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Now You See It: Your brain is an iPad

I just started the book and am not even halfway through it yet. So take everything I say today with a grain of salt because I’m might be completely off track. But for many of you, this is the first week without kids and I’m pretty sure no one’s reading this anyway.

And I am liking what she has to say so . . . why not?

The she is Cathy Davidson and the book is Now You See It: How Technology and Brain Science Will Transform Schools and Business for the 21st Century. The Amazon review says that the book

takes us on a tour of the future of work and education, introducing us to visionaries whose groundbreaking ideas will soon affect every arena of our lives, from schools with curriculums built around video games to workplaces that use virtual environments to train employees.

And so far, that description is pretty accurate. Written in 2011, it feels a bit behind the times as Davidson discusses “groundbreaking” educational innovations such teachers experimenting with the use of iPods in the classroom. But the speed at which schools have shifted to tablets and Chromebooks since the book was published reinforces her thesis – technology is changing our world and and we need to adapt to those changes.

Especially in schools and business.

And by now, for many of us, much of this is not necessarily new. Lots of teachers are shifting their world views of education – we see the need for change in the system. What makes Davidson’s view a bit different is that she is suggesting that we need to not only change our view of multitasking but the definition as well.

Research is telling us that the brain can’t multitask but rather switches rapidly from one task to the next. But when we ask the brain to make this happen too much, too rapidly, then none of the tasks are completed well. Davidson suggests that by changing the definition, we can truly multitask.

Her suggestion?

In my teacher mind, she’s talking about intentional collaboration. Group work. So rather than asking one brain to pay attention to many things, we need to ask many brains to each pay attention to one thing. This way, all of the things are attended to while ensuring quality work.

I like that. The power of crowds. Crowd sourcing. Social media. Technology to connect ideas and people.

One of Davidson’s most interesting discussions in the comparison she makes between the brain and mobile devices. Both come equipped with a basic operating system built in, with communication / input / output functions bundled as default apps. Additional apps can be downloaded or deleted as needed. The structure remains the same but the apps change as needs change.

Both the brain and the iPad adapt as needed to address the needs of the end user. How we use the tool, and what we need the tool to do, changes the tool itself.


Of course, interesting theories are only as good as their ability to become practical.

Davidson suggests that Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, anticipated a new form of thinking based not on product or content but on process: “synthesizing the vast and diverse forms of information, contributing and commenting, customizing, and remixing.”

Sound familar?

Davidson was writing during the final throes of No Child Left Behind. The very cool Kansas states standards, with their focus on process and historical thinking, were just a gleam in KSDE’s eye. The Common Core reading, writing, and communicating literacy standards for History and Government were just being released. The NCSS national social studies standards were still being fought over in double secret probation meetings, years from release.

In the years since Now You See It was first released, the pendulum has shifted a bit. Social studies teachers are beginning to see the value of historical thinking processes together with foundational content knowledge. And even better, the system is beginning to encourage and support this sort of teaching and learning.

Davidson’s thesis still rings true. Technology is changing the world and social studies classrooms need to reflect those changes.

Curious about what that might look like?

Three sites that have been incredibly useful to me:

The site is “primarily interested in exploring new learning models, including blended learning, project-based learning, self-directed learning, and the role of play in learning while also supporting existing K-20 educators as they seek to improve their own craft in practice today. So, a balance of reality and possibility.”

A recent post on the use of video games comes to mind.

The History 2.0 Classroom
Greg Kulowiec works for EdTechTeacher and has some awesome ideas about the use of technology looks like in a social studies environment.

He just published a sweet Ideas for the iPad ebook.

Free Tech for Teachers
Richard Byrne maintains this handy, constantly updated tech blog. A former social studies teacher, he branches out in to all content areas but still lots of specific history ideas with many other things you can adapt for your own classroom.

Get posts tagged with social studies here.

I’ll finish the book but I’m betting it’s gonna have something to do with using technology to support and encourage historical thinking skills. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Interesting to hear and educator’s take on it. I generally agreed with the main principle of the book, but wasn’t so sure on the applications. I reviewed it at Will be curious to know your take when you finish.

    May 25, 2014
    • glennw #

      I enjoyed your in-depth look at her suggestions. I especially enjoyed your comparison to Moneyball:

      “The message is in the method (finding what is undervalued), not the specifics (i.e., walks).”

      and agree with your comments about practical application. Teachers and admins need to be more aware of how brain research impact teaching and learning but we also need to focus on real world problems of poverty, hunger, and ELL kids.

      Thanks for the comment!


      May 26, 2014

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