September 19, 2019: MUHS 9th Grade Open House

At 5:15 parents of MUHS 9th graders are invited to attend an open house and cookout including a presentation and conversation by PSTT. We’ll be sharing a framework that can help parents shape what they want their family tech life to look like, at home and at school. We’ll include resources and strategies to support parents on this part of their parenting journey.  Let’s get this school year rolling!

Deep work

During the past couple of months I have been thinking and reading about deep work. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this term, it is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task (1). Deep work helps create neuron pathways in the brain, which when exercised can create new understanding and ability in this particular domain. In other words, in order to learn hard things one must focus without distractions for a period of time. This is not easy in our fast-paced world. I came across this fun short video from the BBC; it shows one example of how the iGen is creating environments for themselves that help one complete deep work. I love this solution as it provides not only a distraction-free environment but also opportunity for social contact and stretch breaks as well:)

This summer I have been reading Cal Newport’s Book called “Digital Minimalism.” (He also wrote a book called Deep Work.) In Digital Minimalism one of his main idea is that technology should work for you and not the other way around. He suggests a thoughtful way of looking at the apps on your smart phone and considering which ones bring positive benefits into your life and how to structure usage so these apps or websites do not encroach on your life by consuming your attention and time.  I liked the idea that my smart phone would be a tool that enriches my life without consuming my time and attention. One small take-away that I can easily implement and that I did not even consider until reading his book is that I have been using my phone as a watch. Newport points out that each time I check my phone to find out the time, I get sucked into checking other apps whereby distracting me from those around me at the present time. NewPort also suggests we reclaim our leisure time and really think about what we want out of this time, maybe learning a new skill.  My favorite part of the book was the conclusion and also the summaries of other books. He starts with Henry David Thoreau and the importance of quiet time alone to process, reflect and gain new insight into learning and ones’ own life. Then he moves on to Sherry Turkle’s Reclaiming Conversation and many other authors I am now intrigued to read.

A recent blog post caught my eye – the blogger had read Newport’s book and tried what he suggested.  The blogger took a month break from screens and wrote this blog post about her experience. What I loved about (the author) Tsh Oxenreider’s article was how she noticed both immediate and longer term benefits in her life. I could relate to her experience as a parent where I have moments when I am playing or reading to my children and I will check or answer emails or texts which could wait, slipping into not being presence to those with me in the moment. Awareness has helped me fight the reaction to respond immediately.

I do believe that at school, college and beyond we are asking our students to do deep work that is hard. Changing neurons pathways is not something that people can do while attending to other things. Students with ADD, ADHD and/or learning disabilities have to work even harder to do the deep work of learning novel information. Being a parent of one such student I know first-hand how much effort and dedication this takes on the learner’s part. I also recognize the positive and powerful role technology will play in helping my child to access curriculum and share their learning. I would love to close with this interesting article written from the perspective of a college professor who teaches about the theory and practice of social media. Love to hear what you think…

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Supporting Our Schools

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Supporting Our Schools: “Away for the Day” in context

Here at PSTT we’ve spent the past two school years learning about the ways in which our schools need support around kids’ use of personal tech.  We’ve had conversations with school administrators and counselors and we’ve (informally) surveyed teachers.  Certainly, our schools are already hard at work integrating technology into our students’ academic learning and MUHS is also adept at providing tech tools to facilitate student navigation of due dates, calendars and activity schedules.  Our schools are moving toward a goal of 1:1 access, students: computers. This can provide equity; supporting students to use technology to grow their understanding and learning together in the classroom.  What we’ve been hearing loud and clear from school staff and parents of high school students is a need for support of students around digital citizenship –meaning ethics, online safety, privacy awareness, relationships & communication, etiquette, and more.  In short, we’re looking at helping our schools focus on how to model and how to mentor healthy relationships with technology since unbalanced relationships with tech are showing up in classrooms, hallways, the lunch room, the locker room, etc.  We hope this is the start of developing a school culture that is both tech positive and balanced.

To support modeling and mentoring positive use of tech, ACSD’s Digital Learning Plan calls upon the district to “Design/adopt, trial, and implement a curriculum scope and sequence for Digital Citizenship education.”  When this didn’t happen on the timeline set out in the Digital Learning Plan, PSTT facilitated efforts to begin to include a digital citizenship curriculum as part of the MUHS advisory program.  With PSTT’s ongoing support, this went into effect in spring 2019 and will continue in the fall.  

Alongside modeling positive tech behaviors to students and mentoring students through tech challenges, the third important piece is providing structure.  We encourage our schools to provide structure to tech life much like they provide structure to the MUHS curriculum.  We are interested in helping MUHS look at ways to structure student space, student time and tech access itself to best support students in using their personal tech thoughtfully.  One aspect of structuring tech is looking at when and where students have access to their personal tech. Responding to concern from many staff and community members, PSTT is exploring interest in implementing an “Away for the Day” policy at MUHS.  We don’t yet know exactly what this might look like and there may be allowable reasons for some students to use personal tech during a school day (parent communication or personal medical monitoring come to mind).  But exploring the possibilities seems important.

If you live in the ACSD community and would like to be added as a supporter to our Statement of Interest, please send us your name and town of residence.

As we continue to support MUHS and ACSD in modeling & mentoring healthy relationships with tech, and structuring school to support personal tech success, please consider joining the conversation!

Statement of Interest


PSTT’s Summer Plans

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Just a little heads up that PSTT is keeping a pretty modest pace this summer. Aside from clocking a lot of hours outside and pursuing the perfect maple creemee, we do want to share that we have a few organizational priorities lined up:

  1. Meet with parent organizers from Burlington High School and CVU about their/our efforts to support our school systems around tech intentionality;
  2. Begin gathering the names of ACSD parents, students and other community members interested in having an “Away for the Day” policy at MUHS; and
  3. Post on our blog at least once each month, so you don’t think we’ve gone completely AWOL.

Please keep in touch! We just love hearing from our readers. Happy summer!

Looking Ahead To Summer: Screen-Free Vacations?

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I’ve been lured by the idea of screen-free vacations in the past, but though we’ve loved our 2-3 night unplugged camping trips, our family has never committed to a full week sans device. We’ve decided to kick off this summer with a weeklong break from phones, iPads, and laptops, and I’m really happy about it. I know several families who have done a screen-free week (or more!) at home, and that’s something I’d also like to try. But for now, I’m grateful for the change of scene, and personnel, that will make this a fun, and hopefully easy, travel experiment. 

This Friday, our three kids (8, 10 and 12) will finish up their last day of school and then we’ll join my parents for a week at a rental cottage on Lake George. We’ll also bring the beloved 22-yo college student from Argentina for whom we serve as host family.  Since she’s pursuing a career in child psychology, and not a person typically tethered to her phone, she’s been enthused about this tech plan–especially since she thinks it’ll increase the likelihood of more rounds of her favorite board game, Clue. 

I realize we are stacking the deck a bit by bringing along the “big sister without the bickering” bonus kid and the much-adored grandparents, and we’ll be lakeside with kayaks and grandpa’s boat and lots of other summer-fun accoutrements, so our digital detox is perhaps less meltdown-bound than some trips. But it’s something new to us, and I’m glad we’re taking the plunge. We’ve had fun talking about which games and puzzles to pack, and I feel my pulse slow a bit every time I picture us dispersed with our stacks of books.

I’m eager to see how I, personally, will be impacted by being that unplugged. I can almost taste the feeling of being truly “in the moment” and of allowing myself to listen indulgently and without distraction to my loved ones. I admit, it’ll be a stretch for me to go on solo walks (and even do dishes) without my usual podcast accompaniment, but I suspect that’ll lead to some beneficial reflection time and the chance to notice birdsong, and maybe I’ll even capture some of the elusive zen of dishwashing.

As I sat down to write this post, I decided to see if there were other handy resources I could share with families preparing for the summer ahead. If you’re also considering a break from screens, you might appreciate the many tips in this piece I found, called How to Take a Screen-Free Vacation. I identified with the writer’s urge for a break from fighting about technology, which while thankfully not a huge part of our lives is still one of the larger sources of disharmony.

What is your family doing about technology this summer? Are you anxious about the prospect of filling those less-structured days? Does the idea of a screen-free week make you itchy? Here’s a gentle alternative from from one of our favorite sources, the Tech Talk Tuesday blog, about resisting digital compulsion by simply turning off notifications. This other piece from the same blog has some great general advice on how to handle technology over the summer.

I’ll be sure to report back on our screen-free week, and we’d love to hear from others who’ve experimented with unplugging a bit. We at PSTT wish you all a smooth transition into summer!

Phone Confiscation: Pros & Cons

Screen Shot 2019-04-03 at 10.00.05 AMThis piece from Child & Mind Institute offers some analysis of why simply confiscating your child’s phone as punishment might not be as useful a response as it might seem. At PSTT, we love parenting approaches that maximize learning and growth, particularly when positioned as mentorship of kids’ development as digital citizens. Thankfully, this piece doesn’t suggest we shy away from setting limits or from occasionally removing access to certain phone features when justified by the situation.

We’d love to hear what works in your household when things go awry. Do you appreciate having the phone as leverage? At any rate, we urge you to give this piece a read. We found it pretty useful and appreciated the inclusion of practical tips from clinical psychologist Beth Peters and from Catherine Steiner-Adair, author of The Big Disconnect. Happy reading!

April 10, 2019: Resilience Workshops for 6th-12th Grade Parents

MUHS Parent NightMark your calendars! PSTT (Parents Supporting Thoughtful Technology) will offer a workshop called Tweens, Teens & Screens during this multi-topic event. Parents/guardians of kids grades 6-12 welcome. PSTT’s workshop will focus on how to navigate screens at home with tweens and teens. We hope to support parents in sharing what works for them and what are the challenges they face within their own families. We’ll share some of our learning around screens and their impact on our teens/tweens. Come ready to share in small groups and gain tools for thoughtful use of technology. Other workshops will be available at this event, too.

Viewing Opportunity: PSTT on MCTV

Screen Shot 2019-03-24 at 9.22.07 AMOur PSTT co-founders were busy in the community last week! While Julie assisted the high school in preparing digital citizenship curriculum tools for their Advisory program, Samantha and Amy were at Middlebury Community Television taping an episode of the show Growing Bright Futures. Cheryl Mitchell interviewed us about our work in the community supporting families, kids, and schools. We’re also gearing up to participate in a local event on April 10th for parents of kids in grades 6-12, so stay tuned for those details.

Huge thanks to Middlebury Union High School, ACSD, Building Bright Futures, and Middlebury Community Television for engaging with us as we help build practices of intentional technology use here in our community.

Digital Minimalism

Last month, Cal Newport’s new book Digital Minimalism was published. I’ve just ordered a copy and in the meantime wanted to share a link to a podcast episode called “How Social Media is Ruining Your Life” in which he discusses his work. Despite the unfortunate title, the episode is worth a listen. Newport explores the ways new technology is created and how it can be used to enhance our lives. He also explains how technology can create barriers to connecting with others in real time, can inhibit deep thinking, and may explain the rise in anxiety we’re seeing in teens. I don’t agree with all Newport’s points, but I did appreciate hearing so many of his ideas come together in under an hour.

I was struck by the connection Newport makes to the new Netflix series Marie Kondo about what brings you joy and what makes your life more cluttered. Why not look at your core values and then make choices about what apps you want to have on your cellphone, rather than keeping every single one you might someday use? For example, you might really want the meditation app to help you focus and stay calm, if that’s in line with your core values. But perhaps there are other apps you can do without, or could limit to laptop use only. This streamlined way of using your phone might free you up to be more present with those around you and even allow moments of boredom–imagine that–which are essential for processing and mental health. I’m looking forward to reading his book. Let me know what you think!

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