Too Much of a Good Thing is Still Too Much

Photo by  Romain Vignes  on  Unsplash

Photo by Romain Vignes on Unsplash

Our brain hasn´t changed much over the past 200,000 years. Our lives sure have though. Every brain needs the following things, every day, to be healthy. Focus time, down time, play time (spontaneous, creative, novel), physical time, connection time (with people or nature, technology DOES NOT count), time-in (thinking about our thoughts, feelings, etc), and sleep. Thinking about our past, these things were just a natural part of life. We didn´t have to “make time” to do any of them. Now we do. Why?

Just like our body and brain developed ways to make us eat as many sugars and fats as we could,I am guessing they it did the same with focus time. If you look at all the activities that are bad for us, and that we become addicted to, they all are some sort of focused activity. Social media, YouTube, Netflix, Television, video games. All of them are focused activities.

Our brain is only capable of so much focus in any given time period. It´s something like 25 minutes at a time (10 for kiddos less than 12), and somewhere between 2-4 hours in one day. Think about that. 2-4 hours in one day. How much time do you spend staring at a screen? Your children? Your students? Are we robbing ourselves of any attempt to focus on things that truly matter?

If you think about an average child now, how much time do you think they spend doing focused activity on an average day? You have the school day: depending on the school, a student is probably being asked to focus for AT LEAST 4 hours. That same student goes home. How many focused activities are they doing there? Down time? Time-in? Sleep? How much actual play?

I played a ton. I did imaginary play all the way through High School. I think maybe … maybe .. 3 of my 22 students do any sort of imaginative play at this point. I teach 5th grade. Think about that. We live in a world that our brains are not made for. This world has evolved systems that make us addicted to them (most likely accidentally!!). We have accidentally addicted our children to technology. To their utmost determent.

Why has this happened? Thoughts on that next time.

A Reflection on Risk-taking, The Launch Cycle, and Scaffolding

I like to take risks. Nothing too out there. Calculated risks is a better term. You would never catch me falling out of a plane or launching myself off of a bridge. Not my kind of risk. I also think incessantly about things. I have been known to think about how to improve a lesson up until I start the darn thing. I also know that if I stop thinking about something, that my brain continues to work on the problem or process that I´ve been contemplating. 

I want our classroom to be a place where all kids are included. Where they know they have influence. Where we are an actual community of learners. I don´t think we´ve ever made it all the way. One of my great laments about teaching is that I just have the group of kids for one year. And then I start over with a new bunch. It´s painful for me. 

Anyways, at some point last week, about one minute before I started to talk to my class of learners, a voice boomed in my head. "Remember the launch cycle? Remember how you tried it once, and it was a big bust, and how much you still like it? How could you use it for the kids to design something within the classroom?" And then three things popped up in my mind. The classroom library. Our daily schedule. A class website. 

These are all things that I have designed in the past. They have been owned and operated by yours truly. And I´ve always been a fan. And maybe some...SOME... of my students have been fans too. So I made a split second decision, based on years of thinking. I listed the three topics, and had them rank them of which interested them the most. I told them they were guaranteed to get one of their top three choices (Have I ever told you how funny I am?) I then created three groups. Every student wound up getting at least their number 2 choice.

I then introduced the Launch Cycle to them (John Spencer, A.J. Juliani. Follow them. Read them. Watch them. Just do it.). After that, I had them brainstorm when working in teams was good, and what it was the pits. I asked them to come up with some agreements to keep it in the positive side. I then asked each team to have a project manager. And then I set them off.

From there I checked in with the project managers. I showed them how to use Google Sheets to assign and track work. I asked for summaries and plans of work. Fast forward a week later, and probably close to 200 minutes of classtime and no team is finished.  And that´s o.k. They´ve never done this before. I asked them to reflect on what they had learned so far. Here are some responses:

  • "You have to work together as a team, you can't split up, you have to keep going and talk a lot about the process."
  • “I learned what things you need to create a good website.”
  • “I've learned that when I have a problem on the computer, I can solve it myself or with the help  of my team.”
  • “I've learned that working on a team is not that easy. I also learned that there has to be good communication.”
  • “Working on a team is easier and more difficult at the same time.”
  • “I learned to make my own photos, and not copy what other people have done on the internet.”
  • “I discovered that you need to put effort into everything. If you don't, your work is not going to turn out well.”
  • “Designing a library is hard work. You have to listen to other people's ideas, and you don't always get to do what you want.”

For my own reflection, I should have given them different support. A structure, more than the sheets and summaries I asked of them. And as I was thinking that, I get an email from John Spencer (yeah, the same one from up there! It was his newsletter, but still.. an email) that goes over 5 structures to use with your students to help them learn project management. So we are off and running again. I now understand, wonderfully, that these projects (I hope) are going to last the whole year, with each group trying to improve their design. When each team finishes their first cycle, and they agree that I can share their work with the world (or the very small amount of it that might read it here, and you count as the world!!) then I will post some pictures of their products (and even a link to our website)