Train Your Brain

One thing that I’ve learned during my first semester as a doctoral student is that I really don’t know too much about how the brain works. But I also don’t know too much about how my car works either and I’m okay with that as well.  As long as both of them work, I’m good.

But what I’ve enjoyed this semester is learning about how the brain works.  My undergrad degree is in psychology because I love learning about how people think, why they think that, and how that affects their behavior.  In fact, I think that’s one of the reasons why I enjoy working with my middle schoolers.  It’s like living within a social experiment. Every.single.day.  But I bring that up because one of the assignments in my Multiple Perspectives in Teaching and Learning (MPLT) class is to review two websites that are supposed to help train your brain.  As I went through the various exercises for both sites, I was intrigued…interested…motivated…and definitely engaged.  At the end of the first phase for Lumosity, I even received feedback on how I ranked among people of the same age.  Talk about feeding into my competitive streak!  If I didn’t have to go to bed, I probably would have done those exact same exercises again just to see if my percentages would have gone up.

In reviewing both sites (Lumosity and Brain HQ), I have to say that I’m impressed with the individualized learning components.  Lumosity supports individualized learning as you fill out a basic profile before starting the exercises in order to give you a score based upon people in your like age-group.  Brain HQ does not use personal information, but rather from the get-go uses performance to determine components of the activity.  I didn’t get far enough to see if or how my scores compared to other users.

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It’s interesting to use technology in this type of format.  I’ve used brain teasers that are book-based but I did not receive immediate feedback nor was I moved to different levels based on my performance but rather based on choice…not that I was deterred (remember, my competitive streak?).  However, immediate feedback is something that technology can provide which is motivating to the learner.

screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-9-04-02-pmI’m intrigued by the idea of using technology for game-based learning.  The points, levels, and options to unlock other levels is definitely motivating.  If I didn’t have to go to work this morning, I would have unlocked one more level for sure!  The fact that I’m even intrigued by both of these sites is a testament to their ability to engage the learner.  Believe me when I say that I am not a fan of video games.  I’m terrible…just ask my brother.  Expect for Pole Position.  I rock at that game…you can ask my brother about that as well.  I feel it’s helped to make me the driver I am today.  😉

Lumosity and Brain HQ adapt to the user’s performance.  In both games, the speed and complexity increased when I did well and decreased when I did not.  Lumosity gives immediate feedback (yay!) but I didn’t advance far enough in BrainHQ to see if there was an immediate feedback component.  In fact, the “spot the different bird” game was a bit frustrating to me because I didn’t know why sometimes only a few birds appeared when I clicked versus a whole flock.  Or was that supposed to represent feathers?  Did the whole flock…er feathers…mean I correctly spotted the wrong bird?  Who knows.

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Anyone who has attended my PD sessions knows that I’m a fan of free stuff.  As an educator, I have no problem spending money on my classroom, my students, or my own professional growth.  But I prefer free stuff.  Both Lumosity and Brain HQ are limited free…which is nice.

In evaluating the physical space for learning…because students use devices to access these sites, I don’t foresee any space issues.  However, some students might find it too distracting to use either of these sites with the regular hum of classroom noise.  I would suggest students use earbuds to block out the noise but also cardboard barriers to lessen visual distractions.

I believe sites like these are a valuable enrichment tool, especially for gifted learners, although across the spectrum I suppose these sites could be useful for all learners.  In fact, students who suffer from low-efficacy may be encouraged by using adaptive learning sites.

I believe that video games have a place in learning.  In fact, games that are historically based could help students visualize and remember historical content but having not seen or used any video games for learning in my own classroom, I cannot attest to its true value.  But I do see video games as another avenue for learning.  If the goal is to find something that interests, motivates, or engages students, I think educators need to be open to a wide variety of options.  Educators cannot use their fear of the unknown or bias against their perceived value of technology to automatically write off video games as a viable tool for learning.

#trainyourbrain #gamebasedlearning #yourbrainisamuscle

#InnovatorsMindset Part 4 

“Nothing stops an organization faster than people who believe that the way you worked yesterday is the best way to work tomorrow.” — Jon Madonna

My quest to sketchnote each chapter as a reflection of Couros’ book The Innovator’s Mindset continues…

Chapter 6 focused on discerning the difference between engagement and empowerment. Truth be told, empowerment wasn’t high up on my radar because I was one of those teachers who focused more on the engagement side of learning. Oh, but I’ve had tons of conversations with my #PLN about teaching skills versus content and I understand the important role that both play in student learning. But what stood out to me from this section is the importance…no, the imperativeness (I hope that’s a word) of empowering my students to truly take charge of their learning. It’s not enough to introduce them to the tools and the content, but rather I need to make sure that each child that walks through my door understands that they have the power of choice. In my department, student choice is actually part of our classroom expectations. And we don’t merely pay lip service to the term either. Using a revised version of Marzano’s learning scales, we’ve broken down the standards by skills: Level 3 – describe/define, Level 4 – analyze, Level 5 – synthesize/evaluate/create. Students choose their level of learning for each unit and complete tasks, assignments, and activities for that level. But what I see that we need to do better is give students choice in what they want to study. Sure, we have standards that students will be tested on (district benchmarks, anyone?) but why not give students the power to choose which aspect of the content they would like to explore further? Because we use Haiku Learning for our classes, we could easily create a place for students to curate their learning. In fact, Flipbook is something that we tried last year at the 7th grade level and we (the teachers) loved it! Actually, our students really enjoyed it as well because they could see the Flipboard magazines from the other World History classes and comment/like what they saw. Hmmmm, and the wheels are turning in my head…

Now because I’m about ready to start my doctorate…and because I’m a HUGE geek when it comes to schooling, I’ve already started to read two of the books for this upcoming semester (I know, I know. Please don’t judge me).

What I found interesting is that Couros isn’t just taking about pie-in-the-sky learning experiences for students; what he’s proposing is supported by research. While Couros (2015) states that “it is imperative that we teach learners how to be self-directed and guide their own learning, rather than rely on others to simply engage them” (p. 1368 eBook), the National Research Council (2000) explains the importance of active learning, “New developments in the science of learning also emphasize the importance of helping people take control of their own learning. Since understanding is viewed as important, people must learn to recognize when they understand and when they need more information” (p. 12). Sounds a lot like empowering students is important in order for them to become self-regulated learners.

But it’s not enough to simply talk theory and what if’s. In order to truly make a difference, Couros next focuses on shared vision-making. What the admins want is nice. What the teachers want is nice. What the students want is nice. But without coming together and creating a shared vision about what learning should look like, everyone is really just out for themselves. It’s not easy bringing many stakeholders together for shared vision-making, but it’s one that is absolutely necessary. And I think that schools (mine included) may need to go back to the drawing board or stay at the drawing board until a shared-vision is created and accepted by all.

Reference:

National Research Council (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school: Expanded edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi:10.17226/9853