Kids, Smartphones, and Learning Through the Lens of Cognitive Psych

Do you ever wonder about kids and smartphones? Sometimes when my son doesn't want to do his homework, his attention drifts to his phone. Either Snapchat or Instagram pop up... instantaneously. I've wondered how his flip-flopping attention detracts from learning. Some of his high school teachers have students leave their phones in bins at the front of the classroom. On the more extreme side, I've heard of high school teachers who consider leaving the profession out of frustration with kids distracted by phones.

Last fall Adrian Ward and colleagues published an intriguing study about the effects of smartphones and the cognitive activity of college students. The researchers set up experimental conditions in which students had their phones on the desk, in a bag or pocket, or in another room. They then tested the students' working memory and problem-solving ability. The closer the phone was to the students, the worse they performed cognitively. And generally, they didn't believe they were thinking about their phones at all. 

I think this article has implications for teaching from middle school on up, wherever there are smartphones. While our cellular connections are remarkable, they affect our capacity to think. I'm interested in hearing what you have observed when you teach or how you handle similar situations. Let me know what you think.

Photo courtesy of  Intel Free Press  & creative commons

Photo courtesy of Intel Free Press & creative commons