Posts Tagged ‘secondary’

Have you ever had an “ah-ha” moment?

Archimedes did, apparently, when he stepped into his bath and noticed that the bath level rose by the volume displaced by the volume of his body. Archimedes yelled “??????!” (or Eureka which is Greek for “I have found it!”) before he went running through the streets half-naked excited about his discovery!

Insights come to us seemingly only at certain times and the process doesn’t seem to be reproducible. But insights is what is at the core of our learning and the learning of all human beings. What if we could make it reproducible?

David Rock in his recent book, Quiet Leadership, has given us an insight into insights.

David discusses recent neuroscience research that suggests that there are four stages to insights. The following is my paraphrasing from David Rock’s book and other researchers.

The First Stage: Awareness

Consider that the brain forms mental maps that gathers the information it has stored into some cohesive whole. As a way of accessing the information and ordering it has organised the information and patterns it has discerned into some map and then uses these maps to interpret and relate to the world.

In this first stage the brain is immersed in new information. It could be new perspectives about something we are examining in a class or heard on TV or are currently reading in a book. New information is essentially being processed and the brain is attempting to fit these ideas, thoughts and concepts into its current mental maps. As the brain attempts to integrate the new knowledge it begins to see that there is a dilemma because the new knowledge is creating a different mental map than the one that currently exists but the brain has not yet worked out how to reconcile this conflict by creating a new metamap or by reconfiguring the existing maps.

The Second Stage: Reflection

If one is to develop a consistent process of having insights and thus more productively then there needs to be more second stage “reflection” time in our days.

MRI scans show that people’s brains give off alpha-band waves just before they come up with an insight. Alpha waves correlate with people shutting down inputs from their external senses and focusing on internal stimuli. When we perform tasks that engage the conscious, logical mind we decrease the alpha-band waves. So reflection is NOT helped by asking your students to reflect by writing down their reflections (which is what many teachers do). The writing process should occur after true reflection.

Studies have shown that during reflection we are not thinking logically or analysing data; we’re engaging a part of our brain used for making links across the whole brain. We are thinking in an unusual way, tapping into more intelligence than the three to five pieces of information we can hold in our working memory. We are allowing the brain to think across the whole dataset of ideas, images, thoughts, knowledge to connect and reconfigure its mental maps without any new input from the conscious or working memory.

A simple process to reflect is to sit still and close your eyes (this removes about 70% of external stimuli) and focus on your breathing. Listen to the way you inhale and then exhale for about 60 seconds. Then open your eyes just a fraction and close them again. This sends you deeper into the alpha-band state. Listen to the way you inhale and then exhale for another 30 seconds and then open your eyes and write down your reflections. During this period you don’t think about anything logically just focus on your breathing.

By the way, we have all experienced this process naturally. Quite often we have insights when we are lying in bed before we go to sleep or when we wake up. It is in the quiet “non-logical”, “non-thinking” times that we suddenly go … “ah-ha”!

Third Stage: Insight

At the moment of insight our mental maps have been reconfigured or a new mental map has suddenly snapped into existence. In this moment the body releases various neurotransmitters like adrenaline as well as possibly serotonin and dopamine. This is why there is a sudden excitement and a rush throughout the body.

At the very moment an insight occurs, the brain gives off strong gamma-band waves. Gamma-band waves are the only frequency found in all parts of the brain and are seen when the brain simultaneously processes information across different regions. Gamma-band brain waves signify various parts of the brain forming a new map.

Fourth Stage: Action

The intense motivation from having an insight is short term. If you can get people to take tangible actions while the insight is close at hand, even just to commit to doing something later, this will be a big help to ensuring new ideas become reality. If you don’t take some action then and there the insight and new mental map is not reinforced and the insight is lost.

What I invite you to look at today and in your teaching (or working environment) is how are you setting up a reflective and insightful environment for yourself and others?
Any feedback?

I thought I would do a very quick posting this week and point you to a range of useful articles I have recently found

1. 7 Fantastic Free Social Media Tools for Teachers

If you haven’t registered yourself on then do so. It is a great way to keep up to date on the latest in tech stuff. I have added the first part of this article but go to the link for the rest!

The possibilities for social media tools in the classroom are vast. In the hands of the right teacher, they can be used to engage students in creative ways, encourage collaboration and inspire discussion among even soft-spoken students. But we’ve already made our case for why teachers should consider using social media in their classrooms. What about the how?

Even when people say they want to incorporate social media, they don’t always know the best ways to do so. It’s especially daunting when those efforts can affect the education of your students.

To help, we’ve collected seven of the the best classroom tools for incorporating social media into your lesson plans.

2. Neuroscience, Health and more

I have also registered to receive ScienceDaily updates ( which keeps me up to date on the latest science news from around the world. It collects and sends me summaries of the latest research in a wide range of science arenas such as neuroscience, breakthroughs in nanotech, research into climate change, and so on. Now, I love it mainly because I am a bit of tech-head at heart (hey! you don’t get 3 degrees in science and engineering without being a tech-head), however it reinforces hwo qucikly the world is changing and shifting. It keeps my thinking and presentations fresh and up to date – especially when I talk to Science teachers.

Here are some recent articles I found interesting:

Young Teens Who Play Sports Feel Healthier and Happier About Life

Brain’s Impulse Control Center Located

The Fancier The Cortex, The Smarter The Brain?

Brain Activity Differs For Creative And Noncreative Thinkers

3. New York Times Education Section

The New York Times Online has a great education section worth reading at times

4,100 Students Prove ‘Small Is Better’ Rule Wrong

Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits

4. The Age Education Section

As does The Age in Melbourne.

Teachers told to take control

What links and websites have you found useful?

I just returned from running workshops in Queensland and the group of teachers and I had a fantastic discussion around safety, connection and learning.

Let me tune you in to how we got into it by reproducing a bit of the morning of the Advanced Inquiry Workshop.

Our brain is designed to to ensure the safety and survival of our bodies. So it is always scanning to ensure that the body is safe. Given that survival and safety is paramount for the brain … the learning environment must be safe.

But .. are our learning enviroments safe for the brain?

Fear is the foremost inhibitor to learning and growth. The brain, however, cannot distinguish between fear of failure /getting things wrong / making a mistake in a peer environment vs fear of dying or suffering injury. Research has shown that the physiologically they produce the same body reaction. This is understandable because the environment that we exist in has evolved from the dangers of survival out in the wild to the dangers of survival in the modern world.

What this points to is that we must go beyond looking at physical saefty issues like bullying or many of the overt factors that create an unsafe environment for learning. We need to also look at the systemic structures that the brain will interpret as a danger or survival issues.

One of the unfortunate byproducts of a content focussed traditional school environment is that we have created an environment of wrong / right, good / bad  … a breeding ground for fear. Students over time adapt by unconsciously becoming passive learners as a way of mitigating this fear as they haven’t yet learnt the skills to mitigate the fear using their pre-frontal cortex or reasoning part of their brain to reframe their perception. By the time we become adults many of us have not developed the capacity to mitigate the emotions and feelings that fear drive up – notice how public speaking is still feared more than death!

When I shared that with the teachers that I had a face to face example of the passivity that our education system breeds with a large group of first year pre-service teachers only last week … they began to share about their experiences of students from year 8 onwards and how they developed themselves to overcome the fear suppressor with the students.

Social networking research indicates that unless the individual has very strong self-confidence and wherewithal to go against group behaviour (the fear of speaking up and being wrong or humiliated) they will be passive and go along with the beliefs of the groups they are in. A simple example of this is how we can be chameleon like when we are in different groups of people. Fitting into a group is a survival technique that is fundamental to design of the brain in most species.

So a learning environment must be safe and develop the self-confidence of the child to question, to challenge, to develop their own place in the world. Young people must learn how to fail and learn from those experiences without fear of consequences for failing (e.g embarrassment, teasing, bullying, etc).

How do we create this?

Well the very best teachers practice it all the time. They know that they must be connected on a deep level with the students. They actively build a safe environment. They share their lives and create mutual respect. They honour their word. They consistently role model behaviour and relate to the students as their learning partners. They create environments where it is Ok to fail and make mistakes. They sometimes ask the students for feedback so they can improve their ability to deliver lessons that are more inspiring or have the students learn better.

Even more than this … why inquiry learning is becoming a more spoken about learning approach is that it is not about right or wrong, good or bad … but it allows students to discover and voice opinions and try different things out in an environment of discovery.

You might realise my point by this time. Unless we move from a content focussed paradigm which is all about passing the test, getting things right, etc .. we will not be preparing students for a world that is profoundly changing.

If we want our students to be self-confident, risk-taking thought provokers who adapt to an ever changing social and technological environment then we need to shift OUR paradigm of education.

The leap isn’t large … but it is becoming more and more urgent.

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