Tag Archives: cyberbullying

In 6th grade Life Skills, making digital profiles on our in-house @elgg social network


I worked closely with Meredith Bonacci, PhD, our middle school psychologist, and the rest of the Socio-Emotional Learning liaisons, to revamp our Digital Citizenship and Online Safety unit for 6th grade Life Skills. Topics include understanding lack of online privacy, developing your digital character, reviewing Terms of Service for a variety of social networks, building an online profile, cyberbullying, and self-advocacy.

Today we talked about how to craft an online digital profile on our in-house social network, The Social Network, powered by @Elgg. (Thank you to our server manager, Cristina Martinez, for her help every year!) I reinforced that a social network is NOTHING until you freely and willingly populate it with information about who you are, who are your friends, and what do you do. To demonstrate this, we start every school year with a blank social network after archiving the previous year’s work. I reinforce that everything posted online is either public or less public, so if you want something to be private, you should never upload it.

We discussed:
Should you use an avatar or photo. What is an appropriate photo? Real photo or manga?
What to include in the bio? How do you want to represent yourself online?
What do you want people to know about you?
What type of information will you share? What should you never share?
Should you fill in every cell?
What privacy settings should you use? Who sees what?
Who should you connect with? Who has access to the information?

For further reading, I shared links to these articles:

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6th graders making PSAs about Digital Character in Life Skills

I worked with Dr. Sam Tuttle, the Middle Division’s Social and Emotional Learning Liaison, to design a lesson that corresponds with their Digital Character unit in 6th Grade Life Skills. The Life Skills curriculum encompasses Street Smarts, Hygiene Basics, Nutrition, Digital Character, and Gender-Sex Education. While the teachers and I reinforce responsible use of technology all the time, this Digital Character Unit specifically offers an overview of internet safety and cyber-bullying and what to do to prevent (and respond to) a situation.

During the lessons, students watched and discussed a series of videos from Common Sense Media, NetSmartz, and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Additionally, they examined the OLWEUS Bullying Prevention Program:

Think Before You Post 1 reinforces that everything you post online is public and permanent.

Think Before You Post 2 reinforces that everything you post is public and traceable.

Tracking Teresa reinforces that everything you post is traceable.

Stacy’s Story highlights one girl’s experience being cyber-bullied.

After, we asked students to make their own PSAs (Public Service Announcements). These were the parameters for the project:

  • Create your video PSA using Photo Booth.
  • Drag your movie to your desktop and rename it KarenPSA (use your own name and no spaces).
  • Upload your video to our in-house video server using these tags: PSA, 2012-2013, class_2019, Life Skills, Digital Character
  • Include your name and a link to your PSA on the shared Google Doc embedded on the Life Skills site.

We offered students possible PSA Topics:
1. What are the three most important things a 5th Grader should know about Digital Character Development?
2. What do parents need to know about Digital Character Development?
3. What was something that surprised you about this topic?
4. What steps should you take to better craft your digital character?
5. What advice would you give to a friend if you knew they were taking unsafe risks online?
6. What could you do if you find yourself witnessing a cyberbullying incident as a bystander?


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Formspring during the formative years

I spent a couple of hours today discussing the What, How, and Why of Formspring with 8th graders. While I knew of Formspring’s new-ish existence (it launched November, 2009), I only looked more deeply at the site at a parent’s request after that New York Times article hit the interwebs last week. Within minutes, I located (with little to no difficulty) a dozen students posting/fielding questions from accounts that listed their real name, location, and photograph. Lordy.


What? Formspring‘s homepage offers the following: “Ask questions, give answers and learn more about your friends.”

How? Without even generating a username or logging in, you can search for names, locate profiles, read the questions that were posted to a user’s profile page (these can be posted anonymously or non-anonymously), and read the user’s answers to those posted questions.

Why? Because. This is not original or unique. Danah Boyd writes, “There’s something fascinating to people of all ages about answering questions about themselves.” Further, imagine the addictive thrill of posting whatever you want anonymously.

Today in class, we discussed the following items:

  • The danger of posting your name and any identifying information on a public site. Beyond creepy stalkers, these kids have to consider high school placement counselors, college admissions, and future employers.
  • It is within a user’s power to delete a question from their profile page. However a question posted to someone else’s page is at that other person’s mercy to delete. This is explicitly stated on Formspring’s FAQ Forum. (Many thanks to Arvind Grover for posting the link to this!)
  • By responding to a question, you are legitimizing it. You are demonstrating that it meant something that was worthy of a response. One girl asked, “Why shouldn’t I defend myself when someone says something mean to me on my Formspring page? Isn’t that my right?” I reminded her that an answer is as public as a question. How is it effective to respond to a hateful, mispelled, sexualized, profanity-rich question in kind?
  • Students’ (and parents’) behavior outside of school reflects on our community. This is in the annual contract that accompanies tuition remittance:

…It is further understood that The School reserves the right to dismiss any student whose behavior or conduct or whose parents’ or guardians’ behavior or conduct, in or out of school, is determined by The School, in its sole judgment, to be lacking general civility or contrary, without limitation, to its rules, regulations, or standards.

  • Everything you do online is public, permanent, and traceable. I held out a sheaf of papers in which I said I’d printed the Formspring Q&As from a dozen students. The response was a mixture of embarrassment, outrage, and humor. One student asked why I would do this. I replied, “Because I can. It’s all public. And now it’s permanent in paper form as well as on Formspring’s server as well as from a Google search. And I can make a copy for the Head of School and your mother and your grandmother and your teachers and your high school transcript. And it’s all traceable from your username and from your friend’s profiles.” (At the end of the class, I confessed that the stack of paper was from the recycle bin, but I made my point.)

Later, when I was telling my Director of Technology about the talks, we went online to locate some of the more incendiary profiles. I was very gratified to see that many student accounts were disabled. But as I pointed out to the kids, you can disable your profile, but your name and face are still searchable. And as stated above, any questions left on another user’s page will persist.

Privacy, shmivacy.



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