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Explore the Power of Play: Attend the Ultimate Block Party in NYC this Sunday, 10/03/10

Ultimate Block Party

On October 3, 2010, the Bandshell area of New York’s Central Park (72nd St. & 5th Ave.) will become the main stage in an international event for families, educators and public figures to explore the real power of play with top architects, scientists, engineers, artists and inventors. Over 25 fun family play and learning activities will be free and open to the public! Come, play, and learn! At the Ultimate Block Party, there will be hundreds of Imagination Playground Blocks for kids to play with, along with numerous other activities that emphasize the value and science of arts and play. Children of all ages are invited to participate in these activities and more: Map Reading, Games, Physical Play, Visual Artistic Expression, and Music and Dance.

This is a great opportunity for both adults and children to re-discover the art of play and how play can actually help people learn new skills and ideas.

Organizers of the event hope to make this an annual event. Their goal is to re-introduce the concept of play and its importance to everyday life. Some statistics about play and its critical role in our childrens’ lives:

  • 40 million elementary school children will have no arts or music training in their schools this year. NPR2009. Fully 50% of children have no art training in 8th grade (NEA Report Card, 2008).
  • In last two decades children have lost an average of 8 hours of free play a week. The American Academy of Pediatricians call the decline of playtime a national crisis.
  • According to the Mayo Clinic website this is the first generation that will live fewer years than their parents due to essential hypertension, diabetes, and poor conditioning. Children need to play physically and get off the tube.
  • Children ages 8-17 now spend an average of 8 hours a day in media-based activities-dramatically up from five years ago. Kaiser Family Foundation 2010
  • The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a collaborative of business leaders and CEOs and Daniel Pink are among many to suggest that creative innovation will be a critical skill for the next generation of skilled workers. The arts and play provide no better training ground.
  • Children are suffering from a “nature-deficit disorder” according to Richard Louv who wrote in 2005, "Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder." He said, “Unfettered time outside is fundamental to human development. It's wonderful for (kids') ability to learn, and it's wonderful for their stress level."

Come join the fun at the Ultimate Block Party this Sunday!

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Categories: Brain Fitness, Family Focus, Reading & Learning

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Increased Brain Activity in Reading-Related Areas After Using Fast ForWord Language

A study was done by Elise Temple and her colleagues in 2003 and was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2003. Numerous other studies have shown that when children are reading, specific parts of their brains are active. This activation can be measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging, also known as fMRI. There are differences in the physiological activity of the brains of the good readers vs the poor readers. The biggest difference is in the temporo-parietal region.

At the time of this study, Elise Temple was at Stanford University and was interested in whether these differences could be reduced. She examined whether there were interventions that could ameliorate deficits in the neural mechanisms that underlie phonological processing in children with dyslexia.

The study involved children between 8 and 12 years of age and 20 of the students had developmental dyslexia. Then data from a group of typical readers was collected to provide a comparison. These students were behaviorally and physiologically assessed at the start and end of the study. During the study, students with dyslexia used the Fast ForWord Language software product. The students used the Fast ForWord Language product for 100 minutes a day, five days a week. On average, they used the product for 28 days.

Three behavioral tests were given to the students that evaluated students’ early reading skills and reading achievement. They were: The Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing, The Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals, and the Woodcock Reading Mastery Test.

These tests evaluated students’ ability to manipulate the sounds in language, as well as their ability to use language in general, and their ability to read and understand words, sentences, and paragraphs. In addition to the behavioral tests, fMRI was used to measure students’ brain activity while they were doing a reading task. As has been found by other researchers, Temple and her colleagues found that during reading tasks, typical readers had physiological activity in the temporo-parietal and frontal regions of the brain. They also found that there are differences in the physiological activity of the students with developmental dyslexia, specifically in the temporo-parietal and frontal regions.

After using the product, students’ cortical activity was re-evaluated. There were several areas that had increased activity – of specific interest were the left temporo-parietal region and the left frontal region. Both are regions that typically have reduced activity in children with dyslexia, but whose activation increased following remediation with the Fast ForWord Language product.

Corresponding with the changes in temporo-parietal activation, there were improvements in the students’ behavioral measures. The improvements in receptive and expressive language skills, as well as rapid naming, which tests rapid recall abilities, were all statistically significant. There were also improvements in other reading skills including sight word reading, decoding, and passage comprehension. Again, these improvements were statistically significant.

The results of this study lead Temple and her colleagues to conclude that students with dyslexia have reduced cortical activity in the temporo-parietal and inferior frontal regions. The activation becomes more typical when students undergo intensive remediation and that the changes in cortical activation are correlated with improvements in early reading skills.

For more information, please take a look at the study done by Elise Temple and her colleagues. If you have questions about any of our products, please contact us.

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Categories: Brain Research, Fast ForWord, Reading & Learning

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Fit Bodies Make Fit Brains: Physical Exercise and Brain Cells

physical exercise and the brain

The pull of the video screen is incredible, isn’t it? Students love working on computers in their classrooms, and then they go home and want to dive right back into e-mailing their friends and playing online games. Add to that the constant calling and texting on cell phones, and you might imagine we are developing a population with a fantastic intellect but a dismal future when it comes to physical health.

In the face of such technological and social forces, we as educators must not underestimate the importance of physical education and health literacy. As a nation, we are lumbering heavily down the wrong track. One in three Americans will develop diabetes, dying 10-15 years too soon. The prevalence of childhood obesity has doubled since the 1980s. And, with the abundance of processed foods, it’s getting harder and harder for students to make healthy choices.

Most everyone understands—especially those of us who have taught in the classroom—that time spent in vigorous physical activity during the school day helps students stay alert and more attentive during intensive classroom time. But I recently read an article that expanded my thinking on the subject. On June 7, 2010, the New York Times published a blog, Phys Ed: Your Brain on Exercise, by Gretchen Reynolds. The article outlines the research done in the 1990s by Dr. Fred Gage and his colleagues at the Laboratory of Genetics at the Salk Institute in San Diego, as well as that of Dr. Jack Kessler, the chairman of neurology at Northwestern. Together, their studies show that physical exercise is not just important for building healthy muscles, hearts and lungs. It is essential for a healthy brain, too. As it turns out, maintaining a healthy noggin depends partly upon the presence of a chemical called, interestingly enough, noggin.

Dr. Gage’s research discusses the interplay of two chemicals that affect brain development: bone-morphogenic protein (BMP), which helps control cell division, and noggin, which is involved with the production of new brain cells.  These two chemicals are in constant competition, pushing back and forth and creating balance in the production of brain cells. As the years pass, our brains become less and less able to produce these cells, and BMP slows things down even more. In short, just as our muscles do not rebuild themselves as well when we get older, our brains likewise become less able to replenish their tissues.

So, how does exercise help? It does two things: it lowers the amount of BMP AND increases the presence of noggin. In Dr. Kessler’s lab tests, the mice who received more exercise not only had more noggin in their brains, but they performed better in mazes and other tests. In his words, they were "little mouse geniuses, if there is such a thing."

The research exploring the connections between exercise, BMP and noggin are ongoing. But we now know that exercise clearly helps ensure that our bodies AND brains stay healthy. For me, the science points once again to something that we as educators cannot ignore. We should not underestimate the importance of a solid physical education program. In addition, we can add to that the physical fun and play of recess, and help our students create life-long habits that contribute to maintaining healthy bodies as well as healthy noggins.

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Results from a “Gold Standard Study” Show Significant Student Gains in Language and Literacy Skills

A research study was conducted in Western Australia to evaluate the use of Fast ForWord products for improving language and literacy skills. This study was conducted by educators at four primary schools in a major metropolitan area of Western Australia. Clinicians with Sonic Hearing, a local private practice, supported the educators with training and expert assistance in Fast ForWord implementation. Across the four schools, 144 students participated in the study.

At the beginning and end of the study, the students’ language and literacy skills were assessed by school personnel, using a battery of tests from the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals and the Queensland University Inventory of Literacy.

The study was conducted using a randomized controlled trial design. Half of the students were randomly assigned to an intervention group, and only the students in this group used the Fast ForWord products during the study. The remaining students were assigned to a control group. Students in the control group did not use the Fast ForWord products until after the study. Research evaluators such as the What Works Clearinghouse consider this type of study to provide strong evidence about an intervention’s effectiveness. The randomized controlled trial design is also known as a “Gold Standard Study.”

The intervention group used the Fast ForWord products for an average of 9 weeks – typically working 50 minutes per day, 5 days per week. Most of the students used two Fast ForWord products, starting on Fast ForWord Language, or Fast ForWord Middle & High School, and then advancing to Fast ForWord Language to Reading.

Scores from the test battery were combined for statistical analysis. The results of this analysis showed that, on average, the students who used Fast ForWord made significantly greater language and literacy gains than the students who did not. These results suggest that using the Fast ForWord products strengthened the students’ foundational skills and better positioned them to benefit from the classroom curriculum.

For more information, please see the Educator Briefing on this study as well as any of our 200+ additional reports on Fast ForWord results. If you have questions about any of our research studies, please contact us.

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Adolescence: What’s the Brain Got to Do with It?

The Adolescent Brain

Last week I was sitting in a fast-food drive-thru when I noticed the car in front of me held what appeared to be an under-age driver and friend. They placed their order and pulled forward barely able to see over the steering wheel and dashboard. I am thinking, oh dear, do the parents know they have taken the car? As their order was handed out of the drive-thru window both seats popped up simultaneously revealing two teenage boys. I guess it’s cool to go through the fast-food drive-thru with the car seats fully reclined!

How do you explain adolescent behavior? This, of course, is the million dollar question that has been asked by adults for a long time. A question that finally has some answers coming out of brain research. So, you may ask, what does the brain have to do with adolescent behavior? Well, actually everything!

One very important factor to note is the adolescent brain is still under construction; something we tend to forget when we look at these “young adults.” Instead of thinking of the adolescent brain as a house that is completely built and only needs to have furnishings added, we need to think of the adolescent brain as a house that is only framed and still needs walls, wiring and a roof. (1, p167)

Sheryl G. Feinstein, author of Secrets of the Teenage Brain: Research-Based Strategies for Reaching and Teaching Today’s Adolescents, Second Edition, discusses the many aspects of the adolescent brain giving rise to an understanding it is a whirlwind of complexities and contradictions. She notes in the chapter on cognition and learning the adolescent brain is particularly susceptible to novelty, overcomplicates problems, idealizes the world, and has one saying one thing while doing another. In looking at the social brain and communication, Feinstein points out, because the adolescent brain relies more on the amygdala (an area of the brain that processes and remembers emotions) than on the frontal lobes (the part of the brain that is involved in decision making, language, problem solving, planning and controlling sense of self) adolescents experience emotions before they can verbally articulate them, thus setting the stage for emotional outbursts. In addition, adolescent emotions can easily cement lifelong memories or form powerful learning blocks.

Anyone who has worked with adolescents knows how up and down they can be from day to day – some days they appear to be with it and other days you wonder if they are even on this planet. What we now know is adolescence is a time of great fluctuation in the levels of neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers in the brain that excite and inhibit behaviors. When levels of these chemicals go awry adolescents face a variety of mental upheavals that can lead to depression, eating disorders, and shifts in sleep habits.

And, let us not forget the risk-taking behavior adolescents’ exhibit that has adults shaking their heads in despair and wondering if they have a brain at all. Actually, it is the brain that is heavily involved in this risky behavior. Adolescents are very susceptible to the dopamine rushes (a chemical in the brain associated with pleasure) that comes with risk taking. Again, because they rely on the emotional amygdala more than the rational frontal lobes, adolescents have trouble foreseeing the consequences of risky behavior, and giving them the sense of invincibility. Maybe this sense of invincibility is one of the reasons they so closely relate to our fictional “super heroes.”

So, the next time an adolescent turns to you and says “WHAT are you looking at?” you know that is not an alien being from another planet, but rather someone who is “going through startling growth and streamlining in the brain; an intelligent creature not yet accustomed to their (unevenly) burgeoning mental strengths and capabilities.” (1, p167)

For anyone who works with, lives with, or even knows an adolescent, I encourage you to read the latest research and literature on the adolescent brain. There is a wealth of new information and insight into that enigma called “teenager.” Here are some good reads to get you started:

Secrets of the Teenage Brain: Research-Based Strategies for Reaching and Teaching Today’s Adolescents, Second Edition, Sheryl G. Feinstein, Corwin Press (2009)

Unleashing the Potential of the Teenage Brain: 10 Powerful Ideas, Barry Corbin, Corwin Press (2008)

The Teen Brain Book: Who & What Are You?, Dale Carlson, Brick Publishing House (2004)

The Adolescent Brain: Reaching for Autonomy, Robert Sylwester, Corwin Press (2007)

References

  1. Feinstein, S.G. (2009) Secrets of the Teenage Brain: Research-Based Strategies for Reaching and Teaching Today’s Adolescents, Second Edition, Corwin Press.

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Register Today for our Fall Webinar Series!

Fall Webinar Series

Alan November, Eric Jensen and Bill Daggett will be joining Scientific Learning for the Fall Webinar Series starting on Wednesday, September 22nd. The webinar series is designed to help educators understand how the latest developments in educational technology and neuroscience can inform teaching, accelerate learning and improve student achievement.

The webinars will begin on Wednesday, September 22nd with Alan November, a speaker, author, educator and leader in educational technology. His session is titled, “Creating a New Culture of Teaching and Learning.” During this live session, Alan November will show how a powerful new culture of empowered teaching and fearless learning is emerging and how access to more timely information and communication tools can empower educators to focus on the individual learning needs of their students.

Eric Jensen, an educator, author and expert in connecting neuroscience research with practical classroom applications, leads the second webinar on Tuesday, September 28th. Titled “7 Discoveries from Brain Research That Could Revolutionize Education,” this session will explore cutting-edge discoveries in brain research that have real-world implications for educators. Jensen will describe specific strategies on reinventing the learning process and connecting games and tools, which educators can use to improve student achievement.

The fall webinars will conclude in December with a presentation by Dr. Willard Daggett, CEO of the International Center for Leadership in Education and an expert on school improvement initiatives. His session is titled, “Our Changing Education Landscape.” Additional details will be available in early October.

The webinars are provided free of charge. For more information and to register for the sessions, please go to: www.scilearn.com/webinars.

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40% of Non-Proficient Students Reach Reading Proficiency in One Year with Fast ForWord

Every spring, the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, abbreviated CRCT, are administered to students in Georgia. The CRCT is designed to measure how well students acquire the skills and knowledge described in the Georgia Performance Standards. Students are tested in Reading, English Language Arts and Mathematics. This summary will concentrate on the Reading results. It is given every spring to all students in grades 1-8 and the students included in this study were first through eighth graders.

Students who used the Fast ForWord products generally started with the Fast ForWord Language or Fast ForWord Literacy products. In Clarke County School District in Georgia, during the 2007 – 2008 school year, a group of students started on the Fast ForWord Reading products, progressing as far as the Fast ForWord Reading Level 3 product. On average, students used the products for 60 – 70 days during a 6 month period.

A longitudinal study is a type of study that follows the same subjects over time. A longitudinal analysis may include baseline performance for a period before the intervention, as well as performance changes during the intervention period. It may also include follow up performance data, showing whether performance drops, is maintained at the new level, or continues to improve, when participants are no longer receiving the intervention.

The first wave of Fast ForWord participants at Clarke County started using the products between the 2006 and 2007 tests and made statistically significant improvements on the spring 2007 CRCT with continued improvements in 2008.

Students in the second wave started using the products between the 2007 and 2008 tests and made statistically significant improvements on the spring 2008 CRCT.

The third group served as the comparison group and did not use the products until after the 2008 test. The students who used the Fast ForWord products made more improvements in their reading achievement, crossing the proficiency threshold, compared to the students who did not use the products. In fact, 40% of the participants who were not proficient in 2006 reached proficiency in 2007 compared to 27% of the non-proficient students who did not use products.

For more information, please see the Educator Briefing and Full Report on this study as well as any of our 200+ additional reports on Fast ForWord results. If you have questions about any of our research studies, please contact us

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You Unplugged: Finding Balance with Extended Reading, Writing and Thinking Time

Focus and Distraction You Unplugged

For this blog post, I offer two challenges, one for me and one for you:

  • My challenge: I’m going to write without providing you any links to outside references until the end of this blog. My goal is to create a self-contained message free of distractions so you can read with a focused mind from start to finish.
  • Your challenge: As you read through this blog, check how many times you are distracted by outside stimuli, such as answering phones and e-mails, clicking on other links or windows on your computer, or talking with other people. Keep your attention on reading this message the way it was intended to be read: from start to finish.

Ready? Have you taken a breath and found your focus? On we go.

The brain is constantly changing and rewiring itself based on the stimulus it receives; in neuroscience, we call this "brain plasticity." As you read each word of this blog, the neural networks of your brain are active in response to the words, as well as the white noise of the air conditioning, the voices next door, the tempting smell of that banana, and the countless other stimuli in the room around you. Especially in the Internet-connected workplace, we are barraged with such stimuli, and we react in an effort to take advantage of every moment and every opportunity. (Have you gotten a "you've got mail" message since you started reading? That’s an opportunity! Don't give in. Stay focused. Keep reading.) While today’s world rewards speedy and often unfocused multitasking, we must still set time aside to "unplug" and reap the benefits of slowing down and engaging in deep, extended reading, writing and thinking.

How is today’s world of fragmented information affecting our brains? Think back (if you are old enough) to the days before the online information explosion. Consider the simple act of focused, quiet reading. In his book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, Nicholas Carr describes "deep reading" as a "sustained, unbroken attention to a single, static object" that allows the reader to make "their own associations, draw their own inferences and analogies."

In contrast, think of how you read at your computer. In the June 6, 2010 New York Times article, "Your Brain on Computers: Hook on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price," Matt Ritchel reports on research that has shown how the constant incoming flow of information changes how we think and behave. Where is your focus as you read on your computer, clicking back and forth between your e-mail, your Facebook page, your Twitter feeds, the three blogs you follow and back to your e-mail? Ritchel cites research showing that computer users at work change windows or check e-mail or other programs nearly 37 times an hour. That means that in the computerized workplace, tasks receive on average less than two continuous minutes of focus.

(Have you been reading this for over two minutes without giving in to check your e-mail? If so, congratulations, you're above average for staying on-task. Keep it up.)

According to Carr’s report of the research, "when we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning."

Why do we allow ourselves to be drawn into such a state? Our human brains are programmed to respond to immediate opportunities and threats with a squirt of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with motivation and reward. Each new piece of information, every e-mail and tweet, is an opportunity that our brains evaluate. In essence, we are awash with stimuli that are constantly influencing brain plasticity. Added to that, research has shown dopamine to be addictive. Put those together, and the conclusion is undeniable: we are actively conditioning our brains away from the ability to maintain an extended focus on individual tasks.

Is it the fate of a technology-enabled humanity to be fragmented and frazzled? No, but I suggest that we need to intentionally set aside time for the deep reading, writing and thinking Carr describes. This is even more necessary if we are "plugged in" most of the day. We can and should for our own good turn off the computer and devote thirty minutes a day to focused, uninterrupted activities like reading a book, writing in a journal, playing a musical instrument or sketching a picture. While the technologies available to us to "plug in" for work and entertainment continue to bombard our days, we must bear in mind that such stimuli do have an effect on the ongoing development of our neural wiring, and that there are great benefits to be reaped from experiencing the world unplugged.

Now, were you able to read from beginning to end with no distractions? If not, don’t worry. This was a challenge designed to demonstrate how distractible the mind can be. On the other hand, if you were able to focus and read this entire message start to finish without giving into the pull of your e-mail or your Facebook friends, congratulations! Well done.

As promised, here are some links to continue your own reading on brain plasticity:

And how distracted are you? How well can you multitask?

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Teaching and Learning with Intent through Guided Reading Activities

Guided Reading Activities

While each educator has their own techniques for getting themselves and their students involved in the task at hand, guided reading activities offer wonderful structures for bringing students and their teachers together, and engaging both in the teaching and learning process. At its essence, guided reading is a metacognitive activity; it gets students and their teachers to think together about how they think about reading. By literally guiding students through reading, it instills the habit in students of being fully present in the process. Such habits not only lay the foundation for effective reading skills, but they build successful strategies that will lead to a life-long love of the reading adventure.

What do guided reading activities look like? While these activities can take many forms, they can be as simple as questions designed to create thoughtful, intentional approaches to a text and create connections before, during and after reading.

Before diving into a text, guided reading questions we could pose to young students might be:

  • What do you think the artwork on the cover means?
  • Based on the title, what do you think the story will be about?
  • As you flip through the book and glance at the pictures, what do you think the story will be about?

During reading, we can stop students along the way and re-engage them through asking:

  • What does that picture mean to the story? How does it make you feel?
  • What do you think will happen next?
  • Why did that character do that?
  • What would you do if you were that character?

After reading, strategically formulated guided reading questions can help students connect to and appreciate a story:

  • Can you summarize the story?
  • How does what really happened compare with what you predicted would happen?
  • Who was your favorite character and why?
  • What was your favorite part of the story?

Additional guided reading activities may include creative exercises such as writing letters to characters, drawing pictures inspired by stories, or writing alternative endings.

These processes and teaching techniques are most effective for small groups or one-on-one instruction, as they depend upon a high level of personal interaction and response with the teacher. (Thereby lies one of the reasons that Scientific Learning’s Reading Assistant is so effective; it employs many activities formulated on the principles behind guided reading.)

On a closing note, these kinds of simple questions are not only great for engaging students in the classroom, but also at home. If we as educators can offer these as examples to parents, imagine how much we can help them make even the simplest bedtime story a more engaging, meaningful experience for a child.

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79% of ELL Students Increase Proficiency by One or More Levels

During the 2008 – 2009 school year, a group of kindergarten through sixth-grade students used the Fast ForWord® products. All participants were English language learners.

Participants used products from both the Fast ForWord Language and Fast ForWord Reading series. Kindergartners typically started with the Fast ForWord Language Basics product and then progressed through Fast ForWord Reading Prep and Fast ForWord Reading Level 1 while students in first grade and above started with the Fast ForWord Language product, and then progressed through Fast ForWord Language to Reading followed by the Reading product.  On average, students used the products for 54 days across a 3½ month period.

The Arizona English Language Learner Assessment, abbreviated as AZELLA, is used to determine the English language proficiency of Arizona K-12 students whose primary home language is other than English. AZELLA results include a composite proficiency level score and separate subtest scores for Listening, Speaking, Reading, and Total Writing. Scores are reported in terms of scaled scores and proficiency levels.

The five proficiency levels of the AZELLA are Pre-Emergent, Emergent, Basic, Intermediate, and Proficient. Students in this study were assessed on the AZELLA in the fall, prior to using Fast ForWord products, and again in the spring, after using the products.

Seventy-nine percent of the students increased their proficiency by one or more levels. According to a study through the Arizona Department of Education, students typically have a difficult time moving beyond the Intermediate level, with 38% moving to Proficient after one year, and 46% moving to Proficient after two years.  After using the Fast ForWord products, 68% of the Intermediate students reached the Proficient level.  In fact, 22% of the students who were initially at Basic reached Proficient.

For more information, please see the Educator Briefing and Full Report on this study as well as any of our 200+ additional reports on Fast ForWord results. If you have questions about any of our research studies, please contact us.

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Categories: Brain Fitness, Brain Research, English Language Learners, Fast ForWord, Scientific Learning Research

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