My husband is a software developer near Boston, MA. He works for an awesome company called athenahealth (they have a beer fridge; enough said). Every year around Halloween all of the developers go to a lodge up in Maine for something called a “Dev Retreat” (aka field trip). They do lots of fun activities to promote team building skills and critical thinking. According to Jeff, these dev retreats have been getting better each year. This year, as Jeff was sharing some of his more interesting experiences at the dev retreat, one in particular really piqued my interests: a presentation on pipe cleaners.
That’s right, pipe cleaners. The first thing they did of course, was build awesome things with pipe cleaners. The teams came into a room and there was a pile of pipe cleaners on each table and they were asked to make something with them. Cars, spiders, and buildings were created to name a few. Then, they were asked to put them away and listen to a lecture. I’m not exactly sure what the lecture was about- but I don’t think it really matters. Plus, these are developers, I don’t think it takes much to get their attention 😉 Jeff never realized how much his attention was spanning in and out until they were asked to play with the pipe cleaners again. The lecture resumed. A miracle happened. After a while, everyone realized how much more effectively they were able to absorb the lecture with pipe cleaners in hand. And guess what, the whole point of the activity was exactly that.
It’s as if any potential “extra” attention you have (because you’re uninterested) is satisfied with the pipe cleaner, rather than resorting to daydreaming, texting, doodling, etc. When I was in high school, I was a gum chewer and a hair twirler (I always braided small sections of my hair during college lectures, too). I never realized why I felt compelled to do those things, but it makes perfect sense. Doing things with your hands (or mouth in the case of gum) helps indirectly helps your auditory skills.
I have always allowed gum in my class. I guess this might be geared more towards high school or maybe middle school. I rarely find gum under the desks- the students know they don’t have to be sneaky about it and they simply throw it in the trash can. Now, I’m more confident in my decision to allow it. I found an article to back me up, which quotes:
Overall gum chewing significantly increased alertness, quickened reaction time and increased the speed of encoding new information. Also good news: gum chewing does not impair your ability to pay attention by distracting you from your current task. – Psychology Today http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-brain-food/201208/gum-chewing-is-good-the-brain
So, gum might not be directly linked to paying attention, but it does increase alertness, which could help students to become more engaged in your lessons!