Category Archives: Education

New (School) Year, New Beginnings

Summer Break has ended. Students are entering new classrooms and teachers are assembling new lessons. The new school year is upon us and it’s a time for a fresh start and new beginnings. Even if this is your 20th year as a teacher at the school or you’re a student entering senior year of your school, the new academic year is a time for a fresh start and new beginnings.

If you have not already spent some time reviewing last year, spend some time going over its successes, failures, and everything in between. What do you want to change this year? Try again with renewed vigor? Or just set aside knowing that it was a failure? The new school year is an opportunity to start anew. If it helps to write out goals, try out the SMART system for goal setting.

As an educator for almost two decades, I’ve been amazed at how quickly kids can and do reinvent themselves. I’ve watched the “class clown” become a music aficionado one year and strong athlete the next. I’ve seen struggling, even apathetic students, become serious scholars! Take inspiration from your students. Whether you want to make big or small changes in your classroom or outside of it, take advantage of your fresh start!

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Smartphones, Depression, & Adolescents

Circling around the interwebs recently has been an article on the Atlantic by Jean Twenge, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” If you have not yet read the piece, then I encourage you to do so. It is a powerful and interesting look at the impact of social media on the post-millennial generation (that the author terms iGen). If you know me, or have been a reader of my blog, then you know that I do not advocate scare tactics and believe that these tools are both transformative in school and outside of them. I like this piece because it is a well thought out look at the shifting landscape of modern adolescents.

Twenge is not a luddite or an author nostaligic for the days of her youth. The piece is careful to highlight (repeatedly) that correlation is not necessarily causation and that generational differences are just that – differences. She is also careful not demonize smart phones or social media, rather the author focuses on the correlation between the prevalence of Smartphones and the rise of depression amongst teens.  Twenge highlights several disturbing and significant trends that we see in our communities that correlate with the smartphone and social media, especially among teens that spend less time socializing peer to peer and more time socializing online.

The more time teens spend looking at screens, the more likely they are to report symptoms of depression. Eighth-graders who are heavy users of social media increase their risk of depression by 27 percent, while those who play sports, go to religious services, or even do homework more than the average teen cut their risk significantly.

What struck me throughout this article is that iGen is a group of adolescents that are less inclined to engage, unsupervised, with their peers than previous generations. They are less likely to be independent through part-time jobs, unsupervised activities, and drivers licenses. This is not a trait that we can blame on “this generation,” but is more often seen as a result of parenting trends. danah boyd (sic) highlights throughout her book It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, that adolescents today are more governed and controlled by their parents and society than any generation prior. This is likely connected to the fact that while it has never been safer to be a child in the world, our perceptions of danger have never been higher. As such, children are sheltered to an unprecedented degree. While many of us Gen X’ers can remember being dropped off at the mall to “hang out” with friends for a few hours or “going out” with friends on a Saturday night, today’s tweens and teens are not afforded such freedoms. It is so uncommon, in fact, that a “new age” parenting technique deemed “Free Range Parenting” has arisen. The quotes are not accidental, the child rearing of our youths is now deemed “radical.”

Twenge does an excellent job highlighting that the struggles of today’s adolescents are more complex than simple “screen time.” The issue that most struck me was the role that social media plays in amplifying traditional adolescent anxieties, especially of “being left out.” All of us remember being the one “not invited” to a party or event. It was hurtful on Monday morning to find out that your friends were all having fun and you were at home. With today’s social media, however, “left out” teens are bombarded with images and videos of the events as they are happening. This is in keeping with technology as an “amplifier.”

There were a few elements in Twenge’s article that I felt merited further exploration or may be less conclusive than the author presents. Many of the trends she highlighted were already on the rise (or decline) by the time that smartphones came on the scene; for example teenagers dating or getting drivers licenses were decreasing for years. Additionally, measuring things such as mental illness, depression, and suicidal ideation have become more prevalent in the modern era with the professionalization of mental health services and the continual de-stigmatization of certain mental illnesses (such as depression). As such, these may have simply been grossly under-reported in the past. Additionally, while suicide remains stigmatic mode of death, more people are talking about and acknowledging when individuals (especially teenagers) take their own lives. Less often are suicides labeled “accidents.”

An article posted on JSTOR, “Yes, Smartphones Are Destroying a Generation But Not of Kids,” takes greater issue with Twenge’s research and data. It also highlights the fact that it is parents’ social media use, rather than kids’s, that is more alarming.

…when parents are distracted—as today’s parents are, perpetually, by our online lives—it’s the encouragement that suffers, more than the control. The result? Kids who stay inside their semi-gilded cages, because they don’t get the support they need to spread their wings.

This is not to say that I am dismissing Twenge’s conclusions. The piece is quite thoughtful and presents some compelling evidence that adults (parents and educators) should be more thoughtful about the time their children spend online and more open to more “analog” and “independent” activities for children.

Read the article and let me know your thoughts in the comments.

 

Fake News Lesson Plan Ideas

I recently had the privilege of participating in Vicki Davis’s show, 10 minute teacher. We talked about teaching students new Media Literacy skills in the era of “Fake News.”

3 Ways for Students to Create with Devices in the Classroom

Devices have become omnipresent in our classrooms. Often, these tools are used as expensive, electronic content delivery systems. However, the real power in technology in schools is that it empowers students to become content creators. Smartphones and tablets, even more so, have allowed them to become mobile and agile ones. Most educators know that individuals learn far more about a topic when they must explain it to someone else. Additionally, by employing multiple learning modalities through the creative process (tactile, kinesthetic, visible, etc), students process material more thoroughly. As you think about your lesson plans in the future, consider empowering students to create rather than just consume. Here are a few ways to do just that.

Create a Video

I am a fan of giving students guiding questions and parameters, then having them make an educational video. In my documentaries project, students must answer address a specific topic (e.g. “Where did George Washington get his reputation for honesty?” or “Was Benedict Arnold solely a villain of the Revolutionary War?”). We talk about creating

content in an engaging way, incorporating images and videos effectively (and ethically), pacing content, and selecting what to include or leave out. Videos are not exclusive to the humanities. I have seen math teachers effectively use them by having students demonstrate how to solve complex problems and science teachers as a recording and reflection for labs. I also encourage students to post their videos publicly (when age appropriate) or to the class via a closed portal (for younger students). By posting their videos publicly and sharing with the class, they are presenting to an authentic audience. Making a video is easy and can by done with a smartphone, tablet, and/or computer. Free software options include iMovie (MacOS & iOS), Movie Maker (Windows), and FilmoraGo (iOS & Android).

Create a Podcast

Podcasts are become ever more popular. There are podcasts to cover news, popular entertainment, hobbies, sports, cultural phenomena, and more. Task your class with

creating a podcast on a topic relevant to your course. If you are a Social Studies teacher, perhaps a weekly podcast on current events. If you teach science, a weekly science report relevant to the topic. Math? Try incorporating an update on a complex topic students are tackling that week. Podcasting can help students work on their public speaking skills as well as how to effectively present to an audience. Again, by sharing the podcast with the public at large or just the class and/or school, students learn what it is to engage with a broader audience. Podcasting can be done easily with a smartphone, tablet, and/or computer paired with a simple microphone to drown out ambient sound (the microphone on headphones can work in a pinch or you can invest in something a little more substantive). My favorite free apps for podcasting include: Garageband (MacOS & iOS) and Audacity (MacOS & Windows).

Websites

My students complete a year long research project that they post on a comprehensive website. Through creating an online portal, they learn how to write effectively for a broad audience, how to cite material so that it is accessible online, how to create and incorporate various types of media, and how to effectively organize and lay-out content. What I especially like about website creation is that it allows students to combine skills that they have learned throughout the year (e.g. video and podcasting). We have all seen “good” and “bad” websites. When it’s published online, students want theirs to look good. As such, it also serves as a basic primer in basic graphic design. There are numerous free website tools out there. If your school is a G-Suite for Education school, then I highly recommend using the new Google Sites. Not only is it easy to use, but it readily allows for collaboration. You can also check out weebly or wix.

If you’re in a school where students have access to devices, I strongly encourage having them turn those devices into content creators. You will find that it empowers them as learners and makes their learning more applicable and deep.

Get Your Self-Care Ready for Back to School

The school year is quickly approaching! In the midst of the excitement and enthusiasm of a new bunch of students and trying out new lessons is the knowledge that the school year can very quickly get quite busy and stressful! In addition to planning lessons and assessments, this is a great time of year to give your self-care toolbox a quick look and tweak! Just like planning your work schedule, you need to plan your self-care schedule as well. It’s important to start early so that you can make it a habit before your schedule and the school year takes over your life.

Get Moving!

Exercise is one of the greatest methods of relieving stress and anxiety. This does not mean you need to be dead-lifting 200 pounds or training for a marathon. The best type of exercise is the exercise you will do regularly! Scheduling exercise in your day can be as simple as setting aside 30 minutes for taking a walk around campus to as complex as training for an iron-wo/man triathlon. Try to get in a little bit of exercise every day. If you need some help for motivation, try recruiting a friend or investing in an inexpensive fitness tracker (I wear a Fitbit One that I purchased on eBay).

Explore Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness Meditation has been around for a long time but has only recently picked up popularity. While it seems like new-age feel-goodery, the reality is that meditation works. Meditation has been proven to help individuals cope with stress and anxiety, sleep better, and increase resilience. I try to meditate for 10-15 minutes a day (preferably in the morning). If you want some help getting started, check out The New York Time’s article: “How to Meditate.” My favorite tool for meditation is an app called Calmit has several guided meditation options and programs to help you progress and experiment with Mindfulness. Better yet, Calm is free for teachers.

Set up a “Praise Box” or “Praise Wall” for Yourself

I keep a small box of mementos from students – thank you notes, small gifts, etc that remind my why I do what I do. I keep these for those challenging days when the kids drive me up the wall (and they will) or when I feel like the worst teacher in the world. Anytime a student gives you a thank you (sometimes it’s written on a test or a quiz, in a note, or attached at Christmas to a present), be sure to save it and throw it in the box or put it on the wall. This is a great way to give yourself a boost when you need it.

Prioritize Leisure Time

Prepping, grading, and supporting students can take over your life. While none of us got into education for the money or the fame, it’s important to prioritize your life outside of school as well. Schedule time with family or friends (and keep those commitments), schedule an hour for you to read a book that isn’t work related, watch your favorite tv show, and make sure that you get in time for exercise or the gym.

When you’re on an airplane, if you pay attention to the safety instructions (most of us don’t), you are told to put on your oxygen mask first, before you help anyone else. This is because unless you are at your best, you will not be able to help anyone else. The same is true in education. Take care of yourself, prioritize your self-care; you will be a better teacher because of it.

These are the methods that I use to help me stay on track and tackle stress throughout the year. What are yours? Leave them in the comments below!

Tweens & The Cell Phone Conversation

Back to School shopping has started. Here in Florida, we kick off “tax free weekend,” which allows parents and students to purchase back to school items and pay no sales tax. Items included on that list: clothing, school supplies, computers, tablets, and smart phones! For many parents of tweens, the start of the school year also marks the start of the “cell phone conversation.” Do I get my child a smart phone? If so, what kind of smart phone? What limits do I put on them? Is it yet age appropriate for my child to have a phone?

So, how do you start the cell phone conversation with your child? Or, if you are a teacher or school administrator, how do you advise parents? There are a few ways to get the conversation going and things for you to consider.

Is a smart phone Age-Appropriate?

I feel comfortable telling parents that a child should not have their own device if they are younger than double digits. While I have seen 8 and 9 years olds playing on devices, those devices should ultimately belong to an adult. After the age of 10, however, it becomes a little more challenging. It would be easiest if I could tell parents that X age is the right age for their child to get a smartphone. However, the reality is that every child is different.

Your child is unique in their maturity and tolerance for responsibility. A smartphone is a big responsibility. A few comparable questions: Do I feel comfortable leaving my child home alone for a few hours? Does my child take care of their toys (e.g. clothing, other electronics, etc)? Would I allow my child to supervise other children? These questions tell you a few things: Can my child safely navigate without adult supervision? Can they care for an expensive piece of electronics? Can my child effectively and safely manage and engage with others without adult supervision?

Have a Conversation About the Responsibility of a Smartphone

I know, I know… this sounds so cheesy. But the reality is that, like driving a car, getting a smartphone is a big responsibility. They are entering a new world of freedom and flexibility. One in which they can, likely will (and developmentally should) make some mistakes and missteps. If you want to know more about what kids really “get up to” 13893168079_a584a41d83_bonline, check out danah boyd’s It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens (this link gives you access to a free PDF version of the book). danah’s (yes, she spells it that way) book gives you a realistic look at how children engage with one another online. Here are some questions to discuss with your child:

  • What will you do if you see something that makes you uncomfortable online?
  • What will you do if you think that a friend or a classmate is being mean to you or someone else?
  • How will you react if someone makes you angry online?
  • What will you do if you think you have made a mistake in how you have acted online?
  • What will you do if your phone breaks or gets dropped in water?

This should be realistic conversations. Try not to use scare tactic examples. Pull things from real life:

“One time, Aunt Edna and I got into an argument because she responded to my selfie by saying ‘You look soooo fat!’ It turned out that she was being sarcastic and meant it as a compliment; I had recently lost weight. I thought that she was being mean. We didn’t speak for two weeks because neither of tried to clear up the communication. What could we have done better?”

Set Boundaries for Your Child & Yourself

Boundaries are important in all facets of life, including electronics. Sit down and have a conversation with your child about rules and boundaries for their new device – both for you and for them. Make a physical list that you post in your home. Think of this as an evolving process. Some of these may change as the child gets older or if you or your child feel it needs to shift. Additionally, consider consequences for violating boundaries (loss of a privilege?) Parents, keep in mind that modeling is especially important! A few items for you to consider:

  • Will there be a “no smartphone” time? For example family meals? Homework/reading time?  Family events? Bedtime?
  • Will parents be monitoring smartphone use?
  • When (during the day) is it acceptable to text? For example, what about during the school day? Parents, keep in mind that if you text a child during class-time, you may be enabling behavior you don’t want!
  • What is acceptable to share online? When should you get permission to post or share something?
  • Where will the phone be kept at night? It is often recommended to remove smartphones from children’s bedrooms at night to avoid temptation. Charge them in a parent’s room or a neutral place.

Keep Yourself Informed

Have regular conversations with your child about what they do online. Reinforce the idea that you are a trusted adult and they can come to you when they run into problems. To me, that is the most vital part of tween cell phone ownership – knowing that their parents can and will help them if they find themselves in uncomfortable situations or have made a poor decision. Some great resources for parents:

If you have some thoughts or contributions, please share them in the notes below!

 

Setting SMART Goals for Back to School!

I have been writing a series of blog posts about preparing to go back to school. Each Fall (end of summer), I like to sit down and think of a few goals that I would like to achieve. Goal setting can be challenging for several reasons. First, it forces us to look at some of our perceived “deficiencies.” Where do we need to improve? What do we need to learn? Try to think of these not deficiencies, but as areas of growth. Second, goal-setting can feel overwhelming, especially if we have lofty goals. Even if goals feel daunting, I find that I can conquer them if I task them out using the SMART criteria. This helps you to articulate your goals in meaningful and thoughtful ways. For goals to be SMART they must be:

Specific – Goals should be simple and straight forward.

Measurable – You should be able to use tangible and measurable evidence to determine your progress towards your goal and against which to assess achievement.

Attainable – While you want to stretch yourself with goal-setting, your goals should be realistic.

Relevant – Goals should be focused on a vital area of professional or personal growth. Don’t set goals just to have goals

Time-bound – You need a timeline. How and when will you measure success?

If you would like some help in writing and crafting SMART goals, check out this process from UVA and MIT. A peer once suggested posting your goals publicly. This not only holds you accountable but models effective goal-setting. Better yet, if you fail to achieve your goals you can model learning from failure!

What are your goals for the coming year? Leave it in the comments below!