Good Digital Parenting
July 23, 2013

Learning Online: Real Answers to Real Questions

Language Arts teacher, St Mark's Episcopal School

I teach a technology-infused Language Arts curriculum to middle-grade students – and, as I discovered recently as I began a new position teaching younger students, to their parents. Having introduced online discussions, blogging, infographics, digital storytelling, and research in my curriculum, I found myself in the position of translating these new means of communication and learning for the parents of my students in addition to the students themselves.

In the process, I have discovered that my students’ parents keenly desire to know more about technology and how to help their children in a world where education looks only slightly familiar to what they are used to. Parents have concerns, sure, but they mostly have questions. Below I try to answer a few of them.

How can I find the best resources to help my child learn?

It’s important that both parents and children take time to discover the wealth of resources on the Internet that can help personalize the learning of each individual child. This first step, that of using the Internet for more than just entertainment, is crucial.

I’d start by querying your child’s teachers. More than likely, they will have already collected particular sites to recommend in conjunction with the lessons they design. If your child’s teacher has a website or wiki, I’d go there. If he or she doesn’t have an online list of recommended resources relevant to your child’s class, I’d ask for one. Also try your school’s library page

If you want to go beyond the teacher’s recommendations or search for particular tools or websites suited specifically for your child, I suggest that you think like a teacher as you conduct a search online. Depending on your area of interest, you should be able to add the key words “teach” or “teacher resources” to help you discover helpful sites for your child. Be sure to narrow your search by including terms that indicate the grade level and relevant subject areas.

You may also want to “follow” or subscribe to blogs, Facebook pages, or Twitter feeds that focus on the particular learning needs of your child. I’m a fan of Richard Byrne’s blog “Free Technology for Teachers,” for instance. Here is a link to his “Favorite Resources” post. I like the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum on Facebook too. If you are looking for teacher-curated lessons on a particular topic, try Merlot. I also recommend “Cybraryman”, Jerry Blumengarten’s all-purpose website for parents, students, and teachers. If you want to tap into Twitter’s massive online conversation about education, check out his list of education hashtags to follow.

How can I help my child conduct effective online research?

First, you must become an effective researcher yourself. Ask yourself: Do I go beyond the first page of Google when I conduct a search? Do I know how to conduct an Advanced search? Become acquainted with what 21st century researching means by watching Joyce Valenza’s informative TED talk, “See Sally Research."

A number of curricula designed to teach up-to-date researching skills can help you guide your child’s research online. The Big 6 curriculum nicely breaks down the process. Google offers its own curriculum as well, and the KidsConnect Research Toolbox from the American Association of School Librarians is another good place to start.

At the very least, consider using a search engine like SweetSearch that narrows the scope of your child’s search to teacher-reviewed sites.

What should I do when a web application requires an email address for my child?

The online identities of children under the age of 13 are protected by COPPA legislation. Thus, the tools and applications you find to help your child learn online will all address this age limit in their own ways in their policy agreements. Take the time to read the policies of each service before you automatically click “yes.” Most educational tools will either suggest a way for parents or teachers to work with students under the age of 13, or they will make a strict user policy crystal clear.

If you and your child collaborate to find the right tools for his or her learning needs, you may want to create an email account specifically for this purpose – one that you monitor. You can also create a subsidiary email account attached to your own Gmail account, if you like – in this case, all emails will only come to an account that is monitored by you.

If your child is ready to use email and is old enough to have an account (or has a school account), take time to talk to your child about email etiquette and maintaining a positive presence in all online interactions. Wise Kids provides good advice for beginning emailers as well as online game chatters.

Learning Together

Learning to learn in a 21st century context is crucial for parents of today’s children. Parents need to remember that they already know a lot about effective learning strategies; they just need to update them into an online context. At the same time, it is crucial for teachers to recognize their role in this process – we must help the parents of our children gain the skills they need to help their children. In the end, we must work together to provide today’s children with the guidance they need to be successful online learners.

Cover image courtesy of Flickr