Filtering Distractions = Better Retention

Just read an NPR article “Learning in the Age of Digital Distraction,” that validates my claims that when students have to filter out distractions in class or while studying, they will perform at a lower level than their non-distracted counterparts. I’ve written several blogs on how our addiction to technology negatively affects our social and academic performance: There's No Such Thing as Multi-Tasking While Studying, We Have No Privacy - NONE, The Evolution of Language Innovations: Texting and Abbreviations, and Smart Replies Are Dumb, And Here's Why.  
According to Dr. Adam Gazzaley, neurologist and professor at UCSF, students perform at their highest level (memorizing facts and information for tests) when they successfully filter out all irrelevant information and stimuli.  In other words, when they’re reading a passage or listening to a lecture without any distractions, they can fully comprehend the concepts and retain them.  However, if they are distracted by text messages or other notifications popping up on their phones or computer screens (irrelevant information), these distractions will degrade their brain’s ability to process the important information and their performance on tests will be much lower. 
Meditation or other mindful relaxation processes can help give students the break they need from over stimulation that they receive throughout the day.  While that sounds great in theory, I don’t know about you, but I have real trouble meditating.  The last time I “meditated,” it felt like E T E R N I T Y as I tried to “not think” or stop creating mental lists of all of the things I’d rather be doing than meditating. Then when I opened my eyes and looked at the clock, I was disappointed that only 45 seconds had passed. Ugh. 
So, instead I find that for those who can’t or won’t meditate, face-to-face meaningful engagement is the ticket.  By talking with our kids about things that are important to them, or you, they learn how to filter out distractions (texts, notifications, TV shows) as you model how to handle them.  Yup, that requires that you, too, learn how to filter out distractions.  Show them that you don’t have to check your phone or respond to a notification while you’re engaged in this conversation.  Ignore them or turn them off without reading them.  Wouldn’t Miss Manners of the past have put her nose up to people who would be so rude as to have another conversation with someone during a conversation? So rather than patiently waiting while your kids respond to distractions, teach them to filter them out by modeling that behavior.  It might be easier to simply turn off the distractions during the conversation to let your kids see how nice it is to have these interesting interchanges.
Just last week I had an enlightening conversation with my daughter Jaclyn.  She was visiting for the weekend and we sat and talked for about 45 minutes without interruption about her long-term goals with her job, her MBA program, and buying a home. I learned more about how she was feeling and she learned about my perspective on them. During the previous week, we had texted, emailed and called one another at least 50 times to discuss dates, times, lists, and factual information.  Between our crazy busy schedules we know we have about 10 seconds to communicate our thoughts before I have to go into session with a client or she has to rush off to class or work. While it’s nice to be in touch with her constantly via technology, it was such a great time to bond with her about these big decisions she’s facing in a deep conversation.
We know we can’t cut out technology – we actually  need it – but we can create times where we can have long, meaningful conversations with our kids.  Try starting this while driving long distances in a car or eating dinner around the dining table.  Turn off the music, phones, and TVs and open up the conversation.  Just once a day will give the kids a break from overstimulation and allow them to focus on something interesting.  Then, create a No Music/Phone/TV Zone while they do homework, and you’ll see a marked improvement in their ability to learn and retain information. This will improve their grades at school.  

DIY DNA Test Kits

Remember when the first human genome was mapped in 2000? I took my girls to a seminar at UCSC to learn more about where the future of medicine might be heading. The Genome Bioinformatics Group at UCSC claimed to be the first to complete the genome in 2003. It was an exciting and hopeful time for the future of human DNA mapping.  Nicole was selected to join a group of accelerated biology majors to study with some of this genome team. A 10th-grade Merit Academy student at the time, she loved seeing how medicine was amidst a paradigm shift and scientific breakthrough. 

Today, I’m thrilled to see how many private companies are offering DNA test kits to the public.  Just 5 years ago, I tried to get my DNA mapped but the cost was prohibitive.  Now, for under a $1,000, you can get specific DNA tests to help you navigate your own health plans. Check out this article by April Long of Elle Magazine to see how a blood test can give you a snapshot about how your genetics can tell you what you can’t change, but might be able to suggest alternative treatment options.  

While the Elle Magazine article focuses on DNA test results for exercise and diet decisions, there are DNA tests that focus on diseases and more serious health issues. Many people prefer not to know what their DNA may tell them about their possible health and medical issues down the road.  If you’re curious like I am, this is the first step that gives individuals more control over their health. 


Out of Nowhere: A Hydrogen Electric Big Rig

This is why I am proud to be American. American innovation is what is going to get us out of the hot mess we're mired in today. 

A new company called Nikola just announced that they will be building a Class 8 hydrogen electric Semi Truck.  To power these trucks, which are ZERO EMISSION, they are creating a hydrogen fuel cell and battery infrastructure that will span coast to coast.

The hydrogen will be produced using solar energy so it will be 100% clean, unlike hydrogen produced by steam methane reformation (oil companies).  This announcement is a huge surprise, and I bet the oil companies are flipping out!  Yes! 

We needed to hear some good news, and the Nikola One Hydrogen Fuel Cell Semi-truck sounds like a bold step towards energy independence and CO2 reduction.  

100 Million Dead Trees!

What does it take to make climate deniers believe that we are in crisis? Over 100 MILLION trees have died in California as a result of our 5-year drought.  This is unprecedented.  Most of these trees are in southern and central Sierra Nevada but moving north as the drought continues.

Besides the obvious: we need our trees to produce the oxygen we breathe, and dead trees cause wildfire hazards, which contributes to escalation in CO2 in our atmosphere.  HELLO! This is a wakeup call!

[Source 1] [Source 2]

Helping Kids Develop Emotional Agility

Just read an interesting article about teaching your child emotional agility. Sorry helicopter parents!  I’ve found more evidence that proves that providing that protective bubble around your child actually harms them in the long run!  According to psychologist Dr. Susan David, “How children navigate their emotional world is critical to lifelong success.”  When given these opportunities, toddlers become better problem solvers and teens have better self esteem.  On the other end of the spectrum, those who don’t acquire this “emotional intelligence” may develop depression and anxiety.

So Dr. David suggests 4 steps to help your child manage their emotions.

  1. Feel It: Validate your child’s feelings.
  2. Show It: Make it okay for your child to show their feelings.
  3. Label It: Help your child understand what they are feeling and name it.
  4. Watch It (Go): Remind your child about how the most painful emotions go away.

I find it interesting that Dr. David says that children feel stronger when they learn that it’s not about how they feel, but how they respond to their feelings, that counts. It seems to me that it’s really about communicating their “perception” of interactions and moving on from there.


500 Methane Seeps Off the Coast of California, Washington and Oregon!

So I thought CO2 was the biggest contributor to climate change but now I’m terrified about methane. According to Robert Ballard of the Ocean Exploration Trust, “It appears that the entire coast off Washington, Oregon and California is a giant methane seep.” They have found over 500 new methane seeps. 

Check out this video:

Did you know that methane traps heat 40 times more effectively than CO2? Yup.  So global warming is accellerating even more than we thought, which makes it even more important than ever to reduce CO2 as much as we possibly can RIGHT NOW.  Yikes.

It’s time to do everything we can to stop the destruction we’re setting up for ourselves.  We can't plug holes in the ocean floor, but we CAN control our own CO2 emissions!


Is Electrochemical Treatment Really Back?

Back in the ‘70s as a psychology major, I remember working in a psych ward with people who had “difficult” personalities or behaviors and had undergone frontal lobotomies and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).  It was considered barbaric and a desperate attempt to calm patients who were impossible to control.  So when I first heard about ECT being used to help severely autistic patients, a red flag went up.

My first thoughts took me back to the scene with Jack Nicholson in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” when Nurse Ratchet managed patient care by using ECT or lobotomies.  Apparently, ECT today doesn’t involve convulsing patients tied to gurneys while electrical pulses “shock” them into subduction.  The new ECT is underwhelming because the patient is sedated and relaxed (not awake) and there is no pain associated with the treatment.

While the public immediately thinks “Cuckoo’s Nest” when they hear about ECT, over a million people EACH YEAR receive ECT and have benefitted from the treatment.  Psychiatrists recommend ECT for bipolar disorder and depression when patients haven’t responded well to anything else.  It’s kind of a last resort.  But recently, a few psychiatrists have found that ECT can calm the brains of severely autistic children – those who would hurt themselves if not restrained. So for now, ECT is a lifesaver for those children who might injure or kill themselves.


The Eco Xmas Tree!

Today’s the official start of the Christmas, or winter holiday, season.  Although I don’t practice Christianity, I do enjoy partaking in the Christmas festivities. 

Twenty-five years ago I built my first Eco-Xmas tree and as tradition has it, we built it on the day after Thanksgiving. 

Read about how to build an Eco Xmas tree here [Step 1, Step 2, Step 3, Step 4], and check out the book I wrote laying out all of the steps to building one!


Happy Thanksgiving!

With all the terrible things that have happened so far in 2016, I am still thankful. 

No matter how grim the future looks when you consider the climate change nay-sayers and the incoming Trump administration, I believe that because we are descendants of pioneers and risk takers we will continue to lead the world as a superpower. Every one of our families at some point were immigrants (except Native Americans) and all of them weathered the discrimination of being "outsiders" to become successful here in the United States of America. 

We are leaders and innovators. Let us not forget our roots and appreciate the diversity that has made us a great country.  Today, I am thankful to have my family, my health, and my future.  Tomorrow, I will fight like hell to make sure that we ward off climate change by getting America, and the world, on board to save civilization as we know it today. 

Check Your College Applications List to Make Sure You're Eligible!

With Thanksgiving around the corner and Christmas and winter holidays next month, every college-bound senior is stressed out as they scramble through piles of college applications and make important decisions about which colleges they should apply to.

Don’t waste your precious time, and your parents’ precious money, applying to colleges to which you are not be eligible.  Don't forget these 5 important factors before applying to colleges.

1.  MAJORS: Make sure that the colleges you are considering all offer your top three majors.  You don’t want to change your mind about your #1 major and find that you have to drop out of your college, reapply (YIKES! Anything but that!), move back home, and waste a year in the process!

2.  HIGH SCHOOL REQUIREMENTS: Make sure you've taken all of the high school coursework required.  If you haven't, you still have time to satisfy most requirements.  Many colleges will not accept grades lower than a C-; check your transcript to determine which classes you may need to repeat.

3.  REQUIREMENTS for MAJOR: Make sure that your particular major doesn't require additional high school classes.  Some majors like finance, for instance, require trigonometry, even when the college itself requires only Algebra II. 

4.  ADDITIONAL APPLICATIONS for the ARTS: Most colleges require an additional application and auditions for music, theater, film and/or art majors.  Some of these applications are due earlier than the regular application so check for these deadlines ahead of time. You should be ready to set up audition dates and prepared to send electronic portfolios.

5.  SAT/ACT/SAT 2/TOEFL REQUIREMENTS: Most selective colleges require either the SAT I or the ACT with Writing AND the SAT 2.  International students need to also take the TOEFL.  Check with each of your colleges to determine what exams are required for admissions.  Most colleges will still accept SAT/ACT/TOEFL scores from December test dates.  Check deadlines online and sign up if you haven't already done so.

Understanding what is required and what you've taken can be confusing. Read college websites or call admissions officers to get accurate information.  Don’t rely on online information that is gathered by third parties because I have found many mistakes and omissions that could be problematic for applicants.