Posted by: voyagingmind | May 26, 2010

Problem Solving with a Good Mood

Showing children how to lower their worry levels while relaxing and opening the mind can be a great gift which will promote lifelong learning.

Daniel Goleman’s book entitled “Emotional Intelligence”, on page 96, discusses this by talking about good moods.  Before having subjects solve a problem (non-math related) they primed them in one of two ways.  One group watched blooper videos where others watched videos on math.  It turns out that those who watched the blooper videos did a better job in their problem solving activity.  It seems that the blooper videos relaxed, or opened, the mind to see a wider range of possibilities.  I suppose that means the math video had stagnant, if not narrowing, effect on the mind’s creativity.  I’m assuming this was a boring video.

On page 95 he talks about the influence that worry can have on cognitive performance.  Here he describes a study where subjects are told to narrate their thinking processes as they perform a task.  Those who tended to worry more, during the test, did worse.  A set of non-worriers where told to worry, and as expected, did worse on the activity. I think most important for the teacher are solutions for the “natural worrier”.   In this study they gave a group of worriers a 15-minute relaxation session before the activity and they did much better on the task. 

Worry can be a healthy motivator, but it can also waist vital resources in the mind.

Posted by: voyagingmind | May 19, 2010


For a while now I have been listening to the Brain Science Podcast hosted by Ginger Campbell, MD. ( where she interviews scientists and authors about their research into brain science.

Brain Science Podcast: Episode 60 interviews Dr. Stuart Brown who has done extensive research into the importance of play.  There is also a TED video on this concept as well.

In the interview he explains that play promotes the following characteristics:

  • development of emotional regulation
  • social competency
  • the ability to be flexibility with something that is unexpected
  • capacity to adapt to a changing world

Dr. Brown goes on to say there is a strong correlation between success and play.  Marian Diamond, teaching at Berkley, discovered that toys, friends, and activity produced smarter and healthier rats.  According to  Dr. Brown the concept of enrichment contains the concepts of play.

He describes what play is and is not:

  1. Play is not a purposeful driven activity. 
  2. The golfer who has become very serious, and is no longer having fun, is not playing.
  3. Play can be risky, but necessary to development. 
  4. Play includes both physical and mental activities. 

As the world becomes more interconnected I believe that philosophies of diversity will become more important.  Maybe play can be one of the elements that helps us and our children to adapt to these changes.

Posted by: voyagingmind | May 19, 2010

The Enriched Environment

A while back I read a book called “Train Your Mind Change Your Brain” by Sharon Begley that discusses how we can shape our lives through an understanding of neuroscience.   There was a small section on enriched environment that I found especially interesting. 

Fred Gage, who has studied extensively how environment changes the brain, is referred to in this part of the book.  Scientists from Berkeley performed experiments with rats where one group was given toys and mazes to run around with.  These rats were often handled and played with by the researchers.  As it turned out, the rats that lived in the enriched environment had larger brains and were more adept at solving mazes.  Their brains had more synapses and dendritic branches.  This all means that rats who ran up ladders, played in wheels, and interacted with other rats had more complicated brain structures.

I can’t help but wonder how much of this applies to people.  I had previously though of an enriched environment as providing us with “the big picture”.  More data, basically.  But here they are finding that an enriched environment actually produces more brain power.

The book explains that neurogenesis has been identified in humans as well.  Gage later went on to determine what exactly in the enriched environment was producing more neurons in the brain. 

  1.  Mice that exercised produced twice as many brain cells as mice that were sedentary.
  2.  Animals that exist in an enriched environment maintain these new brain cells and integrate them with the rest of the brain. In the absence of an enriched environment, these new brain cells will die off at a greater rate.

I appears that exercise must be voluntary for neurogenesis to occur.  Apparently, exercise which is stressful releases stress hormones which can kill neurons and destroy synapses.  I found this very interesting as well, for the implications reach far beyond exercise.  Bullying, violence, and life-threatening environments certainly produce large amounts of stress. 

Does the bully kill neurons and destroy synapses in their victims?

Posted by: voyagingmind | May 9, 2010

The Reading Brain

I just finished listening to the Brain Science podcast #24 which covers reading development.  This podcast is an hour-long review of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain.

I found this especially interesting, because I recently returned from living in Japan where I taught 4 years as a first grade teacher in an immersion program.  Most of these students came to me without any English abilities, which has given me some experience with emergent language development.  This podcast spends a good deal of time discussion emergent reading development.

Parental reading to young children is vitally important, but the point is made that this will also associate parental love with the reading experience.  Just image being able to tap into feelings of love and security simply through the act of reading!  Sounds great, does it not!?  I’m not saying this would influence all children, but it’s certainly worth thinking about.

Reading fluently activates parts of their brain that process emotion.  I read with emotion and interest, but now I wonder if deliberately discussing the emotional impact of a story can help children become more fluent readers.  Modeling how to key into a story’s emotional tone could be an important way for helping students to understand and remember.