Category Archives: Cognitive Flexibility

A clock next to piles of coins

Teaching Financial Literacy with EF Strategies, Part 1

According to a study by FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) Investor Education Foundation(link opens in new tab/window), four in five young people are not able to successfully complete a financial literacy quiz. Since the Great Recession in 2008, financial literacy has declined across all demographics, but it is especially true for Millennials and Generation Z. One approach to boost your students’ financial literacy is teaching executive function strategies that foster skills in organizing, prioritizing, self-reflection, and flexibility.  It’s never too early to teach your students financial literacy and EF strategies that can have a lasting impact(link opens in new tab/window)

Planning + Loans 

Taking out a loan to help pay for college or a car is a substantial decision that can affect a person’s financial status in the long run. Teaching your students strategies for long-term organizing and prioritizing of materials and time (Unit 4 in SMARTS) is an excellent place to start. Encourage students to explore their obligations (have to’s), aspirations (want to’s), and negotiations when it comes to their time, activities, and lifestyle. Loans, interest rates, and inflation also offer real-world scenarios that can be explored in math classes across the grades

Some ideas for helping students plan for loans include:

  • What are the terms and fees associated with the loan? 
  • Are there prepayment penalties? 
  • Have they considered options to lower the interest rate, such as enrolling in automatic debit payments? 
  • Are they eligible to enroll in an income-driven repayment plan?

Shifting Flexibly + Budgeting

Strong budgeting skills are at the heart of setting oneself up for financial success. In order to create and maintain an accurate budget, students can first engage in activities that promote self-reflection and self-understanding. This is another element of personal finance where students can determine their spending “have to’s” and “want to’s”. What interests, hobbies, and activities are priorities that students should budget for? Playing games that encourage real-life budgeting(link opens in new tab/window) is a fun and low-stakes way to explore what it means to budget. When it comes to budgeting, students will need to remain flexible; unexpected costs can arise, so encouraging students to set aside a monthly stipend for last-minute emergency costs can prepare them for the unexpected.  

Stay tuned for part 2 of our EF and Financial Literacy series. 

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Preparing Students for Global Citizenship

As the world grows more interconnected and interdependent, how can we prepare our students for global citizenship? Help them to develop their skills in metacognition and cognitive flexibility.

Preparing Global Citizens

In the Curriculum for Global Citizenship, Oxfam proposes key knowledge, skills, and values students need in order to thrive as global citizens.

. asking questions and critical thinking 2. exploring local-global connections and our views, values and assumptions 3. exploring the complexity of global issues and engaging with multiple perspectives 4. exploring issues of social justice locally and globally 5. applying learning to real-world issues and contexts 6. opportunities for learners to take informed, reflective action and have their voices heard Global citizenship is not... 1. telling people what to think and do 2. only about far away places and peoples 3. providing simple solutions to complex issues 4. focused on charitable fundraising 5. abstract learning devoid of real-life application and outcomes 6. tokenistic inclusion of learners in decision-making

Many of these elements, such as exploring the complexity of global issues, engaging with multiple perspectives, and self-reflection, ask students to shift perspectives, XXX and XXX. In short, they rely on metacognition and cognitive flexibility.

Metacognition and Cognitive Flexibility 

Metacognitive awareness is an integral component of academic and lifelong success. You can promote students’ self-awareness by helping them think about their thinking and understand their strengths and challenges.

Students also use metacognition and flexible thinking to develop the social awareness and relationship skills that are essential for connecting with others. It is also important for students to develop self-awareness of their values and judgments–they understand the world through the lens of their cultural identity, experiences, and personal values. Students should understand that conflict arises out of misunderstanding and that exploring multiple perspectives on a situation is a path towards mutual understanding or resolution. When students can step into their peers’ shoes XXXXXX.

 Perspective Taking: 3 Whys 

The 3 Whys thinking routine (also available in Spanish) from Project Zero can get students thinking beyond their own experience.

  1. Why might this [topic, question] matter to me?
  2. Why might it matter to people around me [family, friends, city, nation]?
  3. Why might it matter to the world?

This routine ensures that students first establish a personal connection to the issue at hand. Students are then asked to switch perspectives and step into the shoes of the people and the world around them. This thinking routine aligns well with cognitive flexibility strategies featured in the SMARTS curriculum, such as the “I’m Wearing Your Shoes” lesson.

For both the elementary and secondary SMARTS curriculum, the lesson focus sorter (available under “tools” when logged in to SMARTS) is a great resource for selecting lessons that address areas such as flexible thinking, perspective taking, self-advocacy, social awareness, and self-understanding.

For more information on global citizenship, check out these resources: 

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Students Speak: What is Cognitive Flexibility? 

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been asked to adapt, adjust, think flexibly, shift perspectives — in short, practice cognitive flexibility. Whether we’re balancing the shift between in-person and remote learning, working on a group project, or even cooking a meal, cognitive flexibility is key to success.

What do students think about cognitive flexibility? Throughout ResearchILD’s Student Ambassador Program this fall, students were encouraged to collectively think about their thinking and how executive function processes impact their day-to-day experiences in school and at home. Here are some of their ideas about what cognitive flexibility means to them:

Students Speak: What does cognitive flexibility mean to you?

  • “Coming up with a different way to solve a problem.” 
  • “Ways to adjust to unexpected events.”
  • “For me, cognitive flexibility is the ability to adapt to new situations and accept changes in my life, big or small.”
  • “Cognitive flexibility is the ability to adapt from one scenario to another.”
  • “Cognitive flexibility means to me that my mind can think of more than one way of doing something.”

Students Speak: What do you do when you get stuck and have to shift?

  • “When I get stuck I generally move onto a different thing. Some time away from the topic helps me think of different ideas.”
  • “I usually get stuck for a little while and keep doing the same thing. Then I try a new way. When I figure out the correct way, it’s like a light bulb lights up.”
  • “I step back and come back to it later.”
  • “Re-read or re-assess the problem.”
  • “I either try a new strategy, make a connection, or ask for help.”

How to Get Students Thinking Flexibly

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

Build Your Executive Function Toolkit in 2022

Are you interested in building your Executive Function Toolkit? Join us in February and March to hear from EF experts on topics such as metacognition and motivation, strategies to support students with long-term projects and project-based learning, embedding EF in the general education curriculum, and the intersection of EF and social-emotional learning. Learn more and register today

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Executive Branch: Executive Function Strengths

What does it take to be a successful president? Many historians have studied the presidents of the United States to determine what qualities and characteristics lead to a prosperous tenure in office. Unsurprisingly, a well-developed sense of self-understanding and executive function strengths are key! 

A Vision for the Future

While successful presidents must understand the past and remain grounded in the present, they must also look forward to the future. What will they accomplish while in office? What will their legacy be? When campaigning, presidential candidates set many goals that they promise to carry through if elected. While many of these promises are long-term goals, they are made up of short-term goals along the way. To get students thinking about setting their own goals, check out these frameworks for goal setting. These frameworks (including CANDO goals in SMARTS, Unit 2) help students set realistic goals with built-in plans for reaching success. 

Balancing Multiple Opinions and Perspectives

A successful presidency relies on the ability to see situations from multiple perspectives. When balancing many different opinions, it can be easy to get stuck. It is inevitable that all presidents will face opposition to their initiatives, whether from other politicians or from citizens across the country. It is critical that presidents think flexibly and shift perspectives to understand the perspectives of their constituents and gain bipartisan support. 

MetaCOG Online

Are you looking for a way to help students understand their executive function strengths and challenges? MetaCOG Online, an interactive executive function survey system, helps students develop an understanding of their learning profiles (including their EF strength, EF challenge, strategy suggestions, and SMARTS lesson recommendations). MetaCOG Online also provides tools for teachers to collect data about students’ EF strategy use at multiple points throughout the school year. 

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

Build Your Executive Function Toolkit in 2022

Are you interested in building your Executive Function Toolkit? Join us in February and March to hear from EF experts on topics such as metacognition and motivation, strategies to support students with long-term projects and project-based learning, embedding EF in the general education curriculum, and the intersection of EF and social-emotional learning. Learn more and register today

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Check Out Flexible Mindsets!

We are excited to share that our friends Julie Dunstan and Susannah Cole have recently released their book, Flexible Mindsets in Schools: Channelling Brain Power for Critical Thinking, Complex Problem-Solving & Creativity.

Developing Flexible Mindsets

Today’s students will face complex challenges and uncertainty in their futures. How can we prepare our students to become self-directed learners who know how to ask questions, solve problems, and unleash their creativity?

The key lies in helping students develop flexible mindsets, which arise from periods of trial and error over searching for one “right answer.” Drawing from research and practice, Flexible Mindsets in Schools offers educators a roadmap for creating educational environments that promote deep learning and resilience

Tools for the Classroom

Dunstan and Cole’s book is a how-to guide for teachers to help students develop the three C’s: critical thinking, complex problem solving, and creativity. By developing adaptive strategy use, students will be more prepared to shift flexibly as they navigate our ever-changing world. Flexible Mindsets in Schools offers practical tools for creating equitable learning environments and realizing that small, manageable changes can lead to an educational revolution. 

Books about executive function and cognitive flexibility make a great holiday gift for teachers. Consider giving Flexible Mindsets in Schools or a selection from ResearchILD’s publications to your favorite teacher.

About the Authors

Julie Dunstan is a developmental psychologist and founding director of reFLEXions®, an initiative designed to develop Flexible Mindsets for self-directed learning. Susannah Cole is an executive function coach and managing director of reFLEXions®.

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

Build Your Executive Function Toolkit

Are you interested in building your Executive Function Toolkit? Join us in February and March to hear from EF experts on topics such as metacognition and motivation, strategies to support students with long-term projects and project-based learning, embedding EF in the general education curriculum, and the intersection of EF and social-emotional learning. Learn more and register today

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Thanksgiving Executive Function Toolkit

From all of us on the SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum Team, we wish you a very happy Thanksgiving! We hope you find time for moments of tranquility and reflection while you connect with family and friends. For those of you who host Thanksgiving meals, here are some tips to ensure a successful celebration!

Prioritizing Time

The days leading up to Thanksgiving can be overwhelming. Between work, school, travel, and meal planning, it can feel like there isn’t enough time to get everything done.

The weekend before Thanksgiving, it can help to sit down with a blank weekly calendar to schedule when you will complete certain tasks. (If you are interested in learning more about the SMARTS approach to planning production time, you can sign up for the free lesson here). For example, if you’ve ordered a turkey or dessert, when and where is your scheduled pickup? For all the sides you’ll prepare at home, do you have a time blocked out when you can scan through the grocery store aisles for all the ingredients? Finally, plan time to gather the necessities for your Thanksgiving table including place settings for every guest, extra chairs, and dishes for all the sides. 

Shifting Flexibly

Expect the unexpected. Maintaining a flexible mindset and considering multiple solutions to a problem is essential for getting back on track after a setback. If you find that your turkey is taking too long to cook, consider carving it into smaller sections so that it cooks more quickly. You could also offer guests time to enjoy more appetizers, play a game such as charades, or tell some jokes or riddles!

Schedule Reflection Time

When it comes to teaching executive function strategies, strategy reflection helps students develop a deeper understanding of their strengths and areas of growth. The same concept applies to hosting Thanksgiving! Take some time after the holiday to debrief on what went well and where you could improve next year. Would you go food shopping earlier? Where did you need an extra set of hands? Would you swap out any of the sides you prepared? Write your ideas on a sticky note and add it to your planner to revisit next year.

What strategy is an essential part of your Thanksgiving celebration? We’d love to hear about it!

Build your Executive Function Toolkit

Are you interested in building your Executive Function Toolkit? Join us in February and March to hear from EF experts on topics such as metacognition and motivation, strategies to support students with long-term projects and project-based learning, embedding EF in the general education curriculum, and the intersection of EF and social-emotional learning. Learn more and register here

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Student Perspective: The Need to Preview Material

Incorporating executive function strategies into your curriculum can make a big difference for students. This post is part of a series that highlights student perspectives around learning and executive function in the classroom. 

As a learner, it’s hard for me to finish assignments or do them correctly if I don’t know why I’m doing them. It is important for teachers to take time to preview material and explain the purpose behind assignments. Here are a couple of examples.

Preview Upcoming Topics

At the beginning of each trimester, it is beneficial to go over what the class will be studying. Many teachers try to do this, but in my experience, they don’t go in-depth enough. I would encourage teachers to give students more background information.

For instance, if you’re teaching about World War II in history class, tell students many aspects of what they will be studying instead of just telling them they will be covering World War II. Doing this helps students understand the scope of the material they will be covering in class and slowly eases them in, making them feel they have more control in the classroom. It’s also good for students to know what to expect once they get to the topic because it will seem less overwhelming than just jumping right in.

Preview Large Projects

It is also helpful to preview material before a large project. When introducing a new project to a class, it is essential to explain to students why the project is important. If students do not understand the reasoning behind the project, they may feel that the project is not relevant to them.

Another important step is to outline what the project should look like. While it may be difficult to present guidelines for more open-ended projects, it is vital for people who struggle with executive function.

Before you formally teach a topic or introduce new material, make sure your students have a brief understanding of what lies ahead so they won’t feel overwhelmed when they get to that topic. Previewing material can ensure that students are better prepared to complete their work and turn in higher-quality assignments.

To read more student perspectives, check out the Real-Life Experiences with Remote Learning series.

  • C. Solomon, Student Contributor

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Dr. Lynn Meltzer on Cognitive Flexibility

Cognitive flexibility, the ability to think flexibly, is one of the most important executive function processes to promote student success. Despite its importance, the concept of cognitive flexibility can be hard for students to visualize.

To help students understand the idea of thinking flexibly, we have come across many different ways of representing cognitive flexibility. Dr. Lynn Meltzer, president and founder of the Institutes for Learning and Development and the executive function guru behind SMARTS, often uses the example of standing on top of a mountain vs. being in the forest and looking at the trees.

The ability to switch between the big picture and the important details is essential for everything from note-taking and solving math problems to understanding jokes and deciding to go on a hike. When students do not know how to shift easily, they get caught in rigid and inefficient habits (e.g., re-reading material despite not understanding it or refusing to show their work in math despite repeatedly getting the wrong answer).

Check out the full clip below of Dr. Meltzer explaining the importance of cognitive flexibility. If you want to learn more about cognitive flexibility and the power of executive function strategies, join Dr. Meltzer and SMARTS team members at this year’s Executive Function Summer Summit. Hope to see you there!

  • Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

25 Cognitive Flexibility Jokes!

“I once worked at a cheap pizza shop to get by. I kneaded the dough.” Get it? Silly jokes and puns that play with the meanings and sounds of words offer fun ways to help students develop their cognitive flexibility.

Executive function processes such as cognitive flexibility, shifting, and flexible thinking are key to students’ academic success. Students who are rigid will struggle with tasks such as reading, taking tests, or even navigating non-school challenges (like snakes). The challenges of remote and hybrid learning have only increased the need for flexibility.

Teaching cognitive flexibility does not need to be boring! Many games rely on cognitive flexibility (check out these games we like, but watch out for games to avoid). We also love to link humor with cognitive flexibility. By analyzing jokes, students can practice examining language from multiple perspectives in a way that is engaging and low stakes. Classic stories such as Amelia Bedelia or Eats, Shoots, and Leaves are great resources, and you can find many examples online as well.

Here are 25 cognitive flexibility jokes that had us cracking up in the SMARTS office, and we think they would be great to use with students:

  1. Writing my name in cursive is my signature move.
  2. Why do bees stay in their hives during winter? Swarm.
  3. What do you call a pig with laryngitis? Disgruntled.
  4.  Dad, are we pyromaniacs? Yes, we arson.
  5. If you’re bad at haggling, you’ll end up paying the price
  6. Just so everyone’s clear, I’m going to put my glasses on.
  7. A commander walks into a bar and orders everyone around.
  8. I lost my job as a stage designer. I left without making a scene.
  9. Never buy flowers from a monk. Only you can prevent florist friars.
  10. How much did the pirate pay to get his ears pierced? A buccaneer.
  11. I once worked at a cheap pizza shop to get by. I kneaded the dough.
  12. My friends and I have named our band ‘Duvet’. It’s a cover band.
  13. I lost my girlfriend’s audiobook, and now I’ll never hear the end of it.
  14. Why is ‘dark’ spelled with a k and not c? Because you can’t see in the dark.
  15. Why is it unwise to share your secrets with a clock? Well, time will tell.
  16. When I told my contractor I didn’t want carpeted steps, they gave me a blank stare.
  17. Bono and The Edge walk into a Dublin bar and the bartender says, “Oh no, not U2 again.”
  18. Prison is just one word to you, but for some people, it’s a whole sentence.
  19. Scientists got together to study the effects of alcohol on a person’s walk, and the result was staggering.
  20.  I’m trying to organize a hide-and-seek tournament, but good players are really hard to find.
  21. I got over my addiction to chocolate, marshmallows, and nuts. I won’t lie, it was a rocky road.
  22. What do you say to comfort a friend who’s struggling with grammar? There, their, they’re.
  23. I went to the toy store and asked the assistant where the Schwarzenegger dolls are and he replied, “Aisle B, back.”
  24. What did the surgeon say to the patient who insisted on closing up their own incision? Suture self.
  25. I’ve started telling everyone about the benefits of eating dried grapes. It’s all about raisin awareness.

Do you have any favorite puns or jokes that illustrate cognitive flexibility? Let us know in the comments!

  • Elizabeth Ross, M.A., SMARTS Media Manager

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

h/t: https://www.skyline725.com/these-puns-are-so-bad-they-needed-to-be-published/

Cognitive Flexibility in Trying Times

We are living in an age of polarized perspectives. Whether we are talking about politics, race, or public health, the news and social media are awash in people airing strongly held convictions on what is right. In a world where people splinter away from those with differing viewpoints, we can teach our students the tenets of cognitive flexibility to foster resilience and hope.

What Is Cognitive Flexibility?

Cognitive flexibility is “the ability to think flexibly and to shift perspectives and approaches easily.” In each facet of our lives, we can become set in our ways, clinging to opinions and patterns of thinking that affirm our prior experience and validate our reality. In truth, each individual holds their own version of reality rooted in different truths that inevitably fail to match our own. When our truth doesn’t match the perspective of others, the results range from funny to downright frustrating.

Cognitive flexibility as a concept most easily applies to situations in which we are actively problem-solving, such as compiling sources for a group project, shifting between types of information, or even hiking up a mountain. We can also apply cognitive flexibility to our wider interactions with others.

Right now many of the challenges we face are presented in black-and-white terms. The sharp contrast may lead to feelings of hopelessness and despair in our students and ourselves. As educators, we can model and explicitly teach strategies for cognitive flexibility to keep hope alive.

Identify Obstacles and Solutions

One approach is to teach pathways thinking as part of goal setting. When students set goals, they learn that identifying and overcoming obstacles is a natural part of goal setting. When discussing current events in the classroom, students will probably be able to identify numerous obstacles. As a class, brainstorm various ways to overcome these obstacles. This exercise will help students feel more hopeful and will cultivate a flexible approach to understanding current challenges and solutions.

Be a Role Model

As teachers, we can also model our own cognitive flexibility. Rather than pretending we are unscathed by the many challenges we face, we can show how we acknowledge and address negative experiences. As our students get older and prepare to take on positions of leadership, they benefit from role models who demonstrate persistence and resilience in the face of adversity. Consider ways that you have adapted over the past months and think about how to share your newfound strategies with your students.

While certain realities are non-negotiable, there are still opportunities for helping students analyze and interpret the various facets and perspectives that surround an issue.

  • Iris Jeffries, SMARTS Intern

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org