by Emily MacLean
Technology has become a vital component of our everyday lives and changed the classroom environment. With easier access to information and the ability to connect globally, classroom walls now expand well beyond the school’s physical boundaries. However, with instant information and connectivity, this also creates increased distractions and challenges, leading to a greater need to focus on digital citizenship with our students.
When our phone buzzes or we hear a ‘ding’ indicating a message, it is likely that both kids and adults alike reach for their phones to respond. It is rare that we stop to think about our relationship with our technology and the many notifications, interruptions or distractions that technology generates impact our environment and our daily lives. As teachers, we need to be cognizant of the purpose of technology in our classes and ensure we model a balanced approach to technology use inside and outside of the classroom. It is important to have an awareness of when devices are enhancing creativity and learning, and when they are hindering development.
Mindfulness is one way to develop an awareness of ourselves as individuals. We do this by taking time to refocus, breathe and evaluate our current needs. Mindfulness is about bringing awareness to the present moment you are in. It can be practiced informally through sitting quietly and meditating and breathing, or through more formal mindfulness routines that focus on being aware of certain aspects of your body or environment. Mindfulness is becoming more present in classrooms to begin the school day or refocus after a break as a way to reconnect with oneself.
The Benefits of Mindfulness in the Classroom
Mindfulness benefits students in many ways. It allows our bodies and minds a break from screens and devices. As students focus on themselves throughout a routine, they provide their eyes respite from screens, while providing their body with the ability to realign from potentially poor posture and relax tension throughout their muscles.
Students learn techniques to help manage and regulate their emotions, allowing them to feel less stressed and reactive to situations, creating a greater sense of calm within. This allows students to develop coping skills with their emotions. When students have greater self-awareness through mindfulness, they are also more likely to be compassionate towards others. The focus on socio-emotional learning, skills and student wellbeing through mindfulness allows students to develop a greater ability to focus and concentrate during their lessons.
Technology Applications that Support Mindfulness
Practicing mindfulness doesn’t have to always mean putting away our devices completely. There are many resources available online and in the app store to support introducing mindfulness into your classroom. Here are four that will help you integrate mindfulness into your daily classroom with lessons, breathing and easy-to-use resources right away:
- Smiling Minds (free): This is an Australian-created app containing an abundance of routines. It consists of programs with a series of mindfulness meditation routines grouped by age to ensure the daily mindfulness is age appropriate and tailored to the social-emotional needs of the students. The program progresses with each lesson, building on mindfulness skills with each routine as students become more familiar with their breathing and become more attuned to their own thoughts, feelings and physical state. The app saves your progress in the program so you can pick right back up the next day and continue with your students.
- Headspace (subscription-based): Headspace is similar to Smiling Minds in that it provides guided meditation. The UK-created app provides some free initial mindfulness meditations; however, it then requires a monthly or yearly subscription to unlock hundreds more. The mindful meditations for children are between one to 10 minutes in length, making it easy to fit into any part of your day.
- Mind Yeti (subscription-based): Mind Yeti is an app for elementary students to practice mindfulness through stories and characters. The mindfulness meditations are created around topics such as going to bed, managing emotions and focusing prior to an assessment. These targeted topics allow for students to become more attuned to their feelings and emotions in given situations, or help them prepare for upcoming experiences by focusing on seven mindfulness skills: breath, body, thoughts, feelings, sensations, gratitude and kindness.
- SettleYourGlitter (free): This application is similar, in principle, to the idea of a snow globe. SettleYourGlitter allows students to identify their current emotion (mad, sad, silly, worried) and to what extent they are feeling this emotion. After shaking the mobile device, the glitter swirls around a bubble on the screen and begins to settle. The child focuses on the glitter as it falls and there is a little blowfish to the right of the bubble to help prompt students with breathing in and out. This helps to reduce stress and calm students with visual cues. Once the glitter settles, students can self-assess whether or not they need to continue or if they are ready to move on with their day in a more calm and controlled emotional state.
Student Developed Mindfulness Routines
As the school year progresses and students become more accustomed to mindfulness as a practice, there is the opportunity to move beyond the apps to have your students create their own routines and develop ownership over the mindfulness in their classroom. This presents a variety of learning opportunities for the students:
- Compare and contrast. Comparing different routines will help students become aware of the elements that help establish a mindfulness routine from calming music, voice, pace, pausing and breathing. What aspects of certain routines do students prefer over others? What helps to create the calming nature of mindfulness?
- Establishing a topic and theme for their routine. Thinking about body scans, bubbles, breathing, your senses and other elements common to mindfulness routines, students can begin to choose what their own mindfulness routine will focus on. This provides an opportunity for adaptations to existing routines, or for students to explore their creativity with new metaphors and ideas in their own mindfulness practice.
- Writing a script for the mindfulness routine. Reflecting back to the different routines, students learn how to introduce a mindfulness routine, create a journey for their participants and bring the mindfulness practice to a close. What images do the students hope to construct in their participant’s minds? Students will learn to strengthen their descriptive writing with a focus on the five senses to compose vivid imagery that is calming for others.
- Leading a routine in class. Leading a mindfulness routine for your peers is more than just reciting a script. Creating an environment that facilitates mindfulness is just as important. The lead facilitator may want to dim the lights and play relaxing music as students come in and encourage others to find a place in the classroom to sit or lie down somewhere that will be comfortable, and where they won’t be interrupted by others during the session, before sharing their routine as a spoken word. In preparation, the students will want to practice their pacing and tone of voice by rehearsing how they present their mindfulness routine.
- Recording the mindfulness routine to add to your class collection. Students may wish to record themselves reading their script in GarageBand, Soundtrap or another application of their choice, similar to a podcast, to create a digital copy of their mindfulness routine. For students who may be shy about presenting in front of their peers, this also provides an alternative method of sharing their creation in a non-threatening way.
- Receiving Feedback. Self-reflection and peer feedback following the mindfulness session provides students with the opportunity to receive praise for their accomplishments, while also developing next steps for their next turn leading the mindfulness for the class.
Allowing for student voices to become a part of the mindfulness program increases engagement and participation. Mindfulness positively impacts the culture and climate of a classroom by supporting student wellbeing, encouraging balance, breaking from digital screens and allowing students to have more awareness of themselves before they continue going about their day.
Emily MacLean is an international educator currently in Australia and has worked in Canada, Singapore and China as an education technology coach and elementary PYP teacher. She is an Apple Distinguished Educator (Class of 2015), Apple Teacher, Google for Educator Certified Innovator and Trainer. She holds a MEd. (Information Technologies) and a MEd. (Educational Leadership) from Charles Sturt University. Emily is passionate about fostering student voice and leadership inside and out of the classroom and facilitating professional development to build capacity in staff. Emily can often be found doing ‘Just Dance’ or playing dodgeball with her students. Connect with Emily on Twitter @msemilymaclean or www.emilymaclean.com
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