Tech Break in a Tech Rich Environment?

My students are immersed in technology all the time. I walk past classrooms with students on their laptops all the time. They do great tech projects, and use their portfolios to document progress. They live in a tech rich environment, which is great.

Then they go to lunch, or morning break, and many of them immediately open up their laptops or grab and check whatever social media they want.

They do likewise between classes.

Is a “tech break” needed in the middle of a 50 minute class? Or should my students be able to make it that long without checking if they got any messages?

I believe that the answer is yes. Of course, there are exceptional moments, and if a kid is honestly waiting for some email from a coach about whether or not they get to travel on a school athletic trip, of course checking their email to get this off their minds would be useful—- but aside from those exceptions which will always exist, I think that having a “tech break” would just teach my students less focus instead of more.

Already, focusing on using technology appropriately in class without having other windows opened with chats going is difficult for many of them. When they open their computers, gmail chat is already turned on from earlier at break, and the messages start pouring in before my kids even can think to begin what they are supposed to be doing for the lesson. Do I want to answer messages when they arrive too? Of course! But there are times when I know that it is impossible or inappropriate for me to reply to messages. When I’m teaching is an example of this— the same it is inappropriate for my students to reply to such messages during class.

A lot of people claim that they can multi-task well. I have read many times that what we think of as “multitasking” actually decreases our productivity. This article, “How Multitasking Hurts Your Brain (and Your Effectiveness at Work)” describes many of our realities today. Those little pings of messages often prevent me from working at my best, and the same with my students. And those messages are rarely urgent, and rarely are a 1 minute exchange. The chats often go on for quite some time. I feel that if I say 3 minutes of chatting is ok, the moment that time is over will be the start of my students once again wondering what new message awaits them. I think that 50 minutes of time to focus on a class is a reasonable expectation.

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