Ten Caesars and brain zapping

26th April 2019

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Week

We greatly enjoyed the book Ten Caesars: Roman Emperors from Augustus to Constantine by Barry Strauss. We’ve long been interested in the Roman empire, and it was a lot of fun romping through Strauss’s explanation of the Game-of-Thrones-like atmosphere that permeated the shenanigans of the various regimes.  By focusing on ten of Rome’s most important rulers, Strauss cuts through the dizzying array of lesser figures who were perpetually offing one another, to instead give us a feel for the men and behind-the-scenes women who shaped history. Augustus, Trajan, Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius, Constantine—you may have heard the names, but Ten Caesars will help flesh them out and connect the dots between, so you can better understand an ancient world that, in surprising ways, held similarities to our own.

Learning by teaching others is extremely effectivea new study tested a key reason why

This important article in Research Digest provides insight into a question that’s bedeviled teachers over the years—why is teaching others such an effective strategy for learning?  Here are the key grafs:

“The critical finding is that the teaching-without-notes group outperformed the group that had spent the same time completing arithmetic problems and the group that had taught from a script, but so too did the group who simply spent the same time retrieving what they’d learned. In fact, the final comprehension performance of the teaching-without-notes group and the retrieval-practice group was comparable.

“The researchers said their results suggest that ‘the benefits of the learning-by-teaching strategy are attributable to retrieval practice; that is, the robust learning-by-teaching strategy works but only when the teaching involves retrieving the taught materials.’

“The new findings don’t undermine the notion of teaching as an effect learning method, but they have practical implications for how the learning-by-teaching approach is applied in education and training. ‘In order to insure that students and tutors learn and retain the educational material that they have prepared and presented in class, they ought to internalize the to-be-presented material prior to communicating it to an audience, rather than rely on study notes during the presentation process,’ the researchers said.”

Learning the NATO Phonetic Alphabet Systemand getting practice with memory images

Barb learned the NATO Phonetic Alphabet 35 years ago in Army boot camp, and she’s been surprised at how often it’s come in handy since then. The alphabet makes it much faster and easier to spell words out for people over the phone. Here’s 4-time US Memory Champion Nelson Dellis with a delightful video to help you quickly master this simple system. What’s particularly nice about this video is it gives you a good sense of how Nelson is able to quickly devise his memory tools. Nelson’s approaches will help speed your own memory tool making.

More news about how exercise enhances our ability to learn

Blood platelets have long been thought to be too busy clotting blood and diddling with the immune system to be involved in much of anything else.  But it turns out these rascals have other tricks up their tiny little protein-laden sleeves—tricks that can improve our ability to learn and remember. In this article in The Scientist, neurogenesis expert Vince Topepe notes: ““We all know about the positive effect of exercise on the brain and other organ systems, but what the actual mechanism is to promote new neuron production is still a bit of a mystery…This [research] is quite interesting in that they’ve identified a player—these platelets and platelet-derived factors that are circulating in the blood after exercise—that might be a mediator of this effect.”

Avoiding mental overload

As Barb, Terry, and Greg reveal in this video snippet, and the accompanying article—if we are to learn effectively, we need to guard against situations (like tests!) where we’re trying to put together too much unfamiliar information at once.

FDA OKs first medical device to treat ADHD in children

This intriguing new approach to treating ADHD merits attention despite its potential drawbacks.  “Designated for children ages 7 to 12 who are not currently on medication for the disorder, the device delivers a low-level electrical pulse to the parts of the brain responsible for ADHD symptoms.”

Brain zaps boost memory in people over 60

Another study has revealed that “Zapping the brains of people over 60 with a mild electrical current improved a form of memory enough that they performed like people in their 20s.” The current allowed the prefrontal cortex and the left temporal cortex to fall more easily back into a matching pattern. As researcher Robert Reinhart observed: “The results provided new evidence that a breakdown in that communication causes the loss of working memory with age.”

We just want a version of the device that we can plop onto our head when we’re sipping coffee in the morning to help jump-start us even faster.

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

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