Thursday, July 4, 2013

3 Superpowers Your Kids Can Possess

BunnyGirl, IronRunt, and FrankenBro
Superheroes are cool!
Wouldn't it be great if we had super powers? I love superheroes, in fact my kids are pretty darned convinced that I may be one (and who am I to dissuade them). I think this is where my fascination with learning and the brain first started. Here you have these larger than life characters that are just beyond extraordinary! Some had superpowers that you just can't ever dream of duplicating, but others LEARNED how to become awesome! In fact, it is their brain that makes them truly standout! That's within OUR reach!

The most obvious example (geek moment incoming) is Tony Stark, AKA Ironman. Now Stark has this awesome suit of powered armor (actually he has a closet full). He's got blasters of all types, rocket propelled flight, super enhanced strength, and all the accompanying gadgets you can imagine including Jarvis his computerized assistant! So what is his superpower? Well nothing really. He's just a regular human. No magic hammer like Thor, no mutation like Wolverine, or super strength like The Hulk. But with his armor, it's obvious how Ironman has come to the rescue. A punch here, a blast there, and next thing you know he's battled the most powerful villains imaginable (and trust geeks can IMAGINE) and won!

Still, I used to wonder what made Ironman the cat's pajamas in a comic book world filled with tons of villians (and heroes) in armored suits similar to his. What set him apart was his brain! In his case, his TRUE superpower was his intellect. That is what allowed Stark to create his armored inventions in the first place (well that and a huge fortune, but let's not nitpick). That made him standout! Stark's brain brought him to the dance. Don't even get me started on Doctor Who (albeit not a comic book character). All he had was his intellect, a time machine that constantly left him stranded, and a really high tech screwdriver.
This concept is what I latched onto as a kid. I could do this! I could read, I could learn, I could investigate, I could discover! The best part is that all kids can do this as well since they just happen to have three amazing superpowers they can develop in order to become smarter. The brain, just like any muscle, becomes stronger through its use. Have fun with this and your kids will too. Here are three powers they may not have even realized they had:

Superpowers we all possess (without the need to be bitten by radioactive spiders)
1. Laser Focus
It is a biological fact that we cannot learn if we do not give something our attention. We input the vast majority of information into our brains visually. Kids need to be mindful and constantly reminded that their line of sight guides their attention. If they want to study a flower or a bug, they must develop a laser focus and aim their vision at what they want to learn. If you get distracted by the dust bunny fluttering across the floor, then that is visual information you are inputting. It boils down to choice, and kids need to be aware of what they are choosing to focus on.

I've often asked my students what they want to accomplish during class. Their answers tend to be great! I want to learn <insert topic> or be able to <insert skill> well. So during instruction, when I see them drift off, I ask them to consider which will help them accomplish their goal...that loose piece of thread on their sock or the whatever it is we are getting done in class. When really pondering the choice, you'd be surprised how often they choose the right course. It is just a matter of getting them to use and develop their superpower of Laser Focus!

2. Super Sonic Hearing
It's not a secret that the vast majority of school instruction is delivered in a lecture format. I have such a love hate relationship with this! On one hand I love it because it suits me so well! I could literally close my eyes and just let the information feed right into my brain. On the other hand I feel so BLAH because I know that despite my ease, other learners are different and what works for me will not always work for them. The reality is however, that it still happens (put on your listening ears), therefore we need to develop our Super Sonic Hearing!

For this, their is a simple strategy to follow (the H.E.A.R. strategy):

  • H: Halt! I can use a chainsaw, but you're not going to catch me juggling three! Same premise. Purposely choose to focus on ONE thing. You'll do a better job guaranteed and you're less likely to lose a limb.
  • E: Engage! 1. The left hemisphere of our brain controls the right side of our body, while the right hemisphere controls the left side of our body. 2. The left side of our brain processes language. Taking those facts into account, we do our best "listening" with our right ear, so a slight tilt of the head actually goes a long way! Give them your best ear.
  • A: Anticipate (or Attitude): You must get in the habit of having a good attitude about what you are listening to. You've got to believe that it is going to be of worth. If someone is about to share all the intricacies of the tax code, chance are your brain is going to press the snooze button and shut down. Avoid sabotaging yourself and instead have a good attitude about what you are going to hear.
  • R: Reflect (or Replay/Recall...any of those good R words): Simply going over what you've just heard has the effect of aiding your brain in retention. If someone tells you a phone number, what do you do? Repeat it as your frantically look for a pen or try to save it on your own phone right? It's the same concept. Taking a second to process what you just heard and connect it to previous knowledge works wonders!

3. Booming Voice
As a teacher I've had countless parent/teacher conferences in which the parent states timidly that they know their kid talks a LOT and that they've tried to get them to stop. I immediately say "NO!!! PLEASE DON'T!!!" If your kid talks a lot, consider yourself blessed! This is transfer of knowledge and it is an imperative step in learning and it is often at odds with the culture of school (be quiet, stop talking, etc.). Just think of how many adults are afraid of public speaking? Think of how many cannot communicate well and share what are often great ideas and thoughts! Talking is a gift. They must develop their Booming Voice. I don't want a child to EVER stop talking, rather I want them to just develop the self-control and judgement necessary to do it at the appropriate time (if I can just get one person to be quiet at the movie theater, then I will have accomplished a great thing).

The next big adventure
I encourage parents and educators to develop these three superpowers in children. It will not happen overnight, but effort and persistence will help them become better at the most basic of things necessary for them to succeed! This is the great part about learning. Learners have a choice in defining what they want to do and what they want to accomplish, and this choice is incredibly powerful (even more powerful that what I illustrated above). The biggest stumbling block is always thinking that you can't get it done. When that is removed and enough hard work is applied, everything can end up being in reach.