August 2018
Newsletter of the Center for Educational Improvement
Our Brains: Elasticity, Executive Functioning, and Art
Dear Educators,
Have you stretched your mind recently? And what about students at your school? Do they have opportunities to stretch their thinking? While elastic thinking is important, you may also have noticed that some of our students continue to struggle with learning and particularly math, despite all of the instruction and innovation we provide. It might be that their brains are in essence, opting out, and creating blockages that impede their progress. This month, Dana and Andrew address two innovations that could help students jump ahead. The third approach, while not as new, may be a simple strategy that is too often overlooked - art therapy. This month, June describes how art therapy can be particularly useful for students with disabilities or emotional trauma.
Elastic Thinking: Staying Competitive in Our Fast-Paced World
By Dana Asby, CEI Intern

Current societal demands have us multi-tasking our way through our days: texting while making breakfast, checking the news while waiting for the bus, and filling every free moment gaining or exchanging new pieces of information. To keep up with this information overload and adapt to our ever-changing world, Leonard Mlodinow says that we need to put down our phones to make room for boredom or at least give our brains some space for ideas to incubate.

Mlodinow, a theoretical physicist who has written best-selling books with Stephen Hawking and teleplays for Star Trek: The Next Generation, teaches us how to enhance our elastic thinking in his new book Elastic: Flexible Thinking in a Time of Change

Executive Functioning and Mathematics
By Andrew Davis, CEI Intern, and Christine Mason

Principals and teachers report that it is particularly hard to raise math performance. Whether the attempted solution at your school has been to drill more on basic facts, or more experience with problem solving, digital programs, or integrating math as part of STEM, you may continue to be distressed. Does the following sound familiar? A student submits a math test to his teacher. The first steps in the long division problems are all correct, but the student forgets steps and gets the wrong answer in the end. The student also rushed through other problems, performing the wrong operations, and heading straight to the automatic answers that had been shared in class. These problems are not uncommon. At other times, students can perform the math operations that they did in class, but make simple mistakes with math calculations. However, math is not just difficult for these students; math education in the United States is infamously unimpressive. (Schleicher & Davidson, 2012). 

Benefits of Structured Art-Making for Children
By June Naukeras, CEI Intern

Disability and chronic illness often trigger complex emotional responses that are difficult to resolve through traditional talk-based psychotherapy. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a chronic condition in its own right, can be equally upsetting and silencing; children who have been traumatized rarely have the context or vocabulary to talk through their traumas. Art-making, particularly in an art therapy context, can give children a comfortable, non-verbal alternative or supplement to talk therapy.

Workshops on Early Childhood Trauma  with Suzan Mullane
Inhale, take a deep breath, and give your mind a chance to relax. Practice this with your teachers. Have them practice this with their students. Whether it a student's memory, focus, or limited thinking, are your teachers intentionally helping students' overcome anxiety, resetting their minds, and stretching their creativity?

Christine Mason
Center for Educational Improvement