Life Stages of the Brain

I have fought with depression since I was in college. I’ve been on and off different anti-depressants, changed my diet and exercise routines, and been to therapy. But it wasn’t until a few years ago that I started feeling completely hopeless. Nothing was working, so I thought my teaching job was the cause. I changed jobs. But my depression persisted and worsened, as well as other symptoms.

Anyone who has dealt with depression or any kind of illness that is difficult to diagnose while trying to teach will understand that I didn’t have the time or the desire to seek out medical help. Past experience had shown me that it would be time-consuming and the doctors’ diagnoses would be as effective as a guess and check approach. Our school had difficulty finding substitutes (even pre-COVID) and my duties were usually from 7:15am to 5:30pm – so skipping around from specialist to specialist was not an option.

I didn’t love my job anymore. In fact, I didn’t love anything at all. Life had become a series of things to get through, and just brushing my teeth seemed insurmountable. It was difficult to get up in the morning, even on weekends and holidays. I dreaded being awake.

I decided my only option was to retire.

It was the most excruciating decision I have ever made. Teaching had been my identity since I was a child giving the neighborhood kids voice lessons. I cared deeply about my students. But I didn’t feel like I was serving them or anyone else in my life properly.

A few months after retiring, I finally had time to go to doctor’s appointments. One doctor ordered a full blood panel, even though I told her that I had one around 5 years before because of my depression and everything came back normal.

This time, there was a surprise. “Did you know you’re in full-blown menopause?” she asked me. I did not. The estrogen levels that had been completely normal a few years before were nonexistent. My FSH levels were through the roof.

I nearly kissed that doctor. Most of the symptoms I had been experiencing could be explained by menopause and another blood test that showed I was not absorbing my medication correctly. We had to be careful about hormone treatment because of my family’s medical history. But now I knew that I was not at fault – at least not for everything.

I’m telling you this because I know many of the readers of this blog are female. As an intelligent, well-read woman, I knew about menopause – but had no idea how stealthily it could creep up and take over my life. How was a woman who had always suffered from depression supposed to realize that she was more depressed? Or, who was sweating all of the time as she simultaneously gained weight supposed to recognize hot “flashes”?

It turns out there is lot more to menopause than moody women who fight with their husbands about the house thermostat on sitcoms. If you want to hear or read about how menopause affects our brains, this 12 minute clip from the latest TED Radio Hour may give you some insight. Maybe you’re not at that stage yet (are you sure?) or maybe you want to know more about the human brain at different ages, so,here are some other segments from the full TED episode: How Does Family Income Affect Child Brain Development, How Does the Teenage Brain Make Decisions, and How Can Adults Grow New Brain Cells.

Quite honestly, I think women have been taking menopause a little too well over the years – quietly suffering its symptoms just as we endure many other of life’s injustices with pained smiles on our faces. MENOPAUSE SUCKS! And men don’t have to go through it – WHICH MAKES IT SUCK EVEN MORE!

I guess I’d rather be a live, menopausal woman than a dead woman not going through menopause.

But, for sure I know that I would rather be a woman who is alive going through menopause than a man living with a woman going through menopause.

I guess it’s a toss-up for who has the better end of that deal.

Photo by Anna Shvets on

3-12, Education, Motivation, Research, Science, Videos

Don’t Try this With a Car

Thanks to my friend, Suzanne, for sharing this awesome video with me!

In this video from Smarter Every Day, the host, Destin, demonstrates what really happens when you actually try to change your mind.  I don’t mean when you switch to pizza instead of a hamburger.  I mean when you try to change something your mind has done the same way for decades, like riding a bike.  You will see the neuroplasticity of the brain in action, and realize that it takes a lot more work when you’re an adult than a child to create new paths in the brain.

Of course, you will immediately want to take the challenge of riding a backwards bike as soon as you watch the video.  If you are so inclined, you can buy your own for $500 at the Smarter Every Day shop.  There is a disclaimer, of course, that you will basically be paying a lot of money for a bike you won’t be able to ride…

Brain Bike Disclaimer from Smarter Every Day
Brain Bike Disclaimer from Smarter Every Day

I’m adding this video to my Growth Mindset Pinterest Board, and I’m going to use my left hand to click on the mouse. Baby steps…

3-12, Education, Research, Science, Teaching Tools, Videos

The Brain with David Eagleman

My 3rd grade GT students are studying systems – including the brain.  When I received an e-mail about a new series by that name, hosted by David Eagleman, I was intrigued.

The 6 hour television series will begin airing here in the States on October 14th on PBS.  However, you can view some clips from the show ahead of time – and many of them are the perfect length to show younger students (2-3 minutes).

I showed my students “Inside a Child’s Brain” and we all learned something from that short clip. The thought that a two-year old child has more neural connections than any adult is staggering, but reinforced our learning that if we don’t use those paths regularly they will disappear.

We also enjoyed “Brain City.”  Comparing the brain to a thriving metropolis perfectly explains the interdependence of this system, and the difficulty we have isolating any one of its parts.

My short sampling of clips has told me that I am definitely going to enjoy this series!

image from: PBS
image from: PBS

Education, K-12, Motivation, Research, Science, Teaching Tools, Videos

How We Learn

Recently, Larry Ferlazzo published a couple of round-up posts that listed “The Best Videos for Educators in 2012 – So Far“.  I recommend you take a look at them.  (Here is a link to the second one.)  I pinned a few of them to my board of “Inspirational Videos for Students“, but this one probably would not be classified as inspirational.  However, it is a great metaphor for the way we learn, and why it is so important for us to stretch our thinking in new directions as often as possible.  If you are unable to view the embedded video below, you can also find it at

Critical Thinking, Education, Games, K-12, Websites

Brain Curls

Brain Curls is a website with a multitude of links to games that will give your brain a “workout”.  My favorite game, so far, is “Wordies Time”, in which you must guess a common phrase based on the placement of the words.  “brainFlex” is a good game for practicing your multi-tasking skills.  I’ve always enjoyed figuring out analogies, but “Analogix” is a new challenge for me with the added pressure of time.
Check all of these games out, and more, on Brain Curls.  Thanks to my fellow teacher, Kim Ball, for bringing this site to my attention!
Behavior, Critical Thinking, Education, K-12, Motivation, Multiple Intelligences, Physical Education, Videos

Exercise and Learning

My colleague, P.E. coach Sean Stepan, brought this to my attention the other day.  Coincidentally, this has been on my mind lately – particularly as I am currently in the middle of testing very squirmy Kindergarten students for Gifted and Talented.  I had been talking to several people lately about the need to rethink the design of the classroom, and this ABC News report fits in nicely with that idea.

If the embedded video does not work, here is the YouTube link: