouTube, keep in touch with family and friends through email, share photos on Instagram, create weblogs in Tumblr, and the list goes on.

For the tools that I’ve mentioned, there are thousands more with similar or extended functionality. As humans, we love to share, and we love to connect, both of which we can now do in many ways online. We understand that mobile devices, and computer technology have revolutionized communication, creation, and curation. This makes critical thinking extremely important.

The Dangers of Technology Use

When using new technology (computers, tablets, smart devices, etc.), we have to be careful to keep ourselves and other people safe. It is difficult to figure out how to do that, as the settings and options differ from app to app. New technology is confusing to many of us; we are not natives in that landscape.

We understand that there are dangers, but we have trouble pinpointing the exact dangers, and knowing how to keep ourselves and others safe. It is difficult because terms of use and privacy policies are long and difficult to understand, and we don’t use many of the tools that children use. We inhabit different spaces, and even when we inhabit the same space, we use the tools in very different ways.

Some of the online tools that are most popular with our children are, Instagram, Whatsapp, Skype, YouTube, and Snapchat. All these tools have great features, but what about the dangers?

Dangers comes from inappropriate content, contact, or conduct online. Are you aware of the attractions of each tool that your child uses, its benefits, and its dangers?

This list is made up of the most popular tools with children (under 13) at my school. Explore each of the tools that you or your children are interested in, from the list below.

General Advice for Making Online Use Safer

There are a variety of choices available to families around technology use. It is important for every family to think through the issues, and decide on the appropriate standards and agreements to guide the use of technology. Every family’s agreement and practices will be different, because families have their own individual dynamics and values. Here are some suggestions to make the use of technology, particularly the Internet, safer for children. The first five tips are important for all families. For the other tips, select the ones that are relevant to and appropriate for your family.

  • Know that it is impossible to make social media 100% safe.
  • Explore available privacy settings for online accounts and turn them on as appropriate.
  • Be aware of what your child is using and doing online, and offer support and guidance to help them make responsible choices. This could provide great opportunities for exploring technology together, and for conversations.
  • Create a set of agreements and standards for your family around the use of technology, social media, and the Internet.
  • Regularly review your family’s agreement, and revise as appropriate to the development of the child and the family’s context.
  • Agree on some simple responses to inappropriate content online, as appropriate for the age of your child, for example, escape out and tell an adult.
  • Have rules/agreements about where your child can use their device.
  • If you decide to allow your child to use social media apps that require users to be at least 13 years old, create a family account that your child can use, and actively manage the account.
  • Agree with your child on what apps they are allowed to use, and a process for discussing/selecting new apps that they may use.
  • Require that your child have permission before installing any apps, even free ones.
  • Make sure that you learn about an app before you give permission for your child to install it.
  • Turn on Parental Controls in iOS or Google Play.
  • Listen to your child’s point of view, and discuss the reasons for your decisions.
  • Charge devices in public/common areas overnight.
  • Do not give a smart, portable device to a child who is not up to the responsibility. For example, if your child needs lots of help being a good self-manager in the physical world, they will be greatly challenged to make safe and responsible choices online.
  • It is important to agree on what settings your child is allowed to independently change in social media, and other communication apps.
  • Safety first. Emphasize this with your child and encourage them to share challenges they encounter with technology, how they solve them, and what they need help with. Be calm, and don’t overreact in these situations.

Read previous posts in this series

VoiceThread for Publishing and Collaboration

Voicethread is a great tool for collaboration and sharing. You can combine images, documents and video in a slideshow format. Then other users can add voice, text, audio file or video comments. As a K-12 school, it’s best to get a classroom or school license, which conforms to both COPPA and FERPA. Common Sense gives Voicethread a great review, and 4 stars.

Here are 5 possible uses of VoiceThread in the K-12 classroom:
  1. Upload a document, video or image and have students post a comment or response as voice, text, or audio.
  2. A small group of students co-create a presentation as documentation for or of learning.
  3. In one class, students co-create a VoiceThread. Then buddies from another class comment on the VoiceThread.
  4. Students read a favorite poem, using a painting or drawing they made as the backdrop. Other students can share similar poems as a comment.
  5. Collaborate with two other classes, where students in one class post images, students in another class comment on each image, with a poem, and students in a third class comment with music. The students will choose the three related media to evoke the same emotions/feelings in the audience. We did such a project in Grade 5 last year, where students in Dar es Salaam created the images in Art Class, students in Seattle made the music in GarageBand in Music Class, and our students typed up their own poems in their homerooms. 

This is our resulting VoiceThread from the 3 schools collaboration:

Threes Tuesday


What is it? Collaborative story-telling website

Use it:

  • create a story

Integration: Any subject but especially language arts

Purpose: Students can work with each other to create a story. If the focus is on storytelling and not drawing/artistry, this tool is useful in that it provides students with images to use.


What is it? A bibliography creator 

Use it:

  • easily create a bibliography using MLA, APA, Chicago or Turbian using online databases
  • view citation guides

Integration: All subjects

Purpose: This tool accesses online databases to automatically complete some of the required information for your bibliography. The citation guides also teach students about methods of attribution.


What is it? World cloud creator

 Use it:

  • artwork
  • spelling/vocabulary
  • data/literature analysis
  • poetry

Integration: Any subject

Purpose: Create a graphical representation of the relative frequency of each word in a list/paragraph. This may be useful for analyzing texts, or for emphasizing meaning.

Tip: Try double clicking, right clicking on a word, and advanced options

Responsible Use of Social Media

This recent article by Mashable is targeted at students but really, it is useful for all users, including adults.

Read the article for an explanation of each item on the list. The bare list of 12 things students should avoid when using social media, presented verbatim is:

  1. post illegal activities
  2. bullying
  3. trash your teachers
  4. post objectionable content from school computers or networks
  5. post confidential information
  6. overly specific location check-ins
  7. lie/cheat/plagiarize
  8. threaten violence
  9. ignore school-specific policies
  10. unprofessional public profiles
  11. never rely on privacy settings 100%
  12. post emotionally

… and 20 Annoying Things on Facebook

  1. TMI Parents
  2. Marketing
  3. Vaguebooking
  4. Unsolicited check-ins
  5. The Humblebrag
  6. Vanity
  7. Song Lyrics
  8. Political rants
  9. Twitter sync
  10. Third person
  11. Phantom tag
  12. Creepers
  13. Publicizing private moments
  14. Unnecessary name changes
  15. Month-long events
  16. The shared profile
  17. Urban legends/chain letters
  18. The “Arm Triangle of Insecurity”
  19. Mundate posts + Exercise bragging
  20. Redundant links

I don’t think that social networks is the only place that these activities should not be done. I must admit to being guilty of Twitter sync on Facebook, and since I have many professional contacts on Facebook, I’m unlikely to stop the syncing.

Read the full article for more information on responsible use of social media, and for suggested habits to keep your Facebook friends happier!

Appreciating the Beautiful

Surprising and Beautiful

On this beautiful Friday in Nagoya, I thought that I’d share some beautiful and surprising designs with you. Explore the following online:

  1. A beautiful website. Scroll down slowly to appreciate it –
  2. Resize the webpage to find the easter bunny and see the clouds move –
  3. Click on the worm at the bottom for a surprise –
  4. Resize the width of your browser to find the optical illusion –


Apps/Tools For You to Try

  1. Only print what you want –
  2. Bookmark your files online –
  3. Silent Film Director (for iDevice) –
  4. Brain Pusher (for iDevice) –
  5. Sketch Cam Live (for iDevice) –

Tech Resource Highlights