Tag Archives: John Medina

John Medina’s Mindset

The human brain appears to have been designed to solve problems related to surviving in an outdoor setting in unstable meteorological conditions and to do so in near constant motion.

So…if you wanted to design a learning environment that was directly opposed to what the brain is naturally good at doing ~ you’d design a frickin classroom!

Yes, that is exactly what John Medina said at the beginning of his talk. John Medina (a “developmental molecular biologist by training”) has much to share, says it succinctly and with wit, and shares it willingly both in his book, 12 Brain Rules, and in talks. Here he is (scroll to the 30 minute mark) at the iste 2011 Conference in Philadelphia, talking about “how the formal brain sciences might influence how we teach people, particularly for people who are interested in using information technology of a wide variety of stripes to aid learning”.

I have written several times about Medina. It’s not so much that what he has to say is novel, for I’ve heard similar ideas elsewhere, but he knows how to share with passion and in a way that engages, making it easier to learn and thus to remember.

See any of Medina’s brain rules in action in his above talk?


CAIS Tech Retreat

One week from today I will be in the Berkshire Mountains, participating in the CAIS (Connecticut Association of Independent Schools) Academic Tech Retreat at the Trinity Conference Center. I have the pleasure of speaking Thursday morning, and it seems a most fitting way to celebrate two years, to the month, of Neurons Firing! [Update May 15: The CAIS wiki includes a summary of the Retreat, as well as some additional links.]

I could tell you the topic of my session, but how much better if you try and figure it out from the list of resources below. After all, that’s a much better way to get your neurons firing!

Brain Bits
Exercise grows neurons
• Ongoing learning strengthens memory
Novelty fosters synapses and creativity
Communities stimulate thinking

• Ben Zander – Davos Annual Meeting 2008 closing talk
• TED Talks – Tim Brown: The powerful link between creativity and play
• TED Talks – Sir Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity?
• TED Talks – Jill Bolte Taylor: My stroke of insight
• main page for all the amazing TED Talks

Building Online Learning Communities by Rena Palloff and Keith Pratt
Teaching with the brain in mind by Eric Jensen
Learning & Memory: The Brain in Action by Marilee Sprenger
Achieving Optimal Memory by Aaron P. Nelson with Susan Gilbert
Brain Rules by John Medina, plus the website
Neuroscience for Kids, perhaps the BEST site about the brain, and it’s not just for kids!
SPARK, The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John Ratey with Eric Hagerman
The Neuroscience of Adult Learning edited by Sandra Johnson and Kathleen Taylor
The Art of Changing the Brain by James Zull

Staying Sharp Pamphlets, produced by The Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives and NRTA: AARP’s Educator Community
• Your Brain at Work: Making the Science of Cognitive Fitness Work for You, 2008 (produced by the DANA Alliance and The Conference Board–Mature Workforce Initiative)
• Learning Throughout Life, 2006
• Memory Loss and Aging, 2006

National Center for Learning Disabilities
Executive Function Fact Sheet
Executive Function: A Quick Look

SharpBrains articles
The brain virtues of physical exercise
interview with Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg
• interview with Yaakov Stern – Build Your Cognitive Reserve
5 Tips on Lifelong Learning & the Adult Brain

Learning and the Brain conference, which takes place three times a year – February in San Francisco, May in Washington, D.C., and November in Cambridge, MA
The Brain, Learning and Applications: CAIS Summer Institute, which takes place in August

Writing Exercise
• sketching comes from the Tim Brown TED Talk (see above)
• all other activities provided by Candy, Middle School Learning Specialist

• Dulcie, for patient tutelage
• Candy, for mentoring
• F and R, for listening, looking and suggesting
• Justine, for asking in the first place!

The slides for this presentation are available here, on SlideShare.


[Updated January 19 and May 10 with some additions. Also, Happy Birthday a week and a day ago to Fred!]

I don’t usually listen to music while writing or reading, as the music distracts me. If there are words, I want to sing along, and no matter what, I tap my toes or swing my legs, and eventually my whole body gets into the act.

It is possible to retrain my brain so that I can focus on writing or reading while listening to music. However, then I would be multitasking, and research has led to the conclusion that the brain does not – and cannot – multitask.

(As an experiment, I’ve been listening to some wonderful recently-gifted-to-me music and writing this at the same time. However, the experiment doesn’t necessarily prove I can successfully multitask. It simply shows that with strong intent to concentrate, I can write while “turning off” my normal physical response to listening to music.)

NPR’s thirty minute Talk of the Nation, October 2008, is all about Bad At Multitasking? Blame Your Brain. The gist of the conversation is that while you can do more than one thing at a time, none of them are done well. With that said, it seems that younger folks who are growing up with technology (the digital natives, as coined by Marc Prensky), and who do many things at once while using that technology, are perhaps changing their brains as they engage in successful multitasking. Apparently, playing certain types of video games promote the ability to multitask within the brain. Of course, because neuroplasticity is a feature of our brains, the rest of us can also train our brains to become better at multitasking. However, regardless of the age of the person attempting to multitask, switching between two dissimilar tasks will be more successful than switching between two similar tasks, although this is influenced by “how hard and how confusable” the tasks are.

(More on my experiment – last night the music was playing while I wrote the above paragraph. Rereading it this morning, there was a glaring mistake in the last sentence, which I have since remedied. And updated on January 19 – I decided that my memory of the NPR report was inaccurate, so I went back and listened to the NPR report again and, sure enough, I had it right the first time, and wrote it wrong the second time. Sure proves John Medina’s points made below!)

The above conversation is part of an NPR series about multitasking. Please note that “brain research suggests cell phones and driving are a dangerous mix, even with a hands-free device.” If you drive and talk on a cell phone, please listen to the NPR 8:55 minute conversation below on Multitasking In The Car: Just Like Drunken Driving.

John Medina, author of brain rules, states in Rule #4:

We don’t pay attention to boring things.

It turns out that multitasking simply does not help our brains to pay attention. You can read more about what Medina has to say on this topic in his blog article The brain cannot multitask.  In particular, Medina states that “The best you can say is that people who appear to be good at multitasking actually have good working memories, capable of paying attention to several inputs one at a time.” He goes on to say that there is a consequence to multitasking, and this is proved by my editing discovery this morning.

Studies show that a person who is interrupted takes 50 percent longer to accomplish a task. Not only that, he or she makes up to 50 percent more errors.

(By the way, I turned off the music in order to listen to the NPR interviews and read the articles, but the music is back on now for the rest of this post.)

Here are three additional views on multitasking.

Move It!

Holy BDNF Batperson! BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor) is a protein in the brain that John Medina, author of Brain Rules, likens to “miracle-gro for the brain”. It turns out that EXERCISE boosts not only BDNF, but also the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, all known for helping the brain to feel good and be alert, as well as assisting with neuron communication.

This probably does not come as a surprise to many, because the benefits of exercise have been espoused in the news on and off for many years. Exercise helps alleviate stress, can be a preventative for many diseases, and can assist with weight control and body image. The surprising aspect, really, is why you can still visit schools where phys ed has been curtailed (budget issues) and businesses where office workers still spend the overwhelming portion of their day in sedentary conditions.

Rule #1 in John Medina’s Brain Rules states:

Exercise boosts brain power.

And he goes on to explain what happens inside your brain when you exercise your body.

• Your brain needs oxygen and food. While your brain may only represent about 2 percent of your body weight, it accounts for about 20 percent of your total energy usage.

• What exercise does is provide your body greater access to the oxygen and the food.

• The more you exercise, the more tissues you can feed and the more toxic waste you can remove.

• …exercise literally increases blood volume in a region of the brain called the dentate gyrus. … The dentate gyrus is a vital constituent of the hippocampus, a region deeply involved in memory formation.

• BDNF…keeps existing neurons young and healthy, rendering them much more willing to connect with one another. It also encourages neurogenesis, the formation of new cells in the brain.

I’m a swimmer and a walker and a kayaker. On average, during the school year, we walk about 15 miles a week. And during the summer I swim several miles a week. Take away my exercise and I get grumpy. With my exercise, I have more energy and think more clearly.

You don’t have to take my experiences and writing, or John Medina’s word for it. There is a wealth of information regarding the physical and cognitive benefits of exercise. Aaron Nelson, in stating his pointers for improving memory, listed regular exercise as his first nugget of advice, followed by getting a good night’s sleep and alleviating stress, both which can be positively impacted by exercise.

Introduction to John Medina’s book

When no further than the Introduction to John Medina’s Brain Rules, I already wanted to purchase copies to give as gifts to my friends. Medina makes his points with wit, precision, and stories, and convinced me of his professionalism when he described the MGF (Medina Grump Factor), explaining that

…supporting research for each of my points must first be published in a peer-reviewed journal and then successfully replicated. Many of the studies have been replicated dozens of times.

And all of that research is available on his book’s site.

In fact, the book is meant to be used in conjunction with the web site and accompanying DVD. Both the site and DVD contain “tutorials” – additional text, video, and graphics – to further your understanding of the content. When writing about the brain, it sure helps to put the ideas into practice by providing as many modes as possible for getting the reader’s head around an idea.

Medina explains in his introduction that one goal of his book is to focus researchers on areas that need further investigation, because not enough is yet known to make blanket statements or resolutions. However, the studies that do exist suggest:

If you wanted to create an education environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you probably would design something like a classroom.

He says something similar about business and cubicles.

If the stickies popping out from my copy are any indication, you can bet I’ll have more to say about the content in future posts! One other point of reference – I rarely reread a book, as my mind tends to jump ahead since it already knows what to expect. I intend to reread Brain Rules, however, this time while watching the accompanying DVD chapters. The brain rules tell me there are benefits to revisiting content, utilizing different input, and doing it over a span of time.

Rule #4 – We don’t pay attention to boring things.

Rule #5 – Repeat to remember.

Rule #6 – Remember to repeat.

Rule #7 – Sleep well, think well.

Rule #9 – Stimulate more of the senses.