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Brain Behavior Institute - Session 19


The Brain: Significance for Education?


Memory, self, reality as story 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

My thought about what we learned today is that I want to combine the three loops of observations together in order to engage my students in their own meaningful learning experience about what they have already learned! This I think is what teaching is all about! ... Judith It's clear that there are many times that I function activity interferes with, rather than enhances, information coming from the unconscious. In a society like ours that very much values I function activity, I wonder how to 'celebrate' the unconscious, without striking fear into us all (including me) I guess the way is to continually talk about the need for both systems to be strong and healthy ... I've heard people dismiss the value of discussing feelings, or rather, see feelings as getting in the way of real thinking. I've always known that feelings were important to pay attention to, that they were clues/cues to something important going on inside of us. I kind of like the idea of considering feelings as a 'primary story' because dismissing a primary story is dismissing an incredibly important source of information into the nervous system, and would seriously handicap our ability to think, i.e. our I function ... Carol did I like else somebody to this send, dummy a like this reading time sweet your took you since ... Luisana

There are two problems:

  1. teachers who are of the old school still believe they should spend time on spelling while the district says not like that.
  2. parents remember the way they learn and they think their kids should be taught the same way. That is always a problem but some of us have mastered the art of helping parents get in the flow of educational advancements. .... Tola
After this course I understand the points being made about scientific consciousness. Getting it less wrong is key ... Cynthia I think that all of us have experience with teachers who also seem to relish the power they have in the classroom . . . and they behave like banana republic despots. I hold, however, that real power comes when a person (teacher) is willing to relinquish the power and let someone else exercise it ... Alan My mind will be reading this morning's notes and the links on the page . . . and playing the games (of course) for a day or 2 (or more) to enable my mind to "get a handle on" what was presented. At this point I feel that digestion takes longer than it used to. Maybe my "hard drive" is closer to its capacity than it used to be. More than likely, tho, it's just that the old central processor doesn't function as rapidly as it used to. Maybe it never really did. Maybe the "once faster processing speed" is just a story I made up because it makes me feel better. Maybe that statement shows that I am beginning to understand some of the material that was presented this morning ... Alan


Story doesn't mean "lie" or "to be ignored", means tentative/revisable

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

  • genes, experiences, culture, individual and story diversity, free will/personal responsiblity
  • "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 relation between individuals and cultures, from the brain perspective

The brain and education education, a quick summary

Things about the brain that might make one act differently in the classroom

  1. The brain consists of lots of boxes and cables
  2. The brain is different in every person
  3. The brain is constantly changing
  4. The brain can generate output without input
  5. The brain is organized to explore by generating expectations and trying out things
  6. The brain is organized to make informed guesses about what is out there
  7. The brain consists of a cognitive unconscious and an I-function/story teller
  8. Perception, self, and memory are all stories, subject to revision based on new observations
  9. The brain uses conflicts between itself and the world, between the cognitive unconscious and the I-functions/story teller, and between different people to learn by generating new candidate stories
  10. ???????

Which three of these do you think will be most significant for your teaching this coming year and why? Put your choices, explanation in the forum.

My story, thanks for your contributions to it ...

Whether 'true" in detail or not, for both teachers and students ... 

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


joycetheriot's picture

Great Brain Podcasts from AAAS

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GMH's picture

GMH Informing my approach


Informing my approach to my students in the new school year, top of the list goes to BBI notion of the brain being different in each individual. The brain as capable of generating output without input has had a profound influence on my thinking. The brain as a constantly changing part of oneself is comforting to reflect on as experience of learning and growth attests to that. The brain as an explorer generating expectations and engaged in the grist of discovery is a solid metaphor when reflecting on my own life as a learner and teacher.

Being a participant observer as I am engaged in teaching will become more of a focus for me this year. Observation is key when working with students to help us know if the material presented is helpful to student understanding. I am once again reminded that there is so much more to learn in honing the skills for teaching. I appreciate the new understandings gained this summer. Attempting to work on getting it less wrong is a notion that is well worth holding onto.

I am working on making a picture book that may help students learn some of the lessons presented this summer. One of the big lessons, each of us have different brains and that's OK is the focus. More on that later.


Babtunde A Oronti's picture

One week after.......

In view of the fact that I didn't have any break from one Institute to the next, it was kind of difficult for me to respond three days after. However I still feel it’s not out of place to express some feelings well after the session on brain and behavior came to a close.

One thing I have come to realize is that everything and in fact everyone keeps undergoing some form of modification over time and that nothing is in a state of completion. This buttress the idea that getting a definite/final answer or solution to any problem is out of place. However we are all involved in a constantly evolving crescendo of "getting it less wrong". No wonder after Al Gore came up with his "inconvenient truth" there were a lot of reactions to his research, which was later, tagged as "convenient lie".
Cynthia Henderson's picture

I function

The I function and cognitive unconscious work together to change brain function inhuman experience. Interestingly enough the two don't override each other.
Cynthia Henderson's picture

I function

The I function and cognitive unconscious work together to change brain function inhuman experience. What is your story?My story is part of my family and culture.Merci beaucoup Paul!
LuisanaT's picture

Picasso took the BBI too

Cynthia Henderson's picture

emotional pain

Emotonal pain can be felt and hurts. Is not the heart connected to the brain?
adiflesher's picture

Does a broken heart hurt?

The following is an article indicating that people physically feel emotional pain.  Apparently emotional pain triggers some of the same areas in the brain as physical pain.  It’s a very interesting article that clearly covers some of the same things that we discussed in class.  Its particularly interesting because the researchers actually test emotional pain brought on by social exclusion. I would be very interested to see the game that they developed to test this.

Judith Lucas-Odom's picture

End of Session Thoughts

I found this year's Brain and Behavior institute to be exceptional because I really enjoyed how everyone participated and how the institute came together so that I now can understand how my students think. The time in the institute allowed me to think about why my students do what they do. I plan to use a lot of the ideas that were shared in my classroom this year. My cognitive unconscious has awakened and now my I-function can't wait to get started using what has been learned.
cisrael's picture

three days later

After two weeks of intensive computer usage, I found that I didn't even want to turn on my computer until today-Monday. I guess I needed a computer-free zone for a couple of days!

What I find myself doing these past few days is trying to make connections between what I 'knew' before I came to the Institute, and what I learned there. A story was told in a wonderful and powerful way during these weeks, and I want to take that story and translate it into some of the other language that I have been used to using.  I love the language of the story we learned/created but I feel that in order to fully share the story, I need to know what the parallel vocabulary is. There are many theories of mind, and many words to describe overlapping processes, and I strengthen my understanding of one by comparing/contrasting it with others.  So I'm still thinking; I'm looking for parallels; I'm trying to take stories told in different ways, and by asking questions, find a way of telling the story that answers more of my questions.

And my mantra will now always be: trying to get it less wrong. 

Paul Grobstein's picture

brain story translations and questions

Would like very much to have, both for others and for myself, a set of "parallel vocabularies." Yep, finding them strengthens one's own understanding. And may indeed suggest new "answers" (stories?). Curious though about what questions you had didn't get answered? I thought we covered everything ....
bronstein's picture

End of session thoughts

My initial expectations for what I'd get out of this institute were admittedly not very high. I couldn't see how this subject matter could help me. Yet, as the days glided by, I would find "hooks" that grabbed my attention and caused me to look for ways to incorporate this knowledge into my teaching. I've not found very many concrete changes I can make -- as yet. I will need to mull over the content we covered and see where I can get it to fit. More than in specific activities for the students, tho, I think that most of the changes will be in how I present material and react to the students answers and behavior.

During August I will have the time to do some of this, esp. since I want to prepare a lesson (or set thereof) so that I can make use of the available grant money . . . if we submit plans by September 1.

Paul Grobstein's picture

can the brain help?

Fully agree that much of the content we went through may not be relevant to high school chemistry. Would be delighted if it proved to influence "how I present material and react to the students." Keep us posted?
Paul Grobstein's picture

some reflections: observations/interpretations/stories

Lots of thoughts from our two weeks together about ways to teach less wrong (be sure to make time/incentive for group work), about how to teach particularly things less wrong (build up to computer use, rather than simply make it available), and about things to think more about.

Among the latter, I'm still mulling Adi's concern about "My knee hurts" as a primary story. Is "my knee feels warm, my knee tingles" and so on (as one might learn to perceive it in meditative practice) actually a series of still more primary stories from which "My knee hurts" derives?

Part of why this question grabs me is that it parallels a question in scientific inquiry. Are "observations" primary and "interpretations" derived? In any absolute sense? In practice? And if only in the latter, is the distinction useful? My sense is that the distinction isn't real in any absolute sense ("observations" are context-dependent and challengeable, just as stories are), but that it is indeed a useful distinction in practice (cf observation/interpretations/stories and the objectivity/subjectivity spectrum). It facilitates the process of comparing stories to generate new ones. Which may, in turn, create a revised definition of "observations".

My hunch is that the same hold for "my knee hurts." For many people, that is indeed a primary story, a statement about their internal experience beyond which they cannot go. Others though may have still more primary stories and, as Adi points out, they may be helped to have more primary stories by being encouraged to do so ("what kind of pain is it?"). The point is that primary story, like observation, doesn't have a fixed definition, only an operational one. And that one can, as with observation, discover in onself alternative primary stories. There is though still at any given time a primary story (as there is an observation) that derives from the unconscious in ways the I-function/story teller doesn't at that time know about.


adiflesher's picture

Primary stories and the Observer

I’ve also been thinking a lot about primary versus secondary stories and the nature of primary stories. 

I am still not sure where I stand.  So I will try to think out loud for a little…..

 As Paul pointed out much of my understanding of primary stories comes from my background as a meditator . I do want to say however, that I do not think one needs to practice meditation to be able to shift perspectives on what is the primary story. Rather I think most people have an ability to learn to pay attention to different or perhaps more nuanced primary stories. 

In Buddhist philosophy there is a concept of naked or primordial awareness . I don’t claim to understand (or have experienced) this at a very deep level, although I think I have had strong flashes of being in that state of awareness.

This is the type of awareness is encouraged in many types of meditation practice.   During naked awareness the mind is aware of all things (sensory input, feelings and thoughts) as they arise, but one does not become attached to them or judge them.  According to the tradition, spending prolonged time in this state allows a person to cultivate wisdom.

This raises a couple of questions when examined through the I-Function (I-F) Cognitive Unconscious (CU) narrative.  Is the I-F just learning to tell new stories in this state or is there an Observer watching the I-F as it tells stories?  Experientially most long time meditators talk about cultivating the Observer. 

So what is the observer?

On the one hand we can talk about the Observer as the I-F watching itself in a certain way (without attachment (identifying with the stories) or judgment (trying to reject the stories).  The observer is just a particular stance of the I-Function that allows it to do a certain type of meta-storytelling. 

It seems to me, without much evidence yet, that the observer is actually a little different that the I-F.  I know that some of the studies of meditation have shown specific types of neural patterns during intense stages of meditation. I think that just as the there are parts (and patterns) of the brain which are responsible for the story telling that we do, there are different parts and patterns that are responsible for the non-judgmental watching that is involved in meditative practice.  I don’t have a whole lot of observation to back that story up yet ( :

So back to primary and secondary stories.  In the context of meditation our goal is not necessarily to change the primary story but to quiet the story teller long enough to notice the flow of primary stories underneath the secondary story. In that sense I agree with Paul’s comment that there is not fixed definition for a primary story. However I do think there is an ability in meditation to watch carefully to see how the story teller constructs secondary stories from primary stories and how it constructs identity out of a series of secondary stories.  In doing so it gives people a certain degree of freedom to re-construct or abandon some of the elaborate secondary stories that they have constructed.

I hope that wasn’t too incoherent.  I am still trying to figure this stuff out. Anyway, I remain deeply curious about the following questions.

Should we speak about an Observer separate (in parts or pattern) from the I-Function?

As educators is there a value in cultivating the Observer as a stance?

Paul Grobstein's picture

the brain and budhism: what's the observer, and is it useful?

Hope this isn't too incoherent in turn ...

My guess is that we don't need an "Observer" distinct from the I-function/story teller, that the key here is indeed to engage the I-function/story teller in the kind of "non-judgemental watching" from which comes "a certain degree of freedom to re-construct or abandon some of the elaborate secondary stories."

Could the "Observer" be distinct? Yes, of course. But I'm disinclined to go looking for something new/additional without some reason to think we need it to make sense of things and I think we can for the moment better use the phenomena at issue as incentive to better understand the cognitive unconscious/I function/story teller interplay. Along the same lines, I'm a little uncomfortable with the idea of "naked or primordial awareness" insofar as it implies a particular common place everyone can/should get to. My hunch, as per this exchange, is that one can enhance the ability to be non-judgemental about one's inputs from the cognitive unconscious (as well as from other people) but that's always a process of getting it less wrong (from wherever one starts) rather than a journey with a destination.

There are, of course, a lot of Zenish overtones in that thought, as well as in naked awareness (Suzuki Roshi writes about "beginner's mind" and, amusingly, likens it to that of a frog). And for that matter in the relative simplicity of a cognitive unconscious/I-function interaction (as opposed to more elaborated stories, including ones involving an "Observer" ... see my images of the bipartite brain (a cenote with a simple structure on top of it) in contrast to efforts to build more elaborate understandings (used and explained toward the end of The Art Historian and the Neurobiologist).

Yep, I think there are benefits in acquiring the observer skill for educators, as well as for students .... as well as for humans in general. But perhaps, as with all things, costs as well?

adiflesher's picture

Primary Stories and Language

OK – once again excuse my tendency to roam around – but I am trying out a couple of different ideas.

I am inclined to agree with you that the “Observer” does not need to exist as a separate construct but I do wonder about it as a different pattern in the brain. My sense is that there is a different pattern going on when we are in an “Observer” stance and when we are in a “Story-Teller” stance. Of course there is a different pattern when we are playing piano as opposed to playing tennis, but somehow I think that this pattern difference can yield insights about these two cognitive stances.

I think one of the things that I have to understand better in your model is the relationship between the I-F and the Story Teller. IF I understood correctly the I-F arises to a certain extent out of the loop created by the story teller. That is our very sense of self arises from the construction of stories that help us interact with the world in creative ways. Reading your exchange The Art Historian and the Neurobiolgist /bb/artneuro/ I get the sense that you originally started talking about the I-F and then moved more to talking about the S-T.

One of the questions that this raises (I think somebody brought this up in class) is whether the I function interacts directly with the CU or if it only interacts with the ST?

Another interesting question to me is the relationship between language and stories. Are stories language dependent? Is I-Function language dependent?  My sense is no on both counts, I am sure you have written on this somewhere.

Still it would seem that to a certain extent most of our stories as adults are so intertwined with language that we almost can’t separate the story from the language – even at the primary story level. While “hurts” or “angry” are both very simple stories that most animals can have, it is very hard for people to not tell those stories in the context of language with all of its attendant baggage and associations. 

One interesting question for me would be is there any difference in that regard between stories that exist in language and stories that don’t exist in language.  My sense is that Jill Taylor is trying to illustrate the difference between these two types of stories. I also believe that the drawing on the right side of the brain might access this type of non-verbal story telling. I would be curious to hear more of your thoughts on language-based and non-language-based stories.

jrlewis's picture

This reminds me of earlier

This reminds me of earlier thoughts about the art if medicine.  A good doctor  asks questions about the nature of the pain or other symptoms consistent with a certain diagnosis.  The deductive and inductuve reasoning may be the basis or the complement to the intuition of a doctor.  

cynthia's picture


I see all of the bullet points helping to improve teaching and learning at any stagof development,however cuture is also quite significant in this regard.Who we are or who we think we are influences our behaviors daily.We truly cannot trust always what wesee hear or think in ourselves or others.Ther is always room for explorative opportunities.I do wonder about other peoples'stories.

Seta Palmer's picture

My Pick

This class has helped me to see that I may need to use my I-Function to work with my cognitive unconscious in order to remind me of things I know instinctively of my students.  I know that each student is different and has an individual reality.  It's hard to choose, but I will keep in mind at least the following.

1.    The brain is different in every person & The brain is constantly changing 2.   The brain is organized to explore by generating expectations and trying out things 3.    The brain is organized to make informed guesses about what is out there

Ayotola Oronti's picture

Revelations about the brain = A New Teacher in the Class

  • The brain is different in every person: Knowing that every child's brain is different will help me remember that each will definitely learn differently and at different paces. My lessons will be geared towards finding that point of need of each individual and how I can meet him/her there.

  • The brain is constantly changing: The past school year {2007/2008} I had a sudent on my list who was supposed to be a handful for me. According to his records he was very defiant, aggressive and oppositional to all his teachers. Till today we are all still wondering what could have happened over the summer that turned him around for good. He claims he went to Dominican Republic and got baptised in church. His friends think he should take one or two others with him to transform the. Such a situation tells me that since the brain is constantly changing I cannot dwell on the past in other to be able to reach the child.

  • The brain can generate output without input: This is an eye-opener I really need. I was thinking that output from the brain is only a function of the input. Now I know that my students' brains can generate their own stories with the I-Function at work even without my input. In fact their output will now affect my input.

  • The brain consists of a cognitive unconscious and an I-function/story teller: Knowing to an extent the way the I-Function and the cognitive unconscious operate, it will be possible for me to make accommodations for my students who do not see things the way I was expecting or who take longer to get a concept, or who do not get to do homework or a quiz as another student.

The summary of it all is that my approach to teaching will definitely change. I will try not to help the laid back student make excuses but I will have descent accommodations for all my students. I believe this approach will break down a lot of walls and barriers in my class with the inclusion of my building administrator and the parents of my students.

I want to start my year writing this on a conspicious part of my class: {Room 205-Getting it Less wrong} I know they will ask questions and I will get a chance to teach a mini-lesson on the brain and how different it is in everyone.

joycetheriot's picture

Hallway Heroes, Feeling good and Having fun

#5.       The brain is organized to explore by generating expectations and trying out things.


Students are not necessarily exploring the realms of thought where I want them to be with science content. They want to explore methods to disrupt, distract. delay instruction,. Why?


Their motivation could be to:


  •  get noticed by their peers and therefore talked about in the hallway
  • make it less boring in other words cause inputs which are more stimulating
  • prioritize inputs: What happened in the football game is what I need to know NOW

#7. Cognitive Unconscious and I-function


Student engagement of using the I-Function to develop a perception from accessing the CU is promoted because of their innate sense of individual need. What are their similar needs?


  • Be a Hallway Hero
  • Want to feel good
  • Have fun


Best practice for us?


Create Projects that access those needs.

Judith Lucas-Odom's picture

Morning Thoughts

I plan to use 4,5,6,7 in my classroom next year. I think, after this year I can pull all of my thoughts and ideas together to make my teaching more creative and fun. I plan to get my 3 loops together and experiment with my unconscious and I-function and have fun. Along the way, help my students to learn and have fun doing the same!
bronstein's picture

My Picks

3. The brain is constantly changing

b/c it gives me, the teacher, hope that I can actually have an effect on the kids.

5. The brain is organized to explore by generating expectations and trying out things

b/c it means that all of us are scientists. So, for those kids who believe they can't do science or those that hate science can be "brought on board" by being made to understand that all of us behave like scientists. We are all constantly creating and comparing stories with new input to see which ones are best supported. This is a good definition of the scientific method. I like this b/c it will give my students hope.

8 & 9 together

b/c I think the two work together. They show that we expect that a number of students will have "incorrect stories" and that that is expected and okay. When the kids realize that OUR job for the year is to enable them to acquire the tools to make their stories less wrong, we should all find the year more rewarding and more successful. This puts the teacher and the students on the same side: a win-win situation.

Bernadine Dancy's picture

I think that 1,2,and 3 are

I think that 1,2,and 3 are good understanding for me as a teacher. It helps me to understand a little bit better the answers they bring to the class.The way they problem solve. Also how they arrive at their answers. Even as they develop and move from one stage to the next the brain is constantly changing.
adiflesher's picture

Top three

I believe the entire list is important to how we think about reaching.   There are ways that all of this information can inform the way we teach.  Specifically,  we need to teach in an experiential manner that honors our students as individual explorers who are in the process of constructing their own stories.  But to me the most interesting part of the story is helping people become aware of their own brain.

I believe that if we give students a sense of how their brain works we help them become better at authoring their own story. In that regard the three most important things on the list to me are:

  1. The brain consists of a cognitive unconscious and an I-function/story teller
  2. Perception, self, and memory are all stories, subject to revision based on new observations
  3. The brain uses conflicts between itself and the world, between the cognitive unconscious and the I-functions/story teller, and between different people to learn by generating new candidate stories


cisrael's picture

5 ,6,9

I'm choosing 5,6 and 9 because they all seem to tell me one crucial thing: that we should not really be teaching our students what we think we should be teaching them. Of course they need certain content to pass important tests, get diplomas, get in to college, etc, and we need to make sure they have it. But how we teach that content needs to be completetly and totally informed by these 3 principles (can I use that word?) or stories. We have to ask the students constantly what their ideas are; we have to respond to their constructions/stories in an interested and positive way; we have to solicit their input all along the way. They have to generate ideas of their own before they can consider ours. They have to experience the discrepancy between their expectations of how things work and other data before they can construct a new story/ a new way of thinking about things. It seems so clear that we have to hear their stories first, or they will never hear ours.
adiflesher's picture

Different cultures - shaping perspective


This is the work that Paul refrenced in class.   It could be ineresting to use the picture of the fish pond with students.


Ayotola Oronti's picture

Never Stuck

I was thinking we were pretty much done by now until Paul went over the comments from yesterday. Not neglecting to mention that no one is ever stuck but there is always a way to get it less wrong, brought the sun up again in me. Students who get frustrated because they believe they have reached the end of the road and shut down to learning, will cross barriers in their own education if they grasp this notion. 

I am planning to convince my students of the fact that they are not stuck at any time, they can work to get it less wrong


adiflesher's picture

Great resource

I found a great resource for brain based games.  This is actually where the stress test came from. Enjoy!


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