I found it to be an interesting piece, but the beginning really stuck out to me. I have bolded some of the parts below that really drew my attention.
As laptops become smaller and more ubiquitous, and with the advent of tablets, the idea of taking notes by hand just seems old-fashioned to many students today. Typing your notes is faster — which comes in handy when there’s a lot of information to take down. But it turns out there are still advantages to doing things the old-fashioned way.
For one thing, research shows that laptops and tablets have a tendency to be distracting — it’s so easy to click over to Facebook in that dull lecture. And a study has shown that the fact that you have to be slower when you take notes by hand is what makes it more useful in the long run.
In the study published in Psychological Science, Pam A. Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles sought to test how note-taking by hand or by computer affects learning.
“When people type their notes, they have this tendency to try to take verbatim notes and write down as much of the lecture as they can,” Mueller tells NPR’s Rachel Martin. “The students who were taking longhand notes in our studies were forced to be more selective — because you can’t write as fast as you can type. And that extra processing of the material that they were doing benefited them.”
First of all, I do not think lectures are bad, but I do think “dull lectures” are. Interesting thing is that we expect that students pay attention to a “dull lecture” while I watch so many people in organizations choose Facebook or email over “dull staff meetings”. There should be accountability to not only the learner, but the educator in this situation. Encouraging things like back-channels. or providing the information before and encouraging learners to create something from it, is actually a much better way to have students “retain” information than listening to a “dull lecture”. It is not that content isn’t important, but what you create and connect from this content is where the powerful and deep learning happens.
The second part that stuck out to me is when the article says “people”, not “some people”. The reality is that not all people are the same, but in this article they are using technology (both the pen/pencils and the computer, not only the computer) to standardize. Not all people work this way. In fact, whether you give me a pencil or a laptop, I am never furiously writing notes down. Ever. I will write only what resonates with me, but with a computer, I might google quotes or applicable articles that I will save for reading later. I might not be “listening” as much, but I could actually be learning more, just not necessarily from the person lecturing at that exact moment. Is the focus on what I am learning from the person standing in front of me, or what I am learning on the topic in general. These aren’t always the same thing.
Many educators on social media reiterated the findings and shared how they made all students use pencils instead of laptops. The problem with this approach is that we assume one way works for all. What we need to realize is that some students benefit from having a laptop, and some from using a pencil. Choices are beneficial. Some students will need more guidance than others, but we also need to realize that we should never force students to use what works for us over what works for them.
As a student in K-12, I was single-handedly responsible for supporting the paper reinforcement business in the 80’s. Many of my notes would eventually be torn out of my book, but even if they stayed in my binder, they were never beneficial to me. This is not to say that this process wasn’t beneficial to others, just not for me. But was the problem here that I didn’t conform to the system, or that the system didn’t conform to me?
Technology should personalize, not standardize. We need to understand that we live in a time where there are more ways to reach more kids. To lump all kids together and have them do the exact same thing is doing an incredible disservice to the learners of today.
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: APRIL 23, 2013 | UPDATED: APRIL 12, 2016
During the past six years, hundreds of Edcamp events have popped up worldwide. Teachers from every corner of the globe have been organizing open opportunities for educators to collaborate and solve problems.
In spite of this growth and energy, there are still many educators who are either uninformed or skeptical of the Edcamp model for teacher professional development. Given the plethora of “silver bullets” and magical cures in education, some skepticism is healthy. It ensures that we refine and revise our beliefs through meaningful investigation.
What’s an Edcamp?
Let’s begin with a definition. In short, Edcamps are:
Free: Edcamps should be free to all attendees. This helps ensure that all different types of teachers and educational stakeholders can attend.
Non-commercial and with a vendor-free presence: Edcamps should be about learning, not selling. Educators should feel free to express their ideas without being swayed or influenced by sales pitches for educational books or technology.
Hosted by any organization or individual: Anyone should be able to host an Edcamp. School districts, educational stakeholders and teams of teachers can host Edcamps.
Made up of sessions that are determined on the day of the event:Edcamps should not have pre-scheduled presentations. During the morning of the event, the schedule should be created in conjunction with everyone there. Sessions will be spontaneous, interactive and responsive to participants’ needs.
Events where anyone who attends can be a presenter: Anyone who attends an Edcamp should be eligible to present. All teachers and educational stakeholders are professionals worthy of sharing their expertise in a collaborative setting.
Reliant on the “law of two feet” which encourages participants to find a session that meets their needs: As anyone can host a session, it is critical that participants are encouraged to actively self-select the best content and sessions. Edcampers should leave sessions that do not meet their needs. This provides a uniquely effective way of “weeding out” sessions that are not based on appropriate research or not delivered in an engaging format.
Despite the concrete definition, it can be difficult to truly capture the Edcamp experience. That’s because a “typical” day of learning at an Edcamp doesn’t really exist. Each Edcamp is unique and based on the needs of the participants. When you arrive at the location (usually a school or university) on the day of the event, there is no pre-set schedule of sessions or presenters. Instead, there’s just a blank sheet of big paper with a grid on it.
From that blank slate, everyone builds the session schedule together. As people mingle and chat over free coffee and donuts, they put up potential discussion topics on a board. Since it’s my job to build the schedule at the Edcamp events I organize, I can truly attest that the entire process is positive and organic. Occasionally, people who don’t even know each other realize that they have similar interests and end up running a session together. Other folks come with an idea, throw it out to the group, revise it, and end up posting it with a refined focus. Since anyone who attends an Edcamp event can be a presenter at the event, it’s a very empowering experience for everyone involved.
The skeptics are likely wondering, “What do you do if no ones signs up?” (I get that question a lot.) And while there are certainly specific strategies you can use to ease your anxiety (building an idea board on the event page, having conversations with amazing educators who are planning to attend, etc.), they usually aren’t needed. I’ve never attended or heard of an Edcamp where the schedule board didn’t fill. It just doesn’t happen.
What Happens in a Session?
Given the spontaneity of the schedule creation, you may be curious about the content of the sessions that are typically shared at an Edcamp. Well, it’s certainly hard to generalize, but here is a sampling of sessions from recent Edcamp events:
Edcamp SF Bay
Fostering Student Learning Networks
How to Run Your School from Your iPhone
The Global Read Aloud and Reading in the 21st Century
Badges, Levels, Games, and Learning
Collaborative Classrooms, a New Physical Environment
Educators often have very specific, concrete takeaways from sessions like these all over the country. Consider these positive personal outcomes:
“I learned ways to flip my faculty meeting, spending less time on announcements and more time on PD, relationship building and modeling a maximization of time with my staff.” – Joe Mazza
“I absolutely loved hearing about Lauren’s experience with a school-wide topic of study, and would love to bring this practice to our school. She described a school whose study topic was ‘India,’ and every grade level, across all content areas, sought to plan experiences that helped students engage with that topic in some way.” – Lyn Hilt
“In one Edcamp I learned about all the cool things you can do with Evernote and how you can save everything there!” – Joy Kirr
These aren’t merely fluffy concepts. They are specific, practical strategies and ideas that educators are sharing and investigating at Edcamps all over the nation.
Beyond the Takeaway
Further, the social, interactive, recursive nature of an Edcamp is directly aligned to adult learning theories. In a whitepaper I wrote in 2011, blog posts about Edcamp were qualitatively analyzed to determine common themes. The most popular ideas were:
Collaboration and connections
Surprise (at the number of educators dedicated to their craft)
The Edcamp model provides educators with a sustainable model for learning, growing, connecting, and sharing. Everyone’s expertise is honored, and specific, concrete strategies are exchanged. When professional development is created “for teachers by teachers,” everyone wins.
As more organizations and classrooms are looking at “digital portfolios”, I wanted to compile some of the information I have either curated or created on the topic. I really believe in creating a blog as a digital portfolio, which is more than simply a blog, and more than simply a portfolio, but a combination of the best of both worlds. The blogging component is hugely beneficial to show growth of learning over time, while also developing multiple facets of literacy, while a “portfolio” adds a component that gives us an opportunity to show our best stuff.
A Blog/Portfolio (perhaps a “blogfolio”), is great for learning purposes because it gives the creator of the space an opportunity to showcase learning while building a digital footprint that will be beneficial long after their time in schools. It also allows students multiple ways to showcase their learning since basically anything I can see or hear, I can now make digital and link into their space. The possibilities are endless.
If you want to learn more about this process, please feel free to check out the links below.
WHEN STUDENTS (ESPECIALLY non-science majors) take required science classes, there is a reason. It’s not so that they can learn about the names of the planets or which plants you can eat (but that is useful to know). The primary reason that students are required to take a science class is to help them understand the nature of science.
Let’s focus on just one aspect of the nature of science that often gives students (and all sorts of people) problems.
Science Is a Creative Process
Here are some examples from the history of science.
Einstein used curved space-time to explain gravity (and other things).
Euler and Lagrange created the calculus of variations in order to solve the brachistochrone problem (path between two points with the shortest time). Oh, and calculus of variations is used in Lagrangian Mechanics—so it’s sort of a big deal.
This is my quick summary of science: Science is all about making models. These can be physical models, or a mathematical model or even a conceptual model. If the model agrees with real life, then that’s great. If there is an experiment that disagrees with a model, then we have to change that model. That’s it.
If you want to explore the unknown, you first have to follow a trail to get to the uncharted regions.
The creative part of science comes into play in the creation of models. In order to have a model to test, you need to build a model. You can’t just stop by the model shop and pick up a model—no, in real science you have to make these models yourself. You might start off with a terrible model, but you need to start somewhere. Once you have a model, you need an experiment. Sometimes these experiments are simple to see—but other times you need to think of a creative way to collect data. Just look at the LIGO experiment and the detection of gravitational waves as an example. Scientists have to be creative.
Unfortunately, a common idea about the nature of science is that scientists have to follow procedures without using any creativity. In fact, have you ever heard anyone say “I wouldn’t be a good scientist because I’m not creative”? No, instead people say “I’m not any good at math” or “I don’t like following boring procedures.” Yes, there are procedures in science—but that’s not the main objective. Scientists follow procedures so they can reproduce a result that someone else obtained. Procedures are sort of like a map into the wilderness. If you want to explore the unknown, you first have to follow a trail to get to the uncharted regions.
Science Is Creative, Science Classes Are Not
Perhaps the problem with creativity and science is our science classes. What do students do in a chemistry lab? Welcome to lab. Make sure you have your safety goggles and closed-toe shoes. Now carefully measure 2.3 mL of water and add it into the mixture. It goes on and on. Instructions. No wonder students don’t think science is creative.
But wait! If you don’t give students detailed instructions in lab, they are going to mess stuff up—or worse, get hurt—or even worse, fail the lab. It’s not just in chemistry lab that we (instructors) overuse instructions; it happens in physics and biology as well. The problem is that we wish to take our students to the wilderness—but it is an especially long journey. Even with a map, it can take 4 years of classes to get to the cool stuff.
Creativity Is Difficult to Grade
It’s not just that chemistry and physics are complicated. It’s also that creativity in science is difficult to grade, whereas following instructions is easy to grade. In this regard, science should be considered to be similar to art. In both cases, the student really needs to use some form of creativity—but it’s easier to just have them copy some work of art and see how close they can get to the original.
But there are plenty of opportunities for real creativity in science classes. One of my favorite classes is a physics class for elementary education majors. We use the textbook (really, it’s more like a workbook) Physics and Everyday Thinking. The primary goal of this course is to help students understand the nature of science (since they will be teaching science to kids). In one chapter, students try to create a model to explain what happens when you rub a nail with a magnet (it makes the nail act like a magnet). They then look at new experiments to refine their model.
Students often hate this chapter. They hate that there are no clear answers or a rigid set of procedures (there are procedures, just not for making the initial model). Although the students might not be happy, this is what happens in science—you have to create stuff.
You can also introduce creativity into the physics lab (at all levels) by giving fewer instructions. Yes, it can be scary at first—but I find that it works out quite well. One of my favorite labs is conservation of momentum in collisions. I used to give very detailed guidelines on how to collide two carts and show that momentum is conserved. Now, I just show them the carts and let them play for a bit. Students can find all sorts of cool collisions to explore. They can even be creative in their methods for measuring the initial and final velocities (I still give guidance, but they have more freedom).
Finally, there is another simple way to introduce creativity in the introductory physics courses—have the students create something. Yes, in this case I am talking about students creating a numerical model with code. Really, you should try this with your class. Students might be a little cautious at first but once they start making stuff, it’s going to be awesome. It’s even easy to grade. I have the students create a numerical calculation and create a short 5 minute screencast that shows how their program runs and what it does. Not only is it creative, using numerical calculations is just part of the way we do science now. You should be using coding in your physics class (there are no more excuses).
Learning from failure has become a popular idea in education recently, partly because it feels like common sense to many people. In a general way, the idea of “picking yourself up after a fall” has long existed in American culture as in many other parts of the world. Teachers are hoping that if they can instill this idea in their students, the small, everyday setbacks inherent to learning new things won’t feel so emotionally charged to students, who might instead see them as part of the path to greater understanding and ultimate success.
But turning the difficult experience of failure into a positive isn’t as easy as telling students to change their mindsets; it takes careful lesson design, a strong classroom culture and an instructor trained in getting results from small failures so his or her students succeed when it matters.
For Kapur, productive failure is not just a maxim about persisting through challenges; it’s an effective teaching strategy that enables students to not only do well on short term measures of knowledge, like tests, but also affords better conceptual understanding, creative thinking, and helps students to transfer learning to novel situations.
“Learning from failure is a very intuitive and compelling idea that’s been around for ages, but teachers may not know how to use it,” Kapur said. He has run enough experiments both in lab settings and in real classrooms to have a fairly good idea of how to structure lessons that include failure up front, followed by consolidation of understanding through instruction.
The general idea is to develop tasks that students will not be able to solve, but require them to call upon their preexisting knowledge to try to solve the problem. That knowledge can be of the subject itself, as well as the informal insights students bring from their lives. The students will inevitably fail — as the teacher expects them to — but that failure is framed as part of learning and so is not seen as shameful. This process primes students’ brains to learn the new concept from their instructor after the initial failure.
“It is failure-based activation of knowledge to prepare them to learn,” Kapur said.
It might seem like this process would frustrate kids until they stop trying, but Kapur’s studies found that instead of feeling bad about their inability to solve the problem, students’ interest in the concept spiked. “I think that’s a great place to get students to before we teach them something,” Kapur said.
After students experience failure in their own discovery and problem solving process, the teacher facilitates a discussion that highlights various student attempts and teaches the new concept, consolidating students’ understanding of the processes required to complete the task.
PRINCIPLES OF PRODUCTIVE FAILURE LESSON DESIGN
Tasks must be challenging enough to engage learners, but not so challenging they give up.
Tasks must have multiple ideas, solutions or ways to solve so that students generate a multitude of ideas. It cannot be a closed task with only one path to finding a correct answer.
The task must activate prior knowledge, and not just formal learning from a previous lesson. “If you design a task where a student only displays their prior class learning it’s not good because then you aren’t tapping into their intuitive reasoning,” Kapur said. Intuitive reasoning is a big part of how students transfer knowledge to new situations.
While the task should activate knowledge, it should be designed so that the knowledge students have is not sufficient to solve the problem. They should hit a roadblock that they can’t get around. “It makes the child aware of what he or she knows, and the limits of what he or she knows, and that creates a motivation to figure out what it is they need to know to solve this problem,” Kapur said.
It helps if that task as an “affective draw,” in that it’s related to something students care about or is concerns something with which they identify.
Kapur has tested productive failure teaching strategies with students of varying abilities in Singapore and has found it to work with all students, regardless of ability. “Initial pre-existing conditions between students do not predict how much they learn,” Kapur said. “How they solve the initial problem is what predicts how much they learn.”
Singapore tracks students into ability-based schools after primary school, which makes it easy to conduct research that compares low, middle and high achievers. However, Kapur has also tested productive failure in Indian schools in which students were not grouped by ability. He saw good results there as well. “The task is open enough that kids from different abilities can work together,” Kapur said.
Part of Kapur’s research has been to show that teaching with productive failure doesn’t harm students’ ability to perform on tests, but doesimprove knowledge transfer and conceptual understanding. In the process he’s discovered an interesting element of creative thinking in math that appears to disprove the generally held notion that students need basic content knowledge before they can move on to more creative uses of the information.
“We’ve found that creativity actually suffers if you teach kids something too early,” Kapur said. When students who have been taught with direct instruction are later asked to generate as many ways of solving the problem as they can, many can’t go beyond the method they have already been taught.
“They were locked into that way of thinking,” Kapur said. “When we start with generating or exploring we find that students still learn the material later on, but the knowledge was more flexible.” This finding tells Kapur that creativity is itself a function of how students’ acquire information.
SINGAPORE TAKES IT TO SCALE
Kapur’s research on productive failure has convinced Singapore’s Ministry of Education to use the pedagogical model for the statistical portion of it’s A-level curriculum. Statistics make up about one third of the Cambridge A-level exam, Kapur said. All university-track junior-college students in Singapore are in school to pass that exam (junior-college in Singapore is like high school in the US).
Although Singapore’s education system is very test-based, its Ministry of Education is interested in research-proven pedagogical approaches that lead to lasting learning beyond the test. “There is a very strong policy emphasis on changing how we teach,” Kapur said of Singapore. “Just because there are tests does not mean we can’t teach in ways that lead to very deep learning while doing well on the tests.”
Kapur was able to show that productive failure worked well with students at the least prestigious of Singapore’s 20 junior colleges, which provided a compelling proof of concept to scale up to all students studying for the Cambridge A-levels. Kapur and his team have designed a curriculum of tasks that use productive failure, and are training Singapore’s teachers in the method.
The concept is new to many Singaporean teachers and Kapur says the first part of his training focuses on helping teachers understand the problems with direct instruction. He uses the analogy of watching a film. The average viewer focuses on plot, and perhaps pays some attention to acting ability or cinematography. When a director watches the same film, on the other hand, she is likely noticing nuances of camera placement, shot selection, and much more. That’s the difference between what a novice sees and what an expert sees.
“No matter how engaging, entertaining or logically structured the new information is, the novice by definition is not going to see the same thing as the expert in the presentation,” Kapur said. He works to help teachers understand the flawed assumption that students will understand after a concept has been told to them, explaining that direct instruction doesn’t prime students’ brains to process the new information.
“We won’t make the assumption that you’re prepared to learn yet; what we will do is activate your formal and informal knowledge systems,” Kapur said.
The teacher training program also focuses on improving teachers’ content knowledge. Working with student ideas and misconceptions requires the instructor have a deep understanding of the subject matter. Finally, Kapur helps teachers improve on important pedagogical aspects of this model like facilitating group work and consolidating ideas after students have grappled with a problem and failed.
“Your job as a teacher is to first prepare them, to give them the proverbial eyes to be able to see what is important, and then show them what is important in interesting and engaging ways,” Kapur said.
Singapore’s Ministry of Education has agreed to give Kapur’s team four years to build teachers’ capacity in this new style of teaching before evaluating its effectiveness. Kapur sees this as a huge gift, knowing that the effectiveness of any program lies in its implementation and that it takes time to get people up to speed.
Today’s job candidates must be able to collaborate, communicate and solve problems – skills developed mainly through social and emotional learning (SEL). Combined with traditional skills, this social and emotional proficiency will equip students to succeed in the evolving digital economy.
What skills will be needed most?
An analysis of 213 studies showed that students who received SEL instruction had achievement scores that averaged 11 percentile points higher than those who did not. And SEL potentially leads to long-term benefits such as higher rates of employment and educational fulfillment.
Good leadership skills as well as curiosity are also important for students to learn for their future jobs.
The report asked chief human resources and strategy officers from leading global employers what the current shifts mean, specifically for employment, skills and recruitment across industries and geographies.
Policy-makers, educators, parents, businesses, researchers, technology developers, investors and NGOs can together ensure that development of social and emotional skills becomes a shared goal and competency of education systems everywhere.
The brain is by far our most precious organ–others are good, too, but they all pale in comparison to the mighty brain. Because the brain works so hard around the clock (even while we’re sleeping), it uses an extraordinary amount of energy, and requires a certain amount of nutritional support to keep it going. It’s high-maintenance, in other words. But there may be misconceptions about what keeps a brain healthy–for instance, there’s little evidence that omega-3 supplements or green smoothies would do anything above and beyond generally good nutrition. So what does science actually tell us can help our brains? Here’s what we know as of now.
Physical activity is pretty clearly linked to brain health and cognitive function. People who exercise appear to have greater brain volume, better thinking and memory skills, and even reduced risk of dementia. A recent study in the journal Neurology found that older people who vigorously exercise have cognitive test scores that place them at the equivalent of 10 years younger. It’s not totally clear why this is, but it’s likely due to the increased blood flow to the brain that comes from physical activity. Exercise is also thought to help generate new neurons in the hippocampus, the brain area where learning and memory “live,” and which is known to lose volume with age, depression and Alzheimer’s disease. The one stark exception to the exercise rule is impact sports like football, which has been shown again and again to be linked to brain damage and dementia, since even low-level impacts can accrue over time. The same is true for soccer headers.
Starting an exercise routine earlier in life is likely the best way to go, and the effects more pronounced the younger one begins. More research will be needed, but in the meantime, enough research has shown exercise to be beneficial to the brain that it’s pretty hard not to at least acknowledge it (even if we don’t do it as much as we should).
Foods and Spices
The brain is a massive energy suck–it uses glucose way out of proportion to the rest of the body. In fact, it requires about 20% of the body’s energy resources, even though its volume is just a tiny percentage. This is justifiable since thinking, learning, remembering and controlling the body are all huge jobs. But the source and quantity of the sugar matter: Eating highly processed carbs, which break down very quickly, leads to the famous spike-and-crash of blood sugar (which your brain certainly feels). But eating whole, unprocessed foods leads to a slow, steady rise, and a more constant source of energy–and it makes the brain much happier.
Beyond giving energy, dietary sugar (especially too much of it) also appears to affect how plastic the brain is, or how capable of change. Astudy last year, for instance, found that rats fed fructose water after brain injury had seriously impaired recovery. “Our findings suggest that fructose disrupts plasticity—the creation of fresh pathways between brain cells that occurs when we learn or experience something new,” said study author UCLA study author Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, whose work has also shown that sugar impairs cognitive function in healthy animals. Interestingly, omega-3 fatty acids appear to reverse some of this damage. And in humans, fatty fish has been linked to cognition, presumably because the fats in it make the cells of the brain more permeable. Omega-3 capsules, however, have not been shown to do much good.
There’s mixed evidence that plant-derived antioxidants can improve cognitive function, at least in isolation. While some studies haven’t found an effect, others have suggested that compounds in foods like cocoa and blueberries may do some good. (Not surprisingly, Mars Inc. has funded a lot of research in this area, and even markets a high-potency cocoa mix, CocoaVia, for cognitive health.) And finally, turmeric, a key component of curry, if used regularly, has been linked to reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s disease, presumably for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
In general though, researchers are split on whether eating just one thing will cut it–for instance, adding blueberries to an otherwise mediocre diet probably won’t do much. But a diet low in sugar and high in whole foods, healthy fats and as many colorful fruits and veggies as you can take in is cumulatively one of the best things you can do for your brain.
Vitamins and Minerals
Though there’s little evidence that multi-vitamins do us much good, there are certain vitamins that the brain needs to function. Vitamin B12 is one of the ones critical for the function of the central nervous system, and whose deficiency can lead to cognitive symptoms like memory loss.Vitamin D is also critical for brain health–and while there’s no causal link, low levels have been linked to cognitive decline. Iron is another that the brain needs to function well (especially for women who are menstruating) since it carries oxygen. But as always, although supplements are certainly necessary for certain people, getting your nutrients from food appears to be the most efficient way to take them in and absorb them.
This is a funny one. Many coffee lovers know instinctively that coffee does something very good for their brains in the morning, and indeed our cognition seems a little fuzzy without it. But coffee does appear to effect some real change: Not only does it keeps us alert, by blockingadenosine receptors, but coffee consumption has also been linked to reduced risk of depression, and even of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. This is partly because, like cocoa, compounds in coffee improve vascular health, and may also help repair cellular damage by acting as antioxidants.
This connection is fascinating, because although there are thousands of years of anecdotal evidence that meditation can help a person psychologically, and perhaps neurologically, the scientific evidence for meditation’s effects on the brain has really just exploded in the last five or 10 years. Meditation has been linked to increased brain volume in certain areas of the cerebral cortex, along with less volume in the brain’s amygdala, which controls fear and anxiety. It’s also been linked to reduced activity in the brain’s default mode network (DMN), which is active when our minds are wandering about from thought to thought, which are typically negative and distressing. Meditation also seems to lead to changes to the white matter tracks connecting different regions of the brain, and to improved attention and concentration.
Staying mentally active over the course of a lifetime, starting with education, is tied to cognitive health–which explains why crosswords and Sudoku are thought to help cognition. Mental activity may or may not keep a brain from developing disease (like Alzheimer’s), but it certainly seems to be linked to fewer symptoms, since it fortifies us with what’s known as cognitive reserves. “It is not that the cognitive activity stops amyloid beta production or neurofibrillary tangle development or spread,” David Knopman of the Mayo Clinic told me recently, “but rather that higher cognitive activity endows the brain with a greater ability to endure the effects of brain pathologies compared to a person with lower cognitive engagement throughout life.”
The brain does an awful lot of work while we’re sleeping–in fact, it really never sleeps. It’s always consolidating memories and pruning unnecessary connections. Sleep deprivation, and just a little of it, takes a toll on our cognitive health. It’s linked to worse cognitive function, and poorer attention, learning and creative thinking. The more sleep debt you accrue, the longer it takes to undo it. Sleeping for about seven hours per night seems to be a good target to aim for.
* * *
The bottom line is that doing as many of these things as you can is good for your brain; but if you can’t do them all every day, don’t beat yourself up. If you don’t do any, just integrating a couple will very likely help. And your brain may appreciate it more than you think.