Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Brain/ Cognitive Enhancement with drugs… and cereal?

Several recent articles and news:

Brain Gain: the underground world of “neuroenhancing” drugs (The New Yorker)

– “Alex remains enthusiastic about Adderall, but he also has a slightly jaundiced critique of it. “It only works as a cognitive enhancer insofar as you are dedicated to accomplishing the task at hand,” he said. “The number of times I’ve taken Adderall late at night and decided that, rather than starting my paper, hey, I’ll organize my entire music library! I’ve seen people obsessively cleaning their rooms on it.” Alex thought that generally the drug helped him to bear down on his work, but it also tended to produce writing with a characteristic flaw. “Often, I’ve looked back at papers I’ve written on Adderall, and they’re verbose. They’re belaboring a point, trying to create this airtight argument, when if you just got to your point in a more direct manner it would be stronger. But with Adderall I’d produce two pages on something that could be said in a couple of sentences.” Nevertheless, his Adderall-assisted papers usually earned him at least a B. They got the job done. As Alex put it, “Productivity is a good thing.”

Eschew Enhancement: Memory-boosting drugs should not be made available to the general public (Technology Review)

– “Who might use them? Students will be tempted, as might players of any game involving counting or remembering (chess, bridge, and even poker and blackjack). Certain professionals might desire a boost in attention or memory”

– “But these potentially powerful medicines should not be made available to everyone, for two reasons. The first is safety. The last several years have provided many examples of side effects, some life-threatening…The second reason is that we still know relatively little about learning and memory and how they are integrated to make judgments and decisions.”

Kellogg Settles with FTC over Health Claims on Cereal (Promo Magazine)

– “The FTC said that Kellogg promoted the cereal as “clinically shown to improve kids’ attentiveness by nearly 20%,” when in fact the study referred to in the ads showed different results.”

– “The study found that only about half the children who ate Frosted Mini-Wheats for breakfast showed any improvement in attentiveness, and only about one in nine improved by 20% or more, the FTC said.”

Brain shock: The new Gulf War syndrome (New Scientist)

– “The US army also screens for symptoms of mTBI when soldiers return from a tour of duty, and again three months later. The army is also carrying out neurocognitive tests on recruits before they are sent into combat so that doctors can check for deterioration in later tests.”

– “When it comes to combat trauma, unpicking the physical from the psychological is bound to be highly complex. As Barth says, perhaps the greatest danger could be in trying to simplify the picture too much. “I recommend that we get comfortable with the complexity,” he says, “and treat it as a challenge.”

Brain-Based Carnival of Education, 186th Edition

Welcome to the 186th edition of the Carnival of Education, the weekly virtual gathering of dozens of bloggers to discuss all things education.

Q: Why do you say this edition is “brain-based”?
A: Because the Q&A frame we are using is inspired by how Chris at Ouroboros recently hosted Encephalon Brain and Mind blog carnival. (Is classic Greek making a comeback?).

Q: As educators, what inspires us to do what we do?
A: Tracy suggests, “Hope for the future”.

Q: And what may happen in the future?
A: Eric proposes that the field can learn much about how athletes train their minds and bodies to maximize performance.

Q: What should not happen in the future?
A: Dave hopes we stop the Textbook Insanity, killing trees to create books not everyone uses.

Q: What comes first, subject or learner?
A: Bogusia has “switched sides”. She now centers her teaching around her students, to make sure they appreciate the beauty of the subject.

Q: How do you know if something is developmentally appropriate?
Read the rest of this entry »

Should Social-Emotional Learning Be Part of Academic Curriculum?

The Secret to Success
New research says social-emotional learning helps students in every way.
— by Daniel Goleman

Schools are beginning to offer an increasing number of courses in social and emotional intelligence, teaching students how to better understand their own emotions and the emotions of others.

It sounds warm and fuzzy, but it’s a trend backed up by hard data. Today, new studies reveal that teaching kids to be emotionally and socially competent boosts their academic achievement. More precisely, when schools offer students programs in social and emotional learning, their achievement scores gain around 11 percentage points.

That’s what I heard at a forum held last December by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). (Disclosure: I’m a co-founder of CASEL.) Roger Weissberg, the organization’s director, gave a preview of a massive study run by researchers at Loyola University and the University of Illinois, which analyzed evaluations of more than 233,000 students across the country.

Social-emotional learning, they discovered, helps students Read the rest of this entry »

Learning & the Brain: Resources for Educators

As promised in my previous post (10 Brain Training Tips To Teach and Learn), here are some of the resources that inform my understanding of the brain: books, conferences, and websites.


There are a multitude of books about the brain. For educators, the best of these are books that demystify the language of neuroscience while providing information applicable to the teaching/learning process.

Among the more prolific or well-known authors of this type include Jeb Schenck, Robert Sylwester, Barbara Givens, Robert Marzano, Marilee Sprenger, and Eric Jensen.

I have found books Read the rest of this entry »

Schools: what should they do, and for whom?

We read today how Panel Urges Schools to Emphasize Core Math Skills (Washington Post). Now, there is a more fundamental question to consider: what should the schools oflearning, apple the XXI century look like and do?.

To create a much needed dialogue, I asked one the most thoughtful education bloggers around to share her (I guess it’s “her”) impressions with us. Enjoy!

What do we want our schools to do, and for whom? 

–By eduwonkette

“Schools,” Stanford historian David Labaree wrote, “occupy an awkward position at the intersection between what we hope society will become and what we think it really is.” What do we want our schools to do, and for whom?

Schools, like most organizations, have many goals. These goals often compete with and displace each other. Relying heavily on the work of David Labaree, I will discuss three central goals of American schools – social efficiency, democratic equality, and social mobility. Throughout the history of American education, these goals have been running against each other in a metaphorical horserace. While they are not mutually exclusive, the three goals introduce very different metrics of educational success. More often than not, they sit uncomfortably with each other.

Read the rest of this entry »

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