Research

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Research 2017-06-22T02:28:42+00:00

Benefits of Chewing Gum

In a 2013 study done by researchers, Andrew Johnson, Mohammed Muneem and Christopher Miles, participants completed an extended version of the sustained attention response task (SART) while chewing gum or while not chewing gum. Before and after the SART, participants were asked to rate their levels of alertness, contentedness and calmness.

In this expanded version of the SART, participants were shown a rapid succession of numbers on a computer screen and were told to press the spacebar key whenever a new number appeared, except for when the number was 3. In addition to scoring better results on the test, the gum chewers also reported higher levels of feeling alert, content and calm. The facilitators of the study, Johnson, Muneem & Miles, write “…the data show that this finding does not reflect an artefact of general task disengagement while chewing gum” (2013, p. 157). In other words, chewing gum does not have a negative impact on our ability to focus. Conversely, chewing gum may help us to stay alert and ready to take on tasks wholeheartedly. The authors write, “chewing gum increases cerebral blood flow to frontotemporal regions and increase cerebral activity” and “flavour acts to influence self-rated mood. For example, exposure to mint odour has been shown to both attenuate the rise in physiological markers of sleepiness and improve performance on a behavioral vigilance task” (Johnson et al., 2013, p. 153).

Johnson, A. J., Muneem, M., & Miles, C. (2013). Chewing gum benefits sustained attention in the absence of task degradation. Nutritional Neuroscience, 16(4), 153-159. doi:10.1179/1476830512Y.0000000041

Benefits of Peppermint Oil

In a similar study designed to measure the effects of peppermint essential oil, participants tested while unknowingly being exposed to either peppermint, ylang-ylang (similar to lavender), or no odor. Similar to the SART test from the chewing gum study, participants in this study were tested on their speed of attention, accuracy of attention, quality of memory (secondary and working), and speed of memory. Researchers were careful to disregard any participants’ mention of an odor at the start of the testing so as not to reveal the true purpose of the study. As a result, researchers found that those participants exposed to peppermint oil scored significantly better in areas of working memory, speed of attention, and level of alertness.

Moss, M., Hewitt, S., Moss, L., & Wesnes, K. (2008). Modulation of cognitive performance and mood by aromas of peppermint and ylang-ylang. The International Journal Of Neuroscience, 118(1), 59-77.

Benefits of Movement in the Classroom

One of the biggest classroom management related issues that teachers of all grade levels face is students’ inability to sit still, focus, and pay attention. This fidgety behavior isn’t exclusive to elementary age children. Rather, the urge to fidget impacts learning and productivity even for adolescents and adults. Instead of encouraging students to stop engaging in this generally disruptive behavior, we should instead change the conversation about fidgeting in the classroom.

For many students, movement is a requirement for productivity and meaningful learning outcomes. These students may be classified as kinesthetic learners; they require physical activity in order for a lesson to stick. For these students, the brain is better able to focus on the task at hand while the body is in motion. In other words, an active body equals an active mind and a still body equals a still mind (Pariser, 2017). Adapting this fidget-forward frame of mind may seem overwhelming at first, but finding ways to effectively incorporate movement in the classroom, even on a micro level, can have a substantial positive impact on students’ ability to focus and take away valuable learning outcomes. In fact, a 2010 study on movement in the classroom states:

Evidence from multiple studies and research reviews suggests that physical activity improves many academic outcomes, including overall academic success, cognitive performance, read and math skills, increased on-task classroom behavior, creation of positive learning experiences for students, and improved levels of concentration. (Benes, Finn, Sullivan, Yan, 2016, p. 112)

Teachers who participated in this study stated that they noticed positive outcomes on students’ ability to focus and stay engaged when movement was incorporated into the classroom. In fact, engagement was a keyword used by teachers when discussing movement integration. One teacher states, “I would say the biggest thing is engagement, because the kids can’t just sit there and disengage if their main goal is to move around and engage with each other and the content.” While another teacher stated, “I think of kids being engaged in what they are doing…And I see them, basically engaged would be the word that comes to mind” (Benes et al, 2016, p. 122). In addition to teachers’ ever-expanding lists of expectations, incorporating movement into the classroom can seem like a chore, especially when it comes to subjects like reading and writing that require students to physically sit still. This is where fidgeting comes in.

In 2009, a sixth grade teacher in Minnesota , Abby Brown, received grant funding to work with an ergonomic furniture design company to create adjustable desks for her classroom. The desks allow students to comfortably stand, sit, lean and/ or rest their feet on a moveable footrest. Brown affirmed “It’s a comforting kind of fidget that helps them stay focused” and “

[Students] feel like it’s their option, they don’t have to sit perfectly still and feel confined” (Bright). The desks allow students some control over their classroom behavior, which in turn makes them feel empowered and ready to learn.

Since adjustable desks aren’t written into most schools’ dwindling budgets, other teachers have found success with DIY classroom movement incorporation. Assigning kinesthetic learners simple tasks like passing out papers or writing on the board can give them the movement they need to stay focused. For movement options that last throughout the day, try wrapping bungee cords around chair legs or sticking old tires between them. These allow for foot fidgeting that is under the desk and out of overt view.

In one North Carolina school, an elementary school counselor, Scott Ertl collected used exercise bikes to create a “Read and Ride” room. The room allows students to ride a stationary bike while reading. Ertl says that the stationary bikes have helped the students to associate reading with fun and enjoyment (Bright).

Benes, Sarah, Kevin E. Finn, Eileen C. Sullivan, and Zi Yon. 2016. “Teachers’ Perceptions of Using Movement in the Classroom.” Physical Educator 73, no. 1: 110-135. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed May 22, 2017).

Bright, R. (N.d.). Kids Who Can’t Sit Still: Letting Them Fidget May Keep Students Focused on Learning. Retrieved from: http://www.nea.org/tools/47003.htm
Pariser, S. (2017, April 5). How to support wiggly students. Retrieved from: http://www.smartbrief.com/original/2017/04/how-support-wiggly-students

The Effect of Rewards on Motivation

In Daniel Pink’s 2009 book, Drive, he describes several studies that reveal the impact that rewards can have on an individual’s motivation. Overall, Pink concludes that the most productive form of motivation is intrinsic motivation; motivation that does not come from a reward or punishment, but simply from the joy we get from completing a task. In other words, motivation works best when it comes from a thorough enjoyment, interest, or satisfaction. The following studies support this hypothesis.

In one study, a group of pre-schoolers were divided into three groups. Generally, the children spent their free choice time drawing and coloring. Group 1, the expected reward group, was told that if they chose to draw during free choice time then they would receive a certificate. Group 2, the unexpected reward group, was simply given the option to draw during free choice time. There was no mention of a reward initially, but those students who did choose to draw did receive a certificate. Group 3, the no reward group, were given the choice to draw, received no mention of a reward, nor were given a reward if they did choose to draw. After two weeks, group 1 drew less and less. Groups 2 and 3 drew just as much and with the same relish over the two weeks. For group 1, drawing became work. The promise of a reward turned play into work. From this study, we can see how the promise of a reward demolishes intrinsic motivation, taking the joy out of something that was once enjoyable.

In another study, 87 adult participants were asked to participate in a series of games. These games included unscrambling anagrams, throwing a ball at a target, and recalling a string of digits. They were simple, but required some brainwork. Again, these participants were split into three groups and each one was offered a different level of incentive for reaching a certain performance rate. The first was offered a small reward, a day’s pay. The second group was offered a medium sized reward, about two weeks’ pay. The third group was offered the largest reward, about five months’ pay. The goal of the study was to see if the size of the reward could predict the quality of the participants’ performance. The results showed that those offered the medium reward did not perform any better than those offered the small reward. Additionally, those offered the largest reward performed worst of all. The study proved that high incentives lead to poor performance.

In a third study, participants were given a candlestick, a book of matches, and a small box of tacks. They were told to attach the candle to the wall so that the wax doesn’t drip onto the table beneath it. The solution to the problem was to stand the candle upright in the box holding the tacks, and then tack the box to the wall. The participants were divided into two groups. The first group was told their work was being timed merely to establish norms about how long it took to figure out the problem. The second group was told that the fastest 25% of participants would receive $5 and the fastest individual would receive $20. The results showed that group 2, the incentivized group, took approximately 3.5 minutes longer to solve the problem than the first group. In this study, we learn that “Rewards narrowed people’s focus and blinkered the wide view that might have allowed them to see new uses for old object” (Pink, 2009, p. 44).

In another study meant to examine the effect of punishments, a daycare started to charge a fee to parents who picked up their children later than 4:00, when the daycare officially closed. The daycare owners enacted this rule with the expectation that parents would start to be more prompt. However, the opposite occurred. Parents started coming later and later to pick their children up. If they could buy more time, why not make use of it?

Pink, D.H. (2009) Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. New York, NY: Riverhead.

Fixed vs. Growth Mindsets and Praise

By now, you’ve likely heard about the benefits of adopting a growth mindset. The rapid spread of this idea, unfortunately, has caused its basic principles to become slightly convoluted over time. Essentially, a growth mindset is when an individual believes that their skills (in any discipline) can and will get better over time through hard work, perseverance, and practice. Someone with a fixed mindset believes that some people are just more talented at certain things and that’s how it always will be. For example, a student with a fixed mindset will say, “I’m just not good at math.” He believes that he was born without the skills to be good at math and nothing he can do will ever change that. A student with a growth mindset, on the other hand, will recognize that she is struggling with math, but will actively take steps to improve her ability. Carol Dweck, a trailblazer in researching growth mindsets, believes that fixed mindsets are oftentimes the result of praise.

Though praise is almost always well meaning, parents and teachers may not realize the long term negative effects it can have on students. While praise is generally intended to motivate students, Dweck’s research shows that it actually can have the opposite effect. Rather than being motivated by praise, Dweck found that children can become dependent on it. In Dweck’s most well known study, students were given a simple task and either praised for their intelligence (you’re so smart) or for their effort (you tried so hard on that). In a follow up study, students were given the choice to perform a difficult task or a simple one. Overwhelmingly, students who were praised for their intelligence chose the simple task because they wanted to keep looking smart. Students who were praised for their effort chose the difficult task, wanting to show that they can accomplish a challenge. What these results tell us is that students praised for being smart feared being unable to accomplish a task, while the students praised for their effort wanted to challenge themselves. The first group of students represents a fixed mindset, while the second group exemplifies what it means to adopt a growth mindset.

Dweck, C. (1999). Caution – Praise Can Be Dangerous. American Educator. 1-5.