Training students to be ready for tomorrow

Florida is 1 of 5 states with students participating in the SMART program


DALLAS, Texas – A recent survey of 500 elite business decision-makers found almost half believe today's college graduates are less prepared for work than they were 15 years ago. They may be more tech-savvy than ever, but why aren't students learning the skills they need to succeed? Now, one program is creating smarter schools and smarter students.

They can navigate their smart phones update social media and retrieve info in a split second. But Cognitive Neuroscientist Jacque Gamino, with the Center for BrainHealth in Dallas, Texas, says the students of today are lacking the basic skills they need to thrive in the workforce.

"They have information at their fingertips, more information than we had growing up, but they don't know what to do with it," said Gamino.

Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, founder and chief director at the Center for BrainHealth, believes technology can work against students.

"We're literally building an ADHD brain by jumping back and forth through our technology, too much shifting," said Chapman.

Scientists at the center have been studying a new way to help students. Instead of focusing on memorization, the SMART program teaches kids to think critically.

"Unfortunately, kids assume that learning is the same as memorizing and not thinking deeply about information," Gamino said.

In a language arts class in Dallas, students learn to bounce and customize what they read. They bounce out information that's not important and customize something to make it understandable to them.

"Kids always think there is just a right answer and a wrong answer, but in life there's a bunch of answers as long as it works," said Gregory Parker, a 6th grade teacher.

The SMART program encourages teachers to ask more questions and let the students answer them.

Also, they try to make the lessons more meaningful. For example, kids might create their own table of contents for a book instead of using the author's.

"It just taught us new ways to process information and comprehend it," said Victoria, an 8th grader.

Schools implement the smart program 45 minutes every other day for four weeks. Results show standardized test scores improve by 20 to-50 percent.

"They're able to synthesize the information better and they're not just guessing," Gamino explained.

Experts say brain training can start at home. First—limit screen exposure. The average American child spends seven hours a day in front of a screen. Most experts recommend no more than two.  Also, encourage your child to play a sport. One study found 80 percent of female business executives played team sports as children, and try to encourage your child to focus on one task at a time.

"Multi-tasking is like asbestos for the brain," Chapman said.

Most of all, get your kids to think critically about information they're exposed to.  Ask: "What did that book or movie mean to you?"

It's a program helping students of today learn the skills to become the successful leaders of tomorrow.

"If you know how to learn, it doesn't matter what you're learning, you can do it," Gamino said.

In a recent journal article, one doctor noted that a child born today will have spent a full year glued to screens by the time he or she reaches the age of seven!

The researchers at the Center for BrainHealth have implemented their program in schools, with more than 20,000 students in five different states participating– including Florida, Massachusetts, Arizona, Texas and Kentucky.

Additional Information:

Even though the economy is slowly improving, recent college graduates are still unemployed. A recent survey of the 500 elite business decision makers showed that close to half (49 percent) believe today's graduates are less prepared for work than they were 15 years ago.  The majority (70 percent) of executives say that fewer than half of graduates entering their companies have the skills to succeed in entry-level jobs. Many top executives also believe that less than a quarter (21 percent) of graduates applying to their company has the skills to advance past those entry level jobs. Even though the current graduates have mastered social media, a smart phone and the ability to have thousands of Twitter followers are not as important as you might think.  The survey shows that business leaders feel the three most important skills to have when entering the business sector are problem-solving (49 percent), collaboration (43 percent), and critical thinking (36 percent). At the very bottom of the list was technological/social; media skills (5 percent).  Almost half of the survey participants believe educational facilities are doing a fair or poor job of preparing students for the business sector. (Source: http://www.lexisnexis.com/legalnewsroom/lexis-hub/b/career-news-and-trends/archive/2012/02/01/survey-says-college-graduates-not-prepared-for-the-workforce.aspx)

SMART:  Researchers at the Center for BrainHealth at UT Dallas believe that the middle school years would be the optimal time for training in complex reasoning skills, critical thinking skills, and risk resilience.  Using teenagers suffering from attention deficit problems, researchers at BrainHealth used cognitive science to create the SMART program (Strategic Memory and Reasoning Training) to teach teens how to think critically and effectively use the information they learn. Teenagers were taught techniques to block unimportant details and condense critical information into main ideas or concepts, rather than try to memorize and repeat facts verbatim.  (Source: http://watershedschool.org/resources/articles/ut-dallas-researchers-hope-to-train-teens-in-reasoning-skills/)

TESTING SMART:  For the study, researchers tested the SMART program techniques in a classroom.  They set up two groups of teens with ADHD.  At the start of the camp, the students received tips on how to use their brains more efficiently.  Campers were then asked to employ the techniques through a variety of activities throughout the two weeks.  Every participant showed overall improvement in strategic thinking.  "This is a problem across the nation," Dr. Chapman was quoted as saying. "We're missing the critical brain years and building a brain that doesn't reason. The TAKS test is not the problem; we need to get the basic skills up, but we also need to find a way to get beyond fact-based learning." (Source: http://watershedschool.org/resources/articles/ut-dallas-researchers-hope-to-train-teens-in-reasoning-skills/)