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Amazon supports free computer science for Colorado students during COVID-19

We know that right now schools in Colorado are experiencing disruption during this pandemic and we want to help. Year-round, Amazon is committed to ensuring more students and teachers get access to a computer science education through its Amazon Future Engineer program, and now that mission is more important than ever.

Right now, Amazon Future Engineer is providing free access to sponsored computer science courses in the US, which is for independent learners grades 6-12, and teachers who are remotely teaching this age group. Parents can also access this curriculum.

And, as of today, Amazon Future Engineer is offering a virtual robotics program through partners CoderZ. The fully sequenced course accommodates age levels from second grade with block-based coding to high school with text-based coding.

Amazon Future Engineer also is providing access to EarSketch, a free program that helps students learn to code through music. Grammy-award winning artists Ciara and Common have both provided studio-quality music STEMs that students can remix from home using code.

Students, teachers, and parents can access a variety of free, online opportunities.

All grades
Our partners at BootUp PD offer free access to lesson plans and coding resources in the Scratch and ScratchJr applications for students to develop creative coding projects from home.

Additionally, our partner is hosting new “Code Break” episodes with special celebrity guests every Wednesday to teach students about computer science.

Second grade through high school
Amazon Future Engineer is offering a free online coding course designed to teach students about the fundamentals of coding through coding a virtual robot. The fully sequenced course focuses on block-based coding for younger students and text-based coding for more advanced students. (Available in English and Spanish.)

Middle school and high school
Amazon Future Engineer is providing free access to our sponsored computer science courses, including Introductory and Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Through this offering, teachers can also access online professional development.

Amazon Future Engineer is also providing access to EarSketch, a free program that helps students learn to code through music. Grammy-award winning artists Ciara and Common have both provided songs that students can remix from home using code. Students can also enter their remixes into weekly challenges managed by our partners at Georgia Tech.

Now and always, our Amazon Future Engineer program is focused on increasing access to computer science education for hundreds of thousands of students and teachers.

Visit the Amazon Future Engineer website, to get free course materials.

About Amazon Future Engineer

Amazon is committed to bringing more resources to children and young adults to help them build their best future. Amazon has invested more than $50 million to increase access to computer science/STEM education and has donated more than $20 million to organizations that promote computer science/STEM education across the country. Amazon’s primary computer science access program, Amazon Future Engineer, is a four-part childhood-to-career program intended to inspire, educate, and prepare children and young adults from underrepresented and underserved communities to try computer science. 

TikTok: The Highs and Lows

Recently I was with a teen who was jumping up and down as she exclaimed how she now had 10,000 followers and some 400,000 views on a video she had posted on TikTok. 

What does this increased chance of quickly getting a massive number of followers and views mean for our youth? Could it be that soon, 10,000 will lose its power, just like the once exciting 100 views did in the past? Or maybe not — maybe even if it is common, we will all be seduced by the high of a truly impressive sense of eyeballs on what we are doing.

Being seen does feel good. Teens tell me that being seen (getting views and likes) makes them feel appreciated. They say that if so many people see what they post, it implies that what they are doing is worth the other person’s time — and that can feel great. 

What are the upsides and downsides of striving for online attention? 

Why do some kids and teens spend so much time posting for online attention while others do not? 

Today, Screenagers is sharing two stories of teens they think will make for good conversations with young people in your lives. Both of these teens talk about the pros and cons of getting attention online.




Here are a few questions to get a conversation going.

  1. Do you know anyone who has made a viral video or who is famous on platforms like Instagram, TikTok, or YouTube? 

  2. What do you think are all the upsides for them?

  3. What do you think would be the upsides for you? How about the downsides?

If you want to host a screening of the movie in your community, please fill out this form.

-Delaney Ruston

From the Front Lines of Empathy

Two weeks ago, I laid on my couch at 2 a.m., and tears ran down my cheeks. Insomnia had me up, and it was the book that had me crying. Earlier that day, I had a wonderful evening with a mentor of mine who was visiting Seattle, Dr. Bill Feoge. He is an incredible human who is credited as one of the main people responsible for eliminating smallpox. After our visit, I laid down to reread his book House on Fire about the elimination of smallpox, which I highly recommend. As I read the descriptions of the children inflicted with the smallpox virus and the pain they endured, tears welled in my eyes.  

That same week, I  knew things were bad in China, and I felt deeply for the people in that country. I had the chance to live there for two months in 2008, and images of their quarantined world and all those worried and sick made me so sad.

I also knew that things were heading our way.  I had just seen a young man in my medical clinic who had recently visited China and needed a note to return to work.  He told the nurse on the phone that he had no symptoms, but when he checked in, we found that his temperature was 100.2, and his heart rate was 107. 

A few days later I  spoke with a reporter at The New York Times about my concerns and here is an excerpt from the article written by Sheri Fink, 

“Dr. Delaney Ruston, a primary care physician in Seattle, said she had seen a patient last week with a low-grade fever who had been in China about three weeks earlier. She said public health officials told her the patient did not meet criteria for testing because the patient had been away from China for more than two weeks. Even so, Dr. Ruston wondered whether the patient, who wore a mask in the clinic to protect others and had no cough, could have had a mild case of the illness. ‘All of us are in dire need for a point-of-care test,’ she said, meaning a test that can be performed quickly on site, like those now in use for seasonal influenza.”

Then Tessa’s school shut down for six weeks (or longer), and now my son’s college is off — probably for the rest of the year.  Chase will have classes online, but Tessa has no assigned school work because of equity issues. This is what The Seattle Times reported on the matter: “Because the district will not be able to ensure all students have access to computers outside of school, there will be no online learning.” 

Meanwhile, I hear daily from parents, whose kids and teens are now off from school,  that they are more stressed than ever about screen time. One person wrote to me: “I returned home at 7:30 a.m. from biking to school with Z to find the Xbox action in full swing already, and I could feel my blood pressure spiking. All these teens at home from school = screentime management mania!” 

I find myself at the frontlines of both the medical pandemic and the challenges of parenting.

My husband, Peter Small, is a global health infectious disease doctor, and his life’s work has been about looking for solutions for these kinds of diseases and the issues around prevention and containment.  

Peter says: 

“Make no mistake about it… the situation is bad, but we know what each of us can do: social distancing! I also firmly believe that it will pass and that the challenges provide opportunities to be better. For example, our government will strengthen the social safety net, insurers will pay for telemedicine, employees will be more effective at working from home, and public health will be modernized to use digital technology for protecting all of our health.”

I will be working hard to connect with all of you and to help all of you connect as we move forward about COVID-19, loss of school and screen time issues. We asked on Screenager’s Facebook page on Sunday morning, what are your schools doing regarding remote learning? And already 128 people have made comments and shared ideas. 

Let me leave with the two messages that I think are key right now:

1.  Social distancing is indeed the right thing to do. Yet there still are many ways we can show our empathy towards others — helping to get food for elderly neighbors, having our kids send art cards to relatives, and so much much more. 

2. Screen time issues are going to be challenging right now, BUT there are a lot of things we still can do. I have written for over four years weekly on all sorts of topics that can help now, such as things to do for creative time online and offlineways to set up rules, ways to have calm conversations, and more. 

The whole Screenagers team and I are gearing up to provide lots of support. And we will be creating lots of ways of connecting with ideas and support through TTTs, Facebook, and more. 

Do not be hard on yourself if there is more screen time than you would like.

In summary, I just want to say that what is in my heart today is all about empathy for the pain and losses — but at the same time, I am hopeful. Bill Feoge and all the other people who helped to eradicate smallpox give me incredible hope. There are hundreds of studies happening right now trying to uncover answers to help end the COVID-19 outbreak and prevent its recurrence. Several of our infectious disease scientist friends have all switched their work over to COVID-19. We will get through this. 

-Delaney Ruston

National Day of Unplugging

It’s a chance to unplug…and connect. Today is National Day of Unplugging which starts sundown, Friday, March 6th and goes until sundown Saturday, March 7th. Now is a perfect opportunity to talk with youth about how they (and you) would feel about putting tech away for 24 hours (or less or more) for this National Day of Unplugging. The key questions to ask are, “Why do it?”, “Will it be restful or stressful?” and “How to do it?” 

Every year, there are over 1,000 events that happen. Even if it doesn’t work for you or your kids to unplug for a whole 24 hours, picking just a segment of that time, like maybe the night of the March 6th, would be worthwhile. It is a great way to get the discussion going around these ideas.

Little experiments like these can bring big insights into our habits and help start us on a path of change. Screenagers has some great tips.

“Why do it?”

There are lots of reasons I will propose here, but of course, there are so many others as well.

One reason why is to “break free of automaticity.” I came up with this line thinking about National Day of UnPlugging. One gains a lot of insight from stepping out of habits. Noticing urges can be educational like the urge to check a phone, or laptop, or urge to pick up a video game controller. Thoughts may emerge like “Wow, I never thought how many times I go to do this or that,” or “Wow, I never knew it would be so hard to resist the urge to…,” or “Wow, it felt great knowing it was not an option for me to default to a screen during that period of time.”

Your family’s “why” may be to reclaim a sense of relaxing together. In a 2017 American Psychology Association survey of parents, 45 percent reported they felt disconnected from their families even when they were together, because of technology.

I just learned about the app, lilspace that matches business sponsors with people who unplug. For every minute the person disconnects, the business donates to a designated charity or non-profit. In March, when one uses the app to time their unplugged minutes, a sock manufacturer will give a new pair of socks to a person living in a homeless shelter.

Schools, or even just individual classes, can consider an unplugged day — it doesn’t have to be this week. Creating opportunities to rock the status quo is the perfect way to spark thoughtful discussions about how tech helps to learn, hinders it, affects student-teacher time together, and peer-to-peer time together. Framing an unplugged day at school as an “Experiment in Digital Citizenship” could be cool.

“Will it be restful or stressful?”

Some people welcome the event as a time of freedom from the constant mental pull of devices. This complete “no” can allow for other things to take place. Others may react by being flooded with anxious feelings.

Recently the MIT Review wrote about professor Ron Srigley’s work with his students. In 2015, Srigley asked his students to try going several days without using their cellphones at all. In 2019, he again asked students to do the same thing. Each year many students signed up for the challenge. Students from both years reported upsides and downsides of their experiences.

Some students reflected on the positives of not having a phone, reporting that it was easier to complete school work. “Writing a paper and not having a phone boosted productivity at least twice as much,” one of the students claimed. “You are concentrated on one task and not worrying about anything else.”

Some students gained essential insights during the challenge. One student wrote, “Having a cell phone has actually affected my personal code of morals and this scares me … I regret to admit that I have texted in class this year, something I swore to myself in high school that I would never do … ”

Not surprisingly, in 2019, the students were more dependent. It was harder for them to go without their phones and all the tools that live on it, like the bus schedule or payment apps.

“How to do it?”

If you decide to unplug, how can you increase the chance that it is restful? One way is to plan. For a long time, I experimented every Tuesday, unplugging from dinner until the next morning. Any habit change is indeed an experiment, and it took me a while to realize how important it was for me to plan the emails I would need to send before I sat down for dinner. I also needed to plan alternative things to do so I could resist the urge to grab my laptop. For instance, I would set out a beading project and put a fun magazine by my couch, which I had meant to read, such as National Geographic or Eating Well. During these months, one thing I loved was that I was more relaxed and available to my family every Tuesday night.

You might suggest a card game in place of a video game or how about a scavenger hunt for things they might find outside? Or, if you are driving somewhere, maybe talk about those car games we used to do in the “olden days” where we looked for different license plates from different states.

Here are some questions to get the discussion going about the National Day of Unplugging:

If you were to unplug for the day, what do you expect would be the best things about the day? What would be the worst things?

What are some ways you would set up the day so there wouldn’t be so much of a pull to your devices?

Do you think you could gather a group of friends to unplug for 24 hours? Or a different amount of time?

If you want to host a screening of the movie in your community, please fill out this form.

-Delaney Ruston

Sexting: How to Keep Your Kids Safe

Over the last year, I have received numerous questions about sexting – whether sexting is harmful, normal, legal, or a gateway to sexual activity. Here’s what you need to know so you can keep your kids (and yourself) safe.

What is sexting?
Sexting is the sending and receiving of nude, semi-nude, or even sexually explicit messages by phone, tablet, and via the Internet. It can be as seemingly innocent as, “I just got out of the shower” or “I can’t get enough of you” to a sexually provocative nude image or video.Teens and phone
Do youth really sext?
Studies vary, but an article in the American Journal of Sex Education, reported that 17% of adolescents engaged in sexting, while a study published in Pediatrics, reported 15%.
Why do youth sext?
On the one hand, sexting is a form of sexual expression. Youth sext to explore their sexual feelings, show affection or flirt with someone they are dating or want to date. Some teens also see sexting as a form of “safe sex” because there is no risk of STD’s (sexually transmitted diseases) or pregnancy. On the other hand, sexting can also be the result of peer pressure, bullying and threats, or a regretful impulse under the influence of drugs or alcohol. There are also instances where adults are soliciting images from teens – i.e., child sexual abuse.
Is sexting harmful?
Sexting has social, emotional, behavioral, and even legal consequences. Adolescents can get caught up in the excitement of sexting and not realize the unintended consequences. Once the photo is sent, the sender has no control about what happens next and the image may be shared further by cell phone, social media, or via a website – and worse yet, used to bully or harm someone.
Believe it or not, sexted images can also end up in pornography portfolios. For instance, a teen receives a nude or semi-nude photo and someone in their own family, with ill intentions, takes and shares it. Or a teen sends a nude or semi-nude photo to another teen; someone in the second teen’s family is involved in child porn and takes the image off of the teen’s phone; the photo is put into an online sharing program and is accessed and further shared by other child pornographers. This isn’t just hypothetical. This happens.
Does sexting lead to sexual activity?
More research is needed, but according to a study published in the July 2014 issue of Pediatrics (a publication of the American Academy of Pediatrics),middle school students who send or receive sexts were found to be more likely to be sexually active.
Is sexting illegal? No Sexting 
Yes, sexting is illegal. It’s considered child pornography and you and your children need to know this. Do not store or send sexually explicit or even suggestive photos of yourself, or anyone else.
Actual laws vary by state, but there have been cases of teens charged of sexting under child pornography laws and put on the sex offender list. If the photo goes across state lines, there could be a felony charge.
How can I prevent my child/teen form sexting?
The minute your child starts using a smart phone, tablet, or computer, it’s time to talk about body-safety rules around safe phone use. Talk with your children about why it’s not safe to take pictures of private parts (their own or others). Also talk about why it’s not safe to look at pictures of people touching private parts. Let children know they can and should come tell you if they ever receive or see an image with private parts – and let them know that you won’t be angry.
You can help keep your tweens and teens safe by talking proactively about body safety and sexting, and then playing what-if games. These games encourage youth to apply critical thinking and problem solving skills to potentially unsafe situations. Consider these “what if” scenarios for teens about sexting:
  • You buy a new lacy bra, take a photo of yourself wearing the bra and send it to a friend. Is this sexting?  
  • You put on your new boxers, and you send the photo to the person you’re dating? Is this sexting? What might the consequences be?
  • You take a photo of yourself with no shirt on and send it to a friend, boyfriend, or girlfriend. Is this sexting? What might happen to this image once you click “send?”
  • You send a message to someone you have the hots for and say, “I want to be naked with you.” If and how could this be something you come to regret?mother and teen

Of course, always let children and teens know you’ll be there for them, no matter what.

What if I discover that my child/teen has been sexted?
If your child/teen receives a nude photo on their phone, tablet, or computer, tell your child/teen not to respond and to delete the photo right away. Calmly talk with your child/teen and be as supportive as possible. Learn as much as you can about the situation: Find out if there have been other images, if you child/teen forwarded any of them, and what your child/teen thinks about the possible motive. Discuss the emotional and legal impact, and remind your child/teen that you love them and are always there for them. If you are concerned about your child’s/teen’s psychological well-being, seek help form a therapist.

What if I discover that my child/teen is sexting?

We all want to believe it’s not our child/teen who’s doing the sexting, but sometimes it is. Should you discover that your child/teen is the one sexting, take a very deep breath and explore the following:

  • Discuss why your child/teen is sexting – e.g., is it about flirting or peer pressure?
  • Explore the emotional and legal consequences – i.e., sexting is illegal and it can cause people to feel lousy about themselves.
  • Discuss who they are sexting with, and how far the image(s) may have traveled.
  • Discuss whether your child also is viewing porn.
  • Create a safety plan and seek professional help as needed.
Should I contact the police?
This is a tricky matter because in alerting the police you may be incriminating your child or another child. If the photo comes from an unknown source, an adult or an older child – or if there are repetitive sexts as a form of bullying, then yes, take the images to the police. If it’s teen-on-teen sexting, you might prefer to talk with their parents. Alternately, you can call the CyberTipLine at 800-843-5678.
Feather Berkower has been a leader in child sexual abuse prevention since 1985. Using a community-based approach, she has trained over 100,000 school children, parents, and professionals. Her highly-regarded workshop, Parenting Safe Children, empowers adults to keep children safe from sexual abuse. She presents across the country in schools, youth organizations, parenting groups, places of faith, and businesses. Feather makes a difficult topic less scary, and consistently impresses audiences with her knowledge, commitment, and warmth.

When kids swear online

It turns out swearing is on the rise according to this study. Even without a study, we know that through all the media and social media youth are exposed to these days, they are seeing swear words like never before. That’s where our work as loving adults is required. It is crucial that we take the time to have short, calm conversations about key topics, like this one. This study found that fewer than half of U.S. parents regularly discuss social media content with their pre-teens or teens. Let’s be among those parents that do address it.

I remember so clearly when my son had a flip phone—which was only eight years ago when he was 11—and I let him text me for rides as well as to communicate with his friends. We discussed that since online communication was new to him, I would monitor it now and then to make sure that it was going okay. I recall I had a bad feeling when I saw a fair amount of swearing in texts. Can you relate? I know I’m not the only parent that feels this way when our kids start using this language. The wider reaching consequence is particularly worrisome because so much of communication happens in group chats, on social media, and playing video games online.

Similar to 5-year-olds getting a little buzz from the reactions they elicit when they use “potty talk,” preteens are getting a buzz from using “forbidden words.” It makes them feel older, cooler, and separate from parents. The primary drive, of course, is that it’s a way to fit in with their peers who are also using that language. Issues around strong words continue into their teen years, so this TTT applies to kids of all ages who communicate online.

Being strategic is the best approach to the discussion because if we lecture our kids, or if we talk about it in a concerned tone, they are likely to tune us out. One way to decrease defensiveness and push back is to bring up the science around swearing. Here is an experiment that brings up a possible upside of why an individual might say harsh words to themselves in a difficult situation. In this experiment, researchers found that the people who swore while submerging a hand in ice water were able to keep their hands in the ice much longer than those who didn’t curse. The researchers theorize that using harsh words activates the flight or fight adrenal response and interferes with the link between fearing and perceiving pain, so subjects who swore could tolerate more pain.

You might want to also talk about some of the downsides of swearing. For example, using harsh words can make the people around you feel uncomfortable. And specifically, when people swear online, it’s hard to interpret the meaning and the context of the words and you may be misunderstood.

After you bring up the science I mentioned, here is an approach to talking about this.

  1. Tell your kids that you understand it’s common for there to be a lot of swearing online and in person.  
  2. Ask them what they see and hear.
  3. Then, over a few discussions, calmly explain why you are not a fan of crude words.
  4. Finally, you might consider a consequence for swearing in person, at home. When my kids were younger, anyone who swore had to do 15 pushups.

Go to Tech Talk Tuesday to find out how to keep the conversation going with your kids.

If you are interested in seeing Screenagers, you can find event listings on our site. Or, join the thousands of people have hosted a screening in their community to help spark change. 

-Delaney Ruston, MD, Screenagers’ Filmmaker

People Share Rules for Screens and Sleep

Recently a group of eighth-graders was discussing Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER, and a few of them told the teacher how surprised to learn in the film that almost 40% of teens with mobile devices in their room report that they wake up and check it at least once a night.

Many of you have kids or teens with devices in their room during bedtime, and I am sure many of you have fought to change that and felt defeated. I hear things from parents like:

“I go to bed before my teens, so there is no way for me to make sure they turn them in, so I have given up.” Or, “They sneak in screens, so why even try.” Or “They have to do homework late into the night, so why even have a rule about this?”

Do any of those sound familiar?

Today it is all about answers. I’m sharing with you dozens of rules and solutions other families have come up with around how to keep devices out of the bedroom during sleep hours.





Host a screening of Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER: Uncovering Skills for Stress and/or Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital Age to help spark change.

Find event listings on their site.
-Delaney Ruston

Worrisome Screentime Data, A New Call To Action

I thought it could not be possible, but for teens, ages 13 to 18 screen time has gone up by 42 minutes over the past four years. Teens now spend, on average 7 hours and 22 minutes per day on screens, not including homework or schoolwork.

And, so much of that time is consumed watching endlessly, personalized recommended videos. I remember going to the video store and spending an hour trying to find just the right movie to watch. That problem is solved; the solution that has stepped in is taking over our lives. 

So, what does this future hold? What can we do now to stop the tidal wave? Here are a few ideas for action.

-Delaney Ruston, MD

Host a screening of Screenagers or our new film Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER to help spark change.

Find event listings for both of our films.

Here are a few more TTTs you might be interested in:
Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER premieres nationwide
Emotional Risks of Online Life
See What Teens do to Reduce Screen Time

This Colorado Middle School Banned Phones 7 Years Ago. They Say Students Are Happier, Less Stressed And More Focused

Teachers at Mountain Middle School in Durango knew they had to do something. La Plata County had one of the highest teen suicide rates in Colorado and the school wanted to be a truly safe space.

One of the first things that came to mind — a cell phone ban. So, seven years ago, that’s what they did. 

Shane Voss, who was the new head of school at the public charter school back then, cites 24-hour cyberbullying, loss of sleep, round-the-clock social pressure to respond to Snapchats, Instagram posts and texts, and constant comparing oneself to other students. Voss and other school staff say cell phones play an underestimated role in the current teen mental health crisis. 

Eighth graders Grace and Henry don’t know what school is like with phones. Henry is on his phone about 10 minutes before he walks into Mountain Middle School and then it’s off. 

He said for the first half-hour of school his phone might be in the back of his mind, “but once class starts then it’s just ‘kinda out the window and I’m not really thinking about it. So it’s not a big distraction for me during school.”

When school’s out, he doesn’t really think about it either because he hasn’t seen in for the past six or seven hours. Grace doesn’t think about her phone at all during the day except towards the end of the day, “thinking about like, did my mom send me a text to say where I’m going after school and or something like that.”

Click to keep reading

Photo: Chris Neal/Shooter Imaging. Story: Jenny Brundin, CPR

This Colorado Middle Schooler Tried To Quit Her Phone. She Got Famous For It

In a circle of light, Abby Jones, a seventh-grader from Denver, stood in front of a group of adults, on the stage of a dark auditorium. To applause, she told them about her moment of triumph: when she gave up her phone.

“It felt like a burden had been lifted from my shoulders,” Jones told the crowd at the TedxCherryCreekWomen event last December. “It was hard for me to admit that maybe life without a phone was a better life for me.”

More than half of teens say they spend too much time on their cellphones, according to a recent study, and recent research suggests teens who use social media may be more likely to develop mental health problems like depression and anxiety. Some advocates and parents push hard to get teens off their phones or at least limit their time.

Abby Jones was the poster child for doing just that. Her Tedx Talk about breaking up with social media even went viral and she appeared on the Today Show to offer advice on ditching the phone.

But the reality of her journey is far more complicated. When she walked off the stage at TedEx, Abby immediately got back on her phone. Her mother, Brooke, has a picture of her scrolling Instagram moments after giving her speech. Her struggles to get off a device harmed her mental health, and demonstrated the difficulty teens and parents face when counteracting the phone’s pervasive influence.


-John Daley; Photo by Hart Van Denburg/CPR News