Monday, May 28, 2018

10 Parenting Tips For a Tech Healthy Summer with Kids

As one of my top five most popular posts of all time, I'm reposting this at the start of Summer 2018 with some updates:

For many students around the country, summer vacation has either started or is about to begin. This is a great time to help our children practice a healthy balance with their use of personal technology tools and devices. Take advantage of relaxed schedules and more downtime to provide opportunities for your children to reflect upon the role of technology in our lives. It is an opportune time to practice balance, control and moderation, and form healthy habits for the future. Here are  ten tips for making this happen:
  1. Be proactive. Begin talking to your kids now at the start of the summer about your expectations, hopes, and your own struggles.  Check out these parent-child media agreements from Common Sense Media as a starting point. Print one off and add your own rules on the back and discuss consequences, too. A smartphone with an internet connection is a privilege, not a right. You can turn off the internet by using Restrictions to remove access or apps for a while if necessary, but still let your child have a phone for contacting you when needed.
  2. Limit access to adult content and violent video games. Summer often means less parental supervision. Turn on free restrictions in the settings on a smartphone to reduce the availability of porn sites, inappropriate content, naughty and nasty age 17+ apps. Do the same for your home wifi, too, using a free tool like Open DNS. You can't cut off all access to bad content, but certainly can make it less likely to be seen. Talk openly about why you're doing this, too, explaining why it's important to avoid this content, and do the same for yourself. Encourage your child to stay out of violent video games, too.
  3. Take advantage of tools to help you monitor the time you and your child spend on devices. On an smartphone, you can simply go to Settings>Battery and tap the clock to view the number of minutes per day/week spent in each app. Set goals for reducing times if necessary. If you want a more advanced tool, check out Curbi, which lets you set time limits and create automated rules, remotely toggle the internet on/off on your child's phone, and see what apps are in use.
  4. Summer doesn't have to be tech free.  Entertainment on a screen in moderation isn't bad. Just don't let it be a huge part of your day. Decide what an appropriate amount is for you and your child and try to stick to these guidelines. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends two hours of entertainment screen time per day for kids over age two. Watch movies and play video games with your kids. Common Sense Media has great questions for parent child discussion about most movies, apps, and video games. Have them show you what their friends are up to on social media and talk about it.
  5. Help your child create a positive digital presence. Talk about how your kids represent themselves online and how it will affect their future. Discuss what is OK to photograph and video. Talk through what is OK to share through Snapchats, text, and social media. Nothing is temporary with technology, and anything can easily be stored, re-shared, or screen shots taken. Help your kids T.H.I.N.K. before they post and digitize things Grandma would be comfortable viewing.
  6. Boredom is OK. Help your child learn it's not necessary to always be entertained, watching YouTube, playing video games, surfing the internet, or checking social media to see what others are doing—joy can even be found when missing out. Model this as a parent when you have downtime, too! Get creative and find ways to occupy your time without technology. Encourage physical activity, being outside, reading a book, and playing a board game.
  7. Go off the grid occasionally. Plug your phone in to charge and leave it leashed. Don't take it with you, go do something with your child, and don't post about it on social media. Show children that the time you spend with them is important, doesn't have to be shared with anyone else, and doesn't require likes and comments from others for validation or affirmation. Talk about this with your child, even if this is a struggle for you. Try spending an hour, part of a day or even going longer without technology.
  8. Practice being present. Limit distractions when technology is present (three ways to do this) and be where your feet are. Establish tech free zones like the dinner table, car rides, and on family outings. Friends are especially important to teens, so talk through and agree to boundaries and expectations for vacations, such as allowing an hour of social media/gaming each evening to maintain those connections yet prevent constant distraction and interruption, texting and SnapChatting during the day.
  9. Trust your kids and gradually give them more freedom as they show responsibility. Check in with them and discuss how they are using technology and social media. Let them carry their technology with them and practice not constantly checking it. Turn off notifications and help them not to get caught in the trap of using their phone as a pocket slot machine. When your kids make mistakes use them as teachable moments rather than having super harsh consequences. Don't snoop or spy unless your child is really struggling, having behavior problems or mental health issues--and if they are, don't go it alone--seek out professional counseling.
  10. Talk with other adults about helping kids have a healthy balance with technology. Compare notes with other parents and share successes and struggles. Even though your child may tell you that everyone has an iPhone, Snapchat, and uses Instagram by fifth grade, you will find that's not the case. Many parents don't give kids smartphones in elementary school, many parents keep devices out of kids' bedrooms overnight, and many parents hold off on allowing social media until middle school or later. 
Now take action! If you made it through reading all ten tips, great, but don’t stop! Do something when you finish this article. Learn more by looking through the links below. Subscribe to Common Sense Media's parent newsletter. Remember, you are the parent and can set the rules. Research shows that the most stable adults had parents who set limits and said no to some things when they were kids.

Monday, May 21, 2018

What Story Are Your Kids Living Out in Fortnite? The Importance of Avoiding Violent Video Games

Fortnite Weapon Choices
Fortnite has been a popular game for quite a while, but it seems like just recently its made it to the headlines in educational news organizations as a problem for schools. If you don’t know what it is, it is basically the latest video game craze that tweens, teens and even 20 and 30 year old adults love to play or just watch others play for hours. It’s a mix of Minecraft and Hunger Games in a really engaging, well designed environment where up to 100 players simultaneously work to build up their own defenses while at the same time trying to eliminate all other players--the last person alive or small team of one or two players wins. The boundaries of this virtual world even shrink over time  so people can’t hide out through a storm that players have to avoid. More on Fortnite from Common Sense Media.

Nintendo Wii Just Dance- Fun Without Violence!
I’ve never been a fan of violent video games. When our oldest kids were in elementary school we purchased an original Nintendo Wii which they still occasionally use. Our games are pretty basic such as Mario Cart, Wii Sports, and Just Dance. We never purchased any of violent games, and managed to avoid getting a Play Station or X Box or having our kids play a lot of video games online in general. We’ve always tried to limit their entertainment screen time to about 60 minutes per day and have discouraged any sort of violent video games with guns and killing. I know this doesn’t mean that our kids haven’t ever played these games at a friend's house or more recently through their phone. Games are now easily accessible through mobile devices with high quality graphics in an experience that rivals what used to only be available on the external game consoles. But it does mean they've spent a lot less time gaming and in simulated violent environments which we believe is better for them. Although you can find studies that will back both sides, I've read enough about the negative effects of playing violent video games that makes me believe avoidance is important.
Checking Battery (App Time) Use

Recently our sons were playing Fortnite, so I sat down with them and talked about the content of the game, its objectives, as well as the pretty realistic graphics as players kill off opponents. We talked about how playing something repeatedly conditions ourselves to be less affected by violence. I know there are certain games that are much more violent and gory than Fortnite, and I’m very thankful that we our kids haven’t been into those or wanted to play them. I asked them to cut back on their time playing Fortnite and encouraged them to try to stop playing this type of game altogether. I had each of them go to their phone's settings and look at their battery usage, which lists the total amount of time spent per app. I’ve use this technique in the past as a good tool with my kids to review and talk about what they’re doing on their phones and how much time they are spending on entertainment and social media. I had them take a screenshot of their battery usage and asked them to hold on to that so we could refer back to it in a week and compare their usage overall.

What story are your kids living out in their video games?

Two weeks after this conversation, I'm thankful to report that both boys have stopped their playing of the game altogether. I hadn't expected them to both stop
 completely so soon. I know this isn’t always the case and that some kids will have a much harder time stopping their play of a fun, addictive game. Mathew Meyers, a licensed marriage and family therapist with whom I've done some parent webinars, specializes in helping young people with video game addiction, and begins by having them track their time spent gaming and gradually reducing this. Years ago I heard Dr. David Walsh talk about the dangers of having kids play violent video games and how every game teaches you a storyline. He stated that "Whoever tells the story defines the culture" and asked, "What story are your kids living out in their video games?"  I think these are important questions to continue to ask ourselves and as parents and work to not let our children spend their time in the culture of violent video worlds. We try to limit our exposure to violence in our movie and TV media and news channels as well. This is tough, especially when something like Fortnite is so popular. But as parents, we need to help our children learn to have a healthy balance in the amount of time spent on entertainment and video gaming and steer them to experiences with more positive story lines. They'll be better people in the long run. 

Check out Common Sense Media's tips on How to Handle the Violent Videos at Your Kid's Fingertips

Related Posts:

Monday, May 14, 2018

Equity Maps Make Discussion Assessment Easier

Sometimes it’s amazing when you realize how difficult a task is prior to use of technology. One example of this for teachers is the assessment of student discussions during literature circles or Socratic seminars. Peter Gausmann, seventh grade language arts teacher at Minnetonka Middle School East, recently showed me a technology tool that has made these assessments so much easier, it’s hard to imagine going back to non-tech solution.

Recently Peter began using the Equity Maps app on his iPad during student discussions. After uploading his class lists for each hour, he simply opens the app before a discussion and drags the kids’ icons around the table “map” of the seating arrangement for the discussion group. He then taps a record button and begins tracking the conversation and discussion. Tapping on each name around the table automatically tallies the number of times each student speaks as well as places a marker in the audio recording for ease of access when listening to the recording later. In addition to this, Peter can make notes about the comments and quality of things each person says. At the end of the conversation there is a nice visual map showing how frequently people have spoken, who hasn’t, who has dominated the conversation, the gender equity balance, and more. That visual infographic can help guide the students to learn about their performance and improve in future discussions.

Peter explained to me that this tool has made assessing class discussions much less of a daunting task. Using the Equity Maps tool allows him to better provide his students with feedback about their performance. He can actually focus on the content of what’s being discussed rather than having to worry about tallying who said what when and for how long. This is just another example of ways that technology enhances instruction and learning for both students and teachers!

Related Posts:

Monday, May 7, 2018

Spring Brings Hatching Duck Eggs & Raspberry Pi to Minnetonka First Grade Classrooms

An annual tradition in all Minnetonka first grade classrooms is the hatching of duck eggs. Each year, these eggs are carefully raised in an incubator and eagerly watched by the students. Eggs are "candled" with a flashlight to see what is inside and if there is any movement. Students and teachers take care of the eggs, watching the temperature and humidity levels, and teachers even come in on the weekends to turn the eggs. Eventually the students get to see the result. Sometimes they are fortunate enough to be present in school when the eggs hatch and other times they miss out on seeing it live. Fortunately now this problem has a solution which includes Raspberry Pi.

This annual project is one my own children loved when they were in first grade. Eight years ago when my oldest son was a first grader, we put together a video highlighting the process and what happens to all the ducklings after school is out for the summer--students were very concerned about this unknown! The video was done in Spanish and English as well as translated into Chinese for our immersion students.

Two years ago, Hsin-Yi Liu, a first grade Chinese immersion teacher at Excelsior Elementary, was awarded a grant from the Minnetonka Foundation to get some new equipment for this project. She received funding to purchase three automated incubators and LED candlers. After a successful test of the equipment last year, this year she received money from her school's PTO to get the equipment for the remaining first grade teachers in her building as well as a Raspberry Pi 3 Starter Kit and electronic Raspberry Pi Camera Module for each classroom.

The new model of incubator makes it easy for students to observe the eggs and greatly reduces the amount of work and worry for teachers and students, plus the hatch success rate increased from 30% in the old, styrofoam incubators (pictured in the video above) to 80% using the new automated model pictured. The new incubators manage temperature and has temperature alarms, lists days to hatch, automatically turns and rotates the eggs, has fan-assisted airflow to evenly heat eggs, and the egg chamber has clear sides for students to view the hatching eggs.

The LED Light Egg Candler makes it easy to candle the eggs and display the images of the embryo rather than using an overhead projector. Students enjoy checking the eggs every day and recording new observations in their lab journals. A camera running with an inexpensive Raspberry Pi computer set up by our Technology Department allows for a live stream feed on YouTube (view here- select one labeled “Live Now”) so students can see the eggs at night and on the weekend, which now means no one has to miss the exciting moments when the eggs hatch!


Watch video: Wild ducks- not hatched in an incubator-
also come each spring to one of our elementary schools