Monthly Archives: October 2014

Tear Down That Wall: Social Networking and Walled Gardens

This week’s blog post, “Tear Down That Wall: Social Networking and Walled Gardens” is a VoiceThread presentation.

It can be found here:


Student Safety On The Internet

Student Safety On The Internet: Tips for Teachers

As teachers integrate Internet-based activities into to their curricula, higher levels of student engagement are coming at a potential cost: opportunities for plagiarism, exposure to inappropriate web-based content, access to misinformation and unintended interactions with strangers are just some of the potential dangers students face when learning online.  Below are a few proactive steps teachers can take to help keep their students safe while using Internet-based platforms for learning.

Reinforce Guidelines For Responsible Internet Use

Discovery Education recommends reviewing your school’s Internet Safety Plan (ISP) or Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) frequently with students (“Internet Safety”, n.d.).  Don’t assume that your school’s technology teacher has already discussed the Internet Safety Plan/Acceptable Use Policy with your students; the information in them is important enough to warrant reviewing the guidelines on a consistent basis.  Highlight the actions in the plan that are relevant to the day’s activity and discuss potential consequences for students who take risks and ignore the guidelines.  Finally, actively monitor your students’ online use: circulate throughout the room or use programs such as SynchronEyes to ensure they’re on-task and staying safe. If your school does not have an ISP or an AUP, volunteer to help craft them.  Two good places to start are Education World’s article “Getting Started On The Internet” and Siskiyou Union High School’s student-friendly AUP.

Instruct Students Not To “Over-Share”

Discovery Education also cautions students not to “over-share” when using Web 2.0 tools (“Internet Safety”, n.d.).  Instruct students not to use full names, email addresses, personal or school addresses, phone numbers, personal photos, etc., when engaged in school-related activities.  Students can typically seek and receive feedback in a variety of ways without divulging personal information or sharing email addresses.  Teach students about online fraud, scams and advertising aimed at teen audiences.  Finally, explain to students why being mindful of their  “online footprint” is important.  For suggestions on how to do this, read the “What Does Your Electronic Footprint Say About You?” section on my Rules for Online Netiquette webpage for high school students.

Teach Students How to Evaluate Online Resources

The quality of information online varies from reputable, scholarly-produced websites and articles to spurious online “journals” purporting to house the peer-reviewed work of academics and professionals.  In his article “Evaluating Internet Research Sources” on his Virtual Salt website, Dr. Robert Harris recommends sources that contain as much of the following information as possible: Author’s Name, Author’s Title or Position, Author’s Organizational Affiliation, Date of Page Creation or Version and Author’s Contact Information (Harris, 2013).  Professionals, academics or companies/institutions of repute will likely include this information on any site they produce.  Second, Harris advocates evaluating the quality of the information contained within the site with his “CARS” checklist: appraise the information for Credibility, Accuracy, Reasonableness and Support.  Specifics on his exact criteria for doing so can be found in his article.  How might you teach students this approach?  Create a list of websites of varying quality, and model the application of the CARS checklist with students. An example of how you might do this can be found here.  Hold students accountable for using reputable sources and include a “Sources” section on your grading rubric to ensure students are aware of the value you place in using quality, reliable information.

Teach Students What Plagiarism Is And How To Avoid It

Plagiarism has never been easier.  The ability to search the web for academic papers, journal articles, books, blogs, images, music and other information in an electronic format that is easily copied and pasted has tempted more than a few students to do just this.  Students (and adults) routinely post and modify images, music and videos created by others onto their social networking and personal websites, unaware of copyright laws or fair use guidelines.  For these reasons, helping students understand what plagiarism is and how it can be avoided in academic settings is more difficult than ever. is an excellent resource for teachers seeking to explain different types of plagiarism in clear, student-friendly terms.  Incorporate structures into your classroom that discourage last-minute plagiarism: scaffold research projects for students appropriately, requiring them to develop it in stages, with teacher feedback along the way.  Finally, teach students when citing sources is appropriate and how to do so correctly.  The Purdue OWL Online Writing Lab is a well-regarded reference tool for anyone seeking guidance on writing and referencing.


Getting Started on the Internet: Acceptable Use Policies. (n.d.). Retrieved October 21, 2014, from

Harris, R. (2013, December 27). Evaluating Internet Research Sources. Retrieved October 21, 2014, from

Internet Safety. (n.d.). Retrieved October 21, 2014, from

Spreadsheets in the High School Science Classroom

Scientists produce, manipulate and analyze vast quantities data, often on a daily basis. Contemporary spreadsheet software programs such as Microsoft Excel and Google Spreadsheets streamline these processes, enabling scientists to sift through staggering amounts of data accurately and efficiently. Training students how to access information stored in databases, as well as how to manipulate and analyze it efficiently via spreadsheet software should be part of every secondary science classroom.

While spreadsheets are an excellent way to record data, their true advantage over pen-and-paper data tables is the ease with which the data can be manipulated. Rarely do scientists use data “as is.”  Data is often converted into different units, mathematically combined with other data or inserted into mathematical equations. Doing this by hand is both time-consuming and error-prone. Instead, contemporary scientists write formulas for the mathematical operations they want to apply to the data and perform hundreds, even thousands of calculations instantaneously as entire columns of data are manipulated at once.   This YouTube video shows how this is done.

A second major advantage of recording data in spreadsheets is the ability to visualize trends and patterns by graphing the data. It’s notoriously difficult to identify what, if any, trend a data set is following when it’s displayed only in tabular form. Spreadsheet software allows the user to easily graph the data in a variety of forms: pie chart, bar graph, line graph, scatter plot, etc. This YouTube video demonstrates not only how to transform tabular data into graphical form, but also how to add a  trend line.

A third major advantage conferred by spreadsheet software is the ability to create interactive activities or simulations that do not require an Internet connection. An excellent example of this are the “Chemical Excelets” produced by Prince George’s Community College. In the “DNA and Thermal Denaturation” excelet (see below) students observe how changing the composition of the DNA double-helix affects its denaturation temperature, allowing them to explore the connection between Hydrogen bonding and DNA integrity:

Screen Shot 2014-10-06 at 7.58.09 PMThis site provides free, downloadable interactive spreadsheets that allow students to explore a variety of activities related to atomic structure, properties and chemical reactivity. Teachers interested in developing their own interactive “Excelets” can learn how to do so here.