The Powerful Necessity of TOUCH

Hugs communicate a lot more than you think
Hugs communicate a lot more than you think

If you live in a metropolitan area, chances are you have had the pleasure of using public transportation to get around. Buses or trains, or both, and the many others who accompany you in the journey to and from destinations. In these modes of transport, rush hour can get harrowing; packed like a can of sardines until it wouldn’t even matter if you had a bar to hold on to to maintain your balance. The sheer volume of people in your personal space is enough to keep you stuck wherever you are sitting or standing.

And if this is most human touch you experience per day, that may not be enough. Reason: our brains are wired to be touched.

University of Miami’s Touch Research Institute in early 2014 had done extensive research in the area of human touch.Their results have revealed that human touch has wide-ranging physical and emotional benefits for people of all age groups. In the Institute’s studies, they discovered touch lessened pain, improved pulmonary function, increased growth in infants, lowered blood glucose and improved immune function. Human touch is extremely important for all ages, but by the time children reach their teen years, they receive only half as much touching as they did when they were infants. Adults touch each other even less.

The researchers in Miami also found that touch with moderate pressure stimulates the vagus nerve which is responsible for slowing the heart rate and lowering blood pressure. This produces a state that is relaxed, less closed off, but more attentive. Even the Institute’s medical staff and students that received massages for 15 minutes a day over the course of a month were more accurate and took less time on math performance tests than their counterparts who did not receive massages, more proof that touch also decreases stress hormone function and boosts immune systems.

It is then no surprise to learn of evidence pointing to the levels of aggression and violence among children is related to lack of touching.

Cross species touch speak volumes
Cross species touch speak volumes

Touch Research Institute conducted two separate studies, one with French children and one with American children to determine the degree of touch they received from their parents in relation to displays of aggression. The researchers found that French children received more touching from parents and their peers and were less aggressive than their American counterparts. American children on the contrary had less physical interaction with their parents and tended to touch themselves more than they touched their peers (e.g. playing with hair).

And in 2009,  DePauw University psychologist Matthew Hertenstein studied the person’s ability to interpret emotional content via other non-verbal means with the sensory cortex.  Hertenstein had volunteers attempt to communicate a list of emotions to a blindfolded stranger solely through touch, of which many participants were apprehensive about the experiment. “This is a touch-phobic society,” he says. “We’re not used to touching strangers, or even our friends, necessarily.”

The result? They did touch, all for the benefit of science after all. The results suggest that for all our Pre-Frontal Cortex caution about touching, we are hard-wired with the capacity to send and receive emotional signals solely by touching, one of our sensory systems. Herenstein was surprised at the results, thinking that the results were going to be at a chance level of 25 percent. Instead, participants were able to clearly identify and communicate eight distinct emotions (anger, fear, disgust, love,gratitude, sympathy, happiness, and sadness)  all with accuracy rates as high as 78 percent.

Even for those who suffer from seizures can benefit from therapeutic touch.  Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) such as combining Acupuncture and Massage Therapy have been found to reduce seizures. Results from studies in China and Germany as per the College of Oriental Medicine have also proven to control abnormal brain activity that causes the seizures.

For the rest of us, average touch is relative. There is debate as to how many hugs one is required to receive per day to stay emotionally and mentally healthy — a range from 8-11 per day. And that is something we can all aim for, in spite of the speed we travel, the inconvenience of daily living, and the noise all around us.

Even they know...many hugs a day keeps one healthy!
Even they know…many hugs a day keeps one healthy!

Let’s have the animals teach us how it’s really done.

The University of Florida recently suggested that animals really wanted human contact after all. Lindsay Mehrkam, a University of Florida doctoral student in psychology with psychology professor Nicole Dorey have published a paper in the journal Zoo Biology that examined different types of enrichment preferences specifically in zoo-housed animals. 

For this study, the pair chose three tortoises at the Santa Fe Teaching Zoo in Gainesville, Florida named Larry, Moe and Curly. They were given four choices of keeper interaction: playing with a large rubber ball or under a water sprinkler, or having their shells scrubbed or necks rubbed. The zookeepers had used all of these amenities at least twice a month for several years at the zoo.

The inanimate object and the human were placed on opposite sides of the enclosure while the tortoises were released from the barn and had five minutes to make a choice. Consistently, they chose their human companion over the object!

Mehrkam said, “Not only did they prefer keeper interaction overall compared to the traditional forms of enrichment, but the individual tortoises had preferences for the kind of interaction they wanted. Larry and Curly like having their necks rubbed. Moe liked the shell scrubbing.”

Last Minute Gifting Ideas (And They’ll Love Their Brain) All Year Long!

If you are still on the prowl for illuminating choices in gifts this holiday season, here are some recommendations for all ages, sizes, and brains:

1. The Techie – You can go online and plug them in to Lumosity, Mind360, Brain360 to train the techhie you’re gifting. You can also engage further with systems (Wii and others) and subscribe to Minecraft or Terraria. Or you can gift them the ability to create Code. The Executive Function Skills targeted by these sites are usually indicated except for the console and subscription based games.

Minecraft Game
Minecraft Game
Mind360 site
Mind360 site
Coding Lessons!
Coding Lessons!

2. The Builder – If what you are looking for is a gift for someone who likes to build in 3D, then these items will make their day. The old fashioned LEGO has been morphed into Creators 3-in-1, Architecture, Movie themes, Pop Culture, and yes, even life sized characters! The Japanese store MUJI has also come out with 3D cardboard puzzles of animals that will come in multiple shapes and sizes. Ravensburger puzzles also have come up with their own version of a 3D puzzle using literal classic puzzle pieces to create monuments and other famous landmarks.

LEGO Architecture Series
LEGO Architecture Series
MUJI 3D Animal Puzzles
MUJI 3D Animal Puzzles

 

Ravensberger 3D Puzzles
Ravensberger 3D Puzzles

3. The Mover and Shaker – For the ones who love to use their limbs and reach out as far as they can reach to rhythm that they can truly appreciate, there are Just Dance songs (available free on YouTube) that are ideal for any age, as well as the Just Dance Wii game. For those who like the slow and steady pace, there are yoga or t’ai chi classes, or the Gaiam version on DVD or youtube as well. Still looking for the ultimate brain alternative that won’t include potential try outs for the X-games? Try the book Hands On: How to Use Brain Gym in the Classroom. In this photo-filled book, authors Isabel and Marcelle, who are teachers in the South African school system, have captured the joy of learning through their use of 25 of the Brain Gym activities and 14 of the Vision Gym movements. Another option to Brain Gym would be the program FUNtervals.

Just Dance on YOUTUBE
Just Dance on YOUTUBE
Hands On: Brain Gym
Hands On: Brain Gym
Yoga on DVD
Yoga on DVD

4. The Critical Thinker – And for the one who can’t stop thinking or philosophizing about the world and their future endeavors,  good old fashioned board games which are timeless in their appeal but modern in their evolution would be the perfect gift. Monopoly, for example, has evolved into the modern world and into electronic banking or thematic characters which younger audiences can relate to. Other options are Sequence or Quirkle, and even Critical Thinking Card Games.

Critical Thinking Card Game
Critical Thinking Card Game
Quirkle
Quirkle
Monopoly electronic Banking
Monopoly electronic Banking

5. The Social Butterfly – These are probably some of the easiest people to find gifts for, as anything that will encourage a conversation or a gathering will enhance this person’s day. Supercell games like Hay Day cross over onto the tecchie world and provide planning opportunities. Other options include hosting your very own Jeopardy game. Two person card to board game hybrids like LIfe Stories and Say Anything also encourage opinions and self-awareness.

Life Stories Board Game
Life Stories Board Game
Supercell’s Hay Day App
Say Anything Party Game

6. The Organizer – The one person who can manage to multi-task and juggle many demands on their plate and still manage to derive pleasure in listing and keeping things in their proper place and in complete order. The favorites that come to mind are the Container Store, Ikea, and even Muji. These provide multiple options across many age ranges to enhance their already natural talent. Additionally, some options require assembly, which would target Executive Function Skills such as sustained attention, task persistence and almost guaranteed emotional control.

Container Store Options
Container Store Options
Ikea Storage
Ikea Storage
Color Coded Storage Options
Color Coded Storage Options

7. The Empathizer – For the one always has the lending hand, sensitive ear and time of day to encourage kindness and hope that things will be alright, the options are endless. Here are our top three however: Aromatherapy sets, Relaxation sets, and Spa Retreats. For Aromatherapy, the better options are the ones which use natural oils that do not leave a burnt smell, such as Tisserand. Relaxation sets push the envelope further into the complete sets of a massager, aromatherapy and scented towels. Spa retreats are the best of them all, some that have within city locations while others are packaged with resorts or trips.

Relaxation Sets
Relaxation Sets
Tisserand brand
Tisserand brand
Ultimate Spa Retreats
Ultimate Spa Retreats

8. The Explorer – This is for the restless person, the one who cannot stay still in one place and seeks a new adventure in every free moment (or even within) a task setting. In the hustle of the holidays, there is an overload of places to be within one locale as the best gifts are being scoured for, however there are those gems that your explorer can definitely appreciate you for (faux or real). Games like All Aboard give globetrotters an idea of what to expect. Also Geography in Arts would make a wonderful outlet from the actual walking around to passing a plethora of colors and a variety of paper. And for those who are interested in the backyard exploration up close, there is always the explorer’s scientific kit.

All Aboard Board Game
All Aboard Board Game
Exploring Worlds Through Crafts
Exploring Worlds Through Crafts
The Backyard Explorer Science Kit
The Backyard Explorer Science Kit

9. The Music Maker – For one who has music in their blood and can’t shake the melody off! The gifts for this person need to be nifty and personalized according to the sound preferences, headsets and complete control of the musical atmosphere. Surround sound systems that will not break the bank are always a great option. If they need an upgrade, wireless headphones that are not made for cinema and movies only, and lastly, there’s always the music lessons for short term that could turn into long term.

...to finding the best headphones...
…to finding the best headphones…
From finding the Best Surround sound...
From finding the Best Surround sound…
...to short term music lessons!
…to short term music lessons!

10. The Visionary Artist – Last but not least, the one with the hyperactive imagination from words to images and needs to put them down on the page. These are the ones who dare to dream and think big, much bigger and more complex than what the material world can currently handle or fathom. Art supplies are a necessary staple but not exciting or extraordinary to the artist. So there’s a step above the staple which is taking the artist to a new location of inspiration for them to hone their craft, be it more art classes or a new location in the city they live in. The highest of them all is (if one has the means and connections), is to spend up close and personal time practicing  with idolized artists in action, even if it is the Disney Pixar studio!

Art classes in a different location...
Art classes in a different location…
Art Supplies: A Staple
Art Supplies: A Staple
Disney Pixar Animation: Ultimate Experience!
Disney Pixar Animation: Ultimate Experience!

Really Siri(us) Consciousness

With the invention of instantaneous answers through the swipe of a finger, a press of a button and a question, “Hey Siri… or “Hey Cortana… Who was the the little kid actor in The Never Ending Story?” or “What is happiness?” The act of thinking seems to take a backseat to the final destination of an answer. During this digital age, delayed gratification or the desire to experience the satisfaction of recollection has essentially been lost. While quickly seeking answers to simple questions may not be the beginning of the end, it seems plausible that electronic ‘personal assistants’ who refer to their owners as BFFs (yet can’t define it) will be answering questions like “What is the meaning of life?” or “What is the difference between right and wrong?” in a non-ironic way.

mind vs phone
What can the human mind do that a smartphone can’t?

Examples of consciousness happen nearly everyday, from the person who holds the door open for a stranger or gives up their seat on a crowded train to the thousands of people who protest for justice. The brain is an organ that can be worked out like a muscle and retrained to fall out of unhealthy habits like going to bed too late and into new ones like waking up early to work out. But what is consciousness?  To date, neuroscientists are still seeking to answer this question with little definitive results. Can it be programmed?

No, not yet anyway. Abstract thought coupled with spontaneous, altruistic action still belong to those with a beating heart and a conscious mind. But perhaps it is time to put down the phone, still the fingers and stop and think or ask a friend, rather then Siri, Google or Cortana, for the best restaurant in the city or the name of the song that played at the end of Princess Bride. Perhaps a few seconds or minutes will be lost waiting for an answer, but  connection–with another conscious–will be gained. Because, even though Siri often says it’s not about her. It’s not because she is being a BFF; it’s because there is no ‘conscious’ her. The conscious are the quiet girl at the coffee shop; the happy go lucky child on the swing, the misunderstood homeless man on the subway train or the real BFF who sometimes needs it to be about her as much as it isn’t. It is time for people to look up, open their mouths and speak. It may even be surprising what consciousness has to say.

Sustaining Holiday-esque Happiness Day After Day

The momentum to the last few days the end of the year can only be described as lightning speed. The quick high from lights and decorations everywhere you turn, reasons to be giving and forgiving (including to one’s self), and the songs overplayed and remixed in ways they shouldn’t be are all reminders that the end of the year is going to be here before you know it.

There are those of us who dread the end of the year for the excess, the commercialism, the lack of potentially peaceful relative gatherings, or worse, the dreaded office holiday party with several colleagues one is challenged tolerating every work day.  On a darker note, there are those who are in the constant state of loneliness throughout the year and this bright, loud, and extra hustled time of year pushes their fragile states even further inward, to a place of no physical return in some cases.

The recognizable flicker of your consciousness is about to commence...
The recognizable flicker of your consciousness is about to commence…

Now, stop. Just pause, and stop. There is silence if you don’t try too hard to listen for it. The world can move quickly and hurriedly around you but you are STILL. Just for 2 seconds, then 4, then 8…count up in two’s till you get to 12 and then, exhale to a smile.

You just gave yourself enough mind time to release whatever minuscule irritation, immaterial worry, or insane task load  that was pushing your brain to the brink of emotional amygdala detachment. Do you need another one? Repeat…stop, just pause and stop. Be still for 2 seconds, then 4, then 8…count up in two’s till you get to 12 and then, exhale to a smile.

Be personal to yourself. Make mental notes to yourself as you lift your own consciousness from the recesses of living. Write yourself an air note of happy holidays and great next years, and have resolutions that resolve in minutes and not months. You’d be surprised how much more realistic these promises to yourself as your own person can be.

Branch the material with the immaterial…how did you get here to the end of the year in the first place? Flashback key moments of the year, happy, sad, angry, moments of triumph and heartbreak — those pathways lead you to the very place you are standing in right now.

Reach in, dive in. You aren’t done yet, many compartments of your consciousness are resurfacing. Just because you haven’t seen them before or are seeing them again for the first time in a long time doesn’t make them non-existent. Set them free, 2 seconds at a time, 4, 6, till you get to 12.

Happy holidays have just planted themselves in your consciousness…you took time for yourself just now. Thank you to you. Now resume life a little bit lighter than when you began.

Is it Negative Behavior or ADHD Sensory Overload? An Educator’s Quick Reference

How many times have students been pigeon-holed into the category of displaying bad or negative behavior when opposing class work or during transitions from a state of play or break back to the classroom and vice versa?

When the body appears like this during an overt meltdown:

What May Look Like This May Actually Not Be...
What May Look Like This May Actually Not Be…

The Brain Actually looks like this:

The Amygdala and Hypothalamus Fired Up in Fight or Flight State
The Amygdala and Hypothalamus Fired Up in Fight or Flight State

The Emotional Brain that is highlighted are two specific parts of the limbic system, the amygdala and the hypothalamus. The amygdala controls the brain’s ability to coordinate many responses to emotional stimuli, including endocrine, autonomic, and behavioral responses. Stress, anxiety, and fear are primary stimuli that produce responses. Mediation by the amygdala allows control among the stimuli.

The hypothalamus plays a significant role in the endocrine system and are effected by the amygdala. It is responsible for maintaining your body’s internal balance, which is known as homeostasis. This includes the  heart rate, blood pressure, fluid and electrolyte balance, appetite, sleep cycles and is the key connector between the endocrine system (glands and hormones) and the nervous system.

Now we are painting this picture of the brain developing at a functionally optimal manner; without aberrations from either genetic means or environmental factors. However, when faced with students who have underlying imaging differences in brain imaging due to the said factors and manifest a type of negative behavior that can easily be mistaken and categorized as a regular tantrum, the subtle elevations in amygdala and hypothalamic responses are now pushed to abnormally erratic levels in these brains.

For example, take the Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Brain in comparison to the Normal Brain:

We see clearly that the shape alone of the cerebrum of the ADHD brain is not elongated or similar to a normal brain’s saddle

Imaging of the Normal Brain in Contrast to the ADHD brain
Imaging of the Normal Brain in Contrast to the ADHD brain

type shape. It is oblong and with heavy concentration on temporal and occipital real estate versus the butterfly formation of the normal brain. What is also fascinating is the corpus callosum (where part of the amygdala and hypothalamus are housed) is lighter in the ADHD brain. What that means is that there is no clear path of communication between both hemispheres as compared to that of a normal brain. The blues indicate calm sections of the brains and the greens are considered to be the brain in an even keeled state, balanced and not in fight-flight mode.

Here’s also an image of a person with and without ADHD medication:

Brain Chemical Responses with Adderall Versus Without Adderall
Brain Chemical Responses with Adderall Versus Without Adderall

With Adderall, the brain is utilized in full functional capacity, the chemical connections between neurotransmitters is efficient and there are little if any underutilized processing areas. When Adderall is wearing off, the results are unimaginable: the only sections  of the brain that have any residual function left are the orbitofrontal area of the Pre Frontal Cortex (responsible for sensory integration and some decision making), and spotty areas across the 4 lobes. What is fascinating to mention here is the loss of Adderall effects are from back to front of the cerebrum.

These images provide a very clear picture of the typical versus atypical brain, especially the differences between one with ADHD and one without.   If ony it were that easy as a classroom teacher to distinguish a student with ADHD from a student with  sensory overload.  The list below is not as ‘yellow’ and ‘red’ as the brains above, but hopefully it will provide clarity and a concrete direction for you to take in order to best meet the needs of your students.

First, it crucial to note that boys and girls with ADHD display different symptoms; therefore, they are distinguished below.  Second, students with meltdowns as a result of negative behavior, will most likely present with similar symptoms; therefore, it is an undertaking for teachers to take quantitative data on the targeted behaviors. Forms like the one below:

TRUE ABC Chart For Objective DATA Collection
TRUE ABC Chart For Objective 5 Session DATA Collection (click for printable image)

BOYS

  • Fidgety while sitting
  • Talk nonstop
  • Constant motion, may include touching items in their path
  • Difficulty sitting still
  • extreme impatience
  • Always “bored”
  • Lack verbal filter

    Sensory Overload or Negative Behavior?
  • Interrupt others’

GIRLS

  • Spacey
  • Unfocused
  • Inattentive
  • Trouble with organization
  • Forget directions
  • Forget or incomplete homework
  • Lose or misplace papers, books, personal belongings
  • Much Less Likely
    • hyperactive
    • impulsive

For students with ADHD, these symptoms as well as sensory overload meltdowns will be manifested consistently throughout the day across environments, unless the student is highly engaged in a preferred activity. Students presenting with negative behaviors will have meltdowns at specific yet intermittent periods of the day or throughout the day as will be shown in the ABC Chart above. For example, when the medication is wearing off, one may see a spike in ADHD symptoms in any combination. Once you can answer when, where, how long and make valid hypotheses as to why students are displaying the behaviors below, you should be able to have a pretty strong understanding as to whether your student is having a meltdown because of learned negative behaviors or as a result of having an ADHD brain on sensory overload.

Kindergarten Debate: Hand-Writing or Assistive Technology for Students Growing Up in Common Core

Limbic System Development
Limbic System Development

The typical picture of grade to developmental level progression when it comes to fine motor skills suggest that one starts with a four finger grasp before differentiating into pincer, tripod, and lateral pinch finger grasps. Just as gross hand motor skills are expected to be mastered prior to any initiation of fine motor finesse, fine motor skill hierarchy also has a period of latency and skill building.

Upon entry into socialized and organized peer grouping (pre-school), handedness is not yet determined however the traditional methods of encouragement are put in place to prepare the population for Kindergarten. Multi-sensory methods of cream and paint brushes fill the day of positive experiences to encourage the use of both hands in a structured form of expression.

Then Kindergarten begins: less play, more tabletop activities, more periods, and certainly lot more structured writing. A student in this day and age in Kindergarten is expected to be able to write their first and last names neatly, able to write 2-3 sentence essay on pictures that they drew, and be able to color within the lines by the end of the school year by about 80% accurately.

According to the CDC, 5 year old children should be able to perform the following Cognitive Skills below as appropriate to their developmental level:

Cognitive (learning, thinking, problem-solving)
  • Counts 10 or more things
  • Can draw a person with at least 6 body parts
  • Can print some letters or numbers
  • Copies a triangle and other geometric shapes
  • Knows about things used every day, like money and food

According however to Common Core Standards, Kindergarteners should be able to do the following writing tasks:

Kindergarten Writing  Standards

Text Types and Purposes

  • W.K.1. Use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose opinion pieces in which they tell a reader the topic or the name of the book they are writing about and state an opinion or preference about the topic or book (e.g., My favorite book is…).
  • W.K.2. Use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose informative/explanatory texts in which they name what they are writing about and supply some information about the topic.
  • W.K.3. Use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to narrate a single event or several loosely linked events, tell about the events in the order in which they occurred, and provide a reaction to what happened.

Production and Distribution of Writing

  • W.K.4. (Begins in grade 3)
  • W.K.5. With guidance and support from adults, respond to questions and suggestions from peers and add details to strengthen writing as needed.
  • W.K.6. With guidance and support from adults, explore a variety of digital tools to produce and publish writing, including in collaboration with peers.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge

  • W.K.7. Participate in shared research and writing projects (e.g., explore a number of books by a favorite author and express opinions about them).
  • W.K.8. With guidance and support from adults, recall information from experiences or gather information from provided sources to answer a question.
  • W.K.9. (Begins in grade 4)

Looking at the comparisons from both sectors, it is clear that the demands expected from a Kindergarten child in the classroom are above the cognitive writing capacity developmentally that a 5 year old can handle.

Or is it? Are these realistic expectation from a 5 year old’s sensorimotor system who’s limbic system is connected mainly to the frontotemporal sections of the prefrontal cortex and the Broca’s speech areas with minimal connection to the interior of the corpus callosum?

The color of connected brain clusters encodes t values. 3D visualization on the most right panels reveals clearly that cingulate gyrus part of cingulum (cgc) connects MPFC and PCC and cingulum hippocampal part (cgh) connects PCC and MTL for both neonate and adult brain
The color of connected brain clusters encodes t values. 3D visualization on the most right panels reveals clearly that cingulate gyrus part of cingulum (cgc) connects MPFC and PCC and cingulum hippocampal part (cgh) connects PCC and MTL for both neonate and adult brain

Based on the study, “Microstructure, length and connection of Limbic tracts in human normal brain development,” published in Frontiers Journal (http://journal.frontiersin.org/Journal/10.3389/fnagi.2014.00228/full), the study follows the deveopment and attached structures of the limbic system developmentally in the brain from birth to 25 years old.  All included children, adolescents and young adults were healthy subjects free of current and past neurological or psychiatric disorders. Right-handed were reported for all children who showed clear handedness. For young children, besides earplugs and earphones, extra foam padding was applied to reduce the sound of the scanner while they were asleep. They found that Memory, emotion, and motivation functions are related to limbic tracts and important for survival. It is vital for limbic tracts to become well myelined earlier than other tracts, especially those projected from frontal and temporal lobes (Baumann and Pham-Dinh, 2001).

They also discovered that although the overall shape of cgc is relatively stable throughout development, extra cgc growth can be observed in its anterior part close to prefrontal cortex (Figure 2). Relative increase of cgc length is probably related to its growth in the prefrontal region. Functions of prefrontal areas are involved in planning, decision making, and moderating social behavior that develop during late childhood and adolescence (e.g., Gogtay et al., 2004). Significant lateralization has been found for all DTI metrics of cgc-L/R and cgh-L/R with age and gender as covariates. his lateralization was associated with higher microstructural integrity on the left side of limbic tracts. Lateralization of DTI metrics of cgc and cgh may be related to unique functions of the left side of human brain such as language (van Veen et al., 2001). Exclusive right-handedness of the recruited subjects may also play a role. These findings are consistent to previous DTI metric measurements of cingulum (Gong et al., 2005;Verhoeven et al., 2010)

In plain English, what the study is saying is that the younger the brain, the lesser the pre-frontal cortex connection there is by the limbic system. It is the limbic system that allows any memory that is attached to a regulatory system (including motor memory) that enhances automaticity of movement such as that of fine motor skills. It also suggests that the system connects more effectively in the parieto-occipital areas, which house the majority of the sensorimotor processing and visual processing.

It then supports the CDC developmental data of what cognitively is expected of a 5 year old: with a still present instinctual need for regulation of pain, temperature, emotions innervated significantly more than that of the prefrontal cortex or the parieto-occipital complex, the coordination potential of a 5 year old’s hands are simply not the best gauge on whether they will be unable to utilize a writing tool or not in the long run. What that also means is that even if the academic demands indicated as a standard for the grade level are used aa a measure for their success, the developmental and imaging data will not agree with the current standards of achievement.

Perhaps then, we need to sit down with neuroscientists when we decide as a nation to adopt and revamp an entire educational curriculum. Educators educate; however, they need to know the brain they are educating. The marriage between education and neuroscience is long overdue.

Visually Processing Emotions

When a person interacts with the immediate external environment, they utilize the seven senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, hearing, vestibular and proprioceptive senses. One is a complement to the rest of the senses, and ultimately, it is through these senses that we are able to function and respond appropriately to our environment.

Pillsbury
Many unique neuronal responses, one Pillsbury Doughboy picture across generations.

Vision is one of the richest senses that happen to cross both gray and white matter, and one that requires all of the brain to give ‘meaning’ and attach this ‘meaning’ to an emotion. It touches all of the cerebrum before it gets completely processed by the Occipital Lobe.

We have a responsibility, especially to the young humans in our lives,  to consciously select the visual stimulation we are viewing and/or exposing others to.  In no way, can we or should we eliminate  exposure to the 24/7 media  that proliferate nearly all aspects of living in the twenty-first century. However, we do have some control over the reading material, games (video vs. educational)  and outings ( movies vs. museums) to name a few. These experiences are processed in all areas of our brains before we have even visually processed the image in our occipital lobe.

When video games became a part of mainstream culture and presented as mostly games focused on violence, social psychology professor Dr. Bushman began investigating the effects of excessive exposure to these video games. He and his colleagues have found that exposure to violent video games increases aggressive behavior as well as

Do you want to feel like this…

desensitize players to violence, which leads to an increase in aggressive behavior. It goes without saying that these experiences, which are highly visual, are leading to negative emotions. Furthermore, the opposite has also been proven: exposure to images that may be classified as serene or non-stressful, reduce stress, which can indirectly lead to positive emotions.

or this?

Creating environments with visually positive imagery can then plausibly decrease cortisol and other stress-related hormones from flooding our brains. This in turn will keep our pre-frontal cortex functioning, since cortisol is known to block access to it, sending us into fight, flight or freeze mode.

Imagine the possibilities of streaming the visual processing skill with positive, stress reducing imagery on the state of consciousness–not only for the individual, but for the those that individual interacts with!

Learning to Test or Testing to Learn?

The focus on reforming education in the twenty-first century has lead to a near obsession with standardization. We have standardized  curriculums, tests, grading, participation, essentially the entire learning process. Yet with this  shift to standardization, we have failed to meet the basic standard of a school, which is a place children come to learn. Pacing calendars, pre-packaged curriculums with differentiated tracks, cookie cutter bubble tests are teaching our children to be ready for a test, one that will rank not only their individual performance against a national standard, but the school’s performance as well. However, this test ultimately seems to prove only one thing, how well a student can take a test.

standardized-test-6

Unfortunately the test heavy focus of education reformation has annihilated a tried and true strategy for learning: testing. Teachers give summative tests at the end of the unit; they provide a study guide a few days before the test, tell students to study and perhaps hold a study session in class. However, according to How We Learn by Benedict Carey, that is not how we learn best if the goal is for information to be retained. We best learn and retain information when we systematically review learned information based on time to test and when we study by testing our knowledge of the information.

Dr. Melody Wisheart and Dr. Harold Pashler found this study interval to be most optimal for retention:

 

Time to Test

This table provides guidelines for either students or teachers to review material in order to increase retention at time of test. Using this information, teachers and students can intentionally plan study sessions to increase student’s retention of the material. Teachers can  revisit material learned at the beginning of the unit at the first interval and continue to add new material to subsequent study sessions until time of the test. By building in time to review material, teachers are teaching students how to study and providing them opportunities to review material in an effective way. This method is to increase retention of information and works best for facts, definitions, dates,mathematical equations etc.

Testing not studying is the answer to learning. Teachers often design pre-tests to determine what students know and what upcoming lessons need to focus on. However, pre-tests serve an even greater objective: they start the learning process of the material being test, evenwilson-train-the-brain-istock if the student guesses on every single question.  Dr. Robert Bjork found that after a simple experiment with his introductory psychology class that students performed 10% better on questions related to pre-test questions when taking the final exam than on questions with no similar equivalent on the pre-test. Students have the possibility of improving test scores by an entire grade with the addition of a pre-test. Furthermore, testing as a study strategy decreases the illusion of fluency, which tends to occur when students read notes or the text book multiple times as a way to study. Dr. Henry Roediger  theorizes that it forces the brain to do something more challenging that visually or auditorally process information; this additional effort increases the strength at which it is stored and later the ability at which is can be retrieved. Essentially, testing acts as a novel opportunity to learn and store the information; therefore, it becomes stored in a new way in the brain, connecting to other related facts thus strengthen storage and recall.

Testing needs to be re-branded in our classrooms. It can occur through a variety of ways (i.e. conversations with peers, family, other teachers, games, projects, and traditional paper/pencil tests), but  the focus needs to be taken off the final score and placed on the value of knowledge gained, whether that reveals the student knows all of the information in the unit, or she needs to spend more time ‘testing’ her knowledge, to she recalled all of what she knew before and more.

If we start testing to learn, the learning to test will naturally follow.

learn

Text Used in this post: How We Learn: the surprising truth about when, where and why it happens. Benedict Carey. Random House, 2014.