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One of the traits that competitive athletes share with many creative geniuses is the ability to mentally rehearse skills when they are not actually performing. I call it Body Thinking in SPARKS Ignite Imagination. This ability of the brain to “go through the motions” simply by thinking about moving, has been demonstrated through brain imaging. The scientists call the brain cells that do this mirror neurons.

Mirror neurons are activated when you perform an action yourself as well as when you see someone else doing it. Even more amazing are another kind of neuron, the canonical neuron. Canonical neurons send out movement signals when you just see an object that can be grasped by the hand. It is like your brain can plan ahead in case you might want to pick the object up.

Having a brain that can anticipate and plan ahead allows us to consider the consequences of taking action without having to actually do it.

The mirror and canonical neurons may also help us understand the actions of others simply by observing. Perhaps this is how the brain can imagine the intentions and state of mind of other people. If these neurons allow us to form representations of action by watching someone else do it, they may be the reason a baby cries on hearing another baby cry. They may explain why we feel sad while watching a sad movie.

You can exercise your mirror neurons by actively thinking about where your body is in space. You know where your arms are. Think about where your arms are. Move your arms over your head. Feel this new position. Imagine yourself swinging on a swing. What does it feel like? Can you see the sky, smell the wind, feel the chain in your hand?

Playing with body thinking exercises your imagination.

You need plenty of sleep for your brain to operate at it's best. Sleep gives the brain time to assimilate information taken in during the day. That is why the best time to study is before sleeping.

There has long been scientific evidence that elementary school students wake up earlier and function better in the morning. High school students would do better sleeping in and starting school later in the day. Few school districts have responded to this evidence. Even in districts that stagger start times due to bus schedules start the high school students early and the elementary students later.

Further research presented at SLEEP 2008, the 22nd Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies (APSS) demonstrated that later high school start times do indeed lead to more sleep and less student sleepiness.

“Following a 40-minute delay in start time, the students utilized 83 percent of the extra time for sleep. This increase in sleep time came as a result of being able to ‘sleep in’ to 6:53 a.m., with little delay in their reported school night bedtime. This study demonstrates that students given the opportunity to sleep longer, will, rather than extend their wake activities on school nights,” said Mary B. O'Malley, MD, PhD, corresponding author of the study.

Zaw W. Htwe, MD, of Norwalk Hospital's Sleep Disorders Center in Norwalk, Conn., studied 259 high school students who completed the condensed School Sleep Habits Questionnaire. More information about “teens and sleep”, including a new questionnaire that assesses the level of sleepiness in adolescents, is available from the AASM at:


The development of sitting, crawling, and walking are tied to changes in the brain. Even after the brain has matured, movement energizes your thinking. Improving balance and eye-hand coordination has a direct impact on student learning.
Learn to juggle.
Jump rope.
Ride a bicycle.
Watch TV on a balance board.
Dribble a basketball.
Learn to play an instrument.
Any of these activities will improve your brain.

What is intelligence?
E. G. Boring, a well-known Harvard psychologist in the 1920's, defined intelligence as whatever intelligence tests measure.

IQ or Intelligence Quotient is a score on a standardized test.
It compares an individual's ability to respond to the test items to the general population's responses to the same test items.


Intelligence tests usually focus on visual-spatial (mathematical) skills and verbal (language) skills.

Original Intelligence: The Architecture of the Human Mind by Ann and David Premack

IQ does not measure physical ability, musical talent, creativity, social skills, or dexterity.

Along came Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences
Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century by Howard Gardner

The multiple intelligences are:

Linguistic - skill in reading, speaking, and thinking in words

Logical-mathematical - ability to reason and ability to reason quantitatively

Spatial Intelligence- ability to visualize and mentally manipulate forms in space

Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence - skill at movement and object manipulation

Musical Intelligence - ability to translate written symbols into pitch, rhythm, timbre

Interpersonal Intelligence - ability to notice and make distinctions among other people's moods, temperaments, motivations, and intentions

Intrapersonal Intelligence - ability to identify your thoughts and feelings and to use them to understand your own behavior

Naturalist Intelligence - ability to see differences in the living environment

Existential/Transpersonal Intelligence - ability to search for and connect with the unknown

Emotional Intelligence
Origionally proposed by two American university professors, John Mayer and Peter Salovey, emotional intelligence recognizes that some people are better than others at things like identifying feelings, and solving problems involving emotional issues.

Knowing how to separate healthy from unhealthy feelings and how to turn negative feelings into positive ones is a useful life skill.

Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel Goleman

Artificial Intelligence
Can humans make a machine that can think and solve problems?

Computers are designed to perform mechanical computations using fixed programmed rules. This allows them to perform simple repetitive tasks efficiently and reliably.

Humans have a complex approach to problem-solving involving pattern recognition, abstract thought, and high-level reasoning. Computers have trouble understanding specific situations, and adapting to new situations.

Artificial Intelligence is a branch of Science which deals with helping machines find solutions to complex problems in a more human-like fashion.


Preschool to PhD the secret to doing well in school is sequential memory. How much can you remember in the order in which it is given?
One quick check of sequential memory is called the digit span.
Given a series of random numbers, how many can you recite back correctly? Here are some for you to try with a friend.

7, 4, 6, 5

2, 9, 3, 1, 8

3, 5, 2, 7, 2, 6

5, 1, 6, 4, 3, 2, 9

Most people can remember up to seven numbers at a time. To help you remember you can group numbers together like phone numbers. 555-232-5682 is easier to remember than 5552325682.
Numbers are grouped in threes in math:
5 billion, five hundred and fifty two million, three hundred twenty-five thousand, six hundred and eighty-two.

Another check of sequential memory is spelling.
When someone spells a word for you, do they have to stop every letter or two for you to write, or can you remember several letters for the time it takes to write them down? Are your spelling errors missing some sounds, or are all the letter sounds there but in the wrong order? You can use letters or words to practice sequential memory.

R, T, B, L

K, E, P. N, D

J, G, S, V, Z, W

related words:
apples, bananas, grapes, pears, plums

or unrelated words: house, sock, tree, rock, train, corn

If you have trouble with auditory sequential memory there are things you can do to improve.
If you are forgetting some of the items in the list you can exercise your attention. Try turning the volume down a bit when you are watching television to give your listening attention a workout. When someone gives you directions, practice remembering by repeating back what you heard.

If you remember all the items in the list but get the order mixed up you can practice sequencing.
Start by practicing sequences of movement.
Touch your nose with your pinky finger first,
then your ring finger,
then the middle finger,
then the pointer
and last your thumb.

Hold your head still and move your eyes up and to the left,
then up and to the right,
then straight ahead,
then ahead and to the left,
then straight ahead and to the right,
then down and to the left,
finally down and to the right.
Have a friend challenge you with a sequence of movements for you to imitate.
For example, stand up, arms up, swing arms left, arms out, swing arms right, sit down.
Line dancing, cheerleading, and playing an instrument are good practice for sequencing. However, if sequencing is a problem for you, you may quit these activities out of frustration.
Practice simpler activities to strengthen your abilities.

This information is copyright 2008, Nancy Illing. It may not be reproduced completely or in part without the author's permission.