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Health Beat: Smart schools, smart students

Health Beat: Smart schools, smart students

DALLAS - They can navigate their smart phones, update social media and retrieve information in a split second, but cognitive neuroscientist Jacque Gamino said today's students 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,  cognitive neuroscientist, Center for BrainHealth, The University of Texas at Dallas.

Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman 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, founder and chief director, Center for BrainHealth, The University of Texas at Dallas.

Scientists at the Center for BrainHealth 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 sixth 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 eighth grade student.

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 said 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 Massachusetts, Arizona, Florida, Texas and Kentucky.

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