Sunday, February 20, 2005

Teacher-Parent Wars and Learning Styles

Three articles in Time, Newsweek, and Edutopia talk to us about the stresses of teachers, the stresses of parents, and the stresses of teachers-vs-parents. Some of the complaints of teachers and parents seem remarkably parallel- exhaustion, a realization that it is impossible to 'do it all' and there is "too little time."

The Time magazine article is a bit incendiary. At the core of the disagreement is an important issue - how should we help children who are falling behind or failing? Some teachers seem to feel that a 'tough love' approach is appropriate; whereas, some parents think the answer is change the teacher or change the school. It is a real dilemma knowing how much to challenge and how much to help.

Teachers seem to have some legitimate gripes about manners - and parents have some legitimate gripes about non-personalized or negative education. The gap between the ideal and reality may be too great. Some teachers may have up to half of their class on IEPs - how can you possibly individualize the education for 20 people at one time? Is she supposed to be a carnival clown juggling visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning - even if she manages to hit all the learning styles in one classroom session, she'd lose the other half to distraction or working memory overload.

The Edutopia article offers more food for thought. The statistic that caught our eye was the fact that the attrition rate for teachers was twice as high if they hadn't received training in child development or learning styles. Why should any teacher not have training in child development or learning styles these days?

The more we observe the variation in learning styles among children - is that many of these learning differences are not intuitive. Sometimes the way a person memorizes best, or solves a problem seems exotic or roundabout compared to how we have approached it. We have to be very conscious of our own biases in our learning preferences before we figure out the best way for someone else. But before we condemn a teacher for not knowing how to optimize learning for a particular style, how much training have we given her? Is there a good model available, or only checklists?

What we are trying to do in our upcoming book is provide a usable model for how different modes of thinking and learning fit into what we know about the working of the brain. Different modes of thinking are much more dynamic and combinable than learning style surveys and checklists would have you think. And before you begin teaching others how to use their learning styles best, it's good to know what you have yourself. What's the ideal? A flexible approach to the use of different modes of learning, and an awareness of strengths to bypass weaknesses and disability areas. The good news is we haven't even begun to tap all the power that's under the hood.

Teachers Leaving School
MSNBC - Mommy Madness
TIME: Teacher's Pests (A)

Impaired 'Mirror Neuron' Function in Autism

In this latest study, autistic subjects were found to have defective activation of mirror neurons. Because mirror neurons help a person to imitate, this dysfunction can have powerful consequences on socialization and social learning. Mirror neurons may be important for motor imagery.

Abnormal Brain Activity During The Observation Of Others' Actions

NOVA | scienceNOW | Mirror Neurons | PBS

Neural Foundations of Imagery

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Training More Rapid Word 'Seeing' in Dyslexia

Here's a studying that found that tachistoscope training (used in speed reading programs) improve the visual spatial span and reading word accuracy for children with dyslexia. The tachistoscope flashes words briefly on a screen.

We have noticed that children who have developed a sufficient fund of knowledge with recognition can improve their reading fluency or speed with rapid reading techniques. This is a small study, but certainly makes sense with what is known about the biology of plasticity in the nervous system. Do you have any experiences with dyslexia and speed reading? If so, please share them. There are some fairly inexpensive computer based programs ($50) using the tachistoscope technique, but we aren't personally familiar with the programs.

Entrez PubMed

Flashes from the Past: Nearly Deaf and "Addled", A Slow Learner...

He was totally deaf in the left ear and had only 10% hearing on the right. He was schooled for only 3 months, when his teacher scolded him for being "addled" and unteachable. His mother took him home and schooled him.

Later Thomas Edison would say that his deafness helped him in his work. He could concentrate more and was less likely to get caught up in the "babble of conversation". His advice to deaf people: "Take up reading." Edison liked hands-on learning and teaching through play. He cautioned: "The present system casts the brain into a mold. It does not encourage original thought or reasoning."

Edison was awarded 1,368 different patents during his lifetime, including the firs elecric motor, first commercially practical electric lamp, first successful typewriter, and phonograph among others.
Edison National Historic Site
Thomas Alva Edison

Article Library at Audiology Online

View Articles Archives on Audiology Online
Auditory Training
Classroom Amplification

Friday, February 18, 2005

What is Gifted Thinking?

Our son's assignment for his Stanford EPGY (Educational Program for Gifted Youth) Writing Course this week is to write an essay defining giftedness. What is gifted thinking? How we define giftedness will affect how we organize, design, and deliver our educational programs.

The assessment of who's in or who's out is such a touchy subject, that some prefer to avoid discussion of it all together. If you do though, you will bring that view to your program. It was Stanford Professor Lewis Terman who first coined the term "gifted", but his massive study on the "Genetic Study of Genius" also missed the only two Nobel prize winner of the group (Luis Alvarez and William Shockley) because their IQ tests were too low.

Some of our son's brainstorming notes made us think. His answers:

1. How should giftedness be determined? "When a student complains!"
2. What should a gifted student be able to do? "Breeze through some things, know the information already, and want to know more about the why and how"
3. What are different ways a student could be gifted? "They could be very kind, do interesting things, do things that are new or different, be a good theorizer, be a good entertainer, be perfectionisic, artistic, good in business, or really think about their audience." How many of these qualities are used to define giftedness today? Who might we be missing?

Wired: The Key to Genius
Nobel Prize Winners Hate School

fMRI of 'Creativity' - Fluid Analogies

Here are two interesting brain pics from John Geake's work on fMRI and Analogies. If you look at functional brain imaging, a common theme in gifted thinking studies appears to be 'whole brain' giftedness. People who excel at fluid analogies, mathematics, or art are not just right or left brain thinkers, but right and left brain thinkers. It's like the Gifted Creative Corporation mentioned in our NAGC talk (here)- there's a Creativity Director (combining ideas, shifting patterns) and a CEO (manages the entire process)coordinating the creative work and bringing the project to fruition.

fMRI of Fluid Analogies

Washington State WASL - LD Info for Accommodations or Alternate

Students graduating high school in 2008 will be required to meet state standards on the WASL, or Washington Assessment of Student Learning. Students with learning disabilities should be aware of the accommodations that they may be eligible to have for the test, as well as the 'portfolio option' or WAAS. Here are links to the OSPI report. It's best to plan ahead, and accommodations may need to be on file in the 504 or IEP.

Special Education Manual for Accommodations
Introduction to Alternate Assessments for WA Requirement
Bergeson Report

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Is caffeine good for you?

Caffeine can lead to improvements in reaction times, self-monitoring, and selective attention. But do you remember the old NASA study of spiders on caffeine? Hmm...maybe I'll skip the extra shot.

Normal Web

Caffeine Web

Actions of Caffeine
Spider experiments with Drugs

Why Visual Distractibility Often Accompanies Auditory Processing Impairment

We often see parents shaking their heads - how is it that it's both auditory and visual processing? But it's not some odd luck, the visual and auditory systems are tightly coupled, and each makes up for the other when some problem arises.

We shouldn't think of the brain having "deficits" - because reorganization is the rule rather than the exception, and generally loss in one domain, leads to compensatory changes in the other. Auditory processing problems are accompanied by increased sensitivities in other senses - and vision is one of the most common to cause trouble.

The first breakthrough in our understanding of the yin and yang of the brain's sensory system came in research studies examining subjects who were either completely deaf or completely blind. Before there was a technology to image these events in the brain, neuroscientists had pondered what the auditory part of brain might do in a deaf person, or what the visual part of the brain might do in a blind person. Was it a specialized area of brain that would just never get the right signal? Would it just sit there? Or would it be collared into doing something else?

The answer: it got put to work by the other senses.

In this remarkable figure, you can see that the outlined area of brain (auditory cortex) has now gotten recruited to work for the visual system. That's great you might say...if you can't hear, there are so many things that can creep up on you - so increased visual vigilance can protect you from danger. Yes -that's right, but increased visual sensitivity also comes with a price. The deaf are also much more sensitivity to visual distractibility (check out the teaching tips for the deaf, including recommendations to avoid shiny jewelery)...and in milder form, but no less significant, many children with central auditory processing disorders suffer this same fate.
Visual Reorganization in the Deaf
Visual Attention to the Periphery Enhanced in Deaf
Deaf or Hard of Hearing - Teaching & Learning Supports - Trinity College Dublin

Preemies at School - Why Sensory Processing Disorders?

1 in 10 children are the product of premature birth, but parents, teachers, and doctors, may be bewildered by the lack of specific advice once they are school age. There are clusters of difficulties that are more common because of the injury and reorganization of brain-based sensory pathways. A common cluster of difficulties includes - hypotonia, dysgraphia, auditory processing dysfunction, expressive language difficulties, and emotional volatility. Many of these children are also very intelligent, but they may suffer from visual distractibility, poor sensory regulation, and a great deal of personal frustration. Many can respond quite well to work accommodations in school, adjustments in teaching style, and involvement of therapy professionals like pediatric OTs.

Periventricular leucomalacia and preterm birth have different detrimental effects on postural adjustments -- Hadders-Algra et al. 122 (4): 727 -- Brain
Neurodevelopmental Consequences Associated With the Premature Neonate
Periventricular leukomalacia affects sensory cortex white matter pathways
Language Shift Among Adults Born Prematurely
Auditory Processing and Language Difficulties in Prematurely Born
Premature Birth, Corpus Callosum Size, and Verbal Fluency in Boys
Prematurity and Disorganized Cortical Development
Auditory Impairment in Preterm Infants

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Video Gaming in Education - Good for the Brain?

We came across new posts and discussion about video gaming and education. Where do you stand? Here are some first thoughts...

The Pros:
- highly motivating, it's fun (fun is very important - we don't underestimate it!)
- encourages risk taking and trial and error
- self-paced
- young-age friendly...young kids can begin to work with complex situations or ideas
- encourages analysis and looking for mistakes
- can incorporate or train different learning strategies- though at present visual-heavy (pictures, images, text)
- can hint without telling
- can be very patient
- solve by ideas, not strength or size (great for young gifted kids or 2E's)
- encourages perspective changing
- encourages some problem solving (though not as much as we'd like for K-12)
- allows incremental learning, close monitoring of improvement or training
- allows precisely targeted sensory / perceptual learning (auditory / visual processing)

The Cons:
- it's not real- may impact on how the information is generalized, taken seriously
- the process is immersive and usually fairly fast-paced (may not be as conducive to reflection compared to other learning formats such as reading)
- doesn't encourage as much critique about the information as maybe reading original documents, magazine, or book...after all, it's just a game
- game play doesn't directly examine reality
- players are directed to the programmer's teaching points or conclusions- whereas direct inspection of real experiments or phenomena may provide more individual learning points or conclusions.
- the games could be administered poorly...teacher leaves students to computer terminals, student doesn't learn anything, copies from neighbor, etc. (this can happen in labs too, of course)
-games are interactive, but not as interactive as conversation with a smart and perceptive teacher (remember the Turing test?)...some programs are completed by kids clicking a lot or cheating
-not hands-on learning (click or toggle rather than working with original materials)...miss making projects by hands, spatial learning and modeling

Some of the ideas about gaming in medicine - reminded us a bit of the 'Virtual Patient' programs that we tried out for the University of Pennsylvania years ago. These programs were decision-based flow programs, that drove you to a particular diagnosis or cluster of diagnoses...but very different from real patients. There are a million different ways people will tell you something (or not tell you something), and the computer model was nothing like taking a history from a real patient, sorting out facts from conflicting office notes or lab studies. Even the most complex games involve the abstraction of a great deal of information, and many decisions about what to include or exclude for a game. Now, selection and abstraction takes place in every lesson or learning plan we know, but what direct labs or experimentation? Which sort of format would you be more likely to have an unexpected result- a 4th grade science experiment or a video game teaching the same principle? Now some might prefer that you don't ever get an unexpected result - but which is more like life?

So where do we stand? Gaming has a wonderful potential in education and rehabilitation for that matter - but in our household, we like pairing computer-based learning with one-on-one old-fashioned Socratic thinking and hands-on study. We don't use games only for educational purposes (shouldn't life be fun?), but if our kids develop an insane delight in 'arcade games' over and over again, we have insisted they learn about what makes a good game, and try some simple programming themselves.

Games that make leaders: top researchers on the rise of play in business and education | WTN
Video Games Boost Visual Skills, Study Finds
Random Walk in E-Learning: Educational Games Don't Have to Stink!

Training the Brain to See

Brain-based visual loss (like the visual field loss in yesterday's post on autism) can be corrected by specific rehabilitative strategies, but too often these partial 'holes' in vision are missed clinically (children are just thought to be clumsy etc.). Researchers have also begun to experiment more with clinical approaches to increase the degree of remodeling and recovery. Children and adults have been shown to be able to recover even years after the initial injury. The first link below refers to a new computer-based program for visual rehabilitation. Locally we have had patients recover by combinations of prism glasses (to redirect the visual field) and vision therapy.

Rehabilitation can Restore Vision After Stroke
Visual Rehabilitation

Learning Disabilities and College - Links

Seeing Schwab Learning's mention of a local college fair for students with LDs, reminded us to post some references for LD and College...
LD College Fair in Midwest
Disability Law
LD and College Planning
Selecting a College, LD ADHD
Landmark College
College Info LDs
Schwab Learning
College Choice
Peterson's Colleges with Programs for Students with Learning Disabilities
Survival Guide for College Students with ADD & LD
Kathleen Nadeau
ADD and the College Students
Patricia Quinn
Unlocking Potential: College and Other Choices for Learning Disabled People:
A Step-by-Step Guide
Schieber & Talpers
Succeeding Against the Odds
Sally Smith

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Teaching Problem Solving

Problem solving is at the heart of all creative and higher order intellectual work, but it usually doesn't get the attention it deserves during education. Maybe because it's not that easy to do.

Real problem solving is not just imitation. It's a self-conscious process of analyzing information, sorting, prioritizing, testing, and then reassessing. Some people have a natural gift for problem solving, but most learn over the course of their lifetimes.

Better problem solving skills leads to greater adaptation to changing circumstances, resiliency, personal satisfaction, and achievement (more problems solved!). Problem solving can be encouraged by didactic teaching about 'steps' (examine the evidence, consider the extreme case, etc) and open discussions about blindspots and bias. Problem solving instruction is wonderful when provided one-on-one, socratic style...identifying the source of student's opinions, assumptions, and decision making. Don't forget to model problem solving persistence, the solution of problems over time - whether it be days, months, or years.

Fifty Problem Solving Strategies
Problem Solving Strategies
Critical and Creative Thinking

The Visual Side of Autism

These visual studies highlight the dilemma of addressing the social difficulties of autistic individuals by behavioral or 'visual learning' strategies alone. When research tracked the eye movements of autistic subjects looking at faces, they found a very different pattern of visual focusing compared to non-autistic controls. This pattern suggests a visual field defect: The lines on the faces indicate where an autistic (left) or control (subject) fixed their gaze as they were looking at the photographs. The control subject focused on the eyes and the triangular area involving the bridge of the nose (an area with a lot of emotional content information), whereas the autistic subject appeared to study only the right side of the face.

In another study, when autistic and control subjects watched a movie, autistic subjects preferred to focus on the lower part of the face instead of in the line of gaze.

These patterns of visual scannings likely have a variety of causes, including visual field neglect, impaired emotional perception pathways(if you don't get much information, why look?), or auditory processing impairment (reading lips). Interestingly, we have seen some autistic children respond well to prism glasses shifts of their visual field- in some children the prisms resulted in improved eye contact, social interaction, and something to keep in mind.

The research studies show that 'lumping' children with autism diagnoses together irrespective of their individual neurological factors is a bad idea. Although some researchers have voiced an interest in evaluating these children more specifically on the basis of language, auditory processing, or visual processing impairments - unfortunately, this research idea has not trickled down to many children yet.

Mapping Visual Scanning In Autism
Visual Perception in Autism

Monday, February 14, 2005

Boys and Reading

Some of the gender differences noticed by fMRI raise some possibilities about why boys might read differently from girls. Language does tend to be more one-sided in men compared to women (see figure below), accounting for why boys may be more vulnerable to language difficulties following birth trauma.
But even gender-related differences in emotional memory (yesterday's post) could explain some of the differences in reading preferences that educators have noticed throughout K-12 education.

A quick survey of the bookshelves of almost any elementary school classrooms reveals a heavy preference for fiction and 'school' stories, although boys prefer non-fiction, fantasy, humor, and science fiction. Could the preferences that boys and girls have be due to the gender differences in emotional memory? Would girls be as interested in situationally-based fiction if they didn't have as powerful emotional memories as they do? How about boys? Would boys be as uninterested in fiction if they had more powerful emotional memories? Something to think about...

If you have a reluctant boy reader, stock up on non-fiction titles, adventure stories, technology, and fantasy. Favorite reads can be a vital way to encourage a reluctant reader. Often if there is quite a bit of technical language to learn at first, this special interest can give a child a foothold in further language learning.

Helping Boys to Read Well and Often. ERIC Digest.
Boys and Books
Helping Boys Become Better Readers, Better Students, Better Guys
Gender Differences in Learning and Emotional Memory
Men Do Hear -- But Differently Than Women

The Architecture of Empathy

Here's a Valentine's Day treat - a wonderful review on the architecture of empathy. More to think about!
Architecture of Empathy
The Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory

Neuroeconomics: Decision Making, Reward, and Emotion

It's Neuroeconomics - businesses and economists are interested in what scientists are finding out about money-based decision-making. There's a battle going on between emotional feelings and reason.

Separate Systems for Immediate and Delayed Monetary Rewards
Duality of desire: Emotion and rationality compete

Sunday, February 13, 2005

The Visual Learning Style as a Kaleidoscope

There is a restlessness afoot among some parents and educators who feel that visual learners are neglected in the school system. So, you may ask, does brain research support such a thing as a 'Visual Learner'? Yes. But it's not a single type. Visual learning is more like a kaleidoscope than a single shade of a color. That's because there is a remarkable diversity to the organization visual abilities in the brain. Expertise at visual learning may mean a preference for learning by seeing visual relationships or pictures, a preference for learning by reading text, expertise at translating verbal information into visual pictures or imagining visual permutations, visual sensitivity to detail, color, texture, or motion, or a spectacular memory for visual information. A visual genius may have capabilities in one, several, or all areas of visual ability.

The picture above shows the differences in brain activation patterns in adults vs. children (aged 7-10 years old) performing a verbal task in response to a target word flashed on a screen. The children appeared to respond much more powerfully in their visual cortex than adults.

Another area at the front of the brain comes into play when solving the visual Tower of London puzzle. What might we conclude from this? Giftedness in visual abilities may not be 'global'. It's important to look for patterns and clusters of talents- and see that there are great variations among gifted visual learners.

Age-Related Processing Differences
Tower of London Visual Problem Solving

College Students with Superior Memory Most Sensitive to Performance Pressure

Here's another study highlighting some of the burdens that accompany intellectual giftedness...The university students with the best working memory were the most sensitive to performance stresses. They performed their best when told their tests were only 'practice', but fell below their teammates when informed their performances would be videotaped and be evaluated by local math professors, and when they were told that a good score would result in a monetary reward for themselves and the other team.

While Under Pressure Those Most Likely To Succeed Will Most Likely Fail

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Gender Differences in Learning and Emotional Memory

Gender differences in learning are pretty interesting- but it's important to remember that most studies represent averaged results of groups - rather than any definite information about a person. Because learning disabilities appear to be more common in boys,though, and the gender gap in achievement only increases with age, there is hope that greater consideration to boys' preferences in learning style will eventually narrow the gap. At the K-12 level, women comprise an overwhelming majority of the teaching force.

Here's the key figure from the study of how men and women navigated their way out of a virtual maze. In this study, it's interesting to note that completely different brain regions were used by men and women to navigate their way. The sites in men correlated with geometric orientation (approximate) whereas the sites in women were associated with recall of landmarks (exact). Since then (link below) other investigators have found that both men and women are capable of using either navigation methods.

In follow up Jodi's question re: Simon Baron-Cohen "extreme male" hypothesis of autism (link below), we believe that this theory is just a working model for his group. Baron-Cohen has pursuing a line of investigation regarding prenatal exposure to testosterone. For all practical purposes, the "male hypothesis" doesn't help with any decision-making regarding autism. It is speculative.

Other studies have commented about gender-related differences emotional behaviors, but when it comes to autism, families should realize that the causes are multifactorial. Impaired emotional responsiveness may occur due to defective empathy, impaired visual processing (misreading faces), impaired auditory processing (mishearing auditory information, tone of voice), impaired language processing or various combinations of the above.

Here's a key figure from the emotional memory paper. On the left is the brain (amygdala) activation from women remembering an emotionally powerful photograph. On the right is the brain activation seen in men. Although men and women appeared to have similar levels of emotional responsiveness initially viewing photographs, later the women's group had stronger emotional recall for the pictures, and it correlated with this increased activation in the amygdala.

Sex differences in the neural basis of emotional memories
Are There Gender-specific Neural Substrates of Route Learning from Different Perspectives?
Gender differences in navigation
Men Do Hear -- But Differently Than Women
Men, Empathy, and Autism
Boys fall behind girls in grades

Homeschooling and E-learning...Our Experience

As some of you know, we homeschool one of our children who has both gifts and learning-challenges. We're often asked for our experiences and knowledge of resources, so here's our review of the year so far...

E-learning: Our favorite E-learning options have been those that provide some flexibility in work submission, online discussion, and regular feedback from teachers. Discussions include virtual classrooms (talking to your computer, click your hand to speak) with blackboards, slides, and taped classes that can be reviewed later. E-learning programs without a 'live person' may present more problems with motivation, though some self-paced programs like (for Lego building, engineering, robotics) also offer some forums, interest groups, and a 'merit' pyramid to work through.

Northwestern Center for Talent Development - an award-winning fun and whimsical course on the Hobbit. Weekly projects involved a selection of options - and choice of writing, drawing, composing music, or cooking. The best parts were interesting questions delving into the characters and themes of the book. The worst - technical glitches when the teacher was not able to be present to lead discussions.

Stanford EPGY Writing - hard work, but enjoyable course involving weekly online discussion (talk into your computer's microphone) revising writing with teacher, and critique in class. Emphasis is on the mechanics and artistry of writing.

Great Books Academy Online - weekly online discussion (talk into your computer) using the Socratic method and the Touchstones materials (Great Books)- Open ended discussion questions emphasize critical thinking and examining assumptions. The director seems flexible with grade skips- a plus for gifted students. - Various courses with Lego building - Architecture, CAD, Robotics, Machines, Electricity. Each lesson is fairly short, but step-by-step instructions, introduction to design principles, and forums. Progress assessed by uploading pictures, journal entries, and multiple choice questions.

Other online resources: : Because our son (age 10) wants to be an digital animator, animation is a large part of his arts program. A fabulous free resource is Professional animators from Disney and Pixar (as well as anyone else - largely art students or high school students taking a class) comment on animations that you upload. There is an Acme Trek challenge - where the animation challenges get more complicated. We use Toon Boom Studios which exports as a Quicktime file. Online streaming movies to supplement Science, French, History - $100/year with homeschooling discount - gets you access to 4000 excellent full-length streaming videos. Also unitedstreaming is aiming to have 1/2 of movies close captioned - excellent for children with auditory processing problems. Many of the videos come with full lesson plans, text of video, quizzes and problem sets. These accompanying lesson plans are much better than the ones offered by Mentura. We had subscribed to Mentura, but gave it up. : Apex Virtual School...have mainly used and Beyond Books for History and English Literature. Occasional science topics in Biology course (lesson plans presented as Flash movies -especially helpful with molecular biology). Without a 'live' class or teacher, it has been more difficult to engage.

For non-Elearning, we have used conventional textbooks (mostly bought used - for instance from Textbook Heaven) for French and Science, Spielvogel text for World History (also some Tapestry of Grace), Math with excerpts from Singapore Math and Continental Press workbooks, Grammar and Vocabulary with workbooks from Continental Press and Caesar's English (Royal Fireworks Press). Handwriting without Tears.

We have a local homeschool resource which has a wide selection of course offerings taught by staff teachers, yet flexibility in course selections and reasonable time expectations. Many tech options are available even for the lower grades (RPG creator, lego courses and robotics league, digital animation, web design, cinematography, even Broadcast News), foreign language (Spanish, French, Japanese, Latin), as well as science, language arts, math, music, drama, and arts.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Exact vs. Approximate Problem Solving - Another Learning Styles?

Thinking more on yesterday's post about exact calculation vs. approximation in problem solving....Because quite different areas of the brain mediate problem solving by exact calculation and approximation, one could also consider them to be alternative learning styles or problem solving strategies.

Often traits of precision (being exact, detail-oriented) vs. big-picture (gestalt) orientaion were thought to be personality-based. But there are advantages and disadvantages of both approaches, so that the ideal way to approach problems would seem to be able to have both tools in your arsenal so that you could choose which approach might be most successful in a particular situation.

The advantages of 'exact' problem solving seem somewhat self-evident. It is precise, allows for greater reproducibility, builds on prior knowledge, and can result in rapid processing with repetition.

Approximate problem solving can also be important though. Because it is representational and approximate, it may more flexible in terms of considering information, it may be more extrapolatable to different situations, and it may provide more accurate information when not all the facts are known or some information is incorrect.

If you teach, it is important to be aware of your orientation (detail vs. gestalt), because it may color how you view your pupil. Detail-oriented teachers may see gestalt students as sloppy and flakey. Whereas as gestalt-oriented teachers may see their precision-orientated students as overly fastidious and rigid. In practical matters as well, there are many situations in which your most obvious way to solve a problem (exact vs. approximate) will obscure your vision from the opposite point-of-view.

How do you do long division? Do you know your facts and perform the stepwise calculations as you learned them? If so, you may not see how your student would prefer to use reverse multiplication and estimate to derive her answer.

How do you figure out where you are when you're lost? Do you retrace your steps, count stop signs or look for landmarks? (exact) Of so, you may have a hard time understanding why your spouse prefers to use geometry, visualize an internal 'aerial' map and head out driving 'over there somewhere'.

The truth is, within every domain their are great men and women on both sides of the this exact-general divide. There are Nobel prize winners or other eminent men and women in science, art, history, economics, engineering, literature who have use either strategy to break new ground using exact or general tools of inquiry.

Understanding the Biology of Autism - Abnormal Connectivity and Sensory Motor Processing

It's about time- there is a growing acknowledgement of the importance of sensory-motor processing dysfunction that accompanies autism. The biology of autism involves abnormal connectivity of the brain and abnormal 'maps' of sensory and motor areas. These difficulties underlie autistics' difficulting registering and interpreting their environment. Disordered sensory systems will also affect emotional regulation, learning, and social communication.

Autism's Cause
Sensory Processing Problems and Postural Control Problems in Autism
Sensory Motor Problems in Autism and Mild "CP"

Thursday, February 10, 2005

What Does Brain Research Tell Us About Learning Styles?

Plenty! Visual learning, auditory learning, and kinesthetic learning all activate different pathways by functional brain imaging. But brain studies also suggest that there is much greater flexibility to learning styles than the multiple intelligence checklists would have you believe.
For instance, are you familiar with Stroop tests? You're supposed to try to ignore what the word 'says' and just name the color. Sometimes these tests are used to look at attentional or executive function capabilities.

In fact, there are wide variations among individual subjects as they perform the Stroop task. We've excerpted two 'brains' for an example. The subject on the left appeared to use a frontal-parietal lobe approach (executive function) in selection, whereas the person on the right was able to focus him- or herself visually.

Individual Differences fMRI Stroop

But some of the most exciting findings provide insights about how different pathways can be activated depending on the strategy chosen. In this study from Dehaene and his group, blue areas were activated when exact calculations were performed to solve a math problem, whereas yellow areas were activated when approximations were performed. It might be that next generation of neuroteachers will be able to direct or cultivate flexible approaches to problem solving depending on student strengths or disabilities. Advanced thinkers are often aware of the different routes they can use to solve problems. Neurolearning for them may mean expanding their arsenal of tools for creative or analytical work.


Auditory Processing and E-Learning

In a recent survey of 10,000 children, researchers found that a startlingly high percentage were unable to comprehend information presented to them by auditory routes alone. 30 percent of children aged 4-6 could not comprehend sentences longer than 9 words through listening alone. Similar numbers of 9-10 year olds could not understand spoken sentences longer than 13 words. But there is an important flip side to this startling statistic. Most 9 to 10 year olds could readily comprehend longer sentences if they were provided in print. These findings raise an important question: is a strong functional preference for read versus spoken language a developmental issue, a learning disability, or highly preferred learning style? This question has great significance for the classroom, because children who have difficulty learning through auditory information may learn far more quickly and efficiently when provided with text.

There are several ways to present text, but E-Learning (electronic or computer-based learning, also written eLearning) will be an ideal resource for many children. Visual information, both text and pictures, can be tightly linked to auditory information on computer. Learning is self-paced. When acoustic information is presented, it comes from a fixed location straight-ahead with no competing sounds (children with asymmetric hearing have difficulty distinguishing words when speakers are moving or they turn away from them). Most films can be presented with close captioning (for instance, and many online classroom chats have the flexibility of text-based entry or online 'talking.' Online classrooms are often preferable for children with subtle auditory processing difficulties because there is less background noise from fellow classmates, a more orderly style of contributing (click on a hand icon to raise your hand), and more time to answer questions (individuals with auditory processing often benefit by delays or a slightly slower pace to interactive conversations). Many children who are quite silent regular classrooms "find their voice" online.

The benefits of E-Learning for children with auditory processing disorders can be immense. These children often gravitate quite naturally to the computer. It's important for more people to realize the many reasons why they do.

Excess teacher talk swamps children

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Imagery - Integration of the Senses and Movement

Imagery is a powerful way of organizing sensory information - whether it be visual, auditory, or sensory-motor (movement). The 'primer' below is an excellent imagery review posted online.

Imagery activates perceptual areas and MT (movement); Abstract
A Primer on the Neurobiology of Imagery

Imagery in Motor Learning - More Imagery with Expertise

This study from University College suggests that motor experts like professional dancers are able to activate more brain areas while watching familiar movements in others. The brain areas activated included areas for motor planning, sensory-motor imagery, and personal memory. This is a similar to a research report that found that professional pianists watching other pianists activated sensory motor areas (kinesthesia!) just by watching.

Imagery is a powerful guide to learning - it unites diverse brain areas and provides patterns for coordinated actions that may be used for other purposes in the future. One of the reasons that sensory processing disorders can have such a profound effect on behavior (children may develop anxiety, avoidance, isolation), is that these children have fewer opportunities to build coordinated sensory-motor patterns as they interact with their environment, so they may always appear to encountering things for the first time.

Better Imagery with Expert Dancers

Flashes from the Past: A Person with Powerful Auditory Imagery

Who was this? His formal education ended at elementary school and he was illiterate in math. A life long friend described him as "awkward and helpless; his uncouth movements were often destitute of grace. He seldom took anything into his hands without dropping and breaking it. No piece of furniure was safe with him. he frequently knocked his ink-pot into his pianoforte."

This was Ludwig van Beethoven, a master of auditory imagery who composed the Ninth Symphony when completely deaf. About his composing he wrote: "I carry my thoughts about with me for a long time...before writing them down...once I have grasped a theme. I shall not forget it even years my grows, I hear and see the image in front of me from every angle...and only the labor of writing it down remains...I turn my ideas into tones that resound, roar, and rage until at last they stand before me in the form of notes."

Computer-Based Training Improves Auditory Processing...Especially Those with Background Noise Problems

A collaboration with Northwestern University and BioMap has resulted in another addition to the Central Auditory Processing Disorder arsenal. Existing CAPD studies rely too much on synthesized sounds or 'fill-in' approaches that can be compensated for by inference. There has been a significant need for better tests that mimic the sound problems that people have in normal life. This test is still only a diagnostic test and not therapeutic program, but certainly it heralds better programs on their way to development. Families should be aware that existing CAPD testing is still far behind basic research, but progress is being made.

The other online paper below shows how Earobics (a simple software - even Step 2) was able to improve the timing of brain cortical responses in children with learning problems. Interestingly, the effect was most notable in the LD group that also had difficulty hearing in the presence of background noise. The timing problems in background noise also improved with auditory training, although the Earobics software does not really direct its training for this task. The results are exciting because they show that even with fairly crude auditory training therapy (Earobics is really a simple program), focused perceptual training works for brain-based hearing problems
Computer-Based Training for Auditory Processing - News: New tool for auditory processing disorder

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Computerized Training of Working Memory in Children with ADHD

This is an exciting study, and we hope it will be replicated on a broader scale. Unfortunately, we can only provide a link to the abstract because we access the paper through the University of Washington. This Swedish study found that children diagnosed with ADHD, but never treated with medication (stimulants, atomoxetine, etc.) were able to improve their verbal working memory, timing and accuracy on Stroop tests, and complex reasoning, and reduce symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity / impulsivity with computer-based training (Robo-Memo) that included remembering the position of objects, remembering phonemes, letters, or digits. Training was adjusted to continually challenge children, and duration of training usually amounted to about 40 minutes per day for over 20 days.

There are some commercially-based computer programs based in the States, but the ones we have been able to sample were too simple for most of the children we see. Working memory is highly trainable, but the exciting aspect of this study is that the behavioral and inattentive symptoms also subsided as working memory increased.

Increasing Working Memory for ADHD

Dysgraphia as Isolated Spelling Disorder

Spelling-based dysgraphia may be one of the most commonly missed disabilities. Students with poor spelling are written off as ignorant or slow, though they may be quite bright. Prejudice about spelling as a disability has caused some gifted students to be excluded from gifted classes, others to be held back a grades, or worse, denied opportunities to graduate. Standardized tests rarely specifically accommodate for spelling and the additional writing components to state required tests or college entrance exams will only make matters worse.

Because the situation regarding spelling disabilities is the way it is, occasional reports like the one below are valuable. It's reports the case of a woman who developed spelling problems after a heart attack. The importance for us is that is shows that focal brain injury can result in a focal spelling disability. This former secretary had excellent sentence copy, comprehension, working memory, spontaneous speech, and reading, but she couldn't write well to dictation. She probably would have problems with spontaneous writing as well.

Surprisingly, even school professionals have been confused about whether dysgraphia exists if a student can copies sentences well. For some reason, dysgraphia hasn't gotten as much attention as other learning disabilities.

Spelling difficulties may be due to problems with phonology (the sounds that make up words), weakness of visual word form (visual memory for words), or general weaknesses in working memory. Most often spelling disabilities are seen in association with dyslexia, but they can also be seen in the setting of focal brain injury, premature birth, or head trauma.

Isolated Spelling Disability from Brain Injury

Links to Help with Organization and Time Management

It's the new year and Chinese New Year, so time to think about becoming more organized. Here are an array of links for ideas on organization - including tips about homework, assistive devices, and time management. Don't forget to think about technology. Kids love technology, and may take to their PDA or computer-based reminder instead of a datebook planner. We included our software calendar / reminder below - it's Calendarscope. Easy to use, visual (color coded), fairly cheap, can get to your student if he's always on the computer.

The homework helps are also a great idea. Children who are not naturally organized, will need to be conditioned into a routine, and time reminders may be helpful. Many studies have shown that children with learning difficulties may have difficulty gauging the processing of time.

Assistive Technology for Students with Mild Disabilities
Calendar software
Hi-Tech and Low Tech Solutions: Time Management Basics for the Person with ADHD
Teaching Study Skills - TeachersAndFamilies
Organizational Skills
Learning Disabilities OnLine: LD In-Depth: 10 Tips for Developing Good Organizational Skills

Auditory Processing: Read My Lips!

This interesting little tidbit from a Finland-MIT collaboration - by functional brain imaging, scientists were able to show that auditory cortex (the hearing part of the brain) becomes activated when a subjects watches someone talking. So we really 'hear' what a person is saying when we watch their lips. A good tip for children with auditory processing difficulties. Children don't always know to sit up front and look at a teacher's lip movements, but it may help a great deal with comprehension.

Reading Lips Activates Auditory Cortex

Monday, February 07, 2005

Stimulating Higher Order Thinking - The Language of Metaphors and Gifted Thinking

"I have wanted in late years to go further and further in making metaphor the whole of thinking."-- Robert Frost

Too often the teaching of metaphors are brief mentions in language arts lessons, but metaphors and analogies are powerful sources of creativity and invention, and they should be looked for and cultivated children (and colleagues for that matter!). It's important to look hard for metaphorical precocity, because these children may appear to be dreamy or preoccupied. Strong metaphorical thinkers may enjoy playing with ideas and similarities, and they may not be particularly demonstrative in showing what they know.

We've included some resources for metaphorical lesson plans below, but metaphorical thinking is probably most successful when its not a special event, but a regular way of thinking and communicating. Lesson plans may be helpful in providing examples and introducing ideas, but novel or helpful metaphors may not be generated within the time frame of a class period.

Metaphor in Scientific Thinking Page
How the Heroic Inventors Did It
Georgia Lesson Plans Metaphorical Thinking
fMRI of Metaphors

Sensitivity to Detail or Whole? More Visual Processing and Attention Differences with Age

The title of this news article is a bit misleading, but the research results are still interesting. We are really just beginning to understand the differences that exist in the ways we see. This recent report in Neuron highlights the tension between sensitivity to visual detail and sensitivity to visual whole. Younger subjects were better at detecting the movement of small details, whereas seniors were better at detect larger movements. You can't have it both ways, it seems.

Some of the paradoxes that occur with visual distractible children is that they may notice more details but miss the forest for the trees. Visual processing will change with age, but it's important to realize that a particular strength in one area, may mean weakness in the other. Visual distractibility is not simply a negative - like a global lack of attention. It also accompanies a talent for 'seeing what others miss'. Perhaps this is why 'I Spy' or 'Where's Waldo' is so popular among the young?

Visual Sensitivity to Detail or Whole? Change with Age

Autism Cases Soar in CA -- Scientists Search for Cause

Autism Cases Soar in CA -- Scientists Search for Cause

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Understanding the Visual Difficulties in Dyslexia

If your dyslexic child seems to struggle with the visual aspects of reading, but the eye doctor said 'everything's fine' - the problem may be with brain-based aspects of seeing in dyslexia. Dyslexia can be associated with a wide range of visual difficulties including problems with stabilizing visual gaze, moving the eyes smoothly and in a coordination fashion, and visually registering letters or words.

Additional studies supporting the visual aspects of dyslexia continue to trickle out, but here in the U.S., much more attention is paid to the phonological aspects of dyslexia in the classroom. Children may have predominant phonological problems, predominant visual problems, or mixtures of the two. Understand what a particular child's difficulties are will help focus remediation and educational strategies.

There has been an explosion of research in the biological bases of dyslexia in the past few years. School are having to play catch up with the pace of research.

Dyslexia Research Trust - Science and Research
Dyslexia More than Phonological Disorder
Seeing Differently - Contrast Differences and Dyslexia

Tinnitus, Hyperacusis, and Hearing Loss in School Aged Kids

It's not your imagination, classrooms are filled with children with auditory processing problems - for some it's mishearing, others have exquisite auditory sensitivity and become overwhelmed with normal school noise. Although clinicians have known for a long time that hearing loss and hearing hypersensitivity can occur in the same patients, the biological processes involved are just beginning to be understood.

Children often don't mention that they suffer from tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and there are no ways to detect it by a simple clinical test. The first link below shows how tinnitus can be 'seen' on functional brain imaging studies. When certain frequencies are lost in the brain, the 'hearing brain' reorganizes to try and compensate for the loss. The only problem is, the hearing of some frequencies may become overly sensitive, while the losses of others still persist. Interestingly, some of the most beneficial therapies for tinnitus are directed at introducing sound at the appropriate frequencies to allow the brain to reduce its self-generated sounds.

There are many reasons why we may be seeing more hearing loss, tinnitus, and sound hypersensitivities in school-aged children. Predisposing factors are many, but may include premature or stressful birth, frequent ear infections, and or autism spectrum disorders.

The diagnosis of brain-based auditory processing disorders is still in its infancy, although the pace of research and advancement in the areas of auditory training are exciting.

Seeing Tinnitus on fMRI
Tinnitus, Hyperacusis, and Hearing Loss
Hyperacusis in Autism
Auditory Processing and Language Difficulties in Prematurely Born

Flash from the Past: Helen Keller and Different Ways of Sensing

Other senses become keener with deprivation, and for Helen Keller, touch, proprioceptive sense, and smell became essential modes of communicating with and sensing others. From Anne Sullivan's writings: "Her sense of touc has sensibly increased during the year, and has gained in acuteness and delicacy. Indeed her whole body is so finely organized that she seems to use it as a medium for bringing herself into closer relations with her fellow creatures. She is able not only to distinguish with great accuracy the different undulations of the air and the vibrations of the floor ade by various sounds and motions, and to recognize her friends and acquantiance the instance she touches their hands or clothing..."

When children are severely impaired in critical sensory modalities like sight or sound, it is important to remember that other senses can help a child compensate, and instruction needs to be driven through the intact pathways.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Analogies - Differences in Biology & Practical Teaching Tips

Analogies can be a powerful tool for teaching higher order thinking, and strong performance in analogies is thought by some to be the greatest predictor of creative and flexible thinking.

This first paper is a beautiful study by Wagner and his group at Stanford. It shows the different anatomical 'filing' away in the brain of words that are merely related and those that are true analogies - related by functional relationships or representations. It's the analogy that is foundational for higher order creative thinking. Understanding how one system could be related or differentiated (the analogy breaks down) from another leads to new theories, new models, and new paradigms.

Teaching with analogies can be a powerful approach for gifted thinkers. We've included two links to teachers' sites discussing the use of analogies in teaching. Please send us your favorite links or books too - we'd like to hear about them.

Anatomy of Analogies
Teaching with Analogies
Teachers views of analogies and models as motivators

More About the New SAT

The New SAT

Attentional Problems and Epilepsy

"Little seizures" should always be considered in children who have periods of 'spaciness' or 'blanking out'. Subclinical seizures may just cause a child to flutter eyelids, lose her train of thought, or repeat what he was saying. Sometimes brief or nighttime seizures cause attentional problems and restlessness that are misinterpreted as ADHD. Treatment of epilepsy results in improved attention and behavior.

Attentional problems and epilepsy in children
Incidence of Seizures in Children
Improved Behavior with Treatment of Epilepsy
ADHD and Epilepsy
Language Difficulties in Children with Benign Epilepsy

Friday, February 04, 2005

Listening to Action Sentences Activates Motor Circuits

Talk about exercising your mind! Hooked on adventure stories? Chances are you're living the action through your brain's motor imagery.

Listening to Action-related Sentences Activates Fronto-parietal Motor Circuits --

Elaborative Rehearsal and Memory

Finally, some news you can use. Elaborative rehearsal of information (reorganizing information in a meaningful way) is the best way to help you remember. "Just memorizing", or rote rehearsal helps things look 'familiar', but is not as good helping you remember.

For list material, elaborative rehearsal may mean calling up relevant associations, developing mneumonics, stories, adding images, or redrafting or outlining information as mentioned in the linked article from the ADHD lawyer posted yesterday. Now many students of psychology may not be surprised at this study's result, but how many K-12 students are aware of this valuable tidbit?

Different Strategies for Memory

Upcoming Book on ADHD and Creativity

What if Einstein Had Taken Ritalin? ADHD's Impact on Creativity

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Understanding Brain Remodeling-Based Education

We're back! Over the next few weeks, we'd like to talk about some of the main take-home points of developmental neurobiology, and what it means for education. Multiple Intelligences was important for introducing and popularizing the concept of different preferences for learning, and Mel Levine's approach of "A Mind At a Time" emphasizes the importance of learning differences in each child, but neither addresses the implications of brain plasticity or its tremendous reorganization potential in education, the importance of perceptual processing disorders in school underachievement, and the potential for targeted brain-based retraining to overcome specific learning blocks.

We're at a point where the lines between biology and education blur. We would like to hear some discussion from some of you about what education should include. These days it seems that a majority of the time in school is spent on fact mastery and the basic building blocks of reading, writing, and mathematics. Should a core system of neurocognitive skills be added to this list? Is it a responsibility of educators to help entrain skills of sustained attention, organization, or efficient memory? Or if not, whose job is it?

Advice from Adults with ADD

We like the resources at It's especially nice to hear from successful adults who learned time and task organizational strategies that helped them. We fear that our existing educational supports for children with attentional problems are spotty and haphazard. Because children with attention problems are thought to comprise almost 1 in 5 children, a more systematic approach to different learning environments, and teaching of self-focusing and organization strategies could have a powerful impact on student success.

ADDvice from a Certified ADHD Non-Expert

Mathematical Understanding: An Introduction

Here is a link to the National Academies Press' free online book, the Mathematics chapter. Mathematics is the perhaps one of the most commonly underrecognized learning disabilities.

Nat'l Academies Press, How Students Learn: (2005), page 218, in chapter Part II MATHEMATICS: 5 Mathematical Understanding: An Introduction

Friday, January 28, 2005

Blog Vacation Until Feb 3rd! Discussion About Brain Remodeling-Based Education When We Return

We hope you've been enjoying this blog. We're headed out of town and will be back Feb 3rd. When we return, we'd like to share our ideas about "Brain Remodeling-Based Education" and think about how it builds on, but is quite different from Howard Gardner's view of learning embodied in "Multiple Intelligences" and Mel Levine's approach using the model of "A Mind at a Time."

A little preview:

Education today needs to incorporate the view of brain ability and function as a highly dynamic and changeable system. Perceptual disorders in the primary senses - seeing, hearing, and touch, and preferences in memory systems profoundly affect learning efficiency and achievement in school. Thinking about the different ways we think and how much may be within our control, can fundamentally affect the best ways we should teach, how we approach disabilities and special education, and how we design education for the high ability learners.

Serotonin, Aggression, Apathy, and Empathy

The new black box warnings about SSRIs and children were directed toward depressed children and adolescents, and extra caution was raised about possible increased suicide risk. However, SSRIs are not prescribed for depressed children - in fact they are prescribed for a wide variety of behavioral disorders in children that include 'disruptive behavior disorder' ('explosive child') and severe anxiety disorder. The question is what effects could they be having on these children, and how well is the safety known?

The serotonin system is widely distributed throughout the brain and it appears to be involved in many processes important for behavior - including arousal, aggression, activation of the autonomic system, pain modulation, and pain modulation. The links provide additional background to the serotonin story. The illicit drug ecstasy is nicknamed the hug drug for the euphoric and empathetic outpourings that can come from its use. After the effect wears off, though, there appears to be a rebound and users are more aggressive or tend to perceive statements in a more aggressive fashion.

These studies again raise cautions about what we know and don't know about serotonin drugs in developing children. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter which is usually regulated in specific locations in precise ways in response to brain activation. Pharmacology is still very non-specific in its action at different sites and in its effects on neurotransmitter levels over time. SSRIs should not be thought of simply restoring something that a child lacks. SSRIs should not be considered lightly these drugs clearly affect much more than aggression or anxiety, and they may unwittingly affect 'good' serotonin-drive pathways (empathy, motivation)as well.

Serotonin, Aggression, Empathy

SSRIs and Apathy
The Empathy Drug
Not Seeing All the Data
The "file drawer" phenomenon: suppressing clinical evidence

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Autism, Movement, and Facial Processing

The finding that some autistic subjects have difficulty rapidly processing the emotional movements of the face, suggests that slow motion training can improve individual's facial processing. DVDs and videos can be advanced frame-by-frame to help children recognize emotional expressions and their context. The second link below is to Baron-Cohen's Software for facial emotion recognition at

Autism, Movement, and Facial Processing

Mind Reading Software

Writing Errors by Normal Subjects

This study is a good reminder to us that writing is rarely 'automatic'. When University students had to do other tasks at the same time (like making nonsense sounds or tapping) they made multiple errors like omissions, grammatical mistakes, repetitions, and substitutions. It was interesting too that there were different patterns of errors between the two conditions.

These interference effects may play some role in the dysgraphia of dyslexia. Some writing errors may occur because of students'increased demands of the phonological loop or the sensory-motor systems for writing by hand.

Writing is Not Automatic

The Positive Side of Video Games and Learning

The article below shares a very positive view of video gaming and learning, and to be true there are many positives. Our daughter just got Harvest Moon for her birthday, an RPG or role playing game whereby you live a virtual life, set up a farm, harvest your crops, sell your goods, find someone to marry, have children, and basically make for yourself a 'good life'. After a little bit of time, we looked in on her - and in the nick of time, we stepped in to prevent her from marrying a poor prospect("Everyone else seemed married, I thought well I just have to get married to someone anyway...")! We encouraged her to wait for the 'right one', told her to spend a little more time 'looking', then redirected her to invest more in resources for the farm and planting more crops before the season was over. She had spent way too much money on dating, and her fields were empty!

Many games do have excellent learning opportunities that encourage decision making, taking risks, flexibility, planning ahead and delay gratification, and a little human psychology to boot. Some limitation in computer use should be had for young children, but there certainly can be excellent benefits if parents carefully research programs and try the programs out themselves first.

In addition, there are wonderful for open source (free) video programming programs that even young children can begin to learn. We are just in the process of joining a school-sponsored homeschool resource center, and found that RPG Maker classes begin in the 3rd grade! (we wish Cybercamps and Digipen's summer program would take the hint).

Video game programming is a great hobby and outlet for children who are tech-happy, and creative. There is a lot to learn about what makes a good game, what makes interesting characters and stories, how problems can be troubleshooted, and the different options that occur in computer programming. Two free resources for do-it-yourself video game programming are Gamemaker (Gamemaker) and RPG Maker (RPG Maker). Games made from the programs can be downloaded from different sites, so children can learn from others how particular effects were achieved, or the over-all game was programmed.

Positive View of Video Games

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Understanding Visual Perception- Part I

Maybe you've seen it on a report from a neuropsychologist or school psychologist, or maybe you're just wondering what visual perceptual problems are because you've heard it might occur in dyslexia. Visual perceptual disorders are not uncommon in school age children, and they may present in a variety of ways that may include persistent letter or word reversals, tendency to get lost easily, impaired visual recognition of objects, visual distractibility, and poor drawing and copying.

Risk factors for visual perceptual disorders may include such conditions as dyslexia, premature birth, other birth stress or injury, and autism spectrum disorders or Aspergers.

So what is it? Visual perception is how the brain organizes the visual information coming from the eyes. The eye is not a simple camera. The brain organizes and priorities visual information, looks for shapes, edges, and meaning, makes decisions about what it sees, what to emphasize, and what to ignore. In visual perceptual disorders, the brain can make errors in the general shape, orientation, texture, color, organization, detail, movement, and identity.

Not surprisingly, these problems can make a child look 'spacey', disoriented, inattentive, bizarre (may have poor eye contact), and forgetful. These children may be forever losing things, develop clinging or anxious behaviors, and have perplexing difficulties while learning.

It is important to understand visual perceptual disorders, because research studies suggest that specific training can help overcome some practical difficulties. Also, educationally, the more specific the knowledge about a child's disability, the better choices can be made for optimal learning style and visual environment (lighting, crowding, color, visual presentation).

It was difficult choosing what reference might be most helpful for you blog readers. We've started with one of the easiest articles (simplified) first, then posted our pdf file of "The Different Ways We See", and lastly, a more technical article on visual perception. Visual perception is a complicated topic- and that's probably why it is often not explained to parents. Taking it step-by-step, though, we think you'll find that it helps you understand what a child is going through when she or he has trouble understanding his visual environment. In another post, we'll discuss promising strategies for rehabilitation.

The Different Ways We See
Visual Perception

Understanding Complex Visual Scenes

Studies like these are simple, but they provide strategies for helping children successfully negotiate their environment. Children with visual perceptual problems need training at finding relevant material in crowded situations. Visually busy areas with a lot of movement can be very overwhelming. An important goal is to help children find the salient, or most important features in a busy scene to help orientation. Decisions may be more difficult depending on a child's position in a location, visual angle of looking, the lighting, new materials (holiday decorations, flyers), distracting people or details, and other factors.

If there are recurrent crowded areas where a student becomes overwhelmed or lost, consider photographing it and verbally reviewing salient features to help with orientation. Once a child has mastered orientation in a picture, then bring them again to the busy location, and review the key visual features. Verbal mediation can compensate a great deal for visual figure ground difficulties - it's just hard to remember to check because most children won't tell you that visual overload or distraction is the problem.

Visual complexity of real world scenes

Hearing in Noise - Harder When Sounds are Moving

Because the ears also provide information about localization, hearing impairment is often accompanied by distortion in sound localization. This brief abstract found that hearing was much more difficult for a moving target (beware of walking lecturers!).

Hearing Moving Targets

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Showing Your Work in Mathematics? Should We Insist?

We were recently talking to Jean Goerss, M.D. about this (she's setting up a school for the highly gifted in Arizona and an author of that wonderful book Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children and Adults)and we thought we'd share our ideas on this issue.

Although the neurobiology of mathematical ability is still early in its development, it is clear that different brain pathways are activated depending on pathway that is undertaken. In brain imaging studies of problem solving, researchers have been able to show that solving problems by deduction (step-wise, conscious) occurs by a very different route than sudden insight (Aha!, unconscious).

That means that in many cases, it may be difficult for a person solving mathematical problems by insight to know exactly how he or she arrived at an answer. As a general rule, it would therefore be best not to insist on a stepwise solution. But that being said, at the highest levels of mathematics, many gifted problem-solvers are very aware of how they may shift between conscious and 'sub-conscious' solutions, and a better understanding how all this brain stuff works only improves problem-solving for the future.

A number of mathematicians and physicists have written about their thought processes, and often the insight or inductive approaches to problem solving require some free association, manipulation of vague images (auditory or visual), and distraction (music, sleep, etc).

For our gifted mathematicians able to solve problems by insight then, although it may not be the best idea to take a hard line about showing every step of a solution, it might be beneficial to discuss different strategies for solving problems, and to discuss how certain problems may be more readily solved by particular method (e.g. visual, symbolic, verbal, mathematical...). The best situation, it would seem, is to have an arsenal of possible approaches, and flexibility and competence at undertaking different strategies to solve a problem most easily.

A great fairly easy read for topics such as this is James L Adam's Conceptual Blockbusting (A Guide to Better Ideas). We really enjoyed it. He addresses the various blocks which can occur in seeking alternate solutions to different problems (e.g. perceptual, emotional cultural and environmental, intellectual and expressive), and the need to thinking in alternative thinking languages to have the greatest flexibility and strength as a problem solver.

Intact Visual Selective Attention in ADHD; Impaired Motor Inhibition

This study caught our eye. Unfortunately we can't post a link to the original article as it is too 'new'. Although the way attention deficit disorder is sometimes referred to as a general attention or executive function disorder, many clinicians and scientists have also commented briefly about "hyperfocus", often in the setting of computer activities.

This small study of 9-12 year old children found that selective visual attention was just fine. What children had difficulty with was inhibiting motor responses (button clicks) when visual distractors were flashed on screen.

We would like to see if some of this work could be replicated with larger groups of children diagnosed with ADHD. There have been some large scale studies comparing behavioral interventions with medical treatment, but surprisingly few studies examining the best learning strategies for children diagnosed with ADD or ADHD. Today most clinical treatment trials are funded primarily by pharmaceutical companies, and fewer financial resources are available for studying non-medical or educational approaches.

Intact Visual Selective Attention in ADD; Impaired Motor Inhibition

Monday, January 24, 2005

Autism- Beyond the Behavioral Checklist

Although researchers are making progress at identifying autistic behaviors at earlier ages, surprising little help is available to counsel a parent or teacher on their perceptual or language impairments, learning blocks, or preferred route of learning by the time the children have already entered school.

The behavioral checklist is not going to be able to distinguish children who have central or peripheral auditory impairment, eye movement or visual field abnormalities, brain-based visual perceptual deficits, receptive or expressive language problems, or selective attention or memory deficits.

Individual cognitive strengths and weaknesses need to be evaluated, and specific learning recommendations made based individual learning preferences and strengths, as well as disabilities. Because of the complex differences that exist between children who may share the diagnostic label of "autism", social skills teaching will be most effective if teaching styles are specifically matched to a child's learning profile. For instance, a child with impairment in sound processing might benefit from learning auditory cues of social interaction (prosody, pause, content), whereas such approach would be completely inappropriate for a child with visual perceptual problems who might learn better social interactions from studying computer slow motion visual analyses of faces or other visual therapy.

Daily Herald: Learning and Autism
Neurobiology of Autism
Cognitive Variability Among Autistic Children
Hearing Problems in Autism

Gifted Minority Students: Factors Affecting Achievement and Underachievement

Because of what appears to be fairly dramatic underrepresentation of gifted minority students in gifted programs, those who have been identified have passed through difficult 'cuts'. The road may still be difficult though, and parents and teachers should be aware of the importance of strong parent involvement, good student-teacher relationships, sensitivity to learning style differences, and an outlook characterized by optimism and realistic high expectations.

Achievement and Underachievement Among Gifted Minority Students: Problems and Promises

How Do We Do It? More Brain Imaging of Math (Algebra)

Visual, Spatial, and Language areas are activated when solving algebra equations.

Functional Brain Imaging in Algebra

Sunday, January 23, 2005

The Different Worlds of Words and Pictures

These low tech tasks remind us a little of the old playground challenge of trying to pat your head with one hand and rub your tummy with the other...but they underscore the existence of separate verbal and visual processing modes, and differential effects of interfering outside tasks.

This kind of research work doesn't seem very high tech, but it does have practical implications for student activites involving multi-tasking, and recommendations for the learning plans of children with auditory verbal or visual weakness.

In the linked abstract below, articulatory suppression refers to a 'blocking' of 'silent speech' by repetitive nonsense speech. If you say pa-pa-pa-pa-pa then it won't interfere with your ability to visually match two pictures or match a verbal description and a picture. But interestingly, a spatial tapping task at the same time could interfere with picture-picture matching and sentence-picture matching if the subjects noted that they tended to imagine a visual picture from the sentence.

In the classroom, some strongly visual learners struggle with balancing the spatial demands of handwriting and note-taking while listening to lectures that evoke strong images. For pure auditory verbal learners (what you hear is what you get), this isn't a problem.

Don't think that auditory learners get off too easily, though. Children or adults who are driving their subvocalization or "saying-to-yourself" pathways overly hard (may happen as a compensation for weak verbal or visual memory), may find themselves can be swamped by too many words or too fast-talking teachers. Because subvocalization during note-taking requires registering what a teacher said, and than saying again to yourself to remember, it means that there is a delay. If during this delay, more incoming auditory information comes in, then it jams the circuits.

Verbal and Visual Learning- Perils of Multi-Tasking

Note-taking Strategies, Teachers Notes, and Disability

Here's a very nice link providing examples of different note-taking strategies. Failure at note-taking may be the final common pathway for many disabilities - dysgraphia or writing disability of course, but also students with auditory processing disorders, visual processing disorders (students with visual memory problems may need to subvocalize to remember- so they get into the "I'm swamped" situation described in today's other article), and those with sustained attention or working memory limitation problems.

All that being said, in the school system we have often found it to be very difficult to allow students to have a syllabus or 'Teachers Notes'. A syllabus is available in most college courses, so what's the problem at the middle or high school level? We hope this will change. Some thoughtful teachers make their notes or syllabi available to all the students - with the idea that they may make additional notes while listening. One high school near to us has even set as a goal to place all upcoming assignments and classroom requirements on Teacher Web pages.

When one stops to think about all the processes required for listening, looking, and taking notes, it's easy to understand how many students can be left behind. Many students can make excellent progress experimenting with note-taking strategies, using visualization methods like Lindamood Bell's Visualizing and Verbalizing, or practicing abstracting or distilling down verbally what was heard. However, some may never be able to do this, although intellectually they may be able to learn all the same information of their classmates. For these students, strict accommodations need to be in place, and a regular system needs to be in place that does not place an undue social burden on the disabled student (e.g. having to ask another student for notes every day).

Notetaking Strategies

Math Wars

Given all the new research showing different pathways for mathematical processing such as exact calculation vs. approximation, we support a balanced curriculum of math teaching that includes precise calculation and conventional math subjects like geometry and algebra as well as real-life applications.

Math Wars

The Math Wars -- Objectivist Center

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Dyslexia and The Visual Word Form Brain Area- Implications for Reading, Spelling, and Foreign Language

The first link is a technical, but interesting review of the findings that led up to the discovery that the brain has a specialized clusters of neurons that recognize strings of letters that make up 'words'. Dyslexic individuals who have problems with 'visual word form' may have difficulty spelling and sometimes recognizing non-phonetic words (for instance 'their').

Visual word form weakness can look perplexing to others because these individuals are often very bright, but seem to labor at recognizing or even seeing whole words at once...preferring instead to identify words 'letter-by-letter'.

Interestingly, strategies for overcoming visual word form weakness usually succeed if they build on the strengths in other pathways - for instance auditory memory, or other visual memory systems that may involve color or picture recognition. Blocks in visual word form memory do exist, but they can be overcome with a skillful redirection of learning to emphasize alternative memory systems in the brain.

The second article discusses the particular difficulties of English and French for dyslexics. Some dyslexic students may foreign language waiver because of the severity of their language processing difficulties. If some foreign language must be chosen, then Spanish or Italian (both more predictable re: spelling and phonetics)or ASL might be the best choices.

Dehaene review on Visual Word Form

Dyslexia harder on English- and French-speaking Children

Look At Me! Visual Overload with Eye Contact in Young Children

When we prompt young children to "look at your teacher", "look at me when your talking", etc etc, it's helpful for us to remember this study which found that having to look at faces put extra demands on both auditory and visual memory tasks. Children have poor eye contact for many different reasons - including working memory overload and eye or brain-related visual problems.

When most elementary school children are asked what they think we mean when we ask them to pay attention, most say they think they should be looking at the teacher. It's ironic to think that sometimes looking at the teacher will mean a child will be able to remember less!

Visual Overload

Different Male and Female Intelligence? More from fMRI

UCI researchers find that men and women differ in the areas activated with intellectual skill. Men have more gray (neuron cell bodies), whereas women have more white (neuronal processes). Hmmmm.... Neuropsychologist Rex Jung suggests that may be why men excel more at local processing (logic, convergent thinking), where as women excel at divergent, association, and integrative activities - like language.

For those of you more familiar with the Myers Brigg Type Indicator, it called to mind the finding that 65% of men were predominant 'Thinker' (logic, deduction, impersonal meaning) types, whereas 65% of women were predominant 'Feeling' (values, personal meaning) types.

For school, an obvious question is whether strong differences also exist in childhood or adolescence. Women teachers tend to dominate K-12 classrooms - might this disadvantage boys for some types of learning?

Intelligence In Men And Women Is A Gray And White Matter

Friday, January 21, 2005

Different Pathways for Processing Math- Implications for Teaching Strategies

Dehaene and his group have published wonderful work on the neurobiology of mathematics. The research suggests that the brain is organized into distinct areas that consider numbers and number relationships, distinct from their verbal representations.

The paper below is a fascinating read, although technical. Based on varieties of evidence, unusual strokes in patients, epidemiological studies in students with math disabilities, and functional brain imaging, separate systems appear to exist different ways of performing basic math operations. This means that in the setting of disability or injury, difficulty in one area, may not necessarily mean difficulty in another.

For any teacher confronting the math struggles of a student, it would important to know that the activities of mental math, number comparison, estimation, and subtraction tend to cluster together, whereas exact calculation, rote memory of facts (stored in verbal memory), and multiplication form another cluster. It means that for a given student, it would be valuable to test which is the stronger route for processing, and then adjust the learning to that knowledge. So, some groups might take more readily to Mental Math, while Rote-Verbal-Story-Based apparoaches might form a different group.

Links for Math Strategies, Information about Dyscalculia

The last link is to the National Academy's online book - it's a bit tedious to turn pages online and wordy, but there are some pearls.

Learning Disabilities OnLine: LD In-Depth: Math Learning Disabilities
Math Strategies
National Academy's free online book How Students Learn- Mathematics

The Seattle Times: Education: What makes a good essay for SAT? That's hard to say

With some of the bad weather across the country, some students will be caught up in the transition to the new SAT with its writing section. The good news is that it looks like the logic of ideas will be valued about conventions, but students with a strong visual style or time issues may still have difficulty. It's a little concerning how fast the assessors have to read and quickly decide on the scoring of an essay...

The Seattle Times: Education: What makes a good essay for SAT? That's hard to say