Eliminating Distracti….Oh, look at that over there! And A Gym Membership for your Brain.

From the moment our alarm clocks go off in the morning, until the time our brain powers down at night, we are bombarded by hundreds of distractions on a daily basis. Understanding how interferences work is an important part of being able to eliminate them in the classroom.

Gazzaley points out that interferences can influence an individual’s ability to focus on the initial goal. There are two types of interferences that can occur: internal and external. External interferences can be divided into two smaller components, distractions and interruptions. In a classroom, distractions might include the side conversations of students, the annoying tapping of a pen on a desk, etc. In order for a student to focus, they would need to tune those distractions out. The other form of external interferences, interruptions, might happen when a student is in the middle of explaining something, and someone interjects with an equally important question. The student who is talking, must stop to address that question, and then reengage in the conversation they were having initially. On the flip side, internal interferences can be divided into two smaller components: intrusions and diversions. In a classroom, intrusions are an internal interference. A student might be thinking about all of the other work they must complete tonight before a big event, therefore, their thoughts divert attention away from their focus. Diversions are something that a teacher sees most commonly in a classroom. A student will be multi-tasking. Chances are, in today’s society, that multi-tasking is between the discussion in the classroom and the social media they are checking on their mobile device (Gazzaley, 2011).

As technology usage increases, it’s important for educators to recognize that it exists, and can’t be eliminated from the classroom completely. So, how do we let our students know when technology use is appropriate, and when we need to eliminate controllable distractions from the learning environment? Controllable is an important term to consider. Sometimes, distractions are out of our control, however, if there are ones we can control, it is important that we exercise our abilities to remove them.. A visual and verbal cue is a great way to reinforce technology use in the classroom. Here is a chart I came up with that shows what type of technology use is acceptable for the lesson at hand:

tech use stoplight

The red spot indicates that the task at hand requires the students to dedicate 100% of their attention to it, and should eliminate as many controllable interferences as possible. For example, taking a test.

The yellow spot indicates that the task at hand requires the students to use some technology to assist them with the task. For example, they may need to use their mobile device for calculations, or look up something on the internet.

The green spot indicates that the task at hand allows for the students to use their technology as long as it is appropriate and meets the acceptable technology policies in the classroom and school. For example, the students may be working on a project that allows them to use their mobile device, like listening to music.

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Now, that you have the controllable distractions under control in the classroom, how do you increase your brain powers, along with your students? There have been hundreds of apps released over the years, however, one has been involved in some serious research with the Human Cognition Project. Lumosity is a great app that exercises various parts of your brains’ abilities: attention, memory, speed, problem solving, and flexibility. The exercises are embedded in fun games that have been proven to increase your brains’ mental powers! In an experiment conducted across 43 schools in 7 countries with 949 students, it was determined that: “Web-based cognitive training programs can successfully be deployed as a large scale, multi-site classroom intervention. Students that utilized the Lumosity training games improved more on the Brain Performance Test than did the control group. Engaging in larger doses of cognitive training is associated with larger improvements on the Brain Performance Test” (Ng, Sternberg, Katz, Hardy & Scanlon, 2012).

Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 6.32.56 PM

So, why bother with this app? Having increased attention and memory abilities can assist you and your students when it comes to overcoming the ‘hard parts’. Perkins identifies the ‘hard parts’ as the areas that individuals stumble on in our daily practices, and are the areas that the individual must concentrate on to overcome them (Perkins, pg. 101). For example, if a student is trying to draw one-point perspective, they might not understand how all of the lines recede into space. That’s the ‘hard part’. The ‘hard parts’ often require fewer distractions and increased focusing abilities from the individual. Implementing Lumosity into classroom practices can help your students become masters of the ‘hard parts’. The app can help strengthen their attention and memory abilities, which will assist them with the ‘hard parts’ in the future.

**Text in red has active links that will open in another window. Click on them to view more information on the HCP, the Lumosity study and the app itself.

References:

Gazzaley, A. (2011, April 17). Brain: memory and multitasking [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tiANn5PZ4BI

Ng, N., Sternberg, D., Katz, B., Hardy, J., & Scanlon, M. (2012, November 17). New approaches to learning using neuroscience and gaming: A large scale, multi-site implementation of a web-based cognitive training program in academic settings. Retrieved from http://cdn-hcp.lumosity.com/uploads/completed_research_post/original_paper_file/6/Ng-2012-L_B_poster_revised.pdf

Perkins, D. (2009). Making learning whole. How seven principles of teaching can transform education.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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