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5 Study Tips to Making Tough Subjects Easier to Learn

By: Beth Werrell
How to Make Tough Subjects Easier to Learn

When faced with studying a difficult topic, do you procrastinate, freeze, or dive in with a kind of brute-force, problem-solving approach that yields more frustration than understanding? Well, thanks to neuroscience, we now understand more about why that happens.

As Barbara Oakley, PhD, explains in "A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even if You Flunked Algebra)," our first impulse is usually to focus as hard as we can on the details of a difficult subject—like the narrow beam of a flashlight on a dark path. But without first shining a broad light ahead, we fail to see the big picture concepts—all those connecting paths that make mastering a subject possible.

Neuroscientists call these narrow-beam, broad-beam approaches focused and diffused modes of thinking. And it turns out that the ability to switch between these modes at the right time is key to learning complex or difficult subjects.

Five Practical Neuroscience-Based Learning Tips

In her book, Oakley draws from her own early struggles with math and science as well as the latest findings in neuroscience to show students how to make those well-timed switches.

Here are five of Oakley’s study tips we think you’ll want to give a try. Though focused on studying a chapter of text, they readily apply to any assignment—from solving math problems to writing a research paper.

  1. Scan the headings, subheadings, and illustrations of the chapter first. Now take a moment to visualize the chapter and reflect on the broad ...

The Surprising Reason Some Students Don't Like School

By: Beth Werrell
Why Some Students Don't Like School

It's a universal truth that if you ask most students what they don't like about school, their lists will be lengthy! While virtual school students won't have the usual complaints about getting up early for long bus rides or eating cafeteria food, like most kids do, their lists will typically include items such as:

But ask cognitive psychologist Daniel T. Willingham the same question and you'll get a much more surprising answer:

Thinking Is Hard

According to Willingham, students dislike school because thinking is hard, effortful, and slow. As he explains in "Why Don't Students Like School," thinking requires students to:

  • Retrieve information from their immediate environment and the vast factual storehouse of their long-term memory
  • Combine that information in new ways in their more limited, short-term working memory
  • Imagine solutions based on those new combinations

So, even though they're naturally curious, students (and the rest of us, too!) will avoid thinking—unless the learning conditions are right.

What Are the Right Conditions for Thinking?

They're the conditions or activities that allow students to experience the pleasurable rush of solving problems—whether those problems are algebra equations or struggling to understand Shakespeare's sonnets. In fact, neuroscientists believe that the pleasurable rush may be the actual rush of chemicals produced by the brain’s natural reward system. Remember how it feels to get that last crossword, Sudoku, or Jeopardy answer? Well, students love that feeling of success ...

5 Strategies to Inspire Curiosity in Students

By: Tracy Ostwald-Kowald
5 Strategies to Inspire Student Curiosity

"I think, at a child's birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift should be curiosity." —Eleanor Roosevelt

Think about the last time a book, movie, or conversation sparked your curiosity. When something ignites your curiosity, regions of your brain associated with reward, memory, and motivation actually "fire up" with activity. In other words, curiosity can be a great motivator that makes the brain sincerely want to learn. Researchers from the University of California, Davis, suggests a link between motivation and curiosity as discovered in 2014 when they set out to understand how curiosity affects learning.

Practical Tips to Inspire Student Curiosity

This research reminds parents, Learning Coaches, and teachers how crucial it is to engage our students' curiosity every day. Consider these five strategies you can use to inspire curiosity in school and beyond:

  1. Be curious yourself. Model an open, inquisitive attitude to new and familiar activities, ideas, people, and cultures. Curiosity is contagious. Try a new sport, start a new hobby, or take an online course in an unfamiliar subject. Seek out people with different backgrounds and viewpoints, and then actively listen to what they have to say. As you take on these new challenges, share your experience with your student—the excitement, the rewards, and the challenges. In the process, you’ll inspire your student to tackle new subjects and persevere through the initial discomfort that often comes with learning something unfamiliar.

  2. Ask questions and ...

Neuroscience of Learning: A Look inside the Amazing Brain

By: Tracy Ostwald-Kowald
Inside the Amazing Brain

You’re not alone if you've ever looked at your son and wondered, "What’s going on inside his head?" or scolded your daughter for her actions, asking, "What were you thinking?!" Parents and educators worldwide have asked questions like these, and neuroscience researchers have uncovered some interesting answers about the human brain and how we learn.

Brain-Based Learning and Neuroeducation

According to Merriam-Webster, learning is "the activity or process of gaining knowledge or skill by studying, practicing, being taught, or experiencing something." This makes sense. It's what we do, we teachers and Learning Coaches. Learning is what we're all about.

Neuroscience, on the other hand, is "the scientific study of nerves and especially of how nerves affect learning and behavior." The nerves, we know from studying science, are controlled by the command center we call a brain. When we join neuroscience and learning together, the connections have a direct impact on education. While neuroeducation may sound lofty, it simply means the interdisciplinary study of the mind, the brain, and its function, as well as individual education and learning.

Research into the brain's role in learning is not new. Psychophysiology and educational neuroscience are just two of the many scientific disciplines that conduct research into how the brain functions when learning. Books like Eric Jensen's Teaching with the Brain in Mind and Arts with the Brain in Mind were first published in the late 1990s, and they remain relevant today. Howard Gardner's discussions of multiple intelligences have influenced teachers since ...

Influential Learning Theories: Multiple Intelligences and Learning Styles

By: Tracy Ostwald-Kowald
 Learning Styles Diagram: Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic Modalities.

Educators and researchers are always looking for innovative ways to improve student performance. As a result, the education field is crowded with different theories about learning, teaching, studying, and so on. Two of the most popular ones are the Multiple Intelligences Theory and Learning Styles Theory.

No single theory or philosophy can fit every situation and meet every need. To make sure you help your virtual school student learn and study effectively, review the details about these theories below.

The Multiple Intelligences Theory

Psychologist Howard Gardner developed this theory in 1983. He claimed that people have eight independent ways of processing information, which are:

  1. Verbal–Linguistic (Word Smart)
  2. Logical–Mathematical (Logic Smart)
  3. Visual–Spatial (Picture Smart)
  4. Auditory–Musical (Music Smart)
  5. Bodily–Kinesthetic (Body Smart)
  6. Interpersonal (People Smart)
  7. Intrapersonal (Self Smart)
  8. Naturalistic (Nature Smart)

It’s more accurate to think of the eight intelligences as abilities or strengths. The human brain is extremely complex, and all of these types of “smarts” work together.

How to use the theory
To apply the Multiple Intelligences Theory to online learning, use it to help your student develop all of his or her strengths. Remember that there are activities that help develop more than one ability at a time. For example, you can help your child do some creative learning activities, such as:

Break the Multitasking Habit with These Study Tips

By: Beth Werrell
Breaking the Habit of Multitasking

It’s easy to get lost in thought when you shower, brush your teeth, or do your hair. But have you ever gotten so distracted in the shower that you wash your hair twice—or forget to wash it at all? If you’ve ever done something like this, then you have fallen into the trap of multitasking!

Multitasking, or doing two or more things at once, is something we do every day. An example is having a conversation with your child while you’re driving. There’s no harm in talking in the car because it’s easy for your brain to handle these tasks, but multitasking becomes a problem when one task interferes with the other. You might talk in the car, for example, but you wouldn’t text while driving because texting and driving both require your vision.

Virtual students are especially prone to multitasking because they’re surrounded by digital distractions. When students try to multitask while studying, they often fail without realizing it. Psychology professor David Meyer says, “Under most conditions, the brain simply cannot do two complex tasks at the same time. It can happen only when the two tasks are both very simple and when they don’t compete with each other for the same mental resources. […] But listening to a lecture while texting, or doing homework and being on Facebook—each of these tasks is very demanding, and each of them uses the same area of the brain, the prefrontal cortex.” When these types of tasks compete for mental ...

Taking Breaks: A Surprising Technique to Enhance Online Learning

By: Beth Werrell

Taking Breaks to Enhance Online LearningHaving a productive school day takes concentration. Students have to be motivated and focused on each task they need to complete. They also need to learn how to look at the big picture, set priorities, meet deadlines, and achieve goals. Then there are the different lessons and activities to juggle—math, trumpet practice, science, lunch, robotics club, reading. It’s hard work keeping everything straight!

School can be challenging at times, so it’s normal for students to get tired, get distracted, and lose motivation. Successful students, however, need a way to avoid frustration and stay on track.

To stay focused on learning, there’s an unexpected technique students can try: taking breaks.

Refresh Your Brain

Your student probably already takes breaks during the day, reserving time to eat lunch or grab a snack. But if he or she gets distracted often, it might mean that your child needs to take more breaks.

“In problem-solving, when you get stuck, you’ve run out of ideas, distraction is really your best friend,” says Benedict Carey, the author of How We Learn. “You need to stand up, let it go … and that is really your best shot at loosening the gears a little bit and allowing yourself to take a different and more creative approach to the problem.” Getting distracted is really just a sign that your child’s brain needs a rest before moving to the next lesson.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that students should take breaks every time they get distracted. With some ...

Understanding and Improving People Skills in Virtual School

By: Tracy Ostwald-Kowald
Multiple Intelligences: People Smarts - An Important Life Skill for Students

Growing children develop more skills than we can count. But each child has a few skills that shine more brightly than others. One child might be active and adventurous outdoors, showing strong “nature smarts” and “body smarts.” Another child might be more bookish and introspective, demonstrating natural “word smarts” and “self-smarts.”

Although children have a mix of skills in every area, one of the most important skills they develop is “people smarts.” Also known as interpersonal intelligence or people skills, people smarts determine how a child interacts with everyone—whether friends, strangers, teachers, or family.

What Is Interpersonal Intelligence?

“Interpersonal intelligence” is a term that psychologist Howard Gardner used when he introduced his theory of multiple intelligences. Interpersonal intelligence is the ability to relate to other people. In Gardner’s theory, it’s also considered a learning style. It’s helpful to understand interpersonal intelligence as social skills—something that everyone can learn and improve.

People skills are developed through interaction, observation, and discussion. Although virtual school students don’t interact face-to-face with their peers each day, there are plenty of other ways for them to socialize.

If your child is young, look for everyday opportunities to develop his or her social abilities. With practice, your child should learn to:

  • Maintain a phone conversation with a relative.
  • Greet and chat with a neighbor.
  • Handle a simple transaction at a familiar store.
  • Make small-talk with a new acquaintance.
  • Interact appropriately during a playdate with some friends.
  • Be ...

7 Computer Skills to Master by High School

By: Beth Werrell
Computer Skills for High School Success

Computers are everywhere today, so it's normal for children to develop computer skills quickly and early on. By virtual elementary school, kids are figuring out how to use a mouse and navigate the keyboard.

As your child grows and his or her knowledge of technology expands, there are certain things that he or she needs to learn for school. Knowing how to cite online sources in a paper and create a chart in Microsoft Excel are just a few examples.

To make sure your child is equipped with the right skills, take a look at the list below. You’ll find the seven computer skills your child should master by the time he or she starts virtual high school.

  1. Typing
    Using a keyboard is one of the first computer skills a young child develops. By middle school, children should be able to type proficiently with two hands. To make typing even easier, have your child practice his or her typing skills with apps like Type-Fu.

  2. Digital communication
    Computers offer many different communication channels, such as email, chat, and social media posts. To use these channels correctly, your child needs to understand how messages should change depending on the context. For example, it’s fine to use emoticons and poor punctuation in an email to a friend, but an email cover letter to an employer must be formal and precise.

  3. Online etiquette and safety
    Another lesson that children learn early on is how to use the computer appropriately. You ...

Exercise Visual-Spatial Skills by Taking Online School Yearbook Photos

By: Tracy Ostwald-Kowald
Multiple Intelligences: Picture Smarts—Exercising Visual-Spatial Skills

Get your cameras ready! May is National Photography Month, and photographers of all ages are snapping pics and entering photo contests. As the end of the school year approaches, you and your child can get involved by contributing to his or her school’s yearbook.

Create Your Online School Yearbook

To work on a yearbook, find photos from throughout the school year or snap new ones using these tips for taking yearbook photos.

Consider adding photos of:

  • Field trips and other off-site learning adventures
  • Your home classroom
  • Craft projects
  • Friends and family reading, studying, or posed at the computer
  • Assignments or projects that are points of pride

Once your child collects the photos, you can work together to assemble them in a photo album or a handmade book. Attending families can also contribute to Connections Academy’s digital school yearbook.

Building Visual-Spatial Skills

Working on this yearbook project is a great way for children to exercise their visual-spatial skills. Creating photos, or “making pictures,” takes time and thought. Frame the subject of the picture. Find a background that enhances the subject rather than distracts from it. Look at the light source. Will the sun or the indoor lighting brighten up the subject or create a glare or shadow? Paying attention to these details can help students mentally manipulate space and process visual information.

Psychologist Howard Gardner proposed that visual-spatial was one of several different types of “intelligences” that can be interpreted as skills or learning styles. The other skills in ...

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