Help students stay focused, manage distractions with these online tools

5 apps to help students keep away from internet rabbit holes

The internet is brimming with tempting distractions. Consider how easy it is for a student with attention issues to fall down an internet rabbit hole while doing research online.

Adults aren’t immune either. Chances are that while you’re reading this article, you’ll get a text message or an email alert you’ll find hard to resist. Everyone can benefit from tools that help them stay focused.

At the recent International Society for Technology in Education conference, special education teacher and edtech consultant Katie Nieves Licwinko shared these five apps to reduce online distractions at school: 


  1. Forest: This gamified online activity tracker for Google Chrome users rewards students with the growth of digital trees, said Licwinko, who works for a middle school in Sparta Township, New Jersey. As time passes and the student stays on task, more trees grow until the student earns a digital forest. “You can blacklist certain websites, so if the student visits that website, the forest will begin to wither and die,” she said. In addition, students can earn virtual coins and use them to plant real trees.


  1. Noisli: Some students need to listen to sounds using headphones to block out distractions, Licwinko said. Noisli, available as an extension or website, offers white noise and sounds from nature that encourage productivity or relaxation. Students can choose a track at random or click on an icon to hear the wind blowing, a train moving, chatter at a coffee shop, fire crackling, leaves rustling, or a combination of these sounds. “I have students who pick certain tracks for certain activities,” Licwinko said. For instance, a student might listen to a thunderstorm during math activities and running water while doing homework, she said. Students can also set a timer for how long the sounds will play.

Read: DA op-ed: Why executive function skills matter

  1. Move It: Part of staying focused is also learning when and how to take breaks from the computer. Move It is a Google Chrome-based extension that pops up at a preset time to suggest a quick activity break, such as: “Climb a ladder on the spot for a count of 10″ or “Jump as high as you can seven times.”


  1. Take a Break by Eye Care Plus: This Google Chrome-based extension notifies the student or teacher when it’s time to take a break from computer work. The student can personalize the timers as well as adjust the frequency and duration of breaks, Licwinko said.


  1. Calm for Chrome: This extension makes a student stop and meditate before attempting to go to a blacklisted website, Licwinko said. For students who become anxious using certain websites, such as social media pages, this can help them learn how to use meditation to regulate their emotions. The app is free for teachers.

Jennifer Herseim is an editor for LRP Media Group and a program chair for Inclusion and Special Education at DA’s Future of Education Technology Conference.

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