Thursday, March 10, 2005

Critical Thinking - Inductive and Deductive Reasoning

Inductive and deductive learning are like two sides of a coin. Reasoning by deduction involves rule-based learning, where a rule directs the logic of different conclusions. Reasoning by induction, on the other hand, involves recognizing different patterns from different facts, and then synthesizing a plausible rule. Deduction is very important when you have all the rules in hand, but inductive reasoning may be a stronger tool when the rules are incomplete, a completely different approach is desired, or existing information is misleading or contradictory. Not surprisingly, inductive reasoning is important for virtually all types of creative work, including engineering, science, and the humanities.

Ideally, we would like to train both forms of reasoning in students, but by their nature, deductive thinking is much easier to demonstrate, at least in a lecture format. In the latest paper comparing the views of deductive and inductive reasoning, it looks like inductive approaches require more brain power - maybe because one has to consider several patterns or rules in mind before reaching a conclusion. There are areas of overlap between deduction and induction, but areas of difference as well.

In this study, look at the various parts of the brain that become activated when 2 different patterns are considered at once. The areas that are activated are not at the very front or the very back (frontal or visual brain areas) - rather they are at the borderzones between these regions- presumably so information can mingle.



Now, we would think that computer-based programs could be a powerful route for teaching or training inductive learning. Unlike the lecture format, interactive computer-based programs could have a number of advantages over traditional lecturing or open 'learning lab'.

Computer-based educational programs could:

- strike a balance between copying from the board and discovery-based learning (after all, true discovery is really slow)
- show different outcomes of alternate lines of reasoning
- hint a lot without telling
- challenge students individually to recognize patterns and make predictions(less hiding in a group or clapping for credit)

Inductive and Deductive fMRI Study
Ravens fMRI
Inductive Reasoning Lessons
Inductive Language Arts
Inductive Math

Flashes from the Past: "He was a jokester in the lab..."



He was a jokester in the lab, doodling paintings with different molds on filter paper. He was also known for his love of all sorts of games and sports, with his peculiar changes in rules like playing a round of golf with only one club or using his club like a pool cue. He teased a colleague for being excessively tidy, and confessed he played with microbes. Who was this? This was Sir Alexander Fleming, the Nobel Prize winner who discovered penicillin. To read more about this colorful side of Alexander Fleming, check out Sparks of Genius by the Root-Bernsteins.

Fleming and Germ Pictures
Sir Alexander Fleming

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Designing Schools for the Present Age: Thoughts on a Recent Editorial by Bill Gates

In a recent editorial (speech), Microsoft founder Bill Gates demonstrated compellingly that our schools are failing both our children and our nation. These schools are "obsolete", because "they were designed 50 years ago to meet the needs of another age" in which "you could train an adequate work force by sending only a small fraction of students to college...." By contrast, "Today, most jobs that pay enough to support a family require some post-secondary education." As a result, "We have to do away with the outdated idea that only some students need to be ready for college...." However, our schools, as currently designed, are not capable of rising to this challenge, because "even when they work exactly as designed [they] cannot teach our kids what they need to know."

We could not agree more. We commend Mr. Gates' for his efforts on behalf of our nation's students, and for his willingness to think "outside the box" in addressing their needs. We also believe that to achieve the kinds of educational results Mr. Gates desires, our society must collectively think outside several boxes in addition to the one he has so ably described. Based on our experience as physicians specializing in helping children with learning problems, we would like to offer several observations on what children in the present age "need to know", and what current brain science suggests about the best ways to help them acquire this knowledge.

Schools Must Prepare Very Different Children For Very Different Lives

We agree with Mr. Gates that our schools should prepare most children to attend college, so they can obtain the advanced skills they need to compete in the modern workplace. However, this does not imply that all students must be prepared for precisely the same thing. When students reach college, they will not all pursue the same course of studies, nor will they all train for the same careers. Despite out-of-major requirements, each student will eventually focus on a single discipline such as engineering, mathematics, physics, art, literature, accounting, management, music, education, history, law, biology, chemistry, sociology, medicine, etc. These courses differ markedly because they are preparing students for remarkably different careers. Even within a given major, different students often have considerable freedom to choose advanced classes in areas of special expertise and interest, with particular class formats and professors that appeal to them. How do they decide which classes and courses of study to pursue? Largely on the basis of personal interests and an assessment of their individual strengths.

The broad diversity of collegiate education provides a fitting preparation for the diversity of the workplace. Mr. Gates own company, Microsoft, is a fitting example of the contemporary workplace in that it employs individuals with enormously varied skills and talents: software engineers who write code for word processing and email programs, visual artists who make designs for Xbox, specialists in sales, marketing, publicity, customer services, management, personnel, human relations, building design and maintenance, corporate governance, and on and on. Obviously, building a company with top-notch workers in each of these positions is not simply a matter of hiring generically well-educated persons then plugging them into randomly selected positions. Individuals are carefully chosen for each position based on their training and aptitude, in accordance with what each position requires. Some persons who are remarkably well suited for one position would flounder in others. Yet these differences between workers didn't just into existence when they showed up to fill out job applications, or even when they began to pursue differentiated curricula in college. The aptitudes and abilities that made them well-suited for their present adult work were present to a remarkable extent early in life, and were caused by variations in individual learning styles and favored routes of information processing and uptake.

Despite the crucial nature of these individual differences to success in college and in the workforce--and an overwhelming abundance of evidence that children differ dramatically in the ways they are best able to learn and express information--our present K-12 educational system fails almost entirely to take such differences into account. Our present system is overwhelmingly built around auditory-verbal (lecture-based) instruction and handwritten verbal communication. Yet this approach is optimal for only a minority of students. For most it is sub-optimal, and for those with primarily visual, spatial, or hand-on learning styles, and oral or visual communication preferences, it can be a disaster. In many instances, children that are actually quite brilliant can suffer chronic academic underachievement and even failure because they learn and think in ways that are not well served by their educational environment. Often these thinking and learning styles are not "impairments" or "abnormalities" in an absolute sense, but inherited learning differences that for some tasks can have tremendous benefit. Our own clinical experience is illustrative.

Because our clinic is located in Seattle we see many of the children of Mr. Gates' employees. Often the supposed "learning problems" that make them poorly suited for the overwhelmingly verbal learning environments in their schools are manifestations of precisely the same visual and spatial reasoning styles that have made their parents so successful and creative in their professional lives. Such problems are entirely unnecessary.

The Schools We Need: Teaching Each Child The Way That Child Learns Best

If our primary and secondary schools are to prepare children so they can excel in college and in the workforce, they must be restructured to reflect the same diversity of thinking and learning styles that are reflected both in the diversity of the workplace and in the college curriculum. While it is important to maintain minimum standards for communication, critical thinking, and problem solving, we must also recognize that students can perform these functions in very different ways. Our educational system must be flexible enough so that each student can pursue excellence in communication, critical thinking, and problem solving in ways that take advantage of individual strengths. More is at stake in this than simply workplace need: social justice is at issue as well. Research has consistently shown that there are variations in thinking and learning styles among different races and cultural populations, and that consistent failure to match learning preferences with appropriate teaching styles leads to predictable losses in learning achievement.

We are not advocating a system of tracking where students are shunted into strictly diverging educational pathways. Such programs close as many options as they open. Instead, we are advocating a more flexible approach to K-12 education that would allow students to pursue the core curriculum through a variety of routes that better fit and nurture their individual learning approaches. Such a curriculum would provide flexibility in both pace and approach, and would allow children to pursue their education through curricula that emphasize and expand their strengths, while helping them improve in areas of weakness. Rather than creating tracks that prevent some children from achieving basic competency in math, language, critical thinking, or problem solving, such a program would allow different students to achieve competency in these areas using learning approaches that are best suited to their individual styles of thinking and learning.

Some students, for example, are much better at processing verbal information through reading than through listening. For others the opposite is true. Some children find that they can listen better when they take notes. Others find it impossible to take notes and listen at the same time. Some students prefer visual or hands-on presentations of information to purely language-based instruction. Other students benefit little from visual or spatial sources of information. Similar differences are seen with math, where some students solve math problems using primarily verbal approaches, others with visual approaches, and others using spatial approaches. While all students need to achieve basic competency in these subjects, there is no reason to believe that all children will find their needs optimally or even adequately met using a single educational approach. This is true not only at the middle and high school levels, where differentiated curricula are used to some extent, but from the earliest days of school.

Many common educational practices and assumptions need to be reexamined if our schools are to better prepare students for college and an increasingly competitive workforce. Three seem especially ripe for reevaluation:

· The notion that all students should master a core body of information at the same rates and in the same ways, using identical educational materials and informational pathways. Basic skills can be acquired in many ways, and each child's instruction should be tailored to his or her optimal learning style.

· The notion that students are best educated in age-based cohorts. The rates at which children develop vary as greatly as their learning styles, and clustering by age makes no more sense than clustering by height or weight. The whole notion of grade-levels is equally questionable. There is no reason to assume that each year every child should make identical progress in all subject areas, nor is there any justification to prevent a child from making progress in one subject (e.g., math) because he is having difficulty in another (e.g., reading). Flexible, modular instruction could eliminate this problem.

· The notion that lecture-based classroom instruction should be the primary--even a major--route of learning for all students is unsupported by data on children's learning styles. For enormous numbers of children lecture time is not only a waste but a strong provoker of misbehavior and dissatisfaction of school.

K-12 education must be updated to take into account the variations in thinking and learning styles that are reflected in the diversity of the workplace and the post-secondary educational environment. It must incorporate the kind of flexibility of emphasis and approach that is found in college, so that students can pursue knowledge in ways that are best suited to their individual thinking and learning styles. To make these changes, we must leave behind the arrangements of an earlier era that employ antiquated technologies and ideas to meet obsolete goals. As Mr. Gates has clearly demonstrated, the needs of our students and the requirements of the workforce have changed greatly. It is now time to use our modern technological resources and more precise knowledge of the ways children think and learn to create a flexible, individualized, and rigorous education that will meet the needs of our students and our society both now and in the years to come.

Memory Training with Imagery and Context

Very interesting. Look to see more interest from scientific groups re: studying learning strategies and cognitive therapy. For a variety of reasons (e.g. scientific research groups get funding for basic science and drug study, not education, students are in school to be educated, not tested on experimental curricula etc.), there are surprisingly few scientific studies into the relative benefits of educational strategies.

Dyslexia is paving the way for some of this, but found this recent interesting result from Multiple Sclerosis researchers.

In this paper (sorry, we can link only to abstract at present), investigators used fairly simple training in imagery and context to see if the general practice could result in better word list memory. Voila! It does.

The training was pretty simple - 2 sessions a week for 4 weeks (45 min each). The first sessions were use to train imagery (read high-image stories, use images to recall story). Second part dealt with contextual recall- recall story details with contextual cues (words preceding relevant word in story) and category hints about words. The third part involved therapist hints about connections between words to encourage visualization of scenes. Finally, patients were given a list of words and encouraged to link them together to visualize a scene. When patients with this strategy were tested 5 weeks later, they continued to show benefits in their memory.

In many ways, MS patients with memory deficits may be similar to kids with memory deficits who have suffered mild or diffuse brain injury. The results may also be helpful to adult with diffuse conditions like diabetes, lacunar strokes, or age-related memory decline.

Memory Training in MS

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Obsessions and the Will - Frontal-Striatal Circuits

The biology of overactive frontal-striatal circuits is at the center of many behavioral disorders - including, but not limited to: obsessive compulsive disorder, Autism and Aspergers, ADD and ADHD, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, and Tourettes. These pathways seem to be important both for the perceptual processing (what do you attend to) and behavior (what you actually do).

In these subjects with OCD, frontal-striatal circuits are overactive even when correctly rejecting a signal (the Go vs No-Go task)- a visual correlate to the feeling "something's just not right", and then the vicious cycle of obsession. Interestingly, cognitive therapy involving OCD patients being allowed to view their own fMRI scans appear to work when patients could 'see' that their brains were feeding them false signals. For more reading on this check out the book The Mind and the Brain



Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and fMRI
Cognitive Control

The Biology of Emotional Control

Emotional dysregulation may be the most troubling behavior presenting with school problems. Is it possible we're seeing much more of it in school aged children? - the answer is definitely yes. The causes are multifactorial - mild birth injury, prematurity, autism spectrum disorders, psychiatric or psychological disorders (explosive or 'bipolar' child) and others, and schools have had to adjust by adding behavioral specialists and adjusting classroom environments at school.

Having a visual fMRI paradigm like this to assess and quantitate emotional regulation will be important for designing more specific interventions in the future.

Emotional Regulation

Visual Processing Problems in 'Clumsy' Children

We hope this will be the decade that finally recognizes perceptual processing disorders in children. Perceptual processes underlie dyslexia (auditory and visual processing), auditory processing disorders (a major ADD Look-Alike), and now 'clumsy child'. In this Norwegian study, researchers discovered that 'clumsy' 8 year old children were not clumsy due to motor coordination problems, but due to undiagnosed visual closure difficulties. These are the kids who seem 'spacey' (visually disoriented) and disorganized, bump into things and trip.

The truth is, visual perceptual disorders are rarely specifically diagnosed in children. Why? Because it's just thought to be something they were 'born with'. Partial injury to the long visual pathway fibers that reach back to the back of the brain is usually what's responsible for these impairments. The kids at risk are those with some birth injury (though may be mild), prematurity, and maternal infection. Many children seem to misdiagnosed as 'mild autism' or Aspergers because of their poor eye contact and impaired social skills. It's hard to be social if you can't see properly and a little off-kilter.

Treatment for visual closure may involve a therapist and cognitive training to recognize salient visual features (for instance, edges, shape, color) to improve visual orientation and identification.

Visual Perceptual Problems in 'Clumsy' Children

Monday, March 07, 2005

Novelty Learners and Independent Thinking

"It's the thing that doesn't fit that's the most interesting..." - Richard Feynman

Novelty is not just fad or a learning knick knack. Novelty is the thing that doesn't fit, and if we are active learners, novelty is new information that can make us think about information in a different way so that we form new associations about what we know. Novelty-seeking in school children is usually seen as a negative ADD-type quality, but it may just reflect more autonomous and intrinsically-motivated learners. These are children (or adults) who may prefer to decide knowledge and patterns for themselves.

The brain areas associated with novelty-learning (or super learning as its described in the paper) are similar to the ones seen with learning by insight (Aha!).

Novelty Paper

Anxiety High Over New SAT

It's here- This Saturday, college bound kids will take the new SAT, with new sections on writing and math.
FOXNews.com Anxiety High Over New SAT

More Sensory Integration- Seeing Affects How You Feel

The links between seeing and sensory threshold may have implications for many children with visual processing problems like severe amblyopia, convergence insufficiency, or visual perceptual disorders (e.g. nonverbal learning disabilities). How many times does it seem that these children bump into things, don't know how they hurt themselves, or "have a high pain threshold". Because these children cannot properly see even their own bodies, they don't feel as much, and therefore may be at greater risk for really hurting themselves (activate fewer protective reflexes).

Seeing Affects Touch Threshold

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Extroverts More Ready to Perform

Extroverts were clearly better mobilizing more brain resources for the memory tasks in this report by Gray and colleagues at Kings College. This kind of makes introverts look bad, but maybe it depends how you look at it. Maybe it is just harder to get some of the introverts 'into' the task?

Introversion-Extroversion differences can be source of big personality clashes for some gifted kids in school. Supposedly 77% of the general population is extroverted, whereas 67% of high IQ students are introverted. Maybe introverts are more reluctant to 'perform'?

Also there might be a difference depending on whether the task was intrinsically- motivated or extrinsically-motivated (prior motivation post)? All the same, it is interesting. Maybe the picture also gives us insight into what happens to well-compensated introverts when they need to 'switch on' in performance mode (classroom discussion, networking, lecture circuit) as the needs require.

For those who want to brood more on introversion-extroversion differences, we've listed more links below.
Personality and Cognitive Demand
Piirto MBTI
Introversion: The gifted
Brains on Fire for Parents pdf file

The Talents of Dyslexia

This is such a wonderful paper, we have to include it in our blog. It's amazing that the very first case of dyslexia in 1896 had the headmaster's note that the boy "would be the smartest lad in the school if the instruction were entirely oral". How often this is true today. Eventually many bright dyslexics learn to read fairly fluently by silent speed reading. Their dyslexia might only be betrayed by the writing disability.
Talents of Dyslexia by Thomas West

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Visual, Sensory-Motor, & Mathematical Spatial Learning

Spatial learning is one of the most neglected 'intelligences' in the conventional classroom. Although recreational video and other spatial gaming can exercise the 'Spatial Mind', rarely will a child actually receive instruction in spatial learning. And yet spatial skill is essential for many technological and scientific disciplines like computer modelling, chemistry, physics, engineering, or mathematics.

Brain research has come a long way from the first brain images of people 'mentally rotating blocks'. The view below was published in 1996. It shows the pattern of brain activity when subjects mentally rotate the blocks (not just flip) from side to side.



Our understanding of spatial learning is still in its infancy, but some interesting links to read below are references to folks like Erik Demaine (homeschooled by math dad who worked at craft fairs, MIT's youngest professor- now the 'Origami Professor', combinatorial game theory, etc) and an abstract (sorry, no free access yet) of a brain study showing different brain pathways for mental rotation depending on whether visual strategies (imagining floating) or sensory-motor strategies (imagine turning by hand) were used.

Ideally, spatial problem solving should be cultivated by training in visual, sensory-motor, and mathematical spatial learning approaches. In the ideal world, having all 3 in your problem solving arsenal would provide you greater flexibility in your approach to spatial problems.
Demaine 'Origami Professor' at MIT
Erik Demaine's Videos
Erik Demaine
Different Strategies for Mental Rotation
UCLA Mental Rotation 1996

Suspension of Adderall Sales in Canada - FDA Response

Because of 20 international reports of sudden death in patients (children and adults), Canada has decided to suspend all sales of Adderall XR. Today the FDA announced they "do not feel that any immediate changes are warranted in the FDA labeling or approved use of this drug based upon its preliminary understanding of Health Canada's analyses of adverse event reports and FDA's own knowledge and assessment of the reports received by the agency."

FDA recommends not using stimulant medication in children with known structural heart problems, but families should also be aware that Adderall is often prescribed without any specific guidelines for ruling out heart problems.

Suspension of Adderall RX Sales in Canada

Friday, March 04, 2005

Gift in the Disability - Rembrandt, Babe Ruth, & Lazy Eye

With lazy eye, hyperacuity develops in the good eye - and perhaps this helps with hitting the ball and artistic vision? Check out Professor Livingstone's theories about lazy eye and the geniuses of Rembrandt and Babe Ruth. Like other situations of deprivation, the brain revs up to compensate for the loss and develops supersensitivity for what's intact (lazy eye...lazy brain).

See how much more visual cortex is activated by the 'good' eye?
p.s. Here's an added a detail from Rembrandt's Self Portrait
Stereoblindness - the Gift in the Disability
Comparison between anisometropic and strabismic amblyopia in fmri
WebMuseum: Rembrandt: Self-Portraits

Motivation and Underachievement - Lessons from Harvard B School?

"If only he were motivated...
"She's just given up....

These can be the watchwords of dreaded middle or high school angst. Often the 'victims' are very talented and creative young people, and worried parents and teachers agonize how to reach them.

Is there anything we can learn from a Harvard Business School Professor? Teresa Amabile's teaching about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are important here. It just seems like common sense, but for gifted and creative young people, intrinsic motivating factors are much more powerful than extrinsic rewards. To answer the questions for a particular young person, we have to give them a supportive environment, opportunities for reflection and the development of a personal vision.

Even younger gifted children are often extremely sensitive and idealistic. Behavior modification, the collection of classroom 'tokens' are not going to be the answer. Children should be invited into the problem-solving experience.

The links below are articles written for business managers of creative groups, but there's plenty of good advice for families and teachers too. For these kids we need to ask - have we created the right environment for them to succeed?
Time Pressure and Creativity: Why Time is Not on Your Side
Motivation in Software Communities
Extrinsic rewards and intrinsic motivation

Visual-Verbal Teaching - It's Not What You Think

This is a funny little article. University of Chicago researchers found teachers were most effective at teaching math if they presented their language in a bit of a jumble. They verbally taught one way, but gestured to explain the visual processes at the same time. This mish-mosh was dramatically more effective in helping kids learn than if the teacher tried to explain both methods verbally. With that approach, the kids were overwhelmed.

We think this is because the dominant visual learning kids are just watching (they're not listening), and the dominant auditory kids are just listening (and not watching). This harkens back to that finding that 9-10 year olds can't take in more than 13-word sentences at one time (Everybody's Talking..).

Studies like these are cautionary to teachers - "Beware of TMI" or Too Much Information.

Teaching Math Two Ways Best for Learning

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Brain of the Blogger

During the past five years, blogging has exploded from virtual non-existence into an important and influential sociocultural force. Recent survey data indicate that there are now nearly 10 million bloggers, 90% of whom are between the ages of 13 and 29 years old. This incredible upsurge in activity has caused us to wonder: What effect is all this blogging having on the brains of bloggers?

Why ask this question? The primary reason can be found in one of the central tenets of modern neuroscience: "The neurons that fire together, wire together." What this basically means is that our mental activities actually cause changes in the structures of our brains--not only what we think, but how we think as well. Given such activity-directed change, it always makes sense to ask whenever large numbers of people start using their brains in new and different ways, what effects these new activities are likely to have on brain structure and function. Blogging, which only seems to be accelerating in popularity, is a prime candidate for such investigation. After surveying the general range of materials that the blogosphere has to offer, we believe the following basic largely supportive conclusions are warranted:

1. Blogs can promote critical and analytical thinking.

First, there are blogs and there are...well, blogs. The best of blogs are rich in ideas and promote active exchange and critique. Rather than creating closed communities of like-minded troglodytes, these best blogs foster conversation, interactions with other blogs and other information sources, and invite feedback from their readers. Posts can form "threads" or links to other Web materials where readers can examine primary source material or articles that offer competing ideas and views. Blogs that follow this format are far from simple substitutes for television or video games. In fact, they are an ideal format for promoting critical and analytical thinking.

Because blogs are text-based, bloggers must write and visitors must read (rather than passively view) the postings. In research comparing newspaper and television news, public policy experts have previously found that consumers are far more likely to question what they read than what they see in pictures or on TV. There are several likely reasons for this: First, text can be assimilated in a self-paced fashion, allowing time for analysis and reflection. Second, words must--by their very nature--be analyzed, organized, and interpreted before they can be understood, providing more time for critical reflection. In contrast, pictures and music have more direct access to brain areas dealing with emotion and motivation, thereby potentially avoiding or even subverting reason and reflection. Third, pictures and music not only have the potential to alter our interpretations of the words we hear, but can actually alter our perceptions of the words we believe we have heard. Because our perceptions are formed by combining our sensory input with contextual cues from other inputs or stored memories, strongly arousing visual or sound images have a profound ability to alter the words we hear. This is the reason behind Reagan aide Michael Deaver's famous statement to CBS's Lesley Stahl that he didn't mind what CBS said about Reagan on TV, so long as any voiceovers were accompanied by pictures of the President standing in front of a flag. Blogs, with their text-based format, tend to avoid the more manipulative aspects of visually-embedded media.

2. Blogging can be a powerful promoter of creative, intuitive, and associational thinking.

To remain popular with readers, blogs must be updated frequently. This constant demand for output promotes a kind of spontaneity and 'raw thinking'--the fleeting associations and the occasional outlandish ideas--seldom found in more formal media. (Fortunately, the permanence and easily searchable nature of archived posts helps maintain some sense of decorum.) Blogging technology itself fosters this kind of spontaneity, since blogging updates can be posted with just a few clicks whenever a new thought or interesting Internet tidbit is found. Blogging is ideally suited to follow the plan for promoting creativity advocated by pioneering molecular biologist Max Delbruck. Delbruck's "Principle of Limited Sloppiness" states we should be sloppy enough so that unexpected things can happen, but not so sloppy that we can't find out that it did. Raw, spontaneous, associational thinking has also been advocated by many creativity experts, including the brilliant mathematician Henri Poincare who recommended writing without much thought at times "to awaken some association of ideas."

3. Blogs promote analogical thinking.

Recent international surveys have shown that students in the United States have fallen far behind most of their first world peers in problem solving and critical thinking. This fall has coincided with a shameful decline in school-based instruction in critical analysis, rhetoric, and persuasive writing. However because professionals like attorneys, philosophers, and academicians run many excellent blogs, we all can benefit from their intellectual rigor, and their use of analogical thinking when communicating to the common world of the blogosphere. Back-and-forth blog-based exchanges between experts also provide a unique opportunity for young thinkers to witness and evaluate arguments from analogy on an ongoing basis, and to develop their own abilities to think analogically.

4. Blogging is a powerful medium for increasing access and exposure to quality information.

Because blogs link many facts and arguments in branching "threads" and webs, and append primary source materials and reference works, they foster deeper understanding and exposure to quality information. In turn these sources can seed other creative projects.

5. Blogging combines the best of solitary reflection and social interaction.

Research using the Lemelson-MIT Invention index found that invention is best fostered in solitude (66%); yet other research has shown the beneficial effects of brainstorming with a community of intellectual peers. So blogging may combine the best of "working by yourself" and "working with other people." Bloggers have solitary time to plan their posts, but they can also receive rapid feedback on their ideas. The responses may open up entirely new avenues of thought as posts circulate and garner comments.

In conclusion, it looks as if blogging will be very good for our brains. It holds enormous potential in education, and it could take societal communication and creative exchange onto a whole new level.

More Beyond the ADD Checklist: Attention is More than Frontal

With better views into the brain's attentional mechanisms, the limitations of the ADD / ADHD checklist are harder to ignore. Spatial attention, auditory attention, visual attention, and motor attention all have different localizations and patterns of functioning. How well can anybody know what's going on if they don't examine the child? A common profile is impaired auditory attention, but strong visual attention (sometimes referred to as 'hyperfocus'). Shouldn't remediation or educational strategies be tried first?


More clinical and educational professionals need to catch onto this.

Visual Attention
Auditory Attention
Hypofrontality in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity

SchwabLearning.org - High School Students with LD or AD/HD: Considering College

Very nice collection of articles.SchwabLearning.org - High School Students with LD or AD/HD: Considering College

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Brain of the Blogger

During the past five years, blogging has exploded from virtual non-existence into an important and influential sociocultural force. Recent survey data indicate that there are now nearly 10 million bloggers, 90% of whom are between the ages of 13 and 29 years old. This incredible upsurge in activity has caused us to wonder: What effect is all this blogging having on the brains of bloggers?

Why ask this question? The primary reason can be found in one of the central tenets of modern neuroscience: "The neurons that fire together, wire together." What this basically means is that our mental activities actually cause changes in the structures of our brains--not only what we think, but how we think as well. Given such activity-directed change, it always makes sense to ask whenever large numbers of people start using their brains in new and different ways, what effects these new activities are likely to have on brain structure and function. Blogging, which only seems to be accelerating in popularity, is a prime candidate for such investigation. After surveying the general range of materials that the blogosphere has to offer, we believe the following basic largely supportive conclusions are warranted:

1. Blogs can promote critical and analytical thinking.

First, there are blogs and there are...well, blogs. The best of blogs are rich in ideas and promote active exchange and critique. Rather than creating closed communities of like-minded troglodytes, these best blogs foster conversation, interactions with other blogs and other information sources, and invite feedback from their readers. Posts can form "threads" or links to other Web materials where readers can examine primary source material or articles that offer competing ideas and views. Blogs that follow this format are far from simple substitutes for television or video games. In fact, they are an ideal format for promoting critical and analytical thinking.

Because blogs are text-based, bloggers must write and visitors must read (rather than passively view) the postings. In research comparing newspaper and television news, public policy experts have previously found that consumers are far more likely to question what they read than what they see in pictures or on TV. There are several likely reasons for this: First, text can be assimilated in a self-paced fashion, allowing time for analysis and reflection. Second, words must--by their very nature--be analyzed, organized, and interpreted before they can be understood, providing more time for critical reflection. In contrast, pictures and music have more direct access to brain areas dealing with emotion and motivation, thereby potentially avoiding or even subverting reason and reflection. Third, pictures and music not only have the potential to alter our interpretations of the words we hear, but can actually alter our perceptions of the words we believe we have heard. Because our perceptions are formed by combining our sensory input with contextual cues from other inputs or stored memories, strongly arousing visual or sound images have a profound ability to alter the words we hear. This is the reason behind Reagan aide Michael Deaver's famous statement to CBS's Lesley Stahl that he didn't mind what CBS said about Reagan on TV, so long as any voiceovers were accompanied by pictures of the President standing in front of a flag. Blogs, with their text-based format, tend to avoid the more manipulative aspects of visually-embedded media.

2. Blogging can be a powerful promoter of creative, intuitive, and associational thinking.

To remain popular with readers, blogs must be updated frequently. This constant demand for output promotes a kind of spontaneity and 'raw thinking'--the fleeting associations and the occasional outlandish ideas--seldom found in more formal media. (Fortunately, the permanence and easily searchable nature of archived posts helps maintain some sense of decorum.) Blogging technology itself fosters this kind of spontaneity, since blogging updates can be posted with just a few clicks whenever a new thought or interesting Internet tidbit is found. Blogging is ideally suited to follow the plan for promoting creativity advocated by pioneering molecular biologist Max Delbruck. Delbruck's "Principle of Limited Sloppiness" states we should be sloppy enough so that unexpected things can happen, but not so sloppy that we can't find out that it did. Raw, spontaneous, associational thinking has also been advocated by many creativity experts, including the brilliant mathematician Henri Poincare who recommended writing without much thought at times "to awaken some association of ideas."

3. Blogs promote analogical thinking.

Recent international surveys have shown that students in the United States have fallen far behind most of their first world peers in problem solving and critical thinking. This fall has coincided with a shameful decline in school-based instruction in critical analysis, rhetoric, and persuasive writing. However because professionals like attorneys, philosophers, and academicians run many excellent blogs, we all can benefit from their intellectual rigor, and their use of analogical thinking when communicating to the common world of the blogosphere. Back-and-forth blog-based exchanges between experts also provide a unique opportunity for young thinkers to witness and evaluate arguments from analogy on an ongoing basis, and to develop their own abilities to think analogically.

4. Blogging is a powerful medium for increasing access and exposure to quality information.

Because blogs link many facts and arguments in branching "threads" and webs, and append primary source materials and reference works, they foster deeper understanding and exposure to quality information. In turn these sources can seed other creative projects.

5. Blogging combines the best of solitary reflection and social interaction.

Research using the Lemelson-MIT Invention index found that invention is best fostered in solitude (66%); yet other research has shown the beneficial effects of brainstorming with a community of intellectual peers. So blogging may combine the best of "working by yourself" and "working with other people." Bloggers have solitary time to plan their posts, but they can also receive rapid feedback on their ideas. The responses may open up entirely new avenues of thought as posts circulate and garner comments.

In conclusion, it looks as if blogging will be very good for our brains. It holds enormous potential in education, and it could take societal communication and creative exchange onto a whole new level.

L Neglect in Children with 'ADHD'

More research suggesting that neurologic difficulties are missed and children are being inappropriately diagnosed as 'ADHD'. Interestingly, a left-sided mini-neglect is also common among children with reading disorders and adult dyslexics. There is a surprisingly high frequency of neurologic findings in children referred to us for ADD or ADHD testing. There might be good reasons for this, including more children surviving high risk or complicated pregnancies and deliveries. One thing is sure - children should not be diagnosed by a teacher and parent questionnaire alone, and a careful medical evaluation is important for every child.

BBC NEWS | Health | Left blind-spot 'gives ADHD clue'
Left minineglect in dyslexic adults -- Hari et al. 124 (7): 1373 -- Brain

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Dyscalculia & Two Brain Pathways for Math

Troubleshooting problem areas in mathematics can be difficult especially as the math problems become more complex. Recognizing the pattern of errors that a child is making can mean the difference between success and failure.

In upcoming posts, we'll try to tackle specific problems that can happen in math disabilities, but biggest recent news that can help students with dyscalculia is that there are 2 different pathways for math in the brain. The fact that these systems are located in different parts of the brain is important because it usually means if you've got problems in one route, the other is just fine.

The images below are excerpted from the Dehaene group's paper. They refer to an 'exact' mathematical pathway vs. 'approximate'. Based on work from other researchers, we prefer to call them the Rote math memory pathway (e.g. memorized math facts) and the Spatial math memory pathway (approximation, estimation, numbers related spatially or visually). What you can see in these fMRI views is that more brain activation is present for the Rote memory pathway on the left side of the brain(top brain facing left), whereas more activation is present on the right side of the brain (bottom brain facing right) for the Spatial pathway.


The distinction is an important one in the classroom, especially if a math disability might be present. Some children may seem to present with inexplicable difficulties memorizing math facts. There are tricks to compensate for this, but one alternative is to use the other route by adopting spatial strategies (including mental math and estimation). If the problems are spatial though, then estimation and mental math may seem impossible and rote memorization (e.g. through jingles or stories) may be the way to go. These kids may have more problem with subtraction (more spatial than multiplication), but there are additional tricks for this.

Interestingly, one of the studies below noted that 1st grade boys and girls differed in the strategies they adopted to solve math problems. The girls were more likely to adopt spatial strategies (with manipulatives and counting on fingers), whereas boys preferred math fact retrieval approaches, even if this resulted in more errors.
Boys and Girls Think Differently When It Comes to Problem Solving
Understanding dissociations in dyscalculia: A brain imaging study of the impact of number size on the cerebral networks for exact and approximate calculation -- Stanescu-Cosson et al. 123 (11): 2240 -- Brain
Different Strategies for Processing Math

Resources for Math Help

A Bit OffBeat, But Great Math Resources
Translating Word Problems Lesson - I
Long Division Help
Math Problem Solving strategies
Common Errors in College Math

The Big Debate: Mathematical Differences - Men & Women, Boys & Girls

Primed for Numbers

Monday, February 28, 2005

Money, Motivation, ADHD, and the Brain

Often a child who's brought in for ADHD testing impresses us more by their 'big' personality than inattentiveness. These kids may be Mr. or Mrs. Personality - bright, witty, charismatic, and engaging, but lost and adrift in the mob of the classroom. In many respects, these kids seem like born leaders and entrepreneurs - but they don't have anything to lead yet, and they haven't seen examples of what they want to be. The K-12 years are too long to go without finding their special gift. Lets face it, too, many teachers and parents are not the right people to go to if you want to learn about entrepreneurship. You also won't find much more in conventional textbooks or off-the-rack curricula.

Do you know of a child like this? If so, you might have to look carefully to provide them with the role models that fire up their imagination or mentors who might encourage them along the way.

The following brain studies show an interesting possibility too- when Bush's and Hommer's figures are placed side-by-side, it seem that a money reward could be just the ideal incentive to activate the 'dark' area of ADHD.


fMRI of Monetary Incentive
Stroop and ADHD

Resources for Entrepreneurship in Kids and Teens

Check out the Mint- the interactive pages at this site allow you to choose your level of education (and paycheck), see how much you get to take home, make choices on your lifestyle (Internet access, apartment with air conditioning and a dishwasher?), weigh investments, and see if your personality matches well to being successful in business.

Organizing Genius is a book about successful creative leaders of business groups (like Apple computers, Skunkworks, Disney). It's a great read, and it definitely offers a different view of what work and learning can do. Rich Kid Smart Kid is Kiyosaki's guide to financial literacy for kids. Startup.com follows the true life events of a rising then falling dot.com startup, and Pirates of Silicon Valley follows the adventures of early computer giants (from garage to multi-billion dollar corporation).

The Mint Home Page
Organizing Genius
Rich Kid Smart Kid
Startup.com
Pirates of Silicon Valley
Teen Entrepreneur Site
Teen Entrepreneur and Google

Bill Gates: US Secondary Schools are 'Obsolete'

Bill Gates: US Secondary Schools are 'Obsolete'
The Seattle Times: Local News: Gates "appalled" by high schools

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Visual Memory Problems - Unrecognized Causes of School Underachievement

Visual memory problems are woefully underrecognized as the source of school underachievement. If a child has IQ testing by the school district, visual memory problems might appear as lower Performance IQ scores, or a 'non verbal learning disorder' pattern.

It's hard to put yourself into the perspective of a child with visual memory problems, because we usually take our visual memory activities for granted. If we study a picture on the board, then look away, we can talk about it because we remember it. Children with visual memory problems can't do this, though, and even though them may study it carefully (non inattentive), it may be a blank or all jumbled within moments.

Children who have difficulty remembering whether a 'b' looks lik 'b', 'd', 'p', or 'q', may translate what they see into words ("ball stick") to make up for their visual memory problems, but then find that these words can't tell them orientation. Other children may have no trouble with letter recognition, but stumble when it comes to visual landmarks and surroundings, so that they're constantly getting lost, and being overwhelmed by visual material.

Dysgraphic children with visual memory problems may be able to copy sentences well, but draw a blank or tear up their paper when asked to write on their own. Also because some of the pathways that carry visual information in the brain appear to split up into 'where' and 'what' regions, it's possible to have selective memory problems in spatial information and object recognition. Then children might present with curious visual rotation errors while writing or drawing, or disproportionately low scores on IQ or achievement tests that examine picture recognition or memory.

Sometimes visual memory difficulties are more subtle, and only begin to present with problems as a child enters his or her upper elementary or middle school years. Then the increasing amounts of visual information - flowsheets, diagrams, graphs, and graphic figures can be overwhelming. Science class and multi-stepped mathematics can be particularly tough because of the need to remember both detail and spatial organization.

Visual Memory Problems and Dysgraphia
Visual Problems, Reading and Spelling in Low Birthweight Infants
More School Problems in Children with Impaired Auditory and Visual Working Memory

Vague Imagery in Mathematics - Hadamard

Yesterday's post about Imagery and Math made use think about Jacques Hadamard's inquiry into mathematical creativity. His description was quite similar to Daniel Tammet's account. In Hadamard's interviews with other world class mathematicians, he found that "Practically all of them...avoided the use of mental words ...as I do, (as well as) the mental use of algebraic or any other precise signs... The mental pictures...(used) are most frequently visual, but they may also be of another kind, for instance, kinetic. There can also be auditive ones, but even these quite generally keep their vague character."

Not surprisingly periods of drowsiness or dreaming can also be a powerful source of new ideas and insights for many inventors, scientists, or mathematicians. It may be when the concepts are vague and floating, and associations can float more freely.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Autism, Imagery, Synesthesia, and Genius for Math

The first link below includes a description by Daniel Tammet, a math 'genius' with autism who describes his rage to think mathematically, and how he has visual images associated with numbers that help him arrive at correct answers. His descriptions seem similar to descriptions of mathematical manipulations by synesthetes like Richard Feynman: "When I see equations, I see the letters in colors- I don't know why. As I'm talking, i see vague pictures of Bessel functions...with light tan J's, slightly violet-bluish n's, and dark brown x's flying around.

Synesthesia is a mingling of senses whereby sight, sounds, tastes, or smells may be mixed into different sensory impressions and associations. Synesthesia has been noted to occur in highly creative people and individuals with extraordinary memory. Synesthesia may occur 'naturally', run in families, or be associated with nervous system reorganization.

Tammet's description should also be a reminder that autistic people should not be written off as 'concrete' thinkers. We often don't get detailed verbal descriptions of the experience of autism, so we probably know very little of their perceptual experience.

In the figure below, see how for synesthetes, words activate many more brain areas (emotional and associational sensory areas)than for controls.



Autistic Math Genius
Synesthesia and fMRI

Links to Using Mystery Stories in Teaching - Critical Thinking

Mystery stories build critical thinking and skills like deduction, cause-and-effect, sequencing, and prioritization of facts. Here are some nice links we came across. Also don't forget Encyclopedia Brown, Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew, the game 'Clue', and Sherlock Holmes.

Web English Teacher
89.04.06: Challenging Children With Mystery Stories
95.01.01: Detective Fiction: Focus On Critical Thinking

Parents Grapple with How to Treat Depressed Kids

Parents Grapple with How to Treat Depressed Kids

Friday, February 25, 2005

What About Auditory Learners?

What about auditory learners? In most learning style discussions, auditory learning is paired with verbal ability - but we probably strong auditory-verbal skills are different from strong auditory-musical skills, although they can also exist together. In this first post about auditory learners, we'll focus on auditory-verbal. We'll talk about auditory-musical learners soon.

In general, auditory verbal learners attract less discussion among learning style enthusiasts because they seem to flourish in conventional classroom settings where the teachers talk and the students are supposed to listen.

Strong auditory verbal learners like to processing information through a brain loop of listening-speaking-listening. They like to talk their way through information and tend to learn well with lecture, group discussions, interactive teaching, and books on tape. Auditory verbal learners tend to have strong language skills, and may take to learning by speaking aloud, working in groups, or studying or taking notes with a tape recorder.

Sometimes strong auditory learners have visual memory problems. They are such strong auditory learners because they have learned that they are better with listening. Verbal mediation can often compensate a great deal for visual problems (e.g. some with dyslexia or premature birth), but these individuals may be more prone to overload if they hae to 'see' by listening at the same time they are listening.

Auditory imagery can be a powerful learning resource, as sounds can be associated with words, pictures, and images. Sometimes this is what children are doing when they make all sorts of noises and sounds as they think or work. We've included some articles and links on auditory imagery below. Also here's a nifty excerpt from an fMRI study of "the little voice in your head." This view is only an excerpt from the left side of the brain, an equally complicated pattern of activation is triggered on the right.

Little Voice Auditory Imagery
Learning Styles Including Auditory
Auditory Perceptual Learning
Modality-specific Auditory Imagery
Auditory Imagery and Free Recall

Preemies as Teens- Verbal Fluency Problems

Children seem to recover remarkably well from their stressful births and time in the NICU, but as they grow up, there are patterns of problems that we are just becoming aware of...The link below is an abstract to an article which correlated decreased corpus callosum size with problems in speech fluency.

Speaking Dysfluency Among Former Preemies

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Filling in By Context: The Brain and Lesson Links for Reading

The brain is a remarkable pattern making machine and context is example of this. In filling-in by context, we make an educated guess about what a word means based on other evidence we can find in the sentence. Contextual reading can be a very valuable skill for many dyslexia, but it is also important for any readers who want to expand their vocabulary. When context is visualized on brain imaging, different areas light up all around the brain. Closure by context involves being able to to group words on the basis of direct meaning, indirect associations, and memories of their being used together to predict meaning.


Contextual Sentence Integration
Context Clues
Context Worksheet
Context Lesson and Practice
Context Lesson from ESL Teacher
Practice -Cloze Reading Passages

New York Times Reports on Legislators' Protest Re: No Child Left Behind

The link below will take you to the New York Times site, but they will require you to register to read the article. Here's a highlight- "Under NCLB, the federal government's role has become excessively intrusive in the day-to-day operations of public education," said the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Revolt Against NCLB

The Free Medical Journals Site

For those of you who like directly read the original scientific literature on ADHD, autism, dyslexia, or learning in general, here is a nice site which keeps track of journals with free text. Because the NIH only asked (i.e. not forced) medical publishers to post their articles by NIH-funded authors on the web, many journals have decided to share them only after 6 months to 2 years. Still, that's better than it was before.

The Free Medical Journals Site

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Are Computers Driving Us to Distraction?

Research studies have shown video gamers who practice on action games like Medal of Honor have a wider visual span and greater sensitivity to visual detection. But the flipside of this visual sensitivity is increased visual distraction.

Several research groups are exploring the relative importance of central focus (See Left, below) and peripheral focus (See Right below). Whether video game training is boosting visual skills depends on what sort of skill you care about.

Side attack games like Medal of Honor probably increase visual focus to the periphery. Good if you're trying to stay alive in Mosul, but maybe not so great if you're sitting in the middle of a noisy class trying to listen to the teacher. Even the Internet diverts our focus to the periphery with blinking cursors, talking paper clips, and image-changing ads (see the Boss in the Machine editorial below).

But don't think we're just technology-haters. The phenomenon may be real (please think about this web designers - our conscience is tweaked too). It means that RPG attack games are not the best thing to have your child playing all the time after school if focus and distractibility problems have been identified. There are games that might even enhance central focus- and wouldn't it be terrific if these games had just as much excitement and personal challenge as the peripheral games?

Our game experience is not extensive, but at home we let our kids play side-scrolling games (many are free nowadays) for visual tracking practice. Side scrolling games are things like Donkey Kong or Charlie the Duck. Also old maze-type games like the Pac man variants, Pong-variants, or Air Hockey can provide challenging exercises in eye movement jumps, turns, and tracking. BTW, don't get us wrong- getting outside and playing ball is a good thing to do too. For Xbox,Tarzan or snowboarding games would seem to strengthen central visual focus over side.
Video Games Boost Visual Skills, Study Finds
The Boss in the Machine
Free online games at play.vg

CDC Stresses Early Autism Detection, Intervention

The CDC has announced its new guidelines for parents and medical professionals. Check out the links below. Problems with these milestones don't mean autism, but they mean a medical professional take a look. A good physician will to assess whether auditory or visual impairments may be present. In addition, professionals should be aware of the contributions of sensory or motor behaviors to abnormal social communication. Additional testing may be necessary, but more information will tell you how to help.
Learn the Signs. Act Early. NCBDDD
Developmental Milestones
CDC Stresses Early Autism Detection, Intervention

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

ADHD is Not a Simple Deficit Disorder

Hyperactivity is one of the most challenging learning and behavioral problems in grade school. A recent article (below)reports the sobering statistic that hyperactive children are the most likely group of children to be removed from a home. But not all hyperactivity is alike.

Below is a link to one of our papers entitled: "Hyperactivity, Impulsivity, and Sensory Processing". In it, we propose that ADHD should be reserved for a more global impairment in attention processes, and the term ADHD is better reserved for children whose self-stimulatory and hyperactive behaviors result in a deterioration in performance, rather than improvement.

We also are sharing excerpts from fMRI studies in children with ADHD (see full papers below in links). It is a popular misconception that 'ADHD' is simply a deficit disorder. It's not as easy as all that. The distinction is important because many parents may mistakenly believe they must medicate their child to make up for the deficit. In fact in the ADHD subjects, there are some areas that are less active, and other areas that are more active. Medication does change the patterns of brain activation, but it doesn't make the ADHD pattern look like control subjects.

Ongoing biological studies will be very important for sorting out the complex differences in brain functioning among children who meet the criteria for ADHD. But the idea that ADHD is a simple 'deficit' disorder is wrong. There is still much we to learn about the interactions of different brain systems.



Hyperactive Kids Removed from Home
Hyperactivity, Impulsivity, and Sensory Processing
ADHD, Stroop, and Cingulate
ADHD and Striatum
ADHD and fMRI

Why Are So Many Students Failing the WASL?

This week we received the School District's WASL update and the stats are depressing. 60% of 10th graders are failing the Math WASL (statewide as well as in the Mukilteo District). Reading and Writing are only a little better (35-40% failure rate). So what is going on?

To make matters worse, an out-of-state review group assessed the WASL Math test to be much easier than other standardized math tests.

Why is it that so many of students are failing the WASL? OSPI has posted one third of last year's questions online, so you can check them out (see link below). Here's our first impressions of the Math WASL:

The Pros:
-The math test emphasizes math reasoning and practical or 'real world' applications of math.

The Cons:
-The math test isn't balanced. It's mostly word problems and doesn't involve conventional high school math subjects
-'Showing your work' is a mandatory aspect of the test. This would be difficult for some intuitive and higher conceptual mathematics people. It can also be a burden with dysgraphics.
-The heavy language emphasis of the math test will trip up many dyslexic children. 20% of children are dyslexic. Also, dyslexics are notoriously underrecognized in the public school system. 'Dyslexia' is not an official school diagnosis, although something like 'ADD' is.
-Real problem solving is rarely well assessed by timed test conditions.
-Despite the heavy emphasis on math reasoning, reasoning per se is not taught formally to teachers or students throughout K-12. Flexible problem solving is actually a very difficult task- some may never learn it at all, and some may only learn it far into adulthood.

Remember how poorly U.S. high school students fared on that international test of problem solving? (bottom third, see link below) Don't despair yet. These kids didn't test well, but somehow the United States leads the world in science, technology, and innovation. And it's not because they ever had to pass a WASL.

There is a need for teaching critical thinking, reasoning, and problem solving throughout educational system. But it's not fair to use a very narrow definition of success to deny students the rights to their diplomas.

Taking the WASL
WASL Practice Tests
U.S. 15-year-olds in bottom third in problem-solving test
The Seattle Times: Education: Math WASL not too difficult, study says

Monday, February 21, 2005

Am I Moving? Easier to Fool the Eyes Than the Ears but Surprising Sensory Processing Solutions

This is an interesting study because it shows that although the eyes and ears are closely linked, anticipation can prepare you for what you see, but it cannot prepare you for how you sense movement. It means that you can prepare for visual movement (maybe why watching the road reduces car sickness) by top-down control from the brain that may reduce your sensitivity to visual movement. But you can't cognitive control what your inner ear balance feels.

This is good news for people with visual vertigo or visual perceptive disorders. It's bad news if abnormal movement signals are coming from the vestibular system like degenerative disorders of the ear, migraine, 'mild or other cerebral palsy', or many other conditions that can present as sensory processing or sensory integration dysfunction. In the latter two conditions, the sensory mismatches may occur because some of the central (brain) connections of the vestibular nerves have been damaged.

Here's one of our favorite movement illusions on the web. We took only a small piece of it though, please enjoy the full impact by checking out the link.

If you're dealing with vestibular problems, though, don't despair. The commercial BrainPort is supposed to become available some time this year. BrainPort uses sensory substitution to correct vertigo, and amazingly other sensory disorders like congenital blindness. Because the senses are all linked together, some bright and practical thinking neuroscientists realized that - the eyes don't see, the ears don't hear, and the inner ear doesn't sense balance - the brain does. So if the appropriate signals can be direct to a working sensory system, it can serve as a reasonable substitute. Amazing stuff.



There are other interesting implications of the sight-sound disconnect - if you're interested also check out the article on Video Game Sickness - this is believed to result from the visual-vestibular systems being 'out-of-sync'.
Expectation and the Vestibular Control of Balance
Rotating Snake Page
Video Game or Simulation Sickness
BrainPort Sensory Substitution - Driving What Works

Flashes from the Past: One Failure After Another...

At the age of 23, he had a business failure. He ran for state legislator the same year and lost. One year later he tried business again, but again it failed. Then his girlfriend died when he was 26 years old. He had a nervous breakdown at the age of 41. He tried again to be elected to political offices at the ages of 34, 39, 46, 47, and 49, and each time he lost. Who was this loser? This was Abraham Lincoln, who finally won a Presidential election at the age of 51. It's a good reminder not to give up too easily.

Happy Presidents Day.

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?

Terman
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
LDs
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