Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Top Resources for Educators on Learning and the Brain


In my previous post 10 Brain Training Tips To Teach and Learn I promised to share some of the resources–books, conferences, and websites– that inform my understanding of teaching, learning and the brain. Here’s an updated list: Read the rest of this entry »

10 Finalists announced for the $1M Global Teacher Prize

These are the 10 best teachers in the world (Global Teacher Prize announcement):

“We’ve all had teachers who have inspired us, who have made a difference to our lives.

Teachers have the power to make or break lives. A great lesson can inspire a passion for a subject that lasts a lifetime, while lacklustre teaching can kill any desire for learning.

Teachers who make a significant difference in their students’ lives – sometimes against all odds – deserve to be celebrated.

The Global Teacher Prize does just that, awarding $1 million to an exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to their profession.”

Read the rest of this entry »

50 Finalists from 37 countries shortlisted for the $1M Global Teacher Prize

global-teacher-prizeCongratulations to our Top 50 Finalists (Global Teacher Prize announcement):

“Now in its third year, the US $1 million award is the largest prize of its kind, and was set up to recognize one exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to Read the rest of this entry »

Arts and Smarts: Test Scores and Cognitive Development

(Editor’s Note: we are pleased to bring you this article thanks to our collaboration with Greater Good Magazine.)

At a time when educators are preoccupied with standards, testing, and the bottom line, some researchers suggest the arts can boost students’ test scores; others aren’t convinced. Karin Evans asks, What are the arts good for?

When poet and national endowment for the Arts Chairman Dana Gioia gave the 2007 Commencement Address at Stanford University, he used the occasion to deliver an impassioned argument for the value of the arts and arts education.

“Art is an irreplaceable way of understanding and expressing the world,” said Gioia. “There are some truths about life that can be expressed only as stories, or songs, or images. Art delights, instructs, consoles. It educates our emotions.”

For years, arts advocates like Gioia have been making similar pleas, stressing the intangible benefits of the arts at a time when many Americans are preoccupied with a market–driven culture of entertainment, and schools are consumed with meeting federal standards. Art brings joy, these advocates say, or it evokes our humanity, or, in the words of my 10–year–old daughter, “It cools kids down after all the other hard stuff they have to think about.”

Bolstering the case for the arts has become increasingly necessary in recent years, as school budget cuts and the move toward standardized testing have profoundly threatened the role of the arts in schools. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, passed in 2002, the federal government started assessing school districts by their students’ scores on reading and mathematics tests.

As a result, according to a study by the Center on Education Policy, school districts across the United States increased the time they devoted to tested subjects—reading/language arts and math—while cutting spending on non–tested subjects such as the visual arts and music. The more a school fell behind, by NCLB standards, the more time and money was devoted to those tested subjects, with less going to the arts. The National Education Association has reported that the cuts fall hardest on schools with high numbers of minority children.

And the situation is likely to worsen as state budgets get even tighter. Already, in a round of federal education cuts for 2006 and 2007, arts education nationally was slashed by $35 million. In 2008, the New York City Department of Education’s annual study of Read the rest of this entry »

A Love affair Across Generations: A Lamarckian Reincarnation?

Eric Jensen alerted me to a research study published in the February 4th Journal of Neuroscience — Transgenerational Rescue of a Genetic Defect in Long-Term Potentiation and Memory Formation by Juvenile Enrichment. We both had the same initial WOW! feeling that we had experienced when we first read about the discovery of mirror neurons a decade+ ago.

The study’s findings seemed to suggest that acquired characteristics can be genetically transmitted, a Lamarckinan belief that had long been discarded by biologists. This seemed improbable, so we decided to check out what the scientific community thought. It’s the kind of research that educators certainly need to understand because the potential educational implications are profound, no matter how this particular study sorts out.

I’ve thus appended the following information below: (1) the abstract and reference of the original sttudy, (2) a link to a non-technical report in the current issue of New Scientist, (3) a link to a non- technical explanation of the research in Medical News Today, and (4) a link to a recent extended non-technical New Scientist article on the issue of non-genetic inheritance. Eric will post his commentary on the research in the March edition of his Brighter Brain Bulletin newsletter.


To put it simply: The researchers studied long-term potentiation (LTP), in which longer and more robust synaptic activation occurs. LTP is the basic mechanism for learning and memory formation.

Juvenile mice placed into an enriched environment (EE) developed enhanced LTP capabilities that they later transmitted to their own offspring during embryogenesis (rather than through later maternal instruction), and these effects persisted even when the offspring weren’t in an EE. The study concluded that a stimulating juvenile environment can thus influence the composition of signaling networks that influence synaptic plasticity and memory formation in the enriched mouse, and also in its future offspring.

The problem with this research appears to be over whether the transmitted effects occurred via genetic changes or through something else in the mother’s uterine environment. A female’s eggs develop early in life to be distributed later, so it’s improbable that a female’s juvenile experiences would alter the DNA in her eggs. A more probable explanation may be that any changes in the mother’s brain that occur via an EE are represented as currently ill- understood signaling molecules that pass through the placental barrier into the embryonic brain.


For educators, this research simply adds to our own strong belief that long-term benefits accrue from a stimulating early environment that encourages curiosity and exploration. The research builds on Read the rest of this entry »

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