Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Tools that make you smarter

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"Can a calculator make you smarter? The QAMA calculator can. You use it just like a regular calculator, plugging in the numbers of the problem you want to solve—but QAMA won’t give you the answer until you provide an accurate estimate of what that answer will be.
If your estimate is way off, you’ll have to go back to the problem and see where you went wrong. If your estimate is close, QAMA (developed by Ilan Samson, an “inventor-in-residence” at the University of California, San Diego) will serve up the precise solution, and you can compare it to your own guess. Either way, you’ll learn a lot more than if you simply copied the answer that a calculator spit out.

Ever since journalist Nicholas Carr posed a provocative question—“Is Google Making Us Stupid?”—in a widely-read 2008 Atlantic magazine
article, we’ve been arguing about whether the new generation of digital devices is leading us to become smarter, or stupider, than we were before. Now psychologists and cognitive scientists are beginning to deliver their verdicts. Here, the research on an array of technological helpers:

Calculators. Cognitive scientists long ago identified the “generation effect” — the fact that we understand and remember answers that we generate ourselves better than those that are provided us (by a calculator, for instance). But a
study published last year in the Journal of Educational Psychology found that adults who tried to solve arithmetic problems on their own but then obtained the answer from a calculator did just as well on a later test as those who didn’t use calculators at all. If you don’t have a QAMA calculator around, you can approximate its effects by holding off using a traditional calculator until you’ve tried to come up with a solution yourself.

Auto-complete. Frequent users of smartphones quickly get used to the “auto-complete” function of their devices—the way they need only type a few letters and the phone fills in the rest. Maybe too used to it, in fact. This handy function seems to make adolescent users faster, but less accurate, when responding to a battery of cognitive tests, according to
research published in 2009 in the journal Bioelectromagnetics.

Texting. A
study led by researchers at the University of Coventry in Britain surveyed a group of eight- to twelve-year-olds about their texting habits, then asked them to write a sample text in the lab. The scientists found that kids who sent three or more text messages a day had significantly lower scores on literacy tests than children who sent none. But those children who, when asked to write a text message, showed greater use of text abbreviations (like “c u l8r” for “see you later”) tended to score higher on a measure of verbal reasoning ability—likely because the condensed language of texting requires an awareness of how sounds relate to written English.

Search engines. The ready availability of search engines is changing the way we use our memories, reported psychologist Betsy Sparrow of Columbia University in a
study published in Science in 2011. When people expect to have future access to information, Sparrow wrote, “they have lower rates of recall of the information itself and enhanced recall instead for where to access it.” It’s good to know where to find the information you need—but decades of cognitive science research shows that skills like critical thinking and problem-solving can be developed only in the context of factual knowledge. In other words, you’ve got to have knowledge stored in your head, not just in your computer.

Email. Email is a convenient way to communicate, but trying to answer messages while also completing other work makes us measurably less intelligent. Glenn Wilson, psychiatrist at King’s College London University, monitored employees over the course of a workday and
found that those who divided their attention between email and other tasks experienced a 10-point decline in IQ. Their decrease in intellectual ability was as great as if they’d missed a whole night’s sleep, and twice as great as if they’d been smoking marijuana. For every technological trap, however, there’s a technological solution: When you need to get work done, use Freedom or another such program that will shut down your access to the Internet for a predetermined period of time.

Websites. Back in 2001, reading specialists Anne Cunningham and Keith Stanovich
reported in the Journal of Direct Instruction that scores on a test of general knowledge were highest among people who read newspapers, magazines and books, and lowest among those who watched a lot of TV. Watching television, they noted, is “negatively associated with knowledge acquisition” — except when the TV watching involved public television, news, or documentary programs. Cunningham and Stanovich didn’t look at Internet use, but the same information divide exists online: high-quality, accurate information, and, well, fluff.

So does technology make us stupid, or smart? The answer is “both,” and the choice is up to us."

Annie Murphy Paul <anniempaul=gmail.com@mail20.atl51.rsgsv.net>

Saturday, January 25, 2014

What we should value in students.


From Jackie Gernstein’s resource-rich site comes this sweet infographic depicting the skills we’d like to instill in our students. The post also includes a long, helpful list of resources for everything from how to help students develop hope, to encouraging empathy and social and emotional skills, to how to foster grit, tenacity and perseverance: an educator’s guide.


Sunday, January 19, 2014

What Do Students Need Most? More Sleep

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"When I travel around to schools to speak to students, I deliver one line in my talk that kills, each and every time. The students do not simply laugh, they whoop and holler, throw their heads back in open-mouthed guffaws and shake their heads in disbelief. I would love to lay claim to the funniest educator joke of all time, but sadly, I don’t have that kind of comic game. I’m not even aiming for their funny bone when I proclaim, “In order to function at your mental and physical best, adolescents should be getting at least nine hours of sleep a night.”
For many students, nine hours of sleep is so far beyond their reality that their only logical response is laughter. Four out of five adolescents are getting less than that, and more than half of them know they are getting less sleep than they need to function well.
Surveys conducted by the National Sleep Foundation reveal that teenagers are getting nowhere near nine hours of sleep a night. The average weeknight sleep duration for 13-year-olds hovers around 7 hours 42 minutes and decreases to 7 hours 4 minutes in 19-year-olds. And if you think your teenagers are getting enough sleep, think again. Ninety percent of parents say they believe their children are getting sufficient sleep, and yet when asked, 60 percent of teenagers report extreme daytime sleepiness.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The importance of play for children

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"I’m a research bio-psychologist with a PhD, so I’ve done lots of school. I’m a pretty good problem-solver, in my work and in the rest of my life, but that has little to do with the schooling I’ve had. I studied algebra, trig, calculus and various other maths in school, but I can’t recall ever facing a problem – even in my scientific research – that required those skills. What maths I’ve used was highly specialised and, as with most scientists, I learnt it on the job.
The real problems I’ve faced in life include physical ones (such as how to operate a newfangled machine at work or unblock the toilet at home), social ones (how to get that perfect woman to be interested in me), moral ones (whether to give a passing grade to a student, for effort, though he failed all the tests), and emotional ones (coping with grief when my first wife died or keeping my head when I fell through the ice while pond skating). Most problems in life cannot be solved with formulae or memorised answers of the type learnt in school. They require the judgement, wisdom and creative ability that come from life experiences. For children, those experiences are embedded in play."