Benefits of Brain Training Apps in Schools
Whether you call it brain training or cognitive training, the number and range of games, apps and programs available on the market today seems endless. They have found their way into our lives in many ways, but do tools used to “train your brain” belong in school, and if so, how? Here are some of the reasons schools use brain-training apps and the benefits they see:
- Students better prepared to learn are easier to teach. When students work in an effective brain-training program, they develop the underlying cognitive processes they need to be able to learn more efficiently. The body of evidence on the cognitive impact of poverty, for example, has grown substantially. Many students who are economically disadvantaged have less well-developed cognitive skills than their more advantaged peers. But it’s not just about a student’s economic background. Every student has cogntiive strengths and weaknesses. Weaker areas lead to learning struggles. When their cognitive skills become stronger, with the benefit of brain-training, academic achievement can start to catch up, as well.
- Student motivation. So often school is just not fun and students are unmotivated by what they are asked to work on. Brain games can be fun ways to drill facts and concepts that need to be practiced to become automatic, and in a way that avoids putting the student to sleep. Games like those found at coolmathgames.com for math or www.freerice.com for vocabulary-building and other subjects are good examples.
- Stress relievers. Many students come to school stressed and the school day often provides little relief from those feelings. Mindfulness apps like Settle Your Glitter and Stop, Breathe and Think Kids help students identify their emotions and practice mindfulness techniques that will help center them. Other apps, like hidden object games, or Bejeweled or Cubis are great to get students’ mind off the stressors in their lives, and have the added benefit of developing skills like visual discrimination, pattern recognition, decision speed and attention. Incorporating these types of apps right before or right after a high-stakes test is one way schools use them.
- Remediation of cognitive skills for students with learning disabilities. Teachers and schools are required to provide support for students with diagnosed learning disabilities. This support typically takes the form of accommodations (e.g., more time to take the test), adjustments to the curriculum (e.g., reading about the same topic in a below-grade-level book), and learning strategies (e.g., mnemonics). In the last few years, schools have started to use brain-training software to help remediate attention, working memory, processing speed and other cognitive processes, enabling students to develop these skills to virtually the level of normally developing students. With sronger cogntiive skills, student learning accelerates and achievement gaps narrow.
- Challenging high-performing students. School is generally pretty easy for some students and it can be difficult for teachers to find ways to sufficiently challenge them. One of the reasons that some schools really like BrainWare SAFARI cognitive training software is that everyone eventually reaches a level where it is very challenging for them. It is critical for high-performing students to actually have to struggle with something – in this case, a cognitive task – to experience what it is like when something doesn’t come as easily, and to help them develop the kind of resilience they will need in more advanced academic situations.
- Improved behavior. Teachers often tell us that students who have used BrainWare SAFARI or SkateKids software exhibit better behavior in class. There may be several reasons for this. First, students look forward to their time on these programs and are often more cooperative or work harder on less inherently appealing tasks because they want to get back on the software. Second, these programs develop core executive functions including working memory, inhibitory control and flexible thinking, as well as higher-order executive functions, such as planning, strategic thinking and mental agility. This gives students a stronger capacity for self-regulation. And third, stronger cognitive skills mean that academic tasks that were very challenging become easier. When students can understand the material and the concepts and when they start to master basic reading and math skills, they are more engaged and less likely to act out.
- Developing Students’ Growth Mindset. The concept of Growth Mindset, as articulated by Carol Dweck, involves understanding that intelligence and talents are developed, not purely innate. It also implies an attitude that takes mistakes as opportunities for growth. When students see that their school is providing them with a very specific brain-training program, designed to develop their cognitive skills, they see a strong signal of the importance of this type of mindset.
When athletes work to improve their performance, they study and practice the specific skills of their sport, but they also train non-sport-specific capacities, like strength, endurance, speed, flexibility, and the like. If we want all-star students, then we shouldn’t send them onto the playing field of learning without the strongest, fastest, most flexible brains we can help them develop. So, while brain-training apps have many benefits in schools, the one with the greatest value is arguably that they will do better at school and, ultimately at life, if their brains are well developed.