SchoolFamily Voices

Join our bloggers as they share their experiences on the challenges and joys of helping children succeed in school.

Does Technology Help or Hinder Students' Development?

Tim Elmore writes about teaching leadership to young people. I have written about some of his work in an earlier blog post about coping with stress. He calls the generation of kids born after 9/11, Generation Z. A characteristic of these teens is that they spend a great deal of time with their electronic devices; so in my freshman seminar class, we spent some time discussing how their devices can either help them or hinder them in school.

For one lesson, we watched Can You Auto-Correct Humanity by Prince Ea. Prince Ea is a rapper whose music tends to be about intellectual topics and social concerns. The premise of this video is that humans are spending so much time online that they are losing touch with reality—with humanity.

I asked my students to respond to the video. I was expecting them to disagree with Prince Ea. To my surprise, they did not. Almost every single student agreed with him. I am not certain they know what to do to change things. But at least they know something needs to change. Some telling responses from my 9th grade students include:

 “I was at dinner with my mom last night. We were both on our phones barely talking, and when we both put our phones down, it was harder to come up with things to talk about. I think that if we could do that more often it wouldn't be as hard to communicate with everyone.” This is so true with these teens. When they talk in the halls at school, they often interrupt one another and speak in halting, broken sentences. When writing, they do better. While the statement here is not written perfectly, the point she is making is clear—Generation Z teens need to spend more time talking face-to-face rather than through their electronic devices. Parents need to set the example here and require the family to put away their devices during family time. There is nothing wrong with electronic communication, but talking face-to-face is how kids learn to interpret facial expressions and body language.

“…people are not gonna stop unless someone or something makes them stop. I think that we as a whole could maybe do something to fix this problem.” Elmore suggests that adults need to prepare these teens to solve problems. I see in this student’s statement, that solving these problems may be a desire he has. He would like to fix it, but he implies that he needs help figuring out how. Parents can allow their children to solve problems for themselves, but sometimes children need our help to figure out the best solution.

I especially appreciated this statement, as a very young teen reflects upon her younger brother and the world he is growing up in: “In recent generations, and especially ours, we have shorter attention spans and less ability to communicate orally with others. When I was younger, I never had an iPhone or iPad, so I had to go outside and run around with other kids from my neighborhood from the time the sun came up until it went down. I look at my younger brother today and see that he is on his iPad from the time he wakes up until the time my mom forces him to put it down. Having all of this technology is amazing, but is also doing the newer generation a huge disservice.” His comment defines several problems. Children should get more exercise; they need to use their devices appropriately rather than spending hours and hours on them each day; and they need to reconnect with the world around them.

Parents should encourage their children to participate in sports or other extracurricular activities where electronic devices are not used. I recently spent a week in a rural part of America where none of the children were connected via electronic devices. The kids were outside playing games, running around laughing, and having loads of fun (in the middle of winter). All of us should encourage our kids to spend more time offline.

I have been teaching upper school students for more than 30 years. When I hear concerns about “teenagers these days,” I always think that each generation has its own set of problems—a mix of problems they inherited from the previous generation and a whole new set of problems unique to them. Even so, what teens need today is the same as it has always been: They need caring, loving adults to guide them through the tough times in their lives. No matter how challenging the kids are in my classes, I think about how special they are and how much they have to offer the world. It is my job to help grow them into capable, thinking, empathetic, and responsible adults who can solve the problems they and their children will face. If all of us work together to shape the lives of children, our future will be secure. They can do it, but they need our help.

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Signs of Cell Phone Addiction

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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Strategies for Managing Personal Electronics at School

In many schools, every student has a laptop or tablet computer on their desk. As a teacher, I have mixed emotions about that! I love that my students have vast quantities of information at their fingertips, and that they can share documents with one another so easily. They can do group projects even when they are not in the same room or involve students from anywhere in the world. The same qualities, however, can be a distraction and keep them from learning what they are supposed to. Students can be surfing the Web looking for information unrelated to class. They may be chatting with friends or shopping instead of working. They may be playing games. Even the best of teachers cannot keep up with what every student is doing in class on their tablet or laptop.

Students need strategies for managing the distraction at their fingertips. It is ultimately their own decision whether to pay attention to the teacher or to their electronic device. Talk with your child about her responsibility for managing her device in class. Websites are designed to distract—ads appear targeted to their interest along with a myriad of other colorful, flashy pictures. It can be hard to focus attention where it belongs. Here are some ideas.

  • Partially lower the screen when the teacher is talking. This removes the distracting screen from sight and allows your child to focus better. This is important, too, when classmates are presenting their work to the class. I have seen students with their computer open working (or playing) while other students are presenting projects in class. This is rude and sends a message that they are not interested in learning from their peers.
  • Keep only the software open you are using in class. Some students keep multiple things running all the time, and the temptation to return to that chat is just too much to overcome.
  • Save social networking and online chatting for after school. Most schools try to block social networks from students, but some students find a way around the firewall. (Most students carry a cell phone with them to school and use it for social networking.) In my classroom, this is the biggest issue. Multitasking (doing more than one cognitive task at the same time) is never effective. At best, students will be slower and less productive. At worst, students do not learn at all.
  • Consider whether the learning task is best done without the computer at all. Some activities do not require a computer. Take the teacher’s lead if she suggests that you don’t need your computer. Leave it safely in your back pack and focus all your attention on learning without it in class.

Computers are fantastic learning tools. When used properly in the classroom, they enhance the learning environment and engage students actively. It is up to your son to use his computer appropriately in class. If he knows he is distracted in class by his laptop, he might consider leaving it tucked away unless he really needs it. When it is out, strategies like lowering the screen, keeping the correct software running, and avoiding socializing online can help.

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Using Minecraft as a Learning Tool

Years ago I took a course called Using Legos To Teach Physics. We built all kinds of machines using basic Lego pieces and electric motors. We learned some simple programming so that we could direct our machines to do work. For example, one challenge was to build an electric wheelchair and a ramp for the wheelchair to navigate. I entered the class skeptical about the value of the class; but by the end I was convinced that this was a valid teaching tool that students could use to learn physics and engineering concepts. My confidence grew along with my skills to meet the challenges presented. Legos are now used in robotics competitions across the nation and everyone agrees that students learn a tremendous amount building with them. The game of Minecraft is similar to Legos in concept, and teachers are using it in their classrooms to teach virtually every subject.

Minecraft has been described as “virtual Legos” by experts who recognize the value of teaching with it. Like Legos, Minecraft is not free; however, millions of adolescents are playing it and connecting with their friends online to play together. Since Minecraft is a virtual game, the blocks can represent a lot more than real Lego blocks. In Minecraft, blocks represent things such as water, coal, stone, trees, and even food like carrots and potatoes. Players use blocks to build other objects they might need such as a bed to sleep in or a pickaxe to mine blocks. You can play in a survival mode or simply build whatever you can imagine.

Science Friday, a Public Radio show, recently featured Minecraft on one of its podcasts (go to Science Friday and search for Minecraft). A mother called in to report that after visiting a ruins site, her sons and his cousins were able to explain how the ancient people must have lived, why the ruins were arranged the way they were, where they probably got the stone, and where their water probably came from. The boys continued their discussion for weeks after the visit. She believed they immediately grasped these concepts because of their experience with Minecraft. If you are thinking about purchasing a video game for your child, you might want to consider Minecraft. It is likely that she will be using it in school in her science or social studies classes!

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Tricks To Help Kids Manage Electronic Distractions in the Classroom

Many schools are going “one-to-one,” which means every student has a laptop or tablet on which to work. While there are tremendous advantages of having access to electronic devices in school, there are some potential problems, as well. Students have access to electronic textbooks and instant information, and they have less to carry around with them in their backpacks. They also have an almost irresistible distraction sitting right in front of them on their desk. Many students cannot control the urge to browse the web, play games either alone or with friends, watch videos, or visit social networking sites when they should be working. Teachers try to monitor what their students are doing, but truthfully, it is not possible to teach a lesson and at the same time keep track of what every student is doing on his computer. The responsibility lies with each student to stay focused on their schoolwork.

Here are some tricks that might help your child stay focused in class.

  • When the computer is not being actively used for the lesson, he can partially close it or turn it so that the screen is not visible while he is focusing on the teacher. This keeps him from watching what is happening on the screen, and it also sends the message to the teacher and other students that he is listening. Teachers call this “half mast,” or “forty-five” (meaning the screen is at a 45-degree angle to the table top). The advantage for laptop users is that this keeps them from being distracted but does not shut down the computer, so it is ready to use as soon as the teacher asks for it. Tablets boot almost instantly, so he could just as easily turn it off to keep from being distracted by it.
  • Talk to your child’s friends to let them know that during class she does not want to receive messages or play games. This is difficult for some teens because it is hard to stand up to peers. She could say something like, “I feel frustrated when you send me messages in class because I have a hard enough time keeping up with algebra without being distracted. I need you to wait until after class to socialize. Please don’t do that any more.” Chances are her friend will benefit from this stance as much as she will! If you allow her to practice saying this to you at home, it will be easier for her to say to her friends.
  • Many online games require players to be logged in at all times or they lose status. These games are generally free at first, but once you get into the game it costs money to do well. This is very tempting for students to stay logged on their game during the school day. If your son is involved with one of these games, you may need to intervene. Be aware that he can also play these games on his smartphone, so if you decide to uninstall the game, you will need to check the phone, too. Splitting his brain power between schoolwork and an online game will result in lower grades in school.

One-on-one programs are relatively new on the scene in schools. If your child is participating in one, help her understand her responsibility during the school day is to do her best school work. She will need to minimize distractions from the screen, her friends who want to socialize online, and playing computer games when she should be learning. The discipline she will learn will help her in other areas of her life and prepare her for college and the workplace.

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Good School Attendance Is More Important Than Ever

Regular attendance to school has always been important and a factor that leads to success. Now that schools across America are focusing on 21st century skills—those skills that prepare our students for living in the 21st century—attendance is even more important. Many have defined the needed skills, and everyone agrees that our students need the ability to lead, work with a team, collaborate on projects, and cooperate with others. Teachers are providing opportunities that require these skills in nearly every subject. It is easy to see that absences affect students even more when their classes are working on group projects that require teams to collaborate with one another.

A typical project might have students investigating the pros and cons of a new technology such as the 4K Ultra HD television format. Some students might be asked to investigate the benefits of converting to the 4K Ultra HD television. Another group might investigate the risks and costs. Yet another group might look into the current technologies such as the LED and plasma televisions that might become obsolete because of the new technology. The end goal could be to come together as a group to discuss what each group learned and make a decision about whether the new technology is worth the risks associated with its use. If this project takes place over a period of three days in class and your child misses class all three days, he really cannot make up the work. If he is not there for the first day of instruction, he may be confused about what is going on when he returns. If he is not there for the second or third day, his group might be frustrated because he is not there to do his share of the work. His teacher has to decide how to give him a grade for the project given that he missed so much of it.

Students with good attendance typically have better grades, and  absences have always been a problem. With the emphasis on the 21st century skills of collaboration, teamwork, and cooperation, attendance may become even more critical for success.

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What Are “21st Century Skills” and Why Does Your Child Need Them?

There is a movement in education to improve what we are offering our students. Some schools have completely revamped their curriculum to make sure they are teaching kids the skills they will need to be successful in the information age. This trend is often referred to as “21st century education” or “21c education.” These skills are typically divided into three categories: learning skills, literacy skills, and life skills. They are skills identified by businesses as necessary for career success in the modern world.

The learning skills are critical thinking, creative thinking, collaborating, and communicating. To teach these skills, teachers might present real-life problems to students who typically work in small groups to solve them. If there is access to the Internet, students often collaborate online when seeking solutions to the problems. They plan their reports back to the class and frequently are required to present orally. The communication component of 21c learning includes all kinds of communication—digital, written, and oral. There is an emphasis on communicating globally, and it is not unusual to see students discussing possible solutions with experts or students in other schools around the world.

Literacy skills include information, media, and technology. Students are bombarded with way more information than they can actually process. They must learn how to find high-quality information and to identify bias. Students learn how to present their work using a variety of media, and hopefully they are at least exposed to a variety of technology solutions to society’s problems. Students are expected to become experts at using and learning new technology.

Life skills such as the ability to take initiative and be productive are extremely important. It is necessary to be flexible when others you work with have different ideas that are equal to or better than your own. Social skills are more important now than ever before, especially since we can now easily communicate with diverse groups of people from around the world. Leadership skills are needed, as well, and schools are increasing opportunities to learn how to lead others. People who are the best at initiation, productivity, flexibility, social skills, and leadership rise quickly up the career ladder.

Most schools are giving thought to providing more 21c learning opportunities for their students. It is difficult and expensive to change from traditional ways of teaching and learning; it will take time before 21c education is widespread. Students in schools where it is the norm report that they enjoy it, and they appreciate the intellectual challenge and authentic learning opportunities. Students who develop these learning, literacy, and life skills should be more competitive in today’s marketplace.

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A Free Tool To Help With Video Instruction

For some students, watching videos is not a great way to learn. Attention or learning style differences can make it difficult to get much from a video, especially when it consists mostly of someone talking. Google has provided an excellent tool that can help when students are asked to watch videos from YouTube, Vimeo, or Khan Academy for homework.

A student can use VideoNot.es while watching many videos. While watching the video on the left half of the screen, he types notes on the right side. The notes he takes are time stamped so that when he clicks on what he wrote, the video will jump to that exact place he was watching when he wrote the note. Later, when he is studying for a test or doing his homework, he can easily find the place in the video by using the notes he took. If he needs to, he can watch that portion of the video again. This saves time, because he no longer has to search through a video trying to find the spot where a particular piece of information was given.

In order to use VideoNot.es, it first has to be set up with Google Drive. This is easy to accomplish by selecting the “Connect with Google Drive” button on the VideoNot.es home page. If a student does not yet have a Google Drive account, it might be worth the time to set one up just for this tool! Google Drive is free and many schools are already using Google Apps for Education which includes Google Drive.

VideoNot.es has a tutorial that automatically runs to help learn how to use it. There are also many YouTube videos that show how to set up and use the app. A particularly good one can be found here. If you are like me and you learn best when you write something down, you need to explore this free Google app. VideoNot.es is a wonderful tool that can help students learn more from their video assignments.


> Use Table of Contents Tool for Note-Taking

> A Free App To Help With Time Management

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In a Digital World, Many Students Prefer Printed Books

Will there ever be a day when there are no real books in schools? This question comes up periodically when we discuss how we should prepare students for the twenty-first century. I hope the answer is “Of course not!” I cannot imagine a world without books—the real kind printed on paper. I fear that I am wrong, though, because it is often a lot cheaper to provide digital books to students.

Please don’t misinterpret me. I am not a Luddite. I much prefer to read books on my digital reader. I can highlight, annotate, bookmark, and do the normal things I do with a paper book. But there are occasions when I want to have the real thing in my hand as I read and study.

I was once touring a student and his parents through the school. As we looked into classrooms, the student remarked how glad he was to see real textbooks being used in the classrooms. When I asked him why, he replied that he is bothered by the light on the screen, and that he has trouble keeping up in class when students are doing a group activity together in their book. He said it is much easier for him to keep up, write notes, annotate, or read from a real book instead of digital. He also said that he likes to follow along under the words he is reading with a pencil because it helps him focus his eyes in the right place. There are ways to do each of these things digitally, but there are some students who prefer to hold the book and pencil in their hand. They get feedback through their fingertips and muscles that helps them to learn better. Since that time, I have surveyed students regarding their learning preference and a significant number of them prefer the old-fashioned book as well as paper and pencil in school.

If your child has an Individualized Education Plan and she benefits from having a real book instead of digital one, you can request that she be provided the normal textbook in addition to her digital copy. She might decide to leave the paper copy at school in her locker and work from the digital one at home.

For a related blog, you might enjoy reading Does My Child Need a Laptop for School?

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The Link Between TV Time and Brain Development

Scientists have known for a long time that children who are raised in a stimulating environment learn more easily than those who are not. Children need toys to play with, puzzles to solve, and to interact with other people. As children learn new vocabulary and skills, scientists can use imaging techniques to see that their brains change. Neurons form new connections and grow stronger, while other neurons die and are pared away. This is normal brain development that occurs throughout childhood and adolescence. (For a more thorough understanding of what we know about the brain, read The Brain: Our Sense of Self from the National Institutes of Health.)

Scientists have long suspected that watching too much television can have negative effects on children. A new study of children between the ages of 5 and 18  supports this by linking the amount of television children watch each day to brain development. There was a link between the amount of television watched and the amount of brain tissue present in the brain. As children grow and learn, scientist should notice that there are fewer neurons in the brain (with the remaining neurons becoming larger and stronger). There also should be many new connections between the neurons. In this recent study, those who watched the most television had too many neurons! This is evidence that their brains were not developing the same as the children who did not watch television very much.

This study does not prove that television causes the problem. It is possible that the cause of the lack of brain development is that the children are not spending time playing games, going to museums, socializing with others, reading, or solving puzzles. It might not have anything to do with television. But if your teens are spending more time in front of the television than they are doing all the other things adolescents should be doing, then you should take this study seriously.

> What Is "Too Much" When It Comes to Young Children and Consumer Electronics?

> Children, Sleep, and Long-Term Memory

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Explain Everything: A Low-Cost App for Creative Presentations

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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Today's Students Need Upgraded Schools

Educators and parents agree that purposeful and appropriate use of technology is terrific for both students and teachers. The use of technology, including personal devices, can be very helpful in supporting implementation of Common Core State Standards for all students.  It prepares our students for the future, and will equip them to compete on a global level.

This month, I attended a conference about effective use of technology in the classroom. It was informative and exciting,  and showed me various ways technology can engage and enhance student learning.

Yet here’s the paradox:   

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average age of our nation’s schools is 42 years old! 

Even with updates over the years, the majority of these facilities don’t have the infrastructure to support today’s technological advances.

The bottom line is that many of our schools are just not equipped for modern technology.

As an educator, I’ve been a firsthand witness to this: 

Excited students are ready to jump into a great science lesson, only to find that the computer can’t log on.  

Twenty-five curious 1st graders huddled around one small computer screen to see and hear humpback whales, because the image can’t be projected.

An interactive whiteboard math game crashes, just as students are about to solve the math problem.

We need to vastly upgrade our school facilities, sooner rather than later.  This is very important. The time from kindergarten to 12th grade, 13 years of your child’s educational life, should be spent in buildings that support 21st century learning.


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Tips for Choosing the Best Websites and Apps for Kids

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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Multitasking or Just Plain Distracted?

There is a lot of talk about multitasking these days. Many claim they can do two things at once. However, if two tasks require conscious attention, we cannot do both of them at the same time and do both well. If we try to do two things at once, performance on both of them drops.

What does this mean in school or when doing homework? Students and parents need to understand:

  • When a task requires focused attention, students need to purposefully ignore anything else that distracts them. For example, if your son is working on his math homework, he should not be watching television, playing video games between problems, listening to loud music, answering his cell phone, or watching YouTube videos. In fact, it is a good idea to remove these distractions from his study area.
  • Students who bring a laptop or tablet to school must discipline themselves. When in class, your daughter should keep her computer open to the word processor to take notes and not flip back and forth between that and shopping online for new shoes.
  • When text messaging, pretty much all of one’s attention is absorbed. Text messaging while walking or jogging can be dangerous. Statistics are showing that texting while driving is causing a huge number of car accidents because it takes up too much of our attention. Similarly, in class, text messaging occupies attention and blocks learning.

None of this is new information, but it is important. Not very long ago, almost none of my students owned a smartphone. Today it is rare that they don’t have one within easy reach. I love that we can look up information almost instantly when someone asks a question. But, because the number of devices like smartphones is increasing, the potential for distraction in class is also increasing. This affects students’ ability to learn and produce quality work. This growing problem warrants examination.

I would love to have input from you. Do you talk to your children about responsible use of their electronic devices at home and in school? What should teachers do to help their students understand the effects of trying to multitask when learning something new? Do you believe we can multitask effectively or are we really allowing ourselves to be distracted when we should be working?

> Eliminate Distractions While Doing Homework

> Managing Technology Distractions on School Nights

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AudioNote: A Technological Solution for Note Taking

In an earlier blog I wrote about the Livescribe Pen which is a recording pen that assists students who have trouble taking notes. In this same blog, I mentioned the AudioNote app. At that point, I did not have any experience with it. Since that time, several of my students purchased it and have been using it in my class.

AudioNote is available for the Mac, iOS, Windows and Android operating systems. I downloaded it on my Android phone for $4.99 and one of my students bought it for his Windows computer for $19.99. Here is how it works.

When class begins, the students who wish to use AudioNote ask permission to record class. I give blanket permission to my classes, and the students who are recording just signal me by pointing at their device (laptop or smartphone). But asking is important, because some teachers do not want to be recorded. I teach my students that they must always ask; this is basic etiquette that students need to know.

As AudioNote records the sounds in the room, students type their notes. It does not matter if they miss writing something, because they can later click or touch their screen where they have missing notes, and the software plays whatever the teacher was saying at that time. Before the Livescribe Pen (and now AudioNote) came along, it was difficult to find the part of a recording you needed to hear. You would have to fast forward or rewind until you located the correct spot. This was time-consuming and frustrating. But thanks to Livescribe and AudioNote, recording lectures is a truly powerful assistive technology.

My students have learned a few things about AudioNote that may help you. Those who use it on their iPhone or Android phone find they are not able to type much on their phone. They use the app on their phone and type one or two words when something new starts. For example, if the subject changes or a new bullet point starts they might type and “A. Genetics,” or “B. DNA Fingerprinting.” While doing this, they also write their notes in a spiral notebook which they later fill in as they listen to the recording. Students who bought the software for their laptop love typing their notes in the software; but they find that the sound is too low because the microphone on their laptop faces them instead of the front of the room. They can hear it if they use their headset, but it is really too soft. They find that they must sit near me in order for it to be loud enough.

We are still working out these issues. Regardless, my students find AudioNote to be a useful tool that assists them taking notes in class. Many times students try new technology, software or apps, and only use it for a short trial period before giving up on it. AudioNote is helpful enough to some of my students that they are still using it after weeks of use.

If you have found an assistive technology that works and proves to be really helpful, please let me know. I always appreciate learning about something from someone who has actually given it a try!


> Necessary Skills for Students in the Digital Age

> What Is Your Child's Learning Style?

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Necessary Skills for Students in the Digital Age

My 8-year-old grandson recently picked up the television remote control, turned on the satellite dish, found the recorded program his mom wanted to watch, highlighted the correct one, and then handed the remote to his mom. He said, “Here, I think you can handle it from there.”

It is amazing how children growing up in the digital age think. It is also amazing how quickly things change. Not so long ago, it was easy to identify what computer skills a person needed to learn in school. They needed to learn how to use the keyboard efficiently. They needed to learn how to use a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation software, and maybe a database. (I am certain you can name the ones you learned!) But that is no longer true.

I recently attended a technology conference. One of the people I heard speak was a technology teacher. She said she no longer teaches specific software because as soon as she gets the curriculum set up, the software is changed and there is something better available for free on the web. So what do we need our children to know?

I believe that students need to be able to do all of the following.

  • Find information on the web and not be completely overwhelmed when they find more than a million hits on their topic.
  • Identify a reliable website and critique the information they find. Read this great article about how to be a skeptic and look for the truth.
  • Properly cite sources of information.
  • Know what kinds of applications there are (games, social networking, productivity tools, word processing, etc.) and what to search for should they need a particular type.
  • How to store and retrieve documents in the cloud and how to remotely collaborate with others on a project.
  • Be independent (and fearless) when it comes to downloading a new app and figuring out how to use it.
  • Proficiently use text-to-speech, speech-to-text, note-taking apps, and other assistive technology.
  • Participate in social networking and know how to send email, text messages, photos, and videos.
  • Create and edit photos and videos.
  • Use email, calendar apps, and other productivity tools to organize personal information and manage time.

I still believe we need to teach children how to use the keyboard efficiently. At this point in time, there are many, many jobs that require typing skills. When taught how to type correctly, people make fewer mistakes and work faster. (See my earlier blog for an explanation of how I believe students should learn keyboarding.) When looking over the technology curriculum at your child’s school, think about 21st-century skills. If the school is behind the time, it would be beneficial for you to teach some of the above skills to your child at home.

> What Is Too Much When it Comes to Kids and Technology?

> Technology Solutions for Reading and Writing Difficulties

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Eliminate Distractions While Doing Homework

 Many students have a hard time staying focused on a task. Much has been written about teenagers who are growing up in the media age. Most agree that they are very good at multitasking. In a report featured on NPR, the actions of a student named Zach, which were typical of many teens, were described as follows: “Within the span of seconds, Zach switches between e-mail, iTunes, Facebook, a computer word puzzle game, and messaging his buddy online. Somewhere amid the flurry, Zach manages to squeeze in some homework, too.”

 My concern is what this behavior is doing to teens and their ability to stay focused to finish a task. If Zach is only managing “to squeeze in some homework,” how good can that homework be? And, beyond that, what is happening to Zach’s ability to learn and think? Dr. Beth Hellerstein, a University Hospital pediatrician and assistant clinical professor at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine, said this is a recent interview with online magazine Your Teen, “When students are distracted while studying they may be learning facts but are not able to integrate them and apply them to a higher level of thinking. Doctors and educators worry about how this superficial learning will impact long term recall and application of the knowledge and skills.”

 How can students prevent themselves from getting distracted while doing their schoolwork? The first step is to identify what distracts them. In the example above, Zach is distracted by software running on his computer (email, Facebook, a word puzzle game, and instant messaging). He is also distracted by his iPod. Many teens have a cell phone, television, and snacks to the list of distractions.

 Once a student has identified the distractions, he needs to decide to eliminate them while doing homework. He needs to shut down all software except for what is needed to do the work. His iPod needs to be turned off and put out of sight. The television and cell phone also need to be off and out of sight.

 Other things that keep students from their work include clutter in the workspace, interruptions from siblings or friends, and looking for the necessary supplies such as paper, pencils, markers, glue, etc. Parents can assist by offering to help clear the workspace, keeping others from interrupting and making sure their child has the appropriate supplies.

 It takes organization and planning skills to take charge of the distractions. For help with ideas for organization, read A Notebook System That Aids With Organization. For more ideas about how you can help your child to learn more from homework, read How to Help Kids Get the Most Out of Their Homework Sessions.

You may also be interested in these related articles on SchoolFamily.com:

Summer is A Good Time to Learn to Type 

Voice-to-Text Software: Great Homework Tool for Kids Who Have Difficulty Writing 

Middle Schoolers Still Benefit From Being Read To




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Selecting Typing Software: Which is Best for Your Child?

Parents often call me to find out what typing software I recommend they get for their child. Unfortunately, this is a really difficult question! It really isn’t so much what software to buy as it is what your child does with it and how often they practice.

Here is what I recommend.

  •  You do not necessarily need to buy software. There are free typing tutor programs on the Internet that work just fine. CNet has several available for free and each has user ratings for you to see before you download the software.
  • It is very important to look at the screen (not hands) and use the correct fingers when typing. My goal teaching typing is to have students type well enough so that they do not have to think about frequently used words. If they need to type a word like “the,” their fingers should move automatically. If they use a different finger each time they type, they will never be able to do this. If they are able to type the most frequently used words automatically, it will reduce their spelling errors because many of these frequently used words do not follow the normal spelling rules. It will also increase their overall speed.
  •  Students should not be allowed to play typing games until they can type all the letters on the keyboard without looking down. Typing games encourage them to watch their hands and use the wrong fingers.
  •  Have your child practice 10-20 of the most frequently used words every day. Any word processor will work for this activity. I make a game of this by seeing how many times they can type each word in 10 seconds. It can be encouraging to keep the data each day to see progress over time. They need to look at the screen while they type, though, not their hands.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Typing correctly does not come easily. It takes a lot of work, discipline to use the correct fingers with their eyes on the screen, and many hours at the keyboard.

 Most students cannot learn to type simply by using software. They will navigate to the games that do indeed teach them. However, what they learn from a typing game is if I put my hands like this and quickly type as many letters as I can without thinking, I will do better. The game is won, but typing skills are lost in the process.

 The bottom line is this: Software alone cannot change your child into a good typist. They need some adult guidance to keep them on track. It is worth the effort, however, because no matter what they do in the future, they will probably need to know their way around a keyboard.

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School Shootings: Help Your Child Process Tragedy in the News

Our hearts and thoughts go out to the residents of Chardon, Ohio after the tragic shootings at Chardon High School on Monday, Feb. 27. As of this writing, three of the five teenage victims have succumbed to their injuries. TJ Lane, identified as the shooter, reportedly told police he’d been bullied at the school.


Tragedies like this raise myriad questions and can trigger grief reactions from children—and from parents as well. How should your handle your child’s confused feelings? How do you reassure your child that her school is safe (assuming you think it is safe)? Does her school have a strong anti-bullying program, and does it go far enough?


Perhaps the most pressing question for parents is how to help their child comprehend and interpret such tragic, frightening news. Our SchoolFamily.com experts say that parents should begin by managing, as much as possible, what their children see and read about the event in the media—on television, in newspapers, via the Internet, and on social media sites. While children may be reading at an advanced level, few are emotionally prepared to handle details of tragic and catastrophic events. Read more about this in Help Manage Anxiety About Current Events, on SchoolFamily.com. And regardless of the cause, parents can help their children handle overall anxiety by reading Help Kids Learn to Manage Stress.


What if your child is being bullied? Or—what if your child is the bully? Start by reading our articles on bullying prevention, which include information about preventing your child from being a bully’s victim, to teaching your child empathy.  To protect your child from online bullying known as cyberbullying, learn the red flags to watch for in this SchoolFamily.com guest blog post by bullying prevention expert Dr. Michele Borba.


If your suspect (or know) that your child is a bully, read the no-nonsense tips about what to do in this two-part guest blog post by Annie Fox, author, online educator, and host of Cruel’s Not Cool, an anti-bullying online forum.


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Should Principals Have Control of Students' "Off Campus" activity?

Most schools have rules for how students should behave while on school grounds, and many have a written code of behavior that students—and occasionally parents—are required to sign.


It's also long been the case that the off school-property behavior of students who hold leadership positions, play sports, or participate in extra-curricular clubs or organizations is held to a more rigorous standard. If the captain of the field hockey team is caught at a party where alcohol is present, for example, she is typically disciplined, often in the form of lost practice and game time.


However, many argue that legislators in Indiana have gone too far by voting to give school principals virtual 24/7 oversight of students and their activities.  A bill that received recent approval from the Indiana House of Representatives gives broad power to principals, allowing them to discipline any student for off-campus behavior that reflects badly on the school—in the principal's opinion.


Called the “Restoring School Discipline Act”—but referred to by some critics as the "Principal in Your Bedroom" bill—the legislation removes the “unlawful activity” clause, which is currently state law, thereby allowing principals to suspend or expel any student in grades K-12, for behavior or speech that could "reasonably be considered to be an interference with school purposes or an educational function," or when necessary to "restore order or protect persons on school property."


As vague as those conditions sound, the bill's sponsor, Republican State Rep. Eric Koch, insists the bill is ultimately about preventing cyber bullying (note that the term does not appear anywhere in the actual bill). “In limiting grounds for suspension and expulsion to only ‘unlawful’ conduct," Koch reportedly told a local newspaper, "current [state] law ties the hands of school officials to effectively deal with dangerous and disruptive behavior, including cyber bullying,”


Those against the bill, which must be approved by the Indiana Senate to become law, say in theory it could be used against students who speak out about something their principal deems detrimental to the school. Likewise, students who participate in an activity their principal feels isn't in keeping with the school's culture—say, a political rally; a particular summer job; even a student’s choice of attire outside of school—could be suspended or expelled.


Do you think this legislation goes too far? Once outside the school setting, do you think students should be beyond the purview of their school principal?


UPDATE: The bill has since been amended.  If it is approved by the Indiana Senate, a 14-member commission will be formed to study the issue further. However, the House must also approve the amended version.


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

No - 37.4%
Sometimes - 25.4%
Yes - 31.6%

Total votes: 4919
The voting for this poll has ended on: June 25, 2016