Dec 29, 2009


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4.5 million kids between the ages of 5 and 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD as of 2006. The common perception is that a student with ADHD will exhibit a total lack of focus, accompanied by fidgeting, daydreaming, impulsiveness, and a tendency to cause disruption. However, there is another, often overlooked side to this disorder that could actually be considered somewhat of a benefit.

In addition to a lack of focus on activities that do not hold interest for the ADHD student, activities that are engaging can trigger a state of “hyperfocus”. This is essentially a term used to describe a frame of mind in which the individual can block out any exterior distractions and hone in on the task at hand with unusual concentration and endurance. For example, an ADHD student may have tremendous difficulty completing a Math assignment, but will be able to play a computer game for hours without interruption.

The cause of hyperfocus (as well as other ADHD symptoms) is believed to be a deficiency in neurotransmitters inside the brain. However, this is still under debate, as is the way in which ADHD medication alleviates these symptoms.

Despite the obvious problems this may cause, hyperfocus can certainly be seen in a positive light as well. Swimming legend Michael Phelps, for example, has proven that ADHD and hyperfocus can help an individual attain greatness.

Students and parents of students with ADHD should be mindful of this aspect of the disorder and strive to utilize it in a positive way where possible. Encourage it when it yields helpful benefits, and curtail it when it interferes with other facets of life. Teachers also have a responsibility to tailor lessons so that students with ADHD are engaged. One great article from, written by Royce Flippin, offers insightful advice on one way to do this: "Kids with ADD are demanding a higher standard of teaching," says William Sears, M.D., associate clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine. "A child with ADD gets bored quickly when he's asked to memorize a bunch of history dates. But if he helps write a play on the subject and then performs in it, he's going to shine."

Dec 21, 2009

Class Time

As teachers and students began the ’09-’10 school year this past September, President Barack Obama made the announcement that American students would need to boost their academic performance, and that one method of attaining that boost was through a lengthened school year and school day. Curtailing vacations and extending class time are critical steps, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan argues, because American students are at a disadvantage when compared to students in other countries where the academic calendar is longer: “The school calendar is based on the agrarian calendar, which no longer makes sense.”

Proponents of the increase cite increased student achievement as essential to the future of the American economy and democracy. However, not everyone is as enthusiastic about the proposed route to higher achievement, a fact acknowledged in the President's speech: “Now, I know longer school days and school years are not wildly popular ideas. Not with Malia and Sasha, not in my family, and probably not in yours. But the challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom."

Other critics include Teacher Unions, which have gone to extreme measures to balance a budget that does not seem to support the President’s plans for more school. Others are advocating a more efficient use of class time instead of simply adding to what is already there.

And of course, caught in the middle are the students. With most of their time spent in the classroom, plus the pressures of extra curricular activities, homework, and sometimes a part-time job, it is no wonder why many students are pushing back on the idea of lengthening the school year. Students already feel overburdened by the pressures of academia, and to add to that would be folly in the minds of many.

There is no easy solution. On the one hand is a need for improved education, and on the other are the eternal constraints of time and money. What do you think?

Dec 15, 2009

Music and Learning

As we’ve seen before, learning to play a musical instrument can have a strong positive effect on the brain. For example, audible comprehension in accomplished music-makers is notably more acute than in less skilled individuals. But what effect does music have on the brain when we simply listen to it?

When you hear music, there is a lot going on in your head. Researchers have found that as you process the rhythm and modulating tone, sections of your brain responsible for language, memory, and motor control are stimulated.

What does this mean for learning? Some have proposed that there is a direct correlation between listening to a particular type of music and performance in cognitive function. One of the most famous examples of this is the “Mozart Effect”. Essentially, the term describes a briefly observed improvement in spatial-temporal reasoning after listening to the relaxing sounds of Mozart’s compositions.

Some, however, attribute this increase in performance to “enjoyment arousal”- basically, the sounds cause pleasure, which lead to a state of mildly enhanced cognitive ability. Nonetheless, the countering results have not stopped a monsoon of interest, including several parallel studies and even proposed legislation to provide schoolchildren with classical music recordings.

Regardless of the true power of the “Mozart Effect”, current research is in support of the use of music as a learning aid when the music in question employs a slow-tempo and non-percussive tonality (such as a Mozart sonata).

Anyone who needs to learn something should consider music to be another tool to employ where necessary. Perhaps classical is a good counter to construction happening next door, or perhaps the rhythms of jazz can be the right fit for memorizing key terms. Experiment and try to find the best fit for you.

Dec 10, 2009

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

Statistics are often used as a vehicle for proving something. You see them every day and in innumerable forms, such as opinion polls, news stories, or weather forecasts. Many use the statistics they hear to form opinions, allocate funds, and plan their lives. In fact, we here at HippoCampus are 99.9% sure you’re looking at a statistic right now. But what do these numbers really mean? Are they total truth, total lies, or somewhere in the median? Read on (if you’re in the mode).

The practice of manipulating statistical data to elicit a predetermined reaction is commonplace in every corner of the worldwide media. Sometimes it is the reporter of the data that does this, and sometimes it is the researcher creating the data. Either way, it is important to be able to spot it when it happens.

Let’s use an example. Say we wanted to know how “green” a certain car manufacturer is, so we decide to find the average fuel mileage for the cars that they produce. There are a total of six different models: one gets 12 MPG, two get 14, one gets 16, one gets 20, and an ultra-high efficient hybrid model that’s powered by veggie-diesel, solar panels, and bad puns gets 200 MPG. Using this data set (12, 14, 14, 16, 20, 200), we can find the average using a couple of different methods, the most common being the mean, median, and mode.

Let’s find the median and mode first. Median is essentially the “middle value” of the list. In our data set, this equates to the number between 14 and 16, or 15. The Mode is the number that occurs most frequently in the list. In our data, this is the number 14, as it is the only value that occurs more than once.

Now let’s find the mean. This is the method most people are familiar with when it comes to finding average. To calculate mean, add together all the values in the data set and divide by the number of values in the set:

12+14+14+16+20+200 = 276

276/6 = 46

Notice that depending on the method that we use, we can get vastly different numbers. Now consider if the car manufacturer wanted to market itself as environmentally friendly and fuel efficient- which of the preceding methods do you think they will use in their press releases and advertisements about average fuel economy? It would not be difficult to misrepresent the average of 46 MPG as “evidence” that all of the cars produced by the manufacturer were fuel-efficient.

This is, of course, just one way that the unyielding veracity of numbers can be bent to a certain purpose. Look for more on this topic in future posts!