ScienceMaster

If it's your job to develop the mind,
shouldn't you know how the brain works?
Below are some of the recent articles written by Kenneth. Please feel free to comment on the articles if you would like by going to the “Contact” button (above) where you can leave a comment or message.

30 Ways to Improve Your Memory

Whether we are studying for Friday’s spelling test, a doctoral dissertation or a company presentation, there are a number of reliable memory techniques and powerful memory aids that yield the best results:

Read more (at Brain World): 30 Ways to Improve Your Memory

From STEM to ST2REAM

Reassembling our disaggregated curriculum

Countless millennia before the acronym STEM—for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—entered our modern lexicon, early man was already engaged in STEM endeavors. Our ancestors spent significant portions of their days experimenting, tinkering, and thinking their way through myriad problems and challenges. During those prehistoric periods, the dreamers, the designers, and the builders identified the urgent problems, and subsequently crafted… Read more (at Education Week) ...

 

Brain-Sight: Can touch allow us to “see” better than sight?

Which of the following procedures do you think would produce the most accurate representation of an object: tracing the object; looking at the object while drawing it; or, with your eyes closed, touching and feeling the object and then drawing it, without having ever seen it? finger touching brail dotsMost educators and parents would insist that the range in the quality of the three renditions would match the order in which they are presented.

When we listen to a song, we hear the melody, the beat, the lyrics, the instruments and the voice that make the music. Looking at the squiggly lines on a piece of paper, the letters form words, the words stretch into sentences, and the sentences make up paragraphs. Once read, collectively, not separately, each contributes to meaning.

Read more (at Brain World): Brain-Sight: Can touch allow us to “see” better than sight?

The Achievement Gap?


Where should our nation's focus be -- on the causes or the effects?

Many of the problems directly associated with poverty make significant contributions to the so-called "Achievement Gap," which does exist. However, it will not be reduced or eliminated by the simplistic solutions being currently advocated -- more high-stakes testing, punishing each teacher for her students’ test performances, firing the principal, linking teachers' salaries to test results, etc. -- rather than attempting to address the well known economic factors that have been widely acknowledged for their impact on learning and development, as well as skewing these standardized test results.

Pay scales for educators, like other occupations, reward teachers based on (1) earned degrees, and (2) job experience. A suburban high school, where 80 highly qualified and experienced teachers are paid an average of $1,000 more per month than their inner-city colleagues, invests in excess of $1 million dollars more per year in salaries and benefits for those educators. Yes, that massive investment difference helps in yielding an expected return annually. What we find most amazing is that the "achievement gap" isn’t considerably wider!  Factors that can lead to cognitive deficits and mild to profound brain damage include the following:

Read more: The Achievement Gap?

What Are The Most Important Questions That Educators Should Ask About the Human Brain?


"The stuff that drives scientists into their laboratories instead of onto the golf links is the passion to answer questions, hopefully important questions, about the nature of nature. Getting a fix on important questions and how to think about them from an experimental point of view is what scientists talk about, sometimes endlessly. It is those conversations that thrill and motivate."

-- Neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga

INTRODUCTION
As educators and parents become more cognizant of the impact they have on the growing brain, they often begin asking, "How does the human brain work and what can I do to nurture its covert operations?" This intriguing centuries-old question is still an enormous mystery to most of us, but there are several fascinating sub-questions whose individual answers can aid in piecing together some of the constituent keys to constructing an answer to our important original question. Among those questions are,
  • What parts inside the brain are involved in allowing for thinking, learning and memory?
  • Does the brain change during life and during the process of learning or is it a permanently fixed/hard-wired creation?
  • What can we do in our schools (and homes) to enhance learning and what can we do to remain mentally alert and healthy as we age?

    Read more: What Are The Most Important Questions That Educators...

The Brain's Hemispheres


INTRODUCTION

Each of the brain's two hemispheres is biologically partitioned into four unequal regions or lobes, each associated with different duties to perform (referred to as the "localization of function"), but all lobes are interdependent.


The frontal lobes occupy approximately 29 percent of the cerebral cortex, is home to such abilities as abstract thinking, planning, decision-making, and creativity. It also houses the Primary Motor Area, which is responsible for muscle control, skilled movements, and complex motor activities. This portion of the brain is most closely associated with the emotional control and our responses to incoming sensory information.

Read more: The Brain's Hemispheres

What Are Neurons?


The two most prevalent types of nerve cells in the brain are glial cells and neurons. Glial cells comfortably outnumber neurons by 10 to 1, although some neuroscientists estimate the figure to be as great as fifty to one. Higher ratios of glial cells to neurons appear to indicate greater degrees of cerebral functioning ("smarter") in human brains. Albert Einstein had 40% more glial cells than men of a comparable age. Somewhere between 70-90% of the cells in the cerebral cortex are glial cells, whose main responsibility, is to play "nursemaid" by assisting, pampering and nourishing the talkative neurons. Without glia, neurons could not carry out their operations properly. They would not receive the proper nutrients (neurotrophins). The lack of proper nutrition in the world of neurons, means early neuronal death.


Early psychologists surmised that glial (meaning "glue") cells helped neurons remain in their proper places in the cerebral cortex. Unlike neurons, glial cells actually reproduce inside the brain throughout one’s lifetime.

Read more: What Are Neurons?

Do We Really Use Only 10% of Our Brain?


As a possible spillover effect from the "Left-brained/Right-brained" craze, we often hear that human beings use only ten percent of our brains. The statement implies that we have already measured the brain’s maximum operational capabilities. There is not a single neuroscientist who has been able to quantify the brain’s full potential, which makes measuring ten per cent of an unknown quantity worthy of extreme suspicions.


What we do know is that there was a high physiological price to pay during cephalization, the evolutionary process by which neurons began to concentrate around the head region of primitive invertebrates. A higher level of cephalization developed in the more advanced invertebrates and later in the more complex brains of larger more sophisticated vertebrates like early hominids 3 million years ago. This process resulted in a considerably larger human

Read more: Do We Really Use Only 10% of Our Brain?

What Is All This Talk Lately About "Mirror Neurons"?



When a parent sticks his tongue out at a newborn baby, the child will reciprocate. When I yawn, you yawn. While watching a movie or reading a novel, you might find yourself crying. While watching a televised boxing match, football game or mystery, have you ever noticed yourself perspiring? While witnessing someone else’s vaccination, you cringe and sometimes scream, "Ouch!" What mechanisms in the brain cause such outcomes?


A series of "monkey see, monkey do" nerve cells with surprising properties was recently discovered in the cerebral cortex of monkeys. Giaccamo Rizzollati of the University of Parma (Italy) discovered a system of brain cells now known as "mirror cells" in the ventral premotor area (F5) of the frontal lobes. This is a part of the larger premotor cortex, whose activities are linked to planning and initiating movements. Immediately anterior to the motor area is a cortical strip referred to as the Supplementary Motor Area (SMA) or the premotor cortex. Proposed actions are rehearsed there prior to being executed by one’s motor system. The premotor cortex is a functional brain landmark separating the motor input (sensory/detecting) and output (motor/performing) systems.

Read more: What Is All This Talk Lately About "Mirror Neurons"?

How Does The Brain Process Learning?


For most of the mid-20th Century, the theoretical views of psychologist B.F. Skinner and other behaviorists dominated the field of psychology. Whether the focus was on pigeons learning to depress a lever to receive food or more multifaceted issues such as the complex process of language acquisition, the deliberations were always reduced to "stimulus-response." It was an unavoidable sequence of events. Even conversations about teaching and learning were reduced to the "S-R" model in order to proceed with the discussions surrounding concepts in learning theory.

However, we now recognize a host of additional factors that undeniably influence the outcome -- learning and behavior. Unfortunately, students do not obediently "respond" (remember and immediately embrace) newly presented information. Formal education, to say nothing about parenting, has never been characterized as such an effortless venture met with instantaneous success. Educators might wish a Skinnerian approach were a realistic teaching expectation, especially on those challenging days with the most difficult of students. According to distinguished educator, Art Costa, teaching is considered to be among the most challenging professions in the world, because of the innumerable variables that are not captured in the S-R framework. The challenges instead constitute intermittent and sometimes permanent brain-based obstacles that regularly stand firmly between teaching efforts and student achievement.

Read more: How Does The Brain Process Learning?

What Is Brain Plasticity?


Alvin Toffler, the noted author said, "The illiterates of the future are not those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and re-learn," but what happens inside of the human brain to foster those events commonly described as "learning," which is the goal formal education? In order to avoid being among those illiterates of the future, how should we modify our classroom instruction so that it conforms to the latest research findings concerning the brain?


Cortical plasticity refers to the brain ability to continue exercising its flexible nature by allowing different areas of the brain to change as a result of experiences it gets in the outside environment. The brain is sturdy, delicate and flexible. A child’s early interactions directly impact the ways in which the brain gets physically connected or how it gets "wired-up" initially. With the acquisition of new knowledge or any new learning, the elaborate networks and structures inside the brain go through modification, re-organization, or some degree of cellular alteration. Those changes are seen in the brain’s chemistry, structures and functions.

Read more: What Is Brain Plasticity?

What Everyone Should Know About the Latest Brain Research


We all regularly demand "body compatible" chairs that match our body contours comfortably and hand-compatible tools for our work. Why then, don't we also insist on "brain-compatible schools" for our children? Taking advantage of the vast knowledge reservoir from neuroscience will surely advance parenting and education in the 21st Century.

If it's our job as parents and educators to develop young minds, shouldn't we know how the brain works? The human brain is the best organized, most flexible, and highest functioning object in the known universe. We ask, "How is it that collective actions inside a three pound, 2-millimeter thick organ composed of over one trillion brain cells, 100 billion of them neurons, with vast ensembles of neural circuits numbering in the hundreds of millions, intricate wide-area networks crisscrossing the brain, with a large number of strangely shaped sub-cortical structures housed just beneath the cerebral cortex, all work together giving rise to children who learn, walk, talk, think, memorize, invent wild stories, do long division, and develop an astounding catalogue of other phenomenal and uniquely human capabilities?"

Read more: What Everyone Should Know About the Latest Brain Research

Early Brain Development and Learning - Part 1 of 2


Psychologist Jean Piaget described play as the serious business of all childhood learning. During infancy, the means by which the youngest brains begin knowledge acquisition are all quite similar. Children, like many other mammals, begin learning through touch, imitation, exploration, discovery and play. A significant portion of our learning is governed by a genetically pre-determined sequence of skills, which are mastered based on how and when other regions and structures inside the human brain go "on-line." Just as the digestion of solids is preceded by a prerequisite consumption of liquids, one’s tactile, visual, olfactory, motor and auditory experiences are all followed by more complex brain processes.

Read more: Early Brain Development and Learning - Part 1 of 2

Early Brain Development and Learning- Part 2 of 2


The Learning Brain
Albert Einstein said, “Learning is experiencing. Everything else is just information,” suggesting that we must “experience” learning by utilizing our twenty or more (not just five) sensory systems. Human beings have an innate need to see, touch, taste, feel, and hear (experience) the features of any new object in order to understand it better.

Over the course of one’s early formal education, the brain continues to grow based on the same strategies that are used to build it at the outset—by creating linkages between neurons, that generate the vastly complex neural networks, which represent all acquired knowledge and skills. The emerging capabilities and talents that (1) receive significant amounts of time and attention, (2) have key emotional, personal, and/or survival linkages, and (3) are repeated often, are skills that have the greatest likelihood of developing elaborate neural connections that become almost impervious to destruction short of disease or regional brain trauma. Substantial amounts of nerve growth factor, the “neuro-nutrients” vital for brain cell growth and survival,

Read more: Early Brain Development and Learning- Part 2 of 2

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