Friday, December 08, 2006

Why Do They Act That Way? A Guide to the Teenage Brain

The most informative workshop I attended at the ISACS Conference, November 2006


Why Do They Act That Way? A Guide to the Teenage Brain
Presenter: David Walsh
Author: Why Do They Act That Way? A Survival Guide to the Adolescent Brain for You and Your Teen
Suggested website:

Adult brain and brain of middle schooler about same size (3 pounds) BUT teenage/adolescent brain is a "major construction zone" until about age 20!

Prefrontal cortex (the brain’s CEO) responsible for
-considering consequences
-managing emotions (impulses and urges)

Inefficient (less mature) prefrontal cortex leads to behavior that may be described as
-risk taking
-conflict seeking

[Humorous aside: Curfew is a surrogate pre-frontal cortex!]

Effects of hormones on boys
- Seven surges of testosterone a day that stimulate the amygdale (the anger and aggression center)
- “easy going 10 year old becomes fire breathing dragon at 13; surges of anger come seemingly from nowhere!” Prefrontal cortex is supposed to provide emotional regulation but it’s “under construction.”

Effects of hormones on girls
Ebb and flow of progesterone and estrogen

- impacts neurotransmitters – chemicals in synapses

-affects dopamine: feel good

- serotonin: mood stabilizer, relaxation, confidence

- norepinephrine: aggression, energy

With all of the changes and mood swings, it’s not unusual for a girl to complain that someone yelled at her or that she “hates her life” because the calming influence of the pre-frontal cortex is not available to help with “reality checks” and regulation.

Characteristics of adolescents due to hormone changes triggering the amygdala (anger and aggression center) along with immature prefrontal cortex (“the circuit to manage emotions")

- "Gas pedal to the floor"
- "Brakes on back order"
- Passionate
- Loyal

Interpretation of non-verbal clues (tone of voice; movement stance; facial expression; etc.)
In the adult brain, interpretation of non-verbal clues takes place in pre-frontal cortex.
In the adolescent/teen brain, this takes place in the amygdala (center for anger and aggression)
From Dr. Walsh: “Anger center in high gear; impulse control is out to lunch!”

How to calm the potential chaos:
Teens and adolescents need to make connections with caring adults. Build goodwill. Establish a positive base to fall back on during harder times.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Alcohol and Drugs and the Teenage Brain

The teenage brain is a more easily addictive brain. The teenage brain has additional receptors for addictive chemicals (more receptors that need to be filled) eventually needing more addictive chemicals to keep up and plummeting without!

The hippocampus closes when alcohol increases. The hippocampus is the gateway to memory and excessive alcohol can create permanent shrinkage.

Signals indicating being affected by the chemicals go off sooner in the adult brain than in the less mature teen brain. So teens may be filling these receptors to the point of alcohol poisoning before getting an internal signal that they’ve had enough.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Reading about Reading

While visiiting a Middle School in Massachusetts last year I heard that the teachers theere were all used ideas from "Strategies that Work" by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis a abook about teahing reading. I watched the teachers there as they taught a lesson using ideas from the book. Intrigued, I obtained a copy of the book, read it. I have already used somee of the ideas in it to help me teach reading in 6th grade history. I recommend the book highly.

National Council of Teachers of English Convention

The annual NCTE convention was held in Nashville this past month. I attended with JoAnne Williamson, Margie Voss and Susan Zarwell. There were thousands of sessions offered and millions of books to peruse, all in the completely overwhelming Opryland Convention Center. Nobel Prize Winning author Elie Wiesel was scheduled to open the convention on Thursday evening, but he got stranded in an airport en route and was forced to talk to a disappointed audience via cell phone. One particular highlight for me was hearing renowned non-fiction author Susan Campbell Bartoletti speak to a room full of middle school English teachers about her experiences as a student, eighth-grade English teacher, and later, writer. She was witty and inspiring.

Great Teacher Leadership Professional Growth Opportunity

"The Gardner Carney Leadership Institute (GCLI) believes that teachers can spark leadership development in students but need training and support to do it well. The GCLI Leadership Lab provides the forum to teach teachers the Pedagogy of leadership. The lab equips teachers with strategies that strengthen their connections to students. It utilizes best practices from educational institutes, current research of sociologist and psychologists, and private sector, corporate and educational leadership development programs."

The institute will be held at Fountain Valley School in Colorado Springs, CO from June 15-21, 2007. It is limited to 55 independent, middle and secondary teachers. For more information see Gregg or check the site online at

A great opportunity!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Will's Reflections on the NCSS Conference

This was my 5th year attending the NCSS Social Studies Conference. Each year this conference provides me with a plethora of information about teaching my "World Cultures and Geography" course. This conference also allows us to have several in depth and reflective conversations as a department, soliciting each other's opinions on a wide variety of topics in each other's classes. Having Matt there this year was an added bonus, as we were able to get his thoughts and opinions on integrating technology into our courses in meaningful and age-appropriate ways. I attended many different sessions. Below is a digest of some of the most notable ones that others might find beneficial.

International Education and Resource Network: iEARN.
The iEARN workshop dealt with how to branch out globally to different schools around the world and connect in meaningful ways with other students and teachers. This organization has TONS of ways to make classes more global. The general gist of iEARN is that you pay a subscription fee, either individually or as a school, to be connected to a network of other schools interested in doing global collaborations. Once part of the network, you can search for ongoing projects that meet your classroom's needs, or else post an idea that you'd like to do with another classroom in a different country. One of the examples presented was the Teddy Bear Project . This is a project where a class will exchange a plush toy with another class of the same age students. Each week students the classes will take a picture of the animal doing something relating to the other country and write a little story/blurb about it. I thought this could make for a neat project for 5th grade composition. There were other opportunities that integrated global learning with math, science, English, fine arts, and, of course, social studies. All of these ideas allow students to meet curricular objectives, use technology, and engage in different levels of international service learning. I am excited for all the possibilities!

Teaching Saudi Arabia Through Visual Images:
This workshop was very well done. The presenter was a 6th grade world geography teacher who earned a grant to study in Saudi Arabia. He described his trip and gave out a DVD of footage that he took. The best part about this is that it was all geared at the younger students' interest level (animals, sports, houses, etc.) As an added bonus, the presenter brought in a guest, a man named Zuhair Alsaegh, who is a middle school social studies teacher at the Wisconsin School for the Deaf. Zuhair did a PHENOMENAL job teaching about the Saudi clothing and its significance. After the session I chatted via a translator with Zuhair and we swapped emails. I am not sure where this partnership can or will lead us, but I think that Zuhair could make a great presenter for my class. He was familiar with USM and its reputation as a great school. If anyone does anything with Saudi Arabia or the Middle East, please contact me and I am glad to lend you the DVD or materials.

Using Authentic Literature to Teach Japan:
This is another very worthwhile workshop that could be beneficial to English and social studies teachers alike. The presenter here was a 6th grade teacher who showcased using a myriad of authentic picture books to teach issues dealing with Japan. This workshop was very well-attended and the presenter was passionate about her books! One of the books that she highlighted was called Hachiko Waits. This novel is aimed at 5th graders and ties in elements of Japanese culture along with a story about a dog. I asked Francine to order this for me to check out. It might make for a nice read-out-loud for the kids next year, or something I could use parts of to help infuse more literature into my Japan unit.

Using Paper Sack Puppets to Teach the 5 Themes of Geography:
This was one of those workshops that I was very intrigued to attend. It was aimed at early elementary school grades, but the idea of introducing the 5 Themes of Geography at that age sounded interesting (I have moved away from teaching the 5 Themes as they tend to be a bit nebulous for the concrete 5th grade minds). However, these presenters from the University of Kansas did a great job. They had kids construct animals using paper bags, paper-cut-outs and markers. Once done, the children created habitats for the animals. Then the habitats were assembled to make a make-believe zoo. Kids were then introduced to the 5 Themes by examining the lives of the different animals at the zoo.

While this particular application of this idea would not make good sense for 5th graders, teaching about animals is a great way to integrate ideas of physical geography. Moreover, the idea of puppets intrigues me to stretch creatively in my classroom. I also plan on sharing this workshop with Cheryl Bair and the CARP vertical team committee that I am part of with Lower School. There are lots of interesting tie ins with this idea that could provide valuable cross-divisional integrations.

GeoMath: Integrating Geography with Mathematics:
While I am not sure whether or not this program follows the Singapore Math approach, I received a CD-ROM that you can search on that shows different ways that geography and math are intertwined. This could be fun for enrichment for kids, as each of the problems are presented in a scenario format, often with geographic videos and visual images. This was a jam-packed session and the presenters did a fabulous job highlighting their program. I would be happy to lend the CD to anyone interested.

Other Stuff:
Aside from the conference workshops, I was able to look into new textbooks in the exhibit hall. I also was able to pick up a couple of new books on the Koreas.

As in years past, we try to live out some of the history of the cities we visit. Washington DC is almost "history overload" as there is so much to see and do. I was able to experience DC with our resident US history aficionados, Brian Markwald and Chuck Taft. It was really great to learn about Fredricksburg, the monuments, Robert E. Lee's house, and the Marine Museum from my colleagues. I have not done much with American History since taking JS's course in high school, and now want to learn more and go on the DC trip with the 8th graders. I was truly lucky to have such great tour guides and storytellers. Fredicksburg was perhaps the trip highlight for me. Standing on a civil war battleground hearing Chuck tell the story of the place was really powerful, and an experience I will not soon forget.

Mr. M's NCSS Conference - thoughts and memories

NCSS 2006 was memorable. We had four young men visit the conference located in our nation's capital this year. There were some good sessions and I came away with some ideas for both of my subjects - economics and history. We also had the chance to visit some important sites in and around the D.C. area. These included: monuments for Mr. Piper so he could see them again, Fredericksburg battleground, the NEW US Marine Corps Museum (WOW!), and Arlington National Cemetary (with a stop at Gen. Lee's old house). Here are the sessions I attended:

The Color of Money
This was a FED presentation. The focus was on the changes our money has experienced recently. They gave out a bunch of free stuff, for example I now have a new money video. There was some good discussion. The FED is usually very prepared for these conferences.

Using Middle School Literature to Teach the Six Core Economic Principles
This was led by a former educator now writer and a college professor. They handed out examples of lesson plans and activities to go along with a book that, in their opinion, is perfect for middle school students learning economics. The book is titled The City of Embera. I have been searching for a summer reading economics book tailored to middle school students for years!! Great presentation.

In Search of the Past: Mummies Around the World
This session presented a unit on mummies that will delight students as they discover how recent discoveries have shed light on the remarkable accomplishments of several largely unknown civilizations. I was hoping for some info on mummies in the western hemisphere. Since I teach American History in the spring, I was looking for some fresh info for the First Americans unit. I came out with some. Mummies are cool, though, that is for sure.

Patriots and Loyalists: Who were the "Good Americans?"
Presenters took a look at why the northernmost British colonies, Canadian colonies, decided against joining the rebellion. I liked their idea for this presentation. Unfortunately, the presentors were not very good speakers/presentors. Also, in the middle of the presentation a native american man interrupted and spouted his viewpoint which had nothing to do with what the speakers were trying to say. It was sad and disappointing. This is not the first time this has happened in a session I attended at NCSS. It happened to Chuck Taft a couple of years ago. People can have their viewpoints but it wasn't a symposium. The presentors were thrown off topic. Still, I got some good info.

The Ken Burns Effect: Making Digital Documentaries with your Students
Presentors did a wonderful job! I had a million ideas going through my head after viewing their presentation. Teachers shared their moviemaker examples for us and how they used them/effects. Mr. Montagne was with me for this one. Their handouts were very useful. I came away re-thinking how I have introduced history/geography topics in the past. I will be making some changes soon.

Herman Viola with Chief Joseph Medicine Crow
Dr. and Chief Joseph Medicine Crow was presented with the Spirit of America award. He also regaled us with stories of his life. He is 93 years old. Born in Montana on the Crow reservation and raised by pre-reservation family members, his life is truly a great and interesting story. He was one of the first, if not the first, indian to graduate from college in 1938. In WWII he was offered an officer's commission. He turned it down and joined as a foot soldier. He had many adventures including Counting Coup against German soldiers and stealing their horses! Great speech and I will use info from it during my First Americans unit in the spring.

Collapse: Teaching about the Fal of Civilizations Throughout History
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jared Diamond discusses his book, Collapse, about what caused civilizations such as the Maya, the Anasazi, and Rome to fall. I was looking for info for my First Americans unit.

Pop Culture: A "Sweet" Tool for Motivating Middle School Students
I am not sure why it was "sweet". The presentors never got to that, but it was interesting. The basic gist here is that by infusing some pop culture into social studies lessons may increase the interest of middle schoolers. They have a point. They did provide some lessons too. I probably won't use these but it gave me some ideas for the future and made me remember how important it is to remember what the kids do like. That is powerful knowledge.

National Council for the Social Studies-Montagne's Summary

This past weekend I was lucky enough to be able to attend the NCSS Conference in Washington DC with this Middle School History Department. To the left you'll see a picture of Brian, Will and Chuck on the steps of the Arlington House at Arlington National Cemetery. Why would a technology specialist go out to a social studies conference you might be wondering? My goal was to soak up as much information about educational technology applications in a different curriculum area. The conference was quite loaded with presentations and vendors dealing with educational technology. Below are a few thoughts and reflections on the experience.

Using Handhelds in the Social Studies Classroom

This was the first session that I attended at this year's NCSS in Washington DC. It also happens to be the best and most useful session. The presenter (I'm pictured here with the presenter-the photo was taken with the camera feature on a Zire Palm Pilot) is a technology specialist and researcher from Kent State University. He runs a technology lab where students from area schools attend for six week sessions. Upon completion of the six week sessions, they measure the impact of the technology on student achievement. His NCSS presentation focused exclusively on handheld computing devices, which he defines as a personal computing device that can be held in one hand easily. This includes devices such as PDAs, the new generation of iPods, mobile gaming devices (eg: Sony's PSP), wireless graphing calculators, multifunction cell phones, etc. All of these devices share the traits of having a small footprint and a high degree of mobility. To a certain extent, because they are so small they often times are barely noticed when in use with a classroom full of students.

The presenter made a strong case for the use of handhelds in the classroom environment. First and foremost, handhelds provide immediate access to a variety of tools in one small device at any place and at any time. They make it easier to achieve a 1:1 computing environment, offer excellent potential for collaboration, and easily allow for differentiated instruction to take place.

We also talked a little bit about how handhelds will affect the future of educational computing Because these devices are so affordable and many students have them, he suggested that schools in the future will provide fewer and fewer desktop/laptop computers for students to use. Instead, the schools will provide the connectivity for these devices. This is something that I completely agree with...why should schools continue to provide expensive desktop computers and network storage solutions when students can use an inexpensive handheld computing device to do the same kinds of tasks? This presentation actually ties in nicely to what we’re talking about doing with public WiFi here at USM in the future. Because student owned handheld personal computing devices will have an impact on future technology use here at USM, I think it is wise that we’re taking a look at the benefits of installing our own public WiFi system.

Presenter Information:
Marck van ‘t Hooft, Ph. D.Technology Specialist Researcher
Research Center for Educational Technology

Vendor booths:
I spent a fair amount of time perusing the vendor booths in the exhibit halls. The online textbooks from Holt, Rinehart and Winston were extremely cool. The online version of the textbook is identical to the print version but has a host of cool features-interactive maps and images (the D-Day landing interactive map was super cool) and digital annotation and highlighting capabilities. Online texts have a nice advantage for students and teachers...they can't be lost and they don't add weight to a backpack. This kind of technology for textbooks will certainly become more prevalent in our classrooms in the not-too-distant future.

Special Speakers
Will and I attended the National Geo Bee hosted by Alex Trebek. Several social studies teachers from around the country were called up to compete in the Geo Bee. This was something that was neat to see.

Brian and I attended a talk be Herman Viola and his good friend and brother, Chief Joseph Medicine Crow. A distinguished Crow historian, warrior, and World War II hero, Chief Joseph Medicine Crow spent the better part of an hour sharing stories from his life experiences. It was astounding to hear this talk-he is is a 93 year old man with a compelling life history full of anecdotes and life lessons.

Monuments and Museums:
We spent a little time working our way around the DC area to view some of the historical sites and museums. We did night tours of the WWII, Viet Nam, and Koren War Memorials and we also visited the Lincoln Monument. We had a chance to take some photos on the steps of the Capitol building at night as well. On Sunday prior to our flight we visited the Civil War battlefield at Fredericksburg, the new Marine Corps Museum in Quantico and ended our trip by touring Arlington National Cemetary. The photo you see above was taken in the Union cemetary where the battle at Fredericksburg took place.