Sunday, March 2, 2014

Get Out of Your Seat!

There has been a lot in the news lately about how much time youth are spending "in front of a screen." A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation indicated that - not including texting - teens experience about 11 hours a day of screen time (television, tablet, computer, phone with apps, etc.). Further reports (like this one, this one, and this one) indicate that this is leading to depression, anxiety, and an inability to focus in our students.

Results like this lead me to question what I am doing in my BYOD class. By strongly encouraging students to be on their devices to learn, research and practice skills, am I contributing to their eventual downfall? Am I simply buying in to all the connectivity hype? As a teacher, I'm trying to connect with students where they already are (and currently, that's online), but should I be forcing them to come to me instead?

I'm torn - I want to use the devices to engage the students and capture their interest, but I don't want to contribute to the next generation of automatons who are content with just sitting there because all the answers can come directly to them via the Internet while they multitask on 50 different things. I want them to use the devices as they need to, but balance the screen time with critical thinking, physical activity and face-to-face collaboration.

A little piece of my mantra has become:
BYOD does NOT mean 100% screen time
BYOD does NOT mean learning by oneself

With the portability of laptops, tablets and phones, students can learn and be engaged virtually anywhere - not just at their desks. So that's one of the things I'm focusing on - engagement through movement. Here are some of my efforts to get students out of their seats:

Go Big: 

I encourage my students to use portable white boards while they practice the course learning goals. I loved having my own portable white board when I was in high school (I got it for Christmas, and it was fantastic!) - there's something wonderful about being able to write a problem out larger-than-usual, easily change/erase things as needed and highlight with different colours.

Students using the portable white boards in class, 
along with their devices.

When my students use them, I find they are more likely to stand while they work, more likely to share their work with each other (because they are not individually focused on a tiny screen), and more likely to be engaged in what they are doing. They are still using their devices to access material, but then they also use their devices to capture and curate their work, often by taking a photo of their whiteboards and adding the pictures to notes in Evernote.

Go Do Something: 

In math, there is no question that the majority of the learning goals throughout the semester are purely skill-based. While I try to not always have my students "drill and kill," I do recognize that there is inherently going to be a lot of sedentary drilling time. So when I get to learning goals that are more inquiry-based than skill-based, I try my best to get them away from their desks.

In grade 10, I recently sent them out into the school, armed with metre sticks and their phones to find and measure examples of slope. In grade 11 last semester, they had to find examples of periodic motion and record the motion in order to collect data and graph it. And the more I do get-up-off-your-bum activities like this, the more I see the students enjoying the learning and discovery process, and the more amazed I am with the creative results.

I don't always let my students stand on the lab benches, 
but when I do, it's for SCIENCE! And math.

There are lots of great activities out there like this, and I'm trying to integrate more and more of them in my courses as we go.

Get Moving: 

Because the pace of learning is independently-driven, I allow my students to get up and move around as they need to. The tables in the room are set up in pods, and there is no assigned seating. In any class, students may choose to move themselves to someplace a little quieter, or move right into a group all working on the same goal. Often when I'm giving a mini-lecture on a certain learning goal, I will invite interested students to pick up and move to a different area of the classroom together before moving back to their desks.

I don't want my students to sit for the entire 70-minute class. If a student needs a bit of a break and walks over to another student to chat for a few minutes, that's allowed and encouraged (within reason). They are invited to go ask each other for help. When they are ready for an exit slip, they are expected to get up and go see our peer teacher so she can check their work and distribute the slips. Our tracking board is on a wall far from the seating - if they want to check it out, they have to move. There's little chance a student can sit in one spot for the whole class, even if they wanted to.

In a lot of ways, these ideas are similar to what we've always done in pre-BYOD classrooms: it's never a good idea to have students sit still for long periods of time in any environment. How are you keeping your students active? How do you address the balance between screen time and the real world? What other tricks can I use to keep my students active in class?

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