Issue with Sparklebox teaching resource

The following statement regarding Sparklebox was released by the Kent (UK) County Council on the 5th of January:

Kent Statement re the blocking of Sparklebox

It has been bought to Kent County Council’s attention that many Local Authorities are blocking a teaching resource website: Although this website is popular with schools, CEOP has issued a statement supporting both this action and the following statement from South West Grid for Learning:

“It is understood that a person who is on the record as an owner and director of Sparklebox Teacher Resources Limited (which appears to claim ownership of the SparkleBox web site and children’s learning materials) is a registered sex offender who has recently admitted a second offence, is on remand in prison and is awaiting sentence in January.”

For this reason we feel it right to block the site centrally until more information is available and review whether this site should be blocked permanently after consulting schools and other sources.

Failure to block this site may place Schools or Kent County Council in a difficult position regarding duty of care. Should staff wish to continue using the website there is nothing to stop its use from home. We invite discussion from staff who may be concerned about this decision to discuss this on the e-Safety Blog (please note that this blog is moderated so your comment may not appear immediately).

Also, a statementfrom the UK’s Child Expoitation and Online Protection Centre:

Following queries into the website over the past couple of months, CEOP have investigated the website and its management. It should be noted that Sparklebox’s primary aim is to provide resources for schools (in particular teachers) but that there are opportunities for pictures of young people to be sent in and be published online and that until recently there was a live blog. Sparklebox state that all staff have been through relevant checks however CEOP can support the recent SWGfL statement released this week, an extract of which is below:

“It is understood that a person who is on the record as an owner and director of Sparklebox Teacher Resources Limited (which appears to claim ownership of the SparkleBox web site and children’s learning materials) is a registered sex offender who has recently admitted a second offence, is on remand in prison and is awaiting sentence in January.”

CEOP are also aware that a number of RBC’s and Local Authorities have blocked until they are satisfied that suitable safeguarding arrangements are in place. CEOP supports this stance and would recommend that any schools who choose to overrule their central filtering lists give due consideration to a website specific school risk analysis and risk management plan.

Please use Sparklebox at your own discretion as I am not sure if it has been widely blocked here in Australia or not.


NetSmartzKids is a website set up to teach children and young adults about using the internet safely. It uses fun, interactive games to help develop safe online strategies. The website explains:

NetSmartz® is an interactive, educational safety resource from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children® (NCMEC) and Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) for children aged 5 to 17, parents, guardians, educators, and law enforcement that uses age-appropriate, 3-D activities to teach children how to stay safer on the Internet.

The goal of the NetSmartz Workshop is to extend the safety awareness of children to prevent victimization and increase self-confidence whenever they go online. These goals include to

  • enhance the ability of children to recognize dangers on the Internet
  • enhance the ability of children to understand that people they first “meet” on the Internet should never be considered their friend
  • encourage children to report victimization to a trusted adult
  • support and enhance community education efforts
  • increase communication between adults and children about online safety

The NetSmartz Workshop teaches children the rules for online safety.

  • I will tell an adult I trust if anything makes me feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused.
  • I will ask my parents or guardian before sharing my personal information.
  • I won’t meet in person with anyone I have first “met” online.


Potentially a useful site, especially for the younger student. Thanks to Angela Maiers for this link.

Managing social media risks

This article, which was recently published by The Journal, is worth a read in relation to the social media risks to students. It may also be worth passing onto any staff who have an online profile.

Managing Social Media Risks

By Bridget McCrea 08 October 2009

Name an online social networking site, and there are liable to be thousands of teachers, administrators, and students using it connect with people. Whether it’s Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, or one of the more “specialized” online venues, all are replete with individuals looking to tap into the growing social networking wave.

Like any new, uncharted innovation, online social networking comes with risks not associated with many “traditional” ways of connecting with people. Unintentionally offend someone in person at a bookstore, for example, and the repercussions are likely to be minimal. But post a photo that others deem “offensive” on your Facebook page, and you could risk alienating others and even setting yourself up for potential lawsuits.

In her recent report, “Risk Management and Social Media: A Paradigm Shift,” Maureen O’Neil, president of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), called social media tools like blogs, message boards, and social communities the “fastest growing segment” of Web content. “These forms of social networking upend the traditional form of top-down information dispersal because information freely flows in and out of an organization,” said O’Neil.

The problem is that social media can expose organizations to significant risk, not the least of which is serious reputation damage, said O’Neil. That’s because social media is still largely the “Wild Wild West” of the Internet: It’s widely used, yet there are technically no set rules attached to it in terms of conduct. The good news is that institutions can take an active approach to influence and counteract their schools, students and teachers that are portrayed on these social media sites.

“That requires businesses to create an Internet reputation risk management plan that addresses what visitors to your site express, what your employees share on other sites and most significantly what things are said about your organization on sites over which you have no direct control,” said O’Neil. She suggested organizations actively engage on social network venues to understand how reputation can be impacted by the interactions, and then gather information on the social media activities under consideration.

From there, assess the areas of vulnerability, create counteraction plans, and communicate them to employees. Dedicate at least one employee to the monitoring of your online reputation, remarked O’Neil, and build a process to identify new reputation risk elements as social media evolves.

“The risks organizations face as a result of participating in social media are real, but so too are the benefits,” she said. “Don’t let risk blind you from taking advantage of the transformational communication opportunities that arise from social media.”

For schools, the need for risk management is especially high because teachers, students, and administrators alike are enjoying the benefits of connecting with one another online. Whether administrators are posting information about a recent school event, teachers are bouncing ideas off of one another, or students are posting photos of their weekend events, all of the information being shared is available for anyone to see and comment on.


The single biggest risk in social media circles is undoubtedly the participant’s utter lack of control over where the information is going, how it will be posted, and who is going to be able to access it. To avoid potential problems in this area, pay particular attention to what pages that online information is linked to, what types of pages are attached to the information, and which photos are included.

Schools looking to beef up their social media risk management strategies can start by setting up guidelines around their employees’ and students’ use of sites like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter, to name just a few. Stress the fact that, once posted online, comments and photos “never go away,” even if the individual poster deletes them.

Sarah Evans, an Internet marketing consultant and director of communications for Elgin Community Collegein Elgin, IL, said schools should pay particular attention to the feedback being posted about the institution and its students and teachers. Assign someone to “search” the various sites (for the school’s name, for example) on a regular basis to essentially “police” the institution’s brand and make sure it’s being represented properly in the social media.

“You want to make sure that you’re portraying the same experience online that you do when people enter your institution’s doors,” said Evans, who pointed out that all social media sites incorporate a “search” function that allows users to type in keywords and “see what people are talking about in real-time, online.”

Also check out exactly what the content looks like before exposing it to the rest of the world. (If one of your teachers has his or her own Facebook page, pull it up online and see what it looks like to others.) Pay attention not only to the teacher’s or student’s own comments and postings, but also to the feedback being posted by “friends” who are reading–and commenting on–those social networking activities.

Connect/SLAV Web 2.0 competition

Thanks to Connect’s Kerry Rowett for the following text:

Are you doing some wonderful work connecting students using web 2.0 applications in your classroom … or keen to start? You might be interested in entering the Connect and SLAV web 2.0 competition 2009. What do you need to do? Work in a team to create a unit of work incorporating the use of web 2.0 technologies and submit it, along with an application form to Connect by Monday October 5th.


There will be two prize packages awarded to winning schools with a value of approximately AU$800 each. Wii machines have generously been donated by the International Digital Entertainment Festival (iDEF) and games donated by Madman interactive. Each package includes:

  • Nintendo Wii Console 
  • Wii Sports
  • Nintendo 7 in 1 sports kit
  • One copy of each of the following gaming titles: Disney Think Fast, Ultimate Band, Bratz Kidz Party and Build A Bear Workshop


Please share this information with other teachers you think may be interested in entering! Visit the link or click the images to find out more.

Cybersafety and Wellbeing Initiative

The Alannah and Madeline Foundation have launched a major new Cybersafety and Wellbeing Initiative.

Cybersafety and Wellbeing Initiative
Cybersafety and Wellbeing Initiative
A pilot program is to be implemented into 150 schools from September. The website explains the program in more detail:

The Alannah and Madeline Foundation’s Cybersafety and Wellbeing Initiative aims to make cybersafety a normal part of every young person’s life by equipping them to use technologies in ways that protect them from the associated risks.

The development of the initiative is informed by a number of cybersafety experts from across Australia.  The first major focus of the initiative is to help schools to create a cultural norm of smart, safe and responsible use of communications technologies.  The initiative will: 

  • help schools develop policies and practices encouraging students to use technology responsibly
  • point schools to teaching resources on cybersafety, but also to resources to help them create a safe, respectful and caring environment
  • encourage schools to embrace the positives of technology for teaching practice and enhance young people’s learning
  • establish a system for schools to provide evidence that they are actively implementing these policies and practices
  • reduce the digital divide between adults and young people, so adults can become a credible source of advice on avoiding the risks of cyberspace.

Dr Judith Slocombe CEO of The Alannah and Madeline makes an interesting point:

It is important to remember that this is an issue of behaviour, more than it is of technology. We really need to get serious about behaviour and support schools to focus on building a culture of respect and caring in addition to teaching the traditional academic subjects.

As a profession that is passionate about embedding the use of technology in education, we should applaud the introduction of this initiative. It is wonderful to see that the negative issues of internet use are going to be addressed and acted upon.

Feature blog – Girton Grammar School

Girton Grammar School Head of Library (and immediate past Children’s Book Council Victorian Judge) Miffy Farquharson has developed two book blogs for her school. Miffy explains how they came about:

The student blog has been in place for about a term now. It is supposed to be by and for secondary students, but I am having trouble getting students to contribute. I think that this is because the students don’t actually do much blogging themselves. So you will see that most of the entries are by me.

Student book blog

Student book blog

I have set in place some protocols to keep the identity of our students anonymous, which includes only using their initials, and I edit out any mention of their age. I have tried to create enough categories to that when the blog starts getting really long readers will be able to sort through the entries to find age appropriate books easily.

I have also learned how to add tags, and create a cluster map. I have an accompanying Blog roll for my favourite bookish websites, which is slowly being added to. Crash Solo is one of my favourites.

This blog has been a huge learning curve for me, as I had only used a blog to record Hockey news and results in the past, and hadn’t got into any of the fun stuff like feeds and blogrolls in the Hockey blog.

 I have also started a ‘grown-up’ book review blog which was prompted by the submission of a review of Tim Winton’s ‘Breath’ by a colleague. The review was very obviously for an ‘adult’ book, which was not appropriate for the student blog, so a new site was created.

Teacher book blog

Teacher book blog

 Thanks to Miffy for sharing her efforts in getting students and teachers to read and blog. Well done.

Don’t demonise internet

The following letters were published in today’s Australian under the heading ‘Don’t demonise the internet.

WHILE it’s understandable that the bereaved parents will look for someone or something to blame when their daughter kills herself (“Chanelle, 14, joins college’s tragic suicide toll”, 22/7), the truth is that the vast majority of young people who take their own lives have depression, usually unrecognised and undiagnosed. Youthbeyondblue strives to make people understand that depression is an illness. Chemicals in the brain, which regulate how one thinks, feels and behaves, get out of balance. No amount of love and caring or effort to build up the self-esteem of someone suffering from depression can alter their misperception that their situation is hopeless.

Demonising the internet is unwise; teaching young people how to use it safely and what to do when cyber-bullied is preferable.

Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
(Adolescent psychologist)
Balwyn, Vic

FOR far too many years the issue of cyber-bullying of and by young people has been placed on the merry-go-round of “it’s not my problem”. Schools have used the excuse that because it happened out of school hours, it’s not their problem. Police have said it’s not their problem, so parents have returned to the schools demanding that they deal with it to be sent away again.

Whilst the actual bullying comments may have been posted out of school hours, when cyber-bullying is between students in the same school, it does become a school problem. Schools have to deal with the fallout and are confronted with fractured friendships and the breakdown of the social cohesion of the class group involved. Invariably kids will take sides, and much of what occurs online is continued in the playground.

International research and evidence of best practice tell us that cyber-bullying is a whole-of-community problem and one that must be addressed with the coordination and cooperation of a range of professionals. Schools must do more than just have a policy that says don’t do it. Teachers must be given the training to understand these issues and deal with them promptly and confidently. Parents must embrace cyberspace and feel confident in their ability to set boundaries and rules and to instil in their children a sense of respect and responsibility for both themselves and others when online.

Finally, and most importantly, kids need to be taught about cyberspace and it must start early. The how, what, when and why. Kids have the technical skills but no understanding of the reality of cyberspace.

Susan McLean
(Susan McLean is a former Victoria Police officer who specialised in cyber-bullying and young people)
East Doncaster, Vic

Free Realms

For any teacher or parent interested in gaming for learning, Free Realms is a free gaming site designed for families.

The Free Realms for Parents page explains more about the site:

What is Free Realms?
Welcome to! Free Realmsis a fun, whimsical virtual world filled with dynamic gameplay and compelling content for everyone, especially families.

Do what you want to do, when you want to do it, in a 3D world of lush landscapes and fun wildlife. Teach your pet new tricks, explore a lush new world, earn great items through quests or play fun mini-games. If adventuring is more your style, become a wizard and search for lost treasure or fight monsters in a mix of real-world experiences and fantasy adventure. With regular content updates and special events scheduled, it’s time to discover the delights of Free Realms!

Developed by Sony, you can be assured that the site is a good one. With parent controls, restricted chat and forums, schools and families are well catered for.

An attractive and engaging site that enables families to play together.


SemanticScuttle (based on the previous incarnation Scuttle) is a bookmarking tool that can take the ‘social’ part away. That is, you can install SemanticScuttle on your school server if you are concerned about any of the ‘social’ (or lack of privacy for students) aspects of other social bookmarking sites.

There is more information about SemanticScuttle on their wiki.

SemanticScuttle wiki

SemanticScuttle wiki

For schools that are concerned about cybersafety, SemanticScuttle could be a good introduction to the skills of using social bookmarking tools without any of the stress that comes with connectivity to the outside world.


Are you looking for a totally safe way to use YouTube and other videos with your students but worried about them accessing stuff that’s inappropriate? Vodspot can help.

Vodspot homepage
Vodspot homepage
Once you sign up to Vodspot, you can create your own video channel and drag and drop videos from YouTube, TeacherTube and many other sites to your channel. Then give your students your Vodspot channel address or even better, install a widget and link your selected Vodspot videos from your blog or wiki. Students will then only access the videos you have selected for them.

Student can add comments about their favourite videos and teachers are able to access statistics to see which are the most watched videos. Quite a useful tool for anyone who uses or is thinking about using the incredible video resources that are freely available on the internet.

Thanks to Rhonda Powling for the link to Vodspot.