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.


Why the Humble Sandwich Should Be Your Next Graphic Design Project

Ask anyone what their favourite sandwich is, and I’m willing to bet they’ll have an answer for you. “What does this have to do with Graphic Design?” you may well ask. Stay with me, people!

While browsing my Instagram feed, I came across this beautiful post by the good folk at Dschwen Design Studio:

Those who know me, will know just how excited I got by the brilliant simplicity of their Typographic Sandwich project – especially when I thought about the huge potential it has for introducing students to some Graphic Design basics, while learning a little bit about them in the process.

On the surface, one might think there is nothing much to this: after all, change a few words and colours, and you’re done. But there is so much to explore within these restrictions. In the words of interface designer Aza Raskin,

“Design is the beauty of turning constraints into advantages.”

Let me share some advantages with you.

Almost everyone can think of a sandwich combination, even if it’s not a favourite. The entry points are such that students won’t be blocked by coming up with ideas. For EAL learners, options include the use of visuals (a quick search for their favourite sandwich can be done in any language), and/or the use of the child’s home language to create the finished product.

The Typographic Sandwich is an activity in which all students can achieve success. The font (Helvetica Bold) remains the same throughout. The devil is in the details – and that’s where the CARP design principles come in.

Contrast, Alignment, Repetition and Proximity all come into play here. For more insight into each principle, please check out Design Secrets Revealed.

Contrast – All words need to be easily read, meaning they need to stand out sufficiently from the background. A background colour needs to be selected so that every word is readable.

Alignment – This really is the area in which the bulk of the design challenge exists.
Secondary-Click > Align Objects > Left, brings all text boxes into the same alignment on the left.

Similarly, Secondary Click > Distribute Objects > Vertically, equally distributes objects vertically between the first and last object selected.

Repetition – exists here in the form of the font (Helvetica Bold) and the size of the text.

Proximity – the location/position of both the names of the people and the sandwich text are the same in each of the three examples. This is no accident. By selecting the sandwich words, and looking at the Arrange tab on the right, I can see the X position of each item is 281. I can select the items on the other slides and ensure they also have the same position, thus ensuring a cohesive overall feel to the presentation.

Using the eye dropper tool in Keynote, students can match colours from images they have found of their perfect sandwich, or they can make an educated guess. Regardless, this is an excellent technique for students to learn.

Connecting to the students in my classes and learning more about them has always been important to me as an educator. While preparing these examples for you, I asked the members of my Tech team to share their favourite sandwiches, and it gave me a unique insight into their likes and dislikes, and I learned a lot too! Karolis taught me that there IS a difference between Aoli (Italian) and Alioli (Spanish), and in his opinion, the latter was infinitely preferable. From Jorge, I learned about Arepas – something I had never come across in my travels thus far. What might this teach you about the students in your class? How might your interaction with them be strengthened as a result of this connection?

If you would like to share your examples with me, please feel free to add them to this collaborative Google Slides presentation. I simply exported my Keynote slides as images, and added them to the presentation.

Why Have a Class Twitter Account?

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There are a whole host of benefits to having a class Twitter account. Allow me to present you with my top 5:

1. Access to Experts

By following the Tweets of experts, such as NASA or Dr Jane Goodall, a class can access up-to-date information in byte-sized packages. Most often, links are included to videos, articles, blog posts and images to explore in more detail


2. Connect with Authors

Remember writing letters to authors, mailing them off and never hearing anything back? Today, a significant number of authors are on Twitter, interacting with their readers.

Last year, a G5 class was thrilled to Skype with Gary Whitta (an author of Rogue One, the latest Star Wars film), who spoke to us about the writing process, diversity in film and answered student questions. Talk about relevance! This got the whole class hooked on writing!

Some lucky students in G4 tweeted an author of a book they were reading, and were thrilled when they got a reply. What a motivator for developing literacy skills!

3. Share our learning

We can make a difference to other people’s learning simply by sharing our own. Tweets of student sketching a character’s development, might give another child an idea about how they can represent their own learning. Parents love seeing examples of their child in action during the school day too.

Adding hashtags can allow us to reach a common audience, where we find ideas related to topics we are learning about too, such as #writingworkshop

4. Develop International Mindedness

Part of the PYP is developing International Mindedness, where we seek out and value perspectives from different cultures and communities, and consider the impact of events around the world on different groups of people.

By way of example, @littlemissflint became a powerful role model for taking action after she began tweeting about the water crisis in her hometown of Flint. Now she continues to take action on issues important to her and her community

From a class Twitter account, you can follow the United Nations to learn about what school is like in different parts of the world, for example this school in Gaza.

5. Model Digital Citizenship

We know that modelling positive and appropriate use of social media helps students learn how to be effective digital citizens. Through a class Twitter account, students can see how to interact positively with others online, they can learn to compose Tweets, and develop digital literacy skills such as appropriate writing conventions in digital medium (e.g. use of the @ symbol to reply, and use of hashtags). Having a class account lets students learn these skills with their teacher as a guide and role model – almost like having a safety net there for them as they learn.

A class Twitter account shows that teachers value writing in digital as well as print form, adding weight to the writing students are doing in their lives outside the classroom.

The bottom line is that teachers are there for kids.
We want learning to be relevant, contextual and engaging.
A class Twitter account is just one of the ways we teachers support today’s learners.

3 Things I’m Grateful For: Location, Location, Location

There’s an interview with comedian Louis C.K. that really resonates with me about a lot of tech stuff. It’s called “Everything is Amazing and Nobody is Happy.” Take a moment, if you haven’t already, to enjoy watching (please note, it’s not suitable for children).

This interview makes me think about a lot of incredibly amazing tech stuff that gets taken for granted, but specifically, location based apps.
Here are 3 location-based pieces of tech wizardry I am grateful for:

GPS & Maps

Map PinsIn Switzerland, they happen drive on the other side of the road to each of the four countries I have lived in previously. Driving on the other side of the road feels like you are constantly making mistakes that may have dire consequences for you or the people you happen to be sharing the road with. In short, it’s terrifying. But with the GPS turned on, at least I don’t have to worry about knowing where I am supposed to be driving, and I can concentrate on important things, like not screaming out loud when a car comes the opposite direction on a narrow Swiss road.

True story: my kids gave me a round of applause when I first drove home. I think I’ll keep them.

Apple maps, Google maps, they’re both amazing! Take some time to appreciate the wonder that is location-based navigation! I do every day in this new country of ours.

Recycling Map

There are a lot of reasons to love the Swiss – chocolate and Roger Federer are but two of many – however, one has to appreciate their commitment to recycling. Recycling is expected, rather than encouraged, and I think that’s just great. Except for when I don’t know where to find the nearest recycling centre. Enter the Recycling Map. Simply type in your postcode, and what it is exactly that you want to recycle, and voila! The nearest locations are pointed out to you on the wonder that is Maps. Genius.

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FourSquare & Swarm

FourSquareLooking on FourSquare (also available as an app) has become one of the first things I do in a new location. It provides information on places to eat (very important to me!), nightlife (somewhat less important) and things to do (yes, yes!).

Users leave tips and ratings on each location they visit through partner app Swarm. FourSquare uses this information to recommend locations nearby, complete with distance, address and contact details, opening hours, and a rating out of 10. This is alongside the tips from reviewers.

FourSquare has been responsible for some of my most memorable meals on holiday. Peskesi in Heraklion and Gelato at Cioccolat Italiani are two recent examples of places that would have gone undiscovered, had it not been for FourSquare.

I encourage you to start contributing to the pool of knowledge on FourSquare, by leaving tips about your favourite places on Swarm. That way, we all benefit!


“Trip planning.” flickr photo by Shawn Harquail shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

Documentation Using Technology

“Stand aside for a while and leave room for learning, observe carefully what children do, and then, if you have understood well, perhaps teaching will be different from before.” 

– Loris Malaguzzi

Inspired by the work of Reggio Emilia, UWCSEA East infant teachers have been exploring documentation to make learning and thinking visible. The role of the teacher in this process is to observe the students carefully, look for those significant moments, and capture images/videos together with examples of student voice.

This documentation is brought to their teaching teams so they can interpret it, explore options for next steps for the students involved, and make connections to the curriculum where relevant.

My colleague Dave Caleb and I had the opportunity to present to the infant teachers about ways technology can help support the documentation process. As you can imagine, technology is a natural fit for this sort of process, so we had lots to share.

Our presentation is below. We would love to hear your ideas about ways technology can enhance the documentation process. Leave us a comment!

(Cross posted at GreaTechxpectations)


fullsizerender-4I have described being a Digital Literacy Coach as the best job in the world and I truly mean it. 99% of the time. But some days are hard.

I mean, really hard.

Navigating the dynamics of a large school and the complicated nuances involved in building and maintaining relationships can be challenging at times, but today was not one of those days.

Today was one of those days that reminds you that you are privileged to do this job every day and work with such an amazing bunch of educators. Here are a couple of the highlights:

Today, not only was I welcomed into a G3 team meeting, I was  encouraged to stay and participate in a discussion around possible goals for the year for that grade, even though I don’t teach the students daily like the class teachers do.

The discussion was well-organised, and every single person in the room had their voice recognised and heard. There was a sense of calm, despite people raising different and interesting possible areas of focus for the grade level goal.

Today, an informal conversation about professional development with the effervescent  Laura led to a shared desire to learn (and teach) visual note-taking. I am not a visual notes guru, but I do know someone at our school who is: G5 teacher Jocelyn Sutherland.

Laura and I set off to find her. Predictably, she was in class, conferring with individual students on their writing as we came in.

There are some teachers that are 100% ok with people popping into their classes, no matter what is going on. Jocelyn is one of those teachers. I truly value teachers who can see visitors as an opportunity rather than an imposition.

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As we took photos of posters Jocelyn had made using visual note-taking strategies, she quickly sent us links to some videos that teach visual note-taking. Winning! We even saw some student examples of visual notes. The students were very eager to share, and articulate in sharing why/how visual note-taking is helping them.

There were about 10 minutes left before the period ended – just enough time to watch the first 2 videos with Laura.


What I liked about the interactions I described today was that I wasn’t just a Technology specialist giving advice or tech support to people, but rather I was standing shoulder-to-shoulder with teachers – learning from and with them.

And that makes for a pretty great day.

Coaching for Digital Literacy

Coaching for Digital LiteracyA little over a year ago, I collaborated with a group of international school teachers in the technology coaching field to create a multi-touch book called Coaching for Digital Literacy. See the blurb below:

Coaching for Digital Literacy is an emerging field where educators are supported in developing their pedagogy around learning with digital tools. This book is a collaborative effort by experienced Digital Literacy Coaches in international schools that will serve as an invaluable resource for those already in a similar role as well as people who are considering this field.

Filled with practical suggestions and case studies, this book aims to arm Digital Literacy Coaches with proven skills and techniques to support learners.

It was wonderful to be a part of this process, together with Andrew McCarthy, Clint Hamada, Jeff Plaman and Louise Phinney, and I’m very pleased to be able to share it with you.