Screen Time: We’re Asking the Wrong Question

Screen Time: A Quick History

Screen Time started to become a thing in the mid-90s and our awareness of it has taken of since then. With the prevalence of portable screens on smart phones and tables, screen time has become an important issue.


Use of the phrase “screen time” as cataloged by Google Book’s ngram viewer.

 What Does Did “Screen Time” Mean?

When the idea of screen time started to take off 20 years ago it’s important to remember what screens were like back then. Screens were mostly passive, and they were a consumption activity. Screen time meant watching TV, watching a movie, or paying a video game. It was the early days of the internet when being online meant consuming someone else’s content. Screens were not a creative space.

What Does “Screen Time” Mean Now?

babyscreenScreens have changed though. First, screens are much smaller and more portable; we carry them with us everywhere. This makes the screen time conversation that much more important. But, there is a second way screens have changed, and this is important. Screens, and screen time, no longer just support consumption; screens now support creation.

The Right Question Is: What Kind of Screen Time is it?

Screens do so much more today. Because of this, we can no longer lump all screen time into the same category. Passively watching cat videos on YouTube and actively taking an idea from your head and turning it into a video game with Hopscotch are very different things. When we talk about screen time we have to consider whether it’s a consumption or a creation activity.

In September 2014 the Boston Globe posted this graphic.

Click to enlarge, or there’s a linear version of it here (though this version doesn’t differentiate the passive, interactive, and creative sections).

Clearly not all screen time is created equal.

More Reading

The full Boston Globe article is here. Edutopia has a nice article written by Beth Holland as well. And eSchool News has a report on some recent research here.

photo credit: Mark Kenny via photopin cc

Using iPad Restrictions to Help Students Make Better Choices

13215772563_891cbf5654_oWe have a rule in my school that if you want to photograph someone with your iPad you must get their permission first. It’s an important rule, but sometimes students break it. This raises an interesting question: if a student is using the iPad inappropriately, should we take the iPad away from them? Since we’re 1:1 with iPads, taking a student’s device away can have ripples of impact.

On the surface, it seems like taking the iPad away makes sense. If a student uses a tool inappropriately, take the tool away. But the iPad isn’t just a tool, it’s a toolbox full of tools. So if a student abuses a tool (such as the camera), is there a way we can take away just that tool? Yes, using iPad Restrictions.

iPad Restrictions

Restrictions allow us (with a password) to enable/disable certain tools in the iPad toolbox. In Burlington, we have some restrictions automatically pushed to every device (for example, we disable FaceTime and the iTunes Store and restrict ratings for videos).

IMG_0101 (1) - Edited

Standard elementary student restrictions.

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Standard elementary student restrictions.

In addition, for individual students we can add additional specific restrictions. The iPad is a powerful device because it does so much, and I am certainly in favor of having as few restrictions as reasonably and developmentally appropriate, but if a student is abusing a feature on the iPad I’d much rather disable that feature than take the entire device.

Setting Up Restrictions

In the Settings app, go to General -> Restrictions. Select “Enable Restrictions.” It will ask you to set a passcode. Make sure you remember it. When I set it for kids, I write it down somewhere. From here you can disable features on an individual basis. If a student is abusing the camera, turn just the camera off for a day or so. If a student is downloading apps they shouldn’t, disable Installing Apps. If a student is hanging out on Safari when they should be doing other work, turn Safari off (and get rid of any other browsers they have).

Since these restrictions can be set at the classroom level, you can turn them back on whenever you need to.


For kids to learn appropriate use it’s important to give them a chance to make mistakes; let’s not over-restrict their iPad experience. But if they make a mistake, let’s deal with that mistake specifically by addressing the specific tool, not the entire toolbox.

lock photo credit: Locked via photopin (license)

It’s Not About Teaching, It’s About Learning

laotzuI recently had a teacher tell me one of her students had accused her of not teaching him anything. “What do you mean?” she asked.

“You don’t teach us anything in science.”

What?! The teacher was confused. What about all those experiments we did? What about the weeks of carefully planned lessons? What about all that stuff you learned?

The student responded, “yea, but you didn’t teach me that. I did all that by myself.”

Isn’t this what we want to have happening? Having students play a roll in their education. Not just being lectured to, but actually learning though experience? Something needs to change if we have a culture where students feel cheated out of something if their teachers don’t rely on direct instruction.

Printing Multiple Pictures to a Page, on a Chromebook

We’ve gone from Windows PCs to Chromebooks at my school and for the most part the transition was easy. Most of what we were doing was web-based anyway so being confined to Chrome was no problem. And being able to install apps from the Chrome Web Store and not needing an administrator’s password was an added bonus.

This missing piece for many teachers was being able to print multiple images on a single page (easily). Sure, you can manually insert them in a Google Doc, but it’s not a great solution, especially if you have a bunch of them. In Windows or on a Mac you can print 3, 4, 6, 9 pictures to a page very easily from the Print Pictures dialog box (Windows) or Preview (Mac OSX). Chromebooks just don’t seem to do this. I don’t like doing a lot of printing, but in a elementary school sometimes you need pictures of all your students for things like holiday/Mother’s Day/Father’s Day gifts.

A search of the Chrome forums revealed similar issues. There just isn’t an app or extension that will do it. But seems to do the trick.

To print multiple images on a single page, head over to and find the “Select files” button at the bottom.

select files

Click Select Files and you’ll be prompted to upload your pics. Once you upload them (you’re limited to 20 at a time), you’ll see this screen verifying the images you’ve selected. Don’t convert them yet; click the “Image-to-PDF” tab at the bottom first.

image to pdf

In the “Images per page” section, select the the number of image per page. One per page will give you pictures that are about 8×10, two per page is about 5×7, four per page is about 3×5. Then click “Convert” at the bottom.


As it generates your PDF, you’ll get a progress screen.


When done, your PDF will automitally start downloading. If for some reason it doesn’t, there’s a link to manually start the download. Once downloaded, you can open and print the PDF directly from your Chromebook. It will look like the prints you’re used to on a Windows or Mac machine. If you uncheck the “Fit to page” checkbox when printing the pictures will print a little bigger.


TIP: It seems to work better if all your images are portrait orientation or all landscape. If you have both, I’d run two batches – one of your portrait pictures and one of your landscape pictures. Onlie2PDF won’t rotate them for you and they’ll crop weird.

SAFETY: The FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page notes that, “all files and data are treated as strictly confidential, of course. Your files are only temporarily stored on the server of Online2PDF, after the conversion they will be deleted immediately.” This meshes with what I can see from the outside. The link to manually download your PDF stops working after a minute.



I hope this helps.

Who Says Kindergartners Can’t Code?

IMG_7347Hour of Code week started today. As an elementary Technology Integration Specialist, I know I want my students exposed to programming. The questions is, how low do I go? This year, I went all the way down to kindergarten.

Given the potentially short attention span of kindergartners, I shortened the Hour of Code to 45 Minutes of Code. I loaded the free Lightbot: Code Hour app onto a cart of iPads and headed down to the kindergarten wing. I like the Lightbot app a lot becuase the coding blocks are all symbols. For my younger kindergartners who are still learning to read, this levels the playing field. (This also makes Lightbot a great intro-to-coding app for my ELL students.)

I started the IMG_0397lesson talking about computers in general. In addition to being in things like laptops and iPads, they are in phones, microwaves, coffee makers, traffic lights, etc. Computers are, literally, all around us. Because of that, it’s important to have some idea of how they work, how to make them do what we want them to do. That conversation brought us to Lightbot.

IMG_0398We completed the first four challenges in Lightbot together, up on the projector screen. We explored the command blocks and what they did. We made some mistakes (turning is a particularly tricky concept for 5-year-olds to master) and learned from them – which is exactly what I wanted to have happen. Then I turned them loose on Lighbot on their own.

I asked the kids to start by going back and doing the 4 challenges we did together, on their own. Some moved through those challenges quickly, others took more time. Ultimately, they progressed further in the app than we had gone as a whole group – completing tasks they never saw with me. And at the end of my 45 minute block (with about 25 minutes of them coding on their own) we cleaned up. Or tried to; the problem was that the kids weren’t ready. They were totally engaged. They were getting stuck, and having to work through mistakes, but at no point did anyone say, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” When my 45 Minutes of Coding ended, they wanted to keep coding.

IMG_7349They did a great job, and I’m excited to put iPads back in those rooms with Lightbot still loaded. Maybe it can become a center for them. The computational and positional thinking that are involved are great. And no matter what anyone says, kindergartners can code.

Enough With the Elves Already (We Know They Don’t Work)

6444977071_68547bea23_oIt’s December again. That means elves on shelves are popping up in elementary classrooms (and living rooms) all over the place. The elf, children are told, keeps an eye on them and reports to Santa. The idea being that even when adults aren’t looking, someone still has their eyes on the children’s behavior.

The goal is simple, and it comes from a good place: teachers (and parents) know the holidays are approaching, children are getting excited, and adults worry (rightfully) that children will have extra difficulty regulating their behavior. So, the adults offer a reward. If you can stay in control and be good this month, even when you think no one is looking, the elf will tell the adults and you’ll be rewarded. Seems like a good idea, right?

The problem is that this kind of external motivation doesn’t help our children learn how to regulate their own behavior; it doesn’t help teach them to do the right thing. And worse, we’ve known about this … for a long time:

  • In a 1993 Harvard Business Review article entitled Why Incentive Plans Cannot Work, Alfie Kohn noted “when it comes to producing lasting change in attitudes and behavior… rewards, like punishment, are strikingly ineffective. Once the rewards run out, people revert to their old behaviors.”
  • In a 1999 meta-analysis of 128 studies, Deci, Koestner, and Ryan found that “as predicted, engagement-contingent, completion-contingent, and performance-contingent rewards significantly undermined free-choice intrinsic motivation [the ability to do the right thing simply because it’s the right thing] … as did all rewards, all tangible rewards, and all expected rewards.” They also noted that, “tangible rewards had a significant negative effect on intrinsic motivation … and this effect showed up with participants ranging from preschool to college.”
  • In his 2009 book Drive, Daniel Pink discussed the seven deadly flaws of extrinsic motivation (what he calls carrots and sticks). These carrots and sticks can:
    • extinguish intrinsic motivation
    • diminish performance
    • crush creativity
    • crowd out good behavior
    • encourage cheating, shortcuts, and unethical behavior
    • become addictive
    • foster short-term thinking

15750930699_10e64e62e1_oAdmittedly, Deci, Koestner, and Ryan point out that “although rewards can control people’s behavior—indeed, that is presumably why they are so widely advocated—the primary negative effect of rewards is that they tend to forestall self-regulation. In other words, reward contingencies undermine people’s taking responsibility for motivating or regulating themselves” (my emphasis). But as teachers, isn’t one of our goals to teach our students to take responsibility and regulate their own behavior (not simply have us control it) – two things that our reward systems actually undermine?

Are there a small percentage of students for whom simply getting through the holidays is the goal? Sure. But should this be the default goal for the entire classroom? Definitely not.

Teachers – we have to do more than just control behavior, we have to teach responsibility and self-regulation. We want to cultivate students who will do the right thing because it’s the right thing, not because we’ll reward them. The Responsive Classroom approach teaches us that effective reinforcing teacher language is, “clear and direct, genuine and respectful, and specific“; it’s not used in a manipulative way like reward systems. Teacher language is a powerful thing; tell your students they are working hard, and how their attention to behavior benefits others. “Verbal rewards – or what is usually labeled positive feedback in the motivation literature – had a significant positive effect on intrinsic motivation” (Deci, Koestner, and Ryan, 1999); this is what we really want. Aim to build a strong and trusting community in your classroom and you won’t need elves to extort good behavior out of your students (and they don’t really work anyway).

Of course, if you’re using an elf for non-coercive strategies like practicing writing letters to your elf or calculating the distance/rate of movement he had to get from one spot to another that’s totally fine. We just need to stop the bribery thing.

photo credit 1: Have I Got a Present for You! [Explored 12/2/2011] via photopin (license)
photo credit 2: Elf on the Shelf via photopin (license)

Rewards do not create a lasting commitment. They merely, and temporarily, change what we do” Why Incentive Plans Cannot Work, Alfie Kohn. We professionals, have to do better than this (even in December).

Printing (or Saving) a Facebook Chat

ThumbFinal_4.9.15Recently, a friend asked me about printing one of their Facebook Chats. I sat down to lend a hand thinking it would be an easy task. It turns out it wasn’t. A simple copy/paste will work, but it only grabs the text; if your chat includes any images or emojis (which can be an essential part of the conversation), they get lost in the copy/paste process.

After some creativity, I found a way that preserves the images and results in a printed hard copy or a searchable PDF. Here’s what I did (Note: This was done in the Google Chrome browser):

In Facebook, pull up the chat you want to print/save. In the chat window is a gear icon. Click that, and then select “See Full Conversation.”


This brings you to your Facebook Messenger page. You can see all the Chats you have in the left hand pane, and the contents of the the chat you have selected in the center pane. In the Chat window (the one in the middle with the conversation you’re interested in), scroll up to the beginning of the chat, or the beginning of the part you want to save/print. If you have a long chat history with this person, this could take a while; you may have to scroll up and wait for messages to load repeatedly.


Now, you have to select everything you want to print/save; the problem is most of what you want probably isn’t on the screen. You have a couple options here to select the text:

  1. If it’s a smaller amount of text, you can click and drag from the top of the chat window to the bottom. When you get to the bottom, the chat window will start scrolling. Eventually, it will scroll to the bottom and you can release your mouse button and the entire chat will be selected.
  2. If you have a lot of text to select (hundreds, or thousands, or messages), there’s another way. Click and drag to select the first few messages. Then (without clicking to cancel the selection) scroll to the bottom of the chat window. Now hold down the Shift key and click the end of the last message in the chat; this will extend your selection to that click, selecting the entire conversation.

Note: Be sure you only select things within the center conversation pane. If you select anything above or below the chat, you won’t be able to print the selection since the selection will span multiple panes on the webpage. 

Now begin printing the page. You can use File -> Print, or Command/Control + P.

In the Print window there are a couple things you need to change:

  1. If you want to save the conversation as a searchable PDF, you have to change the printer destination to “Save as PDF” (the top arrow pictured below).
  2. You need to click all three check boxes in the Options section (the bottom arrow pictured below).
    1. Headers and footers will give you page numbers (helpful for longer chats).
    2. Background graphics will add the images/emojis (Facebook codes them as background graphics, which normally don’t print)
    3. Selection only will print/save your selection, not what is shown on the screen. This is important since much of what you want to save was not actually on the screen when you started the print command.


From here, all you have to do is click the blue “Save” button. That said… this could take a while for longer chats. Every time you check the three options boxes Chrome will re-create the preview pane on the right. Let the preview pane load! In my experience, trying to print/save before the preview loads results in bad prints. Be patient, especially if you have a chat with thousands of messages (it could take a while).

When it’s done processing, you will be given a Save dialog window where you can select the name and destination for your PDF.

Once saved you will have a searchable PDF of your Facebook conversation. If you have a long chat, you may want to print/save it in smaller sections.