Oh, The Places You’ll Find Yourself — Spatially Speaking

Below is a TED Talk by Neil Burgess, a neuroscientist at the University College in London, who researches, as described on the TED website, “how patterns of electrical activity in brain cells guide us through space.”

Supplemental to the grid cells Dr. Burgess discusses are additional neurological systems that give us a sense of our surroundings. Dan Peterson, who writes a fascinating blog (Sports are 80 Percent Mentalabout the body-mind connection in sports, recently posted “Spatial Awareness on the Football Field” (where we found the above TED Talk — Thanks, Dan!) in which he writes,

Jeffrey Taube, a professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Dartmouth, has been studying our sense of direction and location. “Knowing what direction you are facing, where you are, and how to navigate are really fundamental to your survival,” said Taube.

In his research, he has found there are head direction cells, located in the thalamus, that act as a compass needle tracking the direction our head is currently facing.  At the same time, in the hippocampus, place cells determine and track our location relative to landmarks in the environment, say the football field sideline or the end zone.  These two sets of cells communicate with each other to guide our movement.

“They put that information together to give you an overall sense of ‘here,’ location wise and direction wise,” Taube explained. “That is the first ingredient for being able to ask the question, ‘How am I going to get to point B if I am at point A?’ It is the starting point on the cognitive map.”

It reminds us once again that strengths and affinities can be left at the door of our schools and classrooms if we don’t incorporate movement, action, and an intentional use of our bodies in our lessons and activities. Research continues to indicate that taking advantage of the neurological links between spatial ordering, graphomotor functioning, attention, and memory can help nurture achievement among a broader diversity of learners than the traditional sit-n-git approach (which leaves too many students itching for something more engaging).

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Your Brain By the Numbers

Scientific America recently published the engaging and amusing image below. It is the result of a collaboration between Wake Forest School of Medicine neuroscientist, Dwayne Godwin and the writer/illustrator of the Piled Higher and Deeper comic strip, Jorge Cham. Not only will some of these fact amaze you, you’ll have fun reading them, perhaps due to the associative memory the images activate and the dopamine secreted while reading them.

(click on the image to pull up a larger version)

AKOM and the Solo Practitioner

There are many roles an educator can play. For years I was blessed to work at the Center School, an independent school outside of Philadelphia. During my years there, our faculty completed the Schools Attuned Generalist Course, and another teacher and I trained to become course facilitators.

The school was a perfect setting for using a neurodevelopmental lens to develop my understanding of how kids learn – a common mission, supportive colleagues, and families who were committed to finding ways to better understand how their child learned. It is not surprising that my involvement with AKOM has deepened since my initial introduction years ago.

But now I find myself in a new role – reading specialist-at-large.

As a private practitioner, I perform many duties with students in a variety of schools, including tutoring, assessment, academic coaching and advising. The tutoring relationship lends itself to demystifying students and helping them to develop and implement workable management plans. In my experience, students are hungry to better understand themselves, and appreciate the opportunity to take ownership of their learning.

But working independently also presents challenges I never faced in my years at Center School. The biggest is forging a relationship with the teachers my clients have so that they can better understand the learning needs of their (and my) students.

Over the coming weeks in this space, I will be processing out loud some of the challenges that educators face when they are providing ancillary, rather than primary support to students.