Fascination with the Brain

Walking along Jericho Beach as a little girl, this piece of wood screamed “brain” to me.  This was long before the fascination with the brain had extended beyond neuroscientists and doctors, to psychologists, to educators, to anyone aging and fearing cognitive decline.  The brain held secrets that were not readily apparent to the naked eye.  It was the also the basis of the best bonding with my neurosurgeon father.

Dr. Peter Dyck is not a man who relished talk of feelings, hopes, dreams, aspirations or divergent opinions.  However he has always been an example of the consummate learner.  He survived war times in Germany.  When he was 12 years old, he was sponsored to come to Canada with his mother and siblings by his uncle in Alberta.  He learned English and excelled in school.  He ended up working on his step-fathers farm in Abbotsford while attending school.  When a cow would die, he did not shed a tear.  He would dissect it behind the barn.   My aunt boiled many a chicken bones so he could reassemble them.  When I would go on rounds with him during summer visits to Los Angeles, the nurses would run when they heard his footsteps.  He was demanding of staff and took patient care very seriously.  Dad became fascinated with the possibility of destroying, rather than removing a brain tumour by using a local anaesthetic and a three dimensional C/T scanner to avoid the trauma of opening the skull.  Radioactive material in a small tube was targeted through a tiny hole in the skull into the centre of the brain tumour.  The concentration used would result in the radioactivity reaching only the tumour cells.  A team was formed including him as the neurosurgeon, Armand Bouzaglou, the radiation oncologist and Livia Bohman, the radiologist, to travel to Germany in 1981 to study the technique for stereotactic isotope implantation with Professor Fritz Mundinger at the University of Freiburg.   This technique was brought back to the USA and his first book about it’s success in avoiding the trauma of a full craniotomy was dedicated to the patients whose hope against overwhelming odds brought about this endeavour.

Not even neuroscientists agree on the inner workings of the brain.  However asking a question and our attitude seem to be the key components informing our brain and resulting in amazing accomplishments and sometimes survival.  Viktor Frankl’s answer to his question, “Why do I need to survive?” allowed him to walk out of Auschwitz and go on to develop his theory of logotherapy, write his influential book, Man’s Search for Meaning, and help many people find a way to cope with the challenges in their lives.   Norman Doidge details many examples of therapies that have allowed the brain to heal in ways that are still outside of mainstream medical practice in The Brain’s Way of Healing:  Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of  Neuroplasticity .  John J. Ratey, MD, in his book SPARK – The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, provides a compelling argument as to why exercise is integral to our ability to cope with stress, learn, as well as maintain good mental and physical health.  The brain is central in all facets of our lives yet understanding how it works is still somewhat elusive.

Educators, such as Eric Jensen started to focus educators’s attention on Teaching with the Brain in Mind  in the 90’s.  Educators are now seriously considering the implications of what neuroplasticity means in the classroom.  Previously held conceptions about the limits of some learners no longer apply, and standardized testing has become one indicator of specific learning strengths and weaknesses, but not an accurate measure of future success.    Perhaps the greatest outcome has been talking to children about how their brain works and how they learn best.   This puts the responsibility and joy learning with the child and allows them to move beyond just looking for a good mark on an assignment.  Giving children the capacity to talk about the connections they are making in their learning and providing numerous opportunities to share their ideas and discoveries, opens up the possibilities to ask new questions and see their peers, teachers and parents as partners in a collaborative process.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moving Beyond Half Truths and Innuendo

In The Vancouver Sun (Jan.3,2015 page A3), Daphne Braham did an OpEd piece: “A call for a return to rationality”.   Imagine the notion of proposing the checking of facts before forming opinions.   Brilliant!  What happened to the pause button, the one that use to be hit before uninformed criticisms intended to discredit, were lobbed into conversations or amplified via social media? How did we get to a point where we opted out of taking responsibility for what we popularize?   Negative statements or decontextualized comments are intimate incompetence, lack of the required cognitive skills or general untrustworthiness.  At times, even blatant lies are presented as fact and retracted after the damage is done or not.

How do we teach kids to care about fact?  How do we teach them that half truths and innuendo are neither reliable nor moral?   I am working under the presumption that we have a role to play as educators, parents and friends of the children under our care.  If we teach our children to scrutinize information and ask good questions, certainly it follows that there will be a higher degree of insistence on reasoned and fair decisions from themselves, as well as from friends, family and decision makers.

I recently went to see the Broadway musical, Into The Woods, that recently made it’s film appearance starring Meryl Streep.  Two classic lines jumped out of the movie:   “Be careful of the stories you tell, children will listen” and “I was brought up to be charming, not sincere”.  What are the stories we are telling our children with our conversations and treatment of others people and discussion of events?  Are we quick to jump to conclusions based on hearsay?  Do we give the benefit of the doubt to the person involved?  Do we place more value on charm than sincerity?  Do we ask enough questions to try to get a full picture of the situation or person.  Do we insist on factual information to make reasoned decisions?

The Grade 3 and 4 students that I work with two days a week are starting to do research projects on Canada.  How do we get children to understand history as a story involving real people with real stories at a specific point in time?  History by it’s nature is skewed by the person who is allowed to tell the story.  If children understand this at a young age, does it impact their quest to look at the story from a variety of viewpoints?  Does it define an insistence on looking at the facts?  Does it help them to look past the personality of the person telling the story?  My training in history insists that it must be true.  My social conscience hopes it is. The Grade 3 students in my class are each researching a province in Canada.  The Grade 4’s are researching Aboriginal Nations across Canada who are defined by geography.  I am very interested to be part of this conversation.  What will the questions be?  I’m hoping it is a spark that leads to insistence that rationality reins supreme in guiding perceptions and conclusions.  The beauty of being an educator, is we really do believe we can make a difference and create positive change.

Blogging for Thinking…The next step

Virginia and I are continuing our inquiry project with our students, two groups of students in district gifted programs.  This is the Kidpost entry given to our students to allow us to be very specific about the learning intentions of our blogging project.

Blogging for Thinking

Technology is a tool just like a pencil or pen. We are using blogging as tool for two reasons. Kidblog allows your teacher to adjust the security settings so only your classmates, parents and teachers can read and respond to your blog. It allows you to creatively personalize your space and learn about blogging before you start posting in a public space. Blogging is also one way to develop and extend your thinking through writing by reflecting on your learning in and out of the classroom. Because you are not able to use your facial expressions or other body language to communicate, your words must clearly express your ideas. You also have the task of using your creativity and language to grab the interest of your audience.

Throughout your learning, we are using the following questions from Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser (Spirals of Learning 2013) to keep us moving forward.

  1. What am I learning?
  2. Why does it matter?
  3. Where am I going next with my learning?

We will be using the following a rubric based on the article “Responding to the imperatives of learning in the 21st Century” (The Critical Thinking Consortium, 2011) to evaluate your progress.

1. Developing Self-regulated learning:  The goal is for you to be able to say: “I am in charge of my learning and motivated to carry out my work in personally responsible, self-reflective ways and to exercise reasoned judgment to meet my goals”.

Level 1 Level 2 Level 3 Level 4
I depend on others for almost alldecisions about what,

how and when I learn; I follow the teacher’s directions but I don’t add my own thoughts, ideas or interpretations.

 

I demonstrate personalresponsibility to take charge of what, how and when I learn but I need the teacher to provide specific options to choose from. I exercise thoughtfullyinformed judgments in the pursuit of agreed-upon targets and self assess my work according to teacher provided rubrics.. I put a lot of thought and planning into setting goals and a plan to reach them.   I self evaluate how my learning is going and where I want to go next.

 

2. Developing my Thinking Skills: The goal is to develop your critical thinking skills. The word “critical” does not mean finding fault in this case. It means that you are not just “parroting back” information, but demonstrating proficiency by making connections, analyzing evidence, and making judgments.

Level 1 Level 2 Level 3 Level 4
I report back what I heard, did, or read during class or out of school learning experiences. I report back what I heard, did, or read. I make connections between my learning experiences at school or home. I consistently describe my learning and express why my learning matters. I understand where I am going next with my learning and come up with an efficient and effective plan of action. I understand the value of my learning and where I want to go next with my learning.   My plan, conclusions & opinions are based on careful analysis of my experiences and a variety of evidence.