Survey: Principals worried about student technology use at home, but embrace it in schools

Principals and school leaders across the country have mixed feelings about technology, with concerns about devices distracting students at home and optimism about personalized learning and computer science enhancing education at school.

A recent Education Week Research Center survey showed 95 percent of principals think their students are getting too much screen time at home, while 64 percent believe student screen time at school is about right.

Over half of principals – 55 percent – are also extremely concerned about social media use outside of school. Most are also at least moderately concerned about other issues like cyberbullying, sexting, social media at school, and students’ ability to gauge reliable information online.

“Technology, used wisely and appropriately, can be an excellent resource for learning,” James Steyer, founder of Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that promotes responsible technology use, told Education Week. “But there is also an arms race for our kids’ attention going on. It’s being led by certain tech companies, and there are really significant downsides. Principals need to understand that.”

The education site points out that most principals view the “computer science for all” movement in schools in a positive light, with 15 percent who believe it’s a “transformational way to improve public education,” 23 percent viewing it as a “promising idea,” and 28 percent reporting it as “one of many school improvement strategies available to me.” The vast majority also support technology driven personalized learning programs.

In some cases, principals are pinched between tech companies pushing more screen time and parents and teachers pushing for less.

“Notably, principals responding to the Education Week survey said they feel the most pressure from technology companies and vendors to increase student screen time (58 percent), embrace personalized learning (55 percent), and spread computer science education (47 percent),” the site reports.

Meanwhile, more principals report teachers are pushing for less screen time than those who claim teachers want students to use more technology at school.

The uneasy balancing act is something parents know well.

Research from the Institute of Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia shows many parents are struggling to control technology use at home, and they’re worried about the negative influences it’s having on their kids.

“Many parents feel their attempts to control the home environment and to keep external influences at bay are nearly futile in the face of new communication and entertainment technologies,” according to the Institute’s “Culture of American Families” report.

“These technologies introduce a host of unknown and often unwelcomed influences into the private space of the home. The overriding concern is the negative influence that parents are unable to keep out,” the report continues. “Many feel helpless in the face of these technologies and uncertain about how, or if, to limit them.”

Fortunately, the UK’s The Jubilee Centre and other organizations offer lessons to help parents, teachers and principals guide students to develop appropriate and healthy relationships with technology.

The Jubilee Centre lesson, “Using Technology More Wisely,” for example, encourages students to reflect on whether social media and mobile technology are good or bad for them personally, for their relationships and society.


NC fifth-graders’ message of hope inspires CA students displaced by wildfires, mudslides

When fifth-graders at The Raleigh School in North Carolina learned about students displaced by wildfires and mudslides in California, they wanted to do something to lift their spirits.

Raleigh School teacher Jennifer Brunetti explained to students how her relatives and students in Carpentaria, Calif. lost everything in the wake of the natural disasters, so they decided to make a video to offer some hope, WRAL reports.

“At The Raleigh School, we see social emotional skills as being very valued and it’s something we teach every day,” Brunetti told the news site. “We just decided as a class that we wanted to do something kind.”

The video featured personal messages of encouragement from students at The Raleigh School, artwork with inspiring quotes like “After rain comes rainbows” and “don’t be blue,” and a chorus of youngsters singing “Lean On Me.”

“We thought that California was going through a lot, and we thought it would be really nice if they had some support,” student Addie Canady told WRAL.

“We saw they were going through a struggle and we wanted to help them feel better,” classmate Gaya Gupta added.

Classmate Jimmy Passe said students “wanted to create the video because it was good to support them and help them get through this hard moment.”

Though this act of kindness was well intentioned and was based on high moral principles, researchers at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture caution that merely connecting emotionally will not provide a necessary foundation for moral conduct and good character. They conclude, “There is little or no association, causal or otherwise, between psychological well-being and moral conduct.”

The fifth-graders sent the video to students at The Family School in California, and received a video back in late April. That video featured California students alongside new shoots growing from charred soil, students painting signs of thanks for area firefighters and police who battled the blazes, and thanks for the well-wishes from North Carolina.

“That almost made me cry happy tears,” one student said. “That was so nice.”

“They were helping us through everything by just that one little song,” another student said. “But the little things go a long way.”

Teachers and principals working to strengthen moral and citizenship formation in their students can find information and strategies at the UK’s The Jubilee Centre. The Jubilee Centre site also features lesson plans for teacher use.

AZ district partners with ‘Anonymous Alerts’ app to combat bullying, school violence

An Arizona school district wants students to report bullying and safety issues, and it recently partnered with a mobile phone application to allow students to make anonymous complaints directly to administrators.

The Thatcher Unified School District – which includes about 1,600 students in four schools – partnered with the anti-bullying app Anonymous Alerts in late March “to provide the best and most easily accessible outlet for students to share concerns with the administration,” according to a statement cited by the Eastern Arizona Courier.

“We prioritize a safe school climate for our students at Thatcher USD and want to enhance our bullying prevention tools,” TUSD Superintendent Kevin Spiller told the news site. “By implementing this anonymous reporting system, students can protect their peers, have more options to share their concerns with school officials and easily access the app on their mobile devices.”

There is a certain irony to the application of this app as “anonymity” is being used to foster greater accountability. Moral education researchers at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia encourage all steps that increase the “thickness” and “density” of the moral community. They have found that “[T]he sources and settings for moral and civic education matter—that the ‘thickness’ of cultural endowments and the ‘density’ of moral community within which those endowments find expression are significant in the formation of personal and public virtue in children.” Not only does this app make reporting problems more likely, but equally important it provides a host of timely resources for the students. This is a winning combination.

The app allows student and families to send incident reports to school officials directly, and to attach a photo, video or screenshot as evidence. School officials plan to monitor the system between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. on school days.

Anonymous Alerts is available for free on the Apple Store, Google Play and Chrome Store, and students and families received an activation code specific to TUSD to submit reports. The app allows students to submit complaints anonymously or to revel their identity, and also includes resources on bullying, cyberbullying, harassment and mental health issues.

The two-way communications app is available in both English and Spanish, according to the news site.

“We are honored to launch Anonymous Alerts at Thatcher USD and empower their students to ‘stand up and report it’ to bolster student sensitivity for issues and concerns,” Anonymous Alerts CEO T. Gregory Bender said.

Numerous schools across the country are already using Anonymous Alerts, including Newtown Public Schools – where a school shooting in 2012 left 17 students and staff dead.

Mark Pompano, director of security in the Connecticut school district, touts the benefits of the app on the Anonymous Alerts website.

“We have seen a significant drop in both bad behavior and safety concerns,” he said, “creating a more positive school climate.”

For more on increasing “thickness” of moral endowments and “density” of community see James Davison Hunter and Ryan Olson’s The Content of Their Character.

Teachers and principals interested in addressing bullying in their school may go to the following website for support:

Building social skills by eliminating social media

At San Lorenzo High School, students deposit their phones in a locked pouch for the day, a practice school leaders say has improved learning, behavior, and social interactions.
“It has absolutely changed our entire school climate and culture,” says principal Allison Silvestri. Teachers at the San Francisco area school say that they have more time to teach without the distraction of phones, according to NBC San Diego. “Things that I’ve done for years now take 10–15 minutes fewer to complete the assignment,” says teacher Olivia Hanley.
Students are noticing the impact, too. Deshaun Smith says, “My grades have been getting better and better,” going from getting C’s and D’s to getting A’s and B’s.
In addition to improved classroom learning, students and teachers are noticing the difference in human interactions. “People are more interactive with each other and less with headphones and just by themselves,” says student Daniella Ceja. “Students talk to me in the halls now,” said principal Silvestri. “They have to talk to each other. A substitute teacher noticed better posture because they’re not looking down at their phones in the hallways on the way to class.”
But the talking isn’t the kind that gets them into trouble. The number of students being sent to Silvestri’s office has declined by more than 50%.
San Francisco-based Yondr created the green pouches specifically to curb cell phone use. A couple of students said they think the policy is too strict, and they wish they could at least have access to their phones during breaks and at lunch, but the benefits seem to be outweighing the criticisms.
San Lorenzo High School isn’t the only organization battling the impact of technology on school climate and culture. In field research conducted by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture on school cultures and student formation, researchers found that a pioneering group of schools had established low- or no-tech policies in order to cultivate students who can attend to learning and to each other. The Waldorf, Montessori, Friends, Democratic, and International Baccalaureate high schools studied “had some limits on the use of technology in the classroom—for example, minimal projector use, no Smart Boards, and no cell phones in the school,” writes David Sikkink in The Content of Their Character. These “pedagogical” schools—defined by their commitment to particular modes of learning—could limit technology on the principles of their pedagogies.
Ultimately, every school needs a principled reason for including, excluding, or limiting technology. Yondr is one tool that, at least in San Lorenzo, is doing the trick to promote learning and relationships.

Friends over phones: Catholic schools are limiting technology in class

Several Catholic schools are reducing technology use in their classrooms and school buildings, citing “the human and spiritual formation of their students.”

Notre Dame Catholic School in Wichita Falls, Texas, banned phone use in the school during the school day. Principal Michael Edghill, speaking to the Catholic News Agency, explained that “it takes a rightly formed person to undertake the task of human formation, which is the mission of Catholic education.”

Edghill said his biggest concern is a tendency to let technology become the main driving force of education rather than a tool of support for teachers and students. “No machine or technical tool can appropriately engage in the formation of the soul,” he said. His guiding principle is intentionality.

Jay Boren, headmaster of St. Benedict Elementary in Natick, Massachusetts, echoes Edghill’s vision of human formation, saying that dramatically reducing technology in the classroom “allows students to cultivate the ability to sustain attention, develop concentration, and appreciate silence, which are necessary dispositions to ponder truth, beauty, and goodness.”

Quite obviously, these school leaders are expressing a particular view of the purpose and pedagogy of education that is sustained and informed by a living Catholic tradition. These commitments are not insignificant to the work of learning and formation.

The Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture designed the School Cultures and Student Formation Project to investigate the varieties of moral formation in ten different sectors of American high schools. According to Carol Ann MacGregor, lead researcher for Catholic schools in the upcoming book, The Content of Their Character made particular note of the Catholic school’s “ethos . . . and the philosophical hallmarks that made a particular sector [such as Catholic education] unique—e.g., how it conceived the nature of the child, the task of teaching and formation, the purpose of education, and the role of adult authority.”

When these philosophical and religious hallmarks shape the ethos of the school—as they have at Notre Dame—they can have significant effects for students. Edghill reports that “the unplanned side effect [of banning phones during the school day] is that the students actually talk to one another before school in the mornings now instead of just staring at their individual screens.”

Resisting the siren call of screens is no easy task for adults or students. As an alternative to banning phones, one teacher awards participation points to students who voluntarily leave their phones (off, or in airplane mode) on his desk as they enter the class. Regardless of the tactics, it takes a strong vision of the purpose of teaching and the work of formation to resist the lure of our screens.

Apple investors urge company to study tech overuse

Investors are urging Apple Inc. to study how smartphone use impacts mental health amid growing concerns about youth phone addiction and rising depression and suicide rates among teens.

Apple has been largely silent about how parents should manage children’s smartphone use and the company currently offers no guidance on responsible use.

But two of Apple’s largest investors recently issued a letter urging the company to do better in helping parents understand how smartphones impact their children and to give them more control to moderate their phone use.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Jana Partners LLC and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, or Calstrs, which control about $2 billion of Apple shares, sent a letter to Apple on (Jan. 6) urging it to develop new software tools that would help parents control and limit phone use more easily and to study the impact of overuse on mental health.

“Apple can play a defining role in signaling to the industry that paying special attention to the health and development of the next generation is both good business and the right thing to do,” the shareholders wrote. “There is a developing consensus around the world including Silicon Valley that the potential long-term consequences of new technologies need to be factored in at the outset, and no company can outsource that responsibility.”

The move is the latest in a broader effort to push technology companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Snapchat to consider their impact on society. Parents, educators, and even company officials have raised concerns about increasing rates of teen depression and suicide some believe is linked to a lack of face-to-face human contact.

The concerns range from overuse of smartphones to the content teens are exposed to online.

The push for more corporate responsibility comes as many schools are already taking action to curb the influence of some technologies.

David Sikkink, lead researcher of pedagogical schools for the School Cultures and Formation Project at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia recently documented how schools are approaching the issue.

His research team observed six schools, and interviewed students, faculty, administrators, and parents in order to better understand the role that schools play in character formation. Sikkink reported, “Five of the schools in this sector had some limits on the use of technology in the classroom—for example, minimal projector use, no Smart Boards, and no cell phones in the school.”

These schools, recognizing the power that technology—and phones in particular—can have on attention and interpersonal interaction, have already placed limits on those technologies to keep students focused.

However Apple responds to its investors, families and schools are taking proactive steps to limit the public-health, attention, and character effects of overuse of mobile technology.

Sikkink’s research appears in the new book The Content of Their Character, scheduled for publication in February. CultureFeed subscribers can pre-order the book today for a deep discount and free shipping.

SRO says social media a danger to youth

The use of nonstop social media among middle school students, along with illegal drugs and alcohol, represents the major danger to youth, a Connecticut school resource officer said.

Jeff Deak, a New Canaan police officer, told members of the New Canaan Board of Education that warnings from trusted adults about about the pitfalls of marathon social media usage are ineffective. “It doesn’t matter,” he said.  “Those issues, in my opinion—the alcohol, the drugs, and the social media—are the big issues.

School Board Chair Dionna Carlson noted that the district has put time and effort into social-emotional learning. She asked the district’s Crisis Advisory Board representatives at the meeting whether those skills are in any way combined with safety and security training.

South School Principal Joanne Rocco said that the Crisis Advisory Board has discussed “the history of some school shooters and what is missing in their lives and how do we make sure through our School Climate Committee and through the work that we do in our classrooms that we have addressed that.”

Rocco said that all the work the school district has done around emotional intelligence this year is a great starting point, “even though it’s something that we have always addressed through the years.”

Even before the publication of “Has the Smartphone Destroyed a Generation?,” parents and educators have been discussing how to rank social media usage—and phone usage in particular—in students’ health, safety, and learning. The New Canaan school resource officer’s comments to the Board of Education can further push us to action.

While the research is still in process, it is certainly the case that many social media users admit to feeling an addiction.  As Chad Welmon and Julia Ticona have observed in The Hedgehog Review: “Believing that we as individuals are solely responsible for our technology-suffused lives, we risk overlooking the ways in which our individual incapacity to say no to Facebook is a cultural incapacity, one that Facebook is not only keen to exploit but also eager to preserve.”

In other words, it takes more than just individual willpower to overcome social media. It takes the sort of community effort for which Jeff Deak is calling.

In schools that don’t have a school-wide mobile phone policy, teachers often have significant discretion in how to help students to take responsible action with technology. Check out this one.

France to expand ban on phones in schools

Education officials in France recently banned mobile phones in elementary and middle schools starting next year, in response to what educator minister Jean-Michel Blanquer calls a “public health” issue. Mobile phones and other entertainment media deeply influence the formation of students’ moral, civic, and intellectual character.

“These days the children don’t play at break time anymore, they are all just in front of their smartphones and from an educational point of view that’s a problem,” Blanquer said, according to The Local.

It’s already against the rules for French students to use phones in class, but the new ban will extend the prohibition to break and lunch times, as well.

“We are currently working on this and it could work in various ways,” Blanquer said. “Phones may be needed for teaching purposes or in cases of emergency so mobile phones will have to be locked away.”

“It’s important that children under the age of seven are not in front of these screens,” he said.

Blanquer previously suggested schools could provide drop-boxes for students to store their devices during the school day, though some parents are skeptical schools can enforce the new ban.

“At our cabinet meetings, we drop our phones in lockers before sitting down together. It seems to me that this should be possible for any human group, including classes,” Blanquer told Express magazine earlier this year, according to The Local.

The education minister also added that the ban, promoted by French President Emmanuel Macron during his 2017 campaign, would cut down on cyber-bullying.

Regardless of the potential benefits, parents with the group Peep aren’t convinced education officials can force students to comply with the ban.

“We don’t think it’s possible at the moment,” Peep leader Gerard Pommier told The Local.

“Imagine a (middle) school with 600 pupils. Are they going to put all their phones in a box? How do you store them? And give them back at the end?”

Parents who responded to the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture’s “Culture of American Families” study shared a similar perspective.

“Many parents feel their attempts to control the home and to keep external influences at bay are nearly futile in the face of new communication and entertainment technologies,” according to the 2012 report.

While the authors acknowledge that “the genie of these new technologies cannot be put back in the bottle,” they add that “the question . . . is how to gain some modicum of control over the family’s use of them . . . this will continue to be an area that calls for new ideas—ideas that many parents would be eager to put to use.” This issue is critically important because these technologies can be very influential on students’ moral, civic, and intellectual character.

The move in France is obviously a top-down way of implementing some measure of control, but educators are finding other ways to convince students to make the responsible choice to turn off their phones.

Doug Duncan, a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, shared his approach with NPR Ed.

Instead of banning phones from his classes, he asked students what they’d think of getting participation points for leaving their phones on his desk (turned off) for astronomy class. The students unanimously agreed, and Duncan reports, “we had an exceptionally engaged class.”

Michigan students safeguarding their peers through technology

Four seniors at Michigan’s Midland High School are concerned about sexual assault on college campuses, so they built a smartphone app to keep students safe.

Seniors Gwynne Ozkan, Emma Jamrog, Preston Millward, and Gerard Bringard designed the app to track students as they move from “safe zones” to “danger zones” on college campuses and entered the idea in the Congressional App Challenge—a nationwide contest to inspire students to code.

Millwood, who coded the app to “make a difference in the world,” told NBC 25 he was honored when Michigan U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar sent the students an award letter in December recognizing their efforts.

“Most of the letters I get from colleges the signatures are all digital and not actual signatures, but from John Moolenaar I could tell it was an actual signature from him and that was really cool,” he said.

“The gratification we had when we received an actual award from our congressman really helped to show our hard work actually paying off,” Ozkan added.

NBC 25 explained how the app works:

In the app, campus security would designate safe zones—for example, a library or dorms. Students turn the app on when they leave safe zones and enter a danger zone, such as while walking alone at night.

If students don’t turn the app off when they reach a safe zone, the app alerts campus security of the student’s location, and security can call the student to check on him or her.

“We achieved our goal of what we want to do which is increase safety on college campuses, because we saw that as a really pertinent issue,” Ozkan said.

In essence, the app is the kind of authentic learning that allows students to use their skills to help others.

It’s a part of the give and take between students and their world that University of Virginia sociologist James Davison Hunter, founder of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, describes in his book The Death of Character.

“I take it is a given that learning (as well as life itself) is dialectical or reciprocal in nature,” Hunter wrote. “The individual acts in the world, to be sure, but the world also acts back on the individual.”

Teachers in all subject areas can engage their students in authentic learning projects that address the real needs of their friends, classmates, and neighbors using resources available on and other sites.

Educators at Crellin Elementary, for example, offer a framework that inspires student service work at their Oakland, Maryland school, where they said the focus is on helping students connect what they learn in the classroom with the real world.

Do mobile phones belong in the classroom?

Large school districts are removing bans on student phones despite strong evidence the devices impede student learning, according to a recent Bloomberg editorial advising against the trend.

From the Bloomberg View op-ed “Kick Mobile Phones Out of Class”:

Research shows that mere proximity to smartphones contributes to sloppy work, reduced concentration and lower problem-solving capacity. (Phones also facilitate cheating.) College students who don’t bring their mobile phones to class score a full grade higher than those who do. A study of 91 high schools in the U.K. found that students in schools that imposed strict limits on mobile phones saw test scores improve by 6.4 percent of a standard deviation—and improvement was highest among low-achievers.

Despite the evidence smartphones are bad for learning, “many school districts in the U.S.” have lifted bans on the devices. Bloomberg editors argue the pervasiveness of smartphones in society is likely a main driver, as “at least three-quarters of American teens own a smart phone.”

Teachers who use the devices for “learning tools” and parents who want to maintain constant contact with their children are also pushing administrators to allow teens to carry their smartphones in school, according to Bloomberg View.

The Culture of American Families report, published by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture in 2012, seems to support the notion that society’s increasing reliance on smartphones is an issue.

Researchers found that American parents believe mobile phones and social networking technology are pervasive, unavoidable, and a good thing. Only 34 percent believed they are a bad influence.

Roughly half off all of the survey’s respondents said they spend “at least an hour or more a day . . . browsing the web, reading email, etc.”

More recent data from the Pew Research Center shows the percentage of smartphone users has increased significantly since the 2012 Culture of American Families report, from fewer than half of adults owning a smartphone to more than three-quarters now. The Pew data show that 92 percent of people ages 18–29 own a smartphone.

The Bloomberg editorial contends the pervasive use of smartphones has led many parents and educators to conclude “it’s futile to try to police” students’ use in schools, but argued nonetheless that it’s an important endeavor.

“Schools that decide not to prohibit students from bringing their phones to school can still find ways to limit their use. They can require students to deposit their phones in lockers for the duration of the school day, for example—and enforce penalties for unauthorized use,” according to the Bloomberg View.

“They can also provide incentives to encourage students to stay off their phones, similar to a gaming app that rewards teens for not looking at their phones while driving. To allay parents’ anxieties about being unable to reach their kids, school districts should develop communications plans to provide reliable information to parents in a crisis.”

Parents and educators can also talk to students about how they use technology to help them understand how it can impact learning, both in positive and negative ways.

A lesson on “Using Technology More Wisely” from the Jubilee Centre encourages students to think about their relationship with technology, and the benefits and drawbacks it has on their lives and society in general.