Eight reasons to use YouTube in school

youtube1.jpgNot a week goes by without one of my colleagues asking me how to show a YouTube video in class. Because of it’s history of inappropriate content, ranging from pointless to tasteless, YouTube has been blocked in schools across the nation. However, the same content filters that are supposed to be blocking the bad sites are preventing “…teachers from accessing cutting-edge widgets and digital materials that have enormous potential for expanding learning.” [1]

I think it’s time for schools to take another look at YouTube’s use in the classroom.  Here are a few reasons why we should let YouTube into our schools:

  1. viewing is easy: there are a lot of video sharing websites out there, but YouTube makes the experience simple and seamless Read More

Web site blocked? Code your way in.

Tumblr APII love tumblr.com. It’s such an easy-to-use site for sharing things that you find online. So I was disappointed when my school’s web filter started blocking the site.

I can see why our filter has tumblr on its blacklist; tumblr will let you post anything to their site. Students could use tumblr to chat or view inappropriate material.

But we’re not talking about students; we’re talking about me- the teacher.

Our schools roll clips like Did You Know Shift Happens and use terms like flat-world during staff meetings. Yet, they can’t come up with a process to filter teachers that is different from the one they use for students? In one breath it’s, “prepare our students for the 21st century” and in the next breath its, “just don’t do it on a school computer.”

Andy Carvin at PBS’s learning.now put it best when he wrote:

“…for educators who aren’t trusted to use their professional judgment, an important opportunity to teach their students about 21st century citizenship is being squandered.”

However, ranting usually doesn’t get me anywhere (I often feel better though). This time I decided to take matters into my own hands.

Using tumblr’s API and some php scripting I created my own page that can post to tumblr. Since my all the work is done from an approved site, my posts sneak right past the web filter.

I know it’s a small victory but it felt good to gain back some control for a change. (By the way, here is the script if you’d like to use it on your own web site.)

Abstinence Only? Not for my TV (or computer)

April 23rd marks the start of Turn off TV Week. Children across the nation will be pledging to abstain from viewing television for one week.The project is lead by TV-Turnoff Network, a non-profit organization with the goal of reducing the amount of TV children and adults watch.

Here is how they described themselves at their website:

TV-Turnoff Network is dedicated to the belief that we all have the power to determine the role that television plays in our own lives. Rather than waiting for others to make “better” TV, we can turn it off and reclaim time for our families, our friends, and for ourselves.

The site also provides many pages that vilify TV. Some pages claim TV causes violence, obesity, and ADD in today’s society.

TV-Turnoff Network doesn’t seem to have anything good to say about TV. How can a technology that inspired young scientists during the moon landings, made us laugh with Johnny Carson and helped us grieve during the September 11th attacks be so evil?

Like anything, TV has its problems when it is overused or misused but let’s not forget that it is a remarkable invention. TV is also a great educational tool. Growing up I watched many NOVA specials on PBS with my Dad. (As a matter of fact, there will be a brand new episode during Turn of TV Week.)

TV-Turnoff Network’s approach is all wrong. Simply pressing the off switch is not enough. TV is an important and powerful force in our society. You cannot turn your back on it. You must take it in warts and all. Set limits for children. Know what they’re watching. Know what lessons they’re learning.

TV is no longer the only important screen in our life. The status of computers has been elevated by the Internet. It won’t stop with computers. My new cell phone can display pictures, the Internet, TV shows, movies and more. Media will become ubiquitous. We will need to teach our children how to live in this world. I don’t believe slogans that basically tell you to close your eyes will help.

Play YouTube Videos at School

From time-to-time I find videos online that are perfect for the classroom. At school we can look for online videos via Google Video.

Now that Google purchased YouTube, you can find YouTube videos in Google’s search results. YouTube is another online video website that is becoming more and more mainstream. For example, some of the 2008 presidential hopefuls are using YouTube for major announcements.

Unfortunately, our school district blocks access to YouTube. Perhaps this is the right decision for our students but I have ranted in the past that it is wrong to block teacher access.

So, if you find a YouTube video that you’d like to use in class, here’s a work-around:

  1. Copy the URL displayed in the search results of Google video

    Figure 1

  2. Visit Vixy.net and paste in the YouTube URL
  3. Figure 2

  4. Choose “MOV for Mac” in the drop down (this is the video format that will work at school)
  5. Click Start and Vixy will convert the video for free
  6. When the video is converted, you’ll be prompted to download it

Disclaimer: YouTube has had its share of problems with copyrighted material. Please consider copyright and fair use when using Vixy.

Stop blocking teachers

I recently stumbled upon a story at the Science Friday website. It was an interesting article about a new plane design that hopes to produce aircrafts that are super-silent and even more fuel-efficient. As a physics teacher, I thought this audio program was worth sharing with my students. I was about to download the audio program when, much to my dismay, I was blocked by our schools’ filtering software.

This is not the first time my school has blocked something that was obviously educational. It is almost a weekly occurrence for me. Some days I’m persistent; I fill out the necessary form to request that the site is unblocked but persistence takes time. As we all know, time is a precious commodity in any teacher’s day. Some days I just give up.

Where do all these restrictions come from? Much of it is related to the Child Online Protection Act (COPA), which was passed in 1998. While the intent of COPA was to protect students, it has taken the control from teachers and placed into the hands of your IT department. In my opinion, this matter is only getting worse. On July 27, 2006 the Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA) was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. With the fears stirred up by horror stories about sites like MySpace.com, this bill may require school’s to prohibit access to websites that allow online profiles, social networking, chatting and other online collaboration.

At first this may sound fine – I don’t need to chat online at work! But consider the implications. Any site that allows chatting could be blocked. This means all discussion boards, forums, and comment sections can be prohibited. Any site that allows users to create an online profile could be blocked. That would include sites like the College Board’s AP Central or even NSTA’s SciLinks. Any site that allows users to create an online journal could be blocked. This will ban any blog such as ScienceBlogs. It was the need for collaboration among scientific researchers that spawned the invention of the Internet but now science teachers and students may be locked out of this opportunity to collaborate.
We hear reports about the digital divide in this nation that explains how inner city schools are at a disadvantage because they lack the funds to purchase adequate classroom technology. I believe that this is a problem, but I also think we are overlooking a more subtle issue. The fact is that we allow ourselves to be treated like children. The students’ Internet access is our Internet access. If a teacher’s access to emerging resources is continuously restricted, it is easy see how schools will always remain at the back of the line in regards to technology.

DOPA does allow exceptions to its restrictions if the content is for adult users or educational purposes. However, it doesn’t include language that requires schools to provide systems that differentiate an adult’s access from a student’s access. I understand that we need to protect our students and in some cases overprotect them but teachers are a different story. We have the degrees, licenses and experience that show we know what is appropriate for our classrooms. We should not have to grovel to our IT departments for permission to use a certain teaching method.

DOPA will eventually go before the Senate for approval. Please contact your Senators to express your concerns with DOPA. In the meantime, go bug your IT department about technology in your classroom—we’ve all earned the right to.

Our School Blocked Google Images

Google Images is an excellent way to find photos and diagrams of just about anything. Recently our school district blocked Google Images and other similar image search engines after sending out this message:

Since Image servers collect images from everywhere, and many of the images are pornographic, we will have to block sites that do not properly filter these images according to the Child Information Protection Act (CIPA), as required by Federal Law.

It is unfortunate that a few students (as always) ruin a good thing for everyone else. However, according to CIPA, a school’s funding can be cut if it doesn’t show “. . .that they have an Internet safety policy and technology protection measures in place.”

Copyright is another thing to consider if you use Google Images. Remember that most of the images online are copyright protected. Make sure that you are complying with fair use policies when using any image from the web.

Don’t believe that it matters? Here is a true story. My brother worked for a company that posted a picture of Milwaukee on their website. The problem was that the picture wasn’t taken by anyone in his company. The artist contacted his company—long story made short— the company had to pay the artist $900. The artist said that they simply use Google Images to see if people are using their work without permission.

But there is more to this story than just the legal side. It is wrong to take things (even digital things) without permission. As teachers, we need to make sure that we are modeling ethical behavior that respects that work of others.