+ Curiosity Prepares the Brain for Learning

This is an article by Daisy Yuhas, from Scientific American

Do we live in a holographic universe? How green is your coffee? And could drinking too much water actually kill you?

Before you click those links you might consider how your knowledge-hungry brain is preparing for the answers. A new study from the University of California, Davis, suggests that when our curiosity is piqued, changes in the brain ready us to learn not only about the subject at hand, but incidental information, too.

Neuroscientist Charan Ranganath and his fellow researchers asked 19 participants to review more than 100 questions, rating each in terms of how curious they were about the answer. Next, each subject revisited 112 of the questions—half of which strongly intrigued them whereas the rest they found uninteresting—while the researchers scanned their brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

During the scanning session participants would view a question then wait 14 seconds and view a photograph of a face totally unrelated to the trivia before seeing the answer. Afterward the researchers tested participants to see how well they could recall and retain both the trivia answers and the faces they had seen.

Ranganath and his colleagues discovered that greater interest in a question would predict not only better memory for the answer but also for the unrelated face that had preceded it. A follow-up test one day later found the same results—people could better remember a face if it had been preceded by an intriguing question. Somehow curiosity could prepare the brain for learning and long-term memory more broadly.

The findings are somewhat reminiscent of the work of U.C. Irvine neuroscientist James McGaugh, who has found that emotional arousal can bolster certain memories. But, as the researchers reveal in the October 2 Neuron, curiosity involves very different pathways.

To understand what exactly had occurred in the brain the researchers turned to their imaging data. They discovered that brain activity during the waiting period before an answer appeared could predict later memory performance. Several changes occurred during this time.

First, brain activity ramped up in two regions in the midbrain, the ventral tegmental area and nucleus accumbens. These regions transmit the molecule dopamine, which helps regulate the sensation of pleasure and reward. This suggests that before the answer had appeared the brain’s eager interest was already engaging the reward system. “This anticipation was really important,” says Ranganath’s co-author, U.C. Davis cognitive neuroscientist Matthias Gruber. The more curious a subject was, the more his or her brain engaged this anticipatory network.

In addition, the researchers found that curious minds showed increased activity in the hippocampus, which is involved in the creation of memories. In fact, the degree to which the hippocampus and reward pathways interacted could predict an individual’s ability to remember the incidentally introduced faces. The brain’s reward system seemed to prepare the hippocampus for learning.

The implications are manifold. For one, Ranganath suspects the findings could help explain memory and learning deficits in people with conditions that involve low dopamine, such as Parkinson’s disease.

Piquing curiosity could also help educators, advertisers and storytellers find ways to help students or audiences better retain messages. “This research advances our understanding of the brain structures that are involved in learning processes,” says Goldsmiths, University of London psychologist Sophie von Stumm, unconnected to the study. She hopes other researchers will replicate the work with variations that can clarify the kinds of information curious people can retain and whether results differ for subjects who have broad ‘trait’ curiosity as opposed to a temporarily induced specific interest.

Ranganath’s findings also hint at the nature of curiosity itself. Neuroscientist Marieke Jepma at the University of Colorado Boulder, who also did not participate in this study, has previously found that curiosity can be an unpleasant experience, and the brain’s reward circuitry might not kick in until there is resolution. She suspects, however, that her findings and Ranganath’s results are two sides of the same coin. To explain this, she refers to the experience of reading a detective novel. “Being uncertain about the identity of the murderer may be a pleasant reward-anticipating feeling when you know this will be revealed,” she says. “But this will turn into frustration if the last chapter is missing.”

Ranganath agrees that the hunger for knowledge is not always an agreeable experience. “It’s like an itch that you have to scratch,” he says. “It’s not really pleasant.”

source: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/curiosity-prepares-the-brain-for-better-learning/

Orton-Gillingham Tutoring in Columbus OH:  Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021 or email aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com

+ Identifying Young At-Risk Children Before They Experience Reading Failure

Modified from Overcoming Dyslexia, by Sally Shaywitz, M.D.

The five-year-old who can’t quite learn his letters becomes the six-year-old who can’t match sounds to letters and the fourteen-year-old who dreads reading out loud and the twenty-one-year-old who reads excruciatingly slowly. The threads persist throughout a person’s life. But, with early intervention, this scenario doesn’t need to happen.

Today, it is possible to reliably identify boys and girls at high risk for dyslexia before they fall behind. Good help is available to them now as never before. Here is what we believe is the most scientifically sound and sensible approach to identifying young at-risk children before they experience reading failure:

  1. Observe your child’s language development. Be on the alert for problems in rhyming, pronunciation, and word finding.
  2. Observe your child’s ability to connect print to language. Notice if he is beginning to name individual letters.
  3. Know your family history. Be alert to problems in speaking, reading, writing, spelling, or learning a foreign language. Some families with more than the average complement of dyslexics seem to have an abundance of photographers, artists, engineers, architects, scientists, and radiologists. Somewhat less frequent, but still impressive, are the large number of families sprinkled with great writers, entrepreneurs, and jurists who are dyslexic.
  4. If there are clues to problems with spoken language, learning letter names, and especially if there is a family history, have your child tested.

Focus on strengths as well as the weaknesses. The goal is to make sure that the strengths and not the weaknesses define the child’s life.
All of these steps here can help you judge if your child is ready to read or if he requires special attention or education to help him begin to read. If his testing indicates that he is not quite ready to read, you have the choice of delaying kindergarten or allowing him to enter kindergarten and receive intensive, evidence-based prevention programs. Our recommendation is not to delay kindergarten; waiting another year will only delay needed help.

source: The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity  http://dyslexia.yale.edu/PAR_EarlyIntervention.html

Orton Gillingham tutoring in Columbus OH: Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021 or email aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com

+ Our Germanic Language

“…VIKINGS… people who lived in or came from the region we call Scandinavia, who lived between 750 and 1066 AD and ranged for various purposes over a much wider terrain, stretching from Newfoundland to western Asia.

“Those who went raiding were called Vikings, and they were usually a small and somewhat suspect minority.

“At some point in the late 19th or early 20th century someone and then everyone decided to apply this word — which derives from the Old Norse for pirate — to the whole Nordic population, as if all Americans were to be called cowboys, or outlaws.

“A thousand years ago there was no one term to describe speakers of the Nordic varieties of the Germanic language family. They were called Northmen or Danes, or Swedes or Gauts, or Ruotsi (Russians), depending on circumstances, not entirely on where they lived.

“They had versions of the same language in common, and the shortened runic alphabet to write it.”

~Eric Christiansen
from a piece in NYRB called
Valhalla in Bloomsbury

Orton-Glillingham tutoring in Columbus OH: Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021 or email aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com

Teaching Resource: Columbus Zoo!

Teaching resources:
The Columbus Zoo family of websites
they’ve redesigned their websites
including some interactive options for learning
explore all that the Zoo, Zoombezi Bay, the Wilds and Safari Golf Club have to offer with ease whether you’re at home or on the go!


Orton-Gillingham tutoring in Columbus OH:  Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021 or email aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com


Teaching resources:
The Columbus Zoo family of websites
they’ve redesigned their websites
including some interactive options for learning
explore all that the Zoo, Zoombezi Bay, the Wilds and Safari Golf Club have to offer with ease whether you’re at home or on the go!


Orton-Gillingham tutoring in Columbus OH:  Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021 or email aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com


+ Dr. Cheesman: Some Games to Boost Math Skills

From the IDA Newsletter: By Elaine Cheesman, Ph.D.

There are times when we want kids to put down the iPad or tablet and to play traditional games (e.g., dominoes, board games, card games) with humans, particularly when the whole family is on vacation and it has been raining for days.

Playing traditional games is beneficial on many social and academic levels and can provide real-time practice for children in both reading and math skills. Research by Ramani and Siegler (2008) suggests that playing board games strengthens proficiency in foundational math tasks—counting, estimating, subitizing (i.e., the ability to perceive at a glance the number of items presented, such as on dice), recognizing written numerals, adding and subtracting, and comparing numerical sizes.

Many children with reading difficulties also struggle with math skills. Even though they may not have been formally diagnosed with dyscalculia, a learning disability related to math calculation, these individuals may display one or more of the following characteristics:

  • Use of inefficient calculation strategies
  • Difficulty memorizing basic arithmetic facts
  • Early difficulty with subtraction
  • Lack of “number sense” (e.g., comparing the relative size of two numbers—Which is greater? 3 or 9)
  • Subitizing
  • Dysfluent processing of written numbers or mathematical symbols
  • Linking written or spoken numbers to the idea of quantity
  • Difficulty understanding place value
  • Trouble learning or understanding multi-step calculation procedures (e.g., multi-digit multiplication and long division)
    This App chat reviews math websites and mobile apps that can strengthen basic math skills needed to play traditional family games as well as higher-level calculation skills. It avoids programs/apps that require extensive reading, include in-app purchases, or contain distracting images and/or audio that may disrupt the primary task.

Subitize Tree

Developer: Doodle Smith Ink
Website: www.doodlesmithink.com
This app provides subitizing practice using a variety of representations (e.g., dominoes, dice, fingers on hands, and playing cards). Players can choose a specific representation to practice, change the amount of time the images are displayed, and select the range of numbers used. Settings are intuitive and easy to use. The goal is for players to correctly subitize in order to free captive animals. One animal is freed for every four correct responses. Incorrect responses signal display of the correct response. 2


Developer: Division of Labor
Website: www.modmath.com
This free app provides virtual graph paper and a keyboard with numbers and math operation symbols for laying out equations and problems in all four operations with whole numbers and fractions. Intuitive settings enable contrasting rows and/or columns. After solving the problems, the user can save, print, and email completed worksheets.

Dexteria Dots—Get in Touch with Math

Website: www.dexteria.net
This is an intuitive math game that teaches the concepts of number sense, addition, subtraction, greater-than (>), and less-than (<). The user separates or combines dots to produce a value. For beginners, larger dots represent greater values, and smaller dots represent smaller values. There are three main options for gameplay, and each includes four levels. All levels have time limits. In addition, bonus dots are awarded, and most challenges have multiple solutions.

Ten Frame Fill

Developers: Mike Egan and Randy Hengst
Website: www.classroomfocusedsoftware.com
This app is designed to improve addition and subtraction skills in the family of 10. In this app, a ten frame is shown with tokens. The player is shown an addition problem and a complementary subtraction problem and asked, “How many more are needed to make 10?” The players can drag tokens of another color or touch the number for the correct response.

Word Problems

Developers: Mike Egan and Randy Hengst
Website: www.classroomfocusedsoftware.com
This app provides practice in simple math word problems requiring addition and subtraction with answers of 10 or less. The user can solve one of three types of equations. The user has the option to use virtual manipulatives to solve the problem and the option to show the number sentence.

X-tra Math.com

Website: www.xtramath.com
This free website helps users automatize computation skills in the four operations for problems related to decimals and fractions. Timed activities challenge the user to respond in at least ten seconds, but optimally in three seconds or less, with immediate feedback for slow or incorrect responses. Progress-monitoring graphs show responses of ten seconds, three seconds, and areas that require more practice.


Website: www.coolmath4kids.com
This free website calls itself an “amusement park” for math. It features kid-friendly information and engaging games using the four basic operations plus geometry art. The instructions require reading skills, and the visual layout may be distracting for some students. Tabs for both parents and teachers provide guidance, instructions, and options to select targeted activities. A related website for practicing pre-algebra and higher-level math is CoolMath (described below)


Website: www.coolmath.com
This free website is an extension of CoolMath4Kids (described above) that provides engaging games and information related to advanced math (e.g., pre-algebra, algebra, trigonometry, calculus), geometry art, and science. Tabs for both parents and teachers provide guidance, instructions, and options to select targeted activities.


Ramani, G. B. & Siegler, R. S. (2008). Promoting Broad and Stable Improvements in Low-Income Children’s Numerical Knowledge through Playing Number Board Games. Child Development, 79(2), 375-394.


Other Dr. Cheesman’s App Chats available:
Dr. Cheesman’s App Chat: Literacy Instruction
Dr. Cheesman’s App Chat: Spelling
Dr. Cheesman’s App Chat: Interactive Books for Kids, Teens, Adults
Dr. Cheesman’s App Chat: Holiday Gifts! (Word Games and Logic Puzzles)
Dr. Cheesman’s App Chat: Vocabulary and Morphology

Dr. Cheesman is an Associate Professor at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. The courses she developed were among the first nine university programs officially recognized by the International Dyslexia Association for meeting the Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading.

Copyright © 2014 International Dyslexia Association (IDA). Visit the IDA site: http://www.interdys.org


Orton Gillingham tutoring in Columbus OH:  Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021 or email aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com

+ 25 Ways to Ask Your Student How Was School Today

[Note: this was from Simple Simon and Company blog at Huffington Post 8-29-14]

This year, Simon is in fourth grade and Grace is in first grade, and I find myself asking them every day after school, “So how was school today?” And every day I get an answer like “fine” or “good,” which doesn’t tell me a whole lot. AND I WANT TO KNOW A WHOLE LOT!!!! Or at least get a full sentence. So the other night, I sat down and made a list of more engaging questions to ask about school. They aren’t perfect, but I do at least get complete sentences, and some have led to some interesting conversations… and hilarious answers… and some insights into how my kids think and feel about school. 

1. What was the best thing that happened at school today? (What was the worst thing that happened at school today?)

2. Tell me something that made you laugh today.

3. If you could choose, who would you like to sit by in class? (Who would you NOT want to sit by in class? Why?)

4. Where is the coolest place at the school?

5. Tell me a weird word that you heard today. (Or something weird that someone said.)

6. If I called your teacher tonight, what would she tell me about you?

7. How did you help somebody today?

8. How did somebody help you today?

9. Tell me one thing that you learned today.

10. When were you the happiest today?

11. When were you bored today?

12. If an alien spaceship came to your class and beamed someone up, who would you want them to take?

13. Who would you like to play with at recess that you’ve never played with before?

14. Tell me something good that happened today.

15. What word did your teacher say most today?

16. What do you think you should do/learn more of at school?

17. What do you think you should do/learn less of at school?

18. Who in your class do you think you could be nicer to?

19. Where do you play the most at recess?

20. Who is the funniest person in your class? Why is he/she so funny?

21. What was your favorite part of lunch?

22. If you got to be the teacher tomorrow, what would you do?

23. Is there anyone in your class who needs a time-out?

24. If you could switch seats with anyone in the class, who would you trade with? Why?

25. Tell me about three different times you used your pencil today at school.


***** So far, my favorite answers have come from questions 12, 15 and 21. Questions like the “alien” one give kids a non-threatening way to say who they would rather not have in their class, and open the door for you to have a discussion to ask why, potentially uncovering issues you didn’t know about before. And the answers we get are sometimes really surprising. When I asked question 3, I discovered that one of my children didn’t want to sit by a best friend in class anymore — not out of a desire to be mean or bully, but in the hope they’d get the chance to work with other people. As my kids get older, I know I am going to have to work harder and harder to stay engaged with them — but I know it’s going to be worth the work.

Source: Simple Simon and Company blog at Huffington Post 8-29-14


Orton-Gillingham tutoring in Columbus OH: Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021 or email aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com Continue reading