Learning and the Brain Conference

April 2004

Notes from Kim, Greg and Bill


Greg will do the finger exercise to demonstrate the role of perspective in the way we see, teach and learn about the world.

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Partnerships: educators-to-physicians-to-psychologists-to-parents.

Learning takes place implicitly: Gessner Geyer.Add text here about his and other points about how much learning happens subconsciously. NB: Kim can add point that ADD can't filter all the input b/c their sensors are hyper acute; other kids can.

Child brain-body development and pathways to learning
Conference topics:

Notes from the Robert Greenleaf session:

You always use your brain—some parts more the others

Emotional intelligence maybe more important then IQ

Students with longer exposure to the arts have higher SAT scores
More stimulation means more synapses/firings. All should have a greater breadth of activities

Early childhood is important due to synaptic formation

There is peripheral memory—a level of awareness
Working Memory—desk top, probably not long term; therefore, access long term memory!

Long term memory
Strategies of learning: He/She who thinks, learns
o Avoid passive attention
o Always ask two people same question, don’t rush the second wait time
o Be sure to have some personal meaning
o “The more that I know about you the less that I will pick on you indiscriminately.”

Creation and Development
o No meaning, No memory
o Must be important
o Must be in context
o Must see pattern, purpose, or connection

Whole to parts to Whole
o First find meaning as a whole
o Then break down
o Rebuild to whole

Intermittently we need to reflect so that the working memory is working so hard
This helps to anchor the in a way that it has meaning

o Kids must always feel safe; they need to know who are you on your worst day, and how much they can trust you

o “I need to know how safe I am before you can know me” Create a teacher/administrator persona rather than trying to know every detail of every student.


Dr. Benson & Marilyn Wilcher: Relaxation response

NB: interesting, 60-90% of healthcare visits related to stress.

NB: getting a start to explain the physiological (nitric oxcide liberalization). If you sit quietly and let go off of your daily concerns you will allow the body to correct itself…in other words, the body will be able to take over and adjust itself. It varies, however, depending on the individual, depending if they are a sit still type or hyperactive .Stress: impacting private school kids: Harvard? Inner city: survival?
Bottom line: Humans have ability to quiet the mind; control stress.

Obvious: Diet and exercise:

Other methods:
Breathing exercises
Repetitive prayer

Why wait for illness? Set in place a relaxation response. Time you loose doing it you will regain in docile students!

Showed a series of MRI scans that showed the quietude of relaxation.
Set up a response and try it: before a test/large project when kids get out of hand great way to start day/and or class for us.

Mantra of video/Mind body medical trainers (commercial?) : Stop, breathe, reflect, choose…
The video showed several scenes of trainers/teachers using and showing Yoga stretching—one scene, finding the moutatin position (Hopi Yoga), sitting quietly. Stress can change the way we feel and the way we learn; change.

NB: these studies showed that faculty are just as stressed as students…chuckle chuckle..throw another coat of pink on the pink elephant still standing…will it be the last one standing?

NB: Taft school work/study completed and found the positive impact on memory. Look up!? Showed a participant about the battery of test used at Taft. Johnson will cover batteries in the afternoon.

Exercise at the end:
* choose a phrase or word, focus on breathing and repeating this phrase/word.

Daniel Amen—Change your brain, Change your life.

Some crystallized points regarding students ADD:

See kids but also see how they learn:

The brain can change (optimizing the brain)

Optimize your brain

Coordinate your brain

ADD and the Brain
ADD is a genetic disorder
ADD kids high chronic stress, which means they have a ton of stress hormones, smaller hippocampus, and smaller memory

ADD Myths

35% never finish High School
43% ADHD get arrested
50% of those in prison have ADD
52% of ADD people use substances
75% have interpersonal problems from having difficulty communicating
Everybody outgrows ADD
ADD people look for a conflict because it helps to stimulate the brain

Common Symptoms:

Short Attention Span for routine activities (non routine activities or activities they love they will be able to focus on)

Don’t recognize a short attention span

Chronically angered/frustrated—helps to focus

Distractibility—hypersensitive to environmental stimuli

Disorganization; Poor follow through; Poor long term supervision of task; Problems with long term goals;Crisis management approach to tasks.


Brain Trauma
Prenatal toxic exposure
Oxygen deprivation
Brain infections

Gessner Geyer:

Inner wisdom may be mostly sub-cortical

Categories of knowledge
Explicit: we know we know: 1492
Semantic episodic (make columbus’ ship); Implicit knowledge; Reflexive procedural
Non-conscious knowing how (driving/tying a tie); Implicit learning mechanism: nearly 85% of all learning may be unconscious. Showed an iceberg image to make point.

Basal Gangli: seat of intuition in the brain.

What do these tools have in common: they ask us to:
∑ slow down and reflect:
∑ step back; take perspective
∑ restore emotional balance
∑ elicit innate wisdom of experience
∑ quiet incessant chatter of the mind

Driving the mind with meta cognition:
“you’re wise, but you lack tree-wise” from cartoonbank.com
Mentioned: David Perkins: Outsmarting IQ: the emerging science of learnable intelligence. See also smart schools. Along with Gardner, EQ, reflecting on what it means to be smart, human intelligence.
* can you learn from experience?
* Can you achieve your desired aims?
Thus, intelligence is an arsenal of behaviors. Perkins’ types of intelligence:
* neural: innate processing capacity.
* Experiential: practical learning.
* Reflective: a river boat” pilot to navigate thought.

“Doubt is an uncomfortable position, but certainty is a ridiculous one.” Voltaire
Perception: we do not see things as they are. We see things as we are. Talmud. We all have blind spots!

"Tell me doctor… how can I be slim" From a great image/cartoon/droodle where one assumes that the woman is not the doctor!
What does the doctor reply? Guy Claxton Look up cartoon. Interesting how we assume that the doctor is the man.

Ellen J. Langer The Power of Mindful Learning. Check out this book; be aware, moment by moment. Novelty and play help children of ADD.
Distinction between linear intelligence and mindfulness; Intel mindfulness; Optimal fit several angles.
Linear resolution steps back
Means of achieving means of observing
Stable categories shifting focus
Depends upon remembered Facts.

Then suggested:
Hare Brain Tortoise Mind: how intelligence increases when you think less. Guy Claxton.
Inventativeness comes when you make connections where you normally would not look for it. Insight comes when we are very observant. Told Velcro invention story.
Mind-body tools for restoring emotional balance “when did everyone stop jogging” ny Yorker cartoon. Cartoonbank.com

Hypothalamus: control center for all appetites and unconscious processes.

H.Benson’s “Relaxation Response” is a function of the Hypothalamus mechanism.
Stress begins in the brain: hypothalamus—adrenals releases epinephrine. Then affects hormones, glands and moods. Pitutatary is the third eye, in a way b/c of its power to control the body.

“Any idiot can handle a crisis. It’s day to day living that’s impossible.” Anton Chekhov

funny cartoon:
hard-charging businessman Billy Sloan is about to learn that continued stress does not…
Neg and Pos. emotions affect heart rhythm:

“Frankly, counselor, I don’t care how stressful this is for your client—tell him to get out of that yogi position.”

Yogi uses consc. Breathing/stretching to quiet the mind. It’s not a religion; not a belief system. Yoga uses nervous system: the conduit of electrochemical stimulation for physical, mental, and emotional energy. Can we learn to tap into the inner wisdom?

Text: Antonio Damasio: the Feeling of What Happens. We get this sense of our self primarly through our body. Biologically we are integrated organisms—brain, body and mind.

Mod. Cultural critique: kids are over stimulated and under challenged
Willa Cather: spirituality is simply a more refined way of seeing.

We get distraced… Choice Points: over react or respond spiritually

Text: Benjamin Libet Mind Time: The temporal Factor in Consciousness
Howard Gardner: anecdote about old man who responds with compassion at the drunk in the subway. Big/drunk on train; one guy ready to try out new karate move. Old man gets up first and says, my friend, my wife and I used to drink at sunset. Now, she is gone. Big drunk breaks down. Key; respond with compassion rather than anger…
OCD Treatment using Theravada Buddhist practice of “Wise Attention”
Tell self when you are worrying about stove, that you are using part of your brain. This reminder works and has shown to change brains.

Also told story about Ghandi death; went into med. Prayer mode when assassins approached him with the gun. Opened himself up for death.

Meditation as Medicine
∑ lowers blood pressure
∑ reduces blood lactate (Stress marker)
∑ lowers cholesterol
∑ increases melatonin and serotonin
∑ reduces stress hormones
∑ greater EEG coherence
∑ improves short-term memory
∑ higher scores on Torrance Creativity test


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