We are sometimes asked about how much screen time our learners are having during a typical day. It’s an important question, so we’d like to take a moment to help you understand the role that screens play at Acton Academy NW Indy.
The short answer is that we are very thoughtful about screens and use them only to leverage certain technologies that will enhance learning. This means that for our youngest learners, whom we call Sparks (roughly ages 5-7), there are no screens at all on a normal day. Our Sparks are too busy playing and exploring their surroundings to be bothered with them. All of their core academic work is done using a variety of hands-on manipulatives that help them tangibly feel and physically see things like quantity, place value, or letter sounds.
In our Wonder studio (usually ages 8-12), there is about 90 minutes of total screen time each day. Most of this comes during morning core skills time, where learners use a variety of resources, including a few adaptive software programs as well as tactile, non-screen-based learning activities.
There’s a reason why we use screens for this part of the day: The goal is for our learners to learn how to learn and to therefore be able to move at their own pace through content that is at the appropriate level for each child individually, rather than whatever the teacher happens to be lecturing on that day. This builds agency for the children as they take ownership of their own learning, instead of passively receiving the same content as everyone else.
Adaptive software programs are wonderful for this. They allow the learner to progress in a self-paced structure while still having access to a wide range of instructional content, such as explanatory videos or lessons, sample problems, or examples. Many of the programs are designed to recognize the skill level of the child and then provide instruction at that level, ensuring that the child is in his/her challenge zone at all times.
This kind of individualization is very difficult to do in traditional learning environments and is one of the reasons that our learners are able to make such remarkable progress academically. Because they aren’t sitting through the same lectures and lessons as everyone else in the room, they can progress at the rate that is right for them, not the rate that is dictated by a mandated curriculum. Learning is far more efficient (and enjoyable) this way. Also helpful is the fact that lessons for challenging topics can easily be rewatched, paused, or rewound in ways that traditional lectures cannot.
There is very little, if any, screen time in the afternoon in our Wonder studio. The Arrows spend most of their afternoons doing interesting projects through their quests: They’re learning physics by building cars and sending them down ramps. They’re learning about anatomy by building surprisingly sophisticated 3-D models of body systems using play-dough, balloons, and other loose parts. They are learning about chickens by incubating eggs and marveling at the wondering of new life. If a screen is used at all, it is used solely as a tool for research during a project, which is usually pretty minimal, or perhaps to write something on a word processor.
The principle here is that we only want to use screens when they serve to enhance a child’s resources or learning process. Screens have their place as a tool to empower children in certain aspects of their learning, and we are careful to ensure they remain just that: a tool, and not the central point of engagement for our learners.