Monday, 19 January 2015

Multitasking- a 'powerful and diabolical illusion'?

As many of you know, I have returned to tertiary study. It is over a decade since I last studied at this level and I have to say it is certainly a challenging undertaking, even though I am loving what I am learning and am passionate about my chosen area of research.

The biggest challenge for me is not the academic aspects- the finding of relevant research, the selecting of  methodology or even deciding on a philosophical framework. No, it is much less complicated than all of those things - it is simply having the mental focus to sit down, read for a sustained period of time and concentrate my thoughts on what I am reading.

I thought it was that I was just out of the habit and that a bit of tough self talk would solve the problem. And it does...until after about 10 minutes, I start to think about whether I have a reply to that email I wrote, or if there might be a latest photo posted of my new granddaughter on Facebook and so  I 'reward' myself with a break to check up on those things. Sounds reasonable until I remember that I ask teachers not to keep their students on the mat for more than 10 - 15 minutes in the junior school! So really- do I have the concentration span of a five or six year old?

Well, this morning I read a blog based on this book: Daniel J. Levitin. Extracted from The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, published by Viking.

It was extremely illuminating and helped me to understand what is going on inside my head! Basically, Levitin talks about the fact that our brains are busier than ever and that we are doing more than we have ever done in the past. For example, most of us research and book our own travel on line when ten years ago, a travel agent would do this for us.

 I  have often said that the move from a content driven curriculum to a concept driven one has been necessary in this age of easy information- literally at our fingertips! But, it does mean that we have the potential to be bombarded with information. Many of us attempt to cope by multitasking, by cramming as much as we can into our day using our 'Swiss Army Knife' smartphones to help us, to the point where we even text while we walk ( much to the annoyance of other pedestrians!)

However, Levitan says that multitasking is a 'powerful and diabolical illusion' as we are just actually switching tasks at the 'cognitive cost' of being less efficient. Additionally, and really importantly for our students, multitasking can cause learned information to go into the wrong part of the brain, hindering long term retrieval. So this could explain in some part, difficulty in retaining and retrieving  important information.

He also says that multitasking increases the presence of cortisol as well as adrenaline, which can overstimulate your brain and cause a mental fog or scrambled thinking. He says it causes a 'dopamine- addiction feedback loop' which, in effect, causes the brain to be rewarded for loosing focus and constantly searching for new stimulation.

So what does this mean for our students? It means things like remembering the importance of focusing on one task at a time, of not watching TV while studying, of being aware of information overload, of putting our phones down more often and of being aware of what is happening inside of our children's heads. Apparently, 8-18 year olds spend a quarter of their media time using multiple media and 24% of 12-18 year old teenagers use another media device while watching TV.

Do read the full article, here is the link:

I hope that you will find it as interesting as I did and I look forward to your comments!

Monday, 5 January 2015

What are 21st century skills?

Happy new year to you all! I hope that the break was a wonderful one for you. The new year is a time when we naturally reflect on where we are at, not just personally, but professionally as well. For me, this reflection process is ongoing, as I constantly strive to ensure that at Bradbury, we are preparing our students for their future.

Our current and future students at Bradbury will experience working conditions that we are just beginning to see a glimpse of now. Our next generation, no matter who they work for, will increasingly be a part of global teams.  They will use technology to move across borders, time zones, cultural and ethic differences and even language as they work with colleagues from around the globe on issues such as climate change, food security, and population growth - issues that require multinational teams coming together to effect change.
The challenges today's students will face as tomorrow's leaders will involve working more closely across geographic borders, and with people who have very different backgrounds, beliefs, and experiences. In short, diversity and global citizenship are our common future.
It is our job at Bradbury and as parents, to ensure that our children will be ready, and that the education they're receiving today is preparing them for the world they'll inherit in a decade or two. '21st century skills' is a term we often hear in education circles -but what are these skills? I suggest the following:

  • An appreciation of cultural differences
  • An ability to understand and consider multiple perspectives
  • The ability to apply critical thinking skills
  • The ability to solve problems
  • The ability to  cope with ambiguity and change
  • Possessing an understanding of globally significant issues.
An environment that places a high value on seeking out and leveraging a diversity of perspectives, particularly those with perspectives that are controversial or significantly different from the students' own, helps them build their ability to empathise and value perspectives other than their own.
Students today have the incredible benefit of using technology not only to access new ideas and global perspectives, but also to personalize and take control of their learning. Every day there are new technology resources available to help educators make their classrooms more global and connect their students to new ideas, challenges, and resources that will let them dig deeper into what they're learning in class. At Bradbury, we are very well technology resourced and teachers have a high level of skill in terms of applying their knowledge to a classroom setting. We do not forget though, that technology is a resource and as such, must be carefully considered and used with discernment.

What does this mean and look like in our classrooms though? 

  • When pedagogy and curriculum is grounded in real and significant global issues that have local impact, and are used  to foster self-directed learning, it is highly empowering to students. Leveraging this kind of material and encouraging students to think deeply and creatively about implications, parallels in their own community, and how they can affect change,  builds strong critical thinking skills and an understanding of students' own global context. A good example of this is our Year 6 Exhibition, where students are encouraged to seek out, research and provide action for the local issues we confront in Hong Kong. Air quality, shark fin production and  domestic workers rights are all local issues that our students have explored during this unit of enquiry.
  • Teachers in classrooms that actively build global competence encourage students to wrestle with the complexity of an issue. They then design and implement solutions based on the students' own research. This helps students build an appreciation for the challenges of addressing both global and community issues. A teacher who challenges and encourages students to be comfortable with changing environments and circumstances simulates the realities of our deeply dynamic world. Helping our students understand that even small actions can have a significant impact, is hugely empowering. Even our Year 1 & 2 students are encouraged to think about how they can make a difference.

  • Reflection is considered as a critical and important component of classroom learning.  Structured and frequent reflection, which students do both on their own and with each other, helps them apply what they have learned  to their  future work, especially if they see any mistakes they have made as opportunities for improvement! This is an area of growth for us. In a very crowded curriculum, it is difficult to take the time to allow for deep and meaningful reflection- but we are getting there!