Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Science of New

Do you remember when you were seven years old and the six month waiting period from the Fourth of July to Christmas Break seemed to take a millennium? Now, as an adult, the same six month stretch seems to happen over a three day weekend. Turns out: there is science behind this. It is the same reason that the trip to a new place seems to take an eternity, driving down unfamiliar roads, searching for street signs or keeping one ear open for the sweet voice of Google Maps to audible your next move in 1000 feet. The funny thing is, on the way back from a first time trip to an unknown destination, the drive home can seem to happen in the blink of an eye, even when the trip out felt like forever.


Neuroscientist David Eagleman explains that “Brain Time,” is effected when we are experiencing something new. As we engage in new activities, we have to slow down, mentally, and take inventory of all the building blocks that make up this new experience. To a child, the memory of Christmas morning is vivid and filled with detailed recollections of joy: these memories are clear because on that morning, a child’s mind is racing to take in every detail of this once a year magical event.  As a seven year old, time doesn’t fly throughout the year because so much is new, so many events across the calendar are having to be deconstructed. A day in the life of an elementary student may hold as many new experiences as a grown up experiences in a month. Imagine, the less new that we experience, the faster we get old, and too often it seems the older we get the less new we create.


For those who have more than a couple decades of roads well traveled under their belt, it takes effort to create new experiences. Often we find ourselves pulling together a unit plan, a lesson, or even a conversation starter that we have used successfully in the past, and why not, common sense says that if it worked well the first time, why wouldn’t it be a home run again? Here comes the science: The first time you launched that lesson plan, it was new, and that was exciting, not only for the students, but for the person who created the plan. You paid attention to every detail, the excitement of the unknown caught your attention and that is why your memory of the event is vivid as a success. The kids were so deeply engaged, during the first time launch of that lesson, not because of the lesson itself but because you were so engaged. There is something powerfully attractive about seeing a grown-up experience something new. So, if we want to slow down the treadmill, bring excitement and memorable joy to our classrooms, we should make a commitment to trying something new.