Middle School News

National Day of Unplugging Challenges Students while Common Ground Speakers Educate Parents

At Nueva, we seek opportunities to teach the whole student and to connect learning to all aspects of students’ lives. Recently we have been reflecting on ways to develop habits that exploit the best qualities of our ubiquitous digital devices while maintaining life balance.

On March 3, Nueva’s Middle School participated in the National Day of Unplugging. Just a few days later, parents learned from experts at Common Ground’s event entitled Parenting in the Digital Age: A Facts Not Fear Approach. These two events rounded out our offerings, adding to the last month’s middle school SEL parent education night, “SEL and Technology: A Night of Parent Education.”


National Day of Unplugging

We asked ourselves, “Could we function without our phones and computers for a day?” 
Supported by Division Head Liza Raynal, MS faculty and students had the green light to give the National Day of Unplugging a try. Abby Reider and Janelle Spanier, MS SEL Teachers, described the plans in an email to parents, including context-setting conversations that would be held with students during class meetings early in the week, various options for participation, and suggestions about how families might participate with their children.

As Abby and Janelle framed the intention, “Nueva aims to teach kids how to live a healthy life, find balance, and be well emotionally and physically. We acknowledge that we live in a community with high goals, one that both thrives on technology and can fall victim to negative consequences of overuse if we’re not conscientious and supporting each other. Our participation in this day follows our themes of digital citizenship, healthy technology use, and wellness, some of the hallmarks of our SEL and technology programs.”

Students made signs reflecting on guiding questions: “What do you think you might learn from unplugging?” and “If you unplug, what might you 'plug in' to?” These were fun and inspiring and included:

I unplug to be more connected to nature.
I unplug to talk to real people instead of a screen.
I unplug to focus on what’s in front of me.

 Two students, Owen Z. and Yash N., were excited to share how it felt to be freed from phones and laptops. “It’s been fun!” they chimed. “We have to use our laptops most of the time for work and didn’t have to today. It was a little weird, but also nice and quiet,” said Owen. Others expressed how it felt on posters around campus: “Eek! This is challenging!” and “Nerve-wracking but GREAT!”

So, how did it go? Faculty reflections acknowledged how difficult it was: technology supports their daily mission to deliver the best educational experience to students, including developing  and delivering curriculum, posting homework to blogs, and communicating with parents.

A darker side surfaced as well — the realization that at times we don’t design our technology usage and are instead pulled to it by habit. In reflection, everyone who participated gained powerful personal learning.

Abby said, “Reflecting on the day forced me to think about when technology is helping me and when it is controlling me. I sometimes spend more time than I want online, and I realize that it negatively affects me. I try hard to practice what I teach.”


Common Ground Speakers: Parenting in the Digital Age

The Common Ground Speaker Series wrapped up its 2016–2017 season with presentations by Dr. Laura Kastner and Dr. Yalda Uhls at Nueva’s Upper School on March 8. They shared a “Facts Not Fear” approach to technology, providing strategies to parents for raising healthy and safe children in a 24/7 connected world.

Dr. Kastner is a clinical psychologist, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington, and author of five books covering all stages of child development, including Getting to Calm: Cool-headed Strategies for Parenting Tweens and Teens. Dr. Uhls, a consultant to Common Sense Media and author of Media Moms and Digital Dads, combines her background as content developer and film executive and her PhD research on the impact of media on children to help parents navigate child-rearing in a networked world.

Dr. Kastner began the event by establishing a knowledge framework covering parenting styles and a “neuroscience primer” describing the operations of several key systems of our brains. She wove these two topics together with examples that illustrated the interconnectivity of behavior and biology.

With humor and compassion, Dr. Kastner shared the complexity that is parenting today in a way that made it feel hopeful. She gave real examples, such as how to manage an “amygdala hijack,” i.e., a moment when our fight or flight reflex kicks in when we are dealing with thorny issues with our children—also known as letting our emotions take over. While we want our children to think through consequences of their behavior, our own behavior can create roadblocks to communication if our responses cause us to lose our calm.

Dr. Kastner suggested parents help students stay in balance by finding time to slow down and incorporate relaxation into their often stressful lives. She encouraged parents to be models of “wise-mindedness,” a construct that incorporates a balance of empathy towards yourself and members of your family, as well as giving yourself permission to make technology decisions that feel right to you given your values, culture, and upbringing.

Dr. Uhls dove directly into recognizing the significance that devices, social media, and technology in general now have in our lives. She reassured parents, “It’s normal to feel fear. Today most children spend more time with digital media and devices than any other activity in their lives.”

Dr. Uhls described a parenting strategy called “active media mediation,” in which parents engage in frequent conversations with their children about media use. This active participation educates children on parental views while allowing children to feel comfortable sharing content. It enables parents to establish effective limits through open communication and to share their responses, both positive and negative, to technology and content based upon their values. While she made it sound easy, she acknowledged that it takes time, effort, and intention, and she offered parents the following practical tips:

  • Always model the behavior you want to see in your kids. How much do you focus on your devices? Are your children feeling ignored?
  • Pay attention to content choices and content quality. According to the American Association of Pediatrics, the quality of content is more important than time spent on devices.
  • Learn what children are doing on their devices. What’s motivating them? Are they creating? Are they connecting with friends? Playing games?
  • View content with children as often as possible.
  • As early as possible through modeling and conversations, help children develop their own strategies for discerning the value of content and managing their digital time.

Dr. Uhls’ talk was filled with warmth and compassion, as well as real examples of the ways in which she uses these strategies in her own family. She recommended establishing media agreements as an important tool to think about the issues to discuss with children. She also recommended that parents firmly establish “device-free time” each day, even if it is 10 minutes, emphasizing that students need time away from screens to learn essential social and emotional skills and to become experienced at taking technology breaks.

One Nueva mom, Puja Kaul, summed up her observations. “This talk helped me feel more confident about digital media and parenting. Both speakers brought a real-life, no-fear approach to integrating technology into one's particular family life. As with most aspects of parenting, the speakers reminded us to be positive yet firm on restrictions to media and to get informed and involved in the content our kids are accessing.”


 March 17, 2017

Read More

Remotely Together: Sharkbytes Build a Robot in a Remote Environment

While FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) team captain Lucy D. was building the chassis, build team lead James T. was working on the flywheel launcher, Jason C. was busy creating the intake, and Howard L. and Anton P. were building the wobble arm. This was life for the Sharkbytes, who worked together remotely to design, build, and program a robot for the 2020–21 FTC competition.

Colors of Nature: An Eye-Opening Course—Or, How Environmentalism & Racism Are Intertwined

In the new fall 2020 elective “Colors of Nature,” seventh- and eighth-grade students explored the notion that people of color have different access to and privileges in the natural world. Through class discussions and creative journals, students reflected on how environmentalism and racism are intertwined. Eighth-grader Jax C. shares an introduction, and three students—Anika G., Kayla L., and Anjuli M.—reflect on their experience in this course. 

Catching Up with . . . Christine Braun

Viewing the world with an artist’s eye. Creating projects rooted in empathy. Empowering students with iteration and innovation. 

Throughout the past year, I-Lab engineer and Hillsborough shop manager Christine Braun has been a fixture on the Hillsborough campus, using the I-Lab as her home base while teaching, leading, and planning for design thinking-related initiatives. She is also a lit club facilitator for a seventh- and eighth-grade lit club.

Fifth Grade Earth Science “Rocks” in Remote Setting!

Toward the end of October, fifth-grade Earth Science classes completed the fall study of Earth’s composition and the rock cycle. To help students solidify their learning and set it in stone, students created models of the rock cycle using upcycled or ephemeral materials found in their homes. 

“Poem-Worthy Noodles” Connect Community to History and Each Other: Jennifer Lin-Liu, Author of On the Noodle Road ‘Visits’ Nueva

After school on Thursday, October 21, about 40 students and teachers gathered on Zoom to enrich and extend their current interdisciplinary study of the Silk Road. They were participating in a noodle-making workshop by author and restauranteur Jennifer Lin-Liu that covered centuries of history and was generations of cross-continental journeys in the making. Organized by Jennifer Paull in conjunction with the seventh- and eighth-grade humanities teachers, this event is one of many the new Humanities Center will showcase in the years to come.

Catching Up with . . . Sarah Powell

We sat down with Sarah Powell, middle school student support specialist, to hear about her passion for supporting gifted students, particularly during this challenging time. In this interview, Sarah shares how she helps to create pathways for students’ academic development, and she provides insight into the importance of relationships between parents, teachers, and students—and superpowers!—in our middle school support program at Nueva.  

Nueva Students Welcome Families to the Mid-Autumn Festival

This month, students in Weixia’s class celebrated 中秋节 or zhōng qiū jié (the Mid-Autumn Festival), a traditional event celebrated by many East and Southeast Asian people. With their parents, students watched the full moon, recited an ancient poem, and gave their parents a handmade card of appreciation. These activities were part of their process of immersing themselves in Chinese culture, an important part of learning the language, and they also offered an opportunity for students to share their learning with their families.