Friday, 25 December 2015

Three ways teachers can wind down effectively after a long term

The Christmas break is finally here, so how can teachers make sure they leave work in the classroom? Neurologist Judy Willis shares her advice.

The countdown has begun for many teachers who eagerly anticipate a well deserved and much needed Christmas break.

It may surprise you to hear that there is a neuroscience behind effectively switching to rejuvenation mode. Just as your brain’s memory strengthens with practice, so do your brain’s behaviour control networks. Essentially, what this mean is that teachers get used to patterns of behaviour – such as thinking about their pupils before themselves – during term time which can be hard to break over the holidays. However, it’s important to switch off. So to help you I’ve put together a few tips on how to do this.

Make a list and check it twice

Write down all the things you’ve promised yourself to get done during the break. This could include organising things you’ve put off – cleaning your desk and arranging the photos on your phone into albums on your computer. It might also include getting together with people you’ve had to put off during the term or sending thank you cards to students and families. Other top festive tasks include pre-making any holiday food or buying gifts for family and friends.

To care for your brain and body during the school break any demands that are put upon us need to be managed. Your behavior control centres are located high up in your brain’s prefrontal cortex. These neural networks send messages to the brain directing the desired physical actions or emotional responses. The system works well until stress builds up and blocks the behavior control messages flowing from cortex to brain. This means that knowing what you have to do stops you from stressing out.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

What can science tell us about the Star of Bethlehem?

During winter it can sometimes feel that the whole day passes in the blink of an eye and that evening darkness comes far too quickly. While more daylight would be a lovely thing, the early darkness has one big advantage: the stars. On a clear evening you can look up and see far into space. I’ve spent many winter evenings with my children, on our way home from activities, looking for Orion (and other constellations), following its path through the seasons.

Stars and space are two of the most popular science topics, whatever the age of the child. There’s something awe-inspiring and beautiful about looking into the night sky at the stars.

But it isn’t just children and young people who are fascinated by stars – astronomy is one of the few sciences where amateurs can make a significant contribution to our understanding of the subject.

… and there came from the East

At this time of year, the Christmas story can serve as a reminder that, throughout history, people have looked at the night sky, and wondered about what they have seen. The Babylonians had star catalogues as early as 1300 BC which contained information about constellations and patterns in the stars. It’s likely that the observation and naming of these constellations went back before that date.

The stars and constellations were important to those observing them. According to biblical tradition, after Jesus was born, magi (or wise men) from the east came to find Jesus saying that they had seen his star when it rose and followed it. The magi were people who studied the stars and saw significance in them.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

How anxiety scrambles your brain and makes it hard to learn

Levels of stress and anxiety are on the rise among students. Juliet Rix has tips to control the panic and thrive academically.

Olivia admits she’s always been a worrier – but when she started university, her anxiety steadily began to build. One day she was simply too frightened to leave the house. For two weeks she was stuck indoors, before she was diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder and began to get the help she needed.

With support from her GP and university wellbeing service, and courses of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), she was able to stick with her university course and to start enjoying life again.

But Olivia is far from alone in her anxiety: the number of students declaring a mental health problem has doubled in the last five years, to at least 115,000.

“And that is a very small proportion of the students who are having mental health difficulties,” says Ruth Caleb, chair of Universities UK’s mental wellbeing working group.

A study of UK undergraduates has found that even among students symptom-free before starting university, some 20% are troubled by a clinically significant level of anxiety by the middle of second year.

What does anxiety do to students? It causes the body to prepare itself for fight or flight.

“If you are in a situation of imminent actual threat, then the increased alertness and body response can be lifesaving,” explains Chris Williams, professor of psychosocial psychiatry at the University of Glasgow, and medical advisor to Anxiety UK.

“But if it occurs when trying to revise, or present a talk, or at such a high level that it paralyses or causes errors, it can interfere with what we want to do.”

Monday, 14 December 2015

How to discipline your children without rewards or punishment

Many parents are moving towards “gentle parenting”, where they choose not to use rewards (sticker charts, lollies, chocolates, TV time as “bribes”) and punishments (taking away “privileges”, time-out, smacking) to encourage good behaviour, but encourage good behaviour for the sake of doing the right thing.

Gentle parents argue that to offer rewards and punishments overrides a child’s natural inclination towards appropriate behaviour by teaching them to behave in certain ways purely to receive a reward, or to avoid punishment.

What is discipline?

For most people it would seem impossible to discipline without rewards and punishments. However, it depends on your understanding of “discipline”. Discipline always has a silent “self” in front of it because it’s about controlling yourself.

So, in the case of parenting, it’s about helping children learn to manage themselves, their feelings, their behaviour and their impulses. We want our children to develop a sound moral compass, to sort behaviours, impulses and feelings into “appropriate” and “inappropriate” and be able to justify judgements about their choices.

When the term discipline is used, it is often in a sense that implies punishment. This meaning is implied because discipline is associated with a behaviourist view of how humans learn. Behaviourism is associated with conditioning, a process whereby learning is an association between behaviour and good or bad outcome, just like in Pavlov’s dog experiment.

However, behaviourism is used less and less because human behaviour is seen as more complex than a simple rewards/punishments model suggests. Behaviourism is also problematic because it implies people behave in desirable ways only to secure rewards or minimise punishments.

We don’t want our children to behave in a way that’s desirable just because they might get something or get into trouble if caught. We want our children to do the right thing because they know it’s right, and because they want to do right.

Motivating children intrinsically not extrinsically

Behaviourism teaches children to look for external motivations to behave in a desirable way. It has been said that rewards and punishments override a child’s natural inclination to do the right thing because they rely on extrinsic (external things that are used to motivate us) rather than intrinsic (a motivator that is internal and usually a feeling of well-being that comes over us when we choose to do something) motivators.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

This 78-page book on physics is selling more copies than 'Fifty Shades of Grey'

Since it was published last September, Carlo Rovelli's book, "Seven Brief Lessons on Physics," has sold more copies in Rovelli's native country, Italy, than E.L. James' smash hit "Fifty Shades of Grey," The Spectator reported.

And the English translation has quickly risen to become Penguin's fastest-selling science debut in the publishing company's history.

So what's Rovelli's secret?

After all, it's not like physics is a topic that people flock toward. In fact, physics has been the least popular STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) major for US undergraduates since the late '60s.

For starters, Rovelli is an expert on the topic.

He's a theoretical physicist by profession with a focus in quantum gravity a field that attempts to join the greatest two theories in history: Isaac Newton's theory of gravity and Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity.

Rovelli is also an avid writer of popular science, so he has a habit of transforming complex ideas into clear, simple concepts.

Cucumber trees and courgette decorations: 4 ways to a green Christmas

It's not easy being eco-friendly at Christmas, but a tight budget is no excuse when you can make your own tree and decorations.

It’s not easy being green, sang Kermit, so to get everyone in the eco groove at this festive time, some creative inspiration may be needed. 

From courgette penguin decorations to microbead-free toiletry gifts, here are a few ways to help you keep it green this Christmas.

1. Deck the halls with boughs of holly

In fact, decorate anything you like with fresh greenery if you have access to it (no “borrowing” from the neighbours). This is miles better than garlands of synthetic tinsel that will eventually end up in landfill, potentially via an intrigued pet’s stomach

In the colder months, fruit and veg provide endless opportunities for sparkling up student digs. See if your local market has any citrus fruit past its best and going free. If so, orange and lemon decorations are easy to make and look amazing. Failing that, try fashioning some courgette and carrot penguin decorations – all you need is some carving skills.

Some think that covering their whole house with Christmas lights and setting them to flash in time to Gangnam style is the thing to do at Christmas. Think again. Instead, keep electricity requirements to a minimum and have a go at making a festive wreath that won’t cost the earth

According to sustainable fashion advocate and Nottingham Trent undergraduate Sophie Dumontroty, a student budget is no excuse for letting your green credentials drop:

“Most think being cash-strapped at Christmas limits their scope to act sustainably. Far from it! For example, this year I’m making my own sustainable stocking by upcycling unwanted clothing from my overflowing wardrobe.”

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Let’s Play! Savoring Life with Kids

By Rebecca Lemar

Here are five ideas to get down and engage in one of the best parts of life: to play! And kids are grand masters of play. It does not have to rambunctious, but some of the best moments are. The trick is to let go of time and spend a few moments with your kids really seeing them, touching them, goofing around with them. It will be the best part of your day!

Line tracing – Bodies are covered with lines and angles: Straight, curved, parallel & convergent. Look at your palms alone. Take a moment with your small child and say, I have something to show you. And touch and trace the lines on their palms slowly. Show them yours, let them trace yours. Do it eyes open, eyes closed. This is a lovely calming down activity.

Head to Toe – Right before bed, I tap my fingers gently on my daughter’s head then rub her head a little and say, I love you alllll the way up here to alllll the way down…and I run my fingers down her body, igniting sensation in her neck and shoulders and arms, down the sides of her stomach, down her thighs, calves, ankles to her itty bitty toes where I squeeze the toes…all the way down here. And once usually isn’t enough. She asks for more again and again.