Archive for April, 2009

Eating chocolate can improve your math skills?

April 29, 2009

Findings presented at the British Psychological Society annual conference show that eating large amounts of chocolate improves mental arithmetic skills. From the Daily Telegraph:

Prof David Kennedy, director of the brain, performance and nutrition research centre at Northumbria University, and a co-author of the study, said that chocolate could be beneficial for mentally challenging tasks.

The findings suggest students who binge on chocolate when revising for exams may gain a real benefit from doing so.

“For things that are difficult to do, mentally demanding things that maybe crop up in your work it could help,” Prof Kennedy said.

The responsible compounds, called flavanols, are part of a group of chemicals called polyphenols, which work by increasing blood flow to the brain.

For the study 30 volunteers were asked to count backwards in groups of three from a random number between 800 and 999 generated by a computer.

The findings show that they could do the calculations more quickly and more accurately after they had been given the drink.

Unfortunately, Professor Kennedy also allowed that fruits and vegetables are also rich in polyphenols:

“The more fruit and vegetables and things that are high in polyphenols the better that is for your brain in the long run.”

You eat the vegetables, we’ll eat the chocolate.

(Hat tip to the Posit Science Brain Fitness News for alerting us to this delicious study.)

Be Amazing Learning reviews “The New Science of Learning”

April 29, 2009

Our local PBS station (KQED) just aired a new documentary, “The New Science of Learning: Brain Fitness for Kids”. The program, while not mentioning Fast ForWord by name, extolls the virtues of cognitive training for enhancing learning in children of all ages and abilities.

If you’re familiar with the Fast ForWord story, and the idea that training programs like Fast ForWord can enhance learning by developing foundational cognitive skills like memory, sequencing, processing rates and attention, there’s not too much new stuff here. The show includes interviews with Drs. Merzenich and Tallal, as well as other psychologists, neuroscientists and educators. And Willie Brown, perhaps the most famous Fast ForWord alum, makes a very compelling appearance.

The show does a good job of pulling together all of the pieces that comprise Fast ForWord and presenting the package in a clear way. It’s all in there, from the criticality of timing in language, to the very concept of brain plasticity.

The elephant in the room, of course, is Fast ForWord, whose existence is implied, but never specifically mentioned. In the grand scheme of things, that’s probably good for the movement, as the endorsement of a specific product would weaken the overall message that brains are plastic and can be made stronger and more efficient with the appropriate training program.

We’d recommend “The New Science of Learning” for everyone, especially if you have only a cursory understanding of the premise and promise of a program like Fast ForWord.

If you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, you’ve got a couple more chances to catch the show this week. It’s on Thursday evening at 7:30 PM and again early Friday morning (1:30 AM). We understand that a wider national release is imminent.

If you’d like to know more about brain fitness and how Be Amazing can help your child, visit our Web site.

Be Amazing selected as a finalist for an Oakland Indie Award

April 28, 2009

OK, nothing about brain fitness or literacy in this post. Just a heads up that Be Amazing has been selected from over 500 nominations as a finalist for the 2009 Oakland Indie Awards. The awards celebrate “the social and environmental impact of Oakland’s independent businesses and artists.” 

We’ve been selected as a finalist in the Innovator category, for companies that “excite and inspire because of a creative new idea or perspective they are sharing with the world.” Last year’s winner in that category was Pandora, the Internet music service that uses the work of the Music Genome Project to create customized stations based on users’ musical tastes and preferences.

Winners are announced on May 15th.

How about that?

“New Science of Learning: Brain Fitness for Kids” on PBS

April 18, 2009

Public television is airing a 2 hour piece on the science of brain fitness. The piece features interviews with neuroscientists including Drs. Michael Merzenich and Paula Tallal who conducted much of the research that led to the development of the Fast ForWord programs.

From the KQED Web site:

This program explores the exciting promise of brain plasticity and how parents can use this to optimize learning and dramatically, positively and permanently impact the lives of children of all abilities. Through interviews with neuroscientists, psychologists, educators, parents and the children themselves, it tells the groundbreaking and moving story of previously unthinkable successes in learning and life.

For many years, the conventional wisdom in science and education had been that the majority of the brain’s functioning was established during the “critical period” of the first few years of life. It was thought that after these first years that the brain was hardwired by the child’s neurological history, genetics and life experiences. Following this way of thinking, a teacher worked within ‘limits’ rather than exploring the possibilities of a child’s ability to learn, and has doomed generations of children to a limited learning experience and an often deflated sense of self worth.

This is an exciting development for those of us who hope to see the new research on the importance of brain fitness become more mainstream.

The show will initially run in the San Francisco Bay Area on KQED, though a nationwide release is planned. Airing schedule and more info on the KQED Web site. We’ll have a review up next week.

Help For Struggling Readers

April 1, 2009

The Piedmont Post, a local newspaper in Piedmont, California just ran an article by Be Amazing about how brain fitness programs like Fast ForWord can help struggling readers. The paper is print-only, but here’s what we had to say:

Even with great, content-rich curriculum in schools and parents who actively support their children’s literacy growth, many children struggle to learn to read or to become better readers. Some children may have a formal diagnosis of dyslexia, while many more may simply find the act of reading a challenge, rather than a joy.

Research into how children acquire language and learn to read indicates that when children struggle with oral language skills such as the ability to differentiate sounds, these issues lead to challenges with reading and writing, which can expand to impact other academic areas. In fact, a recent study showed that language comprehension at age 3 is the best predictor of later language, early reading and reading skills at ages 5 and 7.

Unfortunately, struggling readers fall further and further behind their peers as they get older. By the age of thirteen, students who struggled with early reading in kindergarten are, on average, five years behind their peers who did not.

The good news is that we can help struggling students become proficient readers and learners by developing these critical foundational language skills. Brain fitness programs, like the Fast ForWord family of programs from Oakland-based Scientific Learning, improve students’ ability to capture, process, and retain instruction by improving the underlying cognitive skills that build brain capacity: memory, attention, processing rates and sequencing. The Fast ForWord programs simultaneously build foundational reading skills like phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension to quickly bring struggling students to proficiency.

And because of the critical nature of foundational cognitive skills, when you improve them you impact the entire learning process to help students become successful in school and beyond.

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