Dr. Terry Wahls: overcoming MS

I am, as readers of this blog will know only too well, a great fan of TED Talks. The TEDx series of talks has also produced a number of fascinating  talks that would have graced the main TED Talks. I have written about a few of them in my blog and the latest one to have come to my attention is the personal story of a remarkable recovery from being wheelchair bound with Multiple Sclerosis  by a remarkable lady who has a great story to tell.

In the talk Terry Wahls tells us about the way that she used diet as part of the process (along with electro-stimulation) of feeding the Mitochondria that were essential agents in repairing the parts of her brain that had caused her disabilities. In the process of her research she looked to the way that our ancestors lived as hunter-gatherers.They lived on the food they could hunt or forage not the highly processed food that we have today.

With her body beginning to decline because of the ravages of MS, Dr Wahls started a new diet based on the hunter-gatherer diet, of vegetables and nuts, berries and roots with certain foods playing a key part in providing essential chemicals that our Mitochondria needs to thrive and help our brain cells stay healthy and indeed grow. She went from being wheelchair bound and the possibility of having to give up her position at the University of Iowa as a clinical physician to being able to ride a bicycle to work and stand and deliver the TEDx Talk that you can see above.

I am not saying that I am 100 per cent convinced that her recovery was due to her change of diet. I do think that her argument about the dangers of our current diet are very powerful though and deserve consideration. I have for a long time been concerned about the diet that many of our children have and the way that this may be effecting their brains.

To  learn more about Dr Terry Wahls see her website


The excitement of learning

I found this quote on the net:

The excitement of learning separates youth from old age. As long as you’re learning, you’re not old.

I think this is such an important idea. Too many people think that they have learnt it all and that there isn’t really anything else that they need to learn. Einstein, on the other hand, felt that he knew very little and that he would need many lifetimes to have a reasonable knowledge.

For myself  I am finding fascinating new areas to investigate. As those who follow this blog will know my latest interest is in neuroscience (the science of the workings of the brain). I have recently come across the idea of connectomes which is the study of  how the neural connections in our brain work.

I watched a fascinating TED talk by Sebastian Seung in which he explains the powerful idea that we are the sum total of our experiences and how these experiences have interconnected in our brain. We are therefore more than just the product of our genetic inheritance.

The ideas in this talk are largely unproved and are open to debate. I find them fascinating though because they are firing up my interest in the largely unmapped world of our grey matter. I want to learn more. Not because I have to for some test or exam. not because I need to in order to hold down a job it is simply because I find it fascinating… it excites my interest.

I wonder how many children in schools today will be excited by what they are learning? How many will return home and tell their parent or carer that they learnt nothing at school today. School was boring. Learning isn’t… it can and should be really exciting….. it’s what keeps me young… maybe younger (in mind)  than some of them!


The dangers of online games

A friend has  become something of a game player. She seems to spend an inordinate amount of time playing others at games of “Words With Friends” and “Bejeweled Blitz“. This latter game is where you have to rearrange diamonds across a screen so that they can be “blitzed” and you can pick up as many points as you can.

She plays these games with a number of her friends on Facebook. It has become something of a personal thing for her to beat her friends. Every Tuesday her score is wiped out and she has to start a new quest. She loves it but I have a number of concerns.

My first concern is that these online games are addictive. I do not know how it works in terms of neuroscience, but I do know that all the usual signs of  addiction are there, the compulsion to play at different times of the day, the highs of wining and the lows of being beaten. She sometimes plays  the game until the late hours of the evening trying to better some fiend’s score that will be wiped out in a new competition a few days later!

My second concern is that the time spent on the internet playing these games could be used to greater effect. There is a world of information, entertainment and communication out there and yet so many of us seem to spend hours and hours playing games.

My other concern is in the gifted people who spend their time in designing these games. They have to create graphics of a high order to compete with games where graphics and animation is of a high order and where games players are used to powerful effects. They include music to create atmosphere and they have to work out a process for different levels of difficulty. All this requires a high level of programming skills showing creativity and imagination.

I just wonder what other projects these people could be doing that might make a difference to our planet. It worries me when I watched a recent edition of the BBC’s “Click Online” to see how, at a recent international congress of games makers in Los Vegas, U.S.A., highly intelligent people were talking about the world of online games and how it is now worth billions of dollars every year. There was talk of more and more powerful machines showing more realistic animations for our children and indeed us to get involved in. The social consequences of this addiction were never discussed and I did not see any discussion about alternatives to games playing as the major use of our new technology (after social networking).

I have read about the educational value of games for children’s hand-eye co-ordination and that computer games develop strategic and other skills. Surely though we need to consider whether some of our best efforts in programming and technological development lie in creating more and more powerful means for us to waste hours of time in games that will not really add to the stock of our knowledge or develop means for us to survive an uncertain future.

Will the internet see the end of books?

I read an excellent article yesterday in the Guardian Books Blog by Damien Walter.

I loved this illustration from the article:

In this illustration books and the internet are seen as co-existing. I think that this is the way that things are likely to be for quite some time.

I do agree with Damien Walter that any revolution has to overcome the fears and negative attitudes from those who have a vested interest in the maintenance of the old technology. He is right to point out the advantages of freeing up accessibility of the written word to the widest possible audience can transform our future.

I also understand that it will not happen overnight. There will be many of us who were born into an environment of books and who have associated books as a pleasure not just because of what is written but in terms of the feel of a book in your hands.

I have recently tried to transform the majority of my reading to electronic. I have downloaded a Kindle App which I use on my android phone and on my netbook. I have read classics such as Oliver Twist as well as some excellent new works by Howard Gardner, Malcolm Gladwell and John Seely Brown. I have though missed the feel of books, the ability that they give me to wander back through the pages and glance forward at what is to come.

I understand only too well that I am living in the midst of a major revolution, that the book will become a museum object in the future and that future generations will know the printed word (which will still have much significance) through electronic means only. I am though, a child of the book and saying goodbye to it is difficult.  My generation  will die out in the same way that  the priests who chained the books to the alters of the churches of the middle ages died out when a new device called the printing press changed their world (and ultimately mine) forever.

Open Computer Testing

I am not a lover of tests and exams as those who regularly read this blog will know. If there have to be tests though I feel that an idea that I have read about over the weekend, is a really good one.

I I found a link on Google Plus (the place where many of my most valuable links come from these days) to a post from Will Richardson called “Open Network”  Tests.

The idea behind all of this is to let students explore the internet in order to answer test questions on a topic. This approach has been pioneered at  St. Gregory  Preparatory College, in Tucson, Arizona.

I looked up a post by Jonathan Martin from the College. In the post there is a description of how this “Open Internet” Testing approach works in the Theatre  History Class.

Here are the questions that the students has to choose from:

  1. Compare and contrast the tragedy and comedy of Ancient Greece using examples of playwrights and plays.
  2. Chronologically identify and compare and contrast the three main tragedians, identify their backgrounds, contributions to theater history, and plays.
  3. Explain Aristotle’s 6 elements of tragedy, how they worked at the time of conception and how they might work in today’s entertainments, give examples.
  4. Identify and define two important performance festivals of Ancient Greece and compare and contrast them with two important performance festivals of today.
  5. Identify the origins of theater and drama in Greece.
  6. Explain what the Greek chorus was, who was involved, what they did, how they functioned,  and how did they affect plays of the time.

Here is some of the feedback from the students on their experience of taking the test:

“I liked how it made us understand the topic  more.  I also found it harder than multiple choice because you had to analyze rather than know the info.

I really enjoyed the format of the test, where I could use open notes and write an essay on a certain topic. It was very helpful, and I felt as if I had a lot of more information than I would have had if I had just memorized the information.

I thought that this format was very effective, because this way its not so cut and dry right answer wrong answer, it’s more opinionated, which I like much more.

I liked the format of the test. I liked the way we got to look online for facts about a certain topic, then write an essay about it.

This test does not have multiple choice or terms that we had to define. This is more about testing your ability to find resources that you need, write a quality essay under pressure. I find I like the multiple choice and defining terms better.

This feedback shows just how much the students appreciated the fact that they could show how much they knew, how good their research skills were and then how they could present the information in a way that is an effective answer to the questions set.

It does not introduce the element of luck and chance in a multiple choice test and it does not mean that they are reliant on their memory in order to remember the key facts that an examiner is looking for.

For those of us who have always struggled with tests and exams because we did not have a brilliant memory and suffered from the tension and stress of trying to answer a number of questions in a set period of time, this new approach seems to be light years ahead and would have made a significant difference to our academic success.”

I can only hope that more schools will learn from the St. Greg’s lead and allow students to use 21st century research skills to show what they know and what they can find out and present this in a way that allows us to see what they are capable of and not what they can remember and tell us about in a stressed period of time!

Why I am not a fan of phonics

I am not a great lover of phonics for teaching reading. I have been around long enough to have seen so many different methods of teaching reading used..from 44 basic sounds, to look and say, real texts and now back to phonics.

Yesterday, I received an e-mail that just sums it all up for me, here it is:

From the diary of a  Teacher

My five-year old students are learning to read.

Yesterday one of them pointed at a picture in a zoo book and said,

“Look at this! It’s a frickin’ elephant!”

I took a deep breath, then asked…”What did you call it?”

“It’s a frickin’ elephant! It says so on the picture!”

And so it does…

“A f r i c a n Elephant “

I wonder how long it will take and how many children’s reading will be effected until we go further round the never-ending circle and start to give them real texts again and let them make sense of what the marks mean!

Moonshot Thinking: Solve For X

I follow Larry Page on Google Plus. Yesterday he posted this:

Larry Page  –  Yesterday 17:59  –  Public
Last week we hosted the first ever “Solve for X” — a forum to encourage and amplify technology-based moonshot thinking and teamwork. The site has just gone up and there are a number of cool talks including Neal Stephenson on “Getting Big Stuff Done” with more to come soon!


I went to the site and then watched the Neal Stephenson video. Frankly, he is not one of the most inspiring speakers that I have seen. He did though come up with some challenging thoughts and one big idea.
His talk asked us why we have lost the ability to imagine big ideas in the way that the 60’s saw us get  to the Moon when many had believed that it would not be possible for many many years to come. He asked why today’s innovative thinkers are designing better apps for mobile phones or even more exciting interactive video games! They are not solving the world’s water shortage, or developing powerful technology which can be used to aid the 100 million children in the world who are currently without any form of education.
His big idea was to build a tower that was 15 Km tall. Supposedly this is technologically possible… the question would then be what uses could this tower be put to?
I went onto the site today and noticed that their promise of uploading more of the talks from the Solve For X Conference  had materialised. I watched the following talk by Nicholas Negroponte:
This is a powerful talk by a pioneer of making laptops accessible for the masses. In the later part of his talk he discusses his project to give laptops to communities which have no literacy whatsoever and then see if children can teach themselves to read! It reminded me very much of Sugata Mitra‘s “Hole In The Wall” experiment that he discussed in his TED Talk of 2008.
This is the kind of thing that Solve For X is about. I am really pleased to see that Google have sponsored this project and that there are already a number of interesting ideas to discuss and think about. It is important that technology is used to help humanity and help solve the many problems that we face now and in the future. Maybe this website might encourage some of our brighter young thinkers to think big about issues relating to our survival because there isn’t an App for that yet and there’s no point in playing an interactive game which sees our world crash and burn at the end!