Thursday, August 30, 2012

It’s All in Your Head

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

It’s All in Your Head

Have you thought about your brain lately?

In 1990 President George Bush issued a proclamation making the nineties the “Decade of the Brain.” People were beginning to realize that the advancements in technology were advancing the field of neuroscience to new heights.

Electro encephalography (EED) measures the changes in electrical voltage in the neurons in the brain. Magneto encephalography (MEG) uses highly sensitive magnetometers to measure the electrical currents produced by brain activity. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) measures changes in blood flow during brain activity.

Since all science is based on observation, these new technologies have allowed researchers to study the human brain in ways never before possible. What have we learned, and has it really affected teaching and learning? The answer is as complex as the brain itself.

We have learned that the brain continues to change well past childhood and that it changes based on a person’s experiences and learning. Although the brain stops growing at age 18, it continues to make new connections throughout life. For some time, teachers have accepted that each child learns differently which has made strategic designing of lessons mandatory.

One of the most dynamic times during the brain’s development is right before puberty when the frontal cortex experiences an unexpected growth spurt, and the gray matter begins to thicken and rapidly grow connections. The older teen brain differs dramatically in anatomy, biochemistry, and physiology from the childhood brain.

In 2002, PBS’s Frontline aired a program titled “Inside the Teenage Brain” which you can still watch online. Several points are made about how the changing of their brains should affect how we deal with teenagers.

Cognitive skills are still being built in the teenage brain, and the skills of judgment and decision-making are immature and that actually causes the risky behavior that we sometimes see. You might say that the teen tends to be mentally clumsy, just like they are sometimes physically clumsy.

Just when parents begin to allow kids to stay up a little later and might actually lose control of bedtime, the child’s sleep need increases to 9.5 hours per night. The average teens get 7.5 hours per night which makes them operate at a deficit.

Strategies like allowing the student to catch up on sleep on the weekends and having later start times for school have been explored. Some researchers think that the number of hours of sleep that the student regularly gets is a better predictor of college success than SAT scores.

Other tips for parents include reading aloud and having conversations with children, which promotes brain development. Studies have shown that students who ate lunches that did not include artificial flavors, preservatives and dyes did 14% better on IQ tests.

By the way, the technical word for that problem of not being able to remember a word or name that’s on the tip-of-your tongue is called anomia. Yep, I’ve got that!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Fostering the Gift of Curiosity

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

Fostering the Gift of Curiosity

You can see it in their eyes. It sparkles and lights up their faces. It’s curiosity, and it must be cultivated and nurtured, or it will dim.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “ a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift would be curiosity.” Curiosity might be the mother of invention, but it is also the mother of learning.

Some children seem to lose some of their drive to learn and explore as they approach the middle school years, and teachers and parents become anxious to get back that childhood enthusiasm for learning. Where did it go?

Many books have been written, teaching techniques explored, and countless hours of research spent in the quest for the answer to what keeps the desire for learning at its peak.

Of course, there is no simple answer, but after many years of teaching, I believe that parents and teachers must continuously act as facilitators for learning. They should be relentless in their efforts to follow the interests that the child expresses and to provide materials and experiences in those particular areas of interest.

A child can be his own best teacher.

Childhood is full of opportunities for exploration through toys, games, books, movies, television, and countless child centered activities. Places like the Museum of The Albemarle, Arts of the Albemarle, and Port Discover are settings where kids can experiment and find their personal interests.

For all of the criticism directed at media, they also provide many golden sparks for kids’ curiosity. Finding Nemo, the Ice Age series, Madagascar series, Wall-E, Lorax, Rio, Bambi, and 2001, A Space Odyssey all cause kids to wonder about the world of science.

Although the science is not always the most accurate in such programs as “Sponge Bob” and other cartoons, they still might cause the child to ask questions and become interested.

That’s when the parent can seize the opportunity to acquire books, magazines, and materials from the library, take the child on to a museum or science program, or just probe for questions that the child might be wondering about and try to answer them together.

One activity that can be helpful is regularly discussing current science events. Just this summer, there have been so many topics to explore like global warming, drought, flooding, space exploration, archeological discovery, and the list goes on and on.

My newest discovery is which is a treasure house of free online videos, lessons, quizzes, games, and puzzles for kids, teachers, and parents. Organizations such as the British Broadcasting Company offer documentaries on a variety of topics such as prehistoric America, dinosaurs, and the Ice Age.

Remember that a child’s first question is usually “Why?” As their first teacher, you can easily become equipped with all that you need if you look around. You will probably learn something together, and that’s the fun of it.


Friday, August 3, 2012

Dragon in the House

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

Dragon in the House

Just when you think life can’t get any more interesting, something new comes along. This time it’s a lizard, a Pogona vitticeps, to be exact, otherwise known as a Bearded Dragon. The Australian native is normally a terrestrial, desert-dwelling lizard, but he also makes a wonderful pet.

Recently our two pet rodents, Squeakers and Lilly, departed this world, so we wanted to replace them. While having that conversation, we decided that it would be a good time to add to our species at the center.

We had many ideas, but acquiring a bearded dragon seemed to be the best prospect. We had the aquarium, a window that needed changing, and the knowledge about how to take care of the new animal.

One trip to the pet store, and he was ours. Our new pet is three years old and is accustomed to being held. We also got two young female rats which had been slated to be dinner for the snakes at the pet store. Saving them from that awful fate was an added benefit for us.

Bearded dragons are probably one of the few reptiles that can be tolerant of being handled by humans, which was a requirement for us because we wanted to be able to use it in some of our programs. Our new pet is three years old and is already accustomed to being held.

We are having a naming contest for the dragon, and visitors can vote for the names Angus, Edmund, Burnie, Heath, or Bruno which are all common Australian names. The name with most money in the jar will be the winner.

Both male and female lizards from “down under” have an expandable throat pouch with spiky scales that look like a beard when they are inflated for mating and aggression displays. Their body color depends on the soil in the region where they reside. Ours is a gold and light orange combination.

Our “beardie” is about a foot long and likes to spend long hours stretched out sunning himself in the window. He is furnished with his favorite foods, crickets and veggies from our garden.

Australia has not allowed the export of any native wildlife since the 1960s, so our pet was probably born in this country. Their pleasant disposition and manageable size make bearded dragons popular pets. In the wild, their enemies are primarily snakes and kookaburras.

We plan to design a habitat for him in the front window where he can be seen by people walking by and where he can also enjoy basking in the sunlight. Already people are enjoying watching him from the sidewalk.

The jars are filling up with votes and the favorite name appears to be Bernie so far, but things might change as time goes by. Personally, my choice would have been Dundee (Crocodile Dundee).

Come in soon to meet our new friends and vote for a name you like.

What do you think our bearded dragon's name should be? -- Cast your vote in the unofficial poll -- HERE
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