Alexandra Mayzler, Executive Director, Thinking Caps
When I find myself without my cell phone nearby, I get a little bit of an unsettled feeling. If I can't remember the answer to a question, I quickly jump to an online search. I am hard pressed to recall the last time I wrote anything longer than a to-do list on paper. Technology is deeply rooted into all aspects of my life. And, at the expense of aging myself, I'll mention that didn't grow up completely reliant on technology. Nevertheless, it is now a complete part of my life. I know that much of life is easier with technology. At the same time, I also recognize that I've lost some skills and abilities as I've started to rely more and more on technology. Because I have had learning experiences with and without technology, I am able to reflect on the positives and negatives. When working with students who have spent their entire lives surrounded by and immersed in technology, I have to remember that some of the skills I gained organically in the absence of technology, I must teach students directly.
As parents and educators, we need to understand that studying today is harder than it has ever been before. While students have tons of information at their fingertips, so no more long hours of photocopying at the library, they also must contend with a wide variety of distractions. These distractions are hard to manage and the skills to manage them are frequently not taught at school or modeled at home. We know that technology is here to stay and we want to help students form healthy relationships with all the things beeping and blinking at them.
In our Spring Newsletter, we're sharing some suggestions on navigating learning with technology. We are always thinking about realistic ways for technology to be present in the lives of our students. Take a read, share your ideas, and let us know what you think!
When one of my math students is working on a problem, they often ask me if they are doing it the right way. My response to this question is often another question: "Are you?" They, of course, hate this technique because they would prefer to have me walk them step by step to end of the problem. But for them to truly learn how to solve it, they have to try what makes sense for them and sometimes learn they are wrong. If the method they were using doesn't work, my students often realize it after only a few more steps, regroup, and try another approach.
Much like math problems, life is a little bit of trial and error and a whole lot of learning something from every situation. During our sessions, my older students often ask me for advice about their lives, such as what summer program to participate in, how to choose a college, and even what to do with their lives. My approach to these questions does not change much.
As a sophomore in high school, I initially decided I wanted to become a high school Spanish teacher. Then I took trigonometry and was convinced math was really the subject for me. I stuck with that plan, graduated, and headed off to a small university in my home state of Oklahoma. During the January term of my freshman year, I took Intro to Sociology because I was interested in learning more about the patterns I had always seen in society growing up. Much to my surprise, I found something I loved more than math, and suddenly I was a double major. Next thing I know, a year has passed, and I decided to move to New York to study in the NYU Sociology Department.
Even here at NYU, I started with a focus on education. I was then given the chance to intern at Defy Ventures, a nonprofit organization providing business entrepreneurship training to individuals with criminal histories, and my eyes were opened to more possibilities. This past summer, I interned with Women Moving Millions, an organization seeking to catalyze unprecedented giving for the advancement of women and girls. There, I found my passion for philanthropy and my voice as a woman for women. I recently began working as a Fundraising and Development Associate at Run for America whose goal is to recruit, train, and elect the next generation of talented leaders to office, and I look forward to what I have to learn there.
When I think about how I went from wanting to be a Spanish teacher to working in fundraising for what I believe to be an important cause, I realize it seems like such a leap. But truly, I took each opportunity presented to me in stride. I tried some things I loved, and a few that were not the right fit. Each school, class, and job I've experienced was an opportunity to learn, similarly to how my students learn from attempting their math problems. My encouragement to students is to pursue what they believe they want right now, while never be too scared to change their mind and try something new. This is the process by which they will find themselves where they belong.
A student asks: : : I really don't enjoy history at all and I can't seem to really engage with the information. How can I make sure that what I'm reading sticks?
Answer: Your engagement is an important factor in optimizing your studying practices. However, achieving engagement can be complicated when it comes to history, so you'll want to make sure your paying attention, concentrating, and trying to remember what you read. In order to amplify or construct your intrinsic motivation, you'll want to use active recall while reading. This skill will greatly improve your understanding and retention of the material. You should always stop and summarize what you've read occasionally, either verbally or silently. Best advice is to pretend that you will need to teach the material to someone else as soon as you're finished reading. If you adapt the mindset that you are going to have to explain this material to someone, your brain will be actively engaged in trying to understand and distill information. So don't passively read through the material, but instead, get into the mindset that you'll have to play teacher and you'll grasp the information much better!
A parent asks: It seems that all of my children need to use the internet to get schoolwork done. But I'm afraid they are spending more time on social media websites than being productive. What are some ways to balance tech-use?
Answer: Excellent question! A lot of parents and educators have expressed their uneasiness about students' tech-use. It's no secret that there is an intensifying effort to use technology in the classroom, seeing as it's a way to connect with students and provide them with essential skills. Across the country, schools are equipping themselves with computers, internet access and mobile devices so they can teach on the students' technological territory. Finding the right mix of educational and social uses for all devices has been very tricky since it's more difficult to separate work from play.
So what does balanced tech time look like? American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours of entertainment related screen time a day for children and teens. You'll want to think about what works for your family and enforce it. Be aware of how often you are using technology rather than falling into the trap of constant screen time. One tip we suggest is using different devices for work and play. Students can reserve an iPad/laptop for school work and use a designated desktop for play (or vice versa). Having two designated devices allows kids to be more aware of how much time they are spending on technology for entertainment and cut down on unnecessary tech time.
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