Friday, November 25, 2011

Brain Rules : Notes to Self

            John Medina, the author of Brain Rules is a Molecular Biologist. For him, this book  is a call for real world research because he says that we don't know enough about brain to be prescriptive. 
             Medina calls this book as an attempt to vaccinate against myths such as  "Mozart Effect", left brain/right brain personalities, and getting your babies into Harvard by making them listen to language tapes while they are still in the womb. 
          While brain scientists don't know enough about brain to be prescriptive, they have also have uncovered details every business leader, parent, and teacher should know - like that physical activity boosts your brain power. How do we learn? What exactly do sleep and stress do to our brains? Why is multi-tasking a myth? Why is it so easy to forget - and so important to repeat new information? Is it true that men and women have different brains?
          In each chapter, he describes a brain rule - what scientists know for sure about how our brains work - and then offers ideas for our daily lives that we may try out, to do things better.
          There are keen insights about brain in general and learning. So as a Professional involved in the knowledge industry and as some one who has a kid just started to school, i find the book interesting and hence sharing the notes. hope you also find it useful. I completed reading this book in Jan 2011.

Rule #1 Exercise: Exercise boosts brain power.
# We are not evolved to sit at a desk for eight hours a day. Our brains developed when working out, walking as much as 12 miles a day.
# A lifetime of exercise can result in a sometimes-astonishing elevation in cognitive performance, compared with those who are sedentary.
# Exercise regulates the release of the three neuro transmitters most commonly associated with the maintenance of mental health: serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine.
# The brain represents only about 2 percent of peoples body weight and accounts for about 20% of the total body energy usage.
# When we exercise, we increase blood flow across the tissues of our body. As the flow improves, the body makes new blood vessels, which penetrate deeper and deeper into the tissues of the body. This is the reason exercise improves the performance of most human functions. 
# Exercise also increases blood flow to the brain.
# By enriching cardio vascular system, exercise decreases our risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. When this is combined with the intellectual benefits exercise appears to offer, we have in our hand as close to a magic bullet for improving human health as exists in modern medicine. 
# Physical education in schools should be made mandatory. 
# Colleges should teach students as they walk to treadmills and 
# Cubicles should have tread mills.

Rule #2 Survival The Human Brain Evolved too.
# Human brain has got three parts.  We have a lizard brain that controls our breathing, then added a brain like cat’s and then topped those with a thin layer known as the cortex – third and powerful human brain
# We took over the earth by adapting to change after we were forced from the trees of the savannah. Walking on two legs instead of four, freed up energy that resulted in an evolved human brain.
# Human brain can behold a symbolic object as real all by itself and yet, simultaneously also represent something(s) else. This is called Dual Representation Theory. 
# We are so good at dual representation; we combine symbols to derive layers of meaning. it gives us the capacity for language, and for writing down that language. It gives us the capacity to reason mathematically. it gives us the capacity for art. Combination of circles and squares become geometry and cubist paintings. Combinations of dots and squiggles become music and poetry. There is an unbroken intellectual line between symbolic reasoning and the ability to create culture.
# Symbolic reasoning, allows us understand one another's intentions and motivations, allowing us to coordinate.
# The quality of education is dependent on the teacher-student relationship. Hence it is very important to create the environment that results in the best relationship.

Rule#3 Wiring: Every brain is wired differently. 
# What we do and learn in life physically changes what our brain looks like - it literally rewires it. Research also shows that different regions of our brain develop differently. 
# No two people's brains store the same information in the same way in the same place.
# And there are a great number of ways of being intelligent and many of which don't show up on IQ tests. 
# Howard Gardener suggested that human brain is too multifaceted to be boiled down to simple numerical measures. He suggested 7 different categories of intelligence: verbal/linguistic, musical/rhythm, logical/mathematical, spatial, bodily/kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal. He calls these 'entry points' to the inner workings of the human brain.
# Students of same age show a great deal of intellectual variability. Hence the current system where certain learning goals should be achieved by a certain age may not be the right one and has to be looked into.
# Smaller Class Size should be tried out and the smaller the class size is, the better.
# Customized instructions to students should be tried out and this can be achieved with the help of software along with standard class. 
# The best combination of customized instructions and standard class needs to be worked out.
# Corporate can also try out this to understand the strengths of individual employees.

Rule#4 Attention: We don't pay attention to boring things.
# Research shows that the more attention brain pays to a given stimulus, the more elaborately the information will be encoded and retained by the brain.
# Peer reviewed studies show that people can't hold on to something for more than 10 minutes after which we start checking out.
# Emotional events get our attention and we remember it better than neutral events. this is something that is made of good use by advertisers. remember  the advertisement introducing apple's computer in 1984?
# Memory gets enhanced when we create association between concepts.
# The brain can't multi task. we are in-capable of processing attention rich inputs simultaneously.
# the brain needs a break when it is learning. 
# the most common communication mistake is not too less information, but too much information, with not enough time devoted to connecting the dots. 
# Design lectures in 10 minutes segments and use emotion as a bait to get attention.
# Since brain processes meaning before detail, providing the general concepts first and then the details later allows us to explain things in a hierarchical fashion. this is like solving a jigsaw puzzle after knowing how the final image looks like.
# Do one thing at a time.

Rule#5 Short Term Memory: Repeat to remember.
# Repeating something makes us remember it better.
# Hippocampus is involved in converting short-term information into longer-term forms.
# Based on the relationship between hippocampus and cortex, there are two types of memory
# Declarative memory is any conscious memory system that is altered when the hippocampus and the various surrounding regions become damaged. 
# Non declarative memory is defined as those unconscious memory systems that are not altered or greatly altered, when the hippocampus and surrounding regions are damaged.
# Declarative memory can be divided into four sequential steps: encoding, storing, retrieving, and forgetting.
# Brain is not like a recording device. the moment of learning - encoding, is still a mystery to human beings.
# Storing happens in different areas of the brain. it looks like content is stored separately from the context and how it all comes together and appears as a whole is still not clear.
# The more elaborately we encode information at the moment of learning, the stronger the memory, especially if we can personalize it.
# A memory trace appears to be stored in the same parts of the brain that perceived and processed the initial input.
# Information is remembered best when it is elaborate, meaningful and contextual.
# Use real world examples to share information so that learning is improved.
# The events that happen during the initial moments of exposed to some new information play a disproportionately greater role in retrieval.
# We can improve the chances of remembering something if we reproduce the environment in which the information was first put into brain.

Rule#6 Long Term Memory: Remember to Repeat
# Most memories disappear within minutes, but those that survive the initial period strengthen with time.
# Repeating what we learnt, at specifically timed interval ensures that we remember better what we learnt. 
#Thinking or talking about an event immediately after it has occurred enhanced memory for that event. 
# In classes, try repeating everything at periodic intervals. this repetition frequency can be in minutes or hours or days.
# Try repeating basic concepts for an industry at periodic intervals so that the concepts are remembered even after the person has entered work life.

Rule#7  Sleep:Sleep well, think well.
# Brain is quite active when we are asleep.
# Routines of wakefulness and  sleep are a  result of a continuous conflict between two opposing forces called 'Circadian Arousal System (called Process C)' and 'homeostatic sleep drive (called Process S)'. for most people sleep happens after 16 hours of wakefulness.
#People vary in how much sleep they need and when they need it, but the biological urge to take an afternoon nap is universal. Based on when people need to sleep, they can be categorized into different chronotypes (larks– ‘early chronotypes’ and owls–‘late chronotypes’).
# Research shows that a healthy sleep can indeed boost certain types of learning significantly.
# Sleep deprival impacts many body functions and to put it simply, sleep loss means mind loss. 
# Sleep loss cripples attention, executive function, immediate memory, working memory, mood, quantitative skills, logical reasoning ability, general math knowledge and eventually affecting manual dexterity and even gross motor movements.
# Sleeping and learning are intimately involved.
# Match chronotypes and their weekly schedules, where ever possible for maximum productivity.

Rule#8 Stress: Stressed brains don't learn the same way.
# Our body's defense system - the release or adrenaline and cortisol - is built for an immediate response to a serious, but passing danger. Imagine a saber toothed tiger or a wooly mammoth from the movie ice age.
# Chronic stress such as hostility at home or a pressure cooker work place, dangerously deregulates the system built only to deal with short term responses.
# Under Chronic stress, adrenaline creates scars in your blood vessels that can cause a heart attack or stroke, and cortisol damages the cells of hippocampus, crippling our ability to learn and remember.
# Marital stress at home can negatively affect academic performance in almost every way measurable, and at nearly any age.
# Emotional stress has huge impact on society, on children's ability to learn and on employees' productivity at work.
# Emotionally stable environment has a huge impact on a child's academic performance.
# Three things determine whether a workplace is stressful: the type of stress, a balance between occupational stimulation and boredom, and the condition of the employee's home life.
# Teach Parents first on how to create a stable home life.

Rule#9 Sensory integration: Stimulate more of the senses.
# Our senses are evolved to work together - vision influencing learning, for example - which means that we learn best if we stimulate several senses at once.
# We absorb information about an event through our senses, translate into electrical signals ( some for sight and some for sound), disperse those signals to separate parts of the brain, then reconstruct what happened, eventually perceiving the event as a whole.
# Smells have an unusual power to bring back memories, may be because smell signals directly reach their destinations.
# Try using smells to teach to ensure enhanced learning.

Rule#10 Vision: Vision trumps all senses
# Vision is our most dominant sense, taking upto half of our brains resources.
# what we see is what our brain tells as what we see.
# we learn and remember best through pictures, not through written or spoken words
# Teachers should learn why pictures grab attention
# Teachers should use computer animation
# Communicate with more pictures than words
# Toss text based powerpoint presentations out use more of pictures, while sharing ideas.

Rule#11 Gender: Male and Female Brains are different.
# Gender differences can be divided into three areas: Genetic, Neuroanatomical, and behavioral.
# Researchers have discovered that the basic default setting of the mammalian embryo is to become female.
# X chromosome carries about 1500 genes, all necessary in embryonic construction and many of the genes involve brain function.
# Y chromosome has been shedding its associated genes at a rate of about five every million years.
# Men's and women's brains are different structurally and biochemically - men have a bigger amygdala and produce serotonin faster, for example - but we dont know if those differences have significance.
# Men and women respond to emotions differently. women get the emotional details and men get the gist.
# Try teaching boys and girls separately in school, as boys and girls social participation in classrooms vary.
# In business, try teams that are mix of men and women, as women are more likely to get the details and men the gist.

Rule#12 Exploration: We are powerful and natural explorers.
# Babies are models of how we learn. babies learn by active testing of environment through observation, hypothesis, experiment, and conclusion and not by passive reaction to environment.
# Specific parts of the brain allow this scientific approach. a part of our brain looks for errors in our hypothesis and an adjoining region tells us to change our behaviour.
# The way children are taught at school, acquiring knowledge becomes secondary and grades become primary as fascination by learning/discovery takes the back seat.
curiosity is the most important human.
# We can recognize and imitate behavior because of mirror neurons scattered across our brain. these are neurons that , when we see something happening that we had previously experiences, these neurons fire as if we are experiencing the full stimulus.
# The adult brain retains the ability to change its structure and function in response to experience through out life. 
# Learning models like problem based and discovery based have their own advocates and detractors.
# World class medical school models have 3 components a teaching hospital; a faculty who work in the field as well as teach; and a research laboratories.
# Have a school staffed with 3 types of faculty: traditional education faculty, certified teachers who teach little ones and brain scientists. the last group teaches in research labs devoted to the purpose of learning how the human brain learns in teaching environments, then actively testing hypothesized ideas in real world classroom situations.
# Learning places should be modeled so that they provide the following:
1. Consistent exposure to real world, as in, learning on the job.
2. Consistent exposure to people, who work in the real world.
3. Consistent exposure to Practical Problems.
* all images other than the ones with attributes are chosen from the net. copyright is for owners.
* The notes that i used to write this blogpost is available in scribd @

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