The Amelia Academy Blog is written by Jennifer Faeth.
Topics are intended to be relevant for our AA family. Many blog posts coordinate with the Academy's Advisory Program for students in grades 6-12.
Do we really need to know anything since the vast majority of people have a device for knowledge. “Just “google” it,” we say to each other when we don’t know the answer to a question. The world wide web is a wonderful tool. Nearly six centuries ago, another invention, the printing press, provided a new storage tool. Information shared among people energizes humanity, and libraries have been valued since ancient times.
The scale of knowledge accessible through a cell phone far exceeds the human brain’s capacity for storing information. Fujitsu has created a supercomputer named “K” that computes four times faster than the human brain and holds ten times as much data. The only problem is that the K “sucks up enough energy to power 10,000 homes” (Scientific American). Even more startling is the fact that the Internet’s servers combined worldwide would fill a small city.
By stark contrast, the human brain “consumes less juice than a dim lightbulb and fits nicely inside our own head” (Scientific American). Our brain is an incredibly efficient operating system that grows and changes throughout our lives, depending on how we use it.
Neuroscientists and third-grade teachers agree that we need to memorize the multiplication table. Why? It turns out that we humans need to make connections, literally, in our brain. When we learn, the plug is inserted in the socket when the synapses connect. The result is pure energy. Our brains are hard wired at birth but not completely formed. What makes us human is a result of the learning process, the gift we have been given.
The plasticity of the brain -- its capacity to change with learning -- is particularly exciting. Activities such as learning a new language and playing music produce significant increases in brain connectivity.
We do no know yet the ramifications of technology in society, but science has given us a clear vision of the result stemming from a decision not to learn. It’s pretty grim. Without the crucial connections and stimulation, brain tissue recedes and hardens with decreasing cognitive ability. However, seven hundred new cells are generated every day in the hippocampus region of the brain, which is related to learning and remembering. Most of those cells die, but they live when the brain is engaged with activities, both physical and mental.
Another positive aspect is that the “human brain has an amazing ability to reorganize itself by forming new connections between brain cells.” (sharpbrains.com) People who have had significant brain injury can re-learn abilities that were lost. This happens because the brain itself adapts and, through plasticity, makes connections in the healthy brain regions.
I remember hearing the story of a family friend who flew bombing missions during the Vietnam War. Once, on a return flight, some of the plane’s systems failed. He had to navigate by the stars to get them home. Knowing information is empowering and potentially life-saving. How can we convince our children that the time spent in classrooms offers them this exciting opportunity and boundless potential? That is the question.
Learning about learning
This week, as exam week approaches, Advisory groups learned about learning.
Remembering information involves a three-step process that involves – encoding, storage, and recall. The best way for the brain to create a memory is through attention (thalamus and frontal lobe) and emotion (amygdala). Human memory is also associative, meaning we make connections to what we already know. Encoding is improved by a “strategy of organization of memory called elaboration in which new pieces of information are associated with other information already recorded in long-term memory.
The human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than words. In addition, visual images are transferred more quickly to long-term memory. If we can associate information with an image, we are more likely to retain the information related to that image.
Students watched the following video that proves the beneficial aspects of linking a visual image with a list of words in order to remember them more effectively.
Some methods of visual learning include – Memory palace – placing items to be remembered in a house and the Journey method—associating or placing information to be remembered at specific points on the ride to school, for example. Other examples involve learning mnemonics such as rhymes and songs, such as Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally for order of operations.
Just as they learn song lyrics and rules for a favorite sport, students’ emotional investment plays a big role in what information they can “easily learn.” Therefore, the students who make consistently good grades are more likely to be emotionally invested in doing well rather than simply “being smart.”
“Give thanks to the Lord; for He is good; His love endures forever.” – 1 Chronicles 16:34
“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Matthew 18:20
Students in grades 6-12 meet with their Advisor groups once a week. The lesson for this week involved cultivating an “Attitude of Gratitude” with a goal of experiencing gratitude for the people in our lives
A brief history lesson --
During the 17th century, in times of success, it was common to hold a religious ceremony of thanksgiving to God. As Virginians know, the first Thanksgiving was held in Charles City County. The English settlers were required by their charter company to hold a religious service of thanksgiving on the day they landed after their voyage from England. The date was December 4, 1619. Two years later, in November, 1621, a similar religious celebration of thanksgiving was held in Plymouth, Massachusetts, after a successful harvest with the assistance of Native American tribes. It wasn’t until 1863 that President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday on the last Thursday of November; President Franklin Roosevelt changed the date to the fourth Thursday of November. Interestingly, much of the credit for the holiday goes to the writer Sarah Hale who, in 1827 began a campaign to create a national holiday of Thanksgiving. She continued writing letters to officials, articles, and editorials for 36 years and became known as the “Mother of Thanksgiving.”
Fast forward 400 years from the first Thanksgiving to 2019 when most Thanksgiving celebrations will involve people gathering with those they love for a meal before which many give thanks to God for his blessings. During those gatherings, when asked what they are thankful for, many people answer with gratitude for the relationships they have with friends and family.
Students were asked to do the following:
1) Close your eyes and think of somebody who is really influential in your life and/or who matters to you. Think about why this person is so important?
2) On the index card provided, write a paragraph describing the person and how/why this person has influenced your life.
They watched the video – “An Experiment in Gratitude”
In Google search, type -- An Experiment in Gratitude. The video showing the phrase – What makes you happy – should be displayed with soul pancake at the bottom left corner.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
There aren’t many children who are not asked this question on a regular basis, sometimes multiple times at holiday family gatherings. A recent survey of children found that the top two career goals for ten-year-olds were doctor or professional athlete. In less than a decade, these fifth-graders will find be making decisions on college and career, and a staggeringly small percentage of American workers are doctors or professional athletes. Doctors make up ½ of 1 percent of the 157,000,000 working adults, and there are only approximately 5,000 professional athletes. Obviously, the vast majority of our nation’s ten-year-olds will not grow up to be doctors or pro athletes.
In fact, many teen-agers often don’t know what they want to do and are focused on making good grades and getting good scores for college acceptance. These are good, but perhaps short-sighted, goals for their futures.
It may be time to re-frame the question for our children. Career counselors have lots of recommendations for older teens, many of whom report they have no idea what they want to do. Apparently, the childhood dreams of being a doctor or athlete become lost with nothing to replace those lofty but often unattainable goals.
Deanna Carlisle, the founder of Youth Career Compass, says that one study indicated that “only one out of three students who took a recent ACT college assessment test (similar to the SAT) intended to major in a subject that was a good fit for their strengths and preferences.” She and other professionals recommend a process of self-reflection on individual qualities and temperament. Successful careers are based on fulfilling a purpose that complements individual strengths.
Carlisle suggests that students develop what she calls a “career vision,” mostly based on what they enjoy doing and learning, along with how they best interact with other people.
Our children want to be successful in meaningful jobs, and American adults are generally willing to work hard in their careers. However, the process of how they landed those jobs often sounds random and haphazard. And, too many people never really explored their dreams and goals when it could have made the most difference – between the ages of twelve and twenty-two.
At the holiday gatherings of extended families this year, older relatives might ask the young ones what they enjoy in school and their goals for next year. Maybe, we could also share some ideas about careers they haven’t considered or talk about own career path. And, the nieces and nephews and grandchildren might practice active listening and talk about some of the subjects and activities they enjoy. These conversations may be the catalyst for new-found college and career goals.
November 4 -- Good manners
“What is most important of this grand experiment, the United States? Not the election of the first president but the election of its second president. The peaceful transition of power is what will separate this country from every other country in the world.”
-- George Washington
The good manners of Americans are exhibited every year on the first Tuesday of November when we elect men and women to represent us in governing. We wake up on Wednesday, accept the outcome, and move on with our lives. That’s the way it has been for more than two hundred years, and the way it should remain. The good manners of a civilized people play an important role in the transition.
Human beings are prone to immorality, a fact not lost on founders and leaders throughout the history of our “grand experiment.” The Merriam-Webster definition of civilized includes the phrase “characterized by restraint.” Without such restraint and a moral framework, we humans are inclined toward an irrational and emotional reaction toward what seems right. We can be manipulated, bribed, or even coaxed to engage in all types of immoral or at least morally ambiguous behaviors.
Restraint in conduct therefore must be taught and then incorporated into the lives of citizens. When we are entrusted with the freedom to govern, we must interact with respect and decorum about issues and teach our children to strive for civility in their engagement with others.
“America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great. . . Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.”
-- Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America
Polling conducted by the Pew Research Center indicates that 55% of adults with children under 18 years old seldom, rarely, or never attend church. Without the religious instruction more prevalent among the grandparents of our children, the nation may need to rely on schools and other educational institutions to provide the moral instruction that will protect our free society.
We have the right to lie or distort the truth in order to gain an advantage, and we have the right to do great things in community with our fellow citizens. Free citizens who espouse the highest moral character will hold themselves in check. They will uphold the intrinsic value of restraint necessary for peaceful coexistence in a free society.
The need for civility, no matter the personal viewpoint, remains paramount. In fact, each individual citizen’s personal responsibility may be more important than any grand solution to the challenges of our times.
Choices and Decisions
Decisions are forced upon us in numerous ways during our daily lives. The number of daily choices offered to us may seem a beneficial product of an advanced civilization. And yet, stress and anxiety rank high among the maladies experienced by people of all ages.
Behavioral scientists are interested in the ways we make decisions, and some of their findings are startling. With the beneficial and complexity of rational thought unique to the human species, we are confident that the rational part of our mind helps us make good decisions. Apparently, however, we are more likely to calculate how much we stand to lose and utilize a more basic mental process to make our choices in life. This can lead to disastrous results.
According to numerous studies, we have cognitive biases or “systematic errors in the thinking process.” (12 Common Biases That Affect How We Make Everyday Decisions) There are many examples of these biases, most involving some sort of rationalization. We quite literally talk ourselves into making bad decisions based on what we tell ourselves are good reasons. And then, we spend enormous energy devising the reasons why our choice was the right one.
Confirmation bias compels us to “look for information that confirms what we already know. It’s why we tend to buy a newspaper that agrees with our views.” (Macdonald) In the case of tweens and teens, that confirmation may be found among their peers with either positive or negative consequences.
Another example is the “present bias” that leads us to prioritize the present moment without as much concern for the future. “According to Dr. Dan Ariely of Duke University, ‘This is one of the most important biases . . . that causes things like overeating, smoking, [or] texting and driving.’” (Macdonald)
As our children navigate the possibilities in their own daily lives, we must try to help them understand the cognitive biases that can lead people to make poor choices. It may be the only way to circumvent the biased choice and craft a rational decision.
"12 Common Biases That Affect How We Make Everyday Decisions." 7 Sept 2018. Psychology Today. 23 Oct 2019.
Macdonald, Toby. "How do we really make decisions?" 24 Feb 2014. bbc.com. 23 Oct 2019.
Rules of Civility
George Washington was known for his courteous behavior and honorable character. While probably due primarily to his upbringing and temperament, Washington may also have followed 100 rules for Civility and Decent Behavior, a list he had copied by age sixteen. It is theorized that this exercise was assigned to improve his penmanship; however, someone may also have wanted to instill in him the importance of social etiquette.
In our modern world, uncivil behavior is sometimes admired and certainly tolerated by society. Sixteen-year-old young men and women, at times, seem to compete for who will share the most offensively humorous tweet or post on social media.
While not all of Washington’s Rules are relevant today, Rule 1 encompasses social interaction for all time. “Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.” The other rules contain variations on this theme of respect for self and others.
Political discourse in recent years seems to contradict the standard of behavior exhibited by Washington. Outrageous claims and cyber name-calling are a stark contrast to a productive conversation about different approaches and solutions. Washington could not have envisioned the disconnection created by the internet. He would have marveled at the technology but may have been disheartened by the rude and crass behavior exhibited in the cloud.
The next generation is watching and emulating this behavior. As we create new rules for virtual interaction with the world around us, we may need to teach our children to act “with some sign of respect” toward others, whether or not they are physically present.
Last week, our new water fountain was installed. A gift from the class of 2019, the new fountain has generated much excitement. And, apparently, we are a thirsty group. Almost 300 plastic water bottles have been saved in just one week, according to the fountain’s counting feature. At this rate, by the end of the year, that number could approach 10,000 bottles not deposited in a landfill. I’m not sure there’s a direct correlation because not every drink of water has previously come from a plastic bottle. However, it does illustrate the idea that small changes can eventually make a big difference.
During this week’s advisory meetings for grades 6-12, our groups will be discussing mindset and how it can determine outcome. A small change in how students view mistakes can create a huge positive impact on how much they learn. When failure becomes a motivation to figure out what went wrong, the greatest learning takes place. Suddenly, the mistake becomes good and an opportunity for growth. Conversely, for some students, the same mistake can lead to negative emotions and the illusion of failure.
Drinking water from plastic, disposable bottles has been viewed as a positive and healthy choice. Today, everyone is filling up stainless steel water bottles, which is also a good choice for the environment. Our students need to realize that mistakes are a stepping stone to greater achievement. They can make the choice to work hard, not just for the grades but for greater understanding. Otherwise, the emotions surrounding mistakes can become a tremendous burden, a metaphorical landfill of empty water bottles.