Monday, August 28, 2017

Back to Life Back to Reality

I've been teaching for almost as long as this Soul to Soul song has been out.  The lyric which I use as a title to this post always pops into my head about this time of year.  Indeed, for teachers, it really is "back to reality".

I'm entering my third year as a Tech Integration Specialist. I've learned so much over the last two years. Some high hopes have been tempered but some seeds have been planted that I hope will take root.

I've been pushing for digital portfolios for several years and now have very firm administrative backing for this effort. I admit here, dear reader, that this is a stealth campaign of sorts for larger changes I'd like to see. For if we really embrace digital portfolios, we will have to put digital artifacts into them! Also, it will force us to reconsider how and what we assess.

I'm always hopeful this time of year. Big dreams. I hope that other teachers who read this realize some of their dreams this year. If you don't dream big, you don't get disappointed. But you also don't change a whole lot.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Addicted to Technology?

I once totally dismissed concerns about too much tech use for children. I didn't (and still don't) consider technology to be inherently anti-social or isolating. I contrasted time spent on a computer with the more passive TV viewing of older generations and considered it an improvement- and still do. For generations, older folks have worried about the habits of the young. American society has bemoaned the "kids these days" for generations. This Slate article shows that at the turn of the last century, society feared the "dime store" novels were corrupting youth across Europe and the United States. I figured panic of tech use was simply more of the same of such fear-mongering. Also, I dismissed screen time concerns as excuses by teachers who were resistant to change.

Looking at myself honestly, I know I read differently than I did in the past. I find it harder to stay with a book. I read all the time on my iPad and watch very little video. It is not as if I am not reading. In fact, I'd rather read a news story than watch a news story. My twitter feeds me a steady stream ed-tech, tech, education, sports, politics news- all rich and interesting. The vast majority of these reads take less than 5 minutes. When I read a book or longer scholarly article, I have to really work at staying with it. 

It doesn't help that I have an addictive personality. For me, too much is never enough. It's why I'm twenty pounds too heavy despite exercising regularly. If some is good, more must be better! Many argue that technology is addictive. Though not addicted to my phone, I am often on my iPad- for hours a day. While I feel we use "addiction" too loosely- as one doesn't going through withdrawal when a cell phone is taken away the way a heroin addict or alcoholic does when their drug of choice is removed- the mental obsession with technology is real.

Some argue, such as Twenge does quite convincingly in this article, that kids are being psychologically damaged by too much time on social media.

In light of the news that tech is addictive and psychologically damaging, what's a school to do? Should we become Luddites and embrace the Waldorf school practice of banning technology? In addition to banning black crayons (really!) , Waldorf Schools ban TVs and computers arguing that distraction of electronic media inhibits engagement between teacher and students. Can we really put the genie back in the bottle?

I'm the first to admit that many ed-tech promises are oversold even while feeling that we really haven't tapped tech's potential in the classroom. To me, banning technology entirely seems as silly as banning the color black for a child's palette of colors.

What can we do? I offer these 5 suggestions. 
1)  Only use technology when the technology allows the lesson to be transformed (or at least Augmented according to the SAMR model). If only substituting, don't use technology! 

2)  Teach mindfulness and self-awareness in school and at home. Mindfulness leads to awareness and promotes a sense of peace within oneself. Some suggest the escapism that we can become addicted to is lessened.  

3) Explicitly incorporate instruction about screen addiction and the how to use and respond to social media by teaching digital literacy. If the research is right, we are falling into a mental health crisis that we have yet to respond to. Twenge writes that psychologically, teens today "are more vulnerable than Millennials were: Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones."  

4) Incorporate digital literacy instruction throughout the day. Talk about it in language arts and social studies. Teach it in science and health classes. 

5) Okay- only half-jokingly- how about giving kids Jitterbug phones- the "old people" phones that are advertized in AARP magazines. They just make phone calls. Perhaps we should get the addictive smart devices away from kids. 

   If this seems too extreme, have students put phones away and keep phones away at school. Insist that students talk to each other at recess and lunch. At home, parents should have students put their phones on the dining room table and leave them there for most of the night- letting them use the phones for an hour a night. Teach healthy habits. 

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