Volunteerism as a Support Tool for Depression Among Teenagers

Volunteerism as a Support Tool for Depression Among Teenagers

Educational Research High School

Hello Readers,


Rates of teenage depression by age (years).

I hope you had a wonderful week and maybe even indulged in a bit of theatre (like our High School students). So, dear Readers, my questions for you today are: Looking back at this past week, what did you do with your leisure time? Did you participate in any sports? Did you catch up on your favourite television shows? Did you volunteer in your community? Well, as part of each student’s OSSD requirements and our educational vision, our students are actively encouraged to volunteer in activities they enjoy. We, as an educational institution, firmly believe that volunteering helps students to form important life skills that will promote growth in transitioning from student into responsible adult and citizen.

Recent scientific results published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences seem to reinforce the importance of volunteering! The study, conducted at Urbana Champaign at The University of Illinois, found that students who prefer more altruistic past times are less likely to experience teenage depression. These results are so significant because teenage depression is a growing concern for today’s generation of students, with 11% of adolescents being diagnosed before the age of 19. In finding a place where students enjoy their volunteering experience, we can work together to find another preventative measure to assist struggling students!

Ventral Stratium

A diagram of the brain pinpointing the location of the ventral stratium, our reward centre.

So, how does volunteering help prevent depression? Well, Eva Telzer and her colleagues at the university discovered — while using a functional brain scan — that activity in the Ventral Striatum (the reward centre of the brain) in response to different rewards predicted whether the subjects’ depressive symptoms would worsen or lessen over time. When teenagers showed higher levels of reward activation in the ventral striatum in the context of the risk-taking task, they showed increases in depressive symptoms over time. In contrast, when a teenager showed higher reward activation in the pro-social context, they showed declines in depression over time. So then what does this all really mean? One implication is that meaningful and enjoyable student volunteerism (which promotes social connection) may be used to shape internal reward systems through varying activity in the Ventral Striatum. Further, community service may provide more to a body of students than just an OSSD requirement, it may help to promote stronger mental health.

If you are interested in reading more about this seminal study, you can find the article here:

H. Telzer, A. J. Fuligni, M. D. Lieberman, A. Galvan. Neural sensitivity to eudaimonic and hedonic rewards differentially predict adolescent depressive symptoms over time. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014; DOI: http://www.scn.ucla.edu/pdf/TelzerLieberman2014PNAS.pdf

The Study Academy Lab Campaign : Turning Science into Smarts

The Study Academy Lab Campaign : Turning Science into Smarts

Educational Research High School Middle School

Hello Readers,

I also wanted to mention to you all the exciting news about The Study Academy Lab’s campaign to build the first Canadian K-12 Educational Research Lab! In an interview with Principle Jason Krell, he states that “there has been some considerable work going on to initiate funding for not just research activities, but for a fully operational lab at The Study Academy.”

Neurfeedback training for ADHDWell, today they have launched their campaign with an Indiegogo crowd-funding platform and an additional video to communicate their vision (http://vimeo.com/69015735) .The footage was taken by Vlad Lunin (http://vladlunin.com/)  at the school and is a mixture of the old and new; old in the images of the building and in the personal interaction between student and teacher, and new in the implementation of novel and groundbreaking technologies (Neurofeedback headsets in school).

The video conveys The Study’ Academy’s Lab’s motto of turning “Science into Smarts”. The lab will work on the premise that change in Education must be recognized from the grass-root level, with the emergence of empirical evidence. In fact, it is the Study Academy’s vision to develop such empirical evidence with tools and methods for training wisdom through developing cognition, training attention, and goal setting.

The three main goals of the lab are

  1. To bridge the gap between research and pedagogy which the public and private school systems have ignored. We will be researching methods and tools that will augment traditional learning processes and replace worn out teaching models.
  2. To give students the ability to better use their brains to allow for more effective learning. In other words, we want to train students to intelligently use their intelligence.
  3. To design tools and better implement technology that will train students’ attention, problem solving abilities, thinking and rationality. In essence, we want students to gain not only knowledge but wisdom as well.

The research lab will offer an unprecedented opportunity to work with existing basic research findings from the fields of Cognitive Science, Psychology and Neuroscience and to generate and test hypotheses in the classroom.

Also,w e have a great team to head this growing research lab, including Patrick K Dolecki as the Research Coordinator, Jason Krell, John Vervaeke  (http://www.newcollege.utoronto.ca/academics/new-college-academic-programs/buddhism-psychology-and-mental-health/centre-for-buddhism-and-psychology/the-buddhism-psychology-mental-health-program/faculty/dr-john-vervaeke/), a University of Toronto Professor and our Research Advisor and Anderson Todd as our Creative Advisor. They have all been working hard to create this facility from the ground up!

John Vervake giving a talk about Mindfulness Meditation at a Ted Talk at U of T

That is why we need your help, Readers. Through the website Indiegogo, The Study Academy hopes to raise money that will assist their researching and designing projects.The funding will contribute to such things as providing wages for the research team, pay for a 3D printer, new hardware (including neurofeedback, headsets, eye tracking devices and motion detection cameras), cloud back up services to secure data, software and a small business server to handle such lab software.

The Study Academy Lab will be of great interest to a rather wide audience including families of school aged children who have an interest in new educational model that will empower their children and prepare them for the careers and independence that await them; to educators and school administrators who support the need for the educational reform and progressive and evidence based teaching methods; and to students who have an interest in participating in learning activities directed towards their specific profile.

Thus, it is the hope of The Study Academy to join the conversation of what education “should be” and how it will reform in the coming years. Here at The Study Academy  “we not only want to teach students, we want to make them smarter.” Please help support our cause so we can create a better tomorrow for students. They deserve it.

Theoretical Thursday: Reliable New Method of Detecting Autism Spectrum Disorder in Children

Theoretical Thursday: Reliable New Method of Detecting Autism Spectrum Disorder in Children

Middle School The Study Academy Report

Hello Readers,

And welcome to another Theoretical Thursday! As most of you may already know, every Thursday I try to bring you the most recent  and exciting research and theories on Education, Psychology and Neuroscience. This week’s post will be no exception as we delve into the research done on Autism and how this could help future students.

Functional Connectivity in ASD relative to control Neuroscientists from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine (http://casemed.case.edu/) and University of Toronto’s own Luis Garcia Dominguez Ph.D (http://www.mehri.ca/People.html#Luis) and Jose Luis Perez Velazquez Ph.D  (http://www.neuroscience.utoronto.ca/faculty/ list/perezvelazquez.htm) have developed an efficient and reliable new method of detecting Autism Spectrum disorders (ASD) in children. They have discovered a way to distinguish an ASD brain from a non-ASD brain by simply looking at the   neural activity inside it!

How you ask? Well, of course I’m going to tell you, my loyal Readers. They have recorded and analyzed patterns of brain activity using magnetoencephalography (MEG). Essentially this device records the natural occurring magnetic fields that occur in our brains that results from electrical currents. These electrical currents are like the communication pathway that connect the different parts of our brain. In the study with 19 children, nine with ASD, had 141 sensors attached to each child’s cortex. Don’t worry, its painless! With this device they were able to determine the brain’s overall functional connectivity in both the control and ASD group.

functional connectivity ASD compared to control

The results were impressive!So, allow me to summarize a bit of what they found in this fascinating study. They found stronger connections between rear and frontal areas of the brain in ASD group. However there was an asymmetrical flow of information to the frontal region, an area designated for such things as planning, attention and motivation. Results from spatial maps of inputs from the brain also showed less complexity and structure in the ASD group.

This discovery really opens some doors.For instance, this discovery  can serve as a new tool that may complement existing diagnostic behavioral tests for ASD. Also by helping to identify anatomical differences in those with ASD, imagine the future treatments that can be developed that are tailored around neuroscientific fact. Even if you aren’t a scientist, one must admit this is very exciting, and for students too. To be able to have new doors opened in diagnosis and future treatments can help a student develop and succeed in their own learning environment.

 If you would like to read them in detail you can find them published on the online journal, PLOS ONE, athttp://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0061493

Theoretical Thursday: The Positive Effects of Music on Children

Theoretical Thursday: The Positive Effects of Music on Children

The Study Academy Report

Hello Readers,

Over the past week and a half, my posts have divulged the creative endeavors  of The Study Academy and the results of scientists on the effects of such creativity in the classroom.  In particular, I discussed the importance of creativity and innovation in fostering divergent thinking in young students (http://thestudyacademy.ca/theoretical-thursday-creativity-innovation-education/). I had also mentioned this week that music classes have been made available at The Study Academy, and therefore students are being given another opportunity to foster such thinking processes (http://thestudyacademy.ca/study-academy-report-music-classes-study-academy/). However, the importance of music goes  beyond divergent thinking.

divergent thinking, creativity and music In one study by North & colleagues (2000), research stated that music allows children to satisfy their emotional needs, both while listening and when actively involved in music making. Active participation in music classes has also been found to enhance a student’s prelinguistic communicative gestures and social development, in particular social behaviour. (Gerry et. al., 2012).

Because of such capacities of music to affect us so deeply, therapies for students with attentional difficulties  and Autism Spectrum Disorder have been proven to be quite effective. Music therapy is one type of therapy available to those with attentional difficulties and Autism Spectrum Disorder. The idea is that a certified music therapist uses music (and its capacity to affect one physically , emotionally , mentally, and socially) to help clients to improve or maintain their health. Musical interventions have been designed to mange stress, alleviate pain, enhance memory, improve communication and promote physical rehabilitation too.

SCOPEThere are in fact a few brain based reasons why music works in such beneficial ways for us. Firstly, you must understand that music has always had a core function in our brain. My goodness, from an evolutionary standpoint, music precedes even language! Even day old infants, who are still developing, can detect patterns in music. For this reason, it seem that music has some basic engrained influence over us. One of the more important reasons made available, is that we have emotional and physiologic responses to music. We can experience anything from our heart rates increasing to chills down our spine depending on the types of melodies that reach our ears. On the other hand, music also taps into our emotions, and  allows one to easily access our emotions in a beneficial and therapeutic manner. Therefore, in trained hands, music has the capacity to effectively help. In this respect, music can definitely serve as a positive instrument for students who experience challenges in the classroom.

For a student suffering from attentional difficulties , music can bolster attention and focus, while reducing their hyperactivity. It is the structure within music that can help them. The reason for this is because the rhythm within the music can allow the child to plan, anticipate and react in a structured way. With time and practice, a child with attentional difficulties  can apply their strategies they have learned from music to the classroom.

Music therapy patient needs tables music selectionsMusic therapy is useful with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder Disorder also owing to the noted sensitivity Autistic Spectrum Disorder patients have to music. Evidence of this is shown in a study found in the Pertanika Journal (2012). Over a ten month period, when weekly music therapy sessions were given to children for an hour, there were notable improvements made in inattentive behaviour, restlessness, aggression, and noisiness.

Overall research has shown that music does indeed have quite a positive effect on many children! I will leave you today with a picture summary of some of the things I have discussed today and hope that maybe the next time you listen to your Ipod, you will wonder too, what your music is doing for you.


Mindfulness in the Classroom

Mindfulness in the Classroom

Middle School


Welcome to the weekly school update formerly known as The Study Academy Report. Today, I want to bring up a practice conducted at The Study Academy that I find, personally, very enlightening.

The idea of focused attention in Mindfulness MeditationFor some time now, the Middle School students have been engaging in Mindfulness practices before beginning class sessions. What is Mindfulness? That’s a bit too challenging a task to accomplish in one sentence, however for the time being I will have to do it this slight injustice till we discuss it in more detail on Thursday. Mindfulness is the practice of learning to direct our attention to our experience as they unfold, moment by moment with open-mindedness and focused attention. Students would assume a posture and rest their attention on their breath. If their attention wandered away from their breath, that is to say, if the thought of what they had for lunch pops into their head, they are to gently bring their attention back to their body.

The incorporation of the practice is in line with Mind, Brain, Education structure at the school. There has been rigorous work done on the relationship between the practice of Mindfulness to our brains, our ability to focus, learn and interact. At The Study Academy, Mindfulness practice and Meditation are used to enhance awareness of the student and help their emotional regulation. The practice also is in line with the aims of the Pastoral care included in the Educational structure of the school, as Byran indeed encourages and provides strategies that promote Mindfulness.

John Vervake giving a talk about Mindfulness Meditation at a Ted Talk at U of TThe Mindfulness and Meditation exercises were taught by Dr. John Vervaeke (http://johnvervaeke.com/wordpress/) , a lecturer at the University of Toronto and involved in both the Psychology department, Cognitive Science Department, and the newly formed Buddhism, Psychology and Mental Health program (http://www.newcollege.utoronto.ca/academics/new-college-academic-programs/buddhism-psychology-and-mental-health/centre-for-buddhism-and-psychology/the-buddhism-psychology-mental-health-program/). His research interests are relevance realization, insight problem-solving, the nature of general intelligence, consciousness, mindfulness, and wisdom. These are  important to Education, therefore he was an ideal person to come and teach those ready to learn about this ancient practice. Since then the practice has been providing the students a period of time to get ready to learn once again.

While, I will admit as an individual who dabbles in Mindfulness Meditation, it is not an easy practice to jump into. Your mind will naturally wander, however, with time I found the experience to have such wonderful effects. From my personal experience, I feel it is such a great practice to integrate into our Educational institutions. So you know what? That’s exactly what I’m going to discuss with you all on this  week’s Theoretical Thursday.

See you soon!

Theoretical Thursday: Education, Neurofeedback Training and Attention

Theoretical Thursday: Education, Neurofeedback Training and Attention

Middle School

Hello again!

Today on this Theoretical Thursday I want to continue from Tuesday’s post by expanding our discussion on Neurofeedback. I know, that in my first Theoretical Thursday Blog post last week that I had hinted there was going to be discussion on the scientific literature on study habits, but I feel that this is far more relevant to you, my readers. Don’t you worry, there will be plenty of time to get into that later on.

So, in my Tuesday post, I had defined Neurofeedback as, “ a type of feedback based off of the ionic current flows within the neurons of the brain.The electrical recordings from the scalp measure the flow of the ionic current that changes depending on the mental activity.” I had also mentioned that it is of current scientific interest in how Neurofeedback can be used to reduce attentional issues.

I believe this is an incredibly important issue that needs to be addressed by Science for the sake of our Educational system. The reason for this is because such a growing population struggles with deficits in attention of a neurologically based that affect their ability to learn, and prosper in an academic setting.

Aside from The Study Academy, there have been a good amount of research that has come out recently on the prospects of Neurofeedback training for those diagnosed with ADHD.

At the Tuffs Medical Center in Boston, where the team of the Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics department, tested the the efficacy of two computer-based attention training systems, one with and one without neurofeedback using 19 schools. Students received three 45 minutes sessions a week over the span of four months. After each session results were measured using three measures:

T-SKAMP- completed by teachers which assessed symptoms of ADHD in the classroom

PERMP- completed by students which was assessed based off of a student’s speed and accuracy.

BOSS- this was a double-blind objective classroom observations

The results indicated that those students in the Neurofeedback group showed improvement in all three measures; improvement in accuracy and speed, a decreased in attentional issues, and increased engagement within the classroom.

These sort of results are particularly exciting for the Educational and Health community when one also considers that Neurofeedback has recently been shown in research to have long term beneficial effects on ADHD! This is a factor that medicine based care has had considerable trouble in doing for those who are diagnosed with ADHD.

Palliative pharmaceutical therapy has dominated both research investment and publication. However, while these methods of palliative care have received the most attention, it leaves the underlying causes predominately unchanged.  It is the the Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC) which is so key in regulating attention, and with which whose dysfunction has been shown to be associated with attentional issues.

Studies in Neurofeedback training do in fact show the capacity to counteract, and normalize the dysfunctions in the ACC with regards to attention. Having participants engage in a process where they are attenuating peripheral signals and enhancing relevant signals, individuals initiate one of the necessary conditions for cognitive development. Furthermore, through repetitive reinforcement  of this regime, individuals can further reinforce the same neural pathway.

In this respect, i seem to find Neurofeedback to be an exciting alternative to palliative methods of dealing with attentional issues, especially within our Educational setting.

If you are interested in some extra reading, may I suggest the following:

Gani, C., Birbaumer, N., Strehl, U. (2008) Long term effects after feedback of slow cortical potentials and of theta-beta-amplitudes in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). International Journal of Bioelectromagnetism, 10 (4), 209 – 232.


Arns, M., De Ritter, D., Strehl, U., Breteler, M., Coenen, A. (2009). Efficacy of neurofeedback treatment in ADHD: The effects on inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity: A meta-analysis. Clinical EEG and Neuroscience, 40(3), 180-189.


They are both insightful and quite interesting in their conclusions.