If the act of web surfing might keep dementia at bay, then blogging might just allow your brain to outlive your body.
I found this brief, but intriguing article from MSNBC interesting enough to engage a read-aloud with my Dual-Credit Biology class this past week. This classroom of curious minds is full of nascent bloggers. We have begun our journey into the blogosphere within the relatively safe confines (if the global web can be seen as “confined” in any way) of a classroom network on the Ning platform. Here we have recently dabbled with online discussion forums, mini-project publishing and blogging as it relates to the dynamic nature of science in general.
One must also be aware that these forms of learning are quite novel at my school of around 900 students in Saint Joseph, Missouri. I, along with a small cohort of teachers at Benton High, have taken a step into the world of online interactivity and publishing within the standard curriculum of our courses. After just a month and a half, we have realized the fact that the doors of our classrooms no longer lock tight at 3:00pm. During even late nights throughout the week, many of our classrooms are still abuzz with content discourse while the mice come out to frolic in the hallways of our aging school.
I have to say, my students have bought in. I have tried to deeply embed the daily work we do in class with the digital tendrils that run throughout the global web. It is fun to think of these conversations happening invisibly about our heads as radio signals. For years I have peppered my classroom mission with this ideal, but this year I have taken a full windward tack toward digital conversation. The experimental nature of it all tends to dovetail well into the two science classes I teach (Dual-Credit Biology and Marine Biology). Students seem to come to these classes fully prepared to confront ideas and phenomena they have yet encountered. I have never taken that mindset lightly in what I do on a day-to-day basis.
So it is within this framework that a little article like this can get some serious play. The suggestion that web surfing itself could prolong the cranial excitement that leads to long brain life is powerful. The main detail that stuck out to me is the fact that fMRI scans of subjects surfing the web were more diverse than a control group who were merely reading books. In this study, the book-reading participants showed significant brain activity in the temporal, parietal and occipital lobes of the brain. As the article states, these regions are involved in controlling language, reading, memory and visual abilities. This surely comes as no surprise to any reading expert as many of our current comprehension strategies are designed to take advantage of this.
However, the brains of those participants who were web surfing showed the same activity. What is more is the fact that they also excited the frontal, temporal and cingulate areas of their noggins. These areas of the brain control decision-making and complex reasoning. More still is the fact that this effect was only noted in those subjects who had prior Internet experience.
“Our most striking finding was that Internet searching appears to engage a greater extent of neural circuitry that is not activated during reading.”
If ever there was a solid suggestion that a non-webbite should get on the Internet… and now… this could be it. The fact that a discussion of these ideas can take place for fifteen minutes in the lives of open-minded teenagers is pretty stimulating. To know that what you do now can effect the neural wiring of your future brain is pretty compelling.
If mere web surfing can be such rich exercise for gray matter, then the act of blogging just might build the kind of active brains we strive for in education- for blogging, is not your garden variety writing exercise. My first experiences with blogging last March were personally empowering for many reasons. Not the least of which was the fact that I soon felt like I was engaging in a type of writing that went way beyond anything I had done to date.
After authoring a few trial pieces to see what the phenomenon was all about, it occurred to me that I was engaged in far more than I had ever been while solely journaling. I remember talking this out with several of my closest educator friends. I remember making a comment that what I was doing felt like some type of “connective” writing- perhaps even a different genre. Of course, what felt like a shiny new endeavor to me was already a published entity. In fact, in Will Richardson’s 2006 book, Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, “connective writing” is mentioned as somewhat of a new genre starting on page 30. Finding this little gem made me feel a little less of an explorer, but was certainly validating.
Richardson describes this type of writing as being, “a form that forces those who do it to read carefully and critically, that demands clarity and cogency in its construction, that is done for a wide audience, and that links to the sources of the ideas expressed.” He goes on to drive home the point that good blogging requires far more critical reading than might be immediately noticed by the casual reader of a blog. There is far more rich goodness in this chapter than can be related in this post, and I highly recommend the book to anyone looking to engage students in the pedagogy of blogging.
Academic blogging is rigorous synthesis. It is an activity than can certainly enhance your classroom, and potentially extend the life of your brain. As I finish up this post, my wife @erinlynnnash just chimed onto the Twitterverse with a somewhat-related line from a Flobots song: “There is a war going on for your mind. If you are thinking, you are winning.”
Perhaps this is a better mission statement for our school than the one we last authored.
Mao, Isaac. “Brain.” Flickr. 13 June 2005. 18 Oct 2008 <http://flickr.com/photos/isaacmao/19245594/>.
“tmcnamee”, “Old World Brain.” Flickr. 03 APR 2007. 18 Oct 2008 <http://flickr.com/photos/mcnamee/445793409/>.