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.

 

Kanopy Streaming: Movies & Documentaries

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UWCSEA East recently got a subscription to Kanopy Streaming – and what a treasure trove it is! (UWC Teachers, click here; everyone else, try this link). If you have never heard of it before, let me tell you a little about it.

Kanopy began selling DVDs to universities in Australia, but has moved with the times to deliver a video streaming service to education providers worldwide, including Harvard, Princeton, Stanford and Yale. They have over 26,000 videos available currently, which are added to regularly.

So why should you care?

It is no secret how much students love learning through film. Kanopy has an incredible range of documentaries available: from  BBC’s Shakespeare Collection or its Planet Earth Series, through to Gravitas’s Food Choices: How Our Diet Affects the Planet, there is – quite literally – something for everyone.

A lot of the content is more suited to older audiences, but there is plenty in there to support Elementary learners. We’d encourage Elementary teachers to search Kanopy for a subject/unit they have upcoming, and preview the content before use with students.

One of the features that we love is the ability to clip and share a section of a video, so students don’t necessarily watch the whole video, but a pre-selected segment that most closely relates to what they are learning.

Teachers can also create playlists of videos and share those. For more details on this process, check out this help section on the Kanopy website.

If you are a UWCSEA Teacher who wants to watch at home, you just need to log in with your Google Account, and you’re away.

If you would like further information about Kanopy, just contact one of the DLCs, or have a chat to our friendly Librarians!

[Cross-posted at GreaTechxpectations]

Coding in Grade 1

The resources around Computer Science Education Week and Hour of Code are just begging to be used. There are so many developmentally appropriate entry points for every age level – it’s a no-brainer!

In Grade 1, we began with an unplugged activity. As a class, we created a code to use, and in pairs, they took turns being the coder (who created the code) and the robot (who carried out the code). It was great to see them role-play being the robot, and carry out the instructions the coder had left for them on whiteboards.

Following that, we got our iPads and explored Course 1, Stage 4 of code.org‘s amazing resource for 4-6-year-olds. To say they enjoyed the Angry Birds Maze activity would be an understatement! Many of them reached Stage 7 in only a very short window of time, so it was impressive to see their computational thinking skills strengthen!

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Below is a short video of our exploration with Coding. We would love to hear what you are up to with Coding in the Early Years. Please leave us a comment below.

 

[Cross-posted at GreaTechxpectations]

Shared iPads? No Problem!

How lucky are we? We recently added 6 iPads to each G3-5 class, augmenting their existing 1:1 Macbook Air laptops.

Planning for valuable use of shared devices requires some creative thinking, particularly when you are used to 1:1 devices. That said, the small number of devices provides a great opportunity to differentiate for powerful learning, maximise small-group rotations and engage in collaborative activities.

Together with some of our wonderful Digital Literacy Mentors (Mike & Jocelyn), Dave and I developed some ideas about how to best manage shared devices and use them effectively to support learning.

We hope you find these tips for shared devices useful.

[Cross-posted at GreaTechxpectations]

Learning How to Focus

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Take a look at the photo below. What does it tell you? What do you notice?
It tells me that with close to 60 tabs open, this student was so distracted by the extension that he/she wasted a significant amount of time being off task. The worrying thing is that if this student continues these patterns of behaviour, he/she will find it increasingly hard to focus on learning. Let’s face it – learning is our business!

 

But how much direct teaching goes into helping students learn how to focus? I’m willing to wager not enough. We need to be fair to our students: we can’t expect them to pick it up through osmosis. As teachers, part of our role is to teach into how to focus, not merely that one should focus.

Telling students to delete distracting elements such as non-educational chrome extensions is not enough; students need to understand the reasons behind the request – why is it unsuitable for learning?

After all, they’re not doing this maliciously – they have a genuine curiosity and love making their devices feel like their own. The trouble is, many of their choices have a negative impact on their ability to stay on track and focused.
Helping students to identify what helps their learning and what hinders their learning is a great place to start.

 

Chrome Extensions
Recently, we had a number of students install a Chrome Extension called Tabby Cat. It’s a cute, harmless-looking extension that shows a different cat every time you open a new tab. You can interact with it, and sometimes you will get little gifts to play with. Sounds ok, right?

 

I asked the class to tell me what they liked about this Tabby Cat. Predictably, the responses were as follows:
“It’s cute!”
“It’s fun because you get toys to play with if you keep opening new tabs.”
“Every new tab is different.”
“I want to see what is going to happen next and if I will get any gifts”

 

Helping students understand that each new picture of a cat is essentially rewarding distracting behaviour, can help them make better choices.One recommendation is to replace Tabby Cat with the Chrome Extension Momentum, which gives one new picture a day, together with the question: What is your main focus for today? This personal reminder prompts students that they have a task to complete, with a beautiful photo that doesn’t change every tab.

Vision and Movement

“Vision trumps all other senses,”  according to John Medina, author of Brain Rules. Approximately half of the brain’s resources are dedicated to processing visuals. Our brains are attuned to noticing colour and movement, so moving backgrounds, animated gifs and scrolling advertisements draw our attention.

In a G3 class recently, we did an audit of our visual noise. Common things we saw were:

  • Animated snow falling on Gmail backgrounds (or similar)
  • Desktop backgrounds where the picture changes every 5 seconds
  • Highly pixelated images used as desktop backgrounds
In pairs, students helped each other make good decisions to remove distracting movement – that was the easy part. The hard part was making good decisions about their desktop backgrounds. Saying goodbye to their favourite sports star or cartoon character was more of a challenge for some.

 

We discussed quality resolution of images being more pleasing to the eye. We also introduced the idea of colour association. Green is a calming colour (think, Green Rooms backstage in theatres) and blue can help with productivity. Encouraging students to choose a green/blue-based image that is high quality helped them see they still had some choice and the option of personalisation, but not at the expense of their focus.

 

Number of Desktops

Students using school laptops that don’t go home, really have no need for multiple desktops. Deleting extra desktops will help to remove the temptation to swipe between apps.

Reader View (Safari) or Readability (Chrome Extension)
When looking at websites, particularly those which have articles, using Reader View in Safari or  the Chrome Extension Readability can help strip away those annoying advertisements and other extraneous and distracting material, allowing us to focus primarily on the text and images in the article. Check out the tutorial below:

Effective Digital Reading using Safari Reader View from UWC South East Asia on Vimeo.

Tidying your “Room” 
When in a rush, it’s easy to leave your desktop background as a cluttered disaster, always thinking, “I’ll clean it up later.” Many of our student’s desktops look like this (not unlike my teenage bedroom):

 

 

A secondary-click (right-click, or 2-finger tap) > Clean up by > Kind, helps organise files into groups of the same type. See below:

 

Once organised by kind, it’s easy to trash all the screenshots and/or arrange files into folders.

 

We recommend moving files/folders to Google Drive or Documents on a Mac (depending on file type) rather than keep things on the desktop, so as to make startup as smooth as possible. Aesthetically, it’s also more pleasing!

 

These suggestions are aimed at helping empower our younger students to make better choices by being well informed about distracting elements on their laptop. If you are interested in specific apps and Chrome Extensions to take managing distractions one step further (blocking specific sites etc), you may wish to check out my recent post on Parenting in the Digital Age.

 

Do you have any other great tips for managing distractions in primary? We welcome your ideas!
[Cross-Posted at GreaTechxpectations]

Parenting in the Digital Age

Being the first group of people to parent the iPad generation certainly is an adventure.

On the one hand, we are amazed by their capabilities to navigate between applications, create movies, build websites and FaceTime their grandparents. On the other hand, we may feel anxious about buzzwords like ‘screentime’, ‘game-addiction’, ‘distractions’ and ‘cyber bullying.’

Keep in mind that advances in technology have helped families in numerous ways. Here are some of our favourites:

  • Communication – We can communicate quickly and easily with people around the globe via messages, email, FaceTime, FaceBook and instant messaging. In our international school setting, this is a huge benefit.
  • Efficiency and Organisation – GPS has changed the nature of travel. We can find any address easily, even if we haven’t been there before. We can use apps to organise our shopping list, to sell our used goods, and let’s not forget do our banking.
  • Learning – Now we can teach ourselves anything with the powers of YouTube, Pinterest and Google combined! Lost the rules to your board game? No problem! Need to change a tyre? Can do! Learning can be 24-7.
  • Entertainment – It’s only in the last few years that Netflix came into being! Developments in movie and video distribution, the gaming industry and the explosion of apps means there is a little something for everyone when it comes to entertainment.
  • Medical – At the consumer end of the scale, fitness monitoring is now built into many devices, and made it easier to be aware of the need to keep exercising regularly.
We are, however, realistic about the challenges facing parents too. We have put together a resource that has information, articles, and apps around common pressure points for parents. We have tried to provide a balanced perspective around some of these key issues so that you as parents can find an approach or strategy that best fits your parenting style.
We encourage you to keep the lines of communication open with your children. Inspired by the Key Jar, we have put together a list of questions that might help you begin some conversations with your child around some of these issues. Perhaps print them both off and mix them in together?

Common Sense Media has a lot of resources around parent concerns, so that is also a great source of information.

At the end of the day, each family is different, and you need to find the right combination of solutions to challenges that works for you. I hope these resources are a step in the right direction.

(Cross-posted at GreaTechxpectations)