iNACOL Day 3: Relationships are Key

Relationships are key to learning and equity. This has been one of the most frequently discussed themes of the past few days.

I feel like most people know and understand this on an implicit level. Personally, when I think of my high school experience and when people would ask me what my favorite part about my school was, I’d almost always first say something about the relationships I had with my teachers. I asked some of my peers today, who are also alums from my high school, “What are the top 3 things you liked most about high school?” and they also all said something about relationships as number 1. (And this is three years after graduating high school – the relationships are still what sticks with us.) Granted this was a small sample size, but I was just curious, so I texted a few people I knew I could get quick responses from. This little mini survey confirmed my hypothesis that as learners we definitely value relationships, but what has really intrigued me the last few days is learning about how relationships aren’t just valuable because we like them, there is actually ample scientific research that states strong positive relationships are critical to the learning process and to creating equity in education.

Equity is about every learner getting the resources to meet their specific needs. It’s important to distinguish that “equity” is different from “equality.” Equality is where every learner is given the same resources despite their individual needs. Our closing keynote speaker, Dr. Pedro Noguera, discussed how bullying, sleep deprivation, depression, and suicide are all examples of equity issues. These issues also bring us back to the topic of mental health and the need to educate the whole child which I discussed briefly night 1 of the conference as it has been another major trend of the week. Furthermore, these are issues that often are ignored in schools especially if students are making good grades in spite of these additional challenges in their lives. And the crazy thing is that we have the tools to combat these issues – people that care.

The  prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and hippocampus are some of the primary parts of the brain involved with learning and development. What I learned this week from Dr. Pamela Cantor with Turnaround for Children is that these parts of our brain are affected by two main hormones: cortisol and oxytocin. The former is the hormone associated with stress and the former is released due to trust and love. It turns out that oxytocin, the trust and love hormone, is actually the stronger of the two hormones and can even help protect against future stress. Therefore, these relationships we all value so much because we feel good having them – true relationships that are built on trust and consistent interaction/support –  also help our brains stay healthy and create positive neural connections that enhance learning. Strong relationships are one of the most helpful positive enrichments for the brain so they are absolutely necessary to have in school.

This is the “why” behind the need to educate the whole child. So if you were skeptic about the movement to educate the whole child, which makes sense from purely an engaged citizen leader mindset in my opinion, then listen to the science which also says relationships are key to learning and equity.

 

The Brain Myth

When you ask a random person to tell you what they know about the parts of the brain, often times they’ll say, “The right brain is the creative side and the left side is analytical.”

Well this is mostly true in terms of strengths, but the idea of people being “left or right brained” is kind of a myth… From what I’ve learned in psych class it seems that while the left and right brain do have dominant skills, both parts of the brain have to communicate and work together for virtually every task. Very few functions are restricted, “localized” as they say, to one specific part of the brain and people don’t actually use just one side of their brain unless they are a split-brain patient. In actuality, it’s mostly the media that has tried to make some of these discoveries about parts of the brain into overarching generalizations.

It’s always funny to me when you’re sitting in class and you just feel the whole room have a “Wait what? We’ve been lied to?” kind of moment. It wasn’t really that dramatic, and I had already vaguely known this, I just didn’t realize truly how much the media had skewed these findings.

This also had me thinking how it can be kind of problematic for people to try and label themselves as left or right brained. When people start to think like that they are inavertible limiting themselves by claiming they aren’t good at the functions dominant on one side of the brain compared to the other, and chalk it up to biology. In reality, though, the brain can constantly restructure itself throughout a lifetime in order to create new neuron streams and new brain cells. We truly never stop learning as long as we keep trying to.

I wish we more often embraced how both sides of the brain, both creative and analytical thinking, must be used to do really rich problem-solving.

Decreasing Choking Under Pressure

I love when homework is actually really interesting!

We didn’t have psych class today because our teacher was out to due to religious reasons, so instead she had us watch two videos on our own and write an essay about what we found interesting and do some critical thinking about the two. I found one of the videos pretty annoying, and honestly still a bit annoyed that all of this work took almost three times as much time as the class normally would’ve; however, the second video I actually really enjoyed.

It was called “Power of the Human Brain” and some of the video I had already learned about before, like the concept of using a “memory palace” to better remember long random lists which is a technique mental athletes use. But I also learned some new stuff that really closely ties in with learning and memory and education practices in general which I found particularly interesting.

For example, there was a study done to see if we can train our brain to be less likely to “choke” under pressure. Turns out, the emotional part of our brain is right next to the working memory part. So when we get overly anxious or stressed, the emotional part of our brain can literally cloud up the working memory by overwhelming it with too many signals that take up brain power. Therefore, the study had half of a class take 10 minutes to reflect before taking a test about how they were feeling and get all there worries out, and the other half of the class just sat there. The half of the class who did the pre-writing ended up on average outperforming the control group by half a letter grade. The theory is that the kids who did the writing essentially “out loaded” their worries onto the paper and therefore, lessened the space they were taking up in the brain which allowed for the working memory to work more optimally.

Now I didn’t spend the time to look any deeper into this study or others about this topic after watching the video, but I still think the findings are pretty awesome- especially as a kid who is not the best test taker compared to what I feel my understanding of information is. I’m definitely going to try this pre-writing technique out and believe teachers should really try implementing this practice in classrooms as well. Getting learners to practice reflecting, creating a less stressed out environment, and having better performance result; sounds like a lot of wins for so little work.

Gift of Design

My sister and I watched a movie today that compared surfing to high-end fashion. How? Through the art of designing.

Overall the movie was super cheesy, but I loved the message of the importance of designers and how designing isn’t a term-limited to any one area.  I’ve always said, “Anyone can be a designer.” You don’t have to be good at drawing or crafting per say, it’s about visualizing an idea and bringing a concept to life; that’s really not even the best way to describe it maybe, but it’s how I’m thinking about it right now.

In the movie, they talked about how as a designer you kind of just feel the idea and see it in your head then it just happens. I seriously related to this way of thinking about how a designer works, because I’ve been designing a ton of gymnastics routines recently and that’s exactly how I feel about it. I listen to the music and then I just see the routine in my head with all of the different moving parts, then I just go to the gym floor and start experimenting around until something sticks. The girls I work with even know that half the time I make stuff up even while I’m working with them because of all of a sudden I visualize the dance as something slightly different.

My mom will always tell people to not try to understand the way my brain works. I’ve even had times where I’ll play a non-edited song to other coaches to get their opinion for routine music and they’ll respond, “I don’t know, but I’m sure I’m not hearing this the same way you are.”

I believe everyone has that one area where they’re an especially gifted designer. Where they see something differently than how most people see it. Like how some people can visualize a surfboard out of a piece of wood or see an entire outfit out of just a scrap of cloth. Some just need a little help discovering what that gifted area is.

Rainbows at the Pool Side

History’s done, Trailblazer’s is published and now I’m getting to chill out some this weekend at my sibling’s dance retreat! We’re pretty much literally in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of farmland around us at a cute little place with several cabins and a pool and volleyball court.

It really feels like summer when you can just curl up with a good book by the pool and not deal with technology (rather than me blogging…) or deadlines or work. I wish more groups/teams I’m on would understand the great value of going out on a retreat every now and then.

Living the life with a bunch of other kids and their mom’s who only today learned how I’m related to this dance troupe!

Brain Break

Ever feel like you just need to let your brain be dumb for a little?

This weekend I did a lot of learning sitting in gymnastics lectures from 8:30-5pm. Then I got home and yesterday I had two chapters and another hour of lecture to get through, plus studying, for my online history class in order to take my test this morning. So I’ve done a lot of hardcore sitting and studying in the past few days and now my brain just feels in need of a break.

That happens every now and then where it’s just too much information all at once. Brain breaks truly may be the essential factor to learning.

Habits of Mind

It’s officially been a week since I re-started my 100-day blogging challenge!!! It’s amazing how it’s already starting to feel more natural again to take the time each night to just get something written out.

People really are creatures of habit and it’s always funny to me when I realize this. It makes sense from a gymnastics perspective. We always tell kids they have to train the way they want to compete because it’s more likely that your body will go into muscle memory mode. I suppose our brain works a similar way (I mean it is basically a complex muscle).

If we train our brains to think a certain way or to be mindful of a certain practice, then over time it is easier to stick with that mindset. (Though it’s also noteworthy that even if you make a habit of something, it still takes time to actually get good at it. It’s been amusing to me how much some of these posts from the past week remind me of my early days; ones where they’re really pulled out of nothing and not what I’d consider my most insightful writing… First comes the habit, then comes the skill.)

As the summer comes around, I like to try and make goals for myself. This summer one of my goals is to be more aware of the habits I create for myself and to try to create a productive work schedule even within this supposal “break.”

It’s a Cat!

Associate thinking is so cool. That moment when you can connect the dots with seemingly different topics is kind of mind-blowing.

This semester I’m in a special topics CS class. I would not consider myself a particular fan of CS or computers or coding or programming or any of that, however, our professor is an advisor of mine which is how I found out about the class and why I knew I had to take it. Sometimes I jokingly call it my fake CS class so that people don’t confuse it with one of the required CS course where we learn a coding language. In this special topics class though, it’s all about computer architecture and the current process, history, and structural components involved with trying to make faster computers.

Today our professor decided to let us just have a fun Q and A day where we could ask him any question we wanted to about computers and he would try to give his best answer. We ended up talking a lot about his research in particular, because we were all curious about what exactly he does, and it turns out he’s been a huge leader in the process of trying to fundamentally change computing.

Like I said, computers aren’t really my thing, but what made this class particularly interesting to me was the fact that I could relate it so multiple other conversations I’ve had at different points in my learning journey.

Turns out a lecturette on neuromorphic computing (essentially the computing involved with trying to model the brain which is the essential technology behind machine learning; self-driving cars and all that jazz) is shockingly similar to a leadership session about defining versus distinguishing while at a conference around shifting the current education paradigm. Both are about the fundamental elements of learning and how our brain or a computer brain model is taught to distinguish elements like a cat from a raccoon.

Then we started talking about quantum computers, and I realized that last time I really had an in-depth conversation about quantum computing was the summer after 10th grade while at nerd camp (Duke TIP) taking a course called spy 101. Yet even though it was a good few years ago, I remembered the basic concepts still because that class to this day has been one of my favorites that I ever took; this was because the course was entirely interdisciplinary. We talked about the mathematical side of different kinds of codes and how they work, and modular arithmetic (all math I’ve only started to even see in college), and on top of that we talked about the history of coding and it’s role in World War 2 and then also hypothesised and explored the future of computing with the science behind quantum computers.  It was an amazing course, and one I remember better than a lot of my high school classes in terms of content.

Interdisciplinary learning just makes so much logical sense to me. In my experience, it just makes learning more memorable and more relatable in general. Meanwhile, I have classes like today in linear algebra and physics where in my linear class we spent the whole time talking about a topic we learned week one in physics, and in physics, we talked about a topic we learned early on in linear. When I get stuck in classes like that I honestly tune out a great deal no matter how much I know I should pay attention because things just get boring when they’re too repetitive without a new spin or learning connection.

My big wish is that there would be more interdisciplinary courses for credit in the education system. There are starting to become a lot of classes available that are interdisciplinary in nature, but they still are only being allowed to count as a “free credit” or something to the extent that basically means the material you’re learning can’t actually keep you on track for graduation with helping you receive required credits. It’s really frustrating sometimes to be honest.