Dean Simpson

Dean Simpson

Mother, Christian, Friend, Educator, Advocate

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School of Education and Behavioral Sciences

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Brain Myths Debunked

Pop culture influences a lot about what we know, or what we think we know, about our brains.

For example:

“We only use 10% of our brains!” or “I’m very artistic, so I am right-brained.  What are you?”

Many times these “facts” are not based on scientific evidence.

Today let’s debunk 7 common myths about the brain:

Be More Awesome

This pep talk is for all the teachers and the students out there….and that means YOU!

“Everybody is a teacher, and everybody is a student….What are YOU teaching the world?”

Thank you Kid President for this great pep talk!

Lectio Divina

prayer

By Dr. Valerie A. Bussell

“Be still and know that I am God” -Psalm 46:10

I recently started a new daily devotional book using the practice of lectio divina. This small book is elegantly and simply titled by the Psalm: Be still and know that I am God.

The first few pages of the book compiled by Amy and Judge Reinhold (yes, the actor!) describe the ancient practice of lectio divina or “sacred reading” which uses scripture and silence to invite and then contemplate God’s presence or voice. While reading, I was reminded how important it is to build Christ-centered quiet and stillness into our increasingly frantic routines – for both our physical and spiritual well-being.

The Christian psychologist, Dr. Henry Cloud argues that getting out of the “noise to focus and be still” brings about very practical and physiological benefits like lower blood pressure and a stronger immune system. However, he adds that Christian contemplative prayer is very different from the more generic or New Age practice of meditation in that it focuses on a relationship with God rather than other secondary goals such as health (cited in Be Still, 2007, A. & J. Reinhold).

In terms of spiritual benefits, the book explains that to “rest in the Lord amidst it all” will bring a more intimate relationship with God helping us to stay grounded while engaged in our everyday busyness.  These authors argue that our lives are not going to slow down or become less complicated so we must make deliberate choices to “power down” with God’s Word. This stillness in His Word will bring about a greater sense of personal peace and a stronger trust in the Lord.

We usually start the New Year with several new and healthy intentions. This year, let’s encourage each other towards a more deliberate (mindful) practice of quiet contemplation with God.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. – Matthew 11:28-29 NIV

Multitasking… or not.

If you’re reading this and checking your Facebook, STOP!

I want to talk to you about multitasking. Nat Geo, of all places, recently brought the issue to light in a brief article on their website, see it here: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/13/131101-multitasking-women-productivity-psychology/

We live in a multitasking culture, right? We all need to juggle multiple things at once, don’t we? That’s just the nature of life these days. But I think maybe what we really want is to get more done in less time, right? So I want to tell you how to accomplish that, and the answer isn’t multitasking.

YOU ACTUALLY CAN’T DO MORE THAN ONE THING AT ONE TIME.

Well, that’s not true, is it? Certainly you can breathe and type at the same time! Certainly you can walk and talk at the same time! Certainly you can take an exam while you nervously tap your foot or twist your hair or chew on your pen!
Your brain (and thus, your body) can do two types of things: conscious and automatic. A conscious process is one that needs you to actively receive and manipulate and respond to information. Like writing a paper, or talking to a friend, or reading an exam. An automatic process is one that your brain basically takes care of for you, in the background. Like breathing, or walking a familiar path, or nervously tapping your foot.

You can do more than one automatic process at a time, and thank goodness! Your brain, in the background, is always doing the things that need to be done to keep you alive, at least. You can also combine automatic and conscious processes – like chewing gum (automatic) while reading this blog (conscious).

The trouble is, you CAN’T do more than one conscious process at a time. You can’t add 345 + 619 at the same time as you read the rest of this sentence. And it’s not about your eyes being occupied! You can’t even add 3 + 6 at the same time you read this sentence. If you were paying close attention to yourself just then, you’ll realize that you stopped – just for a tiny moment – to come up with the answer “9” before you finished reading. That’s what “multitasking” really is – it’s attention switching.

Every time you switch between writing your paper and checking your Facebook, you lose a little bit of time. You also lose a little bit of your “flow.” You have to switch out of academic zone into friend zone, actually take the time to read the post (or send a text, or update twitter, or just see what “dinged” in your email), and then you have to switch your attention back to the paper and get your brain back in academic gear. And hands down, study after study after study finds that you are more productive when you do one thing at a time. So go where you won’t be disturbed, turn off your phone (YES! TURN IT OFF! ALL THE WAY OFF!), and put on something like Antisocial (Mac) or Cold Turkey (PC) so you won’t be disturbed by your Facebook, Twitter, etc. Just do it for 40-60 minutes. Then take a break. Stop studying or writing that paper. Actually pay attention to Facebook or Twitter or your roommate or text your mom back.

Just make sure you have the self discipline to go back to studying at some point!

Developing Strategies and Heart for the Culturally Responsive Classroom

by Dr. Kaye Busiek, Assistant Professor

inclusion

The number of culturally diverse students in American public schools is rising (Davis & Bauman, 2013), and the academic needs of far too many of these students are not being met (Rychly & Graves, 2012).  Consequently, schools need to find ways to prepare curricular and instructional opportunities more effectively for our diverse learners so that more of them can be successful in the future.

 Students are highly influenced by their personal characteristics, experiences, challenges, and choices (Howard-Hamilton, 2000).  The various experiences that students bring to the classroom, such as family beliefs and values, form the foundation of how learning will be perceived and processed by them.  Teachers who respect the differences in their students (i.e., ethnicity, gender, social class, age, religion, geographical origin, race, sexual orientation, and exceptionality) are better able to meet their learning needs.

Culturally responsive behavior is defined by Gay (2002) as “using the cultural characteristics, experiences, and perspectives of ethnically diverse students as conduits for teaching them more effectively” (p. 106).  According to Wlodkowski and Ginsberg (1995), students’ motivation for learning cannot be separated from their culture.  Teachers must avoid taking a neutral stance on the culturally diverse make-up of their classroom and instead embrace ways they can weave relevant aspects of students’ lives (e.g., values, traditions, language, learning styles, and relationship norms) into the fabric of their curriculum and pedagogy.

According to Howard-Hamilton (2000), teachers can be more effective if they limit the use of instructional strategies that focus on more traditional, teacher-directed models of teaching and learning (e.g., lecture, grades, and content mastery), replacing it with student-centered, engaged learning opportunities that are meaningful and respectful of their cultural differences.  A culturally responsive teacher regularly utilizes four practices:  (1) empathy and caring, (2) sincere reflection of their own beliefs about people from cultures other than their own, (3) recognition of their own cultural frame of reference, and (4) knowledge acquisition about other cultures (Rychly & Graves, 2012).

Caring and empathetic teachers develop healthy relationships with their students while holding them to a high standard of achievement (Rychly & Graves, 2012).  They demonstrate friendliness, warmth, affection, respect, and security in a family-type environment (Brown, 2011).  At the same time, culturally responsive teachers are assertive—establishing their authority by clearly stating expectations and consistently enforcing rules and policies.  Every student is expected to learn, and underachievement is unacceptable.

In order to respond successfully to the culturally diverse needs of students, teachers need to reflect on their own beliefs about people from other cultures (Rychly & Graves, 2012).  Teachers typically ask students to adapt their learning style to fit the teacher’s instructional style.  Tomlinson and Javius (2012), however, state that teachers should following the “platinum rule” rather than the “golden rule”:  Treat others as they want to be treated.  Teachers would be wise to look first at their instructional resources and practices from the students’ standpoint.  This examination might reveal that traditional practices and material represent the highlights and successes of a society to which they cannot relate (Howard-Hamilton, 2000).  By continuing to maintain status quo, teachers can perpetuate stereotypes and one-sided thinking due to the authoritative position of the classroom teacher.

Once teachers get in touch with their own perceptions and biases about people from other cultures, they must recognize the parameters of their own frame of reference (Rychly & Graves, 2012).  This frame of reference may view students from diverse backgrounds as underachievers who are incapable of achieving at high levels.

Finally, once teachers understand the importance of getting to know the culturally diverse backgrounds of their students, they will need to acquire information that can guide instructional planning, delivery, and assessment.  Surveys, questionnaires, and informal discussions can be utilized to learn about the interests of their students–such as music, art, hobbies, and sports (Rychly & Graves, 2012)—their communication styles, their educational successes and failures of the past, and their learning style preferences.

When teachers commit to curriculum and pedagogy that is culturally responsive, “they are able to move forward in ways that respond to the differences instead of holding all classroom participants to their own standards or views” (Rychly & Graves, 2012, p. 48).   Howard-Hamilton (2000) contends that teachers may need to incorporate more of the following:  cooperative learning, reading selections with a multicultural perspective, and the intentional infusion of diverse opinions and perspectives in class discussions.  Tomlinson and Javius (2012) state that culturally diverse students will benefit when they are allowed to celebrate and showcase their differences, are invited to discuss their similarities, are asked to make meaning in multiple ways, are engaged in rigorous learning opportunities, can make connections to their own lives utilizing authentic products (i.e., letters, projects, and projects), can utilize a wide range of resources (i.e., print, audio, video, Internet), and learn skills for independence and self-direction.  It behooves every educator to seriously consider what steps need to be taken in their educational practice so that every learner can be engaged in continuous, meaningful learning.

 

References

Brown, D. F. (2011).  Urban teachers’ use of culturally responsive management strategies.  Theory into Practice, 42(4), 277-282.

Davis, J. and Bauman, K. (2013).  School enrollment in the United States: 2011.  United States Census Bureau.

Gay, G. (2000). Culturally responsive teaching:  Theory, research, and practice.  New York:  Teachers College Press.

Gay, G. (2002).  Culturally responsive teaching in special education for ethnically diverse students:  Setting the stage.  International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 15(6), 613-629.

Howard-Hamilton (Summer 2000).  Creating a culturally responsive learning environment for African American students.  New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 82, 45-53.

Rajagopal, K. (2011).  Create success:  Unlocking the potential of urban students.  Alexandria, VA:  ASCD.

Rychly & Graves (2012).  Teacher characteristics for culturally responsive pedagogy.  The Official Journal of the National Association for Multicultural Education, 14(1), 44-49

Tomlinson & Javis (February 2012).  Teach up for excellence,  Educational Leadership, 69(5), 28-33.

Wlodkowski, R., and Ginsberg, M. B.  (September, 1995). A framework for culturally responsive teaching.  Educational Leadership, 53(1), 17-21.

Santa and the Brain

Have you ever stopped to think about how the magic of our secular Christmas impacts our brain?  At what point does our brain recognize the difference between fact and fiction?  When do we stop believing in Santa and what role does the brain play in this process of development? 

What role does mental time travel, Pavlov’s drooling dogs, cocaine, and neurons have to do with explaining our Christmas brain?!

Check out this recent article posted in The New York Times, Santa on the Brain, by Dr. Kelly Lambert for a more in depth description of how the brain changes as we grow and how that alters our perspective on the magic of Christmas.

Image

image source

‘Tis the Season

“ ‘Tis the Season” is often heard this time of year, but what does it really mean? Does it mean the winter season is here? Technically, it is winter, and this year in Houston it is cooler that usual. So it really feels like winter. Who knows, this may even be one of the years that Houston gets snow. It is rare, but it could happen.
“ ‘Tis the Season” could mean it is the time to go out and give generously (maybe too generously for our budgets). It is definitely a time that we think of giving; giving to family and friends and to the less fortunate. This is the time of year we count our blessings.
“ ‘Tis the Season” could also be a season of rest. Schools are out for a time, so teachers rest but parents don’t. Most work places give time off for Christmas. Here at Houston Baptist University it is a time to fit in a fast term after a break.
“ ‘Tis the Season” may also be a season of travel. Many of us travel to be with family or have family members travel here. It is certainly a time of family.
To me, however, “ ‘Tis the Season” means Christmas. Christmas! The real reason for Christmas is the birth of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Just the mention of HIS name brings joy and celebration. This is the time we celebrate the birth of Jesus. Did Mary know that the child she delivered would one day deliver all of us from sin? Did Mary know that this season would bring to all of us the perfect gift, the perfect family, the perfect season? Did Mary know that her son, Jesus, would one day do miracles of walking on water, healing the sick, raising the dead, making the blind to see and the deaf to hear? Did she know that one day her son, Jesus, would take on the sins of the world and shed HIS blood for them that we might be saved from the death that sin requires? Did Mary know that her son, Jesus , would rule the world, not as an earthly king, but a Heavenly one? I doubt she thought of all that as she looked into the precious face of her baby, but she did know it was a fulfillment of God’s Word and the Old Testament prophesy.
Because of all of this it truly “ ‘Tis the Season” to rejoice and be exceedingly glad, because Our Father in Heaven loves us enough to send HIS son.

Dean Simpson’s Thinking Aloud Again!

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