Daniel Ozimek, a speaker from Prevent Child Abuse Vermont, which runs the TECHNICOOL program, made five presentations throughout the day, first for students in grades 3-4, then for grades 5-6, 7-8, 9-12, and a presentation for parents and community in the evening.
"Who here has a brain?" Ozimek asked early in the first presentation. After all but two or three of the assembled third and fourth graders raised their hands, Ozimek continued, "Memory is weird, right? Sometimes you remember great things, sometimes you forget to put on socks."
Explaining that technology works in a very similar manner to the human brain, Ozimek said, "Technology's primary function is to provide a service, to do something for you. In order to do that, it has to learn about you."
Ozimek also warned students about the permanence of Internet posts, saying, "Whatever information you put out there is never technically deleted, even if you hit that little "X" in the corner of a Facebook post." With that in mind, he asked students to run through a mental checklist before they post anything online. First, he said, is it hurtful or could be taken the wrong way? Do I want this to be permanent? Would I be embarrassed if this picture was posted at school? Could it get someone in trouble? Will it cause drama?
However, Ozimek said that often the best question to ask is simply, "Would I show this to my grandmother?"
The annual program is organized by technology coordinator and instructor Nicole DelNegro-Jozefiak. This is the sixth year she had run an Internet safety program for students.
Charlie Cummings, third-grade teacher at Fisher Elementary, said that technology is being used in the classroom more than it was even three years ago, and described teaching kids about Internet safety as "huge."
He cited an example of students going home and using Google Drive, an online word processing application that allows users to work on documents simultaneously, which the school uses as part of the Google Apps for Education program. He said students might appear to their parents to just be working on a document, but would actually be coordinating with their classmates. In a situation like this, it's important that students have a strong understanding of Internet safety.
Ozimek also gave advice to students about online gaming. "As long as you play with people you know and trust, you'll be safe," he said, "Playing video games is a good thing. You can learn while playing video games, as long as you feel safe." He used the popular Club Penguin site as an example, telling the younger students that they have the ability to block and report users who were making them feel uncomfortable.
"If that penguin's not being very nice, you don't have to take that," said Ozimek, who also told students never to cyber-bully back someone who has cyber-bullied them, but to let an adult, such as a parent or teacher, know about it.
Ozimek also spoke at length about being safe on the Internet. He said that every person has the right to privacy online. He told students to ask themselves if they really wanted information like their phone number or address to be public information, before posting it online. He also taught students techniques for creating more secure passwords. "The hacking you see in the media is not actually hacking," he said, "You can't just sit in front of a computer and type really fast and get into the FBI database." He said it was much more important to make your password difficult to guess.
As an example, he showed students a password he used in seventh grade, mCp=15&zAd, which, at first glance, just seems to be a random jumble of characters. However, Ozimek knew what it meant: m(y) C(at) p(ickles) =(is) 15 & z(sleeps) a(ll) d(ay). A password such as that is relatively easy to remember, said Ozimek, but is completely impossible for anyone, even someone who knows he has a cat named Pickles, to guess. He also suggested how you could take "password," one of the least secure passwords in American computer history, and make it more secure by reorganizing or changing the capitalization of letters or adding characters that look similar to the letters in the word (pa$$W0Rd or drOwsS4p, for example).
Prevent Child Abuse Vermont was founded in 1976, as a chapter of Parents Anonymous. TECHNICOOL began as a program in 2008, "in response to growing risks of technology-facilitated child exploitation and peer-to-peer aggressive behaviors among youth," according to PCAVT's website.
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB