The Boy’s Venture into Cyberspace

When we moved, The Boy asked for an email account.  I had to think awhile about whether he was old enough and responsible enough to be able to handle it.  I wanted him to have a way to communicate with friends and teachers from the home we were leaving, and I wanted him to explore Google Drive so that we wouldn’t have to rely on Microsoft, PowerPoint, and dozens of flash drives for his hobby anymore.   I took my time, did my research, and made a plan.  He and I talked at length about internet safety, with which he was already familiar, thanks to school.  I told him that I would have access to his account, and would know his password so that he would have some level of supervision of his account activities.  And with that, I gave him a supervised Gmail account.

He did attempt to change his password once, but because I had set my email address as the backup, I was notified immediately, and we discussed it.  We changed his password, and he seemed to use it appropriately after that, until he forgot his password, and we had to reset it again, but that was no big deal — again, he seemed to be on the right path.

Every once in awhile I would notice in his account that he had registered for some site, but they were kid-based animation sites, and when I investigated, he had opened a free account, but hadn’t used it.  And then about a week ago, I saw some notifications in his inbox of comments on his YouTube account…  Because when you open a Gmail account, you get a YouTube account automatically, now.  I had turned off Google+, but YouTube had slipped my mind…

With trepidation, I looked up his account.  Luckily, he didn’t have his profile picture posted on his account – just an abstract design.  Luckily he didn’t have too many views of the videos he had posted.  But unfortunately, there were two videos of himself, that he had taken with a webcam at some point.

mario in gI knew I would have to talk to him again about internet safety, and we would have to take them down ASAP.  I knew he would be suspicious of me “looking at his stuff,” and he would “know what (I was) trying to do!” I knew he would have some anxiety about my knowing some of his secrets.  But I continued to look at his account, and began to see something really cool.  He had posted some other videos and comments, and I can’t pretend to understand the fascination, but these other videos were a combination of animation, other videos (like the title sequences of cartoons), and modified (very strange) music.  And the coolest thing was there were other kids that were into this same type of “creation”, knew the programs he had used (Audacity is one – I had no idea he knew how to use it!), and were asking him technical questions about how he had created it.

In his first, clumsy venture into cyberspace, he had somehow joined a community, sharing his skills, and supporting other kids.

We continue to work on his understanding of what’s OK to post, and what’s not.  I continue to monitor his internet usage through his email account and other venues.  But I also continue to tell him how proud I am of him, and I’ve asked him to show me how he makes his videos.  So cool.

Practical Tips for Email Documentation: IEPs and Dealing with the School

Because I am new-but-not-really-new to having to fight for my son’s rights, I have an interesting learning curve.  I am very aware of the law, but not as well versed in the day-to-day practices that are highly recommended for those of us battling the schools.  It’s not dissimilar to having a less-than-amicable divorce, especially because documentation is so important.

I have always been a proponent of email, in large part because it is an easy way to establish a paper trail.  As such, I have been emailing The Boy’s teachers and administrators since the beginning of the school year with my concerns and requests.  As we have gone further into the school year, and I have realized that things are not running as smoothly as I had hoped, I am glad I have the emails as documentation, but have found that just leaving them in my inbox is not the best organizational practice, and it would be cumbersome to try to sort, save, and/or print just the relevant correspondence.

Through trial and error, I have found a great way to organize these emails with the idea of using them for documentation in the IEP process, and possible mediation process if necessary later on.  I hope we don’t have to go that far, but it is much better to be prepared and do the legwork now than to have to go back through several month’s worth of emails.

circlesFirst of all, I highly recommend using a gmail account for your correspondence with the schools, because it has capabilities that other email accounts don’t have.  I have put all of the teachers and administrators in a “circle” within my gmail account, labeled “The Boy’s School”.  I can click on that “circle” and view all of the emails from those people without the distractions of other, unrelated emails in the way.

Secondly, I have an existing Evernote account.  You can download a free desktop version, which is all I’ve ever used, and although I don’t use it often, it has some very neat capabilities.  If you aren’t familiar, you can check it out here.  It also has an app for smartphones, which can sync with your desktop app.  Evernote is like a huge notebook where you can store and organize stuff – stuff as small as an idea, and stuff as large as a document.  One of the great things about Evernote, that we will use here, is that you can create notes by emailing whatever you’d like to your Evernote account – it sets up a specific-to-you email for this purpose.

After you have a gmail account and an Evernote account, you can then select all of the school email addresses in your gmail account and apply a filter, forwarding copies of all of the emails from people in your school circle to your Evernote account (using that Evernote-specific email), thereby creating “notes” out of all correspondence with all of your child’s teachers and administrators. To do this, select all of the messages within a “circle”, click on the “more” button, and select “filter messages like these”.  Follow the directions from there, plugging in your specific-to-you Evernote email address.  It is important to note that the filter will only forward the emails that are received after the filter has been applied – you will have to forward each email that has already been received, yourself.

Evernote

You can also save texts to Evernote by either using an app that will do this for you (there are several), or by taking screenshots of the texts on your phone (do this on an iPhone by pressing the home and power button simultaneously), and emailing them to your Evernote-specific email.  If you have the smartphone Evernote app, it’s even simpler: After you have taken screenshots of the texts, you can open your Evernote app, press the “+” button to add a note, press on the camera icon, select “choose existing” which will take you to your camera roll, and you can select the screenshot you just took of the text from your camera roll.

You can even save voicemails to Evernote (or recordings of meetings!), if you have recording capabilities on your phone/computer, and can save them as an mp3 file.

Finally, you can merge notes (say all of the emails from his social studies teacher, so you can prove a pattern of disregard for the modifications she needs to be making for your son… for example…), and/or you can create a pdf of the selected note(s) by choosing “print” and instead, saving as a pdf (click on the radio button on the lower left hand corner in the print pop-up screen).

It helps to go into all of your notes, and change the date to the actual date of the correspondence, rather than the date you entered it into Evernote – you can do this by clicking on the “i” icon.  You may also want to tag your newly entered notes with the last name of those involved.  This is not necessary with emails, as Evernote will search the emails for the relevant names, but it is another layer of organization.

These tips can also be used by teachers to keep track of correspondence with specific parents, or by anyone who needs to organize emails, texts, and the like from specific people!