Monthly Archives: April 2014

Connecting Neurons – the process of learning!

The hypothalamus

The hypothalamus is tucked under the hemispheres but is central to learning new skills. How do we get it to help us learn?

The anatomy of learning is still a big mystery! What happens inside us that makes it easy for us to do new things like walk, type, or read? Brain studies suggest that most automatic movements are triggered by the hypothalamus, a small section of the brain tucked above the spinal cord. But we do not know what changes take place in this part of the brain or between it, our other brain parts, and our body’s organs that make new skills automatic.

So here is my theory. The hypothalamus’ chief job is to make less work. It strives to keep the body functions balanced. When signals come in from the eyes, ears, and touch sensors the hypothalamus sends them on via general neuronal pathways to muscles that make us move. At first those signals move inefficiently down crowded general-purpose neuronal pathways, with many intersections and stops – a lot of wasted energy. But if we repeat that pattern a lot the hypothalamus decides to build a new neuron super highway especially for that set of motions, and the task is completed faster, with less energy. That new super highway is the “automating” or “habituating.”

But how do we get our hypothalamus’ attention?  We can’t talk to our hypothalamus and say “build a neuron super highway for typing.” We can’t wish it and make it so! What catches it quickest is practice! Repeated actions that make the same demands. How often? Not a big burst for several minutes on one day once in a while. But if the actions occur for a few minutes every day, that catches ht’s attention – and every day it gets back to building that superhighway.

I want to test my theory. And here is how.  Lets look at charts of learners who practice their fluencies every day, versus charts of those who practice many times on just a few days of the week. Which ones make the fastest progress, or “acquire the skill?” What do you think?

We are robbing today’s youth of the tools for thinking!

I wrote it, and now I am thinking it.

I wrote it, and now I am thinking it.

Thinking is a complex mystery. No-one knows how thinking happens, or how it can be improved. Somehow we pull experiences from our memories,  and then string together hunches and connections, and if we are to share them, we choose vocabulary that helps us communicate.  Traditionally in school, we learned to improve our thinking by writing down our thoughts, then edited and changed our words until they made sense to us.  But this was in a generation in which we learned to write cursive, or to type. Writing or typing became mindless, so we could concentrate on crafting our sentences, which in turn clarified our thoughts.

Can we think deep thoughts without molding/reworking/shaping them on paper?  I do not think so, nor have I seen any study that can make the claim that well-shaped thinking can occur without writing and rewriting!

Today’s youth are not being taught handwriting, and they are not taught touch-typing.  They are given time to play on some of the commercial keyboarding programs, but it is rare that a teacher checks to see if they are using the proper fingering – so they learn to hunt and peck, and when they are asked to write a homework assignment, its completion is a chore, partly because they are inefficient in finding the keys. Spelling is another issue that is not addressed, so the students are spending energy to both think of the spelling of  the words, and key hunting.

We need a scientific study that compares two groups of students; those who have learned touch-typing and applied it to word processing, and those who have not.  The outcome to measure is their ability to think and develop thoughts, plans, and conclusions.  In the meantime, if you want to help your child be a leader, have him learn touch-typing!

The Chart

The Celeration Chart, (also known as a Lindsley Standard Time Series Chart), may look difficult to understand at first, but its format is required if we are to see the progress made after each session. The following explanations will make the chart much easier to read.

The Daily Chart shows 20 weeks (120 days) of the school year at one glance. Figure 1 shows the bottom border of the chart. Each vertical line is a day, and Sundays are heavier lines, which makes it easier to distinguish weeks.

Calendar_Scale

Figure 1: The bottom of the chart, showing 140 days, with darker Sunday lines indicating the weeks. This chart has some data which ranges from 2 to 0 frequency per day. Note that an arbitrary 0 line is placed below the 1 line.

add-subtract scale.

An add-subtract or equal interval scale.

Now the scale up the left.  It is designed to measure learning. All learning is exponential. This means that the first few tries occur haltingly (like an infant taking its first steps) but soon, they occur in rapid succession.  If we were to use a regular ruler line (a Cartesian or additive scale), we would need a long scale for such items as reading words (varying from 20 to 500 per minute), while reading errors would require a scale from around 10 to 0 per minute.  Placed on the same scale, one measure eclipses the other.

The solution used by the Celeration Chart is a multiply scale.  It’s equal intervals are multiples of 2 (2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1028, etc.)  so the number correct are now shown on a scale on which they are orderly and close together. At the same time, the low count of errors is spread sufficiently that we can see if they have a decelerating trend.

Multiply Scales.

Figure 3: A consistent multiply scale is developed by dividing the ruler line into equal intervals, and assigning 1 to the first marker, then doubling each marker thereafter, so that the values rise exponentially (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, etc.) Now when the correct scores are plotted on the resulting chart, they are not spread so far and you can see the trend. The variation in the errors is now evident, with a clear  deceleration.  The chart grid is added to the chart on the right. Note that there are  horizontal grid lines for the values 1 to 10, but the lines are becoming so close together that for the 10 to 100 cycle, grid lines are only shown for  multiples of 10. Similarly, above 100, the grid lines are in multiples of 100.

On the Standard 6 Cycle Celeration chart, the scale up the left is Count per Minute, and the “one” line is in the middle of the scale.  (The number 1 indicates where a score of one correct or incorrect in a minute would be marked.)

If you are practicing a CyberSlate fluency, it is probably a one-minute timing.  We indicate the length of the timing with a short horizontal line across the day line. We call this the floor – the place a mark would go if there was a single occurrence of the pinpointed behavior occurred during the fluency.

The one-minute timing is an optimum length of time to concentrate on most skills. Other skill building fluencies continue until you complete the task (Paragraphs, Comprehension, Power Writer, Arithmetic Review).

low_cycle

The lowest cycle on the chart. .001 is “one in 16 hours.”

Along with showing your best score, the chart shows how many times you have completed this fluency each day. Look at the bottom cycle of the chart.  The lowest line is .001 which is the mathematical way to say 1 in a waking day (about 16 hours.) The horizontal lines above the .001 line can be described as 2, 3, 4, etc. times per day.

Here is a summary of some of the conventions we use to show information on the chart.

Conventions

Figure 5: Conventions used on a CyberSlate Celeration Chart.

Four other chart displays are available.  Each chart is designed to give you one more aspect of skill acquisition. All of the charts are updated at the end of each practice session.

The Sessions chart uses the multiply scale, and it shows the last 100 sessions. The grid’s day lines are not evenly spaced, but depend on how many sessions there were each day.  This chart is the best way to see whether you are beating your score from session to session.

The D+ (Daily All) chart shows all of your scores for the day, instead of the best score. It reveals the variation in the scores.

The D* Chart averages the scores for the day.

The Times/Levels Chart plots the time of day that each exercise was completed. The chart beneath the times chart shows the number of times that fluency was completed in the day. (It duplicates the plot on the six-cycle chart.)

Why we use the 6 Cycle Celeration Chart

This chart is difficult to read at first. We almost always see a gray fog come over peoples’ eyes when we first introduce it.  But it is the best way we know to show real changes in learning on the day they happen!  This is because the chart shows the changes in relation to days, and in what order they occur, over a long period of time.  These are some of the most important changes to capture in learning behaviors.

Advantages:

  • Both the correct score and the learning opportunities show even small changes because of the multiply-divide scale.
  • If there are several practice sessions in one day, every session is recorded, but only the scores for the most successful  session are shown on this chart.  To see scores for all of the sessions, select the Sessions Chart.
  • A whole school year of daily best scores can be seen on two continuous charts.
  • It is easy to see trends. They can be represented by straight lines through the hedgerows of dots or x’s.  We call these lines “celeration lines.”
  • Since the chart can show items per minute or items per day, we plot the number of times an exercise is completed daily on the bottom cycle of the chart (number in a waking day, which is about 1000 minutes, represented on the multiply-divide scale as .001 minutes.)

Most charts and graphs show scores on composite questions on tests that can only be administered a few times per year. The scores are measured in relation to the general population or some other composite.  The Celeration chart is showing scores on a segment of a skill, and you are only compared to yourself, in terms of speed and accuracy of your response.

You can project your future.  If it is taking you an average of 3 days to pass a skill or story, and there are 30 skills/stories to master in a grade, you can project how long it will take to perform at that grade level if you continue to pass each skill or story at the same speed.