Tag Archives: emotions

On Music, Dopamine, and Making Sense of Sound

Last week SharpBrains published part one of my two posts about Daniel Levitin’s This Is Your Brain On Music, and now part two is posted! On Music, Dopamine, and Making Sense of Sound explores how music impacts people who have Parkinson’s, dementia or Alzheimer’s.

If you know anyone with Parkinson’s, dementia or Alzheimer’s, and if they currently do not have music in their lives, I hope you will share my two posts with them and with their families. Thank you, on their behalf!

Music as Therapy: Music, Movement, Cognition!

A number of my posts have dealt with my foray into teaching yoga and facilitating movement for folks who are dealing with movement limitations, the normal process of aging, or changes in cognitive functioning due to dementia or Alzheimer’s. I have also mentioned Daniel Levitin, the author of This Is Your Brain On Music, related posts being available here.

I am delighted to share that yesterday part 1 of two posts furthering the above conversations has been posted on the SharpBrains blog. My post is Music as Therapy: Music, Movement, Cognition! I hope you’ll pop over to read it, and if you have any feedback, please feel free to share, especially if you have related experiences that we can all learn from. Thanks!

This Is Your Brain On Music

This morning I was putting away the syrup that garnished the scrumptious french toast made by my husband, and as I closed the refrigerator door, some of the many tiles of magnetic poetry caught my eye. As our sons come and go on home visits, they alter the poetry, so I have no idea which one crafted this gem, but how appropriate given the book I am currently reading!

I am two-thirds of the way through Daniel J. Levitin’s This Is Your Brain On Music. When this book came out in 2007, I ordered a hard cover copy from amazon and eagerly awaited its delivery. When it arrived, I thumbed through the book and decided it wasn’t for me.

Rather than letting it languish on my book shelf, I gave it to a student – an accomplished high school musician who played (and still plays) clarinet and saxophone, who has studied at Julliard, and with who I had a close relationship developed over years of her assisting with faculty technology workshops and my being her advisor for her eleventh grade independent study project that resulted in her authoring and publishing this book. As her lulu.com bio states, she is “currently studying Music Education and Clarinet Performance at the University of Maryland, College Park.”

Now, five years later, guess what book I am reading? This time I have a paperback copy borrowed from my local library. And I am two-thirds of the way through Levitin’s book, absorbing his words and relating them back to my experience – in caring for my Dad, who had Parkinson’s and Alzheimers; in teaching yoga to people with mobility or other limitations; in teaching yoga to people who are at the upper realms of aging; in learning to teach dance to people with Parkinson’s. There will be much more about all of this as I continue to read, take notes, reflect and wonder, with a possibility of everything coming together in a blog post for SharpBrains.

But for now, I am just smiling at the magnetic poetry on my refrigerator door. Oh, and wouldn’t you know it – last night Levitin’s invitation to participate in a survey about music came across my Twitter feed. Of course, I participated! For those of you unfamiliar with Twitter, I do not know Levitin but I “follow” him, so everything he tweets about shows up in my timeline. How fitting that the magnetic poetry and Levitin’s tweet both deal with music and mood.

Notes from a 6th grade session on Stress

There are three 6th grade sections at the school where I currently teach. These sixth graders have an enlightened and passionate Science teacher who makes study of the brain their main focus throughout the year. Among the many topics explored, she guides the students to learn about how they learn – metacognition in real time! She invited me to do a session with each section about stress and relaxation. Below are my notes.

If anyone has suggestions for improving this session, please leave a comment. Thanks!

                                           

Room Setup – this was done in the Science classroom where all the furniture was movable. We moved the tables to the perimeter of the room and placed the chairs in a semi- circle (a large C shape) on the inside of that perimeter, facing the board. We tried to have equal room between the chairs to facilitate movement activities. My chair was part of the circle and near the board for easy access.

The movement portions were accompanied by music played on my laptop using external speakers.

How’s everyone feeling? Introductions

Talk about how there are butterflies in my stomach due to: not knowing any of the students and being excited to teach a topic of huge interest to me. Further note that, due to nervousness and excitement, I will likely not remember everyone’s names.

Nonetheless, to try and help me recall names, please introduce yourself and tell me something about you. (Depending upon the time – for the first two groups we had 45 mins, for the third group we had 90 mins – have the kids also make a movement with their arms or body as they introduce themselves.)

Synovial Joint Warmup to music (Wade in the Water – about 4 mins)

  • toes & ankles
  • shoulders
  • gentle neck roll – avoid dropping head back
  • wrist rolls
  • squat knee circles
  • hip circles
  • empty coat sleeve twists
  • hokey-pokey right arm, then left arm
  • hokey-pokey right leg, then left leg
  • mouth & eyes
  • whole body

What happens inside your body when everything is pretty much feeling fine?

  • HOMEOSTASIS (homeo = same; stasis = stable) – a fairly stable balance in your body between the energizing & calming chemicals inside you
  • the SYMPATHETIC (activates “fight or flight”) & PARASYMPATHETIC (activates relaxation response) nervous systems are in synch with one another

Stress, anyone? What happens in your body when you fall out of homeostasis? i.e. out of balance –> you experience STRESS

  • “fight or flight”
  • release of CORTISOL
  • confusion
  • a sense of learned helplessness
  • a sense of feeling threatened

What’s the deal with CORTISOL?

  • a little bit is helpful for energy
  • helps enhance long term memory, i.e. learning
  • LIMBIC system is the Drama Department of your brain – memory & learning are enhanced when there is an emotional component
  • however, too much emotion in either direction results in more cortisol, which is detrimental towards learning b/c too much cortisol can kill neurons in the hippocampus, which is a major player in forming memory i.e. in learning
  • insufficient sleep can increase cortisol

Long-term effects of too much cortisol include:

  • decreased immune system, i.e. more likely to get sick
  • reduces memory ability, i.e. ability to recall existing memories & form new memories
  • impacts social skills & creative skills

What can cause stress? (below is a generic list –> rather than share these, do the BALANCE ACTIVITY listed below) 

  • lots of excitement
  • deadlines (school work, being late)
  • intense competition
  • hectic environment
  • really fast music
  • strong feeling of impending failure
  • surprises
  • being held accountable
  • feeling out of control
  • trying to accomplish something but not having what you need
  • an unusual challenge
  • insufficient sleep

Positive and Negative Stress – BALANCE ACTIVITY

  • talk about the Balance Scale (like the scales of Justice – one cup on either side of the center) – discuss what the balance represents
  • hand out index cards to each person and have them write down the negative stressors in their lives and the feelings associated with those stressors
  • ask the kids to each share one item from their list, and explain that it is quite possible that some kids will have the same or similar stressors
  • have the kids come up and place their Negative Stressor index cards on one side of the scale – what happens to homeostasis?
  • leave the cards in place on the balance and hand out a second set of index cards to each person – have them write down the positive stressors in their lives and the feelings associated with those stressors
  • ask the kids to each share one item from their list
  • take the negative stressor index cards off the balance and place them to the side – have the kids come up and place their Positive Stressor index cards on the other side of the scale – what happens to homeostatis?
  • kids will often quickly comment that the negative stressors need to return to the scale in order to return to a balance – discuss what this means in terms of themselves

How to deal with stress  (below is a generic list –> rather than share these, do the SUGGESTIONS ACTIVITY listed below) 

  • exercise (but not if it’s 4 hours or less before sleep)
  • eat a light, non-spicy dinner
  • get sufficient sleep
  • drink plenty of water –> there’s more water in your brain than anywhere else in your body (followed by muscles, then kidneys) and the stress response kicks in if access to water is restricted; within 5 mins of drinking water there is a noticeable decline in corticoids
  • lack of water is #1 reason for daytime tiredness –> hits your muscles and your brain
  • and try these relaxation techniques (we did a yoga session that includes various poses, breathing techniques and guided relaxation AFTER we did the SUGGESTIONS ACTIVITY noted below)

Dealing with Stress – SUGGESTIONS ACTIVITY

  • go around the room and have kids share what they do to destress
  • keep a running list on the board
  • do not judge the ideas (for instance, if they resort to eating comfort food that is filled with sugar)

Follow-up activities

  • using the list of kid-generated destressors as the basis, discuss positive ways to deal with stress
  • go further into the LIMBIC system
  • lead into a discussion/lesson on the Teen Brain

Got Game? Got Reality?

For five days in a row I was wakened by the phone ringing early in the morning, someone on the other end gleefully stating: School is closed due to a snow day. It was winter 1993 or 1994, and we had a week of knee deep snow. For me, this meant a week of total immersion in Myst, played on our Macintosh LC 520 (our first Mac).

Equipped with my computer, the game, the journal, and my telephone, I spent hours upon hours navigating the terrain of this beautifully developed graphic world, searching for and solving the myriad puzzles, and taking detailed notes about where I was, what I was doing, and what I uncovered. While I was busy in my world of Myst, colleagues and students were busy on their home computers exploring their world of Myst. Anytime any one of us was stumped, help was just a phone call away. We were collectively immersed in this digital world that was playing out individually on each of our own computers; yet our collaborative problem solving was making this digital world seem real.

When we eventually returned to school the following week, we would stop and talk about Myst, sharing tales and descriptions that were equally familiar to each of us, as if we had all vacationed at the same resort. We acknowledged that tremendous satisfaction had come from uncovering and solving puzzles, from our telephone collaborations, and from having this shared yet individual experience.

Jane McGonigal, author of Reality is Broken, describes 25 games that are immersive, collaborative and require problems to be solved. While these types of digital gaming are not new – as a teenager, our older son was attending and hosting lanfests in the late 1990s – McGonigal posits using digital gaming for social good, and all the games she lists are examples of her gaming-fix for a broken reality. (I am already imagining an upper school class on social responsibility, collaborative problem solving, the psychology of motivation and change…using McGonigal’s book along with Nudge and Drive.)

What fascinates me about her book is the discussion of gaming and the brain, specifically the positive feelings that game playing can produce and the role of intrinsic motivation. All these years later, I can still recall the euphoria felt while playing Myst.

McGonigal has done her research (noted throughout the book), and when it comes to intrinsic rewards she has concluded there are four categories. Here, from page 49, are the first lines of each of her four descriptions:

First and foremost, we crave satisfying work, every single day.

Second, we crave the experience, or at least the hope, of being successful.

Third, we crave social connection.

Fourth, and finally, we crave meaning, or the chance to be a part of something larger than ourselves.

She goes on to note that These four kinds of intrinsic rewards are the foundation for optimal human experience. Of course, it is not always easy or simple for people to engineer their lives to be filled with intrinsic motivation and the resulting intrinsic rewards.

Over the past four years I have explored the idea of motivation, and was reminded of a 2007 post that mentions a psychology book in use at the University of Purdue. The author, Edward Vockell, includes a chart on Intrinsic Motivation that smoothly meshes with the points McGonigal makes about the benefits of gaming.

Ultimately, McGonigal’s belief is that playing immersive, well-designed, collaborative games crafted to promote social well-being can help people to harvest more moments of intrinsic satisfaction and, at the same time, help solve some of the pressing, pending social, economic and climate issues facing the world.

As for my thought about an upper school class – hmm, organizing it in a way to attract gamers, playing the games referenced in McGonigal’s book, reading other books, reflecting, discussing and tapping into the experiences and hopes of these teens…

[April 26, 2011 UPDATE: John Hunter, who is a teacher among his many endeavors, has created the World Peace Game, a simulation that his 4th graders engage in to "explore the connectedness of the global community through the lens of the economic, social, and environmental crises and the imminent threat of war." He gives a TED Talk about the game which gave me (good) chills as I listened.]

The Games of Life

I just finished reading Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal. There is a reason her book resonated with me, but that reason will have to wait till another post. Meantime, below is the list of games that Jane describes throughout her book. Do any resonate with you? Which ones? Why? (At the end of this post is Jane’s TED Talk, where she describes why game playing makes sense to her.)

[UPDATE June 26, 2011 – McGonigal's newest game, Find the Future, receives a positive review in the NYT article Putting the Library on Your Smartphone.]

Bounce is designed to help jump start conversations between people of different generations, specifically, between you and people old enough to be your grandparents. You have likely heard of doing random acts of kindnessCruel 2 B Kind takes that idea one step further and turns those random acts into game play. And maybe you just want to make someone feel good? PlusOneMe(+1 me) “helps you acknowledge people’s strengths.” Or maybe you know someone who is not feeling very well, and needs help with recuperating and recovery? Try the game SuperBetter. Here is Jane McGonigal’s six minute Ignite talk describing SuperBetter. 

Chore Wars is the perfect way to get anyone, from a kid to an adult, to do those niggly yet necessary house chores.

Anyone out there who loves to fly? Congratulations if you answered “yes”. Most people I know are reluctant airplane passengers, and if you fall into that category (or even if you love to fly :-), The Day in the Cloud Challenge, created by Google and Virgin America to make your in-flight time more enjoyable, is an “online scavenger hunt played simultaneously in the air”. Another game for flyers is jetset, designed to be played on your mobile phone while in the airport.

Looking for game simulations that will help you make a difference in the future of our world? Try Evoke, “a crash course in changing the world.” Another game along these lines is Lost Joules, a way to get you thinking about your use of electric power. Superstruct was a future-forecasting game designed to get people thinking about problems humanity will face in the future, and brainstorm ways to cope with, solve or maybe even prevent those problems from manifesting. This game was created by the Institute for the Future. One more game is World Without Oil, “a massively collaborative imagining of the first 32 weeks of a global oil crisis.” What better way to figure out potential solutions to future problems than to harness people power!

Simply want to volunteer but are dulled by the “same old” types of ideas? Check out sparked, “the microvolunteering network.” You can read more about this idea on the sparked blog.

Back in the days when he lived at home, my older son loaned some of his home computer processing power to SETI@home. Several science departments at the University of Washington have a similar plan for solving science puzzles requiring lots of computing power, in particular the folding of proteins.

Want be less of a home-body? foursquare is designed to get you up and out and socializing. Similarly, if you like to dance or would like to like to dance (!), Top Secret Dance-Off is designed to help you get over your shyness hump when it comes to dancing.

Increase your vocabulary and help donate rice to hungry folks through the World Food Programme with Free Rice.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum commissioned a clever alternate reality (ARG) game, Ghosts of a Chance, to help museum goers have an immersive experience with the museum.

For the 2008 Summer Olympics, McDonald’s, AKQA, the International Olympic Committee and Jane McGonigal teamed up to create The Lost Ring as a way to give non-Olympians a way to participate more fully in the feel of the games. There is a video and case study of this project available here.

Many of you have probably heard of the marriage of Nike running shoes and an iPod or iPhone to not only provide music while you exercise, but also track your performance. Surely you realized it’s a game!

My younger son would be tickled to know that a game he plays, spore, was included in Jane McGonigal’s list. And why not? It’s all about creating a universe populated by creatures of your own crafting.

If you like playing games, or are just plain curious, the Come Out & Play festival “is an annual festival of street games that turns New York City [or perhaps other cities, as well] into a giant playground.” I haven’t attended this festival, but at a quick glance it reminds me of flash mob games such as The Sound of Music at the Central Station in Antwerp, Belgium or those organized by Improv Everywhere. A company that organizes games in this genre is slingshot, a British-based company that creates “games for people and cities.” Another company that crafts games of this type is Citizen Logistics, makers of Groundcrew. And yet another, this one based in the United Kingdom, is Hide & Seek.

Speaking of the UK, one of the more intriguing games is Investigate your MP’s expenses, a game designed by the Guardian [a newspaper] to garner citizen assistance in wading through thousands of pages of scanned documents released by Parliament. Apparently, a number of British MPs had rather high expenses that were not exactly legal… This is an example of how crowdsourcing can be used to enhance citizen participation.

Believe it or not, there is at least one school, Quest to Learn, that translates “the underlying forms of games into a powerful pedagogical model for its 6-12th graders.” You can read more about Q2L in their Overview. If anyone knows of other schools like this, please add them in a comment below. Thanks!

Here is McGonigal’s 2010 TED Talk: Gaming can make a better world.