When I was a camp leader we used to joke that the secret to being a good leader was having a shorter attention span than the kids in the camp. I use a variation of this same philosophy in my teaching. I try to use a variety of different approaches to teaching and learning, and I try to make the learning opportunities meaningful so that students want to pay attention. But the reality is that distraction happens.
In James Lang’s book Distracted: Why students can’t focus and what you can do about it, he argues, based on extensive research, that distraction is not a flaw or the fault of technology. Distraction is part of our lives and it’s focus that is the challenge. For teaching and learning and leading day camps that’s the important part, but I was also curious about what happens in our brains when we are distracted and that’s where some research on brainwaves comes in.
The research by lead author Dr. Julia Kam et al (2021) looked at the brainwaves of participants under different conditions of focus and mind wandering. This is the first research to look at specific brainwave patterns during different attention types.
Alpha waves which are slow waves associated with resting tend to be more active in the occipital region of the brain most of the time. The occipital lobe is associated with sight. But Kam et al found that alpha wave activity increased in the prefrontal cortex while the mind is wandering. This area controls things like problem solving, personality, memory, and judgement. This is an interesting finding that obviously needs more research but it makes me wonder if letting your mind wander allows your brain to rest a little, giving yourself a mental break? Kam suggests that this research may have applications for people who have trouble focusing such as those with ADHD as well which will be very interesting to follow.