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Learning to Code Freebies

This is a strange time in your kids' lives. Their schools closed months ago, their summer plans have been drastically changed, and they can't even visit their friends in person. But they are not alone in this experience. In 1665, Sir Isaac Newton was sent home from Cambridge due to the bubonic plague. While in quarantine, Newton made a number of important discoveries that shaped his life and career.

To help inspire your kids at home, Vernier Software & Technology, an educational company best known for their science software and hardware products that allow students to collect and analyze data in the classroom, has put together an activity that encourages kids to tell the story of Newton’s “year of wonders” through code. Kids can use the Scratch coding app to bring Newton’s story alive. Once they’ve finished telling Newton’s story, they can also use Scratch to code their own story. Storytelling empowers us; challenge kids to use code to share their stories and try out the other activities available for free on the site, including a reading about Newton’s cure for the plague that involves “toad vomit.”


Groups Urge Facebook Advertisers to Boycott Platform Over Hate Speech

Civil Rights Groups including The Anti-Defamation League, Color of Change, Common Sense Media, Free Press, the NAACP and Sleeping Giants, are launching a social media campaign, #StopHateForProfit, to urge large Facebook advertisers to boycott the platform unless it makes formal moves to curtail the proliferation of hate speech on its platform. The group is also requesting Facebook to take steps such as removing ads labeled as misinformation or hateful, and informing advertisers when their media buys appear near harmful content and grant refunds. The list of those companies taking part is growing by the day, although critics have questioned the effectiveness, pointing out these companies are not taking down their pages and will most likely buy more ads on Facebook after July.

These actions are one example of recent backlash against Facebook, which seemed to intensify when a flurry of misinformation appeared on the social platform amid worldwide protests against racism and police brutality. The company declined to take action against posts from President Trump — despite Twitter flagging that same content as misleading or glorifying violence. Facebook did remove ads from Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign that featured a symbol used by the Nazis during World War II. The company also announced that it would gradually allow users to opt out of seeing political ads, and has acknowledged in a blog post that its enforcement of content rules “isn’t perfect.”


Google Really Wants You to Use Different Passwords

Apparently "Guest123!" isn't the most secure password on the Internet. Who knew? If you are guilty of using common passwords, or the same password for various websites, you should consider enhancing your online security. Google's Security Checkup function now alerts users to when websites for which it stores a password have been compromised. The alert not only urges users to change the password for that particular site, but also might nudge people to not use the same password across multiple websites.


How to Throw a Virtual Birthday Party

As the pandemic stretches on you may find yourself needing to throw a virtual birthday party. But where to start? Common Sense Media has actually collected a set of ideas for everything from a video chat with family to virtual dance party with everyone using Bluetooth headphones. How about a movie night?  Netflix Party is a Chrome extension you can use to watch shows or movies together. Everyone needs to download the extension, and the host shares a link with partygoers.


Google Will Fact Check Images

With the amount of fake images flooding social media and even mainstream media platforms, Google is introducing fact check labels for images in its search results to help crack down on manipulated photos. When you conduct a search on Google Images, you may see a ‘Fact Check’ label under the thumbnail image results. Tapping the label will give you a summary on the 'dubiousness' of the image. The tech giant says these labels may also appear for search results that show both articles about specific images as well as articles that include an image in the story. "Starting today, we are surfacing fact check information in Google Images globally to help people navigate these issues and make more informed judgments about what they see on the web. This builds on the fact check features in Search and News, which people come across billions of times per year," Google said in a post.


YouTube Number One During School Closures

Eighty-four percent of the most popular websites visited by students on school-managed devices during the recent period of remote instruction were educational, according to a review by GoGuardian, a company that monitors activity on school-owned tech devices.  While the majority of the top 10 websites were educational in nature, the number one site visited by students was YouTube (though possible it could be used for education as well). Others on the list included Clever, Zoom, Khan Academy, Instructure and Flipgrid. If you are not familiar with some of those sites, you may want to check them out.


Lessons Learned From Remote Instruction

An article on the National Public Radio site offers some lessons that could be useful as educators consider possible instructional models for the fall, and parents get ready for the impact on their family’s lives. Among them are additional support for parent-assisted learning, programs targeted to keep teens on track, and online systems to assess, remediate and individualize learning. The article is a must read if you think your district will be supporting full or partial remote learning this fall.


Newest Pokemon App Advocates Teeth Brushing

Here is a new take on gaming - Pokémon Smile is an augmented reality (AR) toothbrushing game designed to encourage kids to brush their teeth better. In Pokémon Smile, players help “rescue other Pokémon from cavity-causing bacteria” by brushing their teeth. The app features some adorable art styles and AR effects that let players wear Pokémon hats while they brush their own teeth alongside the game. If you manage to brush away all the bacteria, players are rewarded by getting to catch the Pokémon at the end. Pokémon Smile isn’t The Pokémon Company’s only attempt at leveraging the brand into healthier living: the company also announced a sleep-tracking game called Pokémon Sleep last year.


Learning About Online Learning

Wondering about the overall success of online learning during the pandemic? An article in The New York Times outlines two reviews of nearly 300 studies comparing remote and in-person learning, stating findings that students generally learn more when a teacher is physically present. This matches anecdotal narratives surrounding forced remote learning during the coronavirus pandemic. However, the articles also states that students who had access to an instructor during remote learning are performing at the same level or higher, noting that “virtual education will depend for its success on old-school principles: creative, attentive teaching and support from parents.”


Going to a Protest? Some Tips for Protecting Your Digital Privacy

While smart phone videos taken by ordinary citizens have changed the conversation about policing in the US, it is important to know that there are privacy issues you should be aware of when taking your smart phone to a protest. Digital surveillance tools, including facial recognition technology, can be used to identify protestors and monitor their movements and communications. Furthermore, investigators and prosecutors have come to view protestors phones as potential treasure troves of information about them and their associates, setting up legal battles over personal technology and Americans’ Constitutional rights. And while protesters are within their rights to take pictures and video at protests, the images they capture could lead to unintended consequences for participants.


Generation Z’s Digital Interaction Increases During Pandemic

For parents, this is probably common knowledge by now, but the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing lockdown has had a significant effect on Gen Z's digital behaviors. According to a report issued by Boston Consulting Group and Snapchat, there has been a boost in Generation Z’s use of social media, video streaming and gaming, as well as an increase in online spending. Their report also highlights Gen Z's increased reliance on mobile-focused video and social platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat.


Facebook to Identify Content from State Run Media

Facebook says it will start labeling content produced by at least 18 government-controlled news outlets, including Russia's RT and China's Xinhua News. The social platform will also begin labeling ads from the news outlets and plans to block their ads in the US in the near future. This is a bit of reversal for Facebook who has not been willing to label misinformation or election related materials.


New TikTok Policies Aimed at Supporting Black Creators

TikTok is responding to accusations that it censors black creators by launching a creator diversity council, assessing moderation strategies, developing a new appeals process and starting a creator portal that includes information for the broader TikTok community. The social platform also apologized for a system error that made posts with #BlackLivesMatter and #GeorgeFloyd appear as though they had zero views and pledged to donate $3 million to nonprofits serving black communities.


Coronavirus Pushes Districts to Give Computers to Even Younger Students

Momentum for one-to-one device programs has been more common in middle and high schools, but the rapid transition to remote instruction has more school districts providing devices for young students. GG Weisenfeld of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University says that previously, experts would have argued against investments in devices for young students, but "right now, it's not a perfect world." How has your district handled this question?


Addressing Privacy in Video Conferencing on Online Classes

A reminder for parents and kids that participating in a video meeting for school work, extracurriculars, or just socializing, provides a window into your homes. Parents should help kids think about their surroundings and what may be visible during an online class meeting. Both Zoom and Meet allow users to change the background image, a feature that addresses privacy and helps students who might feel insecure about their homes. Cyberbullies love to feed on any kind of personal information that might be revealed in what is hanging on your walls, interactions with family members while online, and other clues to your family’s life, so it is worth taking the time to creating the right background for an online class and reminding family members to give the online participant space.


TikTok Expanding Content

TikTok, a favorite social media platform of tweens and teens, is evolving from featuring short-form quirky clips to live video and content related to everything from sports and gaming to cooking, fashion and beauty, says Bryan Thoensen, head of content partnerships. The social platform expects to see expanded educational content, which would boost users' time on the app while helping creators monetize their efforts, and generating more ad dollars, he says. So expect your children may be spending more time on the app.


Telehealth and Your Family

While stay-at-home orders are being lifted, one change in daily life that seems likely to stay is telehealth. Simply defined, telehealth is the use of digital devices to remotely access health care services, which has been very important during the lockdown, when going out of the house was not suggested. But like most uses of technology, there are pros and cons. Certainly some of the pros are convenience and accessibility since you can manage your health care visits without leaving the comfort of your home. Many a parent has been very grateful not to have to transport, particularly on public transportation, a sick child to the doctor on a cold or rainy day just to get a quick diagnosis. Another pro is that telehealth makes health care more accessible to more people, although it should be noted you do need a smart device to access most telehealth apps and not all adults in the US have or use the right kind of sophisticated technology and high speed Internet to connect.

Another con is patients often fail to notice or mention other symptoms that would be helpful to the doctor in a diagnosis. For example, the tone of a person’s skin, eyes, lips, and body could signify a certain disease, but their discoloration or lack of color might not be evident to a doctor on a video screen. That means that patients become an even bigger factor in their own diagnosis and may need some training to help with diagnosing.

While telehealth is useful during times like this, especially when traveling to and going inside a hospital could put a person at more risk of getting ill, it is important to recognize the limitations. Patients that need physical interaction with doctors for wound care, broken bones, procedures and more still need to stick to the traditional in person visits. Bear in mind that you should always weigh the pros and cons of whether you need to see a doctor in person and choose the one that would be best for you and your family's health and well-being.  


The “Freedom of Reach” Question

A new term – “freedom of reach” – is in circulation among those who are concerned about how social media sites are handling misinformation and inflammatory comments. Snapchat is the latest to try to answer the question of “freedom of reach versus freedom of speech” after Twitter has decided to label tweets from President Trump that it considers misleading or “glorifying violence”, and Facebook agonized but decided to do nothing. Snapchat’s approach is to no longer promote President Trumps’s verified Snapchat account. His account, RealDonaldTrump, will remain on the platform and continue to appear on search results. But he will no longer appear in the app’s Discover tab, which promotes news publishers, elected officials, celebrities, and influencers. “We are not currently promoting the president’s content on Snapchat’s Discover platform,” Snapchat said in a statement. “We will not amplify voices who incite racial violence and injustice by giving them free promotion on Discover. Racial violence and injustice have no place in our society and we stand together with all who seek peace, love, equality, and justice in America.”

Since Snapchat is one of the social media sites used mainly by teens and young adults, the fairness of the “freedom of reach” question is one you might want to discuss with your children in the context of misinformation online. Snapchat isn’t deleting Trump’s account, and he is free to keep posting to existing followers. But to the extent that his Snapchat account grows in the future, it will be without Snapchat’s help. In Snapchat’s terms, the company has preserved Trump’s speech while making him responsible for finding his own reach. Trump’s campaign thinks this approach is unfair, but Snapchat has neatly sidestepped questions of censorship by not censoring the president at all. Instead the company has said that if you want to see the president’s snaps, you’ll have to go look for them on your own time.


College Board Halts Plants for Remote SAT Testing

The College Board announced recently that it is dropping plans to administer the SAT college-entrance exam remotely this year. At issue, the College Board said that students would have required three hours of uninterrupted Internet access, which may not be possible for all students.


Watch Out for Deepfake Videos and Images

Here is another vocabulary term you need to add to your lexicon – deepfakes. Deepfakes are images and audio pulled from social media accounts to create convincing videos – sometimes of people who never existed - for extortion, misinformation and disinformation. Deepfake technology enables anyone with a computer and an Internet connection to create realistic-looking photos and videos of people saying and doing things that they did not actually say or do. Cybercriminals are increasingly interested in the potential use of deepfake videos to pressure people into paying ransom or divulging sensitive information or to spread misinformation, Trend Micro reports, making the vetting of any information online or in media even more important.