Monthly Archives: October 2014

School Start Times & Adolescents

The American Association of Pediatrics has issued a report on the effect of lack of sleep on adolescents, which contributes to a variety of issues, including obesity, mood disorders, and impaired academic performance. I’ve long felt that teenagers don’t get enough sleep during the school year; the early start times, coupled with after-school activities and jobs, plus homework, all combine to add up to sleepy, over-extended kids. The AAP “endorses…later school start times, and acknowledges the potential benefits to students with regard to physical and mental health, safety, and academic achievement.” In addition to delaying school start times, the AAP states that it is also necessary to educate parents and the community that comes into contact with the teenagers of the importance of them getting 8.5 – 9.5 hours of sleep per night. These stakeholders need to know about the scientific rationale behind the proposition to delay the start of school. Naps, sleeping longer on weekends, and coffee can only do so much toward ameliorating the sleep debt racked up by adolescents. Starting school later would allow them to get the necessary amount of shut-eye, and research indicates that this would improve many common teen ailments. We need to all get on board with this — we owe it to our kids for them to be as happy and healthy as possible. This is a start.

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Another professor is backing up my argument…

…about eliminating electronic devices from the classroom. Clay Shirky, a professor at NYU, recently published a blog post about why he doesn’t want students using technology during his fall seminar. He teaches theory and practice of social media, and he studies the effects of the Internet on society. He is, as he himself admits, an unlikely candidate for Internet censor, but he has come to the same conclusion that I have myself, backed up by scientific research, that multi-tasking in the classroom prevents the kind of deep thinking required by a college curriculum. In other words, cell phones and laptops are an unwelcome distraction; Shirky states that “computer hardware and software are being professionally designed to distract” and that in a contest between Facebook and his class, he loses. He also cites a study that finds that screens distract in a manner akin to second-hand smoke–the person sitting next to someone on their phone or laptop is also distracted from the task at hand.

It was this last study that tipped Shirky into the “no devices in the classroom” camp. He’s long believed that “device use in class tends to be a net negative,” but when one person’s decision to use technology adversely affects others around them, the gig is up. Shirky says “some parts of making your brain do new things are just hard,” and it takes concentration and focus to concentrate on the hard stuff long enough to get it to a useful place; i.e., long-term memory. He sees instruction as a collaboration between himself and his students, and technology use in his classroom interferes with that collaborative effort.

I am so glad that I am not alone in championing the “no technology use” in the classroom. We’ll just have to be that much more attractive to our students so that they don’t even want to use their devices in class, that’s all.

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