Tag Archives: Learning & the Brain conference

Successful Aging

Oh dear, yet another large print book. I have nothing against the concept of large print, ideally this makes it easier to read for people with vision issues. However, I wish the publishers did a better job with layout and leading, the latter essentially being the spacing between lines. Lines of large type clumped on a page does not, actually, make for easier reading (for me).

John W Rose, MD, and Rober L Kahn, PhD, compiled the results of a MacArthur Foundation Study on aging and the result is the 1998 book, Successful Aging. Given that this book was published 14 years ago, there was nothing new in it that I had not already seen in some other format.

There were, however, two items that did particularly strike me. The first was the wonderful optimism the authors exude in describing both the results of the long term study and what the findings could mean for the future. While they break down the study and discuss multiple aspects of aging, I think the book’s message can be summed up quite simply. To paraphrase Carol Dweck’s findings about mindsets, those with growth mindsets will find it easier to deal with aging and, as such, will likely have a positive impact on their own aging process. Those who have a fixed mindset will find that when the going gets tough, they may be less flexible in managing repercussions, which will likely have a less positive – and perhaps negative – impact on their own aging process.

The idea of mindsets holds true, as well, for younger peoples’ perceptions of older people. As a teacher, I have always believed that students rise or fall to the level of expectations held for them. Similarly, if younger people can have a positive mindset about older people and the process of aging, this is more likely to have a beneficial impact on their interactions with older people and on their own aging process.

Due to the date of the book, 1998, I tended to question some of the statistics the authors noted, especially regarding the prevalence of Alzheimer’s in the aging population. I am reasonably confident that the numbers of people with, and expected to exhibit some form of dementia or Alzheimer’s is far greater than what they forecast back in 1998. You can read more about the Latest Alzheimer’s Statistics in the United States in this article on the Texas Alzheimer’s Research and Care Consortium site. In any case, both resources note that dementia and Alzheimer’s are not part of the normal aging process.

Similar to what I have gleaned from other books on aging, and from attendance at various Learning & the Brain conferences, Rose and Kahn note there are several factors a person can engage with to help their brains and bodies age normally. Turns out we do have  some control over how we age, it’s not all in the genes.

  • engage in physical activity – good for the body and for the brain, as exercise helps stimulate BDNF, brain-derived neurotrophic factor
  • fertilize your social network – showing care for and an interest in others, and allowing them to do the same for you makes for a strong support system
  • believe that you can manage whatever comes your way – while this may not always be the case, having a “cup half full” approach to aging can help you handle the blips

According to research, focusing on the above three elements will help an individual age successfully. Essentially, this approach translates to preventive care, and preventive care can aid with (in the words of the authors) “avoiding disease, maintaining high cognitive and physical function, and engagement with life.” Alternatively,

Disability in older people results from three key factors: 1) the impact of disease, or more commonly, many diseases at once; 2) lifestyle factors, such as exercise and diet, which directly influence physical fitness and risk of disease; and 3) the biological changes that occur with advancing age – formally known as senescence.

For more on healthy aging, here are some of my prior posts plus an article by Elkhonon Goldberg.


Edward Hallowell on ADD or Modern Life – which is it?

The feeling of being connected to something is the “single most important precursor to happiness and health.”

So said Edward Hallowell in his November Learning & the Brain talk, Crazy Busy. He went on to draw lines between our need for connecting and our using modern technology to facilitate that connecting. While we may, indeed, be chatting more, he noted that our face-to-face time and the quality of our connections are likely suffering because the technology lets us “live at a distance” while encouraging brief communiqués, thus fostering a “breadth over depth” mentality.

The result is lots of quick interactions that take place via texting, emails, and social networking tools. (Curiously, he did not mention video chatting and its potential benefits, which I think provides ample opportunity for long conversations while seeing who you are talking with. We had hour long conversations with our son when he lived in Japan and, more recently, in Olympia, WA., and always ended with a virtual family hug. 🙂 )

Hallowell made the case that the fast-paced use of technology for connecting with others leads to people who are busy and have shorter attention spans, which causes them to make impulsive decisions. This approach of paying “continuous partial attention” to many inputs creates behavior that mimics ADD: impulsivity, hyperactivity, and decreased attention spans. This begs the question: “Is it ADD or a severe case of modern life?”  The answer: “Take the Vermont Test” – “environmentally induced” behavior is a severe case of modern life; genetically influenced behavior is a case of ADD.

Next post: Hallowell’s prescription, and the UP side of ADD

Edward Hallowell on Crazy Busy

I first heard of Edward Hallowell a year ago, when reading John Ratey’s book SPARK. Ratey and Hallowell collaborated on books about ADHD, and I eventually purchased one of them, Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping With Attention Deficit Disorder from Childhood Through Adolescence. At least, to the best of my memory, that was the book. I never actually read the book, due to a purely emotional response that prevented me from going any further after scanning the text. Somewhere in the last third of the book I stumbled upon mention of our local high school and stopped to read about Hallowell’s experience with some of the personnel and programs at the school. His description did not jive with what I knew of the school, and this colored my sensibilities to the point where I gave the book away to a student who was researching the subject. That was the end of my association with Edward Hallowell until encountering him at last November’s Learning and the Brain conference.

Hallowell kicked off the morning series of keynotes with an engaging talk, Crazy Busy: Dealing with an Overstretched, Overbooked, Distracted Life. A prolific author, in 2007 he had published a book with a similar name, Crazy Busy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap! Strategies for Handling Your Fast-Paced Life. I have not read this book, but suspect that Hallowell’s talk mirrored much of the book. It was just Ed and the audience, no slides, just a comfortable presenter and lively story teller. His authenticity was never in doubt, as in addition to his professional credentials, Edward Hallowell has ADD and dyslexia. He knows of what he speaks.

Lingering is a dying art

Modern life poses a number of challenges, among them dealing with the variety and quantity of information that comes galloping towards us on a daily basis. If we set ourselves the task of managing all of this input, then we will have difficulty finding the time to relax and linger. Hallowell went on to note that we become “victims of our own enthusiasm”, of which we may have infinite quantities, but which is balanced by finite quantities of energy. At this point he had me thinking of the lyrics to an old camp song:

Mmm Mmm, I want to linger
Mmm Mmm, a little longer
Mmm Mmm a little longer with you

As with many of the conference’s keynoters, Hallowell talked a bit about the myth of multitasking, which he said we do as a way to deal with all of that information overload. Well, we think we are multitasking, but we are really just switching quickly between each task, and the result is that we wind up doing none of them particularly well. He cautioned that “if any one of the tasks is cognitively demanding” we should not, and probably do not, multitask.

No multitasking with this post, or rather, no multi-messaging. I will stop here and let you linger on the thoughts, and return in a few days to reconnect, which is what Hallowell next spoke about – connections.

Contemplate Conferences = Chase away winter blues!


While doing some research about Edward Hallowell (topic of my next post), I was directed to the Cape Cod Institute, located in Eastham, Massachusetts. Thirty-one years this institute has been around, and for almost all of those years I’ve been just a few miles away for part of each summer, yet the institute and I never crossed paths. Am tickled to have now discovered it!

The Institute consists of 27 courses, each running for a week and spread out over the course of the summer from June 21 to August 27. The courses are “for mental health and management professionals”, though they seem to attract educators and others in related professions.

ALBUQUERQUE ACADEMY – Brain Research: Learning & Applications, the 2010 Brain Institute

An email from Lisa, the conference coordinator, reminded me of this institute, presented by Greenleaf Learning and entering its fourth summer in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I wrote about this conference just about a year ago; definitely no accident that right about mid-winter the thought of summer conferences comes to mind! I have also written extensively about Bob Greenleaf, who is presenting three other brain and learning institutes in 2010.

The Albuquerque Brain and Learning Institute is particularly notable to me because a number of the presentations will be focusing on the impact of our digital lives on our developing brains. This is similar to the topic of last November’s Learning & the Brain conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Thus, it is not surprising that some of the presenters straddle both the institute and the conference.

Of the three keynoters scheduled for Albuquerque, I am familiar with two of them, having heard David Eagleman at the 2008 CAIS Brain, Learning and Applications Institute, which is another of the conferences presented by Greenleaf. Marilee Sprenger is the other keynoter whose name resonates. I am a huge fan of her books and have been wanting to see her in person for years.

Patricia Greenfield on Media, Multitasking & Education

Patricia Greenfield, Director of the Children’s Digital Media Center at UCLA, was the second of three opening keynote speakers at the Learning & the Brain Conference. Well, she was the second speaker for the vast majority of us who were in the grand ballroom. This conference was so packed that there was an overflow room for each day’s keynotes. Initially my colleague (who was part of the overflow) and I thought that the keynote talks would be lived streamed to the overflow room. Instead, PIRI did something that I thought was rather clever – they circulated the three speakers through the ballroom and overflow room, so that everyone heard and saw a live talk. Perhaps more work for the speakers, but rather respectful of the attendees!

Greenfield discussed New Media, Multitasking and Education: The Effects of Technology on Learning. She pointed to three types of multitasking:

  1. within a single medium (viewing multiple screens/windows on a computer or television)
  2. between two or more media (such as a computer and a cell phone)
  3. between media and real life (such as a kid texting while you are talking to them)

and noted that multitasking, in general, has both pros and cons. The benefits relate to work or career skills, where it may be helpful to juggle multiple tasks, such as is done by air traffic controllers or movie producers.The costs relate to possible negative impact on both cognitive skills, and social and emotional skills.

She related an experiment done with college students where they viewed CNN news broadcasts with and without the news crawl going across the screen. It turned out that the students retained more of the news when there was no crawl. I asked my 18 and a half year old about the news crawl, and he said he finds it highly distracting, as do I. (Has anyone in the States noticed the number of highway gas station stops that now have large television screens playing at the pumps? I find them highly distracting and irritating!)

I was particularly interested in Greenfield’s comment that “reading counteracts the cognitive cost of media multitasking”, and that “out-of-class reading during the college years is a statistical predictor of critical thinking skills.” This made me wonder about reading in general, and how secondary schools tend to assign so much content area reading that there is precious little time for students to read for the pure joy of reading. [UPDATE: Related NPR story: Reading Practice Can Strengthen Brain ‘Highways’.]

The 448 pages of conference proceedings are packaged in a spiral bound book, one of the treasured benefits of full registration, as it provides information about all of the conference sessions. Included in the book are two articles related to Greenfield’s presentation, both available on UCLA’s Media Center site: Technology and Informal Education: What Is taught, What Is Learned, by Greenfield and Are We Losing Our Ability to Think Critically?, by Samuel Greengard.

In my early years of teaching I prided myself on being able to multitask while responding to questions from multiple people at the same time. With age has come the realization that I am no longer as facile with multi-responding, and trying to multi-respond actually makes me less effective. Indeed, that realization could be one answer to a question posed by Greenfield: Could each task have been done better if done alone? In a January post earlier this year I explored the idea of multitasking and it provoked an interesting discussion in the comments.

[UPDATE: Here is an interesting take on multitasking, in which Howard Rheingold asks if there is a happy medium in the middle.]

Boston on the Brain

Thoroughly enjoyed the Learning and the Brain Conference.
More about it in the next few posts.


1. view of Boston across the Charles River from the Hyatt
2. crew shells on the Charles, the next morning
3. MIT Center for Bits and Atoms, Wiesner Building
4. same door, different label 🙂
5. biker jacket gift from very cool Boston brother-in-law!

Allow me to introduce…

This weekend marks another round of the Learning and the Brain conference in Cambridge, MA. For the second time, I have the delight of introducing some of the speakers at Saturday afternoon’s sessions. I am looking forward to hearing all three speakers, and was tickled that they were all part of the same strand, Digital Brains, Technology & Learning. Here are the introductions.

David H. Rose, EdD

In 1984 – before his favorite application, Google Earth, was even imagined, and before IT folks began providing general support for assistive technologies – David Rose cofounded CAST, the Center for Applied Special Technology. Both David’s and CAST’s focus is Universal Design for Learning. With the celebration of kids diversity as the backdrop, UDL aims to improve the accessibility of curriculum and materials for all types of learners.

David is on the faculty of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, and has coauthored several books, including the forthcoming Learning in the Digital Age, which I eagerly await, and this one, Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age, which was the impetus for my school’s opening professional development this past fall.

Please join me in welcoming Dr David Rose for his talk Searching with Google: New Directions in Universal Design for Online Learning.

Kenneth S. Kosik, MD

If you’ve attended this conference in the past, you may already associate Ken Kosik, as I do, with illuminating talks about Alzheimer’s. He is the Harriman Professor of Neuroscience Research, and Co-Director of the Neuroscience Research Institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In his spare time, he is the Executive Director of the Center for Cognitive Fitness and Innovative Therapies, also in Santa Barbara, the mission of which is to help people with cognitive decline be able to age gracefully and live fully.

Students and teachers at my school make extensive use of wikis, so I am particularly eager to hear Ken talk about the wikification of knowledge.

And in the spirit of collaborative wikis, please collaborate with me on welcoming Dr Ken Kosik.

Kurt W. Fischer, PhD

The Mind, Brain and Education figure prominently in Kurt Fischer’s world. In addition to being the Charles Bigelow Professor of Education at Harvard, he is the Director of the Mind, Brain & Education program at the Graduate School of Education, the editor or co-editor of numerous Mind, Brain & Education publications, and the Director of the International Mind, Brain and Education Society.

In his capacity as Director of this society, Kurt is leading the movement to connect biology and cognitive science to education.

Please join me in welcoming Dr Kurt Fischer for his talk about Mind, Brain & Emerging Technology to Improve Robust Learning.