Book Preview – Engaging the Rewired Brain

By Scott Sterling

Earlier this year, we published a series of posts based on Dr. David A. Sousa’s book, Brain-Friendly Assessments: What They Are and How to Use Them. In it, one of the leaders in the field of neuroscience and education took our current assessment-based educational culture and made it more efficacious for both students and educators.

Next month, Learning Sciences is releasing his next book, Engaging the Rewired Brain, and it might be even more prescient, considering the times in which we live.

What has the digital culture in which students were born done to their brains? What are the obstacles for using technology in schools? How do we best utilize technology, and pedagogy as a whole, to engage attention, memory, thinking, and social behavior in the brains of digital natives? These questions and more are what Engaging the Rewired Brain seeks to answer.

Dr. Sousa begins with a survey of the current state of technology in schools. Not surprisingly, students are overwhelmingly in favor of using devices in their schoolwork. Teachers also on average believe that technology is beneficial to their work. He also discusses three levels of technology uses in schools as a type of hierarchy: engagement, enhancement, and extension. The goal is obviously to employ technology in a way that accomplishes all three.

We then move to Dr. Sousa’s specialty—how the brain of a digital native is currently functioning. It’s obvious that the brains of today’s children will be different from their ancestors in many fundamental ways. Notably, spatial reasoning is taking a hit due to young children’s use of video as infants and toddlers. They are too familiar with two-dimensional worlds rather than the three dimensions in which they live.

Most videos are also detrimental to speech development. The sounds simply come too fast and don’t have the same depth as speaking with an actual person would have. Of course, technology addiction at an early age can have significant effects as a child moves through life.

The meat of the book is spent discussing the primary areas of the brain that have been affected by technology use and are most critical to academic success: attention, memory, thinking, and social behavior. Technology has had considerable effects on each. The ways of work in the classroom have to reflect those changes.

But before that discussion occurs, Dr. Sousa takes a broad view of just what kind of classroom can engage this new brain. It’s very different from the classrooms we experienced as students. That classroom needs to have components such as:

  • Academic – Higher-order thinking skills are key; facts and figures less so.
  • Conceptual – Students need to understand why things happen, not just that they do. Manipulatives are also valuable in this regard.
  • Differentiation – Levels and methods of learning must be tailored as much as possible.
  • Exploratory – The modern brain wants to explore on its own. That’s what happens when you carry all of the world’s knowledge in your pocket.
  • A flipped classroom – Flipping seems to be an efficient way of accomplishing these goals.
  • Humor – Students need to be able to see their teacher as a human.
  • Games – Students have been raised with games, and are used to learning with them.
  • Loose structure – Students are used to controlling their devices. They need more control in the classroom.
  • Project-based learning – Exercising creativity and problem-solving skills.
  • Technology tools – Students cannot leave technology at the door.
  • Mastery culture – Teachers need to stay on top of student progress.

 

Finally, Dr. Sousa discusses how he sees technology use in the classroom going in the near future, ways technology might be used in the future, and how educators can best prepare for that reality.

Although educators now know that they need to integrate technology into their methods, and we’ve even come up with some best practices on how to do that, it’s valuable to see what effect that usage is having on the students and how we can best reach their new capabilities.