Put positively: learning online networked knowledge surely stimulates connections in the circuitry of a child’s brain. George Will writes in his column this week, reviewing the best-selling book Nurture Shock:
Until age 21, the circuitry of a child’s brain is being completed. Bronson and Merryman report research on grade schoolers showing that “the performance gap caused by an hour’s difference in sleep was bigger than the gap between a normal fourth-grader and a normal sixth-grader.” In high school, there is a steep decline in sleep hours, and a striking correlation of sleep and grades.
Tired children have trouble retaining learning “because neurons lose their plasticity, becoming incapable of forming the new synaptic connections necessary to encode a memory. . . . The more you learned during the day, the more you need to sleep that night.”
An hour of the drill baby drill approach to teaching sets of standards may not a lot leave for connecting synapses to deal with while encoding memory in sleep. The idea of standards in itself delimits an individual youngster’s pursuit of her curiosity: The class all learns what is in the standard box in the class hour.
Compare what a student will experience spending the same hour following connections in the USGS Earthquake Hazards webpages that interconnect complex knowledge with interactive paths to follow active curiosity. Surely synapses purr into action as she clicks through the map to individual real-time earthquakes, and then to the three-dimensional global regional information when her eye catches the slab models for subduction zones.
George Will’s column is headlined: “How to ruin a child.” Another important way current child-rearing does this ruination should be added to the several in the NurtureShock book. We are ruining their potential to grasp knowledge by chopping it into standard pieces. We need to cut children’s minds free of lock-step, standardized learning that settles for a minimum and ignores the long tails of subjects. This can only be done by letting each child think individually.
Except for wandering and turned off minds, during a class hour all students are regimented to be thinking about the same knowledge at the same time. In contrast, an individual youngster clicking through earthquake knowledge on his own mobile internet browser is sending patterns of connections encountered among webpages through the circuitry of his brain. Such patterns can be complex, and are meaningful to him because they follow his focused attention and curiosity. In this example, a boy is moving beyond a few standard facts of earth science. He is exploring his way down through the long tail of authoritative, fresh, and interconnected knowledge about earthquakes.
We can suppose that if he gets a good night’s sleep interconnected understanding of earthquake knowledge will encode into memory. If he had spend the same time drilling a few earth science standards, the encoding would be not so much.