Tuesday, 15 January 2013

First Two Uploads of 2013

Following on from my most recent post about the wonder of the human eye, I have now found a spare 15 minutes to upload a training session I have put together around Irlen Syndrome (also known variously as Scotopic Sensitivity, Visual Stress, Visual Processing Difficulties and Visual Dyslexia). This is available for free download from TES.co.uk and for quick viewing on SlideShare.

If viewers know of a better equivalent to SlideShare.net, I would be interested to hear from you as the usability on this sharing platform can prove frustrating.

In addition to this, I have also uploaded a few resources on school leadership, coming from the point of view of someone relatively new to this role rather than as an expert. These resources have helped me reflect on my approach to leadership over the past few years, hence the title for the collection - 'Reflecting on Leadership'!

I've spent quite a few evenings recently tidying up these PowerPoints and now intend to keep away from the  program for a while - partly because my eyes are hurting (!!) and partly because I want to start exploring other publishing / ICT-based teaching & learning tools, particularly those related to the iPad. Again, any tips or advice would be appreciated...

Monday, 14 January 2013

Top Ten Facts about The Human Eye

 An example of how some readers with Irlen Syndrome experience text.

I took time during the Christmas break to go over the learning materials and the notes from a recent Irlen Syndrome course I undertook in October and November 2012 (I am still awaiting feedback on whether I have passed it to become an approved screener). In turn I took to the internet and gathered together, amongst other things, some interesting facts about the human eye.

>> Your eye can distinguish 500 different shades of light and 10million variations in hue / colour. 

>>  Your eye has the potential to see a candlelight from 14 miles away. 

>>   Your eye blinks an average of 27000 times per day and 4.2million times a year. 

>>  People generally read text 25% slower on an ICT screen compared to print. 

>>  Concentrated sight requires about half of the brain's pathways.

>>  Your eyesight is divided between peripheral vision - designed to track movement with roots in our evolutionary past, and central vision - designed to focus on detail and a defining part of our make-up as homosapiens.

>>  Males are reported to be typically more able to distinguish finer detail than females. 

>>  20/20 vision is normal vision, not higher than average vision. 

>>  A fingerprint has 40 different unique-to-you characteristics whereas an iris has 256 unique-to-you characteristics, hence the growing use of iris scans for security purposes.

>>  80% of visual impairment worldwide are avoidable or curable - a leading charity working to alleviate these problems is Sightsavers International.

I think it is important in creating training around SEN / SpLD that we maintain a sense of wonder. Over the next few days I intend to share online the training presentation I will be using to cascade information about Irlen Syndrome (also known variously as Scotopic Sensitivity, Visual Stress, Visual Processing Difficulties and Visual Dyslexia) back to colleagues within my setting. So if this is a field of interest or an area of concern in your own setting, then please do stay tuned...

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Lead Bombs and Chillaxing

Two interesting stories caught my attention whilst listening to the radio this morning.

First, there was a pretty compelling report looking into the correlation between lead poisoning and crime statistics, namely violent and anti-social behaviour. This is interesting in that it could link in with some of the work around what causes other difficulties such as Irlen Syndrome and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome - with previous research suggesting chemical imbalance / anomalies within the body as a possible cause.

Second, findings from a University of Central Lancashire study made the news which suggested being given time to 'daydream' can increase creativity. There is an argument out there that ADHD / ADD learners, who are often the day-dreamers - particularly if they lean more towards 'attention deficit' rather than 'hyperactivity', have a higher level of creativity. Whilst there may be some truth in this, we have to be careful not to lock into the 'Rain Man myth' - most often found when talking about Autism, with Thomas Jefferson and Albert Einstein also usually cited somewhere along the way.

Having said that, this study does relate to the idea of building in 'stilling' activities and 'thinking time' and into lessons - which advocates of P4C (Philosophy 4 Children) call for in their work. Stilling activities are particularly useful, I find, with lower ability groups after break or lunch times (the students have labelled it 'chilax time'). I usually go for a minute's silence with a picture or short question, sometimes taken from 'The Little Book of Thunks', as a prompt.

However, having recently come across the 'P4C Pocketbook' (along with 'Pocket P4C', these are all you need to get started with this kind of initiative), the authors Barry Hymer and Roger Sutcliffe have other ideas such as playing a piece of music ('The Little Book of Music for the Classroom' has some good suggestions), using candles or a lava lamp as a visual focal point or getting students to close their eyes and then leading them on a guided imaginative tour - such as a walk along a beach or a journey in a hot air balloon.

In the rushed data-driven atmosphere of present-day schools, this may seem a little wooly and the latest fad but it's worth noting that this kind of meditative practice has an established evidence base for promoting well-being and P4C as a cross-curricular approach is well respected within education. Over the coming week, both this and some work around Irlen Syndrome will be taking up my energies, aside from more regular duties.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Happy New Year Humans

This is a quick post to wish all readers a belated Happy New Year, and now that it has somewhat reluctantly arrived, a Happy New Term!

Last year was pretty amazing in many ways. In terms of the 'Humans Not Robots' web project, it was startling to see the counters reach 10,000 hits on the main site and 100,000 downloads on the TES Resources page. The big hope in all of this is that awareness of difference amongst learners is being raised - and school communities are being helped practically by the various resources and information on offer.

To set off on a hopefully equally exciting and challenging year, I am going to treat you all to a part mind-blowing, part mind-boggling quote from 'The Dragons of Eden' by the legendary Carl Sagan - a book I was fortunate enough to receive as a gift on Christmas Day.
"Most neurobiologists believe that the neurons are the active elements in brain function, although there is evidence that some specific memories and other cognitive functions may be contained in particular molecules in the brain, such as RNA or small proteins. For every neuron in the brain there are roughly ten glial cells (from the Greek word for glue), which provide the scaffolding for the neuronal architecture. An average neuron in a human brain has between 1,000 and 10,000 synapses or links with adjacent neurons. (Many spinal-cord neurons seem to have about 10,000 synapses, and the so-called Purkinje cells of the cerebellum may have still more. The number of links for neurons in the cortex is probably less than 10,000.) If each synapse responds by a single yes-or-no answer to an elementary question, as is true of the switching elements in electronic computers, the maximum number of yes/no answers or bits of information that the brain could contain is about 1010 X 103 = 1013, or 10 trillion bits (or 100 trillion = 1014 bits if we had used 104 synapses per neuron). Some of these synapses must contain the same information as is contained in other synapses; some must be concerned with motor and other noncognitive functions; and some may be merely blank, a buffer waiting for the new day's information to flutter through.

If each human brain had only one synapse- corresponding to a monumental stupidity - we would be capable of only two mental states. If we had two synapses, then 22 = 4 states; three synapses, then 23 = 8 states, and, in general, for N synapses, 2N states. But the human brain is characterized by some 1013 synapses. Thus the number of different states of a human brain is 2 raised to this power - i. e., multiplied by itself ten trillion times. This is an unimaginably large number, far greater, for example, than the total number of elementary particles (electrons and protons) in the entire universe, which is much less than 2  raised to the power 103.
It is because of this immense number of functionally different configurations of the human brain that no two humans, even identical twins raised together, can ever be really very much alike. These enormous numbers may also explain something of the unpredictability of human behavior and those moments when we surprise even ourselves by what we do. Indeed, in the face of these numbers, the wonder is that there are any regularities at all in human behavior. The answer must be that all possible brain states are by no means occupied; there must be an enormous number of mental configurations that have never been entered or even glimpsed by any human being in the history of mankind. From this perspective, each human being is truly rare and different and the sanctity of individual human lives is a plausible ethical consequence."