When middle school principal Matthew Howell proposed screen-free days for his 1:1 campus at Maple Place Middle School in New Jersey, students were concerned and doubtful that they could go an entire day without using technology in class, he writes for Edutopia.
To break away from constant tech use, Howell and other teachers added these days to the annual schedule and adjusted curriculum to create lesson plans that would work without digital tools.
Some teachers dusted off activities they had tabled, while others created new plans like building an escape room. Social events like board game nights, designed for all students and grades, were also used to encourage students to spend time with their peers in person instead of through a digital screen.
More than 210 million people are thought to be suffering from internet addiction worldwide, according to a 2017 study out of the University of Michigan and Middle Tennessee State University, and about three in 10 teenagers feel tense or nervous and wish they had more good friends almost daily.
As schools shift to a more digital environment that could be exacerbating these numbers, allowing students a break from screens can provide a helpful change of pace. While schools may not be able to pry smartphones from students' hands during lunch, encouraging behavior that informs their social and emotional needs can be crucial.
Training them to set aside a day where they unplug from all digital devices and online media can be a start. The online group Digital Sabbath even lets people sign up on its website and sends a reminder to unplug. Educators can also encourage students — and even themselves — to unplug with training wheels by using a number of apps like Apple’s Screen Time and Android’s Usage Time that gradually ween users from the digital world.
For schools seeking ideas, there are sites including Unplug Youth, where educators can sign up for a toolkit and even a sleeping bag for snoozing cellphones to use during digital breaks. Teachers may also want to sign up for next year’s National Day of Unplugging or consider shifting from tablets and computers to paper-driven exercises, as multiple schools around Shelburne, Vermont, did during a digital detox.
Whether it is a single-day activity or something schools can practice weekly, a digital detox may be worth considering for educators who hope to give students — and themselves — a break from devices as a reminder there’s a world outside their screens.