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

Using Validation to Help Regulate Emotions

This post by Sara Caitlyn Deal was originally posted on Southeast Psych’s blog

Head to Head

Have you ever said something mean when you were angry that you later regretted? Or sent an email when you were really upset that later you wished was never sent? We have all done these things but communicating when overwhelmed with emotion does not usually work well. Validation, the recognition and acceptance of another person’s internal experience as being valid, can help emotionally sensitive people manage their emotions effectively. So, why is validation important?

Validation…

Communicates acceptance- it is human nature to want to belong, being accepted and acknowledging the value of yourself and others is very calming

Helps a person know when they are on the right track- feedback from others that your thoughts and feelings are normal and make sense lets you know you are understood

Helps regulate emotions- knowing that you are understood reduces feelings of being left out or not fitting in. Validation helps to soothe people that are emotionally upset.

Builds an identity- Validation is a reflection of your values, beliefs, and patterns and helps others better understand your personality.

Builds relationships- Feelings of connection are expressed when someone is validated which helps to build and strengthen relationships.

Increases understanding and forms effective communication styles- Everyone sees, thinks, and hears things differently; two people can look at the same picture and interpret it in completely opposite ways. Validation is a way of understanding others viewpoints.

Shows others they are important- communicates to others that they are important and you care about their thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Validation is a simple concept to understand, but can be difficult to apply in practice. However, if you care about someone who is emotionally sensitive, validation is one of the most important and effective skills you can learn. Similar, if you are an emotionally unstable person, learning to validate yourself will help you manage your own emotions. For more information on validation and how to use validation check out the DBT website or blog.

Image: Southeast Psych

Your Brain on Childhood — An Evolutionary History

 

TimeLapseWe love Gabrielle Principe’s book, “Your Brain on Childhood: The Unexpected Side Effects of Classrooms, Ballparks, Family Rooms, and the Minivan.” Not only is her storytelling engaging and creative, it is also peppered with so much research that one almost needs an organizational chart to keep track of it all.

While it is largely geared toward exploring the cognitive development of younger children, her framework for thinking about brains offers a compelling contrast to the current paradigm for understanding learning (performance on academic focused standardized tests) for all youth, and even adults.

In chapter 1, Old Brain, New World, she sets the stage for what will be an book-long theme.

When humans first appeared on the scene about two million years ago, families lived in small, nomadic bands and made their living hunting and gathering. Children spent their days roaming in packs and playing on their own in the out-of-doors. They improvised their own fun, regulated their own games, and made up their own rules. Children’s education was informal, and new skills were learned ou tin the world. such was childhood for more than 99 percent of human existence.

Today, childhood is different. Infants find themselves strapped into bouncy seats and plunked in front of television sets. Toddlers are put away in play yards to listen to Baby Mozart and use learning laptops. Preschoolers are given talking dollhouses, robotic pet dogs, and battery-powered frogs that teach them their ABCs. Older children sit in front of computer screens with earbuds connected to their iPods, texting thir friends on their touch phones to see if they can come over and play video games. They spend their weekdays inside classrooms, seated in rows of desks, reciting times tables, drilling word banks, and memorizing state capitals. Their weekends are filled with activities that are organized, supervised, and timed by adults: sports leagues, private tutors, music lessons, math camp, dance instruction, karate classes, and Cub Scouts.

She goes on to establish the similarity of the human brain with those of our most recent ancestors (such as orangutans) and our farther back ancestors (such as reptiles and fish). She explains the history of the brain through the evolutionary advances of other animals, concluding that “the human brain is merely vintage parts from brains that came before us.”

She goes on,

What does this recognition of the deep evolutionary history of our brains mean for children today? It means that their brains were not designed with modern life in mind; rather, they evolved for life in a very different world. At different times in teh brain’s evolutionary history, it developed in deep seas, freshwater streams, tropical rainforests, and the grasslands of the savannahs, not in classrooms, living rooms, manufactured playgounds, manicured ball fields, or minivans. These sorts of evolutionary novel environments have changed the way that children behave and develop, but today’s children still enter their respective worlds witha brain that never expected to find itself in any of them. It is this disconnect between childnre’s evolutionary past and their human present that makes parts of the modern world challenging and even damaging to the development of their brains, bodies, and behaviors. But the better we understand the long history of the human brain, the better able we are to raise happy, healthy, and successful children.

So what is the point here and what does it have to do with youth, students, and education? Well, everything.

While we would encourage you to read the entire book (because it is a great read all the way through), the main point is that we need to keep a perspective on the history of the brain and in what conditions it thrives best. Doing so may help us all better understand . . .

  1. Why school can be so challenging for so many students. (Most learning in human history was done “on the job” not in formal schooling, and the brain evolved as such.)
  2. What conditions may better facilitate more holistic learning.
  3. The dichotomy between the current reform effort and the cognitive needs of all students.
  4. As Gabrielle Principe  states in chapter 10, “Given that schooling is an unnatural experience, it’s best to keep in mind that education can be best achieved when we take children’s natural dispositions and abilities into consideration.”
Image: Paul Thompson, UCLA School of Medicine

Memory, Social Cognition, and Predicting the Future

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A recent article in Harvard Magazine reports on the research of psychology professor, Daniel Schater, who is delving into  memory, social cognition and how the mind imagines the future.

From the article:

During the past decade, Schacter says, a revolution has occurred in the field of memory science: researchers have shown that memory is responsible for much more than the simple recall of facts or the sensation of reliving events from the past. “Memory is not just a readout,” he explains. “It is a tool that’s used by the brain to bring past experience to bear when thinking about future situations.”

In fact, Schacter continues, memory and imagination involve virtually identical mental processes; both rely on a specific system known as the “default network,” previously thought to be activated only when recalling the past.

Of course, this makes sense. Why wouldn’t the brain utilize its resource of past experiences to anticipate the future and to imagine possibilities? Schater and colleagues began to wonder if these processes applied to social cognition and how individuals might predict other people’s behaviors.

They developed and implemented an experiment to determine what parts of the brains were activated when participants were tasked with thinking about how a person might behave in a variety of different situations.

Again, from the article:

The researchers concluded that memory and social cognition therefore work in concert when individuals hypothesize about the future behavior of others. The brain regions responsible for forming “personality models” and assigning them identities are intrinsically linked to the memory/imagination systems that simulate the past and future.

While it is too premature to draw any conclusions about possible implications for education and learning environments, it is worth noting that students, who are deeply embedded in dynamic and sometimes quite challenging social situations, are employing a number of cognitive functions throughout their day. When considering the complexity of the mental processes being utilized, it is no wonder that so many students find the kind of schooling that focuses primarily on fact memorization to be mind numbingly boring.

Perhaps this vein of research can lead to a better understanding of empathy and what types of experiences might build up students’ brains with the sorts of memories that help them better predict and imagine the future they want for themselves.

Photo Credit: Flavio~ via Compfight cc

The Myth of Average

Todd Rose’s brilliant talk at TEDxSonoma expands on a startlingly simple point:

When you design for the average, you design for no-one. He suggests instead we to need design for the extremes.

For anyone who has worked with students, it is an intuitive enough concept, in theory. Yet in application, it has proven challenging, especially in a climate fixated on norm reference test scores, where average is king (or queen). How do we design and deliver for the wide variability of students’ learning profiles when there is so much pressure to get all students to the same level in all subjects?  The default has become education policies that claim to race to the top, but instead stagger for the middle, effectively limiting the extremes.

As Rose so eloquently demonstrates with a story from military history, in trying to target the average, we invariably isolate everyone.

What makes him an expert in this topic? He was a high school dropout with a 0.9 GPA who is now an author of “Square Peg” and a professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education.

He says,

I’ve been to the very bottom of our educational system. I’ve been to the very top. I’m here to tell you that we are wasting so much talent at every single level. And the thing is, because for every single person like me, there are millions who worked as hard, who had the ability, but who were unable to overcome the drag of a educational environment designed on average. And their talent is forever lost to us.

Watch his talk above for more. We guarantee you will be even more inspired to cultivate that which makes your students unique, wonderful, and valuable to the well being of our communities.

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

Paradox of Students’ “Deficits” As Society’s Strengths

179897674_ee402474d9_bThe Economist article, “In praise of misfits,” lays out the business-related benefits of what the author  calls “creatives,” “anti-social geeks,” “oddball quants,” and “rule-breaking entrepreneurs.” While the entire article is well worth the read, we have pulled out a few quotes to help frame the idea that we should work tirelessly to help our school system to support these “misfits.”

Rather than treat their uniquenesses as deficits, we would do well to build on their actionable strengths and affinities — qualities that are proving to shape our present, and will surely impact our future.

From the article:

Recruiters have noticed that the mental qualities that make a good computer programmer resemble those that might get you diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome: an obsessive interest in narrow subjects; a passion for numbers, patterns and machines; an addiction to repetitive tasks; and a lack of sensitivity to social cues.

Additionally,

Similar traits are common in the upper reaches of finance. The quants have taken over from the preppies. The hero of Michael Lewis’s book “The Big Short”, Michael Burry, a hedge-fund manager, is a loner who wrote a stockmarket blog as a hobby while he was studying to be a doctor. He attracted so much attention from money managers that he quit medicine to start his own hedge fund, Scion Capital.

The article goes on,

Entrepreneurs also display a striking number of mental oddities. Julie Login of Cass Business School surveyed a group of entrepreneurs and found that 35% of them said that they suffered from dyslexia, compared with 10% of the population as a whole and 1% of professional managers. Prominent dyslexics include the founders of Ford, General Electric, IBM and IKEA, not to mention more recent successes such as Charles Schwab (the founder of a stockbroker), Richard Branson (the Virgin Group), John Chambers (Cisco) and Steve Jobs (Apple).

All that said, however, there must be balance between the “creatives” and what the article refers to as, “The Organisation Man,” or the “‘well-rounded’ executives.” The writer goes on to explain,

Where does that leave the old-fashioned organisation man? He will do just fine. The more companies hire brilliant mavericks, the more they need sensible managers to keep the company grounded. Someone has to ensure that dull but necessary tasks are done. Someone has to charm customers (and perhaps lawmakers). This task is best done by those who don’t give the impression that they think normal people are stupid.

All of this hints at the need for the real career-ready skill of knowing simply how to get along — to not just tolerate differences, but to appreciate and leverage these differences as opportunities to innovate and become more than the sum of our parts. Our learning communities can be (and already are) incubators of the social relationships that, in part, define a student’s path beyond graduations, for better or for worse.

What if we were so bold as to decide that each student is a learner, learning changes lives,  learning happens in different ways, and learning empowers, and therefore we need to ensure that each student feels the work of schooling matters to them and that their strengths and affinities are not only valued, but embraced and employed as essential to the success of the community?

Do we need to wait until these “misfits” graduate and enter the workforce to change the following?

Those square pegs may not have an easy time in school. They may be mocked by jocks and ignored at parties.

Because, after all,

. . . these days no serious organisation can prosper without them. As Kiran Malhotra, a Silicon Valley networker, puts it: “It’s actually cool to be a geek.”

We, as educators and advocates of all students, have the power to change this trend. There is no need for students to wait until adulthood to find that their strengths matter, and no research suggests this is in the best interest of students, especially those “creatives, oddballs, and/or square pegs among us.

Photo Credit: BrittneyBush via Compfight cc