As you probably know all too well, technology use is increasing for both teachers and students, and so are the types of tools that are being introduced in schools. Young students are wearing Google Glass to document their work, teachers are rushing to their computers to check email, and classrooms are bustling with activity as small groups gather around iPads to create projects. With this growing number of tools, there comes an influx of information and a host of choices that didn't exist before. Given this reality, it’s important that we help our students (and ourselves) find ways to manage technology with purpose and avoid information overload. Interestingly, even ironically, some of the best solutions involve technology. From my experience, these mindfulness-promoting tools can truly make a difference in the lives of students.
Practicing mindfulness is a great way to help avoid feeling overloaded. It can also help students learn to deal with stress and their emotions. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.” Mindfulness has been shown to improve the ability to focus, especially for those with ADHD (New York Times, 2014) and to lessen stress and increase well-being (The Huffington Post, 2013).
Teachers can find lots of great free tools to integrate mindfulness in their classrooms. Below are two websites and an app I tried this year that worked very well for different groups of students. GoNoodle was the most successful tool for whole-class mindfulness, and Stop, Breathe & Think was useful for one-on-one work and for older students. Calm.com is a great tool to have open in the background as students are working or as a quick option to help students transition and take a few moments to be more aware, either individually on their own devices or with the whole class.
GoNoodle is a free website that provides a selection of brain breaks you can use with elementary and middle school students. They can help kids transition between activities, get moving, or, conversely, slow down and simply breathe.
GoNoodle now has two fabulous brain breaks that focus on mindfulness: "Air Time" and "Flow." Each activity is only about three minutes long, so it’s easy to fit into your day. "Air Time" is a simple breathing activity that guides students to breathe in and out with a floating bubble. "Flow" is an excellent first step toward making mindfulness a regular part of your classroom’s culture. It provides guided meditations for students in grades K-7 paired with visuals and movement. There’s even a teaching guide to help you get started.
Designed specifically to help students learn how to meditate and integrate mindfulness into their day, this iOS app encourages students to stop and check in with their thoughts and feelings, raising their self-awareness. In response to the feelings they choose in their check-in, students see a selection of guided meditations tailored to their current state. This app is more suited for older students and individual practice. This would be a wonderful tool to use in 1-to-1 environments so students could access the app whenever they feel overwhelmed or stressed. You could introduce it early in the year with a quick overview of the app and a class exercise using the in-app activity, “Learn to Meditate.
If you need a quick and easy tool to help your students feel more mindful, check this one out. It loads instantly to a relaxing visualization and also provides a selection of sounds and even guided meditations to help you and your students feel calm. It’s great for any age and can be used individually or as a whole class. Ask students to visit the site on their own while taking a break in a “peace corner/chair,” or display the site for the whole class, encouraging students to become more aware of their thoughts and feelings and increase mindfulness before a lesson or activity.
All of these resources help guide students’ attention to a single focus -- their breath -- and help them learn how to be more aware of their thoughts and feelings. These skills are invaluable in a world where we're often so busy multitasking that we're unaware of how distracted and overwhelmed we become during the day. Using these tools in your classroom can help model for students how they can use technology purposefully and in ways that support their well-being. Plus, it should bring an increased sense of calm, focus, and awareness to your classroom.