Category Archives: brain

The Scientist In The Crib: a review


Cover of "The Scientist in the Crib: Mind...

Cover via Amazon

The Scientist In The Crib is a well written book on the intellectual development of children from birth to about three years old.  The three authors are experts in this field and have children on their own.  This combination shows in the easy connection they make between research and real life.  As the book is intended for the layman, it makes for a pleasant read.

It is also soundly researched and provides a solid understanding for teachers and other professionals.  For those who wish to learn more, there are footnotes, a bibliography, an index and an index of researchers cited.

The authors postulate that children are born armed and ready to be powerful learners.  They have not only powerful learning abilities but innate knowledge.

Newborn child, seconds after birth. The umbili...

Newborn child, seconds after birth. The umbilical cord has not yet been cut. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of my favorite party tricks with newborns has been to stick my tongue out at one.  To everyone’s astonishment, the baby will do the same back.  Sometimes she pokes it in and out, sometimes she sticks it out in a different  shape.  It turns out that this knowledge was confirmed by one of the authors about 20 years ago.  He tested newborns as soon after birth as possible; the youngest was 42 minutes old.  They all responded by copying him when he stuck out his tongue.

Why the tongue?  I suspect as babies are born knowing how to nurse, they have the most conscious control over their tongues.  As a nursing mother can tell you, babies use their tongues to help them get milk from the breast. What is more interesting is that the babies recognise at sight someone else’s tongue and identify it with their own.  It is excellent evidence that babies are born with innate knowledge.

This also demonstrates the third thing which contributes to the rapid progress that babies make: adults are innately motivated and able to teach their babies.  As they stick out their tongues at babies and watch the babies’ reaction, they are teaching the infants.  The adults and babies are also having fun.

My parents are so crazy, I just can't help lau...

My parents are so crazy, I just can’t help laughing… (Photo credit: Ed Yourdon)

This kind of interaction continues throughout childhood as children learn about the world and how to use language through games, exploration, play and mimicking the older people in their world.  The book makes it clear that children do not need enrichment or any extra stimulus to flourish; all they need is the opportunity to interact with loving adults who have the time and will to play with them.

Isn’t that reassuring?

Proposed Health Curriculum


Students need to understand the role their behaviour plays in supporting their health and other peoples’ health; they need to know that getting sick happens to everyone and doesn’t always require a visit to the doctor; they need to know how to do simple nursing at home so that people in their care do not get sicker; they need to know what kinds of symptoms require a doctor’s care or even a visit to the hospital.  This is why I advocate teaching First Aid and basic nursing skills such as ways to reduce fevers without resorting to drugs,  appropriate foods to feed patients with stomach bugs or colds, how long a patient needs to rest, stay home, take it easy and what the signs are of severe problems which require help.

I am not advocating that students be trained to be medical professionals but they should be trained to have sufficient knowledge and skills to care for themselves and others and be able to ask reasonable questions about health issues.  Part of growing up should be about caring for other people as well as oneself.  An understanding of the differences in infants and the elderly from the regular population in their health needs is vital.  An educated population could reduce the burden on hospitals and medical professionals.

WHAT IS WELL?

– HOW TO KEEP THE BODY IN GOOD TRIM FOR DEALING WITH BUGS AND ACCIDENTS:

Diet – what kind?

Exercise- what kind? How much?

Sleep – its importance and how much

Main health effects of sleep deprivation (See ...

Main health effects of sleep deprivation (See Wikipedia:Sleep deprivation). Model: Mikael Häggström. To discuss image, please see Template talk:Häggström diagrams (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dealing with stress

Hygiene – both mental and physical eg.

Person washing his hands

Person washing his hands (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

hand washing after using the toilet and before eating

The importance of friends

The social self.

The social self. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Vaccinations

– how they work

– Dangerous myths about vaccinations

Helmets for cycling

– Proper use

– Rules of the road for cyclists & cars and pedestrians.

– Defensive cycling

Safety – risk appraisal and safe behaviour

– Alcohol

– Cigarettes

SEXUALITY:

Menstrual cycle

Relationships

Male & female genitalia

Well Baby Check up

Well Baby Check up (Photo credit: BenSpark)

Conception

Pregnancy

Birth

Breastfeeding & alternatives

Contraception

STDs

Menopause

– WELL BABY CARE

Senior Strutters March Show

Senior Strutters March Show (Photo credit: Old Shoe Woman)

– ISSUES IN AGING SUCH AS:

Age Wave

Age Wave (Photo credit: jurvetson)

Maintaining physical and mental health

Cardiovascular Disease

Cardiovascular Disease (Photo credit: GEEKSTATS)

– Through exercise, diet, participation in the community

– Planning finances for retirement

– Keeping the person living independently as long as possible

Weakening immune system

Loss of bone and muscle strength and ways

Gym Free-weights Area Category:Gyms_and_Health...

Gym Free-weights Area Category:Gyms_and_Health_Clubs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

to reduce it.

Sleeping problems

Elder abuse

MENTAL HEALTH

Dealing with stress

Preventing stress

Good stress

Kindness and compassion as elements in maintaining good health

– WHAT IS SICK?

– HOW THE BODY DEALS WITH ILLNESS – anti-bodies

– Fever

– Fatigue

– SYMPTOMS OF COMMON PLACE ILLNESSES:

Colds

Stomach bugs

Influenza (flu)

Cold/Flu/H1N1 symptom chart

Cold/Flu/H1N1 symptom chart (Photo credit: Kevin Baird)

Viruses

Headaches

Infections

Differences in symptoms and appropriate treatment for the elderly and infants

– TREATMENT OF COMMON PLACE ILLNESSES:

Role of the caregiver in keeping a patient comfortable

Rest – what is it?

Fluid – what kind?

Diet – what kind?

Cold sweat...

Cold sweat… (Photo credit: squishband)

Observation – fever, rashes, behaviour, vomiting, diarrhoea symptoms

Over the counter medication such as acetylsalicylic acid, ibuprofen and acetaminophen, their use, minimum & maximum doses, cautions on use

Symptom suppressors such as over the counter cough and cold medication & how and when to use them

– HOW TO PREVENT INJURIES

Cycling Oxford

Cycling Oxford (Photo credit: tejvanphotos)

Safety on the road

Cleaning up spills

Tidying floors

Understanding which chemicals are dangerous and how to find out if they don’t know.

Storing chemicals and medications appropriately

Fire and scalding prevention

Using and storing knives

Water safety

– SYMPTOMS OF COMMON PLACE INJURIES:

Scrapes

Sprains

Cuts

Bruises

Breaks

English: A typical examination room in a docto...

English: A typical examination room in a doctor’s office. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

bites

Drowning

FIRST AID FOR THE ABOVE

– WHEN TO CALL THE DOCTOR & HOW TO HANDLE A VISIT TO THE DOCTOR’S OFFICE

Bring information about medicines

A clear description of symptoms – the fine art of taking and using notes

Health card

Patience

A child and adolescent’s right to confidentiality – how much, under what circumstances and at what age

– WHEN TO GO TO THE EMERGENCY:

Bankstown Hospital Emergency Room

Bankstown Hospital Emergency Room (Photo credit: redwolfoz)

Bleeding

Breathing

Unconsciousness

High fever (what is a high fever?)

Pain – prolonged or fierce

– & WHAT TO EXPECT

Hospital expectations such as:

bringing health cards

washing hands

wearing a mask for cold symptoms or coughs to prevent spread

First contact

Triage

Waiting times

A child and adolescent’s right to confidentiality – how much, under what circumstances and at what age

– DISEASES FREQUENTLY CAUSED BY LIFESTYLE:

Diabetes 2

Heart and stroke

What scientists call "Overweight" ch...

What scientists call “Overweight” changes with our knowledge of human health (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Obesity

Addictions

Tooth decay and loss

Emphysema

COMMON CHRONIC DISEASES, PROGRESSION AND TREATMENTS:

Diabetes 1

Asthma

Acne

Emphysema

Cancer

Migraines

MENTAL ILLNESS, SYMPTOMS & COMMON TREATMENTS

Explanation of common terms used to describe mental illness such as:

psychotic,

paranoid,

1212mentalhealth-RW

1212mentalhealth-RW (Photo credit: Robbie Wroblewski)

phobia

MOOD DISORDERS

  • Major Depressive Disorder
  • Dysthymic Disorder
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Suicide

SCHIZOPHRENIA

ANXIETY DISORDERS

  • Panic Disorder
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  • Social Phobia
  • Agoraphobia
  • Specific Phobia

EATING DISORDERS

ATTENTION DEFICIT HYPERACTIVITY DISORDER (ADHD)

AUTISM

PERSONALITY DISORDERS

Family doctor

Teacher

Support groups

ETCETERA

Explanation of terms bandied about the educational system such as ADD, ADHD, intelligence, autism, learning disability and how they affect a person’s learning and education.  Treatments.

English: Ritalin (Australian packaging)

English: Ritalin (Australian packaging) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Explanation of interaction of physical and mental illness, drugs and physical and mental illness.

Explanation of alternative treatments such as:

Massage on the RM Elegant

Massage on the RM Elegant (Photo credit: yachtfan)

Acupuncture

Chiropractic

Massage

Physiotherapy

Biofeedback

Discussion of drug use: over the counter, prescription, illegal and naturopathic and the role of the pharmacist in ensuring that the appropriate medications are prescribed.

Pharmacy Rx symbol

Pharmacy Rx symbol (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Discussion of commonly prescribed medications, how they work and how to use them effectively:

eg Antibiotics

Antidepressants

Antivirals

Analgesics

Antipyretics

Anti-inflammatories

Antihistamines

Examples of curriculum, including the health curriculum (from Ontario’s ministry of education) that could integrate with or already cover the proposed health curriculum. 

Health Curriculum Grades 1 to 8

Healthy Eating.

Personal Safety and Injury Prevention.

Substance Use, Addictions, and Related Behaviours.

Growth and Development

Integration of Mental Health

Grade nine and ten science

A1.4 apply knowledge and understanding of safe practices and procedures when planning investigations (e.g., appropriate techniques for handling, storing, and disposing of laboratory materials [following the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System-WHMIS]; safe operation of optical equipment; safe handling and disposal of biological materials), with the aid of appropriate support materials (e.g., the Reference Manual on the WHMIS website; the Live Safe! Work Smart! website)

A1.8 analyse and interpret qualitative and/or quantitative data to determine whether the evidence supports or refutes the initial prediction or hypothesis, identifying possible sources of error, bias, or uncertainty

A1.9 analyse the information gathered from research sources for reliability and bias

A1.10  draw conclusions based on inquiry results and research findings, and justify their conclusions

B1.3 describe public health strategies related to systems biology (e.g., cancer screening and prevention programs; vaccines against the human papillomavirus [HPV] and measles, mumps, and rubella [MMR]; AIDS education), and assess their impact on society [AI, C]

Sample issue: Early-childhood vaccination programs have greatly reduced the incidence of certain diseases and the social and medical costs associated with them. Influenced by controversial studies arguing that there may be health risks associated with such vaccines, some parents have chosen not to vaccinate their children, which could lead to a resurgence of these potentially deadly diseases.

Sample questions: What strategies are included in public health initiatives aimed at reducing the incidence of smoking-related diseases? What impact have these initiatives had on smoking rates and associated medical costs? How have health authorities responded to the threat of West Nile virus? What effect does this response have on people’s lifestyles? How did various cultures attempt to prevent disease before vaccines were available? What impact have vaccines had on global health?

B 2. investigate cell division, cell specialization, organs, and systems in animals and plants, using research and inquiry skills, including various laboratory techniques;

B3.2 describe the interdependence of the components within a terrestrial and an aquatic ecosystem, and explain how the components of both systems work together to ensure the sustainability of a larger ecosystem

B3.3 describe the complementary processes of cellular respiration and photosynthesis with respect to the flow of energy and the cycling of matter within ecosystems (e.g., carbon dioxide is a by-product of cellular respiration and is used for photosynthesis, which produces oxygen needed for cellular respiration), and explain how human activities can disrupt the balance achieved by these processes (e.g., automobile use increases the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; planting trees reduces the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere)

Sample issue: Scientists are researching changes in climate patterns as possible contributing factors to an increase in the number of smog days in Ontario and elsewhere in Canada. As the air quality worsens, people may curtail their outdoor activities, and those with respiratory problems may require medical attention, increasing health care costs.

C1.1 analyse, on the basis of research, various safety and environmental issues associated with chemical reactions and their reactants and/or product(s) (e.g., chemical reactions related to the use of cyanide in gold mining, the corrosion of metal supports on bridges, the use of different antibacterial agents such as chlorine and bromine in recreational pools) [IP, PR, AI, C]

Sample issue: Ammonia and chlorine bleach are two common household cleaning agents. How-ever, when these two substances are mixed, the chemical reaction produces chlorine gas, which is highly toxic.

Sample questions: Why is it important to understand the chemical composition of chlorinating agents used in swimming pools before using them? What chemical reactions result in acid precipitation? What impact does it have on the environment? What sources of information are available on the safety or environmental implications of chemicals and chemical reactions? Why is it important to ensure that these sources are up to date? Why is it important to understand WHMIS information, including Material Safety Data Sheets, before using any chemicals?

• recognize that communities consist of various physical features and community facilities that meet human needs;

• use a variety of resources and tools to gather, process, and communicate information about the distinguishing physical features and community facilities in their area;

• describe how people in the community interact with each other and the physical environment to meet human needs

C2.1 use appropriate terminology related to chemical reactions, including, but not limited to: compounds, product, and reactant [C]

C2.2 construct molecular models to illustrate the structure of molecules in simple chemical reactions (e.g., C + O2 ? CO2; 2H2 + O2 ? 2H2O), and produce diagrams of these models [PR, C]

C2.3 investigate simple chemical reactions, including synthesis, decomposition, and displacement reactions, and represent them using a variety of formats (e.g., molecular models, word equations, balanced chemical equations) [PR, AI, C]

C2.4 use an inquiry process to investigate the law of conservation of mass in a chemical reaction (e.g., compare the values before and after the reaction), and account for any discrepancies [PR, AI]

C2.5 plan and conduct an inquiry to identify the evidence of chemical change (e.g., the formation of a gas or precipitate, a change in colour or odour, a change in temperature) [IP, PR, AI]

C2.6 plan and conduct an inquiry to classify some common substances as acidic, basic, or neutral (e.g., use acid-base indicators or pH test strips to classify common household substances) [IP, PR, AI]P

Sample issue: Ultrasound is routinely used during pregnancy to monitor the development of the fetus. It is also used to perform amniocentesis, which screens for genetic disorders, and allows doctors to perform surgery on the fetus before birth to correct some abnormalities. However, there have been few studies on the long-term effects of the use of ultrasound.

Sample questions: How are medical imaging technologies used in the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease and stroke? What types of imaging technologies are used in ophthalmology? How have they benefited people who have eye disease? How have developments in biophotonics advanced a range of surgical procedures?analyse a technological device or procedure related to human perception of light (e.g., eyeglasses, contact lenses, infrared or low light vision sensors, laser surgery), and evaluate its effectiveness.

What strategies are included in public health initiatives aimed at reducing the incidence of smoking-related diseases? What impact have these initiatives had on smoking rates and associated medical costs? How have health authorities responded to the threat of West Nile virus? What effect does this response have on people’s lifestyles?

A practical health curriculum


Injury - face plant into the concrete floor on...

Injury – face plant into the concrete floor on our way home (Photo credit: Lee Turner)

While I am the last person to want to add to teachers’ work load, I do think it is time to teach a real health curriculum, starting in kindergarten.  We are facing difficulties with our health system and it is likely to get worse.  I have been surprised by how little people understand about dealing with minor illnesses and injuries; as our aging population increases, we will have more patients with increasing health needs.  We can’t avoid the need for medical professionals to treat serious illnesses but we can learn to recognise what is serious and what isn’t and how to reduce the load on doctors and hospitals.  People need to understand how their bodies function, especially to keep them well.  They need to know how to support their body’s effort to keep them well and how to recognise the seriousness of an illness or injury and how to respond.   And they need to know how infants and the elderly differ in their health needs.

I have done some research and discovered that much of the curriculum could be covered not only in health classes, but some science and even (economic) geography.  It would require some reshaping of the curriculum but, for example, cells are how human beings are constructed, sometimes repaired, attacked by bacteria and viruses and healed.  A biology curriculum would have to go further than just teaching cells, but the teaching of how cells operate in bodies may actually help improve retention of cell biology.

Ontario’s grade 1 to 8 curriculum is primarily concerned with making healthy choices:

Health Curriculum Grades 1 to 8

Healthy Eating.

Personal Safety and Injury Prevention.

Substance Use, Addictions, and Related Behaviours.

Growth and Development

Integration of Mental Health

This is good, but not enough.  A more thoroughly developed curriculum would empower our future citizens in taking responsibility for their own health.

I live in a city where a lot of people bicycle.  I have noticed that very few cyclists realise that they come under the same laws and regulations as cars.  There are some allowances made for parking bikes and occasionally they are allowed (the permission is posted clearly) to enter a road blocked to cars.  There are many bike lanes.

English: Graph of adult cyclist head injuries ...

English: Graph of adult cyclist head injuries versus helmet use in New Zealand. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Driving a car without lights and using a cellphone while driving are both illegal here.  Recently a young woman was hit by a car as she cycled on the wrong side of the road at night without lights and while texting.  The local media did say the driver of the car was not charged but they did not make it clear how many violations this woman was guilty of.  In addition, she was not wearing a helmet.  Helmets are mandatory here for children (not adults) but many children and adults wear them sitting improperly on their heads, on top of caps or not firmly secured.  A great waste of money.

Carelessness causes accidents... Accidents slo...

Carelessness causes accidents… Accidents slow up production. – NARA – 535274 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was a kid, the police used to come to the school to talk to us about road safety – as pedestrians and cyclists.  While many of us might have ignored the advice, at least we knew that what we were doing was either dangerous or illegal.  That program no longer exists.  Fire departments have trailers designed to teach fire safety and public health nurses used to come to school to teach personal hygiene and how to use a toothbrush.  These programs not only made an impression but it broadened students’ horizons to recognise what some of the resources in their community were.

I realise that changes need to be made to the way our health care is delivered and medical professionals are taking steps to streamline care without making it less effective.  That is not my field, however.  What I am proposing is that we educate our citizenry in how to care for themselves and when they need to seek professional help.

Including mental health is perhaps not more than a gesture as treatment is

Rethink Mental Illness

Rethink Mental Illness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

available only to those are seriously ill or who have enough money to pay for care.  Perhaps a country of people who understand mental illness, believe it can be treated and are aware of what mental illness costs in productivity are might decide that mental health also needs funding.

What I propose is a curriculum starting in grade one and largely delivered by the end of grade ten. My next post will give a detailed outline of the proposed health curriculum.

Related articles

3D thought experiment to understand the construction of the brain.


Thought Experiment Three: Vat.

(Photo credit: Sinead Fenton)

I find trying to create a 3D image of the brain in my head a tad difficult.  The diagrams in books are still two-dimensional however skilled the artist.  Pictures of cross sections don’t seem to help me.  The mathematically talented can probably visualise it, but I need something more.

This works for me as a thought experiment:  blow up a balloon and partly fill it with pale pink jelly whipped with milk or cream.  The jelly should

A Twisted Family Tradition ~ The Lime Jello Brain

A Twisted Family Tradition ~ The Lime Jello Brain (Photo credit: hurleygurley)

English: A cranberry jello salad made in a rin...

English: A cranberry jello salad made in a ring mold. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

be a little short on gelatine so it cannot hold much shape unsupported.  Take a large blob of chocolate on a stick.  How large?  It should be about 2/3 of the

Mousse au chocolat (sur fond transparent)

Mousse au chocolat (sur fond transparent) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

volume of the jelly;  err on the side of being more.   Chocolate mousse would be better for authenticity but less practical.  Ideally the chocolate should be grey, but this grey chocolate is unattractive.

It’s our thought experiment, so chocolate mousse is fine.  Cut a few holes in the blob, then insert it into the balloon and finish filling the balloon with the pink jelly.  Some of the pink

English: Drawings of the cerebral cortex.

English: Drawings of the cerebral cortex. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

jelly will fill the holes in the chocolate.

Now coat the balloon in chocolate.  Again, chocolate mouse would be closer to the right texture but impractical. Your choice.  Mould papier-mâché around the balloon and allow to set.

Human cerebral cortex, Brain MRI, Coronal slic...

Human cerebral cortex, Brain MRI, Coronal slices of a hemisphere with gray/white (yellow) and pial (red) surfaces overlaid. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Imagine that you can dissolve the balloon, just leaving the jelly, chocolate and papier-mâché.  The papier-mâché is the skull; the thin coating of chocolate is the cerebral cortex and made up of grey matter, neurons. Notice how the wrinkling in the picture below increases considerably the area of the cerebral cortex and therefore the volume as well.   The pale pink jelly is the white matter, largely made up of myelinated axons. The chunk of chocolate in

the middle is the cerebellum, cerebellar and cerebrum, mainly made up of grey matter, except where the jelly fills the holes.  The stick is the part of the spine that uses grey matter.  Of course, the dried papier-mâché is the skull.

brains!

brains! (Photo credit: cloois)

It all looks delicious, what a shame about  the papier-mâché skull.  You could try to carefully cut away the skull, pick up the brain and put it on the plate.  Oops, the brain collapses under its own weight.  I hope the plate was right beside the skull, ready to catch the brain.

Rainbow-Jello-Cut-2004-Jul-30

Rainbow-Jello-Cut-2004-Jul-30 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This thought experiment helped me understand why brains often bruise on the opposite side from where the head was struck.  I also realised how white matter can be effective as a transmitter of messages as it seems to be everywhere that the grey matter isn’t.

If you are interested in making a brain dessert, there are brain moulds around or use a ring-shaped jelly mould, fill in the hole with chocolate mousse and gently cover with almost set jelly.  Cover the whole thing with chocolate mousse and la voilà, an educational treat!

It has been a long time since I last posted – too long!


IMG_5504I  have been busy because I have decided to write a book on education.  My subject is research-based education and does it exist?  Here in Ontario we are big on research based or brain based education.  I am always a bit dubious about this as there are at least three things that need considering in implementing education based on research.

The first is the reliability of the research For readers like me who don’t always remember the difference between those two important pillars of good science, reliability and validity, I will explain.

Reliability refers to whether an experiment can be done more than once and by other researchers and still get the same result.  If your dog eats a tablespoon of peanut butter and then lies down and rolls over twice, can you get the same effect the next day when you feed him peanut butter?  If you can, can your friend in the next city get her dog of a different age to lie down and roll over twice after he has eaten a tablespoon of peanut butter?  Will it work with different breeds or only black dogs weighing more than 60 lb.?   The more often replications of the experiment end up with the same result, the more likely it is to be reliable.

The second pillar of research is validity.  This is not as simple a concept to explain.  Validity requires that the thesis and experiment make sense i.e. they are designed using both logic and fact.  The conclusions must be interpreted logically, too.  As the saying goes: “data is not the plural of anecdote.”

One mistake we often make is confusing correlation and causation: a classic example is the woman who believed that it was the sign “deer crossing” that caused deer to cross at that particular spot on the road.  She thought this was very dangerous as she had hit a deer three times just after passing the spot.  Her solution was to move the crossing.

The mistake this woman made was to mistake the correlation of a deer crossing sign and the deer crossing the road with the sign causing the deer to cross the road.   Some careful thinking about the nature of deer and their abilities would have brought the realisation that deer can’t read or follow traffic rules.  The deer’s preference for crossing the road at that point was the reason the sign was posted, not the other way around.

We can laugh at this person’s logic, but how often do we see similar thinking in

World Health Organization building from the So...

World Health Organization building from the South-East, Geneva (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

our lives.  Think of your friend who won’t get her child vaccinated because she believes that vaccinations kill children.  The World Health Organization (WHO)

clearly outlines the faulty logic as it applies to the DPT i.e. Diphtheria, pertussis (whooping-cough) and polio:

Diphtheria-Tetanus-Pertussis (DTP) Vaccine And Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

One myth that won’t seem to go away is that DTP vaccine causes sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). This belief came about because a moderate proportion of children who die of SIDS have recently been vaccinated with DTP; on the surface, this seems to point toward a causal connection. This logic is faulty however; you might as well say that eating bread causes car crashes, since most drivers who crash their cars could probably be shown to have eaten bread within the past 24 hours.

If you consider that most SIDS deaths occur during the age range when three shots of DTP are given, you would expect DTP shots to precede a fair number of SIDS deaths simply by chance. In fact, when a number of well-controlled studies were conducted during the 1980s, the investigators found, nearly unanimously, that the number of SIDS deaths temporally associated with DTP vaccination was within the range expected to occur by chance. In other words, the SIDS deaths would have occurred even if no vaccinations had been given.

In fact, in several of the studies, children who had recently received a DTP shot were less likely to get SIDS. The Institute of Medicine reported that “all controlled studies that have compared immunized versus non-immunized children have found either no association . . . or a decreased risk . . . of SIDS among immunized children” and concluded that “the evidence does not indicate a causal relation between [DTP] vaccine and SIDS.”

Looking at risk alone is not enough however – you must always look at both risks and benefits. Even one serious adverse effect in a million doses of vaccine cannot be justified if there is no benefit from the vaccination. If there were no vaccines, there would be many more cases of disease, and along with them, more serious side effects and more deaths. For example, according to an analysis of the benefit and risk of DTP immunization, if there was no immunization program in the United States, pertussis cases could increase 71-fold and deaths due to pertussis could increase four-fold. Comparing the risk from disease with the risk from the vaccines can give us an idea of the benefits we get from vaccinating our children.

A plot of SIDS rate from 1988 to 2006

A plot of SIDS rate from 1988 to 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For more information on vaccines and childhood illnesses go to Global Vaccine Safety:

Six common misconceptions about immunization.  This is a much more serious case of correlation = causation than the Deer Lady’s confusion.

The sample used should be a reasonable size and reflect the population in question.  How many samples, people, classrooms or animals are needed can’t be defined theoretically, but scientists and most sensible people should know when the sample is not enough.   For example if one wants to know the death rate from measles, the best sample would be all the reported cases of measles in an area or all the confirmed cases of measles.  The latter would be better, unless one can safely assume that doctors are generally accurate in diagnosing measles and therefore their reports won’t skew the data.

One of the cruellest results of poor research is the myth that the MMR (mumps, measles and rubella) vaccine causes autism .  The research was published in 1988 and retracted by the eminent medical journal, Lancet in 2012.  Not only was the research retracted but the author was also reprimanded by Britain’s General Medical Council and stripped of the right to practice medicine in Britain.

The doctor used only 12 children for his research, taking the blood samples from children at his son’s birthday party.  There were other flaws in his work; for more information see the sites below.

After his results were published in 1988, some British parents refused to get their children immunized with the MMR vaccine and the incidence of all three diseases increased.  Measles is highly contagious and can lead to more serious illnesses or death.  For example: one in twenty will develop pneumonia (a common cause of death from measles) and one in a thousand will develop encephalitis, putting them at risk for convulsions, deafness, mental retardation or death.  By 2008 there were enough measles cases in Britain to declare it an epidemic.  See web sites in the bibliography below for a discussion of MMR vaccination from at least two opposing perspectives.

Even when research is well done, there are two more pits for the unwary: drawing conclusions and applying the results correctly. If your dog rolls over repeatedly after eating peanut butter, is it to please you in order to get more peanut butter or does peanut butter put his belly in such agony that he needs to roll over more than once to relieve it?  One might argue that the dog’s motivation doesn’t matter; the important thing is that the dog rolls over.  It does, however, make a difference to dogs and to dog lovers.  They care whether pain or delight is causing the new tricks.  This is another case where the researcher will have to explore the connection between the incidents in order to do good science.

Research intent on testing the results of other studies is not glamorous and doesn’t get the headlines (or the grants, sometimes) but it is as important as the initial work.  In fact, without it, we would have more drugs with disastrous side effects, more collapsing structures and poorer educational systems.

The third thing that needs considering, besides reliability and validity and the conclusions draw by the researcher, is the interpretation of research by the layman – or woman.  It is easy to misunderstand research if we don’t read the work or summaries without a critical eye.  I find myself increasingly wondering who did the original research, how valid and reliable it was, if the researcher had a bias towards the results and what other research has been done. Education needs good research to inform good teaching practices and teachers need to know how to read the research, question it and implement what has been learned.

I have not covered everything you need to know about scientific methods and the methods of science.  My intention here is to draw attention to the layman’s need to understand scientific thinking and reflect critically on research before applying it in the field.  For a more thorough analysis, go to:  The Scientific Method vs. Real Science at http://www.av8n.com/physics/scientific-methods.htm.  It does require some thoughtful reading but it is worth the effort.

So, I am writing a book about the relationship between education and what we really know about the brain and relevant psychology.  I am still in the research stage.  Instead of doing my own original research, I am reviewing other peoples’ studies to understand the results and their relevance to education.

My blog will probably have a different flavour, as it is likely to reflect my thoughts and discoveries as I learn.  I hope you enjoy accompanying me on this journey.

Bibliography

Donna, The Deer Lady

http://www.webpronews.com/donna-the-deer-lady-learns-what-deer-crossing-signs-are-for-2012-10

The MMR Vaccine Discussion.

Autism-vaccine study retracted Tuesday, February 2, 2010 | 10:08 PM ET CBC News  http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/story/2010/02/02/autism-mmr-lancet-wakefield.html

http://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/concerns/autism/index.html

http://www.infection-research.de/infectious_diseases/measles/

http://www.vaccinationnews.com/why-do-pediatricians-deny-obvious

http://www.vaccinationnews.com/measles-united-kingdom-wakefield-factor

http://www.who.int/vaccine_safety/initiative/detection/immunization_misconceptions/en/

 

Scientific Method:

http://www.av8n.com/physics/scientific-methods.htm.

Update: Emma, still climbing at two


Image

Emma’s dad reports that she did all the work.  There were a few missteps.  He took her off the platform and carried her down.  The thing that looks like a scarf on the left may be one of the many slings he and Emma’s mum use to carry her.  He may have used it to partially secure her for the descent.

Just a reminder that Emma’s parents don’t push her to do anything like this.  However, if she is keen and they think she can, they encourage her and spot her to ensure it is done safely.  I suspect that it may be safer, on occasion, to support these deeds of derring do than repress them and take a chance on Emma trying something when they aren’t looking!

What are the Implications for Teachers and Parents? How do you get to Carnegie Hall part four


Attention is arguably the most important ingredient in learning.  In order to map a skill, a concept or a new way of doing things, a child must work with it attentively the first few times.  Attention happens when we are engaged in a struggle to do or understand; Emma’s fierce concentration as she climbs on to the baby gym demonstrates her attention.

To retain what the child has learned, she needs to practice it next.  It is not sufficient to understand or do; the newly learnt word, concept or skill must be worked regularly so it goes from the explicit memory into implicit memory.

Children initiate much of their learning. Parents and teachers who are aware of that and ready to support it will also support the child’s enthusiasm for learning.  Children delight in novelty so will often respond to being taught new things if they are ready to learn them.  They will also learn things that their parents and teachers insist on, assuming the new skill is within their abilities and taught carefully.

“…the only ‘good learning’ is that which is in advance of development”    

(Vygotsky 1934/1986)

When Vygotsky, the Russian psychologist, stated that learning really takes place in advance of development he meant the area where a child can learn if supported by a more knowledgeable peer or teacher.  He called this the Zone of Proximal Development or ZPD.  Climbing up is Emma’s achievement; climbing down safely was in Emma’s ZPD.  The support (in this case provided by her parents) is also known as scaffolding. There are lots of academics running around defining it and publishers selling books to hapless teachers about it.  I prefer to think of scaffolding as spotting with appropriate instruction as needed.

Scaffolding: Not just for construction workers...

Scaffolding: Not just for construction workers anymore (Photo credit: kevin dooley)

Do you remember gym class when you were doing tricks on a trampoline, trying to do a handstand or vault over a horse?  There was always someone there to spot you, with a hand ready to put under your back to stop you from falling awkwardly and doing serious damage.  The trampoline required several spotters holding both hands palm outwards in case they had to push the jumper back.

This, to me, is probably the best example of scaffolding; the athlete is not protected from scrapes and bruises but is protected from a broken neck so she can take the risks necessary increase her skill.  She may fail many times, and that’s fine, because if it is a matter of technique, the instructor will come by to correct her.  If it is just a matter of training the muscles, her classmates will call out the occasional word of encouragement as they spot her and await their turn.

This is what a more knowledgeable person can do for a child in her ZPD.  It does require teaching a child to deal with failure.  I see that word on the page and I realise how stomach clenching it is.  Failure.  For most, the connotations are unpleasant: failing a grade, a business failing, a person who is a failure.  We need to put that stigma aside and think of a child learning to walk.  How often does he end up on his well-padded bottom after a few steps?  He has failed to walk, but do we think of it as failure?  No, because we believe that within the year he will be walking and running.  Plumping down to a startled sit is just part of the process.

learning to ride a bike - _MG_2933

learning to ride a bike - _MG_2933 (Photo credit: sean dreilinger)

If we allow failure, we develop children who persist. They will regard mistakes as part of the learning process.  These children will ask for help, figure out what went wrong and then move forward.  They will be comfortable with struggling on occasion with new ideas.  Eventually they will become that current cliché, but truly important ideal, an independent learner.

If a student is not learning in their ZPD, they are not moving ahead.  They may be moving sideways, collecting more information, but they are not learning new skills, new concepts or new patterns.  They may be reinforcing their learning so it moves into implicit memory. Students need to spend time consolidating new learning and building on it.  Teachers need to be conscious of which kind of learning is going on.

In practical terms, when you teach multiplication or three-digit division to students, you are not done when they grasp the concept and the time allotted for the unit is over.  Your goal is to get them to the point where they can do the work automatically without stopping to think about how to do it.  This requires practice, drills, homework, games or whatever it takes to keep them practicing until the skill is in implicit memory.  Some will argue it is more important for children to understand mathematical theory than memorise arithmetic and they would be right.  They do not say, however, that the children should not be able to do the arithmetic, and that requires practice.

How would this apply to history? Teaching the war of 1759, I would use overheads to show how the French lost the battle of Louisbourg in 1758 and how Wolfe successfully repeated the tactics a year later in the Battle of the Fields of Abraham at Quebec.  Then I would ask the students to hand-draw both battlefields, the surrounding geography, the troop movements and gun emplacements.  Why? The physical act of drawing and labelling practices and reviews the material. I would not allow students to trace diagrams, because tracing would not focus student attention on the locations of fortifications, cliffs, homes and cannon.

As the students work over their diagrams, questions will come up.  The ensuing discussion is another form of reinforcement.  I might show an excerpt from a Hornblower movie (Napoleonic wars – 40 years later but similar issues) to show the importance of shore guns in keeping harbours safe – or isolated, depending on whose guns they were.  I might play music from the era when the students grow weary.  The students might choose to compete in the accuracy and neatness of their diagrams.

Depending on earlier training, drawing and labelling accurate diagrams might be the ZPD for most students. Drawing troop movements and understanding what that would look like in real life or vice versa is very likely to be within their ZPD.  As a combined history and phys ed class, it would be a great opportunity to take students into the schoolyard to deploy their troops and see the translation of plans to real life.

Freehand drawing seems a very old fashioned way of learning and yet it is an excellent way to use visual and kinaesthetic intelligences to learn in a discipline which is far too often taught only through reading, writing and lecturing. (Gardner 1983)

If attention is the most important ingredient in learning what does it say our classrooms and study areas should be like?  Think about what distracts you and then ask yourself if you could work in your classroom or wherever your child does homework.

A quiet hum of activity is acceptable, but unnecessary movement, music, raised voices and interruptions through phone calls and announcements are disruptive.  When I couldn’t persuade our office to leave messages or send emails, I took the classroom phone off the hook when the students needed to pay careful attention.

Should classrooms be papered with bright visuals demanding the attention of the children as our administrators encourage?  It certainly looks charming, but is it conducive to children paying attention well enough to learn?  Instead, should classroom walls be painted in soothing colours only occasionally punctuated with a helpful poster?  Should there be plenty of study carrels or nooks where students can wrestle with ideas?  Should the group work area be strategically placed so the gentle murmur of discussion doesn’t disturb the other scholars?  Should a primary goal be to teach children consideration of each other’s learning environments?  Should we teach our children how to pay attention?

In some homes all the kids do homework at the dining room table.  For some children that works, especially if a parent is available to keep everyone on task.  It doesn’t work for all.  Figure out what works and put that in place. Many students complain homework takes too long.  When I asked questions, I realised many were texting, chatting on line, receiving phone calls on their cells, listening to music and being interrupted by younger siblings and sometimes parents – all while they were ostensibly doing homework.  None of this was conducive to any but the most mindless and useless of homework.  As I don’t assign that kind of homework, I was not surprised they were taking so long to get it done.

What about students with learning disabilities?  We sometimes think that accommodations mean letting them learn less.  Would they do better if we first worked to improve their ability to pay attention?  They could start with one minute and keep adding as they succeeded.  We could also work to improve their areas of weakness. If the brain changes naturally in response to attentive learning followed by practice, what couldn’t we do for our students who learn differently?

To sum up, a student begins to learn when he is paying attention.  The initial learning is mapping in the brain.  That mapping is not sufficient; practice is needed to ensure the mapping remains. It is like walking through a field; it takes a lot of walking over the same line before there is a trail that will last a month, more to last a year and so on.

How to do mapping and reinforcement is another story, but it is a normal part of a teacher’s repertoire. Reconsider the organisation of your classroom and the structure of the day, but the actual techniques are at most teachers’ fingertips.  It may be necessary to stand back while your students wrestle with their understanding of a concept but you will be rewarded with triumphant smiles as they eventually master it. While your administrator talks brain-based education, you will actually walk it.

Bibliography

Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of Mind.

LeDoux, J. (2002). Synaptic Self; how our brains become who we are. London, England, Penguin Group.

Schwartz, J. M., Begley, Sharon (2002). The Mind & the Brain: Neuropasticity and the Power of Mental Force. New York, HarperCollins

Vygotsky, L. (1934/1986). Thought and Language. Cambridge Massachusetts, London  England., MIT Press.

Walsh, S. J. (2010). Recognition Memory: Brain-Behaviour Relations from 0 to 3. Human Behaviour, Learning and the Developing Brain: Typical Development. D. F. Coch, Kurt W.; Dawson, Geraldine.