Personal Reflections – 1

We just finished reviewing another book on brain research and we have some other books in mind, but I thought we would take this summerImage off and spend some time with personal reflections. Ronnie and I are beginning a new stage in our life this summer.  Let me give you some background:

Ronnie grew up in eastern Kentucky and I in south eastern Colorado – or rather those were the family homes as we were both “military brats” with dads who retired from the Army (Ronnie’s dad) or the Air Force (my dad).  We have lived in many, many places – probably too many to count.  Even so, Ronnie finished up his 12 years in the Air Force (active and reserve) at McChord Air Force Base and has lived in the Tacoma area for almost 40 years. I lived in Spain for 17 years, followed by 23 years in the Tacoma area.  We have lived in the same house for 21 years!

Our mutual friends – my former co-workers and our pastor and his wife are close friends. In 1988, my former co-workers from Spain were visiting our church. The ladies got together and talked Ronnie into writing me. We communicated by mail, cassettes and videos for several months before we were able to meet in person. Later, we added phone calls to our communications. We were only actually together in person for about 6 weeks prior to our wedding. The rest was long distance. On July 6, 1991 we were married and I joined Ronnie in Washington State.  Ronnie had owned a Christian bookstore and I was a teacher – that translated into many books.  We have worked with homeschoolers full time since 1994.

Ronnie’s main job has been to sell Christian books and homeschooling materials – general curriculum and materials for clients following a neurodevelopmental plan. On the other hand, my main occupation has been to help homeschoolers through Academy Northwest, Family Academy, Center for Neuro Development and testing. We have had the privilege to have a part in the lives of many families.

Follow www.unlockinglearningpotential.com this summer for each edition of Personal Reflections.

 

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Brain Rule #12 – We are powerful and natural explorers. Brain Rules by Dr. John Medina

Medina’s final brain rule begins with an antidote of his two-year old son who used their pointing game to divert his dad’s attention while he explored “danger” resulting in a bee sting.  Even at two, this boy thought through the process of finding a way to explore.

We have learned much about the human mind in recent years. While decades ago, the idea of an infant brain being anything but a “tabula rasa” or “blank slate” was laughable. Now we know that infants come, in Medina’s words, “preloaded with lots of information-processing software.” (p. 264) In Scriptural terms, “We are fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139)

Medina puts the drive to explore and learn along with our other drives: hunger, thirst and sex. “Babies seem preoccupied by the physical properties of objects. Babies younger than a year old will systematically analyze an object with every sensory weapon at their disposal. … In our household, this usually meant breaking stuff.” P. 265

“Hypothesis testing … is the way all babies gather information. They use a series of increasingly self-corrected ideas to figure out how the world works. They actively test their environment, much as a scientist would: Make a sensory observation, for a hypothesis about what is going on, design an experiment capable of testing the hypothesis, and then draw conclusions from the findings.” P. 265

Andy Meltzoff, in 1979, and John Medina, shortly after the birth of his son, found out that, infants (42 minutes old and 30 minutes old respectively) imitate their world. Both found that newborns, not having seen a tongue before, imitated when the adult stuck his tongue out at the baby.  Further, object permanence – knowing that an object remains even if hidden – develops at about 18 months of age. One such child spent 30 minutes covering and uncovering a cup, laughing loudly.

Between the ages of 14 and 18 months, babies believe everything is theirs and will fight for it. At some point it appears that this begins to change. In addition to testing “object permanence” and “imitation” young children test their parents and other adults. Often, they try temper tantrums to see what they can get from them. How parents respond determines, to a great extent, how long this lasts.

This drive to learn does not stop in childhood. While it was only recently that mainstream science recognized the concept of “neuroplasticity” it is now widely accepted.  In the areas of the brain where learning takes place, new neurons develop and are as malleable as those in a newborn.  Medina tells of two Nobel Prize winners at the University of Washington in their mid-seventies who were still actively exploring.

Dr. Medina’s mother provided an environment that encouraged his exploration. When he expressed an interest in dinosaurs, the house became a museum of dinosaurs. When that interest was replaced by planets and space so did the museum exhibit. “As children get older they find that learning not only brings them joy, but it also brings them mastery. Expertise in specific subjects breeds the confidence to take intellectual risks. If these kids don’t end up in the emergency room, they may end up with a Nobel Prize.” P. 273

Often this cycle is broken. “Fascination can become secondary to ‘What do I need to get the grade?’ But I also believe the curiosity instinct is so powerful that some people overcome society’s message to go to sleep intellectually, and they flourish anyway.” P. 273 “And I think we must do a better job of encouraging lifelong curiosity, in our workplaces and especially in our schools.” P. 274

John Medina believes that a great medical-school model has three components – teaching hospital, a faculty who work in the field and teach and research laboratories. For these reasons such a program is successful and can be a model for other training programs:

1)    Consistent exposure to the real world

2)    Consistent exposure to people who operate in the real world,

3)    Consistent exposure to practical research programs. P. 275-276

Our author envisions a college of education along these same lines where the teachers actually are teaching the young students in the real world while training the future teachers.  Semester classes would concentrate on the brain of the different aged children who the future teachers would teach.  Business school students would actually run a small business.

Medina’s summary of Rule #12: We are powerful and natural explorers.

  • Babies are the model of how we learn – not by passive reaction to the environment but by active testing through observation, hypothesis, experiment, and conclusion.
  • Specific parts of the brain allow this scientific approach. The right prefrontal cortex looks for errors in our hypothesis (‘The sabor-toothed tiger is not harmless’), and an adjoining region tells us to change behavior (‘Run!’).
  • We can recognize and imitate behavior because of ‘mirror neurons’ scattered across the brain.
  • Some parts of our adult brains stay as malleable as a baby’s so we can create neurons and learn new things throughout our lives. P. 280 More information available at: www.brainrules.net

This brings to a close another book on Brain Research. If you have missed any of these, look for them on our blog: www.unlockinglearningpotential.com and our website: www.centerforneurodevelopment.com

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Brain Rules by Dr. John Medina   Brain Rule # 11 – Male and female brains are different.  

Scientists of both sexes agree that the parts of the brain responsible for decision-making (front and prefrontal cortex) are different in males and females. They have found that parts of the front and prefrontal cortex are fatter in women than men. Medina asks the question, “Is bigger better?” Further, there are differences in the limbic system which controls emotions and some types of learning. Other differences are found in the amygdala, responsible for emotions and memory. P. 247

The Battle of the Sexes – As early as Aristotle (384-332 BC) and Martin Luther (1483-1546 AD) there has been a sort of battle between the sexes. Medina quotes Aristotle as saying that females are a deformity. Further, a quote from Luther indicates that he believed girls to be weeds growing faster than boys, good crops. P. 248 In our life time a book, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus: The Classic Guide to Understanding the Opposite Sex by John Gray continues this theme.

 

Modern research has led to a greater understanding, though we still have much to learn. Early we observed that mental retardation occurred more often in males than females. “Many of these pathologies are caused by mutations in any one of the 24 genes within the X chromosome. As you know, males have no backup X. If their X gets damaged, they have to live with the consequences. If a female’s X is damaged, she can often ignore the consequences. This represents to date one of the strongest pieces of evidence showing the involvement of X chromosomes in brain function and thus brain behavior.” Mental health providers see similar sex-based differences in their field. P. 249-250

Boys and girls are different.
Boys and girls are different.

 

“You have probably heard the term left brain vs. right brain. You may have heard that this underscores creative vs. analytic people. That’s a folk tale, the equivalent of saying the left side of a luxury liner is responsible for keeping the ship afloat, and the right is responsible for making it move through the water. Both sides are involved in both processes. That doesn’t mean the hemispheres are equal, however. The right side of the brain tends to remember the gist of an experience, and the left brain tends to remember the details.” P. 250

 

Larry Cahill and other researchers have found that “…women recall more emotional autobiographical events, more rapidly and with greater intensity, than men do. Women consistently report more vivid memories for emotionally important events such as a recent argument, a first date, or a vacation. Other studies show that, under stress, women tend to focus on nurturing their offspring, while men tend to withdraw.” P. 251

 

Men and women cement relationships differently. While women “maintain eye contact, and do a lot of talking” men “rarely face each other directly, preferring either parallel or oblique angles.” “Doing things physically together is the glue that holds their relationships intact.” P. 253

 

Getting the facts straight on emotions is essential for teachers and business professionals. The need to know:

1. “Emotions are useful. They make the brains pay attention.

2. Men and women process certain emotions differently.

3. The differences are a product of complex interactions between nature

and nurture.” P. 256

One teacher noticed a big gap in the performance of her students – girls did much better in the language arts and the boys better in math and science. By allowing the girls to learn math and science separately, the gap disappeared. Though further study is necessary, co-ed classes may hinder learning for all. In business this idea could also help productivity. P. 256-258

Dr. John Medina’s summary of Rule # 11: Male and female brains are different.

  •  “The X chromosome that males have one of and females have two of – though one acts as a backup – is a cognitive ‘hot spot,’ carrying an unusually large percentage of genes involved in brain manufacture.
  • Women are genetically more complex, because the active X chromosomes in their cells are a mix of Mom’s and Dad’s. Men’s X chromosomes all come from Mom, and their Y chromosome carries less than 100 genes, compared with about 1,500 for the X chromosome.
  • Men’s and women’s brains are different structurally and biochemically – men have a bigger amygdala and produce serotonin faster, for example –but we don’t know if those differences have significance.
  • Men and women respond differently to acute stress: Women activate the left hemisphere’s amygdala and remember the emotional details. Men use the right amygdala and get the gist.” P. 260