Monday, December 29, 2014

Eat Well in the New Year

Almost everyone's holiday season has included a wide variety of food and drink, not all of it completely healthy for us. After indulging over the holidays, many of us are making ourselves and/or our loved ones a promise to eat healthier in the new year.

For people who maintain healthy eating habits, food is the pharmacy of feeling good and staying focused and energized, or relaxed and calm.

In our book Thinking for Results: Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement By As Much as 30 Percent, we explain that healthy eating is important for fueling the Body-Brain System.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Helping Young Students Achieve Self-Control

Helping students achieve self-control is an important component of teachers' ability to be effective in the classroom.

The famous marshmallow test, which was conducted more than 40 years ago by psychologist Water Mischel, was a breakthrough in the study of self-control in children. Most educators are familiar with this study, which tested preschool-age children's ability to delay immediate gratification for increased benefits in the future.

In the study, a researcher placed a marshmallow (or other desirable treat) on a table in front of a child. The child was left alone in the room for 15 minutes with the instruction not to eat the treat until the researcher returned to the room. If the child was able to do so, he or she was rewarded with a second treat.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Focusing on Student Motivation

Do you believe students become smarter through learning or that intelligence is determined at birth? How we as educators answer that question ties into the subject of motivation as a force for learning.

For me, the importance of motivation surfaced in the early 1980s while I was working with a group of seventh-grade students who had been classified as "gifted."

Some of these students were highly motivated to achieve while others were less motivated and underachieving. This latter group seemed to believe that because they were "smart," they did not need to put forth much effort in school. In contrast, their higher-achieving peers seemed to understand that they needed to put forth effort in order to reach their potential and achieve better results in school.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Increasing Selective Attention at School and in Life

We are bombarded by so much information in the course of our daily lives that it is easy to get distracted from what we should or would like to accomplish. One of the most valuable “cognitive assets,” in our Thinking for Results approach (Wilson & Conyers, 2011) is what we call Selective Attention.

Selective Attention is defined as "the skill of identifying what is important to any situation and attending to what is necessary with appropriate focus." Effective teachers guide their students to  identify what is most important in learning situations so that they can attend to necessary tasks with appropriate focus.

While attending the Cognitive Neuroscience of Learning symposium a few years ago, Marcus and I had the opportunity to see Professor Amishi Jha from the University of Miami report on her research with "mindfulness practice" as a way to improve attentional control.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Education for Students' Futures: Innovating Minds—What Students Need for the Future

Marcus Conyers
Center for Innovative Education and Prevention
“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 mindsets students will need for the future as they take their place in a world where automation and outsourcing of routine work are transforming the landscape and their career prospects. I have had the enormous privilege of teaching cognitive strategies that support creative thinking to students from kindergarten through college age and have been inspired by their incredible potential to learn, to innovate, and to solve problems.

Click the link to read the entire newsletter on the Information Age Education website.

When Stress and Depression Affect Learning

We often write about the importance of maintaining an optimal state for learning in classrooms as well as in the home. However, there is no denying that there are challenges facing teachers and parents today that make setting the stage for learning a difficult task at times. Two of the key factors are stress and depression.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified depression and anxiety as two major causes of illness and death in the United States as well as contributing to lower quality of life and reduced social functioning. According to 2009 statistics, more than 15% of Americans (including about 4% of children and adolescents) have  been diagnosed with depression at some point in their lives.

In some cases, children are coming into the classroom with inadequate sleep or malnourishment. In the most adverse cases, there are children who are suffering from child abuse and neglect or violence in their homes or neighborhoods. These extreme circumstances can lead to toxic stress, which impairs development of neural connections.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Put Time Management on Your Side in the Classroom

Learning to manage time and meet deadlines are valuable skills for workers of the future—and the students in your classroom right now!

Through explicit instruction on time management, you can guide students to understand the importance of scheduling tasks to finish school assignments and to complete big projects on time without cramming at the end and turning in half-finished, subpar work.

Time management is one of 25 cognitive assets covered in the Thinking for Results approach (Wilson & Conyers, 2011). Guiding students to learn to “think about their thinking”—to become more metacognitive—and develop their thinking and problem-solving skills is a central tenet of the graduate degree programs with a major in Brain-Based Teaching that we co-developed and are being offered through Nova Southeastern University’s Fischler School of Education.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Be The Lead Learner

In our study of metacognitive strategies, we have found that the best way to teach is to embrace the concept of metacognition as part of our own learning process. In the classroom, it is important not only to be the teacher but also to be the lead learner by modeling the use of metacognition and cognitive strategies. When students see their teachers putting these strategies into action, they can more effectively learn how to use the cognitive processes themselves.

For instance, when reading aloud a passage, it's often a good idea to think aloud about the author's perspective to underscore the importance of his or her point of view.  Or when undertaking a class project, the teacher can model planning and organization by developing a checklist of tasks that need to be completed and sharing this with students.

An important way we learn is by making mistakes. The phrase "Nothing ventured, nothing gained" can be adapted quite nicely into a neat little axiom: "Nothing ventured, nothing learned." When teachers make a mistake, they can analyze these mistakes out loud. Students may get a "kick" out of realizing that even adults make mistakes, but they can also see how the adult in charge of their classroom works through a mistake, making it a learning experience rather than a source of embarrassment or frustration.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Power of 20 Minutes

Got a minute? How about seven minutes? Or 15 or 20? It's amazing what your students can learn in that little chunk of time!

One of the strategies we present 60 Strategies for Increasing Student Learning shares The Power of 20 Minutes as a means of maximizing attention, retention, and recall in keeping with the brain's natural attention span.

When planning the learning time you have with students, break your lessons into chunks of 20 minutes or less in order to be more effective. For younger students, learning chunks of seven to 15 minutes are even more effective.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Finishing Power Equips All Students to 'Stick With It'

At the foundation of our Thinking for Results approach (Wilson & Conyers, 2011) is the idea that explicit instruction on using cognitive and metacognitive skills to enhance learning benefits all students.

Consider the example of the high-performing student who quickly masters new lesson content and chooses ambitious independent learning projects but sometimes gets bogged down and unable to fulfill what she has set out to do. She may start writing several different stories and never get around to revising and publishing them. Or she may begin a complex science project, but the end product seems haphazard and incomplete.

Teaching students the cognitive asset of Finishing Power focuses on the planning and organizational skills required to complete a learning project. Finishing Power actually brings together and emphasizes several other thinking skills, such as maintaining Selective Attention on high-priority tasks and Understanding Time in developing a workable project schedule.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Becoming the Boss of Your Brain: Modeling Metacognition

In Diane Dahl’s classroom, second graders discovering how the Chinese invention of paper changed the world spontaneously connect their new knowledge to a previous lesson on Sequoyah’s creation of a writing system for the Cherokee people. The students are making the most of another lesson on how their brains learn by connecting new information to what they already know. They model this aspect of metacognition, or “thinking about your thinking and what you know,” with an intricate, ever-growing sculpture of pipe cleaners that represents how the brain makes learning connections. The second graders and their teacher Diane Dahl regularly label and link new topics to previous lessons woven into the sculpture.

In our work in teacher education, we use the metaphor of teaching students to be the boss of their brains. We owe that phrase to a third-grader who used those very words after a lesson on how metacognition supports learning. Decades of educational research have established that learning gains result from explicitly teaching cognitive strategies children can use to explore, understand, and apply new concepts. To help children develop metacognition, teachers and parents can model these strategies and reinforce their use by children.

A teacher might begin a lesson by saying, “Today we are going to learn about how another group of people recorded information a long time ago. It says here that the ancient Egyptians used hero-grams. Wait, that doesn’t sound right.” As the children laugh at the thought of their teacher making a mistake, one child volunteers, “I think they’re called hieroglyphs.” The child tells of watching a program with her parents about how archeologists decoded the symbols carved in stone.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Becoming the Boss of Their Brains

Metacognition may be defined as “thinking about our thinking” and “knowing about our knowing.” Metacognition is key to independent learning. The students of teachers we have taught say that they are becoming the boss of their brains! When students are taught how to be independent learners at school, they are then able to use this critical ability on their college and career paths after graduation. Teachers call metacognition the gift that keeps on giving!

Research has amassed on the importance of metacognition for learning across contexts, as well as the fact that it can be taught. In fact, in a meta-analysis of 91 studies, Wang, Haertel, and Walberg (1993) determined that metacognition is the #1 student characteristic of high achievers at school. More recently, on a list of 150 overall factors that influence student achievement, metacognitive strategies were ranked #15 whereas, student socio-economic status was ranked #45 (Hattie, 2012). We support teachers in graduate study at NSU and professional development by sharing practical strategies for implementation of this key cognitive strategy in their classrooms. In our ASCD article you will read some of their stories.

For more on how to teach students to become independent learners, see our open-access online article in ASCD's October issue of Educational Leadership.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

University of Cambridge Conference Focused on Practical Implementation

As we head into the fall, I wanted to tell you about one of the great experiences that Marcus and I had this summer—traveling to Cambridge, England, to make a presentation at the 2014 Conference on Implementation Science, which took place July 28 at the University of Cambridge. We were pleased to have the opportunity to present a paper discussing the practical implementation of our graduate degree program and how it supports the emerging science of learning.

Those who are familiar with our program, which is offered through Nova Southeastern University's Abraham S. Fischler School of Education in Florida, know that it was designed with real-world implementation in mind. Thus, it fit in very well with the theme of the Cambridge conference: "Implementing Implementation Science: The Science of Making Interventions Effective in Real-World Contexts."

Our paper was entitled: Program Designed With Implementation in Mind: Investigating the Impact of Graduate Studies Focused on Applications of the Emerging Science of Learning. In our presentation, we described how the graduate degree program for teachers translates implications from mind, brain, and education research and theories into practical frameworks and strategies so that teachers may better align instruction with research on how students learn.

Monday, September 8, 2014

ASCD Interview Covers the Topic of 'Teaching to the Teenage Brain'

I was  pleased to be interviewed for the article, "Teaching to the Teenage Brain" which is featured in the September 2014 issue of ASCD's "Education Update."

In the article, I was able to share with author Laura Varlas my thoughts on how important it is to teach teens the concepts of neuroplasticity, malleable intelligence, and practical optimism in order to help them develop their problem-solving skills, decision-making, and creative skills. I pointed out that teaching teens shouldn't just center on content but rather on the development of their cognitive assets, which will allow them to become better thinkers and learners as they move toward adulthood.

Others interviewed in the article include teacher, neurologist, and author Judy Willis; author and former teacher Eric Jensen; and author and educator Pat Wolfe. The entire article is available at the link (subscription required).

Monday, August 25, 2014

Listen Up with the HEAR Strategy

Aaron Rohde, in his hard hat, is read
to tackle the work associated with HEARing.
As schools get under way across the nation, we thought it would be a perfect time to talk about the importance of listening, a topic that we addressed in an Edutopia blog post but certainly is worth repeating here.

Getting students to listen is a more than a common classroom challenge. The Common Core State Standards for Language Arts recognize the importance of listening as an ability that students must master to become college and career ready: “Students must learn to work together, express and listen carefully to ideas, integrate information from oral, visual, quantitative, and media sources, evaluate what they hear, use media and visual displays strategically to help achieve communicative purposes, and adapt speech to context and task.”

As Aaron Rohde, a teacher at Trinity Lutheran School in Reed City, Michigan, and a graduate of our program, says, “Being a ‘listening genius’ will be beneficial in all areas of life—in school, in personal relationships, and in professional work situations.”

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

My Message to Early Childhood Educators:
 Align Educational Policy with the Science of Learning

Earlier this month, it was my privilege and pleasure to address national and state educational leaders on a subject that is vital to putting young children on a positive trajectory to succeed in school and beyond: the need to align educational policy and practice with the science of learning as informed by brain research.

In making a keynote presentation at the Second Annual Roundtable hosted by the Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO), I pointed to research confirming that most all children have the cognitive potential to achieve at high levels if they experience high-quality instruction at school and support at home and in the community. For that reason, those who influence and create policy must make key commitments to ensure that teachers have high-quality learning experiences with ongoing opportunities to work together to develop the collective capacity for highly effective teaching.”

The 2014 CEELO roundtable, with the theme “Excellence for Every Child: Improving the Quality of Teaching Birth Through Grade Three,” took place June 5–6 at The Renaissance Depot Hotel in Minneapolis, Minn. During the keynote, I discussed how findings about experience-dependent synaptogenesis—the process through which the brain forms neural connections based on experiences in school, at home, and in the community—underscore the importance of the learning environment and quality of instruction to optimize children’s learning.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

P21 Blog Provided Opportunity to Reflect: My Journey of Learning and Teaching

My thanks to Jim Bellanca, editor of the P21 blog, for reaching out to me and requesting a post about my professional journey in linking my work as an educator with teaching critical thinking skills in schools. The post, entitled “My Professional Odyssey With Critical Thinking,” gave me the opportunity to reflect about my lifelong pursuit of education, which took me from my days as a schoolgirl growing up in in rural Oklahoma to a career in which insights about the science of learning have enhanced my effectiveness as a teacher educator.

Along the way, I delved deeply into the research and writing of Robert Sternberg and exploring the theory of structural cognitive modifiability developed by Reuven Feuerstein. The work of Sternberg, Feuerstein, and others whom I mention in the P21 blog post have had a profound effect on my career and put me on a path that allowed me to share what I learned about critical thinking with other educators.

A key component of critical thinking is to remember that everyone has the power to learn, regardless of gender, race or socioeconomic status. Here is an excerpt from the blog post that speaks to that point:

“Of all the implications of mind, brain, and education research that have the power to transform school policies, classroom practice, and student achievement, I believe that the belief in each learner's unfettered propensity to think is near the top of the list. But as a society, and even within the policies and practices of our own profession to some extent, we need to set aside some culturally ingrained misconceptions about intelligence, learning and thinking—as I have had to do when assessing my professional journey.”

I invite you to read the rest of the post at the link.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Good News, Bad News on the Reading Habits of Children and Teens

A widely reported study by Common Sense Media suggests that reading for pleasure among children and teens has decreased significantly over the past three decades. According to the research, with 45 percent of 17-year-olds say they read by choice only once or twice a year.

Equally troubling is the finding that parents are reading to and with their children less often, according to this organization, which provides online reviews for families of movies, TV shows, video games—and, yes, books.

At the same time, we don’t need to go far to find good news (and anyone who knows me knows that I prefer to accentuate the positive!): The young adult genre of fiction is booming, and a 2013 Pew Research Study reports that young people ages 16 to 29 are regular library patrons.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Our Latest Edutopia Post: Brain Movies

The images in your mind can be more exciting and memorable than any Hollywood film! That's the theme of our latest blog post on the Edutopia website, "Brain Movies: When Readers Can Picture It, They Understand It."

In this post, we share with teachers the importance of guiding your students to visualize as they read, which makes for an engaging and enjoyable way to boost comprehension and retention.

Here is an excerpt from the post:

"Learning to create brain movies can help students make sense of complex nonfiction subject matter and 'see' the characters, setting, and action in stories. Teachers who use our strategy tell us their students seem to have more fun—and success—as they read. These anecdotes are supported by research showing that students who are taught to develop mental imagery of text do better than control groups on tests of comprehension and recall."

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Pursuit of Happiness

One of the basic tenets of human existence is the pursuit of happiness. The pursuit of happiness often comes concurrently with the pursuit of knowledge. We have all heard the saying that “ignorance is bliss,” but I’m of the opinion that bliss actually comes from learning and acquiring new skills.

Think of your childhood and how happy you were when you learned to ride a bike or mastered the multiplication tables. If you are a parent or a teacher, think how happy you are when you impart your knowledge to a child. Seeing a child’s face light up with the joy of learning is one of the happiest feelings of all.

In the field of psychology, five components are important in order to achieve a state of happiness: self-esteem, sense of control, optimism, relationships, and extroversion. Just think how many of those components are related to learning and education.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Power of Purposeful Joy

Have you ever danced for joy—perhaps even literally—because you learned something that had previously eluded you? In one example, for those among us who are technologically challenged, learning a timesaving trick on our computer or smart phone can elicit that reaction. It’s fun to learn something new and useful, and that is something I call the power of “purposeful joy.”

“Purposeful joy” is a powerful tool in the classroom. A positive mindset allows the power of purposeful joy to spread in your classroom. What exactly is the purpose to your joy? It is to transport your students right along with you to a place of excitement, a place of energy—a place where learning happens. There is no higher purpose than to use your joy to ignite a desire to learn among your students.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Important Connection Between Cognition and Emotion

One of the things that I love most about research in the trans-disciplinary field of mind, brain, and education is how it is constantly evolving. Popular theories may be challenged, revised, and sometimes totally debunked as we discover new information.

Take, for instance, the theory that learning and emotion are two separate, diametrically opposed concepts. As it turns out, this is not the case. We now know that cognition and emotion cannot and should not be separated.

While it is true that learning involves the cognitive processes of thinking, reasoning and intellect, you as a teacher and/or parent should not overlook the role of emotion. Otherwise, you might limit the child’s ability to use his or her feelings as a motivator for higher achievement.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Speaking Engagements in Georgia and California Focus on Brain Plasticity

I was delighted to have the opportunity to speak at two recent events on the subject of neuroplasticity in the young brain and to share practical strategies that will help children flourish in their formative years.

First up was the Early Literacy Spring Symposium, co-sponsored by the Georgia Department of Education and Georgia Reading Association, which took place March 10 at Middle Georgia State College in Macon, Ga. My topic was: “Wiring the Brain to Read: Practical Strategies for Increasing Reading Comprehension.”

Speaking to about 150 educators, I provided insights about the brain’s plasticity and the amazing ways in which young children make connections that help them develop their early literacy skills. I also shared exciting strategies that teachers can use to help students comprehend what they are reading. Those in attendance at the symposium included teachers, principals, curriculum directors and teacher educators, all of whom had gathered to learn about early literacy topics and to discuss such key issues at ‘as’ the implementation of the Common Core Standards.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Our Chapter on Cognitive Complexities Included in Free IAE Book

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

Information Age Education announces the publication of its most recent free book which features a chapter by Marcus and myself:
Sylwester, R., & Moursund, D., eds. (March, 2014). Understanding and Mastering Complexity. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. 
Cut and paste either of these links into your browser: 
Fourteen people collaborated in writing the IAE Newsletter articles that comprise the book. The book is for people who are interested in exploring ways that informal and formal education can help all of us individually and collectively deal more easily with the complexity of many problems and tasks.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Guest Blog Post: Suggested Strategies to Spark Motivation and Promote Empowered Learners

by Kara R. Morrissette
Graduate of the Ed.S. program with a Major in Brain-Based Teaching (Concentration in Teacher Leadership) at Nova Southeastern University’s Fischler School of Education

This year I left a position as a resource teacher serving gifted students to begin a new adventure as a kindergarten classroom teacher in a new charter school on Tybee Island, Georgia. Leaving the security and blissful schedule I had secured in order to experience emerging readers firsthand as part of my dissertation research left me asking myself, “Are you crazy?”
Kara Morrissette

Today, I’m happy to have the opportunity to share with other educators working to promote a positive state in their own classroom communities some suggested strategies for implementing metacognitive strategies to extend neuroplasticity in young learners.

You Have a Voice
I started by using my voice to motivate and excite my students. My low-level “good morning” was replaced with more inflection, a smile, and eye contact as every child entered their learning environment. This tiny adjustment offered immediate results, including returned smiles, increased verbal interaction, and more hugs than I could count. Use your voice. Apply it in a positive manner. Your enthusiasm will motivate both you and your learners and engender personal excitement.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Our Edutopia Blog Post Today: The Body-Brain Connection

Our Edutopia blog post—"Move Your Body, Grow Your Brain"—discusses how incorporating exercise and movement throughout the school day is an effective way to make students less fidgety and more focused on learning.

The blog post cites compelling research that shows a strong connection between body and brain health for people of all ages. We also provide several strategies that teachers can use with students to maximize the connection between body and brain. In addition, we include several great examples in the article of how teachers have effectively introduced movement to increase attention and engage students in the learning process. Here's an except:

"Studies suggest that regular physical activity supports healthy child development by improving memory, concentration and positive outlook. … The connection between learning and exercise seems to be especially strong for elementary school students. Given these findings, cutting back on physical education with the aim of improving academic performance, as some districts have done or may be considering, is likely to be counterproductive."

Read the entire article at Edutopia. Let us know what you think by leaving a comment at the bottom of the post.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Making Learning Connections: Compare, Contrast, and Classify

One of the cognitive assets that we stress in our program is the ability to compare, contrast and classify. Teachers can help students find meaning in what they are reading or discovering in the classroom by suggesting that they make comparisons and classify new information. This helps them to analyze and connect the new information they are learning with what they already know. Thinking about how things are the same and different is useful even for young children as a first step toward classification and more detailed analysis.

For example, the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics call for kindergartners to learn to “analyze and compare two- and three-dimensional shapes, in different sizes and orientations, using informal language to describe their similarities, differences, [and] parts.” By third grade, students should be able to “understand that shapes in different categories … may share attributes … and that the shared attributes can define a larger category.”

Explicit instruction of making comparisons involves calling attention to the steps of noticing similarities and differences and identifying key attributes that might be useful in classification.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Springing Forward With Upcoming Education Events in Georgia and California

As we move toward spring, I am looking forward to making presentations at upcoming education events in Georgia and California.

First up is the Early Literacy Spring Symposium, co-sponsored by the Georgia Department of Education and Georgia Reading Association, which will take place March 10 at Middle Georgia State College in Macon, Ga. That will be followed by a presentation at the upcoming ASCD 69th Annual Conference and Exhibit Show, "@EveryLearner: Someday is Now," taking place March 15-17 in Los Angeles.

My topic at the symposium in Georgia is: "Wiring the Brain to Read: Practical Strategies for Increasing Reading Comprehension." Drawing from my book series, Wiring the Brain to Read, I will discuss how young brains learn to read and provide practical strategies that teachers can use in their classrooms to increase reading comprehension. Those interested in registering for the symposium should visit the Georgia Reading Association's website.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Guest Blog Post: The Essence of Leadership

Kelly Rose, Ed.D

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.”
—John Quincy Adams

by Kelly Rose, Ed.D
Library Media Specialist, The Out-of-Door Academy
Graduate, Brain-Based Teaching Studies, Nova Southeastern University

In honor of Presidents’ Day, I reflect on the essence of leadership. President Adams eloquently explained this topic with very few, but powerful, words. These words stand out to me as key advice for students of all ages who are interested in leadership. Recently, I have heard from many professionals who have entered fields different from what they originally studied. The ability to lead and learn is becoming even more desirable by employers. To prepare my students, I seek ways to integrate the discovery of cognitive assets and leadership into the curriculum.

As Library Media Specialist, I have found that I support my students in a number of ways, and leadership is becoming a more dominant part of my curriculum. Lately, many of my students have discussed struggles when working with others in a group. Regardless of age, this can be a challenging task. Our conversations on the topic of leadership all become lessons learned through reflection. I model metacognition during my own tasks and encounters, but also guide students as they learn to be metacognitive themselves.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Pamper Your Heart with a Valentine Treat

On this Valentine's Day, it’s appropriate to keep in mind the importance of heart-healthy eating. Our program advocates the need for healthy brains and healthy bodies working in conjunction with one another to optimize learning. As a treat for your heart health, may we suggest a delicious, nutritious Valentine’s dinner?

  • Start with an appetizer of edamame, yummy beans fresh out of their shells and full of tasty soy protein.
  • Accompanying the entrée, a leafy green salad with shredded carrots and topped with black beans and walnuts offers a flavorful blend of antioxidants, folates, magnesium, and fiber.
  • Grilled seafood such as salmon, tilapia, or mahi-mahi topped with fresh herbs supplies omega-3 fatty acids found to lower risk of heart disease and other chronic illnesses in delectable fashion.
  • If you’re in the mood for a side dish, sweet potatoes topped with cinnamon and lime juice are rich in flavor, fiber, vitamin A, and lycopene.
  • Accompany your meal with a refreshing glass of water.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Our Latest Post on Edutopia: How Teaching About Neuroplasticity Engages Brains

Our latest Edutopia blog post—"Engaging Brains: How to Enhance Learning by Teaching Kids About Neuroplasticity"—is now live. In the post, we explain how explicitly teaching students about neuroplasticity can have a transformative impact in the classroom. Here's an excerpt:

"The force behind this cycle is students' belief that they can get smarter through study and practice, which enhances their commitment to persist in the hard work that learning sometimes requires. … The same dynamic of persisting to succeed applies to teaching. Keeping the idea of brain plasticity at the forefront of your professional practice offers a constant reminder than when students struggle with lessons, it isn't because they can't learn, but because they need more practice and instructional support."

Read the full post at Edutopia.

Friday, January 31, 2014

P21 Blog Praises Powerful Message from ‘Five Big Ideas’

Our book, Five Big Ideas for Effective Teaching: Connecting Mind, Brain, and Education Research to Classroom Practice, received praise in the Book of the Month Review at the P21 blog. In his review, P21 blog's editor-in-chief Jim Bellanca was impressed by the book's powerful message that "any child, any adult can get better, smarter every day."

Here's an excerpt from the review: "When it comes to the research based practices that have the biggest impact on students, this book serves as a powerful primer. Novices will be able to weed out other time of practices, many obsolete, which don’t have research support; experienced teachers will be able to review their own instructional repertoire, clean out the closet, as it were, and add new insights to their instructional wardrobes. Principals and professional developers will want this book in their reference libraries and parents will find it a solid source for helping their own children learn more effectively." 

You can order the Five Big Ideas at

Monday, January 27, 2014

Introduce a Child to the World of Reading

There are few things better in life than becoming engrossed in a good book. Books are the gateways to new worlds, new experiences, new places, and new people that we otherwise might not have encountered.

What a joy to introduce a child to those types of literary experiences! Whether as parents, teachers, caregivers, or early childhood educators, we are the child’s conduit to magical places—both real and imagined—that are conveyed through the endless combination of 26 letters that young pre-readers are trying to master.

Even before they are able to decipher the symbols on a page, children can be introduced to books by the adults who read aloud to them. Reading aloud to young children is widely recognized as an important way of building an early and lifelong love of books, with research clearly showing that adults who read aloud to children form a connection and pave a path toward literacy.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

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

Teachers and parents alike can benefit from helping children and youth train their brains to listen and focus more effectively. Discover a powerful, practical strategy that teachers enjoy using. See our blog on Edutopia!

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

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

P21 Blog Explores Ways to Support Student Learning with Educational Neuroscience

I was recently asked to be a contributor to the P21 Blog to discuss the latest mind, brain, and education research and how it bolsters the belief that all students have the potential to master the “4Cs”: communication, collaboration, critical thinking/problem solving, and creativity/innovation. Hopefully, the P21 blog will be one of many avenues to support teachers, administrators, and other community leaders who seek to make a positive difference in the schooling of children and youth.

My thanks to Jim Bellanca, who invited me to contribute to the blog along with educators David Sousa, Carol Tomlinson, and Wendy Ostroff. All of us are writing about different aspects of the theme, “Connecting the 21st Century Dots: From Policy to Practice,” as part of an examination of the practical application of brain and mind research and deeper learning.

As I write in my P21 blog entry: “The transformational power of neuroplasticity lies in how we think about students’ potential to learn and whether students believe they can get smarter if they commit to the hard work required to advance academically. Within this context, teachers, administrators, students and other community members alike can come to accept (same as was) that virtually all students have the capacity to learn when provided the supportive environment and experiences to do so.”

Read the blog entry in its entirety by clicking here.

Monday, January 20, 2014

How MLK’s Courage Can Influence Us Today

Today is the day we celebrate the legacy of the great civil rights leader Martin Luther King. Dr. King had a dream of a world in which freedom and equality would prevail in our land. Thanks to his words and actions, we as a nation were able to move closer to the ideals of fairness and justice for all people.

Dr. King’s courage enabled him to exert a lasting influence on our country’s political culture. He faced incarceration, public condemnation, and the threat of violence for a cause that ultimately cost him his life. However, he never faltered in his beliefs. He never failed to speak or to act when he knew, in so doing, that he was supporting the advancement of civil rights.

In keeping with the sentiments of this special day, I would like to discuss how we can strive to act courageously in our own daily lives. Marcus and I have identified Appropriate Courage as a key cognitive asset that is necessary for enriching our own lives and the lives of others.

Monday, January 13, 2014

A $3 Word That Is Worth Every Penny

We all know our share of “three-dollar words.” Gargantuan is just another word for big. Miniscule is the long way to say something tiny. However, in our estimation, metacognition is a three-dollar word that is worth every penny. 

The concept of metacognition is even more impressive than the word itself. Metacognition refers to “thinking about your thinking,” with the aim of improving learning. It’s a word that is at the foundation of the Thinking for Results approach that Marcus and I use in the graduate degree programs we have developed in brain-based teaching.

It is our firm belief that cognitive and metacognitive strategies can and must be explicitly taught in conjunction with core curriculum so that students can clearly see the benefit of reflecting on and regulating their thinking to improve such skills as reading comprehension and math problem solving.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Re-defining Student Potential

At BrainSMART and the Center for Innovative Education and Prevention, Marcus Conyers and I support schools and communities to eliminate the gap between mission statements celebrating the potential of all students to succeed and the deeply held expectations that contradict those sentiments.

Deeply held assumptions and expectations that some students don’t have the potential to do school well are, in fact, pervasive in our society. For example, these assumptions arise in the practice of providing instruction on thinking strategies and higher order literacy only for students identified as gifted, while focusing on basic skills training for many others.

Further, when children begin school without the reading readiness skills that their peers possess, those assumptions may lead schools away from a focus on the concentrated instruction and exposure to reading all children need to succeed and toward an often-unspoken belief that they lack the cognitive potential to read on grade level with high comprehension.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Let's Make 2014 THE Year For Positive, Practical Learning!

Welcome to my first blog in 2014!

Did you know that virtually every human brain has the potential to learn and change throughout the lifespan? In fact, researchers have now found that learning actually changes the structure and function of your brain.

So, whether you are traveling to a new place, learning new teaching strategies, reading a book, playing a new game, or stretching your mind in a new job, YOU are a learning machine.

In the past it was thought that brain development stopped in youth. At one time it was said to be the age of 12. In the few decades (with an emphasis on early childhood) there has even been confusion leading the uninformed to say that important development ceases even earlier. However, it is now known that in fact adults can even create new brain cells and make connections across the lifespan. So it is critically important to keep learning.