Decoding the Teenage Brain

Edutopia

New technologies are shedding light on what really makes adolescents tick—and providing clues on how we might reach them better.

January 31, 2019

 

A recent interview with British neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, the author of the 2018 book Inventing Ourselves: The Secret Life of the Teenage Brain, begins with a caveat.

“I think it’s important to know before we start that up until 20 years ago we really didn’t know that the brain changes at all after childhood,” she confides. “That’s what I was taught during my undergraduate degree. We now know that’s completely untrue.”

In matters of settled opinion, science has often found itself in the role of provocateur, even saboteur—prodding at conventional wisdoms until they yield unexpected truths, and sometimes toppling them entirely. The mysteries of celestial bodies, heredity, and mental illness have all undergone dramatic rethinking.

So it shouldn’t be entirely surprising that new technologies that allow us to peer into the brain as it processes information are driving a revolution in our understanding of human cognition. Images from fMRI machines, for example, reveal that the brain is less like a collection of discrete, specialized modules—one for speech and one for vision, the old model—and more like an integrated network of functions that support each other. Those same images show that cerebral networks undergo dramatic, global maturation well into our 20s.

The findings have cast doubt on many theories about adolescence. For too long, assertions about teenagers—from their purported irrationality to their apparent sense of invulnerability—have circulated widely and uncritically. The new research suggests that we have plenty of rethinking to do.

OF MICE AND MINORS

Adolescent rodents and adolescent humans are susceptible to peer pressure—and members of both species take risks at much higher rates when in the presence of companions their own age.

In a study conducted in 2005, neuroscientist Laurence Steinberg asked teenagers and adults to play a virtual driving game that tested their willingness to take risks as traffic lights turned from green to yellow to red. Participants were penalized when accidents occurred. Adolescents responded to the risks as well as adults did and performed about equally when playing alone. But in the presence of peers, risk-taking surged among the teenagers and young adults—risky driving increased threefold for 13- to 16-year-olds, and the number of crashes spiked—while remaining flat among adults.

Chart showing research on adolescent driving

Illustration by Leigh Wells

In driving games—and in life—adolescents operate a vehicle safely when alone. Around peers, though, everything changes.

A study involving mice and alcohol consumption reached a similar conclusion. That 2014 experiment exposed rodents of different ages to the equivalent of an open bar: They could drink alcohol at their leisure. The adolescent mice—those at the tender age of 4 to 5 weeks—drank about as often as adult mice when by themselves. But in the presence of other juveniles, they settled in for a bender, drinking 25 percent more of the time. There was no change in the drinking of adult mice.

These results aren’t just laboratory tricks. Using real crash data from 2007–10, a study published in 2012 found that the risk of death for teenagers driving alone increased by 44 percent per mile when traveling with one peer, and quadrupled with three peers in the car. By contrast, Blakemore writes, traveling companions are actually a “protective factor” for adults over 26, “who are less likely to crash if they have a passenger than if they’re alone.”

In a few recent experiments, peer pressure emerges as a measurable biological phenomenon, crossing over into the perceptible world like the first earthquake waves etched onto a seismograph. A 2013 study found that when human subjects were told that a peer was watching them, skin conductance readings—a measure of the electricity triggered by stress and arousal—were consistently higher in adolescents than in either adults or children. Brain scans administered at the same time revealed telltale flares of greater activity in key regions of the teenage brain linked to self-awareness and the ability to understand others.

It’s never been a question of feeling invulnerable—for teenagers, there’s just something about the presence of peers that is transfiguring. They understand the risks, and take them anyway.

A TELLING MISMATCH

A likely culprit in adolescent risk-taking is a brain network that stretches back deep into evolutionary history—the limbic system, the seat of primal instincts like fear, lust, hunger, and pleasure. “These are regions in the deep center of the brain,” explained Blakemore. ”They are much older, and we share these systems with a lot of other animals.”

In 2014, Blakemore and two colleagues gathered brain images of 33 people and plotted the growth rates of individual limbic systems over time. They also looked at another critical brain region: the prefrontal cortex.

Chart showing gray matter growth comparison in teenagers

Illustration by Leigh Wells

Adolescent brain scans reveal that reward systems mature well before inhibitory systems. That tends to confirm a major theory of teenage development.

The charts that resulted (above) show that limbic structures like the nucleus accumbens changed only modestly during adolescence while the prefrontal cortex experienced a dramatic shift in volume, shrinking and reorganizing as it pruned away unused synaptic connections. The upshot? The brain scans seem to indicate that the limbic system—the brain’s reward system—is mature and firing on all cylinders in teenagers, while the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for things like self-control, planning, and self-awareness, is still busy developing.

“One major theory of adolescent development is that there is a mismatch between these two systems,” Blakemore elaborated. “The limbic system, which gives you the rewarding feeling of taking risks, is structurally more developed before the prefrontal cortex, which stops you from taking risks.”

If that seems too neat to you, Blakemore agrees. “I wouldn’t discount social factors like changing schools,” she cautions, or “overlook individual differences in teenagers.”

Still, there’s plenty of evidence that the limbic system is hyperactive during adolescence. It’s not youthful irrationality or a flair for the dramatic at work; teenagers actually experience things like music, drugs, and the thrill of speed more powerfully than adults do. In his 2014 book Age of Opportunity: Lessons From the New Science of Adolescence, Steinberg draws a straight line to peer influence as well, noting that teenage peers “light up the same reward centers that are aroused by drugs, sex, food, and money.”

ALL NATURAL PLASTIC

It’s not all gloom and doom. The teenage years are “the last, great neuroplastic era in our lifetimes,” according to Steinberg, referring to the brain’s continued capacity for intellectual and emotional growth. The same emerging circuitry that makes teenagers vulnerable to risky behavior and mood swings also confers significant advantage on adolescent learners.

Chart depicting brain response in adolescent mice

Illustration by Leigh Wells

A snapshot of the rodent brain at a moment of learning: The young mouse’s brain reveals a more powerful learning response.

At the deep neural level, new information is written into the gray matter of the brain itself—expressed in structural changes to synapses, which, through repeated exposure, form increasingly durable webs of memory. A study conducted in 2002 provides a fascinating window into the brain at the very moment of learning. The chart above shows the electrical response in both adolescent and adult mice to a novel piece of information, represented by the red arrow. Like a bell struck more sharply, the brain of the adolescent mouse produces a more dramatic reply—and then sustains it for longer.

That’s good news—and a clear signal that the teenage brain is by nature more receptive to learning, says Frances Jensen in her 2015 book The Teenage Brain. Adolescent animals simply “show faster learning curves than adults,” and we retain the capacity to improve even fundamental attributes like our IQ well into our teenage years.

REACHING TEENAGERS IN CLASS

Take the direct approach: Talking to teenagers frankly about their brain development can provide useful context for their emotional worlds, and reset their expectations about their potential for continued intellectual growth. “We know that people like biological explanations. It’s true in neurological stroke patients—showing that the brain is plastic and can change and rehabilitate is really useful,” Blakemore said.

Explaining the role of the limbic system, the influence of peers, and the malleability of the teenage brain establishes a basis for students to better understand themselves and exert control over their emotional and academic lives. Blakemore insists there’s also a simple question of respect at stake: “They have a right to know,” she says emphatically. “It’s happening in their brains.”

Make good use of peer pressure: Peer pressure and social influence can be used for good, too. Smoking research shows, for example, that teens ignore warnings about the long-term health consequences of cigarettes, but respond to the social effects. It’s more convincing to remind teens that cigarettes “give you bad breath, or put younger children in danger,” said Blakemore. Teens “also respond to the idea that this is an adult industry that is exploiting them to make money. That has been shown to help for smoking and also for healthy eating.”

Schools are aware of many of these social dynamics, and have used teen leaders, social influencers, and appeals to fairness and justice to change behaviors around vapingbullying, and academic cheating.

Teach self-regulation: It’s not too late. The prefrontal cortex, which governs executive functions, is still developing and remains highly responsive to the environment and to training during adolescence. It stands to reason that explicitly teaching self-regulation, long-term planning, and empathy might have particular benefits for teenagers.

According to Steinberg, efforts to improve the self-regulation of teenagers “are far more likely to be effective in reducing risky behavior than are those that are limited to providing them with information about risky activities.” And social and emotional learning programs that show adolescents “how to regulate their emotions, manage stress, and consider other people’s feelings” can have positive effects on executive functions more generally, improving focus and self-discipline, and setting teenagers up for academic and professional success well beyond high school.

The author of this article is the chief content officer at Edutopia. You can follow him on Twitter @smerrill777.

The charts in this story were drawn by illustrator Leigh Wells, and adapted from studies by 1) Margo Gardner and Laurence Steinberg, 2005; 2) K.L. Mills, A.L. Goddings, L.S. Clasen, J.N. Giedd, and S.J. Blakemore, 2014; and 3) N.L. Schramm, R.E. Egli, and D.G. Winder, 2002, via Synapse magazine, courtesy of Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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A School That Embraces a Trendy Model: The Start-Up

The Brooklyn STEAM Center is one of the latest models for technical high schools. It was developed in partnership with the Brooklyn Navy Yard.CreditCreditNicole Craine for The New York Times

By Winnie Hu

They brainstorm in conference rooms equipped with whiteboards, use high-end computers and equipment and are given free breakfast and lunch.

Except these are no start-up workers.

They are students at an unusual New York City public high school embedded inside a technology and manufacturing hub with more than 400 companies at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It was developed with industry leaders to teach real-life job skills that would lay the foundation for the next generation of workers in a city where the tech industry is flourishing with the expanding presence of Google and Amazon’s plans to build a large campus in Queens.

While classrooms in New York and elsewhere have increasingly focused on preparing children for jobs in a tech economy, the recently opened school, Brooklyn STEAM Center, has taken it one step further by locating itself next to companies where students might actually work. It is one of only a handful of programs in the country that are situated in a workplace.

“Our ambition is that it will be a next-generation model for career and technical schools here in New York City,” said David Ehrenberg, the president and chief executive officer of the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation, a nonprofit that manages the city-owned, 300-acre waterfront site where battleships, like the U.S.S. Missouri, were once built.

The Navy Yard already has an on-site job center, but Mr. Ehrenberg said the school will help ensure that more local residents have the necessary technical skills and training for the jobs being created there.

Emama Acther, center, leads a computer science class at the Brooklyn STEAM Center.CreditNicole Craine for The New York Times

The program offers students a chance to show what they can do. “Instead of learning on paper — and maybe you forget it, and maybe you don’t — you put your hands into the work,” Jordan Gomes, 16, said.

On Tuesday, the schools chancellor, Richard A. Carranza, and other city leaders will officially open the school’s $17 million home at the Navy Yard, about two weeks after students moved in.

The STEAM Center — standing for science, technology, engineering, arts and math — grew out of a pilot program to increase career and technical education opportunities among Brooklyn high school students. Today, 221 juniors and seniors spend half the day at other high schools taking required academic classes, and the other half at the center specializing in one of five tracks: design and engineering; computer science and information technology; film and media; construction technology; and culinary arts and hospitality management.

The students apply to the center and are selected by their high schools. There is no minimum required grade point average or test score. About 93 percent of the students are black or Hispanic, and 74 percent are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced lunch.

 

The center is the latest evolution of vocational schools that once served as a pipeline for blue-collar industries, but have increasingly embraced technology and academic skills to prepare students for emerging jobs in fields such as health care, engineering and information technology. Many schools now partner with local businesses and industries, but few are based at workplaces.

Image

School Principal Kayon Pryce, left, and Brooklyn Navy Yard President David Ehrenberg inside the Brooklyn STEAM Center.CreditNicole Craine for The New York Times

Alisha Hyslop, the director of public policy for the Association for Career and Technical Education, said a fashion and marketing program is taught inside a Virginia shopping mall, while another program covering energy industry jobs is based at an Arizona utility company. These experiences have “tremendous potential to strengthen connections between the education that happens in the classroom and what happens in the real world,” she said.

In New York, the STEAM Center is one of only two schools at a workplace; the other, Aviation High School, offers classes at LaGuardia Airport. “We’re certainly looking for more opportunities for our students to be as close to the industries they are studying as possible,” said Phil Weinberg, the Education Department’s deputy chief academic officer for teaching and learning.

Citywide, there are 301 career and technical programs — 47 opened in the last three years. In total, the programs enroll about 64,000 students and train them for careers ranging from software engineer to harbor master.

Still, some educators and parents have raised concerns that such highly specialized programs are a form of tracking that can lead students to focus too early on a particular job or career and be steered away from college.

David C. Bloomfield, a professor of educational leadership, law and policy at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, said the STEAM Center needed to be thoroughly vetted by parents, independent industry experts and college representatives to ensure that it puts the needs of students over employers.

Image

Students play games between classes at the computer science lab.CreditNicole Craine for The New York Times

“There’s a danger that it’s either a self-serving track for low-skilled jobs right out of high school, or that it teaches skills that will be obsolete once they complete college,” he said.

The STEAM Center was developed by Kayon Pryce, the founding principal, along with Mr. Ehrenberg and Dr. Lester W. Young Jr., a member of the state Board of Regents and a former city education official. It initially held classes in two high schools before moving to the Navy Yard.

The center, Dr. Young said, has brought together children from both high achieving and struggling high schools, where students, often poor and from minority communities, have less access to opportunities. “The old model of career technical education in a school is an old model,” he said. “We had to think boldly.”

The school’s new home, which looks like a start-up company, has conference rooms, as well as a room for private calls, a recording studio, a screening room and a teaching kitchen that can feed thousands. Student lockers come in a gray-matte finish inspired by the lockers at a nearby fashion company.

Mr. Pryce said most students planned to go to college, including one senior who has received a full scholarship to study computer science at St. John’s University.

Image

Instructor Mitchell Almonte, right, works with students during a Construction Tech class.CreditNicole Craine for The New York Times

“I’m not trying to pigeonhole any student into a career opportunity for a company at the end of this program,” he said. “I’m providing them with broader exposure to true college and career experiences.”

The school’s advisory board is mostly made up of industry experts who have shaped the curriculum, given lectures and hosted company visits. Students have been placed in 63 paid internships so far, half of which were with companies in the Navy Yard.

“The Navy Yard is pretty much our PTA,” Mr. Pryce said.

Bonbite NYC, a catering company developing an app-based service for wedding clients, hired three interns to work in the kitchen. “Typically for high school students, they don’t have an opportunity to get into businesses like ours,” said Winston Chiu, a school advisory board member and partner in the company.

Devanta Dickerson, 18, said he whipped up mini beef Wellingtons at Bonbite last summer after earning a food handler’s license at the center, and got a glimpse of a future career. He planned to pay for college by working part time in restaurants.

The emphasis at the school is on being relevant in a modern tech world. Students master design, engineering and construction skills by transforming two shipping containers into smart homes. Computer science students wired the new computer lab; now they maintain the network and troubleshoot problems. Film and media students recorded podcasts, and shot and edited a commercial promoting the school.

The school also teaches so-called soft skills — or what Mr. Pryce calls “21st-century success skills” — such as the importance of showing up on time, responding to emails and getting along with co-workers. Students also learn to network, coming up with a 30-second “elevator pitch” — the time it takes to ride the elevator up to the center’s home on the third floor.

Deon Watts, 16, said the lessons would not only help her succeed in a male-dominated construction industry, but also assist her in becoming the boss of her own company.

“It’s not like your English class can teach you how to build a box or fix an electrical circuit,” she said. “It’s important because that’s how you’re going to survive in the real world. It’s not as easy as reading a book.”

Study finds that mastering prerequisites—not taking calculus in high school—better predicts success in college

Phys Org 

July 10, 2018, Harvard University
calculus
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

The word alone is enough strike terror into the hearts of even the most accomplished students, but for those who break out in cold sweats at the thought of differentiation rules and integral tables, Philip Sadler and Gerhard Sonnert are here to offer some hope.

Contrary to widely-held opinion, taking high school calculus isn’t necessary for success later in college calculus—what’s more important is mastering the prerequisites, algebra, geometry, and trigonometry—that lead to calculus. That’s according to a study of more than 6,000 college freshmen at 133 colleges carried out by the Science Education Department of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, led by Sadler, the Frances W. Wright Senior Lecturer on Astronomy, and by Sonnert, a Research Associate.In addition, the survey finds that weaker math students who choose to take calculus in high school actually get the most benefit from the class. The study is described in a May 2018 paper published in the Journal for Research in Mathematics Education.

“We study the transition from high school to college, and on one side of that there are college professors who say calculus is really a college subject, but on the other side there are  who say calculus is really helpful for their students, and the ones who want to be scientists and engineers get a lot out of it,” Sadler said. “We wanted to see if we could settle that argument—which is more important, the math that prepares you for calculus or a first run-through when you’re in high school followed by a more serious course in college?”

The study’s results, Sadler said, provided a clear answer -a firmer grip on the subjects that led up to calculus had twice the impact of taking the subject in high school. And of those who did take calculus in high school, it was the weakest students who got the most from the class.

To get those findings, Sadler and Sonnert, designed a study that asked thousands of college freshmen to report not only demographic information, but their educational history, background and mathematics training.

“They fill out the detailed survey at the beginning of the semester…and there’s a field on the last page where the faculty member can put their grade,” Sonnert said. “Then the professors remove the first page with the ‘s name and we get their final grade and all the self-reported information.”

“We looked at how students did in college calculus…and tried to figure out what the predictive influence of taking a calculus course in high school was versus mastering those pre-calculus subjects,” Sadler said. “So, we looked at how those students did in algebra, geometry, and pre-calculus subjects like trigonometry, as well as their SAT and ACT scores, and we combined those into one factor.

That gave us a composite measure of how much they know of the math that’s preparatory for calculus,” he continued. “Then we looked at the students who had taken the subject in high school and built a statistical model to separate the two.”

While it’s difficult to pin down an exact reason for why weaker students who took calculus in high school get the most out of it, Sadler suggested that part of the difference may be chalked up to the educational environment of high school calculus.

A high school class, he said, might have just 15 or 20 students, each of whom likely receives constant support from their teacher and homework assignments are turned in daily.

“In some ways, the high school class is probably better supported,” Sadler said. “In high school, if you are not doing your work, there is an interim grade that goes home to your parents (so intervention happens when you need it.)”

By the time they arrive in college, however, students might be one of several hundred in a lecture hall, and their only opportunity for one-on-one contact with the professor comes during office hours. In some cases, attending sections and even completing problem sets is optional, so unless students make an effort to seek out tutoring help, it’s easy to fall behind.

“Even Harvard students run into this—they have trouble with learning how to be an independent learner,” Sadler said. “But one other difference is that in college the professor just assumes you know all the prerequisites, and if you don’t, or you’re not really solid in them, then what do you do? They won’t go back and cover the things that you may be missing like a teacher can do in high school.”

Another reason weaker math students take more from a high school calculus class, Sadler and Sonnert suggested, may be similar—though they may not receive top marks, the high school class gives them a chance to bone up on the basics, so by the time they get to college those students have a stronger mathematical foundation on which to build.

“To some extent, it’s like learning a foreign language,” Sonnert said. “The more you’re exposed to it, the more you do it every day, the more sentences you say, the better your sentences are. So, there may be this practice effect and facility with it that only comes in a college class.”

Ultimately, Sadler said, the study’s findings don’t suggest that students should drop high school calculus altogether, but rather shows that success in the subject—whether in high school or college—comes more from having a strong foundation. That foundation starts early and every year of great math teaching, even as far back as Algebra I in eighth grade, contributes to math proficiency that pays off in college.

“The one thing the paper says is if your background is strong, if you really know your algebra, geometry and pre-calculus, you’re going to do well in college calculus,” Sadler said. “You don’t need a high school calculus course. That was a surprise. There is no reason that those new to calculus should not take the course in college, in spite of half the students in class having taken it in high .”

“There are always these kinds of arguments in education, where people have very strong views based primarily on personal experience, and we specialize in investigating those views,” Sadler said. “As it turns out, in this case, the professors are more right than  teachers, because how well students did in courses before calculus makes the biggest difference in their   grade. But, the heavy-lifting is done by those math teachers whose efforts lay the foundation for later student success.”

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2018-07-mastering-prerequisitesnot-calculus-high-schoolbetter.html#jCp

Transforming Our World Through the Lens of Gen Z

NAIS

Suman Mulumudi was a freshman at Lakeside School (and had just graduated from The Evergreen School), when he began thinking about the importance of data to the practice of medicine. Observing his doctor parents, he began imagining potential benefits if one combined a stethoscope with an iPhone to capture and visualize heart data. Working with his father, Mulmudi created a prototype that will soon be available to the medical community.

While a graduate student at Stanford, Ashley Moulton conceived a master’s project about teaching kids how to eat healthier. Called Nomster Chef, this digital library of illustrated step-by-step recipes helps kids to cook with grown-ups. Thanks to Kickstarter, she is on the brink of making her dream a reality. With 29 days left to reach her goal, she has raised 90 percent of the funds she needs for launch.

Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest Nobel Prize laureate. When only 11 years old, she used the power of social media to call attention to the plight of girls under Taliban rule. To spread her work, she co-founded the Malala Fund with her father, hoping to empower girls to achieve their potential and become confident, strong leaders in their own countries.

These three stories demonstrate the power of Generation Z and those who embrace Gen Z thinking.

What is Gen Z? According to Wikipedia, “Generation Z, also known as the iGeneration or Post-Millennials, is the demographic cohort after the Millennials. Demographers and researchers typically use the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s as starting birth years for this group, and, as of yet there is little consensus regarding ending birth years. A significant aspect of this generation is the widespread usage of the Internet from a young age; members of Generation Z are typically thought of as being comfortable with technology, and interacting on social media for a significant portion of their socializing.”

Like the Millennials before them, there is much speculation about this generation and the changes they will bring to the world. I have read widely about Gen Z to better understand their impact on education. One book that really captured my interest is The Gen Z Effect: The Six Forces Shaping the Future of Business by Thomas Koulopoulos and Dan Keldsen. The authors argue that a series of forces will bring about a post-generational world in which what unites us will be stronger than what divides us, and that people of all generations will begin to adopt the practices of Gen Z.

Six Forces Shaping Society

The six forces outlined in the book present many opportunities for independent schools. Below, I summarize the forces and pose generative questions for school leadership teams to explore so that they may leverage the power of this emerging generation. I believe these forces provide hope for us all.

1. Breaking Generations. Due primarily to advances in technology and a near equivalent number of people in all age bands, age will no longer be a major shaper of attitudes and behaviors. Rather, people will be defined by their connections in communities. In addition, as people embrace lifelong learning, education will not be seen as occurring only at specific times in a person’s life.

Strategic Questions for Schools

  • What opportunity does a world of intergenerational learners present for schools?
  • How can students of all ages partake of our services at different stages of their lives?
  • How can we enrich the learning environment by thinking about grouping learners differently?

2. Hyperconnecting. The internet has vastly increased our ability to connect, but the Internet of Things has pushed that even further by creating a world in which machine to machine connections are now possible. As devices that were never meant to work together do, they open the road to new possibilities, as exemplified by Suman Mulumudi’s efforts to create a smarter device by pairing a stethoscope with an iPhone. In addition, the lines between online and offline are blurring, changing the ways we live, work, and play.

Navigating this new hyperconnected world can be daunting, particularly for those who were not born digital. This has given rise to a new form of mentoring — reverse mentoring — in which a digital native can guide learning and using new technologies.

Strategic Questions for Schools

  • Could launching both mentoring and reverse mentoring programs in schools promote creativity and teamwork among five generations learning and working together?
  • Are there opportunities to connect two different offerings or ways of doing something that, when paired together, create a breakthrough?
  • How can we use the principles of hyperconnecting to enhance learning?

3. Slingshotting. Luddite is a term that is often used to refer to people who refuse to adapt to changing technologies. But have we misperceived their behavior? Have some people turned away from emerging technologies because they were too hard to use or did not improve their ability to do something? Slingshotting refers to tech users, who had been left behind previously, slingshotting forward, skipping multiple generations of technology and arriving at the same place as those who suffered through technology’s evolution. As more members of the Silent Generation adopt technology, forecasters predict that there will be full internet penetration between 2020 and 2025.

Strategic Questions for Schools

  • What opportunities are there for using technology to increase effectiveness and efficiency across the workforce, now that user-friendly technologies are further driving technology acceptance across generations?
  • How can we leverage this force with our parent communities as well as for fundraising and friend-raising purposes?

4. Shift from Affluence to Influence. One of the most profound changes in the marketplace today is the effect that social media has on influencing behavior. Just think of how the music world has changed through the explosion of social technologies. No longer is capital needed to launch a musician — communities of influence can drive fame and fortune. Social networks can also drive movements, as evidenced by Malala Yousafzai opening up educational opportunities for women worldwide through her blogs.

The shift from affluence to influence has also changed the way advertisers market. They’ve moved from paid media (ads, billboards, etc.) to owned media (creation of a community-owned, yet company-branded experience: think Apple stores) to earned media (influencers taking on your cause in social media).

Strategic Questions for Schools

  • How can schools make use of social communities to drive influence?
  • What if schools created owned spaces on campus for families and the surrounding community?
  • How can schools make use of influencers to create awareness of their unique value propositions?

5. Adopting the World as My Classroom. Educators are already keenly aware of this force in education, with technology driving the concept of anytime, anywhere education. The adoption of competency-based education on the college level continues to grow, and some speculate that Gen Z may be the first generation that looks to alternative educational paths post high school. Gamification is also unlocking new ways to excite learners and challenge them.

Strategic Questions for Schools

  • What would school look like if we considered educating people at any age?
  • What opportunities would this open up?
  • How might we think about school beyond the classroom?
  • How essential will a brick-and-mortar school be in the future?

6. Lifehacking. Gen Z has a propensity to work around or “hack” systems. Today, three types of hacking are changing the marketplace: crowdfunding, 3D printing, and new attitudes about intellectual property. The essence of hacking is about breaking through barriers and connecting people, mobilizing communities, and driving outcomes that otherwise would not be possible.

Strategic Questions for Schools

  • How can we use new processes and/or emerging technology to do things more efficiently and effectively?
  • How can we apply lean start-up principles to the school context?
  • How can we leverage this innate ability of Gen Zers to drive the learning process?

What New Research on Teens and Social Media Means for Teachers

Understanding your students’ social media lives is essential.

September 10, 2018
Jeff Knutson SENIOR MANAGER, EDUCATION CONTENT

Common Sense Education
CATEGORIESResearch & Studies

As teachers, we all have assumptions — and likely some opinions -– about teenagers and social media. But are those assumptions correct? Well, now we have research to help us find out. This week, Common Sense is releasing its latest research report, Social Media, Social Life: Teens Reveal Their Experiences, a deep dive into the social media habits of American teenagers.

This research is the second wave in an ongoing study tracking teens’ attitudes about social media; we released our original report in 2012. Back then, Snapchat was just a fledgling start-up, and Facebook was a top choice for teens. But how — and how much — teens use social media has evolved almost as quickly as the technology itself. This year’s report doesn’t just tell us about teens today; compared with our original data, it shows us just how much things have changed.

It might seem like teens are using social media more than ever (it’s true — they are!). Teachers work with teens every day, so it makes sense that we have our own opinions and anecdotes about their social media use. But it’s important to remember that our personal perceptions about social media might not always reflect what our students experience online. And that’s why this research is so important. The results of this latest study help us question our assumptions and start addressing real issues that help our students.

Here are four ways our latest research can inform your teaching:

1. Understand your students’ social media lives.

Culturally responsive teaching helps students better connect with what they’re learning. Because social media is such a huge part of teen culture, we need to know how our students are using these platforms, the types of experiences they’re having, and how they feel about it all.

Here are a few, high-level findings to mull over:

Teen Social Media Platform PopularityTeens’ social media use has increased dramatically. Today, 70 percent of teens report using social media more than once a day. In 2012, that number was 34 percent.

Most American teenagers have a smartphone. The number of teens with a smartphone more than doubled since 2012, from 41 percent up to 89 percent. Looking at only 13- to 14-year-olds, 84 percent now have a smartphone, and 93 percent have some type of mobile device such as a tablet.

Facebook is out. Instagram and Snapchat are in. But you probably already knew this. One 16-year-old participant, when asked in the study whom she does communicate with on Facebook, replied, “My grandparents.”

No matter our personal feelings about social media, these platforms aren’t going away anytime soon. As with any digital tool, even if we aren’t experts ourselves, understanding where our students are coming from can make our guidance beneficial.

2. Listen to what students say about their social media experiences.

Sure, kids are using social media more than ever, but they’re also recognizing some of the consequences, including digital distraction in the classroom. Listening to students’ perspectives gives us insights into how we might help them harness the positives and avoid some of the pitfalls. Here are some details worth reading:

Teens use a lot of social media. Again, you probably could have guessed this, but our data backs it up.

Teen Social Media Use

Teens also recognize that social media is a distraction.

Teen Communication PreferencesFifty-seven percent agree that using social media often distracts them when they should be doing homework. Think about that the next time you assign homework online. And 54 percent of teens agree that social media often distracts them when they should be paying attention to the people they’re with. Overall, teens’ preference for face-to-face communication has fallen, while more and more teens are choosing social media and video-chatting as a favorite way to communicate.

Many teens seem to recognize that social media platforms are designed to keep them hooked. Seventy-two percent believe that tech companies manipulate users to spend more time on their devices.

Nevertheless, many teens say that using social media has a positive effect on how they feel about themselves. Across every measure in the survey, teens were more likely to say that social media has a positive rather than a negative effect on how they feel (though most say it doesn’t make much difference one way or the other).

Importance of Social Media

3. Recognize the importance of social-emotional learning (SEL).

Common knowledge tells us that teens’ social-emotional well-being is important to their overall health and ability to learn. But, as our study reveals, it also has a big impact on how teens view their interactions on social media. This point is somewhat nuanced, but the implications for educators are significant. Some important key findings to consider:

Importance of Social Media by SEWBSocial media tends to have a heightened role — both positive and negative — in the lives of more vulnerable teens.

Our survey included a social-emotional well-being (SEWB) scale based on concepts such as happiness, depression, loneliness, confidence, self-esteem, and parental relations (for more information on methodology, read the full report). Teens who ranked lower for SEWB are much more likely to say they’ve had negative experiences on social media, from feeling bad about not getting likes on their posts to feeling left out or excluded.

Disturbingly, more than a third (35 percent) of these teens say they have been cyberbullied, compared to 5 percent of teens who ranked higher for SEWB. Nevertheless, these more-vulnerable teens are still more likely to say that, overall, social media has a positive rather than a negative effect on them. For example, they’re much more likely to say it makes them less depressed and less lonely. And …

Social media is an important avenue of creative expression for many teens, especially for those on the lowest end of the social-emotional well-being scale.

Teen Experiences on Social Media

These findings may be one of the most important for teachers, administrators, and school counselors to consider: For some students — especially those who struggle with their social-emotional well-being — the effects of social media, both positive and negative, can be more extreme. Whether we’re creating social media policies for our schools, or even just talking to students about social media, it’s important to know where students are coming from on the topic –- and even more important to recognize that not all of them are coming from the same place.

Additionally, we should probably ask ourselves some important questions about the intersection of our students’ social media lives and our school communities. How are we handling our interactions with students related to their social media use? When we confiscate students’ devices at school, or when conflicts on social media spill over into school, are we offering students one-size-fits-all punishments? Advice? Reactions?

Even when we’re just talking about social media in our classrooms, are we modeling curiosity and critical thinking about the topic? Most importantly, these research findings also beg the bigger question: What are we doing to support students’ social-emotional learning overall?

4. Support digital citizenship education in your school.

Social media platforms are central to many, if not all, of the topics covered in the Common Sense Education K-12 Digital Citizenship Curriculum. Not surprisingly, here’s what teens had to say:

Cyberbullying is somewhat rare. Just 13 percent of teens report that they’ve been cyberbullied at some point. And, perhaps encouragingly, 23 percent say they’ve tried to help someone who has been cyberbullied.

Hate Speech in Social MediaBut online hate speech is common: There’s been an uptick in teens’ exposure to racist, sexist, and homophobic content on social media.

Whether we’re teaching an entire digital citizenship curriculumincorporating dig cit topics into our SEL instruction, or weaving digital citizenship concepts into our subject-area classes, there’s never been a more important time to do this work in our schools. Common Sense Education’s updated Digital Citizenship Curriculum has lessons that tackle the issue of media balance and well-being –- a topic clearly on teens’ minds related to social media. And we’ve added “Hate Speech” as a topic within our Cyberbullying & Digital Drama materials.

For more information, or to read the latest research report in full, visit Social Media, Social Life: Teens Reveal Their Experiences.

Ted Dintersmith On What America’s Schools Should Be

For the entire 2015-2016 school year, Ted Dintersmith traveled to each and every state, visited 200 schools, met with everyone from students and teachers to school boards, legislators and governors. He’s compiled what he learned into his new book, “What School Could Be: Insights and Inspiration from Teachers Across America.”

Interview recording: https://player.wbur.org/radioboston/2018/04/09/ted-dintersmith-schools

 

When It Comes to Setting Students Up for Success, Nation Earns a ‘C’

EdWeek

Incoming freshmen at California State University, Northridge, tour campus as part of their orientation before the school year begins. Many
of the students at the 40,000-student university in Los Angeles are the first in their families to attend college. Youth college attendance is
one of the indicators on the Education Week Research Center’s Chance-for-Success Index.

Incoming freshmen at California State University, Northridge, tour campus as part of their orientation before the school year begins. Many of the students at the 40,000-student university in Los Angeles are the first in their families to attend college. Youth college attendance is one of the indicators on the Education Week Research Center’s Chance-for-Success Index.
—Jamie Rector for Education Week
September 5, 2018
Article Tools

The Education Week Research Center developed the Chance-for-Success Index to gauge the education-related opportunities available in each state at different stages in a lifetime, from cradle to career. This third installment of Quality Counts 2018 examines the data behind the nation’s C-plus letter grade (a score of 78.5) on the index and sheds additional light on the wide disparities among states that have remained consistent over a decade of research-center analysis.

Many factors—both within and beyond the K-12 education system—can contribute to a person’s success throughout a lifetime, including state and local economic and social conditions. And while formal education is a driving force, key building blocks for success, including family income and education and access to early-childhood resources, start before students enter school. In addition, returns on a high school diploma or postsecondary degree can vary widely by state.

To rate how these factors come together in the case of a particular state, the Chance for Success Index combines 13 distinct indicators that together capture three broad stages of an individual’s life: early foundations, the school years, and adult outcomes.

The metrics in the early-foundations stage examine factors that help children get off to a good start and to enter the P-12 system ready to learn. Reading and math scores, along with high school graduation rates, are standard benchmarks of school performance in the index. Adult educational attainment, employment, and income represent key markers of adult success.

Results are based on the research center’s analysis of 2016 data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, the 2017 results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and adjusted cohort graduation rates from 2015-16 published by the U.S. Department of Education.

 

Grades are calculated using a best-in-class approach, which compares a state’s performance on each of the index’s indicators with the top-ranked state on that particular metric. The top state receives 100 points with other states earning points in proportion to their performance as gauged against the national leader. The resulting A-F letter grades reflect the average of numerical scores on a traditional 100-point scale.

In addition, this year’s Chance-for-Success grades, first published in January’s Quality Countsreport card, have now been updated based on new reading and math scores from NAEP, which were released by the Education Department in the spring.

Differing Opportunities

A look at the nation as a whole shows consistent standouts Massachusetts and New Hampshire continuing to top the list in this category with grades of A-minus and scores of 91.7 and 90.1, respectively. New Mexico (67.3) and Nevada (68.2) are at the bottom of the rankings with D-plus grades.

Nearly half the states (23) post mediocre grades between C-minus and C-plus. Those states’ results reflect a mix of strengths and weaknesses. Only a handful of states are strong or weak across the board. Massachusetts finishes in the top 10 states in eight of the index’s 13 indicators. New Mexico, by contrast, falls in the bottom 10 states on 11 of the metrics.

Consider the opportunities available in Massachusetts, the leading state on the index. Children typically live in families with adequate incomes and often have well-educated parents. More than 6 in 10 children in the state have a parent with a postsecondary degree, compared with just under half of children in the nation as a whole. And the majority (58 percent) of the state’s 3- and 4-year-olds enroll in preschool, compared with just 47.7 percent nationally.

Students in the Bay State are also more likely to be proficient in reading and math, graduate from high school, and enroll in postsecondary education than in most states. As adults, graduates often enter well-educated communities with opportunities for employment and solid pay as a result of the state’s economy. By contrast, residents in Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, and other states that rank low on the index are less likely to have such opportunities—making initiatives to boost their communities, economies, and education systems all the more important.

A closer look at each of the three life stages captured by the index can provide insights into states’ results and identify areas for improvement.

Early Foundations: Poverty and other factors in early childhood, such as parental education level, can be barriers to subsequent academic progress in K-12 schooling. The nation earns a B-minus (81.4) for early educational foundations. New Hampshire (98.7), North Dakota (95.7), Minnesota (94.3), and Utah (93.1) post grades of A. New Hampshire ranks first for both family income and parental education levels. New Mexico (71.1) and Nevada (72.3) get the lowest grades at C-minus. New Mexico finishes last in family income and 48th in parental education.

The School Years: Although early educational foundations and workforce opportunities are part of the index, roughly half the indicators examine the school years. When evaluated based on school participation and performance, the nation receives a C-plus (76.6). Massachusetts posts the only A (93.2), followed by New Jersey with the only A-minus (90.8). New Mexico (63.0), Alaska (64.5), and Nevada (65.5) get grades of D, the lowest in the nation. Massachusetts ranks fifth in preschool enrollment and leads the nation in both 4th grade reading and 8th grade math test scores. New Jersey is third for preschool enrollment and second in high school graduation.

Overall State Grades

Catch up on how the nation and states fared on a broad range of K-12 categories, including school finance, as reported in this year’s first installment of Quality Counts, published Jan. 17.

 

Adult Outcomes: The nation receives a C-plus (78.3) for indicators measuring adult educational attainment and workforce outcomes, such as annual income and steady employment. The District of Columbia—where opportunities to serve in government are often a magnet for highly educated employees from across the nation—gets the only A in the adult-outcomes category, with a score of 99.3. Massachusetts finishes a distant second with the only A-minus, at 89.5.

On the other end of the scale, West Virginia (68.4), Nevada (68.4), Arkansas (69.3), and Mississippi (69.4) receive the lowest scores and grades of D-plus. Fewer adults in those states have earned postsecondary degrees or have incomes at or above the national median.

Little Change Over Time

In the midst of rapid economic and technological change, results on the index haven’t budged much since 2008, the year it made its debut with its current scoring format. The national score increased by just 0.1 points during that period, going from 78.4 in 2008 to 78.5 in 2018. The lack of improvement in the nation’s score over time—signifying a lack of growth in opportunity—is perhaps the most disconcerting finding from this analysis.

Fifteen states and the District of Columbia increased their Chance-for-Success scores by a point or more since 2008. The District of Columbia improved the most, boosting its score by 6.5 points. That gain was fueled by the nation’s largest increase in preschool enrollment. Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Wyoming also improved their scores by more than 2 points. By contrast, 13 states saw their scores decline by a point or more during this span. Maryland fell the most, dropping by 3.3 points. It lost ground in family income and 8th grade math test scores.

On certain individual metrics, some states made progress while others regressed. In the District of Columbia, for example, the percent of 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in preschool increased by 14.6 percentage points between the 2008 and 2018 reports. In North Carolina and Hawaii, preschool enrollment declined by 5.0 and 5.1 points, respectively.

Vol. 38, Issue 03, Pages 23-24

Published in Print: September 5, 2018, as What’s Behind the Myriad Factors That Make Up Someone’s Chances For Positive Lifetime Outcomes