[New Tech] Killed the [Old Tech] Star

Placing myself firmly in the Retro club:

330px-Buggles_Video_Killed_the_Radio_Star image

image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_Killed_the_Radio_Star; video: https://youtu.be/Iwuy4hHO3YQ

Do as I Say, Not as I Do

There have been many discussions of the virtues/dangers of tech-enhanced learning (and living).  One of the most interesting players on the field is the Waldorf School of Orange County which, according to several articles, eschews technology of all types while educating the children of quite a few Silicon Valley bigwigs (http://bit.ly/2nnHGC3 for one article, among many).

Yet most schools across the country have embraced technology-enhanced learning, and efforts continue to provide all students access to what we hope will be transformational technology.  At our school, we have very thoughtfully rolled out 1:1 technology over a number of years; at this point, we provide classroom sets of iPads to our younger grades, 1:1 at-school devices to 3rd and 4th graders, byod iPads to middle schoolers (5th-8th), and byod laptops to upper schoolers (9-12).  They are all used in myriad ways over the course of the year—from keeping track of assignments, to taking tests, to creating interactive projects, to (inevitably) endless selfies.

So what do you do after you have fully integrated tech into your learning program?  You try turning it all off!   Seriously, though, part of being a responsive and effective learning community is continuously evaluating the effectiveness of your teaching and learning tools.  Hence: Tech-Free Day.

Nothing to See Here

The original day scheduled for the event, as you may or may not remember, turned out to be one of those Spring-with-a-chance-of-Tornadoes sort of days, so we rescheduled for April 19th.

The [insert technical invention here] Will be the End of Civilization

The day was designed, as Head of School Chris Hinchey said, “[to] help students and adults step back and gain perspective on their media habits and set goals for healthy habits moving forward.”  With this goal in mind, we undertook a busy spring-semester Wednesday without using tech of any kind (yep, not even FitBits).  That evening, the school partnered with another local school to show Screenagers, a powerful documentary about the effects of screen time on young people (https://youtu.be/LQx2X0BXgZg –highly recommend).  No homework was assigned, and families were encouraged to remain tech-free through the evening at home as well.

A sampling of comments after the day:


“What I like about no-tech day is that it is relaxing.  You can just sit back, relax, and read books. This is a good idea because you get to have social interaction with other people, not just look at your phone all day…. This day was fun but kind of hard for me because I have never done this before.”

“At first, I thought no-tech day was awful, then I realized that I was wrong. It actually feels kinda good to put down the phone or iPad, not worry about Instagram or Facebook, and go outside and play.”


“I walked away realizing exactly how much I depend on devices to connect with you, colleagues, my children, and my husband. In reflecting, I also recognize that I am guilty of not always being present with my family, because my device is very distracting.”

“It was very hard not to send emails the minute I thought of something. It felt like I was behind or avoiding tasks that needed to be done, but I just kept a list. I did enjoy not feeling obligated to READ emails sent to me!”

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the adults on campus were the ones who found it the most difficult to disconnect for the day.  Full disclosure: at one point, two of my daughter’s friends caught me holed up in the drama room, sending an email that *had* to go out that day. (Busted!)

So what was my takeaway from going tech-free?  (Other than the fact that it makes me very grumpy when I can’t use my Starbucks app to have my flat white waiting for me on the way to school)?

The Good, the Bad, and the Just Plain Silly, or, I See Your Pencil, and I Raise You a Laptop!

I would respond to the Waldorf School (look at their video—they knit: it’s very cool:  https://youtu.be/fAnv39ixytA) the way I respond to the occasional visitor who comes into the library and asks why we still have books:  Progress doesn’t mean throwing out what came before.  We didn’t throw away bicycles when we invented cars–we just added more choices for getting the errands done.

Being mindful about our use of technology (ok—about everything) is a great way to stay grounded in our ever faster-moving world.  Going forward, I am going to be talking with my coworkers and my family about Tech Awareness, even more than Tech Free (because, Me Hiding in Drama Room).

Here are some ideas I have stolen discovered:

  • Tech Tracking: keep a log of tech time–device/app or function/time spent—for a day (or a week)
  • Device-Free Dinners: my kids still like to do “Highs and Lows” of the day
  • Connected Tech: use technology to connect with your family and friends: watch a movie and discuss; read the same book on your devices and discuss; write a song/create a stop-action video with your kids; create a book trailer for your book club [you DO belong to a book club, right? If not, FaceTime your friends and start one!].
  • Teen Tech Talk: talk to your teen (or tween, or third-grader) about the tech in their lives. What is their favorite tech tool?  How does it enhance their lives (ironic tone/air quotes not allowed)?

Ultimately, going tech-free for a day gave us (me) the chance to evaluate the role technology plays in our (my) daily teaching, learning and communicating.  My teenagers tell me that I too often stare at my lap when we are together.  As the mom of soon-to-be-fledged young adults, that is insanely stupid.  My kids still want to talk to me!  Put down the phone!





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