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Extracurricular activities – how (many) to choose?

The Romans had a saying – Mens sana in corpore sano – a healthy mind in a healthy body. And they practiced what they preached. In ancient Rome and Greece, it was expected that students not only give their all in philosophy and mathematics; they were similarly required to practice gymnastics – what we would now call “athletics”.

Nowadays, we tend to have a different view of what’s necessary for an adolescent. We often expect them to figure out their own particular interest or vocation and to channel their energies exclusively into that one thing.

However, attitudes are changing.  We’re beginning to acknowledge that adolescents need more than one narrow focus and we’re encouraging their participation in extracurricular activities. And that’s a good start towards fostering a multi-oriented young person with a wide variety of interests and skills.

Unfortunately, society dictates a lot of the choices adolescents have. There are certain labels that, once established, can be very difficult to shake off. We have “jocks”, “nerds”, “cheerleaders”, etc., – and their peers (and adults alike) tend to see them as one-dimensional. For that reason, “nerds” will go for chess club rather than trying out for the football team where they might not be easily accepted. But why shouldn’t a young person who has both the interest and skills go out for both – as unlikely a combination as that might appear to some? It’s up to us to encourage them and teach them that it’s okay to do well academically and be a good athlete at the same time.  Not only is it okay, it’s very good for both their mental and physical well-being!

So, how do we recognize which extracurricular activity is right for a particular adolescent?

Here’s some questions whose answers might offer a solution to that dilemma

1. What is your child interested in?

Even though adolescents spend a lot of time with their friends, parents have obviously been with them far longer. They’ve watched them grow up, playing with the same toys for hours and begging for that soccer ball until they finally got it. You are clearly the ones who can best try to answer this question – what is it that always interested my child? Sometimes, girls will be interested in new technologies and dream of becoming a programmer or a game developer. But once they enter high school, they’re told that it’s a man’s field and they might be encouraged to go for soft skills instead. The same goes for boys and, say, dancing. But if these kids had spent years practicing different programming languages or dancing in their room, you should talk to them about it and try to convince them to pursue their passion by joining a computer club or a dance troupe. Just make sure to be as objective as possible. Try to remember those early occasions when your child asked you for something, not when you bought it for them without asking first. It’s important (and not always easy) to distinguish between your child’s and your own interests, as parents often see themselves reflected in their children.

Extracurricular activities shouldn’t be there to fill in their free time with just anything – they should offer children a unique chance to develop, to find something they are passionate about and, who knows, maybe make a living out of one day. Adolescents who work at something they’re interested in and motivated by tend to have more success in that field than their peers, as well as being happier and more fulfilled. [2]

2. What are they good at?

Another important thing to consider is not only what children like, but also what they seem to be talented at. If they choose to engage in activities they already have a gift for, it will significantly elevate their fragile self-esteem. [1] Adolescence is a time when it’s important to develop a sense of self and confidence, and for most, years will pass before they master this. So being very good at something and having the opportunity to prove oneself might be extremely beneficial. That being said, the chosen activity should still be sufficiently challenging – they might not enjoy “easy wins”.

Now, if what interests them and what they are good at are one and the same, they’ll have the perfect extracurricular activity. But what if it’s not one and the same? What comes first? Should they choose what interests them or what they’re good at?

Well, there’s no reason to choose. There’s nothing wrong with participating in several organized activities in one’s free time.  And when they’re involved in more than one extracurricular activity, adolescents tend to like school more and do better academically than their peers who only follow one. [3]

3. Do they enjoy socializing or are they shy?

So far I’ve been arguing that extracurricular activities should be tailored to the child’s interests, but there’s definitely more to it. Different activities offer different possibilities, and if they choose the right one, children can develop all sorts of skills. For example, if an adolescent prefers doing things alone – not because they are shy, but because it’s simply their preference – joining a math club or chess club may be the right thing to do. However, if you’ve noticed that your child wants to socialize but feels too shy to attempt it, a team sport could help them enormously. Of course, it might be difficult in the beginning. Trying new things usually is. But as time goes by, spending hours of their free time in a structured environment with their peers learning responsibilities and team spirit will start reaping benefits, and you’ll soon see them turn from shy to sociable.

4. What are their priorities?

It’s good to encourage adolescents to try many different things. But occasionally, you’ll find children who’ve been obsessed with a only one activity since their earliest years. They may see themselves only as dancers, or actors, or game developers, and they focus all their efforts on becoming better at that one particular thing. In that case, it’s okay to remind them there are other activities out there, not just drama or computer club. It is up to them to decide whether they’ll give them a try or not, though. If they identify strongly with the activity they’ve chosen, they might see other activities as a waste of the time they’d rather be spending practicing what they enjoy most. [3] However, bear in mind there are certain caveats here. If their action-of-choice is a physical thing, such as football or dancing, go for it! But if the activity they’ve chosen is sedentary, it might affect their physical and mental health negatively. Since most school activities are done while sitting down, going to a computer club just to sit some more could carry certain health risks. This is why it would be good to encourage them to practice a variety of extracurricular activities. [4]

Mixing it is best!

Adolescents need to be stimulated both in terms of learning and physical development. Their brains and bodies alike are undergoing a lot of changes that are sometimes confusing and not easily understood. It definitely helps if they can hold on to something throughout these changes.

School tends to focus on academic achievement, be it through math, languages, or science. That’s far from a bad thing, but it’s not enough for a developing young person. And even though they have the opportunity to practice PE, its benefits are easily diminished by the overwhelming amount of time spent sitting, studying, and doing homework. So, if your child wants to only do things related to athletics outside of their school time, it’s okay. School will deal with their knowledge and learning habits, and athletics will help with that, too.  Children who engage in physical activities such as sports or dance have shown greater liking for school and enhanced learning ability, probably because physical activity increases blood flow to the brain, making it more active and alert, which positively influences their attention. [4]

What are their choices?

Up until now, I’ve been separating extracurricular activities only into academic and athletic, but there are at least two more types of activities a child might want to try – performance arts and prosocial activities. If they are interested in performance arts, they might want to join a school band or a drama club, for example. The children who will go for these are usually those who enjoy being in front of the audience, but shy children can benefit from participation as well; performing is good practice for the future, as they may one day be required to give a speech or hold a presentation. And there’s the added benefit of the built-in socializing factor that goes along with it. Just keep in mind that it’s up to you to encourage your child to try something, but in the end it’s up to them whether they feel comfortable enough to do it.

Finally, we have the so-called prosocial activities –  the one most commonly practiced being volunteering. This one is very important, as doing something for the community helps an adolescent feel more a part of things and gives them a sense of belonging. Not only that, they become part of a social network of both peers and adults who could potentially give them useful advice and teach them new things.

The important thing is that all of these activities have a lot of pros – they all lead to better grades and a higher college attendance, while prosocial activities and performing arts also help prevent potentially risky behaviors. Now, I’ve mentioned previously something along the lines of “the more, the merrier”- but there’s a limit to that. So where do we draw the line? At what point do we tell them they’re putting too much pressure on themselves? How many activities are enough and how many are too much?

Magical number 5-19

Different cultures have different expectations for their children. In Europe, students are expected to have high grades, while volunteering is looked upon as a plus. Anything above that is a bonus, but not necessary for success. In many countries in Asia, they have a different outlook. From a very early age, children take on piano lessons, English classes, swimming, baseball, art… And that’s just for one child. Children who have too many responsibilities and too little free time growing up tend to be very stressed-out, not only as adolescents but also later in life. However, children who have few commitments and challenges during their school days also tend to be under a lot of stress once they get a job and responsibilities, since they’re not used to the pressure and not well equipped to deal with it. So what’s the solution? Moderation. Children whose parents’ expectations for them are moderate tend to go on to lead more fulfilling, healthy lives while still managing to succeed in their chosen area.

But what exactly constitutes “moderate”?

It’s been shown that adolescents who spend between five and nineteen hours a week doing extracurricular activities are less likely to engage in risky behaviors. Anything above nineteen hours has either no effect or a negative one, as it leads to adolescents being under too much pressure and resorting to risky behaviors to try to find a way out of anxiety or depression. [3]

So, what can we conclude?

Encourage your children to try different things. If they are shy, a performance art might help them. If they feel like what they love doesn’t fit their perceived role in society, urge them not to give up on their passion. If they are only interested in academic or prosocial activities, help them fit a physical activity into their schedule. If you’re not sure what they are interested in, feel free to recommend them one you’re interested in or have experience with, as long as you don’t push it on them. It will give you some extra time with your teen that they might otherwise prefer to spend with their peers.

And last, but not least – don’t let them over-commit themselves. They still need some unstructured, free time with their peers or alone.

by Jelena Jegdić

References:

  1. Eccles, J.S. (2003).  Extracurricular activities and adolescent development. Journal of social issues, Vol. 59, No. 4, 2003, pp. 856-889
  2. Holland, A. & Andre, T. (1987). The Effects of Participation in Extracurricular Activities in Secondary School: What Is Known, What Needs To Be Known
  3. Farb, A.F., Matjasko, J. (2005). The role of school-based extracurricular activities in adolescent development. Review of educational research.
  4. Biddle, S. J. H., & Asare, M. (2011). Physical activity and mental health in children and adolescents: A review of reviews. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 45, 886-895 doi:10.1136/bjsports-2011-090185

Where Do Bad Grades Come From

Long before they start school, children are given feedback on how they are doing in the form of stars, bows, stickers, and other tangible rewards. These are not only reinforcing for the child, but also for their parents. Once school begins, many parents assume that grades (whether expressed by numbers, letters, or smiles) are a good indicator of their children’s knowledge.

“You were great! You get an A!”

“You get five stars for reciting the poem!”

Consequently, when a child brings a test back home, parents will commonly remark solely on the grade itself: “Why did you get a C?” or, if the grade measures up to what the parents consider good enough: “Wow! You got a B+ on your test, I’m so proud of you!
Bad grades alarm most parents, concerned that something “isn’t right”. To them, this usually means that the child is lazy, that they procrastinate, that their “attention is poor”, and so on.
Once you consult with professionals, you’ll see that they rarely rush into giving you a definitive answer as to the source of the problem.
This article aims to address some of the most common reasons for bad grades. Think of it as a “checklist” to direct your attention into exploring the possible issues that, when resolved, might help the student achieve better results.

They can’t or won’t study?

If there is a line between “can’t” and won’t”, ability and motivation, it is very thin. The two are often intertwined. Recognizing what comes first – difficulty with handling a task or a lack of willingness to do it – is a very important step for those working with the student.

Abilities – Reasons why they “can’t”

Cognitive abilities

Let’s start with abilities. Parents, unaware of an underlying problem, often push their children to succeed and exacerbate things by frustrating the child with demands the child can’t fulfill. It is important to assess whether the child’s cognitive status, their “intelligence”, is equal to the task. If there is a suspicion that the issue is the child’s intellectual ability, it’s necessary to contact a psychologist, who can determine, through testing, exactly what  “isn’t working” in the way the child thinks. After assessing the problem, the psychologist then designs a plan to work with the child. Other abilities we need to pay attention to are the student’s hearing and vision. You want to make sure there are no sensory problems causing the learning difficulties.

Attention problems

Cognitive-abilities testing also encompasses attention issues, with subtests specifically designed to gauge attention deficit. Frequently, a child simply gets distracted because the material isn’t interesting, engaging, and stimulating enough, not because they haven’t learned how to focus their attention. With gifted children, especially, it’s quite common to confuse a lack of interest for attention issues.
However, for some students, directing attention and maintaining focus is more difficult. Their brains just function differently. That’s why, if you see that no matter how much you try helping your child focus, and no matter how hard they are trying, nothing seems to really work, make sure you have them tested for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or attention deficit disorder (ADD).

This, of course, does not mean that once the student is diagnosed and gets treatment and begins focusing better, we should give up exploring how engaging the material and how difficult the task may be for them.  ADHD/ADD can often go together with various learning difficulties, such as dyslexia, dysgraphia or dyscalculia, as well as with students who are very interested and gifted in specific subjects and lacking interest in others.

Speech and language development

Speech therapists assert that reading and writing problems are rooted in earlier phases of speech and language development. Being able to differentiate the sounds that constitute a word or having sufficient vocabulary are both prerequisites for acquiring reading and writing skills. If your student has had problems with speech development, a consultation with a speech therapist is recommended.

There are also cases where the child’s abilities aren’t in question. The problem with grades is masking another problem.

Reasons why they won’t

Attention seeking (due to concerns at home)

Given that parents value and care about academic performance, a perceptive child can use their concern for bad grades as a means of manipulation to achieve a personal goal. This is not to imply something “bad” or “negative”. For instance, the child may figure out that a bad grade can divert a busy parent into dedicating more time and attention to what’s going on with them and help with homework even if that help is not actually needed.  For those children who feel uncomfortable communicating their need to spend more time with their parents, getting bad grades “on purpose” can be an effective strategy.

Bad grades can, in some cases, be seen as a symptom of challenges within the family. Family therapists have many times described examples where “helping the child with motivation” serves as a common goal for parents to work on together when the student sees the parents going through tough times in their marriage. The student offers the problem to help change the family dynamics. This is not to say that bad grades are caused by inadequate parenting. It says that to understand where bad grades come from, the dynamic within the family should be addressed and better understood.

The subject, the teachers, the peers

When we talk about a student’s motivation, it’s important to consider whether the student is not getting good grades in all their classes or only in specific ones. Some classes might just not “suit” the student’s skills and interests in a way that motivates them to push harder. They might see a class as boring and not worth the effort. Try exploring with the student: “If there was anything that could make Math fun, what would that be?” or “If you had a chance to transform your Language Arts class, how would you do it?”

The student-teacher relationship is also an important factor to consider.  Teachers play a major role in sparking a student’s interest in a subject and we need to learn the student’s opinion of the teacher in a class where they’re not performing well.   Another question worth asking is: “Who’s in your class?” Just imagine a teenage boy in the same class with a girl he really likes, and you’ll get the idea about why this is a good question.

The “I don’t care about grades” approach

Sometimes, when asked why they don’t want to try to do better in school, the student will just shrug, “I’m lazy and I don’t want to do it.” This can leave the parents frustrated and feeling helpless. How can you support a kid who does not want any support?
That is precisely the right kind of challenge for Coaches. We unpack “the box” of behaviors that the label “lazy” has been put on.
We look carefully into the meaning of all of those behaviors headed “lazy”. Perhaps the child isn’t used to doing something that demands more work and did all their previous tasks with ease (or the tasks were too easy and this is the first time they’re being faced with something that requires more effort). It may be that the student does not connect grades to any tangible goal they might have for themselves in the future. It might be that they feel better “saving” their energy for something with more meaning to them. In some cases, it’s easier not to try and call yourself “lazy”, than try, not succeed, and call yourself “a failure”.

The “good grades aren’t cool” approach

Are bad grades perceived as socially acceptable? “Cool”? For a student trying to fit in, academic performance can sometimes not count as much as being on the basketball team or having an amazingly cool shirt. So good grades can be “sacrificed” for the sake of different positioning within the social group.
How to deal with this challenge? We need to understand why it is so important for the student to fit into a specific group and why they see that as more significant than getting good grades.

Stage fright and other fears

There are cases where it’s not that the student doesn’t care about the grades but actually cares too much. So, when they “practice” at home, they achieve great results but have problems when it comes to presenting what they’ve learned. Tests, quizzes, exams, and other ways of assessing knowledge can be a great source of stress for children. Children, like adults, often suffer from stage fright and don’t perform at their best. If this ends up being a problem, the child should work on their fears with a professional Coach, who can help them identify key triggers and the source of those triggers. By reaching a deeper understanding of why the fear exists, the student and the Coach can come up with better ways to cope with it in a more functional way.

Where bad grades come from is a complex question to which the answers never come easily. Sometimes, we become so focused on what we perceive as a problem, that we miss the solution – or too focused on what we think is the solution, that we misunderstand the problem.
And given the emotional investment and attachment to their child, it makes it all the more difficult for parents to approach the problem in a way that would truly help.

That is why it is a good idea to consult with people who can help provide your student with the best possible support.

We have tried to outline the most common “roots” for bad grades. Bear in mind that this article cannot cover each issue in detail. That’s why we welcome your questions. We’ll be happy to answer them.

by Ana Jovanović

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The Growth Mindset – The Power Of Yet

One of the more talked-about topics in psychology and especially in educational psychology is Carol Dweck’s idea of the “growth mindset”, a concept she discusses in her book Mindset: The new psychology of success. Growth mindset isn’t something that Dweck invented and is now teaching us all how to attain. It is a distinctive trait she observed in people who are happier and more successful, which led her to seek ways to help develop and nurture it in people who do not share this predisposition.

So what actually is growth mindset?

While working as a young researcher, Dweck noticed that some children face challenges in a much more “positive” way than others. They would say things like “Oh, I love a challenge” or “I expected this to be informative”, instead of having tragic and catastrophic thoughts when faced with difficulties. Dweck coined the term “fixed mindset” for children who shrink before obstacles, and “growth mindset” for those who seek challenges and become even more engaged when faced with obstacles. Of course, these two mindsets apply to us all, and it is important to note that whereas we can’t have a growth mindset in every area of our lives, we sure can try to develop it.

To show what growth mindset really is, let’s try to contrast it further with the fixed mindset. People with a fixed mindset think that their characteristics are carved in stone and can never be changed. They firmly believe that intelligence, creativity, and personality are things we are born with and can hardly be something we develop. People with a growth mindset believe we can cultivate these characteristics through effort and that the process of cultivating them is more important than the actual outcome. A fixed mindset, on the other hand, wants results right away and doesn’t care as much about the process as it does about the outcome. Of course, Dweck doesn’t deny that people differ from the get-go, but she claims that we can all “change and grow through application and experience” (Dweck, 2006).

Another thing that differentiates these two mindsets is how they perceive and react to failure. People with a fixed mindset are more likely to believe they can fail and that by doing so their abilities will be questioned. Just the act of hitting obstacles would prove to them that they aren’t capable of overcoming them. People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, don’t really see failure as on option – obstacles are just perceived as opportunities to improve and learn, and by being faced with them and, generally something new, we get smarter.

Dweck illustrates this difference further with an interesting remark about language and how we use it to rate success. She mentions how saying “not yet” to students instead of saying they failed a class is a much better way to show them that even if they have difficulties overcoming something now, the time will come when they will succeed if they continue tackling the obstacle from different angles. The use of “yet” shows that there is a learning curve, and points to the process, not the outcome. This also tells children that they aren’t being taught to learn simply for grades, but for their future and it encourages them to dream big and think about what they want to do with their lives, instead of on focusing only on what they are currently achieving in school.

This entire idea of the power of yet and growth mindset isn’t just something Dweck came up with and wrote overnight. She (and many others) actually did research and showed time and time again that if a growth mindset is encouraged, children earn better grades and achieve better results than they did before – even better than some of their peers from much more affluent schools, which shows that growth mindset is a great path to achieving a more equal education system.
This research illustrates two important facts about growth mindset: it does work and it can be developed. It is not something we are born with.

What is a false growth mindset?

Before we dive into the exciting topic of how a growth mindset can be developed, we need to do some myth-busting. As with any other trending topic in education, it is hard nowadays to avoid the words “have to”, “need to”, and “all” when reading about growth mindset. It is often declared that we should all have to develop growth mindsets because they are just so much better, which ignores the principle behind the concept. Firstly, a growth mindset isn’t something you can just achieve overnight. It takes a lot of work and develops over time. Secondly, it isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card you can use whenever you’re faced with difficulty. Dweck points out that we are a mixture of both growth mindset and fixed mindset, and at different times and in different areas of our lives either one can predominate.

Another point she makes is that people often claim they have a growth mindset when they actually don’t or use the concept of a fixed mindset to excuse why someone is failing when the only failure is actually not providing the context in which a growth mindset can be achieved. It is also easy to think that simply by encouraging children and praising their effort, we are developing their growth mindsets. It’s a bit more complicated than that – it is not just about praising, it is about praising the right way.

So how is a growth mindset developed?

Developing a growth mindset is a complex process, but it is not unattainable and can actually serve as a great first obstacle on which to practice our mindsets.

The main point that Dweck makes is that a growth mindset is developed through praise, but not the usual after-the-fact praise which focuses on outcomes, but the praise that focuses on the process of learning. This isn’t about blanketing children in praise for any of their efforts, but about praising the strategies they used and the entire process that leads to outcomes. A simple example of this would be saying “I love how you tried all these different strategies while solving this problem until you got it” instead of saying “Great job. I knew you’d get it, you are smart!”

That example showcases another point that Dweck makes; we should praise the process, not the abilities. Praising abilities encourages the fixed mindset that these things are set in stone, which definitely doesn’t promote change or development. Rather, it makes children think that what they can do is what they can do and the same applies for what they can’t do.

Another reason why Dweck insists “it is not the outcome, it is the effort that counts” is ineffective is because it lets students believe that if they try hard enough, they will succeed no matter their strategies. In effect, it can bring them to repeat the same futile strategies over and over again. On the other hand, insisting on the process or the use of multiple strategies until the obstacle is overcome, and praising that effort, teaches them that they need to change their strategies in order solve the problem. It also shows them they can use all the resources available and ask for help when they need it.

And finally, Dweck points out that even failure should be addressed as something that enhances learning. We can ask children “What is this teaching us? What should we do next?” instead of either praising the effort or protecting them by saying things like “Don’t worry, not everyone can be good in everything. You are not the only one that failed.” In both cases, we are developing a fixed mindset and letting children know that we believe they can’t do better, while a switch in mindsets would help them achieve so much more and help them in their future lives.

If you are already thinking of implementing these ideas while raising your child, there is more encouraging news. The growth mindset isn’t something we can start developing only in early childhood, Dweck says it is never too late for change, so why not try it on yourself, too, and see how it goes.

Resources:

  1. Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House.
  2. Dweck, C. S. (2012). Mindset: How you can fulfill your potential. Constable & Robinson Limited.
  3. Dweck, C. S. (2014). Developing a Growth Mindset.
  4. Dweck, C. S. (2016). What Having a “Growth Mindset” Actually Means.
  5. Gross-Loh, C. (2016). How Praise Became a Consolation Prize.
  6. Romero, C. (2015). What We Know About Growth Mindset from Scientific Research.
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Family Night At The Movies – Talking With Your Teen About Inside Out And The Purpose Of Sadness

In our series, Family Night at the Movies, we recommend movies for viewing and later discussion whose message may be helpful for teenagers and their parents.
In one of our previous articles, you can read more about movies as valuable tools in addressing the emotional and social needs of teens.

Our latest choice is Inside Out, the acclaimed Pixar animation movie of 2015 directed by Pete Docter, which deals with the emotions, specifically sadness:

The film is set inside the mind of an 11-year-old girl named Riley, with the main characters actually being her primary emotions: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust, who argue and compete with one another. The conflict between Joy and Sadness forms the basis of the action.

Warning: spoilers!

When her father’s new job requires that the family moved to San Francisco, Riley’s emotions are thrown into turmoil. She has torn away from her familiar, harmonious Midwestern life and forced to adjust to a new environment. In this classically stressful situation, we watch the battle of her emotions as they try to navigate these new challenges in her life.

Taking into account that the complexity of psychological processes is impossible to fully explore in a movie, Inside Out nevertheless effectively illustrates how our emotions work and how they connect to happenings in the outside world and to our cognitive processes.

Various lessons can be taken from this movie, among them that all emotions are equally important and the danger of the imperative to stay positive all the time. We have addressed these in a previous article, Come to the dark side, we have emotions. Here, we address an important third lesson – the purpose of sadness.

Purpose of Sadness – Adaptation of Loss

Emotions are specific reactions to happenings that are important to us and the purpose of each is an adaptation to the change, reconnection with important others, and ultimately the ability to move on with our lives. We are sad when we anticipate or experience the loss of someone or something valuable to us, so the particular purpose of sadness is a psychological adjustment to loss.
At the beginning of the movie, Joy, Riley’s dominant emotion, introduces the other emotions. She explains why each of them is important to Riley and points out that they all work as a team. However, when she comes to Sadness, Joy just skips it, admitting that she doesn’t really understand its purpose. So, in the face of this stressful situation, Joy prevents Sadness from acting and does not allow Riley to be sad, although that is clearly her most natural emotional reaction. She is losing her old way of life and being forced to adjust to a new one. She misses her old house, her friends, her hockey team, and also her father, who is more frequently absent because of his new job. She is struggling to adapt.

When we allow ourselves to experience certain emotions, many processes in both our mind and body work in concert to prepare us for action. The work of sadness differs in that when we are sad we feel listless and to all appearances become passive. Yet our mind is working actively to try to process the loss and reorganize our inner world in order to adapt to the new reality.

Purpose of Sadness – Relief and Connection

Another important function of sadness is its specific bodily expression. When we experience sadness without repression and let it flow freely through our body, we manifest specific facial expressions and body posture and will cry or sob.

Crying is a natural healing process. When we cry we are relieving tension and pain from our body as if the tears were melting the pain and alleviating our sadness. The release is complete with deep crying that involves sobbing since our distress is expressed through our voice and a different pattern of breathing. After a while, breathing is deeper, the body is relieved of tension and we feel much better. Reassure your children of any age; give them permission, let them know it’s okay to cry.

The specific body language associated with sadness has its social dimension, too. It is obvious to others that we are sad and they may show compassion. This is what, in the end, Joy finally recognized and came to understood to be the purpose of Sadness.

When Joy allowed Sadness to act and Riley finally expressed her sadness, her parents hugged and comforted her. In her distress, Riley’s image of “family” had collapsed and almost caused her to run away. Now the family was once again a team, reunited and reconnected.

Danger of Repressing Sadness

Sadness or any other emotion can be repressed when it is perceived as less valuable. “Being sad is for weaklings. I must be strong.” Our system of values is mainly formed through family and wider cultural influences.
Today we are witnessing a global trend which values “positive thinking”; a sort of industry of happiness to keep us smiling, optimistic, shiny and happy, which is not in accordance with our psychological makeup. Under certain circumstances, it is natural to feel fear, sadness, or anger. Every repression, denial, or compulsion to feel differently than we actually feel, leads to imbalance.

This is exactly what we learn in the movie. Since Joy doesn’t understand the purpose of Sadness and is afraid Sadness will spoil Riley’s happy life and infect her joyful memories, she multitasks in order to keep each new experience positive or funny at all costs.

The pressure to stay positive is even stronger when her mother praises Riley for staying so cheerful despite everything, implying that if both of them just keep smiling it will ease the pressure Riley’s father is going through. We’ll see later in the movie the consequences of this attitude. It is a reminder also for us parents to be careful with the messages we’re sending to our kids. You never know what kind of battle is going on in their heads and how they will interpret our words.

“Don’t feel” or “Don’t feel (certain emotion)” are frequent injunctions that repeat in the back of the minds of depressive or anxious clients going to therapy. The authors of Redecision Therapy, Goulding and Goulding, observed that when sadness is repressed, repression of joy and other pleasant emotions follows. As a consequence, a person is unable to emotionally bond with others.

That is why it is important to reassure your child of any age that feeling sad is okay. How do you do that? By understanding, allowing, and encouraging your child to feel and express sadness (and all other emotions), so cleansing can take place and the child can move forward. It is especially important to discuss later what happened and what made her/him so sad.

With teenagers, you can engage in even deeper conversations and we hope that some of the information in this article will help.

Ask your teens what they’ve learned from the movie. Did they ever feel as Riley did? What is the purpose of sadness, in their opinion? Can they identify their dominant emotion and the one they’re tending to neglect? For more about particular questions and how to lead a conversation after the movie, read here.

by Milena Ćuk,
Life Coach and Integrative Art Therapist-in-training

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WHY DO THE ARTS MATTER?

Things children and parents alike can learn from art

Enjoying art for art’s sake is a noble goal we should all aim for, as it unquestionably enriches our lives. But in a world where time spent on art can be viewed as time better spent on something “more useful”, it can’t hurt to remind ourselves what art actually does for us. Most parents and children invest their every waking moment in learning more, on extracurricular activities, and improving their chances of getting into the school they want. Meanwhile, art pursuits often get left behind even though they, too, can promote the skills necessary for academic and life success. This article reminds us of the ways the Arts enhance our learning and enrich our lives.

The Arts make us more creative

It is impossible to overstate the benefits the Arts bring to our creativity and divergent thinking [8]. As we express ourselves through various art forms or observe the art of others, we come to understand that being creative isn’t exclusively confined to the world of art itself. Rather, it enables us to see the larger world through different eyes and teaches us how to be creative and innovative in many fields not necessarily having anything to do with the Arts themselves [3].

Enjoying the Arts “makes us smarter”

Art, like science, is a broad term with many interpretations, but most art can teach us something about aesthetic perception and taste [1]. This isn’t where the magic ends, though. How many times have you heard that you need to read a lot in order to be well spoken or be a good writer? Literature is art and enhances our vocabulary and language skills [4].

However, it is not only literature and reading that can improve our skills and widen our knowledge. When children draw, paint, or play with clay, they are not only creating their own art, but they’re learning about the world and at the same time developing their cognitive skills by going through the oh-so-hard decision process of which color to choose, planning how their drawing will look, tweaking and experimenting. In other words, art gives children a chance to make decisions and learn from them [6].

The Arts teach us how to be human

While nothing can really prepare us for a living except actually living and learning along the way, the Arts offer us an invaluable window into the human experience and can teach us how it is to live on this planet for different people from different places. It also shows us our similarities and differences and helps us empathize with others. For instance, Maya Angelou’s autobiographical “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings”, though written in 1969 and relates events that happened in the ‘30s and ‘40s, still manages to teach us a great deal about racism and how to overcome it, and gives us a different perspective on coming of age as an African-American girl in the United States back then. Similarly, paintings can show us a lot about how some people live and what is important to them, and also help us understand the way they perceive reality.

This insight into the lives of different people helps with our social skills, but there are other ways the Arts can nurture these skills. Many artistic endeavors, such as different types of dramatic performance or large-format paintings, can be created by groups or with one partner, thus teaching the participants how to be cooperative, helping, and caring and how to share with others [5].

The Arts help us master our emotions and feel better about ourselves.

Expressing and regulating our emotions is essential to our everyday life, but a lot of us experience difficulties with one or both of these. Art is there to help when things are too complicated to verbalize. This is often the case for children, so it is especially beneficial for them to have access to art and to feel free to draw things the way they
want. It can be instructive to give a child a piece of paper when they are upset or unusually quiet since many things can be revealed through their art. There is usually some meaning behind a child exaggerating something in a drawing, not paying attention to something else at all [3] or simply using dark colors.

Art is also used in therapy to help people with a wide range of problems and has been shown to have beneficial effects on emotion regulation [2] and attitude, and in improving self-image [7].

Additionally, specific activities like drama and dance can be great confidence builders [5] and help with stage fright. Just participating in the realm of art teaches us perseverance and focus, as art requires practice and a high level of concentration [9].

Nurturing your child in his/her artistic endeavors and also enjoying participating in the Arts yourself, mindful of their benefits or even just for their own sake, is definitely worth your time. Not only will they enrich your lives, but they will make your child and you better human beings in every way possible.

REFERENCES:

  1. Arslan, A. A. (2014). A Study into the Effects of Art Education on Children at the Socialisation Process. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 116, 4114-4118. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2014.01.900
  2. Brown, E. D., & Sax, K. L. (2013). Arts enrichment and preschool emotions for low-income children at risk. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 28(2), 337-346. doi:10.1016/j.ecresq.2012.08.002
  3. Extension (August 31, 2015). Creative Art Helps Children Develop across Many Domains.
  4. Klein, O., Biedinger, N., & Becker, B. (2014). The effect of reading aloud daily—Differential effects of reading to native-born German and Turkish-origin immigrant children. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 38, 43-56. doi:10.1016/j.rssm.2014.06.001
  5. National Endowment for the Arts (2015). The Arts in Early Childhood: Social and Emotional Benefits of Arts Participation.
  6. PennState Extension (February 6, 2014). Art – An opportunity to develop children’s skills.
  7. Schweizer, C., Knorth, E. J., & Spreen, M. (2014). Art therapy with children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A review of clinical case descriptions on ‘what works’. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 41(5), 577-593. doi:10.1016/j.aip.2014.10.009
  8. Sowden, P. T., Clements, L., Redlich, C., & Lewis, C. (2015). Improvisation facilitates divergent thinking and creativity: Realizing a benefit of primary school arts education. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 9(2), 128-138. doi:10.1037/aca0000018
  9. Strauss, V. (January 22, 2013). Top 10 skills children can learn from the arts.

By Anja Anđelković

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THE BENEFITS OF ONLINE LEARNING

Learning online is no longer a novelty and more and more students are opting to take online courses every day. The world’s top universities and colleges now offer online courses and it was recently noted that “The future of higher education lies with it.” (Tom Snyder, Huffington).

The popularity of online learning lies principally in its flexibility. Students do not have to be physically in a classroom but can learn remotely and frequently at their own pace. Naturally, this approach may present challenges. While learning online, students must also learn to prioritize their commitments. Good time-management and organization skills are essential for it to be effective, but those are skills which can be improved upon, and that usually do improve, along with self-discipline and responsibility, as students progress through their online courses.

Online learning can also help busy professionals get additional training and keep abreast of advances in their fields of expertise as they continue to work at their jobs.

Another great advantage of online learning is coverage. There will never be as many spots in universities as students who want to enroll in them, but with online courses, educators can reach many more students than would be possible in the traditional classroom. Moreover, everyone receives the same training, communicated in the same way to everyone participating in the course.

It is often thought that with flexibility comes a more laissez-faire approach to learning; that online courses aren’t as “serious” as more traditional ones, and that students simply can’t learn as much as they would if they were sitting in a classroom with a teacher in front of them. If you’ve ever taken an online course you’re probably aware that this criticism is unfounded. Many online courses make greater demands on students and assign more reading material than traditional ones in order to ensure students stay engaged and always have something to work on.

Online courses are designed so as to keep engagement high and help students retain the material taught in them longer. This is usually achieved through the use of media inherent in this type of learning, and also with gamification. Online teachers often find ways to make the course fun and more similar to a game than to what we usually think of when we imagine learning.

Last but not least, online learning usually means time and money savings. Students who opt for this type of learning remove the need for travel and its attendant costs. It reduces or eliminates time away from the workplace and opens a pathway to lifelong learning.

And let’s not forget our planet. The fact that we can now learn without dozens of handouts and paper-based materials does the environment a great favor that we shouldn’t take for granted.

IS ONLINE LEARNING FOR EVERYONE?

As with anything in education, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question as to whether you or your student should try online learning. It is designed on the assumption that the student has some interest in the subject already and will be motivated to learn more. It also requires instructors familiar with this approach who know how to engage students and present the material in an original way, tailored for the online environment. But it is definitely worth a try. The benefits are great and any drawbacks can be overcome if dealt with in a timely fashion and with solid support. We will offer just that this summer to all students interested in online learning, combined with the great project-based learning approach in our new program Nobel Explorers. It is worth checking out if you are interested in providing your child with a summer full of learning and fun.

by Anja Anđelković

5 TEAM-BUILDING ACTIVITIES FOR TEENS TO BUILD TRUST AND COOPERATION

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is a success.” – Henry Ford

In this article, you will find several team-building activities useful in developing closeness, trust, cooperation, and team spirit among teens. Besides being applicable in the classroom and teen workshops, some of these activities can be enjoyed at parties, with friends, or during family gatherings. And all of them can be initiated and led by teens, not only by adult tutors or teachers.

Teenagers have a particular need to be accepted, to belong to a peer group, to have their own crew, and to explore the world together with friends and have fun. Yet many of them feel isolated and lonely and find an illusion of consolation in virtual social networks, which can never replace the joys of real interaction.

That is why we’re proposing several team-building activities, varying from simple games to more complex assignments, that can serve to draw teens closer to one another by encouraging interaction to develop trust and cooperation, letting them experience interdependency through working together to foster a team spirit – all preconditions for successful teamwork.

These activities require a leader to initiate an activity, whether this is a teen or an adult.

Team-building activity No 1 – Let’s get to know each other from a different perspective

Want to make everyone comfortable and included at the party you organize? Why not suggest an icebreaking game where everyone would have the opportunity to speak up informally?

Prepare a list of questions. Be imaginative when inventing them – they should be questions that are interesting to you, too. For example:

  1. Who is your favorite superhero and why?
  2. If you were an animal, what would you be and why?
  3. If you were a wizard, what would be your superpower?
  4. If you had to describe yourself using only three words, they would be…
  5. What is your favorite band/movie/TV show/video game and why?

Prepare enough questions for everybody. Questions can be printed or written down on paper and then cut into slips – one slip, one question. Roll the question slips up and put them in a jar and your game is ready! Suggest the game to your guests – each one who participates takes one question from the jar.

This icebreaking game is useful for smaller groups (up to ten people). Besides being applicable in the classroom or in a workshop where people don’t know each other, it’s beneficial when the atmosphere at a social gathering is a bit awkward or low energy. Moreover, questions like these are amusing and helpful on dates, too!

Team-building activity No 2 – Karaoke performance

We all know that karaoke can be funny, but here we’re adding an extra team challenge! This activity is also good for larger groups, first divided into smaller ones consisting of at least three members.

The challenge for each team is to select a song (from YouTube or audio player) and create a performance around that song. Members of the team decide together on a concept for their particular performance, with each person taking their preferred role. Roles could be a singer, a drummer, a dancer, a backup vocalist, or even acting out the theme of the lyrics.

There are no rules regarding possible roles, just as long as each member has one. When the teams are ready, each team puts on their performance.

This activity is particularly useful in getting teens closer and helping them be spontaneous and stop worrying what others may think of them. Usually, there’s a lot of laughter and good energy during this activity. Make sure to send us photos if you try it!

Team-building activity No 3 – Dragon’s tower

This is a competitive game, great for developing team cooperation. The minimum number of people playing this game is six. You will also need a coordinator to lead the process. Participants are divided into teams consisting of three members. If performed with a large group of students, it’s advisable to create several teams, with the rest forming a watching and cheering audience.

First, the coordinator introduces the following story: Once upon a time there was a king who had N daughters/princesses (N – referring to the number of teams). Then a frightful dragon came and took away the king’s daughters and put them in his distant tower. The task of each team is to find their princess and get her back home.

Each team consists of the following three players: the Silent One (who is allowed to look, but isn’t allowed to talk), the Talker (who is only allowed to look at the Silent One’s pantomime, and is allowed to talk), and the Tracker (who is blindfolded and navigated by the Talker in his quest to find the princess).

The Coordinator picks princesses from a deck of cards and assigns one to each team. He then attaches the princess cards to the opposite wall. Only the Silent Ones from each team are allowed to see where the coordinator has placed their group’s princess. Talker and Tracker mustn’t see this.

All team members stand on one side of the room. The Silent One has an overview of the whole room. When the game begins, he uses pantomime to explain to the Talker, who is facing him, where their princess is located on the opposite wall. The Talker only sees the Silent One and his pantomime and tries to verbally navigate the Tracker, using the information he receives from the Silent One. The blindfolded Tracker then moves, and with help of his teammates, tries to find their princess and to get her back to his teammates successfully.

The winner is the team whose Tracker finds their princess and gets her back first. It is crucial that teammates play their roles well and cooperate in order to successfully finish the task. This is a hilarious game with a great atmosphere!

Team-building activity No 4 – Trust game

There are plenty of trust games and for this purpose, we’ve chosen the following one. It is good for a group of minimum five members.

Participants stand in the circle holding hands. One member stands in the center of the circle, blindfolded or just with their eyes shut. The one in the center has to walk around and explore the space, unseeing. He has to trust the group will guard him and protect him from harm. The group has the responsibility to “watch his back”- to take care of his safety.

All members should have both experiences – of being guarded by the group and guarding a teammate. The challenge is greater if there are several groups in the room, each group taking care of the one in the middle of their circle. There are variations of the game; for instance, a circle can be wider, using ten people and more, or the one in the middle can be dancing or running about, etc.

At the end, participants should be asked how they felt in both roles and what they can learn from this game.

Trust games like this one show how important interdependence is and that we can rely on our team members. Trust is essential for a good teamwork. Also, it teaches that a team must function as a single unit if wants to survive, with all members included and working together.

Team-building activity No 5 – Teens as researchers

Here we suggest an activity initiated by an adult (a teacher or a youth leader) working with teens to research and describe a concept. This activity can range from a very simple task to a real project. Also, it can give impetus to any creative and curious teen to start his own project with his friends.

Teens are divided into teams of three to five members. They are encouraged to imagine that they are researchers investigating some important social topic. If we assume there are four teams, four different topics would be offered and for each topic, a distinctive method of recording and presenting data. Teams are created taking into account students’ preferences and equal sizes of the teams.

For example, topics can be Love, Friendship, Youth culture, Local activism. Extra instruction can be given. If Love is the focus, you may want to find out what love actually is. How does love manifest itself in real life? Or if you research Friendship, you may want to seek out the definition of a good friend. What would a true friend never do?

In order to assist teams to investigate in their particular field, we suggest interview and observation as the main techniques for collecting information. They are encouraged to conduct research in their local environment: school, or community, and to ask real people for their opinion on the topic the team is investigating.

However, methods of recording and presenting data will vary. We suggest four methods for recording data: Video; Audio; Photos; Writing. One method is assigned to one topic. For example, a team working on the Love topic will use a video; a team working on Friendship will use written form, etc.

Depending on the complexity of the assignment, teams are given from several hours to several days to complete the task. Time is needed to jointly create research questions, conduct research on the ground and to conceptualize how to effectively present data using the chosen method. At the end, each team presents their final product with discussion to follow.

Being gathered around a common project is a great opportunity to experience real teamwork, among other benefits. For more about the benefits of project-based learning, read our previous article.

Teamwork is one of the key values here in Nobel Coaching. Check out our new engaging program Nobel Explorers where middle- and high-school students will work in small teams.

by Milena Ćuk, Life Coach and Integrative Art Therapist-in-training

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MATH THAT EXCITES AND MOTIVATES? YES, IT’S WITHIN YOUR REACH

Our founder has a long history of interest in mathematics. Here, he reflects on how, congruent with the Growth Mindset [1] approach to teaching, interest, and motivation awakened by teachers and parents, and not innate ability, led to his efforts and achievements. Mathematics, including statistics, is a foundational element in navigating life well and excelling in many careers. The founder details techniques parents and teachers can use to help students of all abilities activate their interest and maintain their motivation for learning mathematics. We have found that these techniques help create mathematically accomplished learners.

The Challenge for Parents and Teachers – How to Excite and Motivate

My first recollection of being interested in mathematics comes from second grade. We had a self-paced mathematics workbook and I found myself competing against a classmate named Wally to see who would finish first. I don’t remember now who won, but I realize that, even as a second grader, that feeling of competition pushed me to try harder and do more. Reflecting back, I am guessing that I was guided by a wise teacher who knew how to get the most out of me while also keeping me out of trouble.

Parents and teachers today are challenged with exciting and motivating their students, with their varying levels of abilities and motivations, to achieve in mathematics and other subjects. Today, I find myself the coach of a math team comprised of amazing students of varying levels, all really interested and excited about mathematics, and I wonder how their learning path led them to join the math team. Psychologists tell us that, to understand this subject, we should take a step back and review motivation for cognitive tasks such as learning and, even before motivation, understand how an interest in a subject starts.

Why the focus on interest and motivations? Because it matters. While, for years, America has focused on the teachers’ capabilities and depth of knowledge in the materials they are teaching, no surprise, students’ own beliefs and motivations form a significant part of effective learning. Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset research shows that, like compound interest, differences in attitude can accumulate to significantly different accomplishments over time. This research holds true across different ability levels, cultures, and socio-economic groupings.

First, Activate Interest

Researchers, such as Paul Silva from the University of North Carolina, have been making progress on examining the science of interest, understanding what interest is, determining how topics become interesting and learning how we can cultivate interest in ourselves and those around us [2]. Interest helps the brain to focus and can drive everyone to think more clearly, focus better and achieve more in any particular area, regardless of their ability.

Paul Silva’s research details how, for a subject to be deemed interesting, it must be novel, complex, but still comprehensible. The tools to help make math interesting can take many forms, including:

  • Make mathematics relevant to the family [3]- Can you estimate how much money is needed to purchase a group of items? Which is cell phone plan right depending on how much data everyone uses? What is the effect of just a 0.2% expense charge on your retirement after compounding for 30 years?
  • Mathematics through logic puzzles and workbooks – A huge array of math and logic puzzles and workbooks is available for all levels. Browse in the library or bookstore and bring home what captures your student’s attention. These are some of the founder’s favorites: https://goo.gl/d66ji4.
  • Amazing Results, Paradoxes & Fallacies [4]- How much is $0.01 doubling each day for a month [5]? Prove that 1 = 2 [6]. And, consider this favorite of my nephew Mitchell, prove that 1+2+3+… infinity = -1/12 [7].
  • Crazy Math Challenges [8]- How many marshmallow bags would we need to fill up your brother’s room? How fast must Santa be traveling to deliver presents to all those homes within 24 hours?
  • Math using projects – This is probably the most useful form of instruction as the retention rate for hands-on learning achieved through projects is very high. Consider this example: If you built a marshmallow cannon, how fast would the marshmallows have to travel to go up two stories [9]? How high must a track’s starting point be to accomplish a 2’ diameter loop-de-loop for the racers [10]?

To make these activities novel and complex, present content from a wide variety of sources and levels to see what engages students and challenges them. For classroom teachers, this means having items at all levels available. Parents can more precisely gauge their child’s interest and abilities by trying different content at different levels.

As parents and educators, we soon find the delicate balance in keeping content comprehensible. We must encourage persistence and innovative thinking, but not frustrate the student at the same time. We can subtly monitor progress and ask our students leading questions, and help them understand the material while not taking away from their achievements. While the student may need hints to reach the right solution, the key is that the student can approach the problem on their own.

Then Maintain Motivation

“If Kids Don’t Want to Learn You Probably Can’t Make ‘em” – Jack Frymier

My wife, a very talented classroom teacher, sees her job, at the beginning of each school year, as getting to know each child, discovering what motivates them and then using that knowledge to teach them more effectively during the year. As humans, parents, and teachers, evolution has left many of us with instinctual approaches to motivation better suited for motivating physical tasks and encouraging behavioral modification, e.g. take out the garbage or you don’t get your allowance. While effective for simple tasks, this form of motivation falls short in motivating us in highly cognitive tasks such as learning. We need to take care. Pressure, unfair competition, threats, or punishments can all disrupt the learning process. Teachers and parents can accelerate the learning process by weaving in techniques such as autonomy, rewards for effort and achievement, and the delivery of more positive than negative feedback. Students respond well to our genuine interest in their learning pursuits and our reinforcement of the relevance of their study materials too [11].

James Middleton goes a bit further and details how, to maintain interest, the student must continue to see how the activity provides continued stimulation while also remaining in their control [12]. In practice, that means letting the student choose. All parents and teachers know how addictive and enticing electronic devices can be; so, for most students, all this must be accompanied by some sort of non-electronic relaxation time, where playing Call of Duty on your phone or texting friends is not an option.

A very useful tool for parents can be to utilize the Pomodoro technique and combine study time, e.g. study for the first 45 minutes of the hour, and use the remaining 15 minutes for non-electronic relaxation and explore some of the learning activities explained above. Teachers can ask students to select from these activities during these breaks from structured learning. Even though it’s the equivalent of asking your child: “would you like to take a bath or go to bed?”, it still allows them to retain control.

Parents and teachers may want to try some of these motivational tools:

  • Learning Gamification – Reward for progress and efforts – While sourced from the mortal enemy of learning, gaming, the techniques work just as well in incentivizing learning as they do in encouraging gaming addictions. In this case, at least, the student might find him/herself hooked on something useful [13].
  • Reward Systems that work in a student’s home – A properly designed reward structure can help bring focus to students who find it hard working for longer-term goals (e.g. ADHD/ADD). Teachers can convey home the students’ awards while parents can deliver the actual reward. These rewards can take the form of money, screen time (with limits), or even tasks performed by the teacher/parent such as doing the dishes at home or cleaning up their students’ desks.
  • Drawing practical inferences – Students can benefit from periodically linking the learned material back to real-world applications, e.g. using probability to determine if you should bother checking Google Maps for traffic on the way to school.
  • Project-Based Learning [14]- A huge subject beyond the scope of this article, it’s been shown that accomplishing learning through projects is one of the most important elements in maintaining motivation. The theory is that the project learning helps link the learning to practical inferences.
  • Demonstrate genuine interest in their learning – We need to show a genuine interest in what our students are learning. This recognition and attention will provide much-needed reinforcement for students.
  • Engage in well-matched competitive efforts – Competition is a motivator. When engaging our students in a competition, we need to make sure that both students believe that, with effort, they could succeed. This could be tiered competitions in the classroom, competitions formed through a website like chesskids.com, or even employing a system of handicaps so that the less accomplished learner can still win.
  • Engage/relate items they are already interested in – This could be as simple as labels. E.g. How many phases does it take to burn a …
  • Encouraging revision and learning from initial mistakes – This is quite simple to do at home, but a real challenge for the traditional classroom environment. Allowing students to revise their work is a significant learning and motivational tool.
  • Value/Reward/Recognize the knowledge acquisition itself – Have acknowledgments in the family or classroom for knowledge progress regardless of level. Psychologically, it is quite simple to fall into the pattern of always recognizing the most accomplished students, but implementing some tools that help force you to spread the praise can combat this tendency, and motivate the students who really need it.
  • Address anxiety surrounding tests or studying – Sometimes, anxiety due to previous failures, whether perceived or real, can interfere with future progress. Work with a teacher, coach or other professional to help with organizational abilities and study habits. Addressing anxieties and providing encouragement can go far in removing this blocker of motivation.

Summary

Teachers and parents have many available tools to activate interest and maintain motivation for learning in students. Research shows that applying just a few of these techniques regularly can result in a significant difference in student engagement and, ultimately, accumulated learning. Teachers can engage parents to educate through these tools and activities and personalize them for their children while parents can assist teachers in complementing classroom efforts. Parents and teachers must keep a constant eye on the tools they deploy, ensuring they stay positive and work well with encouraging cognitive tasks while being specific to the motivators of each student.

While these tools can be used to activate, or re-activate, a learner, regardless of level, in any subject area, the focus on math is because of its criticality for other subject learning, the long-term usefulness of education in life and careers, and the history of math in being a source of challenges. Not learning the state capitals has few long-term effects, but not knowing your multiplication tables can trip you up for life.

The astronomer Galileo Galilei observed in 1623 that “[the entire universe] is written in the language of mathematics” and that science and society are governed by mathematical principles and ideas. From counting and sets to systems theory and practice, understanding mathematics helps us, as humans, overcome our genetic programming, and function better as a society.

Postscript and Thanks to …
In writing this article, I did a little self-reflection on my own mathematics learning journey. I was lucky to have parents, teachers, and colleagues who gave me many of the above items. Here are a few key people that I could remember who helped me on that journey:

  • 2nd Grade – Ms ??? for letting me compete with Wally P. to finish that workbook first.
  • 3rd Grade – Scott S. for being a worthy, nearly unbeatable competitor in “around the world”.
  • 7th Grade – for Ms.??? for working with me 1:1, and encouraging me to compete in and study for the county math exam.
  • 9th Grade – Dr. Zalewski – For allowing me to earn my first C in math [15] and teaching me to work hard at math again. I also remember waking up in class after being hit by chalk. I guess I knew he cared and knew I could do better.
  • 10th Grade – Mr. Philips – For “bet A points”, “minus B”, and more contagious enthusiasm contained in one teacher than I thought was possible.
  • 11th Grade – Ms. Potrikus – For 3/11 day, having purple as my favorite color again and an understanding of how Newton got to inventing calculus.
  • 12th Grade – To the ‘ov people’. I took the AIME exam that year and got clobbered by all these people whose last names ended in ‘ov’ (e.g. Kasparov) from the New York City area. I began to think about how a whole culture can bring about an accomplishment.
  • High School – Dr. Swanson for encouraging my efforts at leadership on the math team. We really managed to get kids excited about math and make it a team sport.
  • The entire MAA/AIME/Mathematics Olympiad team that created the tests every year that I would get excited about. Yeah… I was that kid and still have a stack of the old tests.
  • Stevens Institute of Technology – Dr. Roger Pinkham – For introducing me to Apostle’s Calculus book, deep mathematical thinking and an appreciation for how math describes the universe. Ohh.. and to Vivek and Henry L. who showed me what real math-smart people could accomplish.

References:

  1. https://www.edutopia.org/article/growth-mindset-resources
  2. Silvia, P. J. (2005). What is interesting? Exploring the appraisal structure of interest. Emotion, 5, 89-102.
  3. http://illuminations.nctm.org/uploadedfiles/activities_home/familyguide_fulltext.pdf
  4. Some favorite paradoxes, fallacies, and amazing results:
  5. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/videos/b/92966fc7-c54d-4405-8fa6-cbefd05bbd6f
  6. https://www.math.toronto.edu/mathnet/falseProofs/fallacies.html
  7. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-I6XTVZXww
  8. E.g. http://www.eduplace.com/kids/mhm/brain/gr6/index.html
  9. http://community.homedepot.com/howto/DiscussionDetail/Marshmallow-Cannon-9065000000008MO
  10. This was used by the founder to teach his son calculus
  11. https://www.edutopia.org/blog/strategies-helping-students-motivate-themselves-larry-ferlazzo
  12. James A. Middleton, “A Study of Intrinsic Motivation in the Mathematics Classroom: A Personal Constructs Approach,” Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, Vol. 26, No. 3, pages 255-257.
  13. https://www.lynda.com/Higher-Education-tutorials/Gamification-Learning/173211-2.html
  14. https://www.edutopia.org/project-based-learning-guide-importance
  15. This sentence initially read “..gave me my first C..”. My teacher wife corrected it. 🙂
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EDUCATION AND TECHNOLOGY: A MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN OR HELL?

by Anja Anđelković

We call our times the Information Age or the Digital Age. Both describe the world where we live today. Truly, our lives have never been more dependent on information. And, we have never found ourselves in a world where information has been so easy to access.

Certainly, living in the Information Age has advantages, such as easier communications, access to knowledge, and flexibility. There are disadvantages too: feelings of isolation and an over-dependence on technology and information. With our world changing more with every new day, the skills we need to be satisfied with our lives also change, and our education and learning systems evolve too. Naturally, technology has found its way into our classrooms and our discussions about studying and learning. In this article, we will discuss these technologies we find in our new age, and how to use them effectively in supporting our academic pursuits.

Heaven! I’m in technological heaven!

Ready-to-use knowledge

Students often complain that what they are learning in school is irrelevant or not applicable to our modern world. But, what’s more relevant to today’s world than technology and how to use it? To live, and succeed, in the 21st century, we not only need to know how to use technology, we need to know how to use it well. Today’s children need digital literacy, teamwork and effective communication in order to succeed in their future jobs – skills that are closely related to technology, especially in today’s world where most communication happens online and teams are becoming increasingly virtual, with people who have never met in person. If children were to learn the skills needed to succeed in this modern world, they would not only stop criticizing the system for not providing them with necessary and applicable knowledge, they would also be better prepared to live in a world that’s constantly changing. This world will continue to expect even more from the younger generations, and these expectations will surely include technology and communication skills that will continue growing ever more complex.

Technology as an Avenue to Learning in the 21st Century

Technology is also useful in that it can make students feel more independent and allow them to find the learning strategies that best fit their needs. Students are most motivated to learn when they study topics that they value and when they are engaged in the learning process. Simply put, students value feeling that they have control over their learning.

As children of the 21st century, students find technology familiar, and we, as their parents and educators, can use this in getting them more motivated about learning. Using technology, students can easily access more information about a topic, or seek additional explanations for topics they have not yet mastered completely. Since students cannot always get all the information they need in school or, in some cases, the school environment simply does not meet their needs, teaching children to effectively use technology to fulfill their learning needs can make them more independent and show them ways to learn that do not involve strict curriculums or even more time spent in the classroom.

Turning hobbies into productive study tools

Contrary to popular belief, technology isn’t only a means to procrastinate through Netflix, Minecraft, and Facebook. There are apps and strategies out there that can help your student learn, and learn more efficiently.

Let’s face it. Our kids spend a lot of time on social media. But, social media isn’t all bad. By putting our children’s interest in social media to use, we can find a great instrument for sharing knowledge among their peers. By using social media for the right purposes, our children will not only contribute to the exchange of knowledge, but they will also develop a sense of competence and confidence. They might enjoy themselves when they can see that their contributions help others.

Beyond social media, students can use technology to find ways to shorten the time they spend on studying, writing flashcards and revising their writing. In our world today, students can use a wide variety of software to organize and help with their academic tasks. And they will be among the first to point out to us that using technology usually works faster than any outdated method we’ve carried over from our 20th-century childhoods.

Learning tools for everyone

We’ve seen that technology can give our students some great tools that they can use in  mastering their studies. And technology can do this for students of all abilities. A lot of progress had been made lately in developing apps in the field of special education. These apps have made the lives of some students much easier and they have helped them feel even more motivated to learn.

These advances are not only great for students with special needs, but also for other children who share the classroom with them. Through technology, they are taught how to respect all people, and are prepared for life in an inclusive society.

And now the bad stuff…

With all this praise for technology, it might be easy to forget about all those times you thought about how easier life would be without electronic devices. You might forget about the last time you criticized someone for using their phone too much. (Un)fortunately, you weren’t all that wrong when you lamented all this technology. Technology, like anything else, has a downside. This too carries over to the learning process.

Let me check my messages just one more time…

Technology can, and does, distract. This is probably the most obvious disadvantage of using technology in education. Because students use technology every day, it can easily become too distracting and even draw their attention away from their studies. This is especially true today because there are so many apps and social media platforms and students often feel required to stay on top of them all. To do this, they are constantly multi-tasking, and this leaves a higher risk that their learning will be negatively impacted. Naturally, social media isn’t the only culprit; games and other online content distract students from their academic pursuits too. Technology, as we noted above, is a source of procrastination.

Why would I study when I can just google the answer when I need it?

While the constant access to enormous amounts of information is a key advantage of technology, it can also be a huge disadvantage because this can leave students intellectually lazy. Students may feel that there is no point in studying something when you can just search for it online, and find your answer in just a second. This is one of the ways technology has made us spoiled and has also diminished our capacities. These days, we simply do not need to remember as much as before. When viewed from this perspective, technology can actually be seen as something that makes us more dependent, even though we made a case earlier that it also helps build students’ independence.

Always staring at the screen

And while technology can bring people together, it is also known for rending them apart, or at least disconnecting them from the real world. This is especially true for our children today, who spend most of their time socializing online even if they have trouble initiating social contact in the real world, and experience anxiety when they actually have to talk to people. While this may appear to have nothing to do with education, it actually has everything to do with education. Socializing is necessary for children’s development in that it helps them find their own place in society.

What to make of it?

After reading these advantages and disadvantages of using technology to help with learning, it is not entirely clear if technology should or shouldn’t be used in education. The answer lies, like always, somewhere in the middle. Some aspects of technology can definitely be useful and make a student more confident and productive, while these same technological aspects can, on the other hand, make that student even more dependent on technology.

In order to use technology properly, moderation is important. Research has shown that excessive usage can lead to problematic behavior. However, it’s important to remember that forbidding students to use technology won’t help them to achieve more. They may even grow resentful as they want to multitask and keep on top of their fast-changing world. A better way to make sure that technology does not become a distraction is, again, making sure that our children are not multitasking excessively. Students should focus on developing metacognitive skills that help them keep focused on their task while they are doing it, and then checking social media later.

So, while we wouldn’t advise you to pretend to live in the 19th century and ignore all things new and digital, we also caution that we shouldn’t get too excited about everything happening online. In a best-case scenario, if our students keep using technology wisely and in moderation, this will surely help them in their studies, in developing new skills, and new knowledge.

References:

  1. Basilotta Gómez-Pablos, V., Martín del Pozo, M., & García-Valcárcel Muñoz-Repiso, A. (2017). Project-based learning (PBL) through the incorporation of digital technologies: An evaluation based on the experience of serving teachers. Computers in Human Behavior, 68, 501–512. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2016.11.056
  2. Birkinshaw.J. (2016, June). Beyond The Information Age. Retrieved from https://www.wired.com/insights/2014/06/beyond-information-age
  3. Brown, E. A., Thomas, N. J., & Thomas, L. Y. (2014). Students׳ willingness to use response and engagement technology in the classroom. Journal of Hospitality, Leisure, Sport & Tourism Education, 15, 80–85. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhlste.2014.06.002
  4. Crook, C., & Bligh, B. (2016). Technology and the dis-placing of learning in educational futures. Learning, Culture and Social Interaction, 11, 162–175. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.lcsi.2016.09.001
  5. Domingo, M. G., & Garganté, A. B. (2016). Exploring the use of educational technology in primary education: Teachers’ perception of mobile technology learning impacts and applications’ use in the classroom. Computers in Human Behavior, 56, 21–28. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2015.11.023
  6. Firmin, M. W., & Genesi, D. J. (2013). History and Implementation of Classroom Technology. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 93, 1603–1617. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.10.089
  7. Junco, R. (2012). Too much face and not enough books: The relationship between multiple indices of Facebook use and academic performance. Computers in Human Behavior, 28(1), 187–198. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2011.08.026
  8. Rosen, L. D., Mark Carrier, L., & Cheever, N. A. (2013). Facebook and texting made me do it: Media-induced task-switching while studying. Computers in Human Behavior, 29(3), 948–958. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2012.12.001

CREATIVE IDEAS FOR HOW TO SPEND HOLIDAYS WITH YOUR FAMILY: PART 2

by Milena Ćuk, Life Coach and Integrative Art Therapist-in-Training

LET’S SING AND PERFORM!

No celebration is complete without music!

When you’re together, you can sing Christmas songs – or any other songs that you like! When everyone is present, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, it’s always interesting to spot the intergenerational differences in the songs that are selected. If you’re feeling especially bold, you can also organize a karaoke party.

Don’t forget to record the moment, by making videos or taking photos. You’ll capture funny moments and laugh together for days! Teenagers will love recording video on mobile phones. However, these days, children are exposed to gadgets from such an early age that even younger children are skillful enough with cameras that they too could help with recording your event.

Another activity that you can add to singing is this: Each of you can choose a favorite song and prepare choreography. Then, you can make the decoration for the stage, adjust the lights and start your own family show! You perform one by one, cheering and laughing. This is especially good if you’re recording video of each performance.

In the end, you’ll all be dancing in your own home party! Put on your dancing shoes and turn on a disco ball, if you have one – if not, improvise!

Christmas dance

via Youtube

PICTURING YOUR FUTURE, AND YOUR PRESENT

As the last month of the year, December is an ideal time to wrap up the current year, and make some plans for the next one. Use the time around the holidays to reflect on your current situation in life, and consider your values, and desired long-term life goals.

By practicing these activities with children or showing them examples with your own behavior, we can include them in these traditions, and, at the same time, help them prepare to make plans and decisions for themselves as grown-ups.

People often make a list of New Year’s resolutions. However, here, we’ll give you some ideas of how you can present your resolutions using images. Although these suggested activities are suitable for adults and older children, you can adjust them so that they will work with younger children as well. Also, you can still do these in January, if you don’t manage to get to them in December.

  1. Holding the past and future, in your hands

Future hands

via Cynthia Emerlye

In this activity adapted from art therapy first trace the shapes of both hands on a piece of letter-sized paper. Fill the shape of your left hand with the main accomplishments, experiences or feelings that have marked this past year. It’s best to express these things in drawings and colors, but you can use words as well. When you have completed the current year, shift your focus to the shape of your right hand. Fill the empty shape with your strongest desires and goals that you will work on during the coming year.

When you are done, share your work with others. Older teenagers can be sensitive regarding their privacy issues; so, they may be reluctant to participate in this activity with you. However, you can still encourage them to do the activity alone or with their friends. Also, when it comes to sharing, everybody can choose whether and how much to share. Sometimes, we forget important and good things that we have done and this activity can show us how good it is to be reminded.

  1. Vision Board

Vision board

via Milena Ćuk

The power of the imagination has found its place in the therapeutic process as well in the strategies we employ in making our dreams come true. Instead of making a list of goals for the next year, sit for a while, relax, and get in touch with yourself.

Ask yourself what it looks like for you to feel fulfilled and happy. Imagine. Where are you? What are you doing? Who is with you? What are the most important aspects of your life you want to present through this collage – and imagine scenes as if they are already happening in the way you want. If you are making a poster for the next year, put all these scenes together with next year in mind.

A poster showing your resolutions expressed through pictures can take many forms, sizes, and shapes. Gather some magazines, brochures and other printed sources. Start looking for the pictures that represent the closest to what you have in mind. When you cut out the pictures, attach them with glue to the blank paper or poster. You can also use Pinterest or other sources on the Internet to find even more images for this activity.

Vision board

via Milena Ćuk

Sometimes, you don’t have a clear vision of what you want. If this is the case, search for the pictures that are most attractive to you. In either case, avoid ambiguous representations or negative symbols. For instance, if you want to achieve success in school, find an education-related picture that motivates you.

Make a nice, relaxing atmosphere where everybody will have the opportunity to work individually and to interact with others. After the activity is completed, you can all share and discuss what you have created. The same rule applies here – everybody can choose what and how much to share.

Did you like the ideas that we have prepared for you? Share pictures if you tried some of these! Also, inspire us with the creative activities that you enjoyed with your family!