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Social Media Leads to Sleep Disturbance

There’s an eye-opener. (Cue the sarcasm.) It now turns out that being on social media can interrupt your sleep. A study by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine has determined that young adults who check social media on a daily or weekly basis have more problems sleeping than their peers who use it less often. The participants who reported most frequently checking social media throughout the week had three times the likelihood of sleep disturbances, compared with those who checked least frequently.

Granted, this is a single study of 1,788 participants, and more are needed to verify the validity of this one, “particularly to determine whether social media use contributes to sleep disturbance, whether sleep disturbance contributes to social media use – or both.” My kid will testify to my nagging that looking at her iPhone in the dark will ruin her eyes. Now I have further fodder to add to my badgering.

I personally leave my phone downstairs to charge when I go to bed. I can’t check email during the workday, as it’s blocked. I get on Facebook once or twice a week, tweet once or twice a month, and don’t have SnapChat. I can’t personally attest to the authenticity of this study, but it makes sense that anything that sucks attention the way social media does would have some kind of negative effect. It doesn’t surprise me in the least that social media disrupts sleep. I hope at some point people will sit up and take notice, get their noses out of their phones, and regain some sort of equilibrium in their lives. Not to mention a better night’s sleep.

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Facebook as addictive as cocaine?

So there’s a study (published in 2014 but just going viral now) that claims that Facebook has a similar effect on the brain as cocaine. The study sample was just 20 college students from the US, out of 45 initially screened for inclusion. The method used was to scan the brains of the participants using functional MRIs, while measuring the responses to signs and symbols associated with Facebook. (PubMed Health, Feb. 2016) Apparently, the subjects reacted more quickly to Facebook symbols than to road signs. The scans showed increased activity in the amygdala-striatal area of the brain, an area of emotions and motivation.

The researchers said people in their study with low to medium levels of addiction-like symptoms “have a hyperactive amygdala-striatal system, which makes this ‘addiction’ similar to many other addictions”. However, they added: “they do not have a hypoactive prefrontal lobe inhibition system, which makes it different from many other addictions, such as to illicit substances.” (PubMed Health, Feb. 2016)  In other words, saying that Facebook is addictive like cocaine is a bit of a stretch, putting it mildly. The term “addiction” may not be the best to describe the situation as well, with the words “a strong bad habit” being perhaps more accurate in describing the responses.

Is Facebook as addictive as cocaine? I wouldn’t go so far as to say that, but I would say that electronic device use in teens and young adults could stand to be studied. I observe teens every day that cannot go an entire class period without once glancing at their cell phones. No amount of shaming or consequences (short of removing the device from their possession) have any effect on the connected individuals. This is where the studies need to concentrate. Forget about Facebook use — try getting kids to go without Twitter, Snap Chat, Instagram, or texting for that matter. They walk in the hallways with their noses deep into their phones, looking like the Zombie Apocalypse has already occurred.

I do the best I can to set a good example by moderate, discreet use of my cell phone; you will never see me use my phone in a hallway, or in the library for that matter. I save it for lunch, and only if necessary, and only in my office. I get frustrated when teachers (or other adults) that I’m talking to whip out their phones in the middle of a conversation; with examples like this, how can I expect to reach my students? I realize that there’s a limit to what I can accomplish this way, but it won’t stop me from trying, and it won’t stop me from gently pointing out to my students just how ridiculous it is to have their noses buried in a phone all the time, and how rude it is to look at their device when someone is trying to talk to them. The end of good manners is a warning sign to our society (cue the political debates), but I will continue to be a one-woman crusade to save them. Someone’s got to do it.

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Teens & Distracted Driving — It’s Worse Than We Think

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the problem of teens driving while distracted, either from passengers or from electronic devices, is bigger than previously thought. The study, culled from analyzing the six seconds before collision in almost 1,700 videos of teen drivers, used voluntary in-vehicle event recorders to capture the information. The Foundation discovered that nearly 6 out of 10 moderate-to-severe vehicle crashes involving teens was due to distraction of some sort, almost four times the estimate from police reports. (AAA, 2015) The ability to analyze film in the moments leading up to a crash was cited as being very helpful in understanding what happened directly before impact, something that was impossible before having the videos. Another finding: teenagers, on average, had their eyes off the road for 4.1 seconds of the 6 seconds before impact. Good grief.

I’ve ranted about this before; adults talking or texting on their cell phones while driving irritates me no end. Teenagers on cell phones are even worse. The AAA study suggests that parents create a parent-teen driving agreement before allowing young drivers to get behind the wheel. It may also be worth it to invest in an app that monitors or even disables teen cell phone use while the vehicle is moving. Also, it would behoove adults in general to set a better example of not using cell phones while driving. Additionally, I would love to see legislation passed that outlawed all cell phone use in cars, hands-free included. But as someone pointed out to me, politicians are some of the worst offenders in talking on their phones when driving, so don’t look for any change in the laws anytime soon.

Am I being too cynical? Am I asking too much? I’ve been on the road countless times behind someone not going the speed limit and swerving in their lane, knowing they were on their phone and having it confirmed when I was finally able to pass. I consider myself a decent driver–I’m not perfect, and I struggle every day not to tailgate, but otherwise I’m pretty safe. I would never ask anyone to do anything that I myself am not willing to do; hence, you will never find me on my phone while I’m driving. I will keep ranting to my students about driving/texting/being on the phone and the importance of paying attention while behind the wheel. Maybe, someday, some of it will stick.

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iPhone separation and communication

Apparently, iPhone separation results in measurable negative changes to cognition, emotion, and physiology. To which I say, “duh!” I see it every day at my school, as kids walk in the halls like zombies with their faces buried in their electronic devices. I see it every day in my library, as kids text and tweet after repeated requests from me to stop. They can’t. I have a standing $10 bet with any kid to give me his or her cell phone for the duration of a class period. No one has ever taken me up on it. And now a study out of the Journal of Computer Mediated Communication backs me up. The study involved college students, but the same effects can readily be seen among my high-school students.

In a nutshell, the study determined that “the data showed that the inability to answer one’s iPhone while it was ringing activated the aversive motivational system (increases in heart rate and unpleasantness), and also led to a decline in cognitive performance.” (Clayton, 2015). Additionally, the students self-reported raised levels of unpleasantness and anxiety when separated from their devices. Lastly, the study indicated that once a student was distracted by an external or internal stimulus, it took half an hour for them to return to task.

The study raises the question of how not being able to interact with one’s iPhone affects communication with friends, family, and care providers; they have problems communicating with others when their phones are out of reach. But I’ve seen it work both ways; I’ve already had attention not paid me by people I’m talking to due to them texting or reading text messages. This includes teachers, sadly. The school has a “no electronic device during instruction time” that is largely ignored. The kids are allowed to be on their phones in the cafeteria at lunch, but the phones come out in the hallways as soon as class lets out. Even kids who come to speak to me in the library will pull out their phone to look at it during our conversation, in spite of my requests not to do so.

I’m the self-proclaimed rule-follower at my school, and my students know (for the most part) that I won’t accept dress-code violations, hats worn inside, or cell phone use during school hours. I use humor as much as possible to deflect any back talk I may engender, and as I have told the students many times, I will never ask them to do anything I won’t do myself. You won’t see me in a tank top. My hat comes off as soon as I step into the building. And you will never, ever see me with a cell phone in my hand during the school day. Sometimes setting the example, however, is not enough. It’s very frustrating, and it’s very sad.

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Why teaching cursive still matters

The gig is up — children should still be learning cursive in schools. According to an article written last June in the New York Times by Maria Konnikova, children that formed letters in their own handwriting vs. typing or tracing them show connections to broader educational development. In other words, “it’s not just what we write that matters — but how.” Studies are showing that children who write by hand learn to read faster, show an increased vocabulary, and retain what they learn better. “There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain,” says Stanislas Dehaene, a psychologist at the Collège de France in Paris. To me, it’s kind of like a body memory when you train for something over and over; in a stressful situation, your body knows how to react faster than your brain. By learning to write by hand, the brain is forced to recognize “messy” letters; being able to interpret all forms of an “a” for example, may increase the likelihood of recognizing the letter more quickly.

In free-form handwriting, the brain exhibited increased activity in three areas, an increase not seen in those who typed into a computer. But only the actual act of handwriting itself, not the observation of it, demonstrated increased brain activity. Children who produced text by hand generated more words more quickly, and they also produced more ideas in general. (James, 2012)

The benefits of handwriting extend to adulthood itself, as “not only do we learn letters better when we commit them to memory through writing, memory and learning ability in general may benefit.” (Berninger, 2006.) And things just keep getting better as we write our notes long-hand instead of typing them into a computer: “writing by hand allows the student to process a lecture’s contents and re-frame it — a process of reflection and manipulation that can lead to better understanding and memory encoding.” (Mueller & Oppenheimer, 2013.)

My own belief tends to uphold the opinion of these studies, that teaching cursive to children and making them take notes by hand produces both immediate and long-term benefits. I personally take notes much better by hand than by computer, and I usually write out all my papers longhand before typing them up. (Granted, I am a generation removed from easy access to electronic devices – I still prefer books over Kindles, I’m not attached by the hip to my phone, and I don’t need a constant blast of music in my ear from my iPod.) I was taught cursive from fourth grade to eighth grade (in a private Waldorf school in California); even my peers in public school were taught cursive. With today’s bipolar emphasis on standardized testing and yet producing creative, inventive individuals, teaching cursive can only provide a benefit to students both directly and with lasting positive effects.

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Frightening stats about reading!

I felt this one was too scary not to post. Literacy rates haven’t changed in 10 years? Good grief. I will continue to be a book proponent at all levels at my high school and hope to stem the tide.


It’s not often that I cross post on both my blogs, but I felt that the content of this one was as relevant to NovaNews as it is to BevsBookBlog.   So here it is:


As I gear up to make a presentation tomorrow at the annual VATE (Victorian Association of Teachers of English) State Conference 2013, my mind is easily turned by headlines that highlight illiteracy levels.

Stumbling on a post in the GoodReadingMagazine blog  I found myself trawling around for the stats that were highlighted in a September 2013 Huffington Post article: The US illiteracy rate hasn’t changed in 10 years.  As it turned out, the stats were based on a study conducted by the US Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy which I found published online on Statistic Brain.

US Illiteracy Stats on Statistic

32 million or 14% of US adults being illiterate and a…

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