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”

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Middle School: Top Ten Things to Know

The following is an open letter from my boss, Steve Hall, Head of Middle School at Westminster Christian Academy, to our parents. It’s one of my favorite pieces about teaching and parenting young teens.

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Dear Parents,

The middle school years are a unique time of life.  It is crazy, wonderful, exciting and baffling. As a public service, I’d like to share with you some basic truths about the middle school student living in your home. In the style of the late night shows, I’d like to share with you the Top Ten Things You Should Know About Your Middle School Student

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10.  Each student has one compelling mission each day: avoid embarrassment! It is true that most students believe everyone is watching them at all times. Each student believes a misplaced word, a stumble in the hallway or a failure to meet the unwritten rules of middle school culture — though, in reality, unknown to all — will be seen and remembered forever by all classmates. Parents, don’t take it personally if they don’t want to hug in public anymore.

9.  Although all outward evidence suggests otherwise, you are a very important person to your child, and your child feels more secure and valued when you care enough to talk with them about anything and everything. Don’t let the rolling eyes or mock disdain deter you. It’s one of those unwritten rules they have to follow as teenagers.

8.  You will require a haz-mat suit and gas mask to handle the unique aromas coming from young teenagers. You have never, ever encountered anything quite like a classroom containing the smells of sweat, an overabundance of body spray and perfume, wet socks and hot, breathing children following PE class. The truth is that kids are self-conscious about the changes that create these issues. It’s a time of a great deal of change in height, weight and appearance. Your child needs a proper diet, plenty of sleep and good hygiene. Be courageous as parents and talk about these changes. The more you talk about them, the easier the discussions will become. Continue reading “Middle School: Top Ten Things to Know”

Building a Better Brain

  1. Snooze time
    It is essential that children get the proper amount of rest. Follow the recommendations of your pediatrician – at least eight hours per night. Not only will your kids be more alert and ready to learn, they will have much happier attitudes. Set a bed time for your child and stick to it.
  2. Exercise that brain
    Your child’s brain is like a sponge ready to soak up everything it comes across. Age appropriate games help to stimulate his mind and gain many varied skills. Board games, building blocks, puzzles, checkers and chess are just a few examples of games that also build smarts. Continue reading “Building a Better Brain”

The Power of No (Part 3)

Young teenagers often “cross the line.” It’s inevitable, so it should not surprise us. Yet, we should not just acquiesce to the lowest common denominator: “Boys will be boys.”

It’s our job as adults to help young boys and girls to live well and to move towards becoming young men and women. Adolescence should be a growth process, not a static state of being, or worse yet, a window of time in which to act like a dumb animal. Saying to kids, “No, you won’t do that,” is vital to a civil society.

Young men and women need adults to speak up, but it’s scary sometimes to be the bad guy.  For example, it can be intimidating for even a grown man to tell a teenage boy to pull his pants up, for goodness sake (click here for that story).

Being the bad guy is easier said than done, and as a parent, teacher, and coach, I often fail to hold kids to account. Continue reading “The Power of No (Part 3)”

The Race to Nowhere

The Race to Nowhere is a film that will make you think deeply about what a good education looks like.  It will challenge your beliefs about the nature of homework, AP classes, and college preparation.  You will re-think what a “successful kid” should do in middle school, high school, and college because, in many ways, what we as a society think about that fundamental question is dead wrong.

Whether you are a parent, teacher, or administrator, this is a must-see documentary because it points out some very powerful flaws in our educational system and offers some good solutions.  Unlike other recent films about American schools, it does not demand more from students, parents, and teachers; in many ways it asks for less.  It will get you thinking and talking.

There are more screenings popping up around the country, and it will eventually be a DVD to purchase.  Check it out.

If this trailer resonates with you, and you’d like a greater sense of what this movie is all about, here is what the filmmakers suggest parents do in response to their film:

Continue reading “The Race to Nowhere”

Making Homework More Palatable

Cheri Lucas, a journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area, is a writing aide at Corte Madera Middle School in Portola Valley, California.

After a sun-drenched summer of family trips and dips in the swimming pool, students may find themselves in a slump come September. Your child may not be motivated to undertake a new weekly schedule, especially one with homework each day. So how can he make the transition into a new school year? Here’s how:

  • Don’t Ditch the Fun. Making a big deal about going back to school – from shopping for supplies to buying new textbooks – implies that because summer is over, fun and freedom must come to an end. Try a different mentality: don’t make too-drastic changes in your child’s daily schedule. Allow her to continue to relax as she’s done in the summer – just limit her playtime a bit. Bottom line? You can’t – and shouldn’t – switch her abruptly into study mode simply because the seasons change.
  • Say Goodbye to “Homework.” “Eliminate the word homework from your vocabulary,” suggest authors Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller, who maintain www.uncommon-parenting.com.  Replace homework with the word “study,” for instance. Engage in “study time” instead of “homework time,” and work at a “study table” instead of a “homework table.” “This word change alone will go a long way towards eliminating the problem of your child saying, ‘I don’t have any homework.’ Study time is about studying, even if you don’t have any homework,” say Moorman and Haller.
  • Study Outside the Box. Create a quiet, comfortable homework space in an unusual location in the house. Sitting behind a desk may feel uninspiring — what about reading in a papasan chair on the patio, or plopping down on the floor in a cozy corner with a laptop tray, which doubles as a table? If your child is forced to sit upright like a stiff board, she won’t get comfortable when doing her work.

Continue reading “Making Homework More Palatable”

Our Friend, Failure

I once heard a speaker named Dan Miller at an educator’s conference tell the audience about how he learned to fly an airplane.  First, you should know that he is disabled from polio as a teenager to the extent that he can only use one arm, and he walks with a serious limp.  His sickness had canceled his first flying lesson; becoming a pilot was his childhood dream.

In his autobiography, he admits that “Planes require two good hands and two good legs to work the controls, yokes, radio, and rudder pedals.  ‘Airplanes crash,’ they would say.  ‘You’ll kill yourself.’  ‘You only have one good arm.’ ‘Your legs are too weak.’  I heard a lot of dream-breaker statements… My first lesson was awful!  I had to reach across my body for the flaps, throttle, and trim.  Every time I’d reach for them, the plane would dip, tip, and do everything but fly straight and level.  I went all over the sky.  I couldn’t fly.  My lesson was a total failure.  But I could give up on my dream yet… The next try, though still not good, was better.  I tell people, ‘If it worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly at first.’

Dan eventually got his pilot’s license and has enjoyed many years of flying adventures.  He also taught himself to play golf with only one arm, and he’s good.  He scores in the mid-80’s regularly and has a hole-in-one to his credit.  Impressive.

Anything worth doing well is worth doing poorly at first.  That is wisdom for all ages.  We need to embrace failure as a friend who is honest enough to tell us that we still need to work harder, listen to others, think more clearly, and learn more information. Failure has something to teach us every time.  That’s what makes people successful — learning from mistakes and persevering slowly toward the goal.

Consider this…

Whether it’s a left-handed layup, a math problem, or a new technological skill, kids need to be encouraged to do things poorly at first, then a little better each time, until they make real progress.  Then encourage them some more.  “See! I knew you could do it! You have improved so much! I’m proud of you. Really proud.”

Try it.

Continue reading “Our Friend, Failure”

Chess Builds Brains

Chess is one of the best educational games of all time.  Even the most casual player will admit that the game forces you to think critically —  just to stay alive and not look like a fool.  There is no way to simply stroll through even a single move in chess.  You must think creatively and carefully before each move.  And while some may say that kids today are not capable of sitting still for an hour to play a game that has no electric power source, there are millions of kids today proving that assumption wrong.  Kids who play chess will tell you that it’s fun and challenging and they wish more kids would join in with them.

Now, there are other games which require similar thinking skills, but there may not be a better game for sheer educational value.  The number of thoughts per minute is staggering.  Offensive options, defensive trouble-shooting, cause-effect relationships, spatial awareness, calculating numbers, imagination, and creative thinking are just a few of the thought processes that are involved in every move.

Continue reading “Chess Builds Brains”

Just Believe in Yourself

“Just believe in yourself, and you can achieve anything.”

“Pursue your dream, and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it.”

“If you dream it, you can be it.”

Countless movies, songs, TV shows, and motivational speakers have preached this message.  And countless teachers, coaches, and counselors preach the same message.  Parents teach their children the same.

So, why would any young person ever doubt it?  Most believe it 100% — until they experience enough reality that they realize that it’s a lie that adults tell to make children (and themselves) feel good. It’s just like the Easter Bunny, Santa Clause, and the Tooth Fairy.  It’s something that feels good and right at the time, but eventually, life reveals that it’s just not true.

basketballHow many boys have spent hours each day playing basketball in the driveway because they knew that they could one day play in the NBA?  How many make it?  How many can even reach the simple goal of dunking?  I know I tried everything to dunk, only to find that I was just not able, no matter how much I believed, how much I practiced, or how much I learned.  I wasn’t good enough to play in college either.  I wish someone (or several people) had told me something a lot more truthful, such as, “Quit trying to dunk and spend more time shooting because your only chance at playing in college is as a shooting guard.  But don’t count on it, since the odds are extraordinarily stacked against it.  Studying is much better for you than playing so much basketball.”

How many girls have spent endless hours singing in order to make it in the music business.  How many make it?  How many can even reach the simple goal of getting the lead part in their high school musical?  How many high school musical leads get a recording contract?  How many girls will be the next Miley Cyrus or Beyonce?  What percentage of American Idol contestants succeed in getting fame?  For millions of girls, it just doesn’t happen — no matter how much they believe in themselves and practice and learn and believe some more.  It’s a fantasy.

It hinders kids to tell them that they can do whatever they put their mind to.  And that’s in addition to the fact that it is a lie.  It may be easy, feel-good advice, but it’s not true and it’s not helpful.

So what’s the solution?

Continue reading “Just Believe in Yourself”

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