Brain Hacks


So yesterday Biggie listed as the first thing he wanted to do during his project time was watch a Minecraft video on Youtube.

He then proceeded to watch four or five more Minecraft videos, using up all his time.

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During this time, I’m slowly sinking into despair. What if this is going to be every day? Am I just going to let him be a passionate expert at passively consuming media? Is project time just going to be 80 minutes of screen time every day?

Afterwards, I sat him down to write a reflection of his project work time. I offered him some prompts: Why don’t you write about what kind of videos you watched and why you liked them? Or if you did your own Minecraft video, what would it be about? Or maybe write a story outline for a video?

Nothing doing. Biggie writhed and moaned in his chair. “Why do I have to write a reflection?”

“It’s been shown that reflecting helps you learn. If you just do something or experience something without reflecting on it, it can be really easy to forget and it may leave no lasting impression. But if you reflect on it–how you did things, what went well, what you could have done differently–you not only remember it, but it helps you learn faster.”

When it comes to forcing him to do something, especially writing, I’ve taken a cue from The Learning Habit by Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman, and basically set a regular time and place to work and let the child choose how to use that time. In other words, I had Biggie stare at a blank page in his notebook until he finally resigned to write something. Usually when he’s ready to give him, he’ll let out a cry of protest (“But I don’t even know what to write!”) at which point I’ll jump in to help.

“Start by writing, ‘Here’s what I did today:'”

“Okay. Is that it?”

“Well, how do you feel about watching all those videos today?”

“Good. I liked it, but I also didn’t like it because it left me no time to do the other stuff I had planned… but I don’t know how to write that!”

“That’s terrific! This is great because you actually have a pretty complicated answer that’s going to take a few sentences to explain. Let’s break it down: ‘I was glad to watch the videos because…'”

“I was sucked into them, and they were fun.”

“So what about, ‘they were so entertaining’?”


“How do we say the part where they were addicting?”

“‘My eyes were glazed onto the TV.'”

“Oh, wow, that’s great. Let’s write, ‘On the other hand, my eyes were glazed onto the TV.'”

“Is that it?”

“Well, what was the result?”

“‘I could not do anything else because I was so addicted to the videos.'”

“Nice. Don’t forget the period. I think we should end with what you want to do tomorrow.”

Here the whine came back. “Why do we need that?”

“Well, do you want to watch the videos tomorrow, too? Or do you want to do other stuff?”

We then had a lengthy conversation about how he felt he would just cave in to the temptation of the videos, and I talked to him about how having a plan in advance could help him deal with that temptation. I talked to him about how weak-willed I tend to be as a person, and how, over the years, I’ve had to learn strategies to contend with this part of my nature. He agreed to use me as an expert consultant, and I advised him to try to not watch any videos at all tomorrow, and to have at the ready some attractive alternatives he was going to do instead. He wrote these down, and we called it a wrap.

You know what? I’m glad I let him watch the Minecraft videos.

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