Sometimes it feels that we’re swamped by choice when it comes to Edtech. Apparently there can be too much of a good thing! There’s so much of it available across multiple platforms that it can prove overwhelming with the result that sometimes potentially great learning technology or resources can go unnoticed or undiscovered. It’s often sometimes easier to go with what you know rather than invest time and money (and sometimes a lot of money) with a new and untested product or service. I’m always on the hunt for apps/websites that offer educational innovation and student engagement, preferably for free. If I’m signing up for a premium service then that’s what I expect, but whether it’s free, freemium or premium I want to see real measurable impact for students. For me Edutopia.org is just one such brilliant resource offering evidence based resources, insight and ideas covering a wide range of topics from SEN, Social Emotional Learning, CPD, classroom management, technology in education; the list goes on. I recently came across another useful site whilst looking for a product review – CommonSense.org. It’s been around a while so some may know of it but for those who don’t here’s a quick overview.
Commonsense.org is a major US based not for profit organisation providing digital literacy and citizenship programmes, with a mission to “empower parents, teachers, and policymakers by providing unbiased information, trusted advice, and innovative tools to help them harness the power of media and technology as a positive force in all kids’ lives.” In a nutshell they “rate, educate, and advocate for kids, families, and schools.” To that end they have three core areas on their landing page – Parents (Media), Educators (Education) and Advocates. Don’t be fooled by the labels, there’s something here for all roles across each of these areas so my advice is to go exploring. Particularly useful are the Media and Education Sections. A primary aim here is to give parents and educators the confidence to guide their children/students towards age appropriate, engaging high quality digital and non-digital media content for entertainment and learning at home and at school; to take some of that guesswork out of the equation by providing a searchable, rated database of media/apps/books across age groups and student cohorts.
There’s no doubt that children are massive media consumers, whether it’s delivered through traditional media like TV or through mobile devices and laptops via streaming services or gaming platforms. Children’s screen time seem to increase with each new report. The quality and appropriateness of this screen content can have profound effects on a young mind, influencing how they see themselves and how they relate to others and the world around them. Whether you are a parent or teacher it can be hard to filter all of the rubbish out and find content that is engaging but appropriate. Although this section is built with parents in mind, there are some good guides and information on a variety of topics including:
- News and Media Literacy
- Character Strengths and Life Skills
- Technology Addiction
- Screen Time
- Cyber bullying, Haters, and Trolls
- Privacy and Internet Safety
- Facebook, Instagram, and Social
- Cell Phone Parenting
- Violence in the Media
- Sex, Gender, and Body Image
- Alcohol, Drugs, and Smoking
- Marketing to Kids
- Learning with Technology
I’ve particularly found the page on Special Needs and Learning Difficulties very useful with a great Q & A section for using edtech with different age groups. There’s also a nice search facility that allows you to search for age appropriate media (books, apps, films, games etc.) using different filters including topic/theme. Need a book for a ten year old about robots and friendship? No problem! This is how I found the book “Girls Who Code, Learn to Code and Change the World by Reshma Saujani”. The review pages are excellent too with a breakdown of the type of content together with a list of potential talking points you can use to discuss the item’s themes with your child, student or class.
This section is home to the Commonsense.org Digital Citizenship Programme for K12 students providing 65 differentiated lesson plans promoting positive safe and responsible use of technology. Topics include:
- Internet Safety
- Privacy & Security
- Relationships & Communication
- Cyberbullying & Digital Drama
- Digital Footprints & Reputation
- Self-Image & Identity
- Information Literacy
- Creative Credit & Copyright
There is a wealth of free material here from downloadable lesson toolkits, videos and cpd webinars. There are also three free online games:
- Digital Passport includes 5 interactive modules on internet safety and digital citizenship, together with teacher reports;
- Digital Compass (free for web, IOS and Android) – great little game teaching how online behaviour can impact on real world relationships;
- Digital Bytes aimed at teens is a collaborative, interactive space giving students an opportunity to explore discuss and think critically about current digital citizenship issues such as “Internet Hoaxes,” “Copy-Paste Culture,” and “Fake News.”
You can also search for lesson plans uploaded by educators, some being very topical like this one focusing on Fake News and how to recognise it.
One of the most useful parts of the site though remains it’s searchable, rated Edtech database with peer reviews where you can filter results by price, grade, subject, device. You can also browse their top picks and drill down across filtered results to find a suitable app. There are also the requisite tips and resources with a whole host of articles covering all aspects of how to integrate technology into the classroom.
Commonsense.org is a big site with influential supporters including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the focus is very much on the US but nonetheless there are enough resources here to teach and learn about our responsibilities as individuals and school communities to become responsibile digital citizens that’s it’s definitely worth a visit.