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Brain Behavior Institute - Session 9




Session 9

Output Architecture, Continued

Neurodiversity (to be continued this afternoon)

we have a narrow definition of what is considered normal behavior

Is it possible that we can see mental health was simply a brain deviation, and not abnormal? 

I began thinking about times of big change or disequilibrium in a human life span and how we label those as a society.

lacking some of the inhibitory controls

They can't sync up with the other people and their brains'

changing the unconscious into a new patterns of behavior

Review (and completion of output side)


  • Central pattern generation, corollary discharge
  • Gene/environment interaction
  • Motor influences on perception
  • Distributed control - multiple interacting boxes, lots of loops (motor to sensory as well as sensory to motor)

We discussed the unconscious today (not the I-function) and found that the unconscious definitely played a role in music.  A personal example is the piano: I play better when I'm not thinking consciously about the music.  Another example that Paul brought up was a jazz ensemble, where there is no preset score, but rather, people changing to fit with other melodies ... Brie

Is our job, as teachers, to serve as a catalytic source, or a source of leadership (one of many possible in the classrom), subtly guiding or steering the emergent learning, while placing most of the control on the students, in a "distributed control system"? ... Jill

At our best, we can be one of the catalysts in the room. At our best, we remember that we are only one of the catalysts in the classroom ... Deb (and Lucienne)

I like the idea of coordination as an emergent property and how it can be done without a conductor. The active listening aspect, I think is necessary for this to take place! ... Judith

Students look at their teacher as the conductor (of the train). They depend on our instructions on how to complete a procedure or to explain expected outcomes. We are "their conscious" and we guide them as if they are the corollary discharges ... Jack

Finishing up a look from the output side

Where is "drive", "choice", "will"? The I-function?


A week in, time for some reflection.  What new things have you discovered about the brain this week that strike you as important?  About classrooms and teaching?   Talk with colleagues and write some thoughts/questions in the forum area.


Deborah Hazen's picture

Skepticism instead

The internal dialogue continues.

Maybe it isn't about a disconnect over the difference between dissonance and disrespect at all. Maybe instead it's all about skepticism.

How will I model that? How will I train my brain? While I don't have the subjectivity/objectivity hurdle, nor am I wed to the idea of being a conductor---what I do have is a choke-hold "everyone has to be responsible for their own ideas" tape playing. The kind of loop that says I put out my ideas and you put out your ideas and it really doesn't bother me if we don't agree. Not the same as skepticism, not even close. My other fall back, seeing everyone's position, again not skepticism about my own thoughts.

I'm going to go talk to myself some more about skepticism and emergence...hoping to being able to examine my emerging thoughts skeptically in light of what other people think on this topic so that I can participate in a transactional emergent process.

Paul Grobstein's picture

On skepticism

Maybe it is indeed about "skepticism," the inclination/ability to allow all understandings, including one's own, to productively challenge each other?  Perhaps the following might contribute to your ongoing conversation with yourself ...

Judith Lucas-Odom's picture

Thoughts on My Brain and Teaching

The brain is a very complex mechanism that sometimes unconsciously doesn't work the way we want it to work due to neocortex malfunction or unconscious factors.  I think that the brain itself will take a life time to understand and figure out.  I found that this morning was good but at times overwhelming.  My brain needs time to assimilate!

Paul Grobstein's picture

Newness and assimilation

Yep, we all need time both to see new things and ... to assimilate them.  Hope you got some of the latter this weekend.

Lucienne Davis's picture

Stress Defined from Anonymous Individual

An Example of Stress................................................


  • A lecturer when explaining stress management to an audience, raised a glass of water and asked 'How heavy is this glass of water?'
  • Answers called out ranged from 20g to 500g.
  • The lecturer replied, "The absolute weight doesn't matter.

  • It depends on how long you try to hold it.

  • If I hold it for a minute, that's not a problem.

  • If I hold it for an hour, I'll have an ache in my right arm.

  • If I hold it for a day, you'll have to call an ambulance.

  • In each case, it's the same weight, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes." He continued, "And that's the way it is with stress management.

  • If we carry our burdens all the time, sooner or later, as the burden becomes increasingly heavy, we won't be able to carry on. As with the glass of water, you have to put it down for a while and rest be fore holding it again. When we're refreshed, we can carry on with the burden.
Jack Marine's picture

Yes, stress needs

Yes, stress needs management. But a lot of stress is avoidable if we come to terms with the fact that some things we cannot change.

Paul Grobstein's picture

emergence and stress

As per Judith, and my reply. Yep, emergence can be stressful sometimes.  And, as exchange Friday morning with Jill, can also be sometimes a little over rich.  Hope you've had a refreshing weekend, are psyched to carry on. 

Antoinette Sisco's picture

Are all brians the same?

Harrison Bergeron by: Kurt Vonngut Jr.

When I think of ways to understand diversity in education, I think of this short story.  We sometimes want all of our students to learn and demonstrate learning in the same way.   In order to validate my student's individuality, I need to view brain differences as opportunities to make me a better educator.


Paul Grobstein's picture

differences as opportunities

Yep, that's an important idea.  Perhaps related to the ideas that Cathy, Antoinette,Brie, and Deb are wrestling with? 

RecycleJack Marine's picture

Set Point

I was looking through my notes from this morning and I could help but notice that the concept of Set Point is an excellent metaphorical concept for students and learning. We strive to expand the learning of our students and while it's important that we are their conductors, it's also important that they have time to explore and discover engagement on their own...i.e. Emergent. Here's the metaphor- if studentts have set points at which  they are either set in their ways or set at a point of knowledge, we can let them learn through explorations and their "set points" are changed. In other words they go past that set point to higher levels of thinking and learning.

Paul Grobstein's picture

changing set points

Nice thought.  So how do we help people change set points?  Teach them to challenge their own presumptions, try sawing them off?  

Deborah Hazen's picture

The sawing came first for me

If I use my own experience in this institute---first came the sawing as you presented observations that sawed away at some of my assumptions and prior learning. don't you have to poke some holes, saw some branches, to get to thinking that there is a reason to challege the presumptions?

Weirdly enough (here I go embracing my slippery brain), saw away a student's set points and you run the risk of being cast in the role of expert and indoctrinating them in a brand new set of assumptions. Simply sawing or teaching them to challenge their own presumptions does not guarantee that they will develop a particular way of thinking. Which brings us back to the Zen student/master story, or to stories of cult indoctrination, military boot camp....


Jill Bean's picture

Thoughts on the brain and teaching


  • I'm always learn something that I missed or wasn't presented the last time I took this course. 
  • As complex as the brain is, it is also really simplistic  -->  info goes in, somehow processed, and an output comes out.  And even if it is wrong, we learn something anyway.  It's just as important as learn what doesn't work as what does work.
  • The brain has an innate way of making everything okay. 


  • Pain is the mismatch between what is expected and what is experienced.   We do that with our kids; some discomfort is good.  We want to create an environment where we let the kids know that it is okay to be uncomfortable. 
  • If we want emergence, we have to start to create it and then move back and allow the kids to take it over.
  • Why do we allow for gifted and special education students the freedom to learn differently, but we lump everyone else into one group.  Why don't we give that latitude to the rest of the kids? 


  • Focused on inhibition.  There are so many things going on in our nervous system that are preprogrammed, but the corresponding behaviors are not generated because of inhibition.
  • Varied experiences of the world - So much depends on how the brain processes the inputs.  Opens up so many possibilities for different people to experience the world differently. 

Further discussions:

What choices would the brain make if the inhibition wasn't there? 

Children now have so much immediate gratification, that they have not developed some skills.  Children seek answers from teachers, not strategies.  We frustrate children by not giving them what they want immediately.  The culture has raised children that expect immediate gratification.  

We (society/culture in general) take ownership from the students when we do it for them, rather than teaching them how to do it.  We're giving them momentary gratification, but its not helping them handle situations when we are not there.  They need to be able to act on their own. 

Part of learning --> There's an end-product expectation.  But there is also a process to get there.  Kids seem to be less aware of the processes that exist in the world, as so many things have becomed instantaneous.  And thus they are less willing to engage in the processes that exist in the classroom and learning. 

Technology has opened many opportunities, but it also have many challenges.  It makes children less aware of the underpinnings of the world.  If this world of technology crashes, we'll have several lost generations.  There is a real advantage to using computers while also integrating traditional methods as well. 

Changes in technology often create panics, since people have becomed so dependent upon it.  They don't know how to function through other methods. 

The internet only contains what people put in it. People have less awareness that they need to seek out information and complete tasks through other means as well. 

Maybe Maria Montessori had it right.  People need to learn through play, by doing. 



Jack Marine's picture

Dear Jill You seem to have

Dear Jill

You seem to have the most, or at least the most active brain in the class. How you come up with so much information inside your skull is beyond me! I thin k you shoud utilize your abitity to generate so many thoughts to write a book about children in classrooms.

RecycleJack Marine's picture

classroom questions

Question 1 the brain..


The brain controls less than previously thought – i.e. swimerettes still moving after separation from brain. What does that say for survival instinct – is it really from the brain?

Very complex – which part is used for specific functions? It seems that we cannot over simplify the brain into sections i.e. the majority of musicians are good at math but they are creative people “what brain are they in?”

Question 2 teaching…


Important to recognize that teaching cannot be separated into boxes i.e. you are good at math therefore you are not creative – we have many musicians or architects that prove that theory incorrect.

Structured exploration is important we need a conductor to guide not to control.

Open-endedness  lends itself to growth of knowledge, leaving something open continues to generate questions – therefore learning continues.


elovejoy's picture

thoughts on the brain and teaching

I have taken numerous psychology classes where we have learned tons about the brain.  But, it was never presented to me in the way that Paul has presented it to us.  I definitely never thought of it as a loopy process.  I think it is important for teachers to stress the fact that the brain is designed to explore, instead of introducing the different parts of the brain as responsible for certain, specific actions.  The way that my other professors have taught about the brain made it seem like the brain's functions are set in stone.  They never talked about what a complex system it is, which maybe could just be because they didn't want students to ask questions that they did not know the answers to.  I think there are a lot of misconceptions by students and parents that teachers know almost EVERYTHING on their subject matter, but I think that it makes the classroom more exciting and unpredictable when teachers don't give the answers to everything, but instead allow the students to explore the questions.

Kathy Swahn's picture

feeling empowered or unempowered


It's okay to agree to disagree but always remember...
"At the end of the day people won't remember what you say or did, they will remember how you make them feel."
— Maya Angelou


Antoinette Sisco's picture


Hopefully as we learn the emergent learning model, we will model valuing the person and thier individual ideas. 

Brie Stark's picture

Your comment is interesting

Your comment is interesting to think about in terms of the brain.  We discussed that we never had these inhibitory functions before the conscious and unconscious split, however many thousands of years ago.  I wonder if the conscious is the part of us that needs to feel good -- that needs to feel accepted by everyone.  I say this because, having an unconscious that is particularly not prone to thinking or feeling emotion on great levels, I try to appear more emotional on a conscious level in order to make people feel "accepted" and not give them the cold shoulder that I feel my unconscious could be interpreted as.

It's incredibly interesting (and relative) to think about how our brains naturally shift to pleasing both ourselves and other people, and how much weight our conscious puts upon social realities.

Deborah Hazen's picture

Very intereresting--dissonance and consonance

I've got a similar thing going on. The really interesting piece of what you're saying, for me, is the idea that we might need to feel accepted by everyone. So what does this mean for an emergent classroom? There are all sorts of group dynamic studies that seem to present observations that support what you are saying--put a group together and they will form an identity---and part of the identity formation is a way for everyone to get that accepted feeling. I stumbled across a piece of research that was arguing that our brains may actually be set up to get pleasure from cooperation. This sounds like a recipe for disaster if I expect that my classroom will be richer for having many different perspectives represented.

Is this why we look at ---let's pick on PhDs---profs and say they typically don't have good social skills--because success in the academic culture comes by having a brain (architecture and training) that prizes dissonance over consonance--because out of the dissonance comes truly original ideas? And what does this mean for the effectiveness of an emergence pedagogy when discussing "hot" topics like politics, sexuality, abortion, religion...?

On a practical level do we need more dialogue in our schools about the difference between dissonance and disrespect?

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