Wednesday, 9 May 2018

How to help students stay focussed


The school counsellor and I recently ran a workshop for parents entitled 'weapons of mass distraction'. The theme was of course how to help students to reduce distractions when working on digital devices.

While we didn't have a huge turnout, we had some really positive discussions and the parents shared stories about how they are helping their kids avoid digital distractions. We also got the parents to reflect on their own digital distractions and how their distractions might effect how their kids see responsible and appropriate use.


One of the underling themes was parent frustration with students easily getting distracted while on computers and mobile devices. There was also a feeling that the parents were helpless and there was nothing they could do.

While we might feel this is true, especially after learning how smart phones are designed to get us addicted.

It is not all doom and gloom.

We spoke about a few specific strategies, but the point of the conversation was cooperating and mentoring our students. We spoke about working with the students rather than enforcing strict rules or guidelines.

If we enforce rules on our kids that they don't agree to or buy into they wont own them or use them and will find ways around them.

Our main piece of advice was to work with our kids,  help them to understand that there is no such thing as multi tasking or that auto play and infinite scrolling are designed to keep us on screen and suck us into the wormhole that the internet can be.

If our kids understand this and understand that there are apps and techniques to help them stay focussed they will be more likely to own their distractions, make an effort to stay on task and they will be the ones who choose to use the apps, extensions and websites that help avoid distractions.

When we combine this with good old fashioned parenting, i.e. consequences that we follow through with when guidelines or rules are ignored, we can help our kids to keep on task and be less distracted.

I recommend sharing some of these apps and settings with your teenage kids and letting them choose (with your guidance and cajoling) which to use and when to use them.

Set up these tool WITH your kids NOT FOR your kids


1. Parent controls on a Mac


These can be pretty restrictive, but do allow parents to set time limits, bed times (when the computer wont work) track internet activity and block particular apps and websites. For many this is seen as the nuclear option or option of last resort

how to set up parent controls
parent controls for iPhone, iPad or iPod

2. Self Control

SelfControl is a free and open-source application for macOS that lets you block your own access to distracting websites, your mail servers, or anything else on the Internet. Just set a period of time to block for, add sites to your blacklist, and click "Start." Until that timer expires, you will be unable to access those sites—even if you restart your computer or delete the application.
https://selfcontrolapp.com/

3. Stay Focussed

A Chrome extension that increases your productivity by limiting the amount of time that you can spend on time-wasting websites.

Stay Focussed

4. Strict Workflow

A google Chrome extension that enforces a 25min/5min workflow: 25 minutes of distraction-free work, followed by 5 minutes of break. Repeat as necessary. This uses the pomodoro technique to increase productivity

Strict Workflow

5. Take a five


Another Chrome extension that  allows you to take a break without falling into the internet rabbit hole. You select a time and then where you want to take your break. At the end of the time, the tab will automatically close and you will be prompted to get back to work. 


What I like about #4 and #5 is that is programs breaks into working time, this still gives students the opportunity to check Youtube, snapchat etc and then get back to work. It takes into account kids needs and wants to get distracted while offering incentives and reminders to get back to work.


Here are some other articles and advice on how to help students minimise their online distractions



Here is the slideshow from the presentation.



Once again I can iterate enough that we should be helping kids to self impose / use these tools, they need to be responsible for their own acceptable / productive / distraction free use of technology. We want to give them skills for avoiding distraction for life, not just when we are around to enforce our rules on them.

Good luck and keep on fighting the good fight.

Feel free to add any comments or extra ideas below

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

New Gmail my first thoughts



Gmail has just undergone a major redesign and like most of these upgrades you get the chance to try before you buy. So that is exactly what I did.


At my first look I thought YUCK, it looks horrible, babyish, it is the same but different. After a couple of minutes my mind and eyes adjusted and I started playing with it. 

Once I got used to it, the clean simple display was warming to me, some of the changes that I like include

1. In default view attachments were clearly visible and looked good.


I have now switched back to the comfortable view just to get more on my screen, but I can see that some might like the default view.

2. Calendar, keep, tasks and add ons can be accessed directly from the right hand side of Gmail.

I use Calendar and keep all the time, so it is mega useful to have it right there, I also appreciate being able to easily access Gmail add ons

3. Smart reply is super useful, 

I use smart reply on my phone via the gmail app, now that it is available on the web version I seem to be replying much faster and it is making me more efficient. It does mean that Google is watching all my emails, but I new that already. It is also useful to start a message with the smart reply and then add a personal touch or some extra information.

4. Quick tasks 

When you mouse over an email, you get a series of quick task options on the right of the email. 

This makes it really easy to archive, bin, mark as unread or snooze the email

5. Snooze, you can now snooze an email so that it returns at a predetermined time just like using the boomerang add on.


This could be really useful if your inbox is getting a bit chaotic or you are in the middle of class, often I will see an email, read it, think I need to do that later but then forget about it or can't find it.

There is supposed to be another AI powered feature called nudging  which reminds you when you haven't replied to an email in a couple of days. I haven't seen it in action yet but look forward to using it.

After a couple of days of using it, I am really starting to like it and it has already made me more productive and given me more time to do the really useful things at school like teaching and talking to people.