Mind game


The word “calisthenics” derives from the Greek words for “good” and “strength.” As we begin another semester here at Pima Community College, I am hopeful that we will learn how to incorporate “calisthenics for the brain” into our understanding of what it means to study and learn.

There was a time not too long ago when the experts agreed that the brain was simply a very complicated computer and would eventually be fully mapped and understood.

That time is long gone today. We now know that the brain is an organ that adapts and grows in response to our experience.

One way to focus this insight for our college learning experience is to think in terms of four major “calisthenics” we can engage in for the development of our cognitive abilities. A daily routine of these exercises will improve our learning capacities and strengthen our “brain power.” Who knows, it might even improve our grade points. So here is a simple routine.

  • READ. In all courses, students are expected to read assigned materials. Learn to read with a pen in hand, underlining and marking important items. One might even take some special notes along the way, summarizing key ideas and information. Become an engaged, pro-active reader, not simply letting your eyes drift over the page.
  • THINK. As you read, ask yourself some questions about the material. What exactly is the author actually saying? Trace the steps of the argument or material presented. Also, ask what these points presuppose if they are indeed the case. What ideas lie behind the claims and/or data presented?
  • WRITE. Write a short essay of your own in response to what you have read. First, make a simple outline of what you want to ask or say. Then write out your thoughts in paragraph form. This helps both you and the eventual reader follow your line of thought, step by step, and focus on the material you have read.
  • DISCUSS. Set up opportunities for sharing your ideas with others, especially those who may have read and thought about the same material you have. Be sure to take turns in this sharing, really listening to and learning from each other, not simply trying to win an argument. In today’s culture, we simply do not “listen” enough. We have not taken any courses labelled “Listening 101.”

If we practice these simple “calisthenics for the brain,” we will learn a lot more and, more importantly, we will fine-tune our brains for future use.

After all, knowing is a skill that has to be developed and sharpened. Great musicians and 3-point shooters are not born with their abilities. There is no substitute for practice when learning how to learn. Our brains are our tools for knowledge and understanding. They need practice.

Jerry H. Gill is a philosophy instructor at Pima Community College. If you’re a Pima student or faculty member, and you have a story to share, the Aztec Press would like to hear it. Email your inquiries or stories to [email protected].