The impetus for the lesson was three-fold: 1) We hosted the fabulous Julie Smith for some "cyber coaching" for all students in grades 8-12 (if you are looking for a DYNAMIC speaker - seriously, she kept an auditorium of 862 students ENTHRALLED - Julie Smith is your girl. She knows more about Snapchat than they do, AND she's not at all preachy). 2) It was media literacy week, and 3) I received a grant from the NYS Educational Media Technology Association, allowing me to pay for some programming.
I initiated a collaboration with our building's health teacher because I wanted to provide students with an opportunity to actually DO some of the things Julie Smith talked about while also diving a little deeper into the connection between screens and mental health. At the end of October the health classes were wrapping up a unit on depression and anxiety and talking about self-care. It was the perfect opportunity for collaboration.
Sidenote: I alway start with standards when collaborating, but I struggled a little bit to identify the relevant ones for this lesson. I think mental healh is SUCH an important topic, but I'm not sure the existing tech standards are updated enough to reflect the connection. I ended up referenencing these that discuss safety: AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner 4.1.7: Use social networks and information tools to gather and share information - participate in social networks responsibly and safely; International Society for Technology Education Standards (ISTE) 2b: Students engage in positive, safe, legal and ethical behavior when using technology, including social interactions online or when using networked devices
After considering a lot of different avenues, I decided that this TED talk provided a really good direction for our learning:
During the talk, psychologist Adam Atler answers the question: "Why our screens make us less happy." This became the essential quesiton for our mini-unit: "Does spending less time with our screens make us happier?"
The lesson went something like this (here are the Google Slides I used and the handout I gave students):
- Students brainstormed the tips they remembered from Julie Smith's cyber coaching.
- Students were introduced to the concept of "white space" - A.K.A. "personal time" and they shared with a shoulder partner the things they like to do during their white space.
- I showed students data that I collected during September's library orientations. It revealed that at least 40% of students in the building preferred to spend their free time using screens, a number that's probably much higher in reality.
- I then gave a disclaimer - I talked about how much I LOOVE screens - I totally owned up to spending hours on Instagram, and choosing Netflix over books way more often than I was comfortable admitting. I wanted to make sure they understood we were in this together; I wasn't teaching from a perspective of "knowing better" or "doing better."
- To establish that screentime impacts mental health, we looked at recent newspaper headlines and reviewed a Harvard study.
- We watched the TED talk.
- We all pulled out our cell phones, and identified the apps we used most often. We catagorized them as "Happy Apps" and "Sad Apps" based on the research Atler shares in the video. We also discussed stopping cues and FOMO.
- Then I dropped the bomb: I wanted students to reduce their screen use for 3 days and record their experiences in a journal. My finished journal is below.
- We looked at how social media personalities combat FOMO, and we brainstormed screen time alternatives. Students reviewed expectations for the journal, and then set personal goals for screen time reduction - as a group, we decied to aim for about a half-hour of screen free whitespace each day.
- To wrap up the lesson, I used some of my grant money to purchase special self-laminating labels. Students were encouraged to write a reminder about putting their screens away and afix it to their phones. I wasn't sure of student buy-in, so I also provided masking tape incase they were reluctant to stick something to their phone. To my surprise, most students did choose a heavy duty label. Their options are below.
After three days of experimenting, we met up again, and I asked students to begin the period by recording 1 pro and 1 con of reducing screen time:
As we debriefed, I was pleaseantly surpised that the overwhelming majority of students in each class agreed with the following statement: "Reducing screen time may make me happier." We ultimately came to a consensus that although most of them don't feel the need to reduce their screentime at the moment, they are now aware that screentime might impact their mental health; in the future, if they're feeling "off" or sad, an easy self-care strategy will be to take a screen break.
From my perspective, I really liked this opportunity to work with the kids on something that was SOO applicable and relevant to their daily lives.