Truth About Tech Use & Focus

The decreasing level of attention span in our…what was I saying?

Technology is providing amazing and entertaining new ways of learning and doing that were not available years ago. Students have access to countless sources of information, and knowledge. They also spend countless hours viewing a multitude of sites designed distract, entertain and engage their attention, often in the classroom, while they should be paying attention to the lesson. With policies in school boards that encourage students to bring their own devices (BYOD) to school, is it any wonder that teachers struggle with keeping the minds of their students on task?

Even in the “real world” adults in the worlds of business and industry easily fall prey to the countless distractions available through social networking, emails, twitter feeds, and even checking the stock market every 5 minutes.

It seems apparent that our society is changing at its core. As technology is becoming more invasive in our everyday lives, we can see the results can be disastrous at times. In one example, cities and counties around Canada are adopting laws that are geared a cutting down on distracted driving, as people are being killed or are sustaining life-altering injuries because they cannot put their cell phone down.

What is the story behind this fight for our attention? What can we do about it?

What is technology doing to our brain?

Though research in this area is taking place, it is still early in its development. In the field of neuroscience, professionals like Dr. Gary Small are studying the effects of technology on the brain. In an article, Dr.Small (2008) states that our brains are developing and learning to master the ability to process and respond to multiple digital stimuli which in turn provide instant gratification. These changes do lead to shorter attention spans and a lack of interest in other activities that provide a delayed reward like reading or even watching a longer television program or movie.

This information coincides with other research conducted by specialists such as Dr. Rich who also believe that the brains of our young people are being habituated to distraction and away from focus.

How can we help ourselves? How do we, as educators, cope with this in the classroom?

What can we do?

In some articles, researchers like Dr. Taylor (2012, December 4) suggest that it may not be a case of technology being all bad, but about which technology children use and in its frequency of use.  Others such as della Cava (2010, August 4) also take a very common sense approach in suggesting that we need to monitor ourselves and teach our students and children to set limits on use and take breaks.

The reality is that developments in technology are going to keep coming. We need not take the position as many did in the 1970s and 1980s thinking that television would destroy the brains of our youth. It did not, and technology, if used properly with self-discipline will not.

Since we have such vast tools at our disposal, I encourage educators to rise to the occasion. Put a few past teaching practices aside. Take interest in a new digital tool or two this month. Find a way to connect with your students at their level. Personally, in trying to incorporate more technology, I am seeing greater engagement and enjoyment in my students.

Help Yourself

If it is you who is struggling with finding a good balance with technology, there are a variety of online tools and resources available to you to help with distraction.  A few tools to get your started are listed below. Hang in there!

1.Focus (Mac)

2.Focusbooster (Mac/PC)

3.Freedomto (Mac/PC)

4.Dejal:Time Out (Mac)

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Physical Impact of Prolonged Technology Use

Millennials are the first generation in history to have their entire lives wrapped in digital technology. Millennials, unfortunately, will be humanities guinea pigs when it comes to research into the long-term physical toll technology use puts on our bodies. As a result of having no historical data to compare some critics may make the claim that the health concerns being put forth by the medical community are simply guesswork by so-called experts, but early studies are already indicating that millennials are showing early warning signs of physical health problems.

“Tech Neck”

We have all seen people (not just millennials) walking about with their heads tucked down staring at their cell phone as they walk through busy crowds. Prolonged bouts of this kind of behaviour can lead to what healthline.com refers to as ”tech neck”. Alexandre & Radcliffe (2016) state “Tech neck is one of the most noticeable effects of using a cell phone or smartphone for long periods of time. Over time this poor posture can increase wear and tear on the spine”.

Being mindful of posture and your bad habits regarding technology use can help alleviate some of the health issues caused by our mobile devices. Spine-health.com has a great article with helpful tips and tricks to combat tech neck.

Weight Issues

As we spend more and more time in front of computer screens and mobile devices we are limiting the amount of time we can spend exercising. Over time the years of technology use combined with a lack of physical exercise can lead to weight gain and even obesity.  Paula (2015) states “as children spend more time sitting in front of the TV or computer, they spend less time outside running around and burning off calories — and energy” (para. 2).

The Harvard School of Public Health has a great article discussing the importance of physical activity and some worldwide trends in this area. You can find out more by reading their article Obesity Prevention Source.

Getting Good Sleep

It isn’t just millennials who are suffering from overuse of technology. Many of us spend too much time staring at screens as we begin our nightly bedtime routines. I admit that the last thing I do before going to bed at night is to take a quick scroll through my Twitter timeline. Hurmiz (2014) states “screens ambient glow also affects melatonin release or also known as sleep chemical” (para. 8). There are some easy solutions to these kinds of bedtime routine problems. The most obvious is to remove screens from your nightly routine. Of course, we will try anything to hang on to our tech using the most ridiculous of excuses. I myself am guilty of using the excuse “but my phone is my alarm clock”, fortunately, alarm clocks can be purchased for a fraction of the cost of your phone.

Moving Forward

I hope to make some changes in my personal and professional life that hopefully gets my screen time back under control. As educators, we need to start getting our students up and moving a bit more. Yes, daily physical activity is mandated in a lot of boards and schools, but even getting the students moving within the classroom is a win. We need to take care of ourselves as well. If you work in an office try getting up at least once an hour to get your blood circulating and to rest your eyes a bit. Using some of the tips and tricks you can find at any decent health and fitness website is a good start to combatting what experts think are going to be some fairly significant health issues if we don’t get a handle on our technology use.

Useful Websites

References

Alexandre, R., & Radcliffe, S. (2016)Is Technology causing a lifetime of pain for millennials? Retrieved from http://www.healthline.com/health-news/is-technology-causing-a-lifetime-of-pain-for-millennials-050415#1

Hurmiz, J. (2014, November 15). What are the long term effects of living in a technological world? Retrieved from http://www.onlinetechnologyworld.com/what-are-the-long-term-effects-of-living-in-a-technological-world/.

Paula, E. (2015, December 11). Obesity in children and technology. Retrieved from http://www.livestrong.com/article/46320-obesity-children-technology/

3 Roadblocks in Teaching Technology to Educators

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Technological tools can be used in many ways to further student learning. The continued growth and innovations in educational technology are both exciting and challenging.

With the development of 21st-century technology, it is important to provide quality professional development (PD) for administrators and staff members in schools.  As there is an increasing amount of innovative technology being introduced, school boards must ensure that employees are not only familiar with the technology, but also become comfortable learning more about it independently.

In today’s classroom, the teachers really are life-long learners. This is not only a nice idea, it is a must! In many cases, staff are introduced to these tools during meetings or professional development sessions. In my experience, even when tools are introduced and explored, there follows a period where some staff engage in trying to use the new tools, while many do not.

What are some of the barriers in training staff members with new technology? What are causing the roadblocks in the pathway from introducing the technology to implementation? How can they be removed?

Lack of Context, Lack of Connection

According to Plair (2008), one of the reasons that teachers struggle with implementing technological tools is that they miss the connection between what they have learned in training sessions and how to use it in their own specific teaching areas (p. 71). She indicates that some educators still struggle with changing their prior understanding to see that technology is no longer something mainly explored in the computer lab or Communication Technology courses.

One solution is mentioned by Plair. “Helping teachers comfortably reach this stage calls for the professional development available through a knowledge broker.” (p.71)

This knowledge broker, within school boards or organizations, would possess a “…combination of pedagogical, content, and technological knowledge…” and could “…more effectively and efficiently scaffold instruction, match tools to content, and keep pace with innovations” (p.73). An expert such as this could help bridge the gap between the new tools and the classroom teacher through offering one-on-one support.

 Lack of Time

Educators are heavily involved with the everyday tasks of running classes, planning lessons, supervising, marking, communicating with parents and running extra-curricular activities. Because of the sheer number of tasks requiring the focus and attention of the teacher, adding any new knowledge, skills or technological training can overwhelm and discourage.

Not surprisingly, the results of a study completed by McRae, Phil, Varnhagen, Stanley, & Arkison, Bradley in 2011 found that “…competing demands on time are the most significant factor restricting a teacher’s ability to provide instruction. (McRae et al., 2012)

If teachers are already burdened with other responsibilities, their willingness and ability to connect with PD on modern technology is diminished.

What could be done to provide more time or assistance?

 Information Overload

Aside from the busyness of each instructional day, a major barrier for teachers in increasing their knowledge of technology is one of sheer volume. According to a study by Lawless and Pellegrino (2007), “Long term change through technology-infused pedagogy is…complicated by the ever-evolving nature of the technology itself.” (p.607)

As teachers become comfortable with one technology, other new and exciting tools emerge. This may cause increasing stress, leading to a break-down of innovative teaching and learning in the classroom. According to an article by Dr. Willis (2014), this stress negatively affects the brain’s ability to learn. What is true for our students under stress is true for us too!

 What else could be done?

It is safe to say that teachers who genuinely care about their students have a desire to improve their own practice to help them succeed. They will continue to learn and attend professional development seminars, often voluntarily.  Those who attend PD to gain new knowledge to aid their pedagogy and practice show notable satisfaction in learning and teaching technology (Lawless & Pellegrino, 2007).

Much is seems to be written about the need to engage our students in 21st century learning. Could not more be done to support the frustrated, overwhelmed teacher?

Dr. Willis (2014) suggests that better learning and engagement takes place when positive motivation is present. That may be something to think about.

 

References

Willis, Judy (July 18, 2014). The Neuroscience Behind Stress and Learning. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/neuroscience-behind-stress-and-learning-judy-willis

Lawless, K. A., & Pellegrino, J. W. (2007). Professional development in integrating technology into teaching and learning: Knowns, unknowns, and ways to pursue better questions and answers. Review of Educational Research, 77(4), 575-614. doi:10.3102/0034654307309921

McRae, Phil, Varnhagen, Stanley, & Arkison, Bradley (June 4, 2012). Teaching any time, any place or at any pace. ATA Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.teachers.ab.ca/Publications/ATA%20Magazine/Volume%2092/Number-4/Pages/Teaching-any-time.aspx

Plair, Sandra Kay. (2008). Revamping professional development. The Clearing House, 82(2), 70-74. Retrieved from   http://marianrosenberg.wiki.westga.edu/file/view/PlairSRevampingProfessional.pdf/372909202/PlairSRevampingProfessional.pdf

 

Technology: Incredible Tool or Classroom Distraction?

Appropriate use can be a concern when students are given individual pieces of technology and set free to explore the World Wide Web. Significant trust is placed between a teacher and his/her students, to avoid behaviours such as: cyber-bullying, searching inappropriate websites, safe handling of devices, unauthorized photo taking/posting, and mis-use (texting during class etc.).

A 2015 study by the London School of Economics and Political Science compared test scores at 91 schools in England. Researchers found that test scores were higher at schools where cellphone use is prohibited. Furthermore, students who tended to have low academic grades benefited the most from a technology ban.

What are school boards doing to ensure appropriate technology use?

Some school boards are adopting a Use of Technology Policy to govern the way technology is used by Board employees and students. York Region DSB, for example, includes a variety of irresponsible and unethical uses of technology within their policy document. These include: sending, receiving, or downloading content that is illegal, using electronic devices to record other individuals without their permission, and modifying or gaining access to files, passwords or data that belongs to other individuals.

What are educators in their classroom to do when technology is being misused?

With electronic devices costing hundreds of dollars, administrators and union representatives are hesitant to allow teachers to remove a device from a student’s possession. Some teachers implement a no technology policy, whereby students are forbidden from bringing any form of technology device to class. Other teachers allow students to have devices strictly for online educational applications. Unfortunately, in most schools there does not appear to be a consistent stance on technology use.

With an exception…

Earl Grey Senior Public School in Toronto officially banned the use of cellphones in February, 2017. The school has implemented a new policy which restricts cellphone use to lunch periods and time between classes. Furthermore, students are not allowed to access social media websites or to text at any point in the school day. The ban has brought about conflicting opinions on technology use, with some parents arguing students should have access and others agreeing that technology is distracting students from their learning experience.

What is the solution?

There is no clear-cut solution. Technology is not going to disappear. Are we better to remove technology or to teach students how to use it appropriately? I believe the latter is a more appropriate solution. When students enter the workforce they will have to make the decision to put their phone away or face consequences from their employer. As educators we should be embracing the benefits of technology, and seeing technology as an incredible tool. We must teach students about appropriate use, help students to utilize their device to its full potential, and ensure our students recognize when their device is hindering their learning.

 

 

 

 

Making the Cut with Audacity 2.1.2

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Overview

Description

Audacity 2.1.2 is an updated version of the Audacity audio recording freeware program. It allows users to record, edit and create audio files in a variety of formats (e.g., MP3, .WAV, .MID) This tool enables anyone, anywhere, the capability to create high quality, audio tracks for playlists, podcasts and even video projects.  Whether you are a teacher, musician, beatboxer or audio recording hobbyist, this tool is for you.

Key educational benefits of this tool:

  • Use this tool to record student presentations, and musical or dramatic performances
  • Create and send short audio clips to students for immediate feedback
  • Use Audacity to easily create Podcasts of lessons, or teach students how to create their own podcasts
  • Students can record and edit musical performances to publish in portfolios or for reflective exercises
  • Audacity provides the potential for teaching students how to sample, create loops and create backing tracks for beatboxing or rapping
  • Use to support ESL students in practicing and reviewing their new language

Access Details and Cost

Audacity 2.1.2 is a free download! No cost is required for the full version of the program. Donations to the creators of the program are suggested but not required.

Audacity is a multi-platform program available for both Apple AND Microsoft.

 

Getting Started

Teaching Ideas

Idea 1 – Speech Preparation and Feedback (Grade 7, Language Arts)

Learning to speak clearly and effectively in front of an audience can be challenging and quite threatening. Audacity provides a way to rehearse, listen to, polish and re-record an oral presentation. In addition, if you have a particularly shy student, you can provide recording their speech as an alternative.

Want to create some instant feedback for the students? Record your comments on your phone or mobile device, then save and send it to your computer. Audacity can open the file and allow you to copy, cut or paste any segment of your recording to be used to help your students in their journey of learning. Just sent them the file.

Idea 2 – Readers/ Radio Theatre (Grade 6, Reading/ Oral Communication)

Want to provide your students with a realistic way to present their drama or script reading? Why not have them record it in Audacity to create a radio play? They can listen to the file, edit or re-record and even add sound effects, and background music.

Idea 3 – Instrumental Music Recording Projects (Grade 7 – 12)

One of the best ways for students to improve at playing their instrument is to be able to listen to their own performance and reflect on it. Using Audacity, students can record their performances, both individually and in groups. They can even create multi-track recordings one track at and time and combine them for a truly complex sounding piece of music.

Are your students needing to create an audition recording for college or university? Audacity makes it easy and free to create quality sound recordings to use for their application portfolio.

Idea 4 – Sound Editing, Mixing and Sampling (Grade 10/11 Music, Open)

Are your students interested in pursuing a career in sound engineering or computer technology? Programs like Audacity allow for easy entry into these complex areas. With many great informational websites and “how to” videos available, students can get right into recording, editing, and sampling with just a computer with a microphone.

Idea 5 – Podcast Interviews with Historical/ Cultural Figures (Grade 12, Canadian History)

Are you tired of having your students complete the same old presentations in front of the class yet again? With Audacity, they can create professional sounding podcasts to present their knowledge about anything from geographical regions to Canadian history the 1940’s. Why not have them record an interview with a member of the community and make it into a podcast to share with the class? It’s easy with Audacity.

Helpful Resources

Resource 1 – Complete Tutorial for Beginners

A full explanation of the various aspects of using Audacity 2.1.2 for beginners. Functions and terminology are clearly explained.

Resource 2 – Complete Operations Manual

The complete text based resource to answer all your questions about Audacity 2.1.2

Resource 3 – How to Create a Podcast in Audacity

Interested in creating your own podcasts? This brief tutorial will show you the basics of creating one.

Resource 4 – Recording a Song with Audacity

This is a VERY detailed video of how to create a music recording with melody and background track. It also explores some editing options and effects.

Resource 5 – How to Create a Rap with Audacity

Ever want to try your hand at rap? Thought your students might enjoy some rhythm with your poetry unit? This is how we do it. (Caution: contains some explicit lyrics)

Author

Submitted by Mark McPhail

Email: mark.mcphail@uoit.ca

Twitter: @treblebasschal1

Bio: Mr. McPhail is a musician, teacher, and student of technology.  He has taught in a variety of grades and subjects over the last 18 years. Currently, Mr. McPhail teaches high school music for the Peel District School Board.  His passion is to see students, not only survive, but thrive in their teenage years.

Get your Students Coding with CodeCombat

Learn programming through live coding in an immersive multiplayer strategy game.

Written by: Josh Charpentier

Overview

Description

CodeCombat is a gaming platform that allows users to learn computer sciences. Users explore this web-based sword-and-sorcery game by programming characters with Python or Javascript coding languages. These programming platforms allow players to command their on-screen warrior, ranger, or wizard into action, navigating the character through the level, engage in battle, and destroying foes. Gamers are rewarded for devising clean programming solutions. However, if the user writes a buggy code or fails to find an appropriate solution, their character will wander through the level or could be destroyed by an enemy. This results in the player investing in trial and error strategies, experimentation, and collaboration with peers to find solutions. The player can also access in-game video tutorials to learn new coding strategies.

Key educational benefits of this tool:

  • Students learn and develop skills in computer science and web development.
  • CodeCombat motivates children to learn programming languages through a fun and engaging platform.
  • The important principles of coding and the step-by-step introduction of the syntax of various programming languages aids in students becoming proficient in computer science and web development.

Access Details and Cost

Free Version

  • Clicking on the Play Now button allows the user to create a character and start coding without creating an account. User progress will NOT be recoverable if the user leaves the game.
  • An individual can create a free account, by clicking here. This will allow the user to maintain in-game progression when re-entering the game.

Paid Version (Teacher and Classroom Users)

  • A teacher can create a classroom account. Each student is assigned a license and classroom code for logging into the system. The student would click on the I’m a Student button and then enter the classroom code to gain access to the game.
  • The first course (20 levels) offered to classrooms is free. However, additional courses can cost $25-$50 CAD per student per year depending on which course licenses the teacher wishes to purchase.
  • The pay for access site offers extra levels and in-game video tutorials.
  • The teacher will have access to resources and course guides to help students with programming.

Paid Version (Individual User)

  • For $9.99 US/month individual users can create an account, access premium levels, receive weekly challenges, and have email support from professional programmers.

Getting Started

Teaching Ideas

The following teaching activities can be applied to any class ranging from grades 2-12.

Idea 1 – Coding Competitions (Game Development, Computer Sciences and Mathematics)

Use CodeCombat to create coding competitions. Students will be divided into equal teams. Within their teams, students will write code for a level entitled Wakka Maul. Students will use mathematical concepts to develop code, observe how the code fares against their classmates, and then students will make improvements and resubmit.

Idea 2 – Engineering Challenge (Computer Sciences and Mathematics)

Engineering is all about tackling problems, but the first rule of engineering is that you might not get it right the first time through. Use CodeCombat to teach students about the Engineering Cycle of thought. First, students will DESIGN a solution to a problem that is presented by the teacher on the level Power Peak. Students will identify the issues and break it down into smaller parts. This includes problem-solving and finding mathematical patterns in code. Then students IMPLEMENT their design, which is putting their ideas into action. Third, they TEST their solution. Does it work? Is the problem resolved? If the test fails, students have to decide if it was because of the design or the implementation of their program. Students can discuss issues openly and collaborate on finding solutions.

Idea 3 – Reflective Writing (English and Computer Sciences)

Students can write reflections about their progression through the CodeCombat levels. The teacher can also encourage students to use coding vocabulary that has been gained through different levels of the game. The teacher could have students contemplate questions, like:

  • Do you know more code now than in the beginning? What skills do you have now that you didn’t have before?
  • What advice would you give someone just starting out in CodeCombat?
  • What kind of strategies do you use when you encounter an obstacle?

Idea 4 – Headlines and Headers (Web Development and English)

CodeCombat offers courses in web development. Students can apply their skills to writing in HTML, CSS, and Javascript. Students can write a paragraph regarding any topic, and then they can apply the elements like <p>, <h1>, <h2>, <h3>, <h4>, <h5>, <h6> to the left margin of their writing. Students can then apply additional elements of basic syntax, headers, images, and organization to design a webpage. Once students have placed the desired elements into their work, webpages are automatically published to a custom URL so that students can easily share their finished work with others.

Idea 5 – Boss Level (Computer Sciences, Mathematics and English)

Students will work collaboratively to find a creative way of defeating this boss. Students also have to apply skills in mathematics and computer sciences to develop solutions for collecting coins, hiring mercenaries, and to heal their hero (character). Students can work in pairs and they can share their strategies and tips with other teams. Students can make observations about the level on grid paper before tackling this level, and then teams can plan out their solutions.

Helpful Resources


About the Author

Josh Charpentier has been an elementary school teacher for 10 years. He has taught in the Bronx, New York, and is currently working for the P.V.N.C.C.D.S.B. in Peterborough, Ontario. He started the graduate program at UOIT in 2013 and has been completing his Master of Education degree as a part-time student for 4 years. From his experience in elementary school, he definitely sees the potential benefits of introducing computer sciences and web development teachings to students in elementary classrooms and is a proponent of technology integration in education.

email: joshua.charpentier@uoit.net   Twitter: jjncharpentier

Quizlet: Do You Need It? You Decide!

Study on the go, challenge your friends and engage your students with a fun and mobile quiz application.

Overview

Quizlet is an online study tool available on any device (desktop, iOS, and Android) for students and teachers to practice learning in an engaging way. Any age group of students can use Quizlet either in class, individually or with friends (see how they started).

Key Benefits:

    • Study on the go with Quizlet.
    • Encourage students to take ownership of their learning.
    • Promote in-class engagement using Quizlet Live.

Getting Started

To appreciate the benefits of using Quizlet, you will have first to create a study set and determine how you will deliver the content to the class using the many different study mode options. Below are two videos to help you get started using Quizlet.

Teaching Ideas

Idea 1 – Visual Knowledge Practice (K-12/Higher Ed)

Placing an image in any Quizlet study mode allows the student to review a picture and define what it is they see. An example would be a series of famous paintings from a particular art period where students are required to identify characteristics of the era or movement. The quiz could prompt them to determine the name of the artist’s style, the period, the artist’s name and name of the work. Students can add levels of complexity to their quiz questions as their knowledge on the subject evolves.

Idea 2 – Audio Knowledge Practice (General/K-12)

Using Spell study mode, students can review and test their vocabulary knowledge and “type what they hear” when they hear the audio. Users can also set up Quizlet to read descriptions of an object and have the student identify what it is that they hear labeled. Listening to audio allows students with accessibility challenges to participate and for all students to strengthen their listening skills.

Idea 3 – Vocabulary Strengthening (General/K-12)

Students studying vocabulary can review definitions or attributes of a word or phrase using Quizlet Flashcards. Images can be used to support student memory through repetition delivered in a fun game (remember images are only available in the paid versions). Adjectives can be provided to help students identify the word (noun) associated with the attribute. Students can use descriptive keywords in any language and can assist in strengthening their comprehension. Teachers can create their study sets or choose to explore other educator’s quizzes. Students are also able to search existing quizzes that may support their learning or decide to set up their own.

Helpful Resources

Quizlet.com | How Can Teachers Use Quizlet
A step-by-step guide to setting up your class on Quizlet

Edshelf.com | Quizlet Review
Video: Educator’s overview of Quizlet used for a secondary English class

Ditchthattextbook.com | Game Show Classrooms
Educator’s review of Quizlet, Kahoot and Quizalize features

PCMag.com | Quizlet Review
The pros and cons of using Quizlet

Cost

Free Version

  • Quizlet is available for free with a variety product features. Quizlet for free is available for desktop, mobile (iOS and Android) and is also available as a Google Chrome app.

Paid Version

  • Quizlet Plus is available for $19.99 USD/1 Year or 2 and 3-year discounted subscriptions. Quizlet Plus enables users to create their voice recordings, add their images, study over time with Long-Term learning and study ad-free.
  • Quizlet Teacher is available for $34.99 USD per year. School discounts are available for multiple users and larger groups. Quizlet Teacher enables teachers the ability to add their voice recordings, images and search teacher-created content. Additionally, teachers can use features for managing multiple class activity and student progress. Teachers with a Quizlet Teacher account will receive a specialized “Teacher” badge next to their user name, which means faster support when you need it.