Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Jumpstart Your Brain Challenge: The Lifelong Learner

The Lifelong Learner


The most brilliant man I ever knew only had an eighth grade education. He was, however, a lifelong learner.


William Woolum was two years old when his mother died giving birth to his baby sister. His father, ill equipped to care for his young son and infant daughter, put them in the care of others. This was at the turn of the century. Last century. Around 1900. He was loved and cared for and was able to complete eighth grade. He later taught his wife to read and write. 


His knowledge and wisdom was revered throughout the community. 


One time, the local college sent graduate students out to the neighboring county schools to offer free classes to the residents. William Woolum had raised his family and was older now, but he signed up for a mathematics course. He loved math. 


The young man teaching the course posed a problem then demonstrated how to arrive at the answer. It was a practical problem using elements of geometry. After the class, Mr. Woolum approached the graduate student and showed him another way to arrive at the answer. 


“And that works every time?” the young instructor asked. 

William and Ophia Woolum

“Every time,” Mr. Woolum answered. 


The young man returned to his professors who put the algorithm to the test. The next week the young man returned to the small schoolhouse where the residents gathered. 


“Mr. Woolum,” he said to his eager student, “I’ve talked with my professors. Your equation, indeed works every time. Quite honestly, sir, I don’t think there is anything I’ll be able to teach you in this course.”

He allowed Mr. Woolum to attend and often met with him afterward to discuss mathematic theory and practice. They became friends.


William Woolum was my grandfather. He was smart and loved learning. His whole life. Moreover, he instilled in my mother and in turn to me, a love of learning. My husband, Tom, who had a Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering from the University of Cincinnati asserted many times over how brilliant my grandfather was. The two loved to challenge each other with “mind games” and mathematical problems.


This is what a healthy brain is all about. It isn’t about education and getting a degree. 


It is about an attitude of continually learning and growing long after your “school” days come to an end.


I offered this series (Jumpstart Your Brain) as a guide. It is a good reminder to me as well. It is a reminder to not become complacent. It is a reminder to pursue a path to broaden my perspective.


I’m living what I teach.


I’m falling in love again with the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. I’m engaging again in playing the piano. I have a daily five-minute Spanish lesson I enjoy on my computer via Duolingo. I’ve finished three of Shakespeare’s works…a true challenge to my thinking. I’m dusting off the Zumba DVD’s.


As for fun and games? I do play a few online Sudoku games, but also enjoy spending time with my mother playing a variety of other games involving strategy. (She is an incredible chess player so I haven’t broached that challenge yet. I call it “emotional self-protection.”)


The words I leave with you now? It is never to late to Jumpstart Your Brain. Make the DECISION to be a Life Long Learner. It is up to you.


From my Bio:

Rebecca Waters, EdD, completed her undergraduate work at the University of South Florida and her graduate studies at the University of Cincinnati. She served as both a public school teacher and as a professor of teacher education. Rebecca taught for a year in a private school in Kosovo where she also served as the elementary principal and the school’s liaison to the American Embassy. Rebecca is the author of two novels, Breathing on Her Own and Libby’s Cuppa Joe. All of her books, including three books on writing, are available on Amazon.

Follow me on Twitter: @WatersAuthor or visit my author Facebook Page: Rebecca Waters Author


Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Jumpstart Your Brain Challenge: Fun and Games

 It’s Not All Fun and Games…But Some of It Is


In this series on getting your brain in gear, we’ve looked at pursuing your dreams as one way of engaging your brain cells in new activity. We identified those dreams, organized and assessed resources to fulfill those dreams, and talked about how the process is often more valuable than the product. 


We then took a slightly different direction by talking about the role music and movement play in optimizing brain activity. I say “slightly” because all of these elements work together. Each activity boosts your brainpower, putting another activity within reach.


Today I want to present a few differing activities. In these waning days of winter, with Seasonal Affective Disorder in full bloom, I want to provide a few options to engage your brain without the long term commitment of say, writing a book or learning to play an instrument.  


Here are five opportunities you can start today. You may already have all you need stuffed away in some closet.


1.        Play a Game- Strategy games are optimal for activating your thinking skills. These can include other people or you can play individual games such as Sudoku or a crossword puzzle to challenge your reasoning skills.


2.        Work a Jigsaw Puzzle- Jigsaw puzzles require sorting, categorizing, visualization, and pattern recognition to name a few brainteasers within the box. Yes, you may have to eat on TV trays for a few weeks, but the process is worth it and the finished product yields a sense of accomplishment.


3.        Change Your Routine- I clearly put this one in the middle because I don’t want it lost in the mix. All of us have experienced changes in our routines during the pandemic, but by now we are settling into new ones. It may be time for a few new elements. For example, if you usually exercise after work to unwind, try splitting your exercise up and do some of it in the morning to get your body going. Or if you are a morning person already, try adding something to your evening you don’t usually do. If you find yourself sitting at the computer working (or exploring social media) for long periods of time, set an alarm to remind you to get up and do something, anything, different. Routines are comforting, but they can lull us into a state of boredom and brain inactivity.


4.        Read-Of course I suggest reading. I won’t push it so far as to suggest you read one of my books. (You can find them on Amazon for yourself.) I will suggest you read across genres to extend your knowledge, worldview, vocabulary, and problem solving skills. Every few years I set out to read the complete works of Shakespeare. Some of it is quite challenging. I’m simply not into “sprites” and “fairy queens” and some of the magic he puts forth. But each time I read, I learn something new about myself or themes ever present in good writing. I will be honest here. I haven’t made it through every one of his works in the span of a single year. But I am getting there. And the journey is interesting.  


5.        Research Your Family History- This one is very specific. Your family. Not mine. Not some historical figure. You think you know it all? I doubt it. Lately, I’ve watched a PBS show called Finding Your Roots with host, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. One of the elements of the show I enjoy is the historical context he brings to the family tree he researches. My oldest daughter is in the process of researching both her and her husband’s family. What a gift for her sons. I’ve supplied information I have and have listened as she fits pieces of the puzzle together. She will find several people with the same name and systematically eliminate some of them based on their birth year (“This one can’t be her, Mom, unless she had a baby when she was in her eighties.”) or one person she found was married to someone other than our relative for over fifty years. It simply wouldn’t fit. She found an inscription in one of her great-grandmother’s high school yearbooks that helped her find another family member. 

So there you have it. Jumpstart Your Brain by engaging in some fun and games. Be sure to let me know how this works for you! Leave your comments below or contact me at rebecca@waterswords.com. You can also let me know if you want to sign up for my newsletter. If you do, I'll send you my best-ever brownie recipe.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Jumpstart Your Brain Challenge: Get it Moving

 Two Left Feet?


Most of us are well aware of the physical benefits of exercise. We understand the research asserting that regular exercise increases our energy, stamina, strength, and overall health. Getting that flow of oxygen to your brain is part of that overall health benefit. We all need it.


When we think of physical exercise, we often consider a workout at the gym, weight lifting, or running. In my case, walking. But for this week’s Jumpstart Your Brain Challenge post, I want to explore the binding together of music and movement: Dance.


My husband and I enjoyed dancing. We met at a high school dance and later in life learned ballroom dancing as well as square dancing. (And no, I did not wear the big fluffy skirts.) 


Tom wasn’t too sure about learning “real dances.” He claimed he had two left feet. He was athletic and enjoyed many other activities, but dancing required something he wasn’t sure he had in him. 


If you read last week’s post, you’ll recall the value listening to music has for increasing your brainpower. Double that when you have to link the music to a physical set of patterns. It stretches you. 


I’m going to use square dancing as my model here. Many of us learned some basic square dance moves in elementary school. Others have likely seen it performed in western movies or on television. Many of the moves are connected to other forms of dance as well.


In square dance, the expected move is called out to the participants. You don’t have to wonder what to do next. You simply listen to the square dance calls and complete the move as defined. It sounds like a “no-brainer,” right? 


As it turns out, translating what you hear said and moving your body accordingly while staying in time with the music is an integration of input that will stretch your brain while working your muscles. Not to mention three other couples are depending on you to do your part. Integrating music and movement is a win-win activity.


You may achieve the same effect through Zumba or Jazzercise. (Though those may not be as much fun as dancing with your partner. Just sayin.’)


And there are levels to what you do. My husband and I studied Basic, Mainstream, and Plus levels of square dance. We had friends who moved to the next level, A-1 and knew people who studied A-2. In fact, Tom and I attended a few A-1 lessons. It was like a right-handed person learning to write with her left hand while standing on her head. 


One couple, several years older than us, embraced the activity even though they never smiled while they were dancing. I had to ask why they were doing it. Their answer was simple. 


It made them think. The more challenging dances forced them to listen carefully and move differently than the lower level dances.


So you’re thinking “I don’t see this happening.” I get it. Dances aren’t happening right now due to social distancing. Of course you can learn ballroom dancing via DVD’s. You can tune in to dance exercise on your computer. But you might also get some benefit from taking a different route as you walk your neighborhood, start on a different side of the store when you shop for groceries, or do your morning stretches set to music. 


Whatever you decide, I trust you will increase your brainpower when you “double dip” using music and movement together. 


Let me know. I love to from my readers.


From my Bio:

Rebecca Waters, EdD, completed her undergraduate work at the University of South Florida and her graduate studies at the University of Cincinnati. She served as both a public school teacher and as a professor of teacher education. Rebecca taught for a year in a private school in Kosovo where she also served as the elementary principal and the school’s liaison to the American Embassy. Rebecca is the author of two novels, Breathing on Her Ownand Libby’s Cuppa Joe. All of her books, including three books on writing, are available on Amazon.





Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Jumpstart Your Brain Challenge: The Power of Music

 The Power of Music


As a professor in the field of teacher education, I was compelled to research recent trends and studies in the field. I already knew there was power in music education, so I was intrigued when research examining “the Mozart effect” for learning hit my desk. I knew music had been researched initially as a means of lowering blood pressure. 


The easiest way to explain the proposed educational benefit is that researchers were exploring how classical music influenced thinking and memory. Several studies noted that students who listened to Mozart prior to taking a test performed better on exams than their equally prepared counterparts. For a while, schools filtered music through their hallways. A few schools around the country tried this during final exams or standardized testing. They were hoping, of course, to access some elusive phenomena bound to increase the school standing.


Further research demonstrated that the effect lasted for about fifteen minutes.


But it was there. And real. And it sparked continued interest in the overall effect of music on the brain. The research continues. I have read literature reviews on the subject including research from Harvard and Johns Hopkins. There are others and many less scholarly summations of the effect music has on the brain are readily available online. (Google “brain and music”)


I’m keenly interested in how listening to music influences memory and reasoning. 


It may not be what you expect. The studies I reviewed for music and memory do not suggest listening to the familiar, but to the unfamiliar. The same is true for strengthening brain function. It makes sense. The very architecture of music is mathematical. 


Think of it as entering your childhood home where you know every nook and cranny as opposed to being left free to explore a castle or museum. Or to find a route through a maze. Your brain isn’t strengthened by the familiar. Your brain is challenged and strengthened by the unfamiliar. 


If you want to jumpstart your brain, listen to classical music. If you are already a fan of Mozart, try Jazz. Or Bluegrass. Jazz and Bluegrass provide rich, dense layers of music that will indeed challenge you. And if you are already familiar with Jazz or Bluegrass, give classical a try. 


Any music you wish to explore is readily available on your computer or Alexa or other device. A few minutes each day will access a part of your brain you rarely use. Continued listening each day will likely improve your overall brain function. Perhaps improve your memory. And lower your blood pressure. Music is powerful. 


What are your music interests? What new form of music might you try this week?

Me? I’m enjoying Mozart while I type this post. I look forward to hearing from you.


From my Bio:

Rebecca Waters, EdD, completed her undergraduate work at the University of South Florida and her graduate studies at the University of Cincinnati. She served as both a public school teacher and as a professor of teacher education. Rebecca taught for a year in a private school in Kosovo where she also served as the elementary principal and the school’s liaison to the American Embassy. Rebecca is the author of two novels, Breathing on Her Ownand Libby’s Cuppa Joe. All of her books, including three books on writing, are available on Amazon.



Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Jumpstart Your Brain Challenge: Week 3

It’s the Getting There That Counts


Here we are in week three of strengthening the brain. By now you have a list of dreams and possibilities. Some of my readers are anxious to jump in to “get things done.” It’s okay if you’ve started tackling some of those goals. I understand. Some readers want to take this one-step at a time. That’s okay, too. 


All I ask is that you read each week’s challenge and mull it over. Let it soak into your being. Write it down. In fact, I recommend you journal your way through the rest of this experience. It need not be a fancy, leather bound journal. A spiral notebook will do. You have already listed the items on your bucket list and organized them in a meaningful way. You are already “journaling.” 


This Week’s Challenge:

In this quest to strengthen our brain function, we started week one by listing dreams we would like to see fulfilled and ideas we wanted to see come to life. Last week I asked you to organize and assess the items on your list. It is a valuable first step. 


Too often I see people try to skip that step. They have one idea they feel so passionate about they jump in only to discover they were missing valuable resources to make it happen. Instead of trying to grow or learn or tackle the project from a different direction, they lose steam and give up. 


The simple truth is this: You are not going to be perfect at anything on the first try. You need to plan, work at it, learn from it, and grow in it. 


In fact, if you really want a healthy and active brain, the key is the process. Not the product.


It is in learning to paint a picture, not in a blue ribbon at the art show. It is in crafting the story, not sunning in the glory of a best seller. Don’t misunderstand. I would love to paint a frame worthy picture. I would be thrilled to have a best seller. I’m not saying the product isn’t important. I’m saying the process to get there is what keeps your brain healthy and strong. 


When I lived in Florida, I would drive by the same house nearly every day on my way to college. The small dwelling was on a busy intersection. Busy by country road standards. I watched as day-by-day, month-by-month, and yes, year-by-year the man living in that house built a boat outside. It was a big boat. Every piece of wood in that beautiful vessel was lovingly and painstakingly added over a period of several years. I was told that when the man finally finished the boat, he sailed it one time. 


Then he sold it. 


It was the process of building it that challenged him. It was the process that brought him joy.


Process is indicative of action. Product is a final outcome.


One of the items on my list is to play the piano. As a young child, I took piano lessons. I had a smack-your-knuckles-when-you-missed-a-note kind of teacher. She also dozed off sometimes during our half-hour lesson. I never told my parents. It was my first experience with a teacher outside of school and she came highly recommended. 


I love music. I love to sing and I would be thrilled at being able to play the piano. Knowing this, my husband gave me a piano for Christmas one year. I enjoy my attempts with the instrument, but cringe at the thought of playing in front of others.


I’ve decided that’s okay. I don’t have to play for anyone else. I don’t need to perform at a recital or play hymns in church. Engaging with music and translating those notes to action in my fingers make me use parts of my brain I don’t ordinarily access. 


The gift is in the process. 


For these next few weeks I am working on two items on my list. I am playing my piano every morning and I popped a Spanish language CD in my car CD player. I also asked Alexa to teach me Spanish. She not only gives me a new word each day, but directed me to a free website to practice the language. 


Now it’s your turn. What is on your list? What one item seems slightly out of reach? Which items on your list will stretch you? What will you do to engage in the process of making your dreams come true?


Let me know. I’ll be cheering for you.


From my Bio:

Rebecca Waters, EdD, completed her undergraduate work at the University of South Florida and her graduate studies at the University of Cincinnati. She served as both a public school teacher and as a professor of teacher education. Rebecca taught for a year in a private school in Kosovo where she also served as the elementary principal and the school’s liaison to the American Embassy. Rebecca is the author of two novels, Breathing on Her Ownand Libby’s Cuppa Joe. All of her books, including three books on writing, are available on Amazon.


Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Jumpstart Your Brain Challenge: Organizing and Assessing Your Goals

 Last week I invited you to join me in increasing your brainpower. I’ve been referring to it on Twitter as the Jumpstart Your Brain Challenge. I asked you to “write down any and every dream you have.”


Any and Every. It’s why it was the only assignment. Write them down, even if they seem a bit out of reach. A bit.


I created my list. We’ll talk about that later. First, I want to address why this is important to have dreams and goals in order to build and sustain brainpower. 


Our brains are wired to problem solve. We need challenges to continue to strengthen our brainpower. There is evidence that strengthening our brainpower serves us in many ways including maintaining memory function. If you’re interested in the synapses of the brain and more scientific explanations, CLICK HERE. For this exercise, I prefer to keep it at the more pragmatic level.


We were created with the ability to think and create. We can see new uses for objects. Think, “sock puppet.” Or consider the flat sheet of paper intended for writing a letter that, once in the hands of a ten-year-old, will be folded into an airplane flying across the room. 


Left unchallenged, our brains lose strength. Just as an unused arm muscle makes it hard for someone to lift a gallon of milk, the unused brain makes it hard to think. Remember. Create. Solve problems. Imagine.


You get the idea.


So now you have a list of dreams and opportunities to flex that muscle between your ears. How will you do it?


First, I suggest you sort the items in your list. Put them in meaningful groups. You decide which ones belong together.


I have fourteen items on my list. I sorted mine into three groups: 1) Things I want to learn, 2) Life experiences I would enjoy, and 3) Hobbies and Crafts. 


Your list will likely look different from mine. Not to worry. It should. We are all different. You are not enrolled in a class here. You will not be graded. This is your individual plan. 


The exercise of sorting and grouping  in itself stretches your thinking skills. 


You may choose to sort each list into sub categories as well. For example, in the section I call Life Experiences, I have a few places listed I’d like to visit and things I’d like to do. I also have “space travel” in there. I gave it a special place of it’s own.


Okay, now that you’ve stopped laughing, let me explain. 


My husband and I grew up in the space age. We were in awe when astronauts circled the earth in rocket propelled capsules. We watched with our families as Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon. We were addicted to Star Trek. We took our daughters to the space center in Florida and camped on the beach so they could witness the launch of a shuttle. I even went so far as to request the application for the Teacher in Space program. Tom and I read through it. The mission itself didn’t bother me. The only reason I wouldn’t apply was because of the time it would require away from my family. 


Does all this mean I have to give up the experience? Not at all. I recently checked into the Space Camp options NASA offers. I can still challenge myself in this life experience by enrolling in the three day/ two night space camp for adults.  


This leads me to the next part of our quest. 


Once you have organized the list to your liking, what should you do next? This next week, look over each item in each category and consider what you have and what you yet need to make it happen. Write it down. Everything.


For example, in the “Things I want to learn” section, I have listed play the piano and play the guitar along with several other avenues of interest. I have a piano. I no longer have a guitar. It makes sense to assess my resources before I tackle one of my dreams. That means I can put “play the piano” above “play the guitar.”


“Learn to speak Spanish” is above “Learn Albanian” since one, I no longer live in Kosovo where Albanian is the language of the land and two, my youngest granddaughter is learning Spanish.


Be aware as you go through this exercise, not everything will fit nicely into one category or the other. I came up with numerous items in what I call hobbies and crafts. Drawing, painting, gardening, finishing a scrapbook, and many other items fell into this category. 


One of my dreams is woodworking. I would love to build a few items for my house and yard. Woodworking fits in the hobbies and crafts section, but to make it happen I need to learn how to use the tools Tom left me. So technically, that item could fit in either the category on learning or the hobbies and crafts category.


Now it’s your turn. Assess your list of dreams and possibilities. What is within reach? What could be reimagined? What resources do you have available to help you in reaching your goals? 


Be sure to let me know. I’d love to dream with you.


Next week we’ll look at the process vs. the product. 





Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Shaping Up...Your Brain

I’m seeing a plethora of advertisements on television and social media for gym memberships, online physical training apps, weight loss programs, and in-home exercise machinery. I get it. It’s January and with the New Year (along with the guilt from too much holiday candy) comes the resolve to get in shape. 


A New Day. A New Year.

People long to become physically fit. They want to feel better and look better. It’s a given. So much so, the companies selling these products and services know this is a peak sales season for the fitness world.


This year I am launching my own fitness program free of charge. It is a program to exercise that muscle you may have been neglecting: Your Brain. 


Why listen to me? Certainly many of my readers know me as an author. In truth, I have this "other life." My doctoral work at the University of Cincinnati was in Educational Foundations with an emphasis in Psychological Foundations. I have served as both a teacher in public education and as a professor at a small Christian university. There I worked with both undergraduates and graduate students in areas of education, psychology and counseling.


Exercising our brains is important. It is perhaps more important now than ever.  I’m serious. Months of COVID fatigue, endless hours of television, and growing concerns about our future as a united nation have taken a serious toll on our mental well being. 


And now it is winter. 


Creativity, inventing, and problem solving are in our DNA as Americans. I have traveled extensively. I’ve lived abroad. Very few nations offer the freedom and resources to their citizenry as we do in the United States to achieve our dreams. 


Yes, I know not everyone in our nation has equal access to everything. But we all have access to dream, create, and to strive for a better world. Trust me, I have known people who lived in places where they were told what to think, when to think it, and when to stop thinking it.


If you exercise your brain, you’ll feel better for it and stand a bit taller among your friends and family. You’ll be more confident, more thoughtful (or at least thought-filled), more creative, a better problem solver, and happier.


I could guarantee it, but then again, I’m not charging you anything for it. These benefits are true. Proven. Of course to make the program work, you’ll need to do a few things yourself. 


You may need to withdraw from some television and social media. You may have to read something. And if you go with me on this journey, you will be required at one point to try something new. 


Over the next couple of months, I’ll be sharing success stories, tips, games, activities, resources, and a bit of research evidence for you to use to dazzle your friends.


Your first assignment?

Create a list of all those items on your “to do before I die” list. You know what I’m talking about. I hear them all the time. Some call it their "bucket list."


“I would love to write a book.”

“I would love to read a book.”


“I wish I could play the piano.”

“I wish I could speak Spanish.”


“One day, I’d like to paint a picture.”

“Someday, I’m going to …” For that one I’ll let you fill in the blank. 


Write them all down. You aren’t going to do them all. Yet. 


Write down any and every dream you have. 


Make note of everything you feel would stretch you to that place where you feel a sense of accomplishment, that height where indeed you stand a little taller. And make note of this: You can always add to the list and nobody will ding you for not doing everything on it!


So are you ready? Invite your friends. Let’s get started. Together we can make 2021 the best year ever! Make that list and I'll see you here next week.

For ideas and encouragement you can

 follow me on Twitter: @WatersAuthor 

or check in on my FaceBook Author Page: Rebecca Waters Author

I can't wait to hear from you.


From my Bio:

Rebecca Waters, EdD, completed her undergraduate work at the University of South Florida and her graduate studies at the University of Cincinnati. She served as a public school teacher for 18.5 years and as a professor of teacher education for 14.5 years. Rebecca taught for a year in a private school in Kosovo where she also served as the elementary principal and the school’s liaison to the American Embassy. Rebecca is the author of two novels, Breathing on Her Own and Libby’s Cuppa Joe. Her novella, Courtesy Turn appears in the anthology, From the Lake to the River. You will also find her work in the popular Chicken Soup for the Soul books. All of her books, including three books on writing, are available HERE on Amazon.