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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Friday, August 1st: FREE Community Partners Night at the Museum of Science

From the Museum of Science Boston

July 28, 2014

Please join us Friday, August 1, 2014 for a Community Partners Night at the Museum of Science. Enjoy the main exhibit halls, including live presentations like the Theater of Electricity.

Participate in evening astronomy activities (8:30 - 10:00pm), which include stargazing in the Museum's Gilliland Observatory on clear nights. We will also have a limited number of tickets available for a Planetarium show.
  • Registered guests will receive up to 4 free exhibit hall passes per reservation. Guests can view the exhibits from 5:00 - 9:00pm, when the Museum closes.
  • ASL interpreters will be available. Please indicate if you need an interpreter.
  • Guests can pick up their reserved tickets at the Community Relations registration table in the Museum lobby August 1, between 5:00 and 8:00pm.
  • The first 100 registered guests to arrive at the museum will also receive free Planetarium show tickets. 

If you have any questions, please contact Maria Cabrera (mcabrera@mos.org, 617-589-0418) or James Boyd (jboyd@mos.org, 617-589-0315). If you have questions regarding accommodations or accessibility, contact Nora Nagle (nnagle@mos.org, 617-589-3102).

New Book: Parenting without Panic

July 22, 2014

An excellent and eminently practical new book, Parenting without Panic: A Pocket Support Group for Parents of Children and Teens on the Autism Spectrum (Asperger's Syndrome), was recently released by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Its author is our Newton neighbor Brenda Dater, Director of Child and Teen Services at the Asperger's Association of New England.

Dater knows what she's talking about, from personal as well as professional experience. She is the parent of three children, one of whom has a diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome and one of whom has ADHD and generalized anxiety.

NESCA has purchased twenty copies, which we'll happily give away to anyone who could sometimes use a little help in coping with the challenges of autism spectrum parenting. Just ask!

From the publisher:

"Ever wish that parenting a child or teen on the autism spectrum came with instant access to a support group?

Brenda Dater has provided parents with exactly that. In this book she draws on her extensive experience as a support group leader and parent of a child on the spectrum to offer trusted advice and tried-and-tested solutions to parents' top concerns, all in an accessible and easy-to-read format.

Filled with the voices of other parents in the same situation, the book covers everything from the first steps to take after diagnosis, to advocacy and disclosure, behavior, building independence and resilience, making friends, holidays and vacations, homework, supporting siblings, how to garner support from extended family and friends, and how parents can look after their own well-being.

This book extends the vital lifeline of a support group to parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum everywhere."

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Longwood Symphony Free Concert July 30th Sponsored by Vinfen

From Vinfen

July 28, 2014

Vinfen and the Longwood Symphony Orchestra invite you to a free concert July 30th! To learn more, click here.

When:   7:00pm Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Where:  DCR Hatch Memorial Shell, Charles River Esplanade.
                   Hatch Shell accessibility information:

For more information, contact Sharon Gray, Vinfen Director of Development, at grays@vinfen.org, or call (617) 441-1896.


Vinfen is a leading provider of community-based services to people with psychiatric conditions, intellectual and developmental disabilities, brain injuries, and behavioral health challenges. Their dedicated uses the latest in science-based interventions to support the people they serve in achieving their goals and leading more independent, productive, and valued lives as members of their community. For more information about Vinfen, please visit http://www.vinfen.org.

Monday, July 28, 2014

For Frustrated Gifted Kids, A World of Online Opportunities

From KQED's Mind/Shift
How we will learn.

By Ingfei Chen
May 21, 2014

When parents find they have a two-year-old who can read, or a five-year-old who wakes up talking about square roots, the task of ensuring that these exceptionally bright children get the educational nourishment they need is unchartered territory.

The path can be frustrating for kids, and worry-inducing for parents. But the ongoing boom in online learning opportunities has been a great benefit for many gifted youth, because the offerings can cater to a student’s ability rather than age.

Sating the voracious curiosity of gifted students can be challenging. They may get bored and cranky when they easily grasp lessons ahead of the group in a standard classroom. Take, for example, the case of a seven-year-old who attends a Berkeley, Calif., public elementary school.

When he found the pace of his math class unbearably slow, he protested by gluing together two months’ worth of his math worksheets. Given a new packet, he “filled out all the answers, and then folded each sheet into paper airplanes,” his mother said. (The mother asked that they not be identified in this story.)

The educational infrastructure in the U.S. for supporting high-achieving students is an underfunded patchwork quilt of services and programs across the states, according to a survey by the National Association for Gifted Children.

“We do not have a systematic way of addressing the needs of the gifted,” said Joyce VanTassel-Baska, education professor emerita at the College of William and Mary. “You could go to one school system and they might be doing a great job. And you would go to another school system and you would see nothing.”

As a result, gifted students and their parents often must cobble together their own individual education plan from various sources to obtain a deeper, more advanced intellectual dive than what standard school systems can provide.

In the case of the young Berkeley protester, who was reading at a fifth-grade level by age four, “we spend a lot of time at the library trying to keep up with his interests and voracious reading habit,” his mother said. At home, “we make books, build airplanes and robots out of found objects, research stuff online, fix our bikes, and create elaborate LEGO machines. He is endlessly curious and astonishingly creative.”

The parents have signed him up for extracurricular classes in science as well as art, music, and sports, including classes for gifted students at the Lawrence Hall of Science. This family has not tried online options yet, and if they do look into private school options, they’ll have to apply for scholarships or financial aid, or would not be able to afford it.

“It’s very difficult to find a high school that would be willing to have a 10-year-old take an AP course.”

Across the bay in San Francisco, Debbie Saret has been similarly engaged in an evolving process of discovery in finding the right resources for her exceptionally gifted son — a 13-year-old who is now doing math coursework at the college-sophomore level.

Six years ago, when she and her husband decided to homeschool him starting in the second grade, it was like stepping off “into the unknown” – a journey that had the parents constantly worrying whether they were making good choices and often “really feeling quite alone, because nobody else around us had ever done anything like that,” she said. Her son’s education has been an eclectic meld of private tutoring, online courses, after-school and summer camps, math circle, and community college classes.

Online Sources Bring Access to the World

Compared to three decades ago, many more out-of-school academic resources are now available for gifted learners, which makes it easier than ever to access advanced learning opportunities, ranging from video courses to diploma-granting online high schools.

“The online component was extremely important for us,” Saret said.

Math and English courses from Stanford’s Education Program for Gifted Youth (EPGY) initially formed the backbone of the Saret son’s homeschooling. Founded in 1990, EPGY has long offered self-paced, computer-based instruction through brief, pre-recorded multimedia lectures on CD-ROMs or, as technology has evolved, via web browser.

Students can also sign up for tutorial guidance from an instructor by phone, email, or the web. (Under a recent licensing deal with Stanford, an education company named Redbird Advanced Learning has taken over the EPGY program and is in a transition of updating and enhancing its technology components.)

At age eight, Saret’s son began taking classes part-time at Stanford Online High School (OHS), a fully accredited, diploma-granting school for academically talented students in grades 7 through 12. OHS, which opened in 2006, provides real-time, interactive virtual seminars through web-based video conferencing.

Despite the fact that much of it happens online, Saret says there’s an emphasis on developing personal connections, too. “They really have a sense of community,” Saret noted. “Class meetings, clubs — it’s a very interactive online experience with video, text chat, whiteboard. Very much like a normal class, but online in terms of interaction.”

Saret is grateful that these sorts of learning resources exist for her son. “Online opportunities are really a big benefit for this group of students, because your age doesn’t matter as much as your interests and your ability … Because it’s very difficult to, say, find a high school that would be willing to have a 10-year-old take an AP course,” she said. At that age, her son was able to study AP physics at OHS.

Teaching the Gifted

Other digital learning options for the gifted include independent-study courses from Johns Hopkins University, Duke University, and Northwestern University. Another resource popular among young math prodigies around the world is the Art of Problem Solving (AoPS) web community and school, which provides real-time instruction through a virtual classroom where pupils and teachers communicate via live text-chatting.

Such online education programs offer bright kids a lot of flexibility and a variety of ways for taking their learning well beyond the usual school curricula. Even if standard schools offer advanced placement classes in calculus, those offerings aren’t rigorous enough for many of the mathematically precocious kids who come to AoPS, said Richard Rusczyk, company founder and a winner of the USA Mathematics Olympiad in 1989.


“They get everything right away. The problems are just too easy,” he said. Typical AP classes don’t prepare the students for math courses at places like MIT, he said, where they may hit the wall of failure for the very first time – and get so discouraged that they just might quit math or science.

That would be bad, not just for the student but also potentially for all of us, because as Rusczyk and others point out, these exceptionally bright individuals have a lot to give. “These students are going to produce an outsized portion of the major technological, medical, mathematical, scientific, economic advances of the next generation,” he said.

The philosophy at AoPS is to teach math at a deep and complex level and introduce high-performing students to difficult problems that stretch their capabilities early. In Rusczyk’s view, the ultimate goal of education should be “to teach students how to solve problems they’ve never seen before. That’s the main focus of what we’re trying to do in our classes.”

The ability to work through difficult conundrums applies to all kinds of life and career situations, such as, in his case, figuring out how to run a company, he said.

A key part of challenging the smartest kid in a school, he added, is exposing him or her to peers who are just as sharp or even sharper. “I’ll tell kids, if you’re always the smartest person in the room, you need to find another room,” Rusczyk said.

The internet now makes it a lot simpler to find and engage with a brainier crowd. For math lovers, AoPS is one of those “other rooms.” While children in the top 5 percent of intellectual talent largely look the same in a standard curriculum — all acing their classes with 100s — in the AoPS community, students look wildly different in their abilities, interests, and needs, Rusczyk said.

Some want to be “taught to the test” and need to be trained out of that mentality, while others want to only think about tackling hard problems. Some turn in beautiful writing assignments, he said, while others “will write stuff that English teachers would be horrified to look at — no punctuation, no capital letters.”

When very bright children are ready for a more in-depth complexity of material at a young age but don’t get it at their schools, they’re badly served, said Stanford math professor Rafe Mazzeo, who served as EPGY’s faculty director. It’s not uncommon to see gifted kids who tap out all their high school’s math courses early and spend their entire senior year taking humanities classes.

But, if those students plan to go into any quantitative discipline, including engineering or natural sciences, allowing their math skills to get rusty for a year or more is “a disaster,” Mazzeo said.

“If they have a couple of fallow years where they’re not being challenged, you can really do them intellectual damage.” With its extracurricular computer-based classes, EPGY’s mission has been to help students race ahead with more challenging, accelerated coursework while still staying in the social milieu of their regular grades at their local schools.

At Stanford OHS, which grew out of EPGY’s success, students also can race ahead, but they generally do it with a cohort of other high-achievers who are doing the same thing. The school’s philosophy is to place students into courses by their ability, not age or grade level, said admissions director Claire Goldsmith. “There’s no way to max out. We can offer courses to kids at all levels.”

With 530 students from 43 states and 18 nations currently enrolled, OHS focuses on fostering critical thinking and argumentation with its core curriculum. It also provides counseling support for social and emotional issues.

Students’ Experiences

Chloe Clougher of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, started at OHS as a junior last fall after two yea­rs at a nearby private college-preparatory high school, and prior to that, homeschooling since kindergarten. Though she liked her local school, she decided to apply to OHS because it offered some advanced classes in science and Mandarin that the brick-and-mortar school didn’t have.

It would’ve been otherwise frustrating “to try to cobble a whole random schedule together from, like, three different schools or online courses like edX,” said the 16-year-old, who won a full scholarship covering OHS’s expensive $17,250 yearly tuition. (About 16 percent of OHS students receive financial aid.)

Although the brick-and-mortar high school has AP courses, Clougher said, she noticed that they kept students busy with lots of assignments that didn’t seem like meaningful work. Now at OHS, she is currently jazzed about biology class and her instructor, who’s not only enthusiastic about teaching, but also about learning new areas of biological research – and hearing what the students have to say. “You don’t really see that in a whole lot of teachers,” Clougher said.

“They have excellent teachers and really interesting classes,” said sophomore Eva Guevara, 15, who lives in Marfa, a town in far West Texas, and is also attending OHS on a full scholarship. She had gone to ninth grade at the local brick-and-mortar public high school, but found the pace slow and uninteresting. Biology class was especially disappointing, she said. “I ended up just being sent out of the room and just watching Khan Academy videos and taking notes on those.”

Today, she still goes to the local school building, but only to attend one robotics course and use the library, where she logs into her OHS seminars. Chemistry class, currently her favorite, is “challenging but also it’s really fun,” Guevara said. “And I feel like it’s going at a really great pace for me too.”

While the Stanford coursework is more rigorous and satisfying, both Clougher and Guevara said that social interactions with their classmates online, although quite good, naturally can’t fully match the social life of a real-life high school. But many OHS students do get to meet classmates face-to-face in occasional get-togethers in their region.

For gifted students, building strong friendships is as important to their personal growth as academic achievement. In San Francisco, Saret said that finding communities for her son and their family, and keeping those social circles going, has been one of the biggest challenges. For him, attending Epsilon Camp, a two-week summer program for 8- to 11-year-olds who are profoundly gifted at math, was life-changing: At the camp held in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in 2011, he met kindred spirits sharing an intense passion for math, a community where he felt he truly belonged.

“He has said to me, ‘It was the first time that I felt that other kids understood what I was trying to say in the most truthful sense.’ He could just be himself, say whatever he wanted to say, without worrying about the other kids not getting him,” said Saret, who subsequently became Epsilon Camp’s admissions director. Her son still keeps in touch with the close friends he made there, including some who live in the Bay Area.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Book Review: Yoga Therapy For Children with Autism and Special Needs

From PsychCentral

By Louise Goldberg
Reviewed by K.M. McCann, Ph.D.

July 17, 2014

Yoga Therapy for Children with Autism and Special Needs
W. W. Norton & Company, August, 2013
Hardcover, 300 pages

As a former yoga teacher, I used to consider Anatomy of Hatha Yoga my bedside manual. Years later, after my life priorities changed and the focus on physical stamina became less important than attaining a peaceful mind, I revisited the practice. It was a different yoga in my forties than in my twenties and thirties, despite that the poses and concepts were the same.

This reminded me that the quintessence of yoga includes many things — among them, intentional focus, honoring the body, cultivating patience, and the acceptance of personal responsibility. And it showed me that yoga is malleable and flexible — that there are forms appropriate for people of all levels, ages, and stages.

In the early 2000s, I taught a weekly Yoga for Kids course in Arlington, Virginia. The children in the class were energetic, outgoing, and eager to contort themselves into animal poses (with animal sounds, of course). The most challenging part of each session was getting the little students to appreciate savasana (final relaxation), or, as we called it then, “the silent game.”

At the end of each class parents would approach me and ask for tips on how they might encourage their child to practice more silence at home. My standard response was a suggestion that they practice the asana series with their child.

As much as I would have liked to take credit for the well-mannered and relaxed children at the end of class, it wasn’t mine to claim. It was the essence of yoga itself and a testament to how it can be adapted to fit different people.

The opportunity to read Louise Goldberg’s Yoga Therapy for Children with Autism and Special Needs introduced me to yet another layer of the millennia-old practice. Goldberg shows that children, autistic or not, can be taught to focus, breathe and relax with regular yoga practice.

There are far too few books about using yoga as a means to interact with the special needs child. Sonia Sumar’s Yoga for the Special Child: A Therapeutic Approach for Infants and Children with Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Autism Spectrum Disorders and Learning Disabilities is perhaps one of the most well-known. The crux of Sumar’s book, though, is the parent-child bond that can develop through yoga practice.

Goldberg takes the topic to another level by offering yoga as a tool for educators, school counselors, and others.

Goldberg’s approach, is should be noted, is not a variation of play therapy. While play therapy uses a systematic approach to help clients resolve psychosocial issues, yoga therapy centers on the use of movement as a means to quiet the mind. Certainly, though, the two could be used in tandem.

“Yoga therapy affords children an opportunity to play and learn in an environment that embraces their uniqueness and supports their strengths,” Goldberg writes. “To develop a therapeutic plan that addresses the diverse qualities of each child, it’s useful to have a greater understanding of his or her condition.”

The focus on mental calmness, says Goldberg, opens a world of opportunities for the child with physical or developmental disabilities. The idea behind the practice is to help the child realize a strength he had not previously known. “Yoga therapy is not dependent on language skills or cognitive abilities,” she explains. “It's a therapy that meets children wherever they are.”

Goldberg offers suggestions on how to engage children with Down Syndrome, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Emotional Behavioral Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and more. Perhaps one of the most fundamental aspects of this therapy is to keep the practice positive. In the last part of the book, Goldberg catalogs the postures and provides examples on how to introduce them to children with varied needs.

Yoga Therapy for Children with Autism and Special Needs is a beautifully rendered and thoughtful book that thoroughly covers the fundamental elements of introducing yoga to children. While the goal of the text is to work with children with special needs, Goldberg has written a reference that can be used in many other areas as well. She addresses the neurology, physiology, process, and application of the technique, all of which apply to a wider audience. This is a book that can serve parents, students, instructors, and, certainly, therapists.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Beyond Booksmart - A Name Change for "Thinking Outside the Classroom"


July 27, 2014

Established in 2006, Beyond BookSmart (formerly Thinking Outside the Classroom), provides executive function coaching to students from 3rd grade through college, and even to adults.

They are a group, led by educator Michael Delman, to which we often refer clients with executive function deficits.

Executive functions are self-management skills that help people achieve goals. In order to be effective, students must be able to manage their emotions and attention, organize and plan their work and time, and reflect upon and revise their tactics as circumstances change.

Beyond Booksmart provides effective tools and strategies that allow student to clarify and achieve what is important to them, succeed academically and be more fulfilled.

In the video below, NESCA Director Dr. Ann Helmus discusses what makes Beyond Booksmart a valuable resource:

Thursday, July 24, 2014

How to Talk to Your Daughter About Her Body

From the HuffPost Parents Blog

By Sarah Koppelkam
July 30, 2014

How to talk to your daughter about her body, step one: Don't talk to your daughter about her body, except to teach her how it works.

Don't say anything if she's lost weight. Don't say anything if she's gained weight.

If you think your daughter's body looks amazing, don't say that. Here are some things you can say instead:

"You look so healthy!" is a great one.

Or how about, "You're looking so strong."

"I can see how happy you are -- you're glowing."

Better yet, compliment her on something that has nothing to do with her body.

Don't comment on other women's bodies either. Nope. Not a single comment, not a nice one or a mean one.

Teach her about kindness towards others, but also kindness towards yourself.

Don't you dare talk about how much you hate your body in front of your daughter, or talk about your new diet. In fact, don't go on a diet in front of your daughter. Buy healthy food. Cook healthy meals. But don't say, "I'm not eating carbs right now." Your daughter should never think that carbs are evil, because shame over what you eat only leads to shame about yourself.

Encourage your daughter to run because it makes her feel less stressed. Encourage your daughter to climb mountains because there is nowhere better to explore your spirituality than the peak of the universe. Encourage your daughter to surf, or rock climb, or mountain bike because it scares her and that's a good thing sometimes.

Help your daughter love soccer or rowing or hockey because sports make her a better leader and a more confident woman. Explain that no matter how old you get, you'll never stop needing good teamwork. Never make her play a sport she isn't absolutely in love with.

Prove to your daughter that women don't need men to move their furniture.

Teach your daughter how to cook kale.

Teach your daughter how to bake chocolate cake made with six sticks of butter.

Pass on your own mom's recipe for Christmas morning coffee cake. Pass on your love of being outside.

Maybe you and your daughter both have thick thighs or wide ribcages. It's easy to hate these non-size zero body parts. Don't. Tell your daughter that with her legs she can run a marathon if she wants to, and her ribcage is nothing but a carrying case for strong lungs. She can scream and she can sing and she can lift up the world, if she wants.

Remind your daughter that the best thing she can do with her body is to use it to mobilize her beautiful soul.


This post originally appeared on hopeave.wordpress.com.

A.S.C.E.N.T. - Advocacy, Social Skills, Career Exploration, Networking and Transitions

From the The Price Center

July 22, 2014

The ASCENT program is a non-profit, skills-focused afternoon program for people ages 16-30 living with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The program is now accepting applications for 2014-2015 enrollments.

It should be noted that The Price Center is prepared to provide behavioral structure, particularly for those on the autism spectrum. However, they are not equipped to provide intensive behavioral support. All prospective participants will have a screening preformed to make sure that the ASCENT program is the right fit for the individual and his/her family.

If you need clarification about this description, please email Karen Manning at kmanning@barrypricecenter.org or call her at 617-332-7477 x 222.


Advocacy, Social Skills, Career Exploration,
Networking and Transitions

ASCENT is for participants with intellectual and developmental disabilities age 16 to 30. Would you like to have your son or daughter’s plans for afternoons September to June planned ahead? Why not check out ASCENT?
  • Monday - Problem-Solving
  • Tuesday - My Future at Work
  • Wednesday - Planning My Social Calendar
  • Thursday - Developing Healthy Habits
  • Friday - Rights and Advocacy

A.S.C.E.N.T. will be operating a minimum of 4 afternoons per week beginning in September (Monday’s pending on participant interest). They are are open Tuesday - Friday, 2:30 – 5:30pm.

To learn more, contact Karen Manning at The Price Center, at
38 Border Street in West Newton. Please all 617-332-7477 or email kmanning@barrypricecenter.org.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Being Kind Makes Kids Happy

From Greater Good
The Science of A Meaningful Life

By Delia Fuhrmann
August 1, 2012

A new study is the first to show that kids get a happiness boost from sacrificing for others, suggesting our strong inclinations for altruism.

Are kids born kind or do we need to teach them kindness? This nature versus nurture debate is an old one, but new findings published last month in the journal PLoS ONE may provide some novel insights.

The study, by Lara Aknin and her colleagues in the psychology department at the University of British Columbia, builds on the idea that if altruism is a deeply rooted part of human behavior, serving an evolutionary purpose, we’d find kind, helpful—or “prosocial”—acts intrinsically rewarding from the earliest stages of life, even when these acts come at a personal cost.

In other words, performing selfless acts would make kids happy—even before they’ve been socialized to fully appreciate the cultural value placed on kindness.

Photo Credit: Shawn Gearhart

Encouraged by the results of a preliminary study they ran, which showed that toddlers who shared a toy with someone else appeared happier than toddlers who simply played with the toy, the researchers developed a more elaborate experiment.

Twenty toddlers, all a month or two shy of their second birthday, were introduced to a monkey puppet who, they were told, “liked treats.” Soon afterward, an experimenter “found” eight treats—either Teddy Grahams or Goldfish crackers—and gave them to the toddler, saying all the treats belonged to that child.

Then the experimenter performed three more steps, in varying order: found another treat and gave it to the monkey while the child watched; found another treat, gave it to the child, and asked him or her to give it to the monkey; or asked the child to share one of his or her own eight treats with the monkey. Watch the video below to see one toddler going through the experiment.

Independent observers rated the toddlers’ happiness in all three scenarios. The results show that the children appeared happier when they gave away a treat than when they received a treat, and they displayed the greatest happiness when they gave away one of their own treats; this “costly giving” even made them happier than giving away a found treat at no cost to themselves. See the graph below for a breakdown of the toddlers’ happiness levels at the different stages of the experiment.

These results suggest that children might not need much encouragement to be kind. “While the role of socialization can almost never be completely ruled out,” the authors write, “the present results support the argument that humans have evolved to find prosocial behavior rewarding.”

But couldn’t the toddlers have seemed happier simply because they sensed they were making the experimenter (and the monkey puppet) happy?

“It’s definitely plausible that children have learned that adults value kind behavior and therefore smiled more because they expected to get rewards from adults when they gave away treats,” says Aknin. But she believes she and her colleagues accounted for this by comparing the children’s happiness when they gave away one of their own treats with their happiness when they gave away a treat that didn’t belong to them.

“In both of these cases, children were engaging in identical giving behavior—giving a treat away—that should be equally praised or rewarded by adults,” she says. “They were just happiest when this treat belonged to them and therefore required personal sacrifice in giving.”

Plus, to make sure that the experimenters were not influencing the children’s reactions, the researchers had their independent observers rate the experimenter’s enthusiasm in each scenario. They found that the experimenter’s enthusiasm did not correlate with the children’s apparent happiness.

While other studies have suggested adults are happier giving to others than to themselves and that kids are motivated to help others spontaneously, this is the first study to suggest that altruism is intrinsically rewarding even to very young kids, and that it makes them happier to give than to receive.

These findings complement recent studies that have shown that giving kids rewards for their prosocial behavior may actually undermine kindness. One possible explanation for these somewhat counterintuitive findings is that, in order for children to grow up seeing themselves as kind and giving, it is important for them to feel that they do good because they want to, not because others expect them to.

Of course, this does not diminish the importance of a loving and kind environment, in which adults teach the importance of prosocial behavior, including by modelling that behavior themselves. It merely suggests that nature may have given us a happy head-start in the task of raising kind kids.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

How Playing Music Affects the Developing Brain

From WBUR 90.9 FM's Blog

By George Hicks
July 17, 2014

Listen to this story (11:22) HERE.

Remember “Mozart Makes You Smarter”?

A 1993 study of college students showed them performing better on spatial reasoning tests after listening to a Mozart sonata. That led to claims that listening to Mozart temporarily increases IQs — and to a raft of products purporting to provide all sorts of benefits to the brain.

In 1998, Zell Miller, then the governor of Georgia, even proposed providing every newborn in his state with a CD of classical music.

But subsequent research has cast doubt on the claims.

A cellist at the Conservatory Lab Charter School in Boston
plays during a recital rehearsal. Research has found music
nstruction has beneficial effects on young brains.
(Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Ani Patel, an associate professor of psychology at Tufts University and the author of “Music, Language, and the Brain,” says that while listening to music can be relaxing and contemplative, the idea that simply plugging in your iPod is going to make you more intelligent doesn’t quite hold up to scientific scrutiny.

“On the other hand,” Patel says, “there’s now a growing body of work that suggests that actually learning to play a musical instrument does have impacts on other abilities.” These include speech perception, the ability to understand emotions in the voice and the ability to handle multiple tasks simultaneously.

Patel says this is a relatively new field of scientific study.

“The whole field of music neuroscience really began to take off around 2000,” he says. “These studies where we take people, often children, and give them training in music and then measure how their cognition changes and how their brain changes both in terms of its processing [and] its structure, are very few and still just emerging.”

Patel says that music neuroscience, which draws on cognitive science, music education and neuroscience, can help answer basic questions about the workings of the human brain.

“How do we process sequences with complex hierarchical structure and make sense of them?” he asks. “How do we integrate sensation and action? How do we remember long and difficult sequences of information? These are fundamental neuroscience questions, and music can help us answer some of these questions, because it’s in some ways simpler than language, but it’s still of sufficient complexity that it can address these very deep and important aspects of human brain function.”

In addition, Patel says music neuroscience research has important implications about the role of music in the lives of young children.

“If we know how and why music changes the brain in ways that affect other cognitive abilities,” he says, “this could have a real impact on the value we put on it as an activity in the schools, not to mention all the impact it has on emotional development, emotional maturity, social skills, stick-to-itiveness, things we typically don’t measure in school but which are hugely important in a child’s ultimate success.”

El Sistema At One Boston School

At the Conservatory Lab Charter School in Boston, every student receives music instruction.

“It doesn’t matter whether they have had music instruction before or not,” says Diana Lam, the head of the school.

The school, which accepts new students by lottery, is bucking a national trend, as more and more cash-strapped school districts pare down or eliminate music programs.

Lam says music is part of her school’s core curriculum because it teaches students to strive for quality in all areas of their lives — and because it gets results.

“Music addresses some of the behaviors and skills that are necessary for academic success,” she says. “Since we started implementing El Sistema, the Venezuelan music program, as well as project-based learning, our test scores have increased dramatically.”

Kathleen Jara, co-director of the El Sistema program at the
Conservatory Lab Charter School in Boston, directs orchestra
students during a rehearsal for their year-end recital.
(Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Musically Trained Kids with Better Executive Functioning Skills

But what does the latest scientific research tell us? The question, according to neuropsychologist Nadine Gaab, is not simply whether music instruction has beneficial effects on young brains.

“There’s a lot of evidence,” Gaab says, “that if you play a musical instrument, especially if you start early in life, that you have better reading skills, better math skills, et cetera. The question is, what is the underlying mechanism?”

At her lab at Boston Children’s Hospital, Gaab leads a team of researchers studying children’s brain development, recently identifying signs in the brain that might indicate dyslexia before kids learn to read, as we discussed in an earlier report from this series. Gaab and her colleagues are also looking for connections between musical training and language development.

“Initially we thought that it’s training the auditory system, which then helps you with language, reading and other academic skills,” she says.

Instead, in a study published last month, Gaab and her team delineated a connection — in both children and adults — between learning to play an instrument and improved executive functioning, like problem-solving, switching between tasks and focus.

“Could it be,” Gaab asks, “that musical training trains these executive functioning skills, which then helps with academic skills?”

MRI scans show brain activation during executive functioning testing.
The top row, row A, is of musically trained children. The bottom row,
row B, is of untrained children. There’s more activation in the
musically-trained children. (Courtesy Nadine Gaab)

To find out, researchers gave complex executive functioning tasks to both musically trained and untrained children while scanning their brains in MRI machines.

“For example,” Gaab says, “you would hear the noise of a horse, ‘neigh,’ and every time you hear the horse, whenever you see a triangle you have to press the left button and whenever you see a circle you have to press the right button. However, if you hear a frog, the rule switches.”

While noting the children’s ability to follow the rules, the scientists also watched for activity in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, known to be the seat of executive functioning.

“We were just looking at how much of the prefrontal cortex was activated while they were doing this ‘neigh-froggy’ task in the scanner,” Gaab says. “And we could show that musically trained children and professional adult musicians have better executive functioning skills compared to their peers who do not play a musical instrument. We could further show that children who are musically trained have more activation in these prefrontal areas compared to their peers.”

So does music-making enhance executive functioning?

Gaab hastens to add, “We don’t know what’s the egg and what’s the hen.” That is, whether musical proficiency makes for better executive functioning, or vice-versa.

But Gaab cites other studies which imply the former.

“It’s most likely the musical training that improves executive functioning skills,” she says. “You could just hypothesize that playing in an orchestral setting is particularly training the executive functioning skills because you have to play in a group; you have to listen to each other.”

And Gaab says that’s analogous to what happens in the brain of a musician.

“There are a lot of different brain systems involved in successfully playing even a small musical piece: your auditory system, your motor system, your emotional system, your executive function system; this playing together of these brain regions, almost like in a musical ensemble.”

Changing ‘Brain Plasticity’

But the question remains: Why would acquiring musical skills influence language and other higher brain functions? Neuropsychologist Patel has developed a theory he calls the OPERA hypothesis.

“The basic idea is that music is not an island in the brain cut off from other things, that there’s overlap, that’s the ‘O’ of OPERA, between the networks that process music and the networks that are involved in other day-to-day cognitive functions such as language, memory, attention and so forth,” he says. “The ‘P’ in OPERA is precision. Think about how sensitive we are to the tuning of an instrument, whether the pitch is in key or not, and it can be painful if it’s just slightly out of tune.”

That level of precision in processing music, Patel says, is much higher than the level of precision used in processing speech. This means, he says, that developing our brains’ musical networks may very well enhance our ability to process speech.

“And the last three components of OPERA, the ‘E-R-A,’ are emotion, repetition and attention,” he says. “These are factors that are known to promote what’s called brain plasticity, the changing of the brain’s structure as a function of experience.”

Patel explains that brain plasticity results from experiences which engage the brain through emotion, are repetitive, and which require full attention. Experiences such as playing music.

“So this idea,” he says, “that music sometimes places higher demands on the brain, on some of the same shared networks that we use for other abilities, allows the music to actually enhance those networks, and those abilities benefit.”

One striking example of this is the use of singing to restore speech. At the Music and Neuroimaging Lab at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Dr. Gottfried Schlaug has pioneered singing as a therapeutic method of rehabilitating victims of stroke and other brain injuries, as well as people with severe autism.

And some of the most recent music neuroscience research is using music as a tool to better understand, and even predict, language-based learning disabilities.

But not all of the ideas behind this research, or even the methods, have come from scientists.

Using Music To Test Literacy Ability

Paulo Andrade teaches music at Colegio Criativa, a private school in Marilia, Brazil. He and his wife Olga, who’s also a teacher there, became interested in the relationship between musical and language skills among their elementary school students.

“We both work with the same children,” Andrade says, “and we started to exchange information about how the children were going. I could relate the musical development of children to their language ability and literacy.”

Andrade developed some collective classroom tasks to identify children at risk of learning disabilities. He asked his second-grade music class to listen to him play a series of chord sequences on the guitar, and identify each one.

“I asked [the] children to write visual symbols to represent the sound sequence they were hearing,” he explains, “a simple line to express chords in the high register and a circle to represent the chords played in the low register.”

Andrade made the students pause before writing down the identifying symbol. This would test their working memory, a kind of mental Post-it note crucial to language comprehension.

“What I presented to children was simple rhythm, for instance, [Andrade imitates the sound of his guitar] ti-tum-tum-chi. I counted the meter one, two, three, four, and then they start to write.”

What Andrade saw was that the kids who had severe difficulty with the task were also struggling with reading and writing. He knew he had good data, but he needed help from a scientist to analyze his data and methodology, and to write up the findings for publication.

“I read some papers by Nadine Gaab, and I searched for the page on the Internet and found Harvard and emailed her,” he says.

Recently, Andrade was in Boston on a Harvard fellowship, working on a follow-up to his research at the Gaab lab.

“We have found that this task, given to second-graders, can predict their literacy ability in the fifth grade,” Andrade says.

About her collaboration with the Brazilian music teacher, Gaab says, “I think that’s a really nice example of neuroeducation, bridging neuroscience and education.”

And she adds that Andrade’s musical test is particularly useful, in that it can be administered cheaply and easily to whole classrooms, regardless of the students’ native language.

“What we would love to do is replicate this study in the U.S.,” Gaab says, “but there’s no funding right now, so we’re working on that.”

Funding Concerns

Patel, the Tufts professor, says that getting funding for research in music neuroscience is often a challenge. It’s still a young field, he says, “and funding bodies tend to be very conservative, in terms of the kind of research they fund.”

The difficulty in sustaining funding may be similar to what music educators are facing.

“In terms of music in the schools,” Patel says, “it’s interesting that music is often the very first thing to be cut when budgets get tight, and as far as I know, that’s never based on any research or evidence about the impact of music on young children’s lives; it’s based on the intuition that this is sort of a frill.”

Gaab, Patel’s fellow neuropsychologist, agrees.

“Currently there’s a lot of talking about cutting music out of the curriculum of public and private schools, and I think it may be the wrong way to go,” Gaab says. “It may cut out some of the important aspects, such as to train executive functioning and have fun and emotional engagement at the same time.”

Both Gaab and Patel believe that music neuroscience is paying off, not only in showing the tremendous practical importance of music education, but also to help answer fundamental questions about the deepest workings of the human brain.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Why Self-Esteem Hurts Learning but Self-Confidence Does the Opposite

From Open Colleges Australia
via InformED

By Saga Briggs
July 5, 2014

It’s all about confidence, they say. Success in any form, be it vocational or interpersonal or what have you, all boils down to self-belief (or at least the appearance of it). But what about more quantifiable forms of success, like academic performance? You either ace the test or you don’t, but did confidence–or lack thereof–play a part in getting you there?

It may not surprise you to know that confidence plays a huge part in learning. Decades of research support the notion that believing in your ability to do something enhances your ability to do it. What you will be surprised to hear is that this is not the same as “believing in yourself” or cultivating a sense of self-worth.

In fact, as you’ll see in a moment, when we tell our students to “believe in themselves,” we may actually be doing them more harm than good.

Confidence vs. Self-Esteem

Roy F. Baumeister, professor of psychology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, has been studying self-esteem for decades, and has published more research on the topic than any other specialist in the U.S.

In his essay, “Should Schools Try to Boost Self Esteem?” he warns us not to conflate self-esteem with confidence.

“Self-esteem is, literally, how favorably a person regards him or herself,” Baumeister writes. “High self-esteem can mean confident and secure–but it can also mean conceited, arrogant, narcissistic, and egotistical.”

What’s more, there’s little to no correlation between self-esteem and academic performance, and Baumeister’s not the first to discover this.

To encourage the lower-performing students to regard their performance just as favorably as the top learners – a strategy all too popular with the self-esteem movement – is a tragic mistake

“There is no getting around the fact that most educators who speak earnestly about the need to boost students’ self-esteem are unfamiliar with the research that has been conducted on this question,” says educator and psychologist Alfie Kohn. “At best, they may vaguely assert, as I confess I used to do, that ‘studies’ suggest self-esteem is terribly important.”

The relationship between self-esteem and student outcomes is limited, at best. In a careful review of 128 studies on this topic, two Australian researchers, B. C. Hansford and J. A. Hattie, found that the average correlation was in the range of .21 to .26, which means that differences in self-esteem can account for only about 4 to 7 per cent of variation in academic performance.

“The effects of self-esteem are small, limited, and not all good,” Baumeister says.

And that’s to say nothing about the idea of boosting self-esteem in order to improve student performance.

“To encourage the lower-performing students to regard their performance just as favorably as the top learners–a strategy all too popular with the self-esteem movement–is a tragic mistake,” Baumeister warns. “If successful, it results only in inflated self-esteem, a recipe for a host of problems and destructive patterns.”

Boosting confidence, on the other hand, can make all the difference.

In a representative University of Iowa study, college students were divided into high confidence and low confidence groups by being told that they were taking a test designed to measure intelligence of Ivy League versus high school students. Test scores for the groups were compared, and peer evaluations of participants’ performance and academic confidence were examined. The researchers expected group assignment to affect participants’ academic confidence and academic performance, and they were right.

Students assigned to the low confidence group performed worse than students assigned to the high confidence group.

In another study, researchers examined first year engineering students’ learning of mathematics in a university college during 2005–2007. The aim was to better understand students’ confidence and determined whether it affected performance. Surveys were administered, with questions asking about previous mathematics qualifications, student confidence, attitude, liking of the subject, and motivation. The responses were analyzed and compared with marks achieved by the students on their first year engineering mathematics examinations. Student confidence influenced performance by as much as 12 per cent.

When it comes to academic performance, confidence is a much stronger predictor of success than self-esteem. But when we talk about boosting students’ confidence, we may be focusing on the wrong thing. While general confidence refers to a person’s character or personality, academic confidence more closely resembles a perceived ability to accomplish a set of tasks.

Confidence vs. Self-Efficacy

Kansas State University professor Candice Shoemaker looks at the psychological constructs of “confidence” and “self-efficacy” (a fancy term for academic confidence, in this case) to evaluate the effectiveness of targeted learning objectives on student achievement.

“Confidence is a measure of one’s belief in one’s own abilities and is considered a psychological trait that is related to, but distinct from, both personality and ability traits,” she says.

“An interrelated construct is ‘self-efficacy,’ which refers to a person’s belief in one’s capabilities to learn or perform behaviors. Research shows that self-efficacy influences academic motivation, learning, and achievement. “

Although confidence and self-efficacy are interrelated, she says, a defining aspect of self-efficacy, which distinguishes it from the more general construct of confidence, is its domain-specific nature.

In one of Shoemaker’s recent studies, self-assessments were given to students enrolled in the course in the fall semesters from 2005 to 2008 to assess whether the learning objectives were being met. The 50-item assessment asked students to record their confidence in ability to do something such as “distinguish between transpiration and respiration” or “write a scientific plant name.” Students were asked to indicate how confident they were on that day,from “not confident at all” to “very confident.”

Most students reported slight confidence at the start of the course and confidence at the end of the course in performing the 50 tasks. Students’ reported confidence at the conclusion of the course was correlated with their academic performance in three of the four years that were examined.

But Shoemaker says measuring confidence within a specific domain turns it into something else.

“It is more likely that self-efficacy, rather than confidence, was impacted as students moved through the course,” she says, “because all the activities associated with a course means a course is a domain-specific construct, and the students’ reported confidence at the end of the semester was correlated with academic performance.”

Vrugt et al. (1997) saw a difference between confidence and self-efficacy too. While they defined self-efficacy as pertaining to specific activities, making it more of an interaction between a person and a task, they considered self-confidence to be a personal characteristic.

“Since confidence generally has been regarded as a personality trait, academic self-confidence can be viewed as a separate and more specific term, which can be referred to in educational settings as a predictor of academic performance.”

The difference between academic self-confidence and general self-confidence is that the former can “more easily be influenced by elements of the situation (e.g. surroundings, people, and recent success or failure) than the latter.” Studies have found consistent and enduring evidence that academic self-confidence–confidence in one’s academic abilities–is a significant predictor of academic performance.

Research suggests that academic performance in general is related to one’s perceived self-efficacy. Taylor, Locke, Lee, and Gist (1984) demonstrated that academic staff members with higher self-efficacy produced more scientific material.

Tuckman and Sexton (1992) suggest that students with higher self-efficacy are better at searching for new solutions and are more persistent at working on difficult tasks, whereas people with low self-efficacy give up more easily when dealing with difficult tasks and cannot concentrate on tasks as well.

These patterns of behavior, if they continue, lead to the development of different levels of actual ability, which results in varying levels of achievement.

The Benefits of Studying Confidence

At the National Institute of Education in Singapore, professors Lazar Stankov, Suzanne Morony, and Lee Yim Ping have found that students who think they are skilled in math tend to perform well on math tests.

Lazar and his team point out that there is plenty of evidence indicating the effects of self-concept, anxiety, and self-efficacy on student achievement, but fewer studies investigate the role of confidence.

Collecting data from more than 600 Secondary 3 students in 5 schools, the researchers found confidence to be highly predictive.

“From this study, we know that confidence is a much better predictor of students’ achievements than any other non-cognitive measure,” notes Lazar. “In fact, it acts in a way that it overcomes everything else; so confidence is very important.”

The team measured students’ self-confidence by asking them to complete a math test and, after each item on the test, asking how confident they were that their answer was correct. They then calculated the students’ confidence rating (or “bias score”) by comparing this measure to the actual percentage of correct answers.

Lazar believes these confidence tests can benefit both learning and teaching. For example, the scores from the self-confidence tests provide students with insights into the topics they are weak in. Students who think they have given a correct answer to a question but are proven otherwise may gain the necessary knowledge of the kind of math topics they are weak in.

[Read more about how to practice effectively.]

This could encourage self-reflection in students and motivate them to pay more attention to these weaker topics. “It teaches students to really think about what type of math questions they struggle with and which questions they thought were easy,” says Morony.

“When we went to share the findings with schools,” Yim Ping adds, “teachers were very interested to know their students’ bias scores. They wanted to know how correct their students’ answers were and how confident the students were about their responses being correct.”

Some of the findings enabled to the teachers to sharpen their selection of specific strategies to increase their students’ confidence. “They realized they could leverage on certain topics to explore enhancing students’ self-confidence and interest,” she adds.

Similar findings are documented in a 2012 study called “Confidence: A better predictor of academic achievement than self-efficacy, self-concept and anxiety?” Researchers assessed confidence together with scales measuring self-efficacy, different kinds of self-concepts, and anxiety among the 15-year old students from Singapore. A distinct confidence factor was identified in both mathematics and English.

“Confidence as studied in our work to date has been the best predictor of achievement in both mathematics and English,” the authors write.

Can You Train Yourself to Be a More Confident Learner?

For example, Haywood (1992) described a case study in which a thirteen-year-old boy’s scores on the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children rose 28 points in four months as a result of a significant change in motivational circumstances, which increased his self-confidence and engagement in mental work. The boy was exposed to a few hours of dynamic assessment, a program in which he was not allowed to fail, and was given any help needed to succeed.

The majority of participants were overconfident in their ability to use a product before trying it out, but grossly under-confident after one attempt.

As a result, his enthusiasm for and confidence in his mental abilities rose dramatically. So it may in fact be possible for students to improve their academic confidence in ways other than simply studying harder.

Another study highlights some of the confidence-related limits we impose on ourselves when it comes to learning. BYU professor Darron Billeter had subjects test a range of new products, from a high-tech fishing pole to a computer program. The majority of participants were overconfident in their ability to use a product before trying it out, but grossly under-confident after one attempt.

Billeter says this illustrates our tendency to give up at the first sign of ineptitude.

“(The learning curve) is really steep initially,” Billeter said. “There’s some pain associated with it, but we’re actually improving. You’re going to be better than you think you are and are going to learn it quicker than you think you are.”

What happens in the brain is that first-time tasks are solved using controlled processes, which are slow and flexible. But over time, the task becomes automated and is delegated to the back of the brain.

“The reason people underpredict their own rate of learning is they don’t appreciate how quickly these controlled processes are going to become automated. My advice to individuals is to stick with it. You’re going to get better at the task faster than you expect, almost always.”

The same can be said for students.

About Saga Briggs

Saga has taught and tutored writing at the elementary, secondary, and post-secondary levels. Her educational interests include psychology, creativity and system reform. She earned a B.A. in Creative Writing from Oberlin College, and lives in Portland, Oregon, USA. You can reach her on Google+, @sagamilena or saga.briggs @ oc.edu.au

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Parent Like There's No One Watching

From the HuffPost Parents Blog

By Janel Mills
July 9, 2014

My friend told me once that I could find the silver lining in anything. Here's a big one that I've found: being a parent of an autistic child has humbled me and made me a better parent.

Specifically, I've stopped caring about what strangers think of my parenting skills. It took me a lot of searching to find that particular silver lining, and it wasn't easy to find.

Sometimes Bella can't handle all the people at the store. Sometimes she doesn't want to leave the spring fair at the elementary school. Sometimes she can't share or take turns the way other kids can at her age. It could be anything, or nothing at all. But her reaction is often huge, her meltdowns epic, and when they're public meltdowns, well, you can imagine how fun that is.

I've been screamed at full-blast in Target over a toy I didn't buy. I've had to coax an anxiety-overloaded child off of the floor at Jo-Ann Fabrics because she'd just had enough. I've left parks carrying my child like a sack of potatoes, kicking and screaming, because she wouldn't leave any other way.

I've been slapped, scratched, kicked and almost bit while strangers watched (or pretended not to watch, but lingered just a little too long to leave any kind of doubt as to whether or not they were shopping or watching).

It's not always meltdowns, though. Sometimes it's just all the quirky things that you don't notice around the house, but are glaringly obvious when you venture out into the real world. I had to tell Bella once that no, not everyone in the store thinks it's funny when you stand in front of their cart, put your hand up, and shout, "STOP!"

Also, kids tend to notice when your daughter licks every doorknob in the hallway at morning drop-off. Her eccentricities are amusing at home, but were mortifying in public. I found myself saying, "No, Bella..." the entire time we were out, which only aggravated me and put her on edge.

I used to walk out of public places feeling embarrassed and humiliated. Partly because of how my child behaved, but also partly because of how I behaved. So often, I found that I was parenting for the benefit of those around me. I felt their eyes watching me, judging me, and so I would perform for them. I said what I thought I "should" say, what I thought people were expecting me to say.

Instead of calmly and patiently waiting for Bella to cool down before talking to her, I would jump the gun and reprimand her when she wasn't ready to process what I was saying. I would speak harshly to her so people could hear that I was in charge, that I was doing the "right" thing -- even though the "right" thing for Bella doesn't look or sound anything like what the "right" thing might be for other kids.

My worst parenting moments, the ones I am least proud of, happened because I was trying to impress a bunch of strangers I'll probably never see again.

One day, after a particularly awful meltdown at the grocery store, I was driving home and had a simple but important thought flash in my head:

I'm not responsible for those people.

I have no control over those strangers' reactions towards or perceptions of me. To put it simply, who the hell cares what those people think?

The only people whose opinions matter, the only people I am responsible for, are my kids. I'm only beholden to them. I care about what they think of me, and how they feel. No one else.

Those lingering people in the store can just f*ck off.

Once I stopped trying to impress strangers, my life got a whole lot easier. I don't worry about what people will think of Bella and her behavior in public anymore, because I seriously don't care. I focus only on my kids and how they're feeling. If they're happy, I'm happy. If they're upset, then we deal with it the same way we would deal with it at home.

Sometimes that means I have to stand in the store and wait a minute for Bella to pull herself together. Sometimes it means I have to stay calm and not react when my daughter tries to claw my arm. I know it's because she doesn't know what to do with the overwhelmingly intense feelings she's experiencing, and reacting physically towards me is the only way she knows how to deal with those feelings. Other people don't know that, but I don't have to explain myself to them.

If someone says anything dumb, I ignore them -- I literally pretend they're not talking. If someone lends sincere help, I accept or decline politely (depending on whether or not it will make things better or worse, in my opinion).

People stare, and I'm sure some people go home and judge the hell out of me. Why should I care? I get to go home and feel good about how I treated my children.

This girl's opinion of me means a whole lot more than your opinion, lady.


Follow Janel Mills on Facebook and Twitter. You can also read her essays in I Just Want to Be Alone and You Have Lipstick on Your Teeth.

Study IDs Teens Prone to Emotional Problems After Concussion

From PsychCentral

By Janice Wood
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

July 13, 2014

A new study has found that after a concussion, teens who are sensitive to light or noise may be more likely to have emotional symptoms such as anxiety.

“While most people recover from a concussion within a week, a number of factors affect people’s recovery, and studies have shown that teenage athletes may take up to seven to 10 days longer to recover than older athletes,” said study authors Lisa M. Koehl, M.S., and Dong (Dan) Y. Han, Psy.D., of the University of Kentucky in Lexington.

The study, presented at The Sports Concussion Conference in Chicago, involved 37 athletes age 12 to 17 who had persistent symptoms for an average of 37 days following a concussion. The researchers noted that teens who had a previous history of psychological issues were excluded from the study.

One group, made up of 22 teens, had emotional symptoms, such as irritability, aggression, anxiety, depression, apathy, frequent mood changes, or excessive emotional reactions after the concussion. The second group of 15 teens did not have emotional symptoms.

The researchers report that there were no differences between the two groups in factors such as the percentage that experienced loss of consciousness or amnesia, indicating that the groups were likely comparable in the level of severity of concussion.

The study found that of the 22 teens who had emotional symptoms, five teens — or 23 percent — were sensitive to light while three teens — 14 percent — were sensitive to noise.

In comparison, of the 15 teens without emotional symptoms, only two — 13 percent — were sensitive to light and none were sensitive to noise.

The researchers note that the number of concussions experienced by the teens and whether they also had headaches or nausea were not related to whether they also had emotional symptoms.

The researchers also found that having a family history of psychiatric problems did not make teens any more likely to have emotional symptoms after a concussion.

Teens who had anxiety were 55 percent more likely to self-report attention difficulties than those without anxiety, while teens with irritability/aggression were 35 percent more likely to report problems with attention than teens without irritability, according to the study.

The researchers noted that the findings are preliminary because of the small number of participants, emphasizing the importance of replicating the study with a larger number of teens.

“Identifying factors such as these that may exacerbate issues teens experience after concussion may help in planning for the appropriate treatment and in making decisions about when to return to play and what accommodations are needed at school for these athletes,” the researchers concluded.

The study was supported by the American College of Sports Medicine Research Foundation.


Source: The American Academy of Neurology

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Is School Enough?

From KQED's Blog Mind/Shift
How we will learn.

By Katrina Schwartz
September 3, 2013

A documentary film premiering on public television today — Is School Enough? — takes the viewer inside the lives of teens from various backgrounds and reveals the importance of tapping into students’ passions to drive their learning.

These are some of the covered topics:

Learning That Matters

Students at English High School in Boston helped pilot a social networking and planning tool called Community Planit. The online platform offers participants a series of missions, problems to solve and questions to answer about how the school district could improve and meet student needs better.

As a player completes missions, he receives tokens to spend on the priorities he’d most like to see in school. The information and feedback then goes back to the district.

“I’m always trying to keep my ear to the ground to get my kids involved with meaningful projects,” said Xavier Rozas, instruction technology coordinator at English High School.

But student soon moved from complying with a homework assignment to logging in on their free time and racking up tokens.

“If it’s real and it’s meaningful and the kids understand it and they understand what putting their effort into something is going to deliver, they will go hard and do their best.”

“At first when he brought it up I didn’t know what to do because we’re teens and he basically wanted us to act like adults, to speak up like adults,” said Xavier, an English High School student who participated in the project. “The adults are actually going to ask us for our opinions and that doesn’t really happen often.”

The students dominated the game, soliciting the participation of other students, faculty and staff and even helping to facilitate citywide town hall meetings on setting the district’s priorities. They were even asked to meet with the district superintendent to share their ideas.

Rosas thought his students would be intimidated by the invitation, but they’d gained so much self-esteem through the project they were excited to engage with the leadership about their ideas.

“If it’s real and it’s meaningful and the kids understand it and they understand what putting their effort into something is going to deliver, they will go hard and do their best,” Rozas said. “They will deeply learn something if they know that the work is going to affect some change.”

In fact, the English High School students’ engagement with Community Planit was crucial to its success as a planning tool for the district.

“Students were the ones being creative with this game,” said Eric Gordon, associate professor of visual and media arts at Emerson College. “They were the ones uploading interesting images and using YouTube and being playful with their responses and knowing intuitively how to operate in this realm.”

They modeled how to use digital media to bring in community perspectives and spread the word about the project, helping excite others to participate.

"So often, rather than measuring the things we care about, we care a lot about the things we can measure. That can lead to a very narrow focus..."

“So often rather than measuring the things we care about, we care a lot about the things we can measure, and that can lead to a very narrow focus on some academic skills,” said Joseph Kahne, professor of education at Mills College.

“I think we know that the skills that allow people to be productive in the work force or productive in society entails a range of skills that go far beyond some of those academic priorities and skills.”

A crucial part of Community Planet’s success was providing an authentic audience for the student’s work. After adults ask students to engage in meaningful ways around real problems they have to listen and respond.

Self-Directed Learning

Sierra Goldstein was always a good student, but it wasn’t engaging. She memorized facts out of the book, regurgitated them on tests and forgot them, getting A’s along the way. “There wasn’t a lot of freedom, except electives, so you really didn’t get power over what direction you wanted to go,” Goldstein said. “It made me feel like I had no control over my future.”

Goldstein originally looked at taking online classes to satisfy her high school degree thinking that would free up her time for the things she was really passionate about. But when she researched online programs, they often required even more time than physical school.

“The number one problem with school is they’re not facing up to the problem of relevance.”

Instead, Goldstein began a self-directed learning program relying on support and guidance from the Thompson School District Innovation Lab, an organization designed around the idea of “permissive learning,” letting student passions drive their work.

Goldstein knew she was interested in alternative medicine. She became the youngest yoga instructor in the country, keeping three blogs documenting her learning journey, including one that offers tips from a healthy teen. She met with mentors in her field of interest and used them to help guide her course of study, which remained largely independent.

Since Goldstein’s schooling was no longer confined to the walls of a school building she let her ambition and passion run wild and sought mentors throughout the country, conferencing with them through video chats. Ultimately, she put together a business plan to travel to India to study the spiritual, nutritional and cultural components of naturopathic healing with the ultimate goal of writing a book. She learned how to write a business plan, mapped out her cash flow and discussed travel considerations with people had been to India.

“There’s no better time to learn something than when you intend to learn it,” said Michael Wesch, associate professor of cultural anthropology at Kansas State University. “Whereas in school it’s kind of backwards, you’re forced to learn something.” Goldstein followed her passions far beyond what she might have learned in traditional school and because she was interested and engaged with her learning it felt fun and exciting.

“The number one problem with school is they’re not facing up to the problem of relevance,” Wesch said. In a connected world, the teacher’s job is to help students discover a relevant problem to engage with and connect them to the many resource communities and mentors that have become accessible through the internet.

“Once you do that, you can sort of just take the shackles off and let them run because they start feeling their way through this knowledge machine that’s all around them,” Wesch said.

Power of Fan Fiction

The Harry Potter Alliance (HPA) is an organization almost entirely based on online interactions. It uses parallels in J.K. Rowling famous books to inspire young fans to become “heroes” in their own world. The project has media and literacy researchers excited partly because it started organically as a Facebook group and became international in a matter of hours.

“This is an extraordinary migration from fans into citizens,” said Henry Jenkins, a media scholar at the University of Southern California. “We know it’s really hard to move students past a certain age into political participation. The Harry Potter Alliance takes kids who are culturally active and helps them find ways to become politically active.”

For example, the Alliance decided to pressure Warner Brothers, which owns the rights to Harry Potter, to make fair trade chocolate products. Harry Potter fans around the country sent video “howlers”– a modification of the screaming messages in the Potter books — to Warner Brothers telling them to change their labor practices. Young fans took inspiration from Hermione Granger’s campaign to better the working conditions of house elves and Professor Dumbledore’s admonition that people should always do what is right, not what is easy.

One student participant, Abby Larus, became involved with the HPA when she was only 13 and rose to lead a chapter before she left high school. She planned campaigns with other organizers, collaborated with her peers on formal letters to Warner Brothers and organized events like the howler campaign in her local area. Her parents were concerned that she was wasting time on the internet or even worse, meeting strange people. But for Abby, participating in something meaningful grounded her learning.

“Connected learning suggests that there should be a learning ecology, and that what we do outside of school should be connected in very strong ways to what we do inside of school,” said Jenkins. “School has to respond to the informal learning that’s taking place at home and in the community.”

The stories in “Is School Enough?” suggest that traditional school often doesn’t give students enough of an explanation for why they are learning. “In America, in urban public schools in particular, our kids are being asked to learn things in a bubble,” said Rozas, the English High School teacher in Boston.

Without that sense of a meaningful mission, students lose perspective of why they’re in school. The main gist of the documentary: By broadening the definition of learning, allowing more than standards to rule the classroom, students might learn skills that will stick with them for a lifetime.

“It’s going to take a shift in culture and that shift is not easy,” Kahne said. “If we show them the ways that the things they learn about in school can help them engage with things in their broader life, we’re going to find higher levels of engagement and deeper learning.”


Find out when “Is School Enough?” airs on your local PBS station.