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Brain Behavior Institute 2008 - Session 3




Session 3

Loopy story-telling science ... and the classroom

I love the idea of “Looping Telling Story”.  As a special educator, I use a similar thought process in using behavior modification when completing a “Formal Behavior Assessment” ... Lucienne

“Getting less wrong” works well within the classroom setting when utilized with the question, “Why are your results different than…?”  Opens the mind to considering what could be done differently next time ... Kathy

Within the culture of the classroom, teachers can orchestrate a symphony of cooperative learning based on what each member can contribute ... Joyce

In the years since I first “discovered” the Brain and Behavior Institute, I have become more comfortable with the concept of usable stories ... Sometimes it is difficult to separate my opinions/ premises’ from my understanding of my conclusion, or the “crack” the reasoning that I apply to my making sense of the usable observations.   How useful my summaries may or may not be to others is an area of struggle for me as an educator ... Antoinette

I personally still have problems with the "crack".   I think that the teacher is the person in the crack and the person that keeps both sides flowing. There are some students who would find making observations and summaries fun and others are reluctant ... Judith (see also Jill and following)

Acknowledging that subjectivity exists does not mean resigning to it or letting it run rampant.  Perhaps by trying to recognize our own background and how it affects us, we can do an even better job of minimizing our subjectivity.  Furthermore we can be sure to check ourselves by sharing our stories with others and studying the stories of others ... Jill

Can subjectivity spring from the brain's intuitive leaps? Do we want to broadly minimize subjectivity or guard against people who would not critically evaluate their own and the stories of others? Guard against the average person who would give up their story to simply follow someone else's? I don't know... Deb

As Antoinette brought up today, it seems that testing encourages this mentality of individual progress and distinct answers.  However, perhaps it is the process that should be emphasized, rather than the "right answer."  How do we reform our testing to accomplish this? ... Brie


Emergence for is ... many simple acts, making simple actions creating something new ... Lucienne

Emergence is finally making sense!  We see emergence in the way we process information and apply it to situations new and old.  The Game of Life is very revelant in the fact that certain outcomes can emerge from certain patterns.  Sometimes these patterns are not what was expected; this is true in life.  I would apply these ideas to my students who come to me on various levels of learning ... Judith

Emergence can be a great teaching tool but can create difficulties. I have found when using emergence the conversation needs to be guided ... Kathy

In all of my years of teaching, both academically, and as a Bible school teacher, have I ever had the exact same result to similar lessons.  Because people tend to respond in creative ways, The Langston’s Ant program bothers me… as I am not sure what it is trying to prove ... Antoinette

I hate that it has an "answer". The ant travels in that pattern because of his 2 particular programmed directions and yes, it is not an ant. I rail against giving answers to how things work but love for students to continue their own musings .... Joyce

I believe that the ant example helps us appreciate the value of different perspectives, rather than arguing for an ultimate "truth." ... Brie

The computer simulations had simple rules that were pre-programmed, so as we were watching the simulations, I was considering a conversation that Paul had with my students last year. Paul was explaining a difference between science and math. He pointed out that math is a set of rules created by people--a game, and once you understand the rules you can play this game that includes right and wrong answers. He contrasted that with science that doesn't have right or wrong answers, simply is a process for telling a story and moving the story forward to get it "less wrong."  I admit that recalling that conversation left me slightly distracted as we were watching the simulation because I was distracted by the deterministic programming inherent in the ant simulation ... Deb

Moving on ... to the nervous system

what is meant by brain matter?  What is the brain made of?  where is the artistic part of the brain which is used for music, dance, creation, etc? ... Verolga

How does it do what it does?  How much of my existence is virtual? ... Deb

Is the brain the only thing responsible for the way people behave? ...  Shoshana


The Brain - is wider than the Sky -
For - put them side by side -
The one the other will contain
With ease - and You - beside-


Implications if Emily was right?

  • Brain = behavior, there isn't anything else
  • "a person's mental activities are entirely due to the behavior of nerve cells ... and the atoms, ions, and molecules that make them up and influence them" ... Francis Crick, The Astonishing Hypothesis
  • "it never ceases to amaze me that all the richness of our mental life - all our feelings, our emotions, our thoughts, our ambitions, our love life, our religious sentiments and even what each of us regards as his own intimate private self - is simply the activity of these little specks of jelly in your head, in your brain. There is nothing else" ... Vilayanur Ramachandram
  • Brain is different in different people
  • Brain is constantly changing

One example (of many) of one kind of reason (of many) to suspect she was ...

What story do you hear/see in Emily Dickinson's poem? Do you think the brain is wide enough to contain the sky ... "and You beside"? What would this imply? In general? About education? Write your thoughts in the forum area below.


Thinking about how the brain (nervous system) works (if Dickinson right)

Reflex brain Loopy brain
The problem Another loop

The brain is built to explore


  • From stimulus/response box to semi-autonomous input/output box consisting of interconnected input/outboxes consisting of ... large number of very small input/output boxes (neurons)
  • Neurons have some degree of autonomy, so therefore does nervous system, can view as output/input box as appropriately as input/output box
  • The architecture of the brain gives it the characteristics of an explorer


Is the real brain (nervous system) actually that way?

Yep ...

  • Sensory neurons the only way in, motor neurons the only way out, mostly interneurons
  • Similar but different in different organisms, different in same organism at different times, genes AND experience
  • All neurons, differences in behavior are differences in organization of neurons
    (change organization of neurons, change behavior)



Key points

  • Brain=behavior a good story
  • Variation from brain to brain (diversity)
  • For outside to affect brain it has to pass through sensory neurons
  • Changes in brains with experience
  • Brains have characteristics independent of experience and can generate outputs independent of experience
  • Brains are designed (by evolution) to explore, to do loopy science


What most interests you about what we've talked about so far? In what ways might it be relevant in your classroom? Where new questions does it open up for you?


Jill Bean's picture

The loopy brain

I do think that the loopy brain is a better story for explaining brain functioning than the reflex brain.  The loopy brain allows for complex interactions between stimuli, internal brain functioning, connections, and outcomes, as well as the spontaneous actions that sometimes occur.  Does the loopy brain allow for original thoughts and choices or free will?  Can free will be a part of the internal functioning? 

Is the brain designed for exploration?  I think that can be part of the brain's design, but the brain seems to include so many other things that that classification seems far too simple to me.  Paul said today, "Teachers don't need to stimulate.  They need to provide kids with things to act on."  This statement resonates with many of my experiences and observations as both a student and teacher, but only in the "finding out about the world" contents.  Other content areas do not seem to line up with this statement.  Many children will not learn to read and write simply by providing them with letters and books and paper and pencil; the whole language movement certainly showed that.  Many children instead require direct instruction about sounds, decoding, and blending to even begin to master these skills.  How does "the brain is an explorer" model account all of the skill oriented learning that children need to master to be successful? 

On a different note, if the brain is built for exploration, does the current understanding and structure of education in our culture need to be fundamentally changed?  How can teachers best develop ways of instruction and assessment to fully support the brain's exploration? 

Brie Stark's picture

A got a lot out of this

A got a lot out of this morning's session.  First, I think we brought up the important point of "fear of failure" and the notion that being uncomfortable is okay.  I believe that individual progress needs to be seen in terms of grades for most students, and this seemed to be a general consensus in the class.  How do we overcome this?  How do we encourage that the development is key, rather than just the outcome?  We are pushed against standardized tests, which test and encourage conclusions -- we are therefore up against a machine that is very hard to change, just as we mentioned how teaching styles are difficult to change.

A problem with changing standardized tests revolves around why we use standardized tests, in general.  It seems to me that standardized testing is really just an efficient, no-sweat way to gauge students and rank them amongst the masses.  If we change these assessments to better foster development instead of conclusions, will we lose this efficiency?  Is it this need for efficiency that is holding us back?  Or will we be reluctant to change these assessments for other reasons (fiscal, lack of good alternative..)?

Another topic brought up today was that there are several keys to successful emergence.  To me, I believe that the teachers must be just as willing to learn as the students in every lesson.  They must expect to learn, not just to teach.  They must be willing to see new ideas and consider them objectively, even against their own values or environmental background.  I think this breeds new ideas in a discussion.  I also believe that encouraging the facts as secondary information and discussion as the primary information is a key to emergence.  For example, Langdon's ant: we encouraged the fact that there was programming over the concept that there could be many stories describing the ant's action.  This was a failure on our part.  If had encouraged the construction of new ideas over the pronunciation of the programmed ant, we could've lead a more successful emergent discussion.

Today, we seemed to be arguging to convince one another about a "right answer" --> we can't just say "trust me," I've found.  Emergence stresses experience and development.  To be successful, we must let others experience and develop -- we cannot say "trust me," for science doesn't reolve around this concept.  If it did, new observations would never be made; the loop wouldn't exist.  I think that we should focus on seeing where discussions lead us by using our own experiences as examples but not stressing them as concrete facts (tried and true), therefore not stressing the "one truth" mentality.

We saw a real example to illustrate that our world is indeed a construction of the brain, and that each world is different.  When Paul said "think of the first 3 words you associate with the word 'science,'" none of us had the same 3 words, or in the same order.  This supports the fact that all of our brain architecture is indeed different, and thus our perceptions and learning styles differ.

This brought me to thinking about religion and spirituality.  Could it be that, perhaps, some brains are created with more aptitude toward "faith" -- either by genetics or learned environment?  Different brains could be a huge reason as to why so many religions exist and why one is not more "right" than another.  Just understanding this concept can open the eyes of many extremists (example, the Crusades; suicide bomers) who believe one religion to be supreme over another.  If religion is indeed a construct of the brain, as everything else is, I don't think religion (or lack-of) can be seen as a hierarchy.

Verolga Nix-Allen's picture

The Brain

Today's session was very complicated. However, probably the most interesting information was in the determining of the charts as related to the switchboard box  versus the input-output box.  Finally I did understand that the brain was designed to explore.

Brie Stark's picture

In terms of what we

In terms of what we discussed today, I really was brought back to thinking about music.  Where do we come up with a melody?  Is a melody one of those entities created in the brain that isn't 'created' by an input?  Or, perhaps, some melodies are stimulated by an input?  In turn, I think hearing a melody triggers an assortment of outputs, which in turn help us learn more about that melody, using our different perspectives.

Judith Lucas-Odom's picture

My interests of the Day

I enjoyed the idea of input and outputs and outputs with no inputs because this is my world, slightly off.  I would like to know about how to incorporate these ideas into a lesson?  Emily Dickerson's poem is a good opening to help students explore their own inner self(mind).  I will use this in my opening lesson as a story to lead into another story!

Jack Marine's picture

I think it's spelled

I think it's spelled D I C K I N S O N- that's a function of your brain to use correct word spellings- Judith

joycetheriot's picture

Modeling Concepts

While Paul was talking about Emily's poetic description of the sky (being contained in the brain), I thought of a model that would describe this idea. It would showa line drawing of the head with a filmstrip inside projecting the captured images as taken in by experience. The light would shine out of the eyes and project "Joyce's World".

The thought came to me...this is why we are told that like is what we make of it.

We actually do!!!!

Joyce Hubert-Theriot

Kathy Swahn's picture

emily d - response

What we experience/learn changes perception. The brain is indeed wide enough to fit the sky and you beside. Each person has a reality based on his/her life experiences and the stimuli the brain receives. It seems each brain accepts information/stimuli differently (likes and dislikes) creating very different complex people compiled with the ability store enormous amounts of knowledge. Very different complex people learn differently accept knowledge in various ways and create new/different outcomes based on the same stimuli. 

I think what interests me so much about this topic is the human need to simplify the brain, yet is remains so complex. What are the best ways to help students accept the complexities of learning?


Brie Stark's picture

"I think what interests me

"I think what interests me so much about this topic is the human need to simplify the brain, yet is remains so complex. What are the best ways to help students accept the complexities of learning?"

Great point.  How can we even begin to teach this complexity of learning?  I honestly think that the best preparation we have today is teaching the simplicities that create the whole.  The people who understand their subject the most in turn understand the small entities that create their subject (example: a physicist understands the concept of atoms, of heat, of motion).  As a geologist, you understand the simpler aspects that create a volcano (for example), which I definitely do not know.  Perhaps by highlighting this to your students, they can see the impact of small things creating larger, more complex things.

Lucienne Davis's picture

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At this point and time, I am in the process of digesting the dialogue from this morning’s session.  The information generated a multitude of new ideas and a new way thinking about the brain and how the brain processes the information.  I have often pondered about the connections brain makes. For example the express “A light bulb moment” often indicates connection or connections the brain has made in significant manner.  Then connection is usually a delay of output or input from a later time. 

Teaching a child read is a good example.   One day the student may struggle learning to learn how to read and then like magic the student has improved this skill. This phoneme always amazes me.  And, I am always shocked when this event occurs within me!

I often wonder why this situation occurs. I often wonder why this situation does not occur more frequently. Is my brain continuing to look for output from previous input?  Why does it only take monents for this process to occur? Why does it take hours for this process to occur? Why does it take months or even years for the light bulb to go on?


Deborah Hazen's picture

The poem and implications for education

If we accept that the nervous system is designed by evolution to be an explorer then we need to think carefully about what happens to mold kids into a response pattern that does not demonstrate that kind of curiosity.

What is the purpose of education? Before we talk about manipulating the brain, do we have a point or purpose? How in sync are the goals of education between different schools/communities, between lower school/middle school/upper school/college?


Brie Stark's picture

I think that you hit upon an

I think that you hit upon an extremely difficult point to address, but one that needs to be addressed in order to change the way we approach education and, in turn, assessments.  It is common knowledge that high schools formulate curriculums in order to teach the ACT and SAT tests to be admitted into college -- my own high school implemented a class aptly subscripted with, 'how to get a good grade on the ACT.'  This seems so terribly far away from what I see education as being.  I see education as forever-learning: learning as much as you can to formulate an opinion about a subject, and being open enough to listen to other's opinions in order to again formulate a new opinion of your own.  It seems like a process to me -- a process of developing.  Our education system seems to be a system encouraging outcomes and conclusions, not the process of lifelong learning.  I wonder, because it seems to me that lifelong learning seems far more applicable than reaching one conclusion, why the education system ended up like this, today.

Deborah Hazen's picture

Quick history of standardized testing

Go to this Washington Post site for a quick history of standardized testing.


Deborah Hazen's picture

Are we only talking about formal learning?

Brains learn/change constantly. Do most parents, sports coaches, religious educators, grandparents, uncles, older siblings or friends teach children through emergence? School is not the only social construct that defines the way human beings are "educated" about their world.

Brie Stark's picture

I honestly think that a lot

I honestly think that a lot of our social world works through emergence.  In corporations, they often use the term "brainstorming" -- but I find little difference between the concept of brainstorming (that is, many people discussing a common goal from different perspectives) and emergence.  As for relationships with relatives, I have definitely learned through emergence; my whole life basically spawned itself from conversations, thanks to my parents.  My parents told me, recently, that they made a pact never to tell me "no" but rather, to give me several detailed options -- then, the choice was mine.  I asked questions, I experienced.. I learned.  I think, in many ways, this can be seen as emergence.  On the flipside, in religion, I find this a very interesting topic: from my knowledge of religion, having been raised Roman Catholic, I found that there was little room for discussion of the topic and more emphasis upon cold, hard facts.  This could be different in other religions, of course. 

Jack marine's picture

You are absolutely correct.

You are absolutely correct. We are spending all this time talking about how we can influence our students and we forgot that our children (those we begot) are our students too. I let my children live an emergent childhood while my wife was trying to structure everything they did!

RecycleJack Marine's picture

The new Brain model - Tuesday Morning July 7th


What about this new model of the brain. Why do people who have OCD's exhibit their unwanted behaviors? Is it possible that it's just an output by itself? I've heard that it's a chemical in the brain that causes unwanted actions, but I think it's influenced by environmental factors too... aren't these inputs? When upset or stressed the behaviors are more pronounced- are these part of who we are? Are these just another part of our brain?

I guess you could say that since our brain is the origin of all of our  thoughts and all of our actions are only possible after signals are   originated in the brain, that WE ARE OUR BRAIN.


Deborah Hazen's picture

What are the implications?

What are the implications of this for you?

Antoinette Sisco's picture

The "Loopy Brain Model"

The “Loopy brain model” is a good story which easily explains diversity in preferences, learning style and personal choices.   How we select clothing styles, friends, places to live, hobbies, education, employment, and ect. are all outcomes of the “I-function” we have individually constructed. 

Personal choices can be influenced externally by limited experiences and availability: clothing preferences can be shaped by what styles are available for purchase in a given season, location, price range and cultural climate.  (A wealthy woman in  urban Pakistan will probably not select the same clothing style as a economically challenged woman in Texas.)   Does culture limit creativity?  How often are our  uniqueness bounded by societal constraints?   Does it mean that we ‘change’ who we ‘are’ to be presentable in a public forum???????

Angela Bryant's picture

Brain Stories

I believe that the brain is like a tool. With new observation we can fix and solve problems. I also believe, that the brain works like a computer, inputs information,  processes information and  outputs information.

Geneva Tolliferreo's picture

7/7 AM Summary

Sent to me by a co-education unknown...

Subj: The Prospective Teacher
After being interviewed by the school administration, the prospective teacher said:

"Let me see if I've got this right...

You want me to go into that room with all those kids, correct their disruptive behavior, observe them for signs of abuse, monitor their dress habits, censor their T-shirt messages, and instill in them a love for learning. 

You want me to check their backpacks for weapons, wage war on drugs and sexually transmitted diseases, and raise their sense of self esteem and personal pride. 

You want me to teach them patriotism and good citizenship, sportsmanship and fair play, and how to register to vote, balance a checkbook, and apply for a job. 

You want me to check their heads for lice, recognize signs of antisocial behavior, and make sure that they all pass the final exams. 

You also want me to provide them with an equal education regardless of their handicaps, and communicate regularly with their parents in English, Spanish or any other language, by letter, telephone, newsletter, and report card. 

You want me to do all this with a piece of chalk, a blackboard,a bulletin board, a few books, a big smile, and a starting salary that qualifies me for food stamps. 

You want me to do all this and then you tell me. . . 


Deborah Hazen's picture

Is this your brain on God?

NPR has a great site that talks about research being conducted into the brain on God.

Antoinette Sisco's picture

I received this as an

I received this as an e-mail during the school year, it demonstrates a great paradox.   We are expected to be all things to our children 'empty ourselves' , yet not take the time to fill ourselves, spiritually.   It seems odd to me.

Jill Bean's picture

Entire Emily Dickinson Poem

The Brain-is wider than the Sky- Emily Dickinson

The Brain—is wider than the Sky—
For—put them side by side—
The one the other will contain
With ease—and You—beside—

The Brain is deeper than the sea—
For—hold them—Blue to Blue—
The one the other will absorb—
As Sponges—Buckets—do—

The Brain is just the weight of God—
For—Heft them—Pound for Pound—
And they will differ—if they do—
As Syllable from Sound—


Antoinette Sisco's picture


Thanks for posting the entire poem.

Antoinette Sisco's picture

Brain Questions

1.  How often is there a paradigm shift about the importance of the brain and learning?

2.  How does neuro-anatomy relate to learning outcomes?

3.  If the brain is best able to process stimulation, how long can a brain go without external stimulation and still process in a healthy way?


joycetheriot's picture

Brain Questions

1. What is the most productive step in creating a brain-receptive environment for my students?


2. Can the brain ever do right-brained functions in the left-brain and vice versa?


3. How deeply does emotion affect learning?

Kathy Swahn's picture

brain Questions

1-      What would be the best way to reprogram negative thinking such as “I can’t to I can” make the uncomfortable okay.

2-      What are the best ways to engage thinking even when the people you teach feel what you teach is boring.

3-      What is the best way to improve memory?


Angela Bryant's picture

Queations about the brain

1. How much information can we store in the brain?



2. Is it true that one side of our brain in smarter then the other?


3. Where do headaches come from?

Deborah Hazen's picture

Brain Questions

1. How does it do what it does?

2. What is it doing? How has the human brain evolved over time? What adaptations have occurred?

3. How much of my existence is virtual? How does my virtual existence interact with other people's virtual existence? 


Brie Stark's picture

1. How does physical trauma

1. How does physical trauma in certain areas of the brain affect behavior?

2. If the brain works with an emphasis on emergence, why isn't society based upon emergence, rather than on things like hierarchies?

3. How should education be transformed in order to accomodate the fact that the brain works as an emergent creature?


Lucienne Davis's picture

1. How does the brain

1. How does the brain distinguish between perception and reality within the environment?


2. How does the brain process information in multiple forms?


3. How does the brain create and use mulitiple pathways to help us think?

Judith Lucas-Odom's picture

Brain Questions

 My brain questions


1.  What happens to the brain over time with memory?  For example babies learn and retain information quickly and by middle age it takes a lot longer.

2.  Is it possible to improve how we use our brain or make things work better/ longer especially after disease?(stroke)

3.  How can we get into the brain of youth and help them reach their full potential?

GShoshana's picture

1. Is there a connection

1. Is there a connection between the size of the body and the size of the brain?


2. Is the brain the only thing responsible for the way people behave?


3. Why do some people learn and observe things differently? What parts of the brain make them see it differently from one another?


Jill Bean's picture

Brain Questions

How does the brain respond to different forms of motivation (intrinsic, extrinsic, others)?

How does extended time watching TV/playing video games affect the brain/behavior? (Ability to focus, initiative, resiliency, executive function, etc)  Is there a observable difference in brain functioning?

What is the relationship between the brain and genes?  How much of our brain abilities/differences are a function of our genes?

RecycleJack Marine's picture

Three questions I have about the brain

1. How does the brain signal to the body to move, or does the body send a "request" to move to the brain?


2. How does the brain change its function as it grows during human aging processes?


3. What happens to parts of the brain when one uses too many drugs?

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