brain development

Dr. JoAnn Deak's talk on girls brains and learning - my notes

This is the second time I have heard JoAnn Deak speak, and she was wonderful again. I work at a girls school so she talked to us specifically about girls brains and how they work. Much of her talk connected to Carol Dweck's work in Mindset but most centered around specific applications to girls.

My high-level takeaways included:

  • learning works best with 10 minutes struggling/grappling/learning then 2 minutes capturing/processing - "concurrent notetaking impedes depth of learning and long-term thinking"
  • teachers are neurosculptors working on a plastic brain - we must learn how best to sculpt - this is essential in first 20 years of life
  • 80% of girls have female-differentiated brains and 20% have male-differentiated brains - we must learn teaching techniques that work for both and harm neither
  • there are real differences between "girl" neurology and "boy" neurology and we need to be able to use these differences skillfully


Here are my notes from the session:

rules for highest learning outcomes:

  1. ask questions when you have them
  2. disagree with her when you do
  3. if you don't believe teacher has expertise and is a good teacher, it will be an obstacle to learning

"You cannot be as updated as I am or you wouldn't have a life"

  • language-based collection of details does not allow for deep thinking
  • we're having trouble with salience with students - how do they find what is needed or relevant?
  • if you don't stretch all parts of the brain in the first 20 years, those parts start to diminish

    • first 5 years: major neural pathways are developed if they are used
    • 5-15: smaller routes
    • after 15: specialized routes
  • if you teach to learning style too much you develop an imbalanced brain
  • concurrent notetaking while learning impedes depth of learning and long-term learning

    • notetaking works best in clumps - learning for 10, 2 minutes for capturing/processing
    • concurrent notetaking does work for: 1) a-ha thinking or 2) writing down a question that is bothering you
    • 5 universities announced last year no concurrent notetaking
    • many universities require podcasting
  • for most girls she will learn better if she is looking at the teacher; no correlation for boys

    • tells parents: don't tell your sons, "look at me!"
  • after 20 minutes have kids get up, do toe pushups, then 20 arm raises
  • drinking water during class is essential - 1 hour
  • SAT's will go away, and letter grades are right behind them
  • teachers are neurosculptors
  • crucible events (death of a loved one, divorce of parents, molestation) are burned into the hiccocampus
  • crucible moments can be burned in, too - an off-hand comment from a teacher, a roll of the eyes by the 'queen bee'
  • the research does not support hands going up - it interferes with learning - she uses "the magic finger"

    • ask a question, and ask everyone to think about it for 30 seconds
    • purpose of asking question is to get brains to think more deeply; it I allow hands to go up, people stop thinking and prepare to listen
    • after 2 rounds of calling on people, let people raise hands
  • to reduce anxiety allow students 10 seconds to ask a peer if needed and give people time on the front end to think
  • to reduce anxiety give all students one pass

    • we want girls to exercise judgment - even just thinking about whether to use the pass
  • brain is designed to remember mistakes so that it can learn from it the next time
  • set up classroom to encourage, celebrate mistakes
  • attempting, failing is prized - not an incorrect answer

    • ACC in brain goes off when it hears a wrong answers
    • bigger in girls
  • read: Scientific American Mind - Male vs Female brains
  • 80% of dyslexia are male, 90% of autism are male, 80% of OCD are female
  • 100 billion neurons, 100 trillion connections
  • 80/20 rule - need to find teaching techniques that work for both and harm neither
  • when girls are challenged they release oxytocin - makes them not want to take risks

    • cooperative learning
    • use buddies
    • prepare them to do things on their own
  • read: Your Fantastic Brain - children's book on how your brain works/grows
  • "the female neurobiology is designed to be hesitant"
  • stretch is the key word
  • research shows that if parents don't understand the brain research they will fight us every step of the way
  • marathon thinking and sprint thinking - combine these for the best learning

    • we have been giving girls more and more time, and they need more an dmore
  • grades that compare kids to other kids goes against all the brain research

    • they need to compare their scores to themselves - how much did they learn/grow?

my question for JoAnne: how does game play show up in the research? More effective? What about video games?

- I haven't asked it yet, but she mentioned that she plays brain games on her Nintendo DS when she travels

Separating Fact and Fiction in Brain-Based Learning from Edutopia

This is a nice summary of current research on brains and learning. I found the part about girls and boys brains important. There are so many books on this topic right now that it is difficult to distinguish between opinion and scientific theory.

At my school we are doing a lot of work this year on the question, "How do girls learn?" (we are a girls school)

Learning About Keeping Your Child Safe Online

Today a colleague of mine and I gave a talk to middle school parents at our school on ways to teach your child about appropriate boundaries and behaviors online. We shared a number of links and I thought my readers (if there are any!) might find them useful for use in your own schools and with your own families. There are a lot, but they are great! We watched the video, "Do You Know 4.0"

The Pew Internet and American Life Project did a study called Generational differences in online activities which summarizes the different things that different age groups do online - from e-mail to social networking, and everything in between.

David Pogue has a well-written article in the New York Times titled, How Dangerous Is The Internet For Children where he breaks down the myths and truths regarding children online. In that article is a link to the PBS Frontline documentary Growing Up Online, which is well worth your time to watch. You can watch it online for free.

We discussed a New York Times article titled, Sorry, Boys, This Is Our Domain, which discusses how women and girls actually produce the majority of image/video driven content on the web, breaking some of the myths of boys/girls and technology.

We discussed how the biggest threat to our children is bullying and sexual harassment and looked at an article about students and parents resorting to "Facebook sabotage" and sending colleges "dirt" on prospective students.

If you and/or your daughter are using Facebook, do read the article 5 Easy Steps to Stay Safe (and Private!) on Facebook.

We looked at a tremendous parent online safety guide created by Wes Fryer that includes resources/articles/lessons on: filtering, limits, social networking, instant messaging, parent resources and more.

From your questions

A number of you asked wonderful questions, and we told you that we'd include links to resources on regarding those questions. Here they are:

Creating family guidelines

We discussed creating guidelines for your family that are clear for your child and you. NetSmartz has a great age-based list of guidelines that you may want to consider.

Multitasking and brain development

The Dana Foundation has a good primer called Brain Development in a Hyper-Tech World which tells us that little is yet known about the effects of all the technology in our children's lives. We do know however that "multitasking," or fast attention switching makes learning much less productive than focused work. The article also discusses social development in the age of Facebook.

Questions about spelling

Research shows that text message speak does not harm spelling skills. Article from the Telegraph.

The Curriculum, Technology, and Education Reform master's program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has a good summary of some of the research regarding using computers for writing, including critiques of and benefits of using spell check software.

Filtering your home computer

We don't recommend any particular brand of filters for home. That being said, many families find it helpful to block out objectionable content or block certain websites/applications at certain times. GetNetWise has a section that highlights popular filtering tools.

PC Magazine has an article on Child-Safe Browers.

Misinterpreting e-mail

50% of all e-mail is misinterpreted, even that written by the best writers. Know that when you are sending and reading e-mail, and discuss this with your children.