Managing Distractions with Mario

In terms of relevant life skills to foster in all students, managing distractions has to be high on the list. Our aim is to have students who can successfully focus on tasks and manage their time effectively. So how exactly do we go about helping our students achieve that?

We know “Knowledge is Power,” so providing background information and suggestions for how to maintain focus on tasks, is essential.

The following suggestions are taken from a presentation I will deliver to Grade 9 & 10 students here at the Western Academy of Beijing, organised around 4 key ideas:
1. Prep for it
2. Track it
3. Block it
​4. Sort it

Just like choosing the right vehicle for the race, you need to set yourself up for success. Here are some tips for a positive start to your work:

Find a quiet space to work. If this is a challenge, consider noise-canceling headphones, which will allow you to concentrate more easily.

Many people like to listen to music while they work. I recommend people reconsider the use of music – particularly any music with lyrics – while they work. Evidence that music helps you study has not been proven. The famous “Mozart effect” has been discredited many times, so even classical music may not offer any advantages.

The Chrome/Edge extension Tab Snooze lets you ‘put tabs to sleep’ and wake them up at a later time. This is an option if you don’t want to lose those tabs.

Otherwise, close any tabs that don’t have any direct benefit to the work you are currently focusing on. Simple.

Turn off Notifications on your computer and your phone. Having a phone nearby can distract you, regardless of whether you have it on silent mode – so put your phone out of sight while studying.

Enable Night Shift on your devices so that you are more ready for sleep once you have finished your work

Enable Do Not Disturb on your Mac and iPhone/iPad so you are not distracted by friends/family wanting to chat.

On a Mac, use Reader View on Safari to remove advertising and other distracting elements when researching. This works only on articles where the 4 lines (shown in the magnifying glass) appear on the left of the address bar. 

Reader Mode works just the same way, and can be added as a Chrome Extension or an Edge Browser Extension.

Don’t have any rotating backgrounds on your desktop. Visual movement (such as a gif, moving advertisement or background) attracts our attention. According to brain researcher John Medina, this is likely due to evolutionary causes, where visual movement indicated either potential threats or food sources. If we have moving objects in our periphery, we are likely to be more distracted.

Chrome extensions can often distract, but Momentum is a great choice of an extension that helps keep you on track. Each new tab prompts a beautiful image, an inspirational quote for the day, and the question: What is your main focus for today? There is also a To Do section, where you can add tasks, and have that satisfying feeling as you check each one off.

Consider the use of Pomodoro Timers. The Pomodoro Technique is a time management approach that breaks work periods into chunks (usually 25 mins), with rest periods (5 mins) in between. There are many websites/apps with timers you can use to chunk work into ‘pomodoros’, e.g. marinaratimer.com

If you hate the idea of studying alone, then Study With Me videos on YouTube could be just what you’re after! These videos are usually broken into Pomodoro style chunks of 20-25 mins with 5 min breaks built-in, and can last for as long as you need to study.

Perhaps you’re not entirely sure where your time goes when you’re trying to study? Maybe you’re adamant YouTube isn’t the problem? Either way, if you track it, you’ll know about it.

Screen time is available on a Mac now, along with iOS devices. You can see your usage statistics by app, and see your usage over a week or a day. This can help identify trends you may not be aware of, such as total pick-ups of your phone per day. 

Using devices such as the Apple Watch or the Mi Band, you can track your sleep. People your age should be getting around 8-10 hours sleep a night. Adults should get about 7-8 hours a night. Sleep has a profound effect on your ability to concentrate. A recent study from the University of California, found (and other studies have confirmed) that to your brain, one sleepless night (being awake for over 19 hours) is the cognitive equivalent of being legally drunk.

Likewise, tracking your exercise or steps, using a phone, Apple Watch or exercise band will help you notice your physical activity (or inactivity). Studies such as Chang and Etnier (2009) have shown that moderate-intensity exercise is related to increased performance in working memory and cognitive flexibility, whereas high-intensity exercise improves the speed of information processing.

Ok, so you have tried prepping and tracking but you need to try something more proactive. Time to get some help by blocking some of the websites/apps that tend to lead you astray.

If you’re finding it a challenge to stay focused, you may choose to set downtime or app limits for entertainment apps, to help you be more productive.

Another possibility for Mac users is Self Control. You can download this and use it to temporarily block access to distracting websites.

Check out this cross-platform alternative: Chrome Extension StayFocusd. This option is highly configurable, and can allow you to spend a certain time period on certain websites, then restrict access. ​

Another Chrome/Edge extension is Forest. Whenever you want to stay focused, plant a tree. Your tree will grow while you focus on your work. Leaving the app halfway will cause your tree to die. You can grow your own garden!

Block colour: It is incredible the impact color has on your brain. Here is an image of my iPhone home page, with a number of notifications showing up. I did an experiment where I turned the color filter on to greyscale for 24 hours. It was horrifying! And yet, it worked. I just didn’t enjoy going on my phone as much as I usually did. It really curbed my usage. If you’re having trouble putting your phone away, try this! 

If you get organised and plan for your work in advance, you can make life so much easier. Here are some tips to help you level up with your organisation.

My Study Life is a great website and app that helps you get organised. It’s designed especially for the needs of HS and University students. The good news is it also works well for flexible timetables like our 9-day rotating timetable. Available on all platforms, it can integrate with your school Microsoft/Google Account to provide you with reminders for whatever you need.

To Do is Microsoft’s organizational tool. You have access to this with your school Microsoft account. You can break tasks down into simple steps, add due dates, and set reminders for your daily checklist to keep you on track. You can also create shared lists if you have group projects to complete.

Available on all platforms, Evernote works across multiple devices and can even search your handwriting. Evernote has a list or to-do feature to help organize your life.

So there you go! I hope you have a few more tools at your disposal to help manage distractions. Below you will find a list of helpful resources (many of the ones mentioned above, and more). The more practice you have at managing your time effectively, the easier you will find it when those deadlines increase. All the best!

Made with Padlet

Good Enough

I am sure blogger’s guilt is not something unique to me. Truth be told, the past 3 months have been so all-encompassing that the thought of sitting for more time in front of my computer to type out a blog post is more than I could bear. Hence the hiatus. The short version is that due to the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent campus closures, my family and I have been engaging in distance teaching and learning based in NZ, where we are lucky to be able to stay with my parents.

Back in the ‘Jing

Aside from a 1-week ‘Spring break’, occurring – miraculously – before NZ went into lockdown and domestic travel was still possible, we – like so many families – have been learning while in limbo. Emotionally, it has been exhausting. Before my pity-party gets into full swing, I should say it has come with many, many benefits, not least of which has been the chance to catch up with friends and family while we’re here. That is no small thing and I am truly grateful.

But back to the blog! Many of my contemporaries have successfully described the above, detailing the challenges of parenting, teaching and being away from home. Others have continued to wrestle with the complexities of creating engaging online learning experiences, nudging us ever-forward with thought-provoking ideas and suggestions. My friends, I salute you! You amaze and inspire me and for that, I thank you.

Today, I offer you none of those things. Instead, I will share the things I have found to help me get through these tumultuous weeks. This is by no means a recipe for success, but rather a loose approach to my survival.

#Procrastibaking

I live to eat. It is, quite literally, one of my favourite things to do. I have found much joy in trawling the NY Times cooking section for recipes to try, looking through my favourite online sites, and experimenting with fermenting beverages thanks to a thoughtful suggestion from the effervescent @JoelBirch. So if you want to check out my version of Peanut Butter Blossoms, discuss what to do with those millions of zucchini that just keep growing, or wax lyrical about the variations of Tepache (please see video below), look no further!

Talking

Social media is sustaining for a borderline extrovert like me. As I coach, I know the genuine value of being able to talk through challenging situations can help improve one’s outlook and help you reach solutions you hadn’t considered when mulling things over by yourself. The process of conversation aids thinking. It was a stroke of luck that lead me to connect with Philippa Kruger from Education Perfect, as she invited me to talk through my (then) 7 weeks of online learning on her podcast. You can listen to my conversation with Philippa here. Through it, I managed to identify what was working well for us, what challenges we faced and how to best support students. I also became aware that I had a bit of a gin habit… Regardless, our chat helped me see the many positives of this unexpected situation, for which I am truly grateful.

Gin o’clock

Exercise… Well, sort of

Those who know me are often frustrated that despite doing very little exercise, I remain fairly slim. It’s one of life’s many mysteries. As a New Year’s Resolution in 2019, I committed to doing push-ups every day. I am not fussy about the number – I started with 10 – but I am regularly doing 100 push-ups a day now. I don’t love it, but I do it, no excuses. I have augmented that with occasional workouts on Sworkit (a great app for adults and students, with workouts of all types), walks with my Mum, and that one time I went biking… Seriously, how do people bike anywhere? Those seats are ridiculous! I know I feel better for having done a workout, so I will keep trying to make it a part of my everyday.

A walk with my Mum

Helping others

One of the best parts of my job is being able to help others. If I can help someone else – even if my life is bonkers, I’m not sleeping well and I’ve been wearing activewear for 3 days straight – then I feel better about myself. So thank you to the people who have reached out for ideas, tech-help, unloading and/or advice for keeping me not so focused on my own problems! It’s a very successful diversionary tactic. One example is my former colleague Estelle, who invited me to present at the Africa Learning International conference to assist teachers in getting started with online learning. Given the conference was at 3am NZ time, they kindly let me pre-record, so I can share the video with you below.

Letting go of Perfect.

I like to do things well. Actually, that’s a lie. I like to do things really well. It matters to me to feel I am doing a good job at whatever it is I am doing (I know, I know, it’s a character flaw). Through this process of online learning, I feel I am better able to let ‘perfect’ go. I can’t be the perfect parent AND coach AND friend AND partner AND daughter AND colleague while living out of a suitcase for the 11th week in a row. Most days, I barely hit one of those! I guess my point is that I am growing in my ability to accept ‘good enough, given the circumstances.’ It’s definitely a work in progress, as I actually cried when my hot cross buns failed. I mean, for goodness’ sake, get some perspective!

Ahh well, there’s always tomorrow.

Media Mentor Month 2020

March Media Mentor Month is BACK! This year seems more relevant than ever as we have so many families involved in distance learning online due to school closures as a result of the #COVID-19 outbreak.

Click here to access via Google Drive, or click here to access via Dropbox.
Click here to access via Dropbox, or click here to access via Google Drive

(The PDF above is also available in Korean via Dropbox here, or Google Drive here)

In my household, we are now onto week 4 of online-only learning. It has been a huge learning curve for our family, highlighting our complete reliance on our devices as learning tools (and entertainment powerhouses!), but also the value of spending time together – both on and offline.

I hope that Media Mentor Month 2020 provides an opportunity to engage in experiences that celebrate positive uses of technology, explore some creative pursuits, and encourage you to take time for important conversations about how we best use our devices. Let us be the media mentors our children need us to be.

For link to .ppt file in Chinese (above), click here.

For link to the Google Slides file in Korean, click here, or .ppt file in OneDrive here

For further reading on how Media Mentor Month came about, please see the links below:
Media Mentors, Not Media Police – blog post explaining the background to our first MMM, including research findings and book recommendations.
More Digital Parenting Conversation Ideas – myths about screen time and some healthy habits to foster.
Speaking to G12 about Digital Wellness – a video of my talk with WAB senior students earlier this year, highlighting potential positives and negatives of technology for their consideration.
Media Mentor 2019 – The second Media Mentor Month.
Media Mentor 2018 – Our inaugural Media Mentor Month!

Speaking to G12s about Digital Wellness

When I was first asked to speak with G12 students about Internet Safety and Security, I’ll admit I died a little inside. One thing I knew for sure was that G12s wouldn’t want to be lectured about “Digital Citizenship” from a teacher who would probably point out that some students got kicked out of Harvard for something they posted on Facebook!

I had to think different.

The reality is that there are lots of positives and negatives about the ways people choose to use technology, and we want to ensure students (and teachers) are aware of how they can get the best out of it. Awareness of the risks and rewards. Essentially, I’m talking about Digital Wellness.

I used Keynote and iPad with Apple Pencil to create my presentation, and followed up with a set of resources shared via Padlet. The video and Padlet are below. I hope you find them useful!

Made with Padlet

Parenting in the Digital Age – 2019 edition

My colleague Daniel Johnston and I spoke to parents last week on the subject of Parenting in the Digital Age – a topic close to both of our hearts. We reminded those in attendance that we are personally invested in this topic and learning alongside them, as we are parents, as well as teachers.

For this presentation, we based a lot of our information on content available from the following sources:
Amy Blankson – an author and speaker, focusing on “Leveraging technology to help us be more productive, keep our sanity, and boost our happiness.”
Dave & Blake – presenters and speakers for My Life Online which aims to “teach kids to be
safe, smart & kind online.”


We encourage you to explore these sources, as they are full of great ideas to support students and parents.

Below is our presentation to parents. Please click on the cog below the presentation to access the speaker notes.

We also collated some resources on a Padlet, which you can see below, or access via tinyurl.com/gwas2019. We hope you find them useful!

Made with Padlet

More Digital Parenting Conversation Ideas

As part of #MediaMentorMonth, my colleague Daniel Johnston and I have put together some conversation starters for parents. We are always on the lookout for more great resources, so I am excited to share the following with you.

Dave and Blake are two presenters of My Life Online a series of workshops for schools around keeping kids safe and positive in their online interactions. The pair have recently released a 3-part video series aimed at parents, incorporating strategies that aim to improve conversations with kids and present information in a calm, non-sensational manner.

First up, is a video entitled “The 3 Habits Every Kid Needs to be Safe & Responsible Online.” In this video, they focus on helping kids make safe and good choices, on increasing empathy and on considering their online legacy. You will appreciate the easy to remember strategies to pass on to your children, and the fact that it is realistic advice, not the “Guess the right answer” type of advice that has kids cringing on the inside.

The second video in the series focuses on the 4 Myths about Screen Time and How it Affects Your Child. It addresses the myths that:

  1. Social Media is a “Bad Thing”
  2. Kids are addicted to their phones
  3. Kids are losing their ability to socialise in person, and
  4. Kids need online monitoring

Again, what I appreciate about their approach, is they are not demonising social media (which is not helpful in our digital world), but instead are giving parents approaches to improve communication and foster positive relationships with their child(ren).

Lastly, the third video centres around 3 Crucial Conversations To Have With Your Kids About Using Social Media.

One of the most practical tips they share in this video, is considering online posts on the following continuum: Helpful to Hurtful; Self to Others. This can be a great way of encouraging kids to see the impact of their posts may have.

Each video is about 15 minutes long, and well worth the time. I hope you find them useful!

Media Mentor Month 2019

Click image above to access A3 PDF

What is it?
Media Mentor Month is an initiative to help parents develop a positive relationship with their children around digital technologies. Just as we want to be mentors for our children in reading or having a healthy lifestyle, we also want to mentor them in their digital world too (see more details about being a Media Mentor here). The trouble is, sometimes we don’t know exactly how to go about that. Media Mentor Month provides parents with some ideas and strategies to help foster and develop that relationship.

Click here to access the A3 version of the Calendar.

Who is it for?
Anyone, really, but probably best suited to parents who are looking for direction to connect with their children around technology. Especially the ones who feel they only ever battle with their kids about being on screens too much (see more about that here).

When is it happening?
Ideally, March, so we’re all on the same page. Realistically? Any time that fits in to your family schedule.

What do I need to do?
You can participate as much or as little as you like. Personally, I would love to see you share some photos of your family engaging in the challenges. Make sure to add the hashtag #MediaMentorMonth so we can follow your progress!

Dear Data @GEMS World Academies

It’s no secret that at GEMS World Academy (GWA) Schools, we love working with data.

In GWA Switzerland, under the expert direction of Sara Hodgson, students have worked on Data Visualisation projects in Art, culminating in large murals around the school. We invite you to explore their work in more detail here.

One of many data projects happening at GWA Chicago, is a year-long research project in collaboration with Apple on data collection in the field, which they will present this December.

It was this love of data which ignited our latest collaborative project between Innovation Leads at GEMS World Academy schools.

For Peg Keiner (GWA Chicago), data is an opportunity to notice patterns and uncover new information; to make the invisible, visible. Andy MacRae (GWA Switzerland),  loves showing others how data can inform their practice and help them identify trends. For me (Keri-Lee Beasley at GWA Switzerland), I love how data visualisation encourages curiosity and engagement with information and simplifies people’s understanding of sometimes challenging subjects.

Peg, Andy and I drew inspiration from the Dear Data project, created by Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec. The pair collected and illustrated their personal data and sent it to each other in the form of postcards over the period of a year.

Every fortnight, we will attempt to collect some data in our lives, visualise that data, and share it with each other (and the world!). The twist is we are collecting and visualising the data digitally, with the use of the Google Forms, the iPad and Apple Pencil.

Very soon, we aim to bring this project to our students, so we can get to know friends in different global locations, and also strengthen their ability to analyse, interpret and present data themselves.

Our first data collection topic is one close to the hearts of teachers everywhere: Coffee and Tea. We used the app Procreate to visualise our data, and it was wonderful to see the different approaches and styles.

Andy’s Coffee & Tea Data Visualisation

Andy incorporated his love of cycling into his data visualisation with the use of bike wheels. The circular format helped show the time of day he drank his coffee. By going through this process, Andy realised, “I tend to drink more coffee while I’m at work. It’s nice to feel focused and alert when I’m doing something. The more challenging the task, the more I seem to have coffee with the task.”

He also noted, “I drink too much coffee! I was more self conscious about how many coffees I had when we were tracking them. Now that we’re not tracking them I think I’ve probably had about 6 coffees today!”

Peg’s Coffee Data Visualisation

Peg designed her data visualisation in the car on a road trip. Watching her video (Procreate tracks brush strokes, which you can export as a video), it was interesting to see the process she went through in deciding how best to represent the data. A fan of iced coffee, Peg was shocked to see how frequently she purchased coffees. Since doing this project, she has returned to making more coffee at home, which no doubt helps the bank balance!

Peg’s Data Visualisation video
Keri-Lee’s Coffee & Tea Data Visualisation

Looking at our combined data, I was amazed to see I was the biggest consumer of caffeinated beverages among the 3 of us. I realised that I drink tea because I seldom have a water bottle with me, and have since tried to be better about drinking water instead.

Creating the visualisation made me really dig into the data, think about what I wanted to share, and how I could make it engaging for the audience.

We hope you enjoy our data project and we are happy to receive any suggestions of topics for the weeks ahead.

If you want to join us in our data collection, let us know!

Talking to Your Kids about Sex and Pornography

One of the biggest challenges parents face is how to approach potentially sensitive topics with their children. What age should they be? What should I say? How much detail do I go into?

As we know with parenting, there are so many different approaches to choose from. But before you go down that track, it might be best to examine your own experiences, beliefs and values, so you know where you’re starting, at least.

Here are some results of questions we asked parents at our recent workshop:

Here are some questions for you to ponder:
How did you learn about sex?
Where did you get your information from?

Did you feel well-prepared?
What do you wish you had known?

Furthermore:
Did your sex education focus on mechanics and how to avoid pregnancy?
Did it include aspects such as touching, pleasure, consent, emotions and feelings?
Did your sex education include sexuality education?
Did it include information about gender identity, sexual orientation and relationships?

Director of Wellbeing Daniel Johnston and I have teamed up again to put together some resources for parents about How to Talk to Your Kids about Sex and Pornography.

Our presentation to parents is below. Please view our slide notes (via the settings cog directly under the presentation) to see the points we try to raise throughout.

We also collated a fairly comprehensive set of resources for parents about common discussion points, which we encourage you to explore.

Made with Padlet

Regardless of the content, we encourage you to keep lines of communication open and make the most of those teachable moments that crop up, e.g. when watching TV. If your children don’t feel comfortable coming to you, then they will seek answers to their questions from elsewhere.

Have lots of small conversations, rather than one big “sex talk”. Let’s also make sure we have appropriate, reliable resources for them (books, websites, videos) so they have access to quality information if and when they choose to explore further.

Media Mentor Month

March Media Mentor Month Keynote.001.jpeg

What is it?
Media Mentor Month is an initiative to help parents develop a positive relationship with their children around digital technologies. Just as we want to be mentors for our children in reading or having a healthy lifestyle, we also want to mentor them in their digital world too (see more details about being a Media Mentor here). The trouble is, sometimes we don’t know exactly how to go about that. Media Mentor Month provides parents with some ideas and strategies to help foster and develop that relationship.

Click here to access the A3 version of the Calendar.

Who is it for?
Anyone, really, but probably best suited to parents who are looking for direction to connect with their children around technology. Especially the ones who feel they only ever battle with their kids about being on screens too much (see more about that here).

When is it happening?
Ideally, March, so we’re all on the same page. Realistically? Any time that fits in to your family schedule.

What do I need to do?
You can participate as much or as little as you like. Personally, I would love to see you share some photos of your family engaging in the challenges. Make sure to add the hashtag #MediaMentorMonth so we can follow your progress!