Globally Curious?

Interested in how many people were born today?  How about the amount of money spent on obesity-related issues in the US?  Or maybe the number of emails that have been sent today around the world?

You can find all of these statistics and many more at this site:  What a treasure trove of fascinating discussion starters for the social studies classroom!  My students stumbled across the page and were instantly transfixed.  Of course, you can share this with your own children as well.  We become more grateful for our blessings and curious about the world when we have easy access to this kind of information. 

How History Can Make Us More Grateful

The headlines are, and will always be, disastrous.  If you spend five minutes reading a newspaper or watching a newscast, you might be tempted to believe that the Earth is seconds away from total destruction.  Surely things have never been this bad, right?


Actually, things have never been this good.  Check out this video from Hans Rosling, a British statistician who is able to bring numbers to life.  Rosling shows how the past 200 years have brought us to new heights of life expectancy and wealth.  We have never lived longer or earned more.  In addition, we have never had this much food to eat.  Babies are surviving their first years of life at a much higher percentage than at any other time in our planet's history.  Communication and transportation have never been easier or faster. Of course, we do have major problems that will demand solutions over time.  Yet, human beings are a far cry from the "nasty, brutish, and short" lifetimes that we used to have in previous centuries.    


History can teach us many lessons.  One of these is that we should be grateful for modernity.  Despite its faults, life in the contemporary world is vastly better than it used to be.  We will be happier people if we learn how far we have come and express gratitude for our progress.   

Want safe drivers? Teach empathy.

While Jenny and I may think that driving is light years away for our kids, that visit to the DMV will be here before we know it.  What can we be doing now to prepare them to be the safest drivers possible?


A new study out of the Czech Republic suggests that empathy is related to driver safety.  People who have greater concern for the well-being of others are more likely to be safer drivers than those who are self-focused.  The researchers, whose work is published in the journal Neurolmage, showed that safe drivers had more brain activity in the superior temporal sulcus, a region associated with empathy.


We have no control over the weather, potholes, or other driving conditions.  Yet, we can improve safety on the roads by teaching our kids the importance of considering the viewpoints of others.  In the classroom - literature, history, social studies, etc. - and at home, we can produce incident-free future roadway travel by teaching empathy.



The Mindfulness Bell

All of us need ways to manage the stress we face in our lives.  Here is a helpful tool - the mindfulness bell.  I like to use it in my middle school history classes.  For the duration of the sound of the bell, try to focus your thoughts only on your breathing.  Perhaps you could count your breaths or zero in on the sensation of air coming into and leaving from your body. 

This may be a challenge at first.  It certainly was (and still is) for me!  Foreign thoughts try to force themselves into my consciousness. Yet, the more I practice, the better I get at focusing my attention on my breathing. 


When you have mastered this task, try to maintain your focused attention for ever longer periods of time.  You will probably find that this relaxes your brain and body, lowering your stress level and improving your ability to think in depth.     

Isaac Newton's Relaxed Brain

The story is legendary.  Sir Isaac Newton, father of modern physics, discovered the law of gravity after being pelted by a falling apple.  He was at his family's farm in the English countryside, fleeing Oxford due to an outbreak of the plague.  For eighteen months, Newton had the freedom to let his mind wander.  Unencumbered by an academic schedule, Newton received no emails or text messages.  He did not update his Facebook status.  He attracted no new followers on Twitter.  Rather, in a tranquil rural environment, Isaac Newton passed the time by thinking.  In addition to working out the law of gravity, Newton also made advances in the study of light and the understanding of mathematics.  All the while, his imagination was his primary companion.


Teenage Girls, Stress, and Depression

Adolescent girls are at greater risk for depression than their male counterparts.  A new study suggests that interpersonal stress is an important contributor to this sad reality.  Teenage girls tend to harbor negative thoughts more frequently than teenage boys when experiencing stressful encounters with others.  In addition, according to the authors of this study, girls face more of these situations than boys.  



Mindset: Fixed vs. Growth

Here's an infographic laying out the differences between the fixed and growth mindsets as described by Carol Dweck. Her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, has had a significant impact throughout our culture.  It was also very helpful to me as I wrote my book.  Dweck's ideas can change your mind in myriad ways.  Adopting a growth mindset at school and everywhere else will, without a doubt, bring happiness and success to our kids.  

Music and Big Ideas

Our kids need to learn how to develop their creative sensibilities in order to design the safer, more prosperous, and more sustainable future we want for them.  It turns out that music facilitates this process.  By listening to music, our brains enter what is known as "mind-wandering mode."  When a mind is free to wander, it is more likely to generate connections between concepts that are not previously linked.  This is how "Big Ideas" are born.


So, in addition to making us feel good, music can make us more innovative.  Check out this article for more information. 


Our Kids Can Get Smarter

The central concept of the growth mindset is the idea that we can improve over time, even with regards to our intellectual abilities.  In other words, we can become smarter with practice.  What a beautiful message to communicate to our kids!  It doesn't matter how gifted you are (or not) at birth, because our thoughts and behaviors can shape our brains.  Whether we are at school, at home, or anywhere else, our brains get stronger and more capable if we guide them that way.


Hey, if it worked for Albert Einstein, it can work for us!  Here's a video from a NOVA episode that discusses Einstein's brain in addition to other related ideas.  I started showing it to my students last year, and they have loved it.   

Struggle and Happiness

How we view struggle has a great deal to do with our happiness.  If we see struggle as a natural part of the learning process, we are more likely to embrace it.  We will carry on through difficulty and achieve success in school, in work, and everywhere else.  On the other hand, if struggle represents weakness, a lack of intelligence, or some other negative trait that we believe we have, it will have unhealthy impacts.   

We should teach our kids to consider struggle as an opportunity to reach our potential.  It makes us stronger as people and drives us to greater accomplishments.  Perhaps we can learn from Japan.  Here's a report discussing how the Japanese view struggle.   

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