Book Review: Screenwise by Devorah Heitner (@DevorahHeitner)

Devorah HeitnerLet’s face it. Screens and devices are everywhere. At least they are in my home and my classroom. Between our 1:1 classrooms and the smartphones, tablets, laptops, desktops, and TVs we have at home, we are continuously plugged into the outside world. The connection to technology isn’t all bad, but it isn’t all good either.

As a parent, I struggle with how much screen time to allow my kids and with how much supervision and monitoring of their devices they need. I’ve not allowed certain video games in my house, and we have rules that limit the amount of time our kids can watch TV and play video games during the school week. We also require devices to be brought downstairs each night to be charged and so that the kids hopefully will get some sleep.

My wife and I have tried to be intentional in raising our children and teaching them to use technology wisely, but we still feel overwhelmed by many of the challenges of raising kids in an always-plugged-in world especially when we see other parents taking different approaches with our kids’ peers. After all, does our preteen need a smartphone? What if all of his friends have one? And how do we keep our nine-year-old safe when she’s playing games online? How do we teach our kids the relational skills they need to be successful adults when they are constantly on a device? And, how do we encourage our teenagers to use technology to create and learn and not mainly to consume and play?

After reading Devorah Heitner’s book Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World, I told my wife I wish I’d had the book several years ago. Heitner is the founder of Raising Digital Natives, a resource for parents and schools wanting to help children flourish in a digitally connected world. Heitner wants families to make technology work in whatever way matches our personal philosophies. I didn’t get the sense that she has a personal agenda about technology and the book will be useful for parents who embrace technology and those who distrust it. However, Heitner does express a strong belief in the potential of technology for our kids. While acknowledging and addressing the challenges of growing up in the digital age as shared with her through interviews with students, Heitner offers thoughtful and practical ways parents can mentor their children to have the relational and time management skills needed to become responsible digital citizens. She also does a great job of helping adults see how many of the problems kids face today are similar to those of earlier generations, but the use of today’s technology means these problems leave a lasting digital trail and have a greater chance of being amplified.

Over the course of the book, Heitner empowers parents to mentor their children in using technology appropriately. First, she provides a glimpse into some of the ways in which our children may be tech savvy but still lack wisdom. Then, Heitner offers a way for parents to assess our digital literacy and provides great questions to ask our children to deepen our understanding. She also encourages us to become “tech-positive parents” who embrace the opportunities for creativity, collaboration, and connection that technology allows. Becoming a technology mentor to our children is no small task, and I appreciate Heitner’s reminder that “empathy is the app” that helps us lead our children in ways that they will embrace our mentorship. Additionally, Heitner also provides chapters on how the digital age affects family life, friendship and dating, and school life for our kids.

Screenwise is a valuable tool for parents’ and educators’ who want to engage with young people and help them navigate using technology. I  liked the questions Heitner provides throughout each chapter. They made me reconsider my way approach to using social media and what I share about my kids. While I haven’t used them yet, each chapter also provided some excellent conversation starters to get kids talking and thinking about how they use technology. In fact, the book has so much useful information that I feel I should read it again and wouldn’t mind reading it together with a few other parents, as well.

Raising kids in this digital world is no easy task, and like it or not, the technology isn’t going to go away. It’s become a part of how we connect and communicate with each other both as adults and as teenagers. Heitner’s book is an excellent resource on the difficulties today’s parents meet when it comes to our children’s use of social media and digital tools. I recommend Screenwise to parents and educators needing a resource on ways to discuss these issues with their kids or wanting advice on guiding them into becoming good digital citizens.

This review was originally written for SAIS and can be found on their website. It has been slightly edited from the original because I can’t leave “well enough” alone.

Book Review: War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

Book ReviewAs part of my professional development goal for 2014-2015, I read War Horse by Michael Morpurgo. My goal was to consider the novel as a text for my sixth grade students to read during their study of World War I. The book is told from the viewpoint of Joey, the war horse, and focuses primarily on Joey’s relationship with a boy named Albert and on Joey’s experiences serving on both sides in France during the war.

The novel’s primary theme is the universal suffering that occurs through evils war.  The book is short (only 165 pages), and the plot is easy enough to follow. I think it will be a good text for us to use early in the year while I’m still trying to get to know the students and their reading skills. While the book has some sad parts, I don’t think it is too much so, and I feel those parts of the story help develop the primary theme. I also think the story will tie easily into my school’s character education program and give us ample opportunities to discuss several of “the virtues of manhood.”

Overall, I think the novel is worth reading and is useful for our newly developing approach. I’d like to find some additional reading to tie in with it, and I’d love to watch the movie after we’ve finished to compare it to the novel. I haven’t taught much literature connected to World War I so I’m looking for more resources and ideas I can find.

If you have any ideas or suggestions, feel free to share them in the comments.


This is a pomodori post. My pomodori posts stem from my use of the Pomodoro Technique. I spend the first 25-minute interval writing a post and a second interval polishing, editing, formatting, tagging, and scheduling it. At the end of the second interval, the post is done.

 

Book Review: Circa Now

Book Review“What if you could photoshop the fantastical into existence?”

Every now and then I read a book that resonates deep inside me and I cannot stop thinking about the characters and the story long after I’ve put the book back on the shelf. I’ve read a lot of books, but there have only been a handful of novels that I cannot truly put away–books that I must revisit time and again. J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher and the Rye and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird are two books that through the years have beckoned me to read them over and over. They are powerful stories, and I have made deep connections to them. Amber Turner’s Circa Now is another one.

The book is beautifully written. Turner has an amazing way with words. Her well-crafted prose pulled me into the story quickly, but the main character, twelve-year-old Circa Monroe, held me there. Two chapters into the story Circa’s world falls apart when her father dies unexpectedly, and as a reader I was transported back to when I, too, was twelve and my mother died. Circa’s story isn’t all sad, though (and neither was mine). As Circa and her mother try to put their lives back together, a mysterious boy arrives at their door who seems to be magically connected to the Monroe family.

I won’t spoil the story because you need to read this book. If you are a middle school teacher, you should add it to your must-read list. The book gives insight into students who’ve suffered the loss of a parent, but it is also just a great story with a touch of magic and filled with hope. I’m planning to use it as a read aloud this year with my sixth graders, and I’m planning to host an author visit with Mrs. Turner, too.

Teachers, one cool resource Turner created to go along with the book is a collection of “Shopt” Story Starters. These photoshopped pictures are wonderful creative writing prompts and tie in perfectly with the book. My own children had a big time writing their own “shopt stories” at the book launch last month.

I’m out of writing time, but do yourself a favor and grab a copy of Circa Now. You’ll be glad you did. I rated Circa Now a 5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.

Full Disclosure: Amber McRee Turner is a dear friend. Our friendship dates back 30-plus years to junior high school, and I’m proud to call her my pal. Nevertheless, her work stands on its own. She’s a true talent and you ought to check out her work regardless of her connection to me. However, I did receive an ARC of Circa Now from Amber to read and share with my 6th grade students. (I also bought a copy when the book released because I’m going to need extra copies.)


This is a pomodori post. My pomodori posts stem from my use of the Pomodoro Technique. I spend the first 25-minute interval writing a post and a second interval polishing, editing, formatting, tagging, and scheduling it. At the end of the second interval, the post is done.