The school assignment that put a whole class in danger

Have you read about The Red Balloon school in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where a schoolteacher set her students a task to drive home to her students that good grammar still matters, even in a world dominated by social media communication?

Andrea Baena asked the children to find their favourite celebrities on Twitter and look for spelling or grammar mistakes, in their tweets. When they found the errors, students read the tweets to their classmates and described what needed correcting. Their advice was then tweeted to the stars themselves, from a school-owned Twitter feed.

Here's just one example:

Everyone is praising the teacher for her creativity. Yet, the one thing that nobody appears to notice is this –

Andrea Baena has just unwittingly provided the entire world with the names, ages, photo identification and details of the school that these young children attend…

Ok, so some are rolling their eyes at me about now. But think about it – Would you be happy that absolutely everyone and anyone now had access to your child’s full name, age, precisely where he attends school and exactly what he looks like? I wouldn’t!

These children are young. Some are only 8 or 9 years old.  I suppose the teacher thought she was doing the right thing, by using the schools Twitter account. But by doing so, as well as including the children’s more personal details, she has provided others with far too much information of underage children.

“In Australia, schools need written permission from parents to use children’s details and images on newsletters, let alone on Social Media.” Police officer Susan McLean (Susan has worked with the FBI and spent time at Facebook headquarters in America. She has also studied online behaviour in both the UK and the US.)

On Friday, I spoke at the Generation Next seminars in New Zealand and it was the third time I heard one of my colleagues, Det. Sgt. Stuart Butler, present. He is part of the Task Force Argos team, a highly specialised branch of the Police Service, responsible for the investigation of on-line child exploitation and abuse.

Stuart’s presentation is something I wish that every single parent would see. Not to develop mass hysteria about pedophile panic, but to be aware of the darker side of the net. Stuart is not anti-technology. He is pro-the-safe-use of technology, because he knows the risks and the risks have faces.


If you cannot watch the entire segment, then please at least watch between 4:57 and 6:33, where you get to see the Taskforce Argos world map.  Pins are placed on locations where potential offenders, already known to Task Force Argos, have downloaded or distributed images of children.

Stuart also reinforces and confirms my reservations about Kik (see my post here).

“Kik is known to the police to be one of the main apps used by online predators.” – It is one of the least secure. Do your research and let your children use something else!

“Kik is overtaking Facebook as the number one social media problem among young people. Online grooming, cyber bullying, sexting are rife on this app.” Senior Constable Rob Paterson.


It’s not all bad news – The positives

So, given that social networking (SN) practices are a routine part of many young people’s lives, we need to seek ways to promote the positive impacts of these, while still keeping them safe.

Assoc. Professor Jane Burns, of Young and Well CRC, has fantastic research on how older teens (16 – 25 year olds) have become more techno savvy and cyber safe than ever before. Some of the main areas that stand out in research, with teens themselves, are:

  • Children and teens actually do learn a lot from school based cyber safety lessons. So teachers, you are doing a great job!
  • Teens genuinely value their parents interactions and believe that adults need to get involved more, online (by creating their own SN sites etc.).
  • Older teens are more aware of the vigilance needed in using privacy settings online, than ever before.
  • Parents need to be talking with (not lecturing at) their children often, about their online privacy settings and online behaviours.
  • Older teens are keen to mentor younger users, through discussing pitfalls, personal mistakes and providing advice. They are a great resource that teachers and parents should be engaging, as part of cyber safety lessons.


So let’s get back to the teacher at The Red Balloon school.

What did this teacher do well?

  • She attempted to use the Internet, (her student’s world) to excite and engage them in the learning process.
  • She used a topic (pop musicians and movie stars) that they could relate to.
  • She did not allow young children to go online, unsupervised.
  • She encouraged the children to be polite online.


What could teachers do better?

  • Create a Twitter handle, (new account) specifically for the purpose of her English lesson. e.g @schoolenglish1 or @myclass44 – This protects the privacy of the school also.
  • Set up a competition for the children to create an avatar that will go with the new twitter handle. (An avatar is something used to represent you in an online environment. Usually in the form of a small picture)
  • Create a class mascot, such as a stuffed toy or a decorated ruler to use in the attached images, instead of personal photos.
  • Use this task as an opportunity to teach guidelines about sharing personal details, names, last names, ages and addresses online.
  • Ask high school students to come in an chat with and mentor the young students, about the benefits and the risks of SN sites.
  • Ask the children about any tech speak or online terms they already know about, which are not necessarily grammatically correct. (BFF – Best Friends Forever, YOLO – You Only Live Once, etc.)
  • Still have a fun lesson tweeting celebrities and correcting their grammar. This should be done as a whole class exercise, on an interactive whiteboard, with an adult present. (Keeping in mind that Twitter only allows for 140 characters, and is not meant to be grammatically correct anyway.)

 ”Like burglars, online predators are lazy and will seek out the places most unprotected. Don’t ban the internet, just make sure your child’s online home is the most secure.” Susan McLean, ‘The Cyber Cop’

Family internet agreements –

Collett Smart is a registered psychologist, qualified teacher, speaker, writer and parenting consultant. Collett has been working with children for almost 20 years and had the unique opportunity of working with families in Australia, New Zealand, the UK and Africa. Collett’s professional advice is regularly sought in the media.

Follow her on Twitter: @collettsmart.