Media Mentors, Not Media Police

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It is a tricky thing to look at one’s own biases: it can make us feel somewhat vulnerable. In the case of screen time however, it is essential that we do so.

Professor Andy Przybylski (University of Oxford) opened the one-day event on Screen Time I had the good fortune to attend, by commenting on the very existence of the phrase “screen time”. Is there similar examination of “book time” or “food time” for example? There is an unfair rhetoric of analogue time being wholesome, good and entirely helpful, whereas screen time is seen as inherently bad, distracting, unhealthy and leading to nothing of value.

This ‘displacement hypothesis’ is such that every digital minute is seen as taking away from an analogue minute, with the insinuation that digital minutes are taking you further away from you being your best, most successful self.

Professor Przybylski argued that the evidence simply doesn’t back up this theory. Any correlational findings (remember, correlation does not equal causation) are so statistically insignificant they don’t justify focusing on – less than 1% variability in terms of correlational findings around sleep, health, functioning and behaviour.

So what does this mean for parents?

Simply put, there is an over-emphasis on limits and not enough focus on thinking critically about how we use screens, particularly how we use screens with our children.

Alexandra Samuel, using data from surveys of 10,000+ North American Parents*, found three main parenting approaches to technology: Limiters, Enablers and Mentors.

Limiters focus on minimizing access to technology.
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Enablers put few restrictions on access to technology.
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Mentors actively guide their children in the use of technology.
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What is especially interesting about these approaches, is that for school-aged students, the children of Limiters were twice as likely to access porn, or post rude/hostile comments online. They were also three times as likely to impersonate a classmate, peer or adult (see Samuel’s article in the Atlantic for more information).

Likening the Limiter approach to abstinence-only sex education, Samuel argues, “Shielding kids from the Internet may work for a time, but once they do get online, limiters’ kids often lack the skills and habits that make for consistent, safe, and successful online interactions.”

Mentors typically make up a third of  parents overall, but Mentors are equally represented in each age range, suggesting that this might be an approach that works effectively throughout your child’s life.

What we like best about these findings is that they reinforce the idea that establishing and maintaining positive relationships with your children around technology is beneficial to everyone. We want our child(ren) to come to us if they encounter problems, knowing we won’t freak out or overreact. For this to happen, we have to show that we care about and value their digital world in the same way we show that we value their other activities, e.g. reading and sports.

Screenwise-3D-e1470087898717Devorah Heitner, author of Screenwise, suggests, Take an interest in what your kids do in their digital lives. Learn together with your kids. Play Minecraft with them or share photos on Instagram with them. Show them what you are doing online and ask them for advice about your Facebook posts or LinkedIn Profile. Your goal is not to become an expert in technology but to get a window into how your kids think about, and interact with, technology.

 

With an awareness and understanding that no parent is all-Mentor all of the time, how can we engage in more Mentor-like behaviour with our children? How can we move from being Media Police, to being Media Mentors?

My colleague Daniel Johnston and I came up with a few suggestions, which we have organised into a March Media Mentor Month Calendar (see below).

Screen Shot 2018-02-06 at 3.19.35 PMWe know as busy parents, it is unlikely you will get to all of these ideas (especially not only in March!), but we hope this provides a resource for you to explore and find ideas of activities to help you develop a positive digital relationship with your family.

Click to access a larger A3 PDF version

 

Please feel free to share your ideas with us in the comments below, or add the hashtag #mediamentormonth on social media posts.


“About the data: All the charts in this article are drawn from a series of surveys conducted on Springboard America and the Angus Reid Forum between March 2014 and February 2016. More than 11,000 surveys were completed by parents of children under 18; each individual survey sampled between 500 and 1000 North American parents.” Please note this data has not been made publicly available and is not peer reviewed.

 

The Best Podcasts for Middle Schoolers

It is not uncommon to see Middle Schoolers with earbuds in their ears, but how many of them have been encouraged to explore the podcasting genre?

For the past few years, teachers Ceci Gomez-Galvez and Nathan Lill at Shekou International School in China, have implemented a podcast project with their Grade 8 students based on the popular NPR podcast series “This I Believe.

Students listen and respond to a range of “This I believe” examples – both from the original podcast and samples from previous students – and then undertake the process of creating their own.

Attending a workshop with the pair last year, I couldn’t help but feed off their passion and excitement for the project. Listening to some of the finished student samples gave me chills. What phenomenal work students produce when given a platform to (literally!) share their own voice with the world.

Ceci and Nathan have shared all of their resources (linked here with permission), so I encourage you to check out the vast array of material they have shared and get this project started in your school community.

In addition, why not incorporate podcasts into your regular literacy programme? Below are a few of my favourites, which I hope you will explore with your Middle Schoolers.

This I Believe

This I Believe engaged listeners in a discussion of the core beliefs that guide their daily lives. We heard from people of all walks of life — the very young and the very old, the famous and the previously unknown.” When you get a collection of stories about powerful beliefs from a diverse group of people, you can’t help but create amazing content.

Sample Episodes:
Saying Thanks to my Ghosts – Amy Tan
Life is Wonderfully Ridiculous – Claude Knobler

Youth Radio

Youth Radio is a commentary on present-day issues, presented by student journalists. What I like about this podcast is you get view points from students, for students. The content varies broadly. Student journalists are never going to shy away from controversial topics – it’s part of what makes it real to it its listeners. Generally, episodes are short and cover a range of perspectives. There is bound to be one about a topical issue you are exploring in class.

Sample episodes:
13 Reasons Why Not
Transgender Rights

The Allusionist

If language is your area of expertise, look no further than The Allusionist. Featuring language experts, listener questions and words of the day, this podcast by Helen Zaltzman is a deep dive into the wonders and mysteries of language. This podcast would certainly enhance lessons on grammar.

Sample Episodes:
How the Dickens Stole Christmas
Triumph/Trumpet/Top/Fart

99% Invisible

In its own words: “99% Invisible is about all the thought that goes into the things we don’t think about — the unnoticed architecture and design that shape our world.” Fascinating stuff, huh? Digging around in the archives will be sure to uncover an episode or two to engage every learner.

Sample Episodes:
The Accidental Music of Imperfect Escalators
Last Straws: Inventing the Modern “Drinking Tube” and Flexible “Bendy Straw”

The Sporkful

Billing itself as a podcast for eaters, not foodies, The Sporkful is chocka-block with fascinating gastronomic content. As my son is essentially a stomach on legs, I figure this will be a great podcast for him to check out…

Sample Episodes:
To Eat Less Sugar, Bake a Cake, Says Yotam Ottolenghi
Katie’s Year in Recovery (from an eating disorder)

Reply All

The Guardian describes Reply All as, “A podcast about the internet’ that is actually an unfailingly original exploration of modern life and how to survive it.” The subject matter is near and dear to many teen hearts, and the quirky anecdotes about the vast reaches of the internet keep the audience wanting more.

Sample Episodes:
Is Facebook Spying on you?
The Cathedral

Welcome to Night Vale

Ok, this one is weird! Finally, a work of fiction for the teenage mind to uncover. Each episode of Welcome to Night Vale appears as a series of regular reports from a local community news broadcast. Sounds fairly benign, right? But there are some major clues that things are not exactly what you’d call “normal” in the town of Night Vale. Aliens, the attention given to  helicopter paint and a floating cat is only the beginning…

Sample episode:
Pilot – Episode 1


Cross-posted at Digital GEMS blog

Podcasts for Primary – It’s Time

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As a very visual person, I arrived relatively late to the Podcast party. It wasn’t for lack of interest – I just didn’t know what to do with my EYES! Thankfully, the need to take my dog for a walk solved that problem for me.

I listened to several outstanding podcasts and found myself thoroughly engaged. It made me think that kids really need in on the podcast action too! If we want students to ‘Read the World’ – and we do! – we need to give them opportunities to read books, online texts, images, videos AND podcasts.

Obviously, I’m not the only one thinking of using podcasts in the classroom. English teacher Mike Godsey, writing for The Atlantic, shares his experience with The Value of Using Podcasts in Class. Unexpected benefits for his high school students included wanting to engage more with reading as a result of listening to podcasts. But would the same benefits apply to younger learners? G5 teacher @JKSuth thinks so, based on how her students responded to popular podcast The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel.

 

Fortunately, I have 2 guinea pigs children of my own with which to test out some podcasts. We listen to an episode or two in the car on the way to school (a welcome alternative to the monotony of Swiss radio). I can attest to their engagement in the podcasts, discussion after each episode (involving shared hypotheses as to what may happen next), and general enthusiasm for listening.

Below are some podcasts I recommend for the new generation of listeners out there.

The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel

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Top of the list for 8-12 year olds is The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel. A clever mystery beginning in a school and continued in space. This award-winning podcast is extremely well put together, with great hooks to keep children engaged across episodes.

 

Eleanor Amplified

Eleanor AmplifiedHero reporter Eleanor Amplified outwits fiendish plots to prevent her broadcasting the truth to her listeners. This adventure series is recommended for children 8-12 years old. The short 15-ish minute podcasts would fit in well as part of a reading rotation in a well-balanced literacy programme.

The Alien Adventures of Finn Caspian

finn_caspian-1024x1024-500x500This serialised sci-fi podcast features the adventures of Finn Caspian, his friends and pet robots as they explore the universe’s greatest mysteries aboard an Exploratory Space Station. Interaction is encouraged, so listeners can submit plot suggestions, questions or leave an audio message for the author.

Peace Out

Peace out

This relaxation podcast gets great reviews from parents out there. An alternative (or addition!) to a bedtime story, this podcast provides techniques to help kids remain calm and relax.

Brains On! Science Podcast for Kids

Brains onFrom Animal Farts to Sunburn, Slime to Carnivorous plants, there is something in Brains On for every kid. The length of episodes varies greatly, so take note of how much time you have for these scientific gems. They are great augmentations to many science units at school.

Tumble Science Podcast for Kids

Tumble

Along similar lines, Tumble features some super interesting science content (18 mins on the science of poop, anyone?!) and interview scientists to find answers to kids’ burning questions.

WOW in the World

WOW in the worldRounding out our science trilogy, NPR’s WOW in the World podcast encourages families to explore and appreciate the amazing wonders of the world around them. Why do onions make you cry? How do you catch a case of the giggles? Answers to these questions and more can be found in this 25-30 minute podcast series.

So what other podcasts can I add to our daily rotation? Which podcasts do your primary students enjoy most? I hope you join the conversation!


Cross-posted at Digital GEMS blog

Parenting in the Digital Age: With a Little Help From my Friends

Like many of you, I have recently returned to work after a holiday break. I thought I’d do a little reflection on what went well for our family in terms of parenting in the digital age, and what didn’t. I am lucky to have a great support network of friends who make the job of parenting that much easier. Let me share with you some of the highs, the lows and some interesting nuggets of wisdom I gained over the holiday break.

Digital Highlights

I have to say, there were 3 things we did as a family that I really enjoyed this break. I plan on doing more of them in the future.

1. Blackwood Crossing
This recommendation came from my good friend and former colleague @intrepidteacher. According to the Blackwood Crossing website,

“Blackwood Crossing is a story-driven first-person adventure game. An intriguing and emotive tale exploring the fragile relationship between orphaned siblings, Scarlett and Finn. When their paths cross with a mysterious figure, an ordinary train ride evolves into a magical story of life, love and loss. The game is available to download now on PS4, Xbox One and Steam, priced at £12.99 / $15.99 / €15.99.”

My children’s names are Scarlett and Griffin, so this game certainly held extra appeal for us as a family. What I liked was it wasn’t a shooter game (which I struggle to play effectively), but had story at its heart, meaning we could all sit together and play, taking turns to operate the controller. It felt good to be able to participate together in a game situation where I was on a level playing field with my kids. I think they enjoyed playing with me too. Find out more from blackwoodcrossing.com.

2. Worth it
My family love good food. We quite happily sit in front of Jamie Oliver’s 15 minute meals, or Masterchef etc. My daughter Scarlett found this gem of a show on YouTube. Worth It looks at one type of cuisine (pizza, sushi, ice cream etc), goes to 3 different locations at different price points, then decides which establishment they think is most “Worth it”. There is the occasional expletive (bleeped out and mouth covered on screen), however the content and humour throughout (especially the cameraman, who seldom says a word), makes this a show our whole family enjoys.

3. 1 Second Everyday
Friends Britt and Shaun who spent a year traveling are the inspiration for this fantastic app. Add a 1-second video to the calendar within the app each day, and you can create wonderful slice-of-life videos. I started in January, so I’m really only beginning this journey, but Britt & Shaun made a video lasting a whole year! I hope to have something similar to share at the end of 2018!

Digital Lowlights

Of course things weren’t all moonlight and roses. There were a number of times these holidays when our kids were unsupervised for periods of time watching YouTube videos. That never makes me feel very good. Unsuitable content is so easy to come across unintentionally, and I much prefer having a closer eye on what my kids are watching. That said, I did like sleeping in… A cursory glance of revision history reassures me somewhat – NBA highlight videos and Minecraft video tutorials were the main areas of interest, but since school is back in session, there is little time for such endeavours.

Interesting

1. Reading Screenwise
I am partway through reading Screenwise:  Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World by Devorah Heitner. One suggestion the author had was to ask your children which of your tech habits is their least favourite (Chapter 6, p.110). I’ll get to that in a moment… I’m glad to be reading this book, as it seems to be a balanced and realistic approach to learning to navigate a digital world, rather than trying to shut it out entirely. Modeling is key. The slow-motion videos and Go-Pro photos we captured while sledding were great fun! I like the blending of the physical and digital worlds where it makes sense, so it has been a good read so far.

2. Captive Audience in the Car
Car journeys to and from school or basketball practice provide the perfect opportunity for asking those curly questions or having frank discussions. As implied, you have a captive audience, and there isn’t any eye-contact necessary, should they be embarrassed about something. Try it! I highly recommend it! I asked my kids which of my tech habits was the most annoying, and they both said, “When you tell us to get off screens but you’re still on your phone.” Touché, my littles, touché. Now that is absolutely fair enough, and something I will be working on in the coming months.

3. Board Games
During the sad days during the holidays when it rained non-stop, we turned to board games to entertain and sustain us. Catan, Yahtzee, Mahjong and Bananagrams all featured this break. Despite early protestations and claims of utter boredom, everyone really enjoyed this change of routine.

4. Exploding Kittens
Exploding Kittens was also high on our list of awesome things to do that the whole family enjoys. If you haven’t given this card game a try, it is an absolute cracker. Exploding Kittens was created by well-known cartoonist The Oatmeal. It is utterly bonkers – in the very best way. Go out and buy it now – your kids will thank you for it.

So how did your holiday go as a parent in the digital age? Any tips to share?

The Power of a Small Idea

I was checking Twitter one day, when this tweet by Anna Davies jumped out at me, with its striking red and black colour scheme and professional-looking images.

It turns out that Anna had been inspired by my Dover colleague, Nicki Hambleton, who created posters with her Middle School students, based on the work of Designer, Graphic Artist and Photographer, Barbara Kruger.

When I see an amazing idea, like the images in Anna’s tweet, I always want to try it out. As I don’t have a class of my own, I have to pitch the idea to my colleagues and hope that it sparks an interest.

As it happened, our school was just embarking on a PSE unit around the Power of Words. Tech Mentor Mike Bowden jumped on board and took the idea to his Grade 3 team.

Students prepared for the poster by finding a quote that resonated with them about the Power of Words. They took a photo of themselves on a plain background, ensuring to leave enough space to fit the quote.

In Keynote, students added the image, then reduced the saturation to turn it black and white. They used the limited colour palette of red, black and white for the text, experimenting with placement and rotation as needed.

This was a very rich learning task for our students. There were a lot of technical and design skills that we were able to build into an authentic context that met our curricula outcomes.

Naturally, we shared examples of our finished posters on Twitter – these examples were from Mandy Whitehouse‘s class.

What happened next is what I LOVE about social media. Jose O’Donovan saw our examples on Twitter and got his students to make their own – this time, posters about Kindness.

So in case you are the sort of person who worries about sharing the learning in your classroom, take the plunge! You never know the power of your small idea and the impact it may have on others. 

Reducing Distractions on Digital Devices

Distractions are as old as time. Think back to high school when perhaps you were doodling on a pencil case or passing notes to friends. What is different is that the very tools that allow us to access such wonderful learning and communication opportunities, can also have the power to distract us.
In the presentation below, you will find ideas and suggestions on helping students develop good work habits, practice self-tracking, and also provide suggestions for parental monitoring – IF it gets to that stage. I hope you find something of value for your family.

We also have a Padlet where we are collecting your great ideas! Please feel free to add a suggestion.

 

Made with Padlet

Cross-posted at GreaTechxpectations

Podcasting our Book Club Conversations

Book Club conversations are an important part of a UWCSEA literacy education. Thinking deeply about a shared text, sharing understandings and connections, and – crucially – listening to the perspectives of others, all contributes to our reading experiences.

As teachers, we know these conversations are valuable, but we can only be in one place at one time. Listening to one group’s discussions has the opportunity cost of missing out on the other conversations.

Podcasting book club conversations has a number of benefits – not least of which being teachers have the opportunity to gain an insight into more conversations.

Knowing a conversation will be recorded adds a layer of accountability for students, meaning they tend to take it more seriously. They consider their word choice more carefully, ensure they provide evidence for their assertions and listen with greater consideration.

G5 teacher Andrea McDonald began the podcasting process for her students by listening to great examples. Book Club for Kids has a whole host of age-appropriate options. They also listened to a charming episode of the Modern Love podcast called ‘What it’s like to fall, quite literally, in love’.

Andrea provided an A3 planning sheet for students to write sentence starters to use as prompts for their discussion. The class wanted natural sounding conversations that were largely unscripted, to give it that sense of authenticity they love when listening to podcasts.

Here are some documents Andrea created in support of the planning and preparing, including some examples of student work.

 

Once planning had been completed, the groups found quiet spots to record. We decided on using iMovie for easy editing later, however, GarageBand would be another great choice.

To enhance the quality of audio, we used headphones with a microphone placed in the middle of the group. Students recorded their discussion in chunks on a shared iPad and airdropped their footage to their individual laptops afterward.

One thing we learned (the hard way!) was not to record in 1080p, but to change the settings to 720p instead. We had some difficulty getting the footage to individual computers due to the sheer size of the files. The students were very patient with this frustrating aspect of the process.

Next, it was time to edit. Adding clips to iMovie was pretty straight forward, so we just showed them how to detach the audio from the video clip, and replace the image so the emphasis could be on the conversation itself.

Making decisions to cut aspects of their conversation was really hard for many! But always good practice to learn about cutting to strengthen the overall process. Most podcasts ended up between 10 – 15 minutes in length.

Below you will find a few examples of our finished podcasts. It was our first attempt, but a great learning experience for us all.