Short Items

July 19th, 2008

January 2010

This publication reports on the outcomes of the inaugural national Learning, Arts, and the Brain summit hosted by the Neuro-Education Initiative of The John Hopkins University School of Education and Dana Foundation in May, 2009. Participants, more than 300 educators, scientists, school administrators, and policy makers, explored the relationship between cognitive neuroscience, the arts, and learning. The report  provides the reader with a fly-on-the-wall perspective of the summit proceedings: summaries of recent research evidence – Posner, Spelke, Wandell, Winner, Schlaug – implications for policy and practice, and a summary of conference outcomes. The transcript of the keynote talk, Why the Arts Matter:  Six Good Reasons for Advocating the Importance of the Arts in School  delivered by Dr. Jerome pp. 29 -36, provides an accessible summary to inform discussions in the school setting. Released by the Dana Foundation in November, 2009, Neuroeducation: Learning, Arts, and the Brain is a free education resource obtainable online. A hard copy can be obtained by email –

To download a copy of the Dana Arts and Cognition Consortium Report of multiple three-year studies from seven universities released in March 2008, go to:

 The Cambridge Primary Review is the result of an independent inquiry into the condition and future of elementary eduation conducted in England between October 2007 and February 2009. The review investigated 3 overarching perspectives: Children and childhood today; The society in which children are growing up; The condition and future of primary (elementary) education in a bid to find out “how and how well the system currently works and how it should change in order to meet the needs of children and society during the coming decades.” The final report, authored by a Cambridge University core team, draws on the work of 66 academic consultants and 20 university departments in the UK. A booklet introducing the 640-page final report can be downloaded as a PDF from:  This is a must-read for those debating the future purpose and values, learning and teaching, curriculum and assessment, quality and standards of elementary education. To whet your appetite a quote from page 12 concerning Cognitive developments: “Forget the idea that chidren’s development advances in fixed stages. Forget the right-brain versus left-brain functions. Forget all those learning ‘styles’. Our understanding of children’s cognitive development and learning has grown hugely in recent years and schools can build on this research.” 


  Previous Shorts


 Arts Education in the News article stated that at J. Wallace James School in Baton Rouge, LA since they began a strong arts program their performance scores have increased 7.7 points. “We are developing the right and the left side of the brain,” the principal said. Meanwhile the instructional supervisor for Lafayette parish schools said, “It’s about equity. It’s about access and it’s about helping each child develop (his or her) potential.”

Wisconsin has renewed its commitment to the arts in a report stating, “Arts and creativity education can do more that equip students with the creative competencies they need for success in the future. It can also be an effective way to improve students’ performance while in school, improve the school learning environment and strengthen communities.”

The executive director of the Ohio Alliance for Arts Education explained that 88,083 Ohioans are employed as architects, photographers, museum curators, musicians, graphic designers and other arts occupations. Thus, “If we are raising children and educating them to work in the 21st century, and to have the skill set they need, the arts are a part of that. They teach teamwork, cooperation and innovative thinking.”

 A Dana newspaper, Arts Education in the News says of creativity: “Science, math, language arts and other subjects are important for our students, but they are no longer enough. The biggest mistake is educating people to become good workers, rather than creative thinkers.”

Students, according to the CA Buck Institute for Education, learn more with project-based learning. I always taught with thematic project based learning, so I’m not surprised at all. We would brainstorm a theme and then small groups would research different aspects. They say, “Project-based learning also encourages a deep level of thinking by involving students in answering questions for themselves, making connections, and using analytical skills.”

 Interested in reviewing 224 education articles… you’ll find that at

 The April/May ’09 issue of Scientific American Mind has a long article titled “Brain Trainers, Put your cortex through its paces with these software games.” Our brain power peaks in our twenties, but we can exercise to keep sharper. The problem is some programs are expensive. Brain Fitness Classic is $395 for one person ( HappyNeuron has a CD-ROM for $89.95 and Nintendo has Brain Age for $19.99. Other sites are,, There are two for ADHD students, BrainTwister and Work It, Baby.

If you prefer to buy books, try Brain Sharpener by Lane and Pepin. This cardboard covered book has 240 activities with a timer and scores. Brain Games: Lower You Brain Age in Minutes a Day has five levels with answers in the back. Many of the 85 pages have two puzzles. There are language puzzles, math puzzles and more.

What is the power of humor in our classrooms? Humor engages many portions of our brains. According to a German study, “Humor strengthens the psyche.” In the study, cheerful rooms had large windows and funny posters and hospital patients had less pain and healed more quickly. In the same way, a joyous classroom in which the power of humor is recognized, engages the brain for attention and learning. Learning should be fun!

 A report in the journal Science explained a study of gesturing with young children. Gesturing seems to be important for vocabulary development. Wondering what a study in our classrooms would report. Can you envision the difference in teachers who use few gestures and those who use dramatic ones? You can point to a whiteboard with little energy or a dramatic swoop.

If you are exercising to lose weight, be careful. Swimming in cold water, according to research, makes the brain crave high-fat foods. Walking has no impact but running on a hot day decreases appetite.

Fidgeting kids? Just make them settle down and study! No!!! Fidgeting actually helps some children maintain their focus. A small study of boys ages 8-12 found that fidgeting stimulates the networks that control working memory.

What did Memphis, Tennessee do when 67% of their “highly mobile” students high school students failed to graduate? They planned a residential school for up to 400 students. It will cost three times the amount of traditional school but has the potential to create valued citizens.

Students who are studying the human body can see cross sections at:

Do you subscribe to Eric Chudler’s monthly Neuroscience for Kids – – and Brain in the News, a print monthly newspaper reprinting stories from around the world?  For a free subscription to Brain in the News go to:

The February/March Scientific American Mind had a long article on “The Serious Need for Play.” The researcher interviewed 26 convicted Texas murderers and determined that they all came from abusive families and never played as kids. He then interviewed over 6000 people about their childhood and “his data suggests that a lack of opportunities for unstructured, imaginative play can keep children from growing into happy, well-adjusted adults.” Free play helps children learn social skills, coping skills and problem solving. In these days of testing, testing the sense is academic time is most important but what if it leads to socially inept individuals.



 The National Institute of Mental Health reports that children with ADHD have thinner cortex. This gap is corrected by age 16.

 Former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor has begun a Web site aimed at middle school students: Her site promotes a better understanding of government when polls say only about 1/3 of adults can name the three parts of government.

 A series of studies on race found that when African-Americans were reminded of race before exams they did poorly. However telling them that their intelligence is under their control and that if they worked hard they would succeed empowered them. When an exam was presented as a puzzle they performed better. After junior high students in Detroit went through a class in life goals they perform significantly better.

The March issue of Ode has a long article titled “Train Your Brain” about neurofeedback and reducing stress. The process is to learn to control a video game by theta or alpha brain waves. Theta waves play a role in creativity, problem-solving and ADHD. Alpha waves are a state of alert relaxation. Alert relaxation is the ideal state for learning. Alcoholics and drug addicts tend to have too fast brain waves and try to medicate their overactive brains by drinking alcohol. The article traces Ethan’s life and his successful neurofeedback. The author has worked successfully with juvenile offenders.

 “Neurofeedback doesn’t cure conditions like ADHD, depression or addition. Instead, it enables people to produce the appropriate brain waves, which help provide the attention, rest or contemplative awareness needed to deal with underlying issues.” There is hope that training children to control their brains will offer a drug-free alternative. (Neurofeedback has been used for many years at a Minneapolis charter school, A Chance to Grow.)


• Art education is changing with technology. Gone are the traditional drawing and painting classes. In is desktop design and publishing that mimics traditional classes. There is 3-D animation modeling and courses in color theory. The feel of clay, however, remains in the hands of students. Software includes Corel Painter, Fablevision, DrawPlus and Animation Mentor.

• Dutch researchers conclude that negative feedback does not help children, rather it threatens. They suggest tempering an criticism with a suggested better behavior… “That didn’t work very well, so why don’t we think about…” Eight year-olds learn primarily from positive feedback. As child grow into middle school they are better able to understand internalize negative comments. This is because of brain development. Gentleness is the best at all ages in our lives.

• What is “executive function”? It is prefrontal lobe thinking which is the last to develop but can be encouraged. This area helps an individual control their actions and delay gratification. At the Institute for Child Development, University of Minnesota, are teaching children different kinds of reasoning strategies that could make children better at regulating their own behaviors. This could lead to a better understanding of what games should be played in kindergarten to improve executive function, help children understand another’s point of view, reduce ADHD and potentially ease the achievement gap. The hope is that children will be in better control and less impulsive.

• The more active your brain during learning, the better the memory. Thus, shout it out loud. Clap the syllables. Repeat the information… “So you are saying that…”

• Five ways brain science may change the way we live – neuro-longevity will create longer lives due to vaccines for the aging brain; neuro-entertainment will have video games with EEG-type caps that read emotions and brainwaves; neuro-education will lead to educational software tailored to individual brain patterns for math, language and creativity; neuro-fitness will create devices and drugs to improve physical performances; neuro-spirituality promises to accelerate our meditative states.

• “Students exposed to a nature-based curriculum score higher than students taught out of a textbook.” According to Newsweek’s report on eco-education take your students outside to really learn about our world. Studies show school scores significantly improved when students were taught “green” curriculum and experiences the eco-systems.

• According to a study by the University of Minnesota Medical School 806 middle school girls who ate with their families at least 5 times a week were half as likely as their peers to use cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana during high school. Let parents know!

• It is the 250th birthday of Noah Webster. It might be interesting for students to investigate his life and the development of the dictionary. What words have we lost and what new words have been added in the last few years?

• The U of Texas Center for BrainHealth is focus on critical thinking and reasoning in teens. Teens brains are changing more than any other time in life except the first two months after birth. Teens were taught to filter out unimportant details and develop main ideas. There was improvement in 98% of the teens. This SMART program is being developed into a web-based problem that will be available to parents, teachers and students. While our teens rank high in math and language across the world, they are 24th out of 29 other developed countries in critical thinking. For more information call Sarah Monning at 972-883-3408.

• ScienceDaily reports that eight-year-olds learn best from positive feedback but 12-year-olds learn well from negative feedback and use it to learn from their mistakes. Also they report that simply listening to children helps their thinking process. Let parents and grandparents know when then listen they are helping with homework even if they don’t know the answers.

• Education Week published a report that the Houghton Mifflin reading series failed to meet the “rigorous review standards” of the U.S. Dept. of Education. Earlier it was clear that McGraw-Hill’s Open Court and Reading Mastery had no research about their success. (When my district told me I was to stop using real novels in the 5/6th grade and to use a reading series my students asked, “Why should we read a chapter of a book when we want to read the whole story?” I shelved the new readers and we continued to use novels, especially linked to our social studies curriculum.

• Chess, for 500,000 second and third graders in Idaho, has apparently improved students’ math and reading skills. According to First Move, now taught in 26 states, helps develop critical thinking and forward thinking. In addition opponents shake hands before and after they play which teachers believe are making students more kind on the playground.

• Help your students learn the power of thoughts… In a study in Quebec groups were given “tasks that required either deep thought, relaxed thought or no attention whatsoever. After the tasks, the volunteers were offered a snack. The relaxed tested just nibbled, the thinkers ate as if they’d spent the day plowing the fields; the moderate-brain-activity group consumed 203 more calories than the resting group, and the deep thinkers ate 253 more (an increase of nearly 30 %).” Why? Hard working brains increase the stress hormones causing blood glucose levels to fluctuate creating the sense of hunger. The researcher speculates that heavy thinking is contributing to the obesity epidemic

• Numerous studies are declaring, after significant research, the importance of arts education. All teachers will benefit from further understanding arts in education. You may order the free Dana Press newspaper, Arts Education in the news, from the Dana Foundation at 

   Performance Learning Systems provides a free periodic newsletter via email with many practical suggestions for instruction. The current issue describes how to use storyboards, increasing middle school student motivation, etc. Recommended!

  • What in the world??? Some 73 million children in our world are not in school. In sub-Saharen Africa only 1 in 5 girls get a chance for any education. Yet it is the female who care for the family.

• From Brain Sharpner by Lane and Pepin… Start your year with creativity… Bring in a sponge and ask your students, in small groups, to come up with as many ideas for its use besides the obvious. After paper, pencils and groups are organized give them exactly___ minutes, counting down the last for excitement. Compare lists, eliminating duplicates and declare the group with the most original ideas the winner. Then follow it up with students doing research on creativity and creative people. Finally discuss the importance of creativity in making this a better world. Your may want to have students discuss… How is your brain like a sponge?

Here are 12 Brain Rules:

  Rule #1: Exercise boosts brain power.

 Rule #2: The human brain evolved, too.

 Rule #3: Every brain is wired differently.

 Rule #4: We don’t pay attention to boring things.

 Rule #5: Repeat to remember.

 Rule #6: Remember to repeat.

 Rule #7: Sleep well, think well.

 Rule #8: Stressed brains don’t learn the same way.

 Rule #9: Stimulate more of the senses.

 Rule #10: Vision trumps all other senses.

 Rule #11: Male and female brains are different.

 Rule #12: We are powerful and natural explorers.

• Two new studies have concluded children exposed to lead have a significantly greater chance of becoming violent criminals, when adjusted for mother’s IQ, education and socioeconomic status. MRI scans confirmed the average loss of 1.7% in the volume of gray matter by adulthood. The losses were concentrated in the frontal “executive” functions that modulate impulse control and judgment.

• As a 5thgrade teacher I got (by coaching parents) a boy off of ADD drugs by a healthier diet—no school lunch, white bread with jelly. Now British researchers publish that a “ketogenic” diet that is high in fat and low in carbohydrates with controlled protein helps to control epileptic seizures in children. More information is published in the online edition of Lancet Neurology but it costs $.

• Check out emeritus professor at U of Wisconsin, Madison’s Deric Bownds’ MindBlog at for parts of his book and papers. It is a deep source of information.

• Looking for Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligence information for parents? is excellent.

• A colleague recommended an interesting school program

• Online technology resources:

• Physical activity is crucial to learning. It boosts brainpower for attention because it increases the brain’s blood-flow. Yet many schools have eliminated Physical activity to spend more time studying for tests. In 2006 only 3.8% of elementary schools and 2.1% of secondary schools had physical education. Think again! Modern physical education classes include core strengthening, weights rock climbing, rappelling, square dancing and running to encourage life-long activity. The classes look more like your local Y than high school.

• From Scientific American — brain cells and food. Dopamine tells us what is important. In studies the mere showing people foods they like increased their dopamine. Smelling the food, without seeing it, increased dopamine. Last issue we reported on studies that linked good smells to increasing people’s positive moods. Dopamine connects food and pleasure. Obesity runs in families because the number of dopamine receptors have a genetic base

• Many companies are now using “smell branding” to connect their products with long-lasting memories. Singapore Airlines uses a smell, new cars are sprayed with a smell. More can be found at or

• Poor sleep creates a range of body mind malfunctions leading to a greater risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Talk to your students about sleep implications as well as food and exercise.

• “The brains of gay men resemble those of straight women,” according to a new study of an Institute in Stockholm. There are language similarities and similar rates of depression. Lesbians’ brains are similar to straight men’s brains. Straight women and gay men have highly symmetrical brains with rich connections between the amygdala allowing a sophisticated interplay of thoughts and feelings.

• From Scientific American Mind J/J ’08 Observers of the animal kingdom note that over 1,500 species engage in homosexual activities.

• Newsweek July7th – the average cost per student for our public elementary or high school is $414.42 while private day schools spend $16,440 each year.

• “Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts,” states novelist Arnold Bennett.

• Only in growth, reform, and change, paradoxically enough, is true security to be found.” Anne Morrow Lindbergh

• “Hold fast to dreams for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.” Langston Hughes

• Researchers in Italy have engineered mice born with low serotonin. They die quickly, very similar to SIDS babies. The Children’s Hospital in Boston studied brains of SIDS babies and found abnormalities in their brain stem leading to imbalances in serotonin. Serotonin helps regulate breathing, heart rate, body temperature and arousal from sleep. It also plays a role in depression. is a fabulous site. There are discussion questions and extensive resources. Bookmark it and check it often.

• Edutopia magazine June/July ’08 Marc Prensky writes, “One of the strangest things in this age of young people’s empowerment is how little input they have into their own education and its future. Kids who out of school control large sums of money and have huge choices on how they spend it have almost no choices at all about how they are educated—they are, for the most part, just herded into classrooms and told what to do and when to do it. Unlike the corporate world, where businesses spend tens of millions researching what their customers really want, when it comes to how we structure and organize our kids’ education, we generally don’t make the slightest attempt to listen to, or even care, what students think about how they are taught.” 

• A new Chicago high school will begin this fall with 150 freshman using only the Internet. A professor at Northwerster University explains, the curriculum aligned with national and state standards provides “a ticket to entry for students, getting them ready for the really exciting stuff: the projects, the collaborations, and the local connections that a teacher cam bring.”

• The 20 national civil rights organizations that have signed the Joint Organizational Statement on NCLBare seeking revisions that more accurately reflect student growth. They seek an expansion of assessment strategies to include portfolios, problem solving, public performance and more. It details the problems caused by the narrow test focus of the current NCLB and documents the further alienation of African-American students. Further information can be found at FairTest.

• The U of Texas Medical School has developed “Neuroscience Online” for serious high school and college students. Find it at

• fMRI’s are being used to figure out why we buy certain items and why we vote the way we do. This form of neuromarketing is being done by FKF Applied. Your brain lights up according to your reaction to pictures—ventral striatum, dorso-lateral prefrontal, etc.  Interesting to follow in the future…

  • According to the 2008 Kids Count report my state, Minnesota has a 33% increase in child poverty since 2000. Poverty leads to impaired language development and memory. 45% of our Black children live in poverty. Wonder how your state ranks. 
  • Sites of interest – Improve your memory and attention at Discover your thinking style Get information on research and education or compare brains at



  • Tennessee, Missouri, Utah, Ohio, and North Dakota now require high school students must take a class in financial literacy. Some schools have semester long classes, others only a summer class. In Cleveland’s Central School students create podcasts, brochures and posters to show what they have learned.
  • It is very complicated but older students may be interested in the February 2nd Scientific American article “Exploring the Folds of the Brain-And Their Links to Autism.”