Firewall, What Firewall? The Top Four Tech Hacks For Teachers

Districts block plenty of sites that are handy in the classroom. Here's how to get around those restrictions.

If you're a teacher, you've probably read about all the great ways Google+ can be used in the classroom, or how to use Twitter to engage shy students, and if you're a teacher working at a school that bans all those sites, you might feel a little frustrated. Some schools even ban educationally useful sites like National Geographic—after all, no district wants to get sued by an irate parent because their child saw nude pictures taken in a remote village halfway across the globe. But even if your school district bans sites that are educational, there are ways around those firewalls. Whether you're a techie or a novice, we've found four hacks that will get you online in a jiffy.

1) Buy your own VPN: A virtual private network runs on the internet but keeps all of your transmissions secure and away from prying eyes, like that of your district's IT administrator. My friend James teaches in Qatar, where sites that "could potentially show the Middle East in a bad light" or "go against Islam (any site that might have a woman in a bikini or something)" are blocked. To get around this, he says educators simply band together to buy a VPN. You can get a good VPN router on Craigslist or eBay for about $200. Just install it on a home computer, and then you and your colleagues can login remotely from your school site and access the resources you need for your students.

2) Get a wireless card: If a VPN sounds overwhelming, a wireless card might be for you. Almost all of the major cell phone carriers offer them—they range from $50 to $100 per month—all you have to do is plug it into the USB port on your laptop and in an instant, you're surfing on Sprint or AT&T's network instead of your school district's. And, if you have a Mac, you can share the love with your colleagues. Simply go to "sharing," then to "internet sharing" and select the wireless card. Then, any laptop in range can pick up your wireless network. Keep in mind, though, depending on how many computers are online, the connection might get a little slow.

3) Purchase a MiFi device: MiFi's are small wireless routers that act as mobile WiFi hotspots. You simply connect your MiFi to your mobile phone's wireless connection and you can connect up to five computers within 30 feet of you. The hardware will run you a one-time fee of $50 to $100.

4) Use HotSpot Shield: Several teachers told me they use HotSpot Shield, a free download that masks your IP address and bypasses firewalls. Unlike the other options, you don't need a laptop for this, so its perfect for a classroom desktop. This handy video walks you through how to download and use it:

Yes, some of these methods may be questionable or outright banned by your local school district. Proceed at your own risk because, ahem, we aren't liable if you get busted.

Illustration by Josh Gallagher

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