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Take Time to Take Time Off
Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Last week, we did something rather unorthodox in the edtech world: we took a break. We threw caution to the wind and sacrificed a few SEO (Search Engine Optimization) ranking points. No new blog posts, no new Tweets, no new Facebook posts. One of our staff members took a trip to visit family; two others led a group of high school students abroad on a trip to Italy; another simply stopped coding and enjoyed his morning coffee free from the stress-inducing review of the to-do list du jour. As a company, we logged-off, so to speak, and we all feel pretty good about it.

As educators, we recognize the great importance of taking a break from time to time. We know what a challenge it is to battle against student fatigue and apathy before a holiday or spring vacation; and, to the contrary, we know what a delight it is to work with students who’ve returned from a break and are refreshed and ready to learn. But we’re not alone in our endorsement of putting learning on hold once in awhile.

A recent Adobe Captivate blog entry champions the idea of the Zeigarnik Effect, first published by the eponymous scientist in 1927, which suggests that students who take a short break during a study session will remember material better than students who did not take a break. A more recent study conducted by neuroscientists at MIT in 2006 reported that after learning a task, “rats took a break and their brains played back repeatedly what they had just learned.” In addition,

they played it back 10 times faster than the actual task took them to learn it. This gives the rest of the brain more of an opportunity to take in all the new information and store it for long term memory.

The latter study suggests that it may be best to take breaks from learning in which you spend at least a little bit of time reflecting on what you’ve learned. With all of the above in mind, we suggest the following:

1.) Take regular breaks from learning. Enjoy short breaks (10-15 minutes) during nightly study sessions, and week-long breaks at several points throughout the school year.

2.) Before you take a week-long break, bullet point some of the most recent topics from each of your classes on a piece of notebook paper and review for 10-30 minutes during travel or quiet time.

3.) Do something fun during your break. If it’s a short one, play a game of solitaire or watch a bit of stand-up comedy on YouTube. If it’s a long one, do something relaxing: read, catch-up on sleep, or finally watch a few of those classic Hollywood films you’ve been meaning to see.

4.) Avoid “lazy slug’s remorse.” In other words, don’t feel bad about taking a break. If you work hard when you’re supposed to, then you’re entitled to relax and take it easy when the time comes.

5.) Treat yourself--especially if you’ve earned it. You might even keep track of your successes and accomplishments and reward yourself during your break. For example, one good test score = one scoop of ice cream.