Friday, July 29, 2005

Unconscious and Unintentional (Implicit) Learning

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." - Aristotle

Here's another recent publication relevant to 'unconscious' learning. In this latest study in Nature (sorry, not free online access yet), researchers found a surprising degree of unconscious learning ability in patients with severe amnestic memory problems. The first link below is to the press release.

We take in enormous quantities of information through our senses and movements, but although a lot of information is filtered, what gets through is then sorted into conscious and unconscious patterns. So when we act on the unconscious patterns, we may not be completely aware of it.

Implicit learning refers to unintentional learning - and this can be powerfully manipulated in education. After first handling, experiencing, or playing with materials, guided questioning is used to make implicit learning explicit.

Habit Leads To Learning
Unconscious Elementary Math Learning
Mathemagenic: Implicit Learning
Making the Implicit Explicit
Reber Dissociating Explicit and Implicit... pdf

Math: Knitting Hyperbolic Planes

Mathematics and Knitting

Thursday, July 28, 2005

The Different Ways We Hear Music- Kids vs. Adults

Here's an other reminder that our experiences are very different from our children's: whether musically trained or not, adults had much richer brain activation patterns to music than children. There are likely several reasons for this, including richer personal associations, a stronger database of established patterns for music (musical 'syntax'), and personal memories (temporal lobes). Adult musicians showed significantly more activation in the left hemisphere, probably reflecting a better cognitive or analytical understanding of music.

Adults, Children, and the fMRI of Music pdf

Whimsical Summer Reading: Freddy the Pig

If you're looking for ideas for reading with the kids, think of Walter Brook's remarkable porcine and poetic detective. Because of some of the word plays, parodies, and challenging and humorous vocabulary, it may be best for upper elementary school on up, but many young children may still enjoy them. These books are clearly written with a lot of heart and character.

There are 26 books in the series, and each is about 250 page or so. Often they can be found at the public library or We're currently reading Freddy and the Ignormus, and just finished Freddy and the Perilous Adventure.

Freddy the Pig

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Understanding Thinking: The Feeling of Knowing

"When you suddenly see the problem, something happens that you have the answer-- before you are able to put it into words. It is all done subconsciously. This has happened many times to me, and I know when to take it seriously. I'm so absolutely sure. I don't talk about it. I don't have to tell anybody about it. I'm just sure this is it." -- Barbara McClintock, Nobel Prize winner in Biology

Here is another paper which builds on yesterday's post. Researchers at Harvard and University College London were studying the differences in brain patterns when people remembered (they knew), when they thought it was on the tip of their tongue (but they couldn't say), when they have a feeling they knew, and when they knew they didn't know. It's interesting to see that the 'tip of the tongue' and 'feeling of knowing' responses had distinct differences from absolute knowing and uncertainty.

Barbara McClintock might not have found that surprising. This study was not dealing so much with intuitive problem solving, but memory retrieval, but it's interesting to see that the parietal lobes again appear to have a role in pooling together possibilities and representations.

Feeling of Knowing and Tip of the Tongue FMRI- 3rd paper under 2005

Returning to the Farm: Flash from the Present

Many biographers of 'genius' have noticed a disproportionate number of their subjects having childhoods where they ran about on farms. What is it about a farm, and is there something about that experience that we should think about trying to recover?

This flash from the present was a child who grew up on a farm without electricity or running water (at least until she was 7 years old). From one standpoint it would seem that she would be intellectually and maybe even socially deprived. But the flipside of living in such isolation is that you also get in the practice of doing a lot of things for yourself.

She learned to drive at age seven and could fire rifles and ride quite well by age eight. When her family decided they wanted running water, they made their own windmills to get it out of the ground. Her dad made a solar-powered gadget (in 1937!) so they could have hot water. A cow was saved when her uterus was mended with a wine bottle and some stitches.

As city dwellers,specialized help seems to be just a phone call or email away, but are we becoming lost and woefully dependent? Who was this girl from a deprived childhood? This was Sandra Day O'Connor, who despite graduating at the top of her class at Stanford Law School, at one time found no California law firm willing to hire her (one firm offered her a job as a legal secretary). She became the first woman justice on the U.S. Supreme Court of course, but also recently confessed, "At heart, I will always be a cowgirl."

Sandra Day O'Connor

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Decision Making Under Uncertainty

Decision making is essential for successful problem solving and all creative work, yet surprisingly few receive specific training in effective decision making, and many just learn to 'wing it' under complex, uncertain, or shifting situations. This recent fMRI study from Duke provides interesting insights into the process. The experimental paradigm in this study is a little different from others because it examined patterns of brain activation that occur as test subjects had to make decisions about visual patterns under uncertain situations.

The researchers found that an area in the parietal lobe seemed to be a fairly good reflection of the presence of uncertainty in specific experimental trials. As uncertainty went up, activation (as measured by blood flow) increased; as uncertainty went down, activation decreased.

It looks as if the parietal lobe is keeping track of uncertainty and this helps adjust decision making as time goes on. This sort of study is a better reflection of real-life problem solving where answers and variables are not certain and situations continue to evolve. In the parietal lobe, sensory information, imagery, and representation are intermingled, and the processes may be less definitely conscious. But even if the processes of decision making and learning through successive trials is not fully conscious, it does not mean that patterns are not being formed and recognized - it may just mean that with experience, the process may become more automatic.

Decision Making Under Uncertain fMRI pdf

Fostering Decision-Making in Children

There are many strategies for developing decision making - this may take the form of engaging in activities which involve fact vs. opinion, debate and discussion of positions on current event topics, persuasive writing and speaking, science fiction and scenario building (for example, Future Problem Solver program below), and even conclusions about bad designs (here).

Currently with our kids we're enjoying the old Sidney B. Carroll book You Be the Judge. This little book provides short summaries on court cases, and asks readers make decisions on how verdicts should be made. An example: A man and a pregnant woman are on the street when a tornado hits - they knock on a door to be let in, but the homeowner won't let them in. They get hurt in the tornado - do they have a right to demand that that homeowner pay some of their doctors' bills? (BTW: Based on reasoning from another court case, Carroll suggests that the couple have a reasonable chance of winning).

Decision-Making Lessons Biology
Future Problem Solvers
Decisionmaking Course Notes

Monday, July 25, 2005

Which Will It Be? Competition or Cooperation in Game Playing

In this latest view of subjects playing a computer game, brain activation patterns changed depending on whether people took a competitive or cooperative approach to the game. It's interesting to see that competition activated motivational brain areas similar to monetary reward, whereas cooperation activated brain areas associated with emotional reward and love.

Competition and cooperation can both be powerfully motivating factors in achievement, learning, and problem solving, but their importance may vary depending on the people involved, the context, or problem. Successful problem solving often involves a complex mixture of cooperation and competition (both interpersonal and internal) at various steps in the process.

Cooperation vs. Competition pdf
Rewards, Competition, and Constraints
Interpersonal Motivation
Team Building Activities
Outward Bound

Friday, July 22, 2005

The Paideia Proposal - Active Thinking

While in New Mexico, we had a chance to browse the bookstore at St. Johns College (a 'Great Books College'), and what a treat. Got to read Mortimer Adler's Paideia Program on the plane.

The three goals of Paideia in education are:

- Acquisition of Organized Knowledge (Didactic Teaching)
- Development of Intellectual Skills (Active Reading, Writing, Speaking, Listening, Problem Solving, Exercising Control, Judging)
- Enlarged Understanding of Ideas and Values (Socratic Questioning, Discussion, Arts)

Conventional education usually spends most of its time didactic teaching, and the least of its time on personal clarification of ideas and values.

It always surprises us when we hear 'Great Books' and classical education as being a more rigid or less creative curriculum. If classical education is practiced well, it is not mindless drilling, copying in copybooks, or parroting 'Great Ideas'. Rather a 'classical' student is on a very personal journey to examine events, ideas, and values, to train themselves on habits of thought and reflective thinking, good manners of social discourse and disagreement, and to understand their location within the context of time.

Despite its ancient name (Paideia - the whole education and training of children - mind and morals), the goals of Paideia are to prepare students for active and thoughtful engagement in the world. That means a regular practice as drawing parallels about ideas, practices, and theories in the present as well as in the past.

The recommended reading list from Mortimer Adler and colleagues may surprise some - there's a little Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and even a reference to Zen and the Art of Archery. If we want clarify our thoughts and ideas, it's probably a good idea to read widely and well.

One nice quote from Robert Hutchins in this book: "If I had a single message for the younger generation I would say, Get ready for anything, because anything is what's going to happen. We don't know what it is, and it's very likely that whatever it is won't be what we now think it is." Paideia might just be the answer.

Paideia | Active Learning
Paideia Education Articles

Flashes from the Past: "He dropped out of high school at age 14..."

He dropped out of high school at age 14 and began working as a copy boy at the New York Sun. Taking night classes, he became impressed by reading that John Stuart Mill (tutored by his dad) could read the dialogues of Plato in Greek at the age of 5. So at age 14, he bought a set of Plato and was hooked. John Cuddily would refer to him later as the "the only Ph.D. in America with no B.A., no M.A., not even a high school diploma." An aside: he never got his college degree because "PE came at 10 o’clock, my logic class was at 9 and my French class at 11. It was too much of a bother to dress and undress and dress and undress. I only had time to get dressed once a day".

Who was this? This was of course Mortimer Adler, University of Chicago professor, founder of the Great Books of the Western World program, American educator, philosopher and author or editor of more than 50 books including the Encyclopedia Britannica and How to Read a Book.

Mortimer J. Adler
Mortimer Adler

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Remembering Faces

Remembering faces requires several different brain regions on both side of the brain, and all children need to mature in their recognition of faces. The anatomical complexity of facial recognition and memory means that there are many different ways these cognitive tasks can be affected. This means it is developmentally normal for young children to not be as quick as adult distinguishing faces, and problems remembering or recognizing faces can occur from very different causes.

The right prefrontal area here is important for remembering faces (nonverbal), but the left prefrontal area is seems to be necessary for integrating and making meaning of both the emotional and visual aspects of faces.

Memory for Faces
Post: Developmental Changes in Face Perception

Collecting with Kids

Think about the post on beauty yesterday, collections are a wonderful way for some children to linger and enjoy the beauty of many different types of things. Even young children love studying objects closer with magnifying glasses and microscopes (the inexpensive Intel microscope is great for this). Collections can be unorganized or organized, and natural or man-made. Antiques Roadshow can also be a surprising hit with your children, and introduce them different periods in history, inventions, and art. Check out Smithsonian's nice site for Kids & Collecting.

Smithsonian IdeaLabs: Amazing Collections

Kids, Cynicism, and All-or None

Check out this link to a press release about cynicism in children. Children as young as 7 can be cynical and attribute motives to selfishness or lying. But there is another unspoken take-home point from this. At this age, children are also more likely to judge others in all-or-none terms... (for instances, as a liar or bad). Or in other words, children are less likely to see people as complex, ambiguous, or realistic mixtures of good and bad. Care needs to be taken to help children to gradually acquire this deeper and integrative view of others as well as themselves.

Kids and Cynicism

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Neurobiology and Motivating Power of Beauty

"The scientist does not study nature because it is useful; he studies it because he delights in it, and he delights in it because it is beautiful." - Henri Poincare

Beauty is a powerful motivating and organizing factor for many creators and innovators, and when we look to see what is distinctive about the brain's experience of beautiful things, we see that beauty activates a part of the brain associated with reward.

So if we are parents or teachers or curriculum designers trying to help young people really find or develop their talents or prepare themselves for their future life's work, we we really should be doing is help them find things that they find beautiful. And when they find it, we can help by giving them space and time and help (if necessary) to think and study more deeply.

Beauty is Its Own Reward pdf>

The Movie Star Mathematician

You don't see someone like this every day - hollywood actress Danica McKellar solves math problems for fun and co-authored the Chayes-McKellar-Winn theorem.

(HT: PGlist)
NYT:Beautiful Boolean?
Percolation and Gibbs State Multiplicity...pdf

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

'What' and 'Where' in the Auditory System

Here's a link to a recently published article about 'what' and 'where' auditory pathways. It seems that pathways that carry messages about what sounds are are at least partially separable from pathways carrying information about where sounds are coming from.

Children or adults with auditory processing disorders are often seen as being 'strong visual learners', or worse, thought to be slow (miss auditory information a lot), 'ADD'-ish (auditory attention is worse than visual attention), or on the autism spectrum (difficulty understanding the musical, emotional content, or other associations of speech). Because verbal teaching is the dominant style in school, students with undiagnosed auditory processing disorders are particularly at-risk.

Sometimes auditory processing disorders run in families, but auditory pathways are also quite vulnerable to injury with prematurity or even mild birth injury.

Central auditory processing disorders are difficult to diagnose in very young children, but it's important for peripheral hearing to be tested in even very young children. Children with even mild hearing loss are at significant risk for failing at least one grade in school.
Auditory What-Where

Hearing What We Expect to Hear

The helpful tidbit in this paper is that our brains are wired to hear what we expect to hear - in categories. When training the ear (for instance for phonological challenges in reading disabilities or learning a foreign language), it is more important to train "between-category differences than within-category differences"- or training particularly difficult or ambiguous sounds at the boundaries between different categories, will be most helpful for helping the ear to hear. Sound Categories Research Paper pdf

Article Link - International Paper on IQ, Creativity, Curriculum

IQ, Creativity, Curriculum

Monday, July 18, 2005

Efficacy of Working Memory Training for ADHD

Exciting research from Sweden finds that a 5 week computer-based training program in visual working memory, resulted in 60% of non-medicated children diagnosed with ADHD no longer meeting clinical criteria. The Karolinska researchers have already founded a biotech company and a collaborative U.S. based project (NYU) is in the works.

Check out the Scientific American article here. This latest article is not yet available under free access, but an earlier paper by this group involving working memory training can be seen here. Their company is Cogmed.

Why is the the United States so behind in computer-based training for memory and attention? Good question. Even fairly simple behavioral treatment (the Multimodal Behavioral treatment study involved social skills teaching at a summer camp, no working memory training) seems to be as effective as high dose stimulant medication.

Also, Toronto schools have begun to introduce working memory training techniques in the classroom. Some of these methods would be easy to implement here in the U.S. at home or at schools.

(HT: Rob Sperry)

NAEP - The Nation's Report Card - National Assessment of Educational Progress - NAEP

Good news for younger children on the Nation's Report card. 9 year olds appear to making significant gains in reading and mathematics, but the gains certainly flatten out by age 17.

For mathematics, a favorable trend was also seen at age 13, but the 17 year olds' dip occurred again.

High school dropout rates may also be as high as 30-40%, though, and this number may climb if students can't meet state requirements.

NAEP - The Nation's Report Card
NAEP Press release
Fudging High School Graduation Statistics

Friday, July 15, 2005

SENG Highlights: Parenting, Attention, and Self-Regulation

Some highlights from the SENG ( conference:

Judith Roseberry (President, California Association for the Gifted):
- Advice to parents - don't abdicate your role as parents just because your kids are smart. Don't be afraid to use your authority and have your rules respected.
- Empower your children with words, role plays, and socially appropriate behaviors. Allow them to question authority, but teach them socially acceptable ways like: "Mrs. Hill. Have I done something to offend you. You seem angry to me." Role play, and go with them, but have them speak for themselves.
- Teach your children certain phrases: "In my opinion," "What evidence do you have..."
-Support children in gifted programs who don't seem to be achieving - don't kick them out of the program, but troubleshoot
- To parents: "Don't ever let us teachers ever tell you that we know your child better than you..."

Paul Beljan (President of American Board of Pediatric Neuropsychology, Co-Author MisDiagnosis & Dual Diagnosis):
- Attention and Working Memory can be trained
- Don't just say, "don't do this" - give children a positive alternative - "don't do this, do this instead..."
- Dr. Beljan described a coaching and discipline program that he playfully called the 'Zen of Bean Sorting' - Children are given a calming and pleasant sensory task when they lose control or can't regulate their impulses. Privileges are suspended until the beans are sorted.
- "There's a difference between discipline and punishment."
- For time-outs, don't use a clock. Use the same words every time. "When you're quiet, you can come out."
- Scaffold situations so children can avoid catastrophic failure
- After tantrums or bad behavior, make sure the child rectifies any situation he created ("shows he has his rational mind back")
- Be careful how you talk. Be instructive with requests - "Put this in your room", not "Can you pick this up?"
- There were many more pearls...fortunately a book by Dr. Beljan is in the works!

Resisting the Cave - Kids and Media Addiction

This USA Today article reports on the increasing trend for children to spend most of their free time playing video games, watching TV, or surfing on the Internet. Outside events tend to be scheduled, and children are six times more likely to play a video game than ride a bike.

"I call him the caveman because he never leaves his room," says one father. "He comes out now and then for dinner, but he can't eat with us. He has to get back to his game."

The consequences are many - a loss of family time (never give up the family dinner), less face-to-face sharing and conversation, less 'downtime' - important for relaxation, incubating ideas, certain creative pursuits, less time with nature, physical activity, building, and tinkering.

Sometimes a little 'popcorn' for the brain is OK for a brain break, but children can also get caught up in immersive quality of the media, and not know when to quit. If you're a media junkie, try turning off the media yourself. Think about growing up some family traditions - a family walk after dinner, family game night, cooking together, reading books outloud together, building things or playing music together.

Childhood Moving Indoors
Hitting the Off Button
Family that Plays Together

Brain Break: Planarity Puzzle (Spatial)


Thursday, July 14, 2005

Back from New Mexico - SENG

We got back from SENG (Social & Emotional Needs of Gifted Children) in New Mexico and had a terrific time. The kids program was terrific (Gifted Teachers from New Mexico took the children to the Atomic Museum, Natural History, Planetarium, as well as ran group sessions on Learning Styles and Building a Robot) as were some conference talks, and got to meet some very interesting people with great ideas for education and parenting. We got in late tonight, so will catch up blogging (including Conference highlights) tomorrow!

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Just the Facts, M'aam - Creativity in Fact Lovers

Maybe you know one of these fact lovers or maybe you are one yourself. It's all to easy to dismiss fact lovers as trivia geeks, hyperfrontal-types, or Asperger folk, but the truth is, a strong knowledge of facts can make the essential difference in innovative or ground-breaking work, and expertise at acquiring and retaining facts may mean that education should take on a different purpose.

One example of an avid fact aficionado is Isaac Asimov. Asimov voraciously read books his whole life long, and he wrote nearly 500 books over the course of 40 years. Many have referred to him as a very 'non-visual' writer and he himself had made this comment about visual thinking:

"You may have heard the statement: 'One picture is worth a thousand words.' Don't you believe it...As soon as it becomes necessary to deal with emotions, ideas, fancies- abstractions in general - only words will suit."

In fact, Asimov's series of "How did we find out about..." is really an extraordinary collection of children's books. Each is only about 60 pages long, but well written and quite creative in its charting of the course of scientific discovery. It's a great book for kids because it talks about the whys and hows and serendipities of science, and it makes the questions and pursuit of knowledge seem attainable. When science is only taught from the standpoint of 'we know this now', students may be discouraged from thinking that they could actually find out anything new. Asimov's series includes topics such as germs, lasers, microwaves, blood, the round earth, and much more. It's great summer reading. We found the books at the library (did you know the microscope inventor Leeuwenhoek was not really a scientist, but a janitor who like tinkering around with lenses?).

One of Asimov's real gifts was being able to recognize and organize interesting facts in simple but compelling ways. Creativity is not just making something completely new, but it is also an ability to see in facts, what others haven't been able to see.

SENG Conference in New Mexico, See You July 14th

We're headed off to the SENG (Social and Emotional Needs of Gifted Children) Conference, so we'll be taking a break from blogging for the next week. Our kids have been doing some last minute learning about New Mexico geology, Los Alamos, the Anasazi, and Billy the Kid. It'll be fun.

The speakers also look terrific - this is one keynote's description..."Alisa's Cuban-born father was placed in the fourth grade when he arrived in the U.S. at age fifteen, because he spoke no English; he went on to become a famed professor of Latin American sociology. Alisa, now the top-selling Latina novelist in the U.S., was failed out of freshman English by a high school English teacher for not following rules. And Alisa's son was recently misdiagnosed as autistic because he did not ift in at preschool, preferred sprinkler systems to toy cars, and had taught himself to read..."

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Remembering in Different Ways

Check out the variation in patterns of brain activation among test subjects trying to recall items from a previously displayed word list. The best performer was S.C., and this subject also had the most intense activation and reproducibility in her testing 5 months later. The blue arrows indicate the right parietal area (imagery, attention), whereas the green arrows indicate more conventional prefrontal working memory areas.

We've included a snapshot from "musical imagery" in pianists for comparison. The last link below is a paper which shows that the parietal and prefrontal areas can be strengthened (and the fMRI signals more activated) with memory training involving mneumonics.

Individual Differences in Retrieval fmri pdf
Musical Imagery
Working Memory Training fMRI pdf

More Computer Classes Urged for Kids

Students may be feeling the crunch of declining numbers of computer science teachers. Computer teaching in the elementary school years is often relegated to keyboarding. What students should be doing is learning how to organize and problem solve using computer-based instruction.

Excerpt from article:"If the teachers only know word processing, he said, "that's all their class is going to get."

This exhortation is particularly relevant given a Stanford study showing that having a home computer was associated with 6 points higher math and 4 points higher reading (controlled for parent education level) on the Stanford Achievement Test (3rd graders). The definite no-no was a TV in a child's bedroom. This was associated with 8 points lower on math and 7 points lower on reading.

More Computer for Kids:
TV bad, Computer Good for Kids

Medical School Testing Lawsuit Passes Hurdle

For those of you who are following the lawsuit involving university students suing for testing accommodations on the MCAT, we've heard that they've recently passed a hurdle. The Court ruled that "that California has a legitimate local interest in ensuring that California residents take the MCAT with all the accommodations required by California law." The AAMC intends to vigorously continue the fight. Check out the AAMC's response too.

MCAT Litigation: Victory for Students with Disabilities
AAMC Responds

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Flashes from the Past: A Lover of Words...

His father died when he was 4 years old, leaving him, his mother, and a younger brother to fend for themselves. His mother remained ambitious, making the decision to homeschool him (teaching him Latin, French, English, drawing, botany, and piano) in the hopes of having him admitted to the best grammar school in the city. He didn't get in at age 7, but he tried again at age 8, and got in.

From an early age, he loved words and loved to read. He started to read at 4 and his mother provided him with a steady supply of Arthurian legends, fairy tales and George MacDonald's Curdie books. By age 11, he was learning Greek and Shakespeare, and became fascinated by reading The Canterbury Tales in its original Middle English. He also loved to play around with and make up words. His young mother died from diabetes when he was just 12 years old, but he and his brother were fortunate to be adopted by a parish priest, a family friend.

This young man's love of words continued to grow as he progressed through school, and corresponded in made up languages with two cousins. One language, "Animalic" consisted only of animal names. Apparently, "Dog nightingale woodpecker forty" meant "You are an ass."

Here's a limerick he wrote to his cousin in the imaginary language "Nevbosh":

Dar fys ma vel gom co palt "Hoc
Pys go iskili far maino woc?
Pro si go fys do roc de
Do cat ym maino bocte
De volt fact soc ma taimful gyroc!"

The translation:

There was an old man who said "How
Can I possibly carry my cow?
For if I were to ask it
To get in my basket
It would make such a terrible row!"

Who was this budding philologist? This was J.R.R. Tolkien, later Oxford Professor and literary scholar, and author of The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and Silmarillion, among others. He often said he thought of names he liked first, then put them in stories.

Throughout his life, he was close to all of his children and told them stories to help them fall asleep. Many were apparently never recorded, but some were collected together for books that were published posthumously. The story of Roverrandom was told by him after one of his sons had lost a favorite toy on a vacation.

Tolkien often mentioned that everything he knew, he owed to his mother who died so young, and her deep religious faith. Quote, "However by name a Tolkien, I have the taste, talents and education of a Suffield.”

Tolkien Biography

Advantages of Bilingual Language Learning

Is there any advantage to picking up a foreign language as a child? That depends. It's important to be aware that bilingual children have significant extra hurdles in the early years of their schooling. Gifted bilingual children are underrecognized, and some are even mistakenly thought to be learning disabled.

But for those are able to become fairly proficient at two languages, this hard work appears to pay off one's entire life span. The study below shows that bilingualism reduces age-related decline in working memory and the slower response times! In other studies, there's a suggestion that "successful" bilinguals have stronger flexibility of thinking, higher 'creativity', and better problem solving ability. When you think about it, young bilingual children get much more intensive practice with inferences, and multiple word meanings.

Now that being said, the choice of whether to add a second language at a young age should be made individually. Children struggling with auditory processing, fundamental language disability, or working memory limitation should consider a foreign language waiver. Also realize that all languages are not alike. Some languages (like Spanish, Italian, or American Sign Language) are not as demanding phonetically or spelling-wise as languages like French.

Improved Cognitive Control Among Bilinguals
Bilingualism Press Release
Challenges with Young Bilingual Children

Friday, July 01, 2005

Spatial But Not Visual Thinking

There are many different types of spatial thinking, but a lot of confusion that visual and spatial gifts are the same. They're not. Spatial abilities can be visual -but they can also be distinct - and even at odds with visual ability. Spatial ability is particularly challenging to train because it may be the most abstract and 'non-conscious' style of learning.

Spatial thinking may involve personal experience, memories of movements or manipulations, or relationships of parts. It may involve sight, but also sound, touch, and more amorphous sensations. Spatial reasoning may involve a sequence of ideas, possibilities, or objects, or inductive leaps (Aha!) based on previously seen or experienced patterns.

In this interesting study above, researchers from Max Planck find different steps of coordination that the brain goes through when it performs a spatial reasoning task -
"V is left of X. X is left of Z. So V is left of Z" The first step involves occipital-temporal areas (visual /auditory overlap - premise considered), then the prefrontal cortex becomes activated (integration), then prefrontal and parietal lobes (multisensory, spatial) become active in the final 'validation' stage.

Spatial thinking and reasoning are hard to teach didactically, because they are best learned by direct experience, internalization and positing or rules, abstraction (thinking), and experimentation. No wonder that tweakers are ideal spatial learners.

Think of the paradox that comes with spatial thinking - the best way to 'train' is to work both with hands-on and non-hands-on approaches (abstraction, visualization). In fact, it's probably wise to make sure creative spatial thinkers get plenty of both types of practice (working with models and manipulatives, but also not working with models and manipulatives to imagine and problem solve).

So does this picture of spatial thinking encompass too much? We don't think so. What is not spatial thinking? It's not words and doesn't have to be visual images.

We've added some interesting links we stumbled upon for spatial teaching and reasoning. This is probably obvious to many of you, but strong spatial thinkers are necessary in almost all scientific and technical domains (including video gaming and software design of course), design and graphics, architecture, the military, mathematics, and more.

Spatial Reasoning Resources
Spatial Reasoning and Cognition:
NCTM: Cubes and Drawings
More Student Spatial Activities
Dyslexia & Talent: Visual-Spatial
Problem Solving Spatial Geometry

A Challenge to Autism Statistics: Three Reasons....

This paper is likely to cause quite an uproar. Read the full paper at the link below. This group has taken on the notion of an autism epidemic. While some of their points about the morph'ing of definitions over time are fair (current behavioral checklist guidelines stink), they ignore the fact that are many children out there who are unable to keep up with 'regular' activities of childhood language and social interaction.

Today many children are being mis- or over-diagnosed, but many do have neurologic issues, and they need specific interventions for their particular problems.

Three Reasons Not to Believe in an Autism Epidemic

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Teaching Optimism

Some children seem to be born more pessimistic than others, but optimism can also be systematically taught. And a child with a higher degree of optimism is more likely to resist depression, be health physically, persist at difficult tasks, and succeed in school and later life. In fact, children with high 'optimism' scales are more likely to outperform in college what their SAT and achievement scores would predict.

The picture below shows that students with higher anxiety scores are more likely to have lower levels of amygdala activation when viewing photographs of 'happy faces.' Of interest too, the higher anxiety subjects were still within normal ranges of personality.

Gifted children may also especially prone to existential depression, and studies of gifted children have shown that gifted students may react more intensely than average-ability students to frustration. Studies of stress and burn-out in gifted students suggest that key factors can be an inappropriate level of intellectual stimulation ('underload' or 'overload' as Hoekman et al. have recently commented).

One helpful book offering a step-by-step program to improve a child's optimism is Dr. Seligman's The Optimistic Child. It provides practical instruction on how to encourage children to see failures and setbacks as temporary, limited, and impersonal.

Seligman's Optimism Program
Happy Faces fMRI
Optimism article

Hoekman, McCormick, Barnett, 2005. The Important Role of Optimism in a Motivational Investigation of the Education of Gifted Adolescents, Gifted Child Quarterly, Spring 2005 (not online).

Science Fiction Links

Science fiction can be used to teach creative and critical thinking, social, biological, and physical sciences, art, math, literature, technology, history, and futurism.

Yale Science Fiction
Physics, Art, Literature, Mathematics
University of Kansas Center for the Study of Science Fiction
SCIFI.COM in Classroom
Sci Fi forYounger Readers
Course Study of Science Fiction
Tamora Pierce Gifted Readers Sci Fi List
Science in Science Fiction
Science fiction & Real Technology
HHMI Biology Through Science Fiction