Monday, November 28, 2016

The“Survival of the Fittest”? No: It Was the Survival of the Fastest Adapting Brains

Evolutionary biologists have estimated that 99.99% of the species that have ever lived on earth are extinct today. From devastating meteors and asteroids to natural environmental hazards, their survival was under constant threats and many of which spelled immediate doom. Human beings, on the other hand, became quite adept at avoiding danger partially by creating their own environment, rather than just adapting to it. They crafted ways to solve problems, and became the only animal on the planet (1) that looks for problems, (2) that even predicts future problems, and  (3) that invents “practice problems” to solve.  (The imaginary and practice problems were/are presented in a safe and controlled environment that we called “schools”).
With the capacity to think flexibly, and after amassing an incredibly robust repertoire of problem-solving strategies, human beings evolved as the only species that could run away from a problem, swim away from a problem, climb away from a problem, talk our way out of a problem, create vehicles (sometimes with cooperating domesticated animals) to take us away from a problem, and use technology to design remedies to our problems. Mastering a wide range of possible problem-solving strategies and passing them down from one generation to the next permitted the survival of our species. However, it was not as much governed by the “survival of the fittest” rules as it was the survival of the most innovative and fastest adapting brains.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

8 Fascinating Things We Learned About the Mind in 2015

I recently came across an article from last year that is worth sharing. It describes “8 Fascinating Things We Learned About the Mind in 2015” written by Carolyn Gregoire. While a couple of items would certainly constitute “no-brainers,” several of them are quite startling.

1. Smartphones are wildly distracting (constantly looking at a screen is detrimental).

2. Psychedelics may be the next big thing in mental health care (there is a renaissance in psychedelic research  for psychiatric purposes).

3. Pollution is worse for the brain than we realized (exposure to air pollution is associated with neurodegenerative diseases.)

4. The brain and immune system are actually linked (there is a direct connection between the brain and the body's immune system)

5. Erasing memories could be the future of addiction treatment (mind hacking can help with permanent memory erasure)

6. Nature does the mind good (there are mental health benefits to spending time outdoors)

7. To boost your mood, boost your bacteria (increasing healthy bacteria in the stomach can improve health)

8. Good sleep is critical to a healthy emotional life (healthy amounts of sleep can improve emotional intelligence).

For more details on these discoveries, see the website below.


Sunday, November 6, 2016

Is Dyslexia a Disorder Affecting Life or Just School?

While there is hardly an argument that dyslexia can interfere with learning to read, we must also acknowledge that reading is one of many cognitive artifacts and strategies by which we learn. Any experienced educator or child psychologist will gladly tell you from both training and experience that the manner is which children learn is wide-ranging.  

Over 55% of the astrophysicists are dyslexic. Dyslexia causes difficulties with language processing and thus language development, which is most noticeable in formal education settings. However, dyslexics become more adept at VST (visual-spatial-thinking or thinking in pictures) and visualizing a big broad picture of things that others can only envision from "inside the box."

The list of other individuals who had learning difficulties because of dyslexia includes Albert Einstein, Beethoven, Steve Jobs, John F. Kennedy, Leonardo da Vinci, Walt Disney, Picasso, Mozart, Steven Spielberg, Richard Branson, and Winston Churchill. While each of them may have struggled in school, they did not struggle with achievement in life. Consequently, those individuals struggling with dyslexia at four times more likely to become self-made millionaires than the rest of us.


Friday, November 4, 2016

First-hand Experiences Are Essential Cognitive Rehearsals for Writing and Reading (in that order)

When asked to begin a writing assignment, students often respond by asking one of two questions (and often both). Their first question is "What do I write about?" Their  second question is frequently "How do I get started?" According to Colorado master educator, Eileen Patrick, “You can't make the words or ideas come out of your pencil, until you can get them to come out of your mouth first.”
Discourse and dialogue are the vitally important “cognitive rehearsals” that should always precede any writing assignment. Unfortunately, teachers typically tell students, "If you aren't ready to begin writing your essay, then outline it first," which is unwittingly asking them to engage in a higher cognitive task (synthesizing and summarizing) than the writing itself.  
Before students are asked to write about a given topic, they should be afforded (1) an opportunity to have a first-hand or virtual (visual) experience with it to gain some degree of appreciation for the "what," (2) some time allotted to reflect on and digest the experience, and then, (3) time to talk with peers about what was learned, what was discovered that was surprising, and what they might still "wonder" about the topic, both specifically and  generally -- the "why it is so."  Through the talking about related personal/virtual experiences with a given subject, students prepare themselves to write about it. They can write down that which they have just articulated.
Although we are prone to say that "words are used to communicate," before we can even utter those words, we must think about them first. A more accurate statement is "words are used to think, and we can say what we think." It is impossible to speak without thinking  first (yes, there are people who do so, sponsoring more derision than admiration). Prior to expressing our thoughts, we must "think them" first. Preparing a student to think more deeply about a topic and expressing that thinking coherently is the first step in what we refer to academically as "good" student writing.  
During first-hand learning experiences, students quickly add important new vocabulary words to their personal "working" vocabularies. We often hear that students can best learn new words "in context," it should be stated more precisely that they learn new words more efficiently in the context of doing, rather than in the process of reading. This is because, when the written text is unfamiliar, coupled with the introduction of words that the learner has never seen before, neither the concept or the vocabulary will be readily grasped. Most likely, both will remain elusive.
While the accumulated vocabulary that a student brings to a text largely determines if he/she will spend more time trying to understand the target concept or devote a majority of the reading time merely attempting to make sense of the strange new words being used to bring the concept to light.
Research suggests that 95% of what a student gains from reading a passage depends on his/her background knowledge or what the student "brings to the text." Students with little or no background knowledge will likely comprehend far less than a student who is well versed in the same topic. (Similar to cooking without many of the basic ingredients). No prior experience with the vocabulary words tends to expand the gap between the novice learner and comprehending the topic. Having either personal or virtual experiences with a subject, and having talked about and having written about it provide the level of background knowledge that enhances reading comprehension. 
Conceptual development progresses along a distinctly consistent pathway that is grounded in concrete experiential learning.

Experiences Are Cognitive Rehearsals
When playing with objects, learners are simultaneously manipulating/playing with ideas (internal dialogues attach words and meaning to actions – the “mind’s eye”) building the representative brain circuitry.
Exploring and experimenting involve examining relationships, interactions and systems, where learners formulate their own personal “theories” (mental constructs)
Thinking is a cognitive rehearsal for discourse.
Discourse is a cognitive rehearsal for writing (phonological loop or “inner voice”).
Playing with objects and ideas, exploring and experimenting, thinking, talking, and writing become cognitive rehearsals (background knowledge) for reading.
Writing and reading clarify one’s thoughts, generate coherent thinking, and cultivate precision in expressing one’s inner thoughts (supporting long-term memory consolidation).
Experience, discourse and writing become cognitive rehearsals for assessment.

In today's academic world driven by accountability, producing high test scores is viewed as the indicator of a quality education being offered. However, brain-considerate learning strategies such as these have a greater long-term impact on teaching "thinking," which is the true mission of formal education. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Left-brained? or Right-brained?

Left-brained or Right-brained?

Few discoveries in contemporary neuroscience have had a greater spill-over effect into the educational community than the now-legendary “split-brain” (corpus calloscotomy) research of Roger Sperry for which he received the 1981 Nobel Prize in the category of Physiology or Medicine.
Neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga began his early career in the field with Sperry, and subsequent made significant contributions to our understanding of how the two hemispheres of the brain communicate with one another (or fail to do so when surgically separated from one another).
Later, when these hemispheric interactions were translated into educationally appealing terminology, “left-brained and right-brained” seminars were advertised at nearly every educational conference. We saw educators, whose genuine motive was merely to be well-informed and effective in their classrooms, flock to professional development workshops on this topic.
While the notion of cortical specialization is an accurate representation of the inner workings of the brain, every healthy human brain is intricately interconnected with massive pathways stretching across the neural divide rendering the content of many of these seminars misleading at best. There are over 300 million nerve fibers crisscrossing from one hemisphere to the other.
We have unraveled more of the brain’s deep secrets over the past 5 years of research in neuroscience than during humankind's last 2,500 years on this planet. Now, one of the "unguarded secrets" is that we learn with a “whole brain” that craves and creates meaningful connections. The foundation of all learning lies in the one quadrillion connections among the neurons throughout the brain and in both of the two hemispheres. The corpus callosum sends as much as 4 billion bits of information between the two hemispheres each second.

My Brain Valentine
(a.k.a., "I’m in love with a corpus callosum who makes me whole")



Well, I use both of ‘em.

Because I have you,

My corpus callosum!