Working Memory: Time for a Research Update

“Could you remind me, what did you just say?

Part 1: Research

Have you ever been in one room of the house and started walking towards another room with a goal in mind… Usually, you’re thinking of a task such as, “Ive got to get that file or book from the bedroom.” Halfway to the other room, you forget what you were going to get! Then you have to go back to the original room to remind yourself!

All teachers have heard of our working memory or short-term memory. By the way, even researchers act confused when I ask for the difference. The best I can get is this: working memory refers to the “cognitive load” (or the amount of “stuff”) that your brain is holding in your brain while you do a task. But short-term memory refers to the time element of that cognitive load. Usually, short-term memory is from 5-20″. If we do not process that content, it often vaporizes. But, does it necessarily have to disappear? The answer is no.

Among the many amazing things about our brain is its plasticity. This refers to the capacity to change through neural reorganization. Memory (working OR short-term) can be enhanced through several strategies. Why would you care? There are many reasons: kids follow directions better they solve problems better, make better decisions and score higher on achievement tests. But generally, class is more fun to teach. Besides, you can enhance working memory for very little effort. I’ll bet you’d like to know how…

The OLD school of thinking, based on George Miller’s classic 1956 study suggested we can hold 7 _/+ 2 items in our head. That’s out of date and you want to be up to date, right? The new research suggests 2-4 (at the most) for chunks in our working memory (Cowan, et al.). If you are not currently strengthening the working memory of your students, don’t complain about it. No one else is going to do this, so it’s your choice: improve it, or you lose the right to complain about kids not having it.

Working memory can be enhanced two ways. Strengthening neural networks (through practice) and strengthening the efficacy of the “real-time” holding capacity with chemicals are your only two choices. The neural networks get strengthened through practice. That means the use of games and activities that build this skill. As an example, if you want to get good at playing cards, a strong working memory is a must. But, how about if we set aside gambling for a moment? There are better choices we’ll get to later. (more…)

Teaching with the Brain in Mind Workshop

We recently finished the “Teaching with the Brain in Mind” program. Wow! What an amazing event.

Some came to it concerned about the challenges of brain-based learning. Others wanted brain-based strategies. Only a few were brain-skeptics. Most just wanted to deepen or widen their skill set and knowledge base. Suffice it to say, all left the program excited and ready to make changes.

“This is the best professional development experience I’ve had in 27 years of teaching. I will use so much of what I learned here and I am eager to return to my students and work with them in a more enlightened approach.” Patricia Gefert, Ohio.

Student learned the most critical brain principles. By the way, these are NOT the principles you’ll find in any book. These are the most updated, cutting edge principles anywhere. Every principle is illustrated, unpacked, debriefed and role-modeled. On top of that, there are the demonstrations, interactions and, yes, even a “field trip.”

One of the highlights was the visit to Dr. Daniel Amen’s Brain Clinic, where participants got to see inside the actual patient clinic that has been grabbing headlines for years. Amen has been “ahead of the crowd”, just as Eric Jensen has been.

Spect scans of the author's brain taken at Amen Clinic in Newport Beach, California. In the four surface views on the left, the less active regions of the brain show up as holes or dents. The scans on the right show the most active 15 percent of the brain in red and white. Photo: Daniel Amen

At the end, when asked for suggestions to others, who might be considering the program, one participant said, “Do it! It will change your teaching forever.” Kelly Small, Alberta, CA

Another highlight was the appearance, in person, of Dr. Larry Cahill, a pioneer in memory, emotions and gender. His lab has made not one, but three breakthroughs in neuroscience. Everyone was riveted to his talk on how emotions and gender influence our memory. Everyone was spellbound!

“Every single concept, activity and interaction was of great value to me.” Lois Cameron. Shaker Heights, OH.

The “Teaching with the Brain in Mind” program gives you the scientific background, the strategies that can transform the classroom and once again, the actual demonstration of the strategy. This way, you can see it, hear and feel how it works. This makes it the most practical, and yet, research-based program on the brain anywhere.

The next “Teaching with the Brain in Mind” program happens in San Antonio, Texas. The content will be awesome, the guest speaker is riveting and the field trip is over the top good.

If you have not yet taken the “Teaching with the Brain in Mind” program, this is your only chance. Find out how to meet the challenges of brain-based learning and teaching. Meet other like-minded participants. And, most of get inspired and rocket-propelled to teach smarter, with less stress.

See you in San Antonio!

Click here for details.

Student Poverty – ASCD Conference – Eric Jensen On Overcoming The Challenges Of Teaching Students In Poverty

For those that didn’t make the ASCD Conference on March 7th, the recorded session on how to overcome the challenges of poverty in the classroom is now available.

The presentation is 1:57, so grab a coffee and enjoy the presentation (TIP: Start the video first, then pause it, so it buffers…)

If you are faced with the challenges that poverty creates in the classroom, you’ll pick up a few great ideas.

If you’d like to have Eric Jensen work with your school on creating a comprehensive poverty program to boost your student’s achievement, please contact us for more information: diane@jlcbrain.com or call us at (808) 552-0110.

We also have the following resources for educators wanting to address student achievement goals:

PowerPoint for staff development training:

teaching poverty challengesOvercoming Poverty Challenges: Teaching with Poverty in Mind

Learn the newest research on what poverty does to kids brains. Find out what are the four biggest factors that impact the brains of poverty.

Discover the real potential for change in every student’s brain. This updated presentation that helps teachers connect the research with the classroom-practical strategies. You get the brain scans, the key principles and most importantly, the teacher-tested ideas you can use immediately.

This 143-slide session has color, passion, science and still answers the question, “What do I do on Monday?” This shows links to differentiation, enrichment, learning and memory strategies. It is long enough for either a 2 hour, half-day or full day session. Staff will be talking about this presentation for weeks! The support book recommended for this presentation is Teaching with Poverty in Mind by Eric Jensen.

download

Do-It-Yourself Workshop

Enriching the Brains of Students In Poverty – An Eric Jensen Workshop to Go!

Enriching The Brain Of Poverty DVD Workshop


Order  Eric Jensen Brain Based Teaching DVDs

Neuroscience Research: Why Do We Eat WAY More Than We Should?

Why Do We Eat WAY More Than We Should?

What Does the Neuroscience Research Say?

Let’s take a side street from the classroom and go directly into your kitchen and dining room. I thought I would give you the science behind eating and over eating. Would this apply to you?

If you know me, you know I am skinny as a rail. But, while I might make it look easy, it’s NOT! I watch what I eat. I rarely ever eat desserts. I eat no artificial sweeteners, no artificial colorings and rarely any preservatives in my food. On top of that, I go out of my way to avoid so called natural sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup.

All I’ve told you so far is a “no brainer”. But I haven’t told you the most shocking thing yet!

This might surprise you; I DO eat like a pig sometimes (though not usually.)

The question is “How can I get away with it?” And, even more importantly, what can you do to keep the waistline where you want it? I’ll get to the answers in a moment. First, you should know the science behind all the weight gains that adults experience.

At each developmental and maturation age, the body and brain are trying to help you survive. As a female, you don’t need a bit of extra fat at age 10, but by puberty, your body tries to add some, since childbearing is becoming a real possibility. Extra fat helps ensure a food source for the pregnant mom. So why would your body try to add fat when you’re over forty, past the likely childbearing years? The answer is it doesn’t try to do that! If anything, your body is trying to get leaner as you grow into middle age. Baloney you say! So what’s happening?

Here are the top 5 myths and the truth to help you get you back to your slim and sexy self. (Guys, this applies to you, as well!) (more…)

Factors that Contribute Most to Student Achievement

Brain Based Learning

What Does the Neuroscience Say Are the Factors that Contribute Most to Student Achievement?

Almost every teacher I meet has a theory about kids. Well, actually, he or she has many theories.

But if I ask the million dollar question, “What is it that contributes most to student learning?” the teacher usually gets quiet. I like that response. It’s good to be thoughtful about questions like that. The great news is that recent neuroscientific studies are opening up the brain of the student and telling us what matters most in learning. You might be surprised at what they’re finding.

While a HUGE numbers of variables may influence the brain on the macro level (physical environment, food, safety in the classroom, interest in the content, etc.) it turns out that very few factors influence student learning inside our head at the micro level. In fact, the number of factors is so few, I highlighted them in the new ASCD book, Teaching with Poverty in Mind. But let’s say you want just a few goodies from the book. I trust you; I know you’ll want to buy it soon!

Let me share just four with you.  Let’s start with how we learn.

While we naturally and accidentally “pick up” millions of bits of information daily, our focused attention is what tells our brain to “log this in and save it.” Part of the brain tells you to “save” the learning, the nucleus basalis. This skill, locked in attention, can be taught. Second, our brain has to be able to process what is occurring, making the processing and reasoning pathways highly valuable. This skill can be, and must be, taught. But much of these tasks ask you to juggle more than one item in your working memory.

The strength of the working memory is another critical variable in learning. This must also be taught. Each of these neural events has to occur in a sequence, so it turns out that the temporal ordering of every step is critical.

Now, I’m the first to admit that other variables come into play. We know that students need to feel safe to take risks and a host of other variables. But the so-called environmental factors each influence these neural events. For example, unless I feel safe in the classroom, I might not be able to pay attention. So, for the moment, trust me. Those four neural events would be near the top of any neuroscientist’s list for learning. How do I know that? What makes me so sold on those four? Well, you know I love the research, so here it is.

First, the science is solid when you consider each system separately. But they work synergistically. When one of them is off, others falter. That’s why kids with serious AD/HD (low executive function) struggle in all areas academically.

Now, the information I’m going to share with you is exceptionally powerful. However, only 1 in 100 educators who reads email this will actually implement these findings. Why? In spite of the solid science behind what I am sharing with you and, in spite of the “miracles” that these applications can produce in your kids, many of the policy-makers have gotten so lost in filling out forms, inept mandates, feel-good “professional” communities, that they forgot the real goal of education: prepare kids for the real world with social skills and thinking skills.

OK, enough of that. What can you do to boost these four brain functions? (more…)

The Prejudice of Poverty

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Last week Andre Bauer, the lieutenant governor of South Carolina and a candidate to become the state’s next governor, compared providing government assistance to those in need – including school kids eligible for free or reduced price lunches – to feeding stray animals. He claimed that providing such services only encourage breeding and facilitate the problem.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their version of the facts. Bauer has it completely wrong.

We need to put to rest the idea that the only way those in need will enjoy improved outcomes in life is for them to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and do it all on their own – especially when it comes to kids. Our brains don’t grow up and flourish inside a test tube. Given the integrated way in which our brains work, it’s simply wrong to expect hungry kids or kids who aren’t exposed to healthy environments to show up at school ready to learn.

Research is compelling; the brains runs on oxygen, glucose and nutrients. Unless kids get this at home, schools must provide it. Research shows that good nutrition not only keeps kids healthy – it also contributes to better learning. Take a look at just some of the evidence:

• In a large-scale analysis of approximately 1 million students enrolled in New York City schools, researchers examined IQ scores before and after preservatives, dyes, colorings, and artificial flavors were removed from lunch offerings. Prior to the dietary changes, 120,000 of the students were performing two or more grade levels below average. Afterward, the figure dropped to 50,000. Ceci, S. J. (2001).

• In another study, elementary school children were provided with one of three breakfast options: a good breakfast, a fast-food breakfast, or no breakfast. The results replicated previous findings showing that breakfast intake enhances cognitive performance. But the study also showed differential effects based on breakfast type. Children who ate the healthy breakfast frequently demonstrated enhanced spatial memory, improved short-term memory, and better auditory attention. (Fernald L, Ani CC, Grantham-Mcgregor S., 1997)

• Adequate intake of minerals, phytonutrients, enzymes, and vitamins also makes a difference. School age children who received such nutrients over the course of a year behaved better (meaning they gave teachers more “on task time”) and scored higher on achievement tests than their peers who just received placebos. (Grantham-McGregor S, Baker-Henningham H. (2005).

The real takeaway here is that providing kids with healthy meals and other services and supports really can make a difference.

Assumptions that disadvantaged students underperform in school because their parents aren’t educated, their home environments are substandard, or their parents just don’t care only perpetuate the problem because they excuse schools and other adults in kids’ lives from making a difference.

There’s no question that poverty changes the brain, which can negatively affect behavior and student performance. But the brain can also change for the better when kids are exposed to healthy, safe, engaging, and challenging environments.

In thousands of the top performing schools across the country, only those providing nutrition for kids from poverty are meeting or exceeding the standards. Are the governor’s statements suggesting an ignorance of the facts or is it simply prejudice? Let the voters be the judge.

Eric Jensen, author of the new ASCD book, Teaching with Poverty in Mind. He’s been featured as a guest on ASCD’s Whole Child Podcast, and he’s presenting at ASCD’s Annual Conference in San Antonio, Texas.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Let There Be More Light

Brain-Based Learning: Practical Applications For Teachers

Let’s pop all these ingredients in our “brain-compatible classroom activity generator” and let it help us get practical. We want to combine the science behind emotions, physical movement and socialization. Presto! It just so happens that one of the brain-based learning strategies I use is the engagement of rituals.

Here are the five ingredients of a quality classroom ritual. If you do anything less than ALL five, it will dramatically degrade your results.

  1. The ritual must solve a recurring problem.
  2. It must include and engage everyone.
  3. The ritual must be simple and easy to do.
  4. It must be highly predictable and the students know when it’s going to happen.
  5. The actual event must end up in a positive emotional state.

The use of rituals can make your life easier. If rituals don’t actually solve a problem, kids will lose interest, because there’s no point in doing them. Let’s use, as an example, the problem of starting class, on time, with a good attitude, every single day, for weeks and months on end.

That means you need a ritual, so let’s create one and then we’ll break it down.

Problem to solve: You need to start class.

Ritual name: “Startup response”

When it’s used: Use when students arrive at school from home, or back from recess or lunch.

What do I do: I play a pre-designated “call-back song” and the second it’s over, I say, “If you made it back on time, raise your hand please and say, ‘Yes!'” I also role model the behavior and raise my own hand, saying, “Yes!” Then I say, “Now turn to your neighbor and say, ‘Happy Monday to you!'” (Or, if they’re getting back from recess, it’s, “Welcome back!”)

What the students do: They raise their hand and say, “Yes!” Then they turn to the person nearest himself or herself and say “Happy Monday to you!” (or “Welcome back”.) This silly little process solved a critical problem: to get students quiet, to remind them of the social conditions and get into a positive state. It took 4 seconds and cost you nothing.

I use 10-15 rituals in the “Teaching with the Brain in Mind” 6-Day workshop. This is the best place for you to learn about brain-based learning rituals and other strategies, because you get to experience them live! The best book on rituals is Super Teaching (2008), available from Corwin Press.

This process of integrating brain-based learning rituals into your school (macro) and the classroom (micro) reminds us to cut to the chase: everything you do in your classroom is likely to have SOME effect on the brain.

Brain-based education says, “Be purposeful about it.” Now, go have some fun and make another miracle happen!

Creative Commons License photo credit: Polska Zielona Sieć

Teaching Strategies: The Use of Social and Emotional Activities


Valentines, Feelings and Affect: The Use of Social and Emotional Activities

Here’s how they work together: The emotions research always starts with the classics. An older, brilliant study done was done by emotions pioneer Paul Ekman. You may know the Fox TV series “Lie to Me” is based on his skill set and life’s work. Ekman found that when we artificially generated certain facial expressions, it induced the corresponding ‘genuine’ feelings (Levenson, et al. 1990). Act a certain way, and the emotions will follow.

But this door goes both ways. This means, getting kids emotionally aroused can enhance their physical effort (Schmidt, et al, 2009). And when we enhance both, like combine the emotions of social contact with shaking hands, we remember the event better (Nielson and Jensen, 1994). Emotions and physiology are fully linked.

Translated, when we arouse emotions in our kids, they are more likely to get off their ‘you know what’ and start engaging more. Even when seated, emotional responses enhance our memory of the details of the event. But wait; it gets better. If you can focus on engaging the class leaders (the ones that others follow), you have a good chance of bringing on board the rest of the students. Why? Have you ever noticed that when one person yawns, others around often yawn? Actually, some research suggests that emotions are contagious (Wild, et al.2001).

Now, when you put all this together (mind, body, emotions, class leaders and peer pressure), you can get classroom miracles. How?

There’s a whole new field developing. It’s called cultural neuroscience. It’s the field of how cultures change our brain. Your school creates a culture. A classroom will have a culture whether you orchestrate it or not. Many teachers actively shape their culture, while those that struggle complain about their class culture.

Successful schools consciously shape their cultures while the schools that struggle complain about “how the kids are these days.” A great primer on this field was Wexler’s book Brain and Culture (2006).

Recent studies show that when you use rituals well, you can shape behaviors. In fact, rituals can activate students to do things that require personal sacrifice (wow) because of the peer-power and social effects. This allows teachers to erase problems with task activation, socializing and discipline. The bottom line is that anthropology is now being influenced by neuroscience. Well, you know I love the research, so here it is on our emotional, social and physical states, and the brain’s activation for functionality and organizing dynamics.

REFERENCES Brown RA, Seligman R. Anthropology and cultural neuroscience: creating productive intersections in parallel fields. Prog Brain Res. 2009;178:31-42. Cahill L, Haier RJ, Fallon J, Alkire MT, Tang C, Keator D, Wu J, McGaugh JL. (1996) Amygdala activity at encoding correlated with long-term, free recall of emotional information. Proc Natl Acad Science U S A. Jul 23;93(15):8016-2. Levenson, RW, Ekman P, Friesen WV. (1990) Voluntary facial action generates emotion-specific autonomic nervous system activity. Psychophysiology. Jul;27(4):363-84. Nielson KA, Jensen RA. (1994) Beta-adrenergic receptor antagonist antihypertensive medications impair arousal-induced modulation of working memory in elderly humans. Behav Neural Biol. 1994 Nov;62(3):190-200. Phan, KL, Wagner T., Taylor, SF, Liberzon, I (2002) Functional neuroanatomy of emotion: A meta-analysis of emotion activation studies in PET and fMRI. Neuroimage 16: 331-348. Schmidt L, Cléry-Melin ML, Lafargue G, Valabrègue R, Fossati P, Dubois B, Pessiglione M. (2009) Get aroused and be stronger: emotional facilitation of physical effort in the human brain. J Neurosci. Jul 29;29(30):9450-7. Wild B, Erb M, Bartels M. (2001) Are emotions contagious? Evoked emotions while viewing emotionally expressive faces: quality, quantity, time course and gender differences. Psychiatry Res. Jun 1;102(2):109-24. Wiltermuth SS, Heath C. (2009)Synchrony and cooperation. Psychol Sci. Jan;20(1):1-5.

Creative Commons License photo credit: krystal.pritchett

Preparing Students For The Future

ASCD’s Whole Child Podcast: Changing the Conversation About Education:

Each student brings a unique set of interests, needs, strengths, and circumstances to school… and teachers often struggle to connect with students, especially those facing the greatest challenges. Yet research and common sense tell us that educators positively impact student learning and achievement when they connect their students’ lives outside of school to their learning and the larger school community.

On this podcast, from ASCD – The Whole Child you’ll hear strategies for meeting students where they are now, while preparing them for the challenges and opportunities that lay ahead.

Click Here to listen to the podcast:

Click to play: Molly McCloskey, managing director for Whole Child Programs at ASCD, Eric Jensen and Sean Slade

Founded in 1943, ASCD is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that represents more than 175,000 educators from 119 countries and nearly 60 affiliates who advocate sound policies and share best practices to achieve the success of each learner.

ASCD has launched a public engagement and advocacy campaign to encourage schools and communities to work together to ensure that each student has access to a challenging curriculum in a healthy and supportive climate.

ASCD’s Whole Child Initiative:

Click to download a copy of the Whole Child Compact poster.  You’ll also find a  lot of good US teacher resources here.

Creative Commons License photo credit: vasta

Professional Development for Teachers – When You Have To Do It Yourself

In today’s world, budgets are tighter than ever. Principals are now tasked with a great amount of staff training.

When preparing a presentation for your teaching staff, the most difficult element is getting that &*%$ PowerPoint finalized.

We’ve all been there.

After receiving numerous requests for copies of Eric Jensen’s presentations that he’s held in our workshops, we’ve decided that we’d organize all of the top topics, and offer them to you.

Some of the topics covered are:

  • AD/HD Insight and Solutions
  • Brain Based Principles to Strategies
  • Enrichment for Learning
  • Fierce Teaching – 7 Factors That Matter Most
  • How Teaching Changes Brains
  • How to Implement Brain-Based Education
  • Teaching with Poverty in Mind
  • Teaching with the Brain in Mind
  • Tools for Engagement

…and many more.

Eric Jensen has prepared these PowerPoint presentations to help deliver a powerful, concise presentation…

Those who have asked us for PowerPoint presentations are most often:

1. Trainers who work with groups of 20 or more
2. Staff developers who really want to make a difference in the lives of others
3. Teachers who want a more energizing classroom and
4. Anyone who currently or will in the future, spend a lot time in front of groups.

The staff development presentations will have title slides and closing slides. Average presentation will be 75-125 slides, depending on the topic.

You may customize (in fact, you are encouraged to do so), your slides by adding your own titles, key themes, strategies, persons of interest, school pictures and activities.

So save yourself time, and headache, and check out the PowerPoint presentations available here.

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