Neuroplasticity and Communication

Final Project Brief

Lara Rende

This semester, our project aimed to increase students’ neuroplasticity while using a theory of intelligence as its basis. By using different types of intelligence with different challenging brain exercises, we tried to promote the students’ brain plasticity. For six different types of intelligence, our class created six challenges. All of the challenges were uniquely designed. For instance, the Existential Challenge had a chalkboard, the Interpersonal Challenge included easels and paints, Naturalistic Challenge had different kinds of soil and so on. To determine which challenges the students had to take, we sent out a survey and then assigned everyone their strongest and weakest intelligence types. During Neuro Week, the students came to the design studio to complete their challenges. Even though every challenge was different they all served the same purpose of helping the students practice their intelligence types while increasing their neuroplasticity simultaneously.

My part in the project included creating the introductory video, the presentation, and the Spatial Challenge. The video and presentation were the only components in the project that aimed to educate people about both neuroplasticity and our semester project. I have always thought educating people was one of the most important aspects of a project because people would not participate unless they were informed. More importantly, would the challenges be effective if students didn’t know about neuroplasticity? I interviewed students around the campus and recorded their answers to the questions regarding neuroplasticity or intelligence. Then, I combined the records and created our intro video for the Neuro Week. As I was completing the video, I realized how true my concerns were in regard to informing people. Most of the students I had interviewed didn’t know about neuroplasticity and couldn’t answer what I had asked. After this, I focused even more on the presentation. This was because the presentation was the only way we could educate people and help them learn the right answers. After finishing up the presentation, I’ve heard a few people talking about neuroplasticity around the campus which meant that the informing part of our project was a success. During Neuro Week, the Spatial Challenge was set up along with the other challenges. While I was creating the challenge, I struggled with how difficult it should be because if it was too hard, people would give up too quickly and if it was too easy, they would not gain anything from it. Nevertheless, when I got feedback from students, they told me the challenge was hard but most of them still believed that they had done good enough. As I checked their answers, I realized that the feedback was accurate and the challenge was just as difficult as it should be for students to enhance their spatial intelligence.

Before we got into the Neuro Week tough, we had spent a lot of time learning and researching neuroplasticity. The first quarter was mostly the learning phase for the class. The books we’ve read and the research we’ve done was to educate ourselves first before creating a project from what we knew. We started by reading a self-help book by Dr. Shad and doing some bullet journaling. I believe this book helped me to understand how we can relate neuroplasticity to many things, such as positive thinking, and how extensive the applications of neuroplasticity can be. Towards the end of the quarter, we started to do more researches on the implementations of neuroplasticity as we continued to gain knowledge. We’ve watched talks from professional scientists, looked up different aspects of neuroplasticity and read research papers. This time period had a crucial effect on us because we couldn’t have come up with a project if we didn’t know enough about what we were trying to transfer to other students. For example, what we’ve learned from Dr. Boyd created a strong background for the project. In our interview with her, she mentioned that challenging oneself while learning is one of the best ways to increase neuroplasticity, which was the aim of our project, too. There were many project proposals we came up with by using everything we had learned about neuroplasticity. A lot of ideas were created, edited and omitted because we wanted to come up with the best and most effective project. However, in the end, we finally agreed on using challenges and an intelligence theory as the basis of our project.

There are many aspects of the project that need to be revised and many things that I’ve learned about doing projects in general. For one, I’ve learned that managing time properly is really important. Due to the fact that the whole project was created in less time than planned, not all parts were successful. We had to throw away three out of nine different challenges because there wasn’t enough time and we decided to choose quality over quantity. If the project was created during a whole semester instead of the quarter, we could have included those challenges too and gave people the chance to practice other intelligence types. Also, the number of people who participated in the project wasn’t even close to what we had prepared ourselves for, which taught me that advertising and announcing a project is more essential than I had thought. There were at most twenty students coming into the studio out of a hundred and it was discouraging because if there aren’t enough people participating, not all the effort that we have put into the project is appreciated. In order to increase participation, we could have put up posters around the campus, which was something we had talked about but couldn’t execute because of the lack of time, or we could have set up the challenges in a more open space in the campus so that the students would be reminded of the Neuro Week when they saw the challenges.

Consequently, even though the project was not perfect, it was a success. We’ve created the project in less than a quarter and gave the students to chance to enhance six different types of intelligence with effective, unique challenges. In our class, we gave everything we could to this project with the limited time in our hands and created a result better than we've imagined. If the small, aforementioned problems are resolved, Neuro Week would be an extensive and successful project that addresses to anyone and everyone.

Project Brief

Sara Be

     When envisioning NUVU and the design studio, I see planks of wood, yellow screwdrivers, and sharp Exacto knives. I hear the loud rumbling of the laser cutter. I expect to be wearing protective glasses as I engineer a new device or piece of architecture. Neuro Week and Neuroplasticity as a class, although just as much of a design studio as Engineering, was nothing like those expectations.  Its focus was to build interactions between and within our peers’ minds rather than to build something tangible. Don’t get me wrong, we used that laser cutter, and I built a wall, but the project was incomplete until people participated. These activities that we conjured up through research and background knowledge acknowledged the types of intelligence as defined by Dr. Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, challenging the student’s ideas of intellect that usually was based on numbers like GPA and test scores.

     I facilitated a few things going into our project. For one, I proposed challenge week to start. I was inspired by Dr. Lara Boyd, an expert in the field of neuroscience, who told us that one of the most effective ways to maximize the neuroplasticity in our brains was to challenge ourselves. Taking that idea, I decided to integrate it with a theory I had knowledge of for a while, Dr. Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. Gardner’s theory pushed the traditional view of intelligence to have a larger range. Gardner argued that the IQ test was too limiting to the current and potential level of intelligence a person could reach. Taking this idea, I proposed challenges that catered to each type of intelligence: interpersonal, intrapersonal, spatial, naturalistic, logical/mathematical, musical, existential, linguistic, and bodily-kinesthetic.

     We took the idea and ran with it, sketching out different possibilities and our roles in the project. I assigned myself the interpersonal challenge, a portion of the assembly presentation, and the class website/blog. Through these assignments, I realized a major struggle I had. It seemed that the biggest challenge of this class was that the students were the ones making the major decisions, not the teachers. However, for me, the challenge wasn’t to make the decisions, but rather to not make the decisions. I wanted to keep things rolling, getting everything done in a timely fashion. As Ms. Duke informed me, I tended to have an argumentative way of approaching things. It wasn’t that I wasn’t listening, but that I felt a need to get something done every class period. If I would have stuck to this mentality, our final product wouldn’t have had been nearly as thoughtful and intricate as it was. I had to learn to step back and think. What does this idea really do for the students? Are there ways I can improve or develop my idea? There always were. Once I accepted that the first idea was not always the best idea, I was able to allow myself to stray from the path and wonder about alternate possibilities. Throughout the process, I drew out ideas, erased those ideas, and improved those ideas multiple times. My challenge developed over much feedback and class periods.  I adopted a mindset of growth that could be applied to anything I wanted to accomplish, literally anything. Throughout this semester we researched topics relating to self-talk, mental health ideals, mediation, athletics, and academics. Although there may not seem to be a common thread, all these subjects tie together in that to excel a growth mindset is required. I found myself carrying this understanding into my other classes and extracurriculars, showing a lasting advancement of my brain.

    Once we had established our project, the presentation and website were easier to form with a defined topic and goals. We were able to focus on the aesthetics of it and how we would publicize it to the student body and school faculty. This was important because we wanted to represent ourselves in a way that would pump up students for neuro week. Although I believe more could be done to raise awareness of the project (signs, mini-activities), I was proud of the presentation we produced and the guidance website I designed.

     The goal of neuro week is to help students re-channel the stressful energy that comes with exams into activities that are enjoyable and fruitful. Through these challenges, students will broaden their horizons on what it means to be intelligent, and the wide spectrum of skills that can factor into intelligence. For example, in the interpersonal challenge, students are put in an unfamiliar atmosphere of communication. They are separated by a wall, and therefore can only interpret each other’s words. Furthermore, they must convey what they hear into something visual, a piece of art. Through this challenge, students will be exposed to different aspects of communication and observe how they perceive each other and the world around them.

     I feel as though the activities sparked awareness of the variety of strengths students possessed rather than helping them improve upon their strengths. To improve this project, I think we would need to develop a tactic to spur and measure improvement. Long-term improvement is a process, so some major changes would have to be made to the project. A student might have to take challenges multiple times or reflect more deeply on their learnings. It would be helpful to have tangible evidence of change.

     I’ve learned that I can expand my brains neuroplasticity in a number of ways over the course of this project. Each challenge completely varied from one another, displaying the range in types of intellect. This is an important concept to share with others because it can help people, especially students, learn about themselves through a different lens. They can discover their strengths and make them stronger, and their weaknesses and make them less weak. Many times students grow hopeless over the classic idea of intelligence, so it has an impact to declare that what defines intelligence is still and may always be up for question.

Neuro Week Debrief Final Draft

Mackenzie Bell2

Neuro Week was the manifestation of the ideas that were expressed throughout the entire quarter in the class. The goal was to teach, rechannel energy, and uplift the mood of the upper school before exams, by pushing students to complete challenges relating to six types of intelligence and influence them to use their brains in a way that they may not usually.

When the idea of the nine types of intelligence was introduced we planned to focus on all nine and we divided them up according to the ones people wanted to research and create challenges for. Bodily-kinesthetic and existential intelligence were mine, and I started by trying to understand each intelligence. Bodily-kinesthetic was easy to understand but difficult to create a challenge for, as I went through multiple different ideas such as passing around a ball and building structures like towers with blocks or Legos or maybe even building a brain. In the end, I decided to scrap the challenge altogether, because I personally was not able to find a way to have this intelligence manifest in a challenge that only one person could complete. Existential intelligence came easier, I quickly came up with ideas of ways to execute this challenge. Throughout the process, multiple changes were made to the way that it was carried out, from ideas to drawing in some sand, to drawing on a chalkboard inside of a structure, to just drawing on a chalkboard.

When first starting this process, I was not expecting this to be a project where we knew where we would end up, though the idea of not having a definite and set project was a bit unsettling. When we began brainstorming ideas, they were incredibly outside of the box, which I was not used to. We thought of ideas dealing with VR and came up with ideas incorporating the entire campus. We were urged not to be confined by logistics at that moment in time, which was strange but also good to experience. Our project gained significance by us doing Neuro Week on the entire school. Because our class is titled “Neuroplasticity and Communication” we finally got to the Communication part by executing our project. Letting students partake in the challenges we created not only gave us perspective on giving information to a large number of people and helped us to understand how our peers may think, but it also helped them to learn a little bit more about their own brains. All throughout the week students (and a teacher) came in to complete the challenges with many of them partaking in the existential and interpersonal challenge. Even after doing the challenge once, students learned something new, and not just about neuroplasticity. The sticky notes that we asked them to fill out are filled with ideas about how intelligence works such as “It isn’t finite”.

Looking back at this project, one thing that I would most definitely change is the way we showed that students had learned. Originally we had planned to do a giant art piece involving push pins and yarn that would manifest in the quad, but this was a part of the plan to have the project take place in the quad. I still believe that the art project would have been a fun and cool thing to do because people who didn’t participate in the challenges would see it, and people who did would continue to increase their brains neuroplasticity. And though our project did not conclude in the way we originally planned, the way that it did end perfectly described this class and our project. Something that was never set in stone, yet still resulted in a fair success.

Laughter Booth - Project Proposal

Lara Rende
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The aim of the laughter booth is to help students challenge themselves while having fun at the same time. During our talk with Dr. Boyd, she had mentioned a few times how important challenging ourselves is to promote neuroplasticity. Trying to complete the tasks at the booth (e.g. Try Not To Laugh Challenge), every student will be able to challenge themselves in one way or another. Plus, the booth will spread laughter around the campus to uplift the mood and will encourage students to communicate with each other.

Project Proposal

Sara Be

The objectives of challenge week are to create of an awareness of the 9 types of intelligence, how we can use neuroplasticity to optimize our performance in a variety of challenges that cater to each type of intelligence, and to uplift the mood, creating an atmosphere at Episcopal that fosters positive mindsets towards learning. Students will engage in activities across campus (ranging from arithmetic to art) that force them to step out of their comfort zones. According to Dr. Boyd, mental challenges are essential to maintaining a healthy neural environment that promotes neuroplasticity. 

Everyone Brainstorm 5 Ideas

Dyani Robarge
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Initial Brainstorm

Dyani Robarge
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Carol Dweck

Dyani Robarge
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Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., is one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of motivation and is the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. Her research has focused on why people succeed and how to foster success.

Her scholarly book Self-Theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development was named Book of the Year by the World Education Federation. 

The Brain That Changes Itself

Dyani Robarge
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The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science

By Dr. Norman Doidge

THE BRAIN CAN CHANGE ITSELF. It is a plastic, living organ that can actually change its own structure and function, even into old age. Arguably the most important breakthrough in neuroscience since scientists first sketched out the brain’s basic anatomy, this revolutionary discovery, called neuroplasticity, promises to overthrow the centuries-old notion that the brain is fixed and unchanging. The brain is not, as was thought, like a machine, or “hardwired” like a computer. Neuroplasticity not only gives hope to those with mental limitations, or what was thought to be incurable brain damage, but expands our understanding of the healthy brain and the resilience of human nature. Norman Doidge, MD, a psychiatrist and researcher, set out to investigate neuroplasticity and met both the brilliant scientists championing it and the people whose lives they’ve transformed. The result is this book, a riveting collection of case histories detailing the astonishing progress of people whose conditions had long been dismissed as hopeless. 

Youth Voices

Haley Symonds
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