In a 2011 Scientific American article, behavioral therapist Andrea Kuszewski reinforced a concept that continues to gain traction today--namely, that it's possible to improve one's native intelligence.
In the past, even respected scientists assumed that intelligence was purely genetic and unlikely to change over time.
Nowadays, neuroscientists and cognitive therapists recognize that fluid intelligence (e.g., the capacity to learn and process new information) is the reality.
More importantly, people can boost their fluid intelligence by improving their working memory. But how?
According to Kuszewski, you don't have to be a genius to improve cognition. Even those with low IQs can grow in fluid intelligence. To quote the author, "what doesn't kill you (will make) you smarter."
So--in order to boost overall cognitive function--the brain requires:
- Novelty - Changing up the activity provides a surge of dopamine, fueling neuron growth in the brain. In this way, the brain becomes addicted to learning something new.
- Challenge - Challenging tasks increase cortical activity, effectively training the brain. But once the activity is no longer challenging, the growth stops. Time for a new task!
- Creative Thinking - By thinking 'on both sides of the brain,' learning is enhanced. This concept explains why many curriculum designers focus on a "universal design for learning" that addresses multiple ways of thinking and learning.
- Hard Tasks - If the brain becomes too efficient at any task, certain areas of the brain can begin to atrophy. As a result, problem-solving, logic, and other cognitive skills can take a nose dive.
- Networking - The brain requires social interactions with other human beings. But it also needs the insights that come from others. The networking concept also partly explains why teamwork is so critical to growth.
Novelty, challenge, creative thinking, hard tasks, and networking (or socialization) are all compelling principles for cognitive growth. It's also not by accident that these principles factor so strongly into game-based learning models and EdTech curricula today.
So what's the takeaway of these principles? In a word: cross-training.
When athletes cross train, they constantly push both body and mind in new and challenging ways. As a result, muscles strengthen and improve in function.
By contrast, if the body becomes accustomed to a certain activity, it stops building new muscle, causing the overall gains to flatline, stagnate, or even decline.
Let's consider a typical student who uses Imagine Learning or Big Brainz in the classroom. Are they only improving literacy or math-fact-fluency skills?
Based on the five principles explained above, the answer is a resounding no.
In point of fact, when students gain skills in one area (let's say reading skills) they will naturally transfer those skills to all other subject areas. Similarly, once students are fluent in math facts, their brain is primed for more difficult tasks ahead, whether in algebra or in another subject.
In summary, then, remember: the brain needs variety, challenge, and difficulty--even so-called failure--in order to thrive and grow. By raising the cognitive bar a little higher, you might be surprised at how well your brain will respond. What doesn't kill you really can make you smarter. Test it and see!
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