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New Software Program Uses Brain Science to Motivate Students

More than three decades of research has shown that, when it comes to academic achievement, children who focus on effort tend to be more successful than those who focus on innate ability. The problem, though, is that many kids decide early in life that more effort isn't, well, worth the effort. They believe people are either born smart or dumb and that no amount of work is going to change that situation. In the face of such persistent beliefs, how do you motivate kids to try harder?

Stanford University psychologist Carol S. Dweck and her colleague, Lisa Sorich Blackwell, have hit on one possible solution. They developed a software program, called "Brainology," that uses brain science to persuade middle school students that intelligence is a malleable, rather than a fixed trait.

Studies have shown that it seems to help. Compared with peers in traditional classrooms, middle school students who used the program improved their motivation to work harder in school and, over time, their achievement as well. (You may have read about some of that related research in this space before. A good, readable summary of all the research that led to the development of this program can also be found in this 2007 article from Scientific American.)

What's new is that, starting today, the program will be available on the commercial market. Designed to be "like an owner's manual for your brain," the software teaches middle schoolers that when people practice and learn new skills, the areas of the brain responsible for those skills become larger and denser with neural tissue, and that new areas of the brain become active when performing related tasks. They're taught that the brain continues to grow nerve cells, or neurons, daily, and that this process speeds up when a lot of active learning is occurring.

Marketed by a for-profit company called Mindset Works of San Carlos, Calif., the program may be a bit pricey from some: It costs $99 for one child for families, and less for siblings, and $20 a head for educators who order 20 or more programs. Could a skilled, well-informed teacher get the same results for free? Possibly.

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