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Rewiring youth's brains



June 27, 2010 – Comments (12)

Big Picture posted this and it is worth watching.

I took the title from about half way into the video, about 5:30.  One of the things that it is pointing out is we are unaware of the degree to which electronics is rewiring student's brains, at least that is the way the video describes it.

As an educator, I have been saying for sometime, never on CAPS before, how today's electronic devices are stealing education and making classroom management a nightmare.  When we were young teachers did not have to fight with cell phones, ipods, and other electronic devices that students have and use without any of the restraint that adults tend to have.  The internet is a wonderful resource, but guarantee I try to get students to use it for what it can bring to a classroom and I fight the chat, and all of the internet browsing activities.  

Certainly parents play a huge role in shaping children around these electronic devices.  And, there is a huge difference between passive TV or a book and the interactiveness of today's electronic devices.  There is a piece in the video showing how it affects boy's success when they've played thousands of hours of video games at the expense of developing social skills.

The other thing we fight big time in the class room is students are getting way less sleep because of these devices.  I don't have the links handy, but research shows that poor sleep affects memory as much as substance abuse during pregnancy.  Children's declining memory ability has been an issue that teachers discuss because memory has really declined and it negatively affects other learning.   When children can not memorize certain things it really messes up future education.  For example, when they can't memorize the multiplication table, how can they see factors and move on to division, fractions, percents, etc.?  I have found memory issues huge in just teaching the basics in math.

We have a morning meeting with our students at school and I often ask them what time they got to bed and I get answers like 1, 2 and 3 am, and then attendance declines.  This problem is becoming so serious, we are looking at having town meetings with teachers and parents trying to raise the issues with the parents and look at how we can work on solutions together where we stand together in what's best for the social and educational development of children.  This year was the worst year for these problems and it has become critical in looking at how to turn it around.

Something else, he says the 3 R just aren't going to work for these kids that are so used to being in control of their environment, but if you put students on computers and try to give them that interaction, they do not use the time that way, they go to the chat and the surfing.  It is like bringing an addiction to the classroom.  Most of us probably did our "best" work under a closing deadline.  We procrastinated until we had no choice.  What I am seeing in students is the drive to do these other activities is so strong, they have a looming deadline they aren't responding with that normal drive to get it done in a last minute rush.  If they are on a computer, they surf their time away regardless of consequences.  That is addictive behaviour.

And, interestingly, I got so frustrated with a student just wasting and surfing class time away and letting deadlines go by while working on the school yearbook, which is an opportunity to be creative, I removed her from the yearbook and put a math text in front of her and she actually worked awesome, something the video suggested would not happen.

12 Comments – Post Your Own

#1) On June 27, 2010 at 11:27 AM, Teacherman1 (< 20) wrote:

Are they using cellphones and Ipods in the classroom?

I agree with the lack of sleep being a problem.


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#2) On June 27, 2010 at 12:20 PM, dwot (29.44) wrote:

We only got cellphone capability in this community this year and it has been a huge battle. 

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#3) On June 27, 2010 at 9:05 PM, ChrisGraley (28.60) wrote:

Run dwot! They are all becoming Americans!

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#4) On June 27, 2010 at 9:33 PM, d1david (28.57) wrote:

nice video... hope you find a great solution to this

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#5) On June 27, 2010 at 9:51 PM, AbstractMotion (< 20) wrote:

I feel most of this is accurate, but more then anything it's exposing how traditional teaching methods haven't really kept up with the times.  I had a really good physics teacher, but he had a class that was not remotely interactive (labs excluded).  I basically could have gotten the same experience from a movie.  No matter what time I got to sleep I'd fall asleep in that class.  Why?  Because it was slow, dry, largely boring information and the class always moves at the speed of it's slowest learner.  If a teacher is lively and there's more dialog in the class it's a much different scenario, but I do believe there has been a massive failure in the teaching department to use technology to make learning more interactive.  I'd agree that just sitting a student down in front of a computer without a mandatory task will lead to the activities dwot described, but honestly from the statistics I've seen it happens with a huge number of adults too.  Technology in my view isn't really necessary as well, class work is just as effective at actually making the learning experience interactive, revealing problems and giving the kids something to actually do.  Kids staying up too late and the lack of dinner as a family is pretty much a failure in parenting, in general there's been a growing trend of parents being more self involved, having technology to distract their kids is a godsend for them.  Technology is often blamed for things, but more then anything what I think we're witnessing is the slow death of static content.


All that said I do think that there's been a steady drop in attention spans starting with the whole "sound byte" era of the media.  That alone has kept me away from twitter and it's why I tend to use forums/blogs for communication.   The trend of condensing information down to small bits while throwing our the "meat" of the content and details has definitely lead to an expectation for ALL information to be presented in that way.  I guess nothing sums it up better then the web shorthand "tldr".


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#6) On June 28, 2010 at 12:43 AM, whereaminow (< 20) wrote:


I disagree that this should be a source of frustration, but I hope you will at least regard my opinion with an open mind.

I do agree that parents are illogical. If you desire that your child goes to school, and that is what you really want, then you also have to make sure they are asleep at night.  Allowing them to stay up but also coercing them into school every morning is completely irrational. 

It is not a function of human nature to sit still in classrooms for hours on end, being coerced into learning.  Adults can't even do it. When an adult is forced by their boss to sit through an all-day conference in a stuffy room, what do they do?  Complain.  Get restless. Etc.  This isn't something that humans have just developed.  This is just human nature. 

There is no point fighting it.  It's better to just recognize a few things.  First, education is not a public good.  Second, there is no standard way to learn.  Third, the modern school system is designed to be a minimum security prison system (or a maximum security one if you are unfortunate enough to live in the ghetto.)   Fourth, there is no law of human nature that dictates that learning must occur between 8am and 4pm every Monday through Friday. 

But I do understand why you would feel frustrated.  If the parents want their kids' learning experience in the school maximized, they need to cooperate with you and get the kids in bed early, and discipline them when they don't behave. Most parents are child-whipped.

David in Qatar

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#7) On June 28, 2010 at 12:53 AM, dwot (29.44) wrote:

AbstractMotion, I don't think classrooms go at the level of the slowest learner, but more like somewhere in the middle.

I have tried doing different things, with interesting results.  One science experiment was to make this solar cooker.  Well, it didn't work and then we explored how magnifying glasses concentrate the light and can cook.  Well, one student found a solution, set the box the solar cooker is made of on fire and use the fire to cook with...

 You have so many more things to be watching for when students are doing some activities.  

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#8) On June 28, 2010 at 3:07 AM, AbstractMotion (< 20) wrote:

I agree that certain activities can be dangerous, but really it's not necessarily always having a live fire demonstration so much as giving students a chance to participate and interact with the course content in the classroom.  I'm of the opinion that the 'lecture' style of education is horribly flawed, and from my understanding many other people have similar views.  The human body simply is not designed to learn best by sitting for 2 hours and sponging in information.  Yet this is the standard method of teaching, promoted largely for simplicity and the lower cost of doing so.  It's not that technology has really changed this so much as that it's given student a rational expectation that good content should be interactive.  


Technology simply has not been leveraged to it's full potential in the classroom.  I think part of it is what you've described, most computer time being too flexible and computers being too centered in labs vs actual classrooms, and many times shared between several students.  What I would prefer to see is the integration of teacher crafted, interactive content at a students finger tips, mixed in with lecture material, discussion and question taking.  There's really next to no reason that this isn't possible given how much small computing devices have dropped in cost and how much textbook costs have risen.  


I don't think technology is really the corrosive element a lot of people make it out to be, it's just an easy one to blame.  We've seen the same argument time and time again with a huge variety of different circumstances.  If kids are getting fat it's because of technology, not because of an poorer food quality, an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, a mental health/justice system that doesn't deal properly with sex offenders, etc.  This same debate has been hashed and rehashed with books, movies, music and just about any new medium of information and communication.  


Entertainment and communications aren't exactly new phenomenons either, people have had ways to distract themselves and a desire to do so for ages.  I think what we're witnessing is more or less a lack of involvement by parents, overindulgence, or simply the perpetuation of a belief that school is responsible for all of a child's upbringing in some areas.   It was probably a lot easier to avoid potential distractions when there weren't as many options available, but the fault doesn't lie in some passive device or tool.  It's our own lack of discipline and priorities to put things like fantasy football or "I wonder what Jake's doing.." above family, studying and other more pertinent activities.  Overall I really think a lot of this has more to do with social issues and standards than cellphones and CPUs.  

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#9) On June 28, 2010 at 2:32 PM, FleaBagger (27.36) wrote:

The first education was interactive.

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#10) On July 01, 2010 at 11:25 AM, dwot (29.44) wrote:

I tend to think this isn't an interactive education issue, but more an issue of addiction.  I was just told by a friend her partner's honor roll high school son flunked out of university for playing video games.  The games were a problem in high school, but there was still strong parental supervision.  University he was on his own and just didn't go to school, stayed in the dorm and played video games.  Again, this is serious addictive behaviour.

Also there was a big article on the quality of learn via the internet compared to books.  Learning through books wins.  I suspect there is way too much cut and paste and not enough note taking and organizing information with the internet.

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#11) On July 01, 2010 at 5:02 PM, dwot (29.44) wrote:

More of what we need to teach youth...

While I agree with this, most students are not that interested in learning about financial issues.

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#12) On July 03, 2010 at 9:55 PM, AbstractMotion (< 20) wrote:

Dwot:  I'd argue the behavior you're talking about is more a psychological issue than anything.  Lots of kids end up flunking or dropping out of college in the first year.  Largely due to escapism or a lack of discipline.  Maybe they partied too much, slept in too late or just played video games because they finally had the option to do that.  


People are generally more vulnerable to escapism, indoctrination or anything that provides a false sense of purpose during this period because it's a period of self discovery and the freedom to do so.  Maybe some will play video games to get a false sense of purpose, some will become radically devote to a given political philosophy, some will discover volunteer work, a new hobby or actually figure out what they want to do.  It's by no means a good thing that your friend's son is playing video games all day, but there's likely other root causes for it other than the fact that video games are simply addictive in nature.


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