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Posts Tagged ‘Schools’

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Bill Gates, Father of three adorable children shares his love of books. Reading is crucial and the backbone to everything we do in life….here are some of his favorites.

 

~My Favorite Books~
By Bill Gates

 
Never before have I felt so empowered to learn as I do today. When I was young, there were few options to learn on my own. My parents had a set of World Book Encyclopedias, which I read through in alphabetical order. But there were no online courses, video lectures, or podcasts to introduce me to new ideas and thinkers as we have today.
Still, reading books is my favorite way to learn about a new topic. I’ve been reading about a book a week on average since I was a kid. Even when my schedule is out of control, I carve out a lot of time for reading.

 
If you’re looking for a book to enjoy, here are some of my favorites from this year. They cover an eclectic mix of topics—from tennis to tennis shoes, genomics to great leadership. They’re all very well written, and they all dropped me down a rabbit hole of unexpected insights and pleasures.

 

 

String Theory, by David Foster Wallace. This book has nothing to do with physics, but its title will make you look super smart if you’re reading it on a train or plane. String Theory is a collection of five of Wallace’s best essays on tennis, a sport I gave up in my Microsoft days and am once again pursuing with a passion. You don’t have to play or even watch tennis to love this book. The late author wielded a pen as skillfully as Roger Federer wields a tennis racket. Here, as in his other brilliant works, Wallace found mind-blowing ways of bending language like a metal spoon.

 
Shoe Dog, by Phil Knight. This memoir, by the co-founder of Nike, is a refreshingly honest reminder of what the path to business success really looks like: messy, precarious, and riddled with mistakes. I’ve met Knight a few times over the years. He’s super nice, but he’s also quiet and difficult to get to know. Here Knight opens up in a way few CEOs are willing to do. I don’t think Knight sets out to teach the reader anything. Instead, he accomplishes something better. He tells his story as honestly as he can. It’s an amazing tale.

 
The Gene, by Siddhartha Mukherjee. Doctors are deemed a “triple threat” when they take care of patients, teach medical students, and conduct research. Mukherjee, who does all of these things at Columbia University, is a “quadruple threat,” because he’s also a Pulitzer Prize– winning author. In his latest book, Mukherjee guides us through the past, present, and future of genome science, with a special focus on huge ethical questions that the latest and greatest genome technologies provoke. Mukherjee wrote this book for a lay audience, because he knows that the new genome technologies are at the cusp of affecting us all in profound ways.

 
The Myth of the Strong Leader, by Archie Brown. This year’s fierce election battle prompted me to pick up this 2014 book, by an Oxford University scholar who has studied political leadership—good, bad, and ugly—for more than 50 years. Brown shows that the leaders who make the biggest contributions to history and humanity generally are not the ones we perceive to be “strong leaders.” Instead, they tend to be the ones who collaborate, delegate, and negotiate—and recognize that no one person can or should have all the answers. Brown could not have predicted how resonant his book would become in 2016.

 
Honorable mention: The Grid, by Gretchen Bakke. This book, about our aging electrical grid, fits in one of my favorite genres: “Books About Mundane Stuff That Are Actually Fascinating.” Part of the reason I find this topic fascinating is because my first job, in high school, was writing software for the entity that controls the power grid in the Northwest. But even if you have never given a moment’s thought to how electricity reaches your outlets, I think this book would convince you that the electrical grid is one of the greatest engineering wonders of the modern world. I think you would also come to see why modernizing the grid is so complex and so critical for building our clean-energy future.

 

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TRACING LINKS BETWEEN MUSICAL TRAINING AND EXECUTIVE FUNCTION — AND BOLSTERING THE CASE FOR MUSIC IN SCHOOLS

 

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If educators want to develop critical, creative thinkers who can set and accomplish their own goals — and who can use those skills to strengthen their math and reading skills — they may want to take another look inside the music room.

For a child to play an instrument, she needs to stick to her goals, pay sustained attention, and be flexible enough to switch back and forth between tempos and styles. These habits draw heavily on executive function (EF) skills, cognitive processes that include problem-solving, goal setting, and flexible thinking. A number of studies have found that EF skills contribute hugely to students’ success in math and reading.

But music doesn’t just require EF skills; it may be a pathway to building them. That’s according to findings by developmental psychologist Nadine Gaab, whose work shows that people who play a musical instrument regularly have higher executive function skills than non-musicians — a significant finding for educators.

THE RESEARCH

In a 2014 study, Gaab and her research team, including Jennifer Zuk, Ed.M.’10; Christopher Benjamin; and Arnold Kenyon, examined 30 adults between 18 and 35, and 27 children between 9 and 12. Half the participants were “musical”: The adult musicians either were seeking or had obtained a performance degree and practiced at least eight hours a week, and the children had been taking private instrumental lessons for an average of 5.2 years.

The researchers examined the participants as they performed various tasks measuring EF skills. In a “verbal fluency” test, for example, the participants had to name in one minute as many words as possible starting with an assigned letter, excluding people, places, or numbers. In a “trail making” test, they had to draw straight lines as quickly as possible connecting numbers and letters in numerical and chronological order, while switching between numbers and letters.

The children in the study also performed several “set shifting” tasks under an fMRI, in which they had to press different buttons depending on audio and visual stimuli.

The results?

Overall, the musical participants performed better on several, although not all, of the executive function tests.

  • Both adult and children musicians exhibited higher cognitive flexibility than non-musicians.
  • The adult musicians showed a more proficient working memory, and the child musicians exhibited faster processing speed, than their non-musician peers.
  • Most significant, the researchers found differences in brain activation between child musicians and non-musicians. “We had more activation in areas of the brain I often call the ‘CEO regions’” — the frontal regions associated with executive function — “in the children who had musical training compared to others,” says Gaab.

IMPLICATIONS FOR FAMILIES AND SCHOOLS

Practicing a musical instrument, it seems, is directly correlated with increased executive function. So should parents rush to sign up their children for private lessons? Should schools redouble their focus on music?

Possibly, says Gaab. Their study was not a longitudinal one, in which researchers would have analyzed a group of children before beginning their musical training and then again after they had been regularly practicing. Consequently, she cannot say with certainty if practicing music increases EF, or if it’s the other way around. “Kids and adults who have really good executive function skills might stick longer with music or might be more drawn toward music,” explains Gaab.

However, this research does answer a crucial question left open by other studies that have found a link between music and cognitive function. A child musician might have strong EF skills because a family that can afford private instrument lessons is likely providing other forms of enrichment too, such as a language-rich household or stimulating summer camps. Gaab’s study controlled for IQ and socioeconomic status, however, showing that musical training, not other experiences, is the factor linked to EF.

So while the exact causal connection between executive function and music remains unclear, the researchers still advise schools to take note. “Replacing music programs with reading or math instruction in our nation’s school curricula in order to boost standardized test scores,” they write, “may actually lead to deficient skills in other cognitive areas.”

Written By Leah Shafer

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What do we know about bilingualism? Much of what we once thought we knew — that speaking two languages is confusing for children, that it poses cognitive challenges best avoided — is now known to be inaccurate. Today, bilingualism is often seen as a brain-sharpening benefit, a condition that can protect and preserve cognitive function well into old age.

Gigi Luk Connecting research in psychology, cognitive neuroscience and education, Gigi Luk investigates how bilingual experiences influence cognition, learning, and the brain in children and adults.

Gigi Luk Connecting research in psychology, cognitive neuroscience and education, Gigi Luk investigates how bilingual experiences influence cognition, learning, and the brain in children and adults.

Indeed, the very notion of bilingualism is changing; language mastery is no longer seen as an either/or proposition, even though most schools still measure English proficiency as a binary “pass or fail” marker.

It turns out that there are many ways to be bilingual, according to HGSE Associate Professor Gigi Luk, who studies the lasting cognitive consequences of speaking multiple languages. “Bilingualism is a complex and multifaceted life experience,” she says; it’s an “interactional experience” that happens within — and in response to — a broader social context.

Usable Knowledge spoke with Luk about her research and its applications.

BILINGUALISM AND EXECUTIVE FUNCTION

As bilingual children toggle between two languages, they use cognitive resources beyond those required for simple language acquisition, Luk writes in a forthcoming edition of the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Child Development. Recent research has shown that bilingual children outperform monolingual children on tasks that tap into executive function — skills having to do with attention control, reasoning, and flexible problem solving.

Their strength in those tasks likely results from coping with and overcoming the demand of managing two languages. In a bilingual environment, children learn to recognize meaningful speech sounds that belong to two different languages but share similar concepts.

In a paper published earlier this year, she and her colleagues looked at how bilingualism affects verbal fluency — efficiency at retrieving words — in various stages of childhood and adulthood. In one measure of verbal acumen called letter fluency — the ability to list words that begin with the letter F, for instance — bilinguals enjoyed an advantage over monolinguals that began at age 10 and grew robust in adulthood.

BILINGUALISM AND THE AGING BRAIN

Luk and her researchers are looking at the neuroscience of bilingualism — at how bilingualism may affect the physical structure of the brain in its different regions.

What they’ve found so far shows that older adults who are lifelong bilinguals have more white matter in their frontal lobes (important to executive function) than monolinguals, and that their temporal lobes (important to language function) are better preserved. The results support other evidence that persistent bilingual experience shapes brain functions and structures.

A growing body of evidence suggests that lifelong bilingualism is associated with the delayed diagnosis of dementia. But the impact of language experience on brain activity is not well understood, Luk says.

In a 2015 paper, she and her colleagues began to look at functional brain networks in monolingual and bilingual older adults. Their findings support the idea that a language experience begun in childhood and continued throughout adulthood influences brain networks in ways that may provide benefits far later in life.

WHO IS BILINGUAL?

Monolingualism and bilingualism are not static categories, Luk says, so the question of what it means to be bilingual, and who is bilingual, is nuanced. There are several pathways to bilingualism. A child can become bilingual when parents and caregivers speak both languages frequently, either switching between the two. A child can be bilingual when the language spoken at home differs from a community’s dominant language, which the child is exposed to in schools. Or a child can become bilingual when he or she speaks the community’s dominant language at home but attends an immersion program at school.

Bilingualism is an experience that accumulates and changes over time, in response to a child’s learning environments, says Luk.

LANGUAGE DIVERSITY IN SCHOOLS

In one of her projects, Luk works with a group of ELL directors to help them understand the diverse needs of their language learners and to find better ways to engage their parents. She’s looking at effective ways to measure bilingualism in schools; at connections between the science of bilingualism and language and literacy outcomes; and at the long-term relationship between academic outcomes and the quality and quantity of bilingual experience in young children.

Part of her goal is to help schools move beyond binary categorizations like “ELL” and “English proficient” and to recognize that language diversity brings challenges but also long-term benefits.

“If we only look at ELL or English proficient, that’s not a representation of the whole spectrum of bilingualism,” she says. “To embrace bilingualism, rather than simply recognizing this phenomenon, we need to consider both the challenges and strengths of children with diverse language backgrounds. We cannot do this by only looking at English proficiency. Other information, such as home language background, will enrich our understanding of bilingual development and learning.”