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BBI 2007 Session 19

Paul Grobstein's picture


The Brain: Significance for Education?

Review and extension

Memory, self, reality as story Story doesn't mean "lie" or "to be ignored", means tentative/revisable Three loops, each important
  • inside/outside (extrapersonal)
  • unconscious/story teller (intrapersonal)
  • interpersonal

Learn/create from noticing discrepancies between expectations and input in each, changing to get it less wrong

"Memory as a story for me, is not just a story it is a part of who I am and who I want to be. Is it possible that your story is still just a story? ... Judith


"it is helpful to remember that your perception of the event and their's may be very different. If we remain open to understanding that student's memory of the event we can help them open up and see other perspectives. I think this could have great potential for increasing tolerance, compassion, and understanding in the classroom" ... Anonymous?

"One skill that we need to encourage our children to learn is to talk things out and sometimes they can see how their memory of the event and the other student's memory of it can be very different and then they can sometimes begin to resolve their own problems without an adult referee" ... Cheryl

"I would suggest that our memories are stories that are still being written. Some say that one is not the sum of one's experiences but rather it is what one (the I function?) does with those experiences that makes a person." ... Graham

"oftentimes, people don't see themselves the way others see them-ie their self-stories do not always work in conjunction with their actions. I have also been surprised at some attributes people have assigned to me. So, my story about myself can be different than the story others tell about me. Sometimes I use those stories as a basis for changing certain aspects of my behavior, and my own story is changed a little ... Mingh (see also Tammi)

" The Teacher to Student input-output cycle ... Teacher output, student receives the teacher’s outputs as inputs resulting in a change in their summary of observations resulting in a new story. Teacher continues to monitor this process until the student’s behavior indicates that the student’s story is less wrong" ... Bob

One is never "trapped", there are always ways to get it less wrong

  • genes, experiences, culture, individual and story diversity
  • "I am, and I can think, therefore I can change who I am" (as well as things around me, including culture)
  • What do I experience that I can't make sense of? What aspects of stories (mine or other peoples') don't make sense in terms of my experiences?

The business of education ...

To help all involved to become better inquirers, to enhance every individual's capability to evolve, and to influence their own evolution. Science and science education has a special role to play in this, by sharing the perspectives and skills of getting it less wrong, of not only making sense of the world but conceiving new ways to make sense of oneself and the place of oneself and others in the world.

We are a human community, and among our greatest strengths is the differences among us. They are to be feared only when they are accompanied by estrangement. We need to hear each others' stories, so that we can better tell and retell our own and, in doing, contribute our own pieces to the continually evolving human story. And we need not only to feel but also to reflect and think, to find the new and still better ways to make sense of the world we find ourselves in ... and to remake it anew ... There is no way to guarantee well-being, safety, security, happiness. But we can get less wrong, learn from the past, not remake mistakes by which humans themselves worsen rather than lessen human vulnerability. It is a time to take the time to feel and reflect and think, to tell and listen to each others' stories, to commit ourselves anew to finding ways to tell our collective human story in a way from which no one feels estranged. ... 11 September 2001

My bottom line ...

you are a unique and valuable individual they are unique and valuable individuals
you know more than you think you do they know more than they (and you) think they do
you are equipped to learn, to get it less wrong, and want to they are equipped to learn, to get it less wrong, and want to
education is exploration education is exploration
you need a classroom rich enough to explore they need a classroom rich enough to explore
we're all in this together we're all in this together
together we can get it "less wrong" together we can get it "less wrong"
and have fun and have fun



Trust your past (including your genome/culture/experiences), but not too much
Trust your unconscious, but not too much
Trust your thinking, but not too much
Trust making choices, observing, learning, but not too much
Trust other people's stories as well as your own, but not too much

The hardest part ... ?
  • Choose/act, even if you don't/can't know the "right" answer
  • Recognize that disagreement is valuable; you have things to learn from other peoples' stories
  • Being wrong is the only way to get it "less wrong"
  • Choose/act to see what new things there are to see/do/create
Keep looping ... And repeat, over and over and over again:"getting it less wrong" - its what your brain, and everyone else's, is "designed" to do

"I'm going to spend less time worrying about whether other people think I'm doing my job right, and more time thinking. And I'm going to tell my students that that's what they should be doing too, whether or not they or anybody else think that's what I'm supposed to be telling them. And I'm going to tell my kids to stop trying to get everything right on their worksheets, and instead every once in a while to try something different, to do something differently, just for the hell of it and to see what happens. Yeah, life will be a little more chaotic, and sometimes things will go wrong because of something I did instead of because of things I hadn't yet somehow managed to get under control. And maybe, if it spreads, I might have to work harder to persuade people to do what I want them to do, and walk farther to get a quick lunch. I'm pretty sure though that I'll feel a lot safer, and I'm damned sure life will be a lot more fun. Want to come along?" ... Some Thoughts on Science Education, Education, American Culture, and What to Do About It

Thanks for telling your stories. listening to mine, learning from each other. Let's keep it up. Add your thoughts (now and in the future) to the forum.
  • What observations/stories from our two weeks together most supported understandings you've had/used in your teaching?
  • What observations/stories from our two weeks together were most discrepant with your understandings, most offer the possibility of getting it less wrong in the future?


Victoria Brown's picture


The art of storytelling has changed my life!!!!  I now have a new approach to teaching!  I am also excited to meet my students in the fall and hear their stories, as well.  I'm sure I'll discover new and exciting things that will help me see them for who they really are.
Robert McCormick's picture

Thanks Langston!

It all started for me with Langston The Ant. After it was explained that Langston was demonstrating the theory that “quite sophisticated behavior can result from simple interaction of simple things,” my thoughts turned to the classroom reflecting on teachers/student interactions. Teachers often observe that the simple actions, behaviors, or an innocuous comment on their part sometimes result in a sudden, and sometimes unintended, change in student behavior. A prime example of the sophisticated behavior resulting from simple interaction theory is illustrated in a declaration I have heard from teachers after reflecting on an incident that they “had no idea that s/he would become so upset, I didn’t mean anything by it.”

Teachers must be constantly aware and vigilant of any and all transactions with not only one student but also the class as a whole because their interactions (teacher outputs) can illicit unintended student response or behavior not only from a student but the class (student’s behavior-learning-a new story resulting from the summary of observations of their inputs from the teacher’s outputs). It is wise for teachers to learn early in their career that when a teacher responds to one student, all of the other students learn a lesson about that teacher. This is what I refer to as the multiplier effect. All students are acutely aware of every teacher output and formulate new stories about the teacher based on these outputs.

The truly ingenious part of the course was starting with an examination of the traditional scientific model and over the course of two weeks expanding and applying it to not only our neurons/nervous system but also to the conscious/unconscious minds, ultimately ending with three continuous and interacting loops. To me, the reafferent loop is critical to the process because it is the necessary and essential link between our output and inputs. Or to view it from another lens, they could be no story telling or looping within any structure or system without the loop.

And it all started with Langston the Ant. Thanks Langston!

Tammi Jordan's picture

The unfinished story

What observations/stories from our two weeks together were most discrepant with your understandings, most offer the possibility of getting it less wrong in the future? I have been taught that a story has a beginning middle and end. This institute has left me with the feeling that each story has the opportunity to be perfected and rewritten daily with constant inputs outputs and feedback.
Bruce Williamson's picture

What it meant to me

The idea that different brains might write differing stories about a common event has let me tolerate what I used to think of as lies. I felt angry when I thought I was being lied to. Now I carefully craft my responses to allow for the possibility that the student or colleague is telling the whole truth as they know it. I also feel supported in a story I tell my students. Nothing is true just because Bruce says so. Each listener will need to weigh the evidence. Perhaps new evidence will be needed to resolve a conflict in the story. And if students find, or think of, evidence that proves Bruce wrong in some aspect, then there is celebration. I put on my happiest face and record an extra credit point for that student. What I have not thought of before this is how to celebrate student errors without making them feel bad. My students, for the most part, have been told by some important people in their lives that they are "stupid, lazy, defective, or crazy". They are hurt to the core when they are wrong. Most try to shrug it off; some punish themselves, some shut down for a while. I might try asking for "wrong answers" and see if feelings are kept positive when looking for "wrong" as the right answer. Example: " Why did the water sample from Tom's pond test positive for iron cations? Think of some answers to this question that are as wrong as can be and, if you can, add in the evidence that shows these stories need to be revised!" I will also add much more time to my wait time and find ways that the fast processors can create output without affecting the others ability to continue thinking about it. Perhaps I could have students show me on paper or "slate" what they would say out loud if permitted, and just wait as long as it takes for each one to put some story in writing or sketch form. When asking for "conclusions" I will make it clear that they will not be completely true. I already do this when students record observations that are contrary to reality. As long as their conclusion Regards,
Dalia Gorham's picture

End of Institute

I learned alot through this insitute. I have a better understanding of how the brain functions. This institute made me feel uneasy when talking about truth, reality, and memories, I guess that means I was truly learning. I now know that my students do not always know why they are feeling what they are feeling, should do things unconciously, and should always have a summary of observations that keeps them questioning. Thank you, Paul!
Tammi Jordan's picture

Summary of Experiences

What observations/stories from our two weeks together most supported understandings you've had/used in your teaching? I understand that each person is coming in with a unique story. Their story effects them today, yesterday and tomorrow and I have to be sensitive to that fact. What I haven't done in the past is emphasize that fact to the students. If I can do that then I would hope that it would have a lasting affect.
Teresa Albers's picture


The observations that most supported my teaching experiences pertained to the pivotal role of emotions in learning and "unlearning". I am still processing and focused on what I accepted here and have not yet come to what was discrepant with my understanding, perhaps I just disregarded it at the time, thus experienced no emotional response, and now feel unruffled. Did I already filter it out?
joycetheriot's picture

To Be or Not?

Is it best that we continue to test, explore, open our minds to different viewpoints? I've always believe that this kind of inner development is how we reach higher cognitive levels and a better way of life. Think of Helen Keller who was protected by her parents to stay in a very small but loving environment. Were it not for her teacher she could have not reached her full potential. But then think of those individuals with MR. They are so happy in their small spaces! How about the Amish who restrict their thinking to a limited environment out of cutural choice? I've always thought that this is child abuse to limit resources for them. I still will continue my ways of exploration for myself and my students but in the back of my mind now is a new space for those who have the right to limit themselves. thanks for the exposure to all the points of view!!!!!
Benjamin Zerante's picture

Morning Response

I think we have been presented with so much useful information in this Institute, but at the same time that new knowledge is very challenging and isn't easily digested. I don't know if I could say this minute exactly how this will change my teaching because I'm still working through everything in my own head. I am definitely encouraged by the concept that it is ok to make mistakes, and I'm looking forward to challenging myself and my students to think in new ways about education and about themselves.
William Sgrillo's picture

W. Keith Sgrillo

W. Keith Sgrillo This is a poem that I wrote about the institue a few years ago at the end of the Institute. Hope you enjoy. ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ BRAIN AND BEHAVIOR!!!! OH WHAT A THING!?!?

So let me say thanks, to you, Oh master Paul.

Because it's reality, "I" am now, not sure of at all.

So watch as I try to sum it up, and use to extent, the precious in puts,

to sort this out and give to you, some story of mine,

"I" will call... out puts.

So synapses you speak of,

and the tiny neurons to boot.

Influencing my....Well, my everything,

Including the color of my suit.

So now, Oh Paul, "I" am in quite a quandry!

For what am "I" to do?

For you just insisted on telling me, that red is green, and green is blue?!?!

Now on to mood! "I" am angry! "I" am sad.

And now that "I" realize that, "I" am all the sudden... glad!

The nervous system that we have, Oh! How wonderful and great!

Paul, "I" have to say to you, My mind is in a random state.

And to you! Ms. Dickenson. "I" must salute.

For you convinced me of my brain and the sky.

But "I" must say of you, "I" am not completely sure.

And, well, dont feel too badly.

Because the same can be said for me, myself, and "I".

So to you, Paul, "I" say thanks and continue your wonderful way,

Of convincing me only of uncertanty, and that night is now... day!



Thanks Paul and Bryn Mawr for another wonderful institute!!!



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