Growing Up Online

Watch the PBS Frontline Special Growing Up Online: Just How Radically is the Internet Transforming the Experience of Childhood?

Ask any teacher with more than fifteen years of teaching experience about the current generation and he or she will typically respond with a single word – different. Different, because the traditional way of teaching is a striking contrast to the way in which most students interact with technology during their leisure time. I think my own educational experiences as a child are similar to that of most Americans on the wrong side of 30 – absorb facts via lecture, read the textbook, memorize terms and definitions for the test…repeat. Definitive knowledge was canonized in encyclopedias and textbooks and was meant to be mastered for those with enough diligence. The idea of “media consumption” was unheard of and was primarily encapsulated in the form of radio programming and network television – both mediums limited for me. Cable television was a luxury and not something that held much value for my parents. I spent many afternoons and weekends reading or exploring the neighborhood with my friends and siblings.

Contrast that image with today’s student inundated by technology. Social networking sites, texting on cell phones, on-demand entertainment, portable gaming…it’s all a little much for most adults who grew up much the same way I did. Many teachers and parents are unfamiliar with the virtual world and are so intimidated by the pace and volume of all things digital that they simply leave their students/children to traverse this world alone. This disconnection has become more than a generational gap. The ubiquity and ease of Web applications has made socializing easy and very addicting. It is vital that parents and educators familiarize themselves with both the potentials and pitfalls of the Internet, particularly the social aspects. Children need adult guidance in the virtual world as much as they do in the physical world.

PBS’s Frontline program aired a special in late January 2008. If you missed the original broadcast, you can view the program at the PBS website by clicking here. This program is a primer of sorts on current trends. We educators are always pressed for time, so I suggest starting with part 2 of the program (9 minutes long) – A Revolution in Classrooms and Social Life. There is also a teacher’s guide if you would like to incorporate some of the activities into your classroom.

One final thought that will not be pursued in this post, but is important nonetheless. Education does need to change. I strongly suggest reading the article from Marc Prensky titled Backup Education.


TeacherTube and Slideshare

“What do you think about YouTube?” The question came from a ten-year-old at the end of a recent workshop on Internet Safety for three hundred 4th and 5th grade students. The question was posed in earnest but not in innocence. For this young person, like many “digital natives,” YouTube is a major landmark on the Internet landscape. I shared an anecdote about how I had recently used YouTube for a “how-to” video tutorial on a home improvement project. The video was exactly what I needed to get the job done quickly without a trip to Home Depot in hopes of finding an associate with some carpentry experience. I expressed my belief that YouTube is a reflection of the Internet itself – it’s all about where the user chooses to navigate.

YouTube does have value for the educator because of its shear size and openness. Unfortunately, YouTube is also a bad idea for general classroom use for the same reason. If you would like to explore YouTube through the educator’s lens, check out this Edutopia article from author Chris O’Neal. However, you will have to take the tour from home since YouTube seems to be blocked by every school district in North America (and rightly so). Instead, take a look at TeacherTube.

TeacherTube is a video-sharing website based on the YouTube template. It was born out of the desire for sharing “classroom safe,” user-generated content within the educational community. The result is a repository of lesson ideas for teachers, demonstration videos to enhance student understanding, and recordings of lessons from other educators. Users can search by keyword, by video popularity, or by subject area.

TeacherTube is a growing site and will only get better as more educators upload content. See what one teacher did to teach his students about the Transcontinental Railroad. Another educator posted a video on how to use Microsoft Excel to make a classroom poster. A teacher in Spain created a short presentation on emerging web technologies and their bearing on language instruction.

Slideshare ( is a Web 2.0 site designed for users to post their presentations. Slideshare is not designed specifically for educators, but it does hold educational value. A word of caution: Slideshare can contain material not appropriate for the classroom, so do not let your students loose on the site. This is the type of site you would use at your own work station during lesson prep. With that being said, Slideshare does have some very good presentations for you to download to be used during lesson delivery.

To get the most out of Slideshare, click on the “Community” link along the top navigational banner. Next, click the “groups” link. You will see “Education” listed. You can also do a simple keyword search on the home page of the site, but I like exploring the educational community of Slideshare for getting ideas.

I love the Slideshare presentation titled Shift Happens. This is an excellent presentation to show during a staff development workshop. The presentation deals with globalization, technology, and the impact on education (a topic addressed by Thomas Friedman in the book The World Is Flat). You will also find a good presentation on Web 2.0 for the classroom here.

Flickr and the Very Short Story

by Tim Cushman

Getting students to create original writing pieces that represent their “best thinking” is difficult.  One of the teacher’s challenges is framing an assignment that is interesting and unique.  Teachers using the power of the web have been able to tap into tools like blogs and wikis in producing more conscientious writers.  The advantage of the Web lies in the access the average user has to present and interact with a global audience instead of being constrained to writing for one’s instructor and fellow classmates.  Blogs and wikis are both excellent tools, but the Web has much more to offer evolving writers.

As with all things in life, the “law of diminishing returns” applies to Web 2.0 as well.  Consider something different in the upcoming semester by making use of a Flickr “group” known as the 6 Word Story.  A one sentence, six-word story as a writing assignment you may wonder?  Definitely.  Just think of it as the equivalent of the haiku poem – structured and compact.  The history of the 6 Word Story supposedly can be traced back to Ernest Hemingway when he was pressed to create a complete story composed of a mere six words.  (Sources: and  Hemingway’s concise response was, “For sale: baby shoes, never used.”  Several more examples can be found here: and   

The natural response for students when beginning this type of assignment is to simply write a description of the image and unflinchingly await their easy “A”.  However, a good 6 Word Story should read more like a newspaper headline in the New York Times then a caption in the school yearbook.  This is much harder than you think and requires a great deal of creativity and mental effort.  Try composing a few 6 Word Stories of your own with the pictures below.  Click on the photos to see the actual 6 Word Story posted on Flickr.

Bucky     Girl

You can view 6 Word Stories from the Flickr community as well as pair a photo with a story.  There are several pictures awaiting a story at    When searching Flickr, bear in mind that the 6 Word Story is often tagged as sixwordstory or 6WS. 

Be sure to post your classroom 6 Word Story experiences to this blog.

Great LEGAL Sources For Digital Content


by Tim Cushman 


“If content is king, copyright is its castle” was a statement recently made in a keynote address by Sumner Redstone, the chairman of Viacom and CBS.  He added, “Copyright compels creativity, it furnishes the incentive to innovate. If you limit the protection of copyright, you stifle the expression of self.  The time and effort spent creating and the months spent producing, marketing and distributing content is an investment; it is not intended to be a donation.”  (Source:

Not everyone agrees with Mr. Sumner.  Many believe that the proliferation of digital media through the medium of the Internet has changed the way the world communications and that traditional copyright must be updated to keep pace.  Not to mention that many owners of content view fair use far differently from consumers.  Enter Creative Commons.  Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that allows artists to legally release some or all of their rights to their content without all of the restrictions of current copyright law.  The spirit of those involved with Creative Commons can be summarized this way: use, share, improve; just do not sell my work for a profit (do review the licensing).  The implication for teachers is unfettered access to content without fear of breaking copyright law.  Below are sources for content licensed under Creative Commons.  DO PREVIEW CONTENT and strongly consider downloading in advance for your students to use.

Music and Other Audio
Artist Server:
Garage Band:
Pod Show:
The Free Sound Project:

Every Stock Photo:
123RF free stock images section:
Flickr Creative Commons Search:
Open Clipart:

Text and Audiobooks

Creative Common Search Tools
Google Advanced Search: (look for “Usage Rights”)
Wikimedia Commons:
Yahoo Creative Commons Search: