Energy Drinks, Neuroscience and the Learning Experience

Essay written by Melissa Smith, Lifelong Learners curriculum developer and owner.


Summary:

Last year, I had a student (year 12) who in her final school exams stayed up all night cramming the night before the exam. She had left everything to the last minute and felt this was the best study option she had. Over the course of the evening she took at least 4 no doze tablets and also drank a few red bulls. She then drank 4 more before walking into the exam room, as well as taking additional no doze. Within half an hour of the exam commencing, her heart rate was so high and her anxiety so bad that staff called an ambulance for her.

Caffeine is currently the most widely used stimulant in the world, and is mainly found in coffee, tea, soft drinks and chocolate. Daily caffeine consumption per person averages 76 mg (equivalent to 1/4 cups of coffee) worldwide and 238 mg (more than 4 ½ cups of coffee) in the United States (Radiological Society of North America, 2005). Caffeine and kids (or adults) on a long term, high dose basis do not mix. A cup of coffee or two a day? No problem…..but 7 energy drinks? Not a good plan. Researchers have found that long-term consumption of caffeine slowed hippocampus-dependent learning and impaired long-term memory in mice (Myoung-Eun, H.,  Kyu-Hyun, P., Sun-Yong, B., Bong-Seon, K., Jae-Bong, K., Hak-Jin, K., Sae-Ock, Oh, 2007). The hippocampus is a major component of the brains of humans and other mammals. It belongs to the limbic system and plays important roles in the consolidation of information from short-term memory to long-term memory and spatial navigation. Caffeine consumption on a consistent basis for four weeks also significantly reduced hippocampal neurogenesis compared to controls during the experiment. The conclusion was that long-term consumption of caffeine could inhibit hippocampus-dependent learning and memory partially through inhibition of hippocampal neurogenesis.

Energy Drinks and Learning

The effects of caffeine on short-term memory ( STM) are controversial. Findings are inconsistent, as some effects of caffeine impair short-term and working memory, whereas other studies indicate enhancing effects in the short term. Increasing our capacities of STM and working memory only seem to have beneficial impacts upon our daily lives, especially when it comes to learning! STM lets us take in the information, hold it and then form neural pathways so we can keep the “important stuff” permanently. and recall information more effectively.

Theoretically, increasing our memory capacities would result in retaining more information for extended periods of time and more ease in encoding information from short-term memory to long-term memory. Caffeine is the most consumed psychoactive compound in the world and the caffeine consumption by adolescents has more than tripled in the last 6 years, so we have to be concerned with how this drug can affect our memory and therefore, our learning capacity. .


Results?

A lot of studies indicate short term improvements with caffeine and any student (young or old) will tell you a caffeine injection on an all night study effort or before an exam can make a big difference. There are numerous studies on all sides – for every 100 I provide that say it negatively impacts learning, I could find another 100 that say it is beneficial. The facts however indicate that continued, low-dose caffeine intake WILL reduce impact (it only takes 7 days to build up a tolerance to 400mg which is approximately 5 cups of cofffee or 4 energy drinks) and therefore will reduce any benefit. So whilst a random dose of caffeine will provide stimulation and could potentially improve STM in the short term, continued use (daily) will have a reduced impact and can become an addiction. Ever tried to give up your daily coffee or soft drink? Headaches, irritability, anger and stomach aches will ensue and it is the same for kids and energy drinks.

Bottom line: Don’t encourage children to drink energy drinks – developing an addiction (even to something legal and potentially beneficial in the short term) has long term consequences that far out-weigh the short term study gain. If you are studying and you are tired – do some exercise, stretch, go for a walk/run, wash your face in cold water or try to have a power nap! Better yet – understand the neuroscience behind learning and make sure you encourage students to review study material consistently so they don’t have to cram at the last minute.

References

Myoung-Eun, H.,  Kyu-Hyun, P., Sun-Yong, B., Bong-Seon, K., Jae-Bong, K., Hak-Jin, K., Sae-Ock, Oh. (2007) Inhibitory effects of caffeine on hippocampal neurogenesis and function. Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications 356 (2007) 976–980

Radiological Society of North America (2005) Coffee jump starts short term memory. Retrieved from: http://www2.rsna.org/timssnet/media/pressreleases/pr_target.cfm?ID=270

Teacher Blogs

Article written by Melissa Smith, Lifelong Learners.

Tutoring services for English (all year levels) offered in Victoria Park, Perth by a qualified teacher with a BA/BEd and MEd who has in-depth experience as a tutor.


Thousands of blogs are created everyday for different purposes. Some people blog to make money (I have friends who do this very successfully!), some to share their voice with the world, some to draw attention to perceived matters of importance and others blog just to scam or troll people.

So, what is a blog? A blog is a personal website that contains content organised like a journal or a diary. Each entry is dated, and the entries are displayed on the web page in reverse chronological order, so that the most recent entry is posted at the top. Readers catch up with blogs by starting at the top and reading down until they encounter material they’ve already read.”

A teacher blog is an online space where a teacher can share their thoughts, ideas and lesson plans with their readers. Teacher blogs are varied and differ depending on the teacher, the subject, the purpose of the blog and the student audience. I use blogging in my year 12 classroom as a teaching tool. I currently have a year 12 Politics and Law blog that my students, and others from all over Australia and the world, can access to read and discuss contemporary political events. The link is here and as you can see it is a very simple, easy to navigate blog. The tag cloud assists students to follow curriculum links and comments are encouraged. It is a free wordpress.com site and I chose this platform because of the ease I can access wordpress on any computer or my iPhone.

Currently, my use of educational blogging is limited to this and my teacher twitter @miss_mel_smith (accessible here) where I retweet interesting links and news articles to do with politics, geology or anything else relevant to education.

Having just finished a tutoring role in an Open Universities Australia unit EDC111: Living and Learning in the Digital World, I am discovering there are many other innovative ways this sort of technology can be used in a classroom.

These could include:

* Provide extension tasks for students to work on at home/out of school
* Have students write and post summaries of content covered in class to a subject blog so that can build a shared resource bank for study and revision
* Get students to do homework or weekly writing tasks as blog posts
* Encourage students to comment on each others blogs
* Use blogs for projects/assessments where students can add in videos, clips, audio, text and images
* Teachers can create a section on their blog for website links and references to relevant content online
* Use suggested activities, web games, word puzzles etc to enrich students learning with engaging experiences
* Conduct an online survey to assess or investigate your students learning needs. Survey monkey is a great tool for this
* Post  your classroom guidelines/rules and code of conduct on your classroom blog. Encourage students to review this
* Publish a list of the course objectives and/or unit outcomes so students can follow along with the relevance of the content being covered
* Use a section for classroom news. Communicate general classroom news and reminders about important dates etc. Work with students to identify what they would like to share with their parents, then engage them by assigning them the task of  writing and posting daily or weekly news updates
* Post weekly challenges such as a riddle, word puzzle or brainteaser that requires students to think creatively and critically.  Ask students to post their answers on the blog
* Post any presentations, PowerPoints, videos, teaching resources you use in class to the blog. This saves paper from printing and also means students can focus on you in class rather than struggling to write everything down

Image courtesy of Dear Teacher/Love Teacher

Social Media in Education for Students from 6 to 56 Years of Age

Essay written by Melissa Smith, Lifelong Learners curriculum developer and owner.

Social media and education is a popular topic at the moment. To be clear, this article is focusing on the use of social media mediums as an education tool and not on cyber bullying or its prevalence in classrooms which is another topic entirely.

I will be blunt – I am an advocate of social media use in any classroom. Particularly when that classroom has adult students in it.

Some might say it is because of the generation I have grown up in which has resulted in being a borderline digital native (Prensky, 2001), some might say it is because I am a “young” teacher and some (more education based) people might even say it is because my teaching pedagogy has always clearly embraced change and innovation. Why do I embrace these tools so readily when many others shun them?

I strongly feel the need to acknowledge the generation of students I am teaching to. Every single student in my year 12 classes this year has a smart phone with internet access. No exceptions. This included the mature-age students who ranged from 21 to 56 years of age. Every single student between the ages of 6 and 16 who attends my tutoring classes has access to the internet at home (obviously, this is often with Mum or Dad supervising if they are younger) and many of them have also have their own phones or tablets. They often show me handy shortcuts on the iPad! Let me tell you it is a very humbling experience to be shown how to do something on your own iPad by a 6 year old. Most of them use mathletics, reading eggs or similar online programs to further boost their education levels. This is a generation of young people who are completely comfortable with technology being involved in every facet of their lives. Why would education be any different?

I am very comfortable with technology. In high school I was the first student to have a mobile phone (which these days would double as a house brick). I was one of the first groups of students at WA universities to use online enrolment systems and to study externally using online support. This is now the norm. I administer this website, the @LifelongLs twitter account and the facebook page as well as my own personal blogs, mostly from my mobile phone *gasp* and I frequently use my iPad to interact with students and provide engaging lessons through the use of apps, blogs and webpages.

The universities I lecture at use the blackboard online system or Moodle, and a large part of my role is to administer discussion boards and liaise with students across this medium. Email is also very important as part of this role and a speedy, confident response is essential to help students stay calm. The high school I teach at uses online hubs for each subject so students can access materials and worksheets posted by teachers which is a facility I utilise to the full extent.

In my travels to find decent teaching resources online I discovered @PLEAWA on twitter (Politics and Law Education Association WA) and that they post links to current news articles including the part of the year 12 course it is relevant to. This is amazing! I also discovered many political commentators like the medium of twitter, not to mention actual politicians. I actively encourage my students to engage with this medium and have no issues with them tweeting me, or tweeting the local politicians. At the end of last year our students were tweeting photos of themselves with the local MP, much to his delight.

I have personally witnessed many different social media uses in classrooms including facebook pages being submitted for final assessment tasks, primary school students tweeting local MPs to ask questions about the community, teachers creating blogs to encourage students to comment in response to weekly homework tasks, teachers using youtube videos to take students on virtual excursions and more. I have used a number of apps in my teaching as well as creating blogs and using online hubs to share material.

The Department of Education WA supports the use of social media in classrooms in a responsible and ethical manner. They have a handout to help teachers make sure they are using it appropriately and an email/phone contact to clarify any issues. However, this document is now 4 years old and contains some information that may need updating. An example of this is the explicit statement that social media interaction is not appropriate however creating applications such as web pages and blogs as part of the teaching program is acceptable (with parental consent and educational validity etc (Department of Education Western Australia, 2010). As technology changes so fast, I strongly feel this policy needs review and guidelines should be put in place for staff who do wish to use social media, such as twitter, as a teaching tool.

To those educators who still avoid the use of social media in the classroom, I understand your wariness. With all the bad media attention around cyber bullying, youtube and so on who wouldn’t be a little worried? I would suggest that you seriously consider your cohort and the influences they face every day though. To keep education relevant we need to stay in touch with those we are educating, we need to be engaging and relevant to their real world experiences.

As a bonus, when we use social media alongside students, we can be sure to model correct usage and “manners” and hopefully provide a positive example of how to manage these technologies professionally.

References

Department of Education Western Australia (2010) Social Media In Schools: Guidelines for school staff using social media and other technologies. Retrieved from: file:///Users/Mel/Downloads/de30212%20sid%20a5%20brochure%20-%20let’s%20face%20it%20web.pdf

Prensky, M. (2001) Digital natives, Digital Immigrants. Retrieved from: http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf

Incursions, Excursions and Battling Boring Classroom Syndrome in a Mixed Age Institution

Essay written by Melissa Smith, Lifelong Learners curriculum developer and owner.

As a teacher I attend a lot of professional development sessions. Some are presented by a school (new policies, new legislation, internal moderation) and some are presented by outside groups (behaviour management strategies, diagnosis management, new course introductions). We also arrange excursions and incursions for students.

An excursion is when you take them out of school grounds while an incursion is when a presenter/organisation comes in to the school grounds and presents information. Excursions are easy right? You get a day off school and the kids learn something so everyone wins? There should be more of them!

Ba-Bow!

In order to arrange an excursion for students lots of things have to be organised before the letter goes home to Mum and Dad.

  • The location needs to have insurance
  • The school needs insurance
  • A licensed bus and bus driver need to be arranged
  • If students are meeting you at the location (as is often the case with year 12s) then the insurance and excursion plan have to reflect this
  • Relief teachers need to be organised
  • A 15+ page excursion plan needs to be filled out and submitted to the school as per DETWA policies
  • A contact number needs to be provided to parents on the day – sometimes the expectation is this will be your own number and sometimes it is a school mobile
  • Someone needs to have first aid training and a first aid kit
  • The permission slip needs to conform to DETWA standards
  • You need to be able to show relevance between the excursion and the curriculum. Clear relevance and clear learning area links!
  • You need a plan for those students who can’t attend as they are not allowed to just have a day off school
  • What about food? Allergies? Healthy eating guidelines? Gone are the days of the maccas run on the way home
  • Don’t even ASK about a water based excursion – the requirements are ten times as bad! With good reason of course. It’s why very few schools go to Adventure World these days – it is simply not possible to get approved

It is no wonder most schools are turning towards incursions. Teachers already have to a lot of work on their plates outside of schools hours and the extra work and follow up for an excursion can just be too much. There is no doubt they are valuable but where do we draw the line between legislative paperwork requirements and a significant reduction in “out of school adventures”?

Speaking from experience – I just had a fantastic incursion from the Constitutional Centre of WA and it took me twenty minutes to organise via email, all the resources were posted to me and it was done during class time where I got to sit at the back and listen to the brilliant speaker cover the 1975 Constitutional Crisis. We have another one next week on the High Court because, again, they are coming out to visit us and fit into the timetable. I find incursions to be an amazing classroom tool, the students were slightly disappointed to not get a “day out” but they get just as much (if not more) educational benefit this way and the experience management is far more manageable for the teacher. There is also the cost to consider – buses, insurance, lunch and venue entry can add up very quickly, not to mention the educational cost of missing another day of classes and potential assessments which causes a lot of anxiety for those in high school.

I am not anti-excursion by any means. I have recently taken Earth Science students to the national park for a geology trip, Politics and Law students to Parliament House in WA and a small group of students on a GIS experience at a local university. These excursions had to be selected with the cohort in mind however and for this particular school, there was no budget and the students were not in a position to pay. Therefore, community funding and local grants had to be sorted out and the time put in was excessive. Many teachers at this school would ask me “why bother?” or “why put so much effort into something so short?”. To motivate students. To engage them. To give them a real world experience they can draw in an exam and relate to. That should be the purpose of all excursions and incursions. Engagement.

Melissa


NAPLAN: Lifelong Learners in The West Australian 30/4/12

Article written by Melissa Smith, Lifelong Learners.

Tutoring services for English (all year levels) offered in Victoria Park, Perth by a qualified teacher with a MEd who has in-depth experience as a tutor.

On the 30/4/12 Lifelong Learners was featured in The West Australian newspaper discussing the current issues surrounding NAPLAN testing. See the link below, the text of the article is included at the bottom of this post.

http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/a/-/news/13551557/demand-for-tutors-amid-naplan-worry/

As the article highlights, many parents have come to me requesting help with NAPLAN preparation. What the article doesn’t mention is that this is not about their children doing significantly better on the test…mostly it is about ensuring they are confident in the lead up to it and reinforcing skill areas they are lacking in. Remember, year three children are experiencing it for the first time and often the fear comes from conflicting messages via school and home.

Students who come to Lifelong Learners for NAPLAN preparation do significantly improve their results – most move up at least one band and last year one student achieved band 8 in ALL AREAS. This is not because we rote learn the materials and practice test sample after test sample like some schools and other private tuition companies do.

It is because the students and I work together to allay any fears they have about the test, to build basic tools to help them in a testing environment and to cover the curriculum they should have already learned in the classroom. If a parent asks me to drill their child solely for the purpose of NAPLAN testing I would refer them elsewhere, that is not what I see as a beneficial learning activity.

I won’t say whether I agree or disagree with NAPLAN testing but the number of students who start their classes with me in tears because they are scared indicates to me that somewhere along the line there has been a significant breakdown in communication. Students should NEVER be afraid to learn!

Melissa

Demand for tutors amid NAPLAN worry

After-school tutors are reporting a sharp increase in demand as parents put increasing pressure on children to perform well in national literacy and numeracy tests.

Tutoring services in WA said they were offering special classes for the tests even though the National Assessment Program -Literacy and Numeracy did not count towards school results.

About one million students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 will sit the tests in two weeks.

Tutors said many parents were concerned that if their child did not do well in NAPLAN, they would not get into a private high school.

Melissa Smith, who runs Lifelong Learners tutoring, said few parents responded last year when she offered NAPLAN preparation for the first time.

This year she had a lot of interest with eight additional clients solely to do with NAPLAN and two of her 20 existing clients asked her to focus just on NAPLAN.

During the recent holidays she taught NAPLAN classes to children in Years 3 and 5 for eight hours a week at about $40 an hour. Though she explained that NAPLAN tests were to give an accurate reflection of their child’s results, mostly to indicate which schools needed extra funding, parents still wanted their child to do well.

Danielle Calleja, from the International Centre for Excellence, said parents often compared their children’s NAPLAN results. She was sick of seeing children stressed so she ran NAPLAN classes so they could see what the tests were like.

Australian Tutoring Association chief executive Mohan Dhall said schools were also under pressure because their results were put on the My School website.