Family Involvement and Resources
Learning the tools of this century is like all that we do in the Albemarle County Public Schools, a partnership between our schools and the family home.
Families in this century worry about many things in the digital environment, from opening the door to those trying to steal information, to the risks of too much online gaming, to the question of online predators, to exposure to inappropriate material, to concerns about "too much screen time."
The benefits of contemporary technology
While these are all legitimate concerns we hope that you will first focus on all the benefits these devices and this connectivity make possible:
- Our children now have the libraries of the world at their fingertips. Before this century much of our information was locked up in a few places, requiring a trip to Washington, DC, New York, Cambridge, MA, or even London, England to learn things even from published sources. Today almost everything a student might need in terms of books or information is available online.
- Your child has amazing resources, from anywhere on earth or deep into space, whenever they need it. Students can watch animals in natural habitats, or look back billions of years across the universe, or follow a course at the world's finest universities. They can see art from a thousand museums, listen to a thousand orchestras, hear novelists talk about their work, watch the news reports from many nations or from historic moments.
- Our children can collaborate with other students or with experts in important new innovative ways. We've seen our kindergartners work with students in Ireland, our fifth graders speak live with a diver on the Great Barrier Reef, our elementary music students play with Hungarian students, our high school students speak with eyewitnesses to the Egyptian Revolution, our drama students sing with Broadway star.
- Our children can discover ways to help overcome disabilities and learning difficulties. Our One-to-One laptops feature Text-to-Speech, which allows them to hear text, and Speech-to-Text, which allows all of our children to dictate their writing (these capabilities are also loaded onto many of our in-school computers). Our computers offer many alternative ways to accomplish many tasks - choices of calculators, word processors, art and music software, links to many supportive websites, even alternative keyboards.
- Our children will learn to understand how to make technology choices which prepare them for their futures. The future is global, the future is connected, the future is collaborative, and the future is constantly evolving. Our technologies and our digital learning initiatives, combined with our "Bring Your Own Device" policies, enable students to be ready to tackle their future - a future in the mid- to late-21st Century.
- Our children will have many new pathways for deep, high quality, learning. Active, engaged, interactive learning stays with most children in ways the passive reception of information rarely does. When our third grade students meet the curriculum on Ancient Greece by speaking to someone in Athens it will be remembered. When our middle school studenst engage with America's westward expansion through building an online museum, it is their's for life, when our high school students explains American elections to students in another nation, both their knowledge and their language grow, when our sixth graders learn the math of velocity through watching their favorite quarterback through a pass, the understanding stays with them.
Concerns and Issues
Yet, there are those concerns, and we need to work on these together.
First, please understand, when our children are bringing home an ACPS "One-to-One" computer, they are the "administrators" of their own machine. This means they have the ability to add appropriate software and to download materials. We do this for two important reasons - (1) we want our students to be able to add what they need, from the printer drivers for your home printer, to software which may help them with an individual need, to materials for school assignments, to newly discovered software which supports their creativity, and (2) because we are building their abilities to be responsible members of their community - if we do not trust them and allow them to make mistakes we lose many opportunities for effective teaching.
Indeed, some of our students will do the "wrong things," though only a few have. When they do the wrong things there are consequences, as with any violation of school behavior rules. Their laptop may be "re-imaged" - meaning that all of their work (saved saved on their computer) and settings will be wiped out. In extreme cases they might lose their ability to "adminstrate" their machine. We are, however, very unlikely to take the computer away, any more than we might take books or pencils or paper away. Our students, your children, need the tools of contemporary education.
The most effective way to impact our child's behavior in regard to responsible computer ownership is the same as the most effective way to impact the issues of online safety, gaming, and screen time - talk with your child and monitor their activities.
Children and adolescents like to explore, crave independence, and are natural risk-takers, and all of this is good - it helps them learn to become adults. Yet all of us, in school and at home, need to help them learn and keep them safe.
- Checking in - The kitchen table or the living room floor might be a better place for computer activity than an unsupervised bedroom. Ask what they are working on, what they are doing? Games are OK, social networking is OK, web searching is OK, as long as we always have an idea about what they are doing.
- Being knowledgable - When our children bring up a new game or new site, investigate. Google it, ask about it, perhaps even ask the child to show it and demonstrate it. It is not new to suggest that ignorance, especially in parenting or teaching, isn't the best strategy.
- Be sure there are many activities - If our children are spending all of their time in school or after school doing anything, it is probably a problem. Suggest that they play outside, or that they cook with you, or even watch a movie together. "Screen Time" is a question a lot like that of "bookworms" 40 years ago. Sometimes it might be good to read a book all night, but kids need a mix of activities. Our children will never spend a whole day at school, rarely even a half day, engaged with a screen, just as at home we combine many activities into every day. And if a child says they have more than two hours of homework at any age, you may want to check with their teacher.
- Home web filtering may be a solution for your family. Internet filtering can limit access to certain sites, certain types of sites, or certain activities. They can sometimes be used to create "shut down" times. Home filters may not be put on ACPS computers, nor may parents limit student control over ACPS computers - these actions create problems with school work and our school network protection systems - however, home network filtering can always be used, and this is far more effective because a computer user would have a much harder time disabling your protections. Home network filtering may be done through your Internet Service Provider - check their website - or through purchasing a router with a built-in filter system.