Education for the Real World: 6 Great Ideas for Parents and Teachers


5. Make as Many Connections as Possible: Connect and Reflect

Inside the brain, there are approximately one million miles of nerve fibers, linking together over 100 billion neurons whose primary purpose is to establish over one quadrillion meaningful connections with other neurons. Through this elaborate process, we access a remarkable ability to make sense of an extraordinarily complex world. In his book “The Mind’s Best Work,” Harvard educator David Perkins writes, “Good thinking is a matter of making connections, and knowing what kinds of connections to make.”

Making connections is not just a useful description of the dynamic learning process, but is indeed quite a natural progression for constructive thinking. The distinguished educator John Dewey once said, “We don’t learn from experience, we learn by reflecting on it.” In the following series of learning events, reflections set the stage for the next level of thinking.

If we are to build meaningful conceptual links for students — and connect “meaning” with print — we must make the most of opportunities to foster good thinking with logical connections. When students later hear a target word in context, or if they encounter it while reading, they are capable of relating that word back to the family of concepts and words to which it belongs, based on the students’ experiences with the meanings, interpretations, and connections they have already learned. Repeated use strengthens the verbal, visual, auditory, tactile, and abstract interconnections that are physically represented by specific intricate brain circuitry.

In Robert Marzano’s “Classroom Instruction That Works,” he describes the nine most effective strategies for achievement. Among them are nonlinguistic representations (see chart “Create a Concept Map”). Pictures in one’s mind and those drawn on paper help students visualize images of objects, events, and ideas, along with their significant relationships. The greatest advantage of these graphic organizers is their ability to provoke numerous associated memories.

In a complex world, cultivating problem-solving repertoire is an essential key to learning and the future. It is far better for a child to learn how to solve a problem five different ways, than to solve the same problem five different times. When we teach our students how to think in these ways, we’re teaching them how to learn in new and creative ways.

6. Turn of the TV and Teach Time Management for “CSI”

Technology dominates nearly every aspect of contemporary life, but today’s children between the ages of 5 and 18 are tethered to the internet with social networking, computer games, and countless numbers of entertainment media resources far more than adults. A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation concluded that children are engaged with these devices and services for over 50 hours per week — comparable to a full-time job, plus overtime!

With media exposure for children under 15 years of age at an all-time high, the American Academy of Pediatrics has established guidelines for the number of TV hours per day to which infants, toddlers, and children should be exposed: For children 0 to 3, avoid television viewing altogether; for children ages 3 to 8, only a modest amount of television per week.

How do we break the television and computer-game addiction? Is there a way to help parents and teachers corral their children’s media-centered impulses? The answer is “Yes, indeed!” Best of all, students and children can develop several “CSI” (continuous self-improvement) skills as a byproduct of the process. In addition to learning to control impulsivity, children should also learn how to tell time, the hours of the day and the days of the week. They also need to learn how to manage their personal time and minimize their unproductive inclinations.

At the beginning of each week, give children their own personal weekly planners. Show them each of the days in the week and the hours available during each day. Point out for them the hours each day when they are sleeping, eating, attending school, and engaged in extracurricular activities. Set a specific and firm number of hours each week for watching their favorite television programs and parent-approved computer games. Mark on their planning calendars the specific hours they plan — and are permitted — to watch television, the hours they will be playing computer games, etc., along with the times designated for homework, practice, and recreational reading. However, here is an important caveat: Do not reward children with additional television and computer time. Doing so communicates an easily mistaken message regarding your value of personal development. Learning and homework have an intrinsic value that far exceeds anything derived from television or computer time. When children have an impulse to watch television, simply asked them, “Is this on your schedule?” Learning to control impulsivity is one of the major factors leading to success in school, college, and life (See: “Don’t: The Secret of Self-Control”).

“I have come to a frightening conclusion,” writes Haim Ginott in his book, “Between Parent and Child: The Bestselling Classic That Revolutionized Parent-Child Communication”: “I am the decisive element in the classroom. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor; hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated, and a child dehumanized or humanized.” Every parent should make certain that learning and cognitive development are seen as the highest priority in the home, and that children understand the immediate power and long-term value of mental stimulation and learning.

Although we are prone to celebrate the first day of preschool or kindergarten, parents are every child’s first and most important teacher. Parents and classroom practitioners are immensely powerful in the ways they can shape — or harm — a developing young brain. Whether it takes place at home or in a classroom, all education is truly “special education” if it is delivered appropriately with the developing brain and mind and these seven considerations at the forefront.

This article was first published in Brain World Magazine’s Winter 2011 issue.

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We believe that neuroscience is the next great scientific frontier, and that advances in understanding the nature of the brain, consciousness, behavior, and health will transform human life in this century.

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