As 2017 comes to a close, teachers and students are heavily immersed in our preparation for our Winter Performance, Anansi the Spider. During the two weeks prior to our performance, instead of adhering to our typical class schedule, we employ a project based learning focus and have created 90 minute blocks for students to dive deeply into different aspects of the story. Through this new understanding, they’ll recreate the story using song, dance, and art. Our teachers collaborate to bring this together in the same way our students collaborate to create the final product.
A few years back, our faculty discussed the merits of having a winter performance since some schools don’t do this, and many schools do a spring concert or some other event later in the year instead. Our team felt strongly that our winter break is the longest break during the school year, and therefore an important time to bring our community together to celebrate the kind of learning we value. As a school dedicated to deep, meaningful understanding, our hope is that our winter performance is a chance for you, as parents, to see how the power of a simple story can bring community together while deepening learning and developing skills for students. Our commitment to illustrating the importance of giving students windows to see out into the world beyond them and mirrors to reflect back who they are is something we always strive for. My hope is that you have a chance to come to one of the two winter performances this year!
A Peek into Program
One question often asked when prospective parents tour Prospect Sierra is what our approach to technology use is at our elementary campus. Like many other areas of curriculum, I often share that our choices about what technology we use and when is deliberate and reflective. For example, at times we use technology in order to integrate 21st century skill development into what kids are learning at school. Integration of STEM into project work with tech tools can promote creativity, encourage mistake making, help develop a growth mindset, and often require collaboration in real time.
Robotics programming through Dot and Dash, for example, allows our students to work with other students in colab to map routes and then program Dash to actually do something. I’ve watched our second graders this year, and often this work requires them to fail several times, collaborate and share new ideas, and then finally get the robot to do what they want. This type of activity instills in students an understanding that learning requires failing and making mistakes in order to get to a final goal. It also helps them practice using their social emotional tools like the Patience Tool and the Listening Tool, and may require them to regulate their emotions when the first attempt doesn’t work! Tech tools and activities that bring together 21st century skill development with social and emotional skill development are the types of technology tools we find particularly useful as they allow our teachers to demonstrate in a hands-on way why your Patience tool, for example, is a tool that can help you in moments when you are trying to do or make or build something. In learning too, we want to demonstrate that all of these skills come together to help a person do what they set out to do.
We limit how often students are on screens as passive viewers rather than active creators when engaging with technology. For example, a teacher might show a short video clip using Apple TV in science to demonstrate what happens in the brain when new pathways are being created and areas of the brain actually light up on MRIs. This can make a piece of abstract learning extremely concrete, which is necessary for young learners who often need a visual aid or to do something hands-on in order to understand what is being explained. Students could then apply this to an experiment or data collection of their own. The video was a helpful tool to give them enough understanding to connect their next piece of learning to a larger learning objective. In this way, technology can be quite powerful and a good use of class time. Most of the time, we want our students actively engaging in learning, and sometimes a short video clip can illustrate something that a book can’t do as well. Other times, the tech tool itself provides a hands-on way for them to do the learning.
It’s worth noting that most of our class time is spent free of technology, as there is still powerful learning to be had through books, paper, pencils, dry erase boards, turn and talks with partners, and group conversations where ideas are shared and often recorded. Shared reading and writing experiences continue to be the norm at Tapscott, with students engaging with mathematical thinking, mentor author texts, or independent reading literature more often than not.
As a school, we want to support you as you consider technology tool choices at home. For many students, much technology use tends to happen outside of school. To that end, our tech team will offer a parent training in February about general technology use, what kids are interested in doing, and ways parents can best monitor this aspect of development. In the meantime, here are some suggestions we think will help guide you over the next few weeks and especially over the winter break.
- Ideally, devices live in public spaces within the home (not bedrooms).
- There is open discussion between parents and children about what each wants and needs, so that agreements and expectations can be made in advance.
- Your digital footprint must be discussed, as elementary students do not always understand that anything they say or do online lives forever and is connected to them. This must be discussed repeatedly as it is still a developmentally tough concept to grasp for most third and fourth graders. (This is the age at which we are noticing many students now engaged in apps that allow them to communicate within a game, for example, text friends, and other online activity that requires more sophisticated communication skills and awareness than most elementary students have.)
- All forms of communication with others via text, chat, email, etc., should be closely monitored by an adult or avoided completely at this age. This means that if they aren’t comfortable with you reading or seeing what they are sending, it probably isn’t a good idea to send.
- Parents should have passwords and access to all devices and accounts so that you can regularly monitor what is going on. (There are also new tools to help parents monitor online activity, and we’ll review some of these at our February parent presentation.)
- When something comes up that feels like it could be going down a wrong path, it is helpful to reach out to parents of students involved to be sure they know as well. Parents need to work in collaboration so that your children know you are all talking together.
If your schedule allows, please join us on Friday, February 9 from 8:30-9:30 a.m. for a parent presentation at the February PSPA meeting: Prospect Sierra’s Best Practices on Technology and Social Media Use. Mark Basnage, Kathleen Arada, and Sandi Tanaka will present valuable information and suggested guidelines to support you and your children so that they can venture into technology use in a way that is healthy and safe.
Helpful Parent Resources
If you want to research more in the area of developmentally appropriate technology use, Common Sense Media is a great tool for parents and teachers. We use this resource often and feel that it’s a reliable source in terms of identifying appropriate ages for things such as online games, movies, and much more. They have reviews of current books and movies with age suggestions that are not by reading level but rather by content and include information on language, violence, etc. They have a parent concerns tab that has everything from suggestions by age to articles about very specific questions you might have around technology use.
Here are a few articles and resources that I recently found very helpful:
- This article about a few simple steps to take as a family to consider ways to set up a healthy family media diet, similar to a balanced food diet!
- Another article with recommendations such as no screens before bedtime and ideas for co-viewing and co-playing as a way to monitor the creative screen stuff that is available!
- A guide on Youtube given some of the news that came out about Youtube kids
- Family Time with Apps – great questions to ask when evaluating an app to download, the three C’s for apps
- Parent Minecraft guides
- Parent guides on some popular apps
Encourage your children to be producers, not just consumers, of technology! I love this message as it really looks at technology as a tool to develop 21st century skills that link technology to creativity and innovation. This is certainly our approach at Prospect Sierra, as we want students to see technology as one of many tools they can use to do something, not just watch something. This is worth a quick read!
And if the upcoming winter break affords you and your family time to travel, consider new devices for your home, or co-view some cool apps, please check out some of the articles below that can guide you in these endeavors. I cannot stress enough the importance of educating yourselves before you allow your kids online. In the same way you might review a product for its age appropriateness and alignment with your values (think movies, books, toys), the same degree of evaluation should occur for every site, app, and activity your child wants to engage in online.
- Apps for family travel
- What to know before buying Echo or Google Home
- New healthy media habits
- This NY Times article mentions apps to be aware of. While focused on slightly older students, and teenagers, it is worth a read as it highlights what is going on for older students and the complexity of social media use for children growing up today. Starting early with plenty of conversation can be one way to really increase their understanding before they are engaging in social media, owning cell phones (my advice – wait!), and playing games that allow for communication with others online.
Thanks for reading everyone. Wishing you a wonderful winter break!