A blast from the past March 2009 Scientific American article by Tracy Shors provides a rebuttal to the somewhat common misconception that the brain does not create new neurons. It does – thousands every day. Don’t get too excited, though. If you don’t cognitively exercise these baby neurons, they will disappear within just a few weeks. Article is linked above, but unfortunately there’s a pay wall. I recommend springing for the subscription. It could be your first step in raising a whole new batch of thinker cells.
“Fresh neurons arise in the brain every day… Recent work, albeit mostly in rats, indicates that learning enhances the survival of new neurons in the adult brain. And the more engaging and challenging the problem, the greater the number of neurons that stick around. These neurons are then presumably available to aid in situations that tax the mind. It seems, then, that a mental workout can buff up the brain, much as physical exercise builds up the body…”
Being a Southerner in New York City, I always suspected this. There is no relationship between intelligence and speed. What is important is to deeply understand things and to think about their relations to each other. In math education emphases on speed simply create math anxiety and phobia, rather than great mathematical thinkers. From Fields Medalist Laurent Schwartz:
“I was always deeply uncertain about my own intellectual capacity. I thought I was unintelligent. And it’s true that I was, and I still am, rather slow. I need time to seize things because I always need to understand them fully. Even when I was the first to answer the teacher’s questions, I knew it was because they happened to be questions to which I already knew the answer. But if a new question arose, usually students who weren’t as good as I was answered before me and towards the end of the 11th grade I secretly thought of myself as stupid and I worried about this for a long time. I never talked about this to anyone but I always felt convinced that my imposture would someday be revealed. The whole world and myself would see that what looked like intelligence was really just an illusion Now that never happened. Apparently no one ever noticed it, and I’m still just as slow. At the end of the eleventh grade I took the measure of the situation and came to the conclusion that rapidity doesn’t have a precise relationship to intelligence. What is important is to deeply understand things and their relations to each other. This is where intelligence lies. The fact of being quick or slow isn’t really relevant. Naturally, it’s helpful to be quick, like it is to have a good memory. But it’s neither necessary nor sufficient for intellectual success.”
Laurent Schwartz, Fields Medal earner, as quoted by Dr. Jo Boaler in EDUC115N How to Learn Math (MOOC)
In this excellent Ted Talk, Angela Lee Duckworth bluntly relays where we are in the science of education with regard to the single most important factor that determines success and achievement. At this point, all we know for sure is that a growth mindset can play an important role in helping children develop the stick-to-it-iveness they need to reach high levels of achievement. Comments welcome.
Here are some suggestions for things you can do to help your child with math outside of school.
Every night during dinner or after, have a math minute: ask your child what they learned in math class that day. Was it fun? Give your child a mental math problem based on what they learned that day.
Make sure the mental math problems aren’t too hard. If necessary, make the problems easier – but never be negative or display disappointment. Just be excited when they get one right. Always praise the effort, regardless of the results.
Make a point to praise your child’s effort in math, regardless of the results
Ask if class was fun today, was the test fun?
If you cook, have your child help you with the measurements, especially if you have to adjust the recipe.
If you don’t know the meaning of a word on the homework, don’t be afraid to look it up, but don’t use yahoo answers, wikipedia is fine, or a math website.
Have your child re-teach you what she learned in class today
Take your child shopping and compare prices in differently sized bottles. On your smart phone show her how to check the price per ounce (before you show her that it is often written on the shelf) to decide which one to buy.
Shopping: if something is on sale, have her figure out the discount and the price.
In the past five years no book or thinker has had a greater impact on my life than Mindset, The New Psychology of Success by psychologist Carol Dweck. The approach to learning and growth she describes in her book and videos has affected me not only in my pursuits of hobbies and interests, but professionally, as an educator, as well. I have found new passion and joy in my own musical and artistic endeavors, and also have, I hope, become a better teacher in cultivating in my students a lifelong love of continual learning and determined practice on the road to discovery and success.