School leaders in Bristol, Connecticut are willing to test new and innovative ideas in their quest to give all students a solid foundation in the skills they need to be successful in school. When they learned of the opportunity to pilot C8Kids, a new program designed to improve cognition in young children based on Yale University research, they were the first school in the U.S. to sign up.
The C8Kids program uniquely integrates computer brain training with physical exercises designed to improve cognition and social interaction. It also incorporates a battery of tests designed by the National Institutes of Health to provide an independent assessment of each student’s cognitive growth during the program. “We were intrigued by the potential of leveraging physical and computer exercises to improve a child’s ability to think, focus, learn and socially interact,” said John Ryan, coordinator of Bristol Schools’ gifted and talented program. “When you’re out of your comfort zone, that’s where we know rigor and learning are taking place. For children with attention span issues, this C8 Sciences program is not easy; it requires them to focus. But when you work hard, maybe fail a couple of times, but ultimately get it… real learning has happened.”
The program in Bristol included both a group of participating students and a control group of similar students who had applied to be in the program but were put on a waiting list. In comparison to the control group, children who participated in C8Kids had greater improvements in working memory and speed of response to the difficult trials NIH designed into the Dimensional Change Card Sorting Test and the Flanker Test of Cognitive Flexibility.
Also, more than half of the students participating in C8Kids showed a greater than 10-point gain in the standardized reading tests (NWEA), equivalent to a year’s growth after just 12 weeks in the program.
The physical exercise component of C8Kids proved to be far more than an energy release. “Everything requires thinking as you’re doing,” Ryan explained. “Even though they’re laughing, smiling and working hard in the physical part of the program, the different activities are training their brains. After several weeks, I noticed a change in their ability to sit, listen to our directions and do the task. They’re learning to focus, recognize patterns, strengthen their memory, and develop specific motor functions… all important parts of learning.”
Stacey Pratt, a 5th grade teacher and gifted coordinator who helped lead the afterschool C8Kids program, noticed a significant change in one of the youngest kindergarten student participants. “When we administered our pre-test, it took him three sessions to complete. After 12 weeks of the C8 program, he was able to sit and complete the entire post-test in one session.”
The reports C8 Sciences provided the school included information about the cognitive skills of individual children, which is not available through standardized school assessments currently in use. This allows for early identification of children with special talents that may not be obvious from other standardized test results. One kindergarten student scored four times as many points on the C8 brain training exercises than his next closest peer in kindergarten, and outscored 75% of all the 1st and 2nd graders in the program. Yet, on standardized reading and math tests, he was simply in the middle of his kindergarten cohort.
Classroom teachers of students who participated in the afterschool program at Mountain View Elementary were asked if they had observed any change in a student’s cognitive capacities and to rate it on a 5-point scale, where 1 was “no change” and 5 was “remarkable improvement.”
Carly Boladz, a first grade teacher with three students in the C8Kids program saw improvement in all eight core cognitive capacities after 12 weeks: citing remarkable improvement (a “5”) in the students’ ability to keep up with lessons; “4s” in their ability to concentrate and focus, pay attention, stay on task, recognize patterns, categorize and have self-control; and a “3” in their ability to multitask. “I think it’s a wonderful program, and I know that my students are very excited to go,” Boladz wrote. “They really seem to enjoy it, and are often upset when it’s a day that they don’t have the program.”
Multiple studies have established a strong link between working memory ability and school success in children precisely the age for which C8Kids is designed.