Summer Teacher Workshops – The Deadline is Sunday, April 15th

Workshop EarlyBird Special

The clock is ticking. Poverty is not going away, testing is not going away and accountability is not going away.

Our summer sessions are filling up fast. Right now, the location with the most openings (so far) is Jacksonville, Florida. Book your staff for Jacksonville (or San Antonio and Charlotte) as soon as possible. In Jacksonville we are offering “Teaching with Poverty in Mind” or “Tools for Engagement”, but you’ll have to move fast.

WorkshopThe early bird discount expires on April 15… so don’t miss it!

May I suggest “Tools for Maximum Engagement”… CLICK HERE.

When I talk about student engagement, teacher’s heads typically nod up and down as if they universally agree how critical it is. Yet, when I go visit classes (elementary, secondary or college level) the actual % of students being engaged is typically low.

Listen, I can’t make you take a program. But I can tell you that once you take this summer’s special 2-Day “Tools for Maximum Engagement” workshop, you’ll have a lifetime of tools.

Every day, you’ll feel proud, knowing how well your students have learned. Each week, you’ll see happy students who enjoy the learning process. You’ll be admired by your peers and your students will look forward to every class. On top of that, your test scores will improve because kids who are engaged daily, learn more. Plus, every night, you’ll sleep well, knowing that your class is pretty awesome.

I never know if I’ll EVER do any particular workshop again or not. This summer could be your last chance, ever. Whether your school will pay for it or not, go do it. You can’t afford to be less than amazing in your job.

To find out more about this amazing 2-day summer experience CLICK HERE.

By the way, sometimes it makes better sense to have me come out to school and work with the entire staff. You may want to browse the menu of my presentation possibilities for your school CLICK HERE. I’ll show your staff exactly how to teach with the brain in mind.

Exploding the Myth of Self-Control

self control

Self-Control Made Easy

February is the time of the year when it’s not only colder, you’re more likely to have sick days, but also you’re heading into the testing season, too. Oh, one more thing…we tend to put on a few pounds, too!

Any help out there?

This month, we’ll learn about how to get yourself and your kids to do much, much more. We’ll learn about the science behind “self-control”. This executive function skill turns out to have such an enormous impact on our lives that those that are higher in self-control tend to be sick less often, earn more money, have better quality relationships, get more schooling, earn higher degrees, are happier and even donate more money. In short, there’s a very, very strong correlation with quality of life.

But…is it teachable? For the surprising news, keep reading… (more…)

From Baselines to Enrichment: The Seven Golden Maximizers

Brain-based - early childhood

All enrichment effects start with contrast from a baseline from which we can create environmental contrast. But remember, the baseline is not always so obvious.

The consideration of the ultimate enrichment response is laughable if the brain’s own minimum baselines are not being met. While it’s true that there are many ranges of criteria for optimal child rearing, but nonetheless baselines do exist.

I’m convinced many people think they’re living an enriched life, when it’s got a long ways to go to maximize their potential. In the cases of extreme danger, trauma or high-risk poverty, it’s pretty obvious. These seven positive factors are the contrasting factors that are most likely to maximize the enrichment response.

A child will not be raised poorly if parents and teachers ignore some or even all of these principles for a day or make occasional mistakes. No one expects constant miracles, but young children do need constant help, and it’s useful to keep these principles in mind.

The Brain Is Our Common Denominator

brain teaching

Today, many of the school- and learning-related disciplines are looking to the brain for answers. There’s no separating the role of the brain and the influence of classroom groupings, lunchroom foods, school architecture, mandated curricula, and state assessments. Each of them affects the brain, and our brain affects each of them. Schools, assessment, environments, and instruction are not bound by one discipline, such as cognitive science, but by multiple disciplines.

In short, schools work to the degree that the brains in the schools are working well. When there’s a mismatch between the brain and the environment, something at a school will suffer.

Schools present countless opportunities to affect students’ brains. Such issues as stress, exercise, nutrition, and social conditions are all relevant, brain-based issues that affect cognition, attention, classroom discipline, attendance, and memory.

Our new understanding is that every school day changes the student’s brain in some way. Once we make those connections, we can make choices in how we prioritize policies and strategies. Here are some of the powerful connections for educators to make.

1. The human brain can and does grow new neurons.

Many survive and become functional. We now know that new neurons are highly correlated with memory, mood, and learning. Of interest to educators is that this process can be regulated by our everyday behaviors. Specifically, it can be enhanced by exercise, lower levels of stress, and good nutrition. Schools can and should influence these variables. This discovery came straight from neuroscientists Gerd Kempermann and Fred Gage.

2. Social conditions influence our brain in ways we didn’t know before.

The discovery of mirror neurons by Giacomo Rizzolatti and his colleagues at the University of Parma in Italy suggests a vehicle for an imitative reciprocity in our brain. This emerging discipline is explored in Social Neuroscience, a new academic journal exploring how social conditions affect the brain. School behaviors are highly social experiences, which become encoded through our sense of reward, acceptance, pain, pleasure, coherence, affinity, and stress. This understanding suggests that we be more active in managing the social environment of students, because students are more affected by it than we thought. It may unlock clues to those with autism, since their mirror neurons are inactive. This discovery suggests that schools should not rely on random social grouping and should work to strengthen prosocial conditions.

3. The ability of the brain to rewire and remap itself by means of neuroplasticity is profound.

The new Journal of Neuroplasticity explores these and related issues. Schools can influence this process through skill-building, reading, meditation, the arts, career and technical education, and thinking skills that build student success. Neuroscientists Michael Merzenich and Paula Tallal verified that when the correct skill-building protocol is used, educators can make positive and significant changes in our brains in a short time. Without understanding the “rules for how our brain changes,” educators can waste time and money, and students will fall through the cracks.

4. Chronic stress is a very real issue at schools for both staff and students.

Homeostasis is no longer a guaranteed “set point.” The discovery championed by neuroscientist Bruce McEwen is that a revised metabolic state called “allostasis” is an adjusted new baseline for stress that is evident in the brains of those with anxiety and stress disorders. These pathogenic allostatic stress loads are becoming increasingly common and have serious health, learning, and behavior risks. This issue affects attendance, memory, social skills, and cognition. Acute and chronic stress is explored in The International Journal of Stress Management, The Journal of Anxiety, The Journal of Traumatic Stress, and Stress.

5. The old-school view was that either environment or genes decided the outcomes for a student.

We now know that there’s a third option: gene expression. This is the capacity of our genes to respond to chronic or acute environmental input. This new understanding highlights a new vehicle for change in our students. Neuroscientists Bruce Lipton and Ernest Rossi have written about how our everyday behaviors can influence gene expression.  New journals called Gene Expression, Gene Expression Patterns, and Nature Genetics explore the mechanisms for epigenetic (outside of genes) changes. Evidence suggests that gene expression can be regulated by what we do at schools and that this can enhance or harm long-term change prospects.

6. Good nutrition is about far more than avoiding obesity.

The journals Nutritional Neuroscience and the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition explore the effects on our brain of what we eat. The effects on cognition, memory, attention, stress, and even intelligence are now emerging. Schools that pay attention to nutrition and cognition (not just obesity) will probably support better student achievement. (more…)

Music in the Classroom

Brian Based Music

Let’s explore the role of music in your work. Whether you’re a teacher, staff developer or administrator, today’s audience often expects music. Why? A presenter who has orchestrated positive music into a thoughtful tapestry may have spoiled the audience. But is that a good idea?

First, is there any research behind using it? Second, how do you choose the right music?

Music is the perfect stimulus for triggering either raw or complex emotions. First, as you might expect, while novel music can be fun, you’ll get the highest emotional response from playing music which is familiar to your students (Pereira et al., 2011). Typically, the familiar songs evoke strong positive memories. This suggests if you want to play novel music to kids, you might need to a bit of repetition (playing it over and over and associate it with new positives) to turn it into a consistent positive trigger for students.

Another study investigated whether and how individuals employ music to induce specific emotional states. The music was used in everyday situations solely to manage personal emotions. This study shows how emotion-congruent music selections are extra powerful in activating emotional states in everyday situations (Thoma et al., 2011). It validates something very important to me: sometimes the best reason to use music in your own work is that it puts you in a positive emotional state for doing your best work.

The third study was designed to investigate whether listening to music in a social group influenced the emotion felt by the listeners. Surprisingly, the study found that the participants (all were musicians) did not experience greater “group emotionality” or collective emotional response when listening to music in a group than when listening alone (Sutherland et al., 2009). With non-musicians, the effect was the opposite. We all felt the “collective kum-bah-yah!”

Another study goes at this social question from a different angle.


One of the Brain’s “oops” Centers Identified

Brain center


Most people probably never wonder what occurs in their brain when they make a mistake; scientists, however, have diligently pursued the question. “Solving difficult, novel, or complex tasks, overcoming habitual responses, and correcting errors all require a high degree of cognitive control,” the study reports. Acting as the brain’s “mistake filters,” the frontal eye field and anterior cingulate cortex, it appears, critically impact our thoughts, actions, and errors.

The critical point here is that when we can actually see the errors we make, we learn to correct them more quickly.

Action Steps:

Rather than simply pointing out learners’ mistakes, help them identify where and how their logic became faulty. Remember, when we can see our mistakes, the frontal eye field-which houses our error correction and overriding faculties-is activated. Next guide learners through the correct steps, thus, reinforcing accurate methods.

Create a learning environment in which students feel comfortable and safe and smart despite the making of mistakes. Reassure students that mistakes are how we learn.

Allow sufficient “down time” for reflection and consolidation of facts, concepts, and skills.
Do you like travel? How about attending the HONG KONG BRAIN EXPO? Interested in going to China, starting with Hong Kong? There’s an amazing brain-based conference there in early February with Art Costa, Eric Jensen (me!) and the famous Dr. Daniel Amen. Check it out at

Yes,I’ve taken the plunge and have joined Twitter! Click here to check it out. It lets me get a feel for the issues educators are dealing with, as well as keeping up with the technology that impacts the classroom.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Mikey G Ottawa

Ideas for Getting Better Buy-In and Learning

Student Buy in

1. Constantly make something important to their brain (say, “Wow, this is so good that…” Or, “If you learn nothing else all day, listen closely and remember this…”)

2. Get students out of their seats for a quick energizer every 8-15 minutes (it bumps up Cortisol, Dopamine and Norepinephrine, all of which help strengthen memory formation)

3. Every single key idea, repeat after me (“Now we just learned there are four seasons. How many seasons are there?”)

4. Use acronyms

5. Use priming ALL Day long (“Earlier I said we have 4 seasons and the coldest one is W-I-N________?”) They spell out the rest of the word.

6. Use partners more often. (“We just learned the four seasons. Now, please stand up. Great. Find a neighbor and point to him or her say, “You’re it!. Great. Now, between you and your neighbor, see if you can remember all four seasons.”) Then do error correction.

7. Use their body more often, like every 15-30 minutes to connect with content. (“We just learned the four seasons. Now, let’s burn them into our brain in a fun way. Please stand up. Great. With your body, show your neighbor, you wiping sweat off your forehead. That’s summer. Great. Now show your neighbor raking up leaves. That’s fall. Etc.”)

8. Put key ideas up on posters around the room. Ask kids to stand up, find a partner and take them to the poster. Then they review the material using the poster as a helper.

9. Use peg systems

10. Use spatial learning and associate concepts to places in the room. Take a key idea like cumulus clouds and go to a corner of the room with the kids. Ask them to look up in the corner and imaging HUGE rain clouds in the ceiling corner. Imaging the rain. Repeat after me: “Cumulous clouds means.. rain (or whatever).”

Knowing these are good. Actually doing them-all day long, every day of the week, is how you get miracles.

Make it happen.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Justin Shearer