Written and Illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
Published in 2013 by Knopf
Grades 1 and Up
Doug is a robot. His parents want him to grow up to be ‘smart’. So every morning Doug’s parents “plug him in to fill him up with lots and lots of facts.” As they head out, briefcases in hand, they wish him “Happy downloading!” One day, with information about the city in the form of factoids streaming through his circuits, Doug is surprised by a pigeon perched on his windowsill. Suddenly, he wonders “if there were more things he could learn if he went out into the city” and he sets off to explore. Unplugged, Doug quickly discovers that physical and sensory experiences can greatly expand his knowledge of city life. Then he encounters something new, a human boy who invites him to play and teaches him how. Using his signature palette of primary solid colors, author / illustrator Dan Yaccarino employs expressive line and generous white space, emphasizing the adorable robot Doug’s pleasure in the first-hand discoveries he is making. An allegory with a light and humorous touch, Yaccarino’s latest picture book encourages us all to ponder the relationship between virtual and physical and the importance of play and social interaction in learning.
Teaching Ideas: Invitation for Your Classroom
Grades 1 and Up
Screen Free Week. April 29 – May 5 has been designated as Screen Free week of 2013. Explore the related links below with your students to discuss the history and motivations behind a national campaign to reduce screen time for children and families during this week. Students may be interested to learn that the week has undergone name changes over time, beginning as TV Turnoff Week, changing to Digital Detox Week and currently called, Screen Free Week. Watch the video created by author / illustrators Yaccarino, Raschka, Staake, and Hills. What arguments do they make for inviting children to experience a week without screens?
List Making: Screen-Free Alternatives. Invite your students to consider what they might do as an alternative to screen time. Brainstorm a list of possible activities. Ask students to select 2 -3 activities that appeal to them and to draw pictures of themselves engaged in these activities. Bind their drawings / writing into a class book to share with parents and/or with another class in your school.
Explore the World Around You. Pair a reading of Doug Unplugged with Matthew Cordell’s hello! hello!, another title that advocates for unplugging in order to enjoy the world around us. Then, do just what the books advocate! Get out there and observe what’s going on in your school, schoolyard, and community. You might choose to use Frank Serafini’s Looking Closely series as a mentor text for student created photo essays that feature digital photos gathered in their explorations. Alternatively, you might consider having students compose poems in response. In this case, Outside Your Window by Nicola Davies might serve as a mentor text.
How Do we Learn? After reading Doug Unplugged, ask your students to consider the messages the book conveys about how we learn. Invite students to reflect on their own learning processes by sharing orally or writing about how they learned a new skill (school, home or community based). Students can prepare for writing or sharing by making notes outlining what skill they acquired, what tools they used, what process they followed, and who supported their learning and how. You may want to read additional books that feature learning processes such as Painting the Wind by Patricia and Emily MacLachlan and Everyone Can Ride a Bicycle by Chris Raschka. Middle school students may be ready to explore the ideas of some learning theories such as Piaget, Vygotsky, and Dewey. Use the essay by Linda Darling-Hammond and colleagues, which includes helpful digital links, as a starting point to plan an inquiry into learning theories.
Grades 3 and Up
What are the Facts About Screen Time? In Doug Unplugged, Doug discovered that the ‘facts’ he had learned through information downloading didn’t tell him the whole story. Lived experience and interaction with others rounded out his understanding. Ask your students to conduct an informal survey by tracking the amount of screen time that they spend in one week. Be sure to talk ahead of time about “what counts” as screen time. Compare their findings with the staggering Nielsen statistic that ” The average American spends more than 41 hours each week—nearly five-and-a-half hours daily—engaging with content across all screens.”
What’s the Fuss About? Read an entry in the New York Times Bits Blog titled “The Child, The Tablet, and the Developing Mind” with your students. Ask students to identify the questions and concern raised in this article. Ask students to read parts of the Mayo Clinic, American Academy of Pediatrics, and Early Years Institute position papers below (perhaps divide the class into small groups and ask groups to be responsible for sharing ideas from their reading). If you are teaching middle school students consider having them watch the trailer for the documentary film Play Again, a film which explores what happens when teens are “unplugged” and spend time in nature. Ask students to share their own questions and thoughts about the value and/ or consequences of screen time. Are adults right to have some concerns?
Plusses and Minuses of Technology: Exploring Adult and Child Perceptions. There’s no small amount of irony in the fact that screens are being used to disseminate information about Screen Free Week. Ask your students to consider the benefits and drawbacks of communication technologies (take an expansive definition, including learning tools, smartphones, and social media). Hold a discussion of author’s intent by asking students what message about technology they think Yaccarino expresses in Doug Unplugged. Expand the inquiry by guiding students to develop interview questions for both adults and for their peers – questions should focus on the roles that these technologies play in their lives. Students should then conduct interviews, each students interviewing at least one adult and one child (or teen). Students can meet in small groups to compare responses. Use the information gained as a launching point for students to brainstorm what kinds of new technologies could work toward creating balance in virtual and physical interactions.
The Benefits of Screen Free Week: Video
Screen Free Week: Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood
Mayo Clinic: Children and TV
Early Years Institute: Be Screen Smart
American Academy of Pediatrics: Policy Statement on Media Use
New York Times: The Child, The Tablet, and the Developing Mind
Nielsen: Zero-TV Doesn’t Mean Zero Video
Stanford University: How People Learn: Introduction to Learning Theories
Play Again Trailer
Cordell, M. (2012). hello! hello! New York: Hyperion.
Davies, N. (2012). Outside your window: A child’s first book of nature. Ill. by Mark Hearld. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
MacLachlan, P. & MacLachlan, E. (2003). Painting the wind. Ill. by K. Schneider. New York: J. Cotler Books.
Raschka, C. (2013). Everyone can learn to ride a bicycle. New York: Schwartz & Wade.
Rocco, J. (2011). Blackout. New York: Hyperion.
Serafini, F. (2009). Looking closely around the pond. Toronto: Kids Can Press.
Smith, L. (2010). It’s a book. New York: Roaring Brook Press.
About Erika Thulin Dawes
Erika is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former classroom teacher, reading specialist, and literacy supervisor, she now teaches courses in children’s literature, early literacy, and literacy methods. Erika is the co-author of Learning to Write with Purpose, Teaching with Text Sets, and Teaching to Complexity.
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