Good Evening Parents!
In my third year of teaching, the school I was at began a 1 to 1 laptop program in their middle school. It was so exciting! We 100% made the switch to all things on the computer. All assignments were on the computer. All textbooks were on the computer. After a while, we started to get push back specifically from the students! They wanted to use pencil and paper and hold a book in their hands. They were telling us that they learn better when they write things down. They did not know the research, but they were right!
Technology does have many benefits in the classroom and it is on us as educators to find the right balance where we are using technology with purpose and also continuing to foster the development of other key life and learning skills.
Mrs. McInerny attended a conference last week focused on this exact topic and would like to share about that with you. Mr. Egar will also touch on how we work to keep our students safe while using technology at STS.
This past week, I attended a seminar hosted by the Archdiocese titled “Educating in a Digital Age.” There was a huge amount of information shared in each session, but I want to share just a few of the most important points that were made by presenters. (Just a note here, I always try to provide the source I used when giving statistics. The statistics I am citing here were given by presenters at the conference, all of whom were experts in their areas, so this information is very reliable.)
Most parents are well aware that there are recommended limits on children’s screen time. Many of you have shared that you use a timing app to shut off your child’s phone after a certain amount of time. Limiting screen time is very important, but what about the screen time that students do get? Equally concerning is the unmonitored screen time that students spend on their devices. When we give students a device that can access the internet, the whole world opens before them. This is both an amazing opportunity and a cause for concern.
Specialists in child brain development are now warning us that even when we teach things like ‘digital citizenship,’ our students are not ready for the responsibilities and consequences that come with limitless access to the internet. The child and adolescent brain is not fully developed enough to realize that anything they put out into the digital world is permanent - there is no taking back something you’ve sent or said online. This goes for social media as well as email. Therefore, it is crucial that parents decide what they are and are not comfortable letting their child access, especially in terms of social media.
Experts are seeing more and more behaviors that they believe are caused by too much screen time, and the most concerning are inhibition and regression. Children (and some adults) are far more comfortable sending personal information or being cruel to someone in a digital world than when speaking with someone face-to-face. We see this all the time with online bullying. We also see regression in a number of different developmental skills, particularly social-emotional skills and language acquisition. The brain will prune cells where skills are not being used as well as allocate resources to other parts of the brain being used more often. If a child’s screen time is greater than the time they spend in social interaction with peers, the language centers of the brain begin to atrophy, and students lose their fluency in reading, writing, and speaking. A syndrome that mimics ADHD has also been noted as an effect of too much screen time without social interaction. Inability to attend to a task, distraction, and avoidance are all consequences of screen time that is merely passive intake of media.
One presenter made a very helpful distinction between ‘toxic’ screen time and ‘quality’ screen time. She spoke very positively about Facetime and its ability to bring families together for interaction across distances. What’s the obvious difference between Facetime and a video game? There is real interpersonal interaction happening with Facetime. At St. Therese, we try to limit students’ use of technology to software and websites used for productive purposes such as engaging in differentiated or personalized math or ELA practice, creating projects, typing papers, and doing research. We also use interactive technologies to teach language and practice skills. We are not anti-technology, but making sure students are using technology in developmentally appropriate ways.
I want to end by saying that I feel very good as a parent and teacher about the ways that we use technology here. We are thoughtful about limiting screen time, monitoring how students use technology, and striving for quality use of devices in the classroom.
Feel free to reach out to either either Mrs. McInerny or myself if you ever have questions about our Middle School Program!
Clarey McInerny, Assistant Principal
Adam Groebner, Principal