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My Screen Free Week in the Computer Lab

by Zee Ann Poerio, SWPAECT

Screen Free Week is a week long celebration with a challenge to "turn OFF digital entertainment - and turn on LIFE!" Yes, unplug your devices and talk, play games, spend time with family and friends, and get some real - in person, screen-free "FACE TIME."

As the computer teacher at school, I participated in Screen Free Week for about three years, by explaining the purpose of going screen free, sharing some videos with the students, talking about the benefits of going screen free, having some discussion, and then assigning time to research information and activities for going Screen Free ...using the computers. So even though we had some great discussions, I really wasn't practicing what I was preaching. That changed this year.

This year, I covered all the computer screens in the classroom with a large piece of paper and didn't turn on my interactive whiteboard all week. We livestream our morning announcements and still continued to do that for the week but challenged everyone to go SCREEN FREE after the announcements. I explained that if using a screen was necessary to complete school work or your job, then that didn't count. So students couldn't get out of doing a homework assignment that involved writing an uploading a paragraph because it was Screen Free Week. Students were challenged to give up that screen time that they used for chatting, playing video games, texting, surfing the internet, etc. Would this be possible? I wanted to find out.

After the initial shock of seeing the screen covered, I explained the purpose of this exercise telling the students that statistically by the time they graduate high school, they will have spent more time on screens than they had in all of their years in the classroom. Most students said they couldn't believe that was true...until they started sharing how much time they actually spent using devices with screens. that's when the discussion turned into a "true confessions" exchange. "I go right to the computer when I get home and play games." Another student shared, "My mom says I spend too much time watching TV and playing on the computer." Then it started to turn to tattling on friends and family members and their technology habits. I had to admit to the students that I personally love technology and can't get enough. I confessed that I do spend hours online, learning, attending webinars, writing twitter posts, working on projects, archiving material in my Google docs for future lessons, sharing ideas with other teachers, catching up on the newest trends, and more. I explained to my students that for me personally, it is hard to give up that time. I love learning and I love how the computer gives me quick access to material to help me to be a better teacher. But, I have also heard my family members yell downstairs late in the night saying, "Are you still on that computer?" And I always respond by saying ..."Yes, it's my job! " Yet, I agree that having that personal time with family and friends is also valuable and important ...even if I am an expert at multitasking and can talk to them, organize photos, grade assignments, design a flyer and answer e-mail all at the same time. And still in my mind, I do occasionally hear a voice through a bull horn saying, "Step away from the computer." So that's what I did. I took the class outside. Yes, I took the class outside for computer class. They were so excited.
I called the office and told the secretary that we'd be going outside for computer class since we were SCREEN FREE this week. I got the students lined up and we walked outside to the steps that over look the playground. We continued our conversation.

SCREEN FREE WEEK 2014 from Poerio on Vimeo.

I ask the students to raise their hand if they have ever been out to dinner and saw people texting on their phones instead of talking to the people they were with. Just about every hand went up. I asked the students to share some stories about other times that they have seen people who are not "present" at sporting events or parties because they were playing games, talking on the phone or texting others. I heard lots of stories and we discussed how it makes you feel if you are out with friends and they start texting other friends telling them what a great time they are having with you and they aren't even talking to you. The students are very aware and loved sharing personal stories. One student shared that she heard about a restaurant that had a sign posted on the door saying, "We have no WiFi, please enjoy your dinner." They all laughed, but they understood.

I printed out the list of 101 Screen Free Activities (See
http://www.screenfree.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/101-Screen-Free-Activities.pdf) and had students take turns reading some of the suggestions. They agreed that the ideas all sounded interesting and fun. The students told me they wanted to try to be screen free with their families this week. I can't wait to see them next week and hear how it went!

The highlight of the class was when I told the students they could run around a nearby tree "3 times" before we went back inside the school.
They loved it. When word got out during the change of classes, the next class entered and said, "I heard we are going outside in computer class, is that really true?" "Yes it is." I replied, "We're going screen free."

Full Disclosure: As I mentioned above, I do admit to having an issue with wanting to use technology to learn and share with others, so I did bring a camera outside (with a screen - of course). I had to document this event, so that I could share it with others. Remember, "It's my job."

For more information on Scree Free Week and resources, go to: