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7 tools that can help your kids work and think distraction free. (Feel free to jump on these yourself.)

I was reminded this morning of a post I wrote several years ago about the distraction caused by our use of tech tools. So . . . a quick update with few new tools designed to help all of us wrangle back our focus.

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I’m torn.

Is social media, cell phone use, and technology really good for us? Or can it be so distracting that we (and our students) are unable to focus long enough to think and deliberate on important issues?

Can we use mobile devices and Google and Twitter and all sorts of other tech tools to encourage learning, collaboration, and creativity? If we really can’t multitask but switch quickly between tasks instead, is back-channeling and Tweeting and texting and other forms of social media just encouraging less comprehension and more confusion?

Researcher Maggie Johnson wrote a book several years ago titled Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age. Her research seems especially appropriate for social studies teachers:

If we forget how to use our powers of deep focus, we’ll depend more on black-and-white thinking, on surface ideas, on surface relationships. That breeds a tremendous potential for tyranny and misunderstanding.

Let me be clear . . . I strongly support the use of social networks and technology as learning tools. But I’m beginning to believe that we’re not really sure how to use these tools appropriately as part of instruction. We’re not asking enough questions about the best ways to integrate tech into what we do every day.

Can students and instructors really use technology/media/social networks in ways that engage and keep students focused on the truly important?

I think so. But we should think about, and we need to train our kids to think about, finding a proper balance between the indiscriminate use of “shiny” new doodads and quality use of technology tools. And we know that the majority of our students are asking for support in the appropriate use of tech.

An article over at Edudemic seems useful. They’ve put together a handy infographic that provides suggestions and ideas of how to stay focused “in an age of distraction.” The infographic breaks up your day into six categories:

  • Managing your space
  • How to work
  • Create rituals and habits
  • Managing email
  • Take time to reflect and review
  • Help for addicts
  • Take a digital technology detox

It seems like the balance I’m looking for – acknowledging the fact that technology is necessary but understanding that we have to be careful how we use it.

The chart is a great to start. But we shouldn’t stop there. The irony is that we can use tech to combat being distracted by tech. Using the suggestions from the infographic together with tools specifically designed to support focus and productivity can our students stay on task and encourage deep thinking.

Here a few that you and your kids need to explore:

This is just a starting point. Poke around a bit on your own and find what works for you. But . . . don’t wait. Mobile devices, laptops, and tech distractions are not going to magically disappear. I like how Alexandra Samuel says it. We need to “Plug in Better:”

The trick isn’t to unplug from our devices — it’s to unplug from the distractions, information overload, and trash that make us unhappy.

It’s time to stop complaining about the distractions we often see in our students (and ourselves) and start doing something proactive and positive to address the challenge.

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Glenn is a curriculum and tech integration specialist, speaker, and blogger with a passion for technology and social studies. He delivers engaging professional learning across the country with a focus on consulting, presentations, and keynotes. Find out more about Glenn and how you might learn together by going to his Work with Me page.

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