What does music do to our brains, or did Einstein really know what he was doing?

August 16, 2016

Einstein playing his violin in 1931, aboard the S.S. Belgenland, travelling from New York to San Diego. Vintage Everyday image.

Einstein playing his violin in 1931, aboard the S.S. Belgenland, travelling from New York to San Diego. Vintage Everyday image. Einstein claimed to get great joy from his violin. Did it also help his physics work?

Albert Einstein played a mean violin. I don’t think any recordings exist, but some say he was good enough to have earned a slot in a decent symphony.

Albert Schweitzer made money to support his work for health in Africa by offering organ recitals.

Thomas Edison liked to hire men in his lab who played instruments. In the midst of high pressure experimentation, they would often take a break as a group, and do a performance just for themselves.

People who make music often claim they do it to relax, but there may be more than mere relaxation going on when we play an instrument or sing. It’s possible making music makes us better at doing other things, too.

Should we be surprised this showed up from the World Economic Forum?

It’s an article by Assal Habibi who is a researcher at the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California, at the website of WEF, explaining where his group is going to find out how music training affects the way we think and work.

Over the past two decades, several investigators have reported differences in the brain and behavior of musicians compared to nonmusicians.

Music training has been found to be related to better language and mathematical skills, higher IQ and overall greater academic achievement. Also, differences between musicians and nonmusicians have been found in areas of the brain related to hearing and movement, among others.

However, the interpretation of the findings remains unclear. For example, the differences reported between adult musicians and nonmusicians might be due to long-term intensive training or might result primarily from inherent biological factors, such as genetic makeup.

Or, as with many aspects of the nature-versus-nurture debate, the differences may well result from contributions of both environmental and biological factors.

One way to better understand the effects of music training on child development would be to study children before they start any music training and follow them systematically after, to see how their brain and behavior change in relation to their training.

It would involve including a comparison group, as all children change with age. The ideal comparison group would be children who participate in equally socially interactive but nonmusical training, such as sports. Follow-up assessments after their training would reveal how each group changes over time.

Go take a look.

If you’re a teacher, ask whether you should be incorporating more music into your social studies, language or science classes. If you’re a manager or employer, ask whether you should be encouraging your team members to find musical outlets.

If you’re just curious, ask whether you wouldn’t be better off to volunteer in a local choir or band.

Maybe we should all dance to beats of different drummers, and violinsts, and guitarists, and clarinetists and . . .

Three years of this study remain. But these interim results are promising. They support previous findings on the positive impact of music training on brain development.

Our findings suggest that music training during childhood, even for a period as brief as two years, can accelerate brain development and sound processing. We believe that this may benefit language acquisition in children given that developing language and reading skills engage similar brain areas. This can particularly benefit at-risk children in low socioeconomic status neighborhoods who experience more difficulties with language development.

Should we be using this tool to better educate our kids?


Edward Tufte channels Richard Feynman

August 6, 2013

Tufte writes at great length — well, writes and demonstrates — about yellow warning signs.  (Yes, that Edward Tufte.)

In one of his demonstrations, the art comes from the ideas and sayings of Richard Feynman.

Edward Tufte makes art out of Feynman's ideas.

Edward Tufte makes art out of Feynman’s ideas. Sorta. Edward Tufte, Nature Cannot Be Fooled, print on canvas, 78″ x 27 ½”, edition of 3

This guy makes money doing that? What kind of charmed life is that?

More:

Just how fitting is it that Tufte uses the words of Feynman, probably more famous for Feynman diagrams than the work that got him a Nobel?

English: Picture of a Feynman diagram, inscrib...

“Picture of a Feynman diagram, inscribed by Richard P. Feynman to me [who MFB has not identified], in my copy of Volume 3 of his Feynman Lectures on Physics (Quantum Mechanics). Picture taken by self. if you can’t read the symbols, they are \gamma_\mu to \gamma_\mu and 1/q^2 .” Wikipedia image

English: Edward Tufte giving a class and holdi...

Edward Tufte giving a class and holding a scanned copy of a first edition book by Galileo. Wikipedia image


Practice, even with failure, more important than talent – update

October 25, 2012

WordCrafter.net links to this story from an excellent page on picking a topic for an essay — English teachers, social studies teachers, you should probably make this page a part of your syllabus for essays, really.  A few teachers use the page, and when they assign essays this post starts rising in the hit count.

But that was five years ago.  There’s more information, and even an update at Stanford Magazine.  So, we’ll update here, too:

Carol Dweck, author of Mindset

Carol Dweck, Stanford University

Every teacher needs to get familiar with the work of Carol Dweck. She’s a Stanford psychologist who is advising the Blackburn Rovers from England’s Premier League, on how to win, and how to develop winning ways.

Your students need you to have this stuff.

A 60-year-old academic psychologist might seem an unlikely sports motivation guru. But Dweck’s expertise—and her recent book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success—bear directly on the sort of problem facing the Rovers. Through more than three decades of systematic research, she has been figuring out answers to why some people achieve their potential while equally talented others don’t—why some become Muhammad Ali and others Mike Tyson. The key, she found, isn’t ability; it’s whether you look at ability as something inherent that needs to be demonstrated or as something that can be developed.

What’s more, Dweck has shown that people can learn to adopt the latter belief and make dramatic strides in performance. These days, she’s sought out wherever motivation and achievement matter, from education and parenting to business management and personal development. [emphasis added]

I can’t do justice here, in short form, to Dweck’s work described by Marina Krakovsky.  See this story in Stanford Magazine [2007].

Update from Stanford Magazine:

Psychology professor Carol Dweck has spent her career figuring out why some people give up in the face of failure while others are motivated to learn from their mistakes and improve. It’s all about fixed mindsets versus growth mindsets (“The Effort Effect,” March/April 2007)

Now Dweck has formed Mindset Works, which “helps human beings reach their full potential.” Its signature product is Brainology, software developed by Dweck and educational researcher Lisa S. Blackwell and now available at www.brainology.us following successful pilots in the United States and abroad. The program aims to motivate middle school and high school students to do better in all their subjects by teaching them how the brain works and how to boost their intelligence.

Also, no discussion of this topic can be complete without at least a mention of Malcolm Gladwell‘s work.  In a recent book, Outliers, Gladwell notes what has come to be called the “10,000 hour rule.”  Gladwell observed that most experts were made by practice at a skill, rather than talent — and that mastery was achieved after about 10,000 hours of practice.  Wikipedia describes the idea Gladwell outlines:

A common theme that appears throughout Outliers is the “10,000-Hour Rule”, based on a study by Anders Ericsson. Gladwell claims that greatness requires enormous time, using the source of The Beatles’ musical talents and Gates’ computer savvy as examples.[3] The Beatles performed live in Hamburg, Germany over 1,200 times from 1960 to 1964, amassing more than 10,000 hours of playing time, therefore meeting the 10,000-Hour Rule. Gladwell asserts that all of the time The Beatles spent performing shaped their talent, and quotes Beatles’ biographer Philip Norman as saying, “So by the time they returned to England from Hamburg, Germany, ‘they sounded like no one else. It was the making of them.'”[3] Gates met the 10,000-Hour Rule when he gained access to a high school computer in 1968 at the age of 13, and spent 10,000 hours programming on it.[3]

Does Gladwell mention Dweck’s work?  Is Dweck’s work confirmed by Ericsson’s?  There’s a lot of room for discussion there, especially in an essay.

For writing, for writing essays, practice provides dramatic improvement for students — that much is certain.

More:


“Smart” can be learned, and practiced — but probably not born

October 5, 2011

“I just can’t learn — my memory just doesn’t work.”  Third time today I heard that excuse.

It’s not true.  A lot of what we do in education is based more on tradition than any kind of research — school in the winter, start in the morning, quit in the afternoon, 30 kids sitting at desks in rows, testing for mastery, bells to change shifts classes — but here’s something we do know:  Practice brings mastery; practice makes perfect, more than talent does.

This is an encore post from 2007:

Every teacher needs to get familiar with the work of Carol Dweck. She’s a Stanford psychologist who is advising the Blackburn Rovers from England’s Premier League, on how to win, and how to develop winning ways.

Your students need you to have this stuff.

A 60-year-old academic psychologist might seem an unlikely sports motivation guru. But Dweck’s expertise—and her recent book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success—bear directly on the sort of problem facing the Rovers. Through more than three decades of systematic research, she has been figuring out answers to why some people achieve their potential while equally talented others don’t—why some become Muhammad Ali and others Mike Tyson. The key, she found, isn’t ability; it’s whether you look at ability as something inherent that needs to be demonstrated or as something that can be developed.

What’s more, Dweck has shown that people can learn to adopt the latter belief and make dramatic strides in performance. These days, she’s sought out wherever motivation and achievement matter, from education and parenting to business management and personal development. [emphasis added]

I can’t do justice to Dweck’s work. See this story in Stanford Magazine.

Still true. In short, kids, you can learn the material, and you can learn to learn better — with practice.

Are you practicing?

More, and fun resources: 


True or false? Deception, with iPhones, to tell the truth

September 11, 2011

Magician Marco Tempest pushes the boundaries on use of iPhones in magic tricks — is it magic, pure electronics, or what we want to see?

Tell us in comments how you could use this shorter-than-usual TEDS video as a bell-ringer, teachers — or as an ice-breaker, meeting facilitators and corporate trainers:

Tip of the old scrub brush to Michelle Gardiner, who suffered my bass playing with quiet equanimity.


Optical illusions, and “Bloody Mary” images

October 24, 2010

Take a look at this.  Focus on the “+” in the middle, and describe what you see.

Troxler Effect, the purple chaser

Troxler Effect image

No, the purple dots don’t disappear, though that’s probably what you “see.”  Worse, there’s no green dot.  Your brain sees green when the purple disappears — and even when your brain refuses to let you know the purple dots are still there, it will tell you you see a green dot when the purple dots you can’t see, disappear.

So, is it so hard to understand that people might see weird things in the mirror, if they stare at their own faces for a while?

Cortical Hemming and Hawing has the full story, with a history of the Bloody Mary story.  Go see.


Quote of the moment: David Brooks, books vs. internet

July 12, 2010

Wisdom comes in keen insights:

These different cultures foster different types of learning. The great essayist Joseph Epstein once distinguished between being well informed, being hip and being cultivated. The Internet helps you become well informed — knowledgeable about current events, the latest controversies and important trends. The Internet also helps you become hip — to learn about what’s going on, as Epstein writes, “in those lively waters outside the boring mainstream.”

But the literary world is still better at helping you become cultivated, mastering significant things of lasting import. To learn these sorts of things, you have to defer to greater minds than your own. You have to take the time to immerse yourself in a great writer’s world. You have to respect the authority of the teacher.

Right now, the literary world is better at encouraging this kind of identity. The Internet culture may produce better conversationalists, but the literary culture still produces better students.

It’s better at distinguishing the important from the unimportant, and making the important more prestigious.

David Brooks, “The Medium is the Medium,” New York Times, July 9, 2010, page A23


Helen Thomas and a famous illusion

July 5, 2010

Sometimes people grow into a role they had not intended.

During the recent, sad flap about Helen Thomas’s offensive remarks and forced retirement, some media outlets carried a photo of Thomas that looked almost posed to me.  In our creativity consulting years ago, we used the old, famous optical illusion of the “old woman/young woman.”

Make up your own commentary.  What do you see?  How do you know you’re not looking at an illusion?

Optical illusion, Old woman/Young woman

Famous optical illusion, Old woman/Young woman, color version – borrowed from Mighty Optical Illusions after Gryphons Aerie crapped out.

Helen Thomas in a photo prior to 2009

Veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas, sometime prior to 2009


Educating for a creative society

June 29, 2010

Just as a reminder about what we’re doing in education, I hope every teacher and administrator will take three minutes and view this video (that allows you some time to boggle).

Surely you know who Tom Peters is.  (If not, please confess in comments, and I’ll endeavor to guide you to the information you need.)

Technically, Texas’s early elementary art standards are not so bad as Peters describes them.  But, check this document, from the Texas Education Code (§117.1. Implementation of Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Fine Arts, Elementary).  Do a search of the Texas standards and count how many times students are expected to stay “within guidelines.”


Education Department crowdsourcing for innovation

June 25, 2010

But, will it get my classroom thermostat under control?  Will it fix the copy machine?

Story at Federal News Rado’s Dorobek Insider:

The Department of Education is trying to foster innovation in a new and unique way.

They’ve created an innovation portal and are crowdsourcing ideas to try and improve education across the country.

Jim Shelton is Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement at the Department of Education.

He says the idea for the portal came about after they held a competition with funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

The Education Department held a contest, funded by ARRA, to highlight good work being done by educators across the country.

They soon realized that there would be an even greater benefit if people weren’t simply competing with each other, but sharing ideas.

“In the run up to the competition and afterward [we realized] that there would be great benefit to all of the education community being able to hear about and see these ideas, for people to share information, find opportunities for partnership, [and] . . . for teachers and entrepreneurs to be seen by people who have funding and might be interested in supporting their work.”

Thus, the Open Innovation Portal was created.

More, there.

Well I remember when Information Services at OERI had most the department’s automation innovation, and it was in an unlocked room with a 386 computer running a toll-free telephone bulletin board.  Have we come a long way?

The true innovation was how Ned Chalker beat OPM at put a lock on the door to keep the computers from walking away.


Race to the Top: What’s a good job for a great bubble-guesser?

June 22, 2010

Education issues suffered here at the Bathtub over the past several months.  Confession:  I don’t like to write while angry, and thinking about education generally gets me there quickly.  When I write in anger, I like to sit on the stuff and edit when I’m cooled down.  But when I get back to edit, I get angry again.

If you watched the follies from the Texas State Soviet of Education over social studies standards, you might understand some of my anger.  I’m fortunate in some ways that my students don’t track the news more closely — they tended to miss the Soviet’s gutting of Hispanic history from Texas history standards, and so they didn’t get angry.  More than 85% of my students are Hispanic, many related to the Texas heroes dropped from the standards because they were brown (“What’s Hispanic Heritage Month for, anyway?” the Soviet probably wondered.)

Test bubbling, from TweenTeacher

Power of Bubbling -- for a scary story, click on the image and go read it at TweenTeacher

Plus, time for thinking about these issues evaporated during the school year.   Summer isn’t much better, though a bunch of us had eight great days with members of the history department at UT-Arlington focusing on the Gilded Age, Progressive Era, Age of Imperialism . . . even though reminded every day that the Texas Soviet doesn’t want us to teach that period as it is recorded in the history books.  (No, there are not plans for a translation into Texas Soviet Speak, at least not soon.  Teachers will have to make do.)

In one of our (too) many testing/oath-signing sessions this spring, a colleague cynically wondered what would be a good job for a kid who does well on the tests, a kid who has “demonstrated mastery of bubble-guessing.”

Bubble-guessing.  Wow.  Is that an apt description for what many schools teach these days!

I have a few days to put up the periscope and see what is going on out there.  A couple of things I’ve noticed, that you may want to follow:

Yong Zhao noticed that the Race to the Top criteria shouldn’t be etched in stone, and that small changes result in different winners. He’s actually more critical than that — he’s not just saying that the criteria can change.  He’s saying the criteria are lousy.

Education has a new god: data. It is believed to have the power to save American education and thus everything in education must be about data—collect more data about our children, evaluate teachers and administrators based on data, and reward and punish schools using data.

Sound familiar?

Zhao points to serious analyses of the Race to the Top applications and rejections which show, among other things, Pennsylvania was penalized for focusing on early childhood education, instead of collecting data.

Why was it we got into this swamp in the first place, and where did all these alligators come from?

Go read Zhao’s analysis, and maybe cruise around his blog.  It’s worth your while.  He’s a professor at Michigan State — University Distinguished Professor of Education.  (One thing you should read there:  Zhao’s slides from a recent speech.  E-mail the link to your principal.  Somebody find a YouTube version of that speech, please.)  [Checker Finn, do you ever get over to this backwater?  Zhao’s on to something.  Zhao’s on to a lot of things.]

Race to the Top is the worst thing the Obama administration has done, in my opinion.  It is aimed, or mis-aimed to give us a nation of bubble-guessers.  My guess is that aim is unintentional.  But the road to hell, or a Republican majority . . .

While we’re looking around, pay some attention to David Warlick’s 2¢ worth.  That’s where I found the links to Zhao.

Warlick has a couple of points worth pondering today:  First, has the technology train left the station, and so it’s no longer acceptable for teachers to use old tools?  He’s got a rant on trying to figure out if we’re teaching the “right stuff”:

I could have shared some of these new ideas with her, but it would not have helped.  The last time I helped my daughter prepare for a test, it was 8th grade and the unit test on the Civil War.  When she walked into that classroom, she could talk about and write about the reasons for the war, what the North and the South wanted to achieve, the advantages that the North held and those of the South, as well as their disadvantages.  She could tell you who won and who lost and why.

She made a 52 on the test because she couldn’t give the dates of the major battles of the war.

One of our mantras in the old Transportation Consulting Group at Ernst & Young was to understand that “You’re always ready to fight the last war.”  For what we were doing, generally we had to change the technology for each assignment.

That’s doubly true in education, in social studies, I think.  I constantly remind myself that my students don’t need the same things I got in high school.  We shouldn’t equip students to fight the last war, but instead prepare them to understand they need to get ready for the next one.

And what about your tags?  Warlick wonders. No answers, but good wonderings.


iPhone apps for a three-year-old’s education? What hath Steve Jobs wrought?

January 22, 2010

You gotta admire the bravery of this guy, who came to fatherhood a little late (he claims), and struggles with the fatherliness expectations of a precocious child:

When my wife returned [from a vacation], we settled back into our routine, consisting of 1-2 days per week when we eat dinner out as a family. These events can also be challenging, as our daughter is one of those kids who just cannot sit still for anything. She seems well connected to her surroundings and engages with us and others, but she is perpetual motion personified. So imagine my surprise when the littlest tornado actually sat in her chair for an entire meal!

My wife’s new secret weapon was a series of iPhone apps created especially for toddlers that one of her California girlfriends had recommended. The most popular with our daughter is Letter Tracer, which works as the name suggests. So my daughter was occupied by learning to write her letters. The device and screen provided the engagement that pen and paper hadn’t, and she delighted at being able to successfully trace all the letters of the alphabet, smiling and exclaiming “Look Daddy, I did it!” each time she completed a new tracing. My daughter was having a blast learning how to write her letters, and her parents were enjoying not just her growth but a nice restaurant experience as well.

So, he got his daughter a de-activated iPhone.  Seriously.

I’d love to see what Checker Finn would have done in that situation, or Diane Ravitch, or even dear old B. F. Skinner.

Is three too young to get your own iPhone?

Go read the piece.  Patrick Hunt at The Apple Blog, “I Gave My Daughter an iPhone – Have I Created a Monster?”

The discussion is good, too.  Why can’t this guy be our tech director, in a district where getting technology is like asking for a French dictionary at Republican Party HQ?


Education and teaching blogs, new ones, good ones

September 12, 2009

Good teachers constantly search for good ideas and effective ways to make learning fun, efficient and thorough. So the search for new material and new ideas is constant.

Same on the web.  Where are the good blogs?  Where are the useful blogs?  (Many days readers here ask those questions repeatedly.)

You’re a teacher, parent,  or administrator?  Take a look at this open thread at Clay Burrell’s Beyond Teaching (“I hate schooliness.  I love learning.”) Clay asked for recommendations on favorite blogs about 21st century teaching.

Isn’t it astounding how many new, good teacher  blogs show up every year?  I found a dozen new sources in a few minutes.


Best optical illusion of the year

July 12, 2009

I like to use optical illusions for warm-ups and bell ringers, to get students thinking and looking at things a bit differently.

Richard Wiseman said this is the best new optical illusion he’s seen so far this year:

Image by Prof. Kitaoka, 2009

Image by Prof. Kitaoka, 2009

What’s the illusion?  Well, you see those green stripes?  See the blue stripes?  Actually they are the same color.

You don’t think so?  Zoom in.  Or click over to Wiseman’s blog site and see what happens when all the other colors are turned to black.

I know you think you know what you see; what you think you see may not be what you actually see.  Your brain modifies what you think you see, in order to make it appear sensible, and in doing so, it sometimes makes you see things quite differently from what they are.  Don’t forget that.

So, how do we know what we know?  How do we know that what we know is correct?


Cognitive Science Network, new at SSRN

April 14, 2009

Unedited press release follows:

We are pleased to announce the creation of the Cognitive Science Network (CSN). It will provide a worldwide, online community for research in all areas of cognitive science, following the model of other subject matter networks within SSRN.

We expect CSN to become a comprehensive online resource for research in cognitive science, providing scholars with access to current work in their field and facilitating research and scholarship.

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COGNITION & CULTURE: CULTURE, COMMUNICATION, DESIGN, ETHICS, MORALITY, RELIGION, RHETORIC, & SEMIOTICS

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Editor: Todd Oakley, Associate Chair, Associate Professor of Cognitive Science, Case Western Reserve University – Department of Cognitive Science

Description: Cognition & Culture focuses on the cognitive study of cultures as creations of human minds in environments. Its scope includes research on cultural manifestations, their differences and incommensurabilities, and their expressive and semantic regularities and universals. This eJournal announces working papers, meetings, and events associated with interdisciplinary research projects and aims at encouraging collaboration across disciplines. It presents research in cognitive science having to do with such fields as design, ethics, history, jurisprudence, morality, philosophy, politics, religion, sociality, science, and technology.

COGNITION & THE ARTS

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Editor: Mark Turner, Institute Professor, Case Western Reserve University – Department of Cognitive Science

Description: A publication dedicated to the artful mind and its relationship to the full range of higher-order human cognition. All scientific approaches are welcome, including developmental, evolutionary, linguistic, and comparative. Cognition & the Arts construes artistic behavior broadly, to include not only the various recognized genres of the arts but also design, style, and performance, throughout the lifecourse.

COGNITION IN MATHEMATICS, SCIENCE, & TECHNOLOGY

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Description: Mathematical insight, scientific discovery, and technological innovation are hallmarks of higher-order human cognition. Cognition in Mathematics, Science, and Technology is dedicated to the cognitive science of mathematics, science, and technology – in phylogenetic descent, ontogenetic transformation, and historical action.

COGNITION LINGUISTICS: COGNITION, LANGUAGE, GESTURE

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COGNITIVE NEUROSCIENCE

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COGNITIVE SOCIAL SCIENCE

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Description: Mental events, however distributed, provide the defining problems of the social sciences. What are our basic cognitive operations? How do we use them in judgment, decision, action, reason, choice, persuasion, expression? Do voters know what they need to know? How do people choose? What are the best incentives? When is judgment reliable? Can negotiation work? How do cognitive conceptual resources depend on social and cultural location? How do certain products of cognitive and conceptual systems come to be entrenched as publicly-shared knowledge and method? Economists, political scientists, sociologists, anthropologists, and all other social scientists refer as a matter of course to mental events and typically must assume some general outline of what those mental events can be and how they can arise. They explore networks of mental events in social systems and in social cognition. Given this convergence of cognitive science and the social sciences at their intellectual cores, and the increasing body of research activity at their intersection, the Cognitive Science Network provides an eJournal to track and distribute new and classic research in the emerging field of cognitive social science.

EMERGENCE OF COGNITION

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Editor: Mark Turner, Institute Professor, Case Western Reserve University – Department of Cognitive Science

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Sincerely,

Mark Turner
Director
Cognitive Science Network


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