Tech-distracted students study — for 2 minutes

Asked to “study something important,” students stayed on task for two minutes before they “began responding to arriving texts or checking their Facebook feed,” reports a study, published in the May issue of Computers in Human Behavior by Larry Rosen, a psychology professor at California State University-Dominguez Hills. The middle, high school and college students spent only 65 percent of the 15-minute observation period doing their schoolwork.

“We were amazed at how frequently they multitasked, even though they knew someone was watching,” Rosen says. “It really seems that they could not go for 15 minutes without engaging their devices,” adding, “It was kind of scary, actually.”

Media multitasking while learning means less learning, writes Annie Murphy Paul on the Hechinger Report.

. . .  evidence from psychology, cognitive science, and neuroscience suggests that when students multitask while doing schoolwork, their learning is far spottier and shallower than if the work had their full attention. They understand and remember less, and they have greater difficulty transferring their learning to new contexts. So detrimental is this practice that some researchers are proposing that a new prerequisite for academic and even professional success—the new marshmallow test of self-discipline—is the ability to resist a blinking inbox or a buzzing phone.

In “Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds,” a 2010 survey, almost a third of those surveyed said that when they were doing homework, “most of the time” they were also watching TV, texting, listening to music, or using some other medium.

College students are used to texting, emailing and surfing the web in class. Eighty percent of college students admit to texting in class.

Young people think they can do two challenging tasks at once, but they’re “deluded,” says David Meyer, a University of Michigan psychology professor. “Listening to a lecture while texting, or doing homework and being on Facebook—each of these tasks is very demanding, and each of them uses the same area of the brain, the prefrontal cortex.”

He adds,“There’s nothing magical about the brains of so-called ‘digital natives’ that keeps them from suffering the inefficiencies of multitasking. They may like to do it, they may even be addicted to it, but there’s no getting around the fact that it’s far better to focus on one task from start to finish.”

Attention deficit or sleep deficit?

Some cases of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder may be a sleep disorder in disguise, writes Vatsal G. Thakkar, a psychiatry professor, in the New York Times.

Eleven percent of schoolchildren have been diagnosed with ADHD, he writes. Adult diagnoses are up too.

For some people — especially children — sleep deprivation does not necessarily cause lethargy; instead they become hyperactive and unfocused.

Adults and children are sleeping less, Thakkar writes.

The number of adults who reported sleeping fewer than seven hours each night went from some 2 percent in 1960 to more than 35 percent in 2011. Sleep is even more crucial for children, who need delta sleep — the deep, rejuvenating, slow-wave kind — for proper growth and development. Yet today’s youngsters sleep more than an hour less than they did a hundred years ago. And for all ages, contemporary daytime activities — marked by nonstop 14-hour schedules and inescapable melatonin-inhibiting iDevices — often impair sleep. It might just be a coincidence, but this sleep-restricting lifestyle began getting more extreme in the 1990s, the decade with the explosion in A.D.H.D. diagnoses.

Children with an A.D.H.D. diagnosis are likely to also have “sleep-disordered breathing like apnea or snoring, restless leg syndrome or non-restorative sleep, in which delta sleep is frequently interrupted,” he writes.

In a 2004 study, 34 children with A.D.H.D.  all showed a deficit of delta sleep, compared with only a few of the 32 control subjects.

Sleep disorders can be treated, writes Thakkar, who has a rare form of narcolepsy.

Early high school start times don’t fit adolescents’ sleep patterns, research shows. “Tor a teenager, a 7 a.m. alarm call is the equivalent of a 5 a.m. start for people in their 50s,” writes Russell Foster in New Scientist. It’s the hormones.

19% of teen boys diagnosed with ADHD

Nineteen percent of high-school-age boys and 11 percent of school-age children overall have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diagnosis rates have soared by 53 percent in the last decade, reports the New York Times.

About two-thirds of those with a current diagnosis receive prescriptions for stimulants like Ritalin or Adderall, which can drastically improve the lives of those with A.D.H.D. but can also lead to addiction, anxiety and occasionally psychosis.

“Those are astronomical numbers. I’m floored,” said Dr. William Graf, a pediatric neurologist in New Haven and a professor at the Yale School of Medicine. He added, “Mild symptoms are being diagnosed so readily, which goes well beyond the disorder and beyond the zone of ambiguity to pure enhancement of children who are otherwise healthy.”

Fifteen percent of school-age boys and 7 percent of girls now carry the ADHD label.

ADHD medications such as Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta and Vyvanse “can vastly improve focus and drive” for students with mild or nonexistent symptoms, reports the Times. An ADHD “diagnosis has become a popular shortcut to better grades, some experts said, with many students unaware of or disregarding the medication’s health risks.”

Ann Althouse wonders about possible side effects of “viewing youthful spirit as abnormal” and “skewing academic competition with performance-enhancing drugs.”

Dreamed and done

The picture that proves Felix Baumgartner always dreamed of reaching for the skies

Photo: REX FEATURES

Austrian Felix Baumgartner, 43, who became “the first man to break the sound barrier unaided after jumping from a capsule 24 miles up,” drew a picture of the dream when he was five years old.

The stick man drawing depicts him drifting down to earth under a parachute, with a beaming sun up above and what looks like his family waiting for him with food and drinks below.

In his comment on his five-year old drawing, Felix also wrote: “I had a dream…and this was it!!!”

Writing on his Facebook page, Felix said: “I drew this picture and gave it to my mum. When I did my first skydive on 23rd of August 1986 my mum handed it back to me and there it is. It is kinda interesting where your thought and vision is gonna take you, if you are focused and not let loose – no matter how hard it is!!!”

When Baumgartner landed — near Roswell, New Mexido! — his mother and father were there to greet him.

Bilingualism strengthens the brain

Being bilingual makes you smarter, writes Yudhijit Bhattacharjee in the New York Times. Juggling two languages gives “the mind a workout that strengthens its cognitive muscles.”

The collective evidence from a number of such studies suggests that the bilingual experience improves the brain’s so-called executive function — a command system that directs the attention processes that we use for planning, solving problems and performing various other mentally demanding tasks. These processes include ignoring distractions to stay focused, switching attention willfully from one thing to another and holding information in mind — like remembering a sequence of directions while driving.

The cognitive benefits may even prevent dementia in old age.

I’m tutoring a bilingual first grader in reading. When she asked if Spanish was bad, I gave her a pep talk on bilingualism making the brain stronger.

“Dogs can’t really talk,” she responded.

“They can say ‘arf’,” I said. She was not impressed. “No, dogs can’t really talk,” I said. We moved on.

One task at a time

Despite all the hype about multitasking teens, it’s not good for students to do too many things at once, writes cognitive scientist Dan Willingham on Answer Sheet.

. . . college kids who report being chronic multitaskers are actually somewhat “worse” than their peers at some basic components of cognitive control (like switching attention).

If you care about what you’re doing, focus on it, Willingham advises.  Leaving a TV on as background noise is distracting. Background music can help or hurt, depending on the “type of music, type of task, type of person, or a combination of factors is still unknown.”

Young people are better at multitasking than older people, he writes, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for them.

If there’s anything I hate, it’s a TV babbling on with nobody watching. But then I’m one of those older people.

On the ball

Colorado teachers are replacing classroom chairs with “stability balls” used in Pilates exercise classes, reports AP.

“They’re awesome,” gushed 10-year-old James Howell, a fourth grader at Bauder Elementary School whose class switched to purple stability balls in January. “They help you focus, they help you keep your structure. And sometimes you get to bounce on them, get the wiggles out.”

. . . “The whole theory with the brain is that when your body’s engaged, your brain’s engaged,” (teacher Tiffany) Miller said. “I call it actively sitting. They’re maybe moving their legs a little, wiggling some. But their upper body, they’re focused on writing, on the teacher. It really works.”

John Kilbourne, a professor in the Department of Movement Science at Grand Valley State University in Michigan tried stability balls with his students.

Nearly all said they preferred sitting on the balls. Students mentioned improvement in their ability to pay attention, concentrate, take notes, engage in classroom discussions and take exams.

Via Education Gadfly.