Passwords – Best and Worst practices

A report out in December of 2009 highlights the fact that many Internet users are still not choosing good passwords.  If the bad guys can guess your password they can cause all kinds of havoc.

“In December 2009, a major password breach occurred that led to the release of 32 million passwords1. Further, the hacker posted to the Internet the full list of the 32 million passwords (with no other identifiable information).”

Here is a list of the five most common passwords.

1. 123456

2. 12345

3. 123456789

4. password

5. iloveyou

We all know the challenge.  The tougher a password is for someone else to guess, the tougher it is for us to remember.  Here are a few tips for creating strong passwords.

1. Use capital and lower case letter

2. Use numbers and special symbols

3. Make the password at least 8 characters long

Here is a strategy that I have used to create a password that is hard to guess and easy to remember.  Think of a sentence and use the first letter from each word to form the password.  For example, “I love to read books and visit facebook”, becomes the password Il2rb&vf.  That could be the password for facebook.  For ebay I could use “I love to read books and visit Ebay” or Il2rb&ve.  Get the picture?  You have a strong password, 8 characters, includes a capital letter, a number, and a special symbol.  This lets you have a unique password for each website and still have a pattern to help you remember.

Time spent online

A new poll by Harris Interactive says the average adult internet user in the US spends 13 hours a week online.

Surprisingly it not the youngest users who are spending the most time online.

The age groups that spend the most time online are those aged 30-39 (18 hours) and those aged 25-29 (17 hours) and 40-49 (17 hours).

Do you spend more or less time online than the average person?  Do you know how much time you spend online?

AASL Conference in Charlotte

Five of our media specialists presented at the national conference of the American Association of School Librarians in Charlotte this month.  They all did a great job and represented Currituck County very well.

Lisa Rose presenting on Geocaching.

Donna Corbo and Candy Sample presenting Survival Tips.

Mary Simmons and Beth OBriant presenting “It is ok to eat in the Library!”

Digital Citizenship

I’ve been hearing this term more and more lately and I think it is a good framework for teaching adults and children about the proper use of digital resources.

Mike Ribble and Gerald Bailey have written on this subject in Digital Citizenship in Schools.   Ribble and Bailey structure the book around `nine elements of digital citizenship‘ to help educators better understand the variety of topics that constitute digital citizenship and to provide an organized way to address them.   The nine elements are: digital access, digital commerce, communication, literacy, etiquette, law, rights and responsibilities, health and wellness, and digital security.

I’m looking forward to reading their book.

Smartboards for Secondary Classrooms

We are kicking off our Smartboards for Secondary Classrooms project. I will update the status of this project regularly on this site. This is the email I sent to teachers inviting them to participate.

Good Afternoon,

The Currituck County Schools Board of Education Strategic Plan includes the following goals.

CCS-5.1: Provide Smartboards in ALL secondary classrooms with relevant incentive based training. (Train first, then receive technology)
CCS-5.2: Provide laptops to all teachers with relevant incentive based training.

This year we will be adding Smartboards to as many secondary classrooms as our resources will allow. In some classrooms we will use existing resources. We will mount the data projector, purchase and mount a Smartboard (, and use the laptop from a presentation cart with the Smartboard. In some classrooms we will provide the all-in-one Smartboard data projector units ( and provide a laptop.

To be considered for this project you must agree to the following:
Complete applicable Smart Notebook tutorials in Atomic Learning. (81 tutorials, total play time approximately 2 hours)
Upon completion of training, demonstrate a lesson to peers that uses the Smart Notebook software and the Smart board. (some after hours time may be required for this.)
Complete an orientation session on the Smart board setup in your room after installation. (approximately 30 minutes)
If you want a Smartboard, mounted projector, and laptop (assigned to you) in your classroom please respond to this email and let me know you agree to complete the three requirements listed above.

Principals will be asked to prioritize classrooms in each building and we will work down the list as far as resources allow.

I will keep the progress of this project updated on the Tech Department blog at

I’ll be glad to answer any questions you have. Thanks.

Social Networking – It is not just for kids

I know that lots of adults use social networking sites but I didn’t realize how many. According to a report for the Pew Internet and American Life Project 46% of online American adults use a social networking site such as MySpace, Facebook, or Linkedin. Not surprisingly, Facebook is the most popular of the social networking sites for American adults.

These numbers come for a larger report, The Democratization of Online Social Networks by Amanda Lenhart. You can see her presentation here.

Video Game Addiction

A new study suggests that approximately 10% of U.S. children are addicted to video games, including online games.

“Video/online games stimulate the brain’s “reward centers” which gives the same high drug addicts feel,” said Dr. Charles Lee, physician for The Pinnacle Schools.

“Children and teens are becoming addicted to video/online games the way people are addicted to drugs, alcohol and gambling.”

The 10% figure sounds a little high to me, but certainly some children are demonstrating addictive behaviors.

From the website: “The warning signs for gaming addictions are the same as those for alcohol and drug addictions. Signs include: Lying, Restless and irritable when doing other activities, Eating meals at the computer while gaming, Inability to keep track of time spent gaming, Increasingly defensive about game playing habits, Poor school performance, Skipping class, Loss of appetite/ skipping meals, Defiant, Isolate themselves from family and friends Playing games instead of doing homework.”

The behaviors listed in the paragraph above certainly point to excessive use.  Someone once told me “If something causes a problem, it is a problem.”  If video games are causing the problems listed above it is time to take action, restrict video game use, and get the child involved in other activities.

For help identifying video game addiction and takes steps to curb it, check out this great resource from the MediaWise Network.

Teens and Cell Phones

I am a big fan of the Pew Internet and American Life Project.  They regularly conduct research on how individuals, families, and society are being impacted by the Internet and online technologies.  They have been tracking cell phone use among teens for 5 years now.

Pew found that the number of teens with cell phones has risen to 77%, closing in on the 88% of adults who have cell phones.   More teens send text messages daily (38%) than talk on their cell phones daily (36%).  If you are around teens regularly these numbers will not be a surprise to you.

These numbers reinforce the importance of teaching teens to use cell phones in a responsible and safe manner.  Probably the most important thing we can do as adults is model good behavior and teach the dangers of driving while talking on the phone, or worse yet, texting.    Researchers from the Children’s Hospital of the Kings Daughters and the Eastern Virginia Medical School recently conducted a study to see the impact on teens of driving while talking on the phone or texting.  Donald Lewis M.D., co-researcher, called the results frightening.  Teens drove erratically and ran over virtual pedestrians.

According to a recent study by the American Automobile Association, the risk of a car accident increases by 50% for people who text message while driving.

I think it is time we made this a topic for discussion in our classrooms.

Hard Drive Failure Imminent – Knock on Wood

I hope you never get that message on your computer, however, it is a distinct possibility.  We have regular backups running on the servers at school but what about your personal computer?  Think for a few minutes about the files you have on your hard drive at home.  What would happen if that drive failed and could not be recovered.  What would you lose?  Years of lesson plans?  Income tax records?  Pictures of vacations?  Genealogy records?

If you are like me the thought of losing all that information makes you shudder.  We all know we should backup our hard drives regularly but I dare say, few of us do.  You can copy your important files to CDs or DVDs and store them in a safe location or you can consider one of the many online backup services available now.

I use SugarSync to backup my critical files.  They have a free account that lets you backup 2G of files to their online servers.  You select which folders you want to be backed up.  The program monitors those folders and automatically backs up file that are changed.  You can even back up files from multiple computers to the same account.  If you need more space there are other paid plans available.

Other services with similar features include DropBox, ZumoDrive, and OpenDrive.  Don’t wait until it is too late.  Get your critical files backed up today.

High Tech Cheating at School

A recent survey highlights the prevalence of high tech cheating at school.

35% of teens report using cell phones to cheat and more than half report using the Internet to cheat on school assignments, tests, and quizzes.  They use cell phones to take pictures of tests and send to friends, to warn friends of pop quizzes, to text answers to each other and to store notes they can refer to during a test.

Interestingly, about 20% of teens don’t see these activities as cheating.

This information raises some questions we should probably address in our schools.

1. Should cell phones be allowed in school?  If not, how do you keep them out?  If so, what restrictions should be in place?

2. Is there a way to integrate the use of cell phones in classrooms that promotes responsible use and does not penalize those teens without phones?

3. Are we doing a good enough job teaching and learning about issues of digital ethics?

The full report and parent tips are available at Common Sense Media.