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Learning to dance in a year

16 Nov

The New York Times on the accomplished elderly

26 Oct

A piece in The Times on older people who continue to make creative contributions. The list includes Tony Bennett (age 88) and E. O. Wilson (age 85).

Ginette Bedard, now 81 years old, “will run in her 12th consecutive New York City Marathon this year.”


Making and keeping neurons

24 Oct

A study in Current Directions in Psychological Science tells us “The Adult Brain Makes New Neurons, and Effortful Learning Keeps Them Alive.” Here is the abstract:

“The brain continues to produce new neurons throughout life. For instance, the hippocampus (a brain region necessary for select learning processes) produces thousands of new neurons each day. However, a significant number of them die and do so within just a few weeks of their birth. Laboratory animals that are trained to learn a new skill between one and two weeks after the new cells are generated retain most cells that would have otherwise died. The types of skills that keep new cells alive are not limited to those that depend on the hippocampus but rather include those that are effortful to learn, requiring more training trials or time spent training. Importantly, training alone is not sufficient to increase cell survival; animals that are trained but do not learn do not retain more cells than animals that are not trained. Therefore, learning increases the survival of newly generated cells in the hippocampus as long as the learning experience is new, effortful, and successful. Once rescued, the vast majority of these cells differentiate into neurons, thereby forming synapses and generating action potentials as they become incorporated into the existing architecture and functional circuitry of the adult brain.”

Note the sentence: “learning increases the survival of newly generated cells in the hippocampus as long as the learning experience is new, effortful, and successful. ” So there’s no excuse, it’s time to take up a challenging learning project.

Here is the paper’s author, Tracey Shors, speaking on adult neurogenesis:

Becoming a lawyer without law school

3 Aug

I am a big fan of adult learning projects. Here is an article from The New York Times about the several states that allow you to take the bar exam without going to law school:

” In Virginia, Vermont, Washington and California, aspiring lawyers can study for the bar without ever setting foot into or paying a law school. New York, Maine and Wyoming require a combination of law school and apprenticeship.”



Whole Earth Catalog available on line!

2 Aug

The entire run of the path breaking and absolutely essential Whole Earth Catalog is now available on line.


Thanks to BoingBoing for the link.

NPR: Language Boot Camp For Mormon Missionaries

8 Jun

Yesterday, I blogged about the Cesh method for teaching Esperanto. By coincidence, NPR ran this interesting story about the language instruction program for Mormon missionaries:

“there’s a difference between training soldiers and training missionaries. To study Mandarin at the Defense Language Institute takes 64 weeks; missionaries leave the training center after just nine.”

The success of the Mormon program seems some combination of instructional method and student motivation. When I last checked there were over 290 comments on the NPR story, definitely worth browsing. Many graduates, and others, familiar with the program, describe the strength and limitations of the training. For example:

“I live in Thailand and we have many (way too many) Mormon missionaries here (as well as many other missionaries). I speak Thai reasonably well for a non-native speaker but the Mormon missionaries that arrive here can barely hold a conversation with 6 year olds. They do tend to get better over the course of there time here but none I have met would be able to achieve success in the Grade 6 government proficiency examination.”



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“Practice something for 100 days”

21 Dec

Back in July I blogged about the Dance in a Year website. I just revisited the site and found that it has expanded into a wonderful collection of videos of learning projects. The basic idea is to:

“Practice something for 100 days. Take a video every day”

Go and get inspired!

Language learning resources

30 Nov

Benny the Polyglot has this helpful list of free on line language learning resources.

Youtube is another great place to look for language learning practice. Where else could you find these great Japanese TV commercials?

Chess player regains ranking at age 41

12 Aug

Psychologists  have long been interested in chess and chess players. Some have even gone so far as to compare the role of chess in the cognitive sciences to the role that fruit flies play in genetics

Because it possible to rank and track the performance of chess players across their careers, chess provides an excellent arena for the study of how skill, training, and performance interact.

One important, observation is that chess masters usually play their best chess when they are younger, but as an article in yesterday’s New York Times points out, this is not always the case:

“Unlike in football, basketball or baseball — where players lose their skills as they age — in chess some older players experience a competitive renaissance and regain the form that made them champions.”


Patricia Marx on brain training

29 Jul

In the July 29th New Yorker, writer Patricia Marx experiments with several brain training regimes. The piece is written humorously and can not be seen as a rigorous examination of all these programs, but she does exhibit a healthy degree of skepticism both about the claims made by the brain fitness promoters and about the expense of these programs.

Some of the intervention she describes, such as meditation, do find support in the scientific literature. However, many entrepreneurs take intriguing scientific findings and make claims that go beyond the available evidence. This is particularly true in case of brain fitness software.

We do have evidence that cognitive engagement may improve memory and protect against dementia. However, we have very little evidence about the effects of specific brain training software.

My advice is that adults should take up challenging learning projects, such as studying a foreign language or learning to play a musical instrument, as the best form of brain training. Not only is there evidence that these projects may be beneficial, they have the added advantage of enriching our lives.

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