Friday, May 27, 2011

Block the website - or not?

Recently, I had a great question from a Teacher Librarian (at an elementary school) about blocking websites that have violent games:

I have become aware of our 6th graders playing very violent games on the internet during recess and/or free time.  I thought I remembered hearing along time ago that we could notify someone of websites that aren't blocked to get them blocked.  Is this true and who do I notify?

My Reponse: 
Yes. We do (as a district) need to make reasonable efforts to filter and block webpages - in order to comply with the law and receive federal funding.  Here is the official page for Jeffco employees  to make a request to block (or change the status of) webpages: 
That is why we have the Bluecoat Filter - and some of those settings are managed by Bluecoat and some by district personnel.  (disclaimer - I am not one of those people.  This is in my circle of "influence" not my circle of "control" =)
My past experience :  for every game site we block – new ones will be created, or kids will find a way around.  At my previous school, I first tried getting some game sites blocked – but then our tech committee and admin decided to take a different track:  Computers are instructional tools being used during school time – if kids are using them for non-instructional purposes, they either need explicit permission for that activity, or they will have a consequence – ranging from loss of privilege (no computer) to more serious (depending on the nature of the infraction – we did have some suspensions).
In some ways – this is a conversation to have with staff.  What do we allow kids to do on devices provided by taxpayer money during school hours?  Do we require kids to show us and tell us what they are doing?  Do we treat it like Halloween?   (no blood, gore, weapons)
Every school (and teacher) handles all of this differently – but in many ways the computer should be no different than other school activities – both in expectations and accountability and consequences…
If we don’t let kids play “shooting games” on the playground – and we have systemic practices in place to communicate what is okay and what is not okay – and what privileges will be lost if they break that rule, then I think the same thing could be done with activities on the computer.  (and part of that could be that the computer screen has to be visible to the teacher at all times)

The filter can’t take the place of good classroom management and communication about expectations.
Obviously - this conversation extends beyond game websites...
What do you think?  Am I crazy? What does your school do?  We'd love to see your answers, comments, and questions below.


  1. I agree, Dan (about educating kids, not about you being crazy!) As educators, our job is to educate students to be ethical and responsible users of technology. This is a life lesson. In many workplaces (including ours), you can lose your job as a result of inappropriate online activies during the work day or using company computers. Better to have student learn this lesson early.

  2. I agree with the point of view that classroom management is the best way to handle this issue. Each student should know our expectations and the consequences of not following the stated expectations just like they do for other school activities. In my opinion, the students should be outside getting exercise during their recess and not playing on the computers.

  3. I think there could be contracts written by the district and signed by the students. However, if a student needs more access or demonstrates appropriate responsibility she/he could earn a different level on a different contract.

    My 14 year old son thinks that if you have free time you should be able to go on and mess around or play on a school computer.

    I have found with my 16 year old son, that a non-violent game was part of his academic down- fall this year. His obsession with everything that was related to building, communicating and playing Minecraft made him sneaky and not worthy of our trust.

    Another idea... students start out with a higher level of trust and access. Once they start breaking the rules of the contract, they are demoted to a lower level of access. I realize that this might be difficult to implement and manage... but maybe this could be a seed for a different (yet similar) idea.

  4. I agree Dan, the issue is the use of school equipment for non-instructional activities. I've seen kids use Google Docs to harass each other...filtering won't affect that.

    The District Acceptable Use Agreement, which both students and parents sign, lays out the rights and responsibilities of the students, and the general consequences for misuse. Until the completed, signed document is returned to school, students are not allowed to use school computers.

    At Conifer, computer use in the library is limited to instructional purposes only, no exceptions, during the school day (til 3 pm). After 3 pm the library becomes a public library and students may use the computers for gaming, social networking, downloading, etc.

    Students gaming or social networking during the school day are gently reminded of the rules, and they usually comply. Any student refusing to follow directions is referred to the office. There is a zero-tolerance policy for cyberbullying, any instances of that activity are referred to the office and can result in a suspension.

  5. I agree with the playground analogy. We are specific about pretend gun play and violence on the playground. That should definitely translate to the classroom. By all means use educational games for free time, but it should be approved by the supervisor (teacher, TL, etc.)

  6. I agree Dan. The Jeffco Student Conduct Code sums it up that district computers are for academic student needs. Since I don't have the ability to monitor every student on every computer my rules are that no games can be played on the library computers. Many teachers let students play games when they have finished their work but they allow students to use academic games usually based on a particular content.