Note: This year I am blogging weekly reflections at my school site (weskids.com) in order to provide more transparency in my teaching for parents, students, and the community (local and global). I will be cross-posting most of the entries here at Bit By Bit as well. You can see the original posts at the “Reflections by Mr. S” blog.
“Social media attention training requires understanding your goals and priorities (intentions), and involves asking yourself, at regular intervals, whether your current activity at any moment moves you closer to your goal or serves your higher priorities (attention)… [M]indful use of social media begins with noticing when your attention has wandered, and then gently bringing it back to focus on your highest priority.”
Rheingold, Howard; Weeks, Anthony (2012-02-24). Net Smart (p. 247). MIT Press. Kindle Edition.
You might have heard from your scholar that I’ve started introducing a “mindfulness bell” in classes. If your child has not been taught about the bell yet, don’t worry… they will get it soon.
The idea for the mindfulness bell came to me after reading Howard Rheingold’s outstanding book, Net Smart: How to Thrive Online (http://amzn.to/1bIOIGE). Rheingold is seen as a “Cyber Pioneer” and has studied, written about, and influenced life “online” since “life online” became a reality (the term “virtual community” is attributed to Rheingold and his book by the same title). In short, Rheingold’s been around for a long time and is undoubtedly, an expert on technology’s influences and impacts.
A major part of Net Smart examines an essential question: with all the distractions that computers and the Internet offer, who’s in control? In other words, are we running the computer, or is it running us?
Technology is ubiquitous and demands a lot of our attention. It is difficult to escape its distracting grasp to the degree that many adults I know have difficulty getting their work done because they’re always checking their Facebook stream, or their email, of their Twitter feed, etc. I myself am not immune to this dilemma, but after reading Rheingold’s book, I’ve taken an inventory in how much I use technology and have implemented routines to help keep its use in a healthy balance with the rest of my life.
In using the mindfulness bell, this is what I am trying to do for our students. The children in our school have never known a world without computers. Many of them come from parents who had childhoods without a computer or similar technology in their lives at such a young age. It wasn’t until later in life, for many of us, when the Tech Boom exploded and became a larger presence in our lives. No one taught us as children how to manage the inherent distractions that accompany technology.
Motivated by Rheingold’s book, I am attempting to help our students be in control of their technology use. When I ring the bell, all students stand and have many options to take a 2 minute break: stretching, breathing, closing their eyes, jogging in place, etc. Students must get out of their chair because one thing that they might not have been “mindful” of is their posture (when we use computers, we’re in our “head” and tend to forget about body posture unless we train ourselves to do so).
No matter what break choice the students end up picking, we ask for silence and I remind the students to be asking a question in their heads: “Am I in control or is the computer in control?” This question leads to more questions. For instance, “Have I been on the computer too long?” “Am I focused on the work that I’m supposed to be doing?” “Am I breathing?” (in Rheingold’s book he reports on a phenomenon where people actually stop breathing while they are reading an email! I’m hoping students are making sure they’re breathing when playing a difficult game!) “Am I sitting properly?” “Do my eyes need a break?” etc.
I hope in doing this at school at a young age, students will start to incorporate these strategies at home and throughout their lives. Technology is awesome, but balancing it with the rest of our world is essential.
Here are a few more interesting quotes from Rheingold’s book:
“[S]tart paying attention to the way you pay attention.”
Rheingold, Howard; Weeks, Anthony (2012-02-24). Net Smart (p. 36). MIT Press. Kindle Edition.
“When you are online, how often do you control your own focus— and how frequently do you allow it to be captured by peripheral stimuli?”
Rheingold, Howard; Weeks, Anthony (2012-02-24). Net Smart (p. 42). MIT Press. Kindle Edition.
And one that is especially worrisome in these days of technological distraction:
“University of Utah researchers found that drivers who talked on a cell phone— just talked, not texted— were as impaired in driving simulation tests as subjects with blood-alcohol levels close to the legal limit.”
Rheingold, Howard; Weeks, Anthony (2012-02-24). Net Smart (p. 45). MIT Press. Kindle Edition.
Things you can do at home with your students:
- Ask them if they’ve had a class where I’ve introduced the mindfulness bell yet. What do they think of it?
- Ask them to reflect on the amount of time they spend with technology. Do they think they have a good balance with other things in their lives?
- If they (or you) think it’s not in balance, ask them what they think could be done to get it more in balance. Here’s a great article about “Screen Time” from commonsensemedia.org: http://bit.ly/lEibWJ
- I believe that just as we talk to students about not smoking when they’re younger (so they don’t when they’re older), we should also be talking to students about the risks of texting (and cell phone distraction) while driving while they are still young (and listen to us!).
Rheingold, Howard. Net smart: how to thrive online. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012. Print.