Grace Christian School

Headmaster's Blog

Technology and the Brain - Part 8, by GCS Parent Brandon Murray

August 15, 2017
By Brandon Murray

Throughout this summer, Brian Fitzgerald, our high school principal, has blogged about many of the less obvious, but quite detrimental aspects of digital “screen time” impacting our children and youth.  If you have missed any of these insightful blogs, you can catch up by visiting the Grace Christian School website and click under the “Headmaster’s Blog” tab.  Indeed, as Brian has carefully qualified, we are not “anti-technology.”  Far from it!  But we must not be naive when it comes to many of the issues inherent in this topic.

As a conclusion to this series, you will find the following, candid piece by Brandon Murray, a GCS graduate and now school parent, quite engaging.  Thanks for sharing with us, Brandon!

                            John Morrison
                            Head of School


As a parent and an IT consultant, I have been reading Brian Fitzgerald’s "Technology and the Brain" series of blog posts with interest. Technology looms large in my life, because as an IT consultant I spend my time at work in front of a screen helping my clients spend their time in front of screens more efficiently, productively, and securely. I have been living this "screen life" for over ten years now and have had plenty of time to gather some personal observations on the subject.

As our four children grow and develop, the question of how my wife, Colleen, and I should guide them through the vast and engulfing digital landscape becomes more pressing and important. We, like the rest of the Millennial generation, have been living deeply immersed in the various facets of the digital world for years, and yet, unlike many Millennials, are old enough to remember a time before email and the Internet, and thus can compare the two eras. Without belaboring you with details, these past ten years (and Brian's excellent blog posts) have shown that being steeped in technology has not been healthy for Colleen and me mentally, morally, physically, or developmentally. So, we decided to guard our children from an undue influence on technology and digital entertainment as much as we can for as long as we can. TV time is restricted to small amounts on certain days, and they certainly do not have any smart devices of their own. Our kids will need to be given a more intensive education in using and building with technology someday, but that day is not today. Today, we want them to learn about the physical and literary worlds.

When the subject of the unhealthy influence of smart devices on our kids comes up with other parents, we've found that parents often will shrug their shoulders and say some variation on, "It bothers us how our kids get sucked in, but it's the world we live in." "We don't want our children to fall behind." "There's just more technology today." "It keeps them out of our hair!" But my experience in the professional IT world, recruiting, mentoring, and leading other IT consultants, runs counter to that notion. We Millennials, the so-called "digital natives," know how to use technology for entertainment and productivity (or a semblance thereof), but all too often the Millennials I have worked with do not understand it and are not good at building with it, and even when we do find someone who is technically capable, their attention span is often atrophied by too much texting, Twitter, Snapchat, and the like. When I think of the people I've worked with in IT, perhaps contrary to expectations, by far the best consultants have been from older generations, those who had the opportunity to study information technology without being subsumed in it. Many of the Millennials we've hired have not worked out, and those who have are often older Millennials like myself, who border on Gen X.

We Millennials have been taught by technology to be consumers and not creators. Why should we invest the time required to become proficient with a technology toolset in order to build useful things when we can just entertain ourselves for next to nothing instead? But it is creators who will be most useful after graduation, and it is those who are comfortable in the natural world who, I believe, will thrive.

So, Rosie, Scarlett, Henry, and Oliver will have to wait a few years before they get their hands on their first iDevice. Daddy, the tech consultant, may be a lost cause, but there's hope for them yet.

Written by Brandon Murray

If you would like to respond to this blog, please email Brandon Murray at grace@gcswarriors.org.

 

Technology and the Brain - Part 7

August 07, 2017
By Brian Fitzgerald

Technology Use in the Home

When considering how to approach our children’s technology use in the home, it’s tempting to default into the simplistic solution of moderation. But moderation alone is not a parenting strategy for helping our children learn to wisely navigate the murky waters of the Information Age in which they are growing up. As parents, we must be vigilant, thoughtful, and engaged as we teach and model a wise use of technology for our children. Setting a timer simply will not do.

Set boundaries. Some areas and times should always be device-free. Several experts (Sherry Turkle, Kathy Koch, and John Stonestreet) recommend that everyone in the family should be unplugged in vehicles, dinner tables, bedrooms, and while on vacation. The cars, dinner tables, and vacations are excellent places for families to talk and be together. It’s insane and negligent to allow a child or teenager to have internet access in the privacy of their bedrooms. They will find pornography, or pornography will find them – it’s really as simple as that. Electronic screens in the bedroom will also impede good sleep (see Part 4 of this series). Set a time in the evening when devices get turned in and turned off. These are healthy habits that need to be both taught and modeled by parents.

Be aware of technology’s temptations. Jeff Myers, in a new outstanding book entitled Understanding the Culture, lays out four “Technological Temptations.” He points out that research has revealed that information technology “tempts us to lose focus, isolate ourselves, and be superficial.” Technology tempts us to lose focus because it allows us to do several things at once. In the information age, multitasking is virtue. But recent studies are showing that “although we think multitasking makes us more efficient, the opposite is true.” Habitual multitasking makes it physiologically difficult to focus. In tempting us toward isolation, today’s technology allows us to survive without having to interact personally with anyone. We can shop for products and interact with people without actually encountering a person – no verbal conversations, no eye contact, no learning to read expressions of the face and inflections in the voice. Isolation and loneliness will mark individuals who give in to technology’s temptation to avoid personal, face-to-face interactions. In tempting us toward being superficial, Myers says, “Communication technology permits us to observe more and communicate less.” Unless we’re engaging our kids and teaching them how to interact in personal contexts, they will become more proficient in communicating through song lyrics, movie quotes, memes, and pictures rather than face-to-face conversations. Thinking on the spot in a personal conversation may soon be a lost social skill. As parents, our homes should be places where our children learn how to communicate with people, interact with people, and respect people. If children do not learn these lessons in the home, the internet, apps, Hollywood, and the music industry are more than willing to teach them those same lessons.

Instill a love for the outdoors. A Business Insider article entitled “11 Scientific Reasons You Should Be Spending More Time Outside” (see article here) lists and references research for eleven positive effects of the outdoors: improved short-term memory, restored mental energy, stress relief, reduced inflammation, better vision, improved concentration, sharper thinking and creativity, possible anti-cancer effects, immune system boost, improved mental health, and reduced risk of early death. Here’s how I see it: time spent outdoors is a beautiful antidote to the effects of time spent on screen-related technology. Let’s encourage our kids to spend time in God’s creation, and let’s spend that time with them!

Preach the gospel at home, and use words. Scripture reading, prayer, and family devotions are vital aspects of family life. Our children need to hear the gospel, and they need to see it modeled in our lives. In today’s world, it’s important that we use words and make connections for our children. Who is God? How do I relate to Him? What does it mean to be human? Who am I? How is Jesus relevant in our lives today? We need to have these open conversations with our kids because our technology-saturated world takes those same questions and offers them very different answers. Those answers may be implied rather than explicitly stated. In her book Screens and Teens: Connecting with Our Kids in a Wireless World, Dr. Kathy Koch lists five lies technology teaches our kids: I am the center of my universe; I deserve to be happy all the time; I must have choices; I am my own authority; and information is all I need, not teachers. The gospel teaches something radically different. Preach the gospel at home, and use words.

If you would like to respond to this blog, please email Brian Fitzgerlad at grace@gcswarriors.org.

Technology and the Brain - Part 6

July 31, 2017
By Brian Fitzgerald

Technology and Education: Technology at School

With all of this research and information about the adverse physiological effects of electronic screens, I would like to turn my attention to how we seek to use technology at Grace Christian School. I think it’s important for parents to be aware of our approach and the rationale behind it.

In an effort to take seriously the health and well-being of our students, we approach using technology in the classroom as something that must be done cautiously, with a specific purpose and goal in mind, and with an awareness of our students’ overall screen-time exposure. The content may be excellent, but the medium itself may not be healthy for students. Therefore, we resist the temptation and lure of technology’s ease and efficiency, and we choose rather to teach with the idea in mind that most learning requires hard work, time, and personal interactions – things which technology often allows us to bypass altogether.

We also want to be mindful of the kinds of assignments we give our students. Again, a primary question to ask is “How much screen-time am I imposing upon my students?” Even though we want our students proficient in constructing documents, spreadsheets, and presentations, we still need to be mindful of the screen-time we are imposing on them. Practically, many assignments do not require computer-use, even when computer-use ensures a neater final product. For instance, the steps prior to the first draft of major papers can be handwritten. Some writing assignments – shorter essays or other assignments less significant than major essays or research papers – can be required to be in handwritten form rather than typed. Some presentations can require the use of physical visual aids rather than relying solely (or at all) on slides on a screen. When screen-time threatens the health of our students, we make the necessary adjustments in the classroom to ensure that we are not contributing unnecessarily to such concerns.

We are not advocating a screen-free, computer-free education or environment. Our campuses are equipped with computer labs, and we offer our students computer classes and electives. We believe that our students need to be proficient in basic technology skills, and withholding technology from them will not help them learn to use it wisely. Moderation is key. We advocate a limited, intentional, and selective approach to screen-time in the classroom and for assignments. Limited in that the screen-time itself is minimal. Intentional in that screen-related technology is used only after careful consideration of alternatives, and such technology is not used as a default teaching method. And selective in that such technology is only used when the teacher judges that it is the best method or tool for a particular lesson or assignment. This approach ensures minimal physiological harm related to electronic screens and screen-time, and it channels our teaching methods to provide a more holistic and human education for our students.

At GCS, we teach and require good handwriting and cursive, and we do not allow students to take notes on devices in the classroom. Most research indicates that students retain information best when note-taking is done by hand on paper rather than typed on a screen. Computer note-takers inevitably tend toward typing verbatim notes, which does not allow for the student to filter and synthesize the information. Taking notes by hand requires paraphrasing, condensing, and filtering the information, which embeds it in the student’s mind far more effectively than rote typing. Handwriting notes also always greater creativity for students to express concepts and ideas in ways that they will best understand and remember.

We also use hard copy books rather than e-readers. For those who have read these blogs consistently, it should come as no surprise that we do not want to impose unnecessary screen-time on students. Much of the research on reading print books versus e-readers concludes that handling real books has a positive effect on the reading experience and ability to recall information from the reading. (If you find research suggesting the two mediums are equal or that e-readers are superior, check to see if the research was conducted by the technology or distance learning industry.) Because of the tangible turning of pages and feeling the weight of the book shift as the reader progresses, reading print books allows the reader to follow and better reproduce the timeline of the information or story. The bottom line: interacting with real things in the real world has real positive effects on people living in reality.

Next week, we will conclude this series with a consideration of healthy home habits related to technology use.

If you would like to respond to this blog, please email Brian Fitzgerald at grace@gcswarriors.org.

 

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