Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Resources for National Autism Awareness Month

autism awarenessreport issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in March 2014 concluded that autism now occurs in 1 in 68 births in the U.S. Take time during Autism Awareness Month to learn about the strengths and challenges associated with this brain disorder.

The World of Abnormal Psychology
, program 11, “Behavior Disorders of Childhood,” looks at challenges and solutions for families who have children with behavior disorders. Autism is discussed specifically at 42:06.

Gain a historical perspective of autism and learn current beliefs about why autism occurs by watching The Brain: Teaching Modules, module 29, “Autism.” Also, hear Dr. Temple Grandin talk about overcoming the challenges of her autism by focusing on her strengths.

Students with autism often have trouble paying attention. Learn how to minimize distractions in the classroom environment that demand students’ attention so that they can focus more on learning in Neuroscience & the Classroom, unit 4, “Different Learners, Different Minds,” section 5, What teachers can do.

Share success stories with your students. The video page for unit 4, “Different Learners, Different Minds,” includes video and audio clips of Dr. Stephen Shore and Dr. Temple Grandin talking about their abilities as individuals with autism. Temple Grandin was the opening keynote speaker for #SXSWedu16. You can watch her speech “Helping Different Kinds of Minds Solve Problems” here. Also read our blog post “Think Like an Animal” on Dr. Grandin’s accomplishments.

Image Copyright: vectorfusionart / 123RF Stock Photo

Teaching and Learning About Our Brains

EEG head coveringBrain Awareness Week, organized by the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives and the Society for Neuroscience, promotes the public health and personal benefits of brain research. The following resources from Learner.org offer intriguing insights into the brain and the mind, and will help you teach about this organ and explore how brains work to help you maximize students’ learning potential.

In Discovering Psychology, program 3, “The Behaving Brain,” neuroscientists study abnormal brain functions related to amnesia in order to determine normal brain patterns. Also try the Human Brain interactive to test your knowledge of the brain’s role in human activity.

The brain can be incredibly resilient. For example, many children born with hydrocephalus, a childhood disorder of excess fluid in the brain, can lead normal lives. Discover how in module 7, “Brain Anomaly and Plasticity: Hydrocephalus,” from The Brain: Teaching Modules.

The series Neuroscience & the Classroom: Making Connections shares what brain research tells us about learning. For example, in unit 5, “Building New Neural Networks,” Harvard professor Kurt Fischer describes the plasticity of the brain and how to incorporate new concepts into neural networks.

Test your knowledge of what your brain does for you with the Human Brain Interactive from Discovering Psychology.

What were you thinking?! I know we’ve all asked that before. Learn what fMRI studies reveal about teen brains in Neuroscience & the Classroom, unit 2, “The Unity of Emotion, Thinking, and Learning.” Watch “Good Idea?” to discover why teenagers and adults think differently about dangerous behaviors.

Explore these additional resource links for teaching and learning about the brain:

Discovering Psychology, program 4, “The Responsive Brain” and program 13, “The Mind Awake and Asleep

Rediscovering Biology, unit 10, “Neurobiology

The Mind: Teaching Modules

Exit Slip: Neural Pathways and Political Discussions

Copyright: ikopylov / 123RF Stock Photo

How does it feel to be back in the building? I always enjoyed the first two weeks of the school year, meeting new teachers and reconnecting with peers, receiving class rosters and wondering what my new students would be like, setting up the classroom, and planning like crazy.

At my school we sometimes held informal discussion groups about articles related to our teaching practice, much like a book group would. Here is some food for thought collected from the web this week, either to consider on your own (and comment on below!) or share with others. This week, we are thinking about how we build students’ skills gradually in order to meet instructional goals and how to safely and fairly discuss political issues with students.

1. Guest Column: Don’t Short Circuit Education, a June post on Learning Lab/WBUR written by Alden Blodget, is about the importance of focusing on the learning process, instead of just focusing on achieving the goal. “We need to create schools that nurture the growth of neural pathways, the circuits, that result in engagement and recall. And educators need to trust that, if students build the circuitry, the lights will go on.” Learn more about how you build these paths in Neuroscience & the Classroom. Alden Blodget is a content contributor to the series.

2. In Politics in the Classroom: How Much is Too Much, by Steve Drummond on NPREd, Diana E. Hess and Paula McAvoy discuss whether or not politics should be allowed in the classroom and if controversial topics should be used as learning opportunities. Hess says, “My view is that if you’re going to have students involved in authentic politics, then it’s really important to make sure you have issues for which there are multiple and competing views, and you don’t give students the impression that there’s a political view that they should be working toward.” Read the article to find valuable considerations for class discourse. Do you talk politics with your students? If so, what has worked for you to create a safe and well-rounded discussion?

(Image Copyright: ikopylov / 123RF Stock Photo)

Prevention Month Recruits Parents, Students, and Teachers to End Bullying

antibullying pic_SPcreatedPSFor children and adolescents across America, October is usually a festive time of year, associated with costumes, candy, haunted houses, and corn mazes. Since 2006, though, October also marks National Bullying Prevention Month, an awareness campaign started by the PACER Center. Rejecting the idea that bullying is simply a normal part of childhood, PACER initially developed a bullying awareness week that would take place every October. National Bullying Prevention Week grew into an entire month in 2010.

The theme for 2014’s National Bullying Prevention Month is “The End of Bullying Begins with Me.” Already this year, students across the country have celebrated by participating in anti-bullying 5K runs, wearing blue for the World Day of Bullying Prevention, and signing online petitions. In the last week of October, students have the opportunity to combine Halloween with bullying prevention. While trick-or-treating, participating children and teens can hand out cards to the neighbors and community members, encouraging them to sign an online bullying prevention pledge.

This year’s awareness month also has special significant since, in January 2014, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) created the first federal uniform definition of bullying. The definition was developed in order to aid in the research and monitoring of bullying – specifically its effects and prevalence, determining who is at risk, and, most importantly, what can be done to prevent it.

The official definition from the government agency marks another departure from viewing bullying as a harmless rite of passage. It is increasingly considered a public health threat.

Between one in four and one in three students say they have been bullied. These are alarming statistics since the effects of bullying can include decreased academic performance, lower scores on standardized tests, and struggles with depression and anxiety that continue into adulthood. Connections between bullying and suicide, however, are often oversimplified. It’s important to know that no direct cause and effect relationship has been established between bullying and suicidal behavior

To prevent bullying in their classroom, teachers may benefit from understanding how a student’s emotional state affects his or her ability to learn and function in school. Neuroscience & the Classroom, unit 2, discusses how, even without bullying, children and adolescents have trouble understanding their emotions and the emotions of others. They can be easily swept away by negative emotions, and the result is that students may not be able to motivate themselves or engage in meaningful learning.

While the science behind bullying prevention has uncovered many useful facts and statistics, researchers have yet to identify the best way to prevent bullying. However, most agree that prevention and awareness require a community effort.

For parents and teachers, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) created the KnowBullying mobile app, which has specific resources for educators, information about warning signs, and even a feature that reminds adults that it is time to talk to their children or students about bullying.

While dedicating a month to prevention of the epidemic of bullying is admirable, awareness needs to be a priority the entire year.

Share the ways in which you raise awareness for bullying prevention among your students in the comments section below.

Attention and Autism

daydream iconWhen I create resources for teaching and learning, I keep in mind the different kinds of learners that are in any given classroom where a teacher uses the content or activity.  In that classroom will be students with a range of learning style preferences, talents, cognitive or physical challenges, and socio-economic backgrounds. Some of those students will have autism.

The Autism Society designates April as National Autism Awareness Month, prompting me to spend some time learning about autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and what parents and teachers can do to create optimal learning environments for children with autism.

I started by asking the mother of an autistic 7th grader what she wishes educators knew about the needs of students with autism. She told me that her daughter Nina can be resistant when asked to perform specific tasks, and that it’s important that teachers don’t interpret “I won’t” as “I can’t.” Her daughter succeeds when teachers offer alternative approaches to engaging Nina in the work at hand. It’s helpful to understand that “I won’t” may be a coping mechanism some students use in response to classroom distractions or feeling pressured. When students get something wrong the first time, it is helpful to give them time to rethink their responses and try again.

Nina’s mom told me that her daughter, like many people with autism, is stressed and loses focus in environments that are noisy or cluttered. Reducing physical and mental abstractions is critical for gaining and maintaining the attention of all students. Neuroscience & the Classroom, unit 4, “Different Minds, Different Learners,” section 5, What teachers can do, provides techniques teachers can readily employ to help all students decrease their stress and increase their focus on learning. Simple and practical solutions like using a warm tone of voice or eliminating stressful and unnecessary activities such as pop quizzes help. Headphones block distracting noise and technology tools help students manage routine tasks.

Finally, Nina’s mom pointed out that her daughter doesn’t know that she is “different” and she shouldn’t be treated as if she were. That is to say, Nina, like every other student in the classroom, has worth, talents to cultivate, challenges to overcome, and a future ahead of her. This point is beautifully made in the “Success Story” video in unit 4. In the video Dr. Stephen Shore describes how the “autism bomb” that was dropped on him when he was a toddler became, as he says, “an asset” that makes him a better professor and a better musician.

As educators we share the goal of understanding and responding to all our students’ strengths and challenges. Finding ways to limit distractions and stress is a big part of that. What techniques do you use to help your students give all of their attention to learning?

Healing the Injured Brain

Neuroscence_5_brainWe’ve got brains, but how much do we really know about them? March is the perfect time to learn more about this amazing organ because we have Brain Awareness Week (March 11-17) and Brain Injury Awareness Month. The public is encouraged to learn how to develop a better understanding of the brain and its functions, and combat the stigma of brain disorders through education.

Educators have long been interested in understanding the brain, and many professional development workshops have encouraged K-12 teachers and administrators to create learning experiences that provide for the vast differences in the way each student learns.

Still, for as much as we think we know about the brain—about what functions are housed in the left side or the right side of the brain, for example—along comes that exception to the rule that forces us to reconsider our conclusions. In unit 1, section 4 of Neuroscience & the Classroom: Making Connections, we are asked to consider this question:

If the two hemispheres [of the brain] are heavily involved in virtually everything we do, what happens when one hemisphere is removed?

Nico’s Story and Brooke’s Story answer this question. (Watch the short case study videos on the Neuroscience page.) These are two very different young men, yet they have much in common. Their stories support the assertion that environment affects learning. Think about how the attitudes of family members and teachers help the boys succeed and how these stories inform teaching.

 Brain Injury from Accidents

The brain’s ability to function as it should is affected by many things. For Nico and Brooke, a physical disorder forced a permanent, structural alteration of their brains. Those kinds of drastic surgeries are rare, however. Most of the time, the brain’s function is altered by accident. A bump, blow, or jolt to the head can cause a traumatic brain injury (TMI). The Brain Injury Association of America estimates that 1.7 million people will sustain a brain injury each year. Furthermore, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), sports concussions in the United States have reached an epidemic level.

Brain injuries can result in physical, cognitive, and behavior challenges. Getting immediate treatment can make a big difference in long-term quality of life. The Brain: Teaching Modules, program 32, “Neurorehabilitation,” shows case studies of people who have overcome their brain injuries thanks to early treatments. For example, five minutes into the video, you’ll meet Thais, a 16-year old junior in high school. She describes the reaction of her peers to the non-visible symptoms of her brain injury caused by an automobile accident. This straight-A student suffered speech and language problems as well as memory loss. How might teachers help students better understand the nature of brain injuries and support students who suffer and survive injury to the brain?

For additional resources on the brain, how it functions, and how knowledge of the brain informs classroom instruction, search “brain” at Learner.org.

Why do teenagers often do stupid things?

Neuroscience & the Classroom“What were you thinking?” Raise your hand if you have ever said that to a teenager. Whether you are a parent or a teacher of an adolescent, I’m sure that question has crossed your mind at least once. Thanks to Professor Abigail Baird, we may not know for sure what teenagers are thinking, but we have a better idea of how they think. Of course, understanding how someone thinks helps us teachers respond more effectively to behaviors in the classroom.

Continuing with our February “Monday Motivation” theme on emotions and learning, let’s consider what motivates teenagers to partake in risky behaviors that can lead to broken limbs or poor grades. Professor Baird explains that adolescents engage in risky behaviors by over thinking dangerous scenarios. In her research, she found that both adults and teenagers responded to questions about risky behavior similarly: risky behaviors are bad ideas. However, she discovered through brain imaging that adults used the emotional centers of their brains when considering these behaviors, whereas teenagers used the underdeveloped rational sides of their brains. The teenagers were not connecting their emotional centers with abstract, unfamiliar experiences, which hampered their ability to make a good decision. Her findings underscore the importance of emotional relevance in learning, and help teachers understand their students and respond appropriately to their perplexing behaviors. See the explanation of the study in the video for unit 2, “The Unity of Emotion, Thinking, and Learning,” section 4, Making the Case, of Neuroscience & the Classroom.

Tell us your best “What were you thinking” moment with your adolescent students. How does Professor Baird’s research motivate you to think differently about how you respond to teenagers in your classroom?

Linking Emotions and Mathematics

Neuro_2_emotion_mathIn many classrooms, math is a bunch of numbers and operations seemingly unrelated to what students do in their every day lives. Math is not typically thought of as an emotional subject, but emotions help solve problems. People apply what they’ve learned from past experiences in order to act advantageously in future situations. In order to motivate students to solve math problems, it’s important that your students care about the problems presented. Why is the problem relevant to them in their daily life?

In this short video “Emotions and Math” for unit 2 of Neuroscience & the Classroom, hear Prof. Abigail Bard explain how actively engaging the brain’s emotional centers should not be separated from academic information in the math classroom. Also, witness a teacher engage her students in the math lesson by drawing from their daily experiences.

Share here with other teachers how you connect your math (or other subject area) lessons to real world situations in order to engage your students.