I have been noticing a significant amount of distraction lately among my students. In a recent lesson with Google Earth, students often allowed themselves to stray from the task at hand to fly into street view of their homes or use the flight simulator tool. This caused many students to run way past the due date for the assigned project. This caused me to look at the original assignment and reflect whether it was engaging enough. It asked them to choose ANY location they wanted in the world, do some research that would “make others want to go there”, research the distance the location was from our school, and then create a Google Tour using their chosen locations. It seemed it had at least some of the elements we teachers use to engage our students: choice and a really cool 21st century tool. But, was the tool TOO engaging in that the tool itself distracted the students from completing the given project?
In addition to my observations in that lesson, our 6th grade has started to allow their students to bring in their own devices and listen to music. I now have students that immediately come up to me and ask, “can I listen to music today?”. My initial response to this is, “I don’t know, CAN you listen to music AND complete the given project?” I’m not sure the student truly knows the answer to that question.
So, I have decided to intertwine a unit on data and spreadsheets with information on helping kids know and understand themselves while also teaching (I hope) skills to help them stay focused in this 21st century world.
I thought I would use an Action Research model since it seems to best fit what I am trying to do and myself and my students understand the implications and effects of distractions and how students can learn to cope with them to maintain focus. My questions are:
- Do students have the same level of focus while listening to music - a common technology distraction with our students new access to their personal mobile devices?
- Does the type of music matter? Does the volume of music matter?
- What other variables could be instituted?
- Can we evaluate ability to focus and concentrate while another “engaging” tool is open in the background or off to the side?
I will admit that I had some bias when beginning to think about this. Although I believe that students need to learn to focus while their smartphones, iTouches, and computer games are around, I truly don’t (or didn’t) think that they can truly focus while using them. However, in looking deeper into these questions, I have found some articles that support both sides:
- This article from Florida International University states that music can improve concentration in students with ADHD.
- The Center for Digital Education states that music is distracting.
- I will also use the following article for students to learn HOW to focus.
- This article promotes a “digital sabbath” or day (or more) away from tech. I’m not sure how realistic that is. When left on their own, kids probably won’t willingly turn the technology off. Shouldn’t we be teaching them how to stay focused when the tech is around?
- This article states we should be teaching a kids a new set of behaviors that will allow them to stay focused on school work (and in the future work in my opinion) with technology distractions.
- All of the articles state that student learning is spottier and not as deep with multitasking with technology.
Implement variables and test ability to focus and concentrate:
I will begin by telling my students about what I have been observing and my questions regarding their ability to focus with technological distractions. It is my belief they should be aware of the “study” not only because they should want to learn more about themselves but also because it seems the ethical thing to do. My outcomes (or learning targets as we call them) will be:
- I can organize data in spreadsheet.
- I can analyze data in a spreadsheet.
- I will become more aware of technology distractions that have the biggest impact on me.
- I will research and reflect on methods that will help me overcome distractions and focus on the task or project.
The “study” will have students attempt a timed typing test. I like using this one for timed typing assessments because you can choose the option to have non-word (just letters) for the test. This should help account for students who may try to read the text as they are typing and not bias students who are not able to read as fluently. I will have all the students start each “session” at the same time and during each session, I will implement the following variables in the room. Without music for practice. Without music for data collection. With loud rock music. With soft pop music. With a very catchy melodic popular music. With a popular software open to the side (like Google Earth or ….?)
As we implement the variables, data will be collected by each student for words per minute and errors. The data will be entered in a spreadsheet and then determine how to graph the data. I’ll need to have a brief lesson on the structure of a spreadsheet and how to format the cells.
Analyze the data:
Once the students have graphed the data, they will choose 2 articles to read and will reflect on their findings in their blog. They will determine if the data showed that music was distracting to them or not. They will also read a few of the articles (or at least portions) and determine if any of these are recommendations they can implement in their lives to improve focus around 21st century distraction.