I had students who had finished a writing assignment and I let them have free choice in the computer lab. They had to ask permission before going to a site. My difficulty is one of my 5th graders wanted to share her webpage she created at home. I previewed it but she had an area for chatting, and music that I did not know. How do teachers of older students handle this issue?
I also have students who want to go to Club Penguin. It is clearly age appropriate, but it is a group site where their use is open to the public. I am continuously monitoring over their shoulder, but it concerns me. These sites are great, but I am opening myself to risk. How have others decided to manage this kind of situation?

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I like the idea of having a web page with links to educational games, approved blogs or podcasts that the kids can go to. If you are concerned about inappropriate sites or bandwidth then giving the students free choice may not be a good idea.
I am investigating the possibility of setting up a learning website for 13 to 18 year-olds that is very focused on exam help. But I see the addition of social network features as essential to attract and retain today's learners. Additionally, since education supposed to be free, the site would be open to public.

This conflicts with a lot of what I read on sites such as this, where students need to be protected from the world, where fluid import/export from outside web-sites is discouraged, where net safety is very important, and everything is pre-screened.

Are there guide-lines anywhere that I could adhere to?
What are the most important risks to watch out for?
What are the legal responsibilities of schools, teachers?
For this age-group should policing be any more stringent that that used on sites such as myspace/facebook or on-line games such as WOW?
I'd like to explain more clearly. In the past, I have been a no student choice Internet teacher. I am extremely more strick than my peers at school. A student never goes on the Internet without my monitoring over their shoulder. I also do not let them go to sites where you virtually do what would not be allowed at school. For example, they can't go to a site with shooting of aliens or bopping creatures on the head. Our school has a list of Internet links that they could choose. The students are asking to go on sites like Build a Bear, Fun Brain, Club Penguin, Disney and Poptropica. These sites are ones their parents are aware of or they have gone there with another teacher. I have begun to recognize that I cannot be aware of all the possible sites students are aware of, and the sites may be perfectly acceptable.
I am not willing to have a zero tolerance of "fun" Internet sites anymore, but I don't know how to cross the line. We have used Renzulli learning in the past as a Beta tester, but cannot afford it for all my gifted students. I guess I am looking for a simular vehicle to expose kids to fun sites in their interest areas.
What I keep in mind is what is 'a waste if time' and what isn't. I teach gifted kids and most of our computer time is taken up with work but there are times when 'choice' is appropriate. I try to maintain a list of appropriate technology sites to use in school, some times I have great hopes for a site but the kids can find a way to 'play' on a site meant for work. Atmosphir is my latest iffy choice, it's a video game maker than seems to have a lot of potential but whenever I check it looks like the kids are messing around.

I also have a list called Fun 4 the Brain that some of the kids use.

I also don't let them use sites they can access at home--like Club Pengiun. I think it is a waste of time.

Right now I'm in the process of honing in on the sites that are really useful and ditching the rest. I got permission from http://mrroughton.com/assignments2.aspx to copy his format, and I'm putting together dozens of tech related option here. (in progress) Check back in a month or so and things should be sorted!! Since I only have my kids 6 1/2 hours a week my concern is not the internet boogeyman, it wasting time.
Wade, Not for me, I can tell when there is thinking and learning going on and when it's play. My time is so precious with my kids I really want to stretch them and introduce them to things they don't do in the regular ed classroom and at home.
We could argue this until we are blue in the face. Bopping thr gopher or shooting the aliens ain't cutting it for me!! :)
I must concure with those who only allow students to pick from a site list generated by the teachers. I tell the kids webkinz, club penguin, email, chat, IM are all okay for home where there is one adult per computer to monitor. I also have a rule the states if anyone finds anything inappropriate on any site-we don't use it. Just last week I had to take anamasher off my site list because they added some inappropriate clip art. I just tell the kids there are so many sites to choose from-we just move on. That way they do get to use many new tools and I adjust the list as needed.
Just assume that the kids are more tech-savvy, and they will try and get away with everything.

Hall Monitor
http://detentionslip.org
I teach Middle School Computers. I used to be more lax, but have had to learn the hard way. Our school also has pretty strict filtering, but students, even the youngest of the lot, have figured out how to find pornography. I have developed a policy that when they have earned free time on the computer, which isn't more than once a week, they can go to educational sites. They must be able to tell me exactly how the site is educational, or they lose the privledge to search for another one. They would prefer to go play shoot the alien, but unless they are practicing their times tables, it's not allowed. Unfortunately, other teachers seem to use computers as a time filler, or babysitter. I am frustrated by the students thinking that if they hurry up and get their work done, they can go play a game on the internet, because the other teacher lets them. I would like to educate other teachers about using the internet productively. I think it would even help if administration was more aware of what computers were being used for.
I guess one way around that is to plan curriculum that takes the whole time and set standards for mastery high. They can site when they are finished. There are some great things for kids to do when they are finished with the assignment, I really like Scratch, Alice, and Sketchup and a few others for real work and problem solving.
Here's a couple of sites that kids can be taught to use and will keep everybody thinking Griddlers and WebSudoku and Conceptis Puzzles.
> These sites are great, but I am opening myself to risk.

I understand where you are coming from. If one of your students is observed exercising his or her curiosity about how babies get made, you could lose your job. In your shoes, I would have the same fear. But, oh, it saddens me so much. It is a classic example of how schools have become the place we send our children to make sure they don't learn too much.

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