FYI…

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How about something less-intense this week: just a couple of quick updates…

SCREENAGERS

We have been approved to bring Screenagers to SkyView Academy! Mrs. Worley and I are discussing dates and finalizing our contract with the company. We will be able to have one viewing for parents (stay tuned for a date and time), and we will be able to show Screenagers to all of our MS and HS students! Dates and times will be forthcoming.

GRADES COMMITTEE

In response to feedback from parents, students, and staff, we are taking steps in the high school to examine our grading policies and procedures. Specifically, we will be examining the pros and cons of weighted grades and/or a plus/minus system. To that end, we are organizing a committee that will include myself, 4 high school staff members, 3 high school students, and 2 of our parents. If you are a parent interested in objectively examining grading practices, please be sure to read the HS Items at the bottom of the Thursday Wire for more information about this committee.

NOTE: This is not to imply that we will necessarily change anything. Maybe we will…maybe we won’t. At this point we simply want to gather information and then examine how well that information aligns with our mission and vision at SkyView.

PARENT/TEACHER CONFERENCES

Parent-teacher conferences are just a couple of weeks away. As a reminder, this is valuable time for us to connect with parents and students who are struggling and need a “check-in” with their teacher. Consequently, we will be approaching conferences differently this semester.

  • Teachers will invite parents to schedule a conference at a specific time on Thursday, March 9 from 1:00-6:00 or Friday, March 10 from 8:00-10:00.
  • Next Wednesday, March 1 teachers will send invites and a link to those parents/students with whom they need to meet. Parents/students will simply click the link and find an available time to meet with the teacher. If you receive an email from a teacher, it is highly recommended that you make an appointment to see them.
  • If we need to meet with the parents/student as team (to include several teachers, the counselors, and the principal), next Wednesday you will receive an email from one of the counselors requesting a meeting on Friday, March 10 between 10:00am-12:00pm.
  • If your student is performing well in all classes, we invite you to start the weekend early.  🙂  I hope that your student is receiving positive feedback and encouragement throughout the year–keep up the good work! We want to use P/T Conferences to focus our attention on those students who need additional support.

More details on conferences will be forthcoming next Wednesday.

Cheers!

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Cell phones, part 3 of 3: next steps

“It would be a relief in a way not to be bothered with it anymore. I am always … wondering if it is safe, and pulling it out to make sure. …I found I couldn’t rest without it in my pocket. I don’t know why.” —Bilbo Baggins, The Fellowship of the Ring

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Such was my experience yesterday…

Yesterday I attended a conference for principals. I left the house and drove up to my conference not checking my cell phone or email at all for about 4 hours. It wasn’t until 10:15 that I finally opened my laptop to see what I’d missed that morning. I also took a quick peek at my cell phone to see if I’d received any messages. I didn’t have time to respond to any of them, but at least I knew what was waiting there for me. I closed my laptop, put my cell phone away, and tuned into the speaker who had just started her presentation.

Then sure enough, about 15 minutes later, I was getting a little bit disengaged from the current discussion and found myself reaching for my laptop again. I wasn’t going to return any emails or do any business, yet there it was–beckoning to me, pulling me in, tempting me to check my messages. Seriously: I can’t explain why, but I felt a need to check my laptop. I’d been fine for most of the morning, but once I’d had that initial contact, I had to have more.

Last week, we discovered that emerging research is beginning to confirm and verify that my “addiction” is real. Moreover, my addiction can lead to all sorts of other issues if I’m not careful (Arslan, 2016; Brown, 2016; Brown & Bobkoswski, 2011; Isiklar, 2014; Jensen, 2015; Manzo, 2009).

So I guess that means I need to get rid of my cell phone and laptop, right? The time has come to return to the days of Morse Code, carrier pigeons, and classroom slates.

Wait a minute…let’s think about this for a moment. Perhaps I am being a bit hasty.

We know that technology can be a powerful tool and has some definite advantages–even in the classroom (Gabriel et al., 2012). Some of the documented educational advantages are inexpensive learning opportunities, more varied options for content delivery, and continuous/situated learning support (Elias, 2011). While educators and scientists admit that there is a need for continued research and that there is much to be done in determining the value of some technology, some emerging research suggests that “a significant change in pedagogy as well as improvement in student learning can take place” (Smyth, 2011).

That leads to some thought-provoking implications for educators (and for students and parents alike). We can’t ignore the fact that technology, media, and smart phones have a powerful and purposeful place in learning, and researchers are calling on educators to engage in critical conversations around how schools might more effectively use these tools (Gabriel et al., 2012). As educators, parents, and students, we need to find the appropriate time to utilize technology and–perhaps more importantly–find ways that we will manage its use and develop a healthy balance in our lives.

To that end, Mrs. Worley and myself are taking steps to bring a viewing of Screenagers to SkyView Academy. It is our hope that we can make this available to all middle school and high school students, then still provide an additional showing for parents. Stay tuned for dates and times and further details… For now, please take a look at their web site and the trailer.

Cheers!

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References

Arslan, Y. (2016). An investigation on changing behaviours of university students switching from using classical cell phones to smartphones. Journal of Education and Training Studies, 4(6), . doi:10.11114/jets.v4i6.1544

Brown, J. D., & Bobkowski, P. S. (2011). Older and newer media: Patterns of use and effects on adolescents’ health and well-being. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 21(1), 95–113. doi:10.1111/j.1532-7795.2010.00717.x

Brown, T. T. (2016). On the brain basis of digital daze in Millennial minds. Journal of Management Education, 40(4), 411–414. doi:10.1177/1052562916634118

Elias, T. (2011). Universal Instructional Design Principles for Mobile Learning. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 12(2), 143-156.

Gabriel, M., Campbell, B., Wiebe, S., MacDonald, R., McAuley, A. & McAuley, A. (2012). The Role of Digital Technologies in Learning: Expectations of First Year University Students. Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology, 38(1).

Isiklar, A. et al. (2014). An investigation of the relationship between high school students’ problematic mobile phone use and their self esteem levels. Education, 134(1), 9-14.

Jensen, F., & Nutt, A.  (2015). The teenage brain: A neuroscientist’s survival guide to raising adolescents and young adults.  New York, NY:  HarperCollins.

Manzo, K. (2009). Administrators confront student ‘sexting’: Schools urged to develop policies and programs that curb the practice. Education Week, 28(35), 13-16.

Smyth, T. (2011). Smartphones in the Classroom: Are We Ready?. Proceedings of Global TIME 2011, 54-57.

Cell phones, part 2 of 3: The warning signs we see in science and research

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Parents,

Let me begin by saying that I love our kids. I really do. Even those students who find ways to drive us crazy…I love ’em! 🙂

I hope that you all can honestly hear my heart throughout this series and know that I want the absolute best for all of my high school students. I have made–and will continue to make–personal sacrifices for their safety, wellbeing, and personal growth. The information that I am sharing is not at all intended to make parents’ or students’ lives more miserable or to call into question the trusting relationships you have built together. I simply hope to make us all more aware of the rapidly changing world in which we live and to help us be safer and more diligent in our daily activities.

Last week we took a candid look at some of the misuses of cell phones among adolescents (and adults too). My research tells me that this is not a new problem in the United States and confirms the legal dangers to students, staff, and even school administrators (Manzo, 2009). But the problem is really not just about “pictures” nor is the problem unique to cell phones–this extends to all sorts of media including phones, computers, tablets, video games, music, television, etc.

Some research suggests that students are using media an average of 7 hours per day with other students using media as much as 11 hours a day! Emerging research is beginning to document the dangers associated with the careless use of media (dangers for both adolescents and adults) including addictive and compulsive behaviors, earlier sexual encounters, distorted ideas around relationships, violence and aggression (especially connected to gaming), bullying, sexual predation, body image and eating disorders, substance abuse and availability, and portrayal of illicit drug use (Brown and Bobkoswski, 2011). And when it comes to multitasking, student’s thirst for media increases the amount of time spent on homework by 25-400% (Jensen, 2015).

With regard to cell phones in particular, researchers that have started investigating some of our 21st century issues (most notably, smart phone usage) are noting and documenting the rise of problems such as device dependence, selfishness, a-socialization, decrease in reading proficiency, increases in family conflict, academic problems, misspent time in social networks, and an insensitivity to society and environment (Arslan, 2016). “Problematic” and frequent cell phone usage has been correlated with lower self esteem in individuals and often results in abnormal behaviors, social problems, and emotional issues (Isiklar, 2014).

One researcher summarizes the issue this way: “It seems that many of us agree that the extent to which students of all ages are staring into digital devices is a source of concern for their cognitive, academic, and social development. Recent studies reveal a magnitude to the problem that is even worse than what many of us had suspected and is likely still growing. Scientifically, we do not yet know whether and to what extent the brains of millennials are actually being “re-wired,” but it seems reasonable to suspect that there are some neurocognitive effects that we might prefer to offset by promoting a larger proportion of time among youngsters spent engaged in tasks that we know are mind and brain edifying” (Brown, 2016).

I wonder: what sort of tasks might be “mind and brain edifying”? There is definitely some food for thought in that statement above–not just for our kids, but for us parents as well. Maybe I need to put my own laptop down from time-to-time and take my son up on his offer to play a game…

Cheers!

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Next week: what are some of the next steps? How do we move forward? How can we utilize cell phones as effective tools?

References

Arslan, Y. (2016). An investigation on changing behaviours of university students switching from using classical cell phones to smartphones. Journal of Education and Training Studies, 4(6), . doi:10.11114/jets.v4i6.1544

Brown, J. D., & Bobkowski, P. S. (2011). Older and newer media: Patterns of use and effects on adolescents’ health and well-being. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 21(1), 95–113. doi:10.1111/j.1532-7795.2010.00717.x

Brown, T. T. (2016). On the brain basis of digital daze in Millennial minds. Journal of Management Education, 40(4), 411–414. doi:10.1177/1052562916634118

Isiklar, A. et al. (2014). An investigation of the relationship between high school students’ problematic mobile phone use and their self esteem levels. Education, 134(1), 9-14.

Jensen, F., & Nutt, A.  (2015). The teenage brain: A neuroscientist’s survival guide to raising adolescents and young adults.  New York, NY:  HarperCollins.

Manzo, K. (2009). Administrators confront student ‘sexting’: Schools urged to develop policies and programs that curb the practice. Education Week, 28(35), 13-16.

Cell phones, part 1 of 3: Sexting, pornography, and some serious consequences

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Over the next month, I want to talk a little bit about cell phones. As you probably already know, I’m not a big fan of cell phones. Certainly there are some tremendous benefits and useful applications of cell phones, but I fear that the benefits don’t necessarily outweigh the problems that they create. And in particular, what concerns me as both a principal and father of a teenager, are the problems that we don’t even know about. Far too often we take things for granted and assume that our children are safe (and assume that our own privacy is safe), when in fact, we are sharing a tremendous amount of our personal information without realizing it. How do I know this? Well…

First, I studied this as a math major when I was in college. In fact, my favorite classes in college were Coding and Signal Processing (Cryptography), Game Theory and Strategy,  and Number Theory–three classes that taught me a great deal about math-based security systems and the transmission of information. You know what I learned?: our information, data, and privacy are controlled by mathematicians (not us) and aren’t nearly as secure as you think. And since teenagers tend to be more careless and reckless than adults (including when it comes to the sharing of personal details and information), their privacy is more significantly compromised than ours.

Sadly, I have had a much more empirical experience with this during the last two weeks. A great deal of my time as a principal has been spent learning about the cell phone habits of SkyView Academy high school students and dealing with the consequences of their actions. I need to let you know that I am deeply concerned about the kinds of things that teenagers share with each other using their cell phones. This includes (but is not limited to):

  • discussing, describing, encouraging, and joking about sex and/or sexual acts
  • soliciting sex and/or sexual acts (sometimes on campus!)
  • sending, receiving, and/or requesting nude pictures
  • sending, receiving, and/or requesting graphic (but not nude) pictures

I know what you might be thinking: “Not my kid.” YOU’D BETTER KEEP READING. That’s what I thought until I had a candid and uncomfortable conversation with my own teenager (who does not have a cell phone) and discovered he’s seen a lot more than I ever realized. I can also tell you that nearly every parent I’ve spoken with about this has been shocked to find out that their child was “involved” in such activities. I assure you, if your child has not actively sent or requested explicit messages/pictures, then there is a very strong likelihood that they have received such messages/pictures, or they have had a peer show them something pretty graphic. There is also a very high likelihood that they won’t say a word about it to you.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t want to get into the details of what is “explicit.” But what I’ve learned about these last two weeks is graphic and uncomfortable. Suffice it to say, these last two weeks have been the most disappointing and unpleasant of my year, but we can still use this to grow and learn. As parents of our children, here is what you need to know and do:

  1. This is more widespread than you can imagine and has likely impacted your child in some way.
  2. Pictures that include full nudity of children under the age of 18 are considered child pornography. Requesting, possessing, and/or distributing these pictures are all considered felonies. If you or somebody you know has been a victim of child pornography (or you’ve even victimized yourself), it is important that you speak to your counselor or principal.
  3. Please have a conversation with your child. Don’t put it off, do it within the next 48 hours. Ask them some very direct and uncomfortable questions and let them know that they are safe to talk to you about this. Help them know the best way(s) to handle peer pressure and the sharing of explicit information. Help them to know and understand appropriate boundaries when it comes to sex and intimate relationships. Help them to know that…
  4. Whatever your personal beliefs are as a family…whatever you determine to be the appropriate time and place for sex, nudity, etc., school is NOT the time or the place.
  5. If you want some more information, here are some short reads to get you started:

Sexting as a teen in Colorado could make you sex offender for life

Teen sexting in Colorado

Teens tell all: What they reveal about sex, drugs, and social media

Although I’m not sure that I entirely agree with the author they interviewed, the video does make an important point at the end: we need to trust our kids. I’m reminded of a line from the movie Footloose: “If we don’t start trusting our children, how will they ever become trustworthy?” But trust is not indifference or naivety. Trust is defined as the “firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.” To develop this kind of trust and character in our kids takes much time, effort, and patience. It requires us to be involved in their lives and to be willing to tackle the tough topics (like sex, pornography, and appropriate cell phone use). It’s a battle…but a battle worth fighting.

As a parent, I am going to continue having some very candid and uncomfortable conversations with my son, teaching him the values and skills that he needs to handle the crazy pressures that teenagers face these days. As a principal, I will continue to work hard at developing character in our kids and supporting our families as they do the same. Here we go…

Cheers!

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Next week we will take a look at some of the science and research related to our kids and their use of cell phones.