Making Today Count: Balancing our Digital Learners
March was a busy month as we finally embraced regular school schedules with the hope that inclement weather was behind us. Sunny days, without piles of snow, brought more time outside for recess, physical education classes, and the beginning of spring sports. It’s so important for students to have time away from their academic studies, including the technology that is used to assist or enrich their learning. The time away is part of a balancing act.
We need to support students in finding “tech-life balance” – developing a schedule that allows them to balance their time looking at various technology screens (smartphones, iPads, laptops) and engaging in other physical activities. When our district involved stakeholders (district staff and parents) in the planning for our 1:1 iPad initiative in the schools (a.k.a. mobile learning), the group discussed the need to ensure students do not spend too much time during class on their iPads, especially at the K-6 level. This involves finding a balance between in-class instruction and time dedicated to research, design, and communication using technology.
At home, there also needs to be a tech-life balance. My husband and I work with our 7th grade son to achieve this balance, limiting his screen time so more time is spent in his academic work along with his athletic and musical activities. As a family we’ve tried to designate a certain amount of time (or specific time frame) for his technology usage so it doesn’t take a toll on his schoolwork, personal development and interactions, and overall health. Spending too much time in using technology can leave students (and adults) feeling stressed and tired. He already spends a good amount of his time using technology as part of his school course work, so finding additional time for the non-academic technology-based activities he enjoys (texting friends, posting on Snapchat and Instagram, etc.) is a balancing feat. We’ve found that parenting in the digital age comes with many challenges.
The American Academy of Pediatrics offers recommendations and resources for helping families (children and adults) find tech-life balance while still honoring the needs of students who are growing up in a world of digital media. This involves recognizing the mindful use of media while also monitoring screen time. These resources can be found here.
Another resource for parents includes the information offered by the Society for Social Implications for Technology (SSIT). The organization offers ideas for appropriate activities for digital learners from birth through age 18, including information about maintaining a student’s healthy “digital diet.” The information can be found here.
An American teacher by the name of Mary Garza conducted an in-class experiment to show how learning can be affected adversely by cell phones. The teacher had her students turn up the volume of their cell phones during a 4th period class, and every time they received a notification on their phones they placed a tally mark under the appropriate category on a class poster (Snapchat, text, email, Facebook, etc.). This picture, which she posted on her Facebook page, provides a sobering image of the number of interruptions in a student’s education during one class period of the day.
In education we are sensitive to the amount of time students spend on technology, and recognize the value of technology as an instructional tool when used accordingly. At MTSD, our staff has spent much time in professional development that offers strategies for technology integration in the curriculum, including a focus on the 4 C’s – critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity. This planning allows teachers to use technology to support and enrich student learning when it’s appropriate within the curriculum. The technology usage is balanced with direct instruction from teachers. From time to time we receive questions from parents about students’ “screen time” in the K-6 grades, seeking affirmation that students are not watching small iPad screens for a significant amount of time during the school day. Our teachers plan strategically for the use of technology in their classrooms, striving for balance as they teach their grade level/course skills and content while using the iPads (or other technology) to assist and extend learning. Technology is not used every single period of the day, or during each subject every day. Digital citizenship is taught at various grade levels throughout the curriculum to promote safe digital learning.
Of course, we do have students enrolled either part-time or full-time in our MTSD virtual academy. Our virtual academy consists of students who participate in online learning for part of their school day while others engage in online learning throughout most of the day. Although screen time varies for these students in our virtual academy, we hope they too find tech-life balance so an appropriate amount of screen time can be achieved. Engaging in after school activities without screen time will help achieve that goal. Some of our full-time virtual academy students participate in competitive out-of-school sports/activities that occur during the school day, and need access to online learning that fits their busy schedules. Some of our virtual learning students may also just prefer to learn at a self-selected pace that is different than the schedule within the typical classroom, and online learning offers this opportunity.
Technology enhances educational opportunity and educational access. We must be cautious and prudent in our efforts to prepare these digital natives to use their personal and school devices, social media, and the Internet in safe, healthy ways. A tech-life balance is also essential for promoting their positive health.
Employee of the Month
Our Employee of the Month, Liz Ducey, is a first grade teacher at Nitrauer Elementary School, an assistant coach for the MT Age Group Swim Program, and an assistant with the field hockey program. Her colleagues share that Mrs. Ducey is an incredible first grade teacher, colleague, and mentor. She creates a community in her classroom that fosters social and emotional growth within her students. Her colleagues share that she “pushes students to reach their full potential every day, and teaches them to be good citizens that care about each other and the world around them.” They further note that “she does whatever it takes to make learning fun and meaningful for her students.”
The Nitrauer staff share that Mrs. Ducey is a true professional that loves her job and unselfishly and passionately supports all students and staff.