Sydney Birtwell’s field hockey sticks were ready to be carved.
On a screen in front of her, 20 sticks filled a square, a design that took the Maranacook High School senior about 40 minutes to create using the software AutoCAD, which she could access both on her school-issued laptop or in the classroom.
On a desktop computer in the industrial-arts classroom, Birtwell imported her design into other software that would create the programming code needed for the CNC Router to read. Similar to a hand-held router, the computer-controlled machine would cut her design and each of the life-sized, replica sticks would later be given to members of the school’s field hockey team with the player’s names on them.
Industrial-arts teacher Jeff Stockford screwed the square plywood onto the router and gave Birtwell the nod to begin. She started the program and then jumped up from the computer to see the router work. The machine moved the drill laterally and vertically, carving the design into the plywood.
When the router completed its assignment, Birtwell, Stockford and math teacher Mike Boyman looked into the carving. The router did not cut the plywood all the way through, and so Birtwell’s design was merely traced.
“What if we run it again?” Birtwell said to her teachers, who lead the interdisciplinary class.
She returned to the computer and adjusted her measurements.
“She has to check every step,” said Diane MacGregor, director of technology for the Readfield-based Regional School Unit 38. “It is feedback for learning.”
This time, the router cut the trace of her design a 16th of an inch deeper — but again, not deep enough.
Birtwell made another adjustment using the software, and this time it was enough to pull the stick out of the design, and she held it up for her teachers and MacGregor to see.
The Wayne resident is in her fourth year of industrial arts and though she doesn’t know what lies ahead post-high school, right now she loves this.
Though the field hockey sticks were two-dimensional, the software and machine were capable of designing and producing three-dimensional products, both of which include math formulas to create.
“(Technology) gives more diverse options to show what (students) have learned,” said Lori Twiss, the technology integrator for the high school.
She said that the calculus teacher made three-dimensional objects to show how formulas create the section of a curve.
“How many of us would have benefited by seeing and touching and producing a curve formula?” said MacGregor.
The district also utilizes Google Classroom for students to collaborate using shared documents, and parents can follow their student’s progress — not wait for report cards. E-books also have gained use, giving students access to a variety of texts the library may not have available on hand.
“It affords a greater library,” said Paul McGovern, RSU 38 elementary school technology integrator.
As e-books can supplement a library, so can online courses through schools like University of Maine at Augusta or Kennebec Valley Community College.
“We don’t want to limit students just because of where they live,” said Matthew Shea, director of teaching and learning for Winthrop Public Schools.
With Quizlet, teachers can check in regularly to see how their students are understanding the content, and, if necessary, adjust instruction in a timely manner.
“We value the educator and the relationships that students have with adults in buildings,” said Angela Hardy, director of curriculum and instruction for Gardiner-based School Administrative District 11. “We want to use the technology to support that, and we know that students have some skills now because they have access more readily.”
But as technology, especially devices with screens, becomes more and more prevalent in school, how much more screen interaction are kids having?
“If we have the focus of the screen being the thing — we are doing it wrong,” said Shea. “(Devices) should be used as support and as tools, not the focus.”
Shea has seen the stigma that students are always behind devices. He said that a recent issue of an educational magazine for teachers and administrators depicted a child with headphones looking intently into a laptop next to a headline about personalized learning.
“I was totally disappointed on what I was seeing in there,” Shea said.
He believes part of the stigma has come from media companies trying to push products.
“You cannot learn that way,” said Shea. “Who helps (the student) when they get stuck? Computers cannot do that.”
He thinks the stigma makes it easy for the public to vilify educators — but teachers are actually cognizant of the effects of too much screen time.
“We see it less as a stigma and more of a social dilemma we are all grappling with,” said Ben Priest, dean of academics and English Department chairperson for Kents Hill School, who teaches classes to sophomores and seniors.
“We have a shared cultural addiction to technology that we have not figured out how to handle,” he said.
Students at Kents Hill, Priest said, have participated in digital fasts, giving them the opportunity to evaluate how wedded they are to their personal devices
“I do think that this generation utilizes technology a lot,” said Kim Silsby, principal of Augusta’s Cony High School, adding that a lot of that is on social media sites.
“Use of technology is important, not necessarily the time that is spent in technology,” said Terry McGuire, SAD 11’s director of technology. “If it is a valid use of technology, it is great. If it is … mindlessly looking at Facebook, that’s not OK. If you are using Facebook to collaborate and to exchange ideas, that’s a valid use of technology.”
Kents Hill School, which is a ninth- to 12th-grade boarding school, has communal spaces, such as the dining commons, that are treated as sacred spaces where devices should not be used, according to Priest. He said in these places students should be communicating with their community.
These rules align with recommendations made by Dr. Stephen Meister, a developmental and behavioral pediatrics specialist and the medical director of Edmund Ervin Pediatrics Center, part of MaineGeneral Health Center. He suggests families designate media-free or unplugged rooms, and take media-free vacations. Meister also recommends families not have media at the dinner table, so that children can practice making eye contact, learning facial expressions and learning body language.
“Social development depends on that eye contact reading other people’s facial expressions and body language and you do not learn that if you’re in front of videos all the time,” he said. “It is critically important kids engage in social activities with other kids and adults.”
Meister said teens especially are developing addictions to computer games, and that they experience withdrawal and irritability when they stop playing.
Other recommendations he had were for children not to be exposed to devices and screens an hour before bedtime, and not letting them have devices and screens in the bedrooms, because they often turn them back on rather than going to bed.
Too much media use, Meister said, can also promote obesity. Teens who watch more than five hours of television are more than five times likely to be obese. Meister said that problems resulting from screen interaction are not recent; they have been around since televisions.
He suggested the daily 5-2-1-0 Rule for kids — eat five servings of fruits, no more than two hours of screen time, one hour of vigorous exercise and zero sugar.
Dr. Bill Lavin, a pediatric ophthalmology specialist at MaineGeneral, said that too much screen time can increase the progression of myopia, or nearsightedness, in children.
“The ciliary muscle goes into spasm looking at something up close,” he said. “That changes the shape of the lens of eye.”
Lavin said this can also happen in children who are heavy readers of print books and kids who read or use devices in inadequate lighting conditions.
“Ultraviolet light is important for developing visual cortex,” he said, noting that is natural light from outside.
Lavin recommended that for every hour on a screen, children should take a 10-minute break.
Dry eye can also be caused by too much screen interaction, according to Dr. James Brewer, optometrist and a co-owner of Smart Eye Care in Farmingdale. This is a problem for adults and children alike. When using a screen, he said, the blink rate decreases about 30%.
“We are not getting as much mechanical pressure on our eyelids to express tears,” Brewer explained.
To his patients, he recommends the 20-20-20 Rule.
“Take a break every 20 minutes and look at something for 20 seconds that is 20 feet away,” said Brewer.
Denise Churchill, the technology integrator for the Maranacook Middle School, said she communicates with parents and families about setting restrictions for screen use at the beginning of each school year.
“Starting now when they are young and can develop habits and to be safe, respectful users is really important,” she said. “The focus is on teaching good practices and working with parents to all be on the same page around that.”
Churchill said the school takes an educational approach if the child uses a device inappropriately.
“(The student) will meet with me, and we will talk it through about why it is not a safe practice, how is it hurting you because you are not getting your work done,” she said, “rather than just taking away the device.”
The approach at Kents Hill is similar.
“We do less policing,” said Priest, “and teach kids about their own media consumption.”
Silsby said that at Cony High School, students are encouraged not to spend more than two hours per day of screen time for noneducational time.
The American Academy of Pediatrics offers tips for making a Family Media Use Plan at healthychildren.org.