Recently there has been a lot of talk in schools about STEM - Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. I'm hoping we can add to that conversation with STEM 1.0 - Sleep, Think, Eat and Move. I believe these are the foundations upon which we can build learning, creativity, problem solving and ultimately better health and performance.
This week I'd like to show you how we can apply STEM 1.0 to a critical moment - exams. To do this we need to begin with the end in mind. How do we want students to be before, during, and after exams? Energized, confident, calm, and focused are words that come to mind.
When I think of those words Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price comes to mind. He epitomizes calm, cool, collected high performance. But that state is not an accident. He gets that way before performances by following specific routines and practices that help him get in the zone.
That's exactly what Joannie Rochette did at the Vancouver Olympics when she stepped out on the ice to perform in figure skating right after her mother passed away. She used deep breathing to calm herself down and get back in the zone before delivering the performance of a lifetime to win a bronze medal.
This principle, of using systematic routines and strategies to ensure performance under pressure can be used to excel in academics, music, drama, sports, and business. Helping students build their own strategies and routines that they can use to prepare for exams is a great way to help them build awareness and tools that they can use for exams and many other moments during their lives.
Oh - this applies to faculty and staff too! What about having a strategy to manage a student in distress? Or a new project? Or something that comes up at home? We can all benefit from applying STEM 1.0 to our lives.
So here we go. This whole process began with a question from a student:
"I would like to ask for you advice on what to eat on my very important SAT test day.
We are expected to arrive at the test centre at 7:45 am.
The test starts at approximately 8:30 and lasts for 3 hours and 45 minutes.
I am wondering what I should eat for breakfast and during the breaks.
This is one of the most important tests I will write and want to make sure that I prepare in the best possible way.”
Here is how I answered:
"Wake up 6:00.
Shower - hot water really hot!
Bring all your stuff downstairs.
Breakfast: I recommend eggs (3-4), avocado, & green veggies.
Water and green tea.
Drive to test for 7:30 arrival.
Go for a hard 5-10 min walk.
Go inside at 7:45.
Relax and chill.
Sip water all morning.
Kick some ass!"
OK now let's break this down:
WAKE UP AT 6:00
In order to be able to perform at a world class level sleep is essential. We've been over this before. Ideally, we need about 7.5 hours of sleep to recover and regenerate. We learn in the first half of sleep and we improve creativity and problem solving in the second half of sleep. So in addition to setting a wake-up time, the most important thing to do is to set a go-to-bed time. You can set a bedtime reminder in iOS if you have an iPhone. Go to clock > Bedtime. If anyone has an android device with a similar function please post that in the comments section below.
BREAKFAST: RECOMMEND ORGANIC OMEGA-3 EGGS (3-4) AVOCADO, SOME GREEN VEGGIES
The key here is to accomplish 2 things: 1) eat higher levels of protein than carbohydrates, and 2) to have healthy fats.
High protein meals help to set the stage for the creation of neurotransmitters in the brain that help us to focus. High carbohydrate meals help us to relax and widen focus making it difficult to concentrate. Hence the recommendation for eggs and veggies. A spinach omelette is a great option. A protein smoothie with greens is also good (be careful of adding fruit due to high sugar levels). You can substitute any protein you want for eggs.
The avocado is a source of healthy fats that provide long term energy with minimal energy spikes and crashes that can happen with a high carb meal. Coconut and other nuts are also great sources of healthy fats.
WATER (Sip before and during the performance)
You need water to fuel the Krebs cycle which is the energy pathway inside all our cells. Drink water, enjoy more energy. *Bring a water bottle into the exam / performance event if you can*.
GREEN TEA (30-15 minutes before start)
There is no question that caffeine improves mental and physical performance. Green tea has been shown to have numerous health benefits. Merging the small dose of caffeine that comes with green tea helps to leverage better performance and better health.
Try to time the caffeine so that you can take advantage of the improved performance that peaks 30-60 minutes after ingestion. Avoid the caffeine withdrawal that happens 3-4 hours after ingestion. I don't use caffeine on days with multiple performance events (i.e. a presentation in the morning and teaching a class in the afternoon).
GO FOR A HARD 5-10 MINUTE WALK (15 minutes before start)
As little as 15 minutes of exercise improves mental performance, so add this to your pre-exam routine. Exercise primes the brain for mental performance. This exercise will increase the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the brain and improve your mental performance.
RELAX AND CHILL
The final piece of the puzzle is to get you into your own high performance zone. Not too anxious or nervous, and not too calm. Energized, collected and confident. If you're too nervous take a few breaths to calm down. If you're not psyched up enough remind yourself of the importance of the event or the dream that you're trying to accomplish.
KICK SOME ASS!
Go out there and deliver the performance! Have fun!
Today's Power up: Build Your Exam Plan
So now we need to build the plan. I'd suggest that you walk your students through building a performance plan for themselves. You can do it for yourself at the same time. I recommend following this sequence:
What do I need to do the day before the performance?
What time do I need to be sleeping by?
What time should I set my alarm?
What am I going to do / eat 3 hours before the event?
What am I going to do / eat 90 minutes before the event?
What am I going to do / eat 30 minutes before the event?
What am I going to do / eat 15 minutes before the event?
What am I going to do / eat during the event?