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BSIE 2010: Session 19

Paul Grobstein's picture

Brain, Science, and Inquiry-Based Education
K-12 Summer Institute 2010


  Session 19
The Bipartite Brain, More Loops

Picking up  from yesterday
The unconsciouness is more prone to guessing and exploring, while the consciousness tries more to understand and explain ... Mattie
I am thinking of concrete ways to activate the unconscious in the learning to create disequilibrium in productive ways ... Ashley
Very interesting dichotomy this notion of the conscious and unconsious.  I like the fact that a differences are set up so that we may see something productive, and therefore see a conflict that we have to find a solution for ... Could we understand this to be multiple interpretations...the communication between the conscious and the unconscious? ... cdivo39
"Just because we all see things differently doesn't mean we can't come to a social consensus." ... Jack
I truely like this idea we have come up with about being not wrong but different.  I feel as though this will help me as a teacher to help alleviate students' feelings of anxiety when it comes to group contributions.  But on a personal scale, it has also helped me to understand and identify some biases I have as an individual and to understand what role they may be playing in communication.  I have found that even in this short time we have spent in the institute that I have become more flexible and try to fight the urges I get to discount others' ideas and thoughts in preference for my own personal experiences and observations ... Keith
New things come out of sharing.  When everyone feels trust, we make new things ... Shoshana
Not being judged, but rather valued, leads to even more discoveries; that are even more positive and even deep ... Geneva
It is far to important for our student to learn then for our class rooms to be structured ... Kim
This is my third Institute, and as I become a better teacher, I find that I teach less content and teach more an approach to learning ... Susan
I think to a degree I feel the same way, but never used that as a reflective process for myself as a learner ... Keith
I liked the idea that we were beginning the lesson with a larger meta-question of: what is the optimum combination of inquiry approaches to teaching with teacher-directed lecture discussion? I also liked the idea that we were actively participating in an experiment and thus one example of inquiry ... jpfeiffer
Inquiry should be an ongoing process not just a one time activity.  Careful planning and patience is the key.  My motto is "Less is More!" ... Judith
the inquiry mode gives to the student more than just facts.  Inquiry based education is reaching the whole child.  It gives the child an opportunity to explore (within a predetermine format) and gain a new understanding of their world.  This exploration also increases the child sense of autonomy.  Increase autonomy allows the child greater freedom to become more engage with the world, which leads to more understanding, which leads to increase autonomy, and so on ... Regina
“Mmmm…not Aha! Imaginative vs. Analytical Experiences of Wines,” by John Dilworth made the point that the words used in wine tasting suggest that it is semi-scientific. He suggests that there is an imaginative component as well. It occurred to me that this is true in medical practice as well. The words are so technical and specific that patients can erroneously assume that medical diagnosis and treatment are “scientific” and exact. There is an imaginative component that makes medical diagnosis an art based on a story arrived at by experimentation and shared data.  As teachers, we need to choose out words and phrases carefully to reveal the uncertainty that characterizes any body of information still under exploration ... Susan
"routine" = no new understanding (unconscious?); "sophisticated" = create a new understanding (conscious?)  ... Paul
hands-on exploration at its best. We were sent out to decipher the different wines sole through our own devices. In these kids of lessons, students learn by doing, and after the investigation is complete, we go over the results and draw conclusions. I think this models .... the "crack" in modified Scientific Method design: We were able to go back a test our new hypothesis, armed with hints of which wine performed which ways..... Jack
The entire process felt to me as if I was determining what I was to get out of this ... Keith
Once I, as a teacher, began really conversing with students, I could not return to my old habits - so lopsided and boring ...  space in the language of conversation is the ability to listen and reflect before acting.  Space is giving your neighbors a chance to voice views and a chance to hear your own "other" voices (in a plural selves sense) ... Wil
The brain as an empirical inquirer - Loop 1

  • Learn by interacting with the outside world, noticing differences between expectation and input
  • No thinking, uses randomness
  • Always operating, better than thinking under many circumstances
  • Thinking needs to affect it to have long-lasting effects

The bipartite brain and a second loop (conversation between unconscious and conscious, "reflection")

  • Learn by interacting with the inside world, noticing differences between unconscious and conscious understandings. 
  • Consciousness helps one integrate various unconscious understandings
  • Consciousness helps one deal with circumstances that the unconscious can't deal with
  • Consciousness helps one to exchange understandings with other people
  • Consciousness helps one to conceive new possibilities, things the unconscious wouldn't have conceived
  • Both the cognitive unconscious and consciousness are valuable but the real power is in the loop between them, the testing one against the other

Uncovering the cognitive unconscious - an informed guesser, observations as constructions

What one sees/is aware of/experiences consciously is a construction/story (explanation?) rooted in unconscious processing of which one is unaware

Reflection - learning to use a conversation between the cognitive unconscious and consciousness, the I-function, story teller

A third loop: conversations between people, looking for differences

Interpersonal interaction, conversation, can enhance diversity, can also inhibit it
And a fourth: society/culture as collective stories that individuals can both contribute to and draw from, again looking differences

from Individuals and Cultures

from The Brain and Social Organization

Interacting individual and cultural stories, can promote diversity, can also inhibit it.
Some examples:

Bottom line: we learn by noticing/valuing differences within ourselves, between ourselves and the world, between ourselves and each other, and between ourselves and society/culture, using them all to construct new understandings for ourselves and to share with others Life should be a conversation, a co-construction, rather than a competition.
"The universe has lost its centre ... and woken up to find it has countless centres. So that each one can now be seen as the centre, or none at all." ... Bertold Brecht, The Life of Galileo
The goal of education?  
to give everyone the tools to create new understandings, individual and collective, based on co-constructive dialogue?  on open-ended empirical/transactional inquiry? 
The method of education?

encourage diversity, in others and in one's self, and  use diversity to construct new understandings?
Your thoughts in forum:

  • What explanations/constructions/stories about the brain are most significant for thinking about classrooms?
  • What does Paul do to facilitate learning? co-constructive dialogue?  open-ended transactional inquiry?  What could he do better?


Mattie Davis's picture

Thinking about the Brain and Learning in the Classrroom

Difference as diversity is the driving force for learning.  If the majority of what we learn takes place without our having to think about it (unconscious), at some point, when there is a need to collect observations (conscious) certain things must occur :reflection, a conversation, and co-construction.  Understanding and learning take place when the conscious and the unconscious agree.  Ideally, diversity in the classroom should be a welcomed inhabitant.  Withholding judgment, in and out of the classroom, is extremely important.  For many, when the emotions and feelings are wounded, the scarring may be immediately felt consciously, buy deeply embedded in the unconsciousness in an attempt to protect or shield.  These emotions and feelings may exhibit themselves at times and in ways which may appear to be inappropriate to others.  As educators, we must be mindful that a classroom is a diverse population, and becomes a disability when there is inhibition.  It becomes an ability when viewed as a support.  The whole can be considered greater than the sum of its parts.                                                                                                                                                                                  Paul tends to tell members of the group what they do well, and suggests that they could possibly look at it another way in order to arrive at a better explanation to a puzzling question.  He conveys to each member of the gtoup that their input is valuable and desired.  The atmosphere of the classroom is open and uninhibited. 

Susan Dorfman's picture

Role Modeling Loops

As in past Institutes, Paul is modeling the skills/stories/actions/reactions that constitute the goals of the Summer Institute. In each of his sessions, Paul offers the shared story, the science, as perspective. He does so with his words and projected narratives complete with visuals from Serendip. He answers our questions and listens to our examples and restatements of his stories, and in doing so, engages us in the process of co-constructing a story to analyze the roles and interactions in the bipartite brain. Using words and activities, Paul elicits conversation between our unconscious and conscious brain, challenges us to reflect and problem solve in conversation and narrative, and in doing so, illustrates the effectiveness of inquiry based education. His presence is an important part of my unconscious that inputs upon my conscious when I engage with my students in the classroom and in the halls. I suspect that others share my summary because of the many educators that return to the Summer Institutes. More than any other workshops or professional development seminars I have attended, the Summer Institutes with Paul, Wil, and Peter have influenced me as a teacher. Thanks to you and The Howard Hughes Medical Institute for funding these opportunities. The effect your mission and your work have on me as teacher, allows me to model this approach of inquiry as transactional, co-constructive, and respectful for my students, who hopefully make the approach part of their unconscious arsenal of behaviors.

Paul, I would offer only one suggestion for improvement. When you are speaking to us, you carefully choose your words and speak clearly. When you are reading from the projected Serendip narratives, your voice begins to fade to a level that is barely audible. At that level, any ideas additional to the narrative are lost to us. We want to hang onto your every word, so please don’t become “routine” in your speech but remain in “perpetual consciousness” as you speak.


GShoshana's picture

The 4 Loop of Understanding

In the classroom we need to help students bring their culture and past experiences to the present so they can use them while learning.  Paul's session gave us new tools to understand student behavior based on the 4 loops, including ways in which the teacher can accomodate the needs of various students with nontraditional needs so they can walk away with a new understanding.  I like how his sessions start out with quotes from everyone's comments on the forum because it allows us share each other's understanding and prepare for learning about what makes different students different.  This year I had students in my class who could not learn sitting still, so this session was important to me because I think it will make me a better teacher who can truly understand a student's needs.  Conversation between people, whether it be between two teachers or a student and a teacher, can help both people understand the loops better and come to a new understanding.

RecycleJack Marine's picture

Being Able to Hold Judgement is Critical in Classrooms

"The unconscious will back off and shut down if it feels that the conscious is being too direct." This morning's session was an interesting take at how when we think about what we're doing, there are other activities going on inside simultaneously that may or may not stem what we are doing. Is it always the right thing to do to reprimand students in class who are off task? I am learning that the best thing is to somehow quietly let the student know that his/her actions are inappropriate. It can be done by placing a yellow card on their desk with a message, or speaking with them quietly about meeting me after class. What is accepted at my new school- what is their culture? "Culture is the shared story resulting from other people sharing their stories."

It goes back to a discussion we had in week one of this institute: We have to be discreet when students act up or are not working at their ability levels. Don't shoot from the hip is the right slogan. Don't let your unconscious conjure up some not appropriate comment at the wrong time. The whole culture may be that students should be embraced, not harassed.

I can understand how Mark Rothco's artwork reflects the unconscious. I looked at today's painting and I saw a feeling of calm emotions at the top half and a feeling of intense emotions at the bottom half (of the canvas). I have a personal situation that affects me emotionally: When I feel really guilty about something, my internal temperature rises and I feel warm. Sometimes flu-like symptoms follow for about 18 hours. Sometimes I get a low grade fever or a mild flu for two days. All these things happen because my unconscious is playing havoc with my conscious. It's a "chemical" reaction inside my body (I've been advised), or it's the result of another kind of conscious-unconscious looping.

Finally, I can't wait to tell my wife what havoc she wreaks on my driving when she tries to direct how I am driving from the second she sits down in my car, until the time when we've reached our destination!

Judith Lucas-Odom's picture

The Four Loops

This morning's conversation which connected the unconscious with the conscious loop to the interpersonal loop to the culture/society loop got we to thinking about diversity and individuality.  Are they one in the same?   Can they be used effectively in a classroom?  Many students try to incorporate their beliefs and learning styles into the classroom along with the beliefs and learning styles of the other 30 students and the teacher's.  In an effort to make sense of the their world and what they are trying to learn from it, some students are trying to navigate these loops.  While others are just there for the ride.  This case study is an effective way to see how our society tries to get us all on one page.  Paul stimulated something in my unconscious that expressed itself in my conscious that caused me to pause and say what if....?  The what if's are the doorways to the mind and to creating unique situations not only for me but for my students.  What if.... I change today's lesson into allowing  the students to continue to generate questions about just understanding a process, instead of trying to find the right answer for a standardized test.   This is something that I will like to explore further.


Regina Toscani's picture

Session 19

What are the most significant stories/explanations about the brain in connection to teaching?   The most important concept for me is the idea of “co-constructive conversation”.  During the last 2 weeks I gained new understandings of myself, and others (including my students).  By being willing to listen,without judgment, to others allowed me to make connections to previous knowledge and come to a deeper understanding.  By being willing to share some of my thoughts I, hopefully, allow others to reach new understandings.   This process is very liberating to the “soul” as well.  The soul (or whatever term you want to use) wants to climb to the highest peak of understanding.  By engaging in this type of conversation, you are not only climbing, but you are helping others to climb with you.

How to incorporating co-constructive conversation in my classroom?  While the need to teach “x” amount of information in “y” amount of time is a very real limit, I need to mindfully set time to have co-construction conversation with the students.  I also need to be as “present” during these conversations as possible.  Very often my mind is filled with so many thoughts (do lesson plans, update roll book, write in agendas’, etc.), that I don’t always pay attention to the children.  For this process to have optimal benefits, I need to minimize inside distractions. 

What does Paul do to facilitate learning? Co-constructive dialogue?  open-ended transactional inquiry?  What could he do better?  This summer the way Paul handled this institute, learning, co-constructive dialogue and inquiry, were happening at the same time, for a sizable portion of the time (around 70-80%).  He did this by setting up a general topic and allowed others to voice their thoughts without any type of censoring.  Paul was no longer the “leader’ or “authority” of the group.  He became one of us.  There was great freedom given and it was amazing how a conversation evolved.  Somehow the topic was addressed, but the true learning came from the process.


Wil Franklin's picture

The Addition of Problem-Solving

I would like to thank Paul for such a clear and useful statement of the goal and methods of education.  Below I have only slightly complicated it, but I hope it is a useful addition.  The addition I would like to suggest comes from the same well Paul plumbed for his story of goals and methods. It comes from the evolutionary basis of the importance of diversity and its origins.  Paul has eloquently highlighted the importance of diversity created by an underlying process of randomness.  From diversity come the raw materials to create new things – be it new species or be it new understandings.  Yet, something is missing for me in this characterization of evolutionary theory.  Randomness is only half the story.  Randomness does not occur in a vacuum.  Thus, diversity theoretically can come from randomness; it does not empirically come from randomness.   Diversity is always and cannot escape environment – other physical matter as well as other living organisms as well as other stories and cultures when it comes to humans.  Therefore, diversity is more fully accounted for by the interaction of randomness and environment.  When human storytellers see biological change in organisms responding to the environment in which they exist, then we call it adaptation by natural selection.  Likewise, diversity alone in a classroom does not create new understandings.  Differences can exist theoretically, but until there is a problem to solve the differences do not really come into focus.  In this formalization of diversity and environment,  problems, questions and problem-solving is to new understandings as environment is to the generation of biological evolution.  Species do not evolve in a vacuum and new understandings in humans do not arise without a problem to solve.  This formalization also gives us one more benefit.  Differences are great. All differences are useful somewhere and in some context.  But, not all differences (different stories/theories) are equally useful for solving  A” particular problem.  Therefore, a problem to solve also gives educations a way to adjudicate between stories.

So, below in bold italics, are my alterations to Paul’s goals and methods.  Thanks again Paul for helping me generate so many new understandings.

The goal of education?  

to give everyone the tools to create new understandings, individual and collective, based on co-constructive dialogue?  on open-ended empirical/transactional inquiry? 

The method of education?

encourage diversity, in others and in one's self, and  set up problems and pose questions that give common purpose to the construction of new understandings through open-ended empirical, transactional dialogue/inquiry among the diverse individuals.


Paul Grobstein's picture

Co-constructive dialogue needs problems

More than happy to accept Wil's addition to my suggested "methods of education."  He's right.  One needs more than diversity and co-constructive dialogue, one needs a "problem" to give direction to the conversation.  And, for that matter, to create a context within which one can adjudicate among various suggested "understandings."  Important point.  Thanks, Wil. 

One suggested modification of Wil's modification: "... that give INDIVIDUAL AND commmon purpose ..."  The key here is that it would be nice if everyone shared a common purpose but it is enough (and minimally necessary) if everyone sees SOME purpose whether or not those are "common."  Ditto re the product: everyone needs to feel they achieved new understandings for themselves.  So much the better if there is a sense of new common understanding.

Susan Dorfman's picture

When the Boxes Are Not Equal

As I reflect back on the past school year in the light of our conversations this week, a discrepancy came to mind. I can see room for improvement in how I handled certain situations where I could have better undertaken the role of facilitator. What puzzles me is how to use co-constructive dialogue in situations where there is no opportunity to assume that role, specifically when dealing with those in supervisory positions granted authority by their title and position in the Institution. Are there situations where teachers have to "know when to fold?" Are there situations that warrant a conscious/unconscious shutdown as when a teacher is in a negative environment arising from a shared small group story to which that teacher does not subscribe?

Paul made the suggestion not to act until you reflect. Can this be a staged reaction, first to remove yourself physically from the negative environment and then to reflect upon an appropriate response? Can this response include not engaging in conversation with someone in authority who will not deal with the intersection of their own conscious and unconscious enough to allow a respectful co-constructive dialogue?

Most of our dialogue these past two weeks has been about our role as facilitators of learning in the classroom. Paul's discussion of Loops #3 and #4 brought to mind the cultures of the institutions in which we work. These institutions are built on hierarchies. Can free will be used to both respectfully express our opinions and also to choose silence when the issues do not involve the well being of our students?


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