What is Common Core Math?

Common Core Math
A Guide for Parents

This post is for all of my friends with children who continue to ask me, “What is this Common Core?”

Disclaimer: I am no expert, but I have had the opportunity to work with my school district to integrate these new standards this year. In doing so, it is clear that there are still more questions than answers, but here is what I understand about the Common Core math standards thus far.

What is “Common Core” and why was it developed?
Right when we all thought we had finally figured out No Child Left Behind and the state standardized tests, it all changes. Why? In short, because it needed to. Our former methods of teaching discrete skills on a check-list so that they could be ticked away at on a “bubble-test” proved to be easy to teach to and fairly mindless for kids to take, but that mindlessness was exactly the problem. Putting high stakes on test scores by default forced even the best, most innovative teachers to focus more on the outcome of the test then on the quality of the learning. Students did not need to THINK about what they knew, only know it. They could recognize a prepositional phrase or multiply fractions, but not know when or how to apply these skills. This is the underlying motivation for moving away from standardized tests and toward a more fully encompassing assessment of not only what students know, but what they can do with what they know.

Here is the jargony answer of what Common Core is:

  • “The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a state-led effort to establish a single set of clear educational standards for English-language arts and mathematics that states can share and voluntarily adopt. The standards have been informed by the best available evidence and the highest state standards across the country and globe and designed by a diverse group of teachers, experts, parents, and school administrators, so they reflect both our aspirations for our children and the realities of the classroom. These standards are designed to ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to go to college or enter the workforce and that parents, teachers, and students have a clear understanding of what is expected of them. The standards are benchmarked to international standards to guarantee that our students are competitive in the emerging global marketplace.”

In plain speak:

  • Kids become adults. We must strive to develop adults who are competitive and prepared for the global marketplace. We need problem solvers and innovators, designers and communicators. Our systems overwhelmingly failed to produce such academically competitive and prepared students on a large-scale basis. Change needs to happen. These Common Core standards are an effort at making that change, developed by inspired grassroots educators. Will this work? I hope so, and in my own classroom, I believe it already is working. Doing what we have done for the last ten years is no longer an option. We know that doesn’t work.

How Is Common Core Math Different?
The easy answer is that kids are expected to learn less content, yet in far more depth and understanding.

Mile Deep, Inch Wide

  • “For over a decade, research studies of mathematics education in high-performing countries have pointed to the conclusion that the mathematics curriculum in the United States must become substantially more focused and coherent in order to improve mathematics achievement in this country. To deliver on the promise of common standards, the standards must address the problem of a curriculum that is “a mile wide and an inch deep.” These Standards are a substantial answer to that challenge.” http://www.corestandards.org/Math

Too long now, the math curriculum has been overly inclusive of so many isolated skills, there was very little time to teach how to think about and understand each concept and what its value is to the greater world. Kids were urged to just memorize the algorithm and move on! Hurry! With Common Core, at each grade level, fewer concepts are covered but in far more depth. Weeks may be spent discussing, manipulating, playing with, and solving applied problems on a single concept rather than just a few days. In that way, students gain a richer knowledge of what they are learning. Each concept becomes a part of their lexicon, their tool box, and they know when and how to use them. Phew! What a welcome relief for those who felt that math was moving on to the next concepts before they “got it.”

Think Big Picture
The purpose of the Common Core is to teach kids how to THINK about problems and apply various methodologies and skills to solve them accurately and efficiently.

Here is a sample fifth grade Common Core item on fractions:

Half of a school auditorium is needed to seat 3 equal-sized fifth grade classes.
Part A: Make a visual fraction model to represent the whole auditorium when each class is seated in separate sections.
Part B: Write an expression to determine what fractional part of the auditorium one fifth grade class will need.
Part C: What fraction of the auditorium will one of the fifth grade classes need?

Notice that students are given an overarching problem to solve. They must first, comprehend what the situation is and what the problem is asking. Then, they must design a model to represent the problem, describe the problem in numeric language, and finally, have a correct numerical answer. This is far different from the standard test item of the same concept, “What is ½ x ⅓?”

Our students will need to know HOW to solve a problem and WHY the methods they chose to solve it will work. Common Core requires them to metacognate, or THINK about THINKING. The goal is not simply to find the correct answer, but also to understand how you know your answer is correct and be able to explain it to others.
Link to More Sample Questions

Talk, Write, Prove, Explain, Defend
In a traditional classroom, math tends to be the most controlled and teacher-led period of the day. Kids come in, receive guided instruction on the discrete skill of the day, and then they work on that skill independently or in a remediated small group. Homework is more practice of that skill in the same format it was delivered in class. The Common Core math class on the other hand is active, noisy, and engaged. It is not enough to simply get an answer. Students must defend their answer and their methodology in both written paragraphs and in-class discussion as well as explain to others how their thinking might be flawed or what better methods are available. This dialogue takes place throughout every lesson. Students are asked to partner-share and work together at every step. Writing about math is also of key importance in the Common Core classroom. Writing helps us reflect on our learning, better understand concepts, and connect concepts to real life, making them more meaningful. Expect to see a lot more writing in math with Common Core!

There is More than One Right Way
Common Core is about solving problems and being able to prove that your answers and methods are correct in both writing and speaking. The lessons are designed to present a problem and have students first think and collaborate about what they would do to solve it. After sharing these methods, the teacher supplies various research-based methods for understanding the concept. Finally, the students learn the standard algorithm. This may seem quite backwards from the traditional method of teaching math: algorithm and drill, but it allows students to fully understand the mechanics of a given concept before being given a “short cut.” Common Core math honors and encourages a wide range of methods and asks students to step out of the box to truly comprehend the math involved in their learning.

Be Prepared for Frustration
Students who are “good” at math are often the ones who can learn a method, seem to “get it” right away, and who can complete an entire worksheet in minutes with ease. One type of problem to solve, one formula to use, piece of cake!

Common Core is not so simple. Students work up from their own understanding, receiving the common algorithms last, after much discussion and exploration. For upper-graders raised in the traditional way, they are not immediately interested in the why and the how when they have been successful with simply applying a given method. Furthermore, if they never learned the why behind the algorithms they used in the past, they cannot use the algorithm in abstract problems. “I don’t know why it works, it just does” is an attitude that serves a purpose on a typical drill worksheet, but offers little assistance when solving real-world problems.

In the Common Core classroom, all students are expected to explain how and why they solved a given problem the way they did and in situations where the algorithm is not apparent or yet unknown. “I already know how. I don’t need to explain it to anyone” or “Just show me how to do it, I don’t care why” are likely responses to Common Core math instruction from students used to the traditional math classroom. There will be frustration from these students who never felt frustration in math before, potentially challenging these students’ perceptions of themselves as math students. Being supportive and reminding them that it is OK to not understand something at first and that being persistent will not only help them get passed this self-image crisis, but is a valuable life lesson as well. Thinking is HARD, and if they have not been challenged to think in math up until now, there will be frustration, but arguably, this frustration is where learning really happens.

Be Ready for Surprised Successes
Students who have typically struggled in math will experience math with the Common Core in a dramatically new way. For those who feel math instruction moves too quickly for them, that they “just don’t get it”, or that they are simply “not good at math”, Common Core gives all students time to talk about, manipulate, draw pictures of, and play with concepts in various ways. Students who did not understand math when lessons were only based on discrete algorithms get their chance to participate and shine! Finally, the secrets hidden behind the algorithms are made clear to them, offered a key to math that they were never given before. What an empowering experience!

Mind the Gaps
Our upper-grade students (third grade and up) are going to have major gaps in their math instruction for the first few years of Common Core implementation. For younger students just beginning school at the onset of Common Core or who have grown up with CGI math, they will not sense a change and will not have any gaps to fill in their learning. Our older students do not have that luxury. The new curriculum does not spiral; it does not go back to review past concepts the way our old curriculum did. What is taught at lower levels is only taught at those levels. Likewise, concepts taught in fifth grade are only taught in fifth grade and so must be mastered while in fifth grade. Considering that this is the first year with Common Core in California, we will need to be prepared to recognize what skills our students may be missing and to teach those skills as needed.

The New Test
As the math curriculum is changing, so is testing. Out the window is the standardized test of No Child Left Behind. In comes the Smarter Balanced computer adaptive assessment. This test is designed to determine a student’s grade level equivalency with an average of only 20 test items. It works by giving a grade level question, then based on the student’s response, either gives a more or less challenging follow-up question. As students respond, the computer adapts the test to find the level that each student works at best. This may be at, above, or below the student’s grade level in school. The test will begin at the child’s performance level from the previous year in the following school year to show growth.

This test reflects the new methodology of Common Core and should not be ignored until test day! Not only are the questions much more in depth and intellectually more challenging, but they are given on the computer. Computer, mouse, and keyboard fluency is critical to success. Please visit the Smarter Balanced Practice Test to view and experience the types of questions your child will be asked. The more exposure to the test format the students have, the more likely they will be to show their knowledge on test day.

Fortunately, this year, 2013-2014, is a “test of the test”. Test developers are piloting the test on a large-scale, but students will not receive scores in this first year. This is a learning period for all. However, in the next few years, and at the middle and high school levels, pay attention! The eleventh grade year will be a critical testing year. If students do not pass the eleventh grade test, thus prove unable to prove college or career readiness, they will be required to take remediated courses their first year in college. When this high-stakes situation will begin, I do not know, but it is in the pipeline.

Is Common Core worth it?
I hope so, and in my own classroom, I believe it is. For my math class, we learn numbers and concepts so we can use them in real-world problems. If only my own math experience growing up had been so relevant, I probably would not have hated math so much!

Interesting Reads!

Digital History

Great Reasons to Love Learning on an iPad

Classroom Leadership

Brain Study Reveals How Students Overcome Math Anxiety

Interesting articles all around!

Free Rice.com

Free Rice

Play Knowledge Games and Earn Rice for Hungry Children

 

Notes of Kids and Play

I read quite a bit and run across many articles worth sharing. I tweet most of them, but a friend (and busy parent of a two-year-old) recently remarked that she has no time to read and wouldn’t I just tell her what the articles say. That comment got me thinking that she is probably not alone out there, being someone who does not have the time to explore these many gems of publication. For you, my friend, and for other busy parents, teachers, and care givers, I have “taken notes” on this great article, “Time for Play.”

This article and the articles that follow impacted me both as a teacher and as an aunt. It made me reassess for the first time the distinction I place between my students at work and my niece at home. Time with my niece is spent in leisurely play, watching her actions and following her lead. It is a peaceful interplay where I again become a child and enter into her world, free to giggle and be silly. However, at school, my job is to instruct. Every minute counts as teachers are evermore pressed to cover a sky-high breadth of standards to an ever-increasing level of proficiency. Therefore, the smallest minutia of each day is calculated and catalogued, and any time “off-task” seems like a sin against learning. Yet in my heart of hearts, I know that play is essential for me and my students, and so I keep it as masked as I can during the school day in the guise of study and learning. After reading this article, though, I breathed a sigh of relief. The author’s point that children need freedom of play to develop self-regulation and to develop their creativity gave me permission to be more open about the fun that I enjoy with my students and to more frequently balance the mandated explicit direct instruction with more time for students to explore content on their own. Teachers are by nature a bit controlling (my siblings might argue that I am more than a bit), and so reading this article invited me to see the benefits and joy in play, even at school, and to see my students for once as I see my niece, more like children and less like pupils.

The following notes are adapted from the original article and are intended to provide a synopsis of the article. Reading of the full article is encouraged and may be accessed through the hyperlink on the article title. Direct quotes are taken directly from those interviewed by the author. My own comments may appear interspersed throughout the notes, but are separated by parentheses. My comments and commentary are not those of the author.

Notes on Stephanie Hanes’ Article
Toddlers to Tweens: Relearning How to Play
Christian Science Monitor
January 23, 2012
Full Article

It may be that our over-programming of childhood at the expense of real, unscripted PLAY is limiting our kids’ success.

* Play is:
“when children are using something they’ve learned, to try it out and see how
it works, to use it in new ways — it’s problem solving and enjoying the satisfaction of problems solv[ed]”
— Diane Levin

“when kids regulate their behavior voluntarily.”
— Deborah Leong, co-creator of the Tools of the Mind curriculum

* Researchers can now show that “it’s OK to not be so scheduled [and] programmed — that time for a child to daydream is a good thing.”
— Susan Magsamen, director of Interdisciplinary Partnerships at Johns
Hopkins University School of Medicine

* New research is identifying a depth to play: how it develops chronological awareness and its link to language development and self-control.

* Self-regulation, or “executive function” refers to abilities such as planning, multitasking, and reasoning. These abilities may be more indicative of future academic success than IQ, standardized tests, or other assessments. Children who play more have better self-regulation.

* Without limiting instruction from an adult, a child is far more creative. Adult hovering and instruction can be limiting. (As parents, we know this. As teachers, we are encouraged to forget it.)

* The American educational system, increasingly teaching to standardized tests, has diminished children’s creativity.

* A Kaiser Family Foundation study found that 8-to-18-year-olds spend an average of 7.5 hours in front of a screen per day.

* One way to restore play and creativity in your own neighborhood is to organize a block party. Visit The Ultimate Block Party for ideas on how to organize a community party involving local government, educators, and institutions to restore play and creativity in your neighborhood.

Notes on Stephanie Hanes’ Article
The Games Kids No Longer Play
Christian Science Monitor
January 23, 2012

* High-stimuli toys, even those labeled “educational” or “interactive” may serve to diminish children’s creativity. Instead of using their minds to imagine how to use a toy, these toys do all of the work, prescribing to the child the limits and boundaries of play that are acceptable.

* “The best toy is 90% child and 10% toy.”
— Dr. Susan Linn of the Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood

* When a child plays with a toy that already has a character description, the play tends to be limited by the character’s personality or actions. The characteristics of the toy are already determined.

* “Companies make less money when children play creatively. Children who play creatively need less stuff, and they can use the same thing over and over again — mud, water, blocks, dolls that don’t do anything.”
— Dr. Linn

*Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood
Get involved in helping to bring play back.

For more articles on play from this issue of The Christian Science Monitor, see also Evolution of Play and Get Kids Outside by Creating Natural Spaces.

Khan Academy and Math Instruction in the Classroom

I have been following the use of the Khan Academy Math Videos in the Los Altos School District and finally had to try it myself. This organization has over 3000 FREE videos with practice problems on-line and allows teachers to follow the progress of students, the videos they watch, and their success on practice.

The potential for use of these videos in the classroom is just beginning to be discovered. As Time Magazine stated in the recent article, “When Will We Learn?” the Los Altos district is turning traditional math instruction “on its head” with their use of the Khan Academy. By requiring students to watch instructional math videos at home, students come to school ready to practice, problem solve, and receive additional help and extensions from the teacher. Instead of teacher time being spent as a lecturer, the teacher can then serve as a tutor and facilitator. The thought of doing this in my own classroom has haunted me ever since.

So here goes! Beginning Monday, my students will be assigned a video from the Khan Academy on Adding Fractions. Tuesday morning, my student teacher and I will view their progress on-line, do a quick assessment of how they do on several problems in class, and then differentiate the rest of the math class based on how well they learned the concept and what extra help or acceleration they need.

Try it yourself! Go to http://www.khanacademy.org, search “adding fractions with like denominators” (video # U02_L3_T1_we1).

I would love your feedback and I will post about our progress, failures, confusions, successes, and all.

Writing for Struggling Students: Strategies to Help Ease the Pain of Writing

Writing is a challenging task for anyone, but for a child who has attention difficulties, and let’s faces it, nearly all children do, writing can be a daunting chore. Just take a closer look at the fundamentals of writing.

First, the skills that make one ready to write must be in place just to get words onto paper: fine-motor skills so writing is fluid and painless for small hands; spatial awareness of the lines on the page and word spacing; letters and basic phonics, as well as a significant working vocabulary. All of that is just in the act of writing, and does not even touch on writing well.

Secondly, we need ideas for what to write. In a child’s active mind, stories emerge with dramatic speed, and detailed descriptions erupt effortlessly. Ideas are not the problem for these creative young brains. In fact, all children are superb authors of stories and dissertations, until it is time to place them on paper. This is where the frustration and tears begin. Suddenly, the creative, active mind feels foolish, incompetent, and insecure. All efforts at writing these wonderful ideas cease in order to avoid embarrassment and failure, for they quickly learn that it is extremely difficult to put all of the life and color of their imagination into writing.

The third and most challenging aspect of writing is the transition from brain to hand, from mind to paper. This process is so challenging, ideas get lost or discarded in the attempt. A spoken story full of vivid characters and imaginative settings and plot twists turns into: “A boy and girl walked into a forest. They saw a witch and ran away. The End.” There is no denying that such an outcome is not at least a little bit discouraging for a child who knows the real, full story in his head but doesn’t know how to say it on paper.

So how do we help our children overcome these barriers and free them to write more easily, confidently, and successfully?

  • Take the “Hand” Out of Writing. Allow your child to dictate first drafts to you to be revised and then rewritten by him. If fine motor skills are the problem, allow him to type his drafts. Writing by hand is an important skill, but it is becoming less so as technology advances. If the effort of handwriting is causing him not to write at all, it is time to try something new.
  • Pre-Writing is Crucial. One of the most significant problems children with attention issues have with writing is that they do not know how to organize their thoughts. Their minds work a mile a minute and they have moved on to new brilliant ideas before the last one was ever recorded. What’s worse, they forgot what that last great idea was! Pre-writing allows the framework of organization to be done ahead of time so no great ideas get lost and the final piece makes logical sense to readers. Pre-writing can be in the form of a mind map, an outline, or a graphic organizer. Sitting with your child during this process, recording and organizing her ideas for her on paper, will really help facilitate the organization of the writing. Once the big ideas are listed and a “road map” for the piece is in place, your child’s mind will be free to build the structure around the frame that you created together. A link to many different graphic organizers can be found here.
  • Write First. Edit Later. With struggling writers, the more mistakes they make, the more likely they are to quit early in frustration. Thus, for first drafts, ignore spelling, grammar, semantics, etc. Just encourage and allow your child to write! I think of it as a brain drain. Let everything flow out. No criticism. Avoid any of the past comments that might have caused your child to question himself. This is his time to freely write and express his ideas. All revisions can and should come after he has written all he can and wants to say.
  • Spelling Comes at the End. Spelling is a crucial skill. It is the first impression a reader has about whether the author is educated or not. Unfortunately, it does not come naturally to everyone and let us not be deceived about the reality that English is not easy to spell. No spelling rule works all of the time in English and it often feels like an unbreakable code for struggling writers. Sure, it is important for your child to know how to spell frequently used words. However, when working on higher level writing tasks, do not fret about spelling errors on unknown words. Spell Check has become the best friend of many an author (myself included) and whether a word is spelled correctly the first time is not as important as the writing itself and the final draft. Hold your child accountable to editing drafts for spelling words correctly that she should know, but then help her spell the more challenging ones and move on. If he is typing, turn off the spelling and grammar checks for the first draft, since the red and green “squiggles” on the page are very discouraging, but turn it back on for revisions.
  • Try Poetry. Poetry is a non-threatening form of writing. There are fewer rules and much more creative license. Practice word play and experiment with new words to help build your child’s vocabulary. Trying to incorporate new words into a poem can make it silly, and can also make that new word a part of her working vocabulary and give her the confidence to use it again in other places.
  • Write Daily. Just like in reading, writing requires practice to build fluency, or ease. If a child avoids writing on a regular basis, then every time he has to write the word and, it is like writing it for the first time: a-n-d. Just as with learning to type, the first attempts are laborious and full of mistakes. With practice, however, our fingers memorize where the keys are and we don’t have to look at the keys anymore to spell basic words. This is easily evidenced by the proficiency kids show with texting and video game controllers. Writing with a pencil or pen is the same way, muscle memory and fluency come with rehearsal. As the basics become easier over time, your child can begin experimenting with his creative voice. He doesn’t have to write much, just write.
  • Different Tasks Require Different Writing. Understand the purpose of writing practice. When working on writing at home, including on homework, look at the nature of the task. For instance, is the purpose to compose a succinct paragraph? If so, perhaps the first draft can be dictated to a parent and the second draft rewritten by the child. If the purpose is grammar or spelling practice, the child’s writing is obviously important. However, if the purpose is to simply show what your child knows about a subject, a dictated response is often much more relevant, thorough, and productive than a written response which likely would be condensed to avoid the writing part.
  • Use a Voice Recorder. By hearing her own voice, your child can identify with her internal author. In replaying her stories to herself, she can revise the story in writing, adding new details and making plot changes as she sees fit. The recording serves as a first draft, and a much more thorough one than she would have written by hand. Because the story is already spoken, she will likely take more ownership for it and not be as likely to shortcut on the written version.
  • Organize Thoughts Together. For an easily distracted child, ideas come whizzing from all directions and with seemingly equal importance, but often with little focus. This makes writing them down in an organized, comprehensive manner nearly impossible. By helping your child outline, map out, or organize her ideas onto paper, she can then write to each idea in order, crossing them off as she goes without losing focus or the idea.
  • Start Small and Build Up. As with any new or developing skill, being successful leads to wanting to do more, whereas early failures lead to reluctance to continue or try again. Building upon early successes is the way to reaching competence and confidence. Be patient and praise little successes to keep frustration at bay.

Writing is perhaps the one type of assignment that I get the most mixed response from students in class. Cheers of joy mingle with cries of anguish from students upon announcing a writing project. For some, it is a time to show their creative spirit and to prove their intelligence. For others, it is a stifling time, where intelligence becomes buried underneath the heap of the task. All children want to write, until, that is, they learn that in writing, they feel stupid. Who wouldn’t avoid such a display of false representation if possible? The more we can do to promote positive writing experiences for struggling writers, the more likely it is that they will become writers at heart.

The Internet and Children’s Brains What Is Being Gained…and Lost? Turns out, quite a bit of both!

The Internet and Children’s Brains

What Is Being Gained…and Lost? Turns out, quite a bit of both!

Jennifer Luchesi Long

I spent an obscene amount of my summer at the computer this year – more time than I have ever spent before. My normal summer indulgences (reading, painting, riding my bike, going on hikes, taking the dogs to the park, etc.) were placed on the back burner while I devoted hours a day working on various writing projects and building a website. I looked out the window at the sunny garden and thought, “I should be outside, but I am really getting a lot done in here.” Meanwhile, my buns ached from sitting, something a teacher never has time to do during the school year, and August snuck up on me like light speed! The time just seems to fly by when I am staring at the computer screen.

Now that summer is long over, I am forced to question if all of my “productivity” was worth it and if I might not have been better off leaving some of those projects undone, spending more time painting or playing Scrabble with real people, face to face. And all of this work was not without major distractions. While writing this article, I currently have two e-mail accounts open, three active search tabs, multiple Scrabble games on my phone awaiting next moves, and a Pandora radio station playing in the background that keeps getting interrupted by incoming text message notifications. Suddenly I feel a bit overwhelmed!

I wonder if this feeling is because I am just getting used to all of this technology or because the bombardment of stimuli is doing something to my brain. If I am feeling this angst about time on the computer and am so overly distracted by all of the options for entertainment, information, and communication, what must my students feel, growing up tied to cell phones and glued to computer screens? At least I had a childhood relatively free of these technologies in which to grow. How are my students responding to the multiple demands of instantaneous and perpetual interaction with the Internet? What is the Internet doing to their brains?

Whereas it was until recently believed that our brains, once wired, could not be changed, it turns out (fortunately for most of us) that our brains are very plastic. In The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, author Nicholas Carr attempts to answer how the Internet is affecting our brains. He finds that neurological processes change as new methods of processing information are introduced. Therefore, Carr argues, the more time one spends on the Internet, the more the brain begins seeking out and processing information in the same manner as the Internet provides it, namely in readily available, abundant, and immediate sound-bites of information which require nearly no long-term dedication or focus to access. He believes that as people get better at surfing the web and multi-tasking, jumping from stimuli to stimuli, they will at the same time lose their ability to think creatively and contemplatively. Online time is “in effect replac[ing] the time that we used to spend in different modes of thinking,” such as in prolonged, focused concentration.

So is the Internet a bad thing? As with anything, it depends on whom you ask. Ask my grandmother and she would no doubt feel a bit concerned about this change in the way people think. Ask an adult who thrives in business because of the Internet and adores the ease of using MapQuest and on-line bill paying, certainly the benefits will be seen to outweigh the costs. Ask a ten year old who knows no reality separate from a computer to imagine a world without the high-speed accessibility of information and entertainment of the computer. He obviously would not be able to respond in an objective manner because he has grown up with technology, and doesn't know what life is like without a computer... and neither do any of his contemporaries. He will be among the first generations to experience life as full participants in an Internet-based world and will demonstrate the most noticeable differences, if any, in neurology from the generation before his.

Ask me and I guess my answer has to be that any inherent change in one’s neurology that would limit his or her ability to think deeply and to process creative thoughts is not a positive. However, there has to be a happy medium. We can certainly maximize the potential that the Internet offers, the quick, off the cuff, on-your-toes information resource that we are becoming accustomed to, while still training our brains to be able to slow down, think critically, and focus on one thing for an extended period of time. We can balance the two, but not without consistent and deliberate practice in both modes of thinking.

How can you help your child gain the benefits that the Internet has to offer while not sacrificing deep thought?

  • Teach them how to be bored. Invention comes out of necessity. When we are bored, we imagine, we daydream, we create, we explore. Hand-held technology has either taken the “bored” out of life or made being bored a condition of misery. When choosing between sitting quietly and thinking or picking up the phone and arbitrarily texting, gaming, Tweeting, or Facebooking the go-to option is often the latter. Purposefully create situations where your child’s only option for entertainment is in the place of make-believe or invention and you will give her the gift of an old-fashioned childhood while expanding her ability to be self-sufficient and patient.
  • Philosophize. The Internet is the place for answers. But there are many questions that still rely on good conversation, debate, and dialogue to answer. Encourage your child to think first about what a logical answer to a question could be before going right to a search engine. Do not shy away from philosophical questions that may not have a right answer and enjoy the pastime of the ancients. Philosophy for children is a website about instilling inquiry, logic, and critical thinking, the building blocks of wisdom, in your child.
  • Arts and Crafts. Hands-on fun is easy to provide for young, creative minds. An assemblage of fabric, glue, paint, glitter, paper, crayons, and other fun and messy tools create inspired afternoons of play unplugged. Learn how to watercolor, write calligraphy, crochet, bead, make lanyards and friendship bracelets, or sew and suddenly the computer does not seem like the only option for fun. The products that come out of such creative play glean much greater rewards and accolades when shared with others than passing all of the levels of a video game does.
  • “Tune-out” time. When I was growing up, our TV time was limited, as it was for many of my friends. These days, computer time can be added to the list of activities to be limited in order to encourage your children to be creative in how they spend their time.
  • Get outside. It is hard to read a screen standing in the sun. Stepping outside encourages the pondering of deep life questions, the activity of the body, and the rejuvenation of the soul.
  • Read books. The transition from picture book to chapter book is often an exhilarating and frightening step in children’s lives. For the first time, they get to embark on a journey of patience and perseverance that rewards with the discovery of distant fictional lands and the meeting of interesting new characters. The art of reading will not be lost on a child who learns early to love delving into the pages of a good book.
  • Family game night. Entertainment comes in many ways and committing as a family to time spent laughing with and challenging each other is a great way to interact without the Internet. Bring back two-player classics like checkers and chess for some lessons in strategy. Keep a deck of cards in the car as an alternative to solitaire on the phone in those spontaneous opportunities for a game.
  • Moderation, Moderation, Moderation!

In previous articles, I have certainly been an advocate for using the Internet to find information, practice math and reading skills, and participate actively in the 21st century marketplace. I clearly appreciate the Internet, as I use it not only to research my articles, but to publish them as well! Yet I do find that I am a bit more impatient during the slower moments of a book than I used to be. I am quick to drop what I am doing to turn my attention to the search feature on my Smart phone whenever a question pops into my mind. But I have always been inquisitive. A modern Renaissance woman, my interests and knowledge span broad subject areas. I grew up asking lots of questions, keeping lists in a journal of questions I wondered about and wanted to explore further, and researching things that fed my curiosity. The Internet certainly has made all of this easier.

Although I am not an expert in many areas, I can hold my own in conversations with almost any group of people and participate in most activities with decent skill. I am a learner. I want to know more and more, the more and more I know. The Internet inspires this learning by being a place where anyone can become a pseudo-expert. But I can see the danger in letting the Internet become a surrogate for real experience, long-term dedication, and hard work. Life is a balance, and living well means knowing where that balance lies.

Pritable Version

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