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Brain, Education, and Inquiry - Fall 2010 Home Page

Paul Grobstein's picture

Brain, Education, and Inquiry

Bryn Mawr College, Fall 2010

A discussion of intersections between the neural and cognitive sciences and the theory and practice of education.  In addition to in class conversation,  students will participate in on-line forum discussion of papers on this general subject, lead discussions and write web papers on topics of particular interest to themselves.  Others are welcome to join in the conversation by way of background readings and on-line forums associated with each class session (see schedule below), and via the on-line forum at the end of this page.  


30 August Education, the brain, and co-constructive inquiry Grobstein  
[6 September] Empirical inquiry Grobstein  
13 September The brain: perception and knowledge as construction
20 September The brain as an empirical inquirer
27 September The brain: distributed and bipartite organization Grobstein First paper due
4 October The brain and conflict Grobstein  
11 October FALL BREAK    
18 October The brain,conflict, and construction Grobstein  
25 October Interacting brains, culture and conflict Grobstein  
1 November

Interacting brains, culture and conflict, con.

Paolo Friere



Second paper due today or next week
8 November

Paolo Friere, con

Teaching in a Kaleidoscope


kgould, ln0691

Second paper due
15 November

Story Telling, Onself as Story Teller

Angela DiGioia, FinnWing


22 November

The importance of creativity in the classroom

eledford, kwarlizzie, simone

29 November

Teaching matters


Repetition in the classroom, athletics, music

Enuma Igweatu, Christine Neilson

Evren Cakir

6 December

Theories of identity

Stereotypes and stereotype threat

Alternative classrooms

Emotions and education?

Reflections ....

Abby Moskowitz

Elana, Liz, Bennett


Amenah, skindeep


18 December     Third paper due




Paul Grobstein's picture

Campus education event

The Social Justice Partnership Program and 360 °
are proud to host the screening of
First Person

First Person unfolds through the eyes of six promising Philadelphia teens. The film opens on the first day of 11th grade, as each student embarks on the most important year of high school. The film takes viewers inside the challenges of pursuing college while navigating the responsibilities of family, the pressures of the streets, and the absurdity of a school system that fails to graduate almost half its students.

The screening will be followed by a panel with Ben Herold, Director; the Students of First Person; Lisa Nutter, President of Philadelphia Academies, Inc. and First Lady of Philadelphia; Kate Shaw, Executive Director of Research for Action; Azsherae Gary, BMC senior; and Aaron Jones, Parkway West senior.
So come and watch an amazing film and enjoy the thought provoking panel and conversation that will follow!

Date: Wednesday, October 20th
Time: 7 – 9 pm
Place: Thomas 110

But there’s more! Ben Herold, the director and winner of the 2008 Best First-Time Film Director Award, will host a workshop Thursday, October 21st from 4:00-5:30PM in English House Lecture Hall that will discuss the next steps towards tackling issues concerning college access in urban schooling.
Contact: (x5275)

Paul Grobstein's picture

some more thoughts on educational reform

From the Washington Post, 10 October, 2010, interesting to compare to some of our class discussions

Paul Grobstein's picture

LIfe/education as a game?

See NYTimes Sunday Magazine Education Issue for 19 September 2010.  Its devoted almost exclusvively to technology and education, is pretty all over the map on that area, but might be of interest to some.  In addition, there are some interesting tidbits within some of the articles. 

Games Theory, in particular, makes some points resonant to some of our conversation ...

"A well-built game is ... a series of of short-term feedback loops, delivering assessment in small, frequent doses.  This ... may be more palatable and also more instructive to those trying to learn ... "They'll fail until they win ... Failure in an educational environment is depressing.  Failing in a video game is pleasant.  It's completely aspirational" ... "If you think about kids in school - especially in our testing regime - both the teacher and the student think that failure will lead to disaster ... That's pretty much a guarantee that you've never get to truly deep learning." 

jessicarizzo's picture


I'm Jessica, a senior English and Theater major at Bryn Mawr.  I have no background in the sciences, natural or social, and I'm here to see if there are any interesting empirical reality-based observations to make about education, somethings I already care about/value, or think I might have some ideas about.  I guess my background, or special interest, in education comes from an interest in making art, and the questions that arise, especially working in collaborative contexts, about where creativity comes from, how it can be encouraged/engaged in others, if it can be taught?  The presumption I bring to the table is that the best kind of education is the kind that can transform students from passive receptacles of knowledge/values into creative/critical thinkers.  There's something wonderful, and kind of miraculous about that transformation to me, and I'm interested in finding a way to illuminate the process a little bit. 

LinKai_Jiang's picture


I'm a senior philosophy major at Haverford College. I was born and raised in China. The Chinese education system that I was in taught me many things but prepared me very poorly for my coming to the States 9 years ago. At first, I struggled tremendously with the English alphabet and then with all its other idiosyncracies. I often go back to my experience as an ESL student to reflect on what works and what doesn't work in an education system.

My inclination, and thus my contribution to the class, would be a philosophical curiosity for the root of the problem. I'm hoping to learn from my classmates some concrete groundings to my thoughts.        



Kwarlizzle's picture


Hi, my name is Naa Kwarley Quartey and I am a senior at Haverford College.

I am a biology major at Bryn Mawr and I am very excited to be wrapping up my undergraduate degree!!!  I am from Ghana, and that is the place where I am happiest. I have worked mostly in the field of medicine - it's been a curious mix of medicine for medicine's sake and social medicine.  I don't know much about education, but have lately spent a great deal of  time talking with my friends and other people I come across (aka doctors in the ghanaian hospitals I have interned at) about what the failures  (and triumphs, if any) of the Ghanaian education system are.  So.... yeah, I look forward to exploring more how the brain works and how we can apply it to our education system, to become better people, better educators.....

eledford's picture

I'm Emily Ledford...

Hello to all of you, my name is Emily and I am a senior at Bryn Mawr. I am double-majoring in Biology and Anthropology; I have plans to attend medical school in the future, so I have followed the pre-med course track, as well. 

My interests for this class lie in the realm of connecting cultural and social aspects to behavior and brain response. This even includes how the brain is shaped from an early age, how one learns social norms/taboos, and how exploring these topics play into education in a formal sense. It is very important to me to examine human interaction and isn't it amazing that much of education requires this? What other systems of the body could be involved in this interplay? How much of education is conscious? Do we learn more from watching or from doing? These are just some of the areas I wish to explore.

I love the non-traditional approach to sciences, so I am thrilled to take part in this class with all of you.

ellenv's picture


 My name is Ellen and I am a sophomore at Bryn Mawr, undecided in my major but im learning towards Psychology at the moment (although this is bound to change). I have worked with the Belmont Mentoring Program at Bryn Mawr and before coming to Bryn Mawr I did a lot of work with a Head Start class at an elementary school near my house. Im interested in education for several reasons, but the main reason im interested in it is because I have always wondered why it is schools/school systems choose to teach the subjects that they do. I wonder why exactly are some subjects chosen over others and how these subjects have changed over time. I hope to learn more about the process of learning from this course because to me, it is something that is a very abstract concept that I dont begin to understand. I have always wondered how the theories of education play out in the actual learning process that students go through.

D2B's picture

Sawatdee Ka!

 Hi everyone,

 I am a senior at Haverford College, English major at BMC. I am from Bronx, NY with a parochial Catholic all-girls high school. I have a great interest in higher education and issues related to college access. I currently do multicultural recruitment work for Haverford's Admission Office and volunteer work with the Mayor's Office of Education's PhillyGoesToCollege Office. This semester I created an Independent study course focused on two areas of college access: Academic Writing/College Admissions Writing and College Advising/Counseling. 

 I have always been interested in neuroscience and have taken English courses delving into the psyche. I am very excited about this course because I am sure it will open a new window into the brain and inquiry through the topic of education. 

L Cubed's picture


I am senior math major at Haverford College. My desire to major in math and
eventually teach math actually stems from a growing "hatred" of the subject after
elementary school and throughout high school. After elementary school, math became
so robotic, abstract, and simply uninteresting to me. Keeping this in mind, it is my
desire to regain and reignite my love of math and share it with students. I want to
teach math in a more creative and hands-on way. While, like Ameneh stated, students
have different strengths and interests that in this case my not include math, I at
least want math to be exciting for students, something more than memorization and
regurgitation. I think that one of the most effective ways in me figuring out how to
do this is through observation and eventually construction.
mmc's picture

An Introduction





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I am senior at Haverford College. I am majoring in Psychology with a concentration in Neural and Behavioral Science.
I am really intrigued about learning about how neuroscience, cognition and cognitive neurosciences are interlinked with education, especially since this is the first education class I have taken. I do have some knowledge about mental disorders and illnesses which certainly affect one’s performance in school and how they learn. My experiences being a mentor and tutor in languages and sciences throughout college and part of high school, has provided me some formal knowledge in regards to what some education systems are like, the different learning styles and techniques individuals utilize and a broad idea of how culture and observations shape the idea of success, education and wisdom.
Some interests of mine are the reasons behind the behaviors of humans, why we do what we do, learn the way we do and think and express ourselves the way we do? Neurobiology and neurochemistry of the brain truly fascinates me and I would like to delve into how the circuitry of the brain contributes to how individuals make decisions, undergo thought processing and learn, in terms of “experience-based” education and “academic/institutional-based” education. Is there a difference in neural activity? That is, if we are able to define either in class based on consensus.  I’d also like to investigate how education can address thinking, language, culture and learning styles and the role the brain plays in such aspects, given that science, education and culture share some overlapping connections with each other.  I am excited to possibly be able to apply any theories, ideas and perspectives (my own and others) that arise in this course to further understand the topics discussed in class and in future courses in my last year of study.

skindeep's picture


hey everyone,

im a sophmore at bryn mawr and am a potential psych and english double major with a minor in education.

im from bombay, and over the years, i worked with both adults and children in the field of education and that along with my own experiences with the educational system pushed me to develope an interest in education as a subject.

as for this class? i was drawn to it by the name. ive never been a big fan of the biological aspect of pshycology, but i know it plays a vital part in shaping us, as individuals. and that was most of my education (outside of the classroom) - watching people, observing thought patterns, studying dreams and emotions and what they are and where they come from. i think all of those aspects are important in shaping an inidividual. and if our aim is to educate someone, we need to know how they function, so we can approach and deal with them accordingly. am i suggesting that each teacher take the time out to study each student? not at all. but i do think teachers need to be aware of people, of children, of how they behave and why. i think they need to be aware. and being aware starts with inquiry, both about yourself and the world you surround yourself with.

i come into this class with a few experiences and ideas. what i hope to take from it is a better understanding of the role the brain plays with the mind and how the two of them together shape an individual and his/her ideals and perceptions.

LizJ's picture


 Hi everyone,

I'm Liz and a junior at Bryn Mawr College. I'm an independent major in Gender and Sexuality with a hopeful film minor. I came from a public high school much bigger than Bryn Mawr, and needless to say Bryn Mawr was a very different academic environment than I was used to. I've never been a very strong math or science student so I'm glad to be taking a science class that's cross listed with education. Though my mother has working in schools and education her whole life, I've never taken an education class. I'm excited for this opportunity to learn more about my own education and the education of others.

Being a Gender and Sexuality major, I would like to look at how both gender and sexuality play a part in the different ways men, women, and everyone else learn and think. There are a lot of debates about gender and sexuality and what's deemed as "biological" versus "social" and this class seems to be a great place to continue that. Coming from an all women's college, I would say I'm a strong advocate for same-sex learning, and I hope this class will allow me to formulate my thoughts about topics such as these in a more articulate manner.

Ameneh's picture


I am sophomore at Bryn Mawr College and an Undeclared Philosophy/Psychology double major and potentially an Education minor. I’m from Pakistan and studied in the British system my whole life. In my opinion, my educational experience was just what it shouldn’t have been - a bombardment of information that we were expected to memorize and reproduce. I think the purpose of education should be to help people identify who they are, who they want to be and then bridge the gap between the two. Education can change lives and that’s what it should aim to do. This is might sound idealistic, but students should have agency in choosing what they want from their education and even how they want to get it.

A few years ago I interned at an underprivileged public school in my hometown in Pakistan and taught the kids there. Despite the dearth of resources - and by resources I mean tables and chairs, stationary, books and the like - the kids dreamt big. While I nodded and smiled as they told me they wanted to be doctors, lawyers and engineers it was hard-breaking to know they would most likely never get there. Since then I’ve wanted to do something, anything actually, to make education accessible to as many kids as possible. 
One of my major issues with the education system is how it completely disregards the fact that each  student is an individual. We all have different strengths and weaknesses and trying to fit everyone into the same mould (testing ‘aptitude by ‘standardized tests’, for example) just seems wrong. I hope we will be able to redefine education in this class and explore ways of making it achieve it’s goals (that will hopefully transcend feeding the job market).
Evren's picture


My name is Evren and I'm a junior at Haverford and a Math major and Physics minor. I'm taking this course because I am considering pursuing a career in teaching. My whole life I've been surrounded by educators. My grandparents, parents, and aunts and uncles, on both sides of the family, are all teachers ranging from Turkish rural elementary school to deans at Princeton. In high school I participated in a program at the College of New Jersey called the "Urban Teacher's Academy," which focused on the adversities facing students and educators in urban schools and how to overcome these adversities. While that program focused a lot on the politics of education and how shaping policies can improve urban school systems, the Noyce science and math teacher internship that I participated in over this past spring break offered a classroom view of education. I saw different and unorthodox teaching methods regarding curriculum and how teacher-student relationships can be developed to maximize learning.


While I've participated in several programs regarding teaching, this is the first education (and biology) course I've taken, so I expect to be made less ignorant with respect to both pedagogy and biology.

bennett's picture

My name is Bennett Smith and

My name is Bennett Smith and I'm a senior Philosophy major at Haverford.

I think I've always been self-conscious. In high school and for the first few semesters of college I devoted a good deal of time and thought and interest to developing an academic understanding of the forces that (entirely without my agency) constituted me in one way or another; I was after my essence, in retrospect, something that any philosophy major in the twenty-first century should know better than to do. It can, though, be both difficult and impossibly appealing to reconcile what we think we know about ourselves with how we feel about ourselves as people in the world: if what we know about our brains is true, how can we feel certain about our capacity for free will? If we know that the circumstances of our world radically inform the ways that we think and feel about things, from where does our confidence in our individual, irreducible singularity come? These are the kinds of questions, I think, which elude definite answers, and which instead we can use to unceasingly push the limits of our understanding and test the certainty of our knowledge.

In this class I expect to learn a tremendous amount about other people and the worlds they inhabit, which I expect will in turn reshape my conceptions of my own world. I hope that we can work together to confidently move forwards toward new understandings and new uncertainties. And I hope that I can provide a (potentially unique, given people's academic backgrounds in the class,) productive perspective driven, I guess, by an earnest interest in knowing more (and better).

FinnWing's picture

About me:              

About me:


            Hello, my name is Lars Margolis and I am postbac here at Bryn Mawr. I am originally from Brookline, MA (outside of Boston) . I am taking this class because I want to be a doctor, and for the rest of my life I also hope to be an educator and be educated.  This class should give me perspective on both sides of the education aisle through a multi-faceted approach. 


            For the most part, up until college, I preferred education outside of the classroom, mainly though athletics. In college, I began to value classroom learning much more and I may have even lost track of learning outside of the classroom in some ways, at some points. I hope to continue to learn to balance my education so that I can be more rounded, and more adept at relating to and understanding others.


            After graduating from Hamilton in 2009, I moved to Portland, OR and I learned a whole lot. I spent part of the year playing rugby for the Finnish National Rugby Team, I worked on my Spanish, I learned to cook (a little bit), I read many books, I biked, I coached HS rugby, and I did volunteer work in hospitals and clinics. I feel that these experiences have helped me to be prepared to return to school. 


And in a little more than a nutshell, that’s me 


epeck's picture


I’m a Psychology major/Biology minor at Bryn Mawr.   I’ve worked at the Thorne School (the nursery school on campus) for the past year with the two-to-three year olds and through this, I've learned about teaching before children even enter kindergarten.  This summer I worked with patients before they saw their doctors and had conversations with them about how they feel about their health care and how they provide health care to their children.  As a secondary part of the program I also spoke to many families about the importance of reading to their children at a young age.  This discussion often led to how these parents feel about the education their children are receiving.  Although we have been discussing the problems with formal education, my experiences, both outside of school and in my own schooling, have given me an appreciation of both education “done right” and the progress that has been made and is being made.  I also think that this class will be a bit of a stretch for me because I am used to seeking a clear definition for a problem, and a clear straightforward solution for that problem.  This class seems like it will be much more abstract than the courses I’ve taken, and while I’m looking forward to the challenge, I am also a bit apprehensive about the fuzzy view of what this class will be like.


memyselfandi's picture


 I'm a transfer student from Scripps College in Claremont, CA. I am a sophomore with an anticipated English major, Theatre minor. This past summer I was both a summer camp leader for the YMCA day camp and an SAT teacher for The Princeton Review. In both of these atmospheres I was very interested in how the students/children were being taught and which techniques were most effective in the SAT class. I hope to learn more about education and the brain as a result of taking this class.

Angela DiGioia's picture

About me...

Institute for Healthcare Improvement


18 pt
18 pt


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My name is Angela DiGioia and I am a post bac at Bryn Mawr.  I graduated from Wellesley College in 2006 with a Spanish and Political Science double major.  After graduating from college, I worked at a quality improvement healthcare not-for-profit in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  It was through my experiences and relationships there and in my volunteer experience with an organization called Operation Walk in Guatemala that enabled me to realize that I wanted to pursue a career in medicine. 
I am excited to take this course to exercise the parts of my brain that have been underutilized and underchallenged in recent years.  I hope to think outside of the box and to explore how to interact more effectively with other people who learn differently than me.  Hearing other people’s viewpoints on the same topic has always been an eye opening experience for me.  I look forward to asking lots of questions and to sharing my experience with others to create a co-constructive dialogue that will last past this semester.  With these things in mind, I would like to develop an idea of what a customer or student-focused education would look like for both children and adults.  Would it even be in a school?  What materials and topics would be taught?  How? Who would be the teacher?  Could it be peer-led?  Would there be grades?


simonec's picture



I’m Simone, a Haverford sophomore and Anthropology Major. I am from San Francisco, where I have some experiences with education that have lead me to be particularly interested in this course.  I have taken biology in the past, and enjoy it! I have also taken a psychology course that covered some basic brain functioning.

At home I worked for Youth Speaks, a literary arts organization. We ran/ organized open mics in the city, and after-school spoken word workshops. Seeing kid’s relationships to education in and out of the official classroom was fascinating, as we saw people who thought of themselves as poor students flourish in a classroom that told them “there is no such thing as a wrong answer” and rewarded creativity.  I worked at my old preschool, as well as in a special education classroom.  When I was a kid I was told I was an “alternative learner”, and was put me in classes that had me associate my multiplication tables with different colored pieces of felt, or had me remember stories by associating each section of the narrative with a color.

Why did these methods work for me? Does it matter? How can we approach education in schools in a way that takes advantage of how many different approaches there are to understanding learning, education, and the mind?

Just some questions that I do not expect to be answered, but certainly explored in this class.



kgould's picture


Hello all!

I'm Kate, a senior English major, Biology minor at Bryn Mawr College. 

I am a big fan of biology (and the cognitive sciences), books and reading, and science writing. I, like Paul, like to figure out how other people think and why they do so-- in an attempt to better understand how and why I think the things I do. I have an interesting brain, as everyone does, and it has quirks that I've yet to completely decipher. (Dissociative events that alter my perception of my environment, not as scary as they once were, but notable.)

I worked in the Brain, Science, and Inquiry-based Education Institute with K-12 teacher over the past summer and the experiences I had and the things I learned have greatly affected the way that I look at consciousness, unconsciousness, and education. 

The interplay between our conscious and unconscious is heavily involved in our learning process and I look forward to seeing what path we take during the semester concerning those ideas--and what differences there will be between us (students) and the institute participants (teachers).

As I said in class, I hope to learn more about the brain and the way we experience the world (the way in which we learn) and to use it with my thesis, in the theme of stream of consciousness writing and the relationship between the Humanities and the Sciences. I prefer to approach my two areas of study (English and Biology) with the belief that they have far more in common than most people give them credit for. The link between them is the brain and by pushing deeper into cognitive and behavioral studies, I think we can approach a better understanding of the educational system and how students should learn. 

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