Saturday, June 25, 2011

Popcorn Brain

A recent CNN article highlights a phenomenon researchers are calling popcorn brain: Intense brain stimulation from constant Internet engagement may be shortening attention spans and reducing our ability to focus.

The article mentions a woman who feels guilty because she can't take a brief walk with her husband without playing with her smart phone.

Yesterday, I went to an action-packed outdoor sporting event with my school's tech coordinator. He filmed every event in which I participated, and instantly uploaded the videos to Posterous. In all, we both probably spent over half of our time engaging with media - from directions to the event, to Net surfing on the ride home.

I will also admit that when I watch a movie with my wife, I typically have my laptop open next to me ... it's rare I completely shut down the machine and focus on a film.

So what does all of this mean?

For me in the classroom, it comes down to expectations and teaching style. We should expect short attention spans, and expect our kids to dread worksheets and tune out long lectures.

We should push ourselves to stay abreast of technology, and use it frequently in short, dynamic lessons.

I think most of all we should accept reality for what it is ... vs. pining for what was.

Fact: Our kids think and learn differently than many of us do. I'll keep popcorn brain in mind as I develop my lessons for the coming year. All I need to focus is a good legal pad and ballpoint pen.

... and two laptops running Google Chrome. And the TV on, streaming a movie. And my smart phone. And something cold to drink. That's it!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The difference between boys and girls

I'm studying for a Praxis test (fun!) and one of the flashcards deals with gender discrimination. Yes I'm using flashcards - don't judge me.

I stopped and reflected on each point from this densely worded card, to see if I'm guilty:

- teachers give boys more attention and approval than girls. not guilty

- boys are better at math; girls are the writers / creatives. not guilty, I seem to think the opposite is true, because ...

- girls are more docile and passive; boys are more assertive and active. guilty

I've witnessed several quiet, focused girls working away on their science and math problems. They seem better able to sit quietly and focus - so yes, I bought into the above stereotype that boys are naturally more rowdy.

But aren't they?

Without wading too deep, and over my head, into the waters of nature versus nurture - and gender as a social construct - I will just say that little boys generally seem to have a greater tendency to blow things up and cause chaos than do little girls.

I welcome thoughts on this topic, and again I point out the word "generally."


- boys are more often asked to assume leadership roles. not guilty

- boys are punished more harshly for breaking the rules. partially guilty

- in general, boys are reprimanded more frequently for behavior, whereas girls are criticized for skill deficiency. partially guilty

Were it not for this set of flashcards I'm suffering through, I'd have never reflected on this important issue. At least, I wouldn't have tackled it in time to raise awareness and make adjustments for next year.

Thank you, Praxis. I may just be a small fraction more enlightened than I was moments ago!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Time to up the Rigor Factor

As I wrap up my first year teaching, I'm pretty clear on what I want (and need) to improve on next year. My classroom management is tightened up, and it's time to focus on rigor.

I just read an article stating what most of us already understand - college students are graduating without real skills. Their ability to think critically, and step right into a high-performance job, simply isn't there.

I know someone who graduated from a very fancy school in NYC; after a year long job search she just landed a job as a part-time assistant, helping the account execs and creatives. She wasn't ready to handle anything more taxing, despite four years at a very costly university.

Four year colleges should be creating account executives, not assistants. The article cited above states wryly, "Student undergraduate cultures will have to change, with students themselves recognizing that they need more from college than a paper diploma and an expanded roster of Facebook friends."

Anyone can critique culture and classrooms from the armchair: I hope the great mentors and staff here at my school hold my feet to the fire ... as I work to keep my pledge and forge a strong chain in this interconnected educational ladder.

Hat's off to the wonderful kids who made my first year so incredibly special. To their futures - I offer a virtual toast.

And, to rigor!