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High School Connections Blog by Head of High School Steve Soden

Helping Students to Be Productive in the Face of Ubiquitous Technology

In my last blog post, I wrote about the importance of defining effort and how important it is for kids to learn that increased effort does not necessarily translate into spending more time. In this entry, I want to be a bit more specific about technology and the impact that it has on the way students study.

Our kids face a technological reality different than what we faced when we were in high school. Technology is ubiquitous, and the opportunities for learning are changing education in a profound way. Below are some of the pros and cons I have seen students encounter as they go about learning how to function productively as students. Finally I have included some strategies to employ at home. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I hope it can be the start of a good conversation with your kids at home.

First, the pros:

Access to Information

Students have access to more information than ever before, which can, if used properly, provide students with a wide variety of viewpoints and ideas. This can aid in creativity and enrich the quality of projects, as well as aid in building empathy and cultural competency. One of our main goals as a school is to get students to understand a variety of ideas and question sources with a growth mindset, and so technology can be a wonderful tool in this regard.

Access to Assignments

Through NetClassroom and Google Classroom, our students always have access to upcoming assignments. By working on Google Drive, students can always pick up where they left off on an assignment, a feature which allows for greater flexibility than ever before. Forgetting a planner at school is no longer an issue, as technology allows students to design a process whereby they can always get their work done. It also provides a platform for increased collaboration which is a vital 21st century skill.


We now know that the prefrontal lobes and executive functioning skills are typically the last parts of the brain to develop. This, therefore, requires us to work with students on effective strategies for remembering assignments, planning out projects in advance, and attending to all of their various commitments. While parents can provide helpful reminders, using scheduling apps and technology-based reminders are ways in which students can take ownership of their own schedules and build productive habits.

Unfortunately, there are also a number of cons associated with technology:


Technology, as we know, is not used solely for productivity. In fact, I would argue that technology is the primary killer of productivity for students trying to complete their homework. Part of this is the reality that technology is the primary way by which students communicate. And really, this is the case for adults also! As many of us know, it is virtually impossible to ignore the text message alert. The same, of course, is true for high school students. Unfortunately, once students are distracted, it takes a LONG time for them to become re-engaged in their work. This is often how what should be 90 minutes of homework expands to take three hours.

Fear of Missing Out

Fear of Missing Out, or FoMo, is a growing phenomenon, which is no doubt increased in severity by technology. When the text messages start rolling in, students have a very difficult time ignoring them—not just because they are curious, but because they often feel acute anxiety over not being a part of whatever the folks on the text chain are discussing. When the need to check the phone becomes compulsive, it can become a problem.

Access to Distractions

Text messages, music playlists, YouTube, Netflix…the list goes on. All of these things can be great, but none of them aid in productivity most nights. I already mentioned how easily ideas and viewpoints are accessed online. Unfortunately, distractions are typically even more easily accessed. Here again, re-engaging with work once distracted takes a very long time and can make completing homework seem like a herculean task.

So, how can we help students exist productively within their new technological reality? Here are some strategies:

Design a Workspace

The goal when choosing a workspace is not necessarily to look over your child’s shoulder every five minutes, but to provide a sense of accountability. One of the reasons we try to move as much of the learning as possible to the classroom is because the classroom environment is specifically designed to enhance learning. If students get easily distracted in their chosen workspace, then set up the environment at home that will eliminate the unnecessary distractions.

Build In Breaks

It is silly to think that most high school students are able to sit for hours at a time, so my suggestion is not to try. One very productive method is the Pomodoro Technique, in which students need to commit to only 25 minutes of concentrated work at a stretch. Once the timer goes off, they can then take a break, catch up on text messages (which will help them avoid their fear of missing out), and get refreshed before sitting down for more work. They will no doubt be amazed by how productive those 25 minutes can be when they eliminate distractions and commit to short, concentrated stretches of work.

Create SMART Goals

As I say to every single student who asks, I view grades as a result, not as a goal in and of themselves. I often use the analogy of a high school sprinter. Setting the goal of winning the race seems like it might be ok, but what if the sprinter gets to the starting line and realizes he is running against Usain Bolt? Can he control the outcome of the race at that point? Of course not. The same is often true for grades, as there is no way to know the questions ahead of time. What students can control, however, is how they prepare, how they handle distractions, and how they take care of themselves. Encourage your children to set SMART goals for themselves, and the grades will come.

As we all know, technology is not going away, and so the importance of helping students learn how to use it productively and minimize their distractions will only increase as time goes on.

1 Comment

  1. I love the idea of making preparation the goal! Thanks, Steve

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