I’ve always been a Newsweek fan. And in the last year or so, I’ve gotten really hooked on their digital offering, The Daily Beast. A recent Beast article caught my attention that I think we as teachers need to look at.
Written by Sharon Begley, Buff Your Brain: 31 Ways to Get Smarter in 2012 says
If the information isn’t in there, no amount of brain training will tell you how the Federal Reserve system functions, why the Confederacy lost the Civil War, the significance of Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon, or why Word just crashed.
Yet that’s what we all want—to know more, to understand more deeply, to make greater creative leaps, to retain what we read, to see connections invisible to others—not merely to make the most of what we have between our ears now, but to be, in a word, smarter.
The title is fairly self-explanatory. We can make ourselves smarter. And not just by a little bit but what Begley describes as raising our IQ by a “staggering” 21 points. It got me thinking.
If it’s our job as teachers to make our kids smarter, are there any takeaways from the article?
You can read the piece yourself but I think the answer is yes. Here’s what I got out of it.
Get News from Al Jazeera
This may be my favorite. The basic concept here is is simple – don’t shut yourself out from new ideas. A 2009 study found that viewers of Al Jazeera English were more open-minded than people who got their news from CNN International and BBC World. (I’m going out on a limb here and suggest the same would go for for Fox News viewers.) A huge part of thinking historically is being able to see and understand different perspectives. So it doesn’t have to be Al Jazeera but you need to require that kids read, view, and listen to a variety of sources.
Toss Your Smartphone
I’m a big believer in using technology and mobile devices as part of what we do. But the research is pretty clear – constantly checking email, interrupting thinking to text or to go on Facebook disrupts focus and saps productivity. Learning in the 21st century requires the use of a wide variety of tools. Design your instruction to encourage deep thinking.
Go to a Literary Festival / See a Shakespeare Play
I combined a couple here. Reading the Bard has been shown to engage the brain more actively than most contemporary texts and watching is even better. The point here is that we need to use more fiction and non-fiction stuff in our lessons. Great poetry, prose and novels can engage kids and provide very cool historical context
Follow These People on Twitter
There are some very smart people out there. Not all of them are on Twitter but here’s a list I put together a while back that’s still pretty good. Use Twitter to connect your kids with experts and others outside your classroom.
Every doctor will tell you that dehydration forces the brain to work harder and dampens its ability to work well. It’s sounds silly but passing out bottles of water to your kids is not a bad idea. Water breaks during block schedule? Another possibility. Encourage students to pack in refillable bottles in book bags? Yup.
Check Out iTunes U
iTunes U has awesome free stuff. Podcasts, audio clips, documents. There are university and K-12 channels that provide you and your kids access to some of the best thinkers in the country. Did I mention it’s free?
You probably won’t be heading the Museum of Modern Art anytime soon (Though MOMA and other great museums have iTunes U content and handy apps.) but viewing art, photographs and images has been shown to increase retention of content. You can make your kids smarter by incorporating images into your instruction.
The Pomodoro Technique
This time-management strategy aims to make you productive using nothing more than a kitchen timer. Use it to break your presentation or your student’s work into 20-minute blocks, taking a short break for reflection and maybe a water break; the frequent rests aid mental agility.
A string of studies suggests that zoning out and letting the mind wander – especially when you don’t consciously realize you’re doing it – allows the brain to work on important “big picture” thinking. “Sleeping on it” is not an old’s wife tale. It provides time for your brain to make connections and see relationships. Purposefully plan for discussions and brainstorming to happen over more than one class period. Then be sure to go back to review and reflect. This could be written, small group or large group. (maybe even all three!)
Write Reviews Online
Anyone can be a critic on the Internet – and your kids should too. Typing out their opinions will help them to better understand their own thinking. This could be book reviews on Amazon, guided prompts on your own Edmodo site, on news sites or in Blackboard CourseSites blogs.
You can make your kids smarter. Pick one or two of these. Maybe five. And start using them in your class. The good news? You’ll get smarter too.