Walking into a classroom today looks a little different than ten (or even five) years ago. Laptops, iPads, smart boards, and coding robots are as commonplace as markers and pencil sharpeners. Students pull out an iPad from their desk like Gen Xers pulled out composition notebooks. With the usage of technology only continuing to increase, many are worried about the effects of screen time. While these concerns are valid, there are many reasons why screen time has become an essential part of 21st century learning. So why is screen time important in the classroom, what rules can teachers establish when it comes to screen usage, and what are some alternatives to teaching that do not use technology?

Why Screen Time is Important in the Classroom

With the increase of technology in the classroom, screen time questions are valid. However, it is important to understand that there are many reasons why screen time empowers the learner and allows them to complete tasks and assignments they otherwise were not capable of.

Think in the instance of researching a country during social studies. A non-technology lesson may include reading from a textbook about the country and then creating a poster to represent the student’s findings. A technology-incorporated lesson, on the other hand, may be able to enhance this lesson. A teacher could use technology to have their students interview someone that lives in that country through Skype in the Classroom, then create a Screen-cast-O-Matic or Powtoon using their findings. By using technology, the lesson has not only been modified from the non-technology version, but it has been redefined to better engage students, improve learning outcomes, and create a more meaningful learning experience for the students.

Not only does screen time provide students with educational opportunities that may not have been available otherwise, technology also prepares students to live and work in the technological world they were born into. Beginning in lower elementary, students start to learn to use various technology tools that will help them become critical thinkers, members of a global community, and fluid with handling devices they will use throughout their schooling and future careers. How does one code a robot to stack cups in a specific design? What problems are happening across the world that students could connect and relate to? How does a kindergartener learn to use an iPad? These are all questions that are being answered in classrooms across the world. Screen time is an important part of learning, but rules about screen time usage in the classroom are equally important.

Rules About Screen Time Usage in the Classroom

With the increase of screen time in the classroom, it is necessary for teachers to establish a set of rules and guidelines for students to adhere to. This helps create the understanding that technology in the classroom is to be used as an instructional tool, not as a toy. The following are a list of ideas that can guide students in appropriate screen time usage, written as questions they can ask themselves while on a device.

  • Is what I’m doing safe?
  • Is what I’m doing responsible?
  • Is what I’m doing respectful to myself and others?
  • Is the device I’m using helping me learn?
  • Am I using the device the way the teacher instructed me to?
  • Am I unsure or uncomfortable with what I’m doing? Ask the teacher!

Teachers also need to have guidelines to ensure that they are implementing technology appropriately in the classroom. With guidelines in place, teachers can insure that screen time use is meaningful, appropriate, and used to enhance their lessons. The following list includes some key questions to guide teachers when making the decision to use technology in the classroom.

  • Will using technology in this activity better engage students?
  • Will using technology augment, modify, or redefine the activity?
  • Will using technology help to familiarize students with a new device?
  • Will using technology provide more students with a voice?

Alternative Teaching Styles that Do Not Use Technology

Although the use of devices in classrooms is increasing, there are many ways that teachers can teach without it and still be engaging (something good to remember for those days when the internet is down or when planning for a substitute). Using tools like whiteboards and letter manipulatives help students practice spelling or vocabulary words. In math, using geoboards to build shapes or educational board games to practice skills keeps students engaged and active in hands-on activities. As an educator in today’s 21st century classroom, it is a big responsibility to stay current in both technology tools and traditional practices in order to best meet the needs of all learners on any given day.


Walking into a classroom today looks a little different than a decade before, with iPads and laptops actively engaging students. Time on the screen can provide students with engaging and meaningful learning experiences. It is important that educators establish clear guidelines for students and themselves to follow when implementing technology. When appropriately set into place, screen time can be a very positive experience for all.