Resourcess-Parenting in the Digital World

The internet, mobile technologies and digital communication offer children a world of opportunities to socialize, communicate, and learn, But these opportunities come with risks. The best way for kids to learn to be safe online is through regular, honest conversations. Regularly communicating your family’s values and expectations will help them apply these values in an online context.

A Few Good Sites & Articles

Common Sense Media is a great site for information about parenting in the digital world. This article provides a list and some details about some of the more popular/emerging social media sites:

The Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) is another organization doing great research and providing resources for parents:

This article provides link to tip sheets for some of the most popular social media sites:

This article covers the teen use of online dating apps: is nonprofit organization dedicated to educating users of connected technology about safety, privacy and security. Their parent guidebooks are great resources for learning about social media sites. is another great resource for kids and parents. Created through a partnership between the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and Boys and Girls Clubs of America, this organization “provides age-appropriate resources to help teach children how to be safer on- and offline. The program is designed for children ages 5-17, parents and guardians, educators, and law enforcement. With resources such as videos, games, activity cards, and presentations.” This site provides activities and guides from younger children, tweens and older teenagers.

The Smart Talk is the result of a collaboration between LifeLock and Nation PTA. The idea behind this tool is to help “parents and kids [get] together to have a clear conversation about all the devices you use and how to be responsible.” They also have a discussion guide to help direct family conversations about electronic device use.

Reading for everyone, at every level!

Every day I use Flipboard to bring me articles from all over the world about an ever-expanding range of topics. Technology, cooking, science fiction writers, social justice, education–these are just a few of the dozens of topics I track. A good news aggregator allows you to find and organize articles from an infinite number of sources from all across the Internet.

Recently, I’ve found three tools that allow teachers to share articles with students: Newsela, TweenTribune, and All three allow you to choose the reading level for your students. Newsela and Tween Tribune allow students to further adjust the level of difficulty. All three tools offer assessment options and conversations starters.


Offers both free and paid (“Pro”) versions. Articles can be read in English or in Spanish.

From the website: “Newsela is an innovative way to build reading comprehension with nonfiction that’s always relevant. . . . Newsela makes it easy for an entire class to read the same content, but at a level that’s just right for each student.”

What’s in the free version?

  • Multiple news articles every day – each at five reading levels
  • Students take quizzes and view their own progress
  • Archive of more than 1000 articles, organized by category and reading standard
  • Daily “articles of the day” emails
  • No advertisements on any page
  • One-click assignment of articles to classes
  • Teachers’ view of class-wide results

Note: Although the free version of Newsela doesn’t provide teachers with each student’s individual quiz results (only a class-wide aggregate), one teacher has her students email her screen shots of their results. A simple work-around.

With the Pro version teachers gain the following features:

  • Teachers’ view of individual results
  • Student and class-wide dashboard
  • Annotations on articles/personalized reading experience
  • Ability to sort and filter student performance data and print reports
  • Customizable writing prompts

I’ve been trying this tool out with my 8-year-old son and he seems to really like it. I have found that the selection of articles is heavy on world news and current events. I would love to see more articles about sports, science and the arts.

Tween Tribune

TweenTribune is a news aggregator created by the Smithsonian. Like Newsela, articles can be read in English or Spanish and at different Lexile reading levels.

Teachers assign articles from a curated collection of news reports, assign the readings at specific Lexile level, create quizzes to assess comprehension, and invite students to participate in private, moderated online discussions about the articles.

From the site: “Each weekday, we scour the internet for age-appropriate news stories that will interest students in Grades 1-12, then invite them to take pre-made quizzes or post comments. All quiz scores are delivered automatically to teachers. All comments are approved by their teachers. All comments are approved by their teachers before they are published.”

TweenTribune is entirely free, offers a high privacy level, lesson plans, and a substantial set of tools for teachers to moderate online comments and discussion. One drawback of TweenTribune is that it is more labor intensive to get student account and classrooms up and running. This trade-off between ease of use and level of security is fairly common is educational software. Interestingly, despite its emphasis on protecting student data, many articles on TweenTribune offer links to social media. These may provide a jumping off point for student distraction.

The basic idea behind CommonLit is similar to Newsela and TweenTribune. In addition to news articles CommonLit also includes historical documents, fiction, and poetry. Teachers can search for individual articles or browse through curated collections. Articles are organized around central themes (Identity, Love, Social Change & Revolution). Each of those themes are further divided by Discussion Questions (How do people create change?) and then by grade level.

Unlike the other two tools, CommonLit generates paper instead of online articles. The downloaded document contains:

  • Suggestions for what to pay attention to as students read
  • The article
  • Reading comprehension questions
  • Open ended discussion questions
  • Suggested, similar articles
  • Answers to the comprehension questions

In the end all three tools offer features to recommend them. Pick one, try it out and let us know what you think in the comments section.


Rediscover Discovery Education!

Discovery Edu imageMany moons ago, in what seems like a galaxy far far away, our faculty heavily relied on United Streaming to find enriching video content for their students. United Streaming was eventually rebranded as Discovery Education. This was a very good thing, however, as the content became more engaging and dynamic the usage declined. “Why would that happen?”, you ask. Simply put, there were shinier balls on the playground. Sites like YouTube provided a quick search and there it is, the video you want. But what if we were missing out on a different more sensational resource? What if there were sites, other than Youtube, that could provide students with an amazing media experience? Read on, and you just may find the digital transition you are looking for.

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 2.11.49 PM

Discovery Education Streaming Plus is a comprehensive subscription digital service that motivates students to learn and inspires teachers to reinvent instruction practices. This site provides thousands of resources. ‘Discover’ tools to liberate your students to think critically about the content they use, see, and experience in their daily lives and to delve deeper into the world around them. With Discovery Education you can provide digital material that will positively impact your students’ learning experience.

Featured this month: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, click below to find resources for grades PreK-12:

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 2.12.06 PMMost intriguing? Martin’s Big Words, which we employ in several grade levels, and the student poetry slam at the bottom of the page.

Also on this page:
Meet Students Who Are Changing the World
“I Have a Dream” speech
Martin Luther King Jr Day: Content Collection
Holiday Facts and Fun: Martin Luther King Day

“Fantastic!” you say. “Sign me up now!” you say. Well that is just what I wanted to hear. Below you will find all the information necessary to get your GDS account up and running.

Log In, Find Password, Create an Account:
Established Users: Your username and password has not changed since the days of United Streaming. If you remember both – CONGRATULATIONS! YOU WIN $10,000! Well, not really, but now I have your attention and you can skip the next set of directions!

Create a New User: Follow these three easy steps.

  1. Go to
  2. Select Create New User – GDS PASSCODE contact Holly Holt Salb or Laura Loftus
  3. Click submit and fill out the account info

Check out the Interactive Training Modules for tips, tricks and practical integration strategies.

Modules include:

  • My DE – Great place for users to get started!                                               penguin
  • Digital Integration – for use of video, audio and images
  • The Student Experience
  • DE Builder Tools
    • Board Builder – You and your students can become producers! Board Builder is a tool that allows students to create virtual project boards using multimedia tools and text to synthesize thinking and provide evidence of their understanding of a concept or problem. Perfect for independent and small group projects.
  • The Discovery Education Community

You are just one click away from limitless possibilities!

Google Cultural Institute

True confession: I am an extremely disorganized media consumer. Articles about nifty ed tech tools and curriculum ideas fly across my personal Facebook account, work email, a Flipboard news aggregator, my Twitter feed, a Feedly page I’ve nearly abandoned and a poorly curated collection of bookmarks on Diigo. Easily the hardest part of putting any of those tools or ideas into practice is tracking down where I saw them in the first place.

Recently, I attended a conference where Google Cultural Institute was shown off during a tech slam. Two seconds in I thought, “Wait! I already know about this! Why haven’t I been promoting this amazing tool?” And so this post was born.

This video provides a brief overview of how to navigate Google Cultural Institute and the kinds of treasures that can be found there.

The site is divided into three sections: Art Project, Historic Moments, and World Wonders.

In each section you can browse for individual artifacts, by keyword, or through already curated exhibitions. You can also tour some of the partner institutions.

That the Art Project seems to be getting the most press is no surprise.

Starry Night

Typically students studying Van Gogh might be able to view a reasonably high resolution version of this painting.







Starry Night Brushstrokes


Google Cultural Institute allows students and teachers to zoom in to see every brush stroke and texture.

Seeing all the details of a work has always been the compelling case for seeing the real thing. Now some part of that experience can come to students and teachers who wouldn’t normally have that kind of access.

While the Art Project and World Wonders parts of this site offer stunning visual images, it is the Historic Moments that caught my attention. Historic Moments offers an astounding collection of photographs, primary documents, and curated collections across a staggering range of topics. By stitching together primary sources, insightful narration, rare media artifacts and high resolution images, Historic Moments is a tool that can bring a new level of detail to learners everywhere.

Here are just a few of the curated exhibitions:
        Note: Not all the artifacts in each exhibition are appropriate for every age student.
I strongly recommend that any teacher bring a critical eye to a collection before integrating into a lesson.

How to Use the Site: This video provides some more details about navigating through the site.

In addition to using professionally created exhibitions, individual users can make their own galleries, which can be shared out over social media or with a link. Just click the “My Galleries” link on the upper right side and follow the prompts from there.

I’d love to hear how people are integrating this amazing tool into their work with students. Email me or post in the comments if you have ideas or examples.


Google Expeditions takes GDS by land, by sea and beyond!

FullSizeRenderCan a simple piece of cardboard give you a window to the world? When does an app transform from mindless entertainment to an enriching experience? How can technology take you beyond where the school bus can traverse? We can thank Ms. Frizzle (The Magic School Bus) for showing us just how much is possible. All it takes is a little technology and whole lot of imagination. Intrigued? So was I, and as I expolored I got a lot more than I bargained for.

Ever wish you could have joined Ms. Frizzle on one of those magic school bus rides? You’re not the only one. Teaching in our Nation’s Capital provides an amazing amount of concrete opportunity for our students. But what about the places our illustrious Chris France can’t get us to? Google has created a way for your students to visit the bottom of the sea, roam the surface of Mars and tour Ancient Ruins, all in one afternoon.

First Stop – The Cardboard appimages

Travel the world on your smartphone or iPad with Google Cardboard. The Cardboard app helps you launch your favorite virtual reality experiences and set up a viewer. Try out the included demos:

  • Earth: Fly where your fancy takes you on Google Earth.
  • Tour Guide: Visit Versailles with a local guide.
  • My Videos: Watch your videos on a massive screen.
  • Exhibit: Examine cultural artifacts from every angle.
  • Photo Sphere: Look around the photospheres you’ve captured.


Cardboard viewers are affordable, ranging from $15-$35 a piece, OR you can build your own! An awesome STEM activity for your class! (hint, hint Gary Cutler – let’s build these in our Maker Club)

Still not convinced? Ask our own Sarah Tama (3rd grade) for a first hand account. She’s hooked on the Cardboard app and has some amazing ideas for classroom use!

In the quest to find virtual teaching tools that will immerse our students into their learning, and transport them out of the classroom into the world beyond, Google is a great place to start. We all know that a “Google search” can lead to an unlimited number of resource links. What we explore here are just a couple of the resources provided by Google. (Tune in next week for another amazing Google resource examined by Laura Loftus, MS Technology Integration Coordinator)



Expeditions is a virtual reality platform built for the classroom, the creators worked with educators to compile more than 100 engaging journeys, allowing students to become completely immersed in their learning. Upon seeing the capabilities of this program I eagerly signed up for an Expedition Team to come to GDS and get us started. I am proud to announce that WE HAVE BEEN SELECTED TO PARTICIPATE IN THE PILOT PROGRAM!! We will need at least six, up to 25 total, teachers to participate with their students. I signed up assuming this part of the planning would not be an issue. Contact me for more details on the pilot program. The team coming to DC will be here in January, stay tuned for the days and times. For more information on this amazing resource check out the FAQ page:

My Almost Screen-Free Weekend


I recently attended the Family Online Safety Institute’s (FOSI) annual conference here in Washington DC. For two days I was immersed in the latest research research, met with amazing organizations and listened to speakers ideas about digital citizenship, online safety and world of positive possibilities that exist on the online world . The rush of information could fuel a thousand blog posts (and just might in the weeks to come).

One session was a conversation between Dr. David Hill, Chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications and Media, and Stephen Balkam the founder and CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute. For years the AAP’s often-quoted recommendation on screen time was fixed and easily quantifiable. No screen time at all before 2-years-old and no more than two hours of screen time per day after that. What I heard during this discussion was shift toward a policy that looked at the realities and nuances of the digital world in which live and learn.

The point Dr. Hill made so well is that not all screen time is created equal. For days I pondered the difference between recreational and productive screen time, between that which is isolating and that which is pro-social. My son uses FastMath and the iOS app SpellBoard on a daily basis. These tools make rote practice more interesting and rewarding. We use video chat to connect with family on the west coast. In the evening, we watch tedious tween television shows in Nickelodeon together, talking about things I like and that bother me in the casting and storylines. He builds imaginative and complex fortresses in Pocket Minecraft that he shows off with pride. Should that time be lumped in the with time he gets to zone out with his DS just because I want to get the dishes done in peace? Hey, I’m only human.

My focus mostly turned toward my son, but I also turned a critical eye toward my own behavior. Did I really need to binge the whole season of Jessica Jones in three nights? Was the sacrifice of sleep worth it? Okay, maybe it was. Maybe.

Sucking down my third cup of coffee (13 episodes, three nights), I hit upon the idea. The First Annual Loftus Family Recreational Screen Time Blackout. I proposed that we use the three days after Thanksgiving to challenge ourselves to give up all recreational screen time. As a two-teacher family, my husband and I both had parts of our “days off” carved out for grading and other work. That screen time couldn’t be changed (which is a whole other discussion). We also allowed for communication via email and text only for the logistics involved in moving through our day-to-day lives.

For more digitally virtuous folks, this probably seems like a pretty low bar in terms of media-free living. But we decided the point was to be more intentional about the media we were consuming and making deliberate choices vs. logging on without thinking. Plus, maybe we could use some of that time to come up a better title for our adventure.

Not surprisingly, the three days were hardest on the adults. Each day, I asked my son what he thought about this project. He said, “It’s great!” and “I love it!” He got more attention from us and we all did more activities as a family, including an epic three-day Monopoly game. The withdrawal was considerably more challenging for the adults, not because we missed our media so much, but because our habits are so much more ingrained.

In the end, our vacation from recreational screen time turned out to be more of a dramatically reduced stretch. Things that got wavers:

  • There was a Caps game on. Come on! It’s the Caps. Also, watching these games is a very social activity in our house.
  • My husband and son went to the movies together.
  • My son bought some new DS games with his own money. It seemed cruel to make him wait to take a first pass. Interestingly, when I asked him to choose a time limit, he chose a very modest 15 minutes. So humbling when kids make such reasonable requests.
  • I kept lurking on Facebook. About 70% of the time I would just forget until I was already scrolling through. I may need a more serious intervention.

We all agreed this was a great experience that we should revisit on a regular basis. We also agreed I might need a Facebook and Netflix support group.

Some additional links:
FOSI’s latest research report, “Parents, Privacy and Technology Use.”

The Screen Time Flip-Flop

All Things YouTube

This week I want to introduce you to a few nifty YouTube and streaming video tools.

In some ways YouTube and other streaming video sources represent the best and worst of the Internet. They are great sources of free information. Unfortunately, some of the most vile, hateful, mean-spirited and offensive content can appear right alongside the good stuff. As a result, teachers often have to risk guiding students through some pretty treacherous waters to get to the content they want.

So, here are a few tools to help you stream content from YouTube without having to risk putting some of the uglier stuff on display as well.

1) Make YouTube a quick search engine.
Usually I scope out the video I want ahead of time and have the link open and ready to go. Occasionally I want to look up something on the fly and the YouTube homepage can be one of the worst offenders for inappropriate content. That “What’s Trending” channel often makes me despair for the human condition. And no teacher on earth has the spare time it takes to convince a room full of middle school students that we will not spend the rest of class watching Dude Perfect trick shots.

Here’s one easy hack that allows you to use the address bar on your Chrome browser to search YouTube content exclusively.

2) Embed YouTube in MyGDS instead of sending out a link. YouTube videos (and most streaming content from other sources) have embed codes associated with them. You can use those codes to play a video clip right in your MyGDS class without sending the students down the kitten video rabbit hole.
GDS teachers, follow these directions to embed video in your MyGDS course.

3) If you want to use a link to a video but don’t want your viewer to get bogged down in ads and recommendations for other videos, try using ViewPure. Just paste in the link to the video and click Purify.

4) Only want to show part of a YouTube video?
Use this tool I found on Tech Tips for All to specify start and end times to show a shorter segment of a longer clip.

No dragging the playhead to the right place. No worrying about clicking stop at the right time. This tool can generate a link or an embed code, depending on what you want. Easy-peasy.

5) allows students (or teachers) to take notes as they watch streaming video adding a time stamp to each note. Because it integrates with Google Apps, it creates a folder in your Google Drive to store, revise and share files.

To see it in action, check out this short video demonstration.

I love the idea of taking something that can be informative, but a bit passive and turning it into something more active. makes sharing, evaluating and reviewing notes from video content easy and effective.

So, that’s it for the YouTube edition of EdTech@GDS. Hope you found a few helpful tips. I want to offer a huge shout out to the folks at and their wonderful event. I discovered many of the tools highlighted here at the Northern Virginia GAFE Summit last month. If you get a chance to go to one of their events I highly recommend it. I learned a ton and had lots of fun.

Google Docs & Voice Typing

The first tool I want to highlight is a relatively new feature is Voice Typing in Google Docs.

The benefit of using speech to text software is fairly well established, particularly for students with learning differences. Unfortunately implementation is often hampered by platform issues, license costs, the logistics of students switching between different computers and a variety of other issues.

Enter Voice Typing. After trying Voice Typing I was surprised and impressed by what a good job it did at recognizing my speech (even with my midwestern accent and sniffly nose). It responds to verbal commands for most punctuation, new lines and new paragraphs. In short, it does just about everything I’d need to get a first draft out in pretty short order.

Feeling hopeful about the possibilities Voice Typing offered, I passed on my impressions to Kate Maloney, a sixth grade history teacher, who I knew was looking for a tool like this for a specific student. Her reaction was the stuff of Ed Tech dreams, “I showed it to the student and his smile said it all! I really did wish I had my camera… was priceless.”

So I pulled in our middle school learning specialist, Greg Manning, to give it a try. He was just as excited, “Chrome speech-to-text is a great program for all ranges of learners. This easy to use program enables all students to easily communicate their ideas onto paper. It’s especially useful for those students who struggle with poor handwriting or those students who best demonstrate their understanding verbally. I highly recommend this program to all of our students and their families.”

Ready to give it a try? Getting started couldn’t be easier.

  1. In a Chrome browser, open a document.
  2. Click the Tools menu –> Voice typing.
  3. A pop-up microphone box will appear. When you are ready to speak your text, click the microphone.
  4. Speak your text clearly, at a normal volume and pace.
  5. When you’re finished, click the microphone again.

Or, if you prefer video instruction, this brief video covers the essentials.

A few key reminders:

  • This tool is only available if you are using Google Docs in the Chrome browser. If you are using any other browser (IE, Safari, Firefox), the Voice Typing option will be grayed out.
  • For your speed-talkers, you will find you need to slow down just a little and be sure to enunciate.

Welcome to EdTech@GDS

Welcome to EdTech@GDS!

We started this blog with a couple of purposes in mind. First, we want to highlight the educational technology work we see happening all around us at GDS. Our teachers are doing amazing things and we love a chance to celebrate their efforts. Second, we expect to use this as a platform to share ideas as they come across our screens. We both subscribe to a ton of different Ed Tech sites and hope to cull the coolest tools and techniques and promote them here.

While the content is mostly written with our fellow Hoppers in mind, We’ve also left this site public in hopes of joining the chorus of voices promoting fun, innovative and effective technology integration. So, if you are interested in new tools and great teaching, this site is for you.

Thanks for reading!!

Laura & Holly