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Vitamin G Conference--Stemming the Flow of Cognitive Lava: The Arts and the 'Gifted Brain'


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In many respects, the ‘gifted brain’ resembles an active volcano on the verge of eruption: swirling, chaotic and yearning for release. Stemming the Flow … explores the neuroscience that fuels everything educators admire about the gifted and talented yet tends to wreak emotional havoc. In an effort to facilitate focus, confidence and competence, this presentation explores the arts as a whole and disaggregated by artistic discipline and defines their specific roles—individually and in concert—in stemming the flow of cognitive lava. Resources and recommendations are disaggregated by grade level and unique attention is paid to special populations within the gifted community, including twice exceptional pupils and those who are diverse linguistically and socioeconomically.

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Vitamin G Conference--Stemming the Flow of Cognitive Lava: The Arts and the 'Gifted Brain'

  1. 1. Morgan P.Appel Director, Education Department
  2. 2. Into the Light: Understanding the Gifted Using Plato’s Allegory of the Cave In many ways, the gifted and talented are akin to the imprisoned featured in Plato’s Allegory. Their perceptions are shaped by shadow, distortion and exaggerated interpretation emerging from their unique neurobiology and socio-affective characteristics. Thus, one of the most important duties parents of the gifted have is to help bring them into daylight and offer them a quality of life with a lesser degree of anxiety and intensity. The same neurochemistry that fuels all we love about the gifted in the classroom and at home can wreak havoc internally.That is why counseling the gifted takes all the king’s horses and all the king’s men.
  3. 3. Brian Bits: Wisdom from the Ancients In ancient Egypt, when humans were preserved through mummification, the brain was discarded- -viewed as a superfluous organ. It was believed that the heart was the center of all emotion and learning.
  4. 4. Wisdom from the Original Renaissance Man: Good Ol’ Leo “As every divided kingdom falls, so every mind divided by many studies confounds and saps itself.” “I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough. We must do.” “He who loves practice without theory is like a sailor who boards a ship without a rudder and a compass and never knows where he may cast.” “All our knowledge has its origin in our perceptions.”
  5. 5. “When we are at work, we ought to be at work.When we are at play, we ought to be at play.There is no use trying to mix the two.” – Henry Ford “People rarely succeed at anything unless they are having fun doing it.” – Southwest Airlines Mission Statement The Conceptual Age/Knowledge Economy requires creativity; empathy; happiness; meaning; critical thinking; problem solving; effective communication; metacognitive abilities (sound habits of mind) and collaboration. Providing manifold opportunities for flow compels students to be creative and collaborative, playing important and more interdependent roles in the creation of their own learning environments that address their cognitive and affective needs.
  6. 6. Brain Bits: Teaching as Art Versus Science Teaching is an art form— not a delivery system. Teaching is an arts practice. It’s about connoisseurship and judgment and intuition.We all remember the great teachers in our lives.The ones who kind of woke us up and that we’re still thinking about because they said something to us or they gave us an angle on something that we’ve never forgotten. --Sir Ken Robinson
  7. 7.  Involving  Spirited/Manic  Chaotic  Porous/Focused  Tense  Artistic  Creative Play  Collaborative  Competitive  Energetic  Purpose-Driven  Synergistic  Differentiated  Epiphany-Based
  8. 8. The Importance of Creative Play Creativity Abstract thinking Problem solving/Process Imagination Mastering new concepts Self-confidence Self-esteem Anxiety reduction Cooperation Sharing Empathy Conflict resolution Leadership Communication Vocabulary Storytelling Persistence Concentration Communication skills ‘Brain release’
  9. 9. 1. The brain is a complex adaptive system. 2. The brain is a social brain. 3. The search for meaning is innate. 4. The search for meaning occurs through patterning. 5. Emotions are critical to patterning. 6. Every brain simultaneously perceives and creates parts and wholes. 7. Learning involves both focused attention and peripheral attention. 8. Learning always involves conscious and unconscious processes. 9. We have at least two ways of organizing memory. 10. Learning is developmental. 11. Complex learning is enhanced by challenge and inhibited by threat. 12. Every brain is uniquely organized. Source: Caine andCaine (1997) Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development
  10. 10. The gifted brain is much like a volcano on the verge of eruption. Chaotic, swirling, yet somehow controlled unconsciously seeking order and release. The same neurochemistry that fuels all we love about our gifted and talented students cognitively also tends to wreak tremendous affective havoc.
  11. 11. • Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi (1975, 1990)/positive psychology • A Zen-like, intensive state in which an individual becomes completely emerged in an experience • “In the groove,” OPTIMAL EXPERIENCE, “In the zone” • Time stops (almost a meditative state) or flies • “Seeing the seams of the baseball” or “seeing the Matrix” • Losing oneself so that one is so focused, s/he is unaware of distractions, even bodily needs • A universal and cross-cultural experience • Connectivity between emotion, motivation and internalization
  12. 12.  Balance between individual’s ability and level of difficulty in the challenge (cannot be too easy or difficult or flow cannot occur).  Goals should be clear. Expectations are foreseen and goals are attainable.  High degree of concentration in a limited field of attention— person should be able to focus and become deeply engaged in the activity.  A loss of self-consciousness is experienced (unaware of self and what the self is doing).  Sense of time transcendence (subjective experience of time is altered—passes quickly/slowly/slow motion)
  13. 13. When in the flow state, the brain is actively seeking out information from multiple sources to engage in problem solving activities. That is where motivation, Persistence and creativity make their homes. That is FLOW. Where are your students?
  14. 14. Flow is cognitive, affective and metacognitive. It is primitive, innate and essentially brain compatible at its core. It defines us as human. For gifted individuals, flow helps contain (or at least guide) the flow of cognitive lava, as it were. Teachers establish conditions for flow and monitor the flow channel.You can continue the work at home. Flow, however, cannot be compelled or scheduled in a traditional sense. One cannot flow all day. A little goes a long way—both at school and at home.
  15. 15. Another From the Ultimate Renaissance Man Everything is connected to everything else. --look at daVinci’s Design for a Flying Machine to appreciate the merits of this simple, yet profound declaration.
  16. 16. The Arts Tell Our Stories From the cave paintings at Lascaux that told the stories of those who resided therein—what they encountered and how they lived…
  17. 17. The Arts Tell Our Stories …to the Modernist Era of the early 1960s that captured our consumer culture and commented eloquently on the state of society...
  18. 18. The Arts Tell Our Stories …to the music that helped communicate information about the quality of life from Compton to Oakland to NewYork… The arts tell our stories in ways that are non- traditional, rich and unusually robust.They belong to us all, and compel us to think about things differently. The arts serve as catalysts for flow.
  19. 19.  Need for holistic metacognitive training as well as organizational/time management skills  Multimodal, multisensory learners  Great integrators of information  Tremendous analytical skills  Frequently bored, unchallenged  Naturally drawn to aesthetics  Seek out the tacit, tangible, ‘real world’ applications  Enjoy hypotheses, role playing, etc  The brain intuitively seeks multisensory patterns to make sense of the world
  20. 20.  Provides ‘safe’ environments for gifted learners (no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers  Facilitates freedom of expression and seeing ‘shades of gray’  Provides unique opportunities for flexible grouping, tiering and differentiated instruction (ability, learning style and interest)  Provides opportunities to move from concrete (manipulation) to application and abstraction  Socially constructed learning that connects to the ‘real world’ – answers the question ‘when will I ever use this again’  Offers challenges to students at all levels—students can find their own levels, automatically (self differentiation)  Measure longitudinal progress, including closure events
  21. 21. Although we all see lines and boxes, our Experiences will dictate whether we see the front as nearest to us or in the back. A rather rudimentary tool like the Necker Cube can compel gifted pupils to think beyond black and white and ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Important in ethics, important in physics. Is the front here? Is the front here?
  22. 22.  The theory of ‘transference’ has not been proven (that is, arts knowledge does not transfer in a linear way to other disciplines)—although the arts have been shown to develop ‘sound habits of mind’  As the benefits of the arts are developmental in nature, students do not show the same gains from ‘one shot’ arts events, ‘holiday arts’ experiences, or arts as reward for good behavior  Benefits are enhanced by meaningful teacher participation (not as a time to grade papers)  One does not have to be an artist to integrate the arts across the curriculum—just have an artistic spirit!
  23. 23.  Enhances biological survival (hard wired for music— attracting mates, imitation, etc.)  Advances cognitive systems (visual-spatial; analytical; mathematical; creative)  Advances stress-response systems  Improves memory, concentration and recall  Improves ability to follow directions, work collaboratively and/or individually  Positively affects emotional systems, including enhancement of cultural understanding; social skills; personal skills Source: Jensen, 2001
  24. 24. The arts and higher- order thinking Education in art is an invitation to use the reasoning skills of an artist.The artist visualizes and sets goals to find and define the problem, chooses techniques to collect data, and then evaluates and revises the problem solution with imagination in order to create.The artist, in his or her creative process, requires a high-order thought process (Goertz, 2002).
  25. 25.  Again, hard wired as part of survival mechanism—also a ‘sketchpad’ to accompany the spoken word  Link between visual arts and improvement in creativity, critical thinking and reading (no easy answers!)  Can enhance awareness in cognitively and culturally diverse classrooms  Improvement in vocabulary and writing skills  Improvement in recall, identification of patterns and outliers  Provides students with ‘choice’ and greater levels of motivation (attendance, participation)  Improved levels of task commitment and self control; teamwork, time management (especially relevant for twice-exceptional pupils) Source: Jensen, 2001
  26. 26. Wisdom from Pablo Picasso Every child is an artist.The problem is how to remain an artist once (s)he grows up. We tend to lose our enthusiasm for the arts around third grade, when we feel less free to color outside the lines and become more aware that our renditions look less and less like the ‘real thing.’
  27. 27.  Enhance cognition, positive attitudes, confidence—may grow new brain cells  Enhance ongoing development of various neurobiological systems, including cognition, immune, circulatory and perpetual- motor  Provide unique challenges and environmental constraints that require the application of multiple tools/systems to manage (versus seatwork)  Compels making rapid decisions, keeping attention up, alertness for potential problems, scaffolding upon past experiences  Increases Emotional Intelligence (monitoring own emotions, reading those of others) Source: Jensen, 2001
  28. 28. Healing Thyself Research undertaken with medical residents immersed in the visual and performing arts as part of the core curriculum indicate improved diagnostic abilities and understanding of non- verbal cues. ‘Bedside manner’ was also shown to have improved (empathy, self regulation of emotions, stress management).
  29. 29.  Inspire creativity because of a ‘natural recipe’ for brain growth: challenge, novelty, feedback, coherence and time  Improve understanding of sequencing, time, and collaborative interpretation skills  Improve learning through multimodal reinforcement (running from state to state)  Opportunities to relate with the opposite sex in a non-threatening setting that calls for social discipline  ‘Language’ of dance  Improve Emotional Intelligence, empathy (puts oneself in the shoes of another)  ‘Feel good’ chemicals run high: noradrenaline, dopamine Source: Jensen, 2001
  30. 30. The Language of Dance Laban notation is a symbolic language (not unlike hieroglyphs or today’s Emojis) that provide us with a way to choreograph and understand human movement. Dance, like music, offers a unique interpretation of cultural perspectives, histories and traditions—for example, the Hula or the Vietnamese Harvest Dance.
  31. 31.  Designed reinforcement and redundancies across the curriculum  Slower, more interactive learning versus ‘teaching to the test’ (takes longer, but builds more complex and intelligent neural networks)  Arts yield mutually reciprocal benefits (other disciplines help to develop proficiency in the arts)  Affords opportunities for informed intellectual risk taking, as well as the opportunity to pursue the tacit, tangible and emotionally inspiring
  32. 32. The Monuments Men The story of the Monuments Men is inspiring for a number of reasons – a good movie and an even better read. Beyond preserving our shared cultural history as war raged through Europe, the epilogue of the Monuments Men helped bridge science and the arts. The field of conservation and restoration involves a host of scientific tools and concepts (infared, x-rays, chemistry, among others)—with many techniques pioneered by Lt. Cdr. George Stout (played by George Clooney in the movie).
  33. 33.  Have students study history and geography through the arts, creating multimedia representations of significant events using multiple perspectives (such as analyzing the life of an historical figure using music, visual representations and speeches)  Study art phenomena during a particular period of history, explaining how the arts depict the time  Apply scientific concepts (such as the study of light and light waves, looking for patterns and outliers, prediction) to an artistic composition Source: Smutny, 2003
  34. 34. 1940s2000s Elements of Depth and Complexity • Details • Big Picture • Perspectives • Ethics • OverTime • Rules • Language • Patterns • Unanswered ?s • Across Disciplines
  35. 35.  Math, art and science explore the ‘true nature’ of the world around us. Exploring works of art help students understand and explain whether things are what they seem.  Investigate works of art from two sides of a conflict—how is the world depicted by each side using music, visual, dramatic arts? How are the arts used to tell stories and present causes (WWII propaganda is particularly telling)  Have students design a low-cost, eco-friendly (but saleable) car, including marketing media (commercials, print ads, etc)  Use teaching artists to help teach across the curriculum using the arts (many have their own equipment)
  36. 36. Yo trabajaba, mis hijos iban creciendo Todos nacieron bajo de esta gran nacion -- y mis derechos los han ido pisoteando van formulando leyes de constitucion Que ha ya viejo si me quitan mi dinero -- yo solo quiero mi seguro de pension LosTigres del Norte, “Mis dos Patrias,” 1997 Now fill your glasses up, my boys, a toast come drink with me, May Erin's Harp and the Starry Flag united ever be; May traitors quake, and rebels shake, and tremble in their fears, When next they meet theYankee boys and Irish volunteers! God bless the name ofWashington! that name this land reveres; Success to Meagher and Nugent, and their Irish volunteers! Chorus--God bless the name, etc. “The Bonny Blue Flag,” 1861 What are the similarities/ differences?
  37. 37. 1940s, Iwo Jima 2000s, Baghdad What is the symbolism? How do things change over time?
  38. 38. When was this car built? How do you know? How does the design of the car reflect the times? Beyond style, is there purpose behind the design?What is it? How do you know? Your assignment: Design a modern car with a ‘retro’ influence—taking into consideration cost, price, fuel efficiency, environment, etc. Alternatively, design a car that best depicts the times we live in today!
  39. 39. The Night James Brown Saved Boston Say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud! Say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud! Some people say we've got a lot of malice, some say it’s a lot of nerve. But I say we won't quit moving until we get what we deserve.We have been bucked and we have been scornedWe have been treated bad, talked about as just bones. But just as it takes two eyes to make a pair, ha Brother we can’t quit until we get our share! Say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud! Say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud! One more time! Say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud! I worked on jobs with my feet and my hand. But all the work I did was for the other man Now we demand a chance to do things for ourselves.We're tired of beatin' our head against the wall And workin' for someone else. --James Brown, 1968
  40. 40. Blackbird Singing in the Dead of Night Blackbird singing in the dead of night Take these broken wings and learn to fly All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise You were only waiting for this moment to arise, You were only waiting for this moment to arise --Paul McCartney, 1968
  41. 41. Trust a scientist Creativity is seeing what everyone else sees, but then thinking a new thought that has never been thought before and expressing it somehow. It could be with art, a sculpture, music or even in science. Dr. Neil deGrasseTyson
  42. 42. Morgan Appel, Director Education Department UC San Diego Extension 9500 Gilman Drive, MC 0170-N La Jolla, California 92093-0170 858-534-9273