Mindfulness: Foundation for Teaching and Learning
Fifth Annual Conference
March 16 – 18, 2012
Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, PA
From Richard Brady:
Descriptions of how I used mindfulness practices in my 10th grade geometry course and in a 9th grade class on stress reduction can be found in the articles, Learning to Stop, Stopping to Learn and Schooled in the Moment, respectively, both of which are available on the Resources page of my Web site, www.mindingyourlife.net.
From David Nelson:
During our elementary and middle school discussions we sang a song and did a short meditation, which I offered to share the video links to. So here they are, Betsy Rose singing “may I be happy” and the “pebble meditation.”
From Susan Stabler-Hass:
I was in the break out session right after lunch on Research. I presented the pilot study with nursing students and test anxiety. Here is our abstract which describes this work with university students:
Abstract for Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Test Anxiety: a Pilot Study with Baccalaureate Nursing Students.
Christine Moriconi, Psy. D., LMFT & Susan Stabler-Haas, APRN, BC, LMFT
The purpose of this pilot study was to measure the effect of a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program on levels of anxiety and attention and mindfulness. This was based on the hypothesis that an increase in ability to focus attention would decrease levels of test anxiety (Zeidner, 1998). This quasi-experimental two group, pre-test/post-test pilot study was obtained through a convenience sampling. The experimental group consisted of 11 Baccalaureate nursing students (n = 11), and the control group consisted of 10 Baccalaureate nursing students (n = 10). The experimental group completed the 8-week MBSR protocol. All students were administered the Test Anxiety Inventory (TAI), the Stroop Color Word test, and the State- Trait Anxiety (STAI), and the Cognitive and Affective Mindfulness Scale – revised (CAM-R). The statistics captured in this study were calculated using SPSS version 17 and drawn form four data sets: TAI, Stroop, STAI) & CAMS-R. While the STAI & CAMS-R revealed no statistically significant change in mindfulness or state anxiety, the TAI and Stroop demonstrated increased focus and decrease worry which warrants further research.
From Tim Iverson, Breakout session leader:
I led the Middle School break out session and shared some basic neuroscience which I’ve presented to my staff where I teach in Minnesota (Highview Middle School, New Brighton MN). we have instituted a short “brain break” for students right after lunches this year, with an array of short practices that teachers can access from scripts I’ve created or from desktop audios, which I placed in our “shared folders”…and I’ve also provided some basic brain anatomy to help them understand the stress response, and how mindfulness practices can help ameliorate these feelings.
In essence the neuroscience was a summary of material regarding the limbic system, and key anatomical players like the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the prefrontal cortex. The MindUp program created by the Hawn foundation has done a nice job of summarizing and simplifying this neuroscience for educational circles.
I’ve been using the term “brainfulness” lately to summarize this awareness of our basic emotional anatomy and how this scientific knowledge can be shared in educational settings–where things have to be presented in a data-driven, secular context.
I also shared a large poster/drawing that my 8th graders created showing this basic anatomy, with all relevant parts labeled, and basic functions identified. I walked the participants through a basic, simple drawing of the brain that they copied into their notes (I’m an art teacher, so this was fun!).
I then shared a few practices that could be done easily in a middle-level classroom: some mindful movement, and mindful seeing (e.g., looking for particular colors that are present, etc).
We then had a nice discussion among the group, which was populated by a variety of people: psychologists, school counselors, classroom teachers, parental mindfulness instructors, etc.
We began and ended with some silence. I even showed the group a smart phone app which can be used for silence and bells, which I use when I don’t have access to a real bell.
It was a fun session, and I hope meaningful for all involved. Please let me know if you’d like more detail on anything I’ve mentioned here. I will also email a photo of a student drawing of the limbic system, like the one I shared in the session.
Tim Iverson, Highview Middle School, New Brighton, MN
Here are some ideas/practices I shared during our breakout that may be relevant for other educators:
Silent meditation with Smart phone app: for bells (when you don’t have a real bell handy):
“The Mindfulness App” by MindApps has several nice features. I used this app for our silent meditation at the beginning of the session – 5 minutes. Has a nice timer feature.
Mindful movements: I shared some simple movements that can be done right near a desk in a crowded classroom. Especially relevant when kids have been sitting for several hours, and their brains need some refreshment. Here’s the sequence:
A) “Upward mountain.” Stand near your desk, feet shoulder width apart. Slowly reach up toward the ceiling and look through your hands. Hold for a couple breaths.
B) “Pick the fruit” Now with your right hand, reach up as if you were picking an apple from the top of a tree (left hand dangles by your side). Push your right hip out slightly, creating a slight arc with your right side, and feel the stretch along that side…don’t push too hard! Now bring hand down and repeat with other side.
C) “Rainbow stretch” With hands overhead, slowly stretch to the right, tracing your hands along an imaginary rainbow overhead. Then slowly bring hands to the other side… repeat a couple times on each side.
D) “Volcano breath” Standing in mountain pose, bring hands together in front of heart and slowly bring hands up overhead, on an inhale…. Exhale slowly while bringing arms out to the sides, down, and back up to heart center. Repeat two more times (credit to “Mindfulness” by Mark Williams and Danny Penman, and “Yoga calm for Children” by Gillen).
Mindful looking: this one is simple. To help class become more aware of their surroundings and of the present moment, simply ask them to look for a color in the room, like “blue.” Give them about 30 seconds to espy any instances of the color, and then let them share what they’ve found, where they see the color. I’m always amazed at how much the kids want to share what they’ve found during this quick exercise. Sometimes “being present” can be a bit general. It can help to give a more specific target for attention.
Brain anatomy drawing: I also walked the group through a simple diagram of the limbic system of the brain, and other anatomy relevant to the brain’s stress response. (Credit to the Hawn foundation’s “MindUp” curriculum, and to Dr. Daniel Seigel, MD). Here are the key components:
The amygdala: almond shaped structures deep in the limbic system that respond to fear and threats, like an alarm system in the brain. There are two of these, about 1.5 inches in from each temple.
The prefrontal cortex: area right behind the forehead that is responsible for our higher level thinking processes like planning, and reasoning.
The hippocampus: a “seahorse”-shaped structure of the limbic system responsible for memory and spatial navigation.
There are many other brain structures you can bring into a lesson on the brain, but these are the “key players” of the stress response. I call this study of the brain “brainfulness” to distinguish it from “mindfulness.” Knowing the anatomy of the brain gives kids insight into how their bodies work. But the key point is that mindful practices can influence the state of our brains, which in turn, influences our mental states!