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BBI 2007 Session 9

Paul Grobstein's picture



Architecture: From the Output Side




  • Inhibition
  • Loops : nervous system as explorer
  • Bipartite : "I-function", nervous system as story teller

"If behavior is caused by the removal of inhibitions, then what caused the inhibitions to be removed? How much does experience factor into the removal of inhibitions. I just found out that atleast 2 students from my school were involved in a massive fight that resulted in the ending of a life. Was this caused by the removal of inhibitions?" ... Tammi (see also Deidre)

"I liked the idea of the brain being a scientist and generating outputs to see if the resulting inputs match the expectations." ... Cheryl

"I think that the phrase "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" should really be said "Truth/reality is in the brain of the beholder." I think this definition of truth encourages thoughtfulness and diversity as apposed to creating confusion and fear." ... Keith

"Why attribute only what is conscious to "I"? Why isn't "I" all that I do, via my body--all that my body does--in the world, whether I'm conscious of it or not? Especially if most of what I do is done unconsciously?" ... Anne

"Do we possess the will or internal resources to rewrite stories that are so comfortable and ingrained that they seem to be written in permanent ink?" ... Teresa

"We need workshops that incorporate both the researcher/expert and the elementary/secondary teacher as facilitators. The discussion period in this Institute tends to make sense of the delivered information by all of us trying to apply it to the classroom. Yes, we can write our ideas on this forum however it is not as rich as the live connection between us. The delivered brain information is a fabulous stimulus for us to bounce ideas off of each other ... The missing piece is the facilitating teacher who could build the formulated keys (from all of our interactions), that we need to take back to our classroom" ... Joyce

Moving on - Additional architectual principles from looking at the output side ...

  • Motor symphony
  • Central pattern generation
  • Gene/environment interactions
  • Corollary discharge
  • Distributed control, coordination without a conductor
  • Output associated with "expectation" or "model"
  • Input as test of expectation/model
  • Brain as explorer/scientist
  • Action without "thinking", "I-function", story teller - preferable in some circumstances
  • Purpose, expectation, creativity, exploration without "thinking", "I-function", story teller
  • Damage to neocortex in humans leads to "paralysis"
  • Loss of "willed movement"
  • Loss of inhibition
  • Motor cortex - "I-function"?
  • I-function as a way to conceive new things?

Your thoughts in forum ... new understandings/questions? Relevance of all this to classroom?


Paul Grobstein's picture

Students, change, and distributed systems

Rich and I thought helpful conversation in the morning session about the unhappy student violence that Deidre and Tammi wrote about. It does indeed have to do with "distributed control", the notion that there really isn't anybody in charge in many systems (ranging from the nervous system to social groups), that what happens results instead from interactions among the various elements involved. What this implies, in turn, is that one can't hold a particular element (or person or institution) responsible. Instead, all elements (people, institutions) are simultaneously responsible.

That shouldn't, of course, be read fatalistically, as saying no one is responsible. What it actually says (in social contexts) is that we are all responsible, in one way or another, and it is the responsiblity of all of us, in whatever different ways we can, to prevent from happening things we don't want to have happen. Its not enough to blame "culture"; "culture" is something for which we're all responsible and which we can (should) all work to change.

It seems to me this all has direct relevance to the classroom as well. It suggests that among the things we should be doing is helping students learn how to live in a distributed system, since that seems to well characterize the world we live in. And that in turn means that we should be helping students acquire the wherewithal to not only deal with the world as it is but to be effective causal agents in changing it. Students need not only to learn what is but also that what is can be changed, that the present is not the future. They need to acquire a sense of possibility, to become empowered to be effective shapers of their own futures and of our collective world.

For more on these themes, see Social Organization as Applied Neurobiology: The Value of Stories and Story Creation.

William Sgrillo's picture

Fun Games

W. Keith Sgrillo Anyone interested in exacting a bit of good humored revenge against your students, here is a fun link to look around on.
Robert McCormick's picture

Friday AM

Paul illustrated in today’s presentation that our behavior is determined by an interaction between our genes and environment. I contend that this has significant implication for teachers functioning as brain surgeons in their classroom. A student’s behavior is a reaction to their environment, the classroom. Who creates the environment in the classroom-the context? May I suggest the teacher. Therefore, the teacher is responsible for student’s behavior due to the fact that they created the instructional environment i.e. the context.

Does this then imply that that the responsibly lies with the teacher and not the student when a child is inattentive, bored or misbehaving in class? Doesn’t the teacher create the environment (the context) that is eliciting the student’s behavior? Is then not the teacher responsible for changing the environment which according to the information presented today, will change the student’s behavior? Therefore it is not the misbehaving student’s fault when s/he is misbehaving; it is the teacher’s fault.

This idea/concept can be disconcerting to many teachers because the blame for the behavior of students in their class shifts from the student to the teacher because the teacher creates the environment that derives student’s behaviors. This argument reinforces the theory that the context of the class is more important than the context of the course. Is it the teacher’s at fault when students in class are bored, inattentive, or disruptive in their class?

Above is my summary of observations from which I have created a story from this morning presentation. Is it correct? Let’s start a conversation.

Paul Grobstein's picture

classrooms, who's responsible

Very good topic. Glad to join the conversation. Like all teachers, I have a tendency to blame the student when they are "inattentive, bored, or misbehaving" in class, and your suggestion that the teacher is responsible for the context which the student is reacting to is an important counter-balance to this tendency.

At the same time, its important to keep in mind that the classroom context isn't the only influence on the student's behavior, nor is the teacher the only influence on the classroom context. The student's home and social enironments also influence the student's behavior and the student in turn influences the classroom environment. Furthermore, the classroom environment isn't entirely under the teacher's control for additional reasons as well The school budget and administration, the community, and various levels of social/political systems are also influencing the classroom environment. All this is to say one is dealing with a distributed system, in which there are lots of influences rather than a single authority.

Still and all, I agree with your larger point. When things aren't going well in a classroom, the first place a teacher ought to be looking for useful changes is in his/her self. Not because the teacher is solely responsible but rather because it is generally easier to change oneself than it is to change other relevant influences. At the same time, its probably not only appropriate but useful and desirable for a teacher to acknowledge that, however less wrong they get it, what goes on in a classroom is inevitably influenced by others and other forces over which they have less immediate control. This not only can help avoid teachers inapropriately browbeating themselves but also redirect some of the energy of their frustrations to other appropriate targets, such as working to change relevant larger social/politcal structures

Robert McCormick's picture

I concur with all of the

I concur with all of the issues illustrated in your reply but I purposely did not include your concerns/issues in my posting given that I wanted to focus sharply on the issue, namely a student’s behavior is related/regulated by the environment established by the teacher.  I realize the educational variables illustrated in your reply are persuasive and significant influences on student learning in today’s society.  But the main focus of my posting is an attempt to enter into a discussion of teacher responsibility in shaping student’s behavior through the development and implementation of a designed curriculum (the experience), analyzing the effectiveness of the curriculum based on the student reactions and performance (the behavior), and to assume responsibility based on student’s positive/negative reaction to the curriculum.

Allow me to digress before I proceed to tell a story based on my observations.  At approximately 15 years of age, I became extremely interested in student and class behavior under the direction of various teachers.  I often observe, and still do, students actively engaging and participating in the learning process in certain classes while the same group of students are completely uninvolved and disruptive in a different class under the direction/instruction of a different teacher.   Similarly, one student might be a high-achieving student and positive peer model in one class in one-class and the polar opposite under the instruction of a different teacher in a different class.  In fact, I have observed the phenomenon of a rapid and diverse change in class behavior based on the exit of one teacher and the entrance of another teacher.

In these scenarios, the educational variables mentioned in your posting are now constants, i.e.  (Socio-economic, home and school environments).  Why radically different behaviors?  Presently, these observations still motivate me to research the reasons for student and human behavior.  I suggest we should examine the student’s behavior change due to the variable, the different teacher.  Same constants, one variable, different outcome.

All too often teachers resort to what I classify as the default mode, blaming the system for poor students’ behavior, rather than examining and analyzing their role in creating the classroom environment that is directly and enormously responsible for student behavior.  Rather than resorting to playing the blame game, a self-inspection of their educational philosophy, ideas, techniques, and methods would prove more useful.

During discussions at the Brain and Behavior Institute, a correlation is made between teaching and brain surgery.  In the medical world, if brain surgeons were having frequent complications during surgery, would they continue to adhere to the same philosophy, ideas, techniques, and methods?  No, they would embark on a period of self-examination, with a thorough analysis and critique of presently held modes of operation. Anything less would be unacceptable.

Does this happen in the world of education? No, when faced with a difficult class, too many teachers retreat to the default mode and do not take the time or effort to analyze and reflect upon their educational beliefs and methods, to observe and consult other teachers, and devise and implement new teaching methods and strategies.

Please view this posting not as a condemnation or indictment of all teachers but as a call to arms for teachers to first resort to an examination of their educational philosophies and instructional methodologies before resorting to the time-honored tradition of citing the default mode to explain and rationalize the problems of their classrooms when confronted with a difficulty class. Some might view my comments as an over-generalization of the problems in our classrooms.  I sincerely assure you this is not the case.  The sole purpose of this posting is my intense concern of the potential disastrous effects of one year of inadequate or sub-par education on not only one student or a class/group of students but also on society.  The all too acceptable practice of teachers restoring to the default mode to rationalize inappropriate student classroom behavior is unacceptable in light of the fact that teachers are responsible for creating the educational environment that determines behaviors; we can and must do better!

Thanks for bearing with me, I can get a bit overbearing in my quest for excellence in education, but it is one of my passions. All comments greatly appreciated – they are a contribution to the common goal – the success of the student and to getting my story less wrong.  

Diane OFee-Powers's picture

nature vs nuture

I am happy to hear that the Nature VS Nuture debate is over, plus I understand the debate more than I did before. Now if I could only figure out how to I want to implement my summer assignment!!! How to teach I function, flex self control muscle, inhibitions etc in a story telling manner!
Geneva Tolliferreo's picture

Distributed Control

I understand the concept of Distributed Control, however, I believe that at least to a reasonable degree we are in control of action potentials. I believe we all have the free will to exercise positive options, in many cases choosing to get it more wrong (less right). I realize the exception to this are those people who are truly difficient due to physical and/or mental challenges coupled with the degree of their challenge(s).  All symphonies have a conductor...imagine what might happen if they didn't... 
Cheryl Brown's picture

Motor Symphony

I found it very interesting when you were discussing the idea of motor symphony involving a large number of players each being active at a different time and coordinating with each other.  Also, I liked the concept of the nervous system having certain scores stored inside of it and yet at other times making thing up as it goes along... like jazz musicians.
joycetheriot's picture

Generating new patterns

Generating new patterns or changing the symphony scores that were genetically imposed could be a valuable strategy for improving our ability to be successful, (however we judge success to be). Paul suggested that the 12 steps were used for alcoholics so that they could create a new frame of mind that avoided any use of alcohol. This comment struck me in particular because this program is known to be highly successful. Yet the participants are fighting against a disease that inflicts a devastating allergy to the very thing that they have an unbearable craving to ingest. Paul mentioned that the conceptual component to the program was to imagine an outcome that you expected to occur to your mind/life. I am excited by the notion that there are programs to restructure the brain of people that we thought were hopeless. The connection to our classroom is invaluable. We’ve discussed the idea that teachers are brain surgeons. I’ve seen (video) surgeries where the surgeon touches one area of the exposed brain and then asks a question of the conscious patient to judge the area that she’s disturbing. So then I imagine our experimentation to be similar. We find out what the student is thinking and if their constructed frame is weak we need to offer alternatives and then have the student investigate and compare all of it. S/he needs to reconstruct their own meaning based on their own logical reasoning.
Judith Lucas-Odom's picture

Motor neurons

Again, I liked the idea of the nervous system being explained as a symphony but I am a little concerned about what will happen if the outside stimulus is the unconscious as in the example of a sleep walker or a person who has multiple personalities. How can their symphonies be explained? How do they learn to ignore these discharges if they are not consciously aware that they are doing them? Today's morning session was food for thought because in my classroom I have experienced some of these events.
Mingh Whitfield's picture

motor symphanies

What you're experiencing is influenced by what you're doing and by your genes-very interesting suppostions for an inquiry based educatonal setting. I am anxious to hear more of neurobiologists thoughts about the I function's role in all of this.

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