“What’s the weather today, Alexa?”
“Siri, who was the first female astronaut?”
“How long does Waze say it will take to get to Grandma’s house tomorrow?”
We, and today’s children, interact with AI on almost a daily basis, even if we don’t realize it. We tend to think of AI in terms of robotics, autonomous cars, drones, technologies, and innovations that were once science fiction, more recently perceived as futuristic, and are now integrated into our everyday lives. Much of what we do as part of daily living in this third decade of the 21st century is driven by AI, including:
- Online shopping and advertising
- Web search
- Digital personal assistants like Siri
- Machine translations and subtitling
- Smart thermostats
- Driving – our cars already use AI-powered safety functions, like blind-spot monitors
AI is everywhere, and digital skills are essential for most jobs in every industry and sector and at every different level. So, as a school committed to 21st-century learning, it should come as no surprise that Montclare participates in The Hour of Code. Every year, for a week in December, the school participates in this Computer Science Education Week, and Code.org created global movement. The Hour of Code program reaches millions of students in 180+ countries with a one-hour introduction to computer science and computer programming.
But, because Montclare is ever-conscious about limiting the use of technology in the classroom, and its balanced curriculum supports limitless innovations, its students learn about coding without screens! Instead, they utilize developmentally appropriate critical thinking as the first steps to coding exploration. For example, in one of the classes, the kids took turns playing the “Programmer” and the “Computer” using activity mats with various movement directions (frog jump, tiptoe, jumping jacks, etc.) to create a “code” for their partner to follow from one side of the room to the other.
With a rapidly changing world, Montclare’s director, Cathy Makropoulos believes we must continuously identify and re-examine the goals of holistic education and view them through a different lens. She sees a need to create opportunities for teachers to collaborate and envisions a world wherein schools develop internal think tanks, encouraging innovation in a safe space where educators can learn from each other.
“Faculty must be educated about technology including AI so they can create developmentally appropriate guidelines while providing children with access to continuous learning,” she said, adding that digital equity is also a priority. “We must ensure all children have the appropriate technology and Wi-Fi to support remote learning when necessary.”
That said, Makropoulos is well aware of the dangers of the digital realm and urges other educators and parents to ensure they are equally knowledgeable. With many schools relying heavily on EdTech, including many well-respected preschools, she stresses that the burden of safety must weigh heavily on their shoulders.
“Those schools that use Edtech must ensure that proper filters and firewalls are in place so children cannot access materials that aren’t approved for a school setting. And, of course, parents of younger children must also be present when children are using their devices.”
For Cybersecurity Awareness Month, Makropoulos shared five top cyber security tips from the Department of Justice:
- Discuss internet safety and develop an online safety plan with children before they engage in online activity. Establish clear guidelines, teach children to spot red flags, and encourage children to have open communication with you.
- Supervise young children’s use of the internet, including periodically checking their profiles and posts. Keep electronic devices in open, common areas of the home and consider setting time limits for their use.
- Review games, apps, and social media sites before they are downloaded or used by children. Pay particular attention to apps and sites that feature end-to-end encryption, direct messaging, video chats, file uploads, and user anonymity, which are frequently relied upon by online child predators.
- Adjust privacy settings and use parental controls for online games, apps, social media sites, and electronic devices.
- Tell children to avoid sharing personal information, photos, and videos online in public forums or with people they do not know in real life. Explain to your children that images posted online will be permanently on the internet.
Also, many parents aren’t aware that there are kid-friendly search engines that return only kid-friendly results, including KidTopia and KidRex.org. Although not a guarantee, using these instead of Google or Safari is a good bet.
AI and the introduction of digital skills and safety to students is not the only focus for Makropoulos, who knows that parent education is paramount. It is critical that parents are fluent in digital citizenship and understand the gravity of modeling good digital citizenship behaviors. If you have ever had your child repeat a salty word you’ve said or mimicked your behavior in a moment of frustration, you know our children are watching us.
Covid-19 changed pre-pandemic screen behaviors at home and school, and now that we are getting back to normal (sort of), it’s a good time to roll back screen time, so the new normal is as close to the old normal as is possible, and Cybersecurity Awareness Month is an excellent time to make sure we all stay safe online and that our children do as well.
For more information and resources, you can visit: https://staysafeonline.org/cybersecurity-awareness-month/