After a unanimous vote by the Academic Council a few weeks ago, our school decided to do a “Power Down Day” with students. No devices in classrooms (we are 1-1) and no cellphones in free time (we have an otherwise open policy). We wanted to see what would happen if we didn’t use technology in or out of class for one full school day.
We timed it to follow a visit from Patrick Cook Deegan who spoke to us about mindfulness, wellness, and education. As a college student, Deegan took a leave from Brown University to bike through Southeast Asia. He spent 10 days in meditative retreat, 10 hours a day. His experiences led him to dive into a life of global activism, local social justice work, and innovative educational design.
We didn’t think our students would have Deegan-style revelations after one day without technology. But we thought it would be interesting to test an assumption about technology in schools — namely, that it has contributed to stress by creating higher levels of both distraction and, perhaps counterintuitively, accountability.
One of the biggest concerns we had was that students wouldn’t know what to do in their free time without technology. In preparation for the day, we gathered old-school materials like art supplies, soccer balls, board games and cards for those times in the day when students would otherwise be turning to their phones or computers. Teachers made handouts rather than uploading materials to Haiku, and students used pencils for note-taking rather than pecking at their keyboards or screens.
There was a palpable difference in the atmosphere as students arrived to campus on the morning of Power Down Day. Specifically, they weren’t looking down at their phones while walking. In study hall, some groups of students who didn’t have homework or didn’t want to get started on it sat on the floor playing Clue, Monopoly, and Scrabble. Students were considerably louder and more engaged with each other in the outdoor spaces and in some classes, there appeared to be more group work taking place.
In most aspects of the day, though, it was business as usual. We polled students and faculty afterward to see what they thought about the experience, and most felt that while powering down showed us how much we depend on technology, it did not dramatically improve our lives to set it aside. For some, the negatives outweighed the benefits. Many people said that it was just a “lost” day — somewhat more fun, but definitely less productive.
Regardless, I hope we do it again. Mindfulness is not simply taking time out of our usual habits and practices to think and reflect — but in order to be mindful, we do need to do just that at the very least.
We are back to normal this week — cellphones and other devices in full use everywhere, all the time. I stacked the games up in my office and invited students to come play when they need a break from it all.
I’m not holding my breath, but I did have one taker so far after school yesterday — my 7 year old. It was nice to hear her laughter when, after beating me soundly, the yellow and red Connect Four pieces fell to the floor.
This is an experiment well worth repeating! Perhaps a technology-free day is so alien that really finding out what school would be like without it requires more than a one-day withdrawal. I commend you and your school for taking the lead on this important issue in schools, and life, today.