Wednesday, August 19, 2009

How Fast Can The Brain Re-wire?

The brain is in various states of readiness to re-wire in response to a particular learning experience. Changes at the chemical level, such as an alteration of neurotransmitter release, uptake, production, are very rapid. Changes at the level of connectivity between neurons such as increase in numbers of synapses (connections), strengthening of synapses and remodeling of synapses is also quite rapid. Re-wiring processes that incorporate newly born neurons into a pathway are somewhat slower to occur – these are the changes that lead to enlargement of brain areas that a heavily used for specific tasks.

Using a new brain scanning technique called Diffusion Tensor MRI, scientists can now trace connections between different brain regions and recent observations demonstrate that the microstructure of the brain can change in mere hours. After subjects were asked to train on a visual/spatial task, structural and functional changes were detected as soon as two hours of training. The spatial learning task involved playing a highly engaging race-track video game, going over the same virtual race track 16 times. Each time the subjects circled the track, the time they took to complete it decreased. At the end of the two hours, microstructure of the hippocampus, motor and visual areas of the brain had changed! These microstructural changes involved changes in connectivity between neurons such as increased synaptic density, formation of new synapses and formation of new dendrites.

But neurons are not the only brain cells that adapt to learning. The other type of cell present in the brain is the “glial cell”. Glial cells are essentially support cells – meaning they support the function and needs of neurons. Scientists recently found that new glial cells, which are produced in the brain throughout life, release a type of chemical that acts as a brain fertilizer - facilitating the growth and connectivity of neurons in the brain. This response of new glial cells was demonstrated to produce improved cognitive function in aging brains.

This all makes sense when you think of the speed at which cognition and attention have been shown to improve with training. We have witnessed some pretty remarkable changes in academic performance, social attitudes and behaviors of children using Neuropath Learning programs in just a matter of months which amounted to a total time of 8-10hours of interaction with our learning system. We have always found this pretty mindboggling to explain but in light of Michael Posner's work, I reported in an earlier post and this recent data we now know that the brain can and does adapt functionally and structurally at a rapid pace producing such dramatic outcomes.


1. American Friends of Tel Aviv University (2009, August 17). Window Into The Brain: Diffusion Imaging MRI Tracks Memories And May Detect Alzheimer's At Early Stage. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 19, 2009, from

2. University of California - Irvine (2009, July 22). Neural Stem Cells May Rescue Memory In Advanced Alzheimer's, Mouse Study Suggests.ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 19, 2009, from

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Response to Intervention: Get in the Zone!

The Response to Intervention (RTI) model gained credibility in recent years as an eligibility model for special education services. But RTI is also a useful approach to providing data-based decision-making for any students who may be in need of extra interventions for improving their performance. Since data driven decision making is one of the key reforms emphasised by the Federal government's stimulus funding guidelines, RTI is currently a hot topic.

The RTI model comprises of 3 tiers, universal interventions (green zone), group interventions (yellow zone) and individual interventions (red zone). At each tier, assessments and interventions are offered within general education classrooms to identify and correct potential learning issues. The goal is twofold: to prevent children from being channeled into special education programs and to help mainstream students already in special programs.

At each zone the following questions are asked:
1. What is the problem?
2. Why does the problem exist?
3. What should be done to address the problem?
4. Did the intervention work and what’s next?

Neuropath Learning programs are designed to help teachers and school administrators implement practical RTI programs in elementary schools. For example, our programs Early Mind Matters and Knowledge First, can help with both assessment and intervention at each level. Since the program does all the work, it is a very practical universal intervention to offer school wide as a preventive measure. The multimodal differentiated instruction and comprehensive assessment covers a broad range of possible learning issues. The programs are able to clearly and precisely define the cognitive gaps that are leading to various learning issues. The cognitive challenges in the learning activities then train the brain to develop the cognitive skills found to be weak. This type of cognitive training facilitates academic achievement and the benefits of this training have been shown to be long lasting. Data is collected in real time as the student interacts with the program and the teacher and principal can view this data distribution in the context of individual performance, class performance and school performance. The students progress through the programs at their own pace, once one program is completed they can move on to more advanced programs. The programs can track individual student progress and measure learning. Whats more, our programs are fully customizable for addressing special needs of certain groups of students with the same learning issue or individuals with who need tailor made interventions. Thus offering solutions for students in the green zone and red zones. This is the power of our technology. We like to think we offer learning solutions and not just sell software to schools. Our goal is to partner with schools to help students reach their full potential and we strive to make sure our programs are used correctly to obtain maximum benefits.

If you are wondering, "well that's great news for learning issues, but what do I do about behavioral issues?" you should read the previous post where I explain how Neuropath Learning programs address both learning and behavior issues at the same time using executive function training activities. Here is the link:

Be sure to check out our website,, for more information, interactive demos, sample charts and success stories.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


I just returned from the WASA/OSPI Special Ed workshop and it was interesting to see how educators separate learning issues from behavior issues. And its not just educators, domains of cognition and emotion are often treated as non-overlapping entities across the board. This is quite surprising to me because if you think about it in neurological terms, no such distinction remains since both are controlled by the same brain networks. Both Cognition and Executive funtions (EF) are housed in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. Engaging in tasks that activate the prefrontal cortex can develop both cognition (including social cognition), emotional regulation and behavioral responses. Neuropath Learning Programs offer creative problem solving activities that train cognitive skills plus develop executive function and thus have been shown to improve both learning and behavioral outcomes. Essentially killing two birds with one stone - or blurring the line between them.

Executive functioning refers to our ability to be able to make and carry out plans, direct our attention, focus and also to control our internal states: our impulses and emotions and to be able to switch from one task to another. In other words it is a key part of our ability to self-regulate our behavior, mind and emotions.

However, EF comprises not only effortful control and cognitive focus but also working memory and mental flexibility—the ability to adjust to change, to think outside the box. These are the uniquely human skills that, taken together, allow us keep our more impulsive and distractable brain in check. New research shows that EF, more than IQ, leads to success in basic academics like arithmetic and grammar. It also suggests that we can pump up these EF skills with regular mental exercise, just as we do with muscles.

Studies conducted with preschool aged children showed that those kids educated using techniques that help to develop executive function performed far better than their conventionally educated peers. What’s more the EF groups significantly outperformed their matched peers in all areas including their subsequent ability to learn to read, write and correctly perform mathematical functions when they reached kindergarten.

Here are some examples of the learning activities in the EF curriculum. Instead of keeping the classroom quiet, kids are actually taught and encouraged to talk to themselves, privately but aloud, as a way of helping them exert mental control. In one exercise, for example, the kids have to match their movements to symbols. When the teacher holds up a circle they clap, with a triangle they hop, and so forth. The kids are taught to talk themselves through the mental exercise: "OK, now clap." "Twirl now." This has been shown to flex and enhance the brain's ability to switch gears, to suppress one piece of information and sub in a new one. It takes discipline; it's the elementary school equivalent of saying "I really need to stop thinking about next week's vacation and focus on this report."

Here's another example from the classroom. Children tell stories to one another, but kids being kids, they all want to be the storyteller; none wants to just sit and listen. But the reality is that only one can tell a story at a time, so the designated listeners hold a picture of an ear, a prop to remind them that they are waiting their turn to talk. This helps them learn to control their natural instinct to talk out of turn. Eventually the props and private chatter are not needed, but in the beginning they help cognitively immature children stretch their executive muscles.

Dramatic role playing is a cornerstone of the EF philosophy. The preschoolers, all four and five years old, actually design the play's action by themselves. For example: "Let's pretend you're the mommy and I'm the baby. I'll get sick, and you'll need to take me to the doctor." Then they act it out, solving problems along the way. The idea is that play of this kind promotes the internalization of rules and expectations and demands mental discipline to stay in character—all cognitive challenges. Importantly, these exercises were not tacked on as a separate teaching, but rather were integrated into every activity of the child's day, from reading to math.

This however, is a vast oversimplification of a curriculum that has taken years to develop and is grounded in rigorous scientific studies of children's brain development. Even though the activities may seem frivolous studies showed that preschoolers with sharper executive capability as a result of such a curriculum outperform their more traditional learning peers in basic skills, especially mathematics, when they hit kindergarten. In other words, early exposure to dramatic play and cognitive games better prepares kids for mastery of traditional academics.

This new thinking has the potential to be transformational if the powers that be are willing to embrace the realities of this data. If you think in terms of Executive function there is no difference in interventions for WON'T DO kids and CAN'T DO kids.

Neuropath Learning has long recognized the importance of executive function and has applied this knowledge to designing all its learning and assessment programs. Our learning activities are real world simulations of these same types of EF activity examples. This is why, not only are they successful they are also fun and children love using them. These programs are easy to use at home to complement school curriculum. So get your child on our learning path today!

Is EF the New IQ?