Help Individual Teachers in U.S.

Yes, this title is correct. Perhaps some readers will remember a blog that I posted eleven days ago about the deteriorating infrastructure of U.S. schools. TodayI am going to post some information about how individual schools can be helped by contributions through one online organization, DonorsChoose.org.

“Teachers across the United States use DonorsChoose.org to raise money for individual projects that they wouldn’t otherwise be funded by their schools. Some have sought money for technology upgrades, classroom basics (like notebooks and paper), and creative ideas you most likely wouldn’t have thought of. The website allows you to find projects in your area.”

Make America Great Again!

Ray Myers

P.S. I will be back blogging next week, on May 2. Have a great weekend!

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Social Media Wealthy, but Lonely at Home

The United States and other countries might have been successful at connecting young citizens to the wonders of the Internet but there also seems to have been a price to pay in terms of interpersonal relationships with their peers. Teenagers are suddenly less likely to date, less likely to leave home without their parents, more likely to put off the activities of adulthood. They are spending more time alone with their digital screens,and the greater the screen time, the greater their unhappiness. Eighth graders who are heavy users of social media are 27 percent more likely to be depressed.

“But the big issue around social media is not privacy alone. These companies are feeding the epidemic of loneliness and social isolation. It’s not that the heavy social media users are sadder. It’s not only that online life seems to heighten painful comparisons and both inflate and threaten the ego. It’s that heavy internet users are much less likely to have contact with their proximate neighbors to exchange favors and extend care. There’s something big happening to the social structures of neighborhoods (Brooks, NYTimes, 4/20/18).”

Many of us who are socially wealthy don’t really know how the other half lives.

Ray Myers

Save Us From Cyberattacks, Somebody?

Have you ever heard about the “Cyber-security Tech Accord?” It has been described as a ” digital Geneva Convention” that would set norms of behavior for cyberspace. Unfortunately, most of us are probably not that familiar with it since the principles it espouses can run headlong into individual governments’ efforts to develop cyber weapons in secrecy.

Microsoft is playing a central role in advancing this accord. Some of their officials have said they briefed the Trump administration on this new agreement and heard no objections. But that may not mean much. Mr. Trump’s adviser, Thomas P. Bosser, who oversees cyber security security, was dismissed last week after John R. Bolton took over as national security adviser.

The cybersecurity coordinator at the White House, Rob Joyce, is widely rumored to be considering leaving his post and returning to the National Security Agency, where he ran the most elite of the cyberforces that attack foreign networks. If Mr. Joyce departs, the White House will have lost its two most senior, and most knowledgeable, cybersecurity policy makers in the span of a few weeks. “You’re fired!” says the former star of the “Celebrity Apprentice.” Now he is playing the part of “President.”

Ray Myers

Too Much Screen Time in School?

Digital tools can enrich, but is there a downside to too much screen time? Some pediatricians and parents are now raising concerns about the classroom laptops, tablets and apps, partly because school districts are adopting digital tools in droves.

Last year, primary and secondary schools in the United States spent $5.4 billion on 12.4 million laptop and tablet computers, according to International Data Corporation, a market research firm known as IDC. “The concern is that many programs students use in school are entertainment and gamified,” said Dr. Scott Krugman, a pediatrician in Baltimore County, who supported recently proposed state legislation that would develop optimum health and safety practices for the use of digital devices in schools. “We felt these are things that should be tracked and monitored.”

Baltimore County Schools also recommended that students take activity breaks from computer tasks every 20 minutes and leave their devices inside during recess. They may even have to play and talk with each other. Hmmm, old school, I guess?

Ray Myers

How About U.S. Schools’ Infrastructure!

So here’s another challenge to Make America Great Again. Make all our schools physically sound and safe. I know that from the federal level, and in some states, we have been focusing on the importance of bringing technology into our classrooms. This is critically important in the twenty-first century, but we also have to ensure that our schools are not crumbling around our students and teachers. The current White House resident has talked about improving our highways (still waiting?), but I hope that he can also add improving America’s schools to his “to do” list. Time may be getting very short.

Please have a look at this article from yesterday’s New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/16/reader-center/us-public-schools-conditions.html, which depicts some of the most egregious conditions from around the country. Our students and teachers deserve better. Can this President help?

Ray Myers

“Facebook Envy” – More Bad News for Mark Zuckerberg

Are all your Facebook friends happy and doing well? Probably not, and how would you really know anyway. Recently some researchers have attempted to evaluate Facebook’s impact on a sampling of its users in Denmark (1,097).

The experiment had half of its subjects continue their Facebook rituals and the other half abstain from them. Thirteen percent of the abstained could not keep away and wound up succumbing to their addiction. In the end, those who has no contact with Facebook during the course of a week rated their general sense of satisfaction higher than those who retained their habit. But apart from envy, Facebook seems to energize profound feelings of dread, perhaps especially for those in middle age, because it serves to to remind us over and over how many ways life can go horribly and dramatically wrong when we continuously hear the “bad news” about our friends’ lives. Maybe making our lives an “open book” has more negative consequences than we realize.

“The news is a delivery system for misery of course, especially now, but Facebook brings us news we might otherwise never encounter, supplying in bulk and elevating our relationship to it. The value of this remains dubious (Bellafante, NY Times, 4/15/18).”

Ray Myers

Daydreaming While Driving – Not a Technological Problem

The biggest distraction in your car might not be the smartphone in your hand. It could be the biochemical circuitry between your ears. On Wednesday I know I talked about the dangers of too many technological diversions that lead to distracted driving and its often deadly consequences. Your brain, however, may be one more thing that you have to keep in check or under control. The brain’s habit of drifting off into daydreams is still the biggest cause of distracted driving crashes, according to an insurance company’s recent analysis of federal traffic safety data.

Yet one of the best ways to keep the mind on task is to find it something else to do that offers some stimulation — but just not too much, said Paul Atchley, a professor of psychology at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Simple word games can help, and tuning into a radio program or a podcast is better than nothing — but both are much less distracting than a telephone conversation, even with a hands-free device, he said. Some researchers say the phone itself — all that entertainment and connectedness in a single tool in one’s fist — is to blame. Others wonder whether the ubiquitous cellphone and the Web have even shaped the way we think, making a whole generation intolerant of boredom and ever in search of distraction.

Talking with someone on a phone is much more distracting to a driver than even talking to someone in the car. When conversing inside the vehicle, a passenger will generally vary the conversation’s level of intensity and engagement in sync with traffic conditions the driver faces. Carpools, anyone?

Ray Myers

Hands on the Wheel, Eyes on the Road

If you’re driving right now, it’s far more likely you are reading this on your phone than you would have been a year ago. Despite a harrowing surge in traffic fatalities, American drivers appear to be getting worse at avoiding Instagram, e-mail and other mobile-phone distractions while driving. More people are using their phones at the wheel, and for longer periods of time, according to a study published Tuesday from Zendrive, a San Francisco-based startup that tracks phone use for auto insurers and ride-hailing fleets.

“As you have more young drivers on the road, and as people increasingly become addicted to their smartphones, it will continue being a major health issue—almost an epidemic—in this country,” said Zendrive founder Jonathan Matus. From December through February, Zendrive technology monitored 4.5 million drivers who traveled 7.1 billion miles, comparing the results with the year-earlier period. Roughly two out of three of those people used a mobile phone at least once.”

One of the few bright spots of the study is that drivers tend to use their phone as they first start out on a trip, perhaps ending a message thread before settling in for the journey. While that window of time isn’t any safer than any other moment behind the wheel, Matus believes it may present an opportunity for changing behavior. A publicity campaign urging drivers to finish screen work, or just catch up on Instagram, before setting out could produce results. “Legislation, by itself, is clearly not enough,” he explained.

Ray Myers

Bridging the Language Gaps in U.S. Schools

“About five million K-11 students in the United States do not speak English fluently and their numbers are growing fast. While these students currently make up 10 percent of the total student population, researchers estimate that they could make up as much as 40 percent by 2030.

Schools around the country are turning to technology to help them better serve these students (and their parents) – whose success will increasingly drive graduation rates, test scores and other school-quality metrics – and to help connect with their families. In the classroom, computer-based programs can give students additional support as they work to master the vocabulary and mechanics of English. ELLoquence, IStation and PreK12Plaza are among those that let students move through lessons at their own pace (this is not an endorsement from TechtoExpress).

Many more schools serve immigrants now than ever before, and digital technology can offer effective ways to reach them (Tara Garcia Mathewson, NY Times, 4/8/18).”

Ray Myers

Cyberattacks on U.S. Natural-gas Pipelines/Electric Grid

A cyberattack on a shared data network forced four of the natural-gas pipeline operators to temporarily shut down computer communications with their customers over the last week. I know this is not a cheery thought to start the weekend but, unfortunately, it is a reality of how vulnerable we have become in our interconnected world.

The motivation for such an effort appeared to be the increase in exports of liquified natural gas from the United States, a challenge to Russian dominance in European markets. The Department of Homeland Security was investigating the attack, and no suspect has been publicly identified . But the attack came shortly after the Department and the F.B.I. issued a report alleging that Russia was taking aim at the U.S. electric grid and other critical infrastructure with cyber probes.

And I thought that Putin and Trump were the best of friends?

Ray Myers

Reclaiming Conversation – Time Out from Tech

Let’s talk! It appears that in our growing technologically interconnected world, we really do have to make time for face-to-face conversation. Sherry Turkle has written extensively about this subject, recently in her book, “Reclaiming Conversation” and shared some of her thoughts in a recent interview with Sean Iling of Vox.

“We grew up with the internet, so we think the internet is grown up, but it’s not. The internet is very young, and our ways of using it are very young. I think we’re starting to see a backlash. . . But there are certain kinds of communication that can’t be done via texting or video messages or whatever, and I think people are starting to see that. If you want to be a true friend or partner or lover or colleague and you want to really connect, then you have to look at the person you’re engaged with; you have to actually be with them. That’s how progress is made. I think enough people are beginning to understand this.”

Sean Illing: You’ve written a lot about empathy and how these technologies are making it harder for us to be empathic. I wonder if you think they’re encouraging us to treat other people as objects or as actors in our own personal drama. As you say, we’re always living through our screens, always performing, always projecting our image and our story.

“That’s an interesting way to put it — that we become actors in our own personal drama. I think, over time, the so-called “internet of things” emerges and then we sort of become things on the internet. We talk a lot about authenticity, but actually what we’re doing is curating the self, and that’s what I worry about in terms of empathy. Empathy requires that I get into your mental space, into your head, into your experience, and give you the comfort of knowing that I made that effort to listen and care, and that I’m taking responsibility for what I hear. It’s a commitment that we make to other people that involves us getting out of our own heads, and the constant self-curation online, the constant self-gratification of smartphones and social media, makes it harder for us to do this.We grew up with the internet, so we think the internet is grown up, but it’s not. The internet is very young, and our ways of using it are very young. I think we’re starting to see a backlash. Yes, there are many things about the internet that are amazing, like the fact that we’re having this (online) conversation right now. But there are certain kinds of communication that can’t be done via texting or video messages or whatever, and I think people are starting to see that. If you want to be a true friend or partner or lover or colleague and you want to really connect, then you have to look at the person you’re engaged with; you have to actually be with them. That’s how progress is made. I think enough people are beginning to understand this.

Empathy requires that I get into your mental space, into your head, into your experience, and give you the comfort of knowing that I made that effort to listen and care, and that I’m taking responsibility for what I hear. It’s a commitment that we make to other people that involves us getting out of our own heads, and the constant self-curation online, the constant self-gratification of smartphones and social media, makes it harder for us to do this.”

Ray Myers