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Screen Time and the Developing Brain

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This eight-week module focuses on a “science and society” topic, engaging students in reading compelling informational text about adolescent brain development and the effects of entertainment screen time on the brain. In Unit 1, students first read various texts that will build their background knowledge about adolescent brain development in general. Their learning will center around three areas of the brain, namely the prefrontal cortex, the limbic system, and the developing neurons. Students determine main ideas and evidence in diverse media and clarify their learning about this complex content. Then they begin to focus on the issue of screen time and how it may affect teenagers.

In Unit 2, they begin to read argument texts. They trace arguments and evaluate the soundness of reasoning and the sufficiency and relevancy of evidence in the texts and media that they engage with in this unit. They dive deeper into first the potential benefits and then the potential risks of screen time by participating in a robust research project. To organize their research sources and information, students use a researcher’s notebook. Then students conduct Internet-based research. Throughout Unit 2, students engage in many conversations to synthesize and clarify their learning.

To help students grapple with this issue, the second half of Unit 2 introduces students to a modified decision-making process called Stakeholder Consequences Decision-Making (see the end of this document for details). This process will help students understand the implications of various choices and will scaffold their ability to determine, based on evidence and their own values, what they themselves believe should happen. Unit 3 marks the transition from research to writing as students plan and draft a position paper, addressing the question: “After examining both the potential benefits and risks of entertainment screen time, particularly to adolescent development, make a recommendation. Should the AAP raise the recommended daily entertainment screen time from two hours to four hours?” Students have several opportunities for feedback and revision during this unit. As a final performance task, students publish and share a visual representation of their position paper. This task centers on ELA standards RI.7.1, W.7.1, W.7.4, and L.7.6.


Each module is approximately 8 weeks of instruction broken into 3 units. The "week at a glance" chart in the curriculum map gives the big picture, breaking down the module into a detailed week-by-week view. It shows how the module unfolds, the focus of each week of instruction, and where the six assessments and the performance task occur.

Big Ideas & Guiding Questions

  • How is the adolescent brain changing?
  • Should screen time be limited? Why or why not?
  • How can I make an informed decision about an issue and then effectively argue my position? 
  • The teenage brain is in a period of dynamic growth and change that is unique to this stage of life.
  • Researchers wonder how screen time affects the development of adolescents.
  • Effective arguments include sound, relevant, and sufficient evidence.

Content Connections

This module is designed to address English Language Arts standards as students read informational texts about adolescent brain development. This ELA module is designed to expose students to informational text from various sources and encourage the interaction with texts through multiple modalities (e.g. books, articles, electronic, digital). However, this ELA module does not supplant the regular science curriculum and instructional program at the local level aligned to the NYS Learning Standards in Science for this grade level. The informational text in this module intentionally incorporates Science concepts and themes to support potential cross-standards connections to this compelling content. These intentional connections are described below. 


NYS Learning Standards in Science:

Intermediate-Level Science Core Curriculum Guide Grades (5-8)

Standard 4: The Living Environment

Key Idea 1: Living Things are both similar to and different from each other and from nonliving things.

Performance Indicators 1.1; Major Understandings 1.1e, 1.1g, 1.1h

Performance Indicators 1.2; Major Understanding 1.2h

Key Idea 4: The continuity of life is sustained through reproduction and development.

Performance indicator 4.3 Major Understanding 4.3c


Big ideas and guiding questions are informed by the Next Generation Science Standards:

Science and Engineering Practices

The eight practices of science and engineering that the Framework identifies as essential for all students to learn and describes in detail are listed below:

8. Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information


Texts included in the module

Texts that are included in the lesson materials.

Cover Text Quantity Publisher
Nicholas Carr’s ‘The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains
by Jeffrey Brown, Nicholas Carr, and Mathew Kielty
Guest Opinion: Step Away from the Screen
by Margaret Desler, M.D.
"Can You Unplug for 24 Hours?”
by Heidi St. Clair
Attached to Technology and Paying a Price
by Matt Richtel
NY Times, 2010
The ONLINE EDUCA Debate 2009, Part 2 (Video)
by Aric Sigman
Why Facebook Could Actually Be Good for Your Mental Health
by Sy Mukherjee
Video Games Benefit Children, Study Finds
by Queensland University of Technology
Gaming Can Make a Better World (Video)
by Jane McGonigal
Ted Talks, 2010
The Many Benefits, for Kids, of Playing Video Games
by Peter Gray
Psychology Today, 2012
Is Google Making Us Stupid? (Video)
by Jane McGonigal
Ted Talks, 2010
Beyond the Brain
by David Brooks
Policy Statement: Children, Adolescents, and the Media
by Victor C. Strasburger and Marjorie J. Hogan
You Trouble
by Justin O’Neill
Growing Up Digital
by Matt Richtel
The Digital Revolution and Adolescent Brain Evolution
by Jay N. Giedd, M.D.
Students and Technology, Constant Companions
by Joshua Brustein, Matt Richtel, and Erik Olsen
NY Times, 2010
Development of the Young Brain (Video)
by Jay N. Giedd, M.D.
National Institute of Mental Health, 2011
Insights into the Teen Brain (Video)
by Adriana Galván
TedXYouth, 2013
What You Should Know about Your Brain
by Judy Willis
Educational Leadership, 2009
The Child’s Developing Brain
by Tara Parker-Pope, Jon Huang, and Mike Mason
NY Times, 2008
"What’s Going On in Your Brain?”
by Linda Bernstein
Current Health, 2006
The Teen Brain: It’s Just Not Grown Up Yet
by Richard Knox
National Public Radio, 2010
“Teens and Decision Making: What Brain Science Reveals”
by Scholastic Inc. and National Institute on Drug Abuse
April 14, 2008, 2008


CCS Standards: Reading—LiteratureLong-Term Learning Targets
  • RI.7.1. Cite several pieces of textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
  • I can cite several pieces of text-based evidence to support an analysis of informational text.
  • RI.7.2. Determine two or more central ideas in a text and analyze their development over the course of the text; provide an objective summary of the text.
  • I can determine a theme or the central ideas informational text. • I can analyze the development of central ideas in a text.
  • RI.7.4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the impact of a specific word choice on meaning and tone.
  • I can determine the meaning of words and phrases in text (figurative, connotative, and technical meanings).
  • I can analyze the impact of word choice on meaning and tone in an informational text.
  • RI.7.5. Analyze the structure an author uses to organize a text, including how the major sections contribute to the whole and to the development of the ideas.
  • I can analyze the organization of an informational text (including how the major sections contribute to the whole and to the development of the ideas).
  • RI 7.7. Compare and contrast a text to an audio, video, or multimedia version of the text, analyzing each medium’s portrayal of the subject (e.g., how the delivery of a speech affects the impact of the words).
  • I can compare and contrast different media versions of informational text (written vs. audio vs. film vs. staged, etc.).
  • I can analyze impact of the techniques unique to each medium.

RI.7.8. Trace and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient to support the claims.

  • I can identify the argument and specific claims in a text.
  • I can evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text for sound reasoning and relevant, sufficient evidence.
  • RI.7.9. Analyze how two or more authors writing about the same topic shape their presentations of key information by emphasizing different evidence or advancing different interpretations of facts.
  • I can contrast how multiple authors emphasize evidence or interpret facts differently when presenting information on the same topic.
  • RI.7.10. By the end of the year, read and comprehend literary nonfiction in the grades 6–8 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.
  • I can read grade-level informational texts proficiently and independently.
  • I can read above-grade-level texts with scaffolding and support.
CCS Standards: WritingLong-Term Learning Targets
  • W.7.1. Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.

a.  Introduce claim(s), acknowledge alternate or opposing claims, and organize the reasons and evidence logically.

b.  Support claim(s) with logical reasoning and relevant evidence, using accurate, credible sources and demonstrating an understanding of the topic or text.

c.  Use words, phrases, and clauses to create cohesion and clarify the relationships among claim(s), reasons, and evidence.

d.  Establish and maintain a formal style.

e.  Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the argument presented.

  • I can write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.
  • W.7.4. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1–3 above.)
  • I can produce clear and coherent writing that is appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
  • W.7.5. With some guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on how well purpose and audience have been addressed.
  • With support from peers and adults, I can use a writing process to ensure that purpose and audience have been addressed.
  • W.7.7. Conduct short research projects to answer a question, drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions for further research and investigation.
  • I can conduct short research projects to answer a question.
  • I can use several sources in my research.
  • I can generate additional questions for further research.
  • W.7.8. Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.
  • I can gather relevant information from a variety of sources.
  • I can use search terms effectively.
  • I can evaluate the credibility and accuracy of each source.
  • I can quote or paraphrase others’ work while avoiding plagiarism.
  • I can use a standard format for citation.
  • W.7.9. Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research. a. Apply grade 7 Reading standards to literary nonfiction (e.g., “Trace and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient to support the claims”).
  • I can select evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
  • W.7.10. Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.
  • I can adjust my writing practices for different timeframes, tasks, purposes, and audiences.
CCS Standards: Speaking & ListeningLong-Term Learning Targets
  • SL.7.1. Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 7 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.

a.  Come to discussions prepared, having read or researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence on the topic, text, or issue to probe and reflect on ideas under discussion.

e.  Seek to understand other perspectives and cultures and communicate effectively with audiences or individuals from varied backgrounds.

  • I can effectively engage in discussions with diverse partners about seventh-grade topics, texts, and issues.
  • I can express my own ideas clearly during discussions.
  • I can build on others’ ideas during discussions.
  • SL.7.2. Analyze the main ideas and supporting details presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and explain how the ideas clarify a topic, text, or issue under study.
  • I can analyze the main ideas and supporting details presented in different media and formats.
  • I can explain how ideas presented in different media and formats clarify a topic, text, or issue.
  • SL.7.3. Delineate a speaker’s argument and specific claims, evaluating the soundness of the reasoning and the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.
  • I can outline a speaker’s argument and specific claims.
  • I can evaluate the reasoning and evidence presented for soundness, relevance, and sufficiency.
  • SL.7.4. Present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with pertinent descriptions, facts, details, and examples; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.
  • I can present claims and findings with descriptions, facts, details, and examples.
  • I can use effective speaking techniques (appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation).
  • SL.7.5. Include multimedia components and visual displays in presentations to clarify claims and findings and emphasize salient points.
  • I can include multimedia components and visual displays in a presentation to clarify claims and to add emphasis.
  • SL.7.6. Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.
  • I can adapt my speech for a variety of contexts and tasks, using formal English when indicated or appropriate.
CCS Standards: LanguageLong-Term Learning Targets
  • L.7.4. Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade 7 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.

a.  Use context (e.g., the overall meaning of a sentence or paragraph; a word’s position or function in a sentence) as a clue to the meaning of a word or phrase.

b.  Use common, grade-appropriate Greek or Latin affixes and roots as clues to the meaning of a word (e.g., belligerent, bellicose, rebel).

c.  Consult general and specialized reference materials (e.g., dictionaries, glossaries, thesauruses), both print and digital, to find the pronunciation of a word or determine or clarify its precise meaning or its part of speech.

d.  Verify the preliminary determination of the meaning of a word or phrase (e.g., by checking the inferred meaning in context or in a dictionary).

  • I can use a variety of strategies to determine the meaning of unknown words or phrases.
  • L.7.6. Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases; gather vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.
  • I can accurately use seventh-grade academic vocabulary to express my ideas.
  • I can use resources to build my vocabulary.

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