Not all screen time is equal, or educational

November 5th, 2013

When children and adolescents have unlimited and unsupervised access to media, evidence has shown that this exposure can lead to several health effects such as academic difficulties, obesity, substance abuse, and aggression. Yet, we live in a media-rich world where devices like tablets and smartphones can also provide many benefits. To acknowledge this need for balance, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recently updated their guidelines for children and adolescents with new policy statements on screen time.

tablet userTo start the screen time conversation with parents, the AAP recommends that pediatricians begin asking these two questions at every well-child visit: How much recreational screen time does your child or teenager consume daily? Is there a TV set or an Internet connected device in the child’s or teenager’s bedroom?

The AAP recommends that parents limit entertainment screen time to less than one to two hours per day. They suggest that families create a media plan for their homes and keep televisions and other Internet connected devices out of a child’s bedroom.

Schools and teachers should be considering these guidelines too. How can parents make a media plan for their family without knowing what is being consumed at school? We must be careful not to contribute to a child’s entertainment screen time diet.

Many games and apps are labeled “educational” but have no measured effectiveness to support the claim. Some are simply just interactive toys. Dr. Ari Brown, pediatrician and lead author of policy provided by the AAP in 2011, questions the link between an interactive game and the learning it promises to provide. “There’s nothing wrong with a toy being fun, engaging a child for an amount of time. But to promote it as being educational we really need to do research to find out,” explains Brown.

Based on the new AAP guidelines and recommendations, there are many things for teachers to consider. Online games and touch-screen apps can be incredibly engaging for students. However, we must select tools that can demonstrate a targeted approach to student learning. Look for tools that have research to support their educational benefits and be critical of those that will only contribute to a child’s daily dose of entertainment screen time.

Hey Google, what about the children?

July 25th, 2013

With Google’s new version of Android comes improved multi-user functionality. Google explains:

Share your tablet with friends and family – each person has a separate customizable space, including personal homescreens, wallpaper, apps, storage, and more. You can also manage access to apps and content to create an experience that’s appropriate for each member of the family.

Each member of the family? Really? What about those family members under 13 years old? Here’s what you get when you try to create an account for kids under 13:


Google does this because of COPPA, a U.S. law that requires online web sites and services to get parental consent for all children under the age of 13 before they can share any information with the web site.

At the press event announcing the new Nexus 7, Google demonstrates a child’s profile and how the access restrictions can be managed by parents. In this situation, the child user does not appear to be old enough to have a Google account. This child’s profile is sort of sub-account that lives within the tablet’s environment and does not need to be associated with a Google account.

Nexus7 for child

However, without a Google account, the child cannot manage his or her own content used in other Google services. Apps like Drive, Calendar, and Maps will need an account to save content. Many parents just let their child use a parent account for these other Google services. Other parents create an account for their child with a false birthday. I suspect that most parents don’t use the multi-user features at all.

I think Google could do more for families. We have Google Apps for business and education. Why not for families? Instead of prohibiting accounts for children under age 13, Google should redirect to a space where parents can create and manage accounts for their kids. Here parents could control access restrictions for the accounts and pass the account over once the child is old enough.

Google already has a plan for the death of Google accounts. It’s time they improve the process for the birth of Google accounts.

What most schools don’t teach

March 18th, 2013

Another group is continuing the coding to learn theme. The non-profit foundation is hoping to increase computer programming education across the world. They’ve created a video with an impressive cast (Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg,, Chris Bosh…) but my favorite quote comes from Gabe Newell.

The programmers of tomorrow are the wizards of the future. You know, you’re going look like you have magic powers compared to everybody else.

Check out to get started immediately.

Trouble embedding YouTube in PowerPoint? Fixed!

March 11th, 2013

I’ve heard from several people last week that they could no longer get their YouTube videos to play in PowerPoint. If you didn’t know, PowerPoint (starting with version 2010) allows you to easily embed online videos using the video’s embed code.

Here is a quick tutorial that explains how to set this up.

HOWEVER, last week this method seemed to stop working. After a little tinkering, I figured out how to get it working again.

It turns out that you need to remove a little bit of the YouTube embed code before you paste it into PowerPoint.

Delete a bit of the embed code

Delete the highlighted text before embedding in PowerPoint

For example, to embed the video

Read on…

Coding to Learn with Scratch

February 26th, 2013

Scratch is the perfect tool to help kids (ages 8 and up) learn how to write programs or code. But in a recent Ted Talk, Mitch Resnick expresses another good point- the importance of coding to learn.

Resnick explains:

As kids are creating projects like this, they’re learning to code, but even more importantly, they’re coding to learn. Because as they learn to code, it enables them to learn many other things, opens up many new opportunities for learning. Again, it’s useful to make an analogy to reading and writing. When you learn to read and write, it opens up opportunities for you to learn so many other things. When you learn to read, you can then read to learn. And it’s the same thing with coding. If you learn to code, you can code to learn. Now some of the things you can learn are sort of obvious. You learn more about how computers work. But that’s just where it starts. When you learn to code, it opens up for you to learn many other things.

I highly recommend watching Resnick’s talk.

He demonstrates how kid-friendly programing tools like Scratch are not just for teaching computers, math, science, or engineering. Coding to learn can apply to almost any subject.

For example, consider teaching kids storytelling with the book Super Scratch Programming Adventure!

Super Scratch Programming Adventure!

Super Scratch Programming Adventure!

Ruth Suehle at GeekMom writes:

Super Scratch Programming Adventure! helps your budding developer learn to use Scratch with a comic book story. Each section begins with a continuing piece of a story that ends by giving the reader a problem to solve with Scratch.

I got this book for my own kids and they were off in minutes. I think Super Scratch Programming Adventure! would be the perfect textbook to get your students off coding to learn.

BYOD in moderation

October 25th, 2012

Below are two TEDTalks that made me think about our students and BYOD.

Joshua Foer: Feats of memory anyone can do

…our lives are the sum of our memories. How much are we willing to lose from our already short lives by losing ourselves in our Blackberries, our iPhones, by not paying attention to the human being across from us who is talking with us, by being so lazy that we’re not willing to process deeply?

Sherry Turkle: Connected, but alone?

When we don’t have the capacity for solitude, we turn to other people in order to feel less anxious or in order to feel alive. When this happens, we’re not able to appreciate who they are. It’s as though we’re using them as spare parts to support our fragile sense of self. We slip into thinking that always being connected is going to make us feel less alone. But we’re at risk, because actually it’s the opposite that’s true. If we’re not able to be alone, we’re going to be more lonely. And if we don’t teach our children to be alone, they’re only going to know how to be lonely.


Learning to learn with (and without) our cellphones

October 9th, 2012

The decision to allow students to bring personal devices into the classroom is being made all across the nation. Many schools are adopting ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) initiatives to engage our students in the classroom with the same tools they are using outside the classroom.

As a BYOD advocate, I look forward to seeing all the ways personal devices will help us transform teaching and learning.

Yet we must proceed carefully as we open the floodgates for BYOD. We must help our students learn how to work with and without our devices. Many argue we need to work harder on the ladder.

Joe Kraus, currently with Google Ventures, had this to say regarding our relationship with personal devices:

…we’re becoming like the mal-formed weight lifter who trains only their upper body and has tiny little legs. We’re radically over-developing the parts of quick thinking, distractable brain and letting the long-form-thinking, creative, contemplative, solitude-seeking, thought-consolidating pieces of our brain atrophy by not using them. And, to me, that’s both sad and dangerous.

Letting cellphones and iPads into our classroom is not a trade. We’re not exchanging our students’ ability to reflect and think critically for some quick-fix tech gadget that will give them an all-access pass to information. Those gadgets are important. Really important. However, let’s never forget to appreciate and use all the things our brains can do without the aid of of a gadget.

Our students aren’t alone. We adults are experiencing this transition with them. Are you happy with the relationship you have with your phone? Watch Kraus’ entire presentation on our “Culture of Distraction” before you answer.

It’s ‘Game On’ for mobile. Is your school ready?

August 20th, 2012

 Milwaukee Public Schools Mobile Website

Milwaukee Public Schools Mobile Website

This summer we saw live coverage of the Olympics delivered to mobile devices like never before. While the process wasn’t perfect for everyone, we can expect things to be even better for mobile viewers when the winter games start up in Russia.

It’s safe to say that the world of sports has become mobile friendly. ESPN now considers the phone their ‘first screen’ when they design web content. All the professional sports have gone mobile too.

It’s not just sports. People are beginning to expect everything that is online to be available when they’re browsing on a mobile device. President Obama agrees. In a statement back in May, the president ordered U.S. government agencies to create a mobile plan for the delivery of their services that will be implemented in one year.

In his memo, President Obama states:

Americans deserve a government that works for them anytime, anywhere, and on any device.

This is a challenge for our schools too. Recently I was talking to one of the other dads at our neighborhood elementary school. While our kids played in the distance, he said, “I’m always on the road for work. If I can’t read something on this (pointing to his phone) I’m probably never going to see it.” My friend isn’t alone. As more and more parents, teachers, and students are accessing the web via mobile devices, they will expect to find our school services available in a format that is mobile friendly.

Take a look at your classroom web pages, online progress reports, and other web based services. Do they work on a mobile phone? If not, it’s time to look for a replacement tool that does.

Every student’s device coming to a screen near you

March 20th, 2012

One of my favorite scenes from Iron Man 2 is when Tony Stark takes over the screens while he was forced to appear before Congress.

Stark takes over screens with his smart phone

However, it won’t take a superhero-genius-inventor to connect to the classroom screen. Inspired by some of the work over at Exploding Sink, I’ve been experimenting with the possibilities myself. With a little DIY, I’ve setup my iPad to work as a portable camera for the classroom via the Apple TV.

There are many signs that show that this is just the tip of the iceberg. This summer, Apple is releasing a new OS for the Mac computer that will also allow wireless mirroring. Affordable wireless HDMI systems are now starting to appear. CNN has been showing off their new technology that allows you to ‘flick’ content from screen to screen. This is a feature that many manufacturers have started to roll-out in their new flatscreen TVs this year.

What is the take away? Be ready to share your screen because more and more devices, and not just yours, are going to be connecting to it soon.

Give your quiet students a voice too

March 6th, 2012

In her new book, titled Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain explains how we overlook the value of introverts. She elaborates on NPR:

Introverts are much less often groomed for leadership positions, even though there’s really fascinating research out recently from Adam Grant at [The Wharton School of business at the University of Pennsylvania] finding that introverted leaders often deliver better outcomes when their employees are more proactive. They’re more likely to let those employees run with their ideas, whereas an extroverted leader might, almost unwittingly, be more dominant and be putting their own stamp on things, and so those good ideas never come to the fore.

Here is another reason to get your students writing online.

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