The Distraction Dilemma: Hacking the Homework Problem

A Parents Guide to Programming: Hacking the Homework Problem

Given that the internet is designed to make our lives simpler, it is amazing how often it can make our lives seem more complicated. Take homework for instance – the very medium we want our children to avoid in order to concentrate is the same medium they need to research; and as much as we can monitor their time we can’t guarantee how they’ll use it. According to a recent BBC poll, some 70% of 2,000 parents feared social media could distract children from their work, and many claimed that blocking the internet simply fuelled tantrums and even tears. So how do you balance supervising your child’s work schedule without demonstrating a lack of trust? How do you keep them engaged whilst also developing a sense of self-discipline?

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There are a myriad of options out there. Programs such as RescueTime, StayFocusd and Cold Turkey allow you to block, filter, schedule, delete, program and customize to your heart’s desire – as well as avoid more old-school tactics such as simply confiscating smartphones and tablets (which, according to the BBC poll, 63% of parents argued was futile anyway). There are more common-sense steps you can take, such as silencing your phone, disabling notifications, changing your Facebook password over exams, having a clean and organized workspace, and setting clear work goals – but none are going to transform children into meditative masters of Maths anytime soon.

tantrum

But let’s consider a slightly different question – are our children distracting themselves from working, or working themselves to distraction? The internet offers a huge range of alternatives to learning but actually very few styles of learning in itself; so perhaps we need to consider why our children aren’t engaged in what they are doing, and end up straying from Biology to Buzzfeed, or finding themselves on Reddit when they swear they googled Rembrandt. Sure those sites are easy and fun and interesting – but can working on the internet not be all of those things too? Can we not make it all of those things?

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Children learn through others – through their teachers, parents, mentors, heroes – but the problem is there is no-one on the other side of the Web to actually engage them in the content that they are downloading. That is not to say that there are not lots of intelligent and dynamic learning sites out there – as an English student Schmoop and Sparknotes are my personal favourites – but simply that it becomes a bit of a one-way process, as children inevitably ‘download’ (both literally and metaphorically) all of the information, streaming it as fast as they can, until they can find something more genuinely engaging.

FOX / Via hidden-glow.tumblr.com

This is where online tutoring sites have something to offer, as they can provide both the ease, accessibility and multimedia of the Internet; but also the dialogue, spontaneity and active participation of face to face interaction, no matter if you are looking for a Maths tutor or for an English tutor. It is, in effect, a social media enterprise with actual social engagement, an interactive classroom rather than an easy get-out-and-go copy-and-paste session. Although they will never admit it, that is what kids actually need and, dare I say it, really enjoy. It is a way of expanding access rather than blocking it, of transforming learning on the internet into an activity rather than a passivity, and maybe even the code behind every parent’s attempt to hack the homework problem.

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 Written by Kristina Murkett
Kristina_M

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