9 Brain Benefits of Unplugging—And How to Find Device-Free Time for Your Students

Eight hours. This is the amount of time most teens are spending on an electronic device every single day, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Between phones, laptops, TV, and tablets, this generation is more connected than ever before. While […]

Eight hours. This is the amount of time most teens are spending on an electronic device every single day, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Between phones, laptops, TV, and tablets, this generation is more connected than ever before. While there are many great benefits to technology, there are lots of advantages to taking a break from it, too. Take a look at why it’s so important for your students to unplug, and learn what you can do to help.
1. Unplugging Encourages Good Old-Fashioned Handwriting. Researchers at Princeton and UCLA recently released a report that says students who write things down usually outperform students who take notes electronically. Hey, it’s worth a shot! Time to put your students to the test.

Try This: Run your own research experiment: Start a new unit and have half the students take notes electronically and the other half take notes on paper. Then do a quiz (you can keep it anonymous). Compare the results between the two groups.

2. Unplugging Gets Teens to Actually Talk to Each Other—With Their Voices! Think about how much teens “talk” to each other electronically. Sometimes they’ll be sitting in the same room but never muster a word to one another. This is hurting social skills and communication, which are essential building blocks for long-term success. An article in Scientific Learning actually explains how the loss of two-way conversations can cause language delays and hurt social skills.

Try This: Have students put away their phones in your class for an entire week. Then organize group work where you rotate members of your group mid-week. The conversations generated will be surprising.

3. Unplugging Makes Your Students Look at You—in the Eyes! When electronics are in full force, it’s pretty common to have students always looking down. But if you take devices away, they look up a lot more. The Visual Teaching Alliance reports that our eyes can register 36,000 visual messages an hour, which means there’s a lot of opportunity to reach students on a deeper level.

Try This: Challenge your students to look you in the eye when you teach. And on the flip side of that, look them in the eyes, too. Look out at the entire room, and be sure to make eye contact even with students in the back of the room. This will help them grasp concepts and will also allow you to see who is understanding the concepts overall.

4. Unplugging Gives Them a Huge, Monumental Challenge.Dr. Larry Rosen has been studying the impact of technology on culture for years, and he wrote this interesting article about whether it’s an obsession or addiction. In either case, it’s definitely a challenge to cut back or stop.

Try This: Talk to students about cutting back technology in their lives, even at home. Join them in a 1-day, 2-day, or 3-day challenge, and have everyone compare how cutting down on screen time affects their lives.

5. Unplugging Pushes Them to Think Outside the Box. We don’t realize how reliant we are on technology until it is taken away. The term “Google it” is something many of us live by, and for good reason—it works. But it’s good to see that there are other options, like looking up information in books, asking experts, or doing our own calculations. Plus, the journalEducational Psychology sites resourcefulness as being a great characteristic to have when dealing with long-term stress and academic performance.

Try This: Give students a topic, and challenge them to come up with five very different ways to solve it, which should also include some non-tech solutions.

6. Unplugging Raises Emotional Intelligence Quotients. Technology is such an integral part of our lives that we often forget about other options available—like common sense, problem solving, and reading human emotions. ThisNPR report cited a study in the journal, Computer in Human Behavior where it showed students not exposed to technology were significantly better at reading human emotion. Time to put your students to the test.

Try This: Put students into groups and challenge them to solve everyday problems and concerns by interviewing people. Encourage them to use those skills related to problem solving and human emotion to find answers.

7. Unplugging Actually Calms the Mind. Research study after research study is showing that when we “unplug,” it actually acts like a reboot to the brain. The global media study,Unplugged, which has been led by the International Center for Media & the Public Agenda, lists some eye-opening facts about how technology addiction affects the brain.

Try This: Have your students pick one device to give up for an entire day. Then the next day, have them look at what they missed out on and talk about how the reality compared to their prediction. Did they think they’d miss out on more news or activity than they really did? There’s a good chance they’ll see that one day away from the device didn’t deprive them of much at all.

8. Unplugging Gets Everyone More Vitamin D. It’s not hard to understand that when you put down the electronics, you naturally go outside more. This increase in Vitamin D is hugely important. Doctors are actually prescribing outdoor time to some patients because of long-term health problems stemming from Vitamin D deficiency, like diabetes and heart disease. According to research from Harvard University, nearly 50% of the population has a Vitamin D deficiency.

Try This: Build in more outside time for your students, whether it’s a class held outside, a field trip to a local nature park, or even a class trip to the other side of the globe. Remember to leave the devices indoors!

9. Unplugging Deepens Students’ Relationship With the World. Have you ever gone on a school trip and noticed that students aren’t paying any attention to the attractions or even to one another because their noses are in their phones? It turns out that even having a phone in their bags may be distracting. Whether you are in your classroom or in a museum around the world, unplugging can help students to slow down, engage with the moment and truly connect with one another.

Try This: Plan an unplugged trip for your students, whether it’s a local outing or a trip to another country. Challenge your students to go device-free during your journey, and encourage students to connect with a new culture the “old-school” way. For instance, have your students observe the art and architecture of the places you visit, interact with nature and the environment around you, engage in conversation with locals, sample new foods, and more. This is what travel is all about—learning by experiencing things first-hand.

Stacy Tornio

Posted by Stacy Tornio

Stacy Tornio is a senior editor with WeAreTeachers. Nearly everyone in her family is a teacher. So she decided to be rebellious and write about teachers instead.