TEACHnology Today

Technology Integration Newsletter- March 14, 2016

Combatting Digital Distraction

By Jocelynn Buckentin and Chanda Kropp

When you are working with devices in your classroom, whether you are in a BYOD or 1:1 environment, or just bringing in a cart for a period, you may find students who struggle with being on task. Students today are multi-taskers, which can often lead to distraction away from the original intent of your digital lesson. They may ask to listen to music, or switch tabs or browser windows between their homework and social media or other websites without the teacher being aware of it, EVEN if the teacher is circulating and doing everything they can to monitor students. So, how do we as teachers ensure that students are on task when devices provide so many opportunities for distraction? After surveying high school staff about this issue, we are sharing our takeaways. While this list may be most readily applied to the middle or high school level, elementary teachers may be able to use these strategies as well.

Develop a clear list of expectations and POST them.

  • If you involve your students in the process of creating this list, they may be more receptive to your expectations. The survey showed that students are very aware of these distractions and many are even annoyed by it! We have all been in a conversation with a person distracted by technology. It’s frustrating! It’s even unsafe--think about when this happens while driving? Students may enjoy being asked what proper technology use looks like and may buy in more than if you lay down the law. If we treat them like adults and honor their thoughts and opinions on device use, they may be more likely to respect the rules of the class. If not, you’ll handle that on the enforcement side.

  • Go over them day 1 of class and revisit them often with the students.

  • Students should not assume that they can use devices by default. Set the expectation and enforce it strictly for the first few weeks so that your routine is established and students know what to expect regarding your policy on device use.

  • If teachers have a method to clearly display the stoplight and which color they are on for the day, then kids will know that:

    • Green light means device use is OK for defined learning purpose

    • Yellow light means device use is OK with permission for defined learning purpose

    • Red light means all devices are off

  • If we develop a common set of expectations across a building and enforce them consistently, we will be less likely to hear the excuse that students are choosing to use devices because other teachers allow it. These excuses/arguments degrade the efforts you all make to limit digital distraction.

Consistently enforce your policy.

  • If you are not consistent, kids learn pretty quickly what you will allow or overlook and what you won’t, and they might choose to walk that line with you daily which can cause confrontations, frustration, etc. If they know their device will be taken for off-task behavior, they are way less likely to offend.

  • Consistently monitoring students. It should not depend on what kind of mood a teacher is in. Students need to know what is expected of them. Teachers know that students should not be looking on other websites/on their cell phones while instruction is happening. However, students need help understanding the value of paying attention to the teacher or task and not be digitally distracted.

For Smart Phones: Up, Over and Off

  • Why not stay in pockets or backpacks? Because now they will try to sneakily check them, which distracts them from learning in your room. They may be more concerned with how they can sneak the device under the table, behind a book, or under a backpack then the task at hand.
  • If they are up on the desktop, turned over, and off or silent, then you are more likely to see if they remove the device from this location to use it.

  • As an adult, what do you do when you want to know something? Typically, we will “Google” it. It may be helpful to students to be allowed to utilize the device in this manner when they have a quick question.

  • This also would allow for educational use of that device, doing a quick search for something, or using the calculator. When you are done with the device, it goes back to the up, over and off position. If your policy does not allow educational use of smart phones, then the devices can remain in that position for the hour.

  • If a student says they didn’t bring a smart phone to class that day, believe them but watch them closely. If you catch them with a device they said they didn’t have, be ready with a consequence and enforce it. That sends the message to others that lying is not tolerated and at some point they will be caught.

Much of the distraction comes down to engagement.

  • If students are not engaged in a lesson, they are more apt to find another task that is more engaging to them.

  • Which lessons students are less digitally distracted? Which lesson are students more distracted?

  • Is there a certain time during the block that they are more/less distracted? What are you doing that helps students stay focused?

Device Use When the Work is Done

  • Determine a list of tasks that students can utilize their devices for when the work is done. Many of you have expressed that students typically have free time on devices when they finish work and you don’t want to punish them with more work simply because they finished early. The issue with allowing free reign on devices is this:

  • You don’t know what they are doing on the device. Even if you are circulating regularly, they could be switching tabs on you in seconds. It could be any number of things that are against our policy including but not limited to:

    • Streaming YouTube, Netflix, or other video service

    • Streaming music from IHeartRadio, Pandora, Spotify, etc.

    • Chatting with other students in the building via SnapChat, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. This could lead to situations of cyberbullying. It already has.

    • Accessing materials or images that are not appropriate for school.

  • Example: If you have finished the required work for my class, you may always use your smartphone, tablet, netbook or laptop to:

    • Read a book, magazine or blog post of personal (and school appropriate) interest.

    • Work on an assignment for another class.

    • Play a pre-approved game that builds skills related to the class. (If you find a game that you feel contributes to your learning, tell me about it and why you think it should go on the approved list.)

    • Have a serious discussion with a classmate about a topic in the course using an approved discussion tool.

    • Listen to an educational podcast or view an educational video. TED talks and Khan Academy videos are always OK. (Remember to use your headphones.)

    • Organize your life by reviewing/updating your calendar, to-do list, or address book.

    • Write in your personal journal.

      • You must also develop a policy for what happens if they say they are doing one of the things above but are caught off task. Again, this must be consistently communicated and enforced.

It all comes down to this: Teachers need to commit themselves to monitoring use and consistently follow procedures to handle students that are off-task with devices.

One respondent in the survey stated that they do not have a problem with digital distraction because they are a dictator with enforcing their expectations. While I don’t think any of us would like our students to see us in this way, and we don’t want this attitude to take away from building positive relationships with students, we do still need to focus on device management in every single class, every single day. We need to collectively send the message that this is important, and it’s a part of the expectations for digital device ues in school. We also need this lesson to continue into the real world! If our students can learn device management and the control of the urge to look at their phone constantly, they will do better at work, at home, with families, on the road, in college, etc. It’s a life lesson that you can help them to learn.


If students see you not enforcing any kind of policy, they will be digitally distracted at some point in your classroom. The only way to fight that is to be consistent and strict early on. As the trimester advances and you notice that distraction isn’t as much of an issue as it once was, then you can start to relax a little and be more discretionary in the way you

enforce your policy.

The Gmail Migration is Coming!

The Tech Dept will be working hard to migrate email from Outlook to Gmail over Spring Break. Here's what you need to know about the change, and how it will affect you:


  • WHAT WILL MIGRATE?: All messages in your current Inbox and any folders you have created will be migrated over to Gmail. Other messages will still be view-able in Outlook.
  • OUTLOOK: Outlook will continue to be accessible after Spring Break. You will be able to click into your Outlook account at any time to view and retrieve messages, search for information, review contacts, etc. We have not set an end date for viewing mail in Outlook, but anticipate that it will be about 2 years from now. The only thing that will change is that new messages will not come in to Outlook, and you will not be able to send from Outlook.
  • HUTCH.K12.MN.US: Any email sent to your hutch.k12.mn.us account will be automatically sent to your Gmail account. Make sure to let others know of the change as you are able, but you will not miss messages that are sent to your old account. Continue to update your email address on any email lists you may have signed up for.
  • SIGNATURE LINE: It's a good idea to add something about the change to your signature line in Gmail. To do this, click on the settings gear at the top right corner of your Gmail screen, then choose "Settings." Scroll about half-way down the page to where it says "Signature." You can copy and paste your Outlook signature into here, or add a new one. In the same section of this page, you will also find a place to add a picture of yourself. Please do this, as it is helpful for district employees to put a name to a face. If you would like to use your school picture, contact Tina or your building secretary to see if they have them from Campus.
Google Migration Training Site

This training site contains several smaller 10-minute trainings on Gmail, Calendar, Drive, Docs, Chrome and other apps like Slides, Sheets and Forms. Use the self-paced trainings to become proficient, or plan to attend trainings in person.

Request a Technology Integration Session Here!

Interested in integrating technology but are unsure of what to tackle first? I'd love to come and chat! We can go over your objectives for the lesson or goals for students, and I can help make a technology recommendation.

Past Editions of TEACHnology Today:

September 24, 2015: Google Calendar Added to Google Classroom—How to Share Yours, Google Chrome Extensions Explained, 4 Great Chrome Extensions—Share to Classroom, Synergyse, Read&Write, and Fluency Tutor

September 30, 2015: Failing Forward and "First Attempt In Learning," Getting Started with Technology Integration by using the TPaCK Model, "In the Classroom" highlight featuring Gloriann Heikes' 21st Century room redesign and a Twitter handle collection form so that we can build an ISD 423 Professional Learning Network!

October 19, 2015: Intro to Quia for Assessment and Review Games, Digital Citizenship Week Educator Guide, Gmail Migration Training Materials, Google Apps for Education for Elementary Students, and This Week in the Classroom with Nesha Withers and Rochelle Drahos

November 1, 2015: Getting Started with Google, Working With Google and Outlook Calendars, Using Newsela for Current Events and Literacy, and This Week in the Classroom with Krista Picha

November 18, 2015: Thankful Turkeys with ImageChef.com, 3 Digital Learning Goals for 2015-16, A Google Classroom Webinar, and This Week in the Classroom with Troy Higgins and Ross Wendling

December 3, 2015: Cool Tool: Nearpod, Formative Assessment or Formative Learning?, Tech Tools for Formative Learning, Google and Data Privacy, and Classroom Management in a BYOD Environment

December 21, 2015: TIES15 Takeaways Edition! TIES Overview and Schedule (With Resources for YOU), A Review of the Keynote Address by George Couros, A How-To Guide with the MIT App Inventor 2 for Hour of Code, and Resources for Reading and Math Teachers.

February 4, 2016: Exporting Contacts from Outlook and Importing them in Gmail, Free "Think Like a Writer" website that helps students organize writing, Free text sets for Grades K-8, and some great resources for SPED, Health and Social Studies teachers.

March 16, 2016: Combatting Digital Distraction: 5 Tips, and information about the Gmail Migration with Helpful Resources