All of these phrases have come out of my mouth, and they all will undoubtedly come out again. However, I want to try and replace those phrases with:

“Maybe it might be time to tell your friends that you are in class for the next hour, and that you’ll check in with them later.”

“I know you are curious what your friends are up to, but that is what break time is for. They understand that you’re in class.”

“You might want to consider closing tabs that might distract you during this activity–it really does require you to work efficiently.”

You’ll notice the above statements do 3 very important things:

  • Recognizes the importance of interpersonal connections (i.e. social networking).
  • Offers a realistic solution that is rational to the teenage mindset.
  • Suggests, rather than demands, a change, avoiding conflict/embarassment, preserving the teacher-student relationship.

I won’t pretend to be an expert or have any sure-fire answers to the questions regarding the effect of tech/social-networks on the teen brain. Rather, I look at it from a purely pragmatic standpoint. If I want my students to use the enormous number of technological tools that are available, they are going to have to have devices on them at all times. I can’t monitor them to any real extent– I’m lucky if I can truly monitor more than 2 or 3 of them at once. And besides, they know all the tricks–dimmed screens


(or even screen protectors that limit viewing angles), multiple desktops, VPNs, etc. They must learn to regulate themselves.

The cat is out of the bag, and it’s not going back in. Our lessons have become completely reliant on technology, as the example below shows:

Case Study: Organic Modeling Activity

Organic chemistry is a highly spatial concept, which requires students to take a string of letters and numbers and visualize a three dimensional molecule. It is not easy. I asked my students to select a reasonably complex organic molecule–they had fun with this. Most of them chose something horribly malodorous or fantastically toxic. Then, I asked them to find as many different representations of that

output_3VE9Tnmolecule as they could. They screenshotted these images, and headed over to a gif-making site of their choice (many chose gifmaker.me, but there are lots of them out there). They all built a gif similar to the one on the right, which helped them to see the progression from simple letters-and-numbers to space-filling models.

Then, I asked them to physically build their molecules (as well as several other, simpler molecules) using Moly-mod kits, and take a photo of them on top of a whiteboard on which they had written the systematic name. If they finished quickly, I asked them to use either ChemSpider (web-based, best on laptop) or Elemental (iOS/Android) to build their molecule. They uploaded these photos onto a shared Google Presentation. This slideshow quickly turned into a common study resource, as it contained dozens of named molecules, using the exact naming protocol that my students are required to learn.

During this activity, there was one student who clearly had all of this content mastered. I asked him if he had any suggestions on ways that the could help the other students in class. He suggested Quizlet. This seemed like a good idea, so he went right to it. Towards the end of the lesson, he had built an activity and shared it with me. I logged into Google Classroom and posted it as an assignment, instantly giving everyone access to it.

I believe the students may have learned better because they were using their devices actively. While I am far from scheduling class time for students to check into their social networks (more on that later), I am sure the kids’ anxiety levels dropped a bit as they were able to be connected during this activity. I didn’t observe an excessive amount of networking. I think we often see a bit of a ‘forbidden fruit effect’, where the harder we try to keep kids ‘offline’, the more they desire it.

In the space of 85 minutes, tech had crept into almost every aspect of the lesson, and the kids were absolutely engaged–I believe, in large part, due to the myriad of tech-moments that the lesson provided. The kids surely checked their Facebook pages, and I am happy to report nobody failed the course and I’m not getting fired. This idea that we need to explicitly build in tech breaks seems innocuous enough. If students “mean business”, and aren’t truly addicted to their social networks, they’re fine. Let them get rid of that temptation by yielding to it, and then get back to learning.