The way sound affects the brain is a deep area of research, and it's been known for a while that mathematically rich compositions such as those by Mozart help students to learn. Playing music during class is nothing new, and with many school assemblies taking place with singing as a main part, the element of music is reaching a lot of children.
According to recent studies at the Northwestern Auditory Neuroscience Lab, the brain responds to sound in a matter of microseconds, and our brainwaves begin to resemble the sound-waves made by the music. Our brainwaves determine the balance of electrical energy within our neural network that allows us the think, make decisions, and autonomously control our vital functions. This is very important when considering the types of music that we choose to listen to, or perhaps a better word would be to “consume”, while we are doing something important.
The research by Nina Kraus of the Northwestern has delved further than this. Mindshift's Linda Flanagan writes “Kraus has learned that the brain’s response to sound in children as young as three is predictive of their ability to read. Her lab can also identify those children who are likely to struggle to read before those kids show signs of the language disorder.”
Does this suggest a future of sound testing of infants before they go to school to determine which stream of education they enter? Will children be sectioned into various reasoning skill groups by the time they are five,down to the evidence suggested by this study? The work goes on to imply that the levels of background noise in a child's life will contribute to the natural levels of neural noise that occurs behind the boundaries of totally conscious thought.
Products like meditative whole-tones for healing have been around for a long while, and now with this new light on the way sound causes us to think in various patterns, the concept perhaps doesn't sound quite so out there. Maybe it's possible to counter-act some of the effects of negative sounds which contribute to neural noise with the waveforms of other things, which could be described as the opposite or positive sounds. More work needs to be done in order to determine how far reaching this idea can go before it becomes ineffective.
Understanding music is a very challenging job for the brain, as the complexity of the whole can be high. Being able to pick out the individual pieces and merge them into an order that can be understood requires a significant amount of energy and thought, even if only in the background of the mind. Silence can be difficult to find in life, so grab it while you can. Perhaps experiment for yourselves with various types of music and see which ones you learn best with.
It has been known for a long while now that DNA within our cell nuclei is able to function as a protein blueprint, that once used will form molecules which assemble a tertiary structure according to their own electro-magnetic formation, independent of the original instructions. It has been assumed that from there on all the other steps of the formation of an organism can be established with these first primary fundamentals. Finding the proof of this is clearly difficult, as biochemistry is a process that is ongoing and with steps on the nano-scale. Mapping the chemical steps that bridge chemistry into biology is a matter of continual research.
Because nature is relative to itself, many processes can be seen to cross entire families of the gene tree. The contents of my cells are nearly identical to all mammalian cells and pretty much the same as any animal cell. Even for plants, we share the same basic biomolecular ingredients. Organic chemistry is the name for all chemical processes which form molecules used by life. We can detect organic chemistry in space, using spectroscopy which identifies the emission and absorption spectra from glowing gasses.
Another step on the ladder to the formation of life from the chemical ingredients has been identified by researchers at the University of Sydney. It's been known for a while that fractal mathematics creates the correct geometry that describes the formation of shapes that life uses. Spirals are one of the simplest formations that can be formed in this way. Self repeating patterns that describe shape and mode of repetition within themselves can be seen in all kinds of biology. Even our own bodies can be shown to demonstrate these principles.
Plants use a hormone called auxin to cause growth. This chemical triggers the elongation and division of cells, and it's been shown to be sensitive to light which breaks it down. This means that areas facing away from the light source will grow faster making the plant grow towards the light. Now it has been shown that hotspots of auxin form around the stem of newly growing leaves that allow the plant to evenly distribute their growth according to a spiral shape. By attracting auxin from neighbouring cells, the hot cell can give itself the benefits of several cells' auxin. As the attraction is not a strong process, the new hotspot can be formed at a predefined place along the stem, according to the reach of the chemical. Although not fully understood, this process works on molecular and leaf levels, creating spiral formations in the growth of the plant. Light sensitive biology is mostly in the plant world, however our eyes also can be categorised in this way, and perhaps on some level, the way they work can be seen as the same too.
According to a study by Stanford Professor Carol Dweck, a typical “growth mindset” is a polar opposite psychology to a “fixed mindset”. This can be shown in results when small changes to thinking patterns offered to students lead to large improvements in learning ability.
A tender approach to correcting errors of method is a vital ingredient to allowing students to feel confident in altering their methods, and identifying possible mistakes. Giving pupils negative associations to error in learning can result in a fixed mindset approach where absolute certainty is the defense mechanism to protect from the consequences of being wrong.
The way students learn will affect their entire lives as a foundation stone to all further experiences. A teacher is the role model as well as an educator, and they have a granted privilege of spending a significant amount of time with our young people at ultimately definitive parts of their lives. When we consider the effects of attitude on learning, and the effects of thought patterns on ability to achieve and get on in life, it makes sense that teachers are required to maintain exceptional mental health.
But how can we ask them to do this? With regulations and expectations stretching any well trained professional to tighter limits with each pass over of the books, for many years now, teachers have been complaining about the extra pressures put on them by increasingly stringent protocols. Pushing people to their natural limits with work load, regardless of the money involved, will result in a slow decrease in work quality. A balance needs to be found and with each school, each class, challenges will differ. Every student will have their story which will be incorporated into the way a teacher works, and every class will have different pupils ranging from one extreme end of society to another.
Because of the large diversity in the demands of what teachers are asked, expected, and employed to do, it is fair to say that we cannot invent a one size fits all scheme that attends to the mental health of teachers. This aspect of the education system cannot be overlooked, however, and perhaps a teacher can be given the same level of access to school nursing as a child would. Maybe if the same level of state care on offer to children was also available to those who care for and educate them, the subtle differences in thinking and self esteem of the staff will ultimately reflect on the class in big ways.
Rowan Blair Colver for Alternative Fruit
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