Check it out!
I just moved the games on the Thinking Skills Club website to bpuzzle.ca (because of the Brain Puzzles used to track student progress and because I'm in Canada) to make it easier to type into the address bar.
Check it out!
SimCityEdu is a new version of the popular game for schools. Students manipulate variables that affect a city's growth, and see the results of their decisions evolve before their eyes.
Cognitive Scientist Andy Clark suggests in his book, Natural Born Cyborgs, that SimCity may be good for learning about emergent complex systems, including our own brains:
"gently manipulating a few variables, such as zoning and land prices, you may be able to bring about some effect, for example, to encourage the building of a new shopping mall. The domino effects here will surprise you, as new ghettos and high crime areas emerge in its wake. The bigger the city, the more complex the interactions. The skill of “growing” a thriving, happy city is precisely the skill of embracing co-control. It is the skill of respecting the flow, while subtly encouraging the stream in some desired direction.
"StarLogo, SimCity, and its recent companion “The Sims” are designer environments that can help biological brains learn to get to grips with decentralized emergent order. They can help us develop skills for understanding those peculiar kinds of complex systems of which we ourselves are one striking instance. Experience with such tools should be compulsory elements in our educational practice."
My weekly cartoon on Chalkes at Edreach.us. Interesting link re: robograding
The following poem is by a 14 year old girl named Rylie who has synesthesia, a quirk of the brain in which she sees colours attached to numbers and names and also has physical sensations about things like food.
There is research that says we all have this kind of experience as infants or in the womb when the thalamus, the place where information from different senses is processed and sorted in our heads, is being formed, and for some people it continues in various forms throughout their lives.
It can be an advantage (seeing numbers in colours can make them easier to recall) or not (people don't understand you, the sensations can be overpowering sometimes). For more information about synesthesia check Wikipedia.
Rylie VanOrsdol is currently a sophomore in college with a 4.0 and will start college at age 15.
Michael Schneider, says, “Mathematics is a way to read the world of nature and technology around us. If a teacher can convey this, the entire world becomes an exciting textbook.”
Nicely put, but that's a big IF.
This week's Chalkles cartoon (Edreach.us) illustrates the way school districts are committing themselves through purchasing to single, mostly opposing operating environments. The third player not included here is Samsung, who is distributing tablets with built in curricula and classroom management. Windows and the low coat Aakath tablet are other vendors vying for this market. It shows to an extent how technology is not only entering but commercializing the classroom. How much is educational improvement and how much is brand imprinting strategy? And do we care as long as the result is awesome?
From our recent press release:
The Thinking Skills Club, an innovative school club where kids play computer games that develop learning capacity, is showing up in a variety of settings this Fall:
For full press release see http://www.prweb.com/releases/2013/10/prweb11252753.htm
This is my son's brain.
On my website, tskillsclub.com (an uninspired name if there ever was one--where are those marketing people when you need them?), it shows he's beaten:
The EF game is Bad Ice Cream. He had to get to level 15. It's very challenging, and I'm very proud. The graphic is supposed to show his progress through the site and also the balance of functionality in his cranium. He has a terrific memory, I'll have to get him to do some memory games to show it. He could use more focus; I'll try to get him to do Ping Pong 3D (he's great at ping pong in real life, and can actually focus really well when he wants to (which isn't always when others, esp. adults, want him to)). I should also get him over to the Processing Speed section to fill that up, he plays piano at home. He might have won some games he didn't claim for, but he does play some of the same games over and over. I think he's won more than one piece in a column, which doesn't register. I'll have to pay closer attention myself.
We had a session of the club yesterday at his school, 13 kids showed up (max. is 20). I was disappointed not to see any Grades 5 and 6's there, I'll have to talk to the principal. This was the first time I'd tried online registration and payment, and only half of the kids who came were paid up. Two weren't actually supposed to be there, their mom was looking for them all over. I'm thinking of running it as a drop in, $10 a visit (one of the kids who did register was sick).
I think it's hard for parents or a school to evaluate the club without having seen it in action. That's why I made a video two years ago, when the club was at its height, but it's only had under 200 views even though it's on the front page of my website (it doesn't run automatically, Weebly doesn't have that option). It's really perfect for public schools, because it's easy for a teacher to run, but here in Toronto, at least at our school, the teachers don't lead a lot of after school activities and they don't seem to be something the school really promotes or values. I've started calling private schools (should have started in September) and there seems to be some potential there but who knows. There were Boys and Girls clubs expressing great interest last Fall, but none of them came through due to budgets and key people being unable to sell it to higher ups.
I'll keep promoting it to the private schools and take it to the Learning and the Brain conference in Boston in November, people who actually see it get excited and some of them ought to be able to start new clubs this year. Really, if a teacher wants to do it they can start right away. Call it a computer game club if that gets more kids interested. It's so easy and I think so potentially beneficial, I'm really stumped that more people haven't glommed onto it by this point.
I think I'll promote the docu-style video on Youtube. I didn't before because I didn't think people would sit through it, but at least it could be inspiring.
Oh, and there are also no subscribers to this blog, which I used to write and promote more frequently. Blogs started as online diaries, not "10 Ways To Crimp Your Hair" lists and infographics. We are living in such commercial times, Twitter has turned everyone into a salesman. Charles Schultz would have a fit.
Check out my interview with Mike Shaughnessy, Professor in Educational Studies at Eastern New Mexico University Portales, New Mexico, and a Consulting Editor for Gifted Education International and Educational Psychology Review, at Education News.
His comment: "If interested parents get ahold of this---you will be flooded."
I've started a weekly cartoon hosted at Edreach.us on technology and education. Here's the first issue. Enjoy! (FYI, A "MOOC" is a Massive Open Online Course, a university level course anyone can sign up for worldwide).
Reports of a study are making the rounds about how simply being poor discombobulates your cognitive abilities. The poor can't help it, they're too busy worrying about finances to bring up their kids right.
O. M. G.
In the study in question, two experiments were done. In the first, people in a suburban mall were classified as high-income vs. middle income and asked to do cognitive tests while thinking about a hypotheical car repair. In the second, people in a rural, cyclical economy (in India) were asked to do similar tests before and after the harvest, when they were relatively "poor" or "rich". In each case, people in the "poor" condition did worse.
Who wouldn't do poorly on any kind of test while you're preoccupied with money? To conclude from this that poor people are cognitively inferior in general is specious. Though it makes a good headline and will serve the agenda of proponents of universal income schemes, the talk of "cognitive bandwidth" being impaired by poverty is bogus.
The position of the authors seems to be that people in poverty are always so preoccupied with finances they can't think straight. If so, they provide no proof for their thesis. I'd like them to go down to Wall Street and ask stock brokers to do these cognitive tests while thinking about government bailouts, or ask a restaurant chef to do them while contemplating that night's specials. It's a slippery slope: it seems to me that using this method you can pretty much prove anything you like about anyone.
A recent article describes a new study in the June Frontiers in Cognitive Science assistive device "The vOICe" that takes visual images from a camera and coverts them to soundscapes in the brain that revert back to visual images, enabling a form of vision to the blind.
An interesting discovery in the study was that "a positive correlation was found between participants' musical training and their (resulting visual) acuity."
In other words, if you're tone deaf this won't help you.
The same principle applies to touch. Paul Bach-y-Rita started his career examining eyeballs and realized that a visual image drawn on a person's back could substitute for the sensations of the retina, in that a visualization of shapes would result. His most notable success was with a woman who had a condition in which she was unable to control her body unless she had a mirror in front of her. It was the only way she had to gain a sense of her body in space. By translating information from processors positioned at various points on her body to a patch on her tongue, Bach-y-Rita was able to reestablish her sense of her position in space, and by repeated use the associated neural pathways became well enough retrained to take up the task all by themselves. The commercial device resulting from this is aimed at restoring sight, rather than vestibular problems, and is called Brainport.
From their site:
BrainPort has demonstrated its ability to allow a blind person to see his surroundings in polygonal and pixel form. In this scenario, a camera picks up the image of the surrounding, the information is processed by a chip which converts it into impulses which are sent through an electrode array, via the tongue, to the person's brain. The human brain is able to interpret these impulses as visual signals and they are then redirected to the visual cortex, allowing the person to "see." This is similar in part to how a cochlear implant works, in that it transmits electrical stimuli to a receiving device in the body.  
As a final note on the subject, this video shows a blind man who has taught himself (and currently teaches others) to see using echolocation, i.e., bouncing clicks he makes with his tongue off of objects to orient himself, just like bats. (Want the answer to Nagel's "What's it like to be a bat?" Ask this guy.)
A 2011 study was referenced recently in an article about academic interventions. Block Talk: Spatial Language During Block Play by Ferrara et al. in Mind, Brain, and Education looked for proportions of "spatial talk" naturally occurring in speech in a set of children playing blocks with their parents.
From the abstract: To investigate how play affects variations in language, parents and children were assigned to 1 of 3 conditions: free play with blocks, guided play, or play with preassembled structures (Study 1). Parents in the guided play condition produced significantly higher proportions of spatial talk than parents in the other two conditions, and children in the guided play condition produced significantly more spatial talk than those in the free play condition.
From this we can pick up that parents use more spatial language in guided play with blocks, and kids either pick up on it or desire to express those thoughts themselves. The authors conclude that this finding suggests "simple-to-execute educational interventions." Since spatial conceptual ability has been tied to math and science performance, this is something we want to encourage at an early age.
Cool, so if you want your kids to develop spatial language and presumably spatial attention skills, make sure they have guided play with Lego rather than free play, right?
But is that a valid conclusion? It seems to me the study shows that guided block play probably helps develop spatial concepts in the context of normal development, but there is nothing here that shows that children with sub-par ability benefit from such activities.
Another 2011 study referenced in the same article is Children’s spatial thinking: does talk about the spatial world matter? by Pruden, Levin and Huttenlocher in Developmental Science, looks at " the relations between parent spatial language input, children’s own production of spatial language, and children’s later spatial abilities." This longitudinal study backs up the inference that children pick up spatial talk from their parents in the first few years of life, and shows that this exposure leads to improved performance on spatial problem solving tasks later on (4 1/2 years old).
This again supports the notion that you should a) play with your kids and b) use spatial language (words such as big, tall, circle, curvy, edge, etc.) with them when you do, whether it's building with blocks or playing catch. Once again, however, these results are in the context of normal development, not educational intervention, and we should not make blanket suppositions about transference.
However, with other studies showing that university students can improve spatial selective attention by playing an action video game for 10 hours , or that such games increase visual processing speed  and can significantly improve reading speed in children with dyslexia , it does become reasonable to suppose it couldn't hurt.
References 1. Green & Bavelier (2003). Action video game modifies visual selective attention. Nature, 423, 534-537.
2. Dye, Green & Bavelier (2009). Increasing speed of processing with action video games. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 18(6), 321-326.
3. Franceschini et al. (2013), Action video games make dyslexic children read better. Current Biology, 23, 1-5.
I have been looking for cognitive based games that I can use in a once a week after school format along with the Thinking Skills Club (tskillsclub.com). This blog is about two math games I found, and how they are different, and how only one of them fits the criteria of a cognitive game.
What are the criteria? Basically, the game has to engage brain areas related to specific thinking skills as shown by research. Most people would say, okay, so with a math game you want to activate the computational areas of the left hemisphere. But just doing math itself does that. Great, so any game in which you do math is a cognitive math game. Not quite.
Take Timezattack, pictured above. In this online 3D adventure style game your avatar (the little green guy) explores a 3D environment in which you battle monsters by solving multiplication problems. The software tracks your rights and wrongs, gives remediation and so on all within the world of the game. You control your travel through the world, but there is a sequence to things and, from what I saw of the first level, a linear path to take (also left brainy, which is good, right?).
One thing that originally attracted my interest to Timezattack was the 3D play space, which engages the hippocampus and is probably responsible for the spatial attention gains noted as a result of playing action games, which support math ability. But the 3D is all front facing and linear, and for all the great graphics and battle format, this game boils down to dressed up drills. Not that these aren't effective in teaching math--they claim that after 30 minutes a week of game play for 8 weeks any student (barring dyscalcula) will know their times tables inside out. I believe them, and I believe the game is fun compared to other things you do in math class. But if it was really fun, kids would want to spend more than 30 minutes at a time on it, wouldn't they? It's designed for schools and from my limited game play it seems to belong there.
On the other hand, there's Crystal Math.
Built as a world of numbers, CM forces the player to use numbers to DO things. The pedagogical style reminds me of Minecraft, an open ended environment where you are an active, free willed component of the game and in which you become part of the environment. To survive in CM you not only have to solve math problems, you have to think in numbers. Such thinking engages not only the left hemisphere but the right, which is needed for insight problem solving, the kind of "aha" moments that make discovery exciting and gameplay addictive.
Just read these instructions for one of their puzzle frameworks they call Fast Paced Spikey Chase, taken from their blog:
In this puzzle, the player has access to no weapons. The player must guide the spikey monsters through the multiply hoops in a particular order and run them over the number walls. If the spikeys are -3/4 by the time they hit the wall, the wall will break and the player can move to the next part of the level. Getting them to -3/4 requires guiding them through the +/- hoop (-1/2), the /2 hoop, (-1/4), and then finally the *3 hoop (-3/4).
This kind of challenge requires all kinds of neural connections--timing, aim, calculation, emotion--resulting in an understanding of numerology that goes far beyond memorization. That's the cognitive component, and that's why I'm looking forward to the full release of Crystal Mathematics (even the name is cheeky) and eventually using it in my workshops.
Charles Schultz, author of the Peanuts comic strip, was one of the first to show childhood in its real light: a fractious, dangerous place where even grown ups can't protect you from life's little letdowns or especially from your peers. It's no coincidence that he is considered the patron saint of child psychiatrists.
Given that, I've made some amendments to Robert Fulghum's list of what he learned in kindergarten in his book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, told from Charlie Brown's point of view. My apologies in advance both to Fulghum and the Schultz estate.
1. Share everything AND PEOPLE WILL TAKE ADVANTAGE OF YOU.
2. Play fair AND YOU'LL LOSE.
3. Don't hit people AND YOU'LL GET SLUGGED.
4. Put thngs back where you found them AND SOMEONE ELSE WILL STEAL THEM INSTEAD.
5. Clean up your own mess AND OTHERS WILL LEAVE THEIRS FOR YOU TO CLEAN UP TOO.
6. Don't take things that aren't yours AND OTHERS WILL TAKE THINGS THAT ARE.
7. Say you're SORRY when you HURT somebody EVEN IF YOU'RE NOT.
8. Wash your hands before you eat, YOU KNOW WHERE THEY'VE BEEN.
9. Flush EVEN THOUGH THE LAST PERSON DIDN'T.
10. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you BUT IF THAT DOESN'T WORK TRY THERAPY.
11. Live a balanced life - learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work everyday some BUT ESPECIALLY DRINK.
12. Take a nap every afternoon UNLESS YOU'RE A DOG, IN WHICH CASE SLEEP ALL DAY.
13. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together OR THE CROWD WILL TURN ON YOU.
14. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Stryrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that LUCY KNOWS WHY, ASK HER.
15. Goldfish and hamster and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup - they all die. So do we. BUT ONLY WE GO TO HELL.
16. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned - the biggest word of all - LOOK.”OUT!
I have just been reading the Wikipedia entry on Flipped Classroom (listed as Flip Teaching). Maybe not the best place to learn about it, but if it is to be believed, the concept (similar to Self-Organized Learning) is to provide students with resources and a topic, and have them, separately or in teams or groups, come up with a presentation to the class about it. When this becomes the chief method of instruction, the classroom is flipped because the students are teaching themselves and their peers, with the teacher performing as the Grand Master of Ceremonies in the centre ring.
The Wiki's History section dates the genesis of the practice to 2010:
Eric Mazur developed peer instruction in the 1990s. He found that
computer-aided instruction allowed him to coach instead of lecture. Lage, Platt
and Treglia published the paper "Inverting the Classroom: A Gateway to Creating
an Inclusive Learning Environment" in 2000.
All I can say is this ignores a lot of dedicated people and initiatives dating back to at least 1968, when my Grade 6 "enrichment" class was led by one of the pioneers of inclusive learning, Beverly Muir, currently the Principal at Humberwood Downs Junior Middle Academy in Etobicoke, Ontario, and who a quick internet search shows was honoured by The Learning Partnership as one of the most Outstanding Principals in Canada in 2010.
What was flipped about Muir's classroom in '68? First of all her, desk was at the back. Our desks, rather than being in rows, faced one another in groups of two to four students, as is common now (at least in Toronto). But she went one step further and allowed us to decorate our workspaces, creating "cubicles" with reams of brightly coloured corrugated cardboard, complete with windows that opened and closed or whatever other accoutrements we could think of, so that we would feel comfortable and proprietary of our space and even have some privacy inside the shared classroom.
There was a filing cabinet near the front of the class (far from her desk) that was either full of resources or a place for us to file our work, or both. Today its function would be handled by some kind of classroom management system in the cloud. We had lots of pets, including a class guinea pig, mice (Romeo and Juliet), a frog and a snake (that didn't end well), and others. We went on masses of field trips, the longest to Quebec City, and we had "discussions," where we all sat in a circle and exchanged opinions about some topic we had studied, training us not only to speak up and debate a position but to listen and acknowledge one anothers' worth.
And we did projects. "Roma est une pulchra terra," that's from my study of Latin with my cousin David, also in her class. I'm not even going to look that up to see if it's right. We did a presentation on Parents' Night, which consisted not just of an obligatory visit to the classroom with some of the kids' work on display but an Exhibit Hall in the gym in which we stood beside our work as the parents walked around.
I also directed my first play, completely without adult help, casting my whole class in a script cobbled together from Peanuts cartoons. Muir encouraged us to pursue our own interests, of which mine was cartooning, for instance by getting me Charles Schulz's address so I could write him and ask him questions about the strip.
Some teachers today may worry that flipped classroom means a loss of control, but in my experience there was never any question of who was the ringleader of my Grade 6 circus. Her method was simple: show respect. It was the first time I ever knew a teacher to politely interrupt a conversation with another adult to give ear to the question of an eleven year-old who was quietly waiting to be heard. It's the first year of my school life that is chock full of memories and relationships that extended beyond that year through a shared knowledge that we were involved in something special. This became even more evident once were back in the mainstream.
I've heard the word "transformative" knocked around in descriptions of flipped classrooms. All I can say is, that year changed my life, and those of my peers as well. This is powerful stuff, made more powerful by the advent of computers and the internet into the mix, trifles we didn't know of in the late 60's (we had something called a library and film reels). It demands a ton of the teacher who finds herself suddenly at the helm of a ship rather than the front of a train (pardon my clunky metaphors), and anyone deciding to try it with the idea that it will run itself is bound for a fall.
But if a teacher is willing to trust her students and to really teach, rather than tell, it can offer great dividends both for the teacher and the students for a long time to come.
An aricle in the Harvard Business Review by Adam Waytz and Malia Mason sets out to debunk "brain porn," the dissemination of poorly digested results of scientific experiments by science writers, using as an example an fMRI study of iPhone users that claimed they were essentially in love with their phones.
They go on to set the record straight by detailing what they claim neuroscience has established a consensus on, the existence of four basic brain networks, devoted to:
1. Default state,
3. Affect (Emotion) and
Here's their summary:
I take issue with their characterization of the default network: my understanding is that it doesn't "do" anything, it's a baseline condition, the brain at rest (while awake). But the reason for this post isn't to quibble but to support the study they mock as brain porn to begin with. Although the "they love their iPhones" study may have been flawed, I wouldn't be surprised if the reported conclusion was correct, with one minor refinement.
A 2000 study by Bartels and Zeki, The Neural Basis of Romantic Love, found what Waytz and Mason might call the Love Network, areas experiencing BOLD activation when gazing at the faces of lovers as opposed to friends or others. LIke the iPhone, they principally involve the ACC and insula as well as the caudate nucleus and putamen. The authors remark on the amount of overlap between these areas and the neural effects of addictive drugs such as cocaine and opioids (suggesting to me that love may be the original "addiction," a theory supported by "the honeymoon period" and the difficulties experienced by beaten wives to kick their habit/leave their spouse).
Given the addictive properties of handheld technology (remember Crackberries?), it wouldn't be surprising to find that people not necessarily loved their iPhones, but were certainly addicted to them.
Teachers are on vacation. That means sunshine and novels for some, but for
others it means time to find new ways of engaging students and improving the way they do things come Fall.
For these educators, summer is the season not only of cottages but educational conferences, which bring teachers and principals from all over the country together to share war stories and the latest pedagogical techniques. One of the bigger trends this Fall will be computers in education. All the major manufacturers are suddenly swooping in on school boards to become their go-to machine for online resources. Many are adopting Chromebooks, Google's lightweight always online laptops that are light on the wallet, too. Samsung has entered the fold with a tablet intended to replace pens and paper, and includes classroom management systems as well as curriculum based content. And many have already flocked to Apple's iPad as their educational delivery appliance of choice, so much so that the company has established the Apple Distinguished Educators program, its way of recognizing K-12 and high school teachers that use their products to transform teaching and learning.
On the After School front, technology clubs are springing up to teach
computer game programming using tools like Scratch and Gamemaker, which
themselves have game like interfaces that make code writing fun. Minecraft clubs
explore the environment of a 3D world with the ability to build whatever they
can conceive. And the Thinking Skills Club curriculum of brain games will be
helping to build cognitive capacity in its students, preparing young minds to
excel at school.
The club recently posted a Youtube video showing how the website works, including playing game Snow Line, which increases Executive Functions, one of the six skill sets it addresses on the sits.
When Fall comes, teachers will once again have to choose how to get
curriculum across in ways that are fun and engaging. It's nice to know that, with
our new techno tools, the number of choices is growing exponentially.
Mitch Moldofsky is founder of the Thinking Skills Club, a computer game club that helps develop cognitive functioning for kids. He hold a B.Sc. in Cognitive Science and Psychology from the University of Toronto.