by Guardian

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Ministers urged to assist hundreds of Syrian students in Britain left without funds and at risk of deportation amid crisis at homeStudents graduating at Bristol University: campaigners says about 670 Syrian students face being removed from UK courses due to lack of funding. Photograph: Panacea Pictures/Alamy/Alamy
The government has been urged to help hundreds of Syrian students in the UK left without money and at risk of deportation amid the crisis in their homeland, which has caused the Syrian embassy in London to grind to a halt and seen sanctions imposed on their country's banks.



 

by Guardian

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Stephen Twigg, MP on Westminster Bridge. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian
The Labour party has come up with a plan to introduce debating societies to schools. Shadow education minister Stephen Twigg floated the idea, along with more PE and the introduction of cadet forces. The party feels that the state sector should copy private school tactics to ensure pupils gain a range of life skills. The Communication Trust argues that too many children are arriving at school unable to express themselves and leaving in a barely improved state, which urgently needs addressing. Still, debating societies? Really? Haven't we done enough to underprivileged youth already?

I'm joking. Well, to a degree. The most high-profile debaters are politicians, prancing about, enunciating their stilted scripted "banter" ("My dear fellow"), in a way that suggests their heyday was back in the fifth-form debating society, thrilling the throng with their zingers and put-downs.



 
This week, Innosight Institute, where I am the executive director of the education practice, released a landmark report, titled The rise of K-12 blended learning: Profiles of Emerging Models, which profiles 40 different operators leading the rise of K-12 blended learning.

Across America a skyrocketing number of K-12 students are getting their education in blended-learning environments. Over 4 million K-12 students took at least one online course in 2010, according to Ambient Insight, and this space is growing now by a five-year compound annual growth rate of 43 percent—much faster than the growth of charter schooling or other K-12 education reforms, for example. And the majority of this growth is occurring in different types of “blended learning.”

The report, by our senior research fellow, Heather Staker, provides clarity as to what this term means, defining it based on the research as “any time a student learns at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home and at least in part through online delivery with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace.”

We’re not talking about the end of school then by any means, nor are we talking about eliminating teachers. Parents need schools, students like to be with their friends, and teachers are crucial for learning—and the evidence is that teachers love working in online learning environments, whether they are blended or at a distance.

What we are talking about is the end of the classroom structure that was built to standardize the way students are taught and tested. The opportunity this is creating to remake and improve our education system is unprecedented. For the first time we have a way to create personalized pathways for each student that are affordable.

And as this report reveals, a lot of education leaders are working to do just that, from school districts like New York City and Albuquerque to charter organizations like KIPP and Rocketship Education, which is getting stellar results in its schools in San Jose, Calif.

One of the most interesting schools profiled is Carpe Diem, which both BusinessWeek and U.S. News & World Report have recognized as one of the top high schools in America—and for good reason, as this video about the school attests.

And we’re only scratching the surface of the personalization that is possible. There is a flowering of different models right now, as this report identifies (and should allow people to now better communicate about what they are and are not doing), as operators are trying a variety of different arrangements.

The report also identifies the technologies behind the different school models and who is using what. If anyone had any doubt that there are a lot of choices and options out there for content, for example, then look at the chart on page 161. There is unbelievable fragmentation of this market right now, with K12, Inc. and Apex Learning having the most usage among those schools profiled. Pearson dominates the Student Information System landscape with its PowerSchool product, and Blackboard dominates both the Learning Management System and Gradebook categories, although Pearson is just behind in the latter.

Lastly, the report also has some really important policy recommendations that echo the work of Digital Learning Now, but also reflect the direct voice of the leaders of these programs, as they voice what policies and regulations are holding them back from taking this revolution in learning to the next level to even better serve America’s students.

 
Curriculum Structure                 
Weekly Topics
  • Orientation & Expectations
  • Developing Goals & Priorities
  • The Importance of Education
  • Showing Respect for Authority
  • Building a Positive Reputation
  • Developing Personal Values
  • Handling Peer Pressure
  • The Importance of Role Models
  • Managing Anger & Aggression
  • Positive Communication Skills
  • Expressing Gratitude to Parents
  • Cultural Competence
  • Citizenship in the Community
  • Making Marriage Last
  • Employability & Workplace Skills
  • Confronting Bullies
  • Becoming a Strong Leader
  • Being a Strong Role Model
  • Character Traits
  • Attitude
  • Preparation
  • Perseverance
  • Respect
  • Honesty
  • Integrity
  • Courage
  • Appreciation
  • Self-Control
  • Empathy
  • Gratitude
  • Tolerance
  • Duty
  • Loyalty
  • Responsibility
  • Compassion
  • Leadership
  • Character
  • Role Models
  • Mattie Stepanek
  • Chelsey "Sully" Sullenberger
  • Booker T. Washington
  • Dwight Eisenhower
  • Sherron Watkins
  • Jesse Ventura
  • Amelia Earhart
  • Christopher Reeve
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Helen Keller
  • Bob Hope
  • Arthur Ashe
  • Pat Tillman
  • Nancy Reagan
  • Cal Ripken, Jr.
  • Oprah Winfrey
  • Mike Krzyzewski
  • Summary Chapter
  •  
    I had the privilege last weekend to address the GOAL Academy’s graduation ceremony, as well as to spend several hours with many of the school’s committed and passionate staff and board members the day before to talk about the school’s plans and the direction of online learning across the nation.



    The graduation ceremony was a moving one and a reminder of the power of online learning to serve those who are literally not served by the traditional school system. To give a feel for the students that this Colorado public high school serves, of the 176 students graduating, 12 were over 21 years in age, 33 were parents, and a few were serving in the military. Ninety-five of the graduates said they planned to attend a 2-year or 4-year college, and 23 had earned college credit while at the GOAL Academy.



    What follows is a copy of my speech at the graduation ceremony.

    Thank you so much.

    To all of you who are graduating today, you may not have known this when you started at the GOAL Academy, but you stand at the beginning of a revolution in education, and it is an honor and a privilege for me to be a part of this special day in your lives, and I thank the GOAL Academy for making it possible.

    Some of you came to the GOAL Academy because the traditional school didn’t give you the attention that you deserve. You may have been like Liz Ochoa, who is graduating today. She told me, “In a regular high school it’s so hard in a class full of students where everyone is raising hands and asking questions. And I was so shy because I thought my questions were stupid. I didn’t want to look stupid, so I kept my hand down.” Others of you chose to attend the GOAL Academy because you had jobs or circumstances that didn’t leave time for the traditional school day.

    Or some of you may have felt like Audrey Skrivan, from whom you heard earlier and is graduating today. She told me, “Honestly, I hated the traditional school. I learn faster than most kids. I was learning [the material], and they were spending time learning things I already knew. I was getting held back.” And still others of you had dreams of what your life could be, and traditional school got in the way. For many of you, a combination of all of these things is true.

    And this is what is causing this revolution in education. We’re only in the beginning stages of it today, but 10 years from now, over half—50 percent—of all high school courses will be delivered online in some form or fashion. And you will be able to say that you were one of the first. You were at the beginning of this transformation in American education.

    The reason this is happening is that the education system our great nation has today is, quite simply, outdated. It was created in the early 1900s and was built to treat every student in the same way—like employees in a factory.

    But the problem of course is that none of us is the same. We all have different learning needs at different times. We all have different life circumstances. And, as a result, we need an education system that can personalize for those differences, which is what led you to online learning and the GOAL Academy.

    Today, the number of schools, like the GOAL Academy, that make this possible is tiny. Liz Ochoa told me that whoever created the GOAL Academy is a genius. She may be right, but without all of you, it wouldn’t have been possible. You are the resourceful ones who went out and seized this opportunity to direct and own your high school educational experience.

    And you did so because there is one thing that you all do have in common. You have dreams of your own, and you know that a high school degree is important—not for its own sake—but to realize those goals.

    Kyle Spillman, who is graduating today, will use his degree to go to college so he can build his own business in the automotive industry. Audrey will now be able to study public relations in college, so that she can move to New York City or Miami and pursue a modeling career.

    And some of you may have no idea what you want to do, but you know that a high school degree and, for many of you, going on to some form of college, will be the ticket to that better life. And that’s normal. When I was in school, I dreamed of being an astronaut. Then I dreamed of being president of the United States; after all, I grew up in Washington, DC. Soon after I dreamed of being a musician. Incidentally, I did dream of giving a speech at a high school graduation—and, thanks to you, that dream has now come true. But I never imagined that I’d write a book and start a company dedicated to improving and transforming our country’s education system.

    Which brings me back to the revolution that you are all leading. You stand today at the vanguard of the future of education. At most schools, teachers stand in front of their students and tell them that learning has no boundaries, yet there are four walls around their classroom.

    Having attended an online school, you know that schools do not need walls because there are no limits to what you can accomplish. You know that school does not need a bell schedule because time is your friend, not your enemy. You know that teachers can be so much more—in the right setting, teachers like the GOAL Academy’s Mrs. Palmeri, who Liz said was instrumental to her success, can be your coaches, your cheerleaders, your mentors, and yes, your friends.

    And you know that, above all else, you can achieve anything you want. Every time you look at your diploma—when you go home tonight after your celebrations with your families and friends and from here on out—remember that what you’ve learned is not that you can accomplish one thing, but that you can accomplish anything. You may not do it in the traditional or conventional way that everyone says it’s always been done, but that’s because you are an innovator. You know how to chart new paths and make things work. You’ve done it with your high school education, and you’ll do it again. You are an inspiration to me, your teachers, and your families and friends in the audience today who are so proud of you.

    Please join me now and stand and give a round of applause to those in the audience today who have supported you. (applause) Thank you.

    By graduating from the GOAL Academy today, you show all of us—and you show yourself—that no dream you hold and no goal for which you aim—no matter how high—is outside of your reach. After all, you graduated from GOAL.

    Distinguished guests, friends, and families, please join me in saying congratulations to the members of the class of 2011!

     
    As 2011 dawns, expect to see the rate of innovation in education increase. The weak economy that has bogged down the United States for the past two years will continue to lift the online learning innovations to new heights in both K-12 and postsecondary education.

    Here are six trends and predictions to watch for in the New Year.

    1. Just under 40 percent of all U.S. postsecondary students will enroll in at least one fully online course in the fall of 2011. The growth of postsecondary students taking at least one online course has continued year over year. In the fall of 2008, just under a quarter of students were taking at least one fully online course. In the fall of 2009, 29 percent of students did. Don’t expect this to slow down.

    2. Public school budgets will continue to shrink, so more districts will do more business with online learning providers to fill in the gaps. Just as technology has made virtually every other sector in society more productive, the same will happen in K-12 education out of necessity. As the U.S. falls further behind other nations in educational achievement, doing less is not an option.

    3. An increasing number of suburban schools will begin using online learning, too. Online learning has made its biggest impact in K-12 education to date in rural schools that cannot afford to offer breadth in their curriculum and in credit recovery and dropout recovery programs in urban districts. Two things will change this. First, suburban schools are increasingly feeling the pinch of tighter school budgets and of some students leaving for full-time virtual schools. They will therefore jump on the online learning bandwagon as well out of necessity. Second, as suburban parents begin to see children in other suburban schools accelerate ahead of their peers in other districts thanks to online learning, what was formerly a group that prevented changes in schools will begin to be a force for change. The full impact of this won’t be felt for a few more years, but the early signs of this will be increasingly visible in 2011.

    4. Not to be outdone, education entrepreneurs will create high quality chartered schools that jump in the online learning game as well. They will do so by pioneering “blended-learning” schools, in which online learning is knit together with a supervised brick-and-mortar environment outside the home, so that they can scale faster—for less money and with better outcomes.

    5. User-generated online content will begin to explode in education. The emergence and success of education rock stars like Sal Khan of the Khan Academy, which has attracted attention for its free online videos that teach math and science concepts and recently received a large grant from Google, will drive both the growth and awareness. The initial impetus for Khan to create videos that explained math concepts was simple: he was trying to help his cousins with their homework, so he created the videos from home and posted them to YouTube. More will follow suit. Some Fortune 500 companies are already seeing dramatic savings by turning to user-generated learning content—and they see no tradeoff in the quality of outcomes.

    6. Mobile learning, the subject of increasing hype in the United States, will make its impact in the developing world first. Roughly 70 million children worldwide do not have access to primary school. Over 200 million do not attend secondary school. In the countries and regions where this is the reality, mobile learning will be a fast ticket to scaling education for people who historically have not had access to it.

     
    Introduction

    The ISTE Classroom Observation Tool (ICOT) is an observation tool developed by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). The ISTE is a membership association for educators and education leaders. The association’s purpose is to engage in advancing excellence in learning and teaching through technology. The association is also responsible for developing the National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) for students, teachers, and administrators. The classroom observation tool was designed to evaluate the amount of technology being used in the classroom as well as its effective use based on the NETS.

            Educators can download the ICOT application by registering free online. Once the educator is has registered and downloaded the application, classroom observations of both teachers and students can be conducted using a lap top computer off line, upload the data to a secure online account, where the data can be aggregated to generate reports.

    Why use ICOT as an Observation Tool?

    There are several good reasons for using an observation tool such as ICOT to evaluate the effective use of technology in the classroom. For one, Moskowitz & Martabano (2009) argue that today’s district and building level administrators are busier than ever. In addition, administrators are being asked about the use of technology or evaluated themselves based on the amount of time and quality of technology being used in their classrooms. In fact, one of the NETS for administrators, according to the ISTE website is to create, promote, and sustain a dynamic, digital-age learning culture at their school or district. Another reason to use an observation tool such as ICOT, according to the authors, is because larger amounts of school and district budgets are being earmarked for technology in the classrooms. The authors report that technology spending in education will reach $56 billion by 2012. Being able to document and retain the effective use of technology in the classroom using observation tools such as ICOT will give administrators much more confidence in requesting funds from the district or grants. A final reason for using such technology to evaluate the use of technology in the classroom is for administrators to better prepare and plan professional development for teachers in the use of technology. Collier, Weinburgh, & Rivera (2004) imply that the majority of teachers do not feel comfortable using computers in the classroom for instruction. The authors go on to say that educators must focus more attention on how to effectively use technology in the classroom.

    About the Instrument

                The components of the ICOT instrument consist of setting, groups, activities, technology, NETS, and charts. There are a series of questions, calendars, timelines, or charts for each of the components. For example, the setting consists of a series of questions about the subject, grade, time of day, and number of students. The group component asks questions concerning what type of grouping (i.e. individual, pairs, small groups, whole class) as well as engagement in the activity. The activity component touches on what the students and teacher are doing during the lesson (i.e. researching, writing, test taking, simulations, etc…). The technology component is the meat of the observation tool. In this section, the observer reports on what type of technology is being used, who is using it and how they are using the technology. The NETS component reports on what teacher or student standards are being taught or used during the lesson. Finally, the chart section reports on how long technology was being used, who was using it, and for what purpose (i.e. used for learning or used for something else). The charts are arranged for the observer to report who is using the technology and for what purpose in increments of 3 minutes for the duration of the lesson.

    Observation

             For the practical purposes of this article the writer used the ICOT instrument to observer a fifth grade teacher at the writer’s school. The teacher is a fifth year teacher who has taught traditional classes as well as boys’ single gender classes. The school is located in central South Carolina and has approximately 640 students. There are five fifth grade classes containing approximately 23 students per class. All of the fifth grade classes have one to one computing using wireless lap tops provided by the school. Each class also has a mounted interactive board as well as a mounted projector. Teachers are encouraged to engage students in the use of technology at least on a daily basis.  

    The writer observed the teacher teaching a single gender boys’ class during a social studies lesson for 30 minutes. The teacher was having the students research and report on the Reconstruction period of United States history. There were 23 students in the classroom at the time. The environment was uncluttered and purposefully organized for movement and collaborative work. Each student had their own lap top computer provided by the school. This was the teacher’s first year having one to one computing in his classroom. Each pair of students was working on a Power Point presentation. One hundred percent of the students were focused and actively engaged in the activity. The teacher’s role was to facilitate and coach the boys as they researched and created a presentation. Students were creating, researching, collaborating during the lesson. The teacher also used an interactive board to model what he expected from the boys.

           There were a number of NET standards for teachers that the writer observed. One was the fact that the teacher was using curriculum-based presentations to engage the students. Second, the teacher created a developmentally appropriate learning activity for fifth grade boys. Third, the technology used during the lesson enhanced instruction. Fourth, the technology supported learner-centered strategies. Fifth, the teacher applied technology to develop students’ creativity. Finally, the teacher modeled legal and ethical technology practices by using the interactive board to show examples.

            After conducting the observation, the observer and the teacher were able to sit down and discuss the lesson. The observer was able to walk through the observation question by question and praise the teacher as well as offer constructive suggestions. For example, the observer suggested that since the boys were using wireless lap tops to let them sit on the floor, at their desk, or stand at the bookcase to work on their project. The observer felt that this is one of the benefits of using a wireless lap top to complete a task.

    Conclusion

             ICOT is a useful tool for administrators to safely document the effective use of technology in the classroom. The tool allows educators to observe technology being used by both students and teachers based on the NETS. The data gathered is aggregated and stored for future reference. This data can be used to track effective practice, track the amount of technology use, and compare the use of technology to national standards. This information can be useful as administrators are competing for grants and other district funding for additional technology. The observation tool itself is user-friendly and is easily accessible by anyone.

    It is important for educators to be able to observe a classroom for the purpose of evaluating the use of technology in the classroom specifically. Many general classroom observation tools touch on technology in the classroom, but very few if any go in to as much detail as the ICOT does. The writer suggests that the ICOT instrument be used in isolation to evaluate the effective use of technology in addition to the more general observation tools.  

    In addition, district office administrators and directors of IT departments could definitely use the ICOT to evaluate instructional technology district wide. As administrators observe in classrooms and upload data to the website, district administrators can generate and view reports that can guide professional development and future purchases.

                 

     References

    Collier, S., Weinburgh, M. H., & Rivera, M. (2004). Infusing technology skills into a teacher education program: Change in students’ knowledge about and use of technology. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 12(3), 447-468.

    Moskowitz, S. & Martabano, S. (2009). Administrators accessing the effectiveness of technology. Retrieved from http://www.schoolcio.com/default.aspx.

     
    Psycho-education is an educational approach for managing emotionally troubled and acting-out students that is based on the principle that students can grow socio-emotionally and can learn how to self-control their behaviors. Psycho-educational interventions are skills-based, where socio-emotional skill building is the key intervention. Psycho-education is multidisciplinary, incorporating perspectives and techniques from disciplines such as psychology, sociology, and social work. Psycho-education challenges teachers to be versatile in current psychological and child guidance techniques. In schools, psycho-educational techniques can be adapted for use with practically any child, at any age or skill level.

    In the psycho-educational classroom, we believe that when a single set of strategies becomes the only one that the teacher knows and applies to deal with students having difficulty with emotional and/or behavioral self-control (one size fits all), the stage is set for limited effectiveness and teacher’s discouragement. For example, a behavior management intervention structured exclusively around rewards and environmental control fails to explain and address each child’s unique socio-emotional needs, offering only a very narrow view of the problem and few available options or solutions. This does not mean that teachers should avoid behavior modification techniques in the classroom; it simply means that behavior modification is only one of the many options available to teachers.

    Psycho-educational teachers believe that there are multiple options for every situation, and the more child guidance theories, methods, and interventions teachers know, the broader our understanding of the problem behavior and the more effective we are in applying skilled individualized techniques for each particular child.

    Characteristics of Psycho-educational Teachers:

        1. Psycho-educational teachers go slowly to build success, thinking of making a slight change each day, not a big one. They always keep in mind that little changes together make a big change at the end.

        2. Psycho-educational teachers accept that change takes time and that each child is responsible for his or her behavioral change.

        3. Psycho-educational teachers choose to perceive children’s problem behaviors as challenges, not threats. The psycho-educational teacher’s motto is “I choose to be challenged by this child’s behavior.”

        4. Psycho-educational teachers are “cool reactors,” avoiding reacting emotionally to students’ disruptive behaviors.

        5. In each disruptive event, psycho-educational teachers look for opportunities to teach students how to handle their emotions and behavior.

        6. They do not personalize the disruptive behavior and stay calm throughout the disruptive event.

        7. They are flexible and capable of adjusting to each specific child.

        8. Psycho-educational teachers understand that, if we want the disruptive student to learn new behaviors, then we need to teach explicitly those behaviors.

        9. They show the child that they believe in him or her, and never give up on a child, no matter how challenging the behavior.

        10.  Psycho-educational teachers see problem behaviors as a reflection of children’s inability to cope with stress and conflict in an age-appropriate and productive way; in other words, disruptive children are deficient in social problem solving skills. Psycho-educational teachers analyze problem behavior using problem solving techniques and give options to students for solving social problems.

        11. Psycho-educational teachers teach social problem solving skills; that is, searching for information, generating alternative courses of actions, weighing the alternatives with respect to the outcome, and selecting and implementing an appropriate plan of action.

        12. Psycho-educational teachers use behavior specific language (description of the problem behavior), not evaluative remarks. In changing behavior, they coach, not criticize.

        13. Psycho-educational teachers coach children by presenting a set of instructions for appropriate behaviors and then having the child rehearse those behaviors while the teacher provides verbal feedback.

        14. They detach from the problem behavior, discussing the behavior without engaging, blaming, or accusing the student.

        15.  Psycho-educational teachers do not focus on causes, or where the child has been, but on goals, or where we want the child to go.

        16. They focus on the child’s competencies (strengths) instead of his deficits or weaknesses. In changing behavior, they consider and use the child’s strengths.

        17. Psycho-educational teachers empower the child by focusing the child on successes rather than failure.

        18. Psycho-educational teachers focus on the possible and changeable.

        19. They do not bring up old issues, focusing on the here and now.

        20. Psycho-educational teachers do not use language that implies that the child has no choice; for example, “You must…” or “You have to…” They train the child in using the language of choice, e.g., “I choose to do _____ because I want _____.” Psycho-educational teachers help students understand that they have the choice of behavioral change.

        21. Psycho-educational teachers give students ownership of the social problem they have created.

        22. Psycho-educational teachers rely primarily on preventive discipline; they are proactive, and plan ahead.

     
    ”SHIELD THEORY”

    A DISCUSSION OF COGNITION, DEVELOPMENTAL LEARNING DISORDERS AND THE NATURE OF HUMAN INTELLIGENCE

    By Robert DePaolo

    Abstract

    The article proposes that attention, memory and cognition are dependent on an energy apportioning pre-input capacity that provides a shield against input and facilitates engagement in the learning process. The shield mechanism is described as an essential component in normal learning, while deficiencies in the shield mechanism are attributed to autistism, attention and learning disorders.

    ___________________

    In discussing brain function as pertains to normal individuals, those with learning disabilities and also those on the autistic spectrum it is important to consider a possible foundational mechanism that creates a readiness for perception, language, memory and broad cognition. Since, despite its immense associative and mnemonic capacities, the brain is most fundamentally an electro-chemical device it might be possible to describe that foundation in terms of energy dynamics.

    Whenever stimuli impinge upon the brain an energy dispersion process occurs, as it does in all electrochemical structures. In such circumstances it is important for input not to exceed the load/resistance capacities of the structure. One reason for this can be seen in the second law of thermodynamics, which holds that energy always flows from a high state to a low state (whether the differentials pertain to heat, pressure or material elements). In simpler terms, whenever a high energy source is adjacent to and interacts with an extremely low resistance source, the former will tend to overwhelm and hyper-influence the latter. Conversely, when two systems are more equal in terms of energy content the flow will be less forceful. As a result less information will be lost (entropy reduced) and the systemic organization of the recipient source will remain intact. A shield mechanism in the brain would ensure that resistance could adequately meet input head-on.

    The suggestion here is that since the brain operates by an electro-chemical energy dispersion process it would tend to obey the 2nd law of thermodynamics. While that assumption is somewhat general, there is research to suggest that an energy source in the brain operates outside the realm of neurons and in the absence of direct stimulus arousal to provide a backdrop of energy reserves and maintain homeostatic functions (Magistretti, Pellerin et al 2000). While that study does not directly address the concept of a shield mechanism, it would appear that to be adaptive the brain must handle inputs and submit behavior with some precision. To do so would require an energy flow apportioning mechanism. Assuming that is the case, one can speculate as to the possible involvement of this mechanism in learning and developmental disorders.

    INHIBITION/MODULATION



    Various researchers, ostensibly beginning with Pavlov, discussed the importance of inhibitory neural circuits as a mechanism by which input and arousal levels could be modulated. Pavlov’s notion of protective inhibition (called into question by some) postulated that the brain will tend to shut down in the face of hyper-arousal. His primary concern was with cortical hyper-arousal, particularly with regard to its impact on schizophrenia. In the aftermath of his writings, some Russian psychiatrists used stimulants like caffeine to treat psychotic patients as a means of re-activating the cortex, (the so-called higher brain structure that is indigenous to mammals and quite massive in humans) and restoring lucid, integrative thought and language. While there were some claims of success, the practice is now practically nonexistent. The problem with cortical stimulation has always revolved around the question of whether stimulating the cortex re-invigorates or further depletes its energy resources. Thus the question arises as to whether the stimulant in itself would become a possible antecedent to hyper-arousal, thereby creating overload in the brain and exacerbate the patient’s symptoms.

    At present caffeine is now more likely to be viewed as a pathogen than a cure (Bolton, 1981). Yet caffeine-induced cortical stimulation has been shown to enhance cognition (Kelly, Gomez-Ramirez et al 2008).

    Thus, it appears that while the treatment derived from Pavlov’s notion of protective inhibition was somewhat questionable his description of this process had merit, Now of course it is a well established fact that neural inhibition is crucial in learning, perception and also the prevention of overload in the brain.

    With regard to its possible role in the input-shielding process, post-synaptic neural inhibition seems less than complete. One reason is that inhibition depends largely on prior learning. There are of course pathways in the brain with inherent inhibitory and excitatory functions, but just how they are applied and recruited to specific experience depends to an extent on learning, memory, expectations and even the brain’s extant chemical status. Furthermore, inhibition would tend to arise after stimulus impingement, e.g. after relevance and impact have been determined within the brain. By then it might be too late to forestall an unbalanced proper (input-heavy) flow of energy into the brain.

    Because brains need to be efficient to have evolutionary value that would seem to require an a priori mechanism providing a built-in, versatile and readily available means by which to ensure that the energy dispersion is immediate, thus conducive to perception, learning and cognition.

    MECHANICS AND MIND



    One way to conceptualize how this works can be seen in the example of a water pump. For it to work efficiently, water must flow through with a certain rhythmic regularity. The only way for that to happen is for the hose to have sufficient resistance to prevent the walls from lumping up or breaking down. The relationship between water pressure and internal resistance creates a synchronous flow that enables the pump and the machine it drives to operate fluidly. A simila example would be the fuselage of an airplane.

    With respect to “brain mechanics” that implies that one of the most important initial capabilities of the brain is a built-in device (a kind of wall or shield) providing stimulus resistance, submitting its own ongoing counter-force to ensure that mental functions can ensue properly.

    While analogical, the concept of a shield is not at all mysterious. It can and has been indirectly discussed in terms of norepinephrine and epinephrine levels in the brain, specifically with regard to the resting levels of these neurotransmitters/hormones and learning prowess. For example Berridge and Waterhouse (2003) demonstrated a relationship between norepinephrine levels and cognitive efficiency.

    It has also been discussed with regard to neuro-developmental disorders. For example in research on autistic subjects Akshoomoff (1989) and Brunea (2003) found that subjects’ responses to inputs were characterized by both overload and delayed perception. Both outcomes would be predicted in a high energy-to low energy transition in the brain and also imply that unless the brain is itself sufficiently energized and able to “meet input at the door” internal/neural overload (or possibly experiential chaos) could occur.

    Other research studies have pointed to a low level of norepinephrine in children with Attention Deficit Disorder, (Biederman, Spencer, 1999), (Shekin, Bylund et al 1994). Their results imply that terms like “hyperactive” and “inattentive” might be something of a misnomer; the phrase insufficiently pre-activated being perhaps a bit more accurate.

    The potentially broad influence of a shield mechanism is implied in other studies, particularly if norepinephrine is assumed to play a role in the structure and functions of the shield. For example Sahehi was able to reverse cognitive dysfunction in mice with Down Syndrome by administering Norepinephrine (2009). Meanwhile Matsuishi and Yamashita (1999) found correlations between low norepinephrine and both attention-deficient and learning disabled students, which suggests the possibility that their subjects lacked an inadequate a priori arousal (shield) mechanism.

    That norepinephrine has a major impact on various mental faculties is well established. Yet it is unlikely to comprise the total foundation of the shield. There are several reasons for this. First, if as Courchesne has stated, autistic individuals use repetitive, rhythm-inducing behaviors as a substitute for an internal shield mechanism, one would expect resting norepinephrine levels to be lower in autistic subjects. At least one study by Young and Kavanaugh et al (1982) suggests this is not the case. Another reason to suspect a more complex neurochemical structure for the shield is the nature of cognitive ability.

    COGNITIVE DYNAMICS



    Whenever one engages in an activity involving attention, associative or integrative skills a number of cognitive and affective processes come into play. Attending requires mobilization of various brain circuits – which could be provided by norepinephrine output. It also requires inhibition of peripheral motor activity and another other, crucially important element. Attending is not unlike any form of exercise in that it involves arousal and a certain amount of duress. When the body incurs stress it produces neurochemistry that enhances pleasure, ostensibly as a means of overriding stress and buffering the arousal levels that might produce aversive states and withdrawal. That suggests a dopaminergic influence beyond norepinephrine could be part of the shield structure. Perhaps, due to the need for associations and closure to alleviate uncertainty so too would cholinergic systems. In that context the shield mechanism referred to here would be comprised of a pan-supportive, neurochemical soup.

    The idea that proper brain function and the fine tuning of excitory/inhibitory differentials that facilitate mental faculties depend on an even energy flow and adequate neuro-chemical resistance seems consistent with the symptoms inherent in ADHD and autism, which can include an aversion to input, underdeveloped self regulation, dependency on external cues, stimulus-bound impulsivity and deficits in internal/social skills such as empathy, contemplation and self awareness.

    Interestingly, Courchesne’s Overstimulation Theory of Autism holds that the child shields himself against outside inputs. His theory revolves around the idea of deficient brain circuits (for example in the cerebellum) which ordinarily facilitate perceptual shifting, attention and memory. (1999).

    Self Regulation is of particular interest, not just for ADHD and autism but for human learning in general. Like the term “executive function,” self regulation is somewhat difficult to define without exhausting every verb in the dictionary. For example skills such as planning ability, decision making, moral judgment, self monitoring, self awareness and empathy are all encompassed in the term. One way to streamline the concept is to attribute related deficits to a weak shield mechanism. For example, with low internal arousal comes low resistance to input. As a result, the capacities for self examination, post processing of experience, imagination and empathy would all be overwhelmed from the outside and under-stimulated from within. A vacuum-like, low resistance neuro-humoral predisposition, (or inadequate shield) would not only make the individual subservient to outside stimuli but would also preclude the processing of internal stimuli (ie. thoughts, feelings and operational cognition per se) that ordinarily lead to self regulation.

    SHIELD DOWN/COMPENSATORY ANGER



    Another behavioral feature of interest in the context of Shield Theory is aggression. Tantrums have long been viewed as “behavior problems” subject to and remediable by behavior teaching methods. When it comes to autism spectrum and attention-related disorders, there might be more to it than that. The body has a somewhat compensatory way of distributing chemicals around its internal environment. For example when the pancreas does not produce adequate levels of insulin, diabetes can result. That usually means blood sugar levels rise, often requiring medication for treatment. However the relationship between elevated blood sugar levels and medication treatments is a bit more complicated than one might assume. For example low blood sugar might lead to a stress response, in which case sugar levels will spike, in what amounts to a compensatory response – even in the absence of sugar intake. This is particularly true after exercise or duress and it signifies that the body has a signal system that can correct for neurochemical depletions. In this particular instance lactose would be released in considerable volume, thus converting low sugar levels into high sugar levels.

    Something similar could occur with norepinephrine and other neurotransmitter/hormone outputs that comprise the shield. In somewhat of a neuro-behavioral irony, aggression might simply represent a compensatory spike prompted by low neurotransmitter/shield resistance and high energy task demands. If so, that would suggest the cause of the tantrum is not just habit and/or frustration but also a neurobiological compensation originating in a mismatch between stimulus levels and attention requirements, coupled with a deficient shield mechanism.

    Theoretically (some might argue, too theoretically), this model could be applied to everyone from the autistic individual to the client with depression, or even individuals with conduct disorders and socioopathy. It could also be used to explain the unique juxtaposition of antisocial behavior and autistic symptoms seen in Aspergers Syndrome.

    Perhaps in that sense it casts too wide a net. On the other hand, a neuropsychological principle discovered by Yerkes and Dodson (1908) offers support. In their classic experiment, they demonstrated that behavioral efficiency and performance depend on a close correlation between the level of activation and the nature of the task. The Yerkes-Dodson law was not applied strictly to the neuro-developmental population but might have relevance in that regard. In that sense the shield could be viewed as a very significant determinant of intellectual ability, memory, attention, motivation, language and other mental faculties affecting not just those on the spectrum but all of us.

    If that hypothesis is feasible then it might be interesting to see if clinical approaches focusing on shield-enhancement might make a difference in the lives of individuals with ADHD, Autism, learning disabilities, depressive clients and anyone who finds it hard to function on a day to day basis vis a vis the demands of the outside world. That of course would require a greater understanding of the process of neuro-humoral preparedness in the brain.

    In a previous article this writer wrote about the potential benefits of norepinephrine as a pan-curative element that helps us cope not just with learning problems but also medical problems. The above-mentioned study by Sahehi on Down Syndrome is interesting in that respect. Whether any research has been conducted regarding input/brain energy differentials and neuro-humoral conglomerates is not known to this writer. Of particular interest would be how those factors correlate with symptom severity, attentive faculties, memory and cognition. Such an undertaking might help provide a more thorough understanding of developmental disorders and human intelligence per se.

    REFERENCES



    Akshoomoff, N. (1989) Brainstem Auditory Evoked Potentials in Receptive Develomental Language Disorders. Brain and Language 37 (3) 409-418

    Berridge, CW, Waterhouse, BD (2003) Locus Coeruleus Noradrenergic System and Modulation of Behavioral State and State-dependent Cognitive Processes. Brain Research Review. April 42 (1) 33-84

    Biederman, J. Spencer. T (1999) Norepinephrine System Associated with modulation of higher cortical functions. Biological Psychiatry 1: 46 (9) 1234-1242.

    Bolton, E. (1981) Caffeine’s Psychological Effects: Use and Abuse. Orthomolecular Psychiatry 10 (3) 202-211

    Bruneau, N. Bonnet-Brihault, F. Gomot, M. Adrien, JL & Bartholemy, C. (2003) Cortical Auditory Processing and Communication in Children with Autism. Electrophysiological/Behavioral Relations. Journal of Psychophysiology. 5 (1) 17-25

    Hellew, L. (1999) Article referencing the work of Courchesne. Neurobiological Perspectives on Autism. Biology 202. Web Report

    Kelly, S, Gomez-Ramirez, M. Montesi, j & Foxe, J (2008) L-Theanine and Caffeine in Combination Affect Human Cognition as Evidenced by Oscillatory alpha-Band activity and Attention Task Performance. Journal of Nutrition, 138: 15725-15775

    Magistretti, PJ. Pellerin, L. Martin, JL (2000) Brain Energy Metabolism: An integrated Cellular Perspective. Neuropsychopharmacology.

    Matshuishi, J & Yamashita, Y. (1999) Neurochemical and Neurotransmitter Studies in Patients with Learning Disabilities

    Sahehi, A (2009) Cognitive Dysfunction Reversal in Mouse Model of Down Syndrome. Science Translates Medicine. Article 11/19/2009 in Science Daily.

    Shekin, WO, Bylund, DB, Hodges. K. Glaser, R. Ray-Prenger, C & Oetting, G. (1994) Platelet alpha 2 adrenergic receptor binding and the effects of d-amphetamine in boys with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Neuropsychiatry,: 29 (3) 120-124

    Yerkes, RM. Dodson, JD (1908) The relative strength of stimuli to rapidity of habit formation. Journal of Comparative Neurology and Psychology 18: 459-482

    Young, JG, Kavanaugh, ME. Anderson, GM. Shaywitz, BA. Cohen, DJ. (1982) Clinical Neurochemistry of Autism and Associated Disorders. Journak of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 12: 147-165

     
    Back to school – A motivational investment that cannot be afford to be ignored

    School days are back! Children are getting prepared to go to school after their summer vacation. There’s lots of offer on school bags, notebooks and other stationery items. Tips are being offered on managing kids in the net and in newsletters. ‘Back to school’ pangs are here everywhere among all the stakeholders involved in child’s education. No doubt, that it is a hard pressing current problem in the field of education that itself is repetitive in nature.

    To be honest, I am neither a great educationist nor highly experienced researcher in the field of education. But, I am a person who is interested in such things and try my bit to address such concerns. It all depends on how we view the entire thing as such. To me ‘Back to School’ appears as motivational investment that could take the teaching-learning process a long way. From such perspective, I have shared my thoughts below.

    I am sure that the teachers, parents and above all the children will have a challenging time in the beginning. Children will be back to school after spending time with their grandparents/sight -seeing trip/summer camps/time well spent with their family members and so on.  Suddenly they are about to embark back the journey of schooling and hence would face certain discomforts like getting back to routine, waking early in the morning,  more study hours,  examinations, report cards and so on.

    This is where we as teachers and parents could help the child and also in turn ourselves.

    Here are some tips for teachers

    ·         Accept that the child needs time to get back to the routine

    ·         Make week -1 of their school more joyous by conducting structured activities.

    ·         Provide opportunities for children to make greetings cards wishing each other a great schooling year ahead

    ·         Tell story tales related to New Year beginning at school

    ·         Introduce yourselves and share your likes, dislikes and hobbies

    ·         Provide opportunities for students to share their likes, dislikes and hobbies

    ·         Organize kinesthetic activities for students

    ·         Take students on a school walk and orient/re-orient them on various things to be followed across various school zones Ex: Toilets, assembly, activity room etc.,

    ·         Give activities for students to decorate their classes with pictures of their work, the places they had visited during vacation time, their favorites etc.,

    ·         Posters with their palm prints together to give a feeling of togetherness

    ·         Share your first day of school experiences with your children

    Here are some tips for Parents

    ·         Believe that the child is experiencing difficulty in experiencing the sudden change in their routine and does not want to be out of school.

    ·         Talk to them about the things they like in their school

    ·         Talk to them about the friends they had met

    ·         Wake up while you wake them in the morning and be with them

    ·         Ask them to make a poster of their day –I in school and paste it in their reading room

    ·         Give them some empty stickers and ask them to write the various emotions they face during their schooling and stick it around the poster

    I am sure by now you would have started getting more fantastic and wonderful ideas to make every child’s first day experience beautiful J and make it a motivational investment for their further learning.