Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Exercising Makes Kids Smarter!

According to an article in today's New York Times, Phys Ed: Can Exercise Make Kids Smarter? two new studies have shown that exercising aerobically can make kids smarter and help them perform better on tests. It can even enlarge important portions of the brain (9 and 10 year old children were tested and imaged).

Previous studies found that fitter kids generally scored better on such tests. And in this case, too, those children performed better on the tests. But the M.R.I.’s provided a clearer picture of how it might work. They showed that fit children had significantly larger basal ganglia, a key part of the brain that aids in maintaining attention and “executive control,” or the ability to coordinate actions and thoughts crisply.
Meanwhile, in a separate, newly completed study by many of the same researchers at the University of Illinois, a second group of 9- and 10-year-old children were also categorized by fitness levels and had their brains scanned, but they completed different tests, this time focusing on complex memory. Such thinking is associated with activity in the hippocampus, a structure in the brain’s medial temporal lobes. Sure enough, the M.R.I. scans revealed that the fittest children had heftier hippocampi.
When looking at the result of these two studies researchers noted:
The two studies did not directly overlap, but the researchers, in their separate reports, noted that the hippocampus and basal ganglia regions interact in the human brain, structurally and functionally. Together they allow some of the most intricate thinking. If exercise is responsible for increasing the size of these regions and strengthening the connection between them, being fit may “enhance neurocognition” in young people, the authors concluded.

So kids need to get moving so they can develop a larger basal ganglia and a larger hippocampus. I am thrilled to see that running is incoperated into the PE program at New Searles this year for all children. Many students in the upper grades are also participating in the cross-country program. Exercise is just plain fun, too!

Another note in the article mentions the benefit of a walk before taking a test.

At the same time, evidence accumulates about the positive impact of even small amounts of aerobic activity. Past studies from the University of Illinois found that “just 20 minutes of walking” before a test raised children’s scores, even if the children were otherwise unfit or overweight, says Charles Hillman, a professor of kinesiology at the university and the senior author of many of the recent studies.
And if you think just playing around on the Wi is adequate exercise, a final note states:

So get kids moving, he added, and preferably away from their Wiis. A still-unpublished study from his lab compared the cognitive impact in young people of 20 minutes of running on a treadmill with 20 minutes of playing sports-style video games at a similar intensity. Running improved test scores immediately afterward. Playing video games did not.

A simply wonderful book about the value of exercise in the life of students is Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John Ratey. After reading just the first chapters of the book last spring, I wanted to buy copies for the entire Nashua Board of Education, but then I remembered that they don't pay me enough to be so generous, so I went out for long run instead.

Monday, September 6, 2010

A fresh look at study habits

"Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits" is an article in the New York Times written by Benedict Carey. At the beginning of this new school year, it is interesting to note that current research shows that what is often assumed to be good study habits, "Clear a quiet work space. Stick to a homework schedule. Set goals. Set boundaries. Do not bribe (except in emergencies) may not really be the best way to study after all. The article states that "cognitive scientists have shown that a few simple techniques can reliably improve what matters most: how much a student learns from studying." Research shows that, "instead of sticking to one study location, simply alternating the room where a person studies improves retention. So does studying distinct but related skills or concepts in one sitting, rather than focusing intensely on a single thing." The article goes on to describe why this may matter in our minds. It is an interesting article definitely worth studying.