Digital Distraction and Teaching in the Age of Smartphones

  • The digital age has changed how the human brain operates.

    And it is rapidly changing how teachers try to keep the attention of their students.

    Young people are particularly susceptible to the influences of smartphones and other devices. That leads to an inability to concentrate. Some teachers say it is almost scary to think where things are heading.

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    Reworking the brain

    Educators say it is necessary to find a way to navigate the digital divide.

    That means cutting a pass through the constant clutter of social media, text, music videos and games. And it’s not simple.

    Scholars say the task is nothing short of a reworking of the brain. That, however, is almost impossible. What is needed is a focus on low-tech activities like exercise and music. Most importantly, it requires teachers to understand how their students think.

    “The digital age is changing the way in which our brains operate,” says teacher Ryan Pickett. “Being constantly plugged in is making it so that our brains are not stimulated enough by the traditional classroom.”

    “We are losing our natural ability to learn the social-emotional intelligence, including the proper empathy for others,” he adds. “Because of this, children have become prone to more mental health conditions.“

    “Brain-based teaching is basically utilizing what we know about the brain and learning how it has changed due to the digital age,” Pickett says.

    Changing the learning environment

    Pickett says that for teachers it comes down to creativity and synthesis.

    That kid in the corner might be looking at SnapChat, but what if he could get interested in the curriculum? Or he or she may not be looking at anything, but the mind is still somewhere else.

    But it’s not as simple as taking away a device, say educators. Given the direction of the world and the omnipresence of technology in our lives, a ban seems to me a quixotic gesture at best.

    A 16-year-old student in Sacramento recently agreed. He said even if the device is not in his hand he is thinking about what he is going to look at the second he leaves class.

    Pickett says the solution comes down to applying how the learning environment in the classroom is set up and planning a curriculum “that teaches the children of today to be successful in the world of tomorrow.”

    His lesson plan is largely centered around Marlee Sprenger’s book, “Brain-Based Teaching in the Digital Age.” It is, in fact, the only book he requires for his teacher-students.

    Understanding the student’s brain

    Sprenger’s book describes brain-based learning like this:

    “We need to use the technology tools, learn the digital dialogue, and understand and relate better to our students. At the same time, she emphasizes the importance of educating the whole child by including exercise, music, and art in the classroom and helping students develop their social-emotional intelligence. Creativity, empathy, and the ability to synthesize material are 21st-century skills that can t be ignored in the digital age.”

    According to the book description, “readers will find easy-to-understand information about the digital brain and how it works, high-tech and low-tech strategies for everyday teaching and learning, and inspiration for creating classroom environments that will entice and encourage students at all grade levels. With this book as a guide, educators can move confidently across the digital divide to a world of new possibilities for themselves and their students.”

    No turning back

    Pickett avoids the use of the term “rewired”.

    “Rewired is not the best term in that teachers only have so much influence on a student,” he says. “For their brain to be completely rewired, society would need to move away from its current direction.

    “We know that this will not happen anytime soon. What we need to do is change the way that we set up classrooms and how we teach to match this new age rather than expect children to learn the same way that they did 100 or more years ago.”

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