Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning
Brain Fact Friday “Neuroscience Q&A” Livestream Andrea with Katherine Alexander-Dobrovolskaia

Brain Fact Friday “Neuroscience Q&A” Livestream Andrea with Katherine Alexander-Dobrovolskaia

June 18, 2021

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast, for Brain Fact Friday, episode #140 and our first Livestream event.

I'm Andrea Samadi, author and educator from Toronto, Canada, now living in the United States, (but broadcasting this livestream from my balcony in HI with my co-host Katherine Alexander-Dobrovolskia who is joining us from London, United Kingdom) and like many of our listeners, we have both been fascinated with learning and understanding the science behind high performance strategies in our schools, sports, and the workplace. If you have been listening to our podcast, you will know that we’ve uncovered that if we want to improve our social and emotional skills, and experience success in our work and personal lives, it all begins with an understanding of our brain.

For our FIRST Livestream event, I’ve invited my colleague, and good friend Katherine Alexander- Dobrovolskaia, the owner of Talent Investors, who is joining us from London, United Kingdom. Welcome Kate, thank you for coming on my first Live event. You know why I asked you to be here today, right?

Kate: give me a guess…maybe something about the fact we are broadcasting from Hawaii…maybe because we’ve been friends for almost 10 years, meeting in John Assaraf’s forum, and now taking our Neurocoaching Certification together? You tell me….

Andrea: Kate, since June is the anniversary of when we launched this podcast (June 2019) and now that we are going into our third year of creating bi-weekly episodes, approaching 100K downloads, reaching over 143 countries, I wanted to do something different.  Then add to the mix that this month I hit that mile marker of turning 50, I knew it was time to shake things up.

And you’ve always had an eye for innovation with the work you did with your Best Boss Series[i]. When you did that series, interviewing innovators in business, what do you think stuck out with leaders who rose to the top? What kinds of things did you notice they were doing differently from the rest?

Kate: Answer about what you learned from your Best Boss Series.

Andrea: Well, since this is Brain Fact Friday, I did want to share something we’ve recently learned from our Neuroscience coaching training that we are doing together, and invite the listeners to ask questions in the chat. Anything you’d like to know after listening to this podcast if you have been following us, from how we launched, to secrets of inviting such high-quality guests. What do you want to know? I’ll let Kate answer the questions, and I’ll sit back and relax on my balcony.

Q1: Andrea to Kate: Kate, what would you say is something you have learned recently about the brain, as it has applied to your personal and professional life?

Kate: Answer…something about the brain that’s helped you personally/professionally? What about you, Andrea? What’s something important that sticks out for you?

Andrea: It was probably from episode #100 with Mary Helen Immordino-Yang “We feel, therefore we learn” and the idea that when we connect emotions to learning, what we are studying goes into long-term memory. This brings in Friederike Fabritius’ How the Brain Learns book and her work with peak performance with the idea that we must have FUN with our work to hit those highest levels of peak performance and productivity.

Andrea: What about the listeners? Let me know if you have learned anything from this podcast, or any other area about the brain, and how you’ve used these ideas for improved results?

Answer anything that comes in on the chat….

Q2: Andrea to Kate: I’ve known you for some time now, I think we were accountability partners at one point in time, helping each other stay on track with the projects we were working on. And then life hits, and you’ve had some extremely difficult times, in addition to the Pandemic. How have you been able to stay on track with life, positivity and look after everything that’s going on personally for you if you want to share what’s happened in your personal life that’s really knocked things off course for you? How are you working with the fears that you have around everything you are dealing with?

Kate: How about you, Andrea?

Andrea: During difficult times, I’ve usually found that sticking to routine has helped. Probably because the brain like predictability and doesn’t like change, so keeping a daily routine that starts with consistent sleep/wake times has been a good starting point. Then building everything else around that. I had no idea that research has shown that this consistent sleep/wake time is an important marker for productivity (from the interview with Kristen Holmes) from Whoop.com, so much so, that when you wear the Whoop device, it tells you how consistent you are with your sleep/wake times and this can help your health in ways that research is just discovering to be beneficial. I haven’t had anything as difficult as you have had to deal with, but I am sure our listeners have.

But for those BIG fears…like fear of someone close to you with health problems, I have found Dr. Carolyn Leif’s work to be helpful. I did a podcast on her newest book, Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess: 5 Simple Scientifically Proven Steps to Reduce Stress, Anxiety and Toxic Thinking[ii]

Andrea: For our listeners?  What have you been doing to stay productive during difficult times?

Q3: Andrea to Kate: Kate, I shared with you that an area that I know we could improve on in my household (other than sleep which is so easy to master in HI—I’ve had perfect sleep scores this week because there’s no agenda or time pressure on vacation) but other than this area, it would be our meals.

With the fact that we all have different schedules (the girls train at the gym every night during the school year, so it’s not like we can sit down as a family like my parents did with us growing up) so my dinner is usually at my desk while I’m working and if my husband is home, we will eat together, but it’s not always this simple. So, you sent me an incredible cook book that we can use to try some new recipes together. Can you share how cooking as a family has helped you?

Kate: answers how cooking as a family has helped them to stay closer.

Andrea: How about our listeners? What have you been doing to stay healthy with meals? Or sleep? Since we can’t be on vacation all the time and depending on where you live, it might be difficult to still shop for groceries. My Mom told me they just started to open up shopping in Toronto, but before that, I was shipping her items from Amazon that she couldn’t get locally.

Q4: Andrea to Kate: I know you are a reader, and you always keep me up to date with books that you have been learning from. What books have you been reading this year?

Kate: What about you, Andrea, what books are you reading?

Andrea: I’ve always got the book of the next person I’m interviewing on my phone, and love this part of the podcast. Where else in the world do you get to read someone’s book and then email them and say “hey, can I pick your brain on your book?” and they say sure, and you get to dive deeper into what they have written, and share it? This is the part of the podcast that amazes me every day.

I’ve got to mention Mandy Krueckebrg Lengrich, a longtime listener of the podcast, who has sent me at least 10 books to read/research. I want to spend some time with these books that she is picking up from her studies in the field of educational neuroscience. (Gabor Mate, Nicole Tetreault/Seth Perler) and her most recent referral of the book Into the Magic Shop by James R Doty, M.D.

I’ve also been fascinated with Dr. Bruce Perry’s work, (he’s just released a book with Oprah and my friends stop me on the hiking trails saying…you need to interview Dr. Perry). Episode #53 “Self-Regulation and Your Brain: How to Bounce Back Towards Resiliency” was inspired by his recent webinar series. I asked him to be a guest on the podcast last June 2020 and he was in the middle of writing his book “What Happened to You” with Oprah, and he told me to contact him when he’s finished the book. A year later, his book is out, and I feel like a stalker, but I don’t want to miss an opportunity like that, so I contacted him again, and we are working on getting him on the schedule for October, so this book is always open on my phone.

I’ve also got a fun interview coming in August with Mike Rousell on how surprise impacts the brain. Who doesn’t like surprises? His book comes out in September, so the interview will be released right before this book,

 Andrea: What books are our listeners reading?

Q5: Andrea to Kate: You’ve known me for a while, and I know you love to push me beyond my limits, which I love.  We can all use a friend who doesn’t let you get comfortable. If you look at the speakers I’ve had on the podcast, who would you like to see me interview next? Give me a list of some people.

Andrea: to listeners: who would the listeners like to hear on the podcast next? Send me some ideas.

In Today’s Brain Fact Friday You Will Learn:

✔︎ What brain-based strategy Andrea and co-host Kate have found to be the most useful in their personal and professional life?

Share your favorite brain-based strategy in the Livestream chat.

✔︎ How Kate has been able to stay positive during some difficult life experiences.

Share what you have been doing to stay positive and productive during times of difficulty/challenge.

✔︎ How Kate has used cooking as a family to keep healthy habits during the Pandemic.

Share anything you have been doing as a family to stay healthy and productive.

✔︎ What books are Kate and Andrea reading now?

Share what books have been inspiring you.

✔︎Who does Kate think Andrea should have as a guest on the podcast?

Share ideas of speakers/authors you would like to see on the podcast.

What else? Any other thoughts?

Kate, I want to thank you for almost a decade of friendship, mentorship and learning. Thank you for co-hosting this livestream with me, it’s been a blast.

Thanks to all the listeners who have downloaded an episode, and are supporting the podcast. Thank you for joining the Livestream and sharing your ideas with us.

I’m off to the beach now, and hope everyone enjoys their weekend.

REFERENCES:

[i] Best Boss Series with Katherine Alexander Dobrovolskaia https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/best-boss-series-first-year-conclusions-alexander-dobrovolskaia/

[ii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #106 Review of Dr. Caroline Leaf’s Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess https://www.achieveit360.com/review-of-neuroscientist-and-best-selling-author-dr-caroline-leafs-cleaning-up-your-mental-mess-coming-march-2nd/

Brain Fact Friday on “The Fascinating Discoveries That Link Math, Literacy and the Brain”

Brain Fact Friday on “The Fascinating Discoveries That Link Math, Literacy and the Brain”

June 11, 2021

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast, for Brain Fact Friday and episode #139 on “The Fascinating Discoveries that Link Math, Literacy and the Brain Together.”

If you are listening on iTunes, click here to see the images in the show notes.

I'm Andrea Samadi, author and educator from Toronto, Canada, now living in the United States, and like many of our listeners, have been fascinated with learning and understanding the science behind high performance strategies in our schools, sports, and modern workplaces of the future. If you have been listening to our podcast, you will know that we’ve uncovered that if we want to improve our social and emotional skills, and experience success in our work and personal lives, it all begins with an understanding of our brain.

Our goal with this podcast is to bring the most current neuroscience research to you and make it applicable in your life whether you are a teacher in the classroom, a parent homeschooling, or using these ideas to improve productivity and results in your workplace. The idea is that these strategies will give you a new angle and provide you with a new way of looking at learning, results and productivity, with the brain in mind. As I am researching and uncovering new ideas, I’m also implementing them myself, and making connections to past speakers, so that we can all benefit from the research that is emerging in this new field of educational neuroscience.

 

I want to thank the listeners who have sent me messages through social media[i] about how you are using these ideas in your schools, community and personal lives. It does help to know that these episodes are useful, and how you are using this information, and that it’s not just me who finds the intricacies of the brain and learning to be fascinating.  Thanks so much for the messages.

Back to this week’s Brain Fact Friday.

DID YOU KNOW:

There is a test called the finger gnosis test[ii] (a child holds their fingers under the table and has to tell you which fingers you touch) and “this test is a strong predictor of future mathematical ability” (Dr. Ansari taught us this in our last episode) and that “finger movement and counting are closely associated with the brain?” (David Sousa).

David A Sousa in his book How the Brain Learns Mathematics found “that the region of the brain that controls finger movement is the same region associated with counting” [iii] and he thought it was interesting that finger movement and counting are closely associated in the brain. 

I asked Dr. Ansari what he thought about this, and he agreed there might be something to what David Sousa is thinking. This might explain why Dyslexia (a learning disorder that involves a difficulty with reading) and Dyscalculia (a math learning disability where children struggle with number sense) are so closely related. Dr. Ansari mentioned that 50% of children who struggle with math, also struggle with reading. The two go hand in hand.

We did cover the societal significance of our children or students learning to read proficiently by 3rd grade with last week’s Brain Fact Friday, episode #137[iv] where we examined the math learning disability dyscalculia, that’s closely related to dyslexia, but here’s a quick reminder of the importance of knowing why literacy is so important, especially understanding the implications of NOT staying on top of our children/students who might be struggling with the foundations of reading, or mathematics, at an early age.

When we look at the statistics, the importance of developing the foundational skills of literacy is clear. Just a reminder:

  • 2/3 of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of 4th grade will end up in jail or on welfare. Over 70% of America’s inmates cannot read above a 4th grade level.
  • 1 in 4 children in America grow up without learning how to read at all.
  • Students who don't read proficiently by the 3rd grade are 4 times likelier to drop out of school.
  • Nearly 85% of the juveniles who face trial in the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate, proving that there is a close relationship between illiteracy and crime.

 

When researching Dr. Ansari, I came across similar statistics for students who did not have the foundational skills in mathematics.

Did you know that:

  • “Low numeracy skills are associated with physical illness, depression and incarceration?” (Bynner and Parsons 2005)[v]
  • Students with poor numerical and mathematical skills are more likely to default on their mortgage payments than those with strong mathematical skills “(Gerardi, Goetta and Meier 2013).[vi]

Dr. Daniel Ansari’s interview #138[vii] provided many insights of the importance of understanding how the brain learns, but one of the most profound analogies he gave was about the importance of looking at the foundational competencies in mathematics to help students “build a solid foundation to their learning”[viii] so they build a strong foundation that is not at risk of collapsing.  

The Foundational Skills of Reading and Mathematics

There is a clear case for ensuring our students are proficient readers by 3rd grade, and we have just started to dive deep into strategies for struggling readers with episode #136 with the case study of Lois Letchford[ix] and how she helped her son to overcome dyslexia and graduate with his Ph.D. from Oxford University. Since this episode was released, I have had many emails with stories and case studies to support innovation in this field. Like Dr. Burton Clark[x], who sent me his story about beating the odds and overcoming dyslexia in the field of firefighting. We also can see the importance of developing the foundational skills in mathematics.

The core of reading, Dr. Ansari explains is “connecting sounds to letters” or phonemic awareness that David Sousa explains in depth in his “How the Brain Learns to Read” series and on episode #78[xi] but the core of math, Dr. Ansari reminds us is “connecting quantity to symbols” (or knowing that 3 apples is also three apples).

What Are the Foundational Reading Skills That Should Be in Place By 3rd Grade? 

David Sousa’s How the Brain Learns to Read[xii] has a clear list on page 208, reminding us that

“Teachers make a difference. Students of experienced teachers with knowledge of scientifically-based methods had higher reading achievement scores than students of inexperienced teachers.” (David A Sousa)

Most researchers agree that these skills must be in place by 3rd grade to ensure students will be able to cope with the increased difficulty in future grades.

They must:

  • Master the alphabet
  • Read fluently
  • Understand what students are reading
  • Have strategies to sound out unfamiliar words
  • Be confident in spelling
  • Read almost any book in the elementary school library
  • Write almost anything that falls within a child’s knowledge and experience
  • Have an appetite for reading and writing

Now we learned from our interview #136 with Lois Letchford that learning to read doesn’t come naturally for some children. It’s a serious struggle. But her episode focused on some strategies to help the students who do struggle with reading, and our next interview coming in the third week of June that will feature Michal Ricca[xiii], the Founder of the Now I Can Read Program, from Williston, VT (USA) who has in the past 2 decades, taught over 1,000 students how to read. She will share why she saw the need to create an online reading program for students that has greatly expanded her reach beyond what she was able to do working with students one on one.  Her program helps students with more than reading, but also with the social and emotional aspect that comes along with a student who is struggling, and who just wants to fit in with the other children in their class.

Instructional Strategies to Help Improve Reading Comprehension from David Sousa’s How the Brain Learns to Read (Page 99-101).

  • Using graphic organizers
  • Asking questions
  • Summarizing
  • Mental imagery
  • Paraphrasing

Screen_Shot_2021-06-09_at_125309_PM_copybrb2k...

What Are the Foundational Mathematical Skills That Should Be in Place By 3rd Grade? 

When looking at the foundations to math that Dr. Ansari thinks are important to be in place by 3rd grade, he reminded me that math is much more complicated than reading, and that many skills need to be in place, but he did think that number sense is very important.

Students should understand:

  • Quantities
  • Concepts like more or less
  • Larger and smaller
  • Understanding the order in a line (1st, 2nd, 3rd)
  • Understand that symbols like 7 represent quantities and mean the same thing as seven.
  • Making number comparisons (like 12 is greater than 10)
  • Recognizing relationships between single items and groups of items (seven means one group of seven items)
  • Understand fractions, proportions, multiplying and dividing
  • Also the gradual progress of finger counting to the mental process of adding/subtraction numbers

Instructional Strategies

Dr. Ansari mentioned the 6 evidence-based strategies from the most recent report Assisting Struggling Students with Mathematics.[xiv] I will put the image of the 6 strategies in the show notes, but thought it was important to mention the importance of using number lines, since any time an abstract concept can be visualized, it makes it easier for the student to understand. Lois Letchford mentioned this with her work with her son, and that using a number line with the dates brought the maps they were studying to life.

Screen_Shot_2021-06-09_at_32912_PM_copybawi2....

REVIEW and CONCLUSION with This WEEK’S BRAIN FACT FRIDAY

David Souza uncovered finger movement and counting to be closely associated in the brain and Dr. Ansari spoke about finger gnosis and mathematical ability[xv] and that it is widely known finger gnosis (a child holds their hand under a table and someone touches their fingers, then asks, “which finger did I touch?” The ability to perform this test well is a strong predictor of future mathematical ability.

He also mentioned that even before brain scans, they knew from patients who had damage to the left hemisphere of the brain, the left angular gyrus, they became terrible at finger gnosis and terrible at math.

If you look at the diagram of the brain in the show notes, you will see how close the angular gyrus is to the Wernicke’s area (the part of the brain that controls speech) and the Broca’s area (also linked to speech production).

Screen_Shot_2021-06-09_at_105115_AM_copy6sheb...

This is where Dr. Ansari says “we know that there’s a connection here, but we just don’t know the mechanism” which to me is the fascinating part of this work. Maybe next year, or maybe in 3 years’ time, neuroscience advancements will be made to show exactly what is happening in the brain when we are counting and using our fingers, but for now, we just know there is a connection, but what it is, remains to be discovered.

I hope today’s Brain Fact Friday has made you think, like it has opened up my mind, to all the possibilities that exist when we begin to study and learn this powerful topic of the human brain.

The next time you use your fingers to count something, or you watch someone else doing this, remember that what you are saying and counting with your fingers are firing off pathways in your brain that are very closely connected. I know we can’t see this happening, but we can get a clear image of this happening, and with time, we will learn even more about our brain, learning and ways we can use this information to improve our productive and results.

See you next week.

RESOURCES: 

The Number Sense: How the Mind Creates Mathematics by Stanislas Dehaene April 29, 2011  https://www.amazon.com/Number-Sense-Creates-Mathematics-Revised/dp/0199753873/ref=sr_1_3?dchild=1&keywords=the+number+sense&qid=1623114414&s=books&sr=1-3

REFERENCES:

[i] Contact Andrea Samadi  https://www.achieveit360.com/contact-us/

[ii] Finger gnosis predicts a unique but small part of variance in initial arithmetic performance by Mirjam Wasner, Hans-Christopher Nuerk, Laura Martignon, Stephanie Roesch, Korbinian Moeller June 2016  https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0022096516000163

[iii] How the Brain Learns Mathematics by David A Sousa Sept. 19, 2007 https://www.amazon.com/Brain-Learns-Mathematics-David-Sousa/dp/1412953065 Page 15

[iv] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #137 on “Understanding Dyscalculia: The Math Learning Disability” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/brain-fact-friday-understanding-dyscalculia-the-math-learning-disability/

[v] PEN Distinguished Lecture Series with Dr. Daniel Ansari Published on YouTube Dec.16th, 2020 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0sioNHbGOkg&t=1580s (16:22)

[vi] PEN Distinguished Lecture Series with Dr. Daniel Ansari Published on YouTube Dec.16th, 2020 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0sioNHbGOkg&t=1580s (17:05)

[vii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #138 with Dr. Daniel Ansari on “The Future of Educational Neuroscience” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/professor-and-canada-research-chair-in-developmental-cognitive-neuroscience-and-learning-on-the-future-of-educational-neuroscience/

[viii] PEN Distinguished Lecture Series with Dr. Daniel Ansari Published on YouTube Dec.16th, 2020 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0sioNHbGOkg&t=1580s (18:51)

[ix]Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #136 with a Case Study of Lois Letchford “From Dyslexia to Ph.D. Oxford”  https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/case-study-the-story-of-lois-letchford-from-dyslexia-to-phd-at-oxford-using-neuroscience-to-inspire-learning/

[x] The Dyslectic Legend Who Failed Probation by Dr. Burton Clark Dec. 4, 2020  https://www.firehouse.com/careers-education/article/21165174/the-dyslectic-legend-who-failed-probation

[xi] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #78 with David Sousa on “How the Brain Learns” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/award-winning-author-david-a-sousa-on-how-the-brain-learns/

[xii] David Sousa How the Brain Learns to Read March 2014 https://us.corwin.com/en-us/nam/book/how-brain-learns-read-0

[xiii] Michal Ricca http://www.nowicanread.com/about-us.php

[xiv] Assisting Students Struggling with Mathematics: Intervention in the Elementary Grades March 2021 Institute of Education Sciences with Lynn S. Fuchs https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/Docs/PracticeGuide/WWC2021006-Math-PG.pdf

[xv] The relationship between finger gnosis and mathematical ability by Marcie Penner-Wilger and Michael Anderson December 5, 2013 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3851991/

 

Professor and Canada Research Chair in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience and Learning on “The Future of Educational Neuroscience”

Professor and Canada Research Chair in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience and Learning on “The Future of Educational Neuroscience”

June 7, 2021

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast, EPISODE #138 with Dr. Daniel Ansari[i], a professor and Canada Research Chair[ii] in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience and Learning in the Department of Psychology and the Brain in Mind Institute[iii] at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario where he heads the Numerical Cognition Laboratory.[iv] His name is well-known in the field of educational neuroscience with a focus on numeracy and math which I know our listeners will find fascinating as we make connections with how children acquire math and numeracy, with brain science in mind.

You can watch the interview on YouTube here. 

I'm Andrea Samadi, an educator who has been fascinated with understanding the science behind high performance strategies in schools, sports, and the workplace for the past 20 years. If you have been listening to our podcast, you will know that we’ve uncovered that if we want to improve our social and emotional skills, and experience success in our work and personal lives, it all begins with an understanding of our brain.

Our goal with this podcast is to bring the most current neuroscience research to you and make it applicable in your life whether you are a teacher in the classroom or using these ideas to improve productivity and results in your workplace. As I am researching and learning new ideas, I’m also implementing them myself, and making connections to past speakers, so that we can all benefit from the research that is emerging in this new field of educational neuroscience.

Which brings me to our next guest, who I came across a few months ago while researching neuroscientists who specialize in the field of education. Dr. Daniel Ansari’s name came up as a speaker at the Dropping Out, What Neuroscience Can Teach Us[v] International Symposium on the long-held paradigms of dropout prevention with his session on “The Best Way for Children to Learn Math” and my attention was caught. When I worked at Pearson Education, (2004-2010) I was on a sales team that had a focus on one product, for dropout prevention at the high school level (NovaNET)[vi] and I spent years promoting this program with the hopes of saving students who were at risk of dropping out. This conference was happening just as I had begun to study the brain and learning in 2015, and I only wish I had found it sooner. I wrote down Dr. Ansari’s name on my desk, with the idea that I would look him up, and see if he would come on the podcast as a guest.

Then went back to work on researching in the field of educational neuroscience and the researcher I am working with, Mark Waldman, sent me an article that he thought would be of interest to me with a project I am working on. I opened the article called “Annual Research Review: Educational neuroscience: progress and prospects”[vii] by Michael S.C Thomas, Daniel Ansari, and Victoria C.P. Knowland and immediately contacted Daniel Ansari. I don’t believe in accidents and when someone’s name continues to come to my attention as someone I need to learn from, I don’t waste any time. Without further ado, let’s meet Professor and Canada Research Chair in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience and Learning, Dr. Daniel Ansari.

Welcome Daniel! I was so happy when you wrote back after I contacted you after reading your research abstract on educational neuroscience, thank you so much for being here.

Daniel, you let me know when I first contacted you that you were in lockdown in London, Ontario, Canada, that your son was doing his schooling in your office and as I am writing these questions, I saw that schools in Ontario (where I grew up, got my teaching degree, and was a teacher) have according to Professor Prachi Srivastava, a professor at Western University “the longest school closures in Canada. As of today (June 3rd), 23 weeks since March 2020).” What is going on with the schools in Ontario, and how do you think this is impacting student learning?

 

Q1: Dr. Ansari, when I first began to research this field of educational neuroscience, it was in 2014 when an educator urged me to go in this direction with the leadership/SEL program[viii] I created for middle and high schools, and there wasn’t a lot of resources to follow. There were books to read on learning and the brain and I have interviewed many of these leaders on the podcast (David Sousa, How the Brain Learns Series[ix], John Medina’s Brain Rules[x]) but I certainly had no idea there were undergraduate programs in this field. ((The term educational neuroscience came to me a few years later as I began to learn from Dr. Lori Desautels[xi], who runs the educational neuroscience graduate program at Butler University, but aside from her program, or taking a certification course like I am doing now from a leading researcher, I didn’t know of any pathway that an educator could take to learn more about the brain and how it impacts learning.)) Can you share how you came on this path, that took you from your work in England, to Dartmouth College’s first undergraduate program in neuroscience and perhaps your vision for where this field is going?[xii]

Q2: I’d love to dive into the work you are doing at Western University’s Numerical Cognition Lab where you are studying how children develop numerical skills. I’m sure that you hear this often, and it was the first thing that came across my mind when I began researching your work. Why did you put your focus on numeracy and math? What are the scientific and societal implications that you’ve uncovered to build a case for everyone to look mathematical skills with a new lens?

Q3: Now that you’ve built the case for the importance of numeracy and math for our students/children, and many students have been homeschooled for the past year, so this is information is important for parents, not just for those teaching in the classroom. What are some of the foundational numerical skills that our children/students should be proficient with by 3rd grade (since 3rd grade is such an important marker for literacy) and how can we be sure to not put our fear of math (if we have it) onto our students or children?

Q4: I watched the video on your website[xiii] that gives an overview of the work you are doing in your lab, and it caught my attention with the brain imaging you are doing to see how the brain’s structure and function impact our mathematical abilities. The only research I have come across so far on the brain and mathematics is David Sousa’s “How the Brain Learns Mathematics”[xiv] and in this book he says that with brain imaging they came across an interesting finding that he wasn’t sure was coincidental. They found “that the region of the brain that controls finger movement is the same region associated with counting”[xv]  and he thought it was interesting that finger movement and counting are closely associated in the brain. Do you have any interesting findings like this (linking brain functions) that would be interesting and helpful for teachers learning to integrate brain science into their lessons, or parents homeschooling? What are you seeing with your brain scans?

Q5: We just released a podcast on a fascinating story of a child who had a developmental reading disorder, who failed 1st grade in 1994, yet went on to graduate with his Ph.D. from Oxford in 2018 with brain-based learning strategies. Can you explain a brief overview of Developmental Dyscalculia, how we can recognize it with our children/students and some strategies we could all use to help those who show the signs of this brain-based disorder, so it doesn’t dictate their future?

Q6: What is your vision for the future of education, and how educational neuroscience can advance our understanding of best practices to accelerate learning, social/emotional and academic?

 

Thank you for your time, research and strategies linking neuroscience to the future of learning. If people want to learn more about your work, I will put your website in the show notes numericalcognition.org and social media links Twitter @NumCog. Is there anything else we should know about that I have missed or any final thoughts?

 

Thank you, Dr. Ansari.

Dr. Daniel Ansari

Website http://www.numericalcognition.org/

Twitter https://twitter.com/NumCog

RESOURCES:

Dartmouth College Educational Neuroscience Undergraduate Program https://pbs.dartmouth.edu/undergraduate/neuroscience

Donna Coch Faculty of Education https://educ.dartmouth.edu/

Bridges over troubled waters: education and cognitive neuroscience by Daniel Ansari, Donna Coch March 10, 2006 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16530462/

Casel’s SEL State Initiative https://casel.org/collaborative-state-initiative/

Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #77 with University Professors and Authors Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey on “Developing and Delivering High Quality Distance Learning for Students” Published on YouTube August 4, 2020 H https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7nLe3P50j4Q

The British Psychological Society https://www.bps.org.uk/

What is Number Sense? https://www.understood.org/en/learning-thinking-differences/child-learning-disabilities/math-issues/number-sense-what-you-need-to-know

How number-spaced relationships are assessed by Katarzyna Patro, Hans-Christopher Nuerk, Ulrike Cress, and Maciej Haman May 14, 2014. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4030170/

David Sousa’s “How the Brain Learns Mathematics” Sept. 19, 2007 https://www.amazon.com/Brain-Learns-Mathematics-David-Sousa/dp/1412953065

The Number Sense: How the Mind Creates Mathematics by Stanislas Dehaene April 29, 2011  https://www.amazon.com/Number-Sense-Creates-Mathematics-Revised/dp/0199753873/ref=sr_1_3?dchild=1&keywords=the+number+sense&qid=1623114414&s=books&sr=1-3

What explains the relationship between spatial and mathematical skills? A review of evidence from brain and behavior by Zachary Hawes and Daniel Ansari January 2020 https://link.springer.com/article/10.3758/s13423-019-01694-7

Hand 2 Mind Math Tool Kits https://www.amazon.com/hand2mind-Manipulative-Toolkit-Grade-Hands/dp/B07S259K8N

https://www.college-de-france.fr/site/en-stanislas-dehaene/presentation.htm

The relationship between finger gnosis and mathematical ability by Marcie Penner-Wilger and Michael Anderson December 5, 2013 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3851991/

The role of fingers in number processing in young children by Anne LaFay, Catherine Thevenot, Caroline Castel, and Michael Fayol July 30, 2013  https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00488/full

Assisting Students Struggling with Mathematics: Intervention in the Elementary Grades March 2021 Institute of Education Sciences with Lynn S. Fuchs https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/Docs/PracticeGuide/WWC2021006-Math-PG.pdf

https://www.understood.org/en/learning-thinking-differences/child-learning-disabilities/dyscalculia/what-is-dyscalculia

REFERENCES:

 

[i] Daniel Ansari  https://www.edu.uwo.ca/faculty-profiles/daniel-ansari.html

[ii] https://www.psychology.uwo.ca/about_us/achievements.html

[iii] Brain in Mind Institute https://www.uwo.ca/bmi/

[iv] http://www.numericalcognition.org/

[v] Dropping Out, What Neuroscience Can Teach Us International Symposium, Quebec, Canada, 2015. https://www.edcan.ca/event/dropping-out-what-neuroscience-can-teach-us/

[vi] Pearson’s NovaNET https://www.pearson.com/content/dam/one-dot-com/one-dot-com/ped-blogs/wp-content/pdfs/dc1-pearsondigitallearning-novanet-research-based.pdf

[vii] Annual Research Review: Educational neuroscience: progress and prospects by Michael S.C. Thomas, Daniel Ansari and Victoria C.P. Knowland (April 2019)  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6487963/

[viii] Andrea Samadi’s Level Up Program, Books and Tools for the Classroom https://www.achieveit360.com/courses/

[ix] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #78 with David Sousa on “How the Brain Learns” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/award-winning-author-david-a-sousa-on-how-the-brain-learns/

[x] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #42 with Dr. John Medina on “Implementing Brain Rules in our Schools and Workplaces of the Future” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/dr-john-medina-on-implementing-brain-rules-in-the-schools-and-workplaces-of-the-future/

[xi] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #56 with Dr. Lori Desautels “Connections Over Compliance: Rewiring Our Perceptions of Discipline” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/educational-neuroscience-pioneer-dr-lori-desautels-on-her-new-book-about-connections-over-compliance-rewiring-our-perceptions-of-discipline/

[xii] https://pbs.dartmouth.edu/undergraduate/neuroscience

[xiii] http://www.numericalcognition.org/

[xiv] How the Brain Learns Mathematics by David A Sousa Sept. 19, 2007 https://www.amazon.com/Brain-Learns-Mathematics-David-Sousa/dp/1412953065

[xv] How the Brain Learns Mathematics by David A Sousa Sept. 19, 2007 https://www.amazon.com/Brain-Learns-Mathematics-David-Sousa/dp/1412953065 Page 15

Brain Fact Friday “Understanding Dyscalculia: The Math Learning Disability”

Brain Fact Friday “Understanding Dyscalculia: The Math Learning Disability”

June 4, 2021

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast, for Brain Fact Friday and episode #137.

In Today’s Brain Fact Friday You Will Learn:

✔︎ Why the Foundational Skills in Literacy and Mathematics are so Important.

✔︎ How Students with Reading Difficulties and Like Students with Math Difficulties.

✔︎ An Introduction to Dyscalculia: The Math Learning Disability.

✔︎ How to Recognize Dyscalculia, and Strategies to Assist Students Who Struggle with Math.

✔︎ Many Celebrities Have Dyscalculia and Dyslexia: It’s Not a Matter of Intelligence.

I'm Andrea Samadi, a former educator who has been fascinated with understanding the science behind high performance strategies in schools, sports, and the workplace for the past 20 years. If you have been listening to our podcast, you will know that we’ve uncovered that if we want to improve our social and emotional skills, and experience success in our work and personal lives, it all begins with an understanding of our brain.

Our goal with this podcast is to bring the most current neuroscience research to you and make it applicable in your life whether you are a teacher in the classroom or using these ideas to improve productivity and results in your workplace. The idea is that these strategies will give you a new angle and provide you with a new way of looking at learning, with the brain in mind. As I am researching and learning new ideas, I’m also implementing them myself, and making connections to past speakers, so that we can all benefit from the research that is emerging in this new field of educational neuroscience.

The Importance of The Foundational Skills: Literacy and Mathematics

Which brings us to this week’s Brain Fact Friday and the connections I made while recording episode #136[i] with Lois Letchford, and her son who failed first grade in 1994 when testing revealed he could only read 10 words, had no strengths and a low IQ and was clearly struggling with his academics in his early years.  Thank goodness his Mother figured out that he needed to learn how to read with different learning strategies that you can learn about in episode #136, and see how her son defied the odds he was given at an early age and graduated from Oxford University with his Ph.D.

What would have happened to Nicholas Letchford if he didn’t have such a happy ending to his story? If he did not find a different way to build those foundational skills that he needed for literacy achievement?  I remembered a webinar I prepared for the educational publisher, Voyager Sopris Learning in 2018 on “Nine Brain-Based Strategies to Skyrocket Literacy Achievement”[ii] and in the introduction to this webinar, I talk about the U.S. statistics that emphasize the importance of our children learning to read proficiently by 3rd grade.

Did you know that:

  • 2/3 of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of 4th grade will end up in jail or on welfare. Over 70% of America’s inmates cannot read above a 4th grade level.
  • 1 in 4 children in America grow up without learning how to read at all.
  • Students who don't read proficiently by the 3rd grade are 4 times likelier to drop out of school.
  • Nearly 85% of the juveniles who face trial in the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate, proving that there is a close relationship between illiteracy and crime. More than 60% of all inmates are functionally illiterate.

And these shocking statistics lead to high drop-out rates, low graduation rates and college completion, illiteracy, incarceration, and welfare, proving that when a student is struggling with their reading, there is so much more at stake than what meets the eye.

Then I began researching for episode #138 with Dr. Daniel Ansari, a professor, and Canada Research Chair[iii] in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience and Learning in the Department of Psychology and the Brain in Mind Institute[iv] at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario where he heads the Numerical Cognition Laboratory[v] and I learned from Dr. Ansari that in addition to the importance of developing these foundational reading skills, he emphasized the importance of developing the foundational skills in numeracy and math saying that “low numeracy skills is associated with physical illness, depression and incarceration”[vi] and even that “students with poor math skills were likely to default on their mortgage”[vii] later in life. This builds a clear case for the need for intervention if a student is struggling with reading or math in their early years.

 

For this week’s Brain Fact Friday, I am sure you have heard of the term dyslexia for students who have difficulty with reading, problems with spelling and mispronunciation of words, but did you know there was a term like this for those who have specific difficulties learning mathematics?

Dyscalculia: The Math Learning Disability

Dyscalculia: “is a math learning disability that impairs an individual’s ability to learn number-related concepts, perform accurate math calculations, reason and problem solve, and perform other basic math skills”[viii]  and usually “co-occurs with dyslexia.”[ix]  I will dive deeper into this brain-based disorder on my interview with Dr. Ansari next week, but until then, if you want to learn more about recognizing the signs and symptoms of dyscalculia, with engaging and fun strategies to help your students or children learn mathematics, you can learn more with these resources below.

To learn more about Dyscalculia, watch the video with Dr. Ansari here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRJS-jeZ7Is

You will learn:

  • What is Dyscalculia?[x]
  • Areas of difficulty (seeing how numbers fit together, counting, calculating, recalling math facts, using concepts like less than, greater than, reading a clock, working with money, not able to count backwards reliably, tendency not to notice patterns, inability to manage time in daily life).
  • Strategies to help students learn: Using manipulatives for counting, number lines and other visual tools to help solve problems and provide students with extra time so they can organize their thinking.
  • Educational Companies: Like ETA Cuisenaire (now Hand2Mind)[xi] who have created what they call “Cuisenaire Rods[xii]” to help students learn math in a more fun and enjoyable way.

Remember that students who have learning challenges like dyslexia with reading, or dyscalculia with math, can be just as successful in their life, future, and careers as those who do not have these challenges.  Just ask Alexander Graham Bell, Albert Einstein, John Lennon, Muhammed Ali, Steven Spielberg, Henry Winkler, Tom Cruise, Whoopi Goldberg, Walt Disney, Jay Leno and Keira Knightly, who all grew up with dyslexia and it was noted that Bill Gates, Henry Winkler, Cher, Mary Tyler Moore, and Benjamin Franklin also had dyscalculia.  Like we saw in episode #136 with Lois Letchford’s son Nicholas, children can be extremely successful in their life and future, if they are given the learning strategies that they need to help them to succeed whether it’s with learning to read, or with mathematics.

 

REVIEW OF THIS WEEK’S BRAIN FACT FRIDAY:

Dyscalculia: “is a common math learning disability that impairs an individual’s ability to learn number-related concepts, perform accurate math calculations, reason and problem solve, and perform other basic math skills”[xiii]  and usually “co-occurs with dyslexia.”[xiv] 

Stay tuned for episode #138 with Dr. Daniel Ansari, who I know will open our eyes with new connections with the neuroscience of learning.

See you next week.

RESOURCES:

What is Dyscalculia with Dr. Daniel Ansari https://www.understood.org/en/learning-thinking-differences/child-learning-disabilities/dyscalculia/what-is-dyscalculia  

One page information sheet about Dyscalculia https://assets.ctfassets.net/p0qf7j048i0q/5RsIIt1qjD0YvAsE9snkHV/21d0ca1ccedcdc87385fbe591506d10e/Dyscalculia_Fact_Sheet_Understood.pdf

Celebrities with dyslexia, ADHD and dyscalculia by Amanda Morin  https://www.understood.org/en/learning-thinking-differences/personal-stories/famous-people/success-stories-celebrities-with-dyslexia-adhd-and-dyscalculia

https://drlindasblog.com/famous-people-with-dyscalculia/

The Difference Between Dyslexia and Dyscalculia by Peg Rosen https://www.understood.org/en/learning-thinking-differences/child-learning-disabilities/dyslexia/the-difference-between-dyslexia-and-dyscalculia

Dyscalculia and Dyslexia: Different behavioral, yet similar brain activities during arithmetic by Lien Peters, Jessica Bulthe, Nicky Daniels, Hans Op de Beeck, Bert De Smedt July 4, 2017 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2213158218300731

REFERENCES:

[i] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #136 with Lois Letchford on “

[ii] Nine Brain-Based Strategies to Skyrocket Literacy Achievement Voyager Sopris Learning EDVIEW 360 Webinar Series with Andrea Samadi https://www.voyagersopris.com/webinar-series/andrea-samadi-webinar-form

[iii] https://www.psychology.uwo.ca/about_us/achievements.html

[iv] Brain in Mind Institute https://www.uwo.ca/bmi/

[v] http://www.numericalcognition.org/

[vi] PEN Distinguished Lecture Series with Dr. Daniel Ansari Published on YouTube Dec.16th, 2020 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0sioNHbGOkg&t=1580s

[vii] Ibid.

[viii]American Psychiatric Association. (2018, November). What is Specific Learning Disorder?  https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/specific-learning-disorder/what-is-specific-learning-disorder

[ix] Morsanyi, K., van Bers, B., McCormack, T., & McGourty, J. (2018). The prevalence of specific learning disorder in mathematics and comorbidity with other developmental disorders in primary school-age children. British journal of psychology (London, England : 1953), 109(4), 917–940. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjop.12322

[x] What is Dyscalculia with Dr. Daniel Ansari https://www.understood.org/en/learning-thinking-differences/child-learning-disabilities/dyscalculia/what-is-dyscalculia  

[xi] ETA Cuisenaire, now Hand2Mind https://www.hand2mind.com/

[xii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuisenaire_rods

[xiii]American Psychiatric Association. (2018, November). What is Specific Learning Disorder?  https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/specific-learning-disorder/what-is-specific-learning-disorder

[xiv] Morsanyi, K., van Bers, B., McCormack, T., & McGourty, J. (2018). The prevalence of specific learning disorder in mathematics and comorbidity with other developmental disorders in primary school-age children. British journal of psychology (London, England : 1953), 109(4), 917–940. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjop.12322

Case Study: The Story of Lois Letchford: From Dyslexia to Ph.D. at Oxford “Using Neuroscience to Inspire Learning”

Case Study: The Story of Lois Letchford: From Dyslexia to Ph.D. at Oxford “Using Neuroscience to Inspire Learning”

June 1, 2021

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast, EPISODE #136 I'm Andrea Samadi, a former educator who has been fascinated with understanding the science behind high performance strategies in schools, sports, and the workplace for the past 20 years. If you have been listening to our podcast, you will know that we’ve uncovered that if we want to improve our social and emotional skills, and experience success in our work and personal lives, it all begins with an understanding of our brain.

Watch the interview on YouTube here.

My goal with this podcast is to bring the most current neuroscience research to you and make it applicable in your life whether you are a teacher in the classroom, or using these ideas to improve productivity and results in your workplace. As I am researching and learning new ideas, I’m also implementing them myself, and making connections to past speakers, so that we can all benefit from the research that is emerging in this new field of educational neuroscience.

Today’s episode features Lois Letchford[i], the author of the book Reversed: A Memoir[ii], that tells the story of her son who failed first grade in 1994. His prognosis was dire. Testing revealed he could read 10 words, had no strengths, and a “low IQ.”  The first few chapters of her book are painful for a parent to read, and even worse if you’re a teacher or a coach, knowing how important your role is for shaping the lives of the students who come before you.

Her book sets the stage for just how chilling, and impactful their story is. I’ll read it slowly because there’s lots to think about here.

Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.  —THE IMITATION GAME

I have to spoil the story, and tell you there is a happy ending, with Lois’ son defying the odds he was given at an early age and graduating with his Ph.D. in 2018 from Oxford University.[iii]  I can just see this story as a movie, especially when I saw the book trailer on YouTube[iv], with the beautiful and prestigious University in the background, where scholars go to earn their degrees, where one young man would work harder than most to achieve what many only dream of. This story is of dreams becoming reality, where a Mother used the principles, she learned from Dr. Immordino Yang, to help her son to achieve his dreams.

This is our third case study on the podcast, with our first with Bridgid Ruden, and her story of overcoming a severe traumatic brain injury, and then with Barbara Arrowsmith-Young and her story of changing her brain and leaving her learning disability behind. Both of these stories moved me to such an extent that I realized the importance of featuring examples of people who have used the strategies we suggest on this podcast, with outstanding results.  Which brings us to the fascinating story of Lois Letchford. She had the opportunity to homeschool her son for six short months. During this time, she applied all the principals of learning provided by Dr. Immordino Yang. It turned her son’s life around – and hers too. 

Lois Letchford BIO:

Lois Letchford specializes in teaching children who have struggled to learn to read. Her creative teaching methods vary depending on the reading ability of the student, employing age-appropriate, rather than reading-age-appropriate, material. Her non-traditional background, multi-continental exposure, and passion for helping failing students have equipped her with a unique skill set and perspective. Originally a physical education teacher, she later completed a Master's in Literacy and Reading from the State University of New York at Albany. Lois has presented her work at The California Reading Association, Michigan Summer Institute, and New York State Reading Association conferences. She is co-president of the Albany City Reading Association and a member of the Australian College of Education. Lois continues to work with students to provide education and support to their teachers.

Let’s meet Lois Letchford, and hear her story, with the hopes that it will inspire you to look at your students in a different light, or your own child, and see the unlimited potential that just might need some extra fanning, and new ideas or strategies to ignite their excellence.

Welcome Lois! Thank you for reaching out to me with your fascinating life’s story on teaching and learning that you tell so beautifully in your book Reversed.

Q1: Just to set the stage for those who have not yet ready you book, when you got that phone call that day, waiting the news that Nicholas had passed his final tests for his PHD and he said, “you can write your book now” I wondered how he handled the fact that this was his story of struggle going out to the world.  Do you think he realized that it was time to show others that there is always a way by sharing his story of determination, struggle and success?

Q2: When I read your recollection of his life at school in PART 1 of your book “He sits alone every lunch time, every day” or “He has no friends, and no communication with anyone. It’s almost like he is an outcast” I couldn’t help but remember a young kid like this in my class...now this was middle school, and this kid, would sit by himself and not say a word. It wasn’t his academics he struggled with, but more the social aspect of school, making friends and there was this group of us who all worked hard to make him feel included and a part of everything. I think it took a good year before he finally found his place, and It wasn’t hard to find him a few years ago, hes now a doctor. How did Nicholas keep his fire going through those difficult early years without those early relationships to “shape” his social and emotional development?

Q3: When I was reading your story, of the struggles to learn, I couldn’t help but to think of the extra work I’ve put in with my youngest daughter. Not even close to your story, but listeners who have noticed their child, or a student who needs constant support (not all children are the same—my oldest achieves perfect scores with little effort, but my youngest,  if I think back to kindergarten, it was with the letters of alphabet, to counting numbers by 5, progressing to vocabulary or spelling words I would print off in squares, cut out and then carry with us in the car to practice. Flashcards galore, they were everywhere in my house. The extra work built around trying whatever possible to inspire learning. Your ship at sea analogy made sense to me. Complete sense. I remember the moment I felt the same way. Can you explain why reading more books, working harder, doing the same thing, was not the answer with your ship at sea analogy?

Q4: Here I go tearing up again as I write my questions for you. It must be something to do with the process of teaching and learning. There’s something extremely powerful to me of educational institutions where you can “feel” the learning that has taken place before you. I used to spend time at the University of Toronto’s Hart House gym, and it was a feeling I’d never forget. I actually still have a towel from this gym to remind me of that feeling. Walking through these old buildings, looking at the athletes on the wall, wondering who they were. Exactly like Robin Williams in the movie “Dead Poet Society.”  Can you share what it was like teaching Nicholas to read maps, “on the outskirts of Oxford University, a seat of learning for almost one thousand years” (page 100)?

Q5: I also have tried everything to “make learning fun” and felt for you when Nana said “put the books away and make learning fun” and you said “But how do I do that?” How was learning for you growing up  and at what point did you discover that you had Dyslexia? What strategies did you use to find the joy in the learning?

Q6: What were some shifts that helped Nicholas with his learning?

Q7: How did you come across Mary Helen Immordino-Yang and what specifically helped you from her work?

Q8: What were some of the secrets that you think got you out of this Quagmire (I had to look that up!)  I must be a British term my Mum didn’t use.  She would have said jam or pickle. How can parents or teachers listening implement some of the ideas that you found to be the most useful for Nicholas?

Q9: What are you currently working on now? Where can people learn more about your innovative teaching methods?

Q10: Have I missed anything important you would like me to ask?

CONTACT LOIS:

https://www.loisletchford.com/

https://www.linkedin.com/in/lois-letchford-13762917/

https://twitter.com/LetchfordLois

https://www.facebook.com/loisletchfordauthor

RESOURCES:

Dr. Sam Bommarito talks with Dr. Brian Cambourne and Dr. Debra Crouch about the Conditions of Learning Published on YouTube May 13, 2021

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tmJLYqiD_jA&t=5s

Prof Pam Snow and Jake Downs: The Science of Language and Reading August 2020 on The Teaching Literacy Podcast

https://open.spotify.com/episode/5Q8QPjcrlpJn8cAdx7SixK

Maps from Ptolemy’s Geography https://www.carydalebooks.com/pages/books/3533/lelio-pagani-intro/cosmography-maps-from-ptolemys-geography

REFERENCES:

[i] https://www.loisletchford.com/

[ii] Reversed: A Memoir by Lois Letchford Published March 13, 2018   https://www.amazon.com/Reversed-Memoir-Lois-Letchford-ebook/dp/B079Y599W5

[iii] Reversed: A Memoir from Dyslexic to Ph.D. Oxford Published August 15, 2018 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nF-H07Ct7R0

[iv] Reversed: A Memoir from Dyslexic to Ph.D. Oxford Published August 15, 2018 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nF-H07Ct7R0

Brain Fact Friday “Recovery Strategies to Build Resiliency Against Physical, Mental and Emotional Stressors”

Brain Fact Friday “Recovery Strategies to Build Resiliency Against Physical, Mental and Emotional Stressors”

May 27, 2021

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast, for Brain Fact Friday and episode #135 on my biggest AHA moment from EPISODE #134 with Kristen Holmes, the VP of Performance Science of WHOOP[i], a wearable personal fitness and health coach that measures sleep, strain, and recovery.

To see the images in the show notes, and Andrea's Data, click here.

In Today’s Brain Fact Friday You Will Learn:

✔︎ How the wearable health tracker WHOOP measures recovery.

✔︎ Why this data is useful for athletes, and humans in general, for mitigating physical, mental, and emotional stress.

✔︎ Strategies to improve recovery and decrease physical and psychological stress.

✔︎ See Andrea’s data and how she achieved her highest recovery rates using these strategies.

✔︎ How you can measure your own recovery to improve performance and resiliency.

Welcome back, I'm Andrea Samadi, a former educator who has been fascinated with understanding the science behind high performance strategies in schools, sports, and the workplace for the past 20 years. If you have been listening to our podcast, you will know that we’ve uncovered that if we want to improve our social and emotional skills, and experience success in our work and personal lives, it all begins with an understanding of our brain.

The purpose of this podcast is to bring the most current brain research to you, so you can make it applicable in your life whether you are a teacher in the classroom, or using these ideas to improve productivity and results in your workplace. As I am researching and learning new ideas, I’m also implementing them myself, and making connections to past speakers, so that we can all benefit from the research that is emerging in this new field of educational neuroscience.

If you listened to EPISODE #134[ii] with Kristen Holmes, the VP of Performance Science with WHOOP whose Ph.D. work is in multilevel interactions of stress and circadian behavior[iii] or the impact of light on sleep optimization, you’ll know that I first came across Kristen while researching Heart Rate Variability for EPISODE #125[iv] where I started to see how important this one measurement was for tracking health, recovery, and resilience which is crucial to brain health and performance. After listening to the WHOOP podcast, with Founder Will Ahmed, I joined the community so that I could measure my HRV that I learned from Neurohacker Collective[v] is “the most important biomarker”[vi] --a measure that captures what’s going on in a cell at any given moment that can serve as an early warning system for your health.  As someone who has been working hard to make use of every second of the day, I thought, “I’ve got to know this number if I want to be operating at my highest capacity.” No one wants to intentionally leave anything on the table to chance or luck and staying on top of these metrics is a guaranteed way to take the guesswork out of human performance.

Which leads us to this week’s Brain Fact Friday with a powerful AHA Moment I had during the interview with Kristen Holmes. After a month of measuring my data, and looking at the daily recovery score, I adjusted my behavior based on that number, and thought that recovery was based on the idea that I had to let my body recover physically after those days that I had high strain or exercised harder than usual. Even without measuring this data, we have a pretty good idea of days that we need to rest, based on how we feel.  I looked at the recovery score each morning, and it was never showing GREEN which would be 66%-100% recovered. My recovery score (that you can see a snapshot of in the show notes) was either yellow (recovering) or RED (not ready to take on strain) that I thought meant give your body more rest to prevent injury.  I even had a chart that told me that multiple days above my optimal strain targets (that averaged a score of 16) will promote fitness gains, but to dedicate time to rest if I continue this behavior, so I told Kristen that I actually stopped some of my workouts.

IMG_4890_copy8j3to.png

 

My thinking was close, but not exactly accurate, and since I’m new to measuring this data, was missing some key information that I would learn from Kristen. What would you think recovery means?  When you are tired mentally and physically, how do you restore yourself?  There is a way to use this data to improve future performance, that goes beyond what I think we would usually think about, and this was the biggest AHA Moment I had with my interview with Kristen Holmes, and also from listening to the podcast WHOOP did with Patrick Mahomes[vii], a world-class athlete who quantified the strain of his NFL season using the WHOOP device.  I thought it was crazy to see that he averaged over 20 for strain on game days and learned to change his behavior (both mentally and physically) to recover after these high intensity days.

Bringing us to this week’s BRAIN FACT FRIDAY:

DID YOU KNOW that recovery is “a measurement of physiological stress (how our body responds to our environment, or the demands we are putting on our physical body with our workouts), and psychological stress (manifested from our Autonomic Nervous System)?  Patrick Mahomes talked about the mental aspect of his training in depth, going into detail of how he uses visualization and the importance of his mental mindset, in addition to working on the fundamentals, for his success.

Kristen Holmes reminded me that recovery is based on “how well you are coping with external stress”[viii] and the WHOOP device measures this score based on 4 measurements which each are important, but the first two gave me the insight I needed to better understand how we can measure and improve recovery.

  1. HRV: heart rate variability or the distance measured between our heartbeats. “The higher your HRV (the more variability you have between heartbeats), the more your nervous system is in tune with your environment, and the better you’ll perform. A lot of things affect your HRV, with stress as the most common factor”[ix] and HRV will be low when you are exercising at a high capacity and really pushing it and goes back up higher when you allow your body the rest and recovery needed for repair.  HRV levels can tend to be lower when you are tired and go higher when you get enough sleep. Activity level, stress, illness, hydration, alcohol consumption, nutrition and how tired you are can all impact your HRV levels.
  2. Sleep: how much you needed vs what you actually are getting, and how much sleep you spend at each sleep stage.
  3. Resting heart rate: that’s an indicator of physical fitness and heart function.
  4. Respiratory Rate: (that usually doesn’t usually change from day to day, but is something to pay attention to, if this measurement does change.”

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Kristen went on to explain that recovery is “a measurement of physiological stress (how our body responds to our environment, or the demands we are putting on our physical body with our workouts), and psychological stress (manifested from our Autonomic Nervous System).

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And that the “more recovered you are, the more responsive your heart will be to both demands of the ANS—and the less recovered, the less responsive you will be.”  If your recovery score is low, and you are trying to run from a tiger (as an example) you won’t be as responsive to the stress, or if your recovery score is low, and you are hoping to perform at work or school, you will not have the reservoirs of fuel that you could have, if you had done things differently, and were operating from a highly recovered score.

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Since the WHOOP recovery score correlates to your HRV score, for those who don’t use the WHOOP device can still use their HRV score (you can measure this for FREE using an app on your phone)[x] and remember that “the more variability you have between heart beats (or the higher your HRV score) the more capable you are of adapting to external stress (relationship stress, financial stress, or the stress our body goes under with the foods we are putting into it etc.).” (Kristen Holmes)

So here was my AHA Moment: Recovery was lower not because of too much exercise, but not enough sleep, hydration, and other physical stressors. What strategies do you have to mitigate your daily stress? What is your relationship with light, and do you know how to use light to help your circadian rhythm?  Can you improve your sleep quantity and quality?

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Some great questions to think about with this AHA Moment, making me reflect on some strategies from past episodes that can help improve the psychological stressors to improve recovery, and then I was speaking to a colleague from Israel, named Shlomit, who was sharing with me the turmoil her country has been experiencing with the missile attacks earlier this month.[xi] She mentioned to me the psychological and mental conflict these attacks have had on many people in her area, disrupting their daily life and bringing uncertainty, fear and stress. Their peace and safety were taken away in a heartbeat, and she realized this was something she had taken for granted for so long. She didn’t ever worry about not having safety and security in her own home and suddenly she is sharing a bomb shelter with another family and not even sure she can finish her shower, for fear of evacuation. Much like the freedom that many people around the world lost during the Pandemic, and the upheaval this time has caused families worldwide. During this conversation, Shlomit asked me if I knew the meaning of the word “Shalom” and although I had heard this word often, especially during Passover, I couldn’t give her the meaning. She told me it meant “peace” and was also used to say hello or goodbye, and that her name, Shlomit, was the feminine version of the word peace and that although there was much fear, turmoil, stress and uncertainty in her world, she knew she had to savor the peace in her life, and never take this freedom for granted again the future.

My AHA moment with Kristen, on the importance of managing psychological stress, paired with my conversation with Shlomit, reminded me to look back at the bonus episode we did with Dr. Carolyn Leaf[xii], on Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess[xiii]: 5 Simple, Scientifically Proven Steps to Reduce Anxiety and Toxic Thinking for our strategies to improve psychological well-being, that will improve our recovery score.

You can download her APP Neurocycle[xiv] (formerly called the Switch App) that walks you through the 5-step process that I cover in my review of her book,[xv] based on 38 years of research, on how to change your brain (which is neuroplasticity in action) and get rid of toxic thoughts through self-awareness, journaling and reflecting. These 5 steps do take some time, but if you want to clean up your mental mess and close the gaps you might have with energy you are wasting on toxic thinking, it’s important to do this work.

STEP 1: Gather Awareness (of what’s bothering you). We’ve all heard of the importance of knowing our emotions, or when we name what’s bothering us, we can tame it[iv]. What about those worries that we name, and they don’t go away? These worries or fears really can impact our mental health, and we have seen with our recovery score, can impact our health and performance. If you have something on your mind, the first thing you can do is to take out a journal, and write out some of the worries that are taking space in your mind.

I’ve also heard this being called a CRAP Board, where you write out all of your conflicts, resistances, anxieties and problems. Once you have gotten them out of your head, and see them on paper, it’s easier to look at them and think “am I worrying about something that has not happened yet?” If so, get it out of your head, and stop worrying about things that may or may not happen in the future. Schlomit reminded me to savor the peace and safety in your day, as it can be quickly taken away, like hers was.

STEP 2: Reflect and Analyze: Answer, Ask and Discuss Some Questions to Find the Root Cause of Your Emotions or What’s Bothering You.

This is how we pull thoughts from our non-conscious mind to our conscious mind, where it becomes weaker. It’s no longer suppressed but acknowledged. Use your mind to ask yourself questions, and it will be interesting to see what comes up. This process takes time, reflection and daily effort. Our emotions are unique signals to learn how to cope with challenges, but over time, they will damage our brain with consistent worry.  See if you can get a new perspective on what you are worrying about. Is there anything positive you can gather from your insight?

STEP 3: Write out what you discover from step 2. Begin to capture what’s bothering you and see if you can come up with root causes, or why you think this worry is on your mind. Learn to write in pictures, add color, shapes. Learn how to write in a metacog  formula.[v]

STEP 4: Recheck and Edit What You Have Written Down. Re-read what you have written and see what comes up. Can you add more to your answer to help make more sense of it? Dig deeper, look for patterns, triggers and keep looking for the root cause of the problem that’s occupying your mind.

STEP 5: Practice and Apply Through Active Reach. Look at what you have written and see if you can come up with an action statement to practice what you have learned from your introspection.  You will read out your daily Aha Moment 7x a day to remind yourself what you are re-shaping, or make it easy, and let the app or your phone send you a reminder.

Example: I am worrying about xyz because I am afraid of xyz…but this hasn’t happened, and most likely will not happen, so this worry is wasting my time. If it happens one day, I will deal with this problem then, but not wasting the mental energy worrying about something that I cannot control. I can control my reaction to my worry.

So in my journal, I wrote out my worries like branches on a tree, and the trunk she says is the perspective of the thought. I begin to look at my worries from a different angle or perspective. Right here you should notice a shift in energy about the problem. I started to see mine differently here looking at it from a distance. Then the roots of the tree are the origin story, or root of why I am worrying about this problem, which is what we want to uncover. This activity will give you an incredible amount of self-awareness.

The next day, I had my highest recovery day in the past month:

 

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If you have something like this on your mind, I highly suggest taking the time to upload the app on your phone, grab a journal and begin the work to eliminate and clean up your mental mess.

You could also learn more about Resonance Frequency Breathing[xvi], that Kristen Holmes suggested as “the best way to improve HRV, sleep, recovery and reduce anxiety.” (Kristen Holmes, WHOOP). This type of breathing is when the frequency of our breath matches the frequency of our heart, bringing coherence, giving us a stronger ANS (Autonomic NS) and allows us to control our stress response better, and become resilient to physical, mental and emotional stressors.

To review this week’s Brain Fact:

DID YOU KNOW that recovery is “a measurement of physiological stress (how our body responds to our environment, or the demands we are putting on our physical body with our workouts), and psychological stress (manifested from our Autonomic Nervous System)?  It’s important that we have strategies in place to mitigate our physiological and psychological stress.

Once you have these strategies in place, (like Dr. Leaf’s 5 steps to Cleaning Up Our Mental Mess), Meditation, or what Kristen suggested as the best way to improve HRV, sleep, recovery and reduce anxiety, with Resonance Frequency Breathing, it’s as simple of implementing them, measuring how your recovery has improved and then knowing when to add more strain. The key is to not just guess with these numbers.

If you have a passion to improve your performance and life and are human, I highly recommend looking at the WHOOP device to learn more about your recovery score. Episode #134 with Kristen Holmes received so much feedback and interest from high level performers, past podcast guests, athletes, Google executives, people in the health and wellness industry, from around the world, letting me know how much they love this wearable health and wellness tracker.

I look forward to seeing you next week with another case study, this one is a fascinating story of Lois Letchford, whose son failed first grade, could only read 10 words, had no strengths, and was given a low IQ. Lois used the principles from Dr. Immordino-Yang, from interview #100, and her son was able to defy the odds, and graduated from Oxford University with his Ph.D. in 2018. I can’t wait to share her story with you, but until then, have a good weekend. See you next week.

 

RESOURCES:

Recovery Tips from Leading WHOOP Members

https://www.whoop.com/thelocker/recovery-tips-from-leading-whoop-users/

REFERENCES:

[i] https://www.whoop.com/

[ii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #134 with Kristen Holmes, VP of Performance Science of WHOOP.com on “Unlocking a Better You: Measuring Sleep, Recovery and Strain” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/kristen-holmes-from-whoopcom-on-unlocking-a-better-you-measuring-sleep-recovery-and-strain/

[iii] Let there be circadian light Feb.20, 2020 University of Washington Health Sciences https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/02/200220141731.htm

[iv] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #125 “What is Heart Rate Variability and Why is it Important for Tracking Health, Recovery and Resilience”  https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/what-is-hrv-and-why-is-it-important-for-tracking-health-recovery-and-resilience-with-andrea-samadi/

[v] https://neurohacker.com/

[vi] Biomarkers https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/science/biomarkers/index.cfm

[vii] Patrick Mahomes’ WHOOP Data: Quantifying the Strain of an NFL Season by Mark Van Deusen https://www.whoop.com/thelocker/patrick-mahomes-heart-rate-strain-data/?utm_source=members&utm_campaign=the-locker&utm_medium=email&utm_content=patrick-mahomes-heart-rate-strain-data&_ke=eyJrbF9jb21wYW55X2lkIjogIlBBQm5XSyIsICJrbF9lbWFpbCI6ICJhbmRyZWFAYWNoaWV2ZWl0MzYwLmNvbSJ9

[viii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #134 with Kristen Holmes, VP of Performance Science of WHOOP.com on “Unlocking a Better You: Measuring Sleep, Recovery and Strain” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/kristen-holmes-from-whoopcom-on-unlocking-a-better-you-measuring-sleep-recovery-and-strain/

[ix] IBID

[x] https://welltory.com/

[xi] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-57094737

[xii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast BONUS EPISODE with Dr. Carolyn Leaf on “Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess: 5 Simple, Scientifically Proven Steps to Reduce Anxiety and Toxic Thinking” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/worldrenownedneuroscientistdr-caroline-leaf-oncleaningup-your-mentalmess5-simplescientifically-proven-stepsto-reduceanxiety-and-toxic-thinking/

[xiii] Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess: 5 Simple, Scientifically Proven Steps to Reduce Anxiety, Stress and Toxic Thinking by Dr. Caroline Leaf AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER NOW (March 2, 2021)  https://www.amazon.com/Cleaning-Your-Mental-Mess-Scientifically/dp/0801093457

[xiv]https://theswitch.app/?_ke=eyJrbF9jb21wYW55X2lkIjogIktxZ0g5ZCIsICJrbF9lbWFpbCI6ICJhbmRyZWEuc2FtYWRpQGNveC5uZXQifQ%3D%3D

[xv] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #106 Review of Neuroscientist and Best-Selling Author Dr. Carolyn Leaf’s “Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/book-and-app-review-of-neuroscientist-and-best-selling-author-dr-caroline-leafs-cleaning-up-your-mental-mess-coming-march-2-20201/

[xvi] Resonance Frequency Breathing Published on YouTube Sept. 25, 2020  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EIi1Tc5i8s4&t=694s

Kristen Holmes from WHOOP.com on “Unlocking a Better You: Measuring Sleep, Recovery and Strain” with a WHOOP Device.

Kristen Holmes from WHOOP.com on “Unlocking a Better You: Measuring Sleep, Recovery and Strain” with a WHOOP Device.

May 23, 2021

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast, EPISODE #134 with Kristen Holmes[i], the VP of Performance Science with WHOOP,[ii] a wearable personal fitness and health coach that measures sleep, strain and recovery.

Watch the interview on YouTube here.

Welcome back, I'm Andrea Samadi, a former educator who has been fascinated with understanding the science behind high performance strategies in schools, sports, and the workplace for the past 20 years. If you have been listening to our podcast, you will know that we’ve uncovered that if we want to improve our social and emotional skills, and experience success in our work and personal lives, it all begins with an understanding of our brain. We’ve also uncovered the “Top 5 Brain Health and Alzheimer’s Prevention Strategies”[iii]  that we covered on EPISODE #87 that took us in the direction of health and wellness, with a focus on sleep, exercise, and nutrition as being important for brain health, and optimizing personal and professional results.

We even went to Dr. Amen’s Clinic in CA for a brain scan to see what we could learn about further optimizing our brain health, and sleep emerged as an area of weakness for me, along with some other areas we are still working on optimizing.

The powerful part of hosting this podcast, is that as I am interviewing guests, and learning, sharing their advice, I’m learning and implementing these ideas myself, as I share them with you. When I was introduced to Kelly Roman, from Fisher Wallace Laboratories, with his wearable medical device to help improve sleep, while reducing anxiety and depression, I immediately jumped at the opportunity to learn more, knowing that I needed help in this area, specifically with sleep. I had no idea how much this device would help me to create more balance in my life, and my review of the Fisher Wallace device, EPISODE #119[iv] has risen to my most downloaded episode, (with over 1250 downloads) beating out EPISODE #68 “The Neuroscience of Personal Change” where I linked Dr. Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” to Neuroscience Strategies.  This showed me that while there’s an interest in creating personal change and understanding how to connect practical neuroscience to our daily lives, it shouldn’t come at the expense of our personal health or well-being.

Since May is mental health awareness month, and many experts like Dr. Daniel Amen[v] consider brain health to be at the root of mental health, we will continue to dive deeper into ways to improve our own personal health and well-being.

Which brings me to today’s guest, Kristen Holmes, the VP of Performance Science with WHOOP whose Ph.D. work is in multilevel interactions of stress and circadian behavior[vi].  I first came across Kristen while researching Heart Rate Variability for EPISODE #125[vii] where I started to see how important heart rate variability was for tracking health, recovery and resilience. I found the WHOOP Podcast[viii]  hosted by Will Ahmed and featuring Kristen Holmes and Emily Capodilupo, and I was captivated with what I learned.

So captivated that I decided to join the WHOOP community[ix] which means that I can use the device for the amount of time I want to be a member (I joined for a year—but can’t imagine giving this tool up after just a month of use) and wanted to ask Kristen to come on the podcast to help me to further explore the benefits of using this device that appears to have been built with pro athletes in mind.

I’m looking forward to learning and sharing the benefits of the WHOOP device, and diving into what I have uncovered after just one month of measuring my sleep, heart rate variability, daily strain and recovery.

Welcome Kristen, thank you for being so quick to agree to come on this podcast to help me to learn more about the data using the WHOOP device.

Q1: When I look at the reviews on your website, I see a lot of pro athletes using WHOOP, like Justin Thomas (Pro Golfer), Kate Courtney (Mountain Bike World Champion) and Sue Bird (3x WNBA Champion, 4x Olympic Gold Medalist) holding up their arms, showing their WHOOP and explaining how important it is for their training. It was during one of my interviews, EPISODE #96[x] with Dr. Daniel Stickler, a former vascular surgeon whose built a career helping others to achieve what he calls “limitless peak performance” where I first saw someone hold up their arm and tell me “I measure everything.” After this interview I looked up this device to learn more, and then came across it again while researching the importance of measuring heart rate variability. Can you share in a nutshell why someone like me, who is not a pro athlete, but someone passionate about sharing health and wellness strategies, could benefit from using a WHOOP device?

Q2: I honestly was so moved by the power of measuring heart rate variability after I did that podcast that dove deeper into understanding this measurement on rest, recovery and resilience, that I joined just to see this one measure. I had to be patient, which I’m not, and wait a few days for the numbers to calibrate. I did see the email with Patrick Mahomes’ data[xi] that “quantified the strain of an NFL season” (Van Deusen) that was eye-opening. Can you explain what we should expect from our first 30 days measuring our data[xii], and maybe what’s the potential of measuring for a year if we are not pro athletes like Patrick Mahomes?

Q3: Can we look at my data and you tell me what you see? I know it says it loud and clear, but is there anything you notice? If you were my personal coach, what would you tell me (constructive feedback to help me to improve)?  (I would like to have the monthly assessment for this that should unlock the day of the interview).

Q4: What is your vision for WHOOP, and what have you learned most from your work at VP of Performance Science?

I want to thank you very much Kristen, for your time to speak with me and dive a bit deeper into the WHOOP device for personalized training, sleep and recovery insights. If people want to learn more about coming on as a member, I have the website in the show notes, and do you have any final thoughts? Thank you!

RESOURCES:

https://www.bostonmagazine.com/health/2017/04/02/charles-czeisler-sleep-doctor/

The Impact of Resonance Frequency Breathing on Measures of Heart Rate Variability, Blood Pressure, and Mood by Patrick R Steffen, Tara Austin, Andrea DeBarros, and Tracy Brown August 25, 2017 https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpubh.2017.00222/full?source=post_page---------------------------

REFERENCES:

[i] https://www.linkedin.com/in/kristen-holmes-she-her-b9b44647/

[ii] https://www.whoop.com/

[iii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #87 “Top 5 Brain Health and Alzheimer’s Prevention Strategies” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/do-you-know-the-top-5-brain-health-and-alzheimers-prevention-strategies-with-andrea-samadi/

[iv] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #119 “Personal Review of the Fisher Wallace Medical Device for Anxiety, Depression and Sleep Management” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/personal-review-of-the-fisher-wallace-wearable-medical-device-for-anxiety-depression-and-sleepstress-management/

[v] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #128 Review of Dr. Daniel Amen’s Book, “The End of Mental Illness” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/review-of-dr-daniel-amens-the-end-of-mental-illness-6-steps-for-improved-brain-and-mental-health/

[vi] Let there be circadian light Feb.20, 2020 University of Washington Health Sciences https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/02/200220141731.htm

[vii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #125 “What is Heart Rate Variability and Why is it Important for Tracking Health, Recovery and Resilience”  https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/what-is-hrv-and-why-is-it-important-for-tracking-health-recovery-and-resilience-with-andrea-samadi/

[viii] Whoop Podcast The Locker with Will Ahmed EPSIODE #29 Kristen Holmes and Emily Capodilupo on HRV https://www.whoop.com/thelocker/podcast-29-heart-rate-variability-hrv/

[ix] https://www.whoop.com/

[x] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast Episode #96 with Dr. Daniel Stickler on “Expanding Awareness for Limitless Peak Performance, Health, Longevity and Intelligence.” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/dr-daniel-stickler-on-expanding-awareness-for-limitless-peak-performance-health-longevity-and-intelligence/

[xi] Patrick Mahomes’ WHOOP Data: Quantifying the Strain of an NFL Season by Mark Van Deusen https://www.whoop.com/thelocker/patrick-mahomes-heart-rate-strain-data/?utm_source=members&utm_campaign=the-locker&utm_medium=email&utm_content=patrick-mahomes-heart-rate-strain-data&_ke=eyJrbF9jb21wYW55X2lkIjogIlBBQm5XSyIsICJrbF9lbWFpbCI6ICJhbmRyZWFAYWNoaWV2ZWl0MzYwLmNvbSJ9

[xii] https://support.whoop.com/hc/en-us/articles/360057137353-What-to-Expect-in-Your-First-30-Days

Brain Fact Friday “Applying Neuroplasticity to Your School or Workplace”

Brain Fact Friday “Applying Neuroplasticity to Your School or Workplace”

May 21, 2021

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast, for Brain Fact Friday and episode #133 on Neuroplasticity, or “the ability for our brain to re-wire, grow, adapt or change throughout a person’s lifetime”[i]

Welcome back, I'm Andrea Samadi, a former educator who has been fascinated with understanding the science behind high performance strategies in schools, sports, and the workplace for the past 20 years. If you have been listening to our podcast, you will know that we’ve uncovered that if we want to improve our social and emotional skills, and experience success in our work and personal lives, it all begins with an understanding of our brain.

I remember the first time I heard the term “neuroplasticity.” It was in 2014 when I first began learning about the brain and learning, and a teacher in a workshop I was running asked me if I knew what it was, and I remember having an idea about what I thought it was but wouldn’t have been able to explain it without this specific YouTube video[ii] showing how pathways of the brain are strengthened with use and weakened when they are not used, or the “use it, or lose it” idea.  I put this video in the show notes, but if you have been learning about the brain for some time, I’m sure you’ve already seen this video, as it’s been around for almost 10 years now and I have to say I’m so grateful for content like this that has helped me to learn the basics of neuroscience that I will continue to share with you, and help you to make connections whether you are using this information in the classroom or workplace.  

I love hearing new ways the podcast is helping people, most recently from Dorothee Oung, from Madrid, Spain, who let me know she has been guiding coaches to the podcast who are learning the basics of neuroscience to help their clients. I always appreciate knowing how these ideas are being used, and that the content is helpful. Thanks for the note Dorothee.  Please do send me a message via social media[iii], as I love hearing where you are listening to this podcast, and how you are using this information.

Remember: Knowledge isn’t power, until it’s applied. (Dale Carnegie)

Back to this episode.

In Today’s Brain Fact Friday You Will Learn:

✔︎ What is neuroplasticity and how this concept works in the brain when learning a new skill, thinking a certain way, or feeling a certain emotion.

✔︎ How neuroplasticity helps us to create new habits, and how we can use it to break habits we don’t want to keep.

✔︎ The controversy behind this topic, and how two of the people we have interviewed ignored the naysayers, and built a powerful career with the foundations of neuroplasticity.

 

Which brings us to this week’s Brain Fact Friday:

Did you know that "Neurons that fire together, wire together"[iv] and "neurons that are out of synch, fail to link."[v] 

I remember writing an article on LinkedIn a few years ago, explaining how we can use this idea which involves the concept that every time we learn a new skill, think a certain way, or feel a certain emotion, we strengthen the connections in our brain for whatever it is that we are reinforcing or repeating, or weaken the connection with less use.  Since learning creates a synaptic connection when you are thinking, feeling or doing something new, and with repeated practice, we create a neural pathway in our brain that becomes stronger the more we repeat it, it would make sense that if we want to stop doing something, or break a habit, that we just need to avoid certain thoughts, feelings and actions, making the impulses, or neural connections weaker and weaker.

 

Stefanie Faye spoke about this concept on EPISODE #39[vi], taking it one step deeper, explaining that the brain creates high priority pathways with skills we are practicing and then eliminates low priority pathways with skills we ignore. She shares how the brain re-wires itself using myelin (a mixture of protein and fatty substances that form an insulating sheath around the nerve fiber, increasing the speed and efficiency of electrical impulses along the nerve cells) and explaining why patterned repetition is so important for the skills we want to improve, develop, and keep.

 

The Controversy Behind Neuroplasticity

What I think is crazy, is that two of the people I have interviewed, have spoken about the fact that they became interested in this concept of neuroplasticity, at a time that it was not yet accepted.

Dr. Caroline Leaf, on a bonus episode we released February, 2021[vii] mentioned she wanted to dedicate her studies to the fact that “if we can direct our mind, we can direct or change our brain” and two of her professors told her this was a ridiculous idea.  She went on to build her career around this idea, has worked with thousands of people all over the world for the past 38 years, teaching people how to cultivate the power of their own thinking and direct their own brain changes.

During our last interview with Barbara Arrowsmith-Young[viii] she mentioned to me prior to our interview that the early days of her program caused quite a lot of controversy, and people even picketed outside her presentation because the concepts she was teaching were not understood or accepted. I have to say, honestly, that if I was picketed during my first presentation on the brain, (it was difficult enough creating a presentation on something new let alone have any criticism about it) I’m not sure I would have continued with this work. To me, you can see the belief that was behind Dr. Leaf’s work for her to push forward and make such an impact, and then Barbara knew that she changed her own brain with the results in her life being so obvious, that this belief is all that both women would need to move forward, leaps and bounds with these ideas.

So how can we use this concept of Neuroplasticity in our schools or workplaces? I learned about the AGES Model[ix] that is a good way for us to remember how we can continue to grow our brain and strengthen the neural pathways we want to keep.

LEARNING WITH THE BRAIN IN MIND: THE AGES MODEL

A: Attention: This was John Medina’s Brain Rule #4. “We don’t pay attention to boring things.”

I’m sure you have heard that “audiences check out after 10 minutes” (Summary 4, Brain Rules, Page 94) or that the brain can only focus on one thing at a time, making multitasking a bad idea. The funny thing is that although you may have heard of the fact that the “average person’s attention span is shorter than that of a goldfish, there’s no evidence that human attention is shrinking or that goldfishes have particularly short attention spans either.”[x] So how do we hold our student’s attention in the classroom, or during a presentation we might be doing in the workplace? The next 2 letters hold this secret.

G: Generation or Gender to make meaningful connections to prior learning. I think it’s important to make connections based on age, and experience, but I would change this one to gender, using John Medina’s Brain Rule #4 that “male and female brains are different.”[xi] Did you know that men’s and women’s brains are “different structurally and biochemically—men have bigger amygdala and produce serotonin faster and women and men respond differently to stress.” (Summary 11, Brain Rules, Page 260).  Women remember emotional details easier not because they are more emotional, but because “they perceive their emotional landscape with more data points (or detail) and see it in greater resolution.”[xii]

E: Emotion and EPISODE #127[xiii] went deep into this area. We do know that when audiences (or our students) are checking out after 10 minutes, we can grab their attention back by “telling narratives or creating events rich in emotion.” Emotions help memories form and stick so if you want to make your next presentation or lesson memorable, the best way is to somehow connect with your audience or class with a story that they connect to on an emotional level. This activates the mirror neurons in your audience, and they will listen, connect with you and trust you on a deeper level.

S: Spaced Repetition: We heard from Dr. John Dunlosky, a Professor of Psychology at Kent State University, who has contributed empirical and theoretical work on memory and metacognition, including theories of self-regulated learning and metacomprehension. With years of research on which learning strategies yielded the most results for learning new information, it was not using a yellow highlighter in class, (I still always use mine though) but it was spaced repetition of new learning that took the new skill from short term memory to long-term.

If we think about how neuroplasticity works, it makes sense that we use whatever method we can to keep what we are learning interesting for learners to actually listen to you, connecting to different generations and genders, adding emotion and repeating the new learning to strengthen the neural pathway and be sure that it’s reinforced with myelin that will make this information pass through the pathway quickly and efficiently.

Neuroplasticity to me is to the secret to learning something new, with the knowledge that this new learning will forever change my brain: both its structure and function. Both Dr. Leaf and Barbara Arrowsmith-Young would agree with this.

See you next week, for episode #134 with an incredible woman, Kristen Holmes, the VP of Performance Science at WHOOP.com as we debrief my first month using this device that measures sleep, strain and recovery, and was listed at #1 in Wellness with Fast Company’s 2020 Most Innovative Companies. The results and deep dive into my data of this device that’s used by many pro athletes like Patrick Mahomes, will blow you away.

Have a good weekend.

REFERENCES:

[i] Neuroplasticity Published on YouTube August 13, 2018 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dmEOJyWVQj4

[ii] Neuroplasticity Published on YouTube November 6, 2012  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ELpfYCZa87g

[iii] https://www.achieveit360.com/contact-us/

[iv] Donald Hebb, a Canadian neuropsychologist coined this term in 1949.

[v] Neurons That Fire Together, Wire Together: Using Your Brain to Break Bad Habits, Published on LinkedIn May 27, 2017 https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/neurons-fire-together-wire-so-simple-andrea-samadi/

[vi] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #39 with Stefanie Faye on “using Neuroscience to Improve Our Mindset, Self-Regulation and Self Awareness: https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/neuroscience-researcher-stefanie-faye-on-using-neuroscience-to-improve-our-mindset-self-regulation-and-self-awareness/

[vii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast BONUS EPISODE with Dr. Caroline Leaf on “Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/worldrenownedneuroscientistdr-caroline-leaf-oncleaningup-your-mentalmess5-simplescientifically-proven-stepsto-reduceanxiety-and-toxic-thinking/

[viii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #132 with Barbara Arrowsmith-Young on “The Woman Who Changed Her Brain” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/the-story-of-barbara-arrowsmith-young-the-woman-who-changed-her-brain-and-left-her-learning-disability-behind/

[ix] Neuroplasticity and Learning Explained: The AGES Model Published on YouTube Feb.14, 2018 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88OL8NdkV-s

[x]  72 Amazing Brain Facts #32 by Deane Alban https://bebrainfit.com/human-brain-facts/

[xi] John Medina Brain Rule #11 https://vimeo.com/52295224

[xii] John Medina’s Brain Rules Page 274 https://www.amazon.com/dp/B005Z6YGRC/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

[xiii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #127 “How Emotions Impact Learning and the Brain” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/brain-fact-friday-how-emotions-impact-learning-memory-and-the-brain/

The Story of Barbara Arrowsmith-Young “The Woman Who Changed Her Brain and Left Her Learning Disability Behind”

The Story of Barbara Arrowsmith-Young “The Woman Who Changed Her Brain and Left Her Learning Disability Behind”

May 17, 2021

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast, EPISODE #132 with Barbara Arrowsmith Young, an incredible woman from my hometown, Toronto, Canada, who is otherwise known as “The Woman Who Changed Her Brain”[i]

Watch this interview on YouTube here.

In this episode, you will learn:

✔︎The heroic story of Barbara Arrowsmith-Young that Dr. Norman Doidge, the author of The Brain That Changes Itself says is “truly heroic, on par with the achievements of Helen Keller.”

✔︎ What specific learning challenges Barbara noticed by 1st grade, and how she struggled through school during the time of the “fixed” brain, before the concept of neuroplasticity.

✔︎ How her parents prepared her for the legacy she would create years after she graduated from OISE’s Faculty of Education in Toronto.

✔︎ How a Russian neuropsychologist Alexander Luria and psychologist Mark Rosenzweig would help her to find the solution she was looking for to overcome her learning challenges and change her brain.

✔︎ What is the Arrowsmith School and Program that serves schools in educational institutions in worldwide?

✔︎ How you can connect with the Arrowsmith School to learn more about their programs to change student’s brains.

Welcome back, I'm Andrea Samadi, a former educator who has been fascinated with understanding the science behind high performance strategies in schools, sports, and the workplace for the past 20 years. If you have been listening to our podcast, you will know that we’ve uncovered that if we want to improve our social and emotional skills, and experience success in our work and personal lives, it all begins with an understanding of our brain.

I first learned about Barbara Arrowsmith Young when researching for Brian Fact Friday and EPISODE #129 as she was a case study in Dr. Norman Doidge’s book, The Brain That Changes Itself[ii] Dr. Doidge is a Canadian scientist, medical doctor, and psychiatrist who was one of the researchers who put Neuroplasticity on the map and he dedicated a whole chapter in his book to Barbara’s story called “Building Herself a Better Brain” which is exactly what she did. You can read Barbara’s book, The Woman Who Changed Her Brain,[iii]  that’s now in its third edition, here.   I’ve heard Dr. Daniel Amen say over and over again that “you are not stuck with the brain that you have. You can be empowered to change it for the better[iv]” and Barbara Arrowsmith Young did just that, and more. Her story just below me away. Literally. It was the first time I cried while researching someone, as her story of struggling as a young girl hit a chord for me. The whole reason I do the work I’m doing now, is to help educators or those in the workplace to use the understanding of their brain to improve productivity (whether that’s in the classroom, or the workplace) and when someone is struggling in this area, like many people who have dedicated their life to the field of teaching and learning, most would want to know “why is this person struggling and what can we do to help them past this?”

You can watch Barbara Arrowsmith Young’s  TEDx Talk, or read her story in Dr. Doidge’s book, to dive deeper into her story, that began when she was told she had a mental defect with her brain when she was younger, would never learn like other children, and would just have to learn to live with these limitations. For those of us who have children who need a little extra help, or who have worked with children with learning disabilities, we know that many times, even though other areas of the brain are highly functioning, and can even appear to make up for those areas of the brain that are not as strong, not addressing the areas of weakness, fixing or correcting them, can cause years of frustration for the child and will show up eventually when the brain becomes tired of working hard to compensate for the weaker areas.  This even showed up in my results with my brain scan at Amen Clinics with the X test, or the Connor’s Continuous Performance Test Score where we had to hit a key on the keyboard of a computer every time an X appeared, and not hit it when we didn’t see the x. Dr. Creado who did my test evaluation mentioned that “he has noticed that people who have weaker executive functions in their brain can develop life hacks to help them to focus and concentrate when they need to. But the problem is, that with time, and not working on brain health, or function, it will just become more difficult to keep up with these life hacks. Eventually, the brain will not be able to keep up with the hack which is why it’s so important to look and see what’s happening in your brain. You won’t know any of this, without looking.”[v]

 

 Her work, begun in 1978, has been recognized as one of the first examples of the practical application of neuroplasticity which, simply put, is the ability of the brain to change and rewire itself over one’s lifetime. As the Director of Arrowsmith School and Arrowsmith Program, she continues to develop and refine programs for students with learning difficulties.   

 Her vision is that all students struggling with learning will have the opportunity to benefit from cognitive programs utilizing the principles of neuroplasticity, programs that change the brain’s capacity to learn and open to these learners a world of possibilities.   

 The genesis of the Arrowsmith Program’s cognitive exercises lies in Barbara Arrowsmith-Young's journey of discovery and innovation to overcome her severe learning disabilities. Her inspirational book ‘The Woman who Changed Her Brain’ has become an international bestseller and a third edition updated with new research was published in December 2019.  

 Barbara is the recipient of the 2019 Leaders and Legends Innovation Award from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto for her outstanding contributions to education in Ontario.  

About the Arrowsmith Program  

The Arrowsmith Program has been recognized by Sharp Brains as the Most Innovative Special Education Program of its kind, identifying and strengthening the weak cognitive functions that underlie specific learning difficulties.   

The Arrowsmith Program is offered in over 90 educational organizations in 13 countries.  Ongoing research with neuroscientists, neuropsychologists and psychologists is demonstrating that the program not only changes the brain, cognitive functioning, and academic achievement but also leads to social-emotional well-being. 

 ‘Barbara’s story is truly heroic, on par with the achievements of Helen Keller.’  Norman Doidge M.D. author of the New York Times Bestseller The Brain that Changes Itself.  

 Barbara Arrowsmith-Young is the founder of the Arrowsmith Program, an assessment process and a suite of cognitive exercises designed to stimulate and strengthen weak areas of cognitive functioning that underlie a range of learning difficulties, which has been delivered for 40+ years throughout the world. 

Sadly, Barbara grew up at the time when most medical experts believed our brains were fixed, so she had to defy the odds, and find solutions to overcome her learning challenges on her own. She did and created the Arrowsmith School is Toronto where she now teaches other children many of the strategies that she used herself to strengthen her brain.

Let’s meet this extraordinary woman, from my hometown, Barbara Arrowsmith Young.

Welcome Barbara, I’m so grateful to have found you. It started when I read Dr. Doidge’s book The Brain That Changes Itself and chapter 2 of his book was dedicated to your story. My eyes saw Toronto (where I grew up and went to school) and Peterborough where you were raised, where I still send some Christmas cards to friends and family that way, and now I wanted to know your story. Then I saw your TEDx and the connection grew stronger with my background in teaching (I saw we both attended OISE’s Faculty of Education for our teacher training), and I had an interest in earning additional training in strategies for students with Learning Disabilities. Your story brought tears to my eyes as my focus on for the past 9 years has been to create content to help students/teachers in the classroom to instill a positive mindset for these young learners, and I saw how things were so different before there was such an emphasis on these skills.  Thanks so much for being here today.

Q1: Barbara, can you share what you were told about your brain, and learning when you were in 1st grade, (mental block) and the challenges you had growing up at a time when doctors believed that our brains were fixed?

Q2: What specifically did you have a difficult time with and what did this do to your ability to learn at school (thinking of those students in the classroom today with a learning challenge)?

Q3: Things reached their lowest point for you in grade 8 where you just couldn’t see how you could go on with learning being this difficult, but your father, an inventor, helped you to adopt the mindset you would need to soldier on. When I heard what he told you, it made me feel more connected to you. I had a mousepad given to me from a friend back in Toronto as a gift when I was moving to the US, with the exact same saying on it. What did he teach you and how did this help you to move forward?

Q4: This is where my mind started to blow up a bit when I watched your TEDx. A bit because I can’t imagine researching before the internet. How did you come across the work of neuropsychologist Alexander Luria and psychologist Mark Rosenzweig[vi] and what did you learn from them?

Q5: The final missing piece for anyone who has gone through life with a learning challenge like you, or like me as a parent, watching my youngest child, wondering why can one of my kids sail through school, without any effort, and the other, needs constant support and guidance? Or a teacher out there, wondering what else could we do to help that one student putting in extra effort, without any results. Can you share what are the Assessments[vii] you use at Arrowsmith to identify a learning challenge, and what can they do for a student to help them past this challenge?

Q6: This podcast is going into our 6th season, and 3rd year and has a reach of over 148 countries around the world. Our top countries are the USA, Australia next and Canada and the UK not far behind. I saw your participating sites link[viii] on your website, and wonder how schools could become a participating site to access your assessments and curriculum?

Q7: What programs can you tell our audience about at Arrowsmith Schools? I saw a powerful video about your Summer Intensive program in Toronto that drew students from around the world (USA, Australia, the UK and beyond). Do you have anything like this coming up?

Q8: What’s your vision for Arrowsmith Schools, and on the horizon for you that we should all be aware of?

For people who want to learn more about your school, assessments and programs, I have put all of the links in the show notes, in addition to your website. https://arrowsmithschool.org/

Where else can people follow you and your school?

Thank you Barbara for taking the time to speak with me. It’s a true honor to meet someone who has made such an incredible impact on the world, that began with an understanding of your brain.  I will continue to follow work and wish you much success!

RESOURCES:

Here are some videos of students and parents describing the changes from the work:

https://youtu.be/YB1NPYJIcuE

https://youtu.be/kK_fe_KcXA0

https://youtu.be/8v8d_6u9iKM

Summary documents on our research

https://arrowsmithschool.org/research/

ArrowsmithProgram-Research-Summary-2019.pdf (arrowsmithschool.org)

ArrowsmithProgram-Research-Overview-2020.pdf (arrowsmithschool.org)

Participating Sites of the Arrowsmith School and Programs Worldwide https://arrowsmithschool.org/participating-sites/

Arrowsmith Cognitive Enhancement Program https://arrowsmithschool.org/enhancementprogram/

Live Arrowsmith Cognitive Classroom Demonstration with Howard Eaton Published on YouTube March 5, 2013 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=epHBDNBPnHg

Cognitive Questionnaire https://questionnaire.arrowsmithprogram.com/

Neuroplasticity: How the Brain Can Heal Itself by Lynn Malcolm April 21, 2015 https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/allinthemind/neuroplasticity-and-how-the-brain-can-heal-itself/6406736

Alexander Luria: Life, research and contribution to neuroscience by Maria Illmarovna Kostyanaya https://www.thescienceofpsychotherapy.com/alexander-luria-life-research-contribution-to-neuroscience/

The Man with a Shattered World: The History of a Brain Wound by A.R. Luria Published April 30, 1987  https://www.amazon.com/Man-Shattered-World-History-Brain/dp/0674546253

REFERENCES:

[i] The Woman Who Changed Her Brain TEDx Toronto Published April 27, 2013 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o0td5aw1KXA

[ii] The Brain That Changes Itself by Dr. Norman Doidge Dec. 18, 2007 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2c5aTlq3nYI

[iii] Barbara Arrowsmith-Young The Woman Who Changed Her Brain: How I Left My Learning Disability Behind and Other Storis of Cognitive Transformation, Foreword by Norman Doidge. Published  Sept. 17, 2017 https://arrowsmithschool.org/books-3/

[iv] Dr. Amen http://www.globenewswire.com/en/news-release/2019/08/14/1901976/0/en/Dr-Daniel-Amen-s-Change-Your-Brain-Change-Your-Grades-Helps-Students-Parents-and-Teachers-Sync-Up-for-Better-Success.html#:~:text=Amen%20Clinics%2C%20Inc.,-Los%20Angeles%2C%20California&text=LOS%20ANGELES%2C%20Aug.,change%20it%20for%20the%20better.

[v] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast Episode #84 “How a SPECT Scan Can Change Your Life.” with Andrea Samadi https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/how-a-spect-scan-can-change-your-life-part-3-with-andrea-samadi/

[vi] American research psychologist Mark Rosenzweig https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Rosenzweig_(psychologist)#:~:text=Rosenzweig%20initiated%20experimental%20research%20upon,than%20rats%20raised%20in%20cages.&text=This%20work%20led%20in%201962,enrichment%20increased%20cerebral%20cortex%20volume

[vii] https://arrowsmithschool.org/assessments/

[viii] https://arrowsmithschool.org/participating-sites/

Brain Fact Friday: “Understanding How We Learn: Declarative vs Procedural Systems”

Brain Fact Friday: “Understanding How We Learn: Declarative vs Procedural Systems”

May 14, 2021

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast, for Brain Fact Friday and episode #131. Of all the Brain Fact Fridays, so far, this one really made me stop, think and make connections to past episodes, and how the brain learns.

To view images in the show notes, click here.

Welcome back, I'm Andrea Samadi, a former educator who has been fascinated with understanding the science behind high performance strategies in schools, sports, and the workplace for the past 20 years. If you have been listening to our podcast, you will know that we’ve uncovered that if we want to improve our social and emotional skills, and experience success in our work and personal lives, it all begins with an understanding of our brain.

This week’s brain fact came to me when I was asked to appear this past weekend, on Naomi Toland’s[i] Live Q and A with Barbara Oakley[ii] the author of many books, including Learning How to Learn[iii] to ask her a question related to how the brain learns.

In this episode, you will learn:

✔︎ The 2 Major Ways the Brain Learns

✔︎ The difference between these 2 modes of Learning: Declarative and Procedural Learning

✔︎ Why one of type of learning might work better for one student than the other.

✔︎ Aha Moments for the Classroom, Sports and Beyond.

The first question for Barbara on this call caught my attention, and it was from Phil Stringer[iv], a Department Head of Math, Research Chair of Applied Cognitive Science from Vancouver, Canada, and it was his question that got me thinking.  He asked, “how can we move away from a grades-based culture, to a learning culture…or the idea of using points and grades verses just feedback for students” and I got my pencil out right away, knowing that there are a few schools near me who don’t use grades at all. Students just complete assignments, receive feedback, and work at their own pace. Some students are very happy working in this environment, and I wondered what Barbara, the expert on teaching and learning, would say.

How the Brain Learns:

Her answer blew us all away. The feedback after this event continued all night. She shared her screen and explained that the brain learns through two major systems:

The Declarative System: which is like when I am teaching something. Declarative links in the brain occur because we have listened to an explanation of something. The information goes from the working memory, through the hippocampus and puts the new information into long-term memory.   I thought back to EPISODE #127[v] “How Emotions Impact Learning and the Brain” and thought how important it is to be sure that students are making connections with their learning with what’s important to them, to sear the new learning and information at the brain level using emotion.  Since we “feel” therefore we learn.[vi]

The Procedural System: Is built when we practice a skill over and over again without thinking about it. This new information goes through the Basal Ganglia in the brain and deposits the new learning or new skill learned into the long-term memory. Todd Woodcroft talked about this idea on EPISODE #38[vii] with “The Daily Grind in the NHL” and Dr. John Dunlosky mentioned it in EPISODE #37[viii] when he spoke about the importance of spaced repetition as the most effective cognitive strategy for student success.

We need both types of learning when learning a new language, math, sports, or when we are learning anything, but Barbara reminds us that some people like to learn declaratively, (with an explanation) like people with Dyslexia, and others on the Autism Spectrum Disorder prefer to learn more procedurally, (with practice) if you are applying this to the classroom.

Screen_Shot_2021-05-13_at_13724_PM_copy99wg9....

(Source: Barbara Oakley with Naomi Toland and Phil Stringer) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pAwzdCc8EPY

 

This brings us to this week’s Brain Fact Friday:

“We want people to learn both declaratively (through an explanation) or procedurally (by practicing a skill over and over again) but what we learn procedurally, we cannot explain.” Barbara Oakley

AHA Moments for the Classroom

If you have been asking your students to explain every step with their math problems, remember that some mathematical concepts have been acquired procedurally, and they won’t be able to explain it. This doesn’t mean they don’t understand the concept, they just cannot explain it back to you declaratively. Barbara Oakley further explains that “you could even destroy their interest in learning the subject if you force them to explain every step.”

Think About This:

Have you ever asked a student or your own child to explain something and they say, “Oh this is just how I do it?” This is because they were taught the skill using the procedural system and they cannot explain it to you.

Making Connections:

Friederike Fabritius, from EPISODE #27[ix], covers in her book, The Leading Brain: Neuroscience Hacks to Work Smarter, Better, Happier the process of procedural learning or “Intuitive Decisions” as she calls it. She offers the example of when Captain “Sully” Sullenberger explained that he was able to make that safe, emergency landing in the Hudson River that saved all 155 passengers, because he said “for forty-two years, I’ve been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience, education and training. And on January 15th the balance was sufficient that I was able to make a withdrawal.”[x]  He acted intuitively, after years of experience.

She also explained this concept with Wayne Gretzky, who is considered to be the greatest hockey player of all time because his years of experience and practice on the ice gave him what many fans consider “hockey sense” or knowing how to be in the right place at the right time.  These “intuitive decisions” come without thinking and Friederike shares that it could even be “disruptive” if you ask someone to explain “how” exactly they do what they do.

To Sum up Brain Fact Friday:

“We want people to learn both declaratively (through an explanation) or procedurally (by practicing a skill over and over again) but what we learn procedurally, we cannot explain.” Barbara Oakley

The procedural system recognizes patterns and helps you to react quickly, so don’t eliminate rote learning from the classroom, just don’t call it Drill and Kill. Call it something more positive, Barbara suggests, like Drill and Skill.  And don’t forget that when learning procedurally, you need to provide feedback immediately. Don’t delay the feedback as this breaks the pattern made, and will make it harder for the student to learn the new skill effectively.

We all learned from Phil Stringer’s question: and were reminded that too much focus on grades or points has a detrimental impact on student learning, but testing a student is one of the most effective ways to help students to learn, since it provides the perfect amount of stress to motivate the student to perform.

I hope you can see the importance of thinking about these 2 ways that our brains acquire new information, and that it opens up your thinking, like it opened up mine. I’m no longer going to ask my children to explain every step in their math problems, and trust that they have learned the steps procedurally.

See you next week where we will have another Case Study, of a fascinating woman, from my hometown of Toronto, who is otherwise known as “The Woman Who Changed Her Brain.”[xi]

 REFERENCES:

[i] Naomi Toland’s Live Q and A with Barbara Oakley https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pAwzdCc8EPY

[ii] https://barbaraoakley.com/books/

[iii] Learning How to Learn by Barbara Oakley Published August 7, 2018  https://barbaraoakley.com/books/learning-how-to-learn/

[iv] Phil Stringer on Twitter https://twitter.com/xphils and YouTube https://www.youtube.com/user/StringerCHS

[v] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #127 “The Impact of Emotions on Learning and the Brain” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/brain-fact-friday-how-emotions-impact-learning-memory-and-the-brain/

[vi] Mary Helen Immordino Yang Emotions, Learning and the Brain (November 16, 2015) https://www.amazon.com/Emotions-Learning-Brain-Implications-Neuroscience/dp/0393709817

 

[vii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #38 with Todd Woodcroft on “The Daily Grind in the NHL” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/assistant-coach-to-the-winnipeg-jets-todd-woodcroft-on-the-daily-grind-in-the-nhl/

[viii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #37 https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/kent-states-dr-john-dunlosky-on-improving-student-success-some-principles-from-cognitive-science/

[ix] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #27 with Friederike Fabritius on “Achieveing Peak Performance” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/pioneer-in-the-field-of-neuroleadership-friederike-fabritius-on-the-recipe-for-achieving-peak-performance/

[x] The Leading Brain by Friederike Fabritius page 147 https://www.amazon.com/Leading-Brain-Science-Based-Strategies-Performance/dp/014312935X

[xi] The Woman Who Changed Her Brain TEDx Toronto Published April 27, 2013 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o0td5aw1KXA

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