Technology and Anxiety

I read an interesting piece in the Atlantic about a year ago on technology and anxiety. The gist of it was that technology can creates anxiety but also help to alleviate it. I feel as if that applies to a lot of things.  I remember one of the first speeches Bill Brown gave to our student body and faculty at the beginning of the year, he emphasized the importance of face to face communication and contact. He was worried about technology’s impact on how we communicate with each other. He thought we were losing something vital in how we interact as humans because of our dependence on screens, on how we would rather look down than up and in the eyes of the person in front of us. There is a flip side to this argument, and like many things a balance needs to be found, though as my experience with teenager has taught me it sure is hard.


Students with anxiety disorders are in quite a conundrum when it comes to technology. They can find some solace in tech. Often times face to face communication is terrifying for them and it is much easier to communicate through email or text. However, with the rise of social media platforms like snapchat and instagram, your online presence can be a source of anxiety in and of itself. Bullies are no longer just a physical presence they are an online presence as well. I think another major source of discomfort is the fact that students with anxiety disorders can become too dependent on technology as a means of communication. Social interactions take time and practice, and they might lose the skills needed to be successful in them if they are too tech dependent.

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In 2009 I organized a facebook deletion party. I had six or seven people who agreed to delete their accounts along with me. However, I was the only one with the cojones to go along with the plan. Deleting one’s facebook was NOT easy in 2009. According to this article it is even harder now. There are major differences between deleting your account and deactivating your account. Deactivating your account means your profile is gone but Facebook saves all of your data. Deleting your account wipes everything out. I deleted mine for numerous reasons. I disliked the constant bombardment of updates. I was put into some sticky situations with work and photos of me out and about on the town, but one of the main reasons I deleted my account was because of the anxiety caused by looking over former classmates photos and updates. It was an online version of keeping up with the Joneses. As much as I didn’t care about Katie and Nick’s vacation to Mexico with sweet looking photos as I was stuck subbing for a San Francisco Public School. I did.

I think everybody suffers from a little social anxiety. As teachers we need to be cognizant of the fact that though we depend on technology to help us with our lessons we need to ensure we work on social communication skills. Thing such as eye contact, appropriate greetings, and personal space are learned behaviors. If we teach these behaviors it might help lessen some of the social anxiety are students suffer because they now know how to appropriately act.


The Little Tomato that Can

Strict Workflow is an interesting Google Chrome Browser extension that you can download for free! The purpose of the app is to enforce a strict 25 minute workflow cycle. You click on the tomato in the upper right hand corner and it begins to count down from 25 minutes to 0. Once the time is up you give yourself a five minute break. It is based on the Pomodoro Technique, hence the tomato. The pomodoro technique is where you work in twenty-five minute intervals, and break for five. You repeat the cycle as necessary until your task in finished. I’ve told myself this blog post will take two pomodoros, it being a Monday and all. I’ve installed the app extension on my student’s computers in my SI room. I had each student chose two websites to block, and I got to pick one myself to block for them to block as well. It gave us a total of three websites they had to block. I chose youtube. What I like about Strict Workflow is that it isn’t too strict. After your 25 minutes is up you can go on and add more websites to block, or if you want to live dangerously you can take a few off. For students with shorter attention spans you can set the timer for a shorter period. I would love to have students use this as a study tool to help them stay focused and concentrated. Look, I only have 11 minutes to go!

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Another App that I’ve been using on and off all year with my students is similar to Strict Workflow in that it blocks sites, however, it is much more strict, almost like parental controls. Self Control blocks not only websites like Strict Workflow but also blocks mail servers and other social media apps. Whereas Strict Control is pretty easy to circumnavigate (all you have to do is remove the app from your browser shhh!) Self Control is a lot more strict. I mean, they don’t have a nice looking tomato timer to remind you of your work time, they instead have a pretty gnarly looking skull in a spade. Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 11.45.03 AMPretty badass looking logo if you ask me! It is also much harder to get around the blocking software . You can’t just remove it, or restart your computer. Once the software is turned on, you are staying off your blacklisted sites for the allotted time you pre-set.

I have students who have used both apps. I think Strict Workflow is great for staying on task, pre-planning, and organization. It is not so much about blacklisting sites, as it is about staying on task for 25 minute cycles and then rewarding yourself for doing so. SelfControl is all about prevention. There are no rewards, unless the reward is staying off of Social Media etc. It is effective and does what it attends.

Do you guys see yourselves or your students using either of the apps?

Harnessing the Power Google Calendar

ISM has a very progressive, research based, student centered technological philosophy. Students are taught what  responsible tech usage looks like and how to be mature digital citizens. As teachers we try and model best practices. Our Mission Statement asks stakeholders at ISM to interact through honest, respectful and open communication, and I think that definitely extends to digital communication as well. However, that doesn’t always mean we cannot improve upon what we do at the school.

At the beginning of the school year I sat down with three or four sets of new parents and expounded on the virtues of Google Calendar. I felt little bit like a used car salesmen after going through all the glittering aspects of it, expounding on its virtues without having really giving it a test run myself. Yet, those virtues are pretty darn tantalizing. Take a look at the video below if you are not familiar with Google Calendar

I guess I was as sold on it as everybody else. It seemed like a can’t miss educational tool specifically designed for parents of learning support kids. These are kids who don’t write their homework down, who forget the assignment who will lie and say they have nothing to do.  Google Calendar if used correctly will give parents an opportunity to check to see what is due and when. Take a look at this screenshot from Ms. Patrikios’ Chemistry class, this a great example of what is great about google calendar:

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Everything is right there for both parents and students to access. There shouldn’t be any confusion as to what to do.

What I didn’t take into account when I was giving my pitch to the parents was the human factor. Google Calendar only works as well as those who update it. The first email from a parent popped up in October and I’ve had five or six since then wondering if the school has stopped using google calendar. I was as frustrated as the parents.


Every class period I sit down with my Strategy Support Instruction students and we go through their calendars to see what is coming up. Some teachers are really good about updating google calendar. Others hardly update at all. For technology to be successful school wide everybody needs to be on board. It will not work if some use it and some don’t. It is difficult to get two hundred odd teachers to all buy in to a certain system. However, for a system like this to work it has to be all or none, no matter how onerous it might seem.  I got back to our mission statement, we need to have open and honest communication to see if it is something we truly want to keep or we let go, much like the school did with its required blogs. What are your thoughts?



Gaming and Gamers- I feel Gamed

This post is going to be a little disjointed, but I’ll see if I can tie it all together.

I admit I am still a novice when it comes to gaming in the classroom. I understand the distinction between gamification and gaming in the classroom. I like the concept behind gamifying (don’t judge me on the spelling) your classroom as it seems to have a real world feel to it. A lot of corporations use some sort of system to reward employees. By gamifying your classroom students have a visible way to track their progress. If you want to learn more, read this article. Gaming is using games to enhance the learning in the classroom. I do like to use games in the class and students seem to really respond to it. They are all pretty competitive and it is fun to see a class transformed by a great game. I personally like use kahoot, will use Geoguesser as a brain break, and am all about some non-tech based games like stop the bus and skunk. What games do you guys use in the classroom?

I’ve been hooked on Snood, Candy Crush, and FIFA at different points in my life. My students all seemed to be hooked on silly game or another. They are always on some kind of game during break time or in between transitions. Students seem to love to game in the classroom because it is something that is so prevalent in their own lives. Some love to game way more than others. I have one boy on my caseload who has taken gaming to the extreme. He loves to game more than any other student I’ve come across. He’s logged over 5000 hours on DOTA and it has come at quite a personal toll. He’s fallen behind in school work and has a really small circle of DOTA playing friends. He’s an extremely bright boy who is able to get by by just doing the bare minimum of school work. By all accounts he is very good, and wants to turn professional as soon as possible. Like a professional athlete, DOTA players have a small window in which they are competitive and can make some good money. There are always younger and better players to deal with and this window can close quite soon. I’ve had a number of conversations with the boy and he raises some valid points. He doesn’t see himself as any different than a star athlete that devotes his or her time to training for football or basketball. He has also told me Esports are on the rise, and he is right about that as well. Espn just lunched an Esports site. I get his point. He is doing something that he loves, that gives him an identity, and he sees that he has a future in it. Maybe I am old and you guys can convince me otherwise in your comments below, but I feel that DOTA, and Esports in general are a lot more risky than traditional sports.

When you are outside training for a sport you are getting exercise, Vitamin D, interacting with nature and face to face camaraderie is taking place. Old man Baker feels that DOTA is a lot of visual stimulation–blinking light-bright flashes–and lots, I mean lots of screen time. That can’t be healthy can it? You are cooped up in a dark room for hours at a time watching bright lights on a screen. I get that you improve twitch muscle reaction time and there are some improvements to concentration, however, there seems to be way more negative than positive. I do plan on keeping an open mind about the Esport revolutoin, just as I have about gaming in the classroom. I think it is all about finding balance. There is balance that btween games and other methods to teach the content, just as there must be balance in our personal lives between gaming and the real world.

Books: Paper vs. Screen
old book clipart

Recently, the High School English Department had me pulling out my hair. I don’t have much to spare so you can imagine my frustration levels. They assigned non-fiction war memoirs and the students were responsible for obtaining their own copies. The books were not available in the text book center and the teacher did not have a class set. This would have worked fine if we were in the States where there is Barns and Noble seemingly in every city or Amazon can deliver anything within a couple of days. However, we are in the Philippines  and getting a paperback copy of a non-fiction war memoir can be tricky. This left my students to find a copy online. Only one of my students have a kindle and another one was planning on asking his parents to borrow their IPAD. The rest were planning on finding a PDF version online or trying to torrent a copy of the book.

I found myself frustrated with this solution because I feel students would be better served with a paper copy of the book. I decided to go online to do some research. Like anything online you can find evidence to support what you want to believe. Take a look at this, and then take a look at this.

I see the validity of both sides. E Readers are great! It’s a library that fits into your bookbag! It’s especially handy overseas, when bookstores aren’t stocked with the titles you are looking for, and I think most importantly when you have a wife who goes to bed way earlier then you and doesn’t like when you keep the nightlight on. However, I find there is something comforting about holding a book in your hand, the fact that it is not an illuminated screen, and, most importantly, how smart you look when you have a really great looking, custom built book case in your living room. I digress.

On just pure observation with no research to back up my claim, I feel that the ADHD male teenage population (the majority of the students I work with) have a very hard time respectfully using the technology at their disposal. To put it bluntly they are not the most responsible digital citizens. All students have multiple tabs open and use google chat to talk with their friends, however, they are able to get back to the task at hand. My boys get caught in digital vortex they can’t climb out of. It’s one long dark hole of youtube skate videos and subreddits. They are never fast enough with the three finger swipe left to take them back where they are supposed to be, a kind of digital middle finger, plus another two, to the teacher. Which brings me back to the digital books. I knew how hard the upcoming unit was going to be, research be damned. My boys already didn’t like to read, now they have to read a book online, probably with a computer (or IPAD) with all those digital distractions right at their fingertips! Sacré bleu



Trial and Error with Google Read and Write

I have had a love and hate relationship with the Google App Extension,Google Read and Write. I love the App and hate that my students won’t use it on consistent basis. Read and Write was recommended to me by an Ed-Psychologist who thought it could be beneficial to use with students who have Dyslexia and other reading and writing learning disabilities. It is really easy to set up and add to your browser. Just click “add to Chrome” and the extension is added to your browser. It will then appear as a purple icon in your search bar, as you see in the screen shot below.

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When a student opens up an article to read in class, or a google doc they are going to type in, they click on the icon and it will give them a plethora of choices depending on what they want to do, and what kind of help they need (see screenshot below)

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A little description what’s available:

I had students download the extension a couple of weeks ago and we practiced its variety of features while we read Sean Penn’s opus in Rolling StoneEl Chapo Speaks. Students played around with the variety of options and seemed to especially like the text speech option, the dictionary, and the fact finder for research.

Late last week, I did an informal poll of both classes who downloaded Google Read and Write. Each said they were not going to buy the premium version, and more then 3/4ths of them had already removed the extension from their browser. I think first and foremost students want “Free.” They were not going to ask their parents to buy them the extension. Google Read and Write also has the annoying habit of constantly requesting permission to view pages. This seemed to really frustrate the students. Both issues are fixable. As a Google School with a pretty hefty budget, I feel like we could buy a subsciption for our Learning Support Department. I also feel that permission to view pages is a user error and something that is correctable. The benefits of Google Read and Write for our struggling students are too great to dismiss this helpful extension. I will continue to trial and error the program until I can make it stick where it it something they use automatically, like the right click function.