Category Archives: Technology

Play Video Games for Well-Being

I have been a (video) gamer since childhood. I played pong on a friend’s television. We got Atari one year for Christmas… my consoles evolved from there. Videogames specifically have been demonized over the years. Often attributed to violent or anti-social behavior. However, videogames are often incorrectly targeted. I loved this recent episode from the podcast Note to Self: Play Video Games for your Mental Health.

Featuring research Jane McGonigal, the episode focuses on the positive benefits of playing video games. Namely, honing your ability to work collaboratively, develop grit, creative problem solving, and stimulating positive feelings in your brain. If you are concerned about a child’s focus on video games, give this podcast a listen. It might change the way you think!

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Edutopia’s New Resources on Digital Citizenship

Digital Citizenship is always a hot topic with both educators and their schools. I have long been critical of the “stranger danger” focus of most digital citizenhsip curricula. This focus has over-exaggerated the risks of online predators and misinformed a generation of children and their parents, often with detrimental effects.

I was so happy to see Edutopia’s updated curriculum and guidelines, What Your Students Really Need to Know about Digital Citizenship, crafted by the esteemed educator Vicki Davis. It focuses on students created robust passwords (that they don’t share with others), not posting private information, not sharing without permission, the idea of media ownership, and more.

With this ideas coupled with Common Sense Media’s curriculum or the new one introduced by Google, you will be well prepared to help your students be successful online.

Learning How to Learn

As a history teacher, I am a great fan of the Crash Course history series. Over the years, Crash Course has expanded beyond World and US History, covering physics, philosophy, mythology, and more. This Fall, they launched a new series: Crash Course Study Skills. This is great series to help students learn various techniques to help them be successful in school. Through their series of amusing and informative videos, students learn how to effectively take notes, retain information, active reading, and more. Try it out!

Skills of the Future: 10 Skills You’ll Need to Thrive in 2020 [Infographic]

Prepare to be indispensable by 2020 or the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Acquire these top ten skills you need to thrive in the next five years.

Source: Skills of the Future: 10 Skills You’ll Need to Thrive in 2020 [Infographic]

Navigating a Natural Disaster with Social Media

It has been more than a week since Hurricane Irma ravaged the state of Florida. As a long-time Miami-Dade resident, this is my third hurricane (but my first “big one”). My partner was here for Andrew as well as the 2005 season (when Katrina, Rita, & Wilma swept through the state). If you have never been through a weather related natural disaster, there is a lot of anxiety in the air before as well as after. What made Irma different for me was not the storm itself, but the myriad of tools available to residents to help prepare and recover from the storm. Social media played a significant role for my community as we prepared for the storm and as we began to pick up the pieces afterwards. However, in order to use these tools effectively, it was necessary to understand how to navigate them! Here are a few things that I learned over the course of the past week.

Follow your State/County/City Government

Miami-Dade county employed all of the social media networks to get their messages out there: Facebook, Twitter, and Periscope were how I got my information about evacuation orders, emergency supplies, and more. I am a cord cutter (meaning that I have no cable). This was the first time I was concerned about local channel access (antennas are an option as well). However, it was not a problem as Facebook Live notified me when Mayor Carlos Gimenez, Governor Rick Scott, or our local Emergency Offices were sharing updated information on evacuation zones, shelters, and storm preparations. I did not miss an update. What I found especially helpful on these announcements for the community at large is that, unlike the postings on major news networks, they shared information in all three of the prominent languages in Miami-Dade County: English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole.

Be Careful with “Viral” Information & Tips

Both before and after a storm, misinformation is rampant. People are trying to be helpful

Snopes dishwasher

Courtesy of Snopes.com

and, as such, may share out information that is simply not accurate. For example, prior to the storm I saw so many people share out this information about storing valuables in your dishwasher (and other appliances). In fact, even a few news agencies ran with the story. So, if there is a storm, should you do this? Absolutely not! The NHC, Red Cross, and other information sharing organizations made a point to try to correct this information. Just an FYI, the best place to store your important documents and valuables is in water tight, plastic containers. After the storm, misinformation spread about reimbursements or food stamps for those who lost food as a result of a power outage. Sadly, whatever food is lost can only be recouped via an insurance claim. However, as power outages lingered on, the community provided hot lunches at local parks and schools.

Follow Your Local News

Local news is far more important than national news during a crisis. They can give you up to date information about what is happening not just in your city, but in your neighborhood. Additionally, if you don’t have power, they may be simulcasting in your community. During the storm, our local NPR affiliate was great at getting out information, especially after the storm. They even started a Facebook group for Keys residents to help check in on one another.

Twitter is Incredibly Powerful, If you Know How to Use it

Both before and after the storm, Twitter was my best friend in getting pertinent, up to date information. Before the storm hit, I was trying to figure out where to put my car. Like most older homes in South Florida, I don’t have a parking garage. My neighborhood also has a lot of trees. I was trying to find a local garage in which I could store my carCapture (shielding it from wind, debris, and possible storm surge). So, I tweeted out looking for help. As the Miami Herald was working overtime, I asked them for help. I was surprised and pleased when they responded immediately with some up-to-date information. I was ultimately able to park my car in the garage at Marlins Park (after some local pressure, they finally opened them up).

After the storm, by navigating some local hashtags such as #Miami, #MiamiAfterIrma, and #Irma, I was able to find restaurants that were open (after day 3 of pop-tarts and Peanutbutter sandwiches, we wanted a hot meal), progress of Florida Light & Power, distributions of ice, and other areas where we could seek comfort and refuge after the storm. Twitter crowd-sourcing is one of the best ways to find out information relevant to you and your area during a crisis.

 

All in all, my city was spared the worst that Irma could bring. However, South Florida has a bullseye painted on it and I know that we will face another storm in the future. I’m hoping that these tips will help you and your community weather the next crisis.

Google’s Monopoly & Your Privacy

When it comes to data privacy, what concerns me most of all is how much data is being collected without our knowledge. While many users understand that by entering their information into Facebook or other Social Media profile makes it public, many do not know that every internet search or email sent adds to the data mining pot. This is a great infographic, covering just the tip of the iceberg about what Google knows about you.

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.

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Photo Credit: https://howtostartablogonline.net/ Courtesy of HTSABO

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.