Monday, December 28, 2015

Five Tips for Eating Healthier in 2016

by Guest Blogger Donna Wilson

The holidays are a time for us to eat, drink and be merry. Surrounded by great food and an abundance of sweets, many of us find it hard to resist the temptation of "just one more bite," followed by another bite and perhaps another one after that. Having overindulged in foods that are high in sugar and unhealthy fats for much of December, we promise ourselves to eat a healthier diet in the coming year.

Eating healthy is definitely a critical component to a losing weight, lowering cholesterol and reducing our risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and a myriad of other adverse medical conditions. For those who maintain healthy eating habits, food is more than just the fuel that gets us through the day. It is also the pathway to feeling good and to staying focused and energized, or relaxed and calm.

In our book Positively Smarter: Science and Strategies for Increasing Happiness, Achievement, and Well-Being. we explain that healthy eating is important for fueling the Body-Brain System.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Positive Brains Are Smarter Brains

Editor's Note: This blog post, written by Donna Wilson and Marcus Conyers, originally appeared on Edutopia.

Explicit instruction to guide students toward taking charge of their outlook on academic endeavors can lead to a more positive—and ultimately more productive—approach to learning. Applying metacognition to both the emotional and cognitive aspects of learning can help students steer their minds to make steady gains in developing their knowledge and skills.

In a previous post, we explored the gains that are possible when students adopt an attitude of practical optimism as they learn. These advantages persist into adulthood, as business research shows that people with a positive outlook are more productive, motivated, and likely to achieve their goals on the job. And optimistic people enjoy better personal and professional relationships and even better physical health than people who tend toward pessimism.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Strategies for Getting and Keeping the Brain's Attention

Editor’s Note: This blog post, written by Donna Wilson and Marcus Conyers, originally appeared on Edutopia.

The human brain has an amazing capacity to wield a potent cognitive strategy: selective attention. When we consciously focus our attention on something, we bring the power of the prefrontal cortex to this endeavor. By honing our ability to focus attention at will, we can more effectively screen out two types of distractions:
  1. Input through our sensory organs, and
  2. Our emotional responses.
Distractions via sensory input may be the easier of the two to block, according to Daniel Goleman in his book Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence. As educators, we may tend to notice the impact of sights, sounds, and touch points that draw students' focus away from lessons and learning activities. But while all of the sensory stimulations in the environment are readily obvious, emotions can be even "louder" when it comes to diverting attention in unwanted directions and making it hard to focus on learning.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Training the Brain to Listen: A Practical Strategy for Student Learning and Classroom Management

Editor’s Note: This popular blog post, written by Donna Wilson and Marcus Conyers, originally appeared on Edutopia. We received a tremendous response to the post and are republishing it here so that new readers can benefit from the information and strategies provided.

During the school year, students are expected to listen to and absorb vast amounts of content. But how much time has been devoted to equipping students with ways to disconnect from their own internal dialogue (self-talk) and to focus their attention fully on academic content that is being presented? Listening is hard work even for adults. When students are unable to listen effectively, classroom management issues arise.

Explicit instruction on cognitive strategies that can help students learn how to learn may have a positive impact on both academic performance and classroom management by emphasizing that students are in charge of their own behavior and learning. Teachers we've worked with find that classroom management issues decrease over time as students begin to master thinking skills that help them become more self-directed learners.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Achieving Happiness Through Practical Metacognition

by Marcus Conyers and Donna Wilson

Are we able to influence our level of happiness? There is evidence to suggest that we can. By using the principle of practical metacognition, each of us has the ability to achieve a happier state of being and make our lives significantly better in the process.

Marcus created the concept of practical metacognition for our recently published book, Positively Smarter: Science and Strategies for Increasing Happiness, Achievement, and Well-Being, available from Wiley. In conjunction with that premise, we refute the notion that people’s outlooks and attitudes are largely fixed and unchangeable.

In truth, an individual with a pessimistic or optimistic outlook is not born that way. As we explain in the book, our genetic makeup, family background and life experiences are only partially responsible for our outlook on life and our ability to experience and sustain joy.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Encouraging a Print-Rich Environment

Letters, letters everywhere. One of the best ways to encourage the emerging literacy of young pre-readers is to surround them with the letters of the alphabet. At home, put magnetic letters on the refrigerator. Buy puzzles and toys with letter-based themes. Have plenty of storybooks in the home that encourage recitation and recognition of letters and words.

As we explain in our book, Flourishing in the First Five Years: Connecting Implications from Mind, Brain, and Education Research to the Development of Young Children, classrooms are particularly great places to post the letters of the alphabet, both upper- and lowercase, with corresponding pictures. Teachers can reinforce these connections with regular group recitations (“A” is for “Apple,” “B” is for “Banana,” “C” is “Cat,” etc.). There are opportunities all around the room to place different forms of print—labeling various items by their name—i.e., table, chair, toy box—and labeling children’s cubbies with their names.

Teachers also can display wall stories, labeled murals, and word displays. Children in classrooms such as these spontaneously use almost twice as much print in their play as those not exposed to a print-rich environment. Print environments are effective in encouraging reading as well as the earliest stages of writing.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Happier Heart, Healthier Heart: Positive Outlook May Protect Cardiovascular System

The connection between the actions we take and our cardiovascular health—what we eat and how often we exercise—is well known, but what about the impact of our thoughts?

A wide range of medical studies has concluded that an optimistic outlook—in particular the feeling that life is worth living—has a protective effect on heart health. For example, researchers with the Harvard School of Public Health found that people who exhibit optimism or “emotional vitality,” defined as maintaining a healthy interest in their lives and the world around them, have a 20-percent reduced risk of cardiovascular disease in comparison to people with a pessimistic outlook.

Several factors may account for how emotional outlook influences physical health. Martin Seligman, a pioneer in the field of positive psychology, suggests that optimists, believing they can make a difference, take action to maintain a healthy lifestyle. In addition, people with a positive outlook typically have stronger relationships with family and friends they can rely on for social support in adopting healthy habits. A third possibility is that emotional health may be linked to biological mechanisms that shield optimists from serious illness or aid in their recovery.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Try the High-Five Strategy “Treasure Hunters and Trash Collectors”

by Guest Blogger Donna Wilson

We encourage teachers and parents alike to help students to develop the habit of consistently focusing on what’s useful and positive in their lives. An effective way to do this is to use the High-Five strategy, as described in our book, 60 Strategies for Increasing Student Learning.

The first step is to introduce the concept of positive learning. Discuss the benefits such as better motivation, problem solving, and well-being. Ensure that students have a chance to participate. Ask students if they would like to learn a way to more consistently sustain positive learning states. When you get their affirmation, read aloud the following story about Treasure Hunters and Trash Collectors.

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Power of Positivity in Schools

Our latest regular blog post on Edutopia is “Unleashing the Power of Positivity in Your School.” As we explain in the post, a positive community of educators within a school has a powerful effect on the students who actively learn there. Teachers help create a positive environment by exhibiting and modeling an optimistic outlook and can-do attitude.

The post builds on a previous post that we wrote, which outlines the benefits of practical optimism as a strategy for achieving one’s goals through commitment, execution and maintaining a positive outlook that success is possible. In this latest post, we outline a variety of strategies that may be useful in enhancing practical optimism, such as staying focused on the “upside,” expressing gratitude, and regularly committing small acts of kindness. Other strategies include being mindful of your emotional state, giving your brain and body a positive workout, and infusing positive feelings into your surroundings.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Creativity and the Brain

by Marcus Conyers

Part Six in a Six-Part Series

Different “brain states,” or ways of thinking, can be applied to enhance creative and innovative thinking. Some of these states may not come easily to everyone, but they can be cultivated over time. We can train our brains to become more creatively productive and to proactively apply innovative ways of thinking to creative challenges (Carson, 2012).

Neuroscientists have identified two key brain networks, referred to as the executive attention and default mode networks, involved in creative thinking. The executive attention network, connecting outer regions of the prefrontal cortex to areas in the posterior region of the parietal lobe, is active when cognitive control is required in the problem-solving, evaluation, and implementation phases of innovation.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Three Keys to Innovative Thinking

by Marcus Conyers

Part Five in a Six-Part Series

In the first four parts of this series, we discussed the creativity crisis and the urgent need to cultivate the brain's creative potential as an integral part of developing innovating minds.

Sternberg (1985; Sternberg & Lubart, 1995) describes three key abilities that can be developed to increase creative thinking skills. In essence, these three abilities underpin what innovating minds do in terms of creative thinking and entrepreneurial doing:

Synthetic ability refers to generating novel, creative ideas. People with well-developed synthetic thinking are recognized as innovative because they make connections that others don’t recognize.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Cultivating the Brain’s Creative Potential

by Marcus Conyers

Part Four in a Six-Part Series

The word education is derived from the latin root e-ducere, which means “to lead out.” Experiences literally shape the brain, and the neurocognitive systems associated with creative thinking are malleable. Furthermore, creativity is relatively independent of traditional measures of human potential such as IQ. New research is also overturning the common myth that creativity is a special gift that only a lucky few possess.

The profound implication of these findings is that almost all of us have the capacity to learn to be more creative and innovative. It is now possible to create learning environments and opportunities in classrooms and workplaces that lead out more of the creative potential of all learners.

In our work across North America and Europe and around the world, one thing has become clear: In the hyper-connected innovation age, it is essential that we cultivate the cognitive skills for identifying opportunities and creating, evaluating, and applying new ideas that generate unique, relevant, added value. We need to be both innovative thinkers and entrepreneurial doers. We need to develop innovating minds. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Creativity Crisis

by Marcus Conyers

Part Three in a Six-Part Series

Research on creativity—how well people generate ideas, how original their ideas are, and how they persist in the work of turning ideas into effective action—shows a steady decline in skills related to creativity and innovation over the past 20 years.

In an era where virtually all new jobs created are in small and mid-sized enterprises, we must find ways to nurture innovative thinking and entrepreneurial mindsets in today’s workforce and in students who will be the future job candidates—and proprietors—of those enterprises.

As Richard Florida, author of Rise of the Creative Class, puts it, “Prosperity in the Creative Age turns on human potential. It can only be fully realized when each and every worker is recognized and empowered as a source of creativity—when their talents are nurtured.”

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

‘Sputnik Moment’: Urgent Need to Learn and Teach Creative Thinking Skills

by Marcus Conyers

Part Two in a Six-Part Series
“The problem is that there are only 1.2 billion full-time, formal jobs in the world. This is a potentially devastating global shortfall of about 1.8 billion good jobs. It means that global unemployment for those seeking a formal good job with a paycheck and 30+hours of steady work approaches a staggering 50%.”—Jim Clifton, The Coming Jobs War (2011, p. 2).
In That Used to Be Us, Friedman and Mandelbaum (2011) make the case that for organizations to survive and individuals to thrive, each of us must harness the power of imagination and enhance our capacity for creativity and innovation to deliver that necessary something “extra.”

We can better prepare students for that uncertain future through explicit instruction on how and when to use cognitive skills that are the everyday tools of innovators and entrepreneurs so that they may take their place in what Richard Florida (2014) calls the creative class. At the core of the creative class are people whose “chief economic function is to create new ideas, new technology, and new creative content.”

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Why We Need To Cultivate Innovating Minds

by Marcus Conyers

Part One in a Six-Part Series
“Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you, and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.”—Steve Jobs; inventor; 1955–2011
“We are convinced the world will increasingly be divided between high imagination-enabled countries, which encourage and enable the imagination and extras of their people, and low imagination-enabling countries, which suppress or simply fail to develop their people’s creative capacities and abilities to spark new ideas, start up new industries and their own ‘extra.’
—Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum; That Used to Be Us (2011)
The present and future envisioned in these two quotes sound both a challenge and an opportunity. The words of Steve Jobs in particular capture the essence of the skills we will need for the future in a world where automation and outsourcing of routine work are transforming the landscape and career prospects.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Positively Smarter Launches in the U.S.

Our latest book, Positively Smarter: Science and Strategies for Increasing Happiness, Achievement, and Well-Being has launched in the U.S. and is currently available in hard cover, paperback and Kindle editions.

In this pioneering book, Donna Wilson and I bring together brings together seven principles for connecting the science of neuroplasticity to practical strategies for enhancing the synergy of happiness, achievement, and physical well-being. Moving beyond common myths and misconceptions that these three areas of life are largely driven by innate talent, genes, and external circumstances, the text builds an evidence-based paradigm so that readers can take practical steps to improve cognitive function.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Interval Training

In our most recent book, Positively Smarter: Science and Strategies for Increasing Happiness, Achievement, and Well-being, we include chapters discussing science and strategies for reaping the benefits of exercise for the Body-Brain System. Once a good foundation of fitness is in place, interval training is one route to increasing fitness and for burning more calories.

In my training for half marathons, I usually run longer distances at a steady heart rate of around 180 beats per minute minus my age, which means I am jogging at a rate of between 128 and 130 beats per minute. In addition, I do some days of interval training when I run harder for 30 seconds and then slower for around the same amount of time.

WebMD has a good article on this subject, with great information on how interval training can take your fitness to the next level.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

'Living a Brain-Healthy Lifestyle' Presentation

I was pleased to have the opportunity to present some key concepts from our new book, Positively Smarter: Science and Strategies for Increasing Happiness, Achievement and Well-being, as part of the Rollins Health Forum Series. The topic of the presentation, which took place May 17 at Rollins College, was: "Living a Brain-Healthy Lifestyle."

My presentation focused on how to achieve and support optimal cognitive performance across the lifespan through the application of seven practical lifestyle strategies—lifelong learning, aerobic exercise, strength training, healthy nutrition, adequate sleep, practical optimism, and positive social connections.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Positively Smarter Debuts in UK

Donna and I are proud to announce that our latest book, Positively Smarter: Science and Strategies for Increasing Happiness, Achievement, and Well-Being, has launched in the UK and is also available on Kindle worldwide.

In the book, Donna and I discuss seven principles for connecting the science of neuroplasticity to practical strategies for enhancing the synergy of happiness, achievement, and physical well-being. Moving beyond common myths and misconceptions that these three areas of life are largely driven by innate talent, genes, and external circumstances, the text builds an evidence-based paradigm that guides readers toward practical steps to improve their cognitive function.

The research we explore in the book comes from a broad range of fields, with emphasis on the big ideas that can have a positive influence on—and even transform—our lives by focusing on practical learning strategies. The text provides the science, structures, and strategies for creating a more effective system, so that learners are equipped to achieve goals and realize more of their unique potential across the learning life span.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Smarter Stretching

In our most recent book, Positively Smarter: Science and Strategies for Increasing Happiness, Achievement, and Well-being, Donna Wilson and I include chapters discussing the science and strategies for reaping the benefits of exercise for the Body-Brain System. Another important topic in physical wellbeing is that of when and how to stretch. While the common assumption is that stretching before exercising prevents injury, research does not support this claim. Rather, warming up—for instance, by walking or slow jogging before a run—is beneficial in terms of increasing blood flow and warming up the muscles. The time to stretch is after exercise, when you are more flexible and can achieve greater benefits.

This article in WebMD has a useful guide to smarter approaches to stretching, making the excellent point that stretching should be a regular part of your exercise routine.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Put Working Memory to Work In Learning

by Donna Wilson and Marcus Conyers

Working memory involves the conscious processing and managing of information required to carry out complex cognitive tasks such as learning, reasoning, and comprehension. It has been described as the brain's conductor.

Memory has long been viewed as a key aspect of learning, but as the emphasis in educational standards has shifted away from rote memorization and toward the knowledge and skills needed to process new information, working memory is increasingly taking center stage.

There is an explosion of research today with the aim of understanding how this important function works and how to enhance it. However, the term working memory was first used more than 50 years ago to describe the role of recall in planning and carrying out behavior.

In the 1970s and '80s, British psychologist Alan Baddeley and colleagues developed a model of working memory that brings together how the brain accepts sensory input, processes both visual-spatial and verbal data, and accesses long-term memory; and how all of that input is processed by a function they referred to as central executive.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Strategies for Stengthening the Brain's Executive Function

by Donna Wilson and Marcus Conyers

Earlier in Donna’s career as a teacher and school psychologist, she assessed, diagnosed, and helped create interventions for children and youth who had difficulty with executive functioning. Today as teacher educators, we are pleased that our graduates are increasing students' cognitive, metacognitive, and executive functioning in classrooms around the world. As just one example, Texas teacher Diane Dahl blogs on teaching metacognition.

What Are Executive Functions?

Through explicit instruction and modeling, students can come to recognize the importance of taking charge of their executive functioning in their academic endeavors and later in their careers. Executive functions can be defined as the awareness and directive capacities of the mind. By wielding these skills and abilities, students decide where to focus their attention and which tasks to undertake. As a general rule of thumb, when students of any age have difficulty completing developmentally appropriate academic tasks on their own, executive functioning may be at the root of the problem.

In the human brain, executive functions are primarily regulated by the prefrontal regions (just behind the forehead) of the frontal lobes. Neuroscientists and psychologists have made significant gains in understanding the brain's executive functioning over the past several decades.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Advantages of "Playful Learning"

by Guest Blogger Donna Wilson

Summertime is upon us, which gives many pre-school and schoolage children an increased opportunity to pursue one of their favorite activities: play.

As we mention in our book, Flourishing in the First Five Years: Connecting Implications from Mind, Brain, and Education Research to the Development of Young Children, it’s hard to overstate the importance of free play and more directed “playful learning” to support the development of young children’s language, problem-solving, social, and creative abilities.

Young children play with various toys that teach them how to sort objects by shape or color, how to stack, how to count, how to say the letters of the alphabet, and how wheeled objects can go from point A to point B. When playing with others, they learn the concepts of sharing or taking turns—though perhaps not always willingly at first. As they grow older, they learn such concepts as problem solving and perseverance. A determined 4-year-old may get discouraged when her block tower keeps falling down, but she doesn’t give up, figures out a better way to build it, and the sixth time she tries—success! Thus, play provides many paths to mastery.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Your Chief Executive Officer: Taking
Charge of Your Brain

by Guest Blogger Donna Wilson

In the business world, the chief executive officer is the person responsible for the highest-level decision-making made at a corporate entity. Without a leader to guide them, the people in the organization might scatter in a variety of different directions and find themselves at cross-purposes instead of working productively together toward the same goals.

In our book, Thinking for Results: Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement By As Much as 30 Percent, we cite the work of neuropsychologist and cognitive neuroscientist Elkhonon Goldberg (2009), who applies the metaphor of a chief executive officer to the brain’s frontal lobes. For example, he notes that
The prefrontal cortex plays the central role in forming goals and objectives and then in devising plans of action required to obtain these goals. It selects the cognitive skills required to implement the plans, coordinates these skills, and applies them in correct order. (p. 23)

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Presenting at Rollins College

I'm looking forward to presenting some key concepts from our new book, Positively Smarter: Science and Strategies for Increasing Happiness, Achievement, and Well-being, as part of the Rollins Health Forum Series during the Rollins Health Forum Series. Our topic is Living a Brain-Healthy Lifestyle, which we will present at 7 p.m. in the Bush Auditorium at Rollins College.

The presentation will focus on how to achieve and support optimal cognitive performance across the lifespan through the application of practical lifestyle strategies. We will be sharing a framework on how the brain can benefit from good nutrition, physical activity, positive affect, and social connections. Participants will experience a variety of brain challenges to engage the mind in logic, visual perception, concentration, and attention. Those in attendance will leave with a toolbox of practical strategies that they can put to immediate use so as to facilitate the process of living a brain-healthy life.

It will be great to re-connect with our friends in Winter Park tomorrow evening on the beautiful Rollins College campus. We hope to see you there!

Our Article on Body-Brain System Is
Featured on PDK Common Core Website

Understanding how the body and brain work in conjunction with one another has positive implications for learning and student achievement. Donna and I were pleased to have the opportunity to delve into this topic in an article that we contributed to the Phi Delta Kappan Common Core Writing project.

In the article, entitled Smart moves: Powering up the brain with physical activity, we describe the body-brain system and its importance in student achievement, classroom behavior, and the development of cognitive skills. We also cite compelling research that shows the positive effect that physical activity has on cognitive performance of students from preschool through college.

Read the article in its entirety here for specific strategy recommendations that teachers, administrators, and policy makers can use to incorporate physical activity into classroom learning, with the desired result of improving students’ performance as measured by the Common Core and other academic standards. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Praise Effort to Drive Academic Success

by Guest Blogger Donna Wilson

We all like to be recognized for a job well done. However, research indicates that teachers and parents can increase youngsters’ motivation by focusing their praise on students’ efforts and improvements rather than on outcomes alone.

In our book, Five Big Ideas for Effective Teaching: Connecting, Mind Brain, and Education Research to Classroom Practice, Marcus Conyers and I give examples of what teachers can say to students to keep the focus on hard work and effort rather than on results alone:
  • “All that effort you put into your homework has really made a difference—look how much your grade improved on this week’s quiz.”
  • “I like how you looked up the definition yourself rather than just asking what the word means.”
  • “If you work on your note-taking skills, you will have better materials to use when studying for the next test.”

Monday, April 27, 2015

Using Mistakes as an Opportunity to Teach

by Guest Blogger Donna Wilson 

Everybody makes mistakes—even teachers. Showing your students that you make mistakes and then demonstrating how you correct them can be an important way to help them build their problem-solving skills.

An effective way of modeling cognitive strategies is to demonstrate to students how you work through a mistake. Students may giggle when you as their teacher make a mistake, but you can use such a situation as an important problem-solving exercise by working toward correcting your mistake out loud and in full view of your classroom.

Marcus Conyers and I discuss the use of metacognition—that is, thinking about your thinking—as a pathway to becoming functionally smarter in our book, Five Big Ideas for Effective Teaching: Connecting Mind, Brain, and Education Research to Classroom Practice. As students become more cognitive and able to identify and work through their own problems, this strategy may be extended to include student-to-student problem solving aloud.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Staying Positive in the Wake of Failure

by Guest Blogger Donna Wilson

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Sometimes, however, keeping students motivated to try in the aftermath of a failure can be very challenging for a teacher.

Students may interpret failure as being caused by an inherent lack of ability, in which case they won't be inclined to redouble their efforts so that they can succeed at a similar task the next time. If students attribute their failure to something that is inherent within their being, they are more likely to develop a pessimistic outlook that will thwart successful learning in the future.

Our approach to brain-based teaching and learning is based on the principle: Never question ability, always improve strategy. By teaching students that failure is a temporary setback that can be overcome by employing effective strategies for learning, we believe its possible for students to build a sense of mastery that drives optimism and self-esteem.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Helping Your Students' Potential Blossom

by Guest Blogger Donna Wilson

Happy spring!  In many parts of the US, this season of renewal may seem long overdue—all the more reason to celebrate its arrival with a metaphor about the seeds of potential that all students possess to learn, grow, and achieve their goals in school and in life.

A favorite teaching and learning strategy among educators who participate in our brain-based teaching program is using metaphors to explain and explore new concepts. So let’s say that within each student, seeds of learning can take root, powered not by photosynthesis but by neuroplasticity, defined as changes in the structure and function of the brain as it processes new information.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

How a Postive Mood Affects Classroom Performance

by Guest Blogger Donna Wilson

Think positively! How often have you heard that when facing a potential problem in your life? Certainly thinking positively is good advice in that an upbeat attitude has been linked to better results in problem solving and learning.

As Marcus and I describe in our book, Thinking for Results: Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement By As Much as 30 Percent, people think more creatively and find novel solutions to difficult problems when they are in a positive mood. Approaching an important task with optimism gives you the motivation you need to continue when the going gets tough.

Conversely, when people are in a negative mood, they can find it more difficult to think creatively and may also be more pessimistic about their chances of success. They may not be as motivated to think through complex problems, and this can lower their ability to achieve. Thus, the pessimism is borne out without the person ever realizing that a positive attitude might have led to different results.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Motivating Students To Learn

by Guest Blogger Donna Wilson

Do you believe that people can become smarter through learning or that intelligence is determined at birth? How we answer this question says a great deal about what we believe about motivation for learning.

This important belief system and its impact on motivation surfaced for me in the early 1980s when I was working with a group of seventh-grade students classified as "gifted." Some of these students were highly motivated to achieve, while others were less motivated and underachieving.

Among this latter group, the prevailing believe seemed to be that because they were "smart," they did not need to put forth an effort to learn at school. In contrast, their high-achieving peers seemed to understand that they needed to put forth an effort so that they could attain their potential and achieve desired results.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Spring Forward—But Get Enough Sleep!

by Guest Blogger Donna Wilson

Sunday is the start of Daylight Saving Time (DST) throughout much of the United States. But as you spring forward, do remember to get enough sleep!

Experts quoted by such mainstream media outlets as the New York Daily News and Time magazine have identified the Monday after DST as a vulnerable time for traffic accidents. Commuters are adjusting to a lost hour of sleep as well as an hour of daylight shifted from the start of their days to the evening time.

What this underscores is just how important sleep is to proper functioning in general. As we report in our book, Thinking for Results: Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement By As Much as 30 Percent, a large number of Americans are sleep deprived. Lack of sleep has a significant impact on cognitive processes. Most adults require a minimum of 7.5 hours of sleep per night, while children and teenagers need even more.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Cultivating Cognitive Assets in Students

by Guest Blogger Donna Wilson

Over the past half-century, psychologists and neuroscientists have learned a great deal about the way our brains work. These discoveries have revolutionized our understanding about how people learn. We now know that academic achievement is greatly influenced by students’ abilities to apply thought processes in a systematic way. In education, terms often used are cognitive strategies (we use the term assets) and metacognition.

Cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists may use the term executive functions or skills to describe similar functions. For example, educators, psychologists and neuroscientists may all speak of the importance of capacities such as working memory, selective attention, and metacognition with regard to learning. All three groups of professionals are talking about skills that are linked to the brain's prefrontal region, as well as other areas of the brain depending upon the specific skill. Ongoing research continues to increase our understanding about related structures and functions.

Some students arrive at school with most of their cognitive assets (or executive functions) in place. They have the capacity to benefit from standard teaching practice if they are motivated to do so. Other students do not arrive with all these assets in place. They may start school motivated, but they can quickly lose ground as their reading, writing, and computing skills fail to develop at the prescribed rate.

One response is to require them to repeat the grade, which is both financially costly and largely ineffective, In our book, Thinking for Results: Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement by As Much as 30 Percent, we cite studies that show that students who are held back do not gain the skills they need to perform at grade level and that grade retention is highly correlated to dropping out of school.

Friday, February 13, 2015

On Valentine's Day, Love Your Heart

by Guest Blogger Donna Wilson

Maintaining a healthy Body-Brain System, including an emphasis on cardiovascular health, is essential for a long and productive life of learning and doing all the things that we love to do most. What better time than Valentine's Day weekend to celebrate the steps we can all take to adopt a cardio-protective lifestyle? The American Heart Association offers a simple prescription for heart health in the following "Simple 7" health guidelines:
  • Get active, with 30 minutes of moderate physical activity, such as brisk walking, at least five times a week (60 minutes for children).
  • Control cholesterol through a healthy diet and regular exercise to maintain a healthy weight.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Print-Rich Environments Enrich Learning

by Guest Blogger Donna Wilson

Helping young children develop literacy is a key task for parents and early childhood educators alike. We have found that one of the most effective strategies is to surround young children with visualizations of letters and words, both at home and in the classroom.

Magnetic letters, for instance, are a fun diversion for toddlers and preschoolers. If they are just learning to spell their names, they will love to pick out the letters and arrange them on a magnetic surface like a refrigerator or dry-erase board.

This is just one aspect of a print-rich environment that early childhood educators and parents should be encouraging both in a classroom environment and at home. Classrooms are particularly great places to post the letters of the alphabet, both upper- and lowercase, with corresponding pictures. These connections can be reinforced with regular group recitations (“A” is for “Apple,” “B” is for “Banana,” “C” is “Cat,” etc.).

Monday, January 26, 2015

Make Teaching Meaningful to Bring Learning to Life

by Guest Blogger Donna Wilson

When we speak to teachers, one of the things they consistently tell us is how much value they find in the BrainSMART: 60 Strategies for Increasing Student Learning text. Some of many strategies we teach in this text help teachers to teach students how to remember important information. For example, the brain is somewhat like a computer. It acts as if it has a save key and a delete key. It automatically deletes the meaningless information we receive on a daily basis. To promote learning and therefore initiate the "save key," we need to make the information we teach meaningful to young students.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Engage the Senses for a Total Learning Experience

by Guest Blogger Donna Wilson

We experience the world through our senses—through sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile impressions. The more fully we engage our senses, the more we experience and the more we learn.

We recommend that teachers use multiple sensory learning activities whenever possible to help students better understand and integrate the use of cognitive assets in their studies and in their lives. Encourage students to create graphics to illustrate these cognitive assets by drawing the concepts on which they are based and creating posters.

Our use of the brain car graphic, which underscores the importance of driving our own learning, is a popular example of how graphics can make a lesson memorable. Similarly, using a model of a brain can help effectively teach the concept of metacognition.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Regular Exercise Leads to Better Health for the Body and the Brain

by Guest Blogger Donna Wilson

Happy New Year! With a new year may come a resolution to get into shape. Last week, we posted about the importance of eating well. In tandem with that comes the need for regular exercise.

Exercise not only can lead to a healthier life but also can lead to a more academically accomplished life as well. In our book, Thinking for Results: Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement By As Much as 30 Percent, we cite research suggesting that movement is essential for the Body-Brain System to be in a peak state for thinking and learning.

Even just standing and walking can increase the blood supply to the thinking areas of the brain significantly. Additionally, breakthroughs in cognitive neuroscience show that various movements require extremely high levels of cognitive function.