[I wrote this when I was a student teacher]
We teachers spend countless hours reading our students’ minds to build the perfect lesson. We read The Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Twilight, and Harry Potter—why do we torture ourselves? – to get our students so they get us.
But what about our students brains? Why haven’t we considered the evolution of their minds?
We’re not teaching the old brain
Our modern students have different brains. Evolution is ongoing and has created two different brain structures, according to Gary Small, MD and Gigi Vorgan, co-athors of iBrain: Surviving the technological alteration of the modern mind.
Digital Immigrants are all the baby boomers “who came to the digital age as adults but whose wiring was laid down during a time when direct social interaction was the norm.” (p. 3) Their technological involvement was limited to the radio, telephone, and TV. Habitual activity, like reading and talking, made Digital Immigrants’ brains people-oriented but less techno-savy.
The Digital Natives, in contrast, “have never known a world without computers, twenty-four-hour news, Internet, and cell phones—with their video, music, cameras, and text messaging.” (p. 3) They don’t visit libraries and they don’t own books: They merge minds with Google and Yahoo, instead. Face- to- face conversation is avoided and Skype, text, and online pokes are embraced. As a consequence, young brains are forming neural connections very different from their Digital Immigrant parents and teachers.
Your brain is evolving
How did the brain gap between Digital Immigrants and Natives happen? Is it real?
Consider four facts of brain evolution:
Fact 1: The brain evolves based on external stimuli
“Although initially transient and instantaneous,” explain Small and Vorgan, “enough repetition of any stimulus—whether it’s operating a new technological device, or simply making a change in one’s jogging route—will lay down a corresponding set of neural pathways in the brain, which can become permanent.” (p. 5)
Fact 2: Young minds are in the brain-building stage
“The vast number of potentially viable [neural] connections account for the young brain’s plasticity, its ability to be malleable and ever-changing in response to stimulation and the environment.” It is this plasticity that “allows an immature brain to learn new skills readily and more efficiently.” (p. 8)
Fact 3: Once the brain-building is done, it can’t be undone
According to Small and Vorgan, “studies show that our environment moulds the shape and function of our brain as well, and, it can do so to the point of no return.” (p. 8)
Fact 4: To develop normally, human brains need a mix of environmental and human stimuli
“We know that normal human development requires a balance of environment stimulation and human contact.” (p. 8)
The state of our brains
So, our brains our wired depending on the things we do repeatedly. Because they had different levels of contact with technological stimuli, Digital Immigrants have different brains from Digital Natives.
To be specific, different regions of the brain are stronger and weaker in each cohort. Small & Vorgan describe how our brains are divided into regions, and how each region deals with different tasks. Every stimulus requires a mental task and activates a certain region of our brain. When we activate a brain region we develop it; when we fail to use a brain region we weaken it.
Like the muscles of the body, regions of the brain grow strong through use. When they’re not used, they weaken and atrophy.
Here are the different regions of the brain and their corresponding functions [diagram from iBrain, p. 7]:
- Broca’s Area– speech, facial neuron control, language processing
- Frontal Lobe– thinking (planning, reasoning, judgement), impulse control, higher order functions
- Sensorimotor Strip– controls the five senses
- Parietal Lobe– personality, memory, cognition
- Visual Cortex-sight
- Temporal Lobe– memory, emotion, speech
- Cerebellum– balance, coordination
Next post, we’ll consider the mental stimuli of young Digital Natives and how (1) they strengthen certain regions of the brain [the good], (2) how they neglect certain regions of the brain [the bad], and (3) how they might make us less human [the ugly].
The findings will blow your brain away…
* Work cited:
Small, Gary & Gigi Vorgan. (2008). iBrain: Surviving the technological alteration of the modern mind. New York: Collins Living.