Learning Course #3: Readings from week 1 #LH2L1

The optional readings for week 1 of the Learning course* I am taking were interesting. Here is a set of quotes/highlights from them:

John Hamilton. (October 17, 2013). “Brains Sweep Themselves Clean of Toxins During Sleep.” NPR All Things Considered.

  • During sleep, the flow of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain increases dramatically, washing away harmful waste proteins that build up between brain cells during waking hours, a study of mice found….
  • The best explanation yet of why animals and people need sleep. If this proves to be true in humans as well, it could help explain a mysterious association between sleep disorders and brain diseases, including Alzheimer’s….
  • So why doesn’t the brain do this sort of housekeeping all the time? Nedergaard thinks it’s because cleaning takes a lot of energy….
  • The report also offers a tantalizing hint of a new approach to Alzheimer’s prevention, Bateman says. “It does raise the possibility that one might be able to actually control sleep in a way to improve the clearance of beta amyloid and help prevent amyloidosis that we think can lead to Alzheimer’s disease.”

Anne Trafton. (July 21, 2014), “Try, try again? Study says no: Trying harder makes it more difficult to learn some aspects of language, neuroscientists find.Science Daily.

  • Neuroscientists find that trying harder makes it more difficult to learn some aspects of language. When it comes to learning languages, adults and children have different strengths.
  • Adults excel at absorbing the vocabulary needed to navigate a grocery store or order food in a restaurant, but children have an uncanny ability to pick up on subtle nuances of language, sometimes speaking a second language like a native speaker within months.
  • Brain structure plays an important role in this “sensitive period” for learning language, which is believed to end around adolescence.

Richard C. Mohs. “How Human Memory Works.” How Stuff Works.

  • Memory is located not in one particular place in the brain but is instead a brain-wide process.
  • What seems to be a single memory is actually a complex construction.
  • Encoding is the first step in creating a memory. It’s a biological phenomenon, rooted in the senses, that begins with perception. It is encoded and stored using the language of electricity and chemicals.
  • The connections between brain cells aren’t set in concrete — they change all the time.
  • To properly encode a memory, you must first be paying attention.
  • there are three ways we store memories: first in the sensory stage; then in short-term memory; and ultimately, for some memories, in long-term memory.
  • When you want to remember something, you retrieve the information on an unconscious level, bringing it into your conscious mind at will.
  • If you’ve forgotten something, it may be because you didn’t encode it very effectively, because you were distracted while encoding should have taken place, or because you’re having trouble retrieving it.
  • Age-dependent loss of [memory] function appears in many animals, and it begins with the onset of sexual maturity.
  • Studies of nursing-home populations show that patients were able to make significant improvements in memory when given rewards and challenges.

James Morehead (June 19, 2012). “Stanford University’s Carol Dweck on the Growth Mindset and Education.”OneDublin.org.

  • Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck

    Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck

    In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits.

  • In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence.
  • Both mindsets are widely held, are rampant in our culture.
  • Steve Job’s had a real growth mindset about himself. He was constantly experimenting, using the feedback and creating new things from it. But I don’t think he necessarily had a growth mindset about other people.
  • Praising [kids’] intelligence backfires. It puts them in a fixed mindset and not want challenges. They don’t want to risk looking stupid or risk making mistakes. Kids praised for intelligence curtail their learning in order to never make a mistake, in order to preserve the label you gave to them.
  • Students praised for the process they engaged in – their effort, their strategies, their focus, their perseverance – these kids take on hard tasks and stick with them, even if they make lots of mistakes. They learn more in the long run.
  • After a poor score on a test the students with a fixed mindset say yes, they would seriously consider cheating.
  • The way we praise, the way we talk to kids, all of these messages are conveying a value system. We have to really send the right messages, that taking on a challenging task is what I admire. Sticking to something and trying many strategies, that’s what I admire. That struggling means you’re committed to something and are willing to work hard.

Gretchen Reynolds. (April 30, 2014). Want to be More Creative? Take a Walk.The New York Times.

  • An significantly increase creativity, according to a handy new study.
  • Exercise has long been linked anecdotally to creativity.
  • Walking markedly improved people’s ability to generate creative ideas, even when they sat down after the walk.
  • When volunteers strolled Stanford’s pleasant, leafy campus for about eight minutes, they generated more creative ideas than when they sat either inside or outside for the same length of time.
  • Just how a brief, casual stroll alters the various mental processes related to creativity remains unclear.

Brigid Schulte, (May 16, 2014). “For a more productive life, daydream.” CNN Opinion.

  • Brigid Schulte Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time

    Brigid Schulte Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time

    Legend has it not only that Archimedes had his “eureka!” moment about water displacement while relaxing in the tub, but that Einstein worked out the Theory of Relativity while tootling around on his bicycle.

  • Though Protestant work ethic-driven Americans have tended to worry about the devil holding sway in idle time, it turns out idle time is crucial for creativity, innovation and breakthrough thinking.
  • The default mode network is like a series of airport hubs in different and typically unconnected parts of the brain. And that’s why it’s so crucial. When the brain flips into idle mode, this network subconsciously puts together stray thoughts, makes seemingly random connections and enables us to see an old problem in an entirely new light.
  • just before that moment of insight, the brain turns inward, what they call a “brain blink,” and lights up an area believed to be linked to our ability to understand the poetry of metaphors.
  • You need this oscillation between deep study with focused attention and daydreaming.
  • Companies pressure workers to be in the office, to work all the time. But at the same time, they’re really interested in innovation, which comes from letting go.
  • Art, literature, inventions, innovation, philosophy has come as a result of a delicate balance between the uninterrupted time in leisure to daydream, to set the default mode network free, and the concentrated time at work to make those flights of whim and fancy something real.
  • Philosopher Bertrand Russell, in his famous 1932 essay, “In Praise of Idleness,” advocated a four-hour workday and more leisure time for all.
  • Our antiquated laws give no overwork protection to knowledge workers.

Sumathi Reddy, (July 21, 2014). “Why Seven Hours of Sleep Might Be Better than Eight.” The Wall Street Journal.

  • Several sleep studies have found that seven hours is the optimal amount of sleep—not eight, as was long believed—when it comes to certain cognitive and health markers, although many doctors question that conclusion.
  • Skimping on a full night’s sleep, even by 20 minutes, impairs performance and memory the next day.
  • Getting too much sleep—not just too little of it—is associated with health problems including diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease and with higher rates of death, studies show.
  • People who reported they slept 6.5 to 7.4 hours had a lower mortality rate than those with shorter or longer sleep.
  • Other experts caution against studies showing ill effects from too much sleep.
  • Cognitive performance increased as people got more sleep, reaching a peak at seven hours before starting to decline.
  • People should be able to figure out their optimal amount of sleep in a trial of three days to a week, ideally while on vacation.
  • Five healthy adults were placed in what the researchers called Stone Age-like conditions in Germany for more than two months—without electricity, clocks or running water. Participants fell asleep about two hours earlier and got on average 1.5 hours more sleep than was estimated in their normal lives, the study said. Their average amount of sleep per night: 7.2 hours.

Robert Wright, (April 21, 2012). How to Break the Procrastination HabitThe Atlantic. (Charles Duhigg’s book,The Power of Habit, which is mentioned in the article, is also great!)

Daniel J. Levitin, (August 9, 2014), “Hit the Reset Button in Your Brain,” The New York Times.

  • But beware the false break. Make sure you have a real one. The summer vacation is more than a quaint tradition. Along with family time, mealtime and weekends, it is an important way that we can make the most of our beautiful brains.
  • The processing capacity of the conscious mind is limited.
  • Our brains have two dominant modes of attention: the task-positive network and the task-negative network (they’re called networks because they comprise distributed networks of neurons, like electrical circuits within the brain).
  • The daydreaming mode, marked by the flow of connections among disparate ideas and thoughts, is responsible for our moments of greatest creativity and insight.
  • The attentional filter, helps to orient our attention, to tell us what to pay attention to and what we can safely ignore.
  • The switch between daydreaming and attention is controlled in a part of the brain called the insula, an important structure about an inch or so beneath the surface of the top of your skull. The efficacy of this switch varies from person to person, in some functioning smoothly, in others rather rusty.
  • If you want to be more productive and creative, and to have more energy, the science dictates that you should partition your day into project periods. Your social networking should be done during a designated time, not as constant interruptions to your day.
  • Email, too, should be done at designated times.
  • Increasing creativity will happen naturally as we tame the multitasking and immerse ourselves in a single task for sustained periods.
  • Daydreaming leads to creativity, and creative activities teach us agency, the ability to change the world, to mold it to our liking, to have a positive effect on our environment.
  • Taking breaks is biologically restorative. Naps are even better.

Charlie Tyson, (August 14, 2014), “Failure to Replicate,” Inside Higher Ed.  This is a very interesting overview article about the state of affairs in education research.

* This blog entry is part of my series on the “Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects” course I am taking.

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