Living with Laptops

Wow! What a great turnout at our parent session this morning! We had around 40 parents join us for an extended hour and a half session to strategize ways to help our children maintain a healthy, balanced lifestyle. Huge thanks to Joy Eckhoff for helping us get this session organized!

Another great #yis parent tech coffee morning with @AdamClark71 & our admin team: Living with Laptops

We can all relate to the struggle to balance our many devices, from mobiles, to  laptops, to kindles, to iPods, and everything that comes next, so this time for focused conversation was perfect.  Along with our wonderful parent community, Mr. Clark, Ms. Clifford, Mr. Snowball, Ms. Cofino, Mr. Pomeroy, Mr. Lehmann, Mr. Stanworth and Mr. MacDonald were there to help share ideas and practices that have worked (as well as those that haven’t). We had a very productive session, and developed tons of great ideas to help our children build and maintain a healthy and well-balanced lifestyle.

We started our session with a brief presentation, highlighting the big ideas to be discussed:

A few of the key points we discussed:

Although many of the tools we use to connect and communicate have changed, what we’re doing with them is very similar to more “old school” methods – like passing notes in class, or reading under the covers at night, or talking on the phone.

For some reason, it seems that when children (or adults) are using technology tools, we are reluctant to interrupt them. We have developed a kind of societal norm that “laptop space” must be private space. Adam shared a story about being hesitant to ask his son, in fourth grade, to show him what he was doing on the laptop, simply because it was a laptop – even though he’s the parent, he bought the computer, and it was actually his wife’s laptop.

Even though we already have great strategies, as parents (and teachers), to help children manage their time and responsibilities well, sometimes it’s challenging to remember to apply those strategies in this new context, because of the perceived privacy norms.

Although the idea of chatting, sharing, and interacting with peer groups is not new, perhaps the greatest difference is the visibility of the activities – which can be perceived in two ways:

  1. Technology as more visible: In the “old school” context, when children spent time hanging out at places like Gigi’s, their parents might not know really what was happening, and any mistakes made could be forgotten with time. It was almost like those mistakes and behavior were invisible. In contrast, today’s “hang out” space is often online, where every action is visible and permanent.
  2. Technology as less visible: In the “old school” context, when children hang out and chat at home, their friends are there, so parents can see and hear what they’re doing. However, with technology, children can be “hanging out” in a common space in the house, but parents can’t actually see or hear anything, since it’s all on the computer. In this sense, the technology almost makes the behavior “invisible”.

After chatting about this visibility question, we came up with a list of important topics to discuss further:

It’s important to remember that all of the adults in our children’s lives are role models. The behavior they see being modeled as adults is behavior they are implicitly being told is appropriate. At Parent Teacher Student Conferences yesterday, there were long rows of students on their mobile phones, sitting next to their parents, typing away on their mobile phones.

Although it sounds too simple, we see in the classroom that by clearly stating specific expectations and setting clear boundaries, students are much more likely to follow those directions. In contrast, if we allow expectations to be more implicit, it’s so much easier for students to ignore those unstated “understandings”.

In the end, we’re working towards each student developing their own self control, and an appropriate level of balance that works for them and their family. To do so, we would like to work as a team: parents, school and students.

In order to help get an idea of what students are thinking and feeling about these topics, Mr. Clark recorded some great discussions with students all across the middle and high school:

Our focus for the meeting was to develop as many strategies as possible to help support a healthy balanced lifestyle. Some of the ways that we’re doing this at school are:

  • All students sign a Responsible Use Policy, which highlights the importance of balance and responsibility
  • To help clearly define the expectations for balance (and to set clear boundaries), no laptops are allowed at break, and laptop use is only allowed in the CLC workroom during lunch (otherwise students are not allowed to use their laptops during lunch.
  • To get started well, we had two full days of orientation at the beginning of the school year where we discussed the Responsible Use Policy, Digital Citizenship and Balance at length in a variety of contexts, as an introduction to our CLC. We also had a mandatory parent information session for middle school parents and all middle and high school students (voluntary for high school parents).
  • We have an overarching Digital Citizenship curriculum, called Digital Dragons, which is currently being taught through Humanities in middle school.
  • After Spring Break, we’ll have a Digital Citizenship Week, when we revisit the major themes of the Responsible Use Policy through a variety of activities and discussions.
  • Our Student Tech Team regularly produces short video tutorials, to highlight important aspects of effectively using the laptops. Recently, they highlighted a number of productivity apps like “Self Control” which was one of the ways that students could help manage distractions.
  • We’re implementing homework calendars in all middle school tutor groups, where all major assessments will be added as events in a shared calendar for each tutor group. Parents and students can then subscribe to these calendars to have the reminders pop up on their mobile devices.
  • We’re developing a digital student planner to help students manage their assignments in an efficient way.
  • All of these topics are important points of discussion within our Tutor program at all grade levels.

Once we had an idea of the support structures in place at school, we spent the rest of the meeting developing similar structures for the home in small groups, using Google Docs. Everyone came up with fantastic ideas, including all of the ones we were planning to share!

Here are the strategies we developed:

Setting Limits:

  • Set time limit per day for total screen time, and gradually allow the child more control over how they allocate that time.
  • Set a specific time, or set of times, when the computer can be used.
  • No computer use after a certain time.
  • No technology at the dinner table.

Developing Time Management:

Take Advantage of Tech Breaks: Research shows that knowing you have specific time set aside to check social networking sites actually helps students focus better, so Dr. Larry Rosen recommends 25 minutes of homework time, then 5 minutes of a tech break, then study again.

Family Agreements:

  • regular monitoring of comments made/received
  • checking the history regularly

Regular and open conversations with your child are always the best way to make these strategies successful.

Some further resources:

Thanks to all the parents that attended today’s session! Even if you weren’t there, please join us for our monthly Parent Technology and Literacy Coffee Mornings on the first Wednesday of every month at 9:15 in the Cafeteria. Our next meeting is: Wednesday, April 11, 2012 at 9:15 in the Cafeteria and we’ll be chatting about Facebook – how to set up an account, set your privacy settings, and how to best help your child manage an online presence. Looking forward to seeing you there!


Parent Technology and Literacy Coffee Morning: Google Docs

Continuing our Google Apps for Education theme, this month’s Parent Technology and Literacy Coffee Morning was focused on Google Docs. All students at YIS have their own Google Apps for Education account, and one of our most important and essential features is Google Docs.

Here’s a brief intro to why Google Docs is so powerful:

This is just an introduction, Google Docs can do so much more:

Sharing Levels: Any document can be shared with anyone else (with a Google Apps account) in a variety of ways:

  • View only: they can see the document, but they can’t edit
  • Comment only: they can see the document, and leave comments
  • Edit: they can see, edit and share the document

Revision History: Every single change in a Google Document is saved, as a revision history. This means that you can see every single version of the document ever. You can see who made the change, when the change was made, and even revert back to any previous version.

Commenting & Formative Feedback: It’s possible to leave comments on a Google Doc to suggest areas of improvement for students. These comments also show up as e-mails to let them know that the teacher has viewed the work and left feedback. Just like the revision history, all comments are stored (even when they’re “resolved”) so you can see every single suggestion made by the teacher (or response by the student) and the follow up work. This is a great way to give formative feedback during the learning process.

Publishing Work: Since Google Docs are stored in the cloud, it’s very easy to publish work anytime, anyway. It’s just a matter of changing the sharing settings, and then linking, or embedding, the finished document in a blog post. Here’s an example from one of my grade 6 Technology students: Mimi’s Investigate Reflection: take a look at her thumbnail image which links to a finished Google Doc, as well as her finished Google Presentation, which is embedded (meaning you can watch it from within the post) at the end.

Many Tools in One: Google Docs is not just documents, it’s also spreadsheets, presentations, drawings, and forms (plus they’re always adding, so I’m sure there will be something new soon enough). Basically it’s like an online version of Microsoft Office or iWork. And it’s free! You might think that being free, and being online will limit some tools (which can be true, depending on what you want to do), but it’s pretty amazing how powerful Google Docs really is. Here’s a great example of what you can do with Google Presentations:


Once we had an idea of what Google Docs can be useful for, we talked about how it’s used at YIS. Here are a few examples:

As a way to share class resources: In order to ensure that students have access to course documents anytime anywhere, I create a collection in Google Docs which I share with all students in my class. This way they have every assignment sheet and resource I’ve ever created with the click of a button. This folder is shared with students as “View Only” so they can see all of the documents, but not edit. This is also great for using templates because students can see the template (here’s an example), and then make a copy and fill it in.

As a dropbox for student work: Each student in my class has shared a collection (folder) with me that includes all of the work they’ve done for my class. This collection is a great way for both the teacher and the student to know exactly where all work for this course is stored. It’s great for Parent Teacher Conferences too, because we can quickly see every single piece of work the student has ever completed. New items are bold, so I can see at a quick glance what still needs to be graded. Any type of file can be stored here: documents, spreadsheets, presentations, etc.

As a collaborative learning or note-taking tool: Very often in grade 6 we brainstorm ideas as a class, to help students complete future work independently. A great way to do this is with a Google Doc where everyone can edit. All students are collaborating in a shared place, so there’s only one document to look back to, and as a class we can ensure that everything on the document is accurate and useful. Plus, each and every edit is stored, so we can quickly and easily see all changes.

All in all, Google Apps for Education is pretty amazing! The best part is that they’re always improving, so we could be doing even more amazing things soon!

Next Coffee Morning: Please join us for our next Parent Technology and Literacy Coffee Morning on Wednesday, April 11, 2012 at 9:15 in the Cafeteria. Next month we’ll be chatting about Facebook – how to set up an account, set your privacy settings, and how to best help your child manage an online presence. Looking forward to seeing you there!


Is your child learning English as an additional language (EAL)?

EAL Workshop for ELC and Elementary Parents
Date: Thursday – March 15
Time: 9:00 AM -10:30 AM
Location: Loft

This workshop is geared towards parents of students, ELC to Grade 5, whose first language is not English and who would like to know about EAL and how the program works at YIS Elementary School. For parents who speak another language other than English, there will be some tips given on how to help learners in coping with school work.

  • What is EAL?
  • How does EAL at YIS ES work?
  • How can parents help?

Please register your attendance with Mariko Jungnitsch



The following film give guidance to how parents should approach teaching languages to children from birth to 5 years old. (Courtesy of the Saskatchewan Ministry of Education (Canada) North Eastern School Division).