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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Suggested Laptop Agreements for Middle School Families

Edward Chen

Director of Technology at The Nueva School

Part of a building successful 1:1 program is building partnerships with the entire school community, especially parents. At The Nueva School (and possibly at your school, too), we have found that some parents may have inadvertently relinquished their parental authority when it comes to all things digital. Here's a reflection from one of our parents:

If I had to do it over again, I would sit my child down at home the first day he brings home the computer and say, "This does not belong to you. This belongs to the school and you are to use it for school-related projects. To the extent that you use it for other purposes, we must have an agreement about how you are using it. Let's talk right now about instant messaging, games, iTunes . . .

Sometimes we assume our child knows what the family standard is for laptop or computer use, but we find it extremely helpful when families explicitly talk things through so there are no misunderstandings. Pre-established limit setting and boundaries are still necessary with students today. We encourage parents to start these conversations early, so they can set the right expectations of behavior with their students, before the device reaches home. We recommend beginning over the summer and continuing the conversation throughout the school year. A written agreement posted near the computer helps your student refer back to it when he or she has a question or forgets. We highly recommend that families have these agreements between parents and students in place before school laptops come home, and to share the information with any caregivers. It is never too late to start this process.

The following document is a list of many different topics parents need to discuss with their students about how, where and when to use laptops and other computing devices at home. For example, we encourage parents to talk about a central charging area, a digital curfew, account information and setup, and avoiding digital devices in the bedroom for our middle-schoolers. We also remind parents these topics are a part of a larger ongoing conversation about computer use, so adjustments may need to be made as their students mature.

General Guidelines

  • Review your school's individual laptop plan with your student -- even if you've previously participated in the program -- and be sure you both understand the agreement you're signing.
  • Agree that the laptop does not belong to the student but to the school, and that it should be used for academic learning purposes only.
  • Agree on what the laptop should be used -- and not used -- for.
  • Agree on being forthright. Discuss the importance and difference of being forthright versus just being honest.
  • Agree on how students should report issues dealing with friends, disturbing or uncomfortable content, threats or cyber-bullying, and online name-calling.
  • Agree that computer usage can become addicting and discuss how to minimize this addiction.
  • Agree to keep a healthy balance between using and not using the laptop.
  • Discuss the expectation of privacy (or lack thereof). Everything done online is NOT private.
  • Agree not to create or use fake, alternative accounts to do harm, speak harm or type harm.
  • Agree on what should happen when your student makes a mistake online, in an email, or somehow violates these agreements.
  • Agree to make future adjustments to these agreements or create new agreements as needed.

Care of Laptop

  • Agree to care for the laptop in the best way possible (no one-corner carries, no laptop bags lying flat on the floor, no squeezing laptops or their bags into tight spaces).
  • Agree to always keep the laptop in its provided case. Alternate or personal cases are not allowed on campus.
  • Agree that, to avoid breakage, laptops are NOT to be used on the bus, in the car, before or after school (unless in Homework Club) and during lunch recess (unless in Laptop Homework Time).
  • Agree to come to school with a fully charged battery every day. This means the laptop must be plugged in the night before.
  • Agree to contact the Technology Office when technical help is needed or if a laptop cannot be located.
  • Agree to use proper ergonomics (after discussing what proper ergonomics are) to avoid carpel tunnel, wrist pain, neck pain, back pain and eye strain.
  • Agree to not having laptops present during dinner, snack time or family meals. (Food, drink and laptops never mix!)
  • Agree to place laptops (along with cell phones and other devices) outside of the student's bedroom for charging purposes.
  • Agree on the time when laptops and other devices should be turned off for the night and brought to the charger.
  • Agree to leave the laptop at home when going on vacation or trips. (Let it be a digital vacation as well!)

Homework Time

  • Agree that school-issued laptops (or cell phones or other smaller devices) should not be used in the student's bedroom.
  • Agree on when the laptop should be used at home. Our school suggests limiting laptop homework time to about two to three hours at night. Please note that most schools will not typically assign sixth and seventh graders more than two hours of laptop homework each night. On average, eighth graders will get no more than three hours of homework per night.
  • Agree on where homework will be done. The school suggests a central and public location with screens facing outward (toward an adult) for proper monitoring.
  • Agree on what happens during homework time. The school recommends that all personal, social or entertainment applications and/or windows be turned off during homework time.
  • Agree on how your student will handle "break times" in between homework assignments. How long is each break time? Will laptop use be allowed during break time? Please note we recommend that laptop use not be part of break time, but used for entertainment purposes only after all homework is completed.
  • Agree to not use the laptop to cheat on homework or plagiarize. Discuss what plagiarism is. (Students need to understand that copying and changing certain phrases is still plagiarism.)
  • Agree on how your student will prioritize homework over extracurricular activities and/or socializing, entertainment or "play" time on the laptop.
  • Agree on a daily time limitation for socializing, entertainment or "play" time on the laptop. Agree whether or not playing on the computer is okay for X minutes after all homework is done. Will it be proportional to the amount of time spent on homework, or will it be a set amount of time per day?
  • Agree on what is allowed during socializing, entertainment or "play" time on the laptop and what is not. Again, certain applications and features can be addicting, so help your student create a path to avoid addicting applications.
  • Agree on the amount of entertainment or "play" time on the laptop during weekends and vacation. The school recommends a minimal amount of time during these days, so that students can go out and pursue other passions.
  • Agree on whether laptops are out or away during time with friends.
  • Agree whether the student will need to be subject to monitoring and/or controls of his or her laptop use, and if so, what that will consist of.
  • Agree to use self-regulating software focusing tools, like Isolator or Think, if the student is having issues focusing.
  • Agree on what operating system utilities can be used, if any, such as Exposé, LaunchPad, Mission Control and others.

Internet Use

  • Discuss and agree on what sites are acceptable.
  • Agree on what online accounts, if any, your student can create. Discuss and agree on what information can be given when creating online accounts, and who to notify, if anyone, when accounts are created.
  • Agree on sharing account information with parents. (One suggestion is to place passwords in a sealed envelope to be used only when really needed.)
  • Agree on not sharing account information with friends or acquaintances.
  • Agree not to create or use fake, alternative accounts to do harm, speak harm, or type harm.
  • Agree on not sharing personal information online. This includes information for both the student and the parents, including last name, city of residence, birthdates, place of birth, phone number and address. The school recommends this information should never be given out. (NOTE: Identity theft is high amongst minors because they have spotless credit records.)
  • Agree on what happens when students stumble across inappropriate or disturbing sites.
  • Agree that a student's digital footprint is permanent and discuss what can be posted.
  • Discuss how any content that goes online stays online indefinitely and can be copied without your knowledge.
  • Discuss that there is no way to distinguish friendly banter (a.k.a. friendly insults) from cyber-bullying because there is no tone, facial expression or body language in typed text. Agree to keep negative comments away from any digital interactions.
  • Agree to not respond to pop-up windows but to close them with Command+W.
  • Agree that nighttime is not the best time to text or hold a digital conversation. When students are tired, their ability to make good judgment diminishes, and excess drama is created unintentionally.

Social Behavior

  • Agree and discuss how to practice the Golden Rule 2.0 online (a.k.a. "Do unto others as they would like to be done unto them.").
  • Discuss that a good friend is good friend, whether online or in person.
  • Agree to practice Internet safety and protect your good name online.
  • Agree to think about who the larger audience for your communications might be. Remember, digital communication is NOT private, and CAN be forwarded or copied.
  • Discuss Instant Messaging chat usage (including random sites like Chatroullete.com), and consider time limits and allowable locations. (NOTE: The Nueva School has disabled iChat on our laptops; perhaps your school does or would consider doing the same.)
  • Discuss what content is appropriate to a chat session and what is not.
  • Discuss the impact, if any, of nighttime use of email and social sites. Typically, fatigue and general tiredness sets in and inhibits good judgment, causing unnecessary drama and/or misunderstandings.
  • Agree and discuss video conferencing. For example, are there time limits? Forbidden locations and dress?
  • Agree on whether your student will or will not be using social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.
  • Agree on using privacy settings while on any social networking sites.
  • Agree that your student will not post photos or videos of friends without their permission or tag them without permission.
  • Agree that your student will not post photos or videos of him- or herself in a compromising or revealing pose.
  • Discuss what is authentic online. Is everyone who they say they are? Is what you read fact?

Email

  • Agree on the uses of email.
  • Agree what content can be in an email, and what should be left out.
  • Discuss how emails can foster misunderstandings because there is no tone, facial expression or body language in typed text.
  • Agree not to use Reply to All unless extremely necessary.
  • Agree to avoid forwarding chain mails, jokes, or funny or cute pictures.

Music and Video

  • Agree that not all videos, music, or even websites and games are appropriate for your student. Discuss how he or she will find out what is appropriate.
  • Agree on what music the student can listen to during in-class writing times or when doing homework. Parents need to approve these writing and homework playlists. The playlist for writing at school must also be approved by the teacher. Our school recommends that students create the playlist in advance so that they are not spending their writing time trying to find songs.
  • Agree on how to handle online purchases, especially with iTunes. One good recommendation is to use iTunes gift cards. (NOTE: Our school DOES NOT back up iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, iWeb or Garageband content. We recommend that parents set up iTunes accounts without attaching a credit card to the account.)
  • Agree that you will be their friend on any social networks, IM or chat accounts they are allowed to join.
  • Agree and discuss the types of music that should be listened to. For example, different families might have different standards about explicit lyrics.
  • Agree not to download or copy music and videos from friends or unofficial websites. (This is illegal, and a consortium of media companies can sue you or your student. This is already happening in many colleges.)

Games

(NOTE: Unless your student is authorized to participate in a Game-Based Learning project, it's very likely that games are NOT allowed during class and when school is in session.)

  • Agree on what games are acceptable and when, what the curfew time is for games, and how long can your student play.
  • Agree on whether or not online social games are acceptable.
  • Agree that games can become addicting. Help your student create a path to avoid addicting applications.

Community

  • Agree to share your agreements and limitations with other families, especially during a hangout session at a friend's house.
  • Agree to have a common curfew whereby friends and their families agree to exit chat, email, and/or social networking sites at 8:00 or 9:00 PM so everyone can finish their homework and/or get ready for bed.
  • Agree to a day off Internet and devices. Select a day of the week when the entire family is computer-free and Internet-free, so that all can recharge for the upcoming week.

One final and important note: model the behavior you want at home.

If you have any additional rules or strategies that have worked in your family, please share them in the comment section below.


Please note this work protected under Creative Commons (Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States). Please credit The Nueva School for the basis for your variant.

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