Thursday, December 13, 2012

Infographic about Compassion

Here is a great infographic about teaching compassion with regards to volunteering. I got it from the website InformED, which is a fantastic online community for educators. I think the idea of volunteering and service, as a means for facilitating compassion, is something we need to instill in our younger generations. We also need to connect the idea of compassion as a means of personal and collective growth. I feel like compassion here in the United States is often seen as a weakness. We have to understand that as a culture the ability to have empathy and understanding for others is what builds balance and steadfastness in our lives. Seeing ourselves in others raises our level of consciousness and brings out the best in ourselves. OK I'll get off my soap box now.
  I think the picture is a little small so here is the link for the post in which they added it.

Monday, November 12, 2012

School Psychology Awareness Week 2012 #SPAW


The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) is proud to sponsor School Psychology Awareness Weeek (#SPAW). This year's theme is "Know your own strengths. Discover them. Share them. Celebrate them." This theme highlights the importance of creating supportive learning environments that help students identify, build and employ their strengths in school, at home and throughout life. As a School Psychologist I think this is one of the most important things we can do with our student populations. By exemplifying strengths we build confidence, self-efficacy and long term goals, which in turn create future healthy members of society. I will be tweeting ideas for helping students find their own personal strengths all week.  

One way I like to foster students in recognizing their owns strengths is drawing a comparison to superheros. I currently run a school program which focuses on building mindful awareness through the medium of superheros and super powers. We meet as a group and talk about what each of the students would like to be when they grow up. We then discuss what super powers would be helpful to be successful in that field. For example, a student recently told me that he want sto be a Football player when he grows up. We talked about super speed, super agility and super balance- all of which are things the student feels he is good at and led him to want to be a Football player. Another student indicated that he wants to build robots (I suggested becoming an engineer). We discussed his super powers as being super curiosity, super imagination and super attention. As a group we then meditate on these super powers trying to make sure we stay self-aware of them and keep them at the forefront of our daily intentions. The hope is that the students keep a strength based approach to their goals and aspirations; staying mindful of whether their actions are congruent with their "super powers." This is just one way I am trying to employ this years SPAW theme. For more information on how to spread the "Know your own strengths" theme, the following links may be helpful:

  Activities for School Psychology Awareness Week: Know Your Own Strengths

  Handout for Teachers and other school professionals regarding "Know Your Own Strengths"   

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Video: What Is a 504 Plan? - NCLD

Parents may often find disability services to be a confusing and ambiguous area to navigate. With all the abbreviations and acronyms, it can be difficult to understand what exactly a school maybe telling you. Therefore it is extremely important for parents to educate themselves on what exactly their child is eligible for and why. Here is a great video from the National Center for Learning Disabilities that clearly explains what a 504 plan is.

A 504 plan is not the same as an Individual Education Plan (IEP). They are mandated through two different laws. Again, as a parent it is important to educate yourself on the difference between these two plans and find which is right for your child. The following link, also from the NCLD, highlights and compares the similarities and differences between the two plans: Comparison Chart

Classroom Brain Break!!!

Here is video the Hawn Foundation posted on Facebook showing how quick and easy a Brain Break can be implemented in the classroom setting. I can't say enough about the Mind Up program. Its quick easy and very understandable for both children and teachers.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Infographics... The 21st Century King of Graphic Organizers

I'm sitting at a meeting trying to explain to teachers how Suzy's visuo-spatial processing disorder impacts her ability to understand graphs and spatial relations with regards to math reasoning. This is after exemplifying her significant strengths in verbal reasoning and vocabulary development. Her mother is next to me nodding her head in agreement. She contributes "Yes, I have always know she has trouble with directions as well as scanning and sequencing visual information. I wish we could find a way to combine and organize visual and verbal information to help Suzy understand concepts and processes." DING DING DING DING, the bell in my head rings. I immediately say, "well, Infographics have taken over social media as a way to quickly organize and present complex information in a short period of time."..... Crickets.

I go on my computer and immediately get denied by the schools firewall. After a few more attempts I am allowed on a website that has the above example of what an infographic is. I explain to the folks at the meeting that the pre-organized information and color coded nature of the info-graphic may help to lessen the visual processing burden that Suzy has every time she is presented with a page of paper or assignment to read. The reason infographics are so efficient is that they organize and sequence information for us, rather than having to rely on our own executive functions to do it. Its kind of like touring a city. You can try to tour a city yourself, map and guide book in hand, all while trying to read about each landmark and neighborhood. Or, you can get on one of those double-decker tour buses and have a tour guide tell you what to look at and what to think about it. Infographics are the double-decker tour buses of reading comprehension and math reasoning.

Infographics are an extremely effective way of quickly disseminating large amounts of information in a organized and easily digestible manner. The reason this works so well is that they utilize Preattenitve attributes, or visual cues to guide our attention to what is important. These can be size, orientation, color or contrast. By using these "visual cues" infographics are eliminating the need for focused attention and utilizing the brain's natural visual proclivity of observation and processing (Treisman, 1985, Treisman, 1986). Its like we have our own airplane Marshaller that guides our attention to the "information terminal." By eliminating the focused attention necessary to process an unorganized visual field, concepts and ideas are readily available for storage and digestion.

This is especially important for students who have disabilities or learn at a slower rate than their peers. These students spend so much attention and cognitive energy on decoding words, keeping ideas in their working memory and organizing concepts that they often miss the big picture or idea being taught. Infographics can serve to reinforce or remmediate information that gets lost in the cognitive processes of learning. Teachers can use them to teach vocabulary, show hierarchy or stress chronology. It is even helpful for students to create their own infographic as a project to exhibit skill mastery. By relying on preattentive attributes and dealing directly with content, infographics can increase the fluency of comprehension and analyzation necessary for high order skill development . The following links may be helpful for further information regarding infographics and how to incorporate them into a classroom:

A. Treisman, Preattentive Processing in Vision, Computer Vision, Graphics, and Image Processing, 31(2):156-177, August 1985.

A. Treisman, Features and Objects in Visual Processing, Scientific American, 255(5):114-125, 1986.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

‘Smartpen’ Pilot Program Helps Students with Disabilities

‘Smartpen’ Pilot Program Helps Students with Disabilities

Great assistive technology that Penn State University is using in order to help student with disabilities take notes. We need to get this technology in our high schools for students with Individual Education Plans (IEP).

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Interesting Links

As a School Psychologist I think is imperative to stay informed regarding research, current events and the current psycho-educational zeitgeist. I keep a word document on my computer with all the links I didn't get around to reading from the previous day. Yesterday, I started to realize that the document was growing out of control so I took some time out to catch up  on some reading. Here are some interesting tidbits from what I found.

  • A recent study pretty much confirms what most Educators have already suspected: Children's school performance correlates with parent income and education levels. However, what makes this study so interesting is that these correlations are based on differences in volume of key brains regions - like the Hippocampus and Amygdala- which are involved in learning and processing emotions. You can start the obligatory is it the "chicken or the egg?" discussion below. One of my favorite books points out that parent income levels and stress levels often have prenatal consequences before environmental factors can even impact neonatal development. 

  • It looks like a school district in San Diego that offers free Yoga classes to it's students twice a week are under fire from parents who believe this amounts to indoctrination into Hinduism and a violation of "separation of church and state." Along with this being a completely ridiculous argument, I also think it opens a "Pandora's box" with regards to the mindfulness and Yoga movement that has yet to really been ironed out in education, i.e. how comfortable is the "Mindfulness in Education" movement in becoming a secular movement. I have been meaning to write an entire post dedicated to this discourse but keep procrastinating. Stay posted for that. In the mean time here is a post called "Occupy Mindfulness" that got me thinking about the coming storm of traditionalist vs secularists. Then another one stressing that religion is not part of Yoga in schools. #foodforthought 

  • Here is a great interview with Christopher Willard, which deals with some of the themes I mentioned in the previous bullet. If you teach mindfulness or meditation to children in schools, it is a great read and highlights the importance of finding balance between religious philosophy and secular pragmatics. 

  • I found inspiration from this post  as I often struggle with negative thoughts which I label as "realistic." However, what I have come to realize is that focusing on the positive (which in not always reality) creates a better feeling within you, and  also makes one better equipped to deal with the inevitable "sturm and drang" of the human condition. These ten easy steps are great ways to stay positive and "keep it moving." 

  • Here are a bunch of benefits to meditation from the APA. 

  • Here is a nice "Mindfulness 101" post. I remember when I first started practicing Mindfulness I found it to be an abstract concept that was difficult to explain to others. I also had trouble practically labeling something that really ends up being a state of mind. I think the more one reads basic definitions of Mindfulness from others, they not only crystallize their own Mindfulness practice but they also become more fluent and comfortable explaining it to others.... so read away!

  • I love Its a great website that helps educators and schools incorporate technology and social media into their classrooms.  I also love Twitter. Here is a link combining both. As educators we have a responsibility to spread knowledge. We must gain knowledge through growth and study. Creating our own personal learning network is a great way of doing that. This list will help you know who are best to follow when creating a personal learning network on Twitter. P.S. Follow ME!! ;)

Friday, October 19, 2012

5 Ways to Find Balance as a Special Educator

As a School Psychologist I often find myself pulled between different roles. As an advocate for children, a consultant to teachers/schools and a perceived gate keeper for extra services my roles in an educational setting often blur the reality of any given situation. On top of this, schools are microcosms of society; and as such, they often house varying opinions, cultural values and social norms, which impact the dynamic and flow of collaboration. As a stake holder in this system it is imperative to find a balance between the myriad of factors at play. This balance helps to foster meaningful growth and change. This is especially true with regards to children who need extra assistance or are receiving specialized services.  Academic Support Team, Special Education Eligibility and Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings are often charged with frustration, misunderstandings and varied intentions, which lead to angry parents and disenchanted teachers. As a  member of these meetings I often focus on different ways to balance the multiple dynamics at play. By merging the cacophony of opinions into a symphony of support, our team is usually able to come to a plan that we all agree on. Although written from the point of view of a School Psychologist, these 5 recommendations will help anyone find balance when heading into a difficult meeting or decision.
1.) Establish Your Intention-  No matter what your role is on the team (parent, administrator, advocate, teacher), there is a reason that you were asked to participate in this meeting. Before any meeting I ask myself why am I here and what do I intend to bring to this meeting. For the most part my intention in all meetings is to help a child be successful. I typically have some familiarity with teacher concerns and background history before the  meeting. From this information I ask myself "How can I full fill my intention to help this child?" I don't always have the answer; however, this question creates a positive and goal oriented mindset for the meeting. It also creates a nice filter to screen out extraneous information others may add. For example if a teacher starts talking about other students or confronts parents on their parenting style, I can notice whether or not this is consistent with my intention. I can then choose to engage in the conversation or remain silent on the topic. Knowing your intention will help from having to choose sides at a meeting. I usually tell myself, "I am not on the parent's side nor am I on the school's side. I am on the child's side." This typically helps me keep my actions rooted in my original intention.
2. Practice Non judgement and Compassion- As earlier stated, school meetings often have a variety of opinions and feelings that create a dynamic and tense atmosphere. Each of the these opinions are important in that they inform decision making and utilize the expertise of well trained personnel. However, when there are too many "hens in the hen house"...well, you know the rest. It is important to practice non-judgement to others' opinions and exhibit compassion for their current state. For the most part, all parties want what's best for the child involved; therefore, even if you don't agree with their opinion, you should have compassion from where they are coming from. This compassion can be fostered through the practice of non-judgement. Through my daily mindful practice I have cultivated an ability to notice my thoughts and feelings as they are. Although difficult, as I notice these thoughts and feelings I try to not place a judgement upon them. Good or Bad, Angry or Aloof, Wrong or Right these are all labels we add to our thoughts that cloud how we see a situation and perpetuate unfavorable inner dialogues. By just acknowledging our thoughts as thoughts and not attaching a judgement we are able to clearly process what is happening in the moment and bring ourselves back to the original intention we set at number 1. Another reason I find non-judgement to be so important is that I don't always have all the information or answers in a meeting. Parents, teachers and administrators often bring valuable information to meetings, which help to fulfill our intentions. If we immediately judge or label what someone else is communicating we can't internalize the personal knowledge and expertise that they are bringing with it.
3.) Practice Perspective Taking- I have found that trying to take the perspective of another to be one of the most helpful things I can do when collaborating with a team. Putting yourself in the shoes of someone else helps you understand where they are coming from and makes practicing non-judgement that much easier. Before a meeting think about who is going to be there and what their role is. Think about what their intention may be. Think about how they feel about the issue at hand. Try to imagine what they may feel when they come to the meeting. For example I often try to think about how a parent would feel when they walk into a meeting with 3 or 4 school officials around a table with laptops open. Would they be anxious, scared, or paranoid that they were being talked about. Think about how they feel when they sit down on the other side of the table with all school personnel facing them. I try to choose my seat at the table to balance out the dynamics. If all the school personnel are on one side I try to sit on the side with the parent. This may help to prevent the illusion that the meeting may be one sided. I also take the perspective of the teacher, which is not always clear. Are they frustrated with the student ? the school? themselves? It is important to take perspectives and feel empathy; however, one must not create preconceived notions. Practice non-judgment when perspective taking. If during the meeting you realize that your perspective of the participant was inaccurate, be open to creating a new perspective. Put yourself in their shoes regarding what they are saying right now in the present moment.  
4.) Ground Yourself when Necessary- School Meetings can be emotional and stressful. At times people become angry, frustrated, or overwhelmed by what is being presented. Meetings can also be cathartic, creating a new found respect and camaraderie for team members and the agreed upon plan. It is imperative that participants stay mindful and aware of the feelings they are having and ground themselves in the moment they are experiencing. Recognizing emotions and grounding yourself when necessary creates balance and helps to build space between thoughts and feelings. This space will help you when practicing non-judgement as well as aligning with your primary intention at the beginning of the meeting. If you feel overwhelmed, begin focusing on your breath. Focusing on your breath has been shown to help with stress management. Feel the air come through your nasal passage on the in breath and the rising of your diaphragm. Feel your stomach go down as you exhale. Notice any shortness of breath or elevated heart rate. Don't label these things as negative, just notice how they feel. You can even chose an anchor word to bring you back to your sensory experience and away from negative thoughts that may be occurring due to your elevated emotional state. If you are angry or frustrated just label the feeling as that... a "feeling". Breathe in and breathe out and repeat the word "feeling" in your head as you do this. When I feel this way I am able to bring myself back into the moment after about ten breaths.
5.) Check in- with your intention during and after the meeting- As any meeting or discussion progresses topics change, people go on tangents and new ideas are thrown around. It is important to check in with yourself and observe if you are still acting or speaking from your original intention. One way of doing this is to set the timer on your phone for 10 minutes. As it vibrates in your pocket notice where the topic of the meeting is and how you have contributed to taking it there. Is this consistent with your original intention? What do you need to change in order to get back to your original intention. Notice how you feel about this. It is also important to check in with yourself after the meeting. Did you meet your intention? Did you achieve what you set out to do at the beginning of the meeting? If not what things could you do different next time? After the meeting is over, leave it in the past and focus on what is next. What are the next steps that YOU need to do to continue with your original intention.
Not all meetings go as planned and there are often situations that are not solved or wrapped up by the time the meeting closes. Nonetheless by following these steps and creating balance you are better preparing yourself for the collaboration and open mind necessary for future discussions. Whether it agreeing on IEP goals, negotiating a house closing, or working on a marketing campaign, creating balance is important for us to achieve our goals as well as work together smoothly as a team. As Special Educators we have to share our ideas opinions and expertise together as a team. By creating a balanced and focused team we are ultimately creating better service delivery for the child at hand. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Great Video Highlighting Johns Hopkins Research

Here is a great video showing the research that is being completed at Johns Hopkins University with regards to Mindful Meditation and Yoga in schools. The more research that is done, the more schools will begin to accept the possibility of a Mindful curriculum as a viable and sustainable Social Emotional Learning (SEL) intervention.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Monday, October 1, 2012

5 Ways for Teachers to increase Mindful Awareness in the Classroom

As Mindfulness in schools goes mainstream, new and practical ways of classroom integration continue to be explored and enjoyed by teachers. Increasing mindful awareness in classrooms can help reduce teacher and student stress, increase attention and focus and foster social emotional competence. Although not a full mindfulness program, teachers can implement these quick and easy mindful based activities into their daily routine in order to help foster the awareness that comes from a full mindfulness practice. The following 5 activities can be implemented throughout the day in order to help students transfer between activities, de-stress after a test, and refocus after an exciting project or experiment. Although created for elementary age students, these ideas could easily be revised for high school or college age students as well.

1. Mindful Minutes- Mindful Breathing is the foundation of any Mindful practice and should be the first thing that is taught to children. This technique is best taught by teaching children to focus on a sound, then slowly transfer their attention to their own breathing. A mindfulness bell is a great way of transitioning between a sound and  breathing. By focusing on breathing children "anchor" themselves in the moment and focus inward. If you cannot find a mindfulness bell, a chime, triangle or singing bowl can also work. Once the sound goes away have the students focus on their breath for 1 "Mindful Minute". These Mindful Minutes can be included at any time of the day between any activity. It's especially good to start the day with a Mindful Minute or have one after coming back from lunch or recess. As children get better at focusing for the full minute you can increase the time to 2 minutes or 5 minutes.

2. Cool Down with Yoga- A simple series of Yoga poses are a great way to get children moving within a classroom and ground themselves in the moment. For teachers that are unfamiliar with Yoga there are a few classroom based Yoga programs that give more detail about how to infuse Yoga into a school setting such as Go Grounded Yoga, Yoga 4 Classrooms, and Yoga in My School. Learning a simple Sun Salutation and guiding your class through it, is a quick and easy way to get them moving and mindful of their bodies. Have your students focus on where their bodies are in space as well as how they feel after 1-2 rounds. Also encourage them to focus their attention on their breath, coordinating in and out breaths with each pose in the series. If there is not enough room to do sun salutations focus on some standing poses such as Tree, Mountain or Warrior. Here is the Grounded Flow Clock from the Go Grounded program which is a great visual to help student learn the classic sun salutation. A Yoga break is a great way to transition between activities and get kids blood flowing between long periods of sitting.

3. Mindful Seeing- This a great activity to build children's awareness and ability to sustain focused-attention. It helps children recognize the difference between just looking/labeling something vs. acknowledging/being aware of the personal experience of seeing something in its individuality. Mindful seeing can be accomplished with any object. I like using lemons. Grab about 6 different lemons and have your classroom break into 6 different groups. Assign each group a lemon and have them all look at the lemon very closely. Have them touch it, look for special bumps, notice the size and any individual characteristics. After five minutes collect all the lemons and put them in a basket. Shake the basket then pull out one lemon at a time and have each group try to decide if that is their lemon. This activity helps the children understand the multi-sensory aspects of memory as well as how we engage all of our senses during active observation.

4. Mindful Listening- As music lover I really enjoy this activity and often practice this on my own when I am listening to music or taking a walk. You can pick a children's song (there are a variety of children's songs out there) or a current song from the radio. Try to have the students actively listen to each instrument and melody in the song. It may be helpful to pause the music and hum the bass line, or the melody and then play the song again. Try to have the students focus on one particular part of the song and only that part of the song. For example the guitar may be playing a melody. Teach the students to recognize the guitar and focus on the guitar only. After a couple of minutes switch to another instrument. This is great activity to try during music class. Another listening activity that I enjoy is having students close their eyes and listen to the quiet room for thirty second. After thirty seconds have them list all the sounds that they came up with on the board. Try the same activity again and this time listen quietly in the room for a full minute. See if the class is able to  notice more sounds than before. This is a great activity to anchor students in the moment and practice focused attention and concentration.

5. Wishing Good Will-  Good will wishes are a great way to develop gratitude in your classroom as well as a positive classroom environment. Research has shown favorable results from positive affirmations as well as acknowledging gratitude. Positive Psychology is a growing field that touts neuroscience as support for the positive effects of optimism and other positive thoughts within a classroom setting. One activity to facilitate positivity and interconnectedness in the classroom is developing good will wishes. This can be completed by having students take a mindful minute (as stated above) and think about someone granting them one good will wish that can help someone else. They can send the wish to themselves silently saying "I wish that .....". Have them repeat the wish to themselves silently. Encourage them to notice how they feel when they say the wish. Next, after a minute or two, they can focus on a friend in the class or a family member. Send that person the wish and silently say " I wish that (person of choice)......" Again, encourage them to recognize how they feel when they wish good will to others. After about five minutes have them focus back on their breathing and slowly switch attention back to the classroom. These well wishes can be referred to throughout the day if disagreements arise. It is also a great way to start of the day or week.

By incorporating these ideas into their classrooms, teachers can begin to build mindful awareness and social emotional competence with their students. Although not a full curriculum, these activities can help to foster stress reduction and awareness. They can also help with transitions between activities and create a classroom culture that is ripe for learning. For more information regarding mindfulness in schools, refer to the following links:

Friday, September 28, 2012

To all my ADHD friends .....

                       The story of my life .............................................................

Monday, September 24, 2012

Infographic for Special Education

I guess it is Special Education month, although I had trouble finding any organization or proof that "National Special Education Month" exists. What I did find was this great infographic that takes a really nice look at special education and its numbers over the years.  If anyone knows why September is Special Education Month, let me know.

Special Education 101 Infographic


Friday, September 21, 2012

Afternoon links

  • Great article in New York times   suggest that When children learn to play a musical instrument, they strengthen a range of auditory skills... these skills persist years after lessons stop.

  • That article led me to this place at Northwestern University that has a lot interesting research and such.

  • US Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR) upholds seculsion rooms in a Norh Carolina school district. LINK .... I guess they are not against the law... but they are unethical and not used properly in the majority of cases (IMO).

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Mindful Documentary and more links

  • Great documentary about the work Mindful Schools is doing in the Bay Area.... love the way the girl looks at the bell the first time she hears it.

Room to Breathe Official Trailer from Russell Long on Vimeo.

  • Interesting article about the effects of pot usage on the developing adolescent brain.

  • Here is a great video showing how to incorporate mindful awareness and it links to memory using rocks (This again is apart of the awesome MIND UP curriculum)

  • Are toddlers susceptible to peer pressure ?????

  • Interesting research regarding the different neural pathways activated during pleasure reading vs. critical reading

  • A great quick intervention that I like to use for Anxiety

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

6 Ways of Increasing Comprehension using Social Media

I'm sitting in my office looking over email and trying to get ready for the day when the door bursts open. In comes a frustrated High School special education teacher 3-5 year away from retirement. Cue cliche:"Kids these days, they just don't care. Whatever I say they could care less", he stammers. Seeing that it clearly does not matter to him that I may be in the middle of doing work, I put on my consultant cap and try to see what it is I may be able to help him with. "Can you clarify?",  I ask. He proceeds to tell me that he has tried everything, but his class just does not get it. "They don't understand the Roman empire or Juliues Cesear, even after watching a movie", he moaned. "I asked them to tell me one thing about the movie, one thing... and you know what they said Ben ?? You know what they said? They said it was about Rome." Success!!! You asked for one detail and they gave it to you, I thought.  He grumbled further, "Its like all they care about is their cell phones and the Internet."

Seeing that this was turning into a negative Nancy soliloquy I tried to think of some positive ways to engage the students with what I knew: they love cell phones and social media. So I told the teacher "Why don't you have them tweet about the movie while they are watching it?" His response ... "What is tweet?" At this point I find it fascinating that you can be a High School teacher and not know what Twitter is. However, being that this teacher is still learning to respond to emails I wasn't necessarily surprised. After explaining that they could formulate short thoughts about the movie, which may help with overall comprehension, he became enthusiastic. We started brainstorming other ideas to facilitate knowledge and understanding through social media.

It can often be tiresome for teachers to find ways to help our low ability/ low achieving students understand abstract or complicated academic material. The key to this is modifying instructional delivery to fit their interest and ability level. Although these strategies may not be specifically appropriate for children that do not have disabilities or learn at an average developmental rate, the possibilities are endless when one begins to look towards social media as a means of promoting comprehension and understanding of instruction.  Here are 6 easy ways to use social media to increasing comprehension.

1.) TWEET: Have students compose a tweet (they don't have to send it) after each paragraph they read or scene of a movie they watch. Encourage the student to use a minimum amount of characters to describe the main idea of what they just read. This will not only help them to take notes, it will also help them organize the information in the concise manner that they are used to when tweeting. Another option is to compose a Twitter handle of a person or concept (e.g. WWII), then compose tweets that would be consistent with that user. For example @JuliusCesear: Just finished conquering France #sotired

2.) #Hashtag: A Hashtag in its broadest sense is a way to order discussions on particular topics. For example: #WWII after any post on a social media site will group all of the comments on the topic of World War II together. Interestingly Generation Y has run with this concept and started using Hashtags as ways to express concepts. A teacher could have students compose 10 different Hashtags around a learning objective. For example the students are learning about Shakespear they could compose #playright, #Romeo&Juliet, #London, #GoldenAge, #QueenElizabeth, ect.

3.) Create a Facebook Profile and Timeline: This is a great way to organize and visually represent a concept or person that a student is learning about. Create a Facebook page for that concept or person. Lets say the student is learning about Winston Churchill. What important events would be on his timeline? Google pictures that you could add that would to reinforce the important aspects of his life or that time of history. What would his status updates read? This idea is similar to tweets in that the student what have to summarize important ideas about the topic in short sentences, reinforcing main ideas in a practical manner. One could even do a Facebook page for abstract ideas like Physics, or Photosynthesis.

4.) Compose a Rap or Viral Video on YouTube- Teenagers love You Tube and viral videos. Have student break into pairs and create a short rap or song about the chapter they a learning about. This can be done over a current song (which is has been done to death with that summer of 2012 song). They can film each other then decide which video is the best. Research even suggest music can help with memory     

5.)Create a playlist on Spotify- I love music and it often helps me focus and understand feelings in a deeper manner. Along with helping us remember things music can serve as a great mnemonic device. A student can name the playlist a certain topic e.g. American Revolution. Then each song in the list can serve as a different device to help them remember a key fact from the lesson. For example They could add Beastie Boys Paul Reverie to the list to help them remember Mr. Reverie's his role in the revolution. Helping the child relate the song to the lesson will increase their ability to retain what they have learned. They can then listen to the playlist while they study.

6.) Create a Meme- Ahh the Meme. If there was anything that so exemplified our teenagers today it is the Meme. Typically a Meme says so much with just so little and their are endless examples of how this can be achieved. By using a Meme generator students can use the main idea of a lesson and turn it into a Meme. For example a recent Meme was created for a US Gymnast that was not impressed with her dismal silver medal in the 2012 London Olympic games. Students could try to re-create this Meme with a current event or literary character in order to encourage understanding of a theme or concept. For example the "I'm not impressed Meme" could be used in the context of Scout in "To Kill a Mockingbird." Or maybe create a meme for Philosoraptor  to help explain Plato. The possibilities are endless.

So next time a frustrated teacher comes barging into your office complaining about how all the Special Education kids want to do is play on their phones, tell him "Great, I have just the trick for that."

*It should be noted that these ideas are heavily modified and may only be applicable for children who do not learn at the same rate or style as their peers.  However, I'm sure that you could get creative and use the same strategies for your AP European history class, the integration just may be more complicated. If your a frustrated Special Education teacher let me know how these work.

Quote of the Day

"The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature."

Joseph Campbell

I really enjoy Joseph Campbell, and base my Mindful Heros curriculum off his " The Hero With a Thousand Faces" collected works. This quote exemplifies the need to fulfill our inner goals and desires. Each of us are born with potentiality. By paying attention to the universe and staying in the realm of what is happening now, we are able to find synchronicty in the world around us. Once this happens we function within "our lane" or inherent nature. I believe the younger we find our lanes and follow our nature, the more successful we will become as adults. One of my favorite interview questions to ask children during evaluations is "What do you want to be when you grow up?" This seed, when planted in organic soil, can be the key for a healthy development and fulfilling life.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

5 minute Loving Kindness Meditation for children and other Links

  • Here is a series of Blog Posts about the Mind Up Curriculum, which I use and love...

  • More evidence suggesting that are brains are pre-wired for language

  • Great advice on how to start a loving kindness meditation with your children... loving kindness meditations have shown to increase people's ability to experience positive emotions and we all know the benefits of Positive Psychology

  • Here is an interesting research study involving implicit and explicit theory of mind... it purports that implicit theory of mind is observed in children as young as 7 months old but is partly impacted by executive processing...

  • Brain scans appear to suggest separable parts of the brain are impacted by puberty (hormones) and age with regards to activity within the social network of the brain.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

TTYL ... or not

With the rise of technology as a purveyor of social interactions and information, society has to rely on messaging as a means of communication. Whether it is email, text messaging, video chatting or any number of numerous applications used on smart phones (Whats Ap, Hey Tell, BBM, i message, ect....) technology seems to be the middle man that sells our social exchanges. Within the context of efficiency this has made out lives a lot easier. We can respond to others on the go, return messages with ease and even automate responses to others- effectively making ourselves available 24/7. However, as fully functioning adults most of us have had practice developing our interpersonal skills prior to relying on technology. We have had meetings with teachers, talks with coaches and middle school social gatherings, all of which have helped to shape our social etiquette and ability to self-reflect on our role in face-to-face interactions. Fast forward to Generation Y , or the Mellenials (those born between 1981 and 2000 ), and suddenly there is a great number of individuals that have grown up not knowing what it is like to have to call someone on the phone or, heaven for bid, write a letter. Although some of the early Generation Y babies grew up during the transition to the digital age (1981- 1991), many children in this generation (and the one coming after it) will grow up in an era where communication will no longer require another human being to be physically present. What are the social ramifications of this? How will this impact our future generations ability to problem solve and communicate effectively? The short answer is IDK (I don't know). Unfortunately this is a question that will have to be discussed within our nations school system, where children first learn the ability to work with others and develop face-to face communication skill.

A recent consumer report indicates that of the 20 million minors who use Facebook, 1/3 are under the age of 13 (which is the minimum age necessary for an account as well as the age of protection for the Children's Online Privacy Act). Among these users 5 million are under the age of 10 and are unsupervised by their parents. Along with minors using social media to communicate, daily text messaging has increased from 50 messages per day in 2009 to 60 messages per day in 2011. Texting has become the number one preferred manner of communication for teenagers (talking face to face is a dismal third according to a 2010 pew research report.) Data suggests that even with the opportunity to have a face-to-face conversations over phones and computers, only 1 in 5 Americans have even tried it. Not having to face someone else is the easy way out and eliminates the emotional baggage that comes with face-to-face conversations. This is the logical progression of a society that is obsessed with efficiency.  The data is overwhelmingly obvious of the transition away from face-to-face communication as the preferred method for our nations youth; however, interpersonal communication is a skill that must be developed in future generations.

As children grow and navigate through the world, they must use language and communication to develop schemas in order to understand reality. These schemas are created through active construction with the world around them. A child must assimilate new information into a schema in order to create an understanding between what they know and what they perceive. If there is a discrepancy between what is know and what is experienced, then preconceived notions must be accommodated in order to support this new experience. This is especially important in during communication with others. According to communication researcher Albert Mehrabian, when we are forming an attitude (or in this case a schema) during a social exchange 55% of our information comes from nonverbal cues, 38% comes from tone of voice and 7% comes from word meaning. These numbers form the basis of the infamous 7:38:55 % rule. Now it should be noted that these numbers are applicable within the context of creating a judgement (like or dislike) regarding what is being said  or how it is being said. For example, an eighth grade student telling another 8 grade student "That bag is soooo swag (cool)." If one is confused whether they are being serious or sarcastic, most will heavily rely on tone and nonverbal cues such as body language to decipher such.

 Hopefully we can see where this is all going. As children mature and have to read ambiguous social communication cues it is imperative that they hone their nonverbal communication abilities. Cyber-bullying as well as child predators thrive on the inability to perceive nonverbal cues during exchanges on Facebook or other social media. Further, as online learning websites grow in popularity,  children will begin to miss out on the group work and teacher scaffolding that builds social skills and communication. Most important is the emotional context which is lost through "e communication". When using social media and texting, we don't build the empathy, shared enjoyment and theory of mind necessary to not only sustain relationships but also learn about the world.

 As technology grew, schools made it a point to educate our children on how to use technology, from media classes to integrating technology into curriculum. However, when this technology takes over as a dominant form of communication style it will also be our responsibility as educators to teach effective communication styles. This will most likely need to be directly taught as it is with children with Autism and Asperger's Syndrome. Just as there is now a class period to learn how to use a computer, it may be necessary to have a class period in the future to learn how to read others in face-to-face conversations.

Reviewing some of the current interventions in this area leads mostly to social skill interventions with regards to children with Asperger's Disorder, Autism and Emotional/ Behavioral difficulties. However, as this issue continues to grow these programs may also be appropriate for kids who are more intent on texting than talking:

Empirically based Social Skills programs:

"Stop and Think" Social Skills Program (Knoff): Part of Project ACHIEVE (Knoff and Batsche). Has demonstrated success in reducing student discipline referrals to the principal's office, school suspensions, and expulsions; fostering positive school climates and prosocial interactions; increasing students' on-task behavior; and improving academic performance.

  • Primary Mental Health Project (Cowen et al.) Targets children K-3 and addresses social and emotional problems that interfere with effective learning. It has been shown to improve learning and social skills, reduce acting, shyness and anxious behaviors, and increase frustration tolerances.

  • The EQUIP Program (Gibbs, Potter, & Goldstein) Offers a three-part intervention method for working with antisocial or behavior disordered adolescents. The approach includes training in moral judgment, anger management/correction of thinking errors, and prosocial skills.

  • The PREPARE Curriculum (Goldstein) Presents a series of 10 course-length interventions grouped into three areas: reducing aggression, reducing stress, and reducing prejudice. It is designed for use with middle school and high school students but can be adapted for use with younger students.

  • The ACCEPTS Program (Walker et al) Offers a complete curriculum for teaching effective social skills to students at middle and high school levels. The program teaches peer-to-peer skills, skills for relating to adults, and self-management skills.

  • Monday, September 10, 2012

    Yoga may help children with Autism and other links

    • In honor of Yoga awareness month this post helps to nicely summarize some of the recent research that exhibit positive effects of Yoga with children who have Autism Spectrum Disorders. I for one enjoy the Occupational Therapist taking the lead with this as Yoga delivered through Individualized Education Plan (IEP) goals may be a very practical manner of service delivery in schools.

    • Great Op-ED in the New York times discussing how advancements in epigenetics have started to link father's health to the development of their unborn children. It appears that a child's development is not solely linked to mother's prenatal health care.

    • The second annual Mindfulness Day is this Wednesday September 12th.  I would suggest taking the advice Iyanla Vanzant: "Pause Boo... Take a Breath"

    • Not sure how I feel about this one. It looks like companies are starting to use Mindfulness practices in order to decrease multi-tasking and increase productivity/revenue. This seems a bit counter intuitive to the movement. What would Buddha say??

    • Hooray !!! Scientists have used Artificial Intelligence to shorten the Autism Diagnostic Interview- Revised (ADI-R)... maybe I will start giving it now.

    Friday, August 31, 2012

    Flow is Not Just the Name of Your Secratary

    There are times when we are so consumed with what we are doing that time seems to let go of its hold on us, are bodies are in-sync and our conscious flies on auto-pilot. No... I'm not talking about walking up the stairs to your bedroom after a night of drinking, I'm talking about being in the moment or what I call "driving in your lane, with the windows down." This may come to a teacher when they are deep in a pedagogical moment with childrens' eyes fixed on them in wonder. It may come to a tennis player, when they are no longer thinking about what shot they are going to hit next; driving a backhand cross court. Or it may even come to a mother as she scaffolds her daughter through the moment of riding a bike for the first time without training wheels.

    We can call this moment of full immersion: Flow. This concept was developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (huh?????? yes he is almost as famous for his name and is generally just know as Mr. C) and really provided the basis for the Positive Psychology movement. Mr. C talks about Flow being "a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation. It is a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter (Csikszentmihalyi,1990)." He writes about this experience in his book "Finding Flow" :

    I find this idea of Flow very similar to the mindful awareness that is fostered through a daily mindfulness practice. With the practice of mindful meditation and yoga we are able to influence our capacity to experience Flow in our everyday lives and increase the wonder and happiness of the fulfillment that accompanies it. Mr. C writes "To achieve a flow state, a balance must be struck between the challenge of the task and the skill of the performer. If the task is too easy or too difficult, flow cannot occur. Both skill level and challenge level must be matched and high; if skill and challenge are low and matched, then apathy results (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997)." I believe this is an over statement. When we make focused attention part of our daily experience, Flow will become part of our reality no matter the challenge level of the task at hand. Acknowledging this feeling of Flow helps us make meaning in our lives. It also helps us be confident in our life's lane (or purpose).

    I was listening to one of my favorite rock bands the other day and could help to think that this song not only represented the wonder of being in the moment, but also how we can reach the feeling of Flow from focusing our attention on even the simplest daily activities.

    The full lyrics can be found here, but I found this verse to be particularly germane to the post above.
    Like a tropical forest
    Like a cop on the beat
    When all is in order
    You get lost in the heat
    With focused attention and a mindful approach to life we can stay in the moment and experience Flow in the world around us. This will help to increase our ability to enjoy life as fully functioning human beings. It will also give us the keys to the ignition so we can drive in our lane with the top down and the wind blowing through our hair!
    Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1998). Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement With Everyday Life. Basic Books
    Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper and Row


    Quick Links - Hispanics twice as likley to have Developmental Delays??

    • Hispanic children twice as likely to have Developmental Delays.... Yikes, however looking at the study they may need to do a little more research regarding the effects of Second Language Acquisition
    • However it appears that becoming bi-cultural increases creativity
    • This school in suburban Philadelphia is teaching kids with Asperger's Disorder how to use effective communication through broadcast journalism. They are watching themselves back and working on their communication skills.... Love it

    • Love this idea for character development in the classroom.... Have your student write their end of the year legacy today... Imagine yourself at the end of the year assembly... What would your principal say about you??? Plant those seeds of intention.

    Tuesday, August 28, 2012

    4 Steps to Prevent Unhelpful Narratives

    As I sit in my office and review a file for a meeting I will have in the next half-hour, I am making every effort to use non-judgement to prevent pre-conceived notions about a parent. I have not met the parent. I have observed their child for a concise 20 minutes. However,  I have been exposed to a narrative that has come from everyone from the teacher all the way to the janitors... "Oh you are meeting with her?" "You better bring a Lawyer with you." "She is a piece of work." "I think she just want to make our lives hell."

    Working in a school constantly exposes you to narratives and assumptions from personnel regarding parents, students and other teachers. Listening and processing these narratives feeds our left- brain.The left brain is responsible for logic and is in charge of verbalizing internal thoughts and feelings. The left hemisphere is also responsible for creating our life story, or autobiographical narrative. As such, when we process negative verbal information that we also begin to create our own narratives e.g. "Ugh I don't want to talk to that teacher", "That parent doesn't care about their child", "This student is just lazy".  You can't fault your left brain for stringing together this verbal information, as its doing its job. The left brain is really amazing and gives us novels, movies and the ability to put our feeling into words. However, the left brain's drive for giving verbal context to sensory information is so strong that it can often confabulate a story, taking cues from what it knows and putting them together in an answer that makes sense, even if it leaves out important information.  For this reason alone we must be able to stop serving it and call it a cab before it gets drunk on power. Not doing so can create opinions or judgments about things that may not take the whole picture into account.

    Creating false narratives can be a disadvantage in a field that requires empirically based observations and data based decision making. The word empirical in its self implies that which is acquired through sensory experience, rather than left brain concocted theories. Therefore when making decisions, completing observations or going into a situation that already carries a narrative (most meetings), it is imperative to take these steps to stay in the moment and making informed observations about what is happening in the now.

    1. Take a 3 Deep Breathes: Mindfulness and breathing are inseparable, and deep breathing is suggested ad nauseam  as a means to anchor yourself. Well it works and focusing on your breath will help you prepare to identify those pesky narratives with they jump into your head.
    2. Take a quick body scan and notice how your body is feeling in the moment. Are you nervous? Is your heart beating faster than normal? Are your shoulders or jaw clenched. Noticing these somatic triggers will help you stay aware of the mind body connection. If your body is in a state of stress it will more likely grasp for any narrative it can in order to explain why you are feeling as such, even if this narrative has no basis in what is actually happening.
    3. Notice the narrative when it arises: Here is where non-judgement comes into play. Notice judgments,  preconceived notions and assumptions when they pop-up. Acknowledge them as such and move your sensory awareness back to the task at hand, whether it be listening, writing or observing what is happening in the moment. 
    4. Creative a new narrative: In the moment of acknowledging a toxic narrative it can be helpful to label it and creative a new narrative in a non-judgmental fashion. For example if a teacher says something along the lines of "I don't think this student's parent cares about school, he never returns his homework." Instead of using this information to create a theory of why homework is not returned, you can just repeat to yourself "listening", or "helping". These anchor words will help to create space between what is actually going on and what the toxic narrative is explaining is going on. I had a teacher same something similar to me once. We later found out that the student was doing all the homework; however he wasn't turning it in. Weeks of homework and assignments were crumbled up in balls at the bottom of his back pack. 
    By having a consistent mindfulness practice we are better able to create the awareness necessary to not only notice maladaptive narratives when they arise, but also use our sensory experience to gain empirical information about what is actually happening in the moment. We can become better practitioners, consultants and team members if we stay in the moment and work with what is actually happening now, rather than continuing a story that our drunk Uncle Left Brain started weeks ago.

    Quick Links

    • Stress reduction approaches like mindfulness and biofeedback could be as important to your physical fitness as crunches

    • I appears that Classical Conditioning works while your asleep as well ...

    • It appears that personality traits such as self-control and procrastination may have a stronger impact on grades in school than say....cognitive ability . I always knew that Type A captain of the debate team wasn't really that smart....

    • Exergaming (I guess that's a thing now), you know the whole idea of exercising while playing video games, appears to help task performance in children; specifically the ability to process interference from conflicting  visuospatial stimuli. Practical Applications???? Maybe Dance Dance Revolution may help children become better proof readers.

    Monday, August 27, 2012

    Monday Morning Poem

    Along with starting the day off with an intention, I like to start the week off with an overarching manifestation. This one comes from the  book Tao Of Jeet Kun Doe, by Bruce Lee, which among technical martial arts instructions, lies zen musings and teachings. People and athletes who are at the height of their craft often speak about being in the "zone." They intuitively feel and respond to what is happening around them with little cognitive mediation. This awareness is what being in the moment is all about. Thanks to Pocket Mindfulness for the link. The author is reportedly a Tao Priest and the poem has no title.

    Into a soul absolutely free
    From thoughts and emotion,
    Even the tiger finds no room
    To insert its fierce claws
    One and the same breeze passes
    Over the pines on the mountain
    And the oak tress in the valley;
    And why do they give different notes
    No thinking, no reflecting,
    Perfect emptiness;
    Yet therein something moves,
    Following its own course
    The eye sees it,
    But no hand can take hold of it -
    The moon in the stream
    Clouds and mists
    They are midair transformations;
    Above them eternally shine the sun and the moon
    Victory is for the one,
    Even before combat,
    Who has no thought of himself,
    Abiding is the no-mind-ness of Great Origin