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Help Us Congratulate Eddy on His Silver Medal!

Word learning

Have you heard?  Someone we know and love has won an award and we couldn’t be prouder!  Parents’ Choice® Children’s Media and Toy Reviews has awarded Eddy the dog a silver medal for his Eddy’s Number Party! kindergarten readiness app for iPad!

In Eddy’s Number Party!, kids collect balloons, track party hats, toss presents, and gather friends to bring to Eddy’s big surprise party.  Along the way, they practice counting, number matching, and more, while the app continuously individualizes the level of challenge for each child.  Fun, in-app sticker play helps extend the learning.

Parents’ Choice found Eddy’s Number Party! to be “appealing and user-friendly” and noted the progressive challenge as a plus.  And it’s not just Parents’ Choice that loves the app; Common Sense Media loves it, too (“a hidden gem”).

Join us in sending Eddy big congratulations!

 

 

Related Reading:

Kindergarten Math Readiness & The Cardinal Principle

The Motor-Cognitive Connection: Early Fine Motor Skills as an Indicator of Future Success

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Categories: Family Focus, Reading & Learning

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Developmental Dyslexia: Differences in the Pre-Reading Brain

Developmental dyslexia Click image to enlarge

Dyslexia is thought to affect a high percentage of people. The condition can be caused by biological changes during brain development (known as developmental dyslexia) or by environmental effects such as illness or injury (known as acquired dyslexia). In their recent article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Nora Maria Raschle, Jennifer Zuk and Nadine Gaab cite estimates that developmental dyslexia affects between 5 and 17% of all children. (2012) They further outline how it can have detrimental effects on a child’s life both inside the classroom as well as beyond. 

Developmental dyslexia

For these reasons, educators and researchers have placed intervention strategies for developmental dyslexia very high on their priority list.

While much progress on such interventions has occurred in the area of helping individuals with developmental dyslexia once they have been diagnosed, other research is delving into identifying the neurological and physiological differences between brains that develop the condition and those that do not.

To find out if there are identifiable predictors of developmental dyslexia, Raschle, Zuk and Gaab examined the functional brain networks during phonologic processing in 36 pre-reading children with an average age of 5.5 years. That is they were looking for brain differences even before any of the children had learned to read since previous brain studies of dyslexia have been conducted on individuals after they have begun to read, albeit poorly. All of the subjects were of a similar socioeconomic status; most came from homes with relatively high SES and strong language skills.  These are the type of home environments that typically result in the development of good language and reading skills.

The only substantive difference between the groups in this study was that half of the subjects had a family history of developmental dyslexia, while the other half did not.

Interestingly, the 18 children with a family history of dyslexia scored significantly lower than those who had no family history on a number of standardized assessments, including:

  • Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals (CELF), Core language
  • CELF, Expressive language
  • CELF, Language structure
  • Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing (CTOPP), Elision
  • Rapid Automatized Naming (RAN), Objects
  • RAN, Colors
  • Verb Agreement and Tense Test (VATT), Repetition

Not only did the research team examine the two groups’ performance on these evaluations, but they also used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanning to identify what was happening in the brains of each learner during the examinations.

Brain activity in the left lingual gyrus as well as the temporoparietal brain areas correlated with phonological processing skills. Interestingly, the team discovered that members of the group with a family history of dyslexia showed a reduced activation in these areas even before learning to read. Their discoveries suggest that the left temporoparietal region of the brain in this group reflect an inability to map phonemes to graphemes. In other words, their brains simply were not adequately developed to match language sounds with their written counterparts. In addition, this same region of the brain – also known as the “visual word form area” – seems to be involved in processing words during reading in both children and adults. 

The authors unequivocally state, “Developmental Dyslexia can have severe psychological and social consequences, potentially negatively impacting a child’s life.”  All too often, we identify learning disabilities much too late. In the case of dyslexia, we might make such a diagnosis and begin interventions halfway through elementary school, but by then we have much catching up to do. If these students’ vocabulary skills and motivation to read have already been compromised, the climb back may be much more difficult than if had the situation been identified earlier.

Research like that of Raschle, Zuk and Gaab will help us begin to address learning disabilities at the neurological and physiological levels much earlier in life. Through very early diagnosis and intervention, we may one day be able to more effectively ameliorate – and maybe even eliminate – the distressing experience of developmental dyslexia.

Read this study to learn how Fast ForWord helped significantly improve reading skills in children with dyslexia.

Reference:

Gaab et al., 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.

Raschle, N. M., Zuk, J. and Gaab, N., 2012, "Functional characteristics of developmental dyslexia in left-hemispheric posterior brain regions predate reading onset." PNAS, v. 109, p. 2156–2161.

Related Reading:

Dyslexic Learners Dramatically Improve Reading Skills with Fast ForWord

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

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Categories: Brain Research, Fast ForWord, Special Education

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What Blended Learning Looks Like: Great Teachers and Proven Technology

 

Technology and blended learning

In a previous post I discussed some benefits of blended learning.  Now I’d like to share how those benefits might be achieved within a hypothetical blended learning “classroom” using the Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant programs together in addition to a core curriculum and other technology.

The Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant programs are adaptive, technology-based tools that allow each student to receive differentiated instruction and progress at their own pace. While much of the work can be done independently, teachers play a critical role in reinforcing the concepts covered in the programs and intervening when students have difficulties.

With these programs:

  • Productivity is increased – for both teachers and students
    • After completing the Fast ForWord program, students typically become more productive because they are more focused and confident, and are better able to understand and retain what is taught in the classroom.  When cognitive ability improves, learning is accelerated and behavioral issues are often reduced.
    • With the Reading Assistant program’s proprietary technology, every student receives the personalized oral reading practice and corrective feedback that would take hours for a teacher to provide individually without it.  Students can complete this reading practice independently while teachers provide other students with small group instruction and intervention. Students benefit more from the time they spend reading with the Reading Assistant program, as guided oral reading is the most effective method for building fluency (according to the April, 2000 report of the National Reading Panel[i]).
  • Students move at their own pace and excel
    • The Fast ForWord program progressively builds cognitive, language, and reading skills, adapting to provide individualized challenge and feedback to each learner.  Within a short time of starting the program, a group of students will be on different learning paths based on individual strengths and weaknesses.
    • The Reading Assistant guided oral reading program provides leveled reading selections based on grade and Lexile level.  Students listen to a modeled reading of each selection before they read aloud, and can listen again as often as needed.  After reading a selection aloud, students can view their fluency rate on that selection and an individualized list of words that need more practice.
  • Students receive “just-in-time” intervention
    • With the Fast ForWord program, students receive immediate feedback indicating whether an answer is correct (a ping) or incorrect (they hear a clunk or else the target statement is repeated and they are shown the correct response). This information is a help to the learner the next time that item appears.
    • In the Reading Assistant program, students receive immediate corrective feedback on pronunciation in the teachable moment when they stumble on a word or get stuck on a word they do not know while reading aloud.  Additional real time support is provided via a glossary that pronounces a key word when it is clicked, defines it, and provides an example of how it is used in a sentence (Spanish pronunciation is also heard if the teacher has turned on that option).  Pronunciation support can be accessed for any other word to hear it read orally.
  • Teachers group students more effectively
    • The Fast ForWord program provides error reports that allow teachers to see what types of mistakes students are making in areas such as subject-verb agreement and other grammatical areas.  With these reports, teachers are able to group students for re-teaching in the areas of difficulty before the students practice those skills again in the Fast ForWord exercises.
    • Teachers can use the performance level indicators (Emerging, Developing, and Proficient) in the Reading Assistant reports to group students for additional reading activities.  The comprehension report that breaks the quiz questions down by type (cause and effect, inferential, etc.) also provides information that helps teachers identify students to group together for additional or re-teaching activities.
  • Students construct meaning rather than just memorizing (and forgetting) facts
    • Constructing meaning is crucial in learning.  The Fast ForWord program helps students process more efficiently so they understand and retain more of what they hear and read, retrieve vocabulary and information more easily, and better apply what they learn.  With the additional demands of the Common Core State Standards and the increased rigor in content areas, students must have cognitive skills that are strong enough to allow them to truly understand, assimilate and generalize classroom instruction.
  • Learning opportunities are created across grade levels, subjects, departments and between teachers and students
    • Because learners work independently on individualized learning paths, the Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant programs can be implemented in multiage, subject-independent settings.  Both programs offer students and teachers an opportunity to learn about learning by understanding the principles of frequency, intensity, adaptivity, and timely motivation upon which the learning acceleration software is based.
  • Problem-solving is taught in multidisciplinary units
    • Within the Reading Assistant program, about half of the content is non-fiction, and much of that relates to science and social studies.  Students must answer both guided reading questions and quiz (comprehension) questions for each selection.  The program provides teachers with lesson plans enabling them to extend the learning within these thematic units to other content areas.

The internet allows us to learn and experience the world in a new way and blended learning can help make the most of it for a generation of students for whom technology is a way of life.  Technology isn’t replacing teachers but it certainly can enhance both learning and teaching opportunities and effectiveness.

[i] Report of the National Reading Panel. Teaching Children to Read: An Evidence-Based Assessment of the Scientific Research Literature on Reading and Its Implications for Reading Instruction. http://www.nationalreadingpanel.org/Publications/summary.htm. June 21, 2012.

Related Reading: 

Blended Learning Implementation Strategies for the K-12 Classroom

The Role of the Teacher in Blended Learning: Data, Management, and Student Support

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Categories: Education Trends, Fast ForWord, Reading & Learning, Reading Assistant

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Characteristics of Rapidly Improving Schools with Bill Daggett

Rapidly improving schools

In one of my favorite Scientific Learning webinars, "Our Changing Education Landscape", Dr. Bill (Willard) Daggett outlines a proven, step-by-step blueprint for successful change in the rapidly evolving education landscape. Dr. Daggett shares the results of a study conducted jointly by the organization he leads—the International Center for Leadership in Education—which locates and evaluates the most rapidly improving elementary, middle, and high schools in the United States—and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

The findings were encouraging and inspiring: Dr. Daggett asserts that contrary to popular opinion, schools are actually improving, especially those that are adjusting well to the deeper needs and transitioning priorities of 21st century education. In the webinar, Daggett presents the three stages (Why, What and How) these schools go through when undertaking their evolution into successful 21st century schools.

WHY

Educators at the nation's most rapidly improving schools first come to the realization that they have the power to change things.  They actively decide to take responsibility for problems in the education system and identify themselves as the solution. Once that breakthrough is made, they begin to foster a culture to support change...and success follows.  Coupled with other, practical motivations (e.g., the accelerated pace of technological developments, globalization, etc.), this shift in perspective gives school leaders plenty of incentive (WHY) to make the necessary changes to survive and thrive in the changing education landscape.

WHAT

Schools that are rapidly improving have taken the time to identify exactly WHAT it is they need to change, and then decisively put into place innovative methods to make those changes. This requires a frank look at current and often antiquated models of teaching and evaluation, as well as the development of forward-looking models, which focus on interdisciplinary collaboration, significant real world application, and an embrace of technology (by both students and teachers).

HOW

Daggett suggests a three-year transition plan for schools considering HOW to re-imagine themselves in the changing landscape. It takes time to make the full transition to the Common Core State Standards, and to switch from old to new paradigms that focus on rigorous academic standards. Daggett also touches on the need for educators  at all levels and in all subjects to prioritize reading proficiency, and uses the  Lexile Framework  (a system for measuring reading skills) to illuminate relevant statistics on how schools fall short.

 

 

About the presenter: Willard R. Daggett, Ed.D., CEO of the International Center for Leadership in Education, is recognized worldwide for his proven ability to move preK-12 education systems towards more rigorous and relevant skills and knowledge for all students. He has assisted a number of states and hundreds of school districts with their school improvement initiatives. He serves on several advisory boards, including the NASA Education Advisory Board and USA Today's Education Advisory Board.

Related Reading:

Blended Learning Implementation Strategies for the K-12 Classroom

The Role of the Teacher in Blended Learning: Data, Management, and Student Support

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Categories: Education Trends, Reading & Learning

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Using Stories to Teach: How Narrative Structure Helps Students Learn

Teaching narrative structure

Ever since the letter K was a baby, she loved to make her signature sound: ka, ka, ka. K knew that the only other letters in the alphabet that could make her “ka” sound were the letter C (when he didn’t sound like an S) and the letter Q. K enjoyed making her “ka” sound as often as possible in as many words as she could. Soon, however, K also learned that whenever she stood in front of the letter N at the beginning of a word, it was impossible to make her signature sound. At first, K was very sad about this, but after working with N and other letters to make fun words like knot, knob, kneel, and know—words that the other letters could only make with her help—K learned that staying silent sometimes was an important job for a letter, and that many of her alphabet friends also had to be silent from time to time. After a while, K was just as comfortable being silent as she was making her signature “ka” sound.

Scientists have long known that human beings are storytelling creatures. For centuries, we have told stories to transmit information, share histories, and teach important lessons. While stories often have a profound effect on us due to emotional content, recent research also shows that our brains are actually hard-wired to seek out a coherent narrative structure in the stories we hear and tell. This structure helps us absorb the information in a story, and connect it with our own experiences in the world.

Educators can create memorable learning experiences for their students by harnessing the power of storytelling in the classroom. A 2010 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed an intimate connection between the brain activity of speakers and listeners in conversation, demonstrating how the brain of an engaged listener “syncs up” with a speaker. By engaging students with compelling stories that impart important material, teachers reach students both emotionally and biochemically, increasing the potential for rich learning experiences.

Creating a compelling story with a coherent narrative structure requires attention to detail, descriptive language, and a beginning, middle, and end of some sort. Different kinds of stories produce different kinds of reactions:  personal stories from the teacher’s own experience can help create and solidify strong bonds between educator and student, while stories of pure fiction may stimulate imagination.

Spending a little extra time on storytelling during lesson planning and actual classroom time keeps the learning experience highly engaging, creative, and truly, dynamically human. A story-filled classroom also encourages students to relate their own stories (whether factual or fictional), which helps grow their critical thinking, memory, and vocabulary skills.

 

 

Further reading:

Melanie C. Green. Storytelling in teaching. Association for Psychological Science. April 2004.

Related Reading:

5 Reasons Why Your Students Should Write Every Day

The Question Formulation Technique: 6 Steps to Help Students Ask Better Questions

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Categories: Education Trends, Reading & Learning

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Girl Brains and Boy Brains: What Educators and Parents Need to Know

Stereotypes of gender in children

Many a study has laid out the innate physiological differences between the male and female brain. Michael D. De Bellis and his team of researchers, for example, clearly showed how the maturing brain differs between boys and girls, and how those differences vary over the course of regular development.

Based on the work of De Bellis et al., we know, for example, that the proportions of white matter to grey matter predictably vary between the genders. We also know that the volume of the corpus callosum area is proportionally different between males and females. And of course, we know that the varying levels of testosterone and estrogen create behavioral differences, especially during pre-adolescence and adolescence. (2001)

With these findings in mind, the question arises: Can such information help us better educate our young people? And maybe more importantly, should it be used to differentiate instruction based on gender?

Caryl Rivers and Rosalind C. Barnett, authors of The Truth About Girls and Boys: Challenging Toxic Stereotypes About Our Children (Columbia University Press, 2011), argue that boys’ and girls’ brains and ways of thinking are actually much more the same than they are different, and that “the differences that do exist are trivial."

Nevertheless, there is a current trend of well-meaning educators and parents citing these brain differences to support gender stereotypes—a trend that is damaging to learners as individuals and to our society as a whole, says Catherine A. Cardno in her recent EdWeek review of the book. The following are a few of the stereotypes often expounded:

  • Males and females have different aptitudes for math and science.
  • Boys and girls have substantially different communications styles.
  • The sexes are suited for specific career paths solely because of their gender.
  • Boys and girls learn better in single-sex, gender-differentiated learning environments.

She cites a caution the authors make in their introduction, that "Today, parents and educators are being fed a diet of junk science that is at best a misunderstanding of the research and at worst what amounts to a deliberate fraud on the American public."

In her book Pink Brain, Blue Brain, Lise Eliot, associate professor of neuroscience at the Chicago Medical School, discusses her conclusions after comprehensively reviewing the research on the child through adolescent brain. Her conclusion is that there is “surprisingly little evidence of sex differences in children’s brains.” (2009) The real differences, she says, arise from the neuroplastic nature of the brain and how children’s ways of thinking differentiate along gender lines over time as a result of the input they receive via parents, friends, relatives and educators – NOT because of any innate physiological variations between the sexes.

It is thus our role and responsibility as educators to be aware of the pitfalls of gender-based – and all – stereotyping in our classrooms that we may be perpetuating. Only through completely supporting each learner – regardless of their skin color, SES, gender or any other difference – can we ensure that they will reach their greatest potential.

 

 

Further reading:

Rosalind C. Barnett and Caryl Rivers. Why Science Doesn't Support Single-Sex Classes. May 20, 2012. http://www.edweek.org.

Related Reading:

Do Teachers Give Students Math Anxiety?

Stress and the Human Brain

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Categories: Brain Research, Education Trends, Family Focus, Reading & Learning

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So You Think You Know Something About the Brain?

Science of learning

According to a recent EdWeek article, it’s time for educators to step up their understanding of the science of learning.  While educators are increasingly interested in how the brain learns, very few programs certify teachers and administrators in educational neuroscience.  The result is that educators get their knowledge piecemeal from a variety of sources, say the experts—and that approach, though well-intentioned, leads to a fair amount of misinformation.

“In a study of 158 preservice secondary school teachers in the United Kingdom, Mr. Howard-Jones found that more than 80 percent believed incorrectly that students should be taught based on their brains' ‘learning styles,’ and another one in five mistakenly thought a student's brain would shrink if he or she drank fewer than six glasses of water a day.”

How well are you sorting fact from fiction?   Test your knowledge of the brain and learning here.

 

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Disrupting K-12 Education: Innovating Learning with Michael Horn

Innovating learning

Disruptive innovation—that which "disrupts" existing markets with superior, more accessible, and ultimately less expensive offerings—has been occurring in the commercial marketplace for years. Innosight Institute executive director Michael B. Horn's recent Scientific Learning webinar, “Disrupting Class,” focuses on the ways disruptive innovation is already changing 21st century K-12 education for the better.

In the webinar, Horn identifies three prominent gains made possible by the disruptive innovation of online learning:

1) Blended Learning

Horn defines blended learning as "a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online delivery of instruction and content with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace, AND at least in part in a supervised brick and mortar place away from home". He is careful to point out the difference between authentic blended learning, which implies a calibrated balance between the disruptive innovation of online learning and more traditional brick and mortar learning experiences, and the simple application of advanced technology in the classroom, which is not necessarily "blended learning."

2) Communication Capacity

New technologies enable educators and students to communicate, collaborate, and initiate projects with fellow educators and students, literally the world over. Communicating and collaborating worldwide is now as easy as launching your Skype application, and currently unimagined communication vehicles will have great impact on future online learning. Says Horn, "In the next ten years, I can't even imagine where this going to go!"

3) Improved Content

The actual content of online learning is much improved from the "early days" in the 90’s; current content is much more engaging. As software continues to evolve into platforms that allow the creation of user generated content, learning modules, and tools that enable the distribution of very specific content, educators will be able to find material that meets their needs at any particular time.  Khan Academy is perhaps the best known example of this type of user generated content for learners, and appears to represent the emergence of a growing network of content modules that will connect to create a fuller, richer learning experience.

Click here to listen to the entire Disrupting Class webinar—disruption free.

Michael B. Horn is the co-founder and executive director of the education practice of Innosight Institute, a non-profit think tank devoted to applying the theories of disruptive innovation to solve problems in the social sector. In 2008, Horn co-authored the book “Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns” with Harvard Business School Professor Clayton M. Christensen, the father of disruptive innovation theory, and Curtis W. Johnson, president of the Citistates Group.  BusinessWeek named the book one of the 10 Best Innovation & Design Books of 2008.

Related Reading:

Blended Learning Implementation Strategies for the K-12 Classroom

The Making of a 21st Century Educator: 5 Ways to be a Better Teacher in Today’s Classroom

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Categories: Education Trends, Reading & Learning

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Stress and the Human Brain

Stress and the human brain

Why are there more patients coming to my office with complaints of memory problems? Great question, and the typical answer is stress! In the course of human development, our brain developed the acute stress response that promoted survival when we were being chased and threatened by large animals—and it uses the same stress response to react to stressful events in everyday modern life.

A stressor triggers the amygdala in our brain that sets off the alarm bells for the body to prepare to fight or flee. Norepinephrine floods the brain generating a state of hyper focus, the pituitary sets off the adrenal glands and adrenaline cascades through the body. This causes the lungs to expand for more oxygen, the blood flow to increase to large muscles, digestion and reproduction to halt, and processing speed to increase. We are prepared to fight for our survival.

If this beneficial response to life-threatening stressors does not shut off appropriately, it becomes a chronic response that can damage the structure and function of the brain’s hippocampus. The hippocampus is the neighbor of the amygdala and the critical structure for memory and new learning.

The body generates steroid hormones known as glucocorticoids when under stress, and over time these hormones can do structural and functional damage to the hippocampus. This is the reason why chronic stress can cause memory problems. It is common, for example, to see memory deficit in those with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.

The good news is we do have some control over our perceptions and our body’s ability to regain a balanced and relaxed state.

In my practice, I spend time working with patients to first explain with pictures the neuroanatomy and neurophysiology of stress and the brain. This provides a visual to the person. We then identify what the stressors are in the person’s life that are setting off the alarm bells in the brain. Using visualization, relaxation, meditation, and self-talk the person can connect with their amygdala and cool the alarm bells by triggering the “rest and digest” system, also known as the parasympathetic nervous system.

Consider the following tips as a means of cooling the amygdala, thereby promoting hippocampal function and enhancing memory:

  1. Practice daily breathing exercises with deep inhalation (this will set off the stress response) and equally deep exhalation (this will set off the relaxation system). This should be done for three to five minutes twice daily.
  2. Engage in quiet self-talk to help guide your brain to remain calm with emotional equilibrium. You have the power through self-talk to minimize the brain’s tendency to react with panic. By making the process conscious, you will be able to identify your own stress triggers and to work on avoiding the stress response.
  3. Learn how to meditate and to gain mindfulness, as this will free you from conscious and subconscious distraction.
  4. Engage in daily exercise with moderate exertion. Blood flow to the brain can help emotional stability and information processing.
  5. Increase your fish intake to 8 ounces weekly, as the Omega-3s are wonderful for cognition and emotional functions of the brain.
  6. Work on being in the moment and enjoying those you love. Life will always be stressful, unless we do not perceive it that way.

Paul Nussbaum, Ph.D., is a board-certified clinical psychologist specializing in neuropsychology. He is a Fellow of the National Academy of Neuropsychology and American Academy of Clinical Psychology and an adjunct Professor in Neurological Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.  Learn more about Dr. Nussbaum at:  www.paulnussbaum.com or email him at:  drness@me.com.

Related Reading:

Of Rats and Men: How Stress Affects the Brain

Modeling Healthy Choices: Three Habits for Optimal Brain Health

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Categories: Brain Fitness, Reading & Learning

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