Sunday, December 30, 2012

Looking to Improve Your Memory
in 2013?
We constantly perceive vast amounts of information each minute, but we make no attempt to recall very much of it. Equally important, we cannot remember information that we failed to encode for memory storage in the first place.

If your New Year’s resolution is to improve your memory in 2013, look no further than the article below for effective memory tips for the classroom or for daily living.
“30 Ways to Improve Your Memory” at

What is the difference between an explicit memory and a flashbulb memory? If you can’t remember, don’t despair. You are quite normal. We have been able to identify over 40 different types of memories and further research will reveal more. When someone tells you, “I think I’m losing my memory!” Your best response is now, “Which one?”

For a short and concise list of types of memory and a short description of each, see...
“A Dictionary for Types of Memory” at

Visualization and the Human Brain  
(Part 1)

 "Imagination is more important than knowledge, for imagination embraces the world."
--Albert Einstein

Over the millennia, our ancestors endeavored to teach survival skills to each subsequent generation.  It quickly became evident that maximizing their innovative capabilities enhanced survival, increased longevity, and advanced a culture.

Anthropologists recently discovered that the ratio of older inhabitants to younger members of a civilization frequently determined, if and how far that group advanced on the path from short-term primitive living to sophisticated civilizations. Today’s mission for the next generation remains no different than it was 50,000 years ago.

Over the eons, the remarkable human brain evolved to store information, not merely for the purpose of being able to recall the past and its myriad details. Instead, early hominid brains developed in a manner that permitted them to successfully navigate a frequently dangerous and unpredictable world. While the physical world has always been governed by the same universal natural laws, our ancestors increasingly relied heavily upon patterns and relationships in nature to anticipate the future and to plan their behaviors accordingly in order to survive environments that were subject to change at a moment’s notice. These early “scientist-explorers” devoted the majority of each day to avoiding the numerous dangers while taking advantage of any clear and present opportunity. Keys to survival were
(1) distinguishing danger from opportunity
(2) storing accurate memory records
(3) visualizing appropriate responses.

Matters relevant to the danger-opportunity continuum warranted visualization and memorization. Early mankind learned to visualize future possibilities by using their imagination, asking the right questions, making observations, gathering data and information, classifying objects and events, making predictions, thoughtfully conducting tests and experimenting, operating on “best-guesses” and hunches, framing explanations based on evidence, communicating ideas, using trial-and-error strategies, revising their thinking as-needed, dedicating their lives to “making sense” of their environment –the ultimate quest of human knowledge. At the core of these new competencies was a complex web of curiosity, inferential and abstract thinking, not for academic purposes, but for survival. 

Two million years ago, Homo habilis began an exponential brain growth enlarging both the cerebral cortex and expanding the cranium to encase and protect a much larger brain. Within a million years, the Homo sapiens brain doubled in size to 1350 cm2. The most distinguishing features evolved
(1)  a brain that was extremely large relative to body mass
(2)  the cognitive abilities to create tools and technology, to reason and plan
(3)  a unique ability to adapt to a plethora of environments and circumstances, as well as to create their own environments, rather than just adapting to natural surroundings. 

Which of the following procedures do you think would allow you to reproduce the most accurate representation of an object: tracing the object; looking at the object while drawing it; or, with your eyes closed, touching and examining that object and then drawing it without ever seeing it? Most educators and parents would surmise that the range in the quality of the three renditions would match the order in which they have been presented. However, you are in for a neurological epiphany!

Read the full article on “Brain Sight” at

What are Mirror Neurons and Why Are They So Important to Parents and Educators?

When a parent sticks his tongue out at an infant, the baby will often reciprocate. While watching a boxing match, a football game, or a mystery movie, have you ever noticed yourself perspiring and breathing as if you had shifted roles from a spectator to an active participant? While reading a novel, you might find yourself crying softly or uncontrollably. While witnessing someone else receiving a vaccination, you cringe and sometimes scream, "Ouch!" When I yawn, there is an excellent chance that you will yawn responsively without a single thought, hesitation, or control. What brain mechanisms cause such behaviors?

These socially valuable "monkey see, monkey do" neurons with absolutely fascinating properties were recently discovered in the cerebral cortex of monkeys. Giaccamo Rizzollati, of the University of Parma, Italy, found a system of brain cells, now referred to as "mirror cells," in the ventral premotor area of the frontal lobes of the brain. This area is a part of the larger premotor cortex, whose activities are crucial to planning and initiating movements. Immediately anterior to the motor area is the Supplementary Motor Area (SMA) or the premotor cortex, which is somewhat verticla strip of cortical real estate. The premotor cortex is a functional brain landmark separating the motor input (sensory/detecting) and output (motor/performing) systems. All proposed actions are mentally rehearsed in the premotor areas before being overtly executed (as an action) by the motor system.

This cluster of neurons fired a signal when a monkey physically performed a single highly specific action with either of its hand. Whether pushing, pulling, tugging, or grasping an object, or when picking up or putting a peanut in its mouth, for example, the mirror neurons became highly active.

However, the most fascinating characteristic of mirror neurons is that many of those same neurons in the premotor areas also fired when the monkey merely watched another monkey or the experimenter perform the exact same task! During these experiments, it became easy to predict precisely which neurons would fire based on which activity the monkey was observing. Just as interesting, when mechanical tools performed the same task, the mirror neurons remained inactive. However, the mirror neurons fired rapidly the moment the monkeys watched another monkey or a human engaged in a specific action.

While mirror neurons are located in the F5 region of the brain, they are heavily dependent upon vision (visual cortex), hearing (auditory cortex), speaking (multiple language centers in the brain), understanding gestures, and the development of social awareness. Like other functions of the brain, mirror neurons massively interconnected with other brain regions. Mirror neurons offer still one more insight into the neural basis of effective teaching and learning. From appenticeships to active classroom demonstrations, we rely on active mirror neurons to orchestrate a virtual personal experience mimicking the one under observation.