Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Brain Rules Lecture

Last night Dave and I took the opportunity to attend an outstanding lecture. It was hosted by the Family Life Department at Bates Technical College; their 13th Annual Brain Series. The Lecture was given by Dr John Medina, Ph D, Director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Reasearch at Seattle Pacific University and faculty at the U of W School of Medicine, Dept of Bioengineering. He is the author of many books including "Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School".

As I said before the lecture was outstanding!! Dr Medina was interesting and fast paced and I felt like a whole new person walking out of the lecture; with ideas and information that I'd never had before. He concentrated his lecture on two of the twelve principles, "brain rules", from his book: Exercise and Stress, and the effect these principles have on a persons ability to learn and perform executive functions. (An executive function is like math or problem solving.)

Dr Medina's lecture was filled with examples straight from research that pertained to real life situations. One of the projects he spoke of was a fascinating exploration of the question "Why do half of US citizens age well (active minds, able to perform high level functions, etc) like Mike Wallace the 60 minutes reporter, who by the way is in his late 90's, while the other half age poorly (difficulty with thought processes, limited movement, etc.) like Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones who looks and acts like living death and is in his early 60's." It was proven in earlier research that in the US we all age in one of these two ways--there are no in betweens (statistically speaking). So the project set out to figure out what the difference was. I'm sure you already know the difference. They found that regular aerobic exercise was the difference.

The next step was to see if exercise would cause improvement in these same higher level thought processes called executive functions. And it did! After 3 months of daily exercise the formerly sedentary individuals DOUBLED their previous executive function scores!! This was tried at many different age groups to see if would help more than just the aged. In each study formerly sedentary people drastically improved their executive function scores simply by exercising. Even more interesting--when the same people stopped exercise and were retested their scores dropped again.

This really affected me for two reasons. One, I want to live a long healthy life, to be just like my Grandma and be active and busy clear into my 80's and 90's. This study tells me to do that I need to exercise. I hate exercise but I hate the thought of dying young and feeble more, so I will start an exercise regimen so my body AND BRAIN will stay strong and healthy. Two, I am on Site council at my kids Elementary school and we are working very hard on programs to improve math scores in our student population. Math is an executive function (as is learning a foreign language, and other knowledge acquisition) and, if the research is properly applied to the students, will improve if the students are participating in aerobic exercise daily. Dr Medina said they've found the "sweet spot" for post exercise knowledge acquisition is within 1 hour of exercise. Wouldn't it be great if we could test this research in our school by offering 20 minutes of aerobic exercise before Math class! I'd really love to see those test scores skyrocket!

The second half of Dr Medina's 2 hour lecture was about the effect of Stress on learning. He defined stress for us quoting research done from the 60's on and detailing examples of what stress feels like, looks like, etc. It was all very interesting and way too much for me to detail here but let's just leave it at stress is when you have no control over a situation, whether that situation is a drunken father, an abusive husband, or an inability to change something. Stress kills brain cells--proven. Stressed brains don't learn the same way--proven. Stress in the home affects learning at school--proven. Low stress homes make smarter kids--proven. Smarter kids get better test scores, get better post-secondary education, better jobs and contribute more to society--proven.

By the way, most of the stress experienced by school-aged children is from the home. Can you see where I'm going? It's eveyone's business what's going on in homes throughout the school district, state, and country. When those homes are low stress the kids learn better, get better scores, and so on. It's proven! Dr Medina said that when fathers ask him what they can do to get there now toddler child into Harvard when they graduate he says, "Go home and love your wife."

He elaborated on marriages and what makes marriages work (the wife feeling like she is heard--yep that one simple thing is the "secret sauce"!!!) quoting from John Gottman's research and books ("And Baby Makes Three", "Raising an Emotionally Stable Child"). He also gave us ideas and proven ways to make sure someone feels they are heard:
  1. When a conflict is arising before you respond in any other way such as anger or defensiveness you first say, "You look_____" fill in the blank with descriptor of their expression such as angry, humiliated, scared, mad, frustrated, worn out, etc.
  2. Then make an empathetic, educated, honest guess at why they are feeling that way such as: "Is it because you were expecting $10 and I only paid you $5?" or "Did your boyfriend just break up with you?" or "I think you are worried about what would happen when I saw this report card" or "I'm guessing it's because I didn't have my cell phone with me again." or whatever it is that you are seeing and guessing in their face.
This helps to get the elephant out of the room and face together honestly what is going on.

I could go on and on about this lecture. I learned so much and I'm looking forward to reading both Dr Medina's books and John Gottman's books. This lecture also reminded me how thankful I am for my low stress household, my fantastic husband who always hears me, our eternal marriage and my four children who, according to the research, are bound to be brilliant coming from such a home. :)

For more information on Brain Rules check out John Medina's blog

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Dani,

    We've studied the brain rules and Dr. Medina's theories in my Educational Psychology class. Great stuff! Very pertinent not only to learners, but to parents and teachers as well.


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