Technology, Imaginative Thinking, and the Brain

IMG_8941“When technology enables – indeed, encourages – a change in a customary way of doing things, old patterns of response and old understandings are modified accordingly.” ~ Sven Birkerts, Changing the Subject, 2015

Today’s children are learning differently, and we’ve recognized that technology’s got a lot to do with it. In Changing the Subject,  Birkerts asks the question, “How [is technology] affecting the great non-quantifiable intangibles – our thinking, our sense of initiative, our subjective self-grounding?” How is it impacting developing young minds?

I’ve been observing the children we teach in LEAPS of IMAGINATION, noting how freely most are willing to be with both materials and design elements. I’m noticing whether or not a child comfortably jumps into a new experience or sees the way art gets us thinking about subjects like literacy, science, and geography.
IMG_8945IMG_8793We ask for children’s written feedback at the end of a session. Their reports tell us that most are keen to stretch their imaginations –  to experiment and envelop themselves in “making.”

IMG_9070IMG_8910They write, “I like art because I get to imagine anything in the whole wide world!” “I am having a bunch of fun, and I just let myself free with art.”  “Art gets you going! It makes you smarter!” “I use my imagination. When I make art, I feel happy.”


At the opposite end of the spectrum is a small number of children who aren’t sure about how to take the imaginative “leap.” One teacher gave me her perspective, “There are kids who are really smart, but their minds are paralyzed by technology.”  “I just don’t know how to think,” one devoted young video gamer told me.

Birkerts writes, “There is no deep time in this field of flickering impulses, and much of what defines us – contemplation, aesthetic immersion, the sustaining resonance of human interaction, only happens when there is deep time and attention.”


How can we transform our classrooms to enable children, whose brains are constantly adapting to technological turmoil, to become playful again? To take their time and see what happens?  To fashion something whole from things separate? To recover from frustration and reflect on the process? To let one experiment propel the next?

Three years of LEAPS has affirmed my thinking. Kids’ brains are being rewired, yet we can still help to stretch them in every which way imaginable.

IMG_9087IMG_8621We can give them big blocks of time to explore, fail, and collaborate with a peer. One child said to me, “Art takes time. If you are going to be creative, you need time.” That goes for any aspect of the curriculum.

We can provide them with a context that links their learning. If a group is transfixed by insects, launch them into the world of entomology. They will investigate, build connections, and whole heartedly communicate their insights to others – skills that they can use regardless of the subject.

We can invite kids to try their hand at something entirely new. It will level the playing field and give them permission to venture forth. IMG_8889If children are learning differently these days let’s do something remarkably different on their behalf.

With kids in mind,

Nancy Harris Frohlich

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