ISTE20Creative Constructor
Lab Virtual
Digital Leadership
Summit at ISTE20 Live
ISTE21Edtech Advocacy &
Policy Summit

The Upside of Digital Media: Teaching Kids to be Screen Smart

Location: W474b

Listen and learn

Listen and learn : Lecture

Monday, June 25, 3:00–4:00 pm
Location: W474b

Nicole Dreiske  
This vibrant presentation shows adults how to teach mindful viewing to young children through healthy dialogue linking literacy skills to screen time. Participants will learn how to use screen time's powerful influence to accelerate learning, improve focus, strengthen self-regulation and increase empathy in little ones.

Skill level: Beginner
Attendee devices: Devices not needed
Focus: Digital age teaching & learning
Topic: Early childhood/elementary
Grade level: PK-2
ISTE Standards: For Coaches:
Digital Age Learning Environments
  • Collaborate with teachers and administrators to select and evaluate digital tools and resources that enhance teaching and learning and are compatible with the school technology infrastructure.
For Educators:
  • Stay current with research that supports improved student learning outcomes, including findings from the learning sciences.
For Administrators:
Digital Age Learning Culture
  • Ensure effective practice in the study of technology and its infusion across the curriculum.

Proposal summary

Purpose & objective

The Upside of Digital Media - Teaching Kids to Be Screen Smart presents unique neuroscience-based techniques for helping young children use, view and engage screens in ways that enhance numerous developmental domains. Participants will learn practical and proven techniques for going beyond “screen turnoff” to connect with children ages 2+ in formative dialogue about their screen experiences. The presentation outlines a much-needed response to teacher concerns about learning loss related to screen time in early childhood.

Despite urgent warnings from the AAP, Common Sense Media, the Parents TV Council, and scores of media experts, the average child ages 1-5 spends 30+ hours per week with phones, tablets, television, games and DVDs. Such immersive screen interaction has a powerful effect on young children, often limiting the development of language, cognitive skills and emotional intelligence.

The 21st century skills needed to reverse these devastating trends can readily be taught to teachers anxious to improve learning and mitigate their student’s experiences with screens.

Designed to incorporate auditory, visual and kinesthetic stimulation, the approach provides children with the vital cognitive and emotional skills needed to become healthy participants in an increasingly digital world. The methodological basis for this presentation operates from several key hypotheses: that healthy screen habits can be easy and fun to learn, can accelerate learning, and can prompt children to voluntarily limit make better viewing choices.

The presentation will first present developmentally appropriate methodologies that teach children ages 2-8 to engage screens with focus and intention, thereby laying the crucial foundation for them to process and digest what they watch.

The presentation will further:

· Propose an interactive model that teachers can use for structuring “first time screen experiences” and laying the foundation for a lifetime of balanced, healthy interactions with media.
· Demonstrate how the simple strategy of consistently “priming the child’s mind” before screen-time redirects brain chemistry and habituates children to expect meaningful dialog about screen-content.
· Model best practices for using screen-time to support literacy skills by sharing evidence-based techniques for “connecting the stories on screens to the stories in books.”

· Outline child-centered discussion techniques for using screen time to elevate empathy, lay the foundation for emotional intelligence and effect a decisive, meaningful and positive change in the ways children engage and use screens.
· Show how Mindful Viewing strategies support metacognition, literacy, social-emotional learning, inferential reasoning and self-regulation.

The presenter has been a featured speaker at NAEYC, CAEYC the World Summit on Media for Children, and the IL Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatric’s Annual Conference. Presenter's book, The Upside of Digital Devices will be published by Health Communications, Inc. in 2018.


The Upside of Digital Media – Teaching Kids to Be Screen Smart

I. Reframing the Experience of Screen Time
A. What does a great relationship with digital devices look like in early childhood? How can screen time support best EC development?
B. Creating a safe, child-centered environment. Why tone, tempo and body language matter when communicating about screens.
C. Learning about good choices - What we watch (or play) and why.
D. Fun, Bad, Sad, and Scary – New categories build new neural networks in describing screen experiences.
E. Building self-awareness into screen time - How do we feel and what do we think? Use screen time to promote metacognition.
F. The neuroscience of screen time.

II. Hocus Pocus Focus - Engaging the Child As an Active Screen User
A. Concentration and energy .
B. Physicalize the learning experience. Preparing pre-school children for screen time.
C. Scaffolding to fine motor and articulation exercises.
D. Becoming your students’ trusted guide through the digital landscape.

III. Screen Talk - Leverage literacy skills by finding the story in a movie, show or game.
A. P & Q – Close Analysis with the “Pause and Question” Technique.
B. Boost Vocabulary with Key Literacy Constructs: Plot – Character – Setting.
C. SEL – Connecting text to self to elevate empathy. The “What if” approach.
D. Inferential reasoning & critical thinking.

IV. Practicum: Screening – Connecting the stories on screens to the stories in books.
A. Lesson plans
B. Art Outcomes
C. Funwork for home
D. What it means to be screen smart and why children get excited about it.

Approximately 15 minutes will be spent on each segment.

Supporting research

Research for this methodology spans more than thirty years. A summary of topics addressed in the workshop has been provided below with some recent citations.

Object Categorization and Neural Networks

Marc Bornstein, head of child and family research at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, along with Martha Arterberry, professor of psychology at Colby College, worked together to create their published work of studies in “Developmental Psychology” to explain the importance of exposing children to object categories.

“Categories are especially valuable in infancy and early childhood when many new objects, events, and people are encountered because, without the ability and proclivity to categorize, children would have to learn to respond anew to each novel entity they experience” (Bornstein, Arterberry).

“Generally speaking, categories mediate our interactions with the world (Smith, 1989) insofar as they structure and clarify perception and cognition (Bornstein, 1984; Harnad, 1987). The environment affords an infinite variety of stimulation and is incessantly changing. Moreover, we experience the world out of a constant biological flux. Both these major sources of variation must be reduced if perception and cognition are to proceed with organization, order, and coherence.”

Citation Sources:
• Bornstein, Marc H., and Martha E. Arterberry. “The Development of Objects Categorization in Young Children: Hierarchal Inclusiveness, Age, Perceptual Attribute, and Group Versus Individual Analyses.” Developmental psychology 46.2 (2010): 350–365. PMC.

• Enquist, Magnus, and Stefano Ghirlanda. “Learning and Ontogeny.” Neural Networks and Animal Behavior, STU - Student edition ed., Princeton University Press, 2005, pp. 129–172. JSTOR,

Movement Supports Brain Function

It may seem counterintuitive to use physical energy prior to screen use, but research shows that the value of exercise and movement aligns with the improvements of cognitive skills and mental capacity. When children release their energy with the proper use of exercise in combination to cognitive tasks, the body regenerates the best capabilities in processing and memory.

Citation Sources:

• Tomporowski, Phillip D. et al. “Exercise and Children’s Intelligence, Cognition, and Academic Achievement.” Educational psychology review 20.2 (2008): 111–131. PMC. Web. 28 Aug. 2017.

• Schoenfeld, T. J., Rada, P., Pieruzzini, P. R., Hsueh, B., & Gould, E. (2013). Physical Exercise Prevents Stress-Induced Activation of Granule Neurons and Enhances Local Inhibitory Mechanisms in the Dentate Gyrus. Journal of Neuroscience, 33(18), 7770-7777. doi:10.1523/jneurosci.5352-12.2013

• Ploughman, Michelle. Exercise is brain food: The effects of physical activity on cognitive function. Developmental Neurorehabilitation, Vol. 11, Iss. 3,2008 .


Hand Use in EC Programs

Activating the use of hands also been shown to develop self control and cognitive maturity. Patricia Miller, professor of psychology at San Francisco State University, states that “hand gesturing simply helps kids think.”

Citation Source:
• Szalavitz, Maia. “Hand Gestures Could Make Kids Smarter.” Time Magazine, 31 July 2013.

We ask children to move their hands in part because it’s fast, easy and requires very little space. Also, when they’re moving their hands, they’re not touching each other! But activating the use of hands also been shown an increased cognitive skill, through such improvements like performance in math and correct grammar use. The connection to the mind and body is close, and with properly exercising action to thought, we automatically train the body’s expression to align with our thinking.

The physical exercises that make up the core curriculum for the “focus and energy” segment of the workshop are movements that every healthy child and teacher can perform with ease. Although isolation movements are fairly common in training for dance and gymnastics, these techniques were not standardized as a discrete methodology until Etienne Decroux began to develop the principles underlying “abstract” mime in the 1930’s. This deceptively simple set of isolation movements was then formulated into a training method called “the plastiques” by acclaimed theater director Jerzy Grotowski of the Polish Theater Laboratory in the 1960’s.

From 1975-1991 Dreiske utilized these techniques in a performer training process called “The Dreiske Discipline” which was taught at more than 500 universities and arts centers over 16 years. In 1977, Ms. Dreiske adapted plastiques for use in arts enrichment workshops for children, teaching energy, concentration and creativity. Dreiske’s work with theater and young children reached 5000 children a year, in and outside of Chicago.

Scaffolding & ZPD

Scaffolding is a term used and developed by Soviet educational theorist and psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934) to describe the process of addressing a classroom problem by demonstrating how to correctly solve it, then stepping back, and allowing room for a child to solve it themselves with positive reinforcement.

The zone of proximal development (abbreviated ZPD) is the difference between what a learner can do without help and what he or she can do with help.

Citation Source:

Vygotsky, Lev S., The Problem and the Approach, Massachussetts Institute of Technology Press, 2012


Eric Jensen, author of “Teaching with the Brain in Mind” and educator, explores the creation of our brains’ neurons connected to new learning. In this book, he states that

“When learning occurs, specific neurons connect and form a ‘junction box’ at the synapse. When we say cells ‘connect’ with other cells, we really mean that they are in such close proximity that the synapse is easily, almost effortlessly, ‘used’ over and over again” (Jensen).

“…the brain multiplies the individual cell-to-cell learning process by thousands, even millions” (Jensen).

Citation Source:
• Jensen, Eric. Teaching with the brain in mind. ASCD, 2005.

Brains vs. Computers

The average human brain contains about 100 billion nerve cells called neurons. Each of these neurons is a mini-computer in its with around 60 megabytes of RAM, enough to process thousands of operations every second. Multiple that by 100 billion – the total number of neurons – and you can start to see just how much power there is inside your head.

“Your brain, which is at least 75 percent water and is the consistency of a soft-boiled egg, is made up of some 100 billion nerve cells, called neurons, that are seamlessly arranged and suspended in this aqueous environment. Each nerve cell resembles a leafless but elastic oak tree, with wiggly branches and root systems that connect and disconnect to other nerve cells. The number of connections a particular nerve cell might make can range from 1,000 to more than 100,000, depending on where in the brain the nerve cell resides. For example, your neocortex – your thinking brain – has about 10,000 to 40,000 connections per neuron.

We used to think of the brain as a computer, and while there are certainly some similarities, we now know there’s much more to the story. Each neuron is its own unique biocomputer, with more than 60 megabytes of RAM”(Dispenza).

Citation Source:
• Dispenza, Joe. You are the placebo: Making your mind matter. Hay House, Inc, 2014.

Non Verbal Communication
The workshop provides non verbal communication techniques for boosting the efficacy of student-teacher and parent-child communication while using screens.

Citation Sources:

Beattie, G. (2004). Visible Thoughts: The New Psychology of Body Language. Routledge.

Mehrabian, A. (1972). Nonverbal communication. Aldine-Atherton, Chicago, Illinois.

Trimboli, A., & Walker, M. (1987). Nonverbal dominance in the communication of affect: A myth? Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 11(3), 180-190.

More [+]


person photo
Nicole Dreiske, International Children’s Media Center

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