Opening Up My Technology Can Of Worms

As a self-proclaimed “educational troublemaker,” this is not the first time that I’ve made a comment similar to this one.

Screenshot 2016-08-02 at 16.01.02

After writing this comment on Friday, I promised to follow-up this 140 character thought with a blog post that shares more. Not every conversation works well in little snippets, and I think that a longer conversation is one worth having. 

For many years, I’ve been called and/or viewed as a “technology teacher.” I’ve had some different thoughts on this, but no matter how I may feel about the label, it’s true that I love using technology to support student learning. I’ve used it in different ways from Kindergarten to Grade 6. I think that technology can be a great way to share learning with a wider audience (from classrooms to parents), support critical and higher level thinking skills, allow for collaboration beyond the school walls, and allow all students to succeed (just search for UDL and assistive technology to find out more). Despite all of the benefits of technology, my new learning about self-regulation is making me look closer at the drawbacks. Over this past year, I have re-read Stuart Shanker‘s first book, Calm, Alert, and Learning, and read his second one, Self-Reg: How To Help Your Child (And You) Break The Stress Cycle And Successfully Engage With LifeI’ve also finished the Foundations 1 course through The MEHRIT Centre, and joined The MEHRIT Centre team as the moderator for Portal PlusAll of these self-regulation experiences have made it hard for me not to view my personal and professional life through this lens. It’s for this reason that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about self-regulation and technology.

For the past two years, I’ve used way less technology in the classroom than I have in any other year. In fact, we’ve primarily only used technology to capture student learning and for physical activity and movement exercises, such as dancing. Why? I’ve blogged about this topic before, and in my previous blog posts, I concluded that the “students weren’t ready.” Now though, I wonder if the reason is really about self-regulation. After reading Dr. Shanker‘s books, I learned how dysregulating technology can be. It’s full of bright lights and loud sounds. Gaming apps, while incredibly popular, can also make it harder for students to calm down after using them. I didn’t just have to read about this though. I’ve experienced it.

I think about when I introduced coding to my Kindergarten and Grade 1 students. In Kindergarten, we used Dash and Dot and Cubelets robots. In Grade 1, we used numerous apps from Tynker to Scratch. All of the students were highly engaged using these tools, and demonstrated some amazing problem solving, collaboration, and math skills, but the students were also louder, many talked faster, and they found it difficult to sit still, wait while others worked, and not interrupt during conversations. I thought that the changes in the students were just reflective of their engagement and the excitement in the learning. Maybe to some degree, they were. But I’m starting to wonder if it was more than that. Were they dysregulated?

I keep thinking back to the first time that we used Dash and Dot in our Kindergarten class this year The students loved it so much that we kept it out all day for them to use and explore. This led though to more screaming, higher voices, more fighting, and an inability to concentrate on almost anything else. Could it be because Dash and Dot were new? Maybe. But maybe with the beeping sounds, bright lights, and constant movement, the robots were too dysregulating. When we made a change the next day, and just took them out for one block of time that then transitioned into our outdoor learning time — and a great way for all of our students to calm down — we had far less problems. 

I definitely think that coding and robotics are great ways to use technology in the classroom, but coupled with my self-regulation learning, I wonder about those students that do find these tools dysregulating. I also wonder, if as a teacher, I found the constant noise, lights, and movement of the robots to be dysregulating, and did this impact on my actions and responses in the classroomHave others noticed links between technology and dysregulation? How do you address these problems? I don’t think that the answer lies in getting rid of technology (to one extreme) and/or in ignoring the problems (to the other), but I do continue to wonder what a good middle ground may be. And maybe, just like the SELF part of self-regulation, a different group of students with different needs, may have responded differently given these same tech tools (with few, if any, problems). Possibly the need for limits in some cases may not exist in others, but I’m curious to hear about your thoughts and experiences.


20 thoughts on “Opening Up My Technology Can Of Worms

  1. Aviva, as always I love your perspectives and I can so see how technology is very dysregulation. However, I also think you address a big point; CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT. Unfortunately, we often think that tech is just going to be this amazing saviour that everything will be calm and students will be amazing at it but like any activity, it can create an atmosphere that is not for our kids. I wonder if it wasn’t so much the tech but the activity that the students would be doing. We use to take my daughter to the science center quite often. It is a very fun and engaging place. Its filled with amazing hands-on learning, lots of things to push, play with and explore. After 1.5 hours she is done. She is spent, hard to deal with and you cannot talk to her. I see this like your dash and dots. It’s not so much the dash and dot but that the activity is stimulating and has too much sensory overload. I mean I have given plenty of technology where my kids are sitting quietly and are calmer than any other time.

    Personally, I think it comes down to how you use it and what your students can handle. We all know our kids and we know the activities. Like anything technology needs careful planning, it needs to be anticipated and you need to think about why you are using it. It isn’t about the latest app or that tech is the best thing. It is about purposeful planning. What do you think about this?

    • Great post Aviva – I appreciate your perspective. Having worked with kids from K-6, you have a unique perspective. Reading Jonathan’s comment right after your post provides me with a balanced look at what you are talking about. From year to year, it is interesting to see the group I have and how they deal with the tech. Some groups are harder to “bring back” then others and there are always a handful of students that fall apart after an extended time of tech use, no matter what the purpose/activity is. I think it depends on each child and I agree with Jonathan (in general) about the particular activity and purposeful planning but in my experience it seems like some kids (in junior and primary) who have a harder time regulating after using the tech. Thanks for providing us with the opportunity to reflect and discuss this topic.

      • Thanks Rolland for your comment and for sharing your experiences! Having worked with many different students in many different grades, I definitely see the differences in how individuals and groups of students respond to tech tools and activities. I wonder if my reply to Jonathan addresses some of this too. What do you think?

        I think that your comment about “bringing some students back” is an important one to consider. Stuart Shanker often talks about asking the question, “why this child and why now?” Maybe this is a question we have to ask ourselves if students are having difficulty “being brought back,” as maybe then, our reflections can help us get to the root of the problem. Thoughts?


        • Why them, why now? Tell me more about this – please add some context for me. I am not familiar with his writing and not sure what I would do with those questions. Perhaps the child doesn’t have regular access to such engaging tech? Perhaps the feelings/emotions that come from the tech use are, in a way, numbing and so it is very difficult to “come back” to a feeling/thinking state that requires a conscious effort to focus and be present? Just some thoughts around the question you posed.

          • Thanks for your reply, Rolland! These questions stem from looking at misbehaviour as possibly stress behaviour. If we see the behaviour in this way, then asking this question — “why this child and why now” — might help us figure out what’s causing this behaviour. This really gets us looking at some of the stressors that I mentioned in my first reply to Jonathan. Stuart Shanker’s books — he has two of them now — are wonderful reads, and have definitely helped me out in all grade levels (from primary to junior). His website too also explains more about these different domains and the “five steps” ( I hope this provides more context.


    • Thanks for your comment, Jonathan! I really appreciate you sharing your experience with your daughter and your thoughts on this. As for your question on if it’s the type of activity or if it’s the tech, I can see it both ways. Dash and Dot robots are noisy and colourful (with flashing lights), and I can definitely see this light and noise as being a biological stressor (thus, the tool itself causing the dysregulation). The apps associated with them (like many coding apps) are very challenging for some students, and the extreme challenge for some, could make this a cognitive stressor. Students also need to work together when using them, and the combination of the excitement plus the teamwork, could make this a social stressor for some students. These last two stressors are more connected with the activity than the tool.

      The same is true in your science centre example. The environment (with the crowds, the noise, the lights, the heat, etc.) could be a biological stressor. But the activities themselves (from the challenges of some — maybe too much of a challenge at times — to the social interaction, the need to work together, and the need to take turns) could be cognitive and social stressors.

      I now struggle with the term “classroom management” because the “management” part to me makes me think of “self-control,” which is very different than “self-regulation.” I think of when my students use technology calmly (maybe for writing/reflecting and maybe as music for exercise), and is it the independent and/or movement components of these activities, that help them self-regulate? If certain activities dysregulate them, is it a case of classroom management problems or an issue with the tool/activity that makes us need to reconsider use or how the students might calm down afterwards? This could really just be a small difference, but I wonder if it’s a significant one. Thoughts?


      • I agree. When I say Classroom Management I know my definition has changed so much. I just think we often feel that tech is somehow going to make the world a better place or because it fails it is awful when really it comes down to how we think and use them.

        We have to think about all of the stressors on each child and on the class as a whole. It doesn’t have simple as hey let’s do this cool activity, nor should it be hey let’s just do this cool activity. You really do need to plan and think about all of the processes and the impact it has on student development.

        I know that I have given Izzy a time limit on the iPad because of the impact and over stimulation. But some others can handle it.

        I just think we have to be careful to say that Tech is any one thing. Whether that is the root of behaviour problems, therefore, throw it out or its the best thing ever so do it. I know my eyes have been really open at its impact on students brains and what it can do to behaviour but I have also see the amazing impact it has on learning. For me, it comes down to how we plan and set limits.

        • Excellent points, Jonathan, and thank you so much for clarifying! I think that we definitely share similar thoughts here. I can’t help thinking about the SELF in self-regulation and also in the use of technology. What works for one child, or even group of children, may not work for others. I also wonder, if children are better at self-regulating, will they also be better at knowing how to “calm down” even if technology is dysregulating? Maybe spending the time on self-regulation will ultimately make a difference when it comes to responses to technology too. Thanks for the great discussion!


    • That is great, thank you! Funny that you called it “misbehaviour”…I really wasn’t looking at it from that lens, but I get it. For the students in my class that had a lot of life stress on them, the tech helped them show me their learning in ways that demonstrated positive learning skills and their understanding…but when it was time to put the tech away to move on to something else they would demonstrate difficulty. Some experiences were better than others but ultimately, as Jonathan mentioned, they realized that I had a general plan and purpose for the group as a whole and for them as an individual. It takes time and trust and that doesn’t come easy for some people.

      • Thanks for sharing more, Rolland! I definitely understand what you’re saying here. I also see the tremendous benefits of technology, but the issue that you described, can make technology a challenge at times (at least for some students). Spending the time on self-regulation — so that each child knows how to bring him/herself back to calm — may help at these more difficult times.


  2. I am finding this conversation very interesting as I am moving from a primary classroom with several iPads and computers to share, to a 1:1 iPad junior classroom in September. My school has a very diverse population of students, many with high needs and significant life stressors. As I dive into planning for my year ahead, I have spent much time thinking about what the “right mix” to offer students with regards to tech might be, recognizing that choice may play a big role, but also wanting to create a classroom where technology is but one tool in our learning arsenal.
    Last year, in grade 2, there were a few magical moments when I had gathered enough tech for all to be able to either share or be 1:1 and working on an assigned task. I could turn the lights off, and observe then under tables, laying on the carpet, tucked into corners..calm, and happily at work. From your comments, I wonder if this was not just that unique group of kids…or that with limited access, it was still very novel and, hence, especially engaging. While groans of disappointment could be heard when time was up…I rarely found high levels of stress or disregulation. Perhaps if they had to watch more than actively use, or some were at a frustration level with the task or app being used, I would have seen a different energy in the room.

    • Thanks for your comment, Carole! I found it really interesting when you mentioned turning off the lights and watching students working in a variety of places with the technology. Did these “calming strategies” help the children remain calm when using the tech? Also, what were the students doing with the technology? I’ve found that certain activities (largely linked more to gaming and sometimes coding) seem to create more dysregulation than others. Could this be because of the additional lights, sounds, and colours (biological stressors) plus the additional challenge of the activity itself (that may, at times, be more than some kids can handle)? You also mentioned that this type of tech use wasn’t necessarily the norm in your classroom. The fact that tech was maybe used less frequently for longer blocks of time may have also helped decrease the chance of dysregulation. I’d also be curious to hear what students did after this tech use. Did these other activities help them self-regulate?

      I would be very interested in knowing how things go this upcoming school year. If you do observe behaviour either during or after tech use, what may be causing it? How might it be reduced? Shanker’s work on self-regulation definitely has me thinking about this more often.


  3. Hi Aviva,
    Love the provocation and deep thinking that set the stage for all of this thinking and commenting. First, thanks for the resource suggestions. I am really interested in the role of self-regulation when it comes to technology. I agree with Jon’s comments about using it purposefully and I think your comment about social stressor is also really interesting. I remember reading a research study by which Csikszentmihalyi rang a bell every 10 minutes and asked kids to record what they were doing. I’ve thought it would be a really interesting research study to do something similar with cell-phone or technology use when it comes to distractions or as you call it dysregulation (I had never heard that term before).
    I have no experience working with younger students, but I wonder about the extent to which teaching self-regulation along with metacognitive reflection is an important lesson for students. This is how Growing Success defines Self-Regulation:
    -sets his/her individual goals and monitors progress towards achieving them;
    – seeks assistance when needed;
    -assesses and reflects critically on her/his strengths, needs and interests;
    – identifies learning opportunities, choices, and strategies to meet personal needs and achieve goals; and
    -perseveres when facing challenges.
    What would it look like if we explicitly shared with students one of these subset skills at the onset of a lesson, talked about what this would look like in the context of an activity (with or without technology) and then asked kids to reflect upon the extent to which they were able to self-regulate. I think that we primarily look at technology as an add-on. But to my thinking, if we look at technology as just another tool for learning, explicitly include the use of technology tools when we assess and practice self-regulation skills, then we are allowing kids to be more mindful of where their strengths & needs lie…Not sure if any of that makes sense or at which age we could start?

    • Thanks for your comment, Jennifer! I would definitely suggest checking out Stuart Shanker’s books and website resources. I know that he really helped me view children’s behaviour differently, be more aware of my own responses, and reflect on my teaching practices even more. Your point about metacognition is an interesting one. During one of my courses with Dr. Shanker, I learned about how adolescents really want to explore more of this “why,” but it’s not necessarily as essential for younger students. Jonathan’s comment made me realize that sometimes it can be the tool itself that is dysregulating, and sometimes it can be the activity. I think that a piece of the puzzle is figuring out what’s causing the dysregulation, but then also seeing how students respond afterwards. Can they bring themselves back to “calm?” If not, why not? Is there something we can do to help support them? I wonder if there are many different factors at play, and if our responses may vary depending on these factors. What do you think? Thanks for helping me think more about this.


  4. Oh, I can’t tell you how much I love it when Aviva opens a can of worms, and then this amazing community hops in to share and discuss and think.

    I’m really intrigued by much of this. I’m starting to do some reading (influenced by my spouse, who is a family/couples counsellor) on the idea of co-regulation. Aviva, I think that’s really what you’re doing – when you are working so hard to look at your students, and what their triggers are, you are working to create a co-regulating environment. None of us can really self-regulate by ourselves (as strange as that sounds). Because our classrooms are ecosystems, really, and dependent on the interactions between all of us, it is kind of incumbent on all of us to be incredibly aware of how different elements (be they human or not) change those interactions.

    I have been doing a lot of thinking on this, as I work through some glitches in my own processing and learning. When I first saw Royan’s tweet about your post – I immediately thought about my own difficulties regulating my use of technology, and the ones I see my students struggling with. (I should really have known you were going even deeper). How can I best model the strategies that I am using to help myself survive (setting a timer for my social media time; regular check-ins to see what I’m actually doing on-line; my eternal sticky note “attention to intention”; stopping my screen time before bed) for my students?
    Lots to think about, always….thanks to everybody for contributing.

    • Thanks for the comment, Lisa, and for sharing all of your thoughts on this topic! I think that you make a good point that we’re really talking here about co-regulation (at least in the example I shared). I know that the outside helps the students calm down, so following up our technology use with outdoor learning, helps the students “calm down.” That said, I’m not so sure that I completely agree about nobody being able to self-regulate. While many of my younger learners required co-regulation (and us working together to calm down), by the end of the year, there were also numerous students that were able to self-regulate. Students would self-select from colouring, dancing, movement activities (including the use of obstacle courses), reading, pulling on therabands on the door, and even putting themselves in the middle of two tires (a more enclosed area that made them feel “safe” and “calm”) in order to self-regulate. By the end of the year, I didn’t even need to mention these options. Many students knew what worked for them, and they could identify that feeling of dysregulation (sometimes being too up-regulated and sometimes being too down-regulated), and knew to make the choice both in terms of what to do and where to do it. I think we definitely need to create these ares in the classroom and a classroom environment that allows students to always make these different choices when they need them. We also need to be aware of our own dysregulation. I got a lot better at this as the year went on (although I’m not perfect). I knew the times when I felt more on edge, and would start to make different choices to also calm down (from taking a few deep breaths to moving to a quiet area and reading stories with some students to maybe even moving over by the door and just taking a moment to myself so that I could be at my best for the kids). I spoke to the students about my need to self-regulate, and the students started to also speak about when they felt dysregulated and what they needed to do to calm down. Most didn’t use the vocabulary, but they did share the ideas and become more aware of what worked for them.

      When we’re looking at technology use in the classroom — something that can definitely cause dysregulation — I think that following up these times with ways to “calm down” are important. I also think we need to notice those students that find this more challenging, and maybe some different co-regulation options would help. I’m really enjoying this conversation, and definitely thank my amazing PLN for chiming in and sharing their ideas! It’s great to hear what others do and what seems to work best for them (and for their students). Thanks Lisa for extending this discussion!


  5. Hey Aviva,

    I’m fascinated by the topic of this post and the dialogue that has come from it. Can you point me to anywhere in particular where Shankar specifically talks about technology’s dysregulating effects? Also, do you mind if I use your post in discussion I plan to facilitate around this topic?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *