Tuesday, July 5, 2011

iBrain Chapter 1

   Because of how we are using our brains, our brains are changing, evolving.  I wonder if this is really new or has been going on forever we can just  measure it now?   When people first learned to type it must have taken a different brainset.  I know that I don't even think about the spelling of the words, they just seem to flow off my fingers.  That must be a different brain connection.  
   There are a couple of ways our brains are changing that I don’t think are so great.  Mind you, I am a big believer in “different is different, it isn’t better or worse; it’s just different.”  American Field Service says this about other cultures all the time.  And it does apply to about everything.  
    Except, the more time we spend on computers, time spent with real people declines.  Our students may interact more, virtually, than they do fact to face.  What is that going to do to social skills that many of them already lack with busy working parents.  Another facet I didn’t like was that “studies show that fewer young adults read books for pleasure now than in any generation before them”(3).  Are we going to have to change how and what we teach because of that?  Everyone will still need to learn to read, but I hope they continue to learn the pleasure of a really good piece of fiction.  
    Hopefully, even if they aren’t reading analog media, they will be reading digitally.  There is a prediction “that the future of news will be in the electronic digital media rather than the traditional print or television forms”.(4)  Even though this book was only published a year ago, in 2009, I think that is already happening.  
    Brains format in the younger years and as our brains grew, they developed connections to send and receive signals. This book says that at age two, our brains max out.  And that we “cannot function efficiently with too much information.”  I found that a bit hard to believe as we don’t use much of our brain.  I’ll have to think about that.  
    Bottom line, the authors are saying that technology is changing how our brains work and make connections.  Peripheral vision is improving, as well as cognitive ability and multitasking skills.  They also say we need to make sure we don’t overwhelm our brains with technology, and think about how best to train our brains with the technology.  
    It’s a bit hard to see, after only reading the first chapter, exactly where this book is going.  While I may not like or agree with everything in this chapter, we aren’t going to retreat from technological developments and it is better to be informed so we can decide the best course of actions for our students and our children.  I read a book for another class, “Last Child in the Woods” and it talked about nature deficit disorder, a lack of exposure to the natural world as a result of so much time spent in front of a screen.  I think we need to maintain a balance and have our student learn to use technology wisely, but not loose them selves, and their brains in it too much.  
I’m not positive what my “Hmmm....” is for this chapter.  I think the part that bothers me the most is that reading for pleasure is declining.  When I connect that to children spending less time outside, I think that is something we really need to be aware of.  For me, reading a really good book, (defined as one I really enjoy), is one of life’s great pleasures.  So in a long walk in the woods.  I don’t want my students to not have an opportunity to enjoy those as well, just because they spend so much time with a technological brain.


  1. As I read the chapter... I am concerned that the author keeps implying that "our brain can't function with to much info" and in opening example the "old" planner was much better then the new technology one because still had it. Those arguments have huge errors in their logic.. the current student knows they can just log into another internet location to access their info the hard copy version if lost/damaged is forever destroyed. Also they are not "overwhelmed" with info because they know they can access it anywhere/anytime they can asynchronously work on there time. 55% of people over age of 50 do NOT us Netflix (with is now using 30% of internet download traffic) and people 25 years or young no longer watch TV but use the internet. I am disappointed with dated content so far of the book. Lastly, I don't like their idea that technology use is more "advanced" thinking level. This connects to your last point of a "really good book" however, my younger nephews and students can read a kindle/ipad book and they get same "enjoyment" we get from the tactile book experience.

  2. I don't think it matters HOW you read a book, and maybe since Kindles and such, young people, like Logan, are reading more, but I do think reading for sheer enjoyment is still important and I hope students will still do so.

  3. I took the authors reliance on "keeping the paper planner" with the date that this book was written. In 2008 Google Docs wasn't fully introduced but there was writely and Google spreadsheet(Wikipedia). They didn't have access to the "cloud" like we do today so their analogy was based on the hardware, which is fragile, breaking down and us being at a loss to recover the information.

    I posted on Facebook earlier today that I was pissed that another Grad course I'm taking is mailing me a text that I couldn't find online to have NOW! I think that lends nicely to the introduction of this book and the over-saturation we are at with information being at our fingertips. Instead of having to access the information "old school" in a library or store.

  4. I would agree with Michael's comments. I think that some people think that everyone has access all of the time and can therefore not see or understand when others might want to do things the 'old fashioned' way to protect themselves. When I was a tech integrator at 2 buildings I had my schedule on a Google calendar that any teacher could log into to schedule an appointment with me. It would change everyday. There were a handful of times where the power was off and I literally had no idea where I was supposed to be. I would just wander around the hallways hoping that if I was supposed to be meeting with you, you would grab me. I can think of other instances too where it shouldn't be implied that we are or can be plugged in all the time.

    I also agree with Cathy's hope that students are still finding time to read for enjoyment. I know that there is a big move at my new school to read numerous novels with kids every year (around 20). I think that it is part of our responsibilities as teachers to provide some of these experiences that they might not be getting elsewhere.

  5. Some times taking online courses that happens the Professor rather only seeing you once a week... they can add assignments work immediately... forgetting that the work load shouldn't be "more" just because it is online. So on that note i am assigning a 20 page paper single spaced with footnotes by... just kiddin

  6. Oh my gosh, I have so much to say about this chapter! I, too, have been disappointed so far by the dated content in the book, but if you want a good laugh, flip to page 149 and check out the "Technology Tool Kit" they've included. It's pretty much hilarious.

    On a brighter note, I do think there are some good ideas here. I thought the idea of "continuous partial attention" was interesting. It's good to have a name to put to this phenomenon, especially since we also seem to be living in an age of ubiquitous ADHD diagnosis. My students get frustrated when they are told they are not allowed to listen to their iPods, and they've told me more than once that it's not the fact that they're being told what to do that bothers them. It's that they're so used to having that constant background music that it's unsettling to be without it. (I'm paraphrasing here. My students are mostly 9th graders.)

    As far as fewer young people reading for pleasure, I'm not sure I even agree with that statement. I know I've read somewhere (I'll see if I can find that article ASAP) that the Harry Potter series revolutionized the book publication industry. Never before this series was there a concept of printing hundreds of millions of copies of a book. Barnes and Noble has recently created a section in their Young Adult Fiction area called "Teen Paranormal Romance" thanks to Twilight, The Mortal Instruments series, and a host of other books starring vampires, werewolves, zombies, witches, mutants, and on and on! In the past year there have been so many times in my classroom that I have had to tell my students to put away their free reading books, and take out the one we're supposed to be working on. My kids read on their Nooks, Kindles, iPods, iPads, and netbooks. They read books online, stupid (albeit hilarious) articles on websites like Cracked.com, they read about what their favorite athletes, celebrities, and even politicians are up to. The only thing I think they really neglect is the news. Just because they've been incorporating technology into it doesn't mean it's not happening.

    The other thing I took issue with in this chapter was the notion that kids spending more time online was going to limit their face-to-face social skills. I disagree with that one pretty strongly. I think we've all seen kids sitting right next to each other, texting each other. How many times can you say you've seen that while they're also COMPLETELY SILENT? I'm not certain I could say if I have.

  7. I would have to add to the conversation that I hardly ever read printed books any more but I am constantly listening to audio books on my phone. In fact I might be on the edge of being an audible junkie! I work this into my multitasking. I can drive the kids to dance class or clean the house or (gasp) exercise and still be reading. There is some research that shows that comprehension isn't greatly different between reading and listening to books. This blog post has some great points on the subject

    I also don't think that the younger generation is less socially savvy than the older generations... but like Kieth has said... just different. I think teenagers are as social as they always have been. The problem will be in the interaction between those on each side of the "digital gap"

    I found the information on the changes in the brain interesting as I have been reading a lot about neuroscience lately. I think I side with the camp who thinks that these brain changes are just an evolution of how human beings work... Not bad!

  8. Chapter 1
    The claim that new media is changing the way we think is, well, not as old as the hills, but it is not a new concern. Every new technology, including the media technologies has been confronted by naysayers and supporters alike. The use of the internet, by which I mean online gaming, email, and any number of different activities, just presents a new challenge to those seeking to maintain a balance in their lives. That is what this book seems to be about, I hope we will soon get to the meat. In the meanwhile, Dr. Small has some points that I find interesting.

    First, to say that our brains are being rewired seems to me unremarkable and excessive at the same time. Like you pointed out Cathy, of course our brains are being rewired. Our neural pathways are always responding to the need for efficient communication between our senses, our muscles, and our brains. We survive because of this adaptation.

    Even after reading about Dr. Small's research, the claim that this rewiring is fundamentally changing the way children think and learn, does not jive with my observations of students, nor does it fit with my personal learning experiences. Students that I encounter today are very similar to the students I encountered 15 years ago. These children want to be engaged, they want to know that they can be successful, and they want to see/feel that what they are doing is important. The suggestion that "today's technological and digital progress is likely causing our brains to evolve at an unprecedented pace" felt like an unsubstantiated claim.

    By the end of this chapter, I was slightly more convinced that our digital activities and digital culture might be resulting in some changes in the way our brain works and I agree that we need to rethink how we quantify intelligence, but I remain unconvinced that digital activities are stunting our face-to-face abilities or increasing our IQs.

    I agree with Ms. T, teenagers are social and they are savvy about it. Cell phones and social sites allow my students to socialize more than a land-line ever allowed them too. The quality of their socialization is based on their training.

    Several folks have commented on the book's being dated. That means the research is too. I am making a mental note to follow up on the research he described on pages 14-16. Is the speed with which brains were rewiring themselves really faster with digital input or was this fluke?

  9. I wonder if it is the testing that has created the fluke? Kids are so immersed in technology they work at speed of this... but if you took them out of the comfort zone they would be slower. I find numerous "tech geek" kids that are missing the empathy gene... so they wouldn't be considered higher intelligent in another area (face-to-face)

    * EVERYONE HAS COMMENTED! On chapter 1....yeah! (pieter will as soon as his wedding is done) GREAT JOB EVERYONE!

  10. My brother who is a tech wizard spent most of his entire life in front of a computer screen. When we were young, this drove me crazy. I would want to go play outside and he would want to fiddle on the computer. As we got older, he spent even more time surfing the web, doing what he called 'nerd stuff'. To me, I thought he was missing out on real life. What I didn't realize, that he wasn't mindlessly exploring. Sure, a lot of what he did was for entertain sake, but mostly he was using the computers/internet to study and learn about things he was interested in. He taught himself several programing languages, how to build computers, networking solutions-basically anything you need to know about computers, he can help you out. Now he works a programmer for Zynga and I am about 2 light years behind him in tech knowledge. The point I am trying to make is that spending a huge amount of time in front of a computer doesn't rot your brain. I think it is what you do while on the computer that matters. If all you do is frivolous things, then that is all you will get out of it. The problem is, most people like the frivolous stuff and are not so interested in the "nerd stuff". Computers can't be faulted for how people choose to use it.