Monday, 27 April 2015

The ABCs of Alphabet-Magnet Synesthesia

By Elizabeth Preston

Is it cool or existentially disturbing to think that your personal brain quirks might come from the toys you played with as a toddler?

In a study published earlier this month, psychologists asked 6,588 American synesthetes what colors they associate with each letter of the alphabet. Then they compared these associations to a certain vintage set of Fisher-Price alphabet magnets. They found that at least 6% of their synesthetes had improbably close matches to the colors of the magnets.

The researchers defined a statistically unlikely match as anyone with more than 10 letters corresponding to the colors of the toy. At least one person had a 26-for-26 correlation, though. For people born between 1970 and 1985, around when the magnet set was manufactured, more like 15% of synesthetes were Fisher-Price matches.

You can see the whole study for free online, or read more about it at Discover’s D-Brief blog. The psychologists—Nathan Witthoft, Jonathan Winawer, and David Eagleman—stress that no one’s synesthesia (as far as they know) is caused by a toy. Rather, people who are already prone to associating letters with colors may learn those associations from something in their environment.

Longtime Inkfish readers will not be surprised that I gasped in excitement when I saw this paper, because I wrote about a preliminary version of the study (with only 11 subjects) back in January 2013. I was also excited to realize that I’m part of the new data set, since I completed a survey at a shortly afterward.

I am not a Fisher Price six-percenter. But my own internal alphabet does seem like an uncanny match to an old set of Playskool magnets, which my mom kindly dug up and photographed a couple years ago (above). Maybe I’ll see these in the next study?

Thursday, 23 April 2015

VIDEO How to Speak so People Will Want to Listen

Sunday, 19 April 2015

10 Characteristics Of A Highly Effective Learning Environment

by Terry Heick
Wherever we are, we’d all like to think our classrooms are “intellectually active” places. Progressive learning (like our 21st Century Model, for example) environments. Highly effective and conducive to student-centered learning. But what does that mean?
The reality is, there is no single answer because teaching and learning are awkward to consider as single events or individual “things.” This is all a bunch of rhetoric until we put on our white coats and study it under a microscope, at which point abstractions like curiosity, authenticity, self-knowledge, and affection will be hard to pin down.
So we put together one take on the characteristics of a highly effective classroom. They can act as a kind of criteria to measure your own against–see if you notice a pattern.
10 Characteristics Of A Highly Effective Learning Environment
1. The students ask the questions—good questions
This is not a feel-good implication, but really crucial for the whole learning process to work.
The role of curiosity has been studied (and perhaps under-studied and under-appreciated), but suffice to say that if a learner enters any learning activity with little to no natural curiosity, prospects for meaningful interaction with texts, media, and specific tasks are bleak. (Interested in how to kill learner curiosity in 12 easy steps?)
Many teachers force students (proverbial gun to head) to ask question at the outset of units or lessons, often to no avail. Cliché questions that reflect little understanding of the content can discourage teachers from “allowing” them. But the fact remains—if students can’t ask great questions—even as young as elementary school—something, somewhere is unplugged.
2. Questions are valued over answers
Questions are more important than answers. So it makes sense that if good questions should lead the learning, there would be value placed on these questions. And that means adding currency whenever possible—grades (questions as assessment!), credit (give them points—they love points), creative curation (writing as a kind of graffiti on large post-it pages on the classroom walls), or simply praise and honest respect. See if you don’t notice a change.
3. Ideas come from a divergent sources
Ideas for lessons, reading, tests, and projects—the fiber of formal learning—should come from a variety of sources. If they all come from narrow slivers of resources, you’re at risk of being pulled way off in one direction (that may or may not be good). An alternative? Consider sources like professional and cultural mentors, the community, content experts outside of education, and even the students themselves. Huge shift in credibility.
And when these sources disagree with one another, use that as an endlessly “teachable moment,” because that’s what the real world is like.
4. A variety of learning models are used
Inquiry-based learning, project-based learning, direct instruction, peer-to-peer learning, school-to-school, eLearning, Mobile learning, the flipped classroom, and on and on—the possibilities are endless. Chances are, none are incredible enough to suit every bit of content, curriculum, and learner diversity in your classroom. A characteristic of a highly-effective classroom, then, is diversity here, which also has the side-effect of improving your long-term capacity as an educator.
5. Classroom learning “empties” into a connected community
In a highly-effective learning environment, learning doesn’t need to be radically repackaged to make sense in the “real world,” but starts and ends there.
As great as it sounds for learners to reflect on Shakespeare to better understand their Uncle Eddie—and they might—depending on that kind of radical transfer to happen entirely in the minds of the learners by design may not be the best idea. Plan on this kind of transfer from the beginning.
It has to leave the classroom because they do.
6. Learning is personalized by a variety of criteria
Personalized learning is likely the future, but for now the onus for routing students is almost entirely on the shoulders of the classroom teacher. This makes personalization—and even consistent differentiation—a challenge. One response is to personalize learning—to whatever extent you plan for—by a variety of criteria—not just assessment results or reading level, but interest, readiness-for-content, and others as well.
Then, as you adjust pace, entry points, and rigor accordingly, you’ll have a better chance of having uncovered what the learners truly “need”.
7. Assessment is persistent, authentic, transparent, and never punitive
Assessment is just an (often ham-fisted) attempt to get at what a learner understands. The more infrequent, clinical, murky, or threatening it is, the more you’re going to separate the “good students” from the “good thinkers.” And the “clinical” idea has less to do with the format of the test, and more to do with the tone and emotion of the classroom in general. Why are students being tested? What’s in it for them, and their future opportunities to improve?
And feedback is quick even when the “grading” may not be.
8. Criteria for success is balanced and transparent.
Students should not have to guess what “success” in a highly-effective classroom looks like. It should also not be entirely weighted on “participation,” assessment results, attitude, or other individual factors, but rather meaningfully melted into a cohesive framework that makes sense—not to you, your colleagues, or the expert book on your shelf, but the students themselves.
9. Learning habits are constantly modeled
Cognitive, meta-cognitive, and behavioral “good stuff” is constantly modeled. Curiosity, persistence, flexibility, priority, creativity, collaboration, revision, and even the classic Habits of Mind are all great places to start. So often what students learn from those around them is less directly didactic, and more indirect and observational.
Monkey see, monkey do.
10. There are constant opportunities for practice
Old thinking is revisited. Old errors are reflected on. Complex ideas are re-approached from new angles. Divergent concepts are contrasted. Bloom’s taxonomy is constantly traveled up and down, from the simple to the complex in an effort to maximize a student’s opportunities to learn—and demonstrate understanding—of content.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

The Power of Imagination

By Remez Sasson

Imagination is the ability to form a mental image of something that is not perceived through the five senses. It is the ability of the mind to build mental scenes, objects or events that do not exist, are not present, or have happened in the past.

Everyone possesses a certain degree of imagination ability. The imagination manifests in various degrees in various people. In some, it is highly developed, and in others, it manifests in a weaker form.

Imagination makes it possible to experience a whole world inside the mind. It gives the ability to look at any situation from a different point of view, and to mentally explore the past and the future.

This ability manifests in various forms, one of which is daydreaming. Though too much idle daydreaming may make one impractical, a certain degree daydreaming, while not being engaged in something that requires attention, provides temporary happiness, calmness and relief from stress.

In your imagination, you can travel anywhere in the speed of light, without any obstacles. It can make you feel free, though temporarily, and only in the mind, from tasks, difficulties and unpleasant circumstances.

Imagination is not limited only to seeing pictures in the mind. It includes all the five senses and the feelings. One can imagine a sound, taste, smell, a physical sensation or a feeling or emotion. For some people it is easier to see mental pictures, others find it easier to imagine a feeling, and some are more comfortable imagining the sensation of one of the five senses. Training of the imagination gives the ability to combine all the senses.

A developed and strong imagination does not make you a daydreamer and impractical. On the contrary, it strengthens your creative abilities, and is a great tool for recreating and remodeling your world and life.

This is a great power that can change your whole life. It is used extensively in magic, creative visualization and affirmations. It is the creator of circumstances and events. When you know how to work with it, you can make your hearts' desires come true.

Imagination has a great role and value in each one's life. It is much more than just idle daydreaming. We all use it, whether consciously or unconsciously, in most of our daily affairs. We use our imagination whenever we plan a party, a trip, our work or a meeting. We use it when we describe an event, explain how to arrive to a certain street, write, tell a story or cook a cake.

Imagination is a creative power that is necessary for inventing an instrument, designing a dress or a house, painting a picture or writing a book. The creative power of imagination has an important role in the achievement of success in any field. What we imagine with faith and feelings comes into being. It is the important ingredient of creative visualization, positive thinking and affirmations.

Visualizing an object or a situation, and repeating often this mental image, attracts the object or situation we visualize into our lives. This opens for us new, vast and fascinating opportunities.

This means that we should think only in a positive manner about our desires, otherwise, we might attract into our lives events, situations and people that we don't really want. This is actually what most of us do, because we don't use the power of imagination correctly.

If you do not recognize the importance of the power of the imagination, and let it run riot, your life may not be as happy and successful as you would have wanted it to be.

Lack of understanding of the power of the imagination is responsible for the suffering, incompetence, difficulties, failures and unhappiness people experience. For some reason, most people are inclined to think in a negative way. They do not expect success. They expect the worst, and when they fail, they believe that fate is against them. This attitude can be changed, and then life will improve accordingly.

Understanding, how to use your imagination correctly, and putting this knowledge into practice, for your own and others' benefit, will put you on the golden path to success, satisfaction and happiness.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

A better night sleep with mindfulness

  • Mindfulness training could be more effective than modern techniques for how to sleep better, new research reveals.
  • The findings could point the way to community-based training for sleep problems — especially for vulnerable seniors.
  • Learning how to sleep better is particularly important as poor sleep is connected with so many psychological and physical problems.
  • Around 50% of people over 55 report some sort of sleep problems.

Learning how to sleep better

The study, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, randomly assigned 49 people to two different groups (Black et al., 2015).

All the people in the study were older individuals who were having moderate problems sleeping. One group took a six-week ‘sleep hygiene’ course, a relatively modern technique tested in many studies (more on this here: How To Fall Asleep Fast). The other group received a six-week course in mindfulness training.
In the words of mindfulness expert, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn:

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”

The results showed that those in the mindfulness group showed greater improvements in their sleep quality in comparison to those who had taken the sleep hygiene course. The mindfulness group also had lower levels of depression and they felt less tired.

Dr Adam P. Spira, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, writing about the study in the same journal, said:

“…effective nonpharmacological interventions that are both ‘scalable’ and ‘community accessible’ are needed to improve disturbed sleep and prevent clinical levels of insomnia.

This is imperative given links between insomnia and poor health outcomes, risks of sleep medication use and the limited availability of health care professionals trained in effective nondrug treatments such as behavior therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

VIDEO Stanislav Grof Psychology of the Future

Friday, 3 April 2015

Why the best teachers do not give tests

Frankly, I’m baffled by the number of educators who are adamantly opposed to standardized testing yet raise no objection to other practices that share important features with such testing.

For starters, consider those lists of specific, prescriptive curriculum standards to which the tests are yoked. Here we find the same top-down control and one-size-fits-all mentality that animate standardized testing. Yet from the early days of the “accountability” movement right down to current efforts to impose the Gates-funded Common Core from coast to coast, an awful lot of people give the standards (and the whole idea of uniform standards) a pass while frowning only at the exams used to enforce them.[1]

Example 2: Elaborate rubrics used to judge students’ performance represent another form of standardized assessment that’s rarely recognized as such. The point is to break down something, such as a piece of writing, into its parts so that teachers, and sometimes the students themselves, can rate each of them, the premise being that it’s both possible and desirable for all readers to arrive at the same number for each criterion. Rubrics are borne of a demand to quantify and an impulse to simplify. One result, argues Maja Wilson, is that “the standardization of the rubric produces standardized writers.”[2] But, again, even many teachers who are outraged by standardized tests don’t blink when standardization is smuggled in through the back door. Some insist, against all evidence to the contrary, that there’s no problem as long as one uses a good rubric.

It’s my third example, though, on which I’d like to linger. When teachers test their students, the details of those tests will differ from one classroom to the next, which means these assessments by definition are not standardized and can’t be used to compare students across schools or states. But they’re still tests, and as a result they’re still limited and limiting.

As with rubrics (and grades), there’s a reflexive tendency to insist that we just need better tests, or that we ought to just modify the way they’re administered (for example, by allowing students to retake them). And, yes, it’s certainly true that some are worse than others. Multiple-choice tests are uniquely flawed as assessments for exactly the same reason that multiple-choice standardized tests are: They’re meant to trick students who understand the concepts into picking the wrong answer, and they don’t allow kids to generate, or even explain, their responses. Multiple-choice exams can be clever but, as test designer Roger Farr of Indiana University ultimately concluded, there is no way “to build a multiple choice question that allows students to show what they can do with what they know.”

We can also concede that some reasons for giving tests are more problematic than others. There’s a difference between using them to figure out who needs help — or, for more thoughtful teachers, what aspects of their own instruction may have been ineffective — and using them to compel students to pay attention and complete their assignments. In the latter case, a test is employed to pressure kids to do what they have little interest in doing. Rather than address possible deficiencies in one’s curriculum or pedagogy (say, the exclusion of students from any role in making decisions about what they’ll learn), one need only sound a warning about an upcoming test — or, in an even more blatant exercise of power, surprise students with a pop quiz — to elicit compliance.

Even allowing for variation in the design of the tests and the motives of the testers, however, the bottom line is that these instruments are typically more about measuring the number of facts that have been crammed into students’ short-term memories than they are about assessing understanding.[3] Tests, including those that involve essays, are part of a traditional model of instruction in which information is transmitted tostudents (by means of lectures and textbooks) so that it can be disgorged later on command. That’s why it’s so disconcerting to find teachers who are proud of their student-centered approach to instruction, who embrace active and interactive forms of learning, yet continue to rely on tests as the primary, or even sole, form of assessment in their classrooms.

While some of their questions may require problem-solving skills, tests, per se, are artificial pencil-and-paper exercises that measure how much students remember and how good they are at the discrete skill of taking tests. That’s how it’s possible for a student to be a talented thinker and yet score poorly. Most teachers can, without hesitation, name several such students in their classes when the exams are designed by Pearson or ETS, but may fail to see that the same thing applies in the case of performance on tests they design themselves.

Not only do tests assess the intellectual proficiencies that matter least, however — they also have the potential to alter students’ goals and the way they approach learning. The more you’re led to focus on what you’re going to have to know for a test, the less likely you are to plunge into a story or engage fully with the design of a project or experiment. And intellectual immersion can be all but smothered if those tests are given, or even talked about, frequently. Learning in order to pass a test is qualitatively different from learning for its own sake.[4]

Many years ago, the eminent University of Chicago educator Philip Jackson interviewed fifty teachers who had been identified as exceptional at their craft. Among his findings was a consistent lack of emphasis on testing, if not a deliberate decision to minimize the practice, on the part of these teachers.[5] The first reason for this, I think, is that exemplary educators understand that tests are not a particularly useful form of assessment. Second, though, these teachers learned at some point that they didn’t need tests. The most impressive classrooms and curricula are designed to help the teacher know as much as possible about how students are making sense of things. When kids are engaged in meaningful, active learning — for example, designing extended, interdisciplinary projects — teachers who watch and listen as those projects are being planned and carried out have access to, and actively interpret, a continuous stream of information about what each student is able to do and where he or she requires help. It would be superfluous to give students a test after the learning is done. We might even say that the more a teacher is inclined to use a test to gauge student progress, the more that tells us something is wrong — perhaps with the extent of the teacher’s informal and informed observation, perhaps with the quality of the tasks, perhaps with the whole model of learning. If, for example, the teacher favors direct instruction, he or she probably won’t have much idea what’s going on in the students’ minds. That will lead naturally to the conclusion that a test is “necessary” to gauge how they’re doing.[6]

Assessment literally means to sit beside, and that’s just what our most thoughtful educators urge us to do. Yetta Goodman coined the compound noun “kidwatching” to describe reading with each child to gauge his or her proficiency. Marilyn Burns insists that one-on-one conversations tell us far more about students’ mathematical understanding than a test ever could — since all wrong answers aren’t alike. Of course this assumes that we’re really interested in kids’ understanding, not merely their level of phonemic awareness or ability to apply an algorithm. The less ambitious one’s educational goals, the more likely that a test will suffice — and that the words testing and assessing will be used interchangeably.

One can fill a bookshelf with accounts of other forms of authentic assessment: portfolios, culminating projects, performance assessments, and what the late Ted Sizer called “exhibitions of mastery”: opportunities for students to demonstrate their proficiency not by recalling facts on demand but by doingsomething: constructing and conducting (and explaining the results of) an experiment, creating a restaurant menu in a foreign language, turning a story into a play. In other words, when some form of evaluation is desired after, rather than during, the learning, tests still aren’t necessary or even particularly helpful. They needn’t be used for “summative,” let alone for “formative,” assessment.

Many of us rail against standardized tests not only because of the harmful uses to which they’re put but because they’re imposed on us. It’s more unsettling to acknowledge that the tests we come up with ourselves can also be damaging. The good news is that far superior alternatives are available.