SchoolFamily Voices

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Someone sent me a link to an article called How To Get Students To Stop Using Their Cellphones in Class. I was particularly interested in it because kids have a hard time putting their phones away and ignoring them. I was hoping for some strategies to share with those who really need to be paying attention in class rather than being distracted by their phones. Unfortunately, what stood out the most in the article was a statement from Larry Rosen, a research psychologist and professor emeritus at California State University, Dominguez Hills.  According to Rosen, “In experiments, [he] has shown that students' heart rate and other vital signs spike when they hear their phones ring and can't answer them. He says that putting the phones in sight, but out of reach, even when turned off, will only increase that anxiety and the distraction that comes with it.” This worried me, and made me wonder if students really are addicted to their cell phones. Up to this point, I had dismissed that thought as somewhat alarmist.

WebMD lists the signs of drug addiction. Some of these signs are eerily like what I see in my students (and, yes—me, too). This list is only part of the longer list on WebMD. I chose the ones that seem to relate to possible cell phone addiction.

  • You need more and more of the substance (in this case cell phone use) to get the same effect.
  • You feel strange when not using it.
  • You cannot stop yourself from using it.
  • You have a hard time setting limits on its use.
  • You’ve lost interest in things you used to like to do.
  • You drive or do other things you should not be doing while using it.
  • You have trouble getting along with others.
  • You need more and more of the substance (in this case cell phone use) to get the same effect.

It is easy to see how cell phone use relates to each of these signs. Perhaps as parents and teachers we need to begin thinking of ways to help our children take charge of their phones rather than allowing the phones to run their lives. Personally, I have started purposely leaving my phone in the house when I am working outside and limiting how much I stay on it. When at work, I only check it once an hour rather than every few minutes like I used to do. I must admit, it was hard at first, but it is much easier now that I have been doing it for a while. Read through this list of symptoms and think about your child. Is it possible he is addicted? He may need to be encouraged to change his behavior. I believe it is worth taking action to improve!

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Websites are cluttered with multiple windows and articles as well as advertisements. The extra information on each page can make it difficult to read what you really want to read. This is especially true for students who are distractible or have attention deficits. “Readability” is a free app that makes reading so much easier. It removes the clutter from the screen, enlarges the font, and focuses on the one article you select to read. It is very easy to install and works through Google Chrome as an add-on or an app on your iPad, iPhone, or Android device.

To get Readability for Google Chrome, open Chrome and go to this download page. Select “Install Now,” wait a few seconds, and you are ready to go. An icon appears on the menu bar in the upper right corner that looks like a red sofa. When you find an article you want to read, click the icon and select from the menu—“Read Now,” “Read Later,” or “Send to Kindle.” If you select “Read Now,” the add-on will clean up the screen (this takes a few seconds) and open the article all by itself. There is nothing to distract the reader

To get the Readability app, follow the appropriate links found on Readability’s frequently asked questions page. To use it, open the app, click the add icon (a plus sign), and copy and paste the URL where the article you want to read is found. You then have the option to “Read Now,” or “Read Later.”

When I evaluate reading material or textbooks for my students, I always pay attention to the amount of clutter on each page. Reading comprehension can be affected by a poorly designed page. Websites can be very difficult for many students because there is so much that they need to ignore. The Readability add-on can help these students in school to be able to focus on what is important. Check it out. It’s free and easy to use!


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Many students have trouble keeping up with everything they are supposed to do each day. This is especially true when they move from middle to upper school, where teachers expect them to be more independent. I recently discovered a great free app that can help. It is called myHomework Student Planner and is available for free for iPhone, iPad, and Android.

The app allows you to set up your schedule of classes, enter assignments, assignment types (test, project, paper, etc.), due dates, reminders, and priority levels. I really like that you can set up a myHomework account online and enter data from your computer rather than entering everything on a smartphone. The account will sync to your phone (or iPad) with a simple command. You can view upcoming as well as late assignments.

This is the kind of app that will take some time to set up. Once it is all set up, it should be pretty easy to maintain. If your child is really disorganized, you will need to help him set it up and enter homework assignments. You might need to remind him daily to keep it up-to-date until it becomes a habit. Many students need help breaking a long-term project up into manageable tasks, too. Each task needs to be entered separately into the app with reminders set far enough in advance to give time to complete it by its due date.

The ultimate goal is for him to manage the app by himself, but many struggling students can’t do that without assistance up front.

The app does not have the capability to enter other obligations on the calendar. However, it is simple enough to enter family events and ball games by entering them as homework due at a particular date and time.

There are other options for calendar systems that sync from computer to phone. It doesn’t really matter which system students use as long as they do have a reliable, easy-to-use system. Managing time well is a necessary skill for success in school and life.

For more time management tips, read You Can Teach Your Teen How to Manage Time Effectively.

Last week, I was invited to the middle school where I work to hear student presentations. Their assignment was to create a project using Explain Everything that had several slides. The purpose of the presentation was to introduce themselves to one another and their guests (their new principal and me). I enjoyed their presentations a lot. The students did a wonderful job and were proud of what they created. I was also intrigued by the app they used to create their presentations.

Explain Everything is available for iPad and Android for $2.99. You can watch a video about it on their website. What I liked about it the most is that it is simple to learn to use, yet a very powerful tool for creative minds. Students can write text, annotate, illustrate by drawing, import videos or photos, create movies, and much more. Their work is automatically saved as they work. It can be played back in presentation mode, or exported into a variety of formats to share with others.

There are so many free or inexpensive apps available that it is hard to wade through them all to find really good ones. I would be interested to hear from you if you have found educational apps that your child likes to use. Please comment! You might be interested in these other blogs about apps that I use with students:

Creative Ways To Make and Use Flash Cards
Voice-to-Text Software = Great Homework Tool for Kids Who Have Difficulty Writing
Technology Solutions for Reading and Writing Difficulties

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Before very long, it will be time for the first test of the school year. Tests can be stressful, especially when students have not prepared well enough. Many students learn by studying flash cards. They are a great study method because students can study by looking at one side of the card, remembering what is on the other side, and then turning it over to see if you were right. They can be mixed up to practice the questions in different orders. And students can remove cards from the deck that they already know. There are several ways to study using this technique.

First is to create flash cards using index cards. An advantage of using actual cards is that students can add colorful drawings that might help them remember what is on the other side of the card. Or when they are taking the test, they can close their eyes and picture the cards in their brain. They also allow students to manipulate the cards which makes the activity kinesthetic (using muscles). This can help students to remember better. They are very inexpensive, as well. The down side is that they are easy to lose and require an envelope or pouch to keep up with them.

A second way is to use an app such as Flashcard Machine, which is available for iPhone, Android, and Kindle Fire. This app is very inexpensive, maybe even less than using index cards which are used up quickly and must be replaced. With Flashcard Machine, you or your child would purchase the app through the normal channels for his device and then go to the website to set up the account. Your child needs to log onto both the app on your device and on the website. He can create his own sets of study cards or use thousands of cards other people made. The cards are synchronized to his iPhone (or other device) where he studies simply by tapping the card to see the other side. An advantage of making flash cards this way is that your child has them with him everywhere he goes, and he can study them when he is just sitting waiting on something to happen. (No one will even know he is studying!) The downside is that there is no way to add a picture.

Another option to explore is Quizlet which works similarly to Flashcard Machine. Or have your child make a folding vocabulary chart like you find here.

Whatever method you and your child choose, remember that making the cards or chart is only step one of studying. Your child also has to spend time practicing over and over until he can answer every card correctly without looking at the answers.

Best wishes as you begin the new school year. I, for one, am ready for my students to come back. A school building without any kids in it is no fun at all.


> What Is Your Child's Learning Style?

> Math Flash Cards

Parents often ask me what they should look for when deciding whether a website or app will be helpful to their children. If the purpose of the site or app is for kids to learn something, there are several important key elements. Evaluate each of the following:

  • How "busy” is the site? Is there so much activity on the screen that it is hard to decide what is important? Free websites and apps have to put advertisements on the screen in order to pay their expenses. As long as the advertisements are not inappropriate for children to see, this might not be a problem. But, if there are more ads than content, it is hard for kids to find what they are supposed to be watching and doing. In that case, not much learning happens.
  • Is the content accurate? I have seen apps that confuse kids more than teach them. I suggest that parents do the activities and play the games to make sure what the apps are teaching is correct.
  • Are the activities actually teaching the content, or are they hindering real learning? For example, if the purpose of the app is to teach cursive handwriting, playing a game that encourages you to write too quickly might mess up what was taught. Or, if the site penalizes you for answering too slowly, a child with slow processing will be frustrated playing it and will not learn from it.
  • Does your child like to use the app or website? It should be easy to figure out how to use and be fun to do. If not, look for another. There are millions of websites and apps available for little or no cost. I like to look at educator websites to get ideas for good places to go.
  • Does the app or website provide appropriate feedback for right and wrong answers? The app should provide help for wrong answers so children can figure out what the right answer is.

It takes a little effort to find the best websites or apps that promote learning, but the time is well spent when you find a great learning tool for your child.


> For Students, Parents, and Families, There Are 26 Tops Apps for That

> Necessary Skills for Students in the Digital Age

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Summer is a great time to develop responsibility in your children. Many parents plan wonderful activities to keep their children busy over the summer. Camping, swimming, trips to the park, vacationing—all are important family adventures. These events are when important family memories are formed. But summer can be even more important in terms of developing responsibility in children. And this happens at home every day of the summer.

Children of any age can begin to understand what it means for another person to rely on them. As an adult, people rely on us all the time. For example, we remember to pick up our children from school. We pick up groceries for supper. We do laundry so our family has clean clothes to wear. I could go on and on listing things we do because others rely on us to do it. We are dependable.

The ability to be dependable does not automatically happen. For students who struggle to remember things they are supposed to do, or others who have difficulty with executive functioning, there are strategies that can help.

First and foremost, your son has to remember what he is supposed to do. He needs to have chores to do every day. He could feed the family pet, load or unload the dishwasher, make his bed or do some laundry. (My own children started doing their laundry at age eight, and it was a lifesaver for me.) Some of us need to make a list and post it in a prominent place before we remember everything we are supposed to remember. Others do well with electronic calendars such as google calendar (go to google.com and click on calendar). Most smartphones have a calendar app installed when you purchase the phone. If not, there are many free calendar apps available such as aCalendar (for the Android phone) or Agenda (for the iPhone).

Second, your daughter may need incentives to encourage her to do what she is supposed to do. My daughter uses Allowance Manager on her iPhone to reward her sons when they complete their chores. Then, when shopping, if the boys see something they would like, she checks their bank balance to see whether they have earned enough to purchase what they want.

Third, it needs to be clear what it is you want your children to do. They need to understand what they are held responsible for and what the reward will be for doing it (if anything). Adolescents are not aware of how they can contribute to the family without being taught. Learning these things early will make their whole life easier. When they have their own family, they will be a responsible parent and teach their own children how to do the same.

Make this summer a life-changer for your children. Teach them how to be responsible members of the family. Remember, too, that there is no greater reward than a big hug and “I love you,” coming from you.

File this under What will they think of next?”

We all know that smartphones are hugely popular. (Some of us have them and wouldn’t be without them, Yours Truly included.) And we generally know that apps for said smartphones are plentiful, varied, quirky, helpful, and generally curious.

We’ve come up with our list of the top 26 apps for students, parents, and families. Why? Because these apps can make life easier. Not better, mind you; just easier.

That said, some apps are, well, simply over the top. Take Geico’s BroStache (allows you to speak via your smartphone with a “mustache”), and the Bowel Mover app, which tracks…yeah, you guessed it (though, come to think of it, this might be a good app for parents who are potty-training their toddlers!).


Take our poll: Does your baby or toddler find your smartphone irresistible?


But how about apps that turn your smartphone into child’s play—literally? Fisher-Price sells hugely popular apps (700K downloads+) that the toy giant calls “Apptivity” sets. The apps go hand-in-hand with hardware that protects your smartphone. The “Laugh & Learn Apptivity Case” for iPhones and iPods is for babies 6 months and older. The cases have handles and rattles, and they protect your smartphone (or iPod) from your baby’s drooling, teething, and misdials while she’s playing with it. For toddlers age 3 and up, there’s the “Kid-Tough Apptivity Case” for your iPhone or iPod Touch. This case comes with a clear screen that protects against your little guy’s sticky fingers (and spilled glasses of milk, we presume). It also has a hole so that your toddler can take photos with your smartphone’s camera.

Are these apps over the top? Giving babies expensive smartphones to play with? As moms, many of us relented at some point and let our babies play with our car keys (which were full of germs and just gross), until that one time when (some of us) went to take the keys back only to find that they were missing (dropped by baby many, many steps ago). And, sure, your baby is just as fascinated today by your smartphone. But downloading apps for your baby to play on the phone?

Am I just getting old? Or, instead, do I just think that my $300+ smartphone isn’t a toy...




Do you allow your children to watch TV or play on the computer before doing their homework?