This week, John Joseph “The Brain Man,” has been running workshops for students at Western Academy of Beijing (WAB) to help them gain insight into how their brains work and how they can use that knowledge to make positive changes in their own sleep and study habits. As an educator, this has been John’s mission since 1997; helping kids and parents understand how their brains actually function. In the intervening years, he has presented his workshops and lectures to more than 300,000 people.
I had a chance to find out what this “Brain Man’s” message is all about on Wednesday morning when WAB hosted the workshop Parenting with the Brain in Mind. For over two hours, John explained his passion for education, how the brain functions, his research into sleep behavior, and how he is working with the students at WAB. The entire presentation was fascinating and his insights on the human brain were remarkable. John also managed to captivate the audience by interspersing his own parenting experiences with his two very different children, revealing both his pride and frustrations with his own kids in a humorous manner.
The truly jaw-dropping moment arrived when John shared the research into sleep behavior of children he has been conducting at the University of South Australia. The study uses time-lapse photography to capture the movements of children while they are sleeping. This condenses an entire night’s sleep to about 20 seconds of video. In his presentation, he highlighted the example of Sean by contrasting two such sleep sessions. The first was of Sean as a year eight student and was typical for a boy his age. He moved about through the night, pulling covers off and on to regulate his body temperature, had typical rapid eye movement (REM), and awoke feeling rested, hungry for breakfast, and ready to start the day. It was fascinating to see a typical night’s sleep in such a short time.
Then Mr. Joseph played a video of Sean as a year 12 student after Sean stayed up late playing video games for three hours before going to bed. As the parents watched the screen, the reactions of shock and horror were audible. Sean tossed about in bed much more frequently, his shoulders shook throughout the night, his breathing was shallow, his fingers and thumbs twitched as if he still had the game controller in his hands, and his REM was frenetic. Sean woke up agitated, not hungry, and definitely not rested for school. When Sean himself was shown the video, he described it as horrific and essentially decided to stop playing video games at least one hour before going to bed.
John explained to the audience of parents that by sharing the workings of the brain and examples like these with students, he manages to educate them in a way that they are motivated to make healthy choices about how they learn and how they sleep without anyone nagging them. As for us parents, well, in my case, I went home and we all went to bed early last night.
You can learn more about John Joseph and his research by visiting www.focuseducation.com.au.