We are now in our 4th iteration of Media Mentor Month – surely the perfect time to mix it up! But before I launch into all of that, a little background information:
Media Mentor Month is a global education initiative designed to help parents develop a positive relationship with their children around digital technologies. It provides prompts to celebrate positive uses of technology, explore creative pursuits, and encourages us to take time for important conversations about how we best use our devices.
This year, I worked with educators Sandra Chow and Clint Hamada to create a game-based format for Media Mentor Month. You will still find prompts (as in previous iterations), however, as busy parents ourselves, we wanted a format to allow families to dip in and out of the suggestions, and to gamify things a little for students who are motivated by that.
Select the activities you wish to explore from the gameboard. As you complete them, cut out the corresponding pieces and glue them to the gameboard.
Below you will find larger versions of each activity, along with links to resources that you may find useful.
We hope you will join us in completing some of the activities and look forward to seeing your tweets using the hashtag #MediaMentorMonth!
In terms of relevant life skills to foster in all students, managing distractions has to be high on the list. Our aim is to have students who can successfully focus on tasks and manage their time effectively. So how exactly do we go about helping our students achieve that?
We know “Knowledge is Power,” so providing background information and suggestions for how to maintain focus on tasks, is essential.
The following suggestions are taken from a presentation I will deliver to Grade 9 & 10 students here at the Western Academy of Beijing, organised around 4 key ideas: 1. Prep for it 2. Track it 3. Block it 4. Sort it
Just like choosing the right vehicle for the race, you need to set yourself up for success. Here are some tips for a positive start to your work:
Find a quiet space to work. If this is a challenge, consider noise-canceling headphones, which will allow you to concentrate more easily.
Many people like to listen to music while they work. I recommend people reconsider the use of music – particularly any music with lyrics – while they work. Evidence that music helps you study has not been proven. The famous “Mozart effect” has been discredited many times, so even classical music may not offer any advantages.
The Chrome/Edge extension Tab Snooze lets you ‘put tabs to sleep’ and wake them up at a later time. This is an option if you don’t want to lose those tabs.
Otherwise, close any tabs that don’t have any direct benefit to the work you are currently focusing on. Simple.
Turn off Notifications on your computer and your phone. Having a phone nearby can distract you, regardless of whether you have it on silent mode – so put your phone out of sight while studying.
Enable Night Shift on your devices so that you are more ready for sleep once you have finished your work
Enable Do Not Disturb on your Mac and iPhone/iPad so you are not distracted by friends/family wanting to chat.
On a Mac, use Reader View on Safari to remove advertising and other distracting elements when researching. This works only on articles where the 4 lines (shown in the magnifying glass) appear on the left of the address bar.
Reader Mode works just the same way, and can be added as a Chrome Extension or an Edge Browser Extension.
Don’t have any rotating backgrounds on your desktop. Visual movement (such as a gif, moving advertisement or background) attracts our attention. According to brain researcher John Medina, this is likely due to evolutionary causes, where visual movement indicated either potential threats or food sources. If we have moving objects in our periphery, we are likely to be more distracted.
Chrome extensions can often distract, but Momentum is a great choice of an extension that helps keep you on track. Each new tab prompts a beautiful image, an inspirational quote for the day, and the question: What is your main focus for today? There is also a To Do section, where you can add tasks, and have that satisfying feeling as you check each one off.
Consider the use of Pomodoro Timers. The Pomodoro Technique is a time management approach that breaks work periods into chunks (usually 25 mins), with rest periods (5 mins) in between. There are many websites/apps with timers you can use to chunk work into ‘pomodoros’, e.g. marinaratimer.com
If you hate the idea of studying alone, then Study With Me videos on YouTube could be just what you’re after! These videos are usually broken into Pomodoro style chunks of 20-25 mins with 5 min breaks built-in, and can last for as long as you need to study.
Perhaps you’re not entirely sure where your time goes when you’re trying to study? Maybe you’re adamant YouTube isn’t the problem? Either way, if you track it, you’ll know about it.
Screen time is available on a Mac now, along with iOS devices. You can see your usage statistics by app, and see your usage over a week or a day. This can help identify trends you may not be aware of, such as total pick-ups of your phone per day.
Likewise, tracking your exercise or steps, using a phone, Apple Watch or exercise band will help you notice your physical activity (or inactivity). Studies such as Chang and Etnier (2009) have shown that moderate-intensity exercise is related to increased performance in working memory and cognitive flexibility, whereas high-intensity exercise improves the speed of information processing.
Ok, so you have tried prepping and tracking but you need to try something more proactive. Time to get some help by blocking some of the websites/apps that tend to lead you astray.
If you’re finding it a challenge to stay focused, you may choose to set downtime or app limits for entertainment apps, to help you be more productive.
Another possibility for Mac users is Self Control. You can download this and use it to temporarily block access to distracting websites.
Check out this cross-platform alternative: Chrome Extension StayFocusd. This option is highly configurable, and can allow you to spend a certain time period on certain websites, then restrict access.
Another Chrome/Edge extension is Forest. Whenever you want to stay focused, plant a tree. Your tree will grow while you focus on your work. Leaving the app halfway will cause your tree to die. You can grow your own garden!
Block colour: It is incredible the impact color has on your brain. Here is an image of my iPhone home page, with a number of notifications showing up. I did an experiment where I turned the color filter on to greyscale for 24 hours. It was horrifying! And yet, it worked. I just didn’t enjoy going on my phone as much as I usually did. It really curbed my usage. If you’re having trouble putting your phone away, try this!
If you get organised and plan for your work in advance, you can make life so much easier. Here are some tips to help you level up with your organisation.
My Study Life is a great website and app that helps you get organised. It’s designed especially for the needs of HS and University students. The good news is it also works well for flexible timetables like our 9-day rotating timetable. Available on all platforms, it can integrate with your school Microsoft/Google Account to provide you with reminders for whatever you need.
To Do is Microsoft’s organizational tool. You have access to this with your school Microsoft account. You can break tasks down into simple steps, add due dates, and set reminders for your daily checklist to keep you on track. You can also create shared lists if you have group projects to complete.
Available on all platforms, Evernote works across multiple devices and can even search your handwriting. Evernote has a list or to-do feature to help organize your life.
So there you go! I hope you have a few more tools at your disposal to help manage distractions. Below you will find a list of helpful resources (many of the ones mentioned above, and more). The more practice you have at managing your time effectively, the easier you will find it when those deadlines increase. All the best!
I am sure blogger’s guilt is not something unique to me. Truth be told, the past 3 months have been so all-encompassing that the thought of sitting for more time in front of my computer to type out a blog post is more than I could bear. Hence the hiatus. The short version is that due to the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent campus closures, my family and I have been engaging in distance teaching and learning based in NZ, where we are lucky to be able to stay with my parents.
Aside from a 1-week ‘Spring break’, occurring – miraculously – before NZ went into lockdown and domestic travel was still possible, we – like so many families – have been learning while in limbo. Emotionally, it has been exhausting. Before my pity-party gets into full swing, I should say it has come with many, many benefits, not least of which has been the chance to catch up with friends and family while we’re here. That is no small thing and I am truly grateful.
But back to the blog! Many of my contemporaries have successfully described the above, detailing the challenges of parenting, teaching and being away from home. Others have continued to wrestle with the complexities of creating engaging online learning experiences, nudging us ever-forward with thought-provoking ideas and suggestions. My friends, I salute you! You amaze and inspire me and for that, I thank you.
Today, I offer you none of those things. Instead, I will share the things I have found to help me get through these tumultuous weeks. This is by no means a recipe for success, but rather a loose approach to my survival.
Social media is sustaining for a borderline extrovert like me. As I coach, I know the genuine value of being able to talk through challenging situations can help improve one’s outlook and help you reach solutions you hadn’t considered when mulling things over by yourself. The process of conversation aids thinking. It was a stroke of luck that lead me to connect with Philippa Kruger from Education Perfect, as she invited me to talk through my (then) 7 weeks of online learning on her podcast. You can listen to my conversation with Philippa here. Through it, I managed to identify what was working well for us, what challenges we faced and how to best support students. I also became aware that I had a bit of a gin habit… Regardless, our chat helped me see the many positives of this unexpected situation, for which I am truly grateful.
Exercise… Well, sort of
Those who know me are often frustrated that despite doing very little exercise, I remain fairly slim. It’s one of life’s many mysteries. As a New Year’s Resolution in 2019, I committed to doing push-ups every day. I am not fussy about the number – I started with 10 – but I am regularly doing 100 push-ups a day now. I don’t love it, but I do it, no excuses. I have augmented that with occasional workouts on Sworkit (a great app for adults and students, with workouts of all types), walks with my Mum, and that one time I went biking… Seriously, how do people bike anywhere? Those seats are ridiculous! I know I feel better for having done a workout, so I will keep trying to make it a part of my everyday.
One of the best parts of my job is being able to help others. If I can help someone else – even if my life is bonkers, I’m not sleeping well and I’ve been wearing activewear for 3 days straight – then I feel better about myself. So thank you to the people who have reached out for ideas, tech-help, unloading and/or advice for keeping me not so focused on my own problems! It’s a very successful diversionary tactic. One example is my former colleague Estelle, who invited me to present at the Africa Learning International conference to assist teachers in getting started with online learning. Given the conference was at 3am NZ time, they kindly let me pre-record, so I can share the video with you below.
Letting go of Perfect.
I like to do things well. Actually, that’s a lie. I like to do things really well. It matters to me to feel I am doing a good job at whatever it is I am doing (I know, I know, it’s a character flaw). Through this process of online learning, I feel I am better able to let ‘perfect’ go. I can’t be the perfect parent AND coach AND friend AND partner AND daughter AND colleague while living out of a suitcase for the 11th week in a row. Most days, I barely hit one of those! I guess my point is that I am growing in my ability to accept ‘good enough, given the circumstances.’ It’s definitely a work in progress, as I actually cried when my hot cross buns failed. I mean, for goodness’ sake, get some perspective!
My colleague Daniel Johnston and I spoke to parents last week on the subject of Parenting in the Digital Age – a topic close to both of our hearts. We reminded those in attendance that we are personally invested in this topic and learning alongside them, as we are parents, as well as teachers.
For this presentation, we based a lot of our information on content available from the following sources: Amy Blankson– an author and speaker, focusing on “Leveraging technology to help us be more productive, keep our sanity, and boost our happiness.” Dave & Blake – presenters and speakers for My Life Online which aims to “teach kids to be safe, smart & kind online.”
We encourage you to explore these sources, as they are full of great ideas to support students and parents.
Below is our presentation to parents. Please click on the cog below the presentation to access the speaker notes.
We also collated some resources on a Padlet, which you can see below, or access via tinyurl.com/gwas2019. We hope you find them useful!
Dave and Blake are two presenters of My Life Online a series of workshops for schools around keeping kids safe and positive in their online interactions. The pair have recently released a 3-part video series aimed at parents, incorporating strategies that aim to improve conversations with kids and present information in a calm, non-sensational manner.
First up, is a video entitled “The 3 Habits Every Kid Needs to be Safe & Responsible Online.” In this video, they focus on helping kids make safe and good choices, on increasing empathy and on considering their online legacy. You will appreciate the easy to remember strategies to pass on to your children, and the fact that it is realistic advice, not the “Guess the right answer” type of advice that has kids cringing on the inside.
Kids are losing their ability to socialise in person, and
Kids need online monitoring
Again, what I appreciate about their approach, is they are not demonising social media (which is not helpful in our digital world), but instead are giving parents approaches to improve communication and foster positive relationships with their child(ren).
One of the most practical tips they share in this video, is considering online posts on the following continuum: Helpful to Hurtful; Self to Others. This can be a great way of encouraging kids to see the impact of their posts may have.
Each video is about 15 minutes long, and well worth the time. I hope you find them useful!
One of the biggest challenges parents face is how to approach potentially sensitive topics with their children. What age should they be? What should I say? How much detail do I go into?
As we know with parenting, there are so many different approaches to choose from. But before you go down that track, it might be best to examine your own experiences, beliefs and values, so you know where you’re starting, at least.
Here are some results of questions we asked parents at our recent workshop:
Here are some questions for you to ponder: How did you learn about sex?
Where did you get your information from? Did you feel well-prepared? What do you wish you had known?
Furthermore: Did your sex education focus on mechanics and how to avoid pregnancy? Did it include aspects such as touching, pleasure, consent, emotions and feelings?
Did your sex education include sexuality education?
Did it include information about gender identity, sexual orientation and relationships?
Director of Wellbeing Daniel Johnston and I have teamed up again to put together some resources for parents about How to Talk to Your Kids about Sex and Pornography.
Our presentation to parents is below. Please view our slide notes (via the settings cog directly under the presentation) to see the points we try to raise throughout.
We also collated a fairly comprehensive set of resources for parents about common discussion points, which we encourage you to explore.
Regardless of the content, we encourage you to keep lines of communication open and make the most of those teachable moments that crop up, e.g. when watching TV. If your children don’t feel comfortable coming to you, then they will seek answers to their questions from elsewhere.
Have lots of small conversations, rather than one big “sex talk”. Let’s also make sure we have appropriate, reliable resources for them (books, websites, videos) so they have access to quality information if and when they choose to explore further.
What is it? Media Mentor Month is an initiative to help parents develop a positive relationship with their children around digital technologies. Just as we want to be mentors for our children in reading or having a healthy lifestyle, we also want to mentor them in their digital world too (see more details about being a Media Mentor here). The trouble is, sometimes we don’t know exactly how to go about that. Media Mentor Month provides parents with some ideas and strategies to help foster and develop that relationship.
Who is it for? Anyone, really, but probably best suited to parents who are looking for direction to connect with their children around technology. Especially the ones who feel they only ever battle with their kids about being on screens too much (see more about that here).
When is it happening? Ideally, March, so we’re all on the same page. Realistically? Any time that fits in to your family schedule.
What do I need to do?
You can participate as much or as little as you like. Personally, I would love to see you share some photos of your family engaging in the challenges. Make sure to add the hashtag #MediaMentorMonth so we can follow your progress!
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.
Enablers put few restrictions on access to technology.
Mentors actively guide their children in the use of technology.
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.
Devorah 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?
We 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.
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.
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.
ACHIEVABLE 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.
COMPLETE INTRODUCTION to CARP DESIGN PRINCIPLES 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.
COLOUR MATCHING 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.
PASTORAL CONNECTIONS 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.
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
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!
Skyped with a fifth-grade class in Singapore, talking about screenwriting and following your creative passions. Loved it! Cameo by K-2SO! pic.twitter.com/GWlJgBr8HE
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.
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
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.