Are your kids always staring at screens?

IMG_0651I’m a father of two girls (7 & 10)  and like many fathers in developed world in 2015, school holiday time has become “constant screen time” for my kids. Unless I painstakingly structure every minute of their day, given the choice, they pick screen time before considering other activities. They are kids after all and it may have been 1987 and it may have been an Atari ST, but I was just the same.

The 70s gave us screen time, the 80s brought it home, the 90s expanded the choice and the 21st century has now given many young people the power to download further screen time options when they feel like it.

What’s good for kids?

If most parents are allowing it, is it ok to deny your own kids (as a parent or teacher) the access other’s enjoy? What long-term effects will show themselves in 20 years? Will they be positive or negative? You can find news stories and studies to prove any case you’d like to.

So, what do we parents and teachers do with a generation who have increasingly higher expectations for how much screen time is considered normal? I have written before on categorising screen time to give more value to creative pursuits and this has helped family time in my house considerably. But here’s other ideas I’ve had that help in this increasingly challenging debate about what is good or not good for children.

Children generally think of the games first but are also naturally curious and creative and often just need reminders of the more productive activities available. Here are some ideas for how to structure these reminders.

Idea 1: Make rules & reasons clear

Folders screentimeRealistically, most families I know would allow a couple of hours in any day for iPadding. Organise apps into folders based on family rules about screen time. As examples: 20 minutes playing games; 40 minutes playing ‘thinking’ games; 1 hour of these creative apps. Using the Control Centre (swipe up from bottom of screen) you can quickly access the timer to ensure the kids get an alarm to say ‘time’s-up’. I also use Emoji characters to help the kids remember why they’re categorised (see pic). It seems sometimes that screen time becomes the issue more than worrying about exactly what’s on the screen. and my kids will move onto more productive activities, if it means more screen time. (Sad, I know)

Idea 2: Make them earn this precious resource

Yes, they will do almost anything for screen time and so use this to your advantage and make them earn it. The parenting advice on this also changes week to week, depending on which book, expert or website you follow but generally, publishing a list of ‘good citizen’ tasks that all earn screen time works well. It puts the onus on the child to carry out good deeds before the earn device time. My daughters have very tidy bedrooms, we have an automatic filling dishwasher and the fire wood was transferred to it’s winter location all because of the desire for the screen. I’ve had no arguments about work around the house if it’s weighed up against iPad time.

Idea 3: Become master of the games you want your kids playing

Here are some games I’ve recently become very good at, so as to spark discussion and competition within the family.

land of vennMath: The Land of Venn – Geometric Defense This is a great game where young kids learn and draw geometric shapes as weapons against monsters. It quickly had my 7-year-old daughter using math vocabulary she might never have used at home. Lots of extras to win and spells to purchase with your winnings. Cleverly designed to award more power to the more complicated shapes. Great fun and sparks good conversation.

 

English : Sentopiary

sentopiaryThis was a great distraction that both my daughters enjoyed as it reinforced things they’d studied at school and was interactive enough that even I learnt a few things regarding grammar. As the app states: “Guided by Common Core standards, it is intended to be used both at home and in classrooms and works well in environments where iPads are shared.” This is true as it also sparks conversation between 2 people looking at it.

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Languages: Duo Lingo

duo lingoWe’ve made it a family challenge to learn Spanish using this app. My elder daughter has now decided that after Spanish, she’s ‘gonna learn Russian’ :-). Make it a weekly challenge to work through a particular number of lessons. The app is very carefully crafted to make sure you build your knowledge and skills in successfully in written, reading and spoken forms. There is discussion about the teaching of languages dying out in schools but this app and gasified online system could be the saviour for language learning.

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Art: Sketchbook Express

Sketchbook ExpressThis free app gives you advanced tools presented in a straight-forward fashion. Even I could reignite my liking for art with some nice first steps tracing a photo using the layers available (see pic). This immediacy and extra safety (kids don’t like to mess up their pictures) of this layering made it an instant hit with my 10-year-old daughter.

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Movie making: iMovie

iMovieUsing siblings, pets or classmates to put together a story introduction using iMovie’s Trailer option is a popular activity that I find with some theme prompting from me always gets my kids outside and ‘acting’. The other day, all I had to say was “what about using our chickens for a trailer?” and they were off!

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Logic & Coding: Kodable & Thinkrolls 2

IMG_0642Both these apps challenge the brain for logical thinking. They present themselves as games but in such a way that the kids have to pause and think rather than just react on instinct like typical gaming.

Kodable is a great introduction into coding that both my daughters will play for the full 30 minutes overtime they’re reminded of its existence.

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screen322x572Thinkrolls 2 looks easy to start with but quickly gets very challenging and is cleverly designed to deliver challenges in quick succession that my kids will choose to play this without reminding.

This means WAR!

Yes, as a parent or teacher you might feel you are in a constant fight and you may win some and loose some battles but if we are careful, I believe we will win the war. With some thought and a positively mindset, this screen time might create a generation of thinking, creative and collaborative people. By setting up structures to help the children self-manage their screen time, I am hoping that I can already see the benefits of what these apps have to offer transferred to ‘real-life’ with two girls who are happy to help, keen to solve problems and create projects of their own design. Make sure you make some time to showcase the results of their more productive device use and it will encourage more.

Good luck everyone !!!

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iPad Screen Time

So, I’ve got kids. 2 girls, 7 & 10. We’re a normal family with normal issues, including the worry about screen-time. I had a good conversation with my girls and we all agreed what was useful for young brains and what was not. I started by comparing how much they created inside the game with how much everything was given to them by the game. In Moshi Monsters Village, for example, we agreed that there was no trick to it, it was just buying or choosing from all the stuff to give to the monsters etc. Nothing in the game was made by my girls.

Proud?

We talked about how amazing they feel when they’ve actually made something or finished a drawing and how much they always want to show me. My girls agreed that they didn’t always get that feeling from the games as much as they did from making real things or even making stuff in Minecraft.

Playing or Making

I told my girls that I would be happy for them to have more iPad time if they were creating things, experimenting or learning new things. We needed to restrict the amount of time gaming as their mum and I could see it having negative impact on our girls’ relationship as they often fought over who’s turn it was or that one would not share access to an iPad. (They don’t have their own at the moment, although that’s just about to change!)

I said we would decide on a total amount of screen time for a day and then decide how much could be spent gaming and how much extra we’d allow if they were making things.

The Minecraft debate

MinecraftThis was a tricky one. Yes, Minecraft is used by millions and seems creative and open-ended but I pointed out that after hours of playing it, the girls rarely rushed to show me their creations and this might have been because they sort of made things up as they went along and never knew when they’d finished. This aspect put it more in the gaming category as they were not yet building planned or team projects. We decided we might change which category Minecraft fell into if they were more organised about what exactly they were going to build and why.

Games

In a previous post, I’ve highlighted the positive effect that comes about from playing puzzle or logic games. I can see at home how calming the right game can be and sitting with my girls trying to conquer levels together is a great experience. Saying that, they do still add to overall screen-time and without having a direct creative output, they seem to add to what seems like a minor iPad addiction. I must admit that this addiction is also seen in the parents to and is common to many families in 2014.

Laying down the Law!

The result of these debates was our collaboratively designed family poster to remind us what we could do on the iPads and for how long. It was difficult for me to consider time-limits on something like reading as this seemed counter-intuitive. But given a free reign on iPad reading time would often mean 20 minutes of gaming followed by 60 minutes of movie making followed by hours of reading resulting in whole evenings looking at the screen and no time conversing with the family. My daughters, of course, have many standard paper books to read and have free reign on those.

Some parents might find it useful so here it is. Note: Making Games is fine!

PLAYING-MAKING-iPadWells

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Games to Ignite Brains

7439512656_04f88d7461_zHow about this for an idea? Your learners can game when they want at any moment during class. I know it sounds a bit crazy, so let’s put some structure and reasoning around it.

I’ve outlined in a previous post, my findings that quite obviously, the moment that any individual learner is ready to listen, read, watch or even learn will vary. To expect any class to turn up at a scheduled hour and fully engage in the same learning activity is literally treating them like products on a factory line and not the humans they enjoy being. Photo Credit.

I have 2 daughters, both brought up by the same parents who approach everything in life very differently. Why would we expect 30 young people form different life situations to behave and have the same needs for an hour?

e1yeaWhen I regularly divide my classes into groups, I often notice that a number of the groups have a member who seems distant or unengaged and I wonder how I can energise these kids to engage with the group or task during the short time that I’ve got them? (I teach in a high school still restricted by segregated, hourly subject lessons) Most of my class activities involve an element of problem solving. Examples might be, How are we going to reduce cyber-bullying in the school? What do the students need in a school app? Or even, How can I start my music career in New Zealand? It is the problem-solving part of the brain I want to activate in my students who are not in that frame of mind when I need it.

The other day, I noticed one of my daughters playing a puzzle type game on my iPad. It was obviously challenging and often frustrating but she kept at it regardless. The game was direct problem solving and my girl was deeply engaged. It was then I had an idea. If any learner who found themselves disengaged from a school task had permission to select from a list of problem-solving, “brain igniting” games, it might mean they return to the task more energised to tackle it or suggest other solutions.

Initial Trial.

e1ybfTo carry out an initial trial, I projected a problem-solving game on my board and invited individuals to have a single turn to complete the puzzle/level. After 2 minutes, pairs were coming up to have a shared turn. This turned into small groups and after 10 minutes had 8 people competing to make suggestions for the next move. What I noticed was that these 8 were not a normal grouping within the class but had selected themselves to share an experience. This had an immediate effect on the dynamics in the class. I have found that after this exercise, new pairings started appearing in the class and it definitely made it easier for me to suggest new groupings without any backlash.

Class gaming rules

  1. Time Limit: A set amount of game play per hour or per week might be allowed but there would be freedom to select when that time was used.
  2. The games would be form the endorsed “Brain-igniting” list.
  3. All games would be Problem-solving
  4. Gaming progress (levels) could be reported to class to encourage collaboration between students that might not otherwise connect.
  5. New Game teams are organised around individual’s favourite games

Class management

  1. e1yl0Ads: “The Games have too many Adverts!” Airplane mode (in the control centre) will remove most, if not all the ads that pop up.
  2. 2. Student suggestions – Students should be free to make suggestions for adding to the approved list. I think keeping it to about 10 will encourage more discussion in the class about solving certain levels. With too many games, the classes attention can become fragmented. Suggesting games for the list will give them ownership over their problem solving world.
  3. Students are allowed to connect over a game to discuss strategies to beat levels. This builds strong relationships which spill over into class tasks.

Brain igniting Games

So I set about searching and inquiring after entertaining puzzle games I could issue as an endorsed game list. These are just suggestions but will give you a starting point.

  1. VERY BAD CUBE
    VeryBadCubeiconThis game builds in complexity from the most basic of starts. Join all the cubes of the same colour. Sounds easy but had my classes connecting into larger and larger groups trying desperately to beat a level.
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  2. 2048
    T
    2048iconhis game is challenging and demands a little math. Same number blocks collide and merge into a single doubled number block. Trick is to not fill the board. Even my senior students play this by choice.
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  3. DUOLINGO
    Lduolingiconearn another language in a personalised, fun and accessible way. With an account, each student is automatically tracked and reminded to return to their 10 minutes a day if they forget. I’m learning Spanish along with the rest of my family!
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  4. 2 DOTS
    2dotsicon
    This game does not have a single solution for each level. This means it is less likely to bring students together but does quickly get an individual’s brain working. This too nicely grows in complexity and is good for the quieter students to work on alone.
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  5. THINKROLLS
    TThinkRollsiconhis is good for younger students but fun for all. A constant rolling screen of quick problems to solve before the character can continue on. My7 year-old daughter  played this game for much more than 10 minutes!
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  6. MOVE THE TURTLE
    moveTheTurtleicon
    This challenges with simple puzzles whilst teaching the fundamentals of programming. There are programming iPad apps but most allow kids to play games already made and Move the Turtle is the game itself and so is on my list.
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  7. POP WORDS
    popwordsiconThis is a great twist on the game Boggle. It has a individual time-pressure game where you try to find words on the grid before your timer runs out. It also has a great puzzle mode where the letter tiles disappear when used to see how many tiles you can score with just one grid. This is great for building literacy skills and again naturally draws students together to find new words.
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  8. MEMNEON
    memneonIconThis is a bit different. At first you think it’s just a very simple memory game where you only have to remember which neon lights lit up for 5 seconds on a grid to complete a circuit. It seems quite tricky so you find yourself developing your own strategies for remembering which lit up. I even started remembering shape names to jog my memory. This really gets the brain working hard.

Team building

Sometimes we consider the term team-building as only something employers organise. I’ve found this to be powerful in my classes, especially with boys, who are often less social and likely to work well in new teams. You may have heard of Google 20% time, well this is an endorsed form of team-building / brain ignition time. Give it a try!

EXTRA LINK: Games are good for you

Gaming as School Assessment?

What can schools learn from why millions of people of all ages are turning to online gaming and online virtual environments? I’ve been reading this book by Jane Mcgonigal on the effect of and reasons why millions of people of all ages are turning to online gaming and online virtual environments. Here’s Jane at TED summarizing the book in 15 minutes. The basic premise is that the continuous feedback and desire for self-improvement becomes the drive to continue.

It goes as far as to say that games that have a definitive end and can be won are less appealing. A classic example is “Tetris” which became one of the most popular games in history regardless of not being able to win it! It never ends, you just continue to challenge yourself to last longer each time, whilst receiving continuous visual and sound feedback.

Gamers just want work and learn! The more work the better. World of Warcraft has clocked-up 6 million gamer hours in about a decade! (That’s as long as humans have been upright!) It takes 500 hours of play to reach the highest levels in the game and this is now seen by gamers as a small amount of work time!

The constant desire to get more work done within the world, whilst continuously “levelling-up,” and the fact that one’s levels are shared across the system is what drives the engagement. The other thing going on in these games is learning. the students only really score points if they show they have learnt something new. I’m wondering if we can bring that level of drive & dedication to work and learn into the school environment.

So I thought I’d have a go!

Here’s an idea for a mobile app system used by teachers and students that could work in many schools to drive student engagement but also provide individual student performance analytics to the school.

Allowing for my previous blog posts, I must add that this would only work in a student-centred environment where students were self-directed on large enough projects that the teacher is free to only offer 1-to-1 guidance and have time to truly assess how each student is developing.

Step 1 (Objectives)

The school decides on about 8 core requirements for life in the 21st century. Skills that it feels students must be assessed on across all their school-life and students can then “Level-Up” on each day/week.

These might be things like:

  1. Creative Thinking

  2. Independence

  3. Leadership

  4. Physical skills

  5. Collaboration

  6. Sharing

  7. Language depth

The school could outline a matrix of examples of how students might behave and think to Level-up in each requirement.

Step 2 (Technical)

Classes are set up on a database system accessible through mobile devices by everyone in the school. An app is created with both a student and teacher version. A website also collates the data for the school leadership team.

Step 3 (Levelling-Up)

A Mobile app is used by all the teachers to simply issue points on-the-fly to each student. Any evidence at any moment, either in the classroom or when marking work in the evening can gain points in any of the identified core requirements.

The app design is key and is simple to use. The class list is shown and clicking on a name brings up 8 large buttons that allocate a point on each click to the student for any of the core requirements identified by the school.

TEACHER APP (MOCK-UP)

Step 4 (Feedback and Socialising)

Students download the student app and can login to view a live self-profile and see the levels increasing day-to-day. For fun they can design an avatar (maybe to illustrate a future career) and possibly even share their thoughts on their scores with other students in the school. Socialising about your levels using the app would also be key to the engagement. Students who have Levelled-Up in Creativity, for example, might share what they did to show creativity. Their peers might then attempt to model the same behaviour.

Step 5 (Student drive)

Students start to question at all times in the day how they might show evidence of creativity or leadership etc,  knowing they’ll receive the feedback on the mobile app almost immediately. They also understand the core skills are cross-curricular and essential to life in general. It also pushes the idea that any moment of the day is an opportunity for self-improvement.

…anyway, it’s just an idea and please feel free to make the system and become a millionaire! However, I might spend some time next year developing it.

STUDENT APP (MOCK-UP)