Does Facebook Make You Smarter?

Learning Through Social Media


Five years ago, as a parent, I would have been hard-pressed to advocate a form of social media to improve my children’s intelligence. However, at a conference this past week, psychologist Tracy Alloway explained how her research suggests otherwise- at least in part.

Dr. Alloway has been studying the effects of social media onworking memory—the ability to draw connections between information, to quickly shift from one task to another, and to calmly manage multiple streams of information—for the past decade. Her research has led to the conclusion that Facebook users have higher working memory scores compared to that of Twitter or YouTube users.

Perhaps these differences are attributed to the structural differences of the sites; Facebook is extremely versatile, allowing users to play games, view friends’ photos, and chat all in the same interface, whereas Twitter users “receive an endless stream of information, but it’s also very succinct. You don’t have to process that information. Your attention span is being reduced and you’re not engaging your brain and improving nerve connections,” Dr. Alloway claims.

Dr. Alloway was equally critical of any activity that could be deemed “instant”- whether it was texting or watching a video online. She contrasted these activities to those that could enhance working memory, such as strategy video games or Sudoku. These require more in-depth thinking, more tracking of past actions, and more mapping of future events.

So, has the rise of technology and the internet made our brains lazy? I believe that it has made us more efficient by eliminating the old school method of rote memorization. With the advent of Google and countless other search engines, we truly have the world at our fingertips- easily accessible with just the click of the mouse.

Let me know what you think! Post your comments and thoughts below.

Flummoxed by Failure — Or Focused?

I’ve always been fascinated by what motivates students.  As a teacher, my most challenging students weren’t those who had a hard time learning the concepts; they were the kids that gave up too easily.  And often times, when students give up they lose focus and motivation.  Many of these students think they’re simply not smart and that no matter what they do, they won’t be an A or B student.  They often have an “I don’t care” or “Why bother?” attitude.

As parents, seeing this struggle in our children is hard to take.  If you have a child who has a low frustration tolerance or is easy to give up, check out this article on learning, the brain, and intelligence.  I ran across it yesterday while reading the Wall Street Journal and immediately knew I wanted to share it with you!

But don’t stop there, share the article “You Can Grow Your Intelligence” with your child.  Psychologists at Stanford and Columbia found that when they used this article to teach a growth mind-set to 7th graders struggling in math, the students showed greater motivation in math class.  Have a comment?  Post it below or send an email.

Ann Dolin – [email protected]

“Tech Breaks” Can Help Students to Focus on Homework and Finish Faster!

I’ve always been interested in research-based ways to help students complete their homework more efficiently.  As parents, it’s our natural instinct to say things like “Turn that off!”, “Stop texting”, or “Facebook can wait.  Do you have to check your account while doing homework?”.  But in reality, our kids may “need” their technology and perhaps rewarding themselves in a disciplined way may just help them to focus a little bit more.

Author and psychologist Larry Rosen suggests some counter-intuitive solutions for students who are being distracted and overwhelmed by numerous tech gadgets and applications. Among them: a “tech break,” in which students are allowed to spend 15 minutes or so focusing only on technology — checking social-media sites, texting or watching videos on YouTube. Rosen suggests this disciplined approach allows students 15 minutes of tech time for each 30 minutes of focused study.

Here’s a great article on the topic from Hechinger Ed.  Read on!

Psychologist Larry Rosen laments the fact that technology is driving us all to distraction. This past weekend, he spoke at a Hechinger Institute seminar for education reporters, which focused on how digital media are transforming teaching and learning in U.S. schools.

In a forthcoming book, iDisorder, Rosen argues that all our tech gadgets and applications are turning us into basket-cases suffering from versions of obsessive-compulsive disorder and attention-deficit syndrome.

“Kids are thinking all the time, ‘Oh my god, who texted me? What’s on Facebook?’” says Rosen, a professor at California State University-Dominguez Hills. He says the average computer programmer or medical student can only stay focused on a task in front of him- or herself for three minutes.

Rosen has suggestions for fighting back, and some of them are counterintuitive. Instead of resisting the urge to text, check Facebook or watch a YouTube video, Rosen says just do it. That’s right: Cure the tech disorder with a dose of more technology!

Rosen calls it a tech break. But rather than taking a break from technology, you give yourself permission to embrace technology for a particular amount of time, be it one minute or 15. “It works amazingly,” he says.

Here’s why: If your brain keeps thinking about a text message you need to return, it’s better to send that text to get the nagging impulse out of your head. Once you stop thinking about sending that text, then you’ve literally freed up space in your brain to focus on more important things, like solving the global energy crisis or creating world peace. Or, just getting that research paper done.

The trick is to be disciplined and only take tech breaks at predefined intervals. One example would be to work hard for 10 minutes, and then allow yourself one minute to check email. For a child doing homework, Rosen suggests rewarding the child with 15 minutes of tech time for each half-hour of focused study. Rosen advises giving the child an option of spending the 15 minutes immediately or accumulating it for later use. After all, you need more than 15 minutes to get into a good video game.

Rosen’s theory has interesting implications for schools. Would kids be more focused and productive if teachers told students to take their cell phones out of their lockers and check their texts in the middle of every class?

Fortunately, there are other effective ways to reset the brain. Rosen lists a bunch: listening to beautiful music, looking at art and practicing yoga. Or going outside for a hike.

Are We Raising a Generation of “Calculator Kids” Who Can’t Do Math?

Forty years ago an Indiana electronics company brought a product to market that did more to change American K-12 education than almost anything else. The company, Bowmar Instruments, began selling the first handheld pocket calculator for a whopping $240!  By 1976, the cost of the cheapest four-function device had dropped to a few dollars and calculators were available to children in virtually every home.  And as a result, the way children learn and do math in the U.S. was forever changed.

Just the other day I was helping my eighth grade son with his algebra homework.  He was solving a fairly complicated equation and got down to the last step 7x=42.  He whipped out his calculator.  I said, “Will, you know this.  7 times what number is 42?”  He replied, “Uh, I really don’t know.  Why does it matter?  I’ll just use my calculator.” He proceeded to punch the numbers into his T1 84.

My son is a very good student, but his number sense is lacking.  Like many students who have used calculators in class from day one, he does not have an intuitive sense of the relationship between numbers.  Want to know if your child does?   Just ask him or her to figure the tip on the check next time you’re out for dinner.  Kids with number sense can mentally compute 10% and then add half of that to come up with 15% or double it for 20% and they can do it quickly.

There is a time and place for calculators, but their use should be coupled with instruction in critical thinking and number sense.  Sometimes kids will arrive at an incorrect answer to a math problem because they put the wrong numbers into their calculator.  When it spits out a wild answer, they have no idea it makes absolutely no sense.  Far too often, they don’t analyze the answer and think to themselves, “Does this make sense?”  Why?  Because they have complete faith in their all-knowing calculator.  Gadgets only get kids so far.  In the end, they must have number sense.

Recently, message boards and blogs serving high school and college math and science teachers have been brimming with articles about how to use WolframAlpha, a free web-based service that goes far beyond simple searches by providing answers to complicated questions in math and science. Go to and type in 3x^2+4=31 and the solutions x=3, x=-3 come back. Type in “the number of molecules in 1.2 pounds of sugar” and the result “9.58 X 1024“ returns.

Wolfram Alpha now is offering apps for the IPhone at the iStore and on the Android market for $1.99.  Nearly 100,000 paid copies have been downloaded on the Android Market alone. I worry that many will use Wolfram to avoid the pain of learning.  “Best $1.99 I’ve ever spent. It helps me endure math class. I owe these people my first born child,” one student recently wrote about the Wolfram app in a user review on the Android Market.

I’m all for it if students are FIRST taught how to solve problems without the crutch of the latest app.  Technology makes math easier, but it shouldn’t replace good old fashioned mental math and number sense.

Ann K. Dolin, M.Ed., is the founder and president of Educational Connections Tutoring and Test Prep in Fairfax, VA and Bethesda, MD. In her award-winning book, Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework, Dolin offers proven solutions to help the six key types of students who struggle with homework. Numerous examples and easy-to-implement, fun tips will help make learning less of a chore for the whole family. Learn more at or

By Ann Dolin, M.Ed.