The great irony of the #DigitalDetox, but why we should all try it!

There is no Wifi in the forest, but we promise you will find a better connection.
— Anon

It's almost half-term over here in Blighty. That means for many of our readers an opportunity to plan, mark and catchup on schoolwork. We know that work for a teacher never ends but have you considered taking a few days to just unplug from the tech-driven world? This article looks at the benefits of a #DigitalDetox (and brushes past the irony of how you are reading about it 😮)

A world of digital

We live in the digital world. That is simple, pure fact. Statistics show that large percentages of the world regularly use a digital tool in one way or another. In fact, in a world closing in on 7.4 billion people, 3.4 billion of these are internet users. That is a phenomenal 46%. Yes, 46% of the entire world is using digital in just one form. 

These statistics continue with their craziness. In 1995, for example, just 1% of the world used the internet. Admittedly these were dark ages of internet connectivity; the days of dial-up modems [shudder].

Numbers continued to increase rapidly, in fact they were up tenfold between 1999 and 2013. The first billion users were reached in 2005, the second in 2010 and the third in 2014. That is 2 billion more people using the internet in less than 10 years! 

Time for a break

So, with so many of us glued to our smart phones and computer screens is there a point where we should just take a step back. A point where we remember what life is like, you know...out there (and no, sorry people, Pokémon GO does not count)? 

Enter the Digital Detox, a term filled with unerring irony but one of notable consequence! Why ironic? Well, let us tell you! We are willing to bet that less than 1% of people who have heard this term heard it through organic word-of-mouth. The other 99.9% read it online somewhere. On 5th August 2016, the term began to trend on Twitter. Companies who offer genuine Digital Detox retreats and treatments all advertise online. Google images is awash with pictures of trees, beaches and sunsets pasted over with inspiring Digital Detox quotes. The plain truth is that being able to switch of from digital requires you to be plugged in first.

Why we should Detox from tech

But what is a Digital Detox, really? You'll be pleased to hear it doesn't mean you'll be chugging pints of apple cider vinegar, honey and cinnamon or eating a pallet of go-go-gadget berries. No, it isn't that kind of detox; though chances are you will be slightly healthier afterwards. The Oxford Dictionary coins the term as:

A period of time during which a person refrains from using electronic devices such as smartphones or computers, regarded as an opportunity to reduce stress or focus on social interaction in the physical world.

It may not seem like much but how many of us can say we absolute clarity the last time they went without using their phone or computer, telly or games device, or even their Casio Calculator watch for longer than 24 hours? Probably not many - let's be honest. 

So with digital taking up so much of our lives - one study suggesting that surfing the web on devices can make up 25 hours a week for a majority of people (more than: One. Whole. Day!) - perhaps no time is better than now to say:

I am done with digital. No more shall I be a slave to the machine. No more will I buy shoes from my bed or tell my nan over in Oz that she has a painted her front room a bonza shade of blue. No! Today marks the last day digital has a say in my life...well, for a little while anyway.

Excellent, feeling excited? Nervous? Should you quickly Google sweaty palms and palpitations? No, it is fine. You'll be fine. Honest. So, let's go...Oh wait. What do we do? 

Put the phone down - it will all be OK

Well, the answer to that is surprisingly simple. Sure there are guides, and suggestions, and blogs, and all sorts out on there on the digital waves. But let's make it easy:

DO WHAT YOU WANT... 

...minus the need to Tweet about it or trying to squeeze it between Netflix and email replies. This is a chance to reconnect with the physical world and the people you know and love. Grab the kids, or your parents, or your friends (whoever they may be) and take them on a walk through your closest woods. If you are lucky enough to be near a beach take a stroll along the shoreline. No woods or beaches? Fine, find a field or a nice hill to leave you breathless. Heck, explore your neighbourhood. Go for a coffee in that place you walk past everyday but have only just noticed the name. Look! Did you know your neighbour had a palm tree in their front garden? No? You've only lived opposite them for 8 years. 

Don't wanna go outside? It's ok. This is all about de-stressing and finding yourself in a world that is larger than a screen that fits in your hand. Drink tea. Read a book. Knit. Do yoga. Take arty photos on that dusty old analogue camera (just make sure it has film). It is all good and it is all for you

Warning...

The bottom line is this. Yes, we are more  more social. Yes, we are more connected. Yes, we are a breath away from being on the pulse of pretty much anything at anytime. However, we are falling headfirst into the risk of becoming dependent on these factors. Studies show that phones are the first thing 80% of people check as soon as they wake up. There is something really quite scary about that number! Put it into perspective. There are 50 couples. Each morning 80 of those 100 will go straight for their phone while just 20 will perhaps give each other a cuddle or chat to one another when they wake up. For all the social connectivity digital allows there is a worrying trend that simple, face-t0-face connectivity is taking a hit. 

So, do you feel that there are some truths to what you have read? Could you do with a little detox and experience reality again for just a little while? It doesn't have to be dramatic or for life. But it could have a really positive effect on your day-to-day life.

 

We would love to hear your views about this blog piece and your experiences or thoughts of Digital Detoxes. Please comment below.

Does mindfulness have a place in schools?

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.
— Albert Einstein

Mindfulness at its most basic concept is the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something. It is associated heavily with breathing techniques and meditation and, until recently, was not a particularly Western concept.

Throughout history the practice of mindfulness is synonymous with religion, particularly Hinduism and Buddhism; though there are links to all major religions. In modern society however mindfulness has been associated with scientific studies, forms of medical treatment, and as a tool to improve general living.

Studies show that mindfulness can help with a myriad of things, including: stress, managing pain, anxiety, depression, sleep issues, controlling substance abuse problems, and overcoming/managing personality disorders. While some may find this somewhat questionable, the backing of scientific and clinical studies would suggest that it can in fact be a real asset to medicine. 

But what else can this apparently miraculous practice bring to the table? Studies suggest that mindfulness can boost many different characteristics, depending on how you approach it.

  • calmness
  • creativity
  • happiness
  • tenacity
  • memory
  • compassion
  • heightened awareness
  • self-control
  • problem solving
  • decision making

All of these have been noted as common traits that mindfulness exercises can improve.

With a steady increase in popularity, mindfulness is obviously making a lasting impression in today's tech-fuelled society. But what practical applications could mindfulness education have in our classrooms? Are there positive benefits that could be reaped from the odd workshop here and there? Or could these benefits lead to mindfulness being on the Curriculum - fitting comfortably perhaps in subjects like PHSE (Personal, Health and Social Education)? 

Interestingly a recent UK Government drive, with Nicky Morgan as Secretary of State for Education at the helm, was to promote 'Character Education'. This promotion saw character traits being actively taught to young learners under the premise it will make them more resilient in the real world. These traits included:

  • perseverance, resilience and grit
  • confidence and optimism
  • motivation, drive and ambition
  • neighbourliness and community spirit
  • tolerance and respect
  • honesty, integrity and dignity
  • conscientiousness, curiosity and focus

Notice some similarities? Amazingly, those characteristics identified as being a essential to the futures of coming generations closely resemble those that studies suggest mindfulness can help deliver. Advocates for mindfulness will surely argue a touch of serendipity to this.

Evidence is beginning to stack to one side of this question. With the UK Government wishing to provide young learners with certain traits, and mindfulness a seemingly perfect way to deliver these traits, it would be obvious to say that there is a place for mindfulness in schools.

How to be More Mindful Every Day

Getting into the practise of mindfulness is actually quite easy. It does require some discipline and can take a while to master, but by following 5 basic principles it can easily integrate into your day-to-day living. Through learning these 5 steps it becomes clearer just how you could adapt mindfulness to be used in learning.

  1. Put your phone on Airplane Mode: It is amazing just how distracting a phone can be. How many times have you quickly checked your phone when talking to a friend or trying to focus on a task? Remove the temptation, even if it just for 30 minutes a day, and give your full attention to what you are doing. 
  2. Connect with nature: You don't need to go full Bear Grylls, but doing something like going for a walk in the woods is an effective way to reconnect with the physical world. Take notice of what is around you and be aware of how your thoughts wonder. Remember: mindfulness is about being present in the moment.
  3. Get more sleep: This is essential. Being tired makes being present that much harder. It may be difficult for some but make the aim to get a full eight hours each night. Believe us, you will notice a difference. It goes without saying that having young learners adopt this same philosophy will really help them during school hours.
  4. Meditate: Forget the cross-legged, five-hour stint under the torrent of a waterfall. No, meditation requires you to be comfortable and undistracted. Sitting in a dark room is a perfect start. Begin by trying to sit in silence for 5 minutes and focus on your breathing, slowly in and out. Your mind will wonder but this is fine. You aren't trying to find Nirvana; you are focussing on being in the moment.
  5. Eat slowly and savour your food: Eating for many now is an automatic process. How many of us chew and think, "Wow! This is delicious"? During your next meal think about each bite you take: the texture and flavours. Chew slowly and take note of what you can taste. By learning this process you are beginning to master the art of being present. 

As a final note, there are loads of amazing books, apps and online sources for mindfulness. Don't be afraid to try it and don't make the excuse of having no time. Meditation, for example, can just be 5 minutes a day. Instead of hitting the snooze button in the morning try sitting up in bed and giving the meditation a go! This could be the key to unlocking more happiness and reducing stress in our hectic lives. 

We would love to hear your views on mindfulness and whether it could benefit young learners. Comment below.

Can playing video games at school boost learning? Microsoft certainly think so!

Yes, it’s fun and, yes, it’s engaging but the way we use Minecraft, it’s not a game. It’s a genuine learning technique.
— Leigh Wolmarans, Headteacher of Lings Primary School, Northampton, UK

It seems pretty obvious to say that technology has invaded practically every aspect of our day-to-day living. But when it comes to education there has been some reluctance in seeing the age of digital meet the classroom and our young learners. 

Tech powerhouse Microsoft are on the brink of releasing their answer to this, Minecraft: Education Edition. For those who have not seen Minecraft, it is an open-world, or Sandbox, game where players can create entire worlds using blocks - lots and lots of blocks.

 User-created house with water feature and livestock.

User-created house with water feature and livestock.

What you can build ranges from basic little homes, with fireplaces and a table and chair set, to castles in the clouds or the Eiffel Tower. Quite literally the only limit is your imagination. Resources are mined from the player inhabited world using tools, zombies and spiders can be slain with crafted weapons, and you can even create music using "soundblocks" ----------->

 

The latest iteration of Minecraft, to be released September 2016 by Microsoft, is aimed at the classroom. In a press release, Microsoft claim that through working alongside teachers they have created a version of the game that can actively boost learning.

Geography seems the most logical starting point for subjects which the game can begin to broach. Creating landscapes filled with mountains, gorges, farmland and flowing streams are all very easy things to do in-game. But what about more obscure subjects? How about creating the Great Pyramids for history lessons; or stages and scenery for drama, then acting out plays with avatars? What about creating real structures to perfect scale for mathematics or making giant artistic pieces in block form? It is all very, very possible.

At this year's Bett Show, Microsoft showcased the possible applications of Minecraft and biology; taking onlookers through a human eye created in-game. Sign-posts dotted outside and inside the ocular structure detailed the process of light entering the eye through the cornea through to signals being sent to the brain. What it expertly demonstrated is an innovative, digital and highly approachable format for bettering learner education. No longer will the dusty, old projector need to be wheeled out for science info reels!

 A model of the human eye, demoed by Microsoft at Bett Show 2015

A model of the human eye, demoed by Microsoft at Bett Show 2015

Subjects aside, there are other benefits to be taken from the game. Character building skills such as collaboration, creativity and problem solving are all possible outcomes through playing.

One common example where this is highlighted is where students are tasked with building a representation of their own school. They need to go out of the classroom, measure it up and estimate scales. They need to work together and decide  who’s going to build the cafeteria, the gym, and the science lab. In a group they need to decide the right materials to use. Alone the task would be too much but as a group there is a notion of being able to create something really special.

Minecraft: Education Edition will be released in September this year with a subscription cost up to $5 for every user.

Could you see your school using Minecraft as a learning tool? We'd love to hear your thoughts below.

Job Hunting In the Digital Age - Reputation, Resumes & Video Interviews

Teachers and parents should play an important role in encouraging students to take their online reputations seriously.

Some employers actually track down the social media footprints of applicants, so if students are behaving inappropriately online, they could jeopardise their job prospects.

In order to help students make smarter choices online, teachers and parents should read up on reputation, resumes and video interviews in the digital age - and then they should make sure that the students within their spheres of influence understand what’s at stake. 

Online Reputation Matters

Three-quarters of recruiters are more than willing to go online to research job candidates, and seven in 10 have rejected candidates based on what they discovered online. So it’s important that students who are working towards their degrees know that their online reputations count for a lot.

Reputation-Building Tips

LinkedIn, an online social media site for professionals, is a must for students looking to build a solid online reputation. They can showcase their resume and look for work opportunities -- particularly since 89% of recruiters have hired someone through LinkedIn.

Profiles 101

Personal profiles should be kept personal. In other words, they should be made available only to select people, they should not contain inappropriate content and they should not have usernames that are the same as the account holders’ real names. For professional profiles, students should include professional photos, use their real names as their username and stick to posting only industry-specific content.

Video Resume

In the digital age, it pays to have a video resume. Students should be encouraged to take advantage of video resumes to differentiate themselves from the majority of people who still do resumes the 'old fashioned way'.

Video Interviews

Many students are already familiar with Skype and similar video-chat applications, so it won’t be hard to get them to grasp the concept of participating in video interviews. Be sure to give them some pointers, though, on making the right impressions - from making eye contact to having good posture to dressing appropriately.

A lot is at stake for students in this digital age. But if they use technology responsibly, they’ll do just fine in leveraging the power of the Internet to get ahead in a competitive job market.

For more information on Job Hunting in the Digital Age, check out this infographic:

#WorldBookDay: How digital is changing the way we read and learn

After nourishment, shelter, and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.
— Phillip Pullman

Since we've entered the digital era, the way we read and consume books has completely shifted.

The advances in technology has led to many of us dropping the physical, hard copy book in favour of a digital eBook.

But how has digital changed the way we read, and learn?

Books 

Books definitely have a place in the digital era. 32% of children read daily for pleasure and 72% will read a book weekly for pleasure. As much as we love anything digital and social, preserving books is still of the upmost importance. 

Reading books can greatly benefit our mind and body:

  1. Mental Stimulation: Just like any other muscle in the body, the brain requires exercise to keep it strong and healthy, so the phrase “use it or lose it” is particularly apt when it comes to your mind.
  2. Stress Reduction: No matter how much stress you have at work, in your personal relationships, or countless other issues faced in daily life, it all just slips away when you lose yourself in a great story.
  3. Knowledge: Everything you read fills your head with new bits of information, and you never know when it might come in handy. The more knowledge you have, the better-equipped you are to tackle any challenge you’ll ever face.
  4. Vocabulary Expansion: The more you read, the more words you gain exposure to, and they’ll inevitably make their way into your everyday vocabulary
  5. Memory Improvement: When you read a book, you have to remember an assortment of characters, their backgrounds, ambitions, history, and nuances, as well as the various arcs and sub-plots that weave their way through every story  
  6. Improved Focus and Concentration: In our internet-crazed world, attention is drawn in a million different directions at once as we multi-task through every day. In a single 5-minute span, the average person will divide their time between working on a task, checking email, chatting with a couple of people (via gchat, skype, etc.), keeping an eye on twitter, monitoring their smartphone, and interacting with co-workers. This type of ADD-like behaviour causes stress levels to rise, and lowers our productivity.
  7. Tranquility: In addition to the relaxation that accompanies reading a good book, it's possible that the subject you read about can bring about immense inner peace and tranquility. 

The reason we don't tell stories on cave walls anymore is because it's not practical. Books are in no way obsolete. It's an old method of storytelling but it's got many practical benefits and countless educational and health benefits. 

Tablets (iPads, Chromebooks, etc)

  iPads in use in a classroom at  Moulsford Preparatory School

iPads in use in a classroom at Moulsford Preparatory School

Tablets in classrooms are becoming a more and more regular feature of the modern day classroom but why? When many people think of the iPad they probably think of children playing on Angry birds or Farmville. However iPads and schools really do go hand in hand. 

In the last five or six years tablets have become more and more accessible to people and the numbers of iPads used in schools have surged. 

So why do Tablets and schools go hand in hand? 

1. World's biggest library: The three largest publishers, producing 90% of all textbooks used in schools are all partnering with Apple to sell digital versions. Apple gives you access to near enough every book in the world. What a resource to have in the classroom.  

2. Interactive textbooks: With apps such as iBooks Author, students and teachers can create interactive textbooks featuring 3-D graphics, videos, and the ability to take notes. It has increased the level of learning through interaction and participation. This really adds a new a dimension to storytelling and allows the reader to interact with the story. 

3. Mobility: Books were created to be mobile. Guess what so were iPads! , They are light, powerful and with the right case durable too

4. Personalise lessons plans for students with disabilities: By using the touch screen capability students who lack motor skills can actually watch their finger move and write directly on the screen, this greatly improves their fine motor skills.

5. Budget friendly: You no longer have to replace old textbooks, digital updates make this cheaper, easier and faster. Teachers also don’t have to worry about damaged or lost books as well, all of this saving money in the long run.

6. Speaking 'their' language: Students these days use tablets and mobile devices from an early age, some as early as 1 or 2 years old! By the time they are in school it’s second nature to use a tablet or mobile device. The iPad will keep their attention and resonate with students by aligning with how the new mobile generation wants to learn and communicate.

7. Ready for tomorrow: Students today need to be technology literate. iPads and tablets play a huge role in preparing our students for college, university and eventually their careers.

8. The future: Whether you like or not mobile is here and it’s only getting bigger and better. With 75% of students saying that technology helps them learn in class

9. Security: Apple has arguably created the most secure operating system available on mobile devices. Downloading apps is more secure and iOS provides great systematic protections for multiple devices

10. Ease of Use: iPads particularly seem to be extremely easy to use right out of the box. Apple has given the iOS a very streamlined, organised feel; you have everything you need, and it works!

It would be easy to write hundreds of reasons why iPads are so perfect in modern day classrooms. They are the essential teaching tool, which makes storytelling more of an interactive experience for the whole class.

Apps 

They are over 65,000 educational apps on the App store, so it's easy to get lost, the app store can be a bit of a minefield if you are not careful.

So take to make it easy for you here are some our hottest apps for iPads in school to enhance your storytelling experience in the classroom.

1. iBooks Author:  iBooks Author is an amazing app that allows anyone to create beautiful iBooks Textbooks — and just about any other kind of book — for iPad and Mac. With galleries, video, interactive diagrams, 3D objects, mathematical expressions and more, these books bring content to life in ways the printed page never could.

2. Nosy Crow Interactive stories: British books and apps publisher Nosy Crow has made a succession of beautiful fairytale apps, all with a strong eye on encouraging reading, not just tapping on interactive whizziness. Jack and the Beanstalk was their best effort yet, blending storytelling and light gaming with the company’s now-familiar voice narration from children, not grown-ups. This is the future of storytelling the super pack is £18.99 but this is a fantastic app.


3. ScratchJr: Scratch is one of the most popular languages used in schools when children are learning computer programming schools. ScratchJr took the idea to tablets this year, from a team including MIT, which was responsible for Scratch. It’s an app that gets children to create stories by slotting together blocks of code: fun and creative.

4. Teach your monster to read: Based on the well-regarded educational website, Teach Your Monster to Read was an excellent app introducing children to synthetic phonics, as a complement to their learning in the classroom. Its fun, accessible games introduced the letter sounds although – important note – it’s not describing your kids as monsters. Instead, teaching the in-game monster to read is key to the app’s structure.

TYMTR_image.jpg

5. iBooks: iBooks is an amazing way to download and read books. iBooks includes the iBooks Store, where you can download the latest best-selling books or your favourite classics — day or night. Browse your library on a beautiful bookshelf, tap a book to open it, flip through pages with a swipe or a tap, and bookmark or add notes to your favourite passages.

6.StoryKit: This is an awesome app that allows users to easily create an electronic storybook via illustrations by drawing on the screen, using pictures and text, and recording audio to attach to stories. This is a great app for children to actually create a story, rather than just read one. 

This is just 6 from 65,000 but its 5 we really love. Don't be afraid to see what else is out there on the app store :) 

What about Kindle / Ebooks and other tablets? 

There is clearly a wealth of technology available to us and it would be naive to think otherwise. 

Kindle/ E-books

The first electronic book was published back in 1949 believe it or not! Electronic books have been around a very long time. The fantastic thing about e-books is that they are a simple tool. 

E-Books are still hugely popular! However they do not have the same interactive features as iPads for classrooms. 

The real bonus for E-books is that their core design and purpose is an electronic book. 

iPads and tablets are built to be everything from your wallet to your flight simulator! With this in mind many people tend to strive towards E-books for a reading only tool. 

Budget E-books could be a really handy tool for schools. With access to millions of books, pupils could really benefit for classroom e-books. 

E-books also have no apps or other functionality for children to perhaps get distracted. There is no risk to viruses or dangerous apps. It's a simple but effective reading companion and classroom tool. 

Tablets 

They are now hundreds of tablets available to buy for a very reasonable cost on several different operating systems.  

So why not use a different tablet for classrooms? These tablets have a host of apps (many more than Apple) and much cheaper than the iPad with great functionality. 

We are sure that many of these tablets could work for your school but when compared against the iPad they are just some obvious shortcomings. 

Apple and the iPad just provide that level of class and provide a really smooth user experience. The iPad has fantastic durability and Apple products are tried and tested in schools. We recommended the iPad for this reason.  

If your school does use different tablets we would love to hear from you in the comments section at the end of the blog! 

Reading and learning in schools has come a long way....

Reading will continue to be important in education but it will evolve as technology advances.

It is time to be unafraid of the digital age, and explore new technology and techniques that could better our children's education. 

We would to love to hear your thoughts and comments on how the digital age has revolutionised the way we read and learn!