Tips to Manage Student Screen Time while Teaching Online

Posted by Richard Kingham on Aug 20, 2020 3:36:31 PM

In recent years, buckets and buckets of ink have been spilled over how much time we spend in front of our screens. That was before the world took an unprecedented turn and forced us to stay home, where our phones and computers provide our only link to the outside world. 

Or, so it seems sometimes. But there’s no doubt that much more screen time awaits students this school year. Before the pandemic is tucked away neatly in our history books, most of us will surely reach a state of extreme screen fatigue. But here’s some good news (which I’m sure you need to hear at this point in the pandemic): there are plenty of ways to relieve screen fatigue. Here are five tips that will help teachers get their students to step away from their screens throughout the school day. 

  1. Instruct your students to go on nature walks once or twice a week for 30 to 45 minutes. These walks offer a fun way for students to see science happen in nature. Of course, students don’t need to live near a national park for this activity to be successful. If they are learning about weather, they can identify different kinds of clouds and report their findings to the class. Or, as a biology assignment, they can draw pictures of living and nonliving organisms in their backyard or in a nearby park. Regardless of the assignment, students will go on a fun outdoor adventure every week! 
  2. Just because we are living in the age of distance learning doesn’t mean that students need to do all their studying and reading on a screen. Encourage them to print out their reading assignments or check out books from the library (many libraries offer curbside pickup). Suggest that they take notes in a composition book, or give them the option to complete writing assignments with pen and paper. Several studies indicate that handwriting stimulates creativity and promotes learning.
  3. Our world needs empathetic citizens. One way teachers can foster empathy in students is to encourage them to become pen pals with senior citizens. Students will not only be encouraged to consider others, they will also hone their writing skills and spend time away from their screen. Plus, they’ll practice posting their mail, a simple life skill that is apparently challenging to younger generations.
  4. Give students an investigative journalism assignment! This activity will work especially well with middle school and high school students. You can give them the freedom to find an issue and related articles about a science-related topic. Topics may include environmental issues, technological innovations, advancements in medicine, or astronomical discoveries. Students can then interview someone about their chosen topic—a family member with a thoughtful opinion, an expert in the field, a patient or consumer affected by the issue. 
  5. Let your students get creative with their hands. Of course, this can mean having them draw pictures, but you can also put their engineering skills to the test by building miniature edifices. For example, if your students are learning about weather, they can make their own flood-proof houses with popsicle sticks, toy blocks, legos—anything they can get to stand upright! After they’ve constructed their houses, they can present them to their classmates and explain how they made their house strong enough to withstand a flood. 

Teachers Need Screen Breaks, Too

Teachers, remember to take care of yourself! Screen fatigue can happen to us all, so step away from your screens, too. Resist the urge to reply to emails or sneak in a bit of grading when your students are on break or when you’re trying to wind down for the evening. Get up and move when you have the opportunity. Do some jumping jacks or yoga stretches. Play a few scales on the piano or do a bit of weeding in the garden—whatever it takes to keep yourself happy and healthy!

Topics: teaching online, distance learning, "remote learning", Making Online Instruction Work - Now!, at-home