As my school’s technology coordinator, part of my job is to explore the different ways our students use technology, and how that’s working for us. Are there tools we are under-utilizing? Tools we are over-utilizing? Are there concerns parents have over how their kids are interacting with technology on a daily basis?
I learned recently, not to my surprise, that the answer to the latter question was a resounding yes. Children are exposed to so much technology these days, and it is so compelling for them. How can we make sure they’re using it responsibly?
Most of my students have parents who set limits on how much technology (and of what nature) their children can use at home. But as an educator, I was interested in working with my students to explore this subject on their level. I worry that if the only reason they are putting the Xbox down is, ‘Mom said I had to,’ they won’t actually learn to self-regulate themselves and grow into well-rounded adults.
I kept thinking about the nutrition unit they do as part of the health curriculum. You wouldn’t teach a kid that he can have an ice cream sundae every day for lunch, for instance, because that isn’t healthy. Was there a way I could tie that metaphor into teaching them to use technology safely?
For my test group, I appropriated a grade two class of ten kids, all boys, who are savvy tech fiends. They have a classroom equipped with a laptop and SMARTboard. These kids actually bought their homeroom teacher an iPad for Christmas—they know their stuff. And they were eager to learn with me. So how did it go?
Lesson 1: The Technology Audit
The boys had been told very little by their teacher, other than the fact that I would be coming in to do a health unit with them. That alone was exciting; I normally teach them only in French, so it was a novelty to have me in there speaking English with them like anyone else.
For my opening gambit, I had them brainstorm a list with me of every ‘screen’ they have in their home or school. They had no trouble coming up with examples: SMARTBoards, televisions, laptops, deskptop computers, iPads, Android tablets, handheld video game systems, iPods and MP3 players … the list went on and on. I then proceeded to earn my tech cred by going through the list and circling the devices I personally owned, or had access to. Their eyes bugged out. I asked them to estimate how much time it would take me to use all the devices every day if I spent just ten minutes on each one. Their eyes bugged out some more.
Then we talked about how much stuff each of them have at their own homes, and I asked them to estimate how much time they spend per day with it. A few of them told me there are rules—many of them aren’t allowed to play games on weekdays; a few others said they can, but have time limits on how long they can play. Only one student claimed to have no time limits at all, and said he typically spends three or four hours on technology once he’s home from school. All the kids, meanwhile, said that on the weekend, all bets are off—which is exactly why I wanted to get in there and teach them about this!
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I asked them if they thought these limits were fair or not. Most of them grudgingly admitted they were, but a few also pointed out that sometimes it doesn’t seem like they’ve been on a particular device for as long as they think. Maybe it’s the ‘time flies when you’re having fun’ theory. Or maybe it’s just that they switch tasks and activities so frequently on today’s wired devices that a few minutes here and there doesn’t feel like it’s adding up the way it would if they played one game, or watched one show straight through. I introduced the phrase ‘time suck’ to them, and they got that light bulb look in their eyes.
For homework, they have to complete a log for me of one school day and one weekend day, writing down every piece of technology they use, and how long they spend on it. I want to see if their estimates reflect reality, and I want to see how different their weekend usage is from their school-night behavior.
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For my next lesson, I want to introduce the ergonomic issue in a bit more detail. I’m going to bring in a bunch of gadgets, and have them map which body parts are active (or sedentary!) when they use them. I am being careful to emphasize that it’s about balance—technology is not ‘bad,’ and there’s nothing wrong with using it. But we do need to balance our leisure activities so that we’re getting in healthy amounts of different types of activities. I want them to be aware of what’s active, what’s passive, what’s for learning and what’s just for fun.
I’ll update you next week on how lesson two turns out!