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Showing posts in May 2010  Show all posts >

Brain Research, Learning & Literacy: Webinar with Dr. Bill Jenkins

brain research learning literacyIn this pre-recorded webinar, "Addressing Literacy Through Neuroscience," Dr. Bill Jenkins discusses brain development and plasticity, takes us on a tour of the parts of the brain involved in language processing, and reviews some recent research findings on language impairment. 

You will learn about the strong correlation between auditory processing and language development, the importance of timing in our perception of speech, and more.

Be sure to take advantage of this unusual opportunity to learn from an expert about what happens in the brain when we learn language, how oral language skills influence learning, and what we can do to help children learn better.

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Categories: Brain Research, Fast ForWord, Scientific Learning Research

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Dress up Your Firefox Browser with Your Favorite Fast ForWord® Character

fast forword charactersIf you love the Fast ForWord characters as much as I do, here’s a fun little freebie: Firefox can now “wear” your favorite characters!  This is a simple add-on that can liven up your lab or classroom computers and inspire your students, whether or not they are currently working on the Fast ForWord exercises.

Five Fast ForWord characters are currently available for Firefox: Ele-bot and Cosmic Reader from the LANGUAGE Series products, Sky Rider and Lunar Leap from the LITERACY Series products, and Jitterbug Jukebox from the READING Series products.  More characters coming soon!

What do to:

  1. Be sure you’re using Firefox!  Steps 2 and 3 will not work in any other browser.
  2. Add Firefox Personas to your browser (it’s easy)
  3. Select a character for Firefox to “wear”

That’s it—you’re done!

Here's what some of us at our Oakland, CA, headquarters are wearing:

Cosmic ReaderValerie
Role: Private Provider Relations Specialist
Persona: Cosmic Reader—Fast ForWord LANGUAGE Series
Quote: "Cosmic Reader is my hero."

Sky RiderVivian
Role: Corporate Receptionist
Persona: Sky Rider—Fast ForWord LITERACY Series
Quote: "Ooh, I like these colors."

Jitterbug JukeboxAndrew
Role: Lead Research Statistician
Persona: Jitterbug Jukebox—Fast ForWord READING Series
Quote: “Jitterbug Jukebox really speaks to me.  I often feel like the flyest fly around.  Plus, I wear cool shades, like... 95% of the time.”

Want to let us know what you think about the Fast ForWord Personas for Firefox?  Join us on Facebook and join the conversation!

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Categories: Fast ForWord

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The Brain Gets Better at What it Does: Dr. Martha Burns on Brain Plasticity

Martha Burns on brain plasticityIn March, Dr. Martha Burns visited Australia to present the latest findings on how the brain learns.  Dr. Burns is an extremely knowledgeable and highly sought after speaker, so I'm pleased to let you know that an interview she gave on brain plasticity while there is now available online at nouspod.com.

The recording is presented in two parts, totaling about 20 minutes listening time.  If you don't have time to listen to both parts of the interview at once, either part works well alone.  But remember to come back later and listen to the other part of the interview--because the whole thing is too good to be missed! 

These are the points addressed in each part:

Dr. Martha Burns Explains Neuroplasticity 1:

  • What is neuroplasticity, in simple terms?
  • What are the differences in brain plasticity between younger and older people?
  • What are neurotransmitters and what role do they play in neuroplasticity?
  • What are neuromodulators and how do they influence learning?
  • How do rewards and novelty influence learning?
  • How does Ritalin affect the brain?
  • What are the unique brain benefits of exercise?
  • What is the role of brain plasticity in anxiety and depression?


Dr. Martha Burns Explains Neuroplasticity 2:

  • Can brain plasticity influence intelligence?
  • How important are grades vs. effort?
  • What behaviors should teachers reward in their students?
  • What role should technology play in schools?
  • How can educators invite students to participate in class more?


These recordings are also a great source of brain information to share with your students in the classroom!

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Categories: Brain Fitness, Brain Research, Reading & Learning

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In a Rut? Give Your Brain a Workout

brain workoutWhen was the last time you got stuck—I mean really STUCK—on a problem? Instead of being able to bring your mental muscles to bear on the challenge, did your mind feel tired or fatigued or just plain empty?

As it turns out, our brains function more like muscles than we realize. Consider a well-trained athlete: she might be able to trot six or eight miles in a stint and feel absolutely fabulous. But take that same athlete and have her run those same six miles backwards. The next day, everything will be sore from that buildup of lactic acid in those muscle groups that rarely get such activity.

The brain works in much the same way. While it is most certainly not a muscle, it behaves like one in that the more we work it and the more varied the challenges we can bring it, the more it will function at optimal levels when we most need it.

We regularly get our brains to perform repeat tasks through establishing patterns. Everything from speech to doing mathematics to driving a car to enjoying music is based on learning and using patterns. Problems that don’t fit our established patterns of thinking represent the greatest challenges. They also demand our greatest creative thinking.

So, how can we train our brains to more effectively and creatively address the unexpected? Try looking at some of your established patterns and changing them to work your brain:

  • Brush your teeth, write the grocery list or dial the phone with the OTHER hand.
  • Look up a new word and use it in conversation at least once each day.
  • Listen to a new piece of music—really listen to it—from beginning to end without interruption.
  • Do a puzzle; crossword, Sudoku and the good old Rubik’s Cube® are like brain pushups—the more, the better.
  • Select a poem and memorize it. For more of a mental marathon, try a Shakespearean soliloquy.

For a more long-term commitment to brain fitness, try an activity that represents learning a whole new set of patterns for your brain, such as taking up a martial art or yoga. If you’re not that physical, you might give photography or cooking a try. Aside from the benefits of adding new experience and dimension to life, activities and hobbies like these, in time, result in better brain function.

Here are a few references for further reading:

  • This article on Ehow offers five simple steps on how to strengthen your brain.
  • If you are an educator, Dr. Kathie Nunley helps make connections between the latest research and classroom practice at www.brains.org.

Posit Science offers a complete Brain Fitness Program including software and games developed by Dr. Michael Merzenich.

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Categories: Brain Fitness

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Phonemic Awareness as a Foundational Reading Skill

phonemic awarenessPhonemic awareness is the insight that every spoken word can be conceived as a sequence of phonemes.  Phonemes are the speech sounds that are represented by the letters of the alphabet.

Phonemic decoding is the ability to capture the meaning of unfamiliar words by translating groups of letters back into the sounds that they represent, link them to one’s verbal vocabulary, and access their meaning.

Together, phonemic awareness and phonemic decoding are key foundational skills for beginning readers.

Learn more about teaching children to read from the National Reading Panel at www.nichd.nih.gov/publications/nrp/report.cfm.

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Categories: Reading & Learning

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How to Motivate Students: The Psychology of Success


how to motivate studentsIn my last post, we looked at the differences between the fixed and growth mindsets described by Carol S. Dweck in her research and latest book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.  In this post, we’ll look at a bit of the neurobiology at work as it relates to mindset.

In their 2008 study, "Motivation to do Well Enhances Responses to Errors and Self-Monitoring", Bengtsson, Lau and Passingham discuss how humans are unique in the animal world in that only we have the ability to reflect on our own performance.

Their research studied how self-motivation affects tasks that use working memory. They looked at how the members of each of two groups performed on a memory task. The first group was told that their cognitive abilities were actually being measured and that these abilities were related to intelligence. The other group was simply told that by participating, they were helping the researchers to develop an effective test.

Their results showed that the first group was substantially more motivated to do well than members of the second. In addition, MRIs of subjects showed that activity across multiple areas of the brain in the motivated group was extensive when making errors. Simply put, Bengtsson, Lau and Passingham’s experiment demonstrated that when one is motivated to succeed, making errors is perceived as being "in conflict with one’s ideals for oneself." From the student’s point of view making errors is something they can accept since they believe that they can learn from experience and improve their abilities. This feedback when errors occur does not align with their perception of themselves as good learners, however, so they will consistently strive to be more successful.

This small piece of information offers a great insight for us as educators. As we work with students, we can help them understand the goals and reasons behind a learning experience as well as the content or skills that represent the focus of the lesson. The more we do this, the more we can literally stimulate their brains on a neurobiological level to optimize each student’s internal learning environment.

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Categories: Brain Research, Reading & Learning

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Brain Fitness Is Not A Game

BBC brain training studyA recent study on brain video games is causing discussions worldwide on the benefits of brain training and programs developed to improve brain functioning. The study, published in Nature and summarized on Nature News, titled “No Gain From Brain Training,” was conducted with adults, average age 39, who practiced a series of online tasks for a minimum of ten minutes a day, three times a week, for six weeks.

These tasks, focused on reasoning, planning and problem-solving abilities, were tests and not exercises intended to improve cognitive skills. While the outcome of the study brings the concept of brain training to the forefront of online discussion sites, it’s important to note that the clarification of brain video games, brain training programs and brain fitness programs and the origins of the research behind the development of these products are critical to the discussions. 

What differentiates the Scientific Learning products from those advertised as “brain video games” or “brain training programs” is the science: decades of research into how students learn preceded the development of our products. For more than 30 years, neuroscientists at Scientific Learning have studied the way the brain learns.

The expertise and collaboration of Drs. Michael Merzenich, William Jenkins, Paula Tallal, and Steven Miller, the founders of Scientific Learning, along with several other cognitive neuroscientists, resulted in the development of a research-based series of products. The Fast ForWord® software is based on the science of how the brain learns and retains information. It utilizes the principles of neuroscience and learning to exercise and develop the brain's processing efficiency, essential for academic learning and reading success.

Brain plasticity research demonstrates that completing learning tasks in a frequent, intense timeframe accelerates learning. Just as exercise promotes physical fitness, exercising our brain improves brain fitness in four critical areas: memory, attention, processing and sequencing.

In addition, the research is recognized and supported by other scientists in peer reviews from Stanford University, Cornell University, UCSF Medical Center & Rutgers University, and many other top Universities, including a recent study by Dr. Nadine Gaab of Children’s Hospital Boston ((Gaab, N., Gabrieli, J.D.E., Deutsch, G.K., Tallal, P., & Temple, E. (2007). Neural correlates of rapid auditory processing are disrupted in children with developmental dyslexia and ameliorated with training: An fMRI study. Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience, 25, 295-310.)).

Finding the right product to improve cognitive skills can be overwhelming for the consumer. Numerous articles and research studies can be found online that address the interest and concern in this popular field of learning and brain development. In fact, a Google search on “brain video games” resulted in more than 32million hits! Members of the education community, parents and teachers alike, who are looking for programs for their students, should be cognizant of the importance of scientific research.

If a product is touted as “research-based,” what are the origins, extent and validity of that research? Are the products intended to test or improve cognitive skills? According to Dr. William Jenkins, Scientific Learning's Chief Scientific Officer, “a program that is designed to improve cognitive, reading or language skills and build brain fitness is adaptive to the student’s abilities; critical tasks are practiced at an appropriate frequency and intensity; multiple skills are cross-trained at the same time for lasting improvement; and rewards are built into the program for maximum motivation as the student progresses.”

In the study referenced above, “No Gain From Brain Training,” researchers believe that none of the groups who participated in the study boosted their performance on tests measuring general cognitive abilities such as memory, reasoning and learning. Participants in the study were volunteers who were viewers of a popular BBC game show, “Bang Goes the Theory.” The study required the participants to complete tasks for only 10 minutes a day, 3 times a week.

While the study concluded that there is no evidence of “any generalized improvements in cognitive function following brain training in a large sample of healthy adults,” it is a study that leads to more questions than answers. Were the tasks measures of current cognitive skills or were they designed to build upon these skills? The study leads the reader to conclude that these were tests of cognitive ability, not exercises to improve skills. So the conclusion that the programs did not improve cognitive function is baffling. Were the tasks adaptive, motivating, and practiced with intensity and frequency? Was there cross-training on multiple tasks to build cognitive skills? How comprehensive is a study conducted on participants who complete tasks for only a few minutes a week?

Based on the intensive studies done on proven brain training or brain fitness products already on the market that follow the basic principles of clinical trial studies (i.e Posit Science, a brain fitness program for adults), this study is not a strong indicator of the results that can be realized with a true research-based program. Whether programs are defined as brain training or brain video games or tasks designed to test cognitive skills, they don’t necessarily have the intensive scientific research that is the foundation of a proven brain fitness program.

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Categories: Brain Fitness, Brain Research, Fast ForWord, Scientific Learning Research

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