Interactive Brain Map

Click below to explore OpenColleges’s interactive Brain Map. Filled with facts about the brain as well as strategies for leveraging those brain features to take ownership over learning. Enjoy.

Open Colleges Presents Your Brain Map: 84 Strategies for Accelerated Learning

An interactive infographic by Open Colleges

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RSA of Steven Johnson’s “Where Good Ideas Come From” Talk

3036254720_052d0020ccIn the video below, the clever folks over at RSA Animate give visual engagement to Steven Johnson’s brief talk on Where Good Ideas Come From, an excerpt from his TEDtalk.

One of the things we love about this talk is that it confirms what we intrinsically know to be true — innovation is more about interaction and engagement than sitting and listening.

Why is this important?

When we think about involving and investing all learners in education, we run up against the contrast between the traditional practices that sustain a factory “batch and queue” model of education with the reality of how people actually learn. Out of this contrast is born the dichotomous tension between focusing on efficiency and “teacher effectiveness” (an inherently top-down approach geared toward achievement on standardized tests) with that of focusing on the learners and their strengths/affinities/needs as a starting point (an inherently bottom-up approach focused on the whole child).

That the top-down version is currently the dominant paradigm is easy to see. There is more talk about accountability and outcomes than student engagement or motivation. Yet this video lays out the simple truth: innovation, via creativity, necessitates interaction and connections. If we want the strengths of dyslexia and other learning differences to be harnessed and applied, we need to think differently about how we involve students in learning. What is the role of the teacher? What is the role of the student? What patterns, norms, and habits of mind do we want for our graduates and what kind of learning experiences will help cultivate those?

Such questions will not be quickly answered. So, in the meantime, check out the clever video below.

 Photo Credit: zetson via Compfight cc

Brief Review of L. Todd Rose’s “Square Peg”

“Behavior isn’t something someone ‘has.’ Rather, it emerges from the interaction of a person’s biology, past experiences, and immediate context.”

L. Todd Rose, from his book, Square Peg

6301560117_fa8f4c16b9_bFor students with learning differences schools can be (and often are) incredibly trying places. Imagine being a kid who wants to do well — motivated, eager to please, and enjoys interacting with other students — but struggles with attention and working memory. Rather than reep the joys of learning, the student finds herself labeled, removed from her classmates and made to do the things she struggles with for a significant portion of the day. Other subjects, like PE, Art, the Humanities, are sidelined, even though they may be areas of strength for her. Her resulting behavioral expression of the dissonance between her and her learning environment is seen as misbehavior and disciplinary actions follow.

At the end of a day, month, year, or decade, what has she concluded about her “smarts” or her potential as a student? More importantly, what is her assessment of her value as a human? What does she see when she looks at herself through the lens of a school experience that focused, almost solely, on her deficits?

w_2115_smallerL. Todd Rose, co-founder and president of Project Variability, offers a glimpse of a similar experience in his part-memoir part-neuro-education book, Square Peg. His story goes something like this:

  • Classic case of boy with ADHD
  • Struggles in school — discipline, academics, friends
  • Suspended, fails, becomes wholly disenfranchised
  • Drops out
  • Works minimum wage job to support wife and baby
  • Ends up on the faculty at Harvard (after a lot of hard work)

In the telling of this incredible journey, he shares insights from his experiences and from research into the needs, challenges, and value of the “Square Pegs” in our lives. The anecdotally academic weaving together of personal tales and studies from the field of neuro-education (he teaches Educational Neuroscience at Harvard Graduate School of Education) creates numerous access points for a compelling narrative arc as well as enlightening examples of applied theory. In short, it is a book that is hard to put down.

squarepeg-8-8-VER-8While he maintains a child’s sense of wonder and fascination about his own turnaround throughout the book, he also plays the role of scholar, unpacking the theories and ideas that became leverage points for capitalizing on his strengths and accommodating for his challenges. In the prologue he suggests the field of complex systems offers the best possible explanation for his story, and by proxy, the story of many others. He describes his application of complex systems as such:

To put it simply, the study of complex systems looks at how different parts of a system influence each other collectively to produce various outcomes. Nowadays, scientists have been holding up this lens to a range of traditional disciplines, from physics to biology–and, most recently, in centers like the one in which I work: Harvard’s Mind, Brain, and Education program–to the study of human learning. As this effort matures, it is offering a radically new and useful way for parents and teachers to understand the often bewildering behavior of children in their charge.

Throughout the book he uses complex systems and neuroscience to flesh out four ideas to help us be “much more understanding and effective parent(s) and teacher(s)” for the square pegs in our lives. But in reality, the ideas apply to myriad human systems. They are:

  1. Variability is the rule: As humans, our ways of perceiving the world and reacting to what we perceive are much more diverse and dynamic than we might ever have imagined.
  2. Emotions are serious stuff: Contrary to what we’ve long believed, modern neuroscience has shown that there is no such thing as purely rational thought or behavior. Parents and teachers need to learn to tune in to children’s emotional states to help them make the most of their education.
  3. Context is key: People often behave in dramatically different ways, depending on the circumstances. Among other things, this suggests that we unfairly prejudice children by labeling them with a disorder, when they’d be perfectly fine in a different environment.
  4. Feedback loops determine long-term success or failure: Remember those flapping butterfly wings, and keep in mind that small changes in your child’s life today can make an enormous difference tomorrow.

Taken together, these four ideas create a mosaic of factors playing into students’ lives, influencing and affecting their choices, decisions, and behavioral outcomes. They demonstrate that the only silver bullet is in not accepting there there is a silver bullet. No juggernaut exists for all people in all situations. Rather, we must be champions of the individual, unwavering advocates for the well being of each child, and Loraxes who speak for the square pegs.

We highly recommend this book to parents, educators, and clinicians working with square, triangular, and / or round pegs. Not only will you glimpse what the world may look like through their eyes, you will learn a bit about yourself, the science of learning, and, ultimately, the anecdotal and neurological value of caring.

Photo Credit: Mario Inoportuno via Compfight cc
Todd Rose portrait: HGSE
Square Peg Book Image: Hyperion

Tipping the Balance in Students’ Favor

By AKOM Guest Blogger Sally Hunter

 

I am struck by the reality that schools today require teachers to become skilled performers in an increasingly complex and critical balancing act.  In more and more public classrooms, elementary teachers are asked to spend the bulk of their day following impersonal lesson plans, preparing students for mandated tests, and completing layers of benchmarks and reports to document their efforts.  Schools are overwhelmed with well-intentioned but imperfect government mandates, liability inspired paperwork, over-emphasis on high stakes testing, and the bureaucratic tendency to jump on new ideas and methods simply because they are new.  Evaluating schools, teachers, and students has become a checklist of what is easiest to test, rather than what will prepare individual students to become confident, active, productive citizens.

Successful teachers must strive to balance their instruction by finding time and energy to focus on each individual student and help every learner develop crucial connections:

  • connections to their own minds, learning profiles, and potential passions
  • connections to their own creativity, talents, and personal strengths
  • connections to the power each individual has to bond and collaborate with others
  • connections to the future through their own dreams and actions today

Without these essential connections, students will never reach their full potential or have truly successful and satisfying adult lives, no matter how skilled they become in reading, math, and science.

My hope for the New Year is that all students would have teachers who tip the instructional scales in students’ favor by creating learning environments in which these connections are inevitable; naturally integrated throughout a curriculum that includes character education, social studies, and the arts.  Teachers who provide the structure and flexibility for students to explore the world and apply their discoveries in creative and meaningful ways.  Teachers who train students to work together, build on one another’s ideas, respectfully disagree with one another, and provide supporting evidence for their ideas and perspectives.  Teachers who encourage students to set and pursue their own goals while helping them develop strategies to achieve those goals.  Students must understand themselves and their place in the world before they can begin to understand the rich and amazing possibilities the world has to offer them.

Sally Hunter, a 4th grade teacher at Highland Park Elementary in the Austin Independent School District, was named 2010 National Council for the Social Studies Elementary Teacher of the Year. In addition to teaching and writing curriculum, she is a Schools Attuned facilitator for The Learning Center of North Texas.

All Kinds of Minds Website Gets a Makeover!

All Kinds of Minds is pleased to announce that our website has been updated with a brand new structure and design.  We’ve streamlined the navigation and structured the content to provide you with a better user experience.

Your Go-To Source for Learning about Learning

While the site has a new look, you’ll still be able to access the same great resources geared toward helping you understand and apply the science of learning in your schools and classrooms, such as:

If you haven’t visited our new site yet, take a look today!  We hope you like what you see.

What’s Up with Kate? (Part 2)

Last week we told you about Kate, a 6th grade student with some learning challenges.  Kate is earning good grades, but she really has to work hard for everything – seemingly much harder than her peers.  She struggles to retain new vocabulary words, recall information from reading passages, follow multi-step directions, and master math facts.

So what’s really going on with Kate?  We got some terrific responses to last week’s post, with thoughtful analyses of Kate’s challenges as well as creative strategies for using her strengths and affinities to help her.  Here’s what we think:

The Good News

Kate has strengths in expressive language and writing.  She is also very creative, a function of higher order cognition.  She enjoys graphic design and computers, indicators that spatial ordering could be a strength for her.  She also loves animals, especially cats.  We’d want to continue to encourage her in these areas, and take advantage of these strengths and affinities when coming up with strategies to help Kate. (See the comments on last week’s blog for some great ideas on how to do this!)

Getting at the Root of the Problem

As many of our readers suggested in their comments, memory seems to be an underlying theme behind Kate’s learning issues. While retrieving information from long-term memory is okay, getting the information into long-term memory is a challenge that is showing up when she studies new spelling and vocabulary words and tries to master her math facts. Summarizing what she reads also relies on functions of memory, including active working memory. Weak active working memory could also be making it difficult for Kate to follow multi-step directions. 

Talking to Kate

The first step we’d take is to discuss with her the reasons behind some of her difficulties in reading and the resulting academic struggles. It’s important to highlight Kate’s strengths as well as the areas in need of improvement.  As one of last week’s readers alluded to, we’d also want to foster her confidence that she can succeed in these areas.

We’d talk with Kate about the different types of memory, and tell her that she has difficulty “getting things into” her memory. We might make this idea more concrete by using an analogy such as putting clothes in a dresser or papers in a file so she can easily find them later.  We’d share with her that subjects like social studies and science have a lot of factual information and more memory demands than other subjects, which is why she struggles more in these areas.

Working toward Success

As we mentioned earlier, we’d want to capitalize on her strengths and interests when thinking about strategies to use with Kate.  Here’s a few examples:

  • Support Kate’s interest in animals by having her read about a species or particular animal and practice summarization skills and memory strategies by role-playing as a zoologist. 
  • In addition to supporting Kate’s art activities, give her the opportunity to work with experts in set-design and construction, so that she will see multi-step processes and instructions at work.

Other strategies you might try with Kate include …

  • Help with reading – Provide her with some basic accommodations in reading assignments to help her experience some success in class and to improve her learning of the content. For example, give her outlines – possibly partially-completed – from text book chapters to guide her to important information.  As one reader mentioned, graphic organizers, charts, and drawings might also work well for Kate.  Have her save these “tools” to study for tests.  These tools might vary based on the subject.  For example, in history, she may benefit from making timelines or creating cause-effect flow charts.  In math, she may benefit from making reference cards with the technical vocabulary words of an upcoming lesson.  One reader also recommended using visuals to help Kate remember math facts (e.g. the program “Nine Lines”).
  • Help with tests – Give Kate specific guidance in what is expected of her on tests and assignments. For example, instead of just asking Kate about the author’s intent in a story, provide instruction to her: “The next few questions will ask you about the author’s intentions in writing the story. Use what we learned about the author’s feelings about the subject to help you understand her intentions. Use facts in the story to back up your conclusions.”
  • Help with vocabulary – Limit the number of new vocabulary words she’s asked to learn at one time. Too many vocab words can be overwhelming for her, especially if other rules are introduced at the same time. For example, the word endings for action, suspicion, and suspension all sound the same, but are spelled differently. Some students find it easier to practice these rules one at a time.  One of last week’s readers also suggested having Kate “visualize” her vocab words.

See the comments on last week’s blog entry for more great strategies for working with kids like Kate.  What strategies would you use?  What are some other ways we could leverage her strengths and affinities?  If you haven’t done so already, share your ideas with us by leaving a comment below!

Related links:

What’s Up with Kate? (Part 1)

Last week’s blog was our last installment of our book-inspired series. We received quite a few thoughtful and inspiring comments, and we gave away five free copies of Schools for All Kinds of Minds! We hope you enjoyed the sneak peeks into some of the ideas in the book, and we hope the series inspired you to pick up a copy if you hadn’t done so already.

Up Next …

This week we’re trying something a little different – a case study of Kate, a 6th grader with a puzzling array of learning challenges. Read Kate’s story and let us know what you think is going on with her and how you’d approach her challenges. Then, tune in next week for our explanation and recommendations!

Nothing’s Easy for Kate

Kate, a popular 6th grader, earns good grades and participates regularly in class. But Kate always has to work really hard to succeed. Nothing seems to come easy, but once Kate knows something, she appears to know it well and apply it effectively.

Occasionally, Kate’s dad helps her with her homework and studying – but by both accounts, these sessions are painstaking and don’t seem very productive. Kate can go over a list of spelling or vocabulary words repeatedly for more than an hour yet retain only a few of the items. The same goes for reading – she can read a passage easily but remembers only bits and pieces.

What Kate’s Teacher Sees

Kate’s teacher is puzzled by Kate’s constellation of challenges in the classroom. She’s noticed that Kate often needs to have explanations repeated and that she has a lot trouble complying with multi-step instructions of any type. It also takes Kate a long time to copy from the board; her classmates finish when she is barely halfway there!

Kate’s teacher has also observed that Kate does much better in day-to-day class work than she does on tests.

Reading and Math: A Mixed Bag

In the last year, reading has started to be a problem for Kate, especially in social studies and science. She has a particularly hard time summarizing what she’s read, despite her general ability to express herself well verbally.

While Kate is good at understanding math concepts, it’s been hard for her to master math facts, so she needs more time to complete math assignments and quizzes.

What’s Going Right

Kate seems to have a knack for graphic design. She looks forward to her computer class and has talked about being an architect one day. She loves animals and has a very special fondness for cats and has written several very perceptive reports about cats.

What do you think?

What areas are strengths for Kate? Weaknesses? How could you leverage Kate’s strengths to help her improve in other areas? What would you say to Kate?

Share your ideas with us, and next week, we’ll share our thoughts about Kate with you!