When Should We Put The Devices Away?

I was just looking through Lori St. Amand‘s tweets when I caught sight of this article about screen timeWhile the article really focuses on parents and their use of devices with kids, I can’t help but wonder if so many of the points could apply to the classroom as well. My use of technology in the classroom has evolved over the years, and sometimes I feel as though I’m caught in a cycle where I continue to go full circle. These past three years in primary grades (Kindergarten and Grade 1) has really had me thinking about how I use devices with students, when we use them, and when we put them away. This year, I’d say that we largely use devices for research purposes and to document learning: as students and as educators. For most of the day, the children don’t use devices at all, and when they do, they tend to take photographs and use PicCollage to write about classroom happenings.

We’ve tried other options, including coding apps, but have really noticed the change in our children’s behaviour and started to reconsider their classroom use. I was actually thinking about these coding experiences when I read this screen time article.

The first example shared in this article is of parents handing their four-year-old child an iPhone so that they can enjoy a restful dinner out. Do we attempt to do something similar in the classroom?

  • Maybe it’s when we hand children iPads to play games during “free play time.”
  • Maybe it’s when we give an iPad as a “reward” for completing their work.
  • Maybe it’s when we put on a short video as children eat their lunch.

I share these examples as somebody that has done all of the above. These choices made sense to me at the time, and students have always loved these options. But as I think about my Self-Reg learning, I wonder about the impact that this technology has on self-regulation. Even when attempting to calm children down, are we actually dysregulating them? I also start to wonder why I made these choices. Was it about what I thought was best for kids, what I thought was easiest for me, or a combination of the two?

Reading about the impact that these high-tech games can have on children makes me think about coding. I wonder if children respond much as they do with a video game. I struggle with this, as despite my reservations about coding, I also see the value in developing these thinking and problem solving skills with kids. This makes me think of a conversation that I had with a fellow educator, Enzo Ciardelli. We spoke about the need to foster design thinking in children. Maybe we need to consider more low-tech ways to do this.

  • What are building options for all grade levels?
  • How can students use loose parts beyond Kindergarten?
  • How might we use our outdoor spaces to foster these skills?

This last question is one that really stuck with me after reading the article: we cannot underestimate the value of this time outside. I see this every day in our outdoor learning time, and I’m thankful that the Kindergarten Program Document really emphasizes the importance of this. I know that recess gives all children some outside time, but what about outdoor learning options beyond Kindergarten? How might we use outdoor spaces to develop some of the skills (e.g., perseverance, problem solving, and design thinking) that we might now be attempting to develop with the use of technology?

Yes, I’m a huge user of technology. I never have a pen, but I always have at least a couple of devices on me. I read on the iPad. I journal through my various blog posts. I connect with people using social media. But I also get outside, converse with people face-to-face, and think critically about my use of screen time, especially before bed. I’m an adult, and I can work through these choices on my own. But as an adult, and an educator, how am I supporting children in making these choices? What could I do to help reduce some of the problems outlined in this articleThis is not just a “parent problem,” and I wonder if we need a more united front. What do you think?


6 thoughts on “When Should We Put The Devices Away?

  1. Thanks for including my thoughts in your blog. In class, we are currently discussing the overuse of technology and its effects. As a society, we often share the word “moderation” with our students. Yet, technology can be overused. As with anything, we have to consider skill development. During our conversation, I remember discussing how students can become makers without the use of technology. The skill development is problem solving and they are able to observe how “things” work. They build on previous experience. Isn’t there a common joke about buying a kid some high tech toy, and the child prefers the box packaging? While reading your blog I was thinking about Explain Everything. I really like the app. At the same time, if a student says . . . “Can I just use a paper and pencil to show you my thinking?” A focus on skills with technology as a learning tool ….

    • Thanks for the comment, Enzo! There’s something to be said for moderation, and also really contemplating the “why,” be it for low-tech or high-tech options. Your comment about Explain Everything is an interesting one. This is an app that I have used with my Grade 1’s and Kindergarten students. I think there’s something to be said for those students that ask to “just use paper and a pencil,” but then I’d also say, “why are we asking for Explain Everything?” Maybe we want to hear their thinking, or listen back to this thinking to help determine next steps. The student can still use paper and a pencil, but does Explain Everything take this low-tech option to another level, and is this other level important? I would ask many of these same questions when we take photographs, record a video, or make a PicCollage. Why capture this low-tech option? I wonder if low-tech and high-tech can exist in harmony more often: with technology not replacing a pencil and paper, per se, but extending this pencil/paper option. Thanks for writing a comment that allowed me to extend my thinking to another level as well. 🙂


  2. What about the role modelling of an adult
    always having a screen with them? I’m not sure they need screen time at schools being that so many children have literally hours before and after school. Technology has to be a part of life but I’m not sure what the balance should be….

    • These are great questions and interesting thoughts, Jane! I worry about the “adult role model” at school and at home. From conversation times to eating times, it’s hard for many adults to put down their devices (myself included). I know that when I go out for dinner, I always keep my device in my purse, as I really want that face-to-face discussion time without an iPad out. The same is true when I have family dinners. This is more challenging for me at school. Our Kindergarten Document relies on the assessment that comes from capturing the process of learning. Some educators do this by writing down conversations (with paper and a pen). I’m much slower this way, and I find it more challenging to document in this manner, so for me, this assessment requires the use of a device. This means, I’m usually holding an iPad in my hand. That said, I make choices (often fuelled by the requests of the students) on if I just take a photograph and listen and talk to the children to find out more about what they did (which I add later in my PicCollage), or if I record a video of the conversation. Sometimes this video is taken from afar (and I just listen), and sometimes, I interject with questions, wonders, etc. I really try to help show students that these devices are tools to capture learning. I don’t spend my time in the classroom answering emails, replying to texts, etc., as I try to model a different purpose for these tools. Maybe the purpose also matters. I think about this with the second part of your response. I’m not sure how we totally eliminate technology use from the school (or from the home), but I think we have to ask, why are the children using it? How are they using it? Are these tools being used as “gaming devices,” “learning tools,” “documentation options,” or all three, and what is really our purpose here? I worry about hours of time (especially straight) being spent on any device, be it at home or at school. Even as an adult, I sometimes find myself putting my device down on a table or a shelf because I need the technology break, and this is the way to ensure it. There is so much to think about when it comes to the use of these tools. Thank you, Jane, for giving me more to contemplate!


  3. Lot’s of ideas bubble up from your post, Aviva … can a learner, well, learn while they are capturing learning? Does learning change [pos, neg, neutral] when the subject is aware of the lens? Can the lens replicate the nuanced sentiments inherent in the moment? Is it the moment, the information, or the immersion that is the message? Can the edu-documentarian remain in the moment while modeling a balanced use of edtech?

    I often grab photos of my kids without them noticing me, finding them in their moments has become my obsession. Uninterrupted captures seem to let me see my kids in different and wonderful ways. And though I love the smiling moment that blooms as they make eye contact with me I also cherish the vision of them in their natural state. Much of this media never gets posted to any social community and many times my kids are not aware of the depth of my process.

    The challenge of capturing, explaining, and reflecting on everything is in step with our modern learning spaces. It seems like in the pursuit of learning, constant connectivity can be both a boon and an anchor. The shift back to teaching after capturing can be as closed as old-school drill/kill methods if student choicevoice is absent. I naturally flow from explain everything to learn everything, everywhere. everytime – spiraling learning from the point of noticing upwards towards the unknown serves edu far more richly than backwards to the checklisty previous iterations of assessment where feedback was limited by time and space and context.

    The decision to go outside is an amazing strategy to recontextualize assessment according to the natural moments / conditions of learning that emerge from curiosity. Bringing back inside is another cool shift to play differently with the new knowledge found elsewhere. If time and place somehow dictates appropriate use of edtech – many could learn from your posts on the neutrality needed to see learning in multiple ways.The biggest benefit I glean from your posts is that the plot line is open ended, the observations clear and cool. I get to create my understanding of what I see and I can choose to build on it or reach out and shake it apart with further study.

    Keep Posting!

    • Thanks for your comment, Chris, and all of your kind words! I find myself often trying to capture some documentation from afar: be it photographs, videos, or both. Sometimes the zoom doesn’t make it as good, or sometimes, by standing too far back, it’s difficult to hear the conversation. The discussion is different though with us not in it, and when children know we’re there, they often change. That said, they have gotten used to us documenting learning, and while they may make an initial comment to their friends that, “Miss Dunsiger is here,” they will also go back to just talking or playing. Sometimes we just have to wait patiently for the “natural play” to happen again. I love when they’re immersed in this play and each other, as it’s when I get a great idea about what interests them, how they connect with other, how they solve problems, and how they use our previous learning in their play.

      While I will sometimes make a comment about the learning that comes out of these videos or photographs, I try to keep my description fairly general. It was Karyn Callaghan that taught me this. She mentioned that when we start to label expectations, we also miss the “richness” of the learning. It’s so true! It’s not that I don’t know the expectations that align with the snippets I share, but I don’t want this list of them to take away from the other learning that may be there (or that others may see that I don’t).

      I also really try to capture the “process of learning.” This is important for me. Yes, there are the occasional photographs of the child happily holding up his/her finished work, but it’s the messiness of learning that I love to capture. Then you really get to see the learning in action! Without technology, I’m not sure how we capture this messy part. We may end up with a wonderful work product at the end to share, and maybe a “rough” and a “good” draft, but what about everything that led to that point? Or what about the moments that can’t be captured on paper, but are so wonderful to explore and share? I think about the video that I included in here of the child that tried to make it up to that tree branch. This is actually my least favourite tree in the forest area. I’m always worried that the branch is too thin and that a child will fall. I usually discourage climbing on here, and very few students do. This was an incredible moment to watch though: not just because she made it to the branch, but because of the amount of time and thought that went into her eventual success. She spent a good 20 minutes over at this bench problem solving before I even went over there. I was watching from afar. When I saw her trying some different approaches, I decided to go over and find out more, and this is what led to the video. This kind of moment could never be captured without a device, and I think it’s a great one to capture, as it really shows the value of perseverance. In other activities, it’s hard for her to persevere as much as she did here. It would be great to let her re-watch this video and see what can happen with this hard work and “trying again.” Despite some of my hold-ups on technology use, this is the kind of technology use that I don’t want to lose. Curious what others think. Thank you for adding to this important discussion, Chris!


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