Friday, September 30, 2005

Conceptual & Perceptual Remembering

In some interesting work from Stanford, there's a interesting figure which shows a striking difference between conceptual and perceptual remembering. When we remember personally at a specific place and time, we can recollect aspects of what we experienced from a conceptual viewpoint (meanings, ideas) or from a perceptual one (sensory details).



What is striking is how different the appearance is, depending on how people recollected what they saw. Both conceptual and perceptual thinking are based on patterns and categories, but conceptual thinking is more 'left-brain'. That could be why perceptual learning is often a harder thing to pass down through words.

Another interesting finding from the paper is their finding of a "striking overlap between the novelty detection and perceptual recollection tasks". It's been our observation in our clinic that some of the most strongly novelty-seeking kids (highly distractible, touching everything, interested in how things work) are also the strongest perceptual learners. It's nice to think that both types of learners (dominant conceptual or dominant perceptual) are each really seeking out knowledge in their best style...the conceptual through verbal experiences, and the perceptual through sight, nonverbal sound, and touch.

Conceptual & Perceptual Remembering
Conceptual Thinking
Conceptual & Perceptual Thinking in Mathematics
Teaching History: Conceptual awareness through categorising in History
Perceptual Learning & Attention (research)

Two more innovators who hated school...

We accidentally came across this online Newsweek article about mathematician Stephen Wolfram and inventor Dean Kamen. Also, if you haven't seen it already, check out Wolfram's ScienceWorld--MathWorld in particular for cerebral topics such as recreational math.

Two More Innovators Who Hated School

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Stealth Dyslexia: When Writing is the Problem

With the new school year, we'd like to get word about what we call the Stealth Dyslexics, bright students of all ages who through analytic and problem-solving strengths have overcome perceptual challenges of reading, but may have severe disabilities in writing.

We call them Stealth Dyslexics because they are rarely recognized as being dyslexic because their vocabulary and reading comprehension may be so strong. And yet they may have dramatic difficulties with writing and spelling that lead to a lot of emotional anguish, inappropriate labels as underachievers, and inappropriate learning expectations.

The key feature of the stealth dyslexic is an enormous gap between written and oral expression. For individual stealth dyslexics, there are a range of dyslexia-related traits which can contribute to writing difficulties (also known as dysgraphia)- most common are visual letter or word form difficulties, but sequencing and sensory-motor issues are often also part of the picture.

Stealth dyslexics tend to thrive out in the real world beyond their K-12 years, but they need to be discovered sooner, to help them learn how to compensate for their unique perceptual issues (like missing words in short non-contextual passages) and as well as receive appropriate acommodations at the appropriate times so that their learning in all areas can progress. At times this may mean allowing them to narrate their work or use software which does not have as many demands on individual letter or symbol formation.

In the post below, we've listed some resources available for the middle-high school and above dyslexic who may need to keyboard math. We realize Stealth Dyslexia is a big topic - we'll post more on this soon.

For more on Stealth Dyslexia, look here: DyslexicAdvantage.com: Library: Gifted Dyslexics and Stealth Dyslexia

Math Software Resources for Dyslexia & Dysgraphia

We just got a question about this, and thought it would be a good idea to post these resources. If you know other resources for keyboarding math, please add them to the comment section...and thanks in advance!

Intellitools is for elementary level only. Equation Editor is usually within Microsoft Word- Here's one site that tells you where to find it.

Math Pad at Intellitools
MathType
Efofex
Mathsoft
Abacus Math Writer

We also just heard about Virtual Pencil Algebra, a program that was developed for blind students and has a read aloud function.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Don't Worry, Be Happy: Strategic Emotional Regulation with Age

This paper on "Motivated Cognition" and aging caught our eye. Researchers found that there is a developmental trend toward more strategic emotional regulation with age. Seniors are more likely to shorten their attention and memory resources toward 'negative' images, while young people were more evenly directed (and middle aged folks in-between).



Its interesting to see that the 'happy bias' was also seen with memory for images.



Being optimistic has many health, personal, career, and other long-term benefits (more research here). This developmental view of optimism is important to think about when it comes to kids. Some of the most catastropic pessimists we have ever met, are still in the first grade. When young children meet failure or setbacks, they don't have the benefit of enough lived experience to see it in context.

As for those of us who may be natural pessimists, we may have to fight biology at times, there are studies like the one below which suggest that a dominant left amygdala may be the culprit. In that study, researchers noted individual differences in how test subjects 'read' surprised faces.



Emphasizing Positive in Attention and Memory
Optimistic or Pessimistic Amygdala?

Science & Art: Hidden Leonardo Da Vinci

Some newspapers have already moved the best photographs to the 'pay' section, but here are some stories about recent discoveries found inside or behind Da Vinci masterpieces.

Clues in Da Vinci Fresco
Hidden Leonardo
Da Vinci Behind Walls

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Flexible and Inflexible Learning & Memory

Our memory systems may be our greatest untapped brain resource. Most of us don't think about how we remember, and even fewer know how to use our particular strengths strategically. The different ways we remember, and the best ways we remember should be part of the basic education of every teacher, but only now in the fancy era of brain reorganization and plasticity, are we waking up to the possibility of individually-designed brain-based learning.

The "Complementary Memory Systems" paper below is a good introduction to seeing the competition and complementarity in parallel memory systems exists. For some types of experience or learning, we want associations or details to be fairly fixed and inflexible. That fire is hot, or that we should extend our arms to break a fall, are lessons that should become so automatic that we don't have to think about them. It also might include a whole host of facts, definitions, and bits of information that are linked by unvarying relationships.

There are also some experiences and information that are best learned in a more flexible way, and its this sort of information that can be applied in different contexts and for new problems or situations.

The tricky thing in education is knowing where to strike the balance. This may be an even more difficult decision for students with disabilities.

In the case of some students with high functioning autism, fact-based memory maybe extremely strong - but problems arise with flexibility - being able to extrapolate or apply facts to new situations. Usually solutions are found by using a student's strengths - providing them with more facts, rules, and guidelines for decision-making, behavior, or activity, rather than expecting them to incidentally 'learn' from new situations or changing contexts.

In other students, flexible / personal / highly contextual learning may be the best or even only effective way of learning, so that a teacher may find herself directing learning only by her choice of materials and experiences, presentation of multiple examples and counter-examples, and careful consideration about how to interest or intrigue a child into becoming personally involved in learning a skill or subject.

APA: Memory Flexibility
Complementary Memory Systems
Mneumonic Strategies Ldonline
Improving Your Memory
Memory Considerations & Teaching
Inductive vs. Deductive (TA Handout)
Inductive Generalizations

(HT: Kevin McGrew's Blog)

Memory Gym

This free online practice site will only help your working memory span - but hey, that's a start! There's visual and auditory practice here, and words, numbers, playing cards, and shapes.

Memory Gym

Monday, September 26, 2005

Parietal Prodigies?: Superior Intelligence in the Parietal Lobe?

In this latest fMRI investigation into superior fluid intelligence, the frontal-parietal networks again emerge as important in a visualspatial problem solving paradigms given to superior-g subjects, but the posterior parietal lobe emerges as the most critical factor separating superior from average problem solving and reasoning ability.



This is a shift in thinking. For quite some time, superior intelligence has had been thought to reside in the frontal lobe activity. Some of the bias of 'frontal' intelligence came from lesion studies - and this is probably not the best way to see how 'superior' problem solvers were better than 'average' problem solvers.

The study is also interesting to consider for its implications for education. Are we doing enough to teach problem solving? And what might be the best approaches to teaching representational and fluid analytical thinking?

(BTW: The superior-g subjects were chosen by having won first or second prize in nationwide Science / Math Olympiad, teacher & principal recommendations, and successful performance on a novel problem solving test)

Neural Correlates of Superior Intelligence
Neurobiology of Intelligence
Neural Mechanisms of Fluid Intelligence

Interactive Mathematics - Play with Math

Came across this nice interactive math site: Interactive Mathematics

Central Auditory Processing Disorder Report ASHA 2005

For those who are interested, ASHA just put their consensus statement about CAPD online at the link below. Importantly, the report emphasizes the need for audiologists performing CAPD to keep current with the auditory neuroscience research. We were happy to see that they also addressed the multisensory issues that complicate CAPD diagnoses, and need for an interdisciplinary approach to these conditions.

CAPD 2005 ASHA Consensus Report

Friday, September 23, 2005

Real Time: How the Brain Solves Problems & Sensory Processing

Here's a very interesting look at brain processes involved in real-time problem solving in the complex Tower of Hanoi problem. In this spatial task, multiple steps (some initially counter-productive) are needed to reach a desired goal. The data provide a fascinating insight into what brain systems must be coordinated to solve complicated problems. The paradigm of the Tower of Hanoi and Grid of Pittsburgh are shown below. For details, check out the paper link at the bottom.



The areas studied were the prefrontal cortex (working memory, classic 'executive function'), the parietal cortex (representation, imagery), and motor cortex.



We added the color coding to make it a bit easier to see what was going on. It was interesting to see that in a task such as this - there was a certain rhythmicity between the events - decisions were made by button pushes, so that thinking and solving alternated with some of the motor cortex activations, though the researchers did feel some motor movements may have correlated with problem when test subjects were trying to visualize (motor imagery) the steps of the problem's solution. It looked as if memory retrieval and representations were closely linked - although memory seemed to be triggering some of the parietal (representational) surges in activity.



A study such as this reinforces the importance of the prefrontal-parietal lobe interactions in complex problem solving. It also suggests that a 'frontal' view of executive function tells only one half of the story. At least in this spatial task, the parietal region had a more specific role than any other in planning and successful decision making.

This emerging role for the parietal lobe is very interesting in the context of some of the kids we see in our clinic. Because the parietal lobe is were sensory pathways from all areas (sight, hearing, touch, position sense) converge, problems in some or several pathways cause an array of sensory regulation problems ('out-of-sync child'). Sometimes the bigger day-to-day dilemma for these kids is not from the sensory problems per se, but from decision making and planning.

Real-Time Problem Solving and fMRI

Links for Kids, Computer Programming, & Game Design

Here are links for parents & teachers interested in introducing kids to programming. Our kids did get to take apart (and put back together) computers through a local 4H club. Also, they've done some Lego Mindstorms, Logo, and we really liked GameMaker. Gamemaker is a free program from the Netherlands with tutorials and forums where people can share games that they've designed. Because our kids have been interested in animation, we're also learning Flash. There are also many resources for flash, including the full free online course from Foothills Community College we had mentioned here, and Flash Kit and Webwasp.

Burridge's Programming for Kids
Mack Kids Computers
Wired: Kids Programming
Visualizing Games : Mario deconstructulator
Gamesblog

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Video Gamers & Visual Spatial Expertise - Hands of a Surgeon?

There's been a sudden burst of papers showing the visual spatial expertise of experienced video game players. Maybe that's a good thing because a recent study found that 94% of adolescents play videogames for an average of 9 hours per week. The average age of a video gamer is 29 years old.

The data below are from a study at Beth Israel which found that skillfulness and frequency of playing video games was a better predictor of surgical skills (as measured on a standardized drill task) than years in practice or previous number of cases performed. Very interesting.



Importantly, gamers were not just quicker, but they were more accurate - as seen in their lower error rates below.



The second paper below (from Wash U St. Louis) also found that frequent video gamers were better visually - both in terms of visual response times and fewer impulsive errors. They could be onto something...

Video Gamers Better Surgeons?
Video Gaming & Visual Search

Google Earth: Found Roman Ruins

We downloaded Google Earth & had a blast flying around the globe and looking the Eiffel tower, Forbidden City, and the Grand Canyon. It's fantastic. A programmer searching around his home town of Sorbolo discovered some unusual shadows, which looks like it might be the ruins of a Roman villa. The original news article at Nature is now 'premium content', so we've linked to another site with more details.


Google Earth Roman ruins_
Google Earth
GIS 2 GPS - Geographical Information System and Global Positioning System Resources for Educators
Geocaching - Introduction

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Get Real! Which is More Reliable, Emotional or Neutral Learning?

Emotional learning wins the day. Not a surprise to advertisers, pictures and words that are more likely to evoke an emotional response were more likely to be remembered accurately. In the picture below, CA refers to "correct attribution", and MA, "mis-attribution". This particular graph shows the extent of activation in the emotional amygdala. Look at the difference between correct and false for emotional words only (green star). No wonder it's hard to remember what we've heard from even a just-OK lecturer.



Some other observations in this study raised more questions than answers (different brain networks appeared to be involved with false memories for emotional or neutral words), but agreement with the research post from yesterday, results suggested that a high degree of imagined visual imagery results in more mistakes. One of the burdens of highly active imaginations.

So the take-home point of this study is that learning that evokes a personal reaction, is learning that is likely to be remembered.

Emotional Learning fMRI
Intrinsic Motivation
Motivation and Middle School Students
Some Ideas for Motivating Students

The National Math Trail

This is a nice site for ideas about mathematics-based real life problem solving. Lessons and problems are sent in from all over the country. Click on National Math Trail Map "Submissions".

The National Math Trail

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Different Ways We Read: The Movie in Your Head

The first time I really appreciated how different our reading experiences can be from one another, I was watching a mystery movie with my husband. "Isn't that funny," he began, "that view on the beach is just exactly as I saw it while I was reading the book." I looked at him..."Huh??"

When I read, I don't see a motion picture running through my head. I can understand what the authors is describing and picture the situations, but it's never far removed from the words. My experience of reading a story is like hearing someone telling a story (and I can sometimes hear the voices speaking - auditory imagery - while reading the text). It's certainly not like a continuous running movie so that if I saw a movie in a theatre, I could recognize it as being the same or different from the movie I saw in the book.

For Brock, and many others, though, it is like a running movie, and it's one of those surprising things (brain-based perception is like that) that just doesn't come up all that often despite all the reading that goes one. Very young kids can get this running movie, and many of these highly imagistic readers really love to read.

There are definite advantages that come from having a powerful ability to visualize, but also disadvantages too - depending on the situation. We've included a link below to Gerald Grow's "The Writing Problems of Visual Thinkers", but also wanted to share this interesting paper from the Just lab. Because the language of pictures and words is different, it's often harder to translate what's been seen into words. In the figure below, you can see that high imagery sentences were much better than low imagery sentences activating the intraparietal sulcus.



But look at how high imagery sentences affected other things like response time and error rate:



In fact, many powerful visualizers are slower to speak (less likely to be the first to have their hand up) and they can make errors - particularly if a strong personal image generated by information or text overrides the consideration of other possibilities. Like many differences in the brain - they may be particularly good for some tasks, but bad for others. A better understanding of one's unique wiring, though, can always be useful information.

Imagery in Sentence Comprehension
Writing Problems of Visual Thinkers

Critical Thinking Through Online Discussions

There are unique advantages to online classroom discussions - the pace of thinking is better for thinking deeply, and the quality of the discussion can potentially be much richer. Here's one paper we happened to come across.

In our experience, teachers and students are just figuring out what they can do in this medium, but from our viewpoint, it looks like a powerful medium for introducing reflective thinking even at early ages. Our personal experiences with online classes have included CTD Northwestern, Stanford EPGY, Great Books Academy, and Islas. The ones that mix asynchronous discussions with live 'chats' seem to be the best.

Critical Thinking Through Online Discussions>

Teaching Reading to Black Adolescent Males: Closing the Achievement Gap

The link below is to Alfred Tatum's book on Teaching Reading to Black Adolescent Males. It deals mostly with choice of reading, cultural issues, and social emotional factors, of urban youth. The entire book is currently available for free online at the link.

Teaching Reading to Black Adolescent Males: Closing the Achievement Gap

Monday, September 19, 2005

The Amused Brain

A recent look at "amused brains" shows that being amused activates personal or autobiographical and emotional memory areas, and areas implicated in motivation and reward. For neurobiological afficionados, these areas included medial , inferior frontal gyrus, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate, temporal lobes, hippocampus, thalamus, and caudate. No wonder the amused learner is a good learner.



If we amuse our students, they are more likely to remember. In some cases, it may be the only effective way they can remember (incidental/ personal memory pathways are distinct from where rote or factual memory sites). We've included some links about Humor and the Classroom below.

Humor, Analogy, and Metaphor in Teaching
LDonline: Memory Strategies
Humor In College "Dread Courses"
Humor & Sentence Memory Abstract
Amused Brains fMRI

Controversy Analysis

While looking for something else, we came across this nice critical thinking site and worksheet for analyzing controversies. The short form: pre-analysis (look for partisanship), problems of understanding, critical terms, consensus areas, problems of fact, issues of fact, sources of fact, issues needing clarification, issues of value, and meta-analysis issues and problems.

Controversy Analysis

Friday, September 16, 2005

Emotional Perception, Movement, and Autism

Researchers continue to make progress understanding the brain pathways that contribute to emotional perception problems in autism. In the figure below, researchers found that autistic subjects show lower levels of R amygdala activation with emotionally 'morphing' pictures.



The important point for parents, teachers, or other professionals working with autistic students is that emotional perception was not absent. In fact, the brain activation areas of another brain region associated with emotional gestures was more similar to non-autistic controls (see below)



For individual students, then it may mean that slow motion video (or morphing) and practice with emotional gesturing (mirroring as well as visually studying) may be the way to improve emotional perception and social cues. Facial movements are quicker and more subtle, and sometimes facial recognition areas significantly affected in autism.

fMRI, Emotional Perception, Movement, and Autism
fMRI, Emotions, and Movement
fMRI and Perceiving Intentions

Educating the Brain to Avoid Alzheimers?

Clinicians and researchers are aware that education is associated with less age-related decline, but the big questions is whether education or training could be protective. There is an idea that more highly educated people have more 'cognitive reserve' that allows them the withstand the assaults of age or Alzheimer's disease.

The second study below may generate more questions than answers, but there are some interesting points worth mentioning. Education seemed to help both young and old subjects with remembering test stimuli if they also translated in what they saw into words (think about the computer- 'text' takes up less memory space than pictures).

The second study made a somewhat puzzling observation that the beneficial effects of education seem to activate different parts of the brain depending on age. One interesting speculation we might offer up based on their data is that as educated older adults lost some recognition memory (it happened to less well educated older adults as well), they shifted their reserves to the right temporal lobe, and became more pattern-oriented or intuitive, when exact retrieval couldn't be used.

Mental Training to Escape Dementia?
Effects of Education on Brain Activity of Young and Older Adults"

Sci Am: Metaphor Comprehension

Scientific Am: Metaphor Comprehension

Thursday, September 15, 2005

On Task or Off Task, Which Thinker are You?

More interesting pictures showing how our brains seem to work. With color coding, researchers at Washington University St. Louis found that large areas of brain appear to become activated or inactivated depending on whether people are actively working on a cognitive task.



The on-task areas are regions that you might expect - brains areas that are important for directed attention and working memory for different types of information. But the off-task areas are interesting too. When you're off-task, your brain doesn't just turn off. The cold colored regions become activated, while the warm colored regions turn down.

The 'cold'-colored area associated with more self-referential, emotional, and autobiographical thinking. They become more active with intrusive task-independent thoughts, free associations, and daydreaming.

All of us probably have this Yin-Yang relationship between these two widely distributed neural networks - but some of us spend more time with one color group than the other. The implications for different teaching approaches would seem pretty clear.

Task-Focused Attention, Rest, and fMRI
MPF, Self-Referential Activity, and fMRI

Top Ten Small Business Owners Under 16

Top Ten Small Business Owners Under 16

Discover: Your Brain on Video Games

Your Brain on Video Games

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Different Ways We Read - Implications for Dyslexia

In this latest study, from Mesulam's lab, there's a pretty illustration of what goes on when we read. When we read words, we see the group of letters in front of us, we recognize the sound those groups of letters are associated with, and we recognize meaning that that group of letters is associated with.

The brain is quite a computer. It uses slightly different brain networks to 'see', 'hear', and associate with 'meaning', but the three networks also share a common brain area (left side of brain) as well. In the figure below, the panels show brain activation patterns from top to bottom, of anagrams, homonyms, synonyms, and finally the area of brain activated by all three.



What the pictures show is why it's possible to have different word processing problems that selective affect how words are heard (phonology), seen (orthography), or understood (semantics). Some of this news will be reassuring to dyslexic individuals who have been badgered into literacy programs that use the wrong approach for them (phonics when they are struggling with orthography, or orthography when they are struggling with phonics, etc).

In the next era of neuro-education, the challenge will be to see whether teaching strategies can be as specifically designed for students as some of these scans. Also, we'll have to see if the cognitive pinpointing of the source of reading and writing difficulties gets better with better education of teachers about brain-based differences in their students' learning.

Language and fMRI

More Noise-Induced Hearing Loss Among Students

Turn down your Ipod. Noise-induced hearing loss is being diagnosed at younger and younger ages. It's not just rock musicians, but members of the first Walkman generation are now coming in.

It's not just personal music systems and concerts either. Movie theatres, amusement parks like Disneyland, and restaurants seem to boosting their sound even higher to nerve damaging levels.

If you're worried about your teen, have them check out the Newsweek article. Musicians ear plugs are available at sites like this. Early signs of a problem might include persistent ringing in the ears after loud noises or a thing called a temporary threshold shift, when hearing suddenly seems to get very quiet, but may return to normal.

College Student Hearing Loss
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
Newsweek: A Little Bit Louder

Boy Brains, Girl Brains - Newsweek

Happened to see this newspaper article about changing the school day to better match the differences between boys and girls.
Boy Brains, Girl Brains - Newsweek

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Our One-Track Minds: We're Not Really Multi-Tasking...

We think we're multi-tasking, but we're not, really. When we're seeing and hearing different things, we can only take in one channel at a time, so that we're only really see or hearing, not both. So what are 'good multi-taskers' really doing? These folks may either be people who are good at switching back-and-forth, or those with good memories (auditory or visual) so the previous track can be held in mind while switching to the other. In the figure below, attending so what was being heard, shut off what was being seen, and attending to what was being seen, shut off what was being heard.



In kids, we often see this with in the "watching TV-but-didn't-hear-you-call-me" phenomena. Some poor kids are even dubbed "hyperfocusing" (ala 'ADD') just because they are in the strong visual attention mode, but this is probably part of everybody's make up to some extent.

There are some kids and adults who do seem to have more trouble than others performing mixed modal tasks like multi-stepped mathematics (seeing the flow of problems being solved while listening to the teacher's instruction), but that might be due more to problem keeping information in mind (visual memory or auditory memory) than switching problems per se.

It's details like these that aren't obscure neuro-trivia. We see folks who struggle with multi-tasking all the time. If that's the case, then memory should be looked at as well as 'switch'-ability. Most people really aren't taught how to optimize their style of remembering, but it often can be trained just like a muscle, and it can impact almost everything you do.

In the neuro-classroom of tomorrow, we can envision cognitive training becoming as important a part of education as fact and skill mastery.

Yantis Divided Attention paper
Press release: Divided Attention
Windows Media movie about Divided Attention

History Lesson: An Agreement Among Enemies

Today, hearing John Robert's mention "we are a government of laws and not of men", gave us the idea of blogging on the Constitution. We're coming up the Birthday of the Constitution (Sept 17th, 1787), but we shouldn't forget the history of this vital document... first and foremost being an agreement among people who didn't trust and in some cases hated each other. Several 'Founding Fathers' refused to participate in the convention because they liked the government the way it was (Sam Adams, Thomas Paine, Patrick Henry), and didn't think the Constitution necessary at all. At times, vicious fights surrounded its eventual ratification which didn't take place until March 4 1789, and even then - it wasn't an unanimous agreement.

Check out some of the mudslinging insults of the Founding Fathers. For more, look up Distory, "A Treasury of Historical Insults":


We also shouldn't forget that in the early years of our country, Vice President Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton dead..and despite warrants for Burr's arrest in New York and New Jersey, he was allowed to serve out his term as Vice President. The full quote by Jefferson about his V.P. Burr was:"I never thought him an honest, frank-dealing man, but considered him as a crooked gun, or other perverted machine, whose aim or shot you could never be sure of."

The Constitution is an amazing document, but even more amazing when you hear how it came to be.

The The Duel | Hamilton and the U.S. Constitution
Wikipedia Constitution

Monday, September 12, 2005

A Good Start at School: Helping with Homework

It's the beginning of the school year, so get your pencils sharpened. What do research studies say about how parents should help with homework?...

Studies of high achieving students show that their parents are often much more involved talking to their children about and helping or finding help for homework. 'School Preparation' correlates well with a high grade point average, college attendance, regardless of socioeconomic status.

- High, but realistic expectations of children correlated with high achievement. On the flipside, this meant that parents pessimistic about their children's futures were more likely to have low-achieving children.

- Best parent practices were parents who directly asked about homework, answered questions or helped checked work, or found a sibling or other family member to help.

- Parents of high achieving students were more likely to have structured time for homework and some variation of "grandma's rules" - finish your homework before playing or watching TV.

- Parent help with homework could be valuable for helping clarify understanding or setting a standard for completion. Some students are more likely to ask parents than teachers when they are lost in a topic or confused.

- Culturally, some ethnic groups are more 'hands-on' in terms of working with their children on homework. In a study below, Asian parents of high achievers were much more likely to be involved with student homework and academic decision-making. They also tended to see student performance as the direct result of effort, and were less likely to mention problems with poor teaching or boring subject matter taught at school.

- Help with homework also provides an opportunity to teach students intermediate-long term planning and organization. Supervision of these longer term activities or class requirements also promoted development of a regular work ethic and delayed gratification.

- Good parent helpers still tried to foster autonomy and independence. Helping with homework did not mean giving answers, it had more to do with checking work and clarifying understanding if necessary.

From Brooks-Gunn and Markman (bottom link) paper: "When researchers measuring school readiness gaps control for parenting differences, the racial and ethnic gaps narrow by 25-50%." Pretty impressive. Although parents of minority underachieving students tend to agree with statements about the importance of education, studies using in-home observers showed less active involvement in homework.

From William Sampson's work, Black and Brown:

"Average Student: The home of one of the average students of the study was described to not be an ordered environment where gratification was delayed or responsibility was taught. In one of the visits the student played video games the entire time while his family watched the television. The father asked him if he had finished his homework, and the student replied, “Si, papi” [Yes, daddy] although a look to the observer suggested that he had not finished his work, however, the student’s father asked no follow up questions.

Below Average Student : The home of a below average student was described as “welcoming and sweet” and “nice and warm”. On the other hand, on one of the visit the observer never saw the below average student doing homework. A situation at a different below average student home was described to be the following, “when a baby cried, no adult would come to the baby; rather the baby had to go to the kitchen to the adult. There was no discussion of school or schoolwork, and Adam did no homework or chores at all.”

Above Average Student: In one of the visits at an above average student home, upon arrival the mother asked her daughter if she had completed her homework. At that time the student began to do her homework with the help of her uncle. The student devoted a total of an hour to her homework."

Kid Source: Helping with Homework
Parent Involvement & Homework
School Preparation and Minority Achievement
Asian-American vs. Anglo High Achievers
Parenting Closing Ethnic and Racial Achievement Gaps

Innovate - Computers, Games, & the Classroom Webcasts

Some excellent articles on Innovate: Gaming in the Classroom, The Game of Teaching, What Can K-12 Leaders Learn From Video Games and Gaming, simSchool, and more. Live webcasts are planned with the authors of the articles Sept 13-20th. These webcasts will also be archived.

Innovate - Changing the Game: What Happens When Video Games Enter the Classroom?

Lego Computer


For lego fanatics, check out this computer made out of legos. We like the cdrom drive.

Winston's Lego Computer

Friday, September 09, 2005

Amphetamine, Mood, and Reward

Amphetamine and its effect on the brain's incentive mechanisms were studied in this report from Stanford. Using healthy volunteers, research studied the effect of amphetamine on brain activation of reward centers. There was some elevated mood seen during the testing, but the most notable finding was that amphetamine decreased the amount of ventral striatal activation during anticipation of gain, but it boosted activation during loss anticipation.

It's clear that further lines of investigation involving amphetamine, reward, and mood, will be important as the numbers of U.S. children and now adults are diagnosed with ADHD, but some of the results are also cautionary. Because fMRI measures blood flow oxygenation, it raises the possibility of negative (and unwanted) effects on normal brain reward systems. Also, the mood properties of stimulants need to be considered as possible confounding variables when evaluating whether students or others have improved on stimulant trials.



Amphetamine, Mood, and Reward
CDC: More Kids with ADHD

Fantasy Sports and Math

Need to jazz up your math lessons? - Fantasy Sports are popular with both boys and girls.

Fantasy Football Unit Study
Guardian: Fantasy football? It's all maths to us
PBS: Fantasy Baseball Lesson Plan

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Perspective Taking... Through Blogs?

We accidentally came across this Writers Write site while surfing with our kids for creative writing helps. The site has ideas about using the Internet when researching characters. Beside suggesting Psych sites (different temperaments) and Biography sites, it also mentioned respectfully visiting different discussion groups and lists (farmers, fire fighters, different political groups) to learn more about what these different people were interested in, how they talked, and what their experiences were. This type of activity is of course not only helpful writing, but also broadening our own exposure, and having the time to consider different perspectives and points-of-view at a more leisurely pace.

Careful and supervised explorations of this sort may be valuable for students when they are seeking to understand different points of opinion and controversy, and understand the context and perspectives that accompany these views. The blogosphere has certainly contributed a lot to this, because more ordinary people can have blogs, and its usually seen as a platform to speak ones' mind.

Check out the picture below which shows which shows the different pattern of activation in a visual spatial perspective taking task involving a virtual ball tossing game. The red areas were activated when playing the game from a first person perspective. The blue areas were activated when playing the game from a third person perspective. Pretty dramatic difference. Even just the visual spatial process of taking another perspective requires a great deal of activation of representational areas.



Keep in mind this sort of perspective taking is only the simplest kind - not considering who the person is, what their experience, value system, emotional feelings, or intentions are. It's not surprising that many of us even as adults find we have a lot to learn about perspective taking.

Any way, may this will be a helpful idea for one of you out there. Another thing this scan shows is why children with visual perceptual difficulties (happens with birth injury, prematurity, autism spectrum, other conditions) have such trouble with perspective taking. Look at the large blue area that's required.

For some of them, close captioning of movies or reading blogs is their breakthrough. It's no accident that people with visual perceptual difficulties may become engrossed in language - because a lot perspective taking can be gained (context, intention, assumptions, humor) from understanding the differences in language well.

Kid Pick Brain Break: Eliza, Computer Therapist

Here's a cute site which requires surprising little programming code to imitate a Rogerian psychotherapist. Ask questions and 'dialogue' with Eliza, and read her responses. This is not artificial intelligence, it's surprisingly simple. Check the source code and see how the program was generated.

Eliza, Computer Therapist

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

What We Remember: 2 Very Different Types of Novelty Seeking

There are definite differences in how and what we remember best, but this latest research article from Stanford, researchers have been able to dissect out different pathways for novelty-based learning depending on whether recollections were conceptual or perceptual.

From the individual person point-of-view this makes complete sense. Sometimes we meet people who are very lopsided in what interests them. Sometimes these differences are very apparent at early ages.

Powerful conceptual novelty seekers are wonderful to talk with (they could go on for hours and hours in fact) because they make interesting observations, notice unusual aspects to prosaic topics, and play and appear to endlessly ruminate on personal topics of conceptual fancy. They may not always succeed in the classroom because they can think of better ideas in their heads, may prefer the company of smart adults, and have broad intellectual interests because it allows them to distill different subjects to their essence, and examine underlying conceptual foundations. Their most likely public school diagnosis: underachiever.

Powerful perceptual novelty seekers are often equally frustrating in the classroom but they are more likely to be misdiagnosed as 'ADD' or 'ADHD' because they're always noticing and playing with objects in the room. A bit of color here, texture there, weird shape, and their hands are running over it and using it exotic and unexpected ways. These perceptual novelty seekers may be excellent mechanical diddlers, find new uses for old things, and seem to always be wanting to make ordinary things better.

In the figure below, check out the very different brain patterns of activation depending on whether novelty-based recollections are 'conceptual' or 'perceptual' - sure it's not all-or-none right vs. left brain, but there is a pretty striking preferential pattern of right/left activation.



It's another question, how education might be optimized for these two very different classes of novelty seekers - but we'll have to talk about that another day (doing the crazy beginning of the school year dance).

Creative corporations probably have some of these lopsided novelty seekers - do you think they always get along?

Domains of Novelty Memory and fMRI

DNA Interactive

Very neat interactive sites are springing up for science. Animations are very valuable for helping students to visualize processes that they can't see. DNA Interactive also has free interactive features for teachers that allows them to set up customized lesson plans, videos, and animations for their students. HHMI also has wonderful scientific animations as well

DNA Interactive
HHMI Cardiovascular Animation

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Mental Toughness, Resiliency, and Endurance

"Mental Toughness" is a concept that's talked about in terms of sports and physical challenge, but it's also a character trait that seems important for a lot of life obstacles - personal or work-related setbacks, academic or job-related disappointments, and perseverance to run the long race and meet one's goals.

So how to do it? These days, emphasis of personal self-esteem and immediate happiness seems to potentially work at cross purposes with an ethic of personal denial or sacrifice, and without just nagging the kids, how can we encourage students to be tougher, more resilient, and to endure?

We came across It Takes a Parent by Betsy Hart in the book store, and though there are spots that are sure to get some people fired up, she scores a lot of direct hits.

Sure we want our young people to be happy and confident about themselves, but we also want them to be mentally tough, take risks, shrug off and learn from disappointments and failures, and persevere for long term goals.

Hart has this nice excerpt from an interview Columbia psychology professor Carol Dweck has with Education World:

"EW: Why is it that many students who succeed throughout their elementary school years suddenly seem to fall apart when they get to junior high or middle school?"

Dweck: Many students look fine when things are easy and all is going well. But many students, even very bright ones, are not equipped to deal with challenges. When they hit more difficult work, as they often do...they begin to doubt their intelligence, they withdraw their effort, and their performance suffers....The students who blossom at this time are the ones who believe that intellectual skills are things they can develop. They see the more difficult schoolwork as a challenge to be mastered through hard work, and they are determined to do what it takes to meet these challenges."

There are many different factors which can help a child be come more "mentally tough" and it doesn't have to mean become stoic. Check out the picture below which shows how resilient college students were better at 'letting go' of negative images than their non-resilient counterparts. When viewing negative pictures, resilient students reacted the same as the non-resilient - the difference was in how they were able to stop the negative emotional reaction after it had been seen.



Resiliency can be modeled for young people, and it's never too young to begin praising effort and perseverance more than accomplishment, to encourage risk-taking and boldness, and to allow kids to fail, but being ever ready with unconditional emotional support, context (failure is one of the best ways to learn), and redirection toward the future.

Resiliency and fMRI
Well being and affective style

Free Online Courses at Sofia

Hurray for Intellectual Freedom! Check out these great free online courses from Foothill College. They include Creative Typography, Elementary Statistics, Physical Geography, Enterprise Network Security, Introduction to Java, Introduction to Macromedia Flash, Musicianship II, and Webpage Authoring.

The Introductory Flash course is fabulous (we used it ourselves as well as for teaching our kids animation). We'll also probably dabble in the Physical Geography course in the upcoming year.

Sofia Course Gallery

Monday, September 05, 2005

Flashes from the Past: "He was a born teacher..."

If you're a teacher, you probably won't have time to read this because it's the beginning of the new school year. Here's a nice flash from the past about a great teacher when things begin falling into place...

From Caught in the Web of Words, "He was himself a born teacher, never throughout his life able to resist passing on information...". We know who they're talking about. We've been fortunate enough to be mentored or inspired by a number of these folks in our lifetimes- they are generous souls who with every fiber of their being just want to share what they learn and know.

As a young boy, today's 'Flash from the Past' showed this teacherly trait when, seeing his baby brother for the first time, he gave a primer book to the baby and told his parents "I will show little brudder round 'O'and crooked 'S'." From a very early age, he was fascinated by letters.

Later as a young man, he would become an assistant schoolmaster in a country schoolhouse - and he loved it there, visit students at home, gifting them with personally drawn cards or little books, and keeping detailed monthly records of the progress of each of his students in every subject. He wrote his own outline of English literature that included its precursors in Celtic, Latin, Anglo-Saxon, and Norman works, and encouraged 'direct learning' in science adventures in the countryside or by inviting any visitors to the town to meet the school children, point to where they were from on the globe, and talk about their different language or dialect.

Who was this natural born teacher? This was James Murray, author of the Oxford English Dictionary, a remarkable tome about word origins and meanings, and the definite dictionary of the English language.

This biography is great fun to read, and Murray seemed to be a nice family guy as well. Reading his early life history, we were impressed by the good fortune he had having kind and generous teachers and tutors- his elementary teacher took the initiative to teach him Latin because he seemed to love words (he was the only one in his school at that time to study it), a retired minister who took him along rambles in the countryside studying botany and geology, and another schoolmaster who would devise interesting science experiments like exposing the class to laughing gas. The latter teacher also found aneighbor woman who could teach him German and Italian after school for fun.

James Murray did find a way of paying back these generous teachers - by becoming a generous teacher himself - as a school master, as a father, as a colleague, and as lexicographer he could share his encyclopedic memory and love for language. The reverbations of his teaching legacy continue in other ways as well- his biography was written by a granddaughter, a principal in the U.K.

Got Words? Vocabulary Links, Quizzes, Historical Linguistics

Language is fascinating to study because of its evolution over time. My mother's family grew up with standard English and Pidgin (dialect of Hawaiian with English, Japanese, and Portuguese rolled in), and from our extended family and academic wanderings, we are blessed with exposures to Swedish, Norwegian, and Chinese, as well as dialects from the Northeast, Midwest, and 'Valley' (California - surfer).

For those who love language, here are interesting language links:
Jabberwocky: There are no Such Things as Words
Tolkien Languages Site
Pidgin - Wikipedia
Nicaraguan children create new sign language

Also here are good Vocabulary Links and Lists:
These are good for challenged readers and reluctant writers who need to learn more words. The lists include the most frequent words in the English language and free quiz sites for things like vocabulary, adjectives, and word categories.

Vocabulary Lists and Quizzes
Word Groups
Vocabulary Quizzes

Friday, September 02, 2005

What?? Memory Problems Caused by Auditory Processing Difficulties

A recent report from Brandeis has suggests that mild to moderate hearing difficulties in older adults can tax the brain's resources so much that it impairs memory difficulties and cognition. For our experience, this happens in kids too. Hearing disorders are something that are often undiagnosed, and if you add central (brain-based) auditory processing disorders, the numbers are even greater.

If you're young and don't seem to have very good auditory attention (what, huh?), you could be written off as having ADD. If you're older and tend to say what, huh? then people might think you're 'slow'.

Well, as it turns out, you might be perfectly fine with reading - so it's not a general attention deficit disorder or age-related memory impairment, but few people are available to help you fgure that out.

In the classroom and in formal school evaluations, we would like to see more professionals thinking about comparing reading to hearing when problems with attention, memory, or comprehension arise. Standard accommodations might include Teachers' Notes (if available), textbook at home, close captioning of movies, and assignments, instructions, requirements always provided in writing.

15% of school children have measureable hearing loss in one or both ears, and fully one-third of children diagnosed with only 'minimal' hearing loss will fail at least one grade.

The Figure below shows the different patterns of brain activation when reading a sentence (warm colors) vs. hearing a sentence (cool colors).



Press Release: Poor hearing may cause poor memory
Hearing vs. Seeing Sentences
Verbal working memory and sentence comprehension

National Reading Panel Report

This report will be helpful for parents, teachers, and tutor of students with reading difficulties. Topics include: Phonics Instructional Approaches, and tips for Fluency, Comprehension, and Teacher Education.

National Reading Panel Report

Seattle Times: WASL scores rise statewide

WASL scores are rising throughout the state, but there's still a long way to go. Fewer than half of students passed all three subtests.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

fMRI of Peer Pressure

This study from Emory provides an interesting view of peer pressure and the 'pain' of independence. Test subjects were given mental rotation tasks to perform individually and 'in a group'. In the group situation, they saw either the faces of others giving their answers (really student actors) or computer terminals that were supposed to be reflecting the answers of others.

When subjects succumbed to peer pressure and made errors, it was evident that they were giving in to their peers because the reaction times were shorter and they didn't activate their brains as much as when they were doing the task by themselves. The 'peer pressure' site appeared to be in the right parietal sulcus, which might be reflect the possibility of an alternative representation (from the group) being considered.

A unexpected finding was researchers were also able to see the sting of independent thinking. When people went against the group and made correct choices despite the three subjects choosing otherwise, the emotional amygdala and right caudate (salient stimuli) became activated, perhaps reflecting the pain of marching to the beat of a different drummer.



fMRI of Peer Pressure
Adolescence and Peer Pressure
Helping Gifted Students With Stress Management
Black Enterprise: Financial Peer Pressure
Adolescents Adjust to Giftedness

New Scientist - Most scientific papers are probably wrong

Always good to keep in mind...

Homeschooling Dads Links

Homeschooling Dads
Research on At-Home Dads
Help for Fathers with Autistic Children
Homeschooling Dads Talk