Brain Hacks

STUDY: An Eye Trick that Improves Creativity

After instructing participants to broaden their focus of conceptual attentional scope (lift up your eyebrows and widen your eyes), subjects were administered various measures of creative problem solving and originality. The result showed that raising eyebrows and widening your eyes broadens the scope of your ideas and improves creativity. 

(Source: Creativity Research Journal via Wisebread)

STUDY: To Make People Think You're Kind - Say Kind Things About Others

Spontaneous transference is a documented phenomenon. Here's how it works. When you compliment someone behind their back, people attribute those positive qualities to you. Saying, "Joe is one generous go-getter!" is a great way to cue others to think that you are one generous go-getter. Conversely, if you gossip to an acquaintance about how "Joseph is a reprobate," that acquaintance will think of you as a rogue. Tell your students about this! 

(Source: Mae, Lynda; Carlston, Donal E.; Skowronski, John J.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 77(2), Aug 1999, 233-246.)

Teaching Strategies

Teacher Effectiveness: The Gap Years

As we might expect, teachers with 15 or more years of experience exhibit more efficacious management and instructional practices than those with 0-4 years.  

Here's where the research gets weird. . . When rural teachers were studied, there was no difference in effectiveness and confidence between those who have 5-14 years of experience and instructors with only 0-4 years in the classroom. Researchers infer that the recent introduction of reform initiatives (such as the CCSS--which meant going back to the drawing board for many teachers), lack of quality PD, and not enough mastery experiences might be to blame.

When rural teachers were studied, there was no difference in effectiveness and confidence between those who have 5-14 years of experience and instructors with only 0-4 years in the classroom.

But the truth is that beyond many years in the classroom and "education beyond a Master's," there is not enough information about what influences teacher efficaciousness. 

(Source: "Rural High School Teachers' Self-Efficacy in Student Engagement, Instructional Strategies, and Classroom Management"by Tori L Shoulders; Melinda Scott Krei, American Secondary Education, 10/2015, Volume 44, Issue 1.)​

Ways to Make Lectures More Interactive

The Derek Bok Center at Harvard describes 20 strategies for making lectures more dynamic and interactive. Here are some of my favorites, summarized:

Beginning the lecture (or course):

1. Begin the course or the lecture with a question or questions which help you to understand what students are thinking.  "What are some examples of marginalized populations?

2. Begin the course or the lecture by posing a problem and eliciting several answers or solutions from the students. Example: "What are some reasons people may not have health insurance?"

3. Ask students to jot down answers to some questions on their own and then combine answers in a small group. Example: "List up to 10 major environmental disasters."

Punctuating the lecture with questions: 

4. Ask questions that are thought-provoking and, often, counterintuitive. Example: "Do you think [health care] has gotten better or worse in your country over the last twenty years?"

5. Pause in the lecture and show students a multiple-choice question based on the material you have been talking about.

6. Ask students to vote on the right answer and then turn to their neighbors to persuade them of the answer within the space of two minutes.

7. Using visuals, ask students what they see before you tell them what you see. Example: After showing a table of data, ask, "What do these data tell us? Where would you begin to explore? What kinds of questions could we answer and how?"

8. Ask students to make presentations, do role plays, or illustrate a position dramatically.

9. Debate. Divide the room into two or four groups, assigning one role or position to each group. Have the groups caucus separately to develop their positions before the debate begins.

10. Use cases to exemplify the issues you want to convey, and conduct the class as a case discussion.

11. "Stop the lecture and ask students to write for one or two minutes in response to a particular question." Then discuss their answers.

12. Have students write on the board the results of their work in a teams. Then a spokesperson can present the group's ideas.

Closing the lecture:

13. End the lecture with a provocative question. "If nothing changes, what will happen in 10 years?"

14. Give students a "one-question quiz about the lecture. Ask them to answer the question collectively."

15. Assign a "one-minute paper at the end of class. In this exercise, students write down what they consider (a) the main point of the class and (b) the main question they still have as they leave."

(Source: 20 Ways to Make Lectures More Participatory - Harvard Bok Center)


How much Waxahachie Texas (pop. 32k) spent on a video board for its high school football stadium: $500,000. 

(Source: SB Nation)

How much of the body's serotonin is produced in the gut (second brain): 95%.

(Source: Emeran Mayer, Big Think)

How much college students will spend on textbooks and other course supplies this year: $1,200.

(Source: Inside Higher Ed)

The percentage of 16-29 year olds (n= 628) who reported that their motivation to read is to complete school work requirements: 81%.

(Source: Rainie (2013))

The percentage of people who get new ideas in the shower? 72%.

(Source: Scott Barry Kaufman)

How long, per hour, people slouch: 38 minutes.

(Source: Lumo)

How much more often women wear hats when they're happy: 2x.

(Source: PsyBlog)

​How much more likely immigrants are than native-born U.S. citizens to start a new business: 30%.

How much more likely native-born Americans are to be imprisoned than U.S. immigrants: 11x.​

(Source: Hat tip Larry Ferlazzo / Lirs.or)

On the list of happiest children in the world, what place is Mexico? 1st place.

...And the U.S.? 5th.

(Source: Chanita France)

The portion of Americans arrested under the age of 25 who will be arrested again: 25%. 

(Source: The Washington Post)

Tech Watch

A Tool that Assesses the Emotional Impact of Your Essay or Blog Titles

The Advanced Marketing Institute has a free online tool to make your titles stand out: the Emotional Marketing Value Headline Analyzer. When I tried the tool out, it scored the title of this tech tidbit as 28.57%--while encouraging me to aim for 50-75% "emotional marketing value words." 

Book Scanning Breakthrough

MIT scientists have invented a way to scan a book through its cover. "The process uses tetrahertz radiation, which is absorbed by paper and ink differently. The camera is so finely tuned that researchers can detect the different between one page and another, despite there being only 20 micrometers of air between each page." A big benefit of the tool will be to scan historically significant books that might disintegrate if touched.

(Source: The Next Web)

Word Swag: A Fast Text Design Tool

Word Swag is a simple tool for iOS or Android devices to add cool text design to images in just a few seconds. Here is a video overview and tutorial. 

One of the ways we can engage students is by using strong design in our handouts, unit titles, syllabi, Powerpoint slides, and even "Welcome to Class" Posters


STUDY: Digital Readers

Elizabeth Testa's dissertation looked at the impact of integrating digital readers into a 12th grade English classroom. Her study revealed that students benefited from using the device. Particularly beneficial: the e-readers' online dictionary, ability to read the story aloud, and search feature.

When the next literature unit did not include use of e-readers, students expressed disappointment.

(Source: Testa, E. A. (2014). Behind the screens: A case study exploring the integration of digital readers into a 12th grade english classroom.)

fMRI STUDY: Secular Mindfulness Has Same Structural Impact On Brain As Religious Meditation

In a study of participant undergoing an 8-week mindfulness training course, an fMRI scan revealed functional and structural changes to the "prefrontal cortex, cingulate cortex, insula and hippocampus"--and improved emotional regulation.

Such changes were also similar to those documented in previous studies of religion-based meditation.

(Source: Brain and Cognition Journal, 2016)


"My name is Tom. I’m a teacher and I get my ass kicked nearly every day . . . Some nights I struggle getting to sleep or staying asleep because I’m worrying about that one kid, or that one class, or what next or what better. I’ve started my 10th year in the classroom, and it won’t be easy. It will, on balance, be worth it."

- Tom Rademacher, 2014 Minnesota Teacher of the Year

Brain Feed

ELL Mega-Resources

ELL coordinator and SIOP trainer Erica Hilliker has created a remarkable collection of English Language Learner resources for teachers. 

(Source: Hat Tip / John McCarthy)

Quotable #2

"Maybe the people who know about the Science of Learning need to learn a bit more about the Science of Persuasion.” - Ben Riley, founder of Deans for Impact

Health Cost of Social Enquity

U. of Penn Professor Dorothy E. Roberts is an expert on biosocial science, which looks at, among other things, how social inequity influences science. She has looked at

“. . . the stress of various aspects of racial inequality — segregated neighborhoods, lower incomes, and even the stress of discrimination experienced by a black mother — can have an impact on the fetus and cause them to have smaller babies. And these babies grow up to have a greater risk of cardiovascular disease. This is not because of the gene structure, but the way these adverse environments affect pregnant African-American women.”

(Source: Harvard Gazette)

Lightning Round


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Todd Finley

Edutopia Blogger and Asst. Editor || ECU Ed Professor || Founder of Todd's Brain at || Books: Dinkytown Braves and Rethinking Classroom Design.

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