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Observations and Interpretations, week of 11/2/09

Brie Stark's picture
Observations and Interpretations

Week of November 2, 2009; Brielle Stark


Project: Brain and Behavior II [senses]



  • There were stations around the classroom that focused on different senses (for example: visual illusions, reaction time, depth perception, tactile sensation, taste perception and olfactory). 
  • The goal of the students' was to make in depth observations of the items at the stations by following the instuctional guide by the station.  They were also instructed to draw a 'map,' which can be understood as a kind of flow-chart, about how they thought the input was entering their body and where it went.

The Stations

  • While walking around the stations, I noticed that one student was questioning the teacher about whether or not they would find out what was 'actually' in the smell jar that contained four different flavors.  This was interesting because the desire to know the 'truth' seemed to be very pervasive, although the subject didn't let this desire to know the absolute 'truth' impede his creative skills.  He delved into the project and spent a great deal of time at the station.
  • At the tasting station, there was discussion focused on differing tastes for differing people.  One subject realized that he and his mother had very different tastes, and perhaps that's attributed to the different ways their tastebuds are mapped in their mouth.
  • At one of the visual stations (Benham's disc), subjects were hesitant to draw conclusions about why they saw different colors when they spun the disc, even though the disc was only black and white.
  • One subject in the visual illusion station said that he believed that the visual illusion was simply caused by his brain.  The other wasn't sure if it was the brain, or if it was a combination of both the website and the brain (perhaps the website had something to do with it).
    • I noticed, throughout the stations, that the connection between discovering something (ex. lemon taste on tongue; visual illusion) and why the specific thing occurs (ex. taste only on parts of tongue; see bent lines even though they're parallel) wasn't yet made with most of the subjects.  The content had definitely been given, and this discovery activity was helpful in getting hands on knowledge about the content they had learned.  The next step, I noted, was making the connection between the two.

Class Discussion

  • After the stations had ended, the teacher asked each subject to create the map that they had discussed earlier (a flowchart of where the stimulus came in, what it affected, where it went, etc).  This was an assessment of the connection made between content and discovery, which I mentioned earlier.
  • During the discussion, many great and innovative questions were asked.  The subject of frostbite came up to help understand sensations more, which delved into the fact that we're not always aware of everything that goes on inside or outside of our body.
  • I've paraphrased a conversation that occurred below (these words are not verbatim):
    • Sub1: if I don't react, or if I do react... how do I know what's happening?
    • Teacher: sometimes the body just reacts to the environment.  Do we always know that we're doing something?  Not always.
    • Sub2: Sometimes I don't notice when I rub my eyes...
    • Teacher: How many people just went 'through the motions' at lunch today?  (a few hands raised)
    • Sub1: I felt like I was on autopilot.
    • Teacher: What is the autopilot?  It's something we definitely need to research and figure out.
    • Sub3: I feel like I taste only the stronger things when I'm on autopilot.
    • Teacher: What kind of story can we tell about that?  Try and focus on gym today and see when and when you are not engaging in autopilot.


  • The goal between this discovery day and the previous/subsequent content days and the individual projects on the brain and behavior is to really forge the connection between the central nervous system, the neurons and what culminates from that
  • The concept of a storyteller had been brought up the day before, in that the brain acts as a storyteller: interpreting inputs from the environment in the way that seems the best fit.  There are many stories for one input, and there are also infinite numbers of inputs that could great a similar story. 


I was very intrigued by the discussion that took place after the activity, today.  The discussion was intensely thoughtful and offered some key insight into what the subjects were beginning to both understand and question: what role does our brain play when interpreting our surroundings?  One subject, as shown above, mentioned autopilot.  The autopilot seems to me to be a place where our conscious (usually overbearing) isn't quite active and our body functions normally, but without acknowledgment from our conscious.  It's a very broad concept; I was very impressed that the subjects made the connection so quickly.  There was genuine interest in the concept, and I could tell that both subject and teacher would gaining a lot from the conversation.  All of the other subjects seemed very attentive, as well.

After the class had ended, the teacher, my partner and I began discussing the different types of persona that every kid portrayed.  In most Quaker institutions, expression of one's opinion is encouraged and appreciated in discussion.  In some other schools, students are taught to listen well and only contribute when they have an innovative thought or can add to the discussion.  In others, neither is encouraged.  I think that the concept of encouraging ideas does lead to trusting oneself and to growing willing to take risks more often.  I also believe that a sense of self-confidence results when other classmates are willing to understand, consider and argue against your ideas, especially in a constructive way.  I see, in most discussions at the Praxis location, a great many ideas being thrown into the mix.  I also see a great many listeners--but those who, when they have a new idea or disagree, also speak.  I find that this way of making a classroom seems incredibly beneficial for later in life, when in college and career it is necessary to both create and support your ideas in much larger scales.

Another concept that I have previously discussed in a blog considers the fact that students rely upon each other for information, as well as the teacher.  I hypothesize that this peer-relationship is fostering a sense of self-confidence, or even growth.  We discussed the fact that each student has homework-buddy phone numbers in their agenda book, and that, when they become stuck on a math problem, they can easily call a homework-buddy and have a discussion to come to a conclusion.  It is not cheating, the teacher stresses--and I agree.  To me, it seems like cooperative learning.  I find that when I talk out things in groups of people, I learn the concept much deeper and do not forget the concept as easy as I would've had I only memorized it.  The presence of a homework-buddy also tends to alleviate anxiety, we thought; it seems very probable.

We came to discuss the different student persona's in another way: some genuinely enjoyed working in an open-ended environment, being okay with broad concepts and thinking globally; others preferred more structured environments where, as we said, there was a system that they could define and learn to work.  Before this past year, I would've easily classified my life into the second category: working the system.  I knew exactly what I wanted and preferred to know the exact answers to questions without having to think outside the box.  I preferred textbooks and memorization tests.  Now, I find, I'm enjoying broader concepts and discussions.  I'm choosing classes based on content and my level of interest, not on level of easiness or ability to obtain a decent grade in the course.  It's definitely been a growing process, and I'm nearly 20 years old.  I can imagine the difficulty that some students may have when processing this information in a broad setting, when they have come from a school or from a mentality that is more focused on correct answers.  While neither is wrong, I find that a happy medium between the two is best suiting my own lifestyle and the growth process is one definitely worth doing.


 Disclaimer: I have no previous affiliation with the workings of the school, and my writings reflect my own observation of events that occur and are not suggesting concrete fact.  If you have questions, please email me at