Here’s the one thing my parents heard every year at Parent Teacher Conferences: “Your daughter has really good grades, but she doesn’t speak up enough. She has to learn to speak up because it’ll be important for her later in life.” But as much as I wanted to, I was too shy and introverted to speak up, and every time that I did, I would suddenly feel my stomach tightening, my heart racing, my arm shaking as I raised it, and my lips parting without being able to form words in a cohesive, coherent way. My mind always went too fast for my mouth to process. And even after I spoke, it would take me a good 10-15 minutes to calm down again. I just hated everyone’s eyes on me and the silence in the room as everyone listened, tuning in to every nuance of my shaking voice. It was just easier not to say anything!
Because I still remember how I felt, I was fascinated by Amanda Wynter’s piece in The Atlantic, “Bringing Twitter to the Classroom.” Chris Bronke, a high school English teacher in Downers Grove, Illinois, has developed a brilliant way to get his freshmen class to participate in class discussions — by having them on Twitter. While Bronke isn’t the first teacher to use social media to improve classroom learning, he is one of the few making progress in a positive and effective way. By relying on a social media platform the kids were already using, Bronke has encouraged his students to post photos, quotes, quick thoughts, questions about the reading. Hashtags, of course, keep the discussions contained in one thread. Along the way, kids “favorite” each others’ tweets and connect more with each other any time, anywhere, and from any device (mobile, tablet, or desktop). Bronke found that discussions were rich and robust, and that kids were more engaged with the reading and with each other.
Although Wynter’s piece didn’t mention whether Bronke noticed more participation from shy and introverted kids online, I can only imagine this has been the case. There’s no doubt technology helps people develop alter egos that allows them to voice things in a way they aren’t able to in person — just check out theseNew York Timesand Washington Post articles on how shy and introverted kids tend to be more engaged and “extroverted” online. There is something liberating about being able to process and write your thoughts and feelings — without the pressure of eyes and ears — and vet them before sharing them with the world. For shy and introverted kids who struggle with speaking in class and having the spotlight on them, but who need to speak up because their grades depend on it (site note: I always hated this!), participating in online discussions may be a good outlet. These kids are more likely to blossom online and share their ideas and opinions without fearing how they look and sound, and how others are perceiving and reacting to them. Susan Cain, the author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” even interviewed a teacher in Canada who noted the benefits social media in classrooms for shy and introverted kids.
Of course, using Twitter (or any other social media) to promote discussions certainly has its potential problems — online interaction is still no substitute for real-world conversations, and over-reliance on technology can negatively affect face-to-face social skills (like being unable to identify social cues). As much as shy and introverted kids may be more vocal online, they also need to develop public speaking skills because “real world” situations beyond school necessitate in-person interactions. I know that if I was given the ability to participate on Twitter during school, I would have loved having another outlet to make my voice heard. But I’m also glad that I didn’t grow up with that technology — I may have relied on it too much and hid behind it. Without it, I had to force myself to feel at ease with talking in front of people — even if it took years, and is still something I’m still working on.
Eventually, kids will need to make speeches and presentations, and give and go on interviews, so it’s always easier to sharpen and refine oratory skills (or any type of skills!) from a young age. Of course, it’s possible that being able to “talk” freely and being “favorited” on Twitter will boost kids’ confidence and make them comfortable talking in person. But teachers will need to make sure they strike a balance with having online and roundtable classroom discussions, and they would also need to make sure that online participation doesn’t become a crutch as the only way to earn good grades. After all, developing well-rounded communication skills will help kids throughout life in all situations (with family and friends), beyond the classroom. Ultimately, this would be the true mark of learning — and even success.
Share your thoughts: Do you believe social media has a place in the classroom?
3 Things to Raise a Successful Student
Image: Twitter bird and hashtag symbol on black chalkboard via Shutterstock
On Thursday, Google debuted Made W/ Code (madewithcode.com), a site and program dedicated to inspiring young girls to learn code by connecting them with other like-minded female coders and letting them create colorful projects like animated avatars, short soundtracks, and customized bracelets (create one using a 3D printer here!) — all for free.
Currently, in the U.S., only 12 percent of computer science graduates are women and only 1 in 5 programmers are female. Google itself admitted only 17% of their programmers are female! With such low numbers, the site aims to show girls how fun coding can be in order to reduce the gender gap in the computer science and tech industry.
Here are some of our editors’ thoughts after attending the Made W/ Code launch:
Allison Berry, Editorial Assistant, Parents magazine I couldn’t get over how empowering each speaker was! All my life my engineer dad has been telling me that I should get into STEM, but it just never clicked with me. After listening to brilliant women like Pixar’s Danielle Feinberg and iLuminate’s Miral Kotb talk about how coding brought them to their dream careers, my interest was definitely piqued. They did a wonderful job of explaining not only how coding is an essential part of their jobs, but also how it plays into our everyday life. Now I’m curious to know what I could do if I knew how to code!
Chrisanne Grise, Editorial Assistant, Parents magazine
For me, the best part of the event was being surrounded by so much girl power. It was impossible not to be moved by the incredible women who have used code to make such an impact on the world. I was particularly inspired by Danielle Feinberg, the Director of Photography for Lighting at Pixar. She spoke to the teen girls about her own high school experience as the only girl in an engineering class. (Naturally, she showed up all the boys!) It was a funny story, but also a great reminder to be brave and stay true to your passions, no matter what anyone else thinks. At the end of the night, I felt empowered and ready to take on the world — and wondering if I should have studied computer science instead of journalism!
Sherry Huang, Features Editor, Parents.com
Watch a video below to learn more about Made W/ Code:
Earlier this week, New York Public Radio rounded up a panel of experts for a program called Parenting in the Digital Age in hopes of advising confused parents on what’s acceptable when it comes to mixing kids and technology. Read on for their advice for your family.
For babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. “There’s no evidence that screen time is helpful for babies,” says Dr. Susan Linn, the co-founder of The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which has challenged companies like Disney for their “educational” Baby Einstein videos and Fisher Price for the iPad Bouncy Seat. Linn says kids under three should avoid all screen time and for children aged three to five, it’s best to stay below the two hour limit suggested by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
At the same time, Joel Levin, the founder of MinecraftEdu, a games-based education nonprofit and father of two girls under nine, thinks that technology can be valuable to kids. His oldest daughter started playing games on the computer when she was five. “When I played with my daughter, I was amazed with the thought processes she had. She learned to spell her first word using the game,” he says. However, he adds, it’s important that you don’t turn technology into a babysitter and, although it can be difficult, don’t use it as a crutch when the kids are bored or fussy.
For elementary school kids and tweens. Wendy Kelly, a third grade teacher at the low-tech Rudolf Steiner School in New York City, recommends the same rules that her school enforces: no technology before fourth grade. Kelly admits that this can be a challenge but suggests that parents talk their child’s friends about setting the same screen time boundaries. “What one child does has an effect on everyone so we ask parents to encourage crafts and books instead of movies, television, and video games.” Whether you introduce your kids to technology in kindergarten or wait until fourth grade like Kelly, all the panelists agreed that you have to monitor the content kids are consuming. “If you feel your kid is watching something that is inappropriate, turn it into a teachable moment and have a discussion about why she shouldn’t be watching it before you take it away,” says Levin. He also says it’s helpful to watch your kids play with their devices to find out why they’re drawn to certain games so you can encourage those certain skills when screen time is over. Lastly, try to carve out time for your kids with your family outside of screen time. It’s just as important as setting a time limit for technology, says Linn.
No matter how strict your screen time policy, one thing that is for certain: is that kids are around surrounded by more technology than ever before. It’s up to parents to make sure they instill the values and self-control needed to navigate the new digital world.
Ever feel that you’re hopelessly addicted to your mobile phone—and that your kids are quickly learning to be just as tied to their devices? Welcome to the club. Between iPhones, iPads (and electronic-toy replicas thereof), and of course, television, I think it’s safe to say most of us, and most of our kids, are too absorbed with our technology at the expense of experiencing the world around us and interacting—face to face, not virtually—with each other.
One movement is proposing a solution, at least for one day: The National Day of Unplugging, scheduled for sunset Friday through sunset Saturday, aims to have families put down the devices for 24 hours. Modeled explicitly after the Jewish Sabbath (Shabbat in Hebrew), the idea is the brainchild of a Jewish cultural group called Reboot.
Our family has a day of unplugging not just once per year, but every week: We are Jewish Sabbath observers, and as such we are offline Friday evening through Saturday evening every week. Aside from just putting away our devices and turning off the television, during the Sabbath we avoid spending money, driving in a vehicle, talking on the phone (even a landline!), and many other activities of everyday life.
And it works for us. Though we hear occasional grumbling from our kids, such complaints are rare. Instead, our kids play with old-fashioned, creativity-inspiring toys. We have family meals together, visit with friends, read together, and go to synagogue. We talk. Crazy, I know.
So is a “technology Sabbath” a good idea for your family? I highly recommend the idea of a day-long, family-wide device-free day (no need to go quite as tech-free as we do), but not without some advice and warnings. And while the idea of a specific, nationwide “Day of Unplugging” is a nice idea, this can be accomplished any day you think it would be successful.
For starters, have a plan for what to do on your day of unplugging. Merely putting down your devices without making this gesture part of a larger idea of connecting as a family is bound to fail in a blizzard of protests. Shabbat works for us not just because we disconnect from modern technology, but because we spend it as a family. For us that means good meals (with extra snacks), time with friends, and synagogue. For you it might be a day at an amusement park or other local fun destination, or a series of smaller activities at or around home.
Secondly, don’t feel a need to spend every minute together. My oldest is increasingly occupied with afternoon play dates, but even then, I know she is interacting with her friends and not just playing video games in parallel with them. And even if she’s out for the afternoon, chances are strong that we’ve spent far more time together as a family—and quality time at that—than any other day of the week.
However, don’t expect miracles. My kids don’t become little angels when the sun sets on Friday. They still fight, nag, refuse to eat anything healthy, demand to get their way, and otherwise act like the 7- and 3-year old they are. Not that I am complaining (well, maybe a little). It’s not like human nature is suspended for 25 hours, as this Kveller.com blog post, which made the rounds among my Sabbath-observing friends recently, so vividly dramatizes.
Lastly, despite the good intentions and enthusiasm of those behind the National Day of Unplugging, it’s hard for me to see how a one-off day of disconnecting would make much of a difference, other than giving families a small glimpse at what can be. Unplugging for one day per year is, I would guess, just as likely to cause intense grumbling and fights over the suddenly-changed rules as it is to foster a memorable day of communication and interaction.
So yes, I’d still strongly recommend you try unplugging for this National Day of Unplugging. But I’d recommend even more strongly making it a regular thing—as long as you make those days filled with togetherness and meaningful, fun interaction.
Facebook is starting to make me feel like a grump.
One of my friends posted three separate batches of photos of her toddler yesterday. There were photos from a sledding adventure, photos from afternoon playtime, and then some mom-and-son selfies to end the night. Another friend, who is a single mother, filmed her daughter opening all her Christmas gifts this year, rather than putting the camera down and experiencing a special holiday moment just between the two of them. And my own 4-year-old niece never lets us take pictures of her anymore, because she’s sick of her mother following her around with an iPhone.
Yup, it looks like I’ve reached the latest milestone in my life: I get to start complaining about baby photos!
Now I know I’m certainly not the first person to get fed up with photos on the Internet. It seems silly that I still feel the need to say anything about this. But as my friends and I are approaching our mid- to late-twenties, I’m suddenly being flooded with photos of their children. Of course I am delighted for those who have started families, and I love to see what they’re up to now. But do my friends—who are otherwise very bright and rational human beings—really not see anything wrong with hiding behind the camera every time they spend time with their kids? It saddens me that they spend so much energy documenting every move their child makes, rather than quietly savoring some of it.
I completely understand that posting photos online is a great way to update relatives who live far away. And of course it makes sense to share big moments or particularly adorable snapshots. But we really don’t need to be inundated with dozens of photos (especially if they’re blurry or practically identical to the rest in the batch!) Not to mention, this only reinforces the stereotype that we millennials are self-absorbed and narcissistic.
Personally, when my turn comes, I’m going to aim to handle things just like my best friend Sam does. Her son was born in August, and since then, I’ve seen maybe ten photos total of him online. They’re rare enough that when his face pops up in my Newsfeed, I actually feel excited to see how big he’s grown. Plus, I get the feeling she’s relishing motherhood and spending too much time with her baby and her husband to waste time sitting around on her computer. That’s my goal too.
Then again, I’m adopting a puppy this weekend. Maybe my new “fur baby” will inspire me to go on a photo rampage and I’ll be spamming all my followers with them come Monday. You never know.