Posts tagged ‘technology fast’

November 3, 2014

“You Unplugged”: Challenge #1 in the Fairchild Challenge at Phipps

by Melissa Harding

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For one day this past month, over 1,250 middle and high school students turned off their iPods, Kindles and computers and went outside, as part of the first challenge of the Fairchild Challenge at Phipps. The first challenge of the Fairchild Challenge at Phipps for both middle and high school students, You Unplugged, asked participants to spend an entire day unplugged from all the social and entertainment technology in their lives. High school students wrote a reflective essay describing their time unplugged, whereas middle school students both wrote essays and had the option of also writing an original poem about the experience. While some of these essays reflect the drama of adolescence, many of them were striking in their creativity, honesty and scope.

Many students talked about how they were better able to connect with friends, family and even the natural world. Winning essayist from Springdale Junior High writes, “Without the distraction of a bright little screen I became more aware of my surroundings. Admittedly, if I would have been asked on day one what are the colors of the flowers in my flower bed I would not have known. On day two I studied their dark purple color, their shape, and how the rain drops stuck to the petals. I went for a walk in nature and observed.”

Another middle school student spent her day making art, from practicing her flute to painting. The second place author, from Shaler Area Middle School, felt that being away from her electronics improved her art so much that she has committed to reduced technology use overall, even after the challenge. She writes, “As for playing the flute, I can now feel the music that I play. Notes pour out naturally. I’m prepared for my Alley Valley Honors Band audition and hold the front seat in concert at school, simply because I chose to practice for 50 minutes each day in place of watching TV. Cutting down on electronics has changed my life for the better.”

The high school entries focused much more on how difficult it was to give up technology; many felt that their lifelines to civilization had been cut. The first place winning author, from Gateway High School, wrote that his day without technology made him realize that he was “addicted” to his devices. “Based on this experiment, I am pretty sure that electronics act like a drug with their addicting effect on my mind.” He goes on to write, “The huge usage of them is a major waste of time and a good example of how Americans live far above their means. They don’t serve any practical uses yet we overuse them all day long.”

Other students wrote that they were ready to make a real change in their lives. While no one wrote that they were giving up technology for good, many said that they would take more time every day to look out the window and go outside. The third place author, from the A.W. Beattie Career Center, writes, “That night when I went to bed, I decided to leave all of my things unplugged. I didn’t need them to entertain me. I went to bed knowing what I had learned today. I have the quietness of the outdoors, the sunlight, warm clothing, and a nice book collection. I can always go take a walk, and I can go play at the park. I honestly could go more days that didn’t involve all the batteries and chargers of our electronics, for just some of the silence, sweetness and activity of a natural day.”

Overall, most participants reflected that they learned a great deal from their technology fast. They spent more time with family, friends and pets. They also spent more time outside; many reported feeling free and happy outdoors. The consensus was that while this was a tough assignment, it was a good thing to do.

Thomas Huxley, contemporary of Charles Darwin, said about the disconnect between people and nature: “To a person uninstructed in natural history, his country or sea-side stroll is a walk through a gallery filled with wonderful works of art, nine-tenths of which have their faces turned to the wall.” Many youth today are walking through a hall of backwards pictures, never knowing what they are missing. Fortunately, through challenges like You Unplugged and others, some are flipping these paintings over and discovering their beauty.

Winners of the You, Unplugged: Nearby Nature challenge will be interviewed about their experience on The Saturday Light Brigade family radio station on November 22 at 10:05 am. Tune in to WRCT at 88.3 FM for their 25-min segment! Interviews will be available online about a week later.

The above photos were taken and are copyrighted by Phipps Science Education and Research staff.

November 27, 2012

“You Unplugged: Nearby Nature” – Challenge #2 in the Fairchild Challenge at Phipps

by Melissa Harding

For one day this past month, over 500 middle and high school students turned off their iPods, Kindles and computers and went outside, as part of an environmental outreach activity we created to simultaneously meet state education standards. The second challenge of the Fairchild Challenge at Phipps for both middle and high school students, You Unplugged: Nearby Nature, asked participants to spend an entire day unplugged from all the social and entertainment technology in their lives. Students were required to write a reflective essay describing their time unplugged and to how aware they were and they felt about their relationship to nearby nature before and after their experiment. While some of these essays reflect the drama of adolescence, many of them were striking in their creativity, honesty and scope.

Many students used their time outside to observe the world around them. On describing her time observing nature, this winning author from Mellon Middle School wrote, “Most people probably think, a tree’s a tree, it gives us paper, it provides us with air. But no. It’s more than meets the eye. If you gaze at its bark you see that every piece has a different pattern and is unique in its own way. Not just the appearance, but the texture….No one realizes that a tree is kind of like a person. Tough and adapting on the outside, but soft on the inside. We as humans are closer to nature than we think.”

Another middle school student spent her day outside making a scrapbook with friends. Together they collected flowers and leaves from around their neighborhood, making art from their findings. When reflecting on what her technology use means from a conservation standpoint, she writes, “the whole ‘zero tech’ experience was eye-opening. I realized how much technology I used and how absolutely easy it was not to use any of it…It made me think, if it were this easy to actually not use any of the technology, how much of an impact we could make, if no one used technology for one day. It could be huge.”

The high school entries focused much more on how difficult it was to give up technology; many felt that their lifelines to civilization had been cut. The first place winning author, from Shaler Area High School, wrote that her day without technology made her realize that she was “addicted” to her devices. “It was like an itch I couldn’t scratch.” She goes on to write, “I reflected on yesterday and my technology use and realized it was ridiculous. I literally paused everything to use it. I checked my newsfeed as I ate, watched others live on the television as I sat in my home, I even caught myself reaching out of the shower to respond to a text message! That’s crazy!”

Other students wrote that they were ready to make a real change in their lives. While no one wrote that they were giving up technology for good, many said that they would take more time every day to look out the window and go outside. The second place author, from The Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh, wrote, “By the end of the day, I was ready to plug back in. But this time, I knew, that it would be a bit different. I discovered a lot about myself during this time. I found that I actually care about nature more than I thought I did. After that day I began putting my phone away during my walks home so I could just enjoy my time with friends…I realized that I am in control of my own time.”

Overall, most participants reflected that they learned a great deal from their technology fast. They spent more time with family, friends and pets. They also spent more time outside; many reported feeling free and happy outdoors. The consensus was that while this was a tough assignment, it was a good thing to do.

Thomas Huxley, contemporary of Charles Darwin, said about the disconnect between people and nature: “To a person uninstructed in natural history, his country or sea-side stroll is a walk through a gallery filled with wonderful works of art, nine-tenths of which have their faces turned to the wall.” Many youth today are walking through a hall of backwards pictures, never knowing what they are missing. Fortunately, through challenges like You Unplugged and others, some are flipping these paintings over and discovering their beauty.

Winners of the You, Unplugged: Nearby Nature challenge will be interviewed about their experience on The Saturday Light Brigade family radio station on Dec. 8th. Tune in to WRCT at 88.3 FM for their 25-min segment! Interviews will be available online about a week later.

The above photos were taken and are copyrighted by Molly Steinwald and Julia Petruska.

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