'Training for the Brain' Technology Yields Academic Gains at St. Thomas Aquinas H.S

By Mulder, Robert | T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education), October 2002 | Go to article overview

'Training for the Brain' Technology Yields Academic Gains at St. Thomas Aquinas H.S


Mulder, Robert, T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)


Imagine introducing a new technology to students that is similar to a video game--involving musical tones, hand and foot tapping, as well as coordinated movements, such as dancing--with scores to track improvement against oneself and others. Now imagine that 25,000 repetitions of these exercises in 12 one-hour sessions can improve mental processing with significant gains in reading and math fluency. For the 2,000 students at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., this far-fetched description is a reality. Dozens of elementary and secondary schools in southern Florida, Virginia and Illinois now are introducing this innovative "training for the brain" technology called the Interactive Metronome (IM).

Pilot Program Creates Demand

In August 2001, 29 students from the high school's football team headed to the computer lab. They donned headphones, and hand and foot sensors for the dozen IM-powered training sessions to improve their timing, concentration and focus. After those sessions, the team mentally played almost perfectly in a 15-1 season that earned them a No. 5 USA Today national ranking, because of far fewer penalties and mental errors. More important, academically their IM-powered training produced an increase in reading fluency by more than two grade levels and math fluency by one grade level. The team's classroom grades also improved substantially--0.34 points for 68 percent of them--from their improved ability to focus and concentrate. "We have always emphasized mental preparation for our student athletes," says George Smith, the high school's athletic director and head football coach. "But I never could find an efficient, effective way to train this mental discipline until now. IM training improved my players from the 55th percentile to the 99th percentile nationally in their timing, focus, concentration and coordination."

Monsignor Vincent T. Kelly is the supervising principal at St. Thomas Aquinas and heads curriculum for the Archdiocese of Miami. He closely monitored the pilot program with student athletes and assessed its broader applications. By December 2001, the high school installed IM stations in a former computer lab, and 24 faculty and staff members became certified as IM trainers. In January, classes were opened to all students and the demand exceeded available training stations. IM classes continued in the school's summer program and are scheduled throughout the next academic school year. "We are pleased to be the first school in the nation to offer IM training to all 2,000 of our students," says Kelly.

IM-powered training involves students performing 13 different hand and foot exercises in varying difficulty to a constant metronome beat. The training works much like the centuries-old timing device, but uses a computer with headphones, and hand and foot sensors to track performance precisely. During each exercise, the computer measures how far ahead or behind the student is as they attempt to match the beat. Like training wheels on a bicycle, the IM's patented auditory guidance system progressively challenges students to improve their timing and focus by accurately matching the computer's rhythm. The average milliseconds of error are calculated as the score. Perfect timing is reflected in a zero score--no milliseconds off the beat. …

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