Category Archives: Technology

Mind-Reading Helmets for Bomb-Sniffing Dogs

After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, many blamed the country’s failure to detect these threats on a “lack of imagination.” In response, the government did the logical thing: hired a group of science fiction writers to brainstorm potential ways to protect the country from national security breaches.

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t the logical thing. The committee was called Sigma, and Christopher Kelly, a member of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology division, justified their hiring by saying that “Fifty years ago, science-fiction writers told us about flying cars and a wireless handheld communicator. Although flying cars haven’t evolved, cellphones today are a way of life…. science-fiction writers clearly inform the debate.” While Sigma hasn’t come up with anything ground-breaking yet (among their ideas were “material that becomes armor when struck with a bullet; an antibiotic that cures martyrdom; a satellite that beams solar energy to earth; and mind-reading helmets for bomb-sniffing dogs”), perhaps the government was on to something when they decided to look towards a more futuristic angle for defense. Fast forward to the present day, and we’ve seen that cyberwarfare, a decidedly 21st century method of attack, has come to the forefront of national security concerns.

So what is cyberwarfare? The definition given by Wikipedia is “politically motivated hacking to conduct sabotage and espionage.” Now how is that applicable or dangerous to our lives?
At this point, almost everything is run on a computer grid; government functions, defense operations, companies, etc. Cyberwarfare has the potential to destroy several vital functions; while it hasn’t happened yet, many worry that cyberattacks could be use to crash the stock market and stop it from operating, take down major water lines, even seize control of air or railroad traffic or cause a nuclear meltdown. In an article by the Wall Street Journal, Stephen Flynn from Northeastern University described this potential disastrous situation: “When transformers fail, so too will water distribution, waste management, transportation, communications and many emergency and government services. Giving the average of twelve month lead that is required to replace a damaged transformer… if we had a mass damage of that scale… the economic and society disruption would be enormous.” In 2009, the Air Traffic Control system was hacked and personal information was stolen; while the attackers did not gain control of the planes themselves, penetrating the servers is still something to be worried about. Hackers in 2012 attacked a company that deals with over 60% of the oil and gas pipelines in North America. The hackers managed to steal several program files.
Outside of America, the problem is just as serious; a firm in South Korea called SK Communications was targeted, and the private information of almost 35 million people may have been stolen. An al Qaeda operative ominously proclaimed that America and its allies should be subjected to “electronic jihad” and compared the weaknesses in America’s technological infrastructure as similar to those in America’s security before the 9/11 attacks.
Certainly, America is not blameless for these attacks; we have used cyberwarfare and cyberattacks before, for example, in the case of Iran’s Stuxnet virus. Stuxnet was a virus created by the United States and Israel that infiltrated Iran’s nuclear program in 2010 and targeted Siemens equipment, which was what uranium was being enriched with in Iran. The virus, depending on the estimate, delayed Iran’s nuclear program by a few weeks to a few years.

So the question is: What can we do about it?
This is a rather complex question, especially as I have no background in creating code or hacking. But there are a few steps America should attempt to take to strengthen its defenses.
1. Hire hackers.
This may seem counterintuitive; why hire hackers if that’s exactly what you want to avoid? In order to protect us from cyberattacks, the government and businesses need to find out where their weaknesses are, and there is no better way to do this than to get hackers to find them. Google has used this approach to make its Google Chrome browser more secure, and it was relatively cheap; all they had to do was offer a moderate cash prize for anyone who could detect a major flaw or get through Chrome’s defenses.
2. Expand the STEM (science/technology/engineering/mathematics) fields.
The best way to make sure we are secure in the cyber realm is by making sure there are enough people educated in the fields that would primarily contribute to this security. Many schemes have been proposed, including incentives for people to get STEM education in college rather than humanities, or even granting visas to any immigrants who agree to get an education in the STEM field and then either start a business or get a job in it.
3. Improve our relationship with China.
This is definitely easier said than done! It is estimated in a report by Mandiant, a US cybersecurity firm, published in February 2013, that China is the source of almost 90% of cyberattacks against America. A group based in China called Ghostnet has been conducting attacks against many countries, including the United States. It’s difficult to say how we can really improve relationships with the country, but we should certainly focus on it. The Obama administration has decided to do this through the “Asia pivot”, which may actually be a bad idea as it could potentially aggravate China even further. The Asia pivot and its components could definitely use at least a thorough re analyzation before being carried out, just to ensure they don’t aggravate the possibility of even more cyberwarfare.
A number of other steps must be taken, including stricter measures taken by companies and more money directed to building up cybersecurity measures, but they would all take too long to discuss; we do need to be careful though, as the protection from cyberwarfare could potentially lead to internet censorship (Senator Joe Lieberman has proposed a bill called “Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010,” also known as “kill switch bill” which would give the president emergency power over parts of the internet). We may not need any mind-reading helmets for bomb-sniffing dogs anytime soon – but we do need to make sure the internet, and ultimately the entire country, is safe and secure.

Countries Preparing for Cyberwarfare

Countries Preparing for Cyberwarfare


Raising My Hand Online

Throughout all my years as a student, participation has always been my strongest suit. I am constantly raising my hand in class, even when most of my answers prove to be wrong. It’s difficult for me to understand concepts and think of ideas without thinking out loud to someone else. For this reason, I’m better at class discussions than in-class essays, and teachers’ comments are rarely “speak up more”.

From the start, I knew an online class would be different. Without a traditional classroom setting in which students and teacher are in one space, I knew it would be much less often that I would see other people face to face. But it was hard to really understand the dynamics of an online class until I started it, and I soon found out that it was even more unfamiliar to my previous learning experiences than I had imagined.

The first class “discussion” was incredibly nerve-wracking. Even though my hand is often the first to be raised in my offline classes, I was reluctant to post anything to this discussion until I saw several others do so. I spent a long time reading and rereading my post to make sure it didn’t sound stupid, or crazy, or wrong. I delayed participating as long as I could, and when I finally submitted I felt more anxiety, instead of relief.

I think I enjoy in-person learning and discussions more because I am able to see others’ reactions. In an offline class, the conversation adapts to everyone’s ideas and flows naturally. I can respond to my classmates’ ideas and see how they react to mine. In an online setting, I felt isolated and cut off, unsure of myself. I was less of an active learner, and more of a passive watcher.

But as the weeks have gone by, I’ve learned the value of an online education. I’ve had to significantly step out of my comfort zone and embrace a new type of participation. My learning style has changed, and I think for the better. Online discussions force me to think before I “speak”, and my contributions are more valuable for it. The ability to only share once in our discussions makes me more thoughtful and more conscious of what I’m saying. My in-school learning has been impacted as well, as I’ve learned to say less but share more valuable insights in class discussions. I’ve also discovered that stepping back can be a blessing, as now I am more attentive to everyone else’s insights and ideas, which further enhances my learning.

Even in these few weeks I have been in an online class, I have grown as a student, and I have learned so much about how I can learn more effectively. Despite the initial discomfort and anxiety, stepping out of my comfort zone and into a new learning environment has helped me in a positive way. I can’t wait to see how much I’ve changed by the end of the year.


Posted by on September 27, 2012 in Learning, Technology


Direction of Education

During this semester, I have earned an experience that includes communication, collaboration, and creativity. As I have told many before, AP Government was not my first online class. However, it was my first full semester with a teacher I have never met. Unlike some students, I came into the class with an upper hand, because I had experience with programs such as Google docs, Voicethread, and Haiku. However, I was still learning with programs such as Vimeo and WordPress, which was cool to be introduced to.

One of about 6 Voicethreads that I made during this class.

For our online class each month, we filled out a survey that I never thought people actually looked at. However, I filled out the survey, and I made a suggestion to do a group project with three or more people. Then the next week, we had a new assignment. Surprise! I was in a group with three others, and we had to create an electoral system. By being in a big group, I was able to communicate with girls who I had not before. In addition, I learned that many girls in my class were independent and forward thinkers. Because I was the only junior, I felt like I was lacking knowledge that they had, but they made sure to not let me feel that way.

The project was divided among class members, and we met weekly for discussions on Skype. Because this project had a key leader, we were given responsibilities and tasks to stay organized. Though I was not the leader in this project, it prepared me to be a leader in another. The next week after finishing the electoral system, I started a project in my normal school that required creating a wiki page and video with students from other classes. In fellow classmates’ minds, this task was daunting. However, in my mind because I was able to do a project similar to this with girls thousands of miles away, this project was a piece of cake. By taking examples from my online class, I set due dates, jobs, and started early on the project. What students learn online can be used in everyday school.

Process of making imovie with English class.

In my city, it is now a graduation requirement to take an online class. I understand the importance of trying out online classes, because opportunities that arrive with taking an online class are countless. One of my favorites is the ability to meet students around the US. Also, we met a teacher who has his own style with educating using technology. We use the Internet for information, so it makes sense to take classes online.

With the planning of next year’s classes, I am looking forward to taking another online class. My next adventure is with AP Macroeconomics. Hopefully, I will have a similar experience like with this class. Because the AP exam is in the near future, I have already started preparing. What I like about online classes is that you have so many resources for information. I can use the prep AP book I bought or review with online study guides or watch the videos of lectures. The choices are endless. But I have noticed through my studying is that I remember a lot of what we learned easily. I do not know if it is because of the videos, discussions, or reading web pages, but it worked. I’m looking forward to my exam and to finishing the class off strong.


Posted by on April 27, 2012 in 21st Century Skills, Learning, Technology


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Our Virtual Classroom, An Invaluable Tool: The Internet

In our online AP Gov class, we learn, share and communicate via the internet. The internet is the newest electronic source of news. In 2000, over half of American households had at least one computer, and today, over half of Americans have a personal computer, playing a big role in our daily lives. The internet plays a big role not only in our class, but also in politics.

In our class, the internet serves as an invaluable tool for sharing our ideas with one another for projects and for researching current events for both internal and public blogging projects. Without the internet, our class would not be possible. Using the internet as a virtual classroom has allowed for this class to be made possible. With classmates in Hawaii, California, Tennessee, Washington, Connecticut and other states, my peers and I are able to share our diverse opinions with each other without boundaries. We abide by a rule of courtesy when we share and respond to one another. The discussions we have online serve as learning experiences on how to communicate with people via the internet. In the future, most of our careers will deal with the internet, and this class prepares us for the increasingly technologically advanced world that continues to grow.

The political news that is found online ranges from summaries of stories from newspapers and magazines to political rumors. The internet is acts as a “free market” in political news where there are few regulations or controls to the facts, opinions and nonsense that are publicly posted. While some people read their newspaper online, others scan blogs for political viewpoints that offer liberal, conservative and libertarian perspectives.

Because the internet has no centralized governance or policies for access and usage, many people express themselves freely. This expression can be both helpful and destructive. Today, every candidate running for an important office has a web site. In 2004, Howard Dean ran for the Democratic presidential nomination and raised most of his money from internet appeals. However, the internet can also prove to be destructive as a major source of criticism. For example, when John Kerry was campaigning, the internet blogs served as a source of discussion and criticism of Kerry by former Vietnam war veterans.

The internet, therefore, is global system of interconnected computer networks that serves billions of people worldwide. The internet can influence people’s opinions, destroy reputations, and deliver invaluable information at incredible speed. The commercialization of the internet resulted in the internet’s incorporation into virtually every aspect of modern life. As of 2011, more than 2.2 billion people use the Internet for the various services that it provides. This global system will hopefully soon expand to include even more online opportunities for learning.


Posted by on April 25, 2012 in 21st Century Skills, Technology


The Semester of Exploration (Part II)

So it’s the end of April, and with May right around the corner, I am beginning to come to the realization that the end of my high school career is rapidly approaching. This realization brings both a longing for the past and an excitement for the future. Over the past couple of weeks, I have found myself beginning to reflect on the changes and growth that have occurred over the past few months. It is during these times of reflection that I come to realize just how much has happened, how much I have learned, and how much I have been able to grow throughout my final semester in high school.

Google Docs Collaboration

During my times of reflection, I cannot help, but think back to the first couple of weeks of AP Government. I remember our couple of assignments, my first blog post, my first group project. I remember “Learning the Tools,” becoming acquainted with every technologically fascinating tool available to our world today. Before this assignment I had never heard of VoiceThread, Google Docs, WordPress, or even RSS Feeds: all the tools that make collaboration so incredibly easy.  Through these many tools, I have been able to meet, work, and collaborate with girls from Hawaii to Texas to Tennessee. It has also been through these collaboration tools that I have learned just how possible it is to complete a group project from thousands of miles away.

This online AP Government class has granted me with countless opportunities.  Not only has the class presented me with opportunities to become proficient in vital technological tools, but it has also presented me with opportunities to grow. Because of my online class, I have been   given opportunities to explore my own beliefs and discuss varying views and opinions with people located all over the country. It has been through these discussion times that my own beliefs have changed and grown.

My Group's Electoral System

This class has also provided me with important lessons that I will carry with me throughout my life. I have learned that I am capable of challenging myself, managing my time, and am capable of being truly independent. I have also grown through learning about the American Government. Through this class, my own understanding and pride for the United States has grown. I have learned just how important my own voice is, how intricate our government is,and how beautifully diverse the American people are. I have analyzed what makes an American an “American,” I have considered the importance of Congress, have thought about our own rights and liberties, and I have even created my own electoral system. Everything that I have learned through this class has granted me with a greater understanding of our country, an understanding that I will carry with me to the polls this November.

Over the past semester, I have survived an exchange program to Spain, been accepted to college, chosen a college, and have studied the ins and outs of the American Government. At first glance, each challenge that I have been faced with may seem very separate, but I have come to realize that each challenge has complemented the other. What I learned and experience during my time in Spain has contributed to my greater understanding of and pride for the United States of America. What I have learned as a student in an online course studying government has contributed to my choosing of colleges and to my choosing a potential major. Each experience has come together, and together they have shaped my future. With all my new knowledge and with all my new experiences, I am strong in my belief that I will be able to confidently enter the world and take on every challenge with full force.

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Posted by on April 25, 2012 in Learning, Technology


The First “C”

Communication, collaboration, and creativity are three major elements that the Online School for Girls has built its philosophy of educating young women on.

Today I explored the power of that first “C” in an awesome way. Now I have to say, blogging is simply incredible because it can lead to very meaningful connections with people you’d probably never come across otherwise. For a while now this AP Gov blog has gathered a following of educators, other government students, and people who love the idea of online learning (Kudos to all of you; we love hearing your thoughts on our posts!). A small group of these people are teachers who are pursuing a master’s at St. Joseph’s College, CT and are taking a course called “Integrating Technology and Literacy”. On my first post a couple weeks ago their teacher asked if my teacher and classmates could Skype with her students about our thoughts on online learning; lo and behold, an exciting connection was born! We finally had our Skype today and the teachers asked us many intriguing questions such as the following:

“What are the advantages of maintaining a blog throughout this course? Any disadvantages?”

I said that blogging allows me to enjoy seeing how things I learned previously truly apply to my life at the moment and how I’ve seen them play out in current events. Sometimes blogging can be tough when you don’t accurately convey your thoughts to your readers both in your posts and in your comments.

“What recommendations would my classmates and I have for these teachers who want to implement blogging with their students?”

Anyone can blog, even 1st graders! I was thinking to myself that younger students could write short reflections on classwork or books they’ve been reading. It turns out that many teachers in the blogosphere have their kids do this, which I think is awesome.

“How has implementing technology helped me as a learner?”

I’ve definitely been able to collaborate on projects more efficiently. In today’s fast-paced world, efficiency is key to success. Using tools like Google Docs, Voicethread, and Google Hangout has also allowed me to communicate with students who come from different parts of the country with different approaches to projects and definitely different opinions on issues that I’ve never thought of. It’s kind of like having pen pals in the digital age…you learn so much about different environments and in the meantime help each other to grow as students.

“And what about online research — does the Internet contribute to academic dishonesty and how can students of all ages become better online researchers?”

I think the internet does contribute to academic dishonesty, so it’s important for teachers to crack down on plagiarism and cheating. At my school for example, we upload our essays to to see what percent of the words come from academic and internet sources. It’s a very effective tool for catching plagiarism. As for online researching, I personally wish I was a better database researcher. My school librarian certainly teaches us how to use our online databases, but I often find myself resorting to Google searches for assignments. If students are taught to use databases by habit, the research they put into their work will definitely be more accurate and legitimate.

For over an hour we answered these and many other questions and had a great conversation going. I realize now that the Skype chat combined a bit of the second “C” as well –collaboration. (It’s tough to be a learner without using more than one of those C’s!) We collaborated on giving this fabulous group of teachers some ideas for how to implement online learning into their classroom; in return, my classmates and I had a peek into the direction that elementary and secondary education in our country is taking. The future is definitely bright for our students!



Posted by on April 12, 2012 in 21st Century Skills, Learning, Technology


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Eleven Weeks of Learning

This past week in AP GOV really hit hard with characteristics of online learning. The project we are currently doing is one of the biggest this term and we had to work with three other partners to design a new electoral system with rules governing the media, financing, and campaigning. Considering the importance of the project and the depth of research, it is no surprise that a lot of Google hangouts and Skype sessions were required to complete the project. Although much of this technology was not new, it was definitely a more interactive process. For the most part, I had only used Goolge Docs to share documents with my teacher for grading. With this project, I got to actually jointly write a script with my group. Besides our class review Skype sessions, I also had not Skyped with more than one person before.

Looking back over the past eleven weeks, I’m not at all surprised at how far we’ve come in collaborating over the Internet. When we began AP GOV I was afraid that my lack of technological skills would impair my learning. On our first group project I spent hours trying to work through different sites like Google Powerpoint and Voicethread. Eleven weeks later, it is clear that our whole class has grown very proficient using these online tools. The directions to this recent project were informative enough to let our group know what was required information wise, but abstract enough to allow us to collaborate through creative means. For example, the page we design must have some narrated portion and instead of assigning the video to one person in the group to make by themselves, we decided to utilized voicethread so we can all contribute.

I know it may seem fairly redundant to be discussing blogging on a blog, but entering the class, this was certainly one of the areas I was most ignorant in. Overall, blogging has also become much easier than it was at the beginning of the term. As I mentioned previously, before I entered the class, I had never written or looked at a blog before and largely underestimated their importance. Besides from this public class blog, we are also expected to keep a current events blog, so needless to say, our class has received a lot of experience blogging, which will undoubtedly be more important for the future. To participate in this class, I also read a great deal of blogs and realize how enlightening it can be to discuss ideas with people who I would never otherwise come in contact with. Also, I now find that when keeping up with current events, it is most efficient to use Google Reader.

Considering all the new tools I have learned that the Internet holds, it is easy to show that Online Classes offer much more than the information one would gain from reading a textbook in a classroom. Looking at modern society, it is clear that more and more things are turning to the Internet and in this changing environment, I am confident that the girls in this online class will be prepared for these changes.


Posted by on April 9, 2012 in 21st Century Skills, Learning, Technology