High-Tech Tools in Schools

Too Much Tech at School?

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is a popular trend sweeping schools this year. Schools with BYOD policies will be asking students to bring an Internet-Connected Mobile Device (smartphones, tablets, laptops) to school each day. Many educators believe that in the very-near future most books for school (textbooks, novels, workbooks) will be stored on a digital device instead of stuffed in a locker or backpack. This new movement is being met with some excitement, some trepidation, and lots of questions.

As with all new high-tech devices, there is an awkward break-in period, in which developers rapidly create new applications and accessories, users experiment excitedly with various functions, and society struggles to manage the consequences. It takes at least a decade for the dust to settle. Just think of the cell phone. It’s been around for twenty years, and people are still struggling with how to use it in a productive but healthy way. We still lack a standard set of “rules of the road” for cell phones. Since BYOD is just beginning, I would like to offer my own set of questions and concerns.

I own a MacBook and an iPad, and they are tremendous tools for me as a teacher and a writer. I use them daily, and they serve me well. They are not evil inventions. Far from it. As with every bit of technology, they are not immoral. The devil is in the details of their usage.

Whether it’s an iPhone, iPod, or iPad, it is a multi-functional devices that is not a simple educational tool. It is a video camera, a Facebook device, a YouTube player, a video game console, an email station, a texting device, a music and video player, among countless other fun applications.

Michael Simon, in his new book titled The Approximate Parent, says “Digital media is ever-present and incredibly attractive to teen brains — especially teen brains that register novelty, risk-taking and the feeling of connection as highly pleasurable. The Internet, gaming, and use of social media are addicting.” We need to realize that these devices are not just another tool in a line of educational tools, the way the VHS followed the film strip projector.

There is an age-appropriate time and place for these digital devices, and I believe it is our task as parents and educators to make those decisions for the young people in our care. This is no small task. In fact, Continue reading “High-Tech Tools in Schools”

Parenting Digital Kids

Life Beyond the Screens

If you ask most teens what item is their most prized, important possession, they will say it’s their smartphone. In fact, I’ve heard teens say that if they could only take one thing on a deserted island it would be their smartphone, in spite of the fact that it would be useless once the battery dies. A lot of kids use their phones constantly and are addicted to the internet. They sleep with them and answer text messages in the middle of the night. They absolutely panic when they can’t find it or when someone takes it from them for even a second. They are quite open about it too; they admit that it’s a vital part of their existence.

 

The concern about technology’s impact upon the social, emotional, and spiritual development of our boys and girls is growing. “The average amount of time a preteen spends in front of a “screen” (including TV, DVD, video player, pre-recorded programming, video game, computer, etc.) is approximately 37 hours per week. This reality is in sharp contrast to the 7-14 hours per week recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.” (tweenparent.com)

Continue reading “Parenting Digital Kids”

Introducing Kids to Nature

How to Turn Kids On To Nature

I can’t tell you how many times one of my middle school students has melted down because he or she could not find his or her cell phone. They just come unglued.

Most kids are hooked on their screens. In fact, many of them are better named “screenagers,” addicted to digital images and text. They bounce from their cell phone screen to their television screen to their computer screen to their iPad screen, and in many cases their screens are all on at the same time. It’s quite an exciting existence to the average teenager. They can’t think of anything more interesting than laying on a comfortable couch in front of a satellite-connected high-definition TV, with their smartphone and X-Box controller on the coffee table, their iPad on the lap, and the computer nearby (just in case). If you think I am exaggerating, just ask a teenager if they think that sounds like a nice way to spend a summer day.

These screens are more like screen-doors or screen-windows than windows to the real world. You can see and hear things to some extent, but the clarity and depth perception is inferior. You are not fully in the world, even though you can hear and see and maybe even feel some of what’s happening out there. These digital doorways are virtual experiences at best.

The best way we can unhook them is not to take away all their screen time and tell them to go read a book. The answer is to get them hooked on something even more interactive and real than what’s on their screen. And what better antidote for digital addiction than fishing, hiking, or hunting?

Jake Hindman, an agent with the Missouri Conservation Department and a true outdoorsman, speaks to adults around the state about how to get kids interested in the outdoors. Here is a summary of his 3-point sermon: Continue reading “Introducing Kids to Nature”

Mister Rogers

I’m a huge Fred Rogers fan, so I was skeptical when I heard about the video remix recently done about him. I expected something satirical and mean-spirited, so I watched with my guard up. Instead, we have this.

There are so many things to learn about in this world and so many people who can help us learn.” – Fred Rogers

Thank you, John D. Boswell, for making this video. And thank you, Fred Rogers, for being a great man, a great teacher, and for leaving behind a great body of work for children throughout the world. Rest in peace, Mister Rogers.

A Revolution Is Upon Us

This from a CNN article titled, “Is the Internet hurting children?” by Chelsea Clinton and James P. Steyer, Special to CNN.

Howard Gardner, a professor and researcher at the Harvard Graduate School of Education who developed the concept of multiple intelligences, calls kids’ use of digital media and technology “epochal change.” He compares the revolution in digital media to the invention of the printing press because of its extraordinary impact on the way we communicate, share information and interact with one another. As a society, we have no choice but to engage with this new reality and work to ensure that it affects our kids in healthy, responsible ways.

I absolutely agree with this notion that we are passing through a threshold of societal change, and it’s the kids who are the pioneers. We are passing from one era to the next, and we are all pretty clueless about the ramifications. Click here to read the article for yourself. It is brief but well-written. Continue reading “A Revolution Is Upon Us”

The Electronic Paradox – Part 1

My cell phone is not smart, my television is not thin, and my car plays cassette tapes. It’s not that I can’t afford better technology, it’s just that I don’t want to own all the latest, greatest techno-gadgets. I’ve chosen to be a “late adopter” or a “casual user” of technology. It’s not that I don’t like electronic toys; in fact, I am prone to love gadgets too much. After all, I grew up in the 80’s when electronic gadgetry really took off, and I know that I can be easily seduced into the eternal vortex of buying new electronic gear. So to avoid electronic addictions, I try to steer clear of Best Buy and its seductive advertisements, and yet I love my MacBook and all that it allows me to experience: my blog, three email accounts, FaceBook, Twitter, Netflix, Hulu, and free access to countless fascinating articles online.

Personally, I vacillate with my use of new technology. For two years, I used an Apple iPod Touch as my personal digital assistant. It served as my calendar, address book, list maker, internet browser, and it contained dozens of apps to help me stay organized and informed. I carried it with me all day, every day, until I lost it in the woods on a hunting trip, ironically (I wonder what the squirrels and worms think of it). Ultimately, I decided to replace it with the old paper calendar / day-timer system because I realized that I had become addicted to that little handheld internet-connected device. I couldn’t NOT look at it for more than an hour, and typically I would quickly check something (email, Facebook, or the news) anytime I had a minute to kill. I didn’t want to struggle with digital addiction anymore, so I went low-tech to gain back some of my humanity. Continue reading “The Electronic Paradox – Part 1”

How Do We Live With Our Cell Phones?

We are all in the midst of a cultural revolution, and it’s in the palm of our hands.  We are trying to figure out how to use all these internet-connected mobile devices in a healthy way.  We are fumbling in the dark, as we attempt to use new, powerful tools to live better lives. And yet very few, if any, people are able to proclaim, “This is how you do it.”  In fact, it may be a decade before we establish a healthy set of public safety laws and social morays related to digital devices.

As parents and teachers, we wonder how to handle the iPad, the DVR, and the smartphone in ways that are healthy for our kids. Some are eschewing these digital devices outright, due to a host of fears or utter frustration. Others are welcoming everything that Apple spits out, trusting that Steve Jobs and his successors know what is best for us.  However, most of us are somewhere in the middle, looking around, wondering who has some wisdom.

We look to others for answers, as we consider our own values, and very few people seem to have it figured out.

Now that summer is here, I will be writing more on this topic in the months to come, and I welcome any suggestions, comments, and questions on the topic.

I’ll be considering this train of thought: “What technology makes easy is not always what nurtures the human spirit.” (Sherry Turkle)

For more on this, visit Sherry Turkle’s TED Talk