Using Neuroscience Research to Accelerate Learning

Activate C8KidsEditor’s Note: Activate is being offered at 10-percent discount to members of the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP). Use the code NAESP13 to receive the 10-percent discount.

CEI’s neuroscience research led us to a collaboration on Activate (formerly called C8Kids), a powerful cognitive training course, like a strength and conditioning program for the brain, which literally rewires the brain through repetition of targeted cognitive exercises and also matched physical activities.

An anonymous expert reviewer for the Director of the National Institute of Health said the program’s brain-training to improve executive function in 5- to 9-year-old children was “easily the most sophisticated brain training program ever attempted…”

The program works on improving eight executive functions of the brain, including “working memory” and attention. One of the most important features of Activate is the “task complexity” which leads to changes in executive functioning which strengthen student attention and academic achievement. Developed by Dr. Bruce Wexler of Yale University, the program is now operational in hundreds of classrooms throughout the United States.

In the following video Principal Michael D. Lorenzo of Helen Street Elementary School in Hamden, Conn., provides background on problems faced at his school and the rationale he used in implementing the Activate program. The video shows students using Activate’s computer program and also participating in Activate’s physical exercises.

The recommended length of training in the program is 1,600 minutes, which can be accomplished through a variety of implementation models, including:

  • During the school day: Students can take the computer course in 20 minute sessions, five times a week, using in-classroom computers if there are computers for every child, or sharing a smaller set of computers during differentiated instructional time. The physical exercise program can either supplement or supplant the school’s existing physical exercise program for grades K-3 with small modifications. If the students complete five 20-minute sessions a week, they can complete the course in 16 weeks.
  • After school: Students can take the computer course in 45 minute sessions a few times a week, and then go from the computer lab to the gymnasium or another open space to complete the physical exercise portion. Activate is an ideal afterschool enrichment program combining technology and physical movement in a structured way. By completing three 45-minute computer sessions a week, students can complete the program in 12 weeks.
  • Hybrid: Some schools have elected to combine during-school and after-school implementation models – having students complete some computer training during the school day, and allowing students to do further training in an after-school setting. Because the Activate computer exercises are web-based, they can also be completed as homework if student have access to the web at home.

Schools that have tested the program have achieved impressive improvements in students’ executive functions and also in academic achievement. Working memory scores more than doubled in children participating in the Activate/C8 program in Bristol, Conn., while showing only very limited improvement in a control group tested twice without having taken the program.

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In a school in Brooklyn, N.Y., children who participated in more sessions of the Activate/C8 program showed statistically significantly greater gains in working memory and also self-regulation and inhibitory control as measured by the Go/No-Go indicator. In children evaluated five months after the program ended, gains were maintained on both tests. The same school in Brooklyn went from the bottom third to the top third in New York City rankings in reading and math proficiency after implementing the program school-wide.

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Similarly positive effects on school-administered standardized tests were seen in a Hamden, Conn., school where children who participated in the Activate/C8 program were 2.5 times as likely to show greater than 50 point gains in Blue Ribbon subtests reflecting executive function than were children in a control group.

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In an National Institutes of Health-funded study comparing the effects of Activate/C9 in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and typically developing children in both Hamden, Conn., and Beijing, China, children with ADHD were less accurate and slower on NIH Toolbox tests of sustained attention prior to the Activate/C8 program and closed the gap after participation. All children showed robust gains in working memory.

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