Does mindfulness have a place in schools?

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.
— Albert Einstein

Mindfulness at its most basic concept is the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something. It is associated heavily with breathing techniques and meditation and, until recently, was not a particularly Western concept.

Throughout history the practice of mindfulness is synonymous with religion, particularly Hinduism and Buddhism; though there are links to all major religions. In modern society however mindfulness has been associated with scientific studies, forms of medical treatment, and as a tool to improve general living.

Studies show that mindfulness can help with a myriad of things, including: stress, managing pain, anxiety, depression, sleep issues, controlling substance abuse problems, and overcoming/managing personality disorders. While some may find this somewhat questionable, the backing of scientific and clinical studies would suggest that it can in fact be a real asset to medicine. 

But what else can this apparently miraculous practice bring to the table? Studies suggest that mindfulness can boost many different characteristics, depending on how you approach it.

  • calmness
  • creativity
  • happiness
  • tenacity
  • memory
  • compassion
  • heightened awareness
  • self-control
  • problem solving
  • decision making

All of these have been noted as common traits that mindfulness exercises can improve.

With a steady increase in popularity, mindfulness is obviously making a lasting impression in today's tech-fuelled society. But what practical applications could mindfulness education have in our classrooms? Are there positive benefits that could be reaped from the odd workshop here and there? Or could these benefits lead to mindfulness being on the Curriculum - fitting comfortably perhaps in subjects like PHSE (Personal, Health and Social Education)? 

Interestingly a recent UK Government drive, with Nicky Morgan as Secretary of State for Education at the helm, was to promote 'Character Education'. This promotion saw character traits being actively taught to young learners under the premise it will make them more resilient in the real world. These traits included:

  • perseverance, resilience and grit
  • confidence and optimism
  • motivation, drive and ambition
  • neighbourliness and community spirit
  • tolerance and respect
  • honesty, integrity and dignity
  • conscientiousness, curiosity and focus

Notice some similarities? Amazingly, those characteristics identified as being a essential to the futures of coming generations closely resemble those that studies suggest mindfulness can help deliver. Advocates for mindfulness will surely argue a touch of serendipity to this.

Evidence is beginning to stack to one side of this question. With the UK Government wishing to provide young learners with certain traits, and mindfulness a seemingly perfect way to deliver these traits, it would be obvious to say that there is a place for mindfulness in schools.

How to be More Mindful Every Day

Getting into the practise of mindfulness is actually quite easy. It does require some discipline and can take a while to master, but by following 5 basic principles it can easily integrate into your day-to-day living. Through learning these 5 steps it becomes clearer just how you could adapt mindfulness to be used in learning.

  1. Put your phone on Airplane Mode: It is amazing just how distracting a phone can be. How many times have you quickly checked your phone when talking to a friend or trying to focus on a task? Remove the temptation, even if it just for 30 minutes a day, and give your full attention to what you are doing. 
  2. Connect with nature: You don't need to go full Bear Grylls, but doing something like going for a walk in the woods is an effective way to reconnect with the physical world. Take notice of what is around you and be aware of how your thoughts wonder. Remember: mindfulness is about being present in the moment.
  3. Get more sleep: This is essential. Being tired makes being present that much harder. It may be difficult for some but make the aim to get a full eight hours each night. Believe us, you will notice a difference. It goes without saying that having young learners adopt this same philosophy will really help them during school hours.
  4. Meditate: Forget the cross-legged, five-hour stint under the torrent of a waterfall. No, meditation requires you to be comfortable and undistracted. Sitting in a dark room is a perfect start. Begin by trying to sit in silence for 5 minutes and focus on your breathing, slowly in and out. Your mind will wonder but this is fine. You aren't trying to find Nirvana; you are focussing on being in the moment.
  5. Eat slowly and savour your food: Eating for many now is an automatic process. How many of us chew and think, "Wow! This is delicious"? During your next meal think about each bite you take: the texture and flavours. Chew slowly and take note of what you can taste. By learning this process you are beginning to master the art of being present. 

As a final note, there are loads of amazing books, apps and online sources for mindfulness. Don't be afraid to try it and don't make the excuse of having no time. Meditation, for example, can just be 5 minutes a day. Instead of hitting the snooze button in the morning try sitting up in bed and giving the meditation a go! This could be the key to unlocking more happiness and reducing stress in our hectic lives. 

We would love to hear your views on mindfulness and whether it could benefit young learners. Comment below.

Guest Blog: Keeping Children Safe Online

The internet is a wonderful place for children to learn and keep in touch with loved ones, but there’s always threats that are difficult to protect them from. We spoke to Rosalind Brookman of Broadband Genie about some of the steps we can take to help keep children safe online.

Online safety in schools

Technology is now an important part of a student’s learning experience, both at school and at home. Along with the many positives that this can bring, however, it also creates many areas of concern around exactly what students may be able to access.

Schools can ensure that their own devices are rendered safe for pupil use, by equipping their IT network with the correct filters and monitoring systems to prevent inappropriate content being viewed and which will flag up any concerns but students’ personal smartphones and tablets present a trickier problem.

Encouraging thoughtful online behaviour

Monitoring or removing personal devices from students is not an effective answer to keeping them safe on the internet. Pro-actively teaching them to demonstrate positive online behaviour is more likely to protect them in the long run and is something that can be incorporated throughout all aspects of the curriculum, not just during IT lessons.

Pupils should be helped to identify the boundaries (including the legal implications that could arise from inappropriate online actions) they should adhere to in terms of good internet practices and the consequences outlined in school policy if they deliberately overstep them. For their own safety they need to understand the potential ramifications of posting personal information online and can be reminded that their mobile devices should not be left lying around so that others can access their private data.

Preventing cyberbullying

All schools should already have a tough anti-bullying policy in place, and it is vital that the whole student body is clear that this includes a zero tolerance approach to all forms of online harassment, or cyberbullying, as well. Students might receive threats of physical abuse or psychological intimidation; or the humiliation of somebody posting unwanted photos or derogatory messages on social networking sites. With practically everybody owning some sort of mobile device nowadays cyberbullying can become a continuous and inescapable pressure for its victims.

Teachers need to be vigilant for signs that a child is being bullied online: withdrawal from classroom interactions or social activities, the sudden drop in standards of school work, drastic changes in appearance or personality, signs of depression or self-harm and a greater obsession with checking their mobile device, followed by extreme behaviours could all point to potential cyberbullying.

There should be a transparent and robust strategy in place for those who are victims of cyberbullying. Teachers need to ensure their pupils know that any worries they have around this issue will always be taken seriously and that there is a defined action plan that can be used to help them deal with it. They should be advised to keep any evidence that they are being bullied (take screen shots etc.) and to report abuse via the specific buttons on their social media accounts as well as to a trusted adult. School can provide an anonymous drop box, email address or hotline for this if necessary. 

Technology is a huge asset to education and a stimulating motivational tool for schools. A forward thinking teaching structure, along with support from parents at home, can help to foster a positive and confident online school community as well as creating a safe pathway for children to explore and assertively resolve issues around negative conduct.

Keeping children safe online is a paramount issue. We would love to hear your views on this below.

Can playing video games at school boost learning? Microsoft certainly think so!

Yes, it’s fun and, yes, it’s engaging but the way we use Minecraft, it’s not a game. It’s a genuine learning technique.
— Leigh Wolmarans, Headteacher of Lings Primary School, Northampton, UK

It seems pretty obvious to say that technology has invaded practically every aspect of our day-to-day living. But when it comes to education there has been some reluctance in seeing the age of digital meet the classroom and our young learners. 

Tech powerhouse Microsoft are on the brink of releasing their answer to this, Minecraft: Education Edition. For those who have not seen Minecraft, it is an open-world, or Sandbox, game where players can create entire worlds using blocks - lots and lots of blocks.

User-created house with water feature and livestock.

User-created house with water feature and livestock.

What you can build ranges from basic little homes, with fireplaces and a table and chair set, to castles in the clouds or the Eiffel Tower. Quite literally the only limit is your imagination. Resources are mined from the player inhabited world using tools, zombies and spiders can be slain with crafted weapons, and you can even create music using "soundblocks" ----------->

 

The latest iteration of Minecraft, to be released September 2016 by Microsoft, is aimed at the classroom. In a press release, Microsoft claim that through working alongside teachers they have created a version of the game that can actively boost learning.

Geography seems the most logical starting point for subjects which the game can begin to broach. Creating landscapes filled with mountains, gorges, farmland and flowing streams are all very easy things to do in-game. But what about more obscure subjects? How about creating the Great Pyramids for history lessons; or stages and scenery for drama, then acting out plays with avatars? What about creating real structures to perfect scale for mathematics or making giant artistic pieces in block form? It is all very, very possible.

At this year's Bett Show, Microsoft showcased the possible applications of Minecraft and biology; taking onlookers through a human eye created in-game. Sign-posts dotted outside and inside the ocular structure detailed the process of light entering the eye through the cornea through to signals being sent to the brain. What it expertly demonstrated is an innovative, digital and highly approachable format for bettering learner education. No longer will the dusty, old projector need to be wheeled out for science info reels!

A model of the human eye, demoed by Microsoft at Bett Show 2015

A model of the human eye, demoed by Microsoft at Bett Show 2015

Subjects aside, there are other benefits to be taken from the game. Character building skills such as collaboration, creativity and problem solving are all possible outcomes through playing.

One common example where this is highlighted is where students are tasked with building a representation of their own school. They need to go out of the classroom, measure it up and estimate scales. They need to work together and decide  who’s going to build the cafeteria, the gym, and the science lab. In a group they need to decide the right materials to use. Alone the task would be too much but as a group there is a notion of being able to create something really special.

Minecraft: Education Edition will be released in September this year with a subscription cost up to $5 for every user.

Could you see your school using Minecraft as a learning tool? We'd love to hear your thoughts below.

Using Buffer to schedule social media posts

Don’t start your day until you have finished it. Plan your day.
— Jim Rohn

If you are invested in the digital marketing industry chances are you have heard of Buffer; an incredibly useful tool for scheduling social media posts. We use Buffer daily and absolutely love it. The time it can help save alone makes it an essential part of our business.

Schools are very busy places, and most marketers are strapped for time. This is where scheduling comes into play! Most marketers will know what is happening during the day - trips, concerts, sports fixtures, visitors and so on - so these can all be scheduled.

Start the day by scheduling the key events that are happening today.

This blog piece will cover top Buffer tips focussed around scheduling posts across your social media platforms.

Getting Started

Ok. You've signed up with Buffer but where do you start? Buffer is practically valueless if you haven't added your social media accounts; so let's start there. 

From your dashboard you will be able to see, on the left, Accounts with the plus+ symbol next to it. Click it. You will see that you can add profiles for six different social media sites.

  • Twitter: simply add your school's @TwitterName handle
  • Facebook: you can add three different elements depending on how you use Facebook. These are:
    • Profile (i.e John Smith)
    • Page (i.e. JS Digital Marketing)
    • Group (i.e. John Smith's Marketing Tips)
  • LinkedIn: similarly LinkedIn has two different elements you can add:
    • Profile (i.e John Smith)
    • Page (i.e. JS Digital Marketing)
  • Google+: add your business page
  • Pinterest: add your Pinterest handle (note, this is only available on the Awesome Plan)
  • Instagram: Buffer's newest addition, just add you @InstagramName handle. 

Added them all? Perfect. Let's look now at the Dashboard.

The Buffer Dashboard

This is what our dashboard often looks like. As you can see we have queued up posts to go out on Twitter and Facebook throughout the day.

This means that for a small amount of work in the morning, finding photos to share and looking at what events are happening today, we have ensured that a day's worth of Tweets/posts will reach our audience.

Schedules

To maximise our reach we have created a schedule. This means that Buffer will automatically post at the times you specify. Using Twitter as an example here is how we post -------->

Setting up your own time plan is very easy to do. Click on the desired social media platform you want to schedule. From that site's dashboard you can see a tab called Schedule. Click this and you will see a page similar to the one aside (minus of course the scheduled times). 

Before you get going take note of the Schedule Timezone. If you want posts to actually post at the time you intend make sure that you have set the timezone to your area. It seems obvious but if missed the default may be 6 hours ahead or behind, and you could be missing out on reaching your intended audience

Your audience is online throughout the entire day - but schools tend to tweet during key times:

  • Before school (8am)
  • Lunchtime (12pm)
  • After school (4pm)

Which means a huge number of people will miss your tweets - particularly parents who may  be at work during those hours, and not checking Twitter until the late evening.

It becomes a 24 hour game when you have international pupils!

Creating a Schedule

Creating the schedule is as easy as clicking New Posting Schedule. Here are a few tips to nail down your plan:

  • Everyday or specific days: do you want to have posts going out daily or are there a particular range of days you had in mind? Knowing the days and times that will be of the greatest benefit will help drive stats such as Click Through Rate (CTR) and impressions
  • How often and at what level: do you want your posts to go out at a high level or do you want them spaced out? Do you plan to send 5 tweets a day or 20? These are all important points to consider.

Adding to the Queue

Excellent, you have a schedule and are ready to start posting. There are three easy ways this can be done:

  1. Writing posts through Buffer
  2. Using the Buffer tool on social media sites
  3. Using an app/extension on your browser.

Buffer.com is the obvious first stop. First, make sure you are in the Content tab and you will see a field with What do you want to share? inside it. Clicking on this will open a box where you can craft your content. You can then Add to Queue (or choose from other options, according to what you need).

The second option can be done through your chosen social media platform. They will now all have a Buffer icon/button somewhere, making it very easy to queue your content up.

The final option, one that we use more than any other, is to add an extension to your browser. This is simple enough to do, depending on the browser of choice.

This tool will enable you to Buffer any page with a few simple clicks, including editing the post and adding images and the like.

So if you are on a news article on your website, or blog post, then you can instantly Buffer that page without having to leave your website.

Going Pro

Buffer's Awesome Plan offers more advanced and greater options compared to the Individual (free) Plan. 

The key features of the Awesome Plan include:

  • More profiles, more planning: the cap of 1 profile for each social media outlet has been raised up to 10. This means that if your company has multiple accounts on Facebook, or Twitter, or LinkedIn,  you can now Buffer across them all with relative ease. Likewise the queue limit of 10 (for each platform) has been raised to 100. This grants you so much scope for planning way in advance; giving you more time to focus on other areas. This is very useful if you have multiple departmental Twitter accounts.
  • Different day, different plan: there is now no limit to how much control you can put over your schedule. If you want Monday to have two posts at 10:00am and 11:00am, then Tuesday to have 15 posts every half hour during office hours then you can easily set this up. This freedom with scheduling means you can easily create multiple plans to cover your week, and month if needed!

A few more points

So that's the basics pretty much covered. A few more things to take note of:

  • You can specify your own times. This is for already queued posts or ones that you may be writing. Setting a custom time will queue the post as normal, and will not affect other posts already in the schedule. Do note that it will push posts down the queue.
  • Individual (free) accounts are limited to 10 posts in the Buffer queue at any one time (per social media platform). 
  • You can integrate RSS Feeds into your scheduling. This offers such an easy way to source posts from sites/feeds that you have liked or use. Or to pull through your own school news/blogs. There is a limit of one feed per platform, or 15 per platform with the Awesome Plan.
  • There are a host of useful tools included on the dashboard to help you make the most of Buffer. Analytics is one such - taking note of CTR and impressions over a period of time will help you see what times and what types of posts are getting the most engagement.

For more helpful tips head over to Buffer's YouTube channel. They have put together a series of insightful videos to help you become a social media scheduling pro in no time at all!

Buffer is an important tool for our social media planning and posting. We would love to hear your comments below on how you use Buffer.

16 common words that didn't exist 16 years ago

It's 1999 and the world is on the brink of a new millennium. Fear runs riot with Y2K; an inherent and catastrophic failure that will occur in all electronic devices when the clocks turn back to 00:00 01/01/00. Planes will fall from the sky; all nuclear weapons will launch and detonate; and, perhaps worse of all, our TiVo boxes will delete the entire first season of The Sopranos. 

Of course, none of this happened. Many did think the world was ending because of their hangover but come January 1st, 2000  everything was in relative order. Little did people know however that the true age of digital was about to herald in. 

The digital revolution has changed the world and the way people interact with one another. Sharing golfing tips with a man from Kuala Lumpur while watching a how-to video on julienning a carrot is simple to do. No one would batter an eyelid at such an exploit (at least not without Snapchatting the whole episode first). 

Social media facilitates this with ease. In 1999, unless you were willing to remortgage to pay that month's phone bill, this was not so clearcut.

With these changes to our way of life, our actual language has adapted with the development and inclusion of lots of new words. And they are coming at some rate! Below we have listed 16 words that are commonplace today, but were completely unheard of as short as 16 years ago.

Social media: (n.) Websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking

Social media somehow makes you question your own reality: If you haven't Instagrammed your dinner is it real? If you haven't changed your relationship status from 'Single' to "It's complicated' on Facebook has it actually happened? 

Smartphone: (n.) A mobile phone that performs many of the functions of a computer, typically having a touchscreen interface, Internet access, and an operating system capable of running downloaded apps

Our phones are our lifelines in this complicated digital world, and what do we do to them? We drain their very life-force like e-Parasites.

e-Reader: (n.) A handheld device on which electronic versions of books, newspapers, magazines, etc. can be read

Apps: (n.) Computing: an application, especially as downloaded by a user to a mobile device

WiFi: (n.) A facility allowing computers, smartphones, or other devices to connect to the Internet or communicate with one another wirelessly within a particular area

While WiFi was in existence before 2000, it wasn't until late 1999 that the term was being used commercially.

Not seeing this symbol on your device is tantamount to a tornado carrying man-eating sharks coming right for you!

Bitcoin: (n.) A type of digital currency in which encryption techniques are used to regulate the generation of units of currency and verify the transfer of funds, operating independently of a central bank

Digital footprint: (n.) The information about a particular person that exists on the internet as a result of their online activity

Selfie: (n.) A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media

Also the sole reason of Kim Kardashian's existence.

#Hashtag: (n.)  A word or phrase preceded by a hash sign (#), used on social media websites and applications, especially Twitter, to identify messages on a specific topic

#WhatDidWeDoBeforeHashtags

Vlog: (n.) A blog in which the postings are primarily in video form

Facebook: (v.) Spend time using the social networking website Facebook

Google: (v.) Search for information about (someone or something) on the Internet using the search engine Google

Also the reason we can never beat the Quizee Rascals at the pub quiz...cheats.

Tweet: (v.) Post a message, image, etc. on the social media service Twitter

emoji: (n.) A small digital image or icon used to express an idea or emotion in electronic communication

Believe it or not the 'Face with tears of joy' was voted as the 2015 Oxford Dictionaries' Word of the Year - the first time ever a picture has won an award for words! 

YouTuber: (n.) A frequent user of the video-sharing website YouTube, especially someone who produces and appears in videos on the site

YouTube sensation PewDiePie.

Meme: (n.) An image, video, piece of text, etc., typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by Internet users, often with slight variations

With this influx of new words we wonder how long it will be until historians write of Ye Olde Facebook, or archeologists open laptop lids like treasure chests in the hope of finding an ancient Bitcoin fortune. 

Which words would you have added to the list? Comment below.