Practical Theory - The Origin
The Scholars in CyberEnglish
ToDaY's MeNu - Ted

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Summer Reading - Chapter Four

Eric Jensen's Teaching with the Brain in Mind Chapter Four, "Movement and Learning" focuses on kinetic energy and how we should balance seat time and activity. By exploring anatomical, imaging, cognitive, and functional studies our classroom practice will enhance learning.

Jensen explores the evidence for the connections between mind and body, the links between the cerebellum and the rest of the brain. The anatomical evidence tells us that the cerebellum is located in the back of the brain and is the size of a small fist. It contains nearly half the brain's neurons and is considered the most complex part of the brain. Most of the neurons are "outbound" thus influencing the brain. Evidence from Imaging techniques support the role of movement and the visual system, language system, and memory. This is the lightening storm going on in our brain. Recess is important because the activity of running, rolling, jumping, and sliding affect the inner ear canals which are very important to regulate incoming sensory data that affects attention. No one can argue against exercise. In some schools all students begin with exercise or gym before classes. In these cases, the evidence shows better academics. Learning how to play on a playground, learning the rules and engaging social interaction become useful tools in the classroom where they need to learn to play with ideas. Play is important.
"The play's the thing
Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King.
Hamlet Act 2, scene 2, 603–605
Some activities we can do would be drama, role playing, quick games, group work, and even stretching. In my computer classroom I find it essential to have the students get up and move around and even when working in groups move around in their rolling chairs. When they want something they know they have to get up and get it because I'm not bringing it to them.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Summer Reading - Chapter Three

Eric Jensen's Teaching with the Brain in Mind Chapter Three "Rules We Learn By" begins the conversation about "Nature vs Nurture." Homework is the Circle, Bubble, and Tree Maps.

The "Nurture" argument justifies the teacher's existence beyond simple babysitting. Now Jensen defines learning and establishes his seven points that influence learning. Learning is both explicit and implicit. Explicit learning comes from what we read, write, and speak about that comes from outside sources like textbooks, videos, and lectures that revolve around task prediction and are assessed by tests. Implicit learning happens from within that are developed by habits, activities, things that we "do." When we learn, we develop "memory." On a more complex level of learning, we employ more strategies and tools. Jensen has espoused seven critical factors in the learning process that concentrate on the brain and less on the environment. These factors are
  • Engagement (goal oriented attention and action)
  • Repetition (priming, reviewing, and revising)
  • Input quantity (capacity, flow, chunk size)
  • Coherence (models, relevance, prior knowledge)
  • Timing (time of day, interval learning)
  • Error correction (mistakes, feedback, support)
  • Emotional states (safety, state of dependency)

Engagement is simply paying attention. Students are distracted by many environmental stimuli in the classroom and paying attention requires some discipline and skill. On one level teachers can provide choice and a good environment which considers lighting, furniture, temperature, and safety. Students can provide good sleep, avoid drugs or alcohol, and are aware of their needs. As for attending to the brain paying attention to our glucose level is important. Another important factor is safety. Not just physical safety, but also safe in making mistakes and not being embarrassed.

Repetition will never not be important in learning. In order for repetition to be useful, engaging, and useful instead of boring variety is the spice. Consider using pre-exposure, covertly, well before the action. Use previewing, overtly, before the event. Priming is the DoNow that stimulates the brain and prepares it for learning. Reviewing is the takeaway from the event. Finally revision is is the overt action as it pertains to the event.

Input Quantity deals with the notion that more is not necessarily better. Teachers are always at odds with the distinction between quality and quantity. What is needed is in-depth learning that may seem slow in the beginning, but in time students will do more because they have developed the skills to do more and to remember things. This is a good argument for annualization of our classes instead of the constant changing of students every semester or less. Just as we get to know them and have a good rhythm going we change students. In too many cases there just isn't enough time in the semester system of schools. In addition, our class length and frequency of changing from discipline to discipline puts undo strain on memory and learning skills. Moving from English, to math, to science, to history in four hours or less is not environmentally sound in the learning process. Just because that is how it has been doesn't mean it works, and please don't recall when you were in school. We know from research that our short term memory, frontal lobe, has the capacity of taking in three to seven new chunks of information before it overloads. As for synaptic learning we need anywhere from one to six hours to process that which we have learned, which explains the delay in time for our students to respond. As our brain functions in learning, it must recycle the used proteins so that further learning can happen. Learning sessions should be done in short spurts with activity time to digest the information before moving on. One step at a time, quality and assisting long term memory skills before introducing the next. And after the second, be sure to review the first before heading to the third. In fact we know that much happens in our learning when we sleep, which explains why when we wake the next morning we have a fresh idea on a taks we struggled with yesterday. Our hippocampus is most responsible for this occurrence. Limiting outside influences and pausing will influence learning in a positive way.
Coherence is how we connect what we are learning with how we learn. For example, global versus sequential, emotional versus bland, abstract versus concrete, reflective versus active, and novel versus familiar. Two concepts that encourage coherence are activating prior knowledge and using examples. In short it is all about the metaphors. We use the familiar to understand the unfamiliar.

Timing is about the rhythms of the body and the brain. I've used biorhythm software to determine my ups and downs on any given day or to predict my state of mind, body, and soul on a given day in the future. Very useful. This is based on the ultradian rhythms of the brain. Many physical and chemical things happen to the learner throughout the day because of the ultradian rhythms which play a key role in learning. For example researchers discovered that in one study the verbal cycle lasted 80 minutes while the spatial task lasted 96 minutes. As these cycles function throughout the day, learning is going to be different for each student at any given time of the day. So giving a final exam on a given day at a given time may not be the best for all students, only for those students on on that day and at that time. Another factor not to be ignored are the hormones. Some things we can do is to be tolerant and understanding. Provide a variety of activities in the class to accommodate both hemispheres of the brain. Moving around rather than staying in a sedentary position is helpful for amine acids. Scheduling is a serious matter and block scheduling provides adjustments to account for the ultradian rhythms. Modify methods of assessment so they aren't just a test.
Error correction should be done in a timely manner and within limits. We learn from our mistakes. Pavlov should come to mind or understanding what hot is when we touch a hot stove. To help the brain learn from its mistakes can be achieved with specific, concrete examples and hands on tasks. Also if the new task is somehow related to a familiar task then the new task will be incorporated well. The old adage of " tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them" will always work. Trial and error is also useful in learning from our mistakes. By trying out multiple methods to do something provides us with better understanding about the task from multiple perspectives. This is an example of nature. Nurture comes in consistent activities, opportunities to do, and feedback. When I provide feedback to my scholars, I'm sure not to overwhelm them and to concentrate on certain skills at a time.

Emotion state of mind of the student will determine success or not. Our emotional state is one of the most important regulators of learning and memory. Stress is one cause of a negative emotional state. Allowing or providing time and ways for the student to alleviate that stress through counseling or taking some time is useful before instruction begins. If the student is worried about or preoccupied with something else, instruction isn't going to happen. Let the student attend to the stress in a timely manner. Much of what will hinder learning will be chemical and will be fixed when the stress issue is resolved in some way. Positive emotional states are dependent on dopamine. Suggestions would be to take risks, provide excitement, demand some urgency, and always provide some pleasure in the tasks. Many years ago I read about a college professor who guaranteed all of his students would get an A in the class. The result was that all the students far exceeded their expectations and took risks, knowing mistakes would not penalize their grade. I tried this one semester in three ninth grade classes and found it very successful except for one student. the other 99 did far better then expected, took risks, experimented and discovered things that they would not have learned.

For my homework with the Circle, Bubble, and Tree Maps I will use the I am poetry, Habits of Mind, Awakening Genius, metaphors, and autobiographical work. Creating web pages is the ongoing activity for these maps.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Garden



The garden is a lush jungle. Someone has a bee hive nearby, too. Honey bees all over the Lacecaps. We are going to have lots of cherry tomatoes and pesto. The fire escape will be covered with Morning Glories.

An earlier version.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Summer Reading - Chapter Two

Chapter Two in Eric Jensen's Teaching with the Brain in Mind is "Preparing the Brain for School."

This chapter concentrates on the four stages of brain development: Conception to birth, birth to age two, two to five, 5 to the teen years. We are more aware of what happens in the fetus and should be very conscious of what should pregnant women should eat, do, and think during pregnancy.

The brain development from birth to the age of two has many parents worried that the right thing is being done. This of course is a fallacy. The need to concentrate on this time frame is that it builds scaffolding skills used in the rest of our lives. Also things like a second language may be easier now than later, later can happen. The key to this time is the scaffolding skills developed and learning skills are created too.

An area that teachers don't have a affect would be in the development of the emotional synapses between birth and two. Even though this is alterable later in life, the research is still out and a healthy emotional development at this stage will have an impact later in life. Sensory motor skills development at this stage is linked to later learning and learning problems. Children should be active at this time. Of course this is difficult for parents and for child care givers. What happens is the child spends too much time in a stationary place like a car seat, a high chair, in front of the television, or in a crib. In addition this is the time when hearing and sight skills are developing. It goes without saying the impact of food on brain development at any time in life is important and crucial in this stage. This time period belongs to the parents and parents should be better informed about brain development in this crucial time. The results here will help learning later and provide the teachers with good healthy working material in their class.

Infants appear to be display built in skills because they display a learned skill so quickly. The fact is they are learning. Children should be playing and interacting with their environment instead of watching television or playing video games exclusively. Reading to children has many effects such as emotional and developing good sensory skills in addition to learning how to read. Parents should be: reading to them, giving them time to learn and discover, providing simple toys, talking to them, and asking them questions. Further parents can help develop good social and emotional skills by providing opportunities for games and activities, role modeling, helping in peer interactions, and helping them be comfortable away from parents. Our children in schools aren't malnourished, they are ill nourished. Again so much does happen before they get to school, that we should be more cognizant of this stage from a more communal concept. In some cases, schools become a place where repair is the first course of action.

Once they get to school, this is where teachers become important and our knowledge of brain research becomes useful. By the time the child is five, it seems as if s/he is slowing down, but don't be fooled. The five five years are quick developmentally as they should be because so much is new. Now we see repetitive behavior and refinement of skills. As school begins so does the age of wonder for each child. This is a time when honesty, liberty, and hope develop along with understanding cause and effect and abstractions. There is a rigidness about habits. This may be a safety mechanism until they become more aware of choices and living with them.

The teen brain is a unique thing. Two important facts emerge in this time. Teenagers are under the control of their hormones and they need sleep. During these years the teenage brain is going through another major growth period similar to the infant brain. In this time more pruning is being done, remapping is happening, and new knowledge is pouring in all while the hormones are raging. Advice when dealing with teens is to be succinct, to model good behavior, be a coach, be understanding rather than judgmental, be tactful, cut them some slack, let them sleep, and communicate with them about sex, drugs, alcohol.

We already know that teen tastes drive the pop charts today. But, according to a new Emory University study, high schoolers may also be skilled at predicting pop hits - and flops - of the future. Neuroeconomist Gregory Berns, who directed the study, joins us to explain how teen brain scans could predict record sales. Listen:



The take away from this chapter is the amount of time humans need to interact with others in a positive and healthy way. Nutrition is crucial as is exercise at all levels. Understanding, love, and care are necessary to create good adults.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Summer Reading - Chapter One


At our faculty conference yesterday we were given summer reading and homework. The text is Eric Jensen's Teaching with the Brain in Mind. I love this stuff and have written about the brain on some occasions in this blog: Left Brain Right Brain and The Teenage Brain. More recently at the end of April I suffered a TIA stroke. During my followup visit with my doctor, I saw the MRI images of my brain and where I had my stroke. Now I have more appreciation for this brain research and understand more about it as I was privy to my own brain and was able to look at its parts and see exactly how this research is conducted. The homework consists of doing weekly assignments that result in 7 Thinking Maps for our use next year.


As a teacher I'm in the business of improving the brain of my scholars, so it seems logical for me to be more cognizant of the brain. Now with the advancements in technology, we have more access to how the brain works and what we can do to stimulate and fortify key parts in the learning process. I have always been fascinated with my own power at the computer in my classroom. When I sit at the controlling computer, I can see my scholars working. I called this brain surgery because I could watch them edit, which is thinking. But that was as close as I was going to get, for now. Advanced technology like the MRI provide us tools to observe what happens to the brain during certain tasks thus enabling the educator to be more aware and purposeful in administering instruction. With the little I already know, I have been amazed at how this knowledge has enhanced my own teaching and in the end the learning of my scholars.

As I said, I love this kind of reading.

FACT: The Glia cell carries nutrients and speed repairs. They are more important than previously thought. Since there are 30-50 billion neurons in each brain the variation of 20-40% in each person's brain strongly supports differentiation in our teaching.

FACT: "The human brain has the largest area of uncommitted cortex (with no specific function identified so far) of any species on earth. (page 9)

FACT: "The most amazing new discovery about the brain might be that human beings have the capacity and the choice to be able to change our own brains. (page 10) Good argument in Nature vs Nurture.

FACT: "In summary, the brain is a dynamic, opportunistic, pattern-forming, self-organized system of systems." (page 13) Scientists conclude with differences that the brain cells die and are regenerated. The brain reorganizes usage areas depending upon usage. Research is constantly discovering just how this works, but they know it happens. This means the brain is reteachable and trainable constantly. Old dogs can learn new tricks, even if they don't want to.

FACT: The brain has two halves. There is constant communication between the two and within each side or lobe. The brain is constantly looking for and assigning or reassigning parts to perform or store. We have lots to learn about our brain.

So how does the brain learn?









This chart provides a mapping of the process by which we learn. In short as the brain learns "sparks" go off in the brain as the particular part affected is excited or stimulated. So these electrical sparks become chemical and then electrical again. The electrical charges are relative to the sodium and potassium present. The entire process of communication is called a synapse. During class there should be electrical thunderstorms going on in the brain. Learning is all about controlling the action in the synapse. The action is the synapse shows our learning process like when we make mistakes and then learn from them. "In short, learning happens at a micro level through the alteration of synaptic efficacy. Excited cells will excite other nearby cells. " (page 18) This is similar to Thomas Armstrong's claim in Awakening Genius

From the standpoint of education, genius means essentially "giving birth to the joy in learning." I'd like to suggest that this is the central task of all educators. It is the genius of the student that is the driving force behind all learning. Before educators take on any of the other important issues in learning, they must first have a thorough understanding of what lies at the core of each student's intrinsic motivation to learn, and that motivation originates in each student's genius.
What I take away from this chapter is that repetition of good habits, learning skills, and knowledge are important in the syntactical part of learning. Feedback in a timely manner is also important so the connections are repaired and the correct connection and communication between cells is made. The brain can relearn as old cells are lost and new cells are generated. The brain is a pliable and a teachable organ.


For my homework "Teaching the Brace Map," which explores the parts of the whole, I will use The Paragraph, VETY, the Poetry Fact Sheet, and the Fiction Fact Sheet.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Article in Education Week


Katie Ash of Education week wrote about CyberEnglish that includes many of my friends.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Peace City Gardens

A lovely idea and sight to behold are the elaborate and very creative planters around some city trees on the upper west side, designed and built by Precious Costello of Peace City Gardens.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Who should be whom

At the end of a lovely school day, I was riding the number 1 train downtown. Some students got on at Lincoln Center, the usual stop for students from LaGuardia. I overheard two girls talking about their teacher. "She said we were to keep track of who is in love with who in the play."
The noise of sucking teeth was heard before her friend responded, "Yeah, what an idiot."
Giggling the first affirmed her friend's response, "Everyone knows it should be 'who is in love with whom' in the play."

A duet of giggles drifted away as they exited at Columbus Circle.

I chuckled to myself and wondered which play they were studying, Midsummer or As You Like It.