The Use of Technology and Social Media with Middle School Students

I recently attended the National Association of Independent School (NAIS) annual conference where the keynote speaker was Jonathan Haidt, social psychologist and author of The Coddling of the American Mind.  Haidt’s address focused on the alarming increase of mental health needs of children in Generation Z. One of his greatest concerns, mirrored by many other academics and professionals, is the potential negative impact social media can have on children’s mental well-being, specifically with regards to depression and anxiety. With this mind, I’d like to focus this blog on a discussion of social media and how it can impact our own middle school community.

Based on his own research and that of others, Haidt argues that although social media has the positive attribute of connecting people, the way that many young people use social media can be harmful. Specifically, he argues that the culture of instant gratification and ubiquitous ratings on every picture and post leads to negative repercussions on developing minds. Notably, he believes these negative repercussions can occur even if children have limited access to social media. In fact, he noted that kids who stopped using social media altogether indicated decreased levels of anxiety and depression. His arguments and research can be found on his website: https://www.thecoddling.com/.

With these types of concerns in mind, I sought to gain a better understanding of the role social media plays in our own middle school community. To that end, I surveyed our middle school students on their phone and social media use. Based on the 85 students that replied to this survey, approximately 85% of 6th through 8th graders report owning a phone and bringing that phone to school. With regards to how they perceive the impact of their social media use, about 19% of students said that social media negatively impacts their emotional well-being. Additionally, approximately 10% indicated that they have seen their friends engage in mean behavior either online or on their phones. While this was just an informal survey and not a comprehensive research undertaking – I do think the findings are useful. These statistics indicate that for at least some of our students, social media may have some troubling and harmful effects.  

Given what we know about the potential for social media to impact our children, and given the prevalence of phones in this age group, the question is what we can do as parents and educators to limit or mitigate the potential harm and how we can be in partnership to ensure consistency. I believe the policies we have at BCD with regards to phone usage is an important first step. Student phones must be turned off and kept in lockers during the school day (with exceptions made for emergencies). I believe this policy has reduced the desire of our students to want to check and use their phones throughout the day. Additionally, we have an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP), which is an agreement of how students will use technology appropriately, and a firewall that blocks inappropriate content. Also in 6th grade, we teach students how to use their computers for appropriate school use only. As parents, I think we need to be vigilant in the supervision of our children’s social media usage and should implement parental controls when possible. Below I have attached a list of resources provided by Gabe Hernan, our Director of Technology, about monitoring online use and restricting access. I know that these resources have come in handy in my own home with my children.

Haidt concluded his keynote by recommending that schools ban access to social media during the day and he urged parents and kids to delay social media use until High School. To this end, I recommend that parents check out the “Wait Until 8th” campaign and pledge (waituntil8th.org) that aims to “empower parents to delay giving children a smartphone until at least 8th grade.” This campaign illustrates how parents can work together in supporting one another and creating similar strategies and rules together. 

Ultimately,  we want our students to remember the BCD motto of Respect Yourself, Respect Others, and Take Responsibility for Your Actions – whether that is in school or out of school, online or in person.

ARTICLE: Everything You Need to Know About Parental Controls – Great overview of how it all works

Microsoft Family Safety – Block sites, set time limits, and see activity reports

Circle with Disney – Filter content, limit screen time and set a bedtime for every device in the home

OurPact – Mobile guidance for your family, available for iOS and Android

Screen Time – Parental controls for iOS, Android and Kindle devices

Curbi – Parental controls for Android and Apple mobile devices

ParentKit – Control and schedule what is on your child’s iPod, iPad or iPhone

NetSanity – Parental controls for iOS

FamilyTime – Parental controls for iOS and Android

Net Nanny – Parental controls for Android and iOS

Mobile Fence – Parental controls and GPS tracking for Android devices

Verizon Family Base – Monitor wireless activity and set usage limits

AT&T Parental Controls – Manage internet and email activity on computers

T-Mobile Family Allowances – Manage minutes, messages and downloads on phones

Model UN Supports the Development of Globally Minded Citizens

On January 30th, Boulder Country Day middle school students participated in the annual Model United Nations exercise. In teams, students represented a member country by researching it, writing resolutions on current issues it faces, and defending those resolutions at a gathering called the MUN General Assembly. Through this process, students learned about international relations, developed empathy, and gained a better understanding of how issues across the world affect us all. As an authorized IB Middle Years Program (MYP), BCD uses this curricular enhancement to support the IB goal of developing globally minded students. 

“It helps you to be more aware of the world around you so that you know more than just what’s happening the U.S.­­ ­- you know about the entire world. It also teaches you that history effects everything and it’s not just something you learn because you have to.

            – BCD 8th grader

More on BCD’s Middle School

More on the IB program

The Use of Technology and Social Media with Middle School Students

I recently attended the National Association of Independent School (NAIS) annual conference where the keynote speaker was Jonathan Haidt, social psychologist and author of The Coddling of the American Mind.  Haidt’s address focused on the alarming increase of mental health needs of children in Generation Z. One of his greatest concerns, mirrored by many other academics and professionals, is the potential negative impact social media can have on children’s mental well-being, specifically with regards to depression and anxiety. With this mind, I’d like to focus this blog on a discussion of social media and how it can impact our own middle school community.

Based on his own research and that of others, Haidt argues that although social media has the positive attribute of connecting people, the way that many young people use social media can be harmful. Specifically, he argues that the culture of instant gratification and ubiquitous ratings on every picture and post leads to negative repercussions on developing minds. Notably, he believes these negative repercussions can occur even if children have limited access to social media. In fact, he noted that kids who stopped using social media altogether indicated decreased levels of anxiety and depression. His arguments and research can be found on his website: https://www.thecoddling.com/.

With these types of concerns in mind, I sought to gain a better understanding of the role social media plays in our own middle school community. To that end, I surveyed our middle school students on their phone and social media use. Based on the 85 students that replied to this survey, approximately 85% of 6th through 8th graders report owning a phone and bringing that phone to school. With regards to how they perceive the impact of their social media use, about 19% of students said that social media negatively impacts their emotional well-being. Additionally, approximately 10% indicated that they have seen their friends engage in mean behavior either online or on their phones. While this was just an informal survey and not a comprehensive research undertaking – I do think the findings are useful. These statistics indicate that for at least some of our students, social media may have some troubling and harmful effects.  

Given what we know about the potential for social media to impact our children, and given the prevalence of phones in this age group, the question is what we can do as parents and educators to limit or mitigate the potential harm and how we can be in partnership to ensure consistency. I believe the policies we have at BCD with regards to phone usage is an important first step. Student phones must be turned off and kept in lockers during the school day (with exceptions made for emergencies). I believe this policy has reduced the desire of our students to want to check and use their phones throughout the day. Additionally, we have an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP), which is an agreement of how students will use technology appropriately, and a firewall that blocks inappropriate content. Also in 6th grade, we teach students how to use their computers for appropriate school use only. As parents, I think we need to be vigilant in the supervision of our children’s social media usage and should implement parental controls when possible. Below I have attached a list of resources provided by Gabe Hernan, our Director of Technology, about monitoring online use and restricting access. I know that these resources have come in handy in my own home with my children.

Haidt concluded his keynote by recommending that schools ban access to social media during the day and he urged parents and kids to delay social media use until High School. To this end, I recommend that parents check out the “Wait Until 8th” campaign and pledge (waituntil8th.org) that aims to “empower parents to delay giving children a smartphone until at least 8th grade.” This campaign illustrates how parents can work together in supporting one another and creating similar strategies and rules together. 

Ultimately, we want our students to remember the BCD motto of Respect Yourself, Respect Others, and Take Responsibility for Your Actions – whether that is in school or out of school, online or in person.  I will continue to take a hard look at our own middle school policies and work to develop strategies to empower students to know the best ways to use social media. I appreciate your partnership as we help everyone navigate the digital landscape in a way that students feel connected and safe.

Monitoring and Blocking Resources

ARTICLE: Everything You Need to Know About Parental Controls – Great overview of how it all works

Microsoft Family Safety – Block sites, set time limits, and see activity reports

Circle with Disney – Filter content, limit screen time and set a bedtime for every device in the home

OurPact – Mobile guidance for your family, available for iOS and Android

Screen Time – Parental controls for iOS, Android and Kindle devices

Curbi – Parental controls for Android and Apple mobile devices

ParentKit – Control and schedule what is on your child’s iPod, iPad or iPhone

NetSanity – Parental controls for iOS

FamilyTime – Parental controls for iOS and Android

Net Nanny – Parental controls for Android and iOS

Mobile Fence – Parental controls and GPS tracking for Android devices

Verizon Family Base – Monitor wireless activity and set usage limits

AT&T Parental Controls – Manage internet and email activity on computers

T-Mobile Family Allowances – Manage minutes, messages and downloads on phones

***

Have additional resources that should be shared?  Please email ghernan@bouldercountryday.org

Start the Momentum Early – Why invest in a PS-8 education?

For several years running, usually around the time reenrollment contracts are due, parents have asked me about investing in PS – 8 education. “College is so expensive,” they say, “Shouldn’t we save our resources when our children are younger so that we can afford to send them to the college of their choice?” 
 

My usual answer is that investing in children during their formative, younger years pays dividends down the road. Even still, as the cost of college education continues to rise, I remain firm in my conviction that an investment in the primary years is what best sets students up for success in later life.

When it comes to raising confident and competent children, the importance of investing in a high-quality education when children are young is critical. This makes sense if you think about the rapid pace at which students learn when they are younger. From language development in toddlers to critical thinking in elementary to navigating the social context of middle school, our kids need exceptional school environments to help them navigate what is becoming an increasingly complex world.

Researchers have been looking at this questions for many years now, and there are at least four key reasons to make this investment.

Literacy – Literacy serves as the springboard for education, and students who attend schools that focus on early literacy have an advantage over those who do not. A study run by the American Educational Research Association, investigated the impact of early education by tracking nearly 3,000 students from preschool through their 11th birthday. In short, the research determined that a student who cannot read at grade level by third grade becomes four times less likely to graduate by age 19 than students who are meeting standards.

Brain Development – Human brains grow more during the first five years of life than any other development period, with the first three serving as a mold for the organ’s architecture. Experiences during these formative years determine the brain’s organizational development for the remainder of life. Consequently, these years impact academic abilities, social-emotional skills, and executive functioning.

Young brains are also “plastic” brains. That is, they have the ability to change, or find new neural pathways, much more easily than older brains. The earlier we can nurture and develop those pathways, including an openness to new ones, the more easily brains can adapt to future opportunities.

Natural Explorers – Children in primary school are natural detectives, journalists and mad scientists. They love to explore and take in new material. They are also at the prime season of their life for absorbing information. Schools that use their resources to provide a broad-based, but balanced, curriculum have an advantage over those that do not. For example, early exposure to world languages, the arts, and STEM classes increase intellectual development. Furthermore, a diverse and rich curriculum increases the opportunities our children have to develop the ability to make cross-curricular connections and devise wide-ranging solutions.

Social-Emotional Growth – Academic and social-emotional growth are not mutually exclusive at any point in education, but they are most connected during elementary and middle school. Skills developed through practice, such as self-regulation and social interaction, have positive effects that are evident throughout an entire lifetime. Furthermore, developing a sense of empathy and understanding is critically important at younger ages. This is especially true in today’s world as cooperation and collaboration are rising to the top among skills critical for the workplace.  

BCD invests heavily in all of the above. We use a “flooding” model for literacy instruction, staffing each grade in K – 3 with four specialists from our Learning Center for 30 minutes each day. This intensive model lowers our student-teacher ratio and allows our students to receive more personalized instruction than they would get from their homeroom teacher.

We provide a broad-based and balanced curriculum to engage young brains and to expose them to multiple pathways of learning. Preschoolers start world language classes when they are three years-old, elementary and middle schoolers benefit from diverse curriculum taught by subject areas specialists in the Arts, STEM, technology, world languages, PE, and library. And, middle schoolers engage and participate in our Explore program, a series of electives designed to expose them to a rich array of topics and subjects that more closely resembles a college course catalog than middle school.

Finally, we teach social emotional skills through our Responsive Classroom and DDMS curriculum. As Preschool Head Kath Courter likes to say, “Pushing over a block tower at age five is kind of like annoying a colleague at the copier much later in life.” Teaching these skills and creating an emotionally safe and welcoming environment within which to learn them only adds to the education our children receive.

Simply put, investing “early and often” in a PS – 8th grade education is good policy and better practice.  Students that receive the benefit of that investment outperform their peers, are better prepared for high school and beyond, and have a stronger and more developed sense of self. In addition, they build on the skills and habits they develop at a young age and are more likely to succeed in a college or university environment when the time comes.

Read about BCD’s Preschool program.

Read about BCD’s Elementary program.

Read about BCD’s Middle School program.

Schedule a tour to see what makes BCD so special.

The Compliment Project

We love this! In 8th grade health class, student did something called The Compliment Project. Students take turns sitting with their backs to the whiteboard while their classmates write compliments about them. The students are studying social-emotional health and learning how we thrive when we feel a sense of love and belonging. This is the third year this activity has been done in this class and the kids LOVE it. They love to write as much as receive the compliments. They are often overwhelmed with emotions when they read what their classmates say.

More on BCD’s Middle School program.

The Benefits of BCD’s Middle Years IB Program (MYP)

Boulder Country Day’s Middle School is an authorized International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program (MYP). The IB MYP emphasizes intellectual challenge and encourages students to make connections between their studies in traditional subjects and to the real world. The IB program fosters the development of skills for communication, inter-cultural understanding, and global engagement, qualities that are essential for life in the 21st century.

We are excited to unveil a video we recently developed on the benefits of the IB program for middle school students at BCD. 

Click here to watch the video. Enjoy!

Middle School Magic

If our Preschool and Elementary school divisions have been described by some as “magical”, then I can only imagine our middle school can be described as transformational.

Anyone who has reared a pre-teen through middle school can attest that their bodies and minds are in a constant state of change and that providing the right balance of nurture, structure, and latitude requires special talents of both parents and teachers. Ultimately, our work to create balanced, kind, and thoughtful middle schoolers will be judged by who it is we send out into this world, not what. To that end, we have diligently created a Middle School program at BCD that we believe offers a unique balance of academics, electives, character development, and community service forming an innovative overall curriculum designed to challenge and guide students through these sometimes tumultuous years.

Our academic culture is influenced by our status as an authorized International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program (MYP). Targeting interdisciplinary teaching and learning, the IB philosophy favors a focus on concepts rather than merely on content, and provides a rich, inquiry-based model of introducing and exploring concepts within and across the disciplines. The MYP’s focus extends beyond the notion of knowledge as an accumulation of content to include connectedness in learning and the big ideas that bind people and civilizations together. These concepts create an intellectual challenge that encourages students to make connections between their studies in traditional subjects and the real world. The IB program cultivates “international mindedness,” a mindset that fosters the development of skills for communication, intercultural understanding, and global engagement – qualities that are essential for life in the 21st century. Research shows that students participating in the MYP build confidence in managing their own learning, learn by doing, seek to connect classroom learning to the larger world, thrive in positive school cultures where they are engaged and motivated to excel, and develop an understanding of global challenges and a commitment to act as responsible citizens. While this list is long, it keeps us focused and steadfast in remembering that it is the character of the individuals we have been charged with guiding that is more important to us than their qualifications.

We balance the core academic subjects of Science, Math, English, STEM, and world languages with opportunities for in-depth pursuit of interests in the Arts, Health and Physical Education, and Design/Technology through our robust elective program which is capped off by an introspective 8th grade Capstone project. As well, students are encouraged to explore in the areas of school athletics, student government, and after-school programs.

Character development is also woven into life at BCD on a daily basis at all school levels, but more formally in middle school through the advisory program. Students work through an identity development program that is designed to progress from a “Who am I as an individual?” perspective to “What is my role in the world?”

Starting in sixth grade, students explore self-awareness and thinking about their goals for the future. Students are guided through exercises and discussions that build a strong sense of self-respect and self-esteem.

As students move into seventh grade, the focus shifts more in the direction of how we function in relationships with others. The goal of the seventh grade curriculum is to provide each student a solid foundation of their self-identity and enable him/her to effectively and respectfully work with others.

The eighth grade curriculum builds on the two previous years of self-exploration and working with others and brings these concepts to a deeper and more global level. Students explore their own global position through activities and discussions covering various topics, and examine the impact that they as individuals have (and hope to have) on the world.

Finally giving back in the form of community service is a critical part of world citizenship and as such it plays a large role our middle school curriculum. Students are required to complete 20 hours of community service. But again, it’s not about the numbers, it’s about the outcome. Thus, each grade level provides service to a non-profit organization for a three-year period adding depth and breadth to the students’ involvement. Students to contribute philanthropically, with in-kind donations and with time spent on service learning field trips putting practice into action. The focus of the program is on forming long-term relationships that cultivate awareness and understanding of the cause being served.

I believe our families and our students would tell you that our middle school program presents students with age-appropriate challenges in a nurturing environment that cultivates independence of thought, habit, and mind. This combination of foundation coupled with exploration enables pre-teen adolescents to do the work of developing a superior academic foundation and good study habits that will lead them to success in high school and beyond, while providing opportunities that enable them to explore who they are as individuals with unique interests and goals ready to serve as responsible citizen of the world.