The Power of Off

Another day, another story about distractions caused by devices. Why do none of these articles and studies discuss the power of the off button? I wrote about my culpability in a post as I own that I have distraction on my hands.

How Smartphones Hijack Our Minds – Nicolas Carr who also wrote the book The Shallows which told us what the internet is doing to our minds. I do not completely buy his argument although I get the point. I imagine there were articles about how the printing press was damaging to the eyes or memory of the humans when it was introduced. Check out Marshal McLuhan’s The Gutenberg Galaxy, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change by Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, or The Rand Corporation’s article on the Information Age, Looking Backward to Look Forward Try this do a Google search for distractions and learning distractions and you will find a plethora (About 31,400,000 in 0.64 seconds, according to Google’s humble brag) of information about the damage being done.

Do a Google search for mobile devices and learning  and you will find an abundance, (About 111,000,000 results 0.71 seconds, again a humble brag) according to Google’s humble brag) of information about how the same devices can be used to increase the learning with adaptions and conscious use. That is about 79,600,00 more although to be honest I did not read them all to make sure if they were pro or con.

I get it and agree, but until there is no longer an off button on the devices, we are still the overlord of the devices we put in our lives. I for one do not want to go back to the day when digital learning happened when you went to the computer lab. For fun, I did a Google search for how to turn off my iPhone? I did not see this number coming (About 16,900,000 results (0.55 seconds)). If there are that many resources on how to turn off an iPhone we might need an intervention.

Developing Attention and Avoiding Distractions


As we enter our 4th year as a school that equips our students with a digital device we continue to see many opportunities to help our students and teachers manage their attention capital. I created this video and added it to the Digital Device Passport book to help our community discuss and take strategies to develop habits that we help develop a mindful use of devices.

Ideas and Strategies include:

Start Fresh:

  • Turn off all running apps by double tapping the Home button and swiping up. Yes we know that having Safari open will allow you to bypass the web filtering system. It is also a violation of the Acceptable Use Policy and the Honor Code.
  • Turn off apps before you start a class that you know you will not need for the class. Email is one app that you most likely will never need during a class.

Limit Swipes:

  • Create a study page. Only include the apps or folders of apps you use to study.
  • Drag folders of your most used apps to your iPad dock for fast access.
  • If you use multiple apps to take notes, organize those apps in a Notes folder.
  • Some apps may be only used in certain subjects, so make folders just for those apps.

Add Web Clips:

  • Add Web Clips to web sites you use to study and save these web clips on your home screen. 
  • Organize these links in a folder on your study page. 
  • These links will only go to the web site you need to use which can help you from getting distracted.

Corral the Apps You Do Not Use:

  • Put the apps you never use in folders on the last screen of your iPad so you do not have to swipe past them each time you are looking for an app.
  • New in 2015 – 2016 is the ability to not even install the app. Your teachers will request the apps* you have to have for their class. 
  • *The Required Apps must be installed by all students.

Create a Calming Home Screen:

  • Set your wallpaper and locked screen images to something interesting but not distracting. 
  • Perhaps your class schedule (with your name covered) so you know where your next class is.

If these things do not help, I suggest that the student take a proactive path by giving their iPad to a teacher if it is not needed for the class period as a way to help them with choices. This will help students build up some success with their choices without drawing attention to themselves. There could even be a place in the room that distracted students put the device so it is not within arms or synapse reach.

I do believe we also need to look at how our instructional practices have adjusted to harness the digital device. Boredom is the enemy of attention. I have seen teachers integrate the use of a connected device with questions like: Someone tell me what the color of __________ is or what is a diphthong so students have an active role in the instructional process instead of a passive role.

Of course companies like (based in Durham) will also help by using technology to create distraction free periods since our brain can fail us even with our best intentions.

Give a Learner an iPad, Task, and Let Them Teach

IPad VoiceThread 1

Ms. Donnelly’s class has had an assignment this week that asked them to create tutorials on how to use the iPad, Apps, and other things that teachers should know.

“One minute presentation about specific topic related to Evernote, Voicethread, Google Docs, or the iPad.”

I prompted her to do this with her students as I think our school is going to move ahead with an iPad program for Middle School students. There are still many details to be worked out, but the energy is moving in that direction.

This is one example done on an iPad at school with more then one student working on the project. It also took multiple attempts since even though the apps and technology worked very well, there were limitations to what the students could get off of the iPad because of the setup and the file structure that is not apparent or familiar with the iPad. Perseverance and a growth mindset proved successful.

Bill Ferriter – Digital Advice for School Leaders – Great Stuff


3D Team Leadership Arrow Concept‘

Bill Ferriter teaches only a few miles away from where I teach. Even though we are located in similar numbered zip codes, I have never met him or shared air with him. Yet, I have learned a lot from him by way of his blog, his tweets, his book, and since we are both teachers, his profession. He blogs at The Tempered Radical and I can only imagine what it was like before he became “tempered”. I think his ability and courage to say what is on his mind resonates with me as I too often dance close to the edge but then back away due to a fear of over-reaching or that I may not have all of the facts I need. This may be due to my insecurities or self-limiting thinking, but I struggle with how honest to be sometimes in this blog. I try to promote my ideas, but do not wish to be seen as divisive to my colleagues and others who may read this blog. How to advocate while still being open to ideas is something I try to do in my teaching and in my learning. The balance of tension is hard as too much pull and objects snap and not enough force and they droop.

Our school is beginning to search for a new Headmaster which is why Bill’s last post was of particular interest. I agree with what he shared and hope our next leader possess these traits.

On Wednesday, I’ll have the chance to present to the technology committee of our school district’s Division of Principals.  In the process of preparing, I asked my network the ONE bit of advice they thought school leaders interested in driving change in their own buildings needed to hear.

Many of the responses shared the same theme — a theme that was summarized nicely by Tim Wilhelumus, who wrote:

@plugusin Lead with the learning and not with the tools. Always. #wcpsstech #cpchat

— Tim Wilhelmus (@twilhelmus) February 13, 2012

In the end, driving change in schools means remembering that technology alone isn’t revolutionary.  Technology just makes it possible for teachers and students to do revolutionary things.

Our choices about technology need to start and end with our beliefs about learning. Forgetting to put learning first in ANY conversation about education is a recipe for failure.

I also loved Jon Becker’s advice:

@plugusin that very few things could be more impactful than them modeling what it is to be a learner.

— Jonathan Becker (@jonbecker) February 13, 2012

Jon’s right, isn’t he?  Principals ARE the lead learners in our schools.  Your modeling means everything to us — and that includes the example that you set when exploring the ways that new tools and social spaces can change learners.

Finally, Steven Anderson’s point is worth noting:

@plugusin Get connected. Team up with other admin and share and learn and grow, together. It’s how we improve ourselves and our craft.

— Steven W. Anderson (@web20classroom) February 13, 2012

Whatever you do, move forward. Take the digital plunge — and bring some friends!  Learn together.  Experiment.  Figure out what’s possible and what matters.  Change your own learning and then start changing the learning in your buildings.

Any of this make sense?