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Mental Obesity June 6, 2007

Posted by edukfun in add, add parents, adhd, alternative treatment, art, aspergers, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, brain drain, camp, children, cognitive decline, concentration, education, exercise, fitness, health, ld, learning disability, memory, obesity, parenting, parents, school, social skills, sports, summer, underachieve, video games.
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Think of your brain like your body.  What do you feed it each day?  A brain diet high in video games and low in cognitive demands will lead to mental obesity!

The NY Times is reporting that new web sites aimed at children, especially girls, are on the rise. These sites allow kids to chat, Instant Message, Accessorize their cartoon avatars, dress up dolls and play video games.  Sounds like fun, so what’s the problem?

The problem is that your brain is like a muscle–use it or lose it.  Spending an hour or two playing high stimulus, low cognition games (or watching equivalent TV programs, or reading equivalent comic books) is fine IF IT IS PART OF A WELL-BALANCED BRAIN DIET.

What makes a well-balanced brain diet?

Introducing the Brain-Food Pyramid:

  • 1-2 Hours of High-Stimulus, Low-Cognition activities: video games, TV, passive music, chatting with friends, internet surfing.
  • 1-2 Hours of  High-Cognition Activities: reading above grade level, write an essay, playing a musical instrument, peak-performance athletics, planning a big project.
  • 1-2 Hours of Physical Activity: walking, jogging, swimming, unstructured playing, sports, bicycling, etc.
  • 1-2 Hours of Socializing: hanging out with friends and family.
  • 7-10 hours of sleep!

“Kids these days” are packing on 4-14 hours PER DAY of high stimulus activities that require next to zero thinking.  They’re ignoring the other aspects of life, sacrificing social skills and physical health (including sleep) in order to get their next “fix” of almost-free brain stimulus.

Your brain needs exercise every day in order to stay in shape.  Don’t let Barbie take that away!

Good luck,

Allen Dobkin

Gimme a break! How to get kids to work more, waste less. May 31, 2007

Posted by edukfun in add, add parents, adhd, aspergers, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, attention training, challenged, children, concentration, discipline, education, exercise, fitness, focus, homework, ld, learning disability, parenting, parents, school, stress, teacher.
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ROWE, ROWE, ROWE your boat…at work but not at school. ROWE stands for Results Only Work Environment. Long story short: let people work how they want, when they want. Only measure the results. Performance and morale improve.

There workers can come in at four or leave at noon, or head for the movies in the middle of the day, or not even show up at all. It’s the work that matters, not the method. And, not incidentally, both output and job satisfaction have jumped wherever ROWE is tried.

Full article here.

How can we use Results-Only to get our kids to perform?

The bottom line for teachers and parents is that they need to get cooperation from 1-150 kids on tasks that, lets be honest, often aren’t interesting to them. If the child has ADD or a Learning Disability, the challenge is even greater.

Are our schools results oriented?

With few exceptions, in my opinion, No. This does vary from school to school and teacher to teacher, but overall I think that the atmosphere in America’s classrooms (big generalization here) is one in which students are evaluated on a mixed curriculum of education and discipline. In other words, the student’s grade is determined by both his or her mastery of the material and by how well he or she fits into the stereotypical pigeon-hole of a “good student”.

It is not enough for a student to learn the curriculum. He or she must also meet the teacher’s expectations of behavior and discipline or their grades will suffer. Which means that their collegiate futures are at risk. Which means their behavior in and around the classroom will in part determine their future.

Why is this bad? In my opinion, it is appropriate to evaluate behaviors, rule-following, conscientiousness and sociability. However, this evaluation needs to be made separate from an academic evaluation. Not merely out of fairness but because a student’s behavior does not reflect his or her mastery of the material. If the student has mastered the curriculum, and demonstrates that mastery on assessments, then his or her grade should reflect that mastery.

Further, teachers evaluate behavior based on their biased backgrounds. Students with different backgrounds are unfairly penalized. Since most teachers are middle-class, poor students suffer.

What do I mean? I mean that the student should not be penalized because he or she did not complete a non-assessment assignment (busy-work) or was disruptive in the classroom, or had a poor attendance record. Notice that each of these items are strongly correlated with poverty and a low socio-economic status. They also fit the profile of kids with Learning Disabilities.

In my opinion, when teachers mix assessment grades with behavior grades, they are doing these kids a major disservice. I am especially thinking of my LD students. These kids’ futures are already at risk. If they are graduating on a regular diploma, and most are, then they need every point they can get on their GPA. When I go into an Individualized Education Planning (IEP) meeting for a student, and I see that his assessment grades are A’s, B’s and C’s but his report card is full of C’s, D’s and F’s I conclude that the student’s needs are not being met. Isn’t it obvious? He can ace the exam, but has seven zeros for homework assignments…he’s learned the material. Even more, he did it without doing the homework. For him, the homework was really just busy work.

The goal of our schools should not be to pump out mass-produced cookie-cutter worker.

Corporate America is realizing that if you let good people make choices about how and when to work, everybody wins. Lets take that lesson home and into the classroom. Recognize that people have different learning styles and preferences and that the goal of our schools should not be to pump out mass-produced cookie-cutter workers.

Teachers: create multiple routes to success. Keep behavior and academic evaluations separate.

Parents: realize that your kid needs breaks. LD and ADD kids need LOTS of breaks. Split their homework session in two. Have a physical activity planned for in between.

One last quick story: a student of mine often comes in completely brain-fried. You know, that horrible feeling that you can’t even spell your own name right…for no reason! Once I realize we are up against the wall we go for a ten-minute walk and talk about video games. This lifts the mind-fog and learning can begin again.

Good luck!

Allen Dobkin

Brain Training Boot-Camp May 25, 2007

Posted by edukfun in add, add parents, adhd, art, aspergers, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, attention training, brain drain, brain injury, camp, challenged, children, cognitive decline, concentration, dementia, discipline, distractibility, education, exercise, fitness, focus, ld, learning disability, memory, mTBI, parenting, parents, play attention, school, social skills, summer, underachieve, video games.
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Something happens to kids across America every summer, and you can practically hear the giant SLURPing sound as half of what they learned in school this year washes down the drain. The Brain Drain.

All too often, Summer Camp activities are mind-numbing instead of mind-expanding.

Like anything else in life, there are good and bad sides to the summer vacation and the camp experiences that often accompany it. Summer Camps can be great places where children can exercise their bodies and the seven intelligences ignored by traditional schools: musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalist, kinesthetic, spiritual and spatial.

All too often, however, the activities are mind-numbing instead of mind-expanding. Kids need challenging mental workouts during the summer to keep their brains in shape. Here are some effective activities, and some not-so-effective activities that are great for summer fun.

Here are some tips to help you maintain Brain Fitness for your kids over the summer.

Boca Sparks of Genius is offering a Brain Training Boot Camp this year. It’s an intensive attention, focus, brain-enhancing boot camp; two hours per day for 1-5 weeks. Students use brain training video games, played with our mind-reading helmet by thought power alone. Its great for anyone who wants to acheive peak performance in school or sports and is especially helpful for children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD/ADD) or a Learning Disability (LD). Click here for the PDF flyer.

Boca Sparks of Genius is offering a Brain Training Boot Camp this year.

Not everyone can make it, and that’s fine. Here are some tips to help you maintain Brain Fitness for your kids over the summer. It isn’t easy. You’re going to have to fight off Shrek, Pirates of the Carribean, Spiderman, Harry Potter (the movie, not the book) and every international company aiming their advertising squarely at your kid’s eyeballs.

First, the bad.

Video Games – these have a high stimulus payoff but minimal cognitive investment. Most games require manipulation of a handful of controls, which is nowhere near as challenging as organizing ideas for an essay or planning a multi-step science project.

Television and Movies – again, high stimulus payoff but this time zero cognitive investment. Even when the content is educational, the activity is passive. The child may absorb some facts but it is the equivalent of laying down mentally: it won’t keep their brain in shape and in fact can lead to brainpower atrophy!

If a child reads with automaticity, then she needs more challenging material to work out her mental muscles.

Pulp Reading – if your child is reading challenged, then by all means encourage any kind of reading. However, if your child is reading on grade level, then pulp media like comic books, manga and sub-literary material do more harm than good! If a child reads with automaticity, then she needs more challenging material to work out her mental muscles. If your child is truly, madly, deeply in love with a particular piece, then have her write a thoughtful essay about the material.

Texting and Instant Messaging – just imagine that your child is getting reward pellets instead of text messages and you’ll see why this activity is a stinker. Not only does it not expand the brain, it trains l33t-sp3@k..that wild combination of LOLs and AFKs that make texting work. Is it any wunder that our grammar stinx?

Fooling around with crafts, or making lame projects, does not exercise the brain.

Arts & Cra*s – Just because you give a kid some paint does not mean she will learn or do much of anything. Fooling around with crafts, or making lame projects, does not exercise the brain. The kids need to be challenged: paint or sketch with realism, brainstorm and create an image of what a 5th dimension might look like, play with perspective. Slapping paint on paper can be just as brain-draining as crafting in World of Warcraft or Dark Age of Camelot (Note for old people: that means very boring).

Nature Walk of Doom – Yes, kids need unstructured play time and not everything needs to be educational or mentally stimulating. BUT, Nature Walks and Nature Trails and NatureH ikes that are part of Summer Camps are supposed to be enlightening. They are certainly wonderful opportunities. All too often, however, the kids are strung along by a bored volunteer or assistant who couldn’t tell the difference between a Blue Heron and an Egret if they bit him on the butt. The kids need a guide, even if just a book, who can teach them how to identify flora and fauna and show them how each species is unique and interesting. Then they need to use those facts in discussions or papers or projects or presentations. Make competitions, play Nature Bingo, but don’t just lead them around in a circle.

Kids are strung along on Nature Walks by a bored volunteer who couldn’t tell the difference between a Blue Heron and an Egret if they bit him on the butt.

Social Science – Summer can help kids break out of their social bonds. They can interact with kids outside of their normal cliques. Kids who are academically challenged may find it easier to make friends in an evironment where they are not being weighed, measured and found wanting. Or they can sit in isolation and never get anywhere. Kids without friends are not happy, not matter what they tell you. They don’t know what they’re missing! Making friends, sharing, telling secrets, having fights and making up, setting boundaries–these are vital life skills, and they take mental effort to build. How does your kid’s summer experience help build them?

How does your kid’s summer experience help build social skills and friendships?

MP3 Doom! – Curse the iPod! As if it weren’t easy enough to avoid people, now it is possible for kids to grow up without having to interact with just about anyone. This is bad, people! We socialize when we are stuck waiting in line and in class and in the lunchroom and on the playground–but not if we can just slap on our headphones and drown out the world with music. What kind of music? The simplistic kind with high stimulus payoff and little to no cognitive investment.

We socialize when we are stuck waiting in line and in class and in the lunchroom and on the playground–but not if we can just slap on our headphones and drown out the world with music.

Tomorrow: The Good!

Be well,

Allen Dobkin