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Brain, Science, and Inquiry Based Education 2010: Home Page

Paul Grobstein's picture

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


Welcome to the evolving home page of the K-12 Summer Institute on Brain, Science, and Inquiry-Based Education at Bryn Mawr College for the year 2010. This Institute (like others in the series) is designed to bring together college faculty and students and K-12 teachers to discuss current understandings of science, the brain, and inquiry, both individual and collective ... and the implications of those understandings for classroom teaching and education generally. The Institute, which runs from 12 July to 30 July, is supported by a grant to Bryn Mawr College from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and by the Bryn Mawr/Haverford K-16 Collaborations in Science and Mathematics Education and the Serendip website.

An exploration of education (and life?) as open-ended transactional inquiry, co-constructive dialogue, conversation with the universe as well as within and between people

Some relevant Serendip general resources



Paul Grobstein's picture

conversation and "journaling"

For some more thoughts on science as conversation in a new context by another institute alum, see Deb Hazen's Science journaling: opportunity to own the evolving perspective? 

Paul Grobstein's picture

Paul's mini-project update

One you all saw an early version of that didn't work too well.  The second I wanted to use but wasn't even that ready.  Anyhow, for whatever use they might be in classrooms, check out

Paul Grobstein's picture

bsie10 - additional photo gallery

Photo Gallery IV (includes Greg, Paul B., Rebecca)..

Keith Sgrillo's picture

Dual Coding Theory

Interesting work By Allan Paivio and Mark Sadoski.  Might be worth reading based on all we have talked about.


Dual Coding

Paul Grobstein's picture

More food for thought re education/classrooms/teachers

Wil Franklin's picture

Pre-Session Survey

In preparation for tomorrow's session with Paul Burgmayer on Atomic Shielding, please take a moment to fill out the following survey.



Susan Dorfman's picture

This quote resonated with me as a teacher

Miles Harvey in The Island of Lost Maps said, "[He] understood that to truly conquer a wilderness, you must not only survive in it yourself but make sense of it for others."

I would change the quote to read:

To truly understand a body of information, a teacher must not only excel in the body of information but help others to make sense of it for themselves. Susan

Dr S Ramakrishna Sharma's picture

To make more sense.

To add to "a teacher must not only excel in the body of information", I would like this:"It is not enough to know enough. A teacher has got to know more than enough."

Paul Grobstein's picture

understanding: survive AND reflect?

Reminds me of a recent NYTimes Sunday magazine article: Building a Better Teacher

Keith Sgrillo's picture

In Response to Building a Better Teacher

I found this article to be very provoking.  It definitely raises thought on the issue of preparing teachers and what it means to be an effective teacher. Green's use of the word "better" teacher I think is misleading and lends a lot of scrutiny to the credibility of the article.  Although this was a very well written and articulated article, it was very self-serving, elitist, and clearly had an agenda to "sell" someone's new buzz word (or phrase in this case).  I think what this article leaves out is individual creativity and innateness in reflection, presentation, and flat out desire to help students reach their potential.  I think what we need to realize is that in this world, there are no definite descriptors of an effective teacher, or in Green's words, "better" teacher.  Merit pay will not inspire nor implant an ability to instill learning in students. I find it hard to believe that many of those that are not as effective in teaching, would be motivated by monetary gestures and that they are not truly trying. That being said, I think this corporate take over of education would not only be a flash in the pan, but would encourage the withdraw of professional communication, misdirected competition, and a corruption of teaching practices.  We must not forget that education is a service not a commodity.  The issue is how to improve on the strengths that exist within the individual who is not reaching the students before the motivation is lost. 


I also found it somewhat concerning that isolated cases were used to describe what a "better" teacher is.  In the instance of a teacher teaching word problems and confusing which number was to be the dividend and which was to be the divisor is not enough to say "bad teacher."  I do not argue that this can be an important issue that will mislead the students on that particular type of problem. But it hardly renders her ineffective.  I think one issue that is rarely, if ever discussed, is the role of a consistent mentor in the development of a teacher.  Too often, the effectiveness of a teacher is solely based on standardized test scores and/or 1-3 formal observations done by an administrator which, let's be honest, posses a whole new set of variables when presenting instruction.  In almost any case, this presence on a classroom has an effect on the instruction itself.  What I suggest is that we must find a way to improve teachers based on their strengths and positives as this article suggests we do for the students.  However, Green fails to acknowledge this and presents an argument which says "here are 49 prescribed antidotes for ineffective teachers. Take them and zaaaaam!  All fixed."  I must also acknowledge that I have not had the chance to read Lemov's Taxonomy, so I am not attacking his ideology.  In fact, I really liked (and will be "borrowing" some mentioned in the article this year) several from the article. But the article seems to suggest that making some mistakes in class or in terminology makes one a bad teacher.  I would also like to know if the teacher ever rectified her mistake, did anyone step in and advise her on her error, or did she have a chance to reflect on the video herself.  Sometimes "creating a better teacher" is not the responsible of the individual, but of the institution of education itself to pick each other up and build one another instead of labeling and pointing fingers. 



Paul Grobstein's picture

more from Ingrid

Ingrid participates in a Google group "group is designed for the community of high school Biology teachers in the School District of Philadelphia to share questions, concerns, experiences, or ideas about teaching the school district's core curriculum."  One can join by logging into Google, going to, and clicking on "Apply for membership".

alesnick's picture

resource on children's agency as freedom OR efficacy

Hi All,

For another project, I am reading some of cultural anthropologist David Lacy's work on global understandings of how children learn culture; one is "Cultural Transmission and the Paradox of Children's Agency."

This connects with the discussion we shared of how to recognize unconscious as well as conscious experiences and frameworks in education planning, and how to think about the relation of constraint and opportunity/boundary and scaffold.

-- Alice

RecycleJack Marine's picture

Children are Ripe

Thanks for this powerpoint. There are some very interesting stories embedded inside. I think I will pass this along to annyone I know who is food for thought.




alesnick's picture

Saturday conference info -- plus THANKS!

Dear Institute Folks,

It was a joy for me to work with you yesterday.  Thank you.

Information about the education "unconference" I mentioned at the end of the session is as follows:

web site is:

Format is participant-driven and emergent:


What: NTCAMP is an unconference devoted to new teachers, K-12 Education issues, and ideas.

Where: Boys' Latin Charter School, Philadelphia, PA

When July 24, 2010

Time: 8-4

Cost: Free

All welcome







Susan Dorfman's picture

The Creativity Crisis

Can creativity be taught or is creating a classroom where there is co-constructive conversation an opportunity for every student to be creative? I found this article to be another perspective on the failures of classroom in our country. 

In this important Newsweek cover story, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman report that while Americans’ average I.Q.s has been rising 10 points each generation (the so-called Flynn effect), creativity has been falling since 1990, with the steepest declines among children from kindergarten to grade 6. Part of the problem, say the authors, is that we assume creativity is a gift that can’t be taught. “While our creativity scores decline unchecked,” they say, “the current national strategy for creativity consists of little more than praying for a Greek muse to drop by our houses. The problems we face now, and in the future, simply demand that we do more than just hope for inspiration to strike.”

Newsweek article on Creativity in the Classroom - this hyperlink is not working, so here is the complete article

 How do we know creativity is declining? From a massive study using the well-regarded Torrance assessment, which asks people to generate ways of using everyday objects differently and/or improving them. And why is it declining? Researchers aren’t sure yet, but one likely suspect is the amount of time young people are mesmerized by television and video games. Another is that schools have devoted less time to creative activities in recent years – unlike many other countries, which are making a concerted effort to develop creativity in schools.

            But isn’t creativity innate – either you have it or you don’t? And shouldn’t schools be sticking to basics to prepare students for the 21st century and let “gifted” students develop creativity in the art room? Wrong, wrong, and wrong, say Bronson and Merryman. Creativity is “part of normal brain function” and can be developed, they contend, and it’s important in all subject areas from music to engineering. “The argument that we can’t teach creativity because kids already have too much to learn is a false tradeoff,” they say. “Creativity isn’t about freedom from concrete facts. Rather, fact-finding and deep research are vital stages in the creative process.” Students can, in fact, meet and go beyond today’s curriculum standards through more creativity-based instructional approaches.

            Bronson and Merryman also puncture the notion that creativity is exclusively a “right-brain” activity. Here’s the sequence of mental activity that occurs when a person solves a problem:

-   Focusing on obvious facts and familiar solutions to see if the answer lies there;

-   If not, scanning and evaluating remote memories for unseen patterns and alternative meanings;

-   Zeroing in on a promising idea – the “aha!” moment;

-   Evaluating that idea – is it worth pursuing?

“Creativity requires constant shifting, blender pulses of both divergent thinking and convergent thinking, to combine new information with old and forgotten ideas,” say Bronson and Merryman.

            Yes, some people are innately better at divergent thinking than others, they say, but creativity training that aligns with the new insights from brain science can be remarkably effective. “Creativity can be taught,” says California State University/San Bernardino professor James Kaufman. The key is alternating between intense divergent thinking and intense convergent thinking several times. “Real improvement doesn’t happen in a weekend workshop,” say Bronson and Merryman. “But when applied to the everyday process of work or school, brain function improves.”

            What would this look like in a school? Here’s a problem posed to fifth graders last year at the National Inventors Hall of Fame School in Akron, Ohio – a school that devotes three-quarters of each day to project-based learning: Reduce the noise in the library, whose windows face a busy public space. Working in small teams, students had four weeks to come up with proposals. Here’s how they proceeded (with plenty of support and guidance along the way):

-   Fact-finding – How does sound travel through materials? What materials reduce noise the most?

-   Idea-finding – Generating as many ideas as possible – drapes, plants, large kites hung from the ceiling to baffle sound, masking the outside noise with a gentle waterfall, double-paned glass, filing the space between panes of glass with water, an aquarium with fish as the barrier, etc.

-   Solution-finding – Which ideas are the most effective, most affordable, and most aesthetically pleasing? Safest?

-   A plan of action – Building scale models, choosing fabric samples, figuring out who would take care of plants and fish over vacations, etc.

-   Problem-finding – Anticipating all potential problems so their designs are more likely to work;

-   Presenting the plan – The audience was teachers, parents, and an outside expert.

In the process, students had fun, came up with great ideas to solve a real-world problem, and mastered large chunks of Ohio’s required fifth-grade curriculum, including understanding sound waves, per-unit cost calculations, and persuasive writing. The school’s state test scores soared this year. “You never see our kids saying, ‘I’ll never use this so I don’t need to learn it,’” says school administrator Maryann Wolowiec. “Instead, kids ask, ‘Do we have to leave school now?’”

         Here are some of the other activities at different age levels that have successfully developed creativity:

-   Preschool – Role-playing and acting out characters helps children see things from a different perspective.

-   Middle childhood – Creating paracosms, or fantasies of entire alternative worlds.

-   Fourth grade on – As the curriculum becomes more content-rich, it’s helpful if teachers are willing to entertain unconventional answers and “detours of curiosity.”

It’s a myth that creative people are depressed, anxious, and neurotic, say Bronson and Merryman. The reason creative students sometimes drop out is that they become discouraged and bored in creativity-stifling schools. In fact, a gloomy mindset shuts down creativity. People who score high on creativity assessments tend to be more confident about the future, have stronger relationships, and deal better with setbacks. It’s uncreative people who are at risk.

         In a sidebar at the end of the article, Bronson and Merryman sum up specific advice for educators and parents:

         • Forget brainstorming. Research at Yale University in 1958 showed that brainstorming actually reduces a team’s creative output; the same people, working individually, can come up with more and better ideas.

         • Imagination exercises don’t work. It’s a myth that all you have to do is let your natural creativity run wild. There’s much more to being creative than that.

         • Don’t tell someone to be creative. “Such an instruction may just cause people to freeze up,” say Bronson and Merryman. Here’s a better approach from University of Georgia professor Mark Runco: “Do something only you would come up with – that none of your friends or family would think of.” Using this approach, he’s doubled people’s creative output.

         • Reduce screen time. For every hour spent watching TV, says University of Texas professor Elizabeth Vandewater, overall time on creative activities like fantasy play and art projects drops as much as 11 percent.

         • Exercise. “Almost every dimension of cognition improves from 30 minutes of aerobic exercise,” say Bronson and Merryman. “The type of exercise doesn’t matter, and the boost lasts for at least two hours afterward.” But this works only for people who are physically fit. For those who aren’t, fatigue counteracts the benefits.

         • Get immersed in a passion. “Kids do best when they are allowed to develop deep passions and pursue them wholeheartedly – at the expense of well-roundedness,” say Bronson and Merryman. American Psychological Association researcher Rena Subotnik has found that children who dive into one area and become expert in it have better self-discipline and handle setbacks more effectively.

         • Forget the suggestion box. Formalized suggestion boxes and e-mail surveys actually stifle innovation, says ESCP Europe Business School Isaac Getz, because employees often feel that their ideas will be lost in the bureaucracy. Toyota’s plant in Georgetown, KY has been highly successful because it implements up to 99 percent of employees’ suggestions.

         • Take a break. Multitasking has been shown to undermine focus and productivity, but it’s a good idea to shift from one creative project to another.

         • Explore other cultures. Living abroad, being exposed to people from other countries, or even watching a slide show about another culture helps people be more adaptable and flexible.


“The Creativity Crisis” by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman in Newsweek, July 19, 2010 (p. 44-50),





Wil Franklin's picture

Of interest, perhaps.

Susan Dorfman's picture

Inception:Film exploration of conscious/unconscious relationship

The new film, Inception, is an action packed, well acted, special effects extravaganza that I found exceptionally well suited to the discussion of the relationship between the conscious and unconscious brain. In an attempt not to spoil it for potential viewers, I will avoid a discussion of the details in this post, but hope that others in our Brain, Science, and Inquiry Based Education Institute will have the opportunity to see this movie.

Paul Grobstein's picture

Inception and ...

Yep, worth seeing indeed in connection with our institute.  So too the National Constitution Center.  See Inception, the Constitution, education, and life itself

kgould's picture

Check it out!

 This is a great book that I read (and reviewed for a class) and I thought might have some relevance for the Institute.

Kim Fuller's picture

He knew what he was talking about!

Doctor Matthew Matthews was right when he diagnosed that Sheldon would never be the same again, according to the Doctor Matthews Sheldon was brain dead. He absolutely believed that with what he had been taught and his 35 years of experience that he knew what the outcome of Sheldon would be. But like Dr. Matthews I to was an authority on what God was able to do with Sheldon’s non responsive brain. It was my 38 years of believing to trust what I knew about God. So I took Dr. Matthews knowledge and put it in prayer and waited for my experience to come to pass.  Today he is walking and talking an doing what ever he wants to do.

This is so great, because I see the science of it and I see where my faith come in to this.


Kim Fuller's picture

What is the Norm? What qulifies one as not Normal?

On Wednesday we talked a great deal about what is Normal and What is not? Or what is the Identifiable feature that identifies one as being Normal or a man or woman? Is it possible to be normal in a world that is full of abnormalities. if you believe that just because there are things that cause abnormality's in this world, that now the world is some how not normal.   should we now scrutinize the world being suspicious of every one that comes our way? Do you think that no one is what they my appear to be?  there are Normal people that were born with the right genitalia for the sex that they are. There are abnormal people that was born or after birth developed some sort of abnormality that prevents them form being are acting the way Norma people act. Now what determines what is normal about a persons behavior?  It could be how you live, where you live, who you live among, and what you do for a living,  Some people live double lives. Are they Normal? Are you Normal?

Ashley Dawkins's picture


We were discussing the types of things taught in textbooks and in school. It might Lies My Teacher Told Me, by James Loewen.

Keith Sgrillo's picture

Thought this article might be

Thought this article might be of use.  Not sure if the link will be active.  Let me know, I can try to print it up if anyone is interested.  Thought this would be of particular use to Ashley.




Wil Franklin's picture


Ashley Dawkins's picture

How to use in cyber school?

Can I have input on how to incorporate all of the great ideas from the institute in the cyber community?

joycetheriot's picture

Draft of NEW Science Education Standards

A Framework for Science Education - Preliminary Public Draft

The following is a sample of the Physical Science Progression K-12

Physical Science (PS) Core Idea 1: Macroscopic states and characteristic properties of matter depend on the type, arrangement and motion of particles at the molecular and atomic scales. [Structure and Properties of Matter]
Public Comment Draft – July 12‐August 2, 2010
PS1.A: Atomic Structure of Matter
Sub-question: What makes up everything around us?
All substances are made up of atoms that are in constant motion. These particles are too small to be seen even with a light microscope. Atoms
themselves have substructure which determines how they combine, arrange and interact to form all of the substances around us.

Grades K – 2

What kind of parts are objects made of? (macroscopic)

  • Objects are generally made of different parts. The parts can be made of different
  • materials.
  • Materials can be natural or manufactured from natural resources.
  • The identity, characteristics and function of an object depend on the
  • materials/building blocks used to make it, and the way they fit together.
  • The same materials can exist as a solid or a liquid depending on the temperature.
  • Solids have a definite shape while liquids flow to the lowest level in the container.

Grades 3 – 5

How do the parts of an object affect its structure and function? (macroscopic)

  • All substances are considered matter. Matter can exist as solid, liquid, or gas.
  • In all forms it can be felt and weighed.
  • It is possible to break materials apart into pieces too tiny to see. However, the
  • material still exists and continues to have weight even though we can’t see it.
  • You can make a great variety of objects with just a few types of components.
  • The structure, properties and uses of the objects depend on the nature of the components and they ways they attach to one-another, but can be quite different from those of the components.
  • Knowing about the characteristics of materials helps design uses of them.
  • Many substances can exist as solid, liquid or gas depending on the temperature. Solids have definite shape and volume, liquids also occupy definite volume, but not shape, gases are made of particles too small to see that move around throughout the full volume of any container.

Grades 6 – 8

How do the building blocks of matter help explain the diversity of materials that exist in the world? (sub-microscopic)

  • Substances can exist in different states: solid, liquid and gas, depending on the temperature and pressure. Regardless of the state, all matter has mass, and the mass does not change when matter goes from one state to another.
  • Models of matter consisting of extremely tiny particles that are constantly in motion, with interactions between the particles, can explain states of matter and changes of matter with temperature (in these models particles are non-specific).
  • The particles that make up matter are so small that they cannot be observed through a light microscope, but can be detected and manipulated by modern tools.
  • Despite the immense variation and number of substances, all are made from a limited number of types of atoms, called elements. Each type of atom has distinct mass and chemical properties.
  • The Periodic Table organizes the elements by their mass and chemical properties and provides a useful reference for predicting how they will combine. (Link to PS1.B)
  • Molecules form due to interactions between atoms; molecules range in size from two to hundreds of atoms.
  • Atoms may interact to form distinct molecules or arrange in extended patterns with no defined endpoint (e.g. crystals, metals).
  • The chemical composition, the arrangement of atoms, and the way they interact and move determines the state and properties of a substance. The thermal motion of the atoms increases with temperature

Grades 9 – 12
In what ways do the building blocks (atoms) combine to create all of the substances and structures in the universe?

  • There is a hierarchy of structure within matter. Atoms may interact to form individual molecules or arrange in extended patterns with no defined endpoint. Atoms and molecules combine to form larger, more complex structures, natural or manufactured, with an extensive range of properties. (link to ET1.A)
  • Structures made of atoms and molecules exist over a huge range of scales—from diatomic molecules in a gas to stars.
  • Substances can exist in different states: solid, liquid, gas or plasma depending on the temperature and pressure. However,many substances are not easily classified into these categories (e.g., gels, colloids).
  • In a plasma state, a substance is gaseous but a large proportion of the particles are ionized, which affords very different properties than a neutral gas. (e.g., conducts electricity).
  • Atoms themselves have substructure. The patterns of the periodic table can be related to the patterns of the outermost electrons in the atom, which are those that are involved in chemical bonding. (A few basic types of interactions, or bonds: metal•non-metal (ionic); non-metal•non-metal (covalent); metal•metal (metallic)).
  • Models of electrical attractions and repulsions involving electrons and atomic nuclei help explain the structure and many properties of substances. (link to PS2.A)
joycetheriot's picture




RecycleJack Marine's picture

Education vs. Inquiry - The Unconscious

We think of education, students and schools as formal institutions that are both chaotic and staid. But we see inquiry in science as an ongoing conversation that is transitional. Education is an institution that is like a huge concrete building full of holes and crumbling- maybe even about to topple. But that doesn't mean it will change after it falls down. But there are opportunities to elicit changes to "the building." We have opportunties to elicit change by seeking out conversations among colleagues and others who seek change. By inquiring, we can look at other perspectives and find new ways of thinking and conversing, which is essentially the scientific process that molds inquiry-based education.

Geneva Tolliferreo's picture

AM Monday

This year we seem to have the most diverse set of Educators I believe we have shared in this institute, since I began several years ago.  This is great!  Why?  Because, school is not limited to those of formal districts.  There are charter schools, private schools, afterschool schools, etc.  All these 'schools' impact the families and communities of the students all of us as Educators serve.

Kim Fuller's picture

Great impact

Geneva, I agree. I have learned so much already. and you all are a great group of Humans.

Keith Sgrillo's picture

Well said Geneva.  Glad to be

Well said Geneva.  Glad to be back in the institue with you and all the new faces. 

alesnick's picture

greetings, introduction, and appreciation


My name is Alice Lesnick and I serve as director of the Education Program at Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges.  I am looking forward to joining you in a session next week, and meanwhile to participating in the online discussion.  

As the Summer Institute gets underway I thought to pass along thoughts from my 10-year-old daughter, June, shared spontaneously during a walk in the park yesterday.  We went to the pond to see ducklings growing there and she was wondering if they, like grown ducks,  have feathers that repel water.  This led into a discussion of science, in which June said something close to this (threaded through a dialogue):

"I don't like science and math.  I like fantasy.  Because I don't like things where there is already an answer.  I mean, I can be logical but I like to use logic in ways that relate to words. I liked science in preschool when it was about mixing chemicals together and seeing what would happen.  Now they call it "hands-on science," but that just means you get to hold a rock and look at it, then write down facts about it."

So, I write to affirm that what you are doing these three weeks is really important!  And to appreciate your doing it and being there to do it, in June's name.


Kim Fuller's picture

My name is Kim Fuller of

My name is Kim Fuller of Global Leadership Academy Charter School. We are Charter school with a global mission. By the time our scholars step in to the next part of their educational experience they must have a passport and have gone to another country. i enjoy my job because i get the opportunity to work with all facets of the population of the school.


I have found the introductions to be very interesting. I will talk about just the two that stands out for me.

                      1. One of the topics that sparked conversation was about grades. Someone said that they had a student in their class that they had to give an F to,Yet this student loved their class. I have such an issue with that F, they said that the student would be very much involved the class, but the student could not pass any of their test. This was a private school and that this child did not belong there. That my be true but an F says that the student did not do anything at all in her class. They said that the student was good in her class no problems with them as a student but she just could not pass her test. I think that that student did not merit an F how do you give a student an F if they are trying? it also says to me that every one failed that student, the mother, Father, teacher, administration, and most of all the student failed them self. When I see and F it means that everything failed. Now grades are one of the most opportune times for a teacher. As a teacher you must make sure that you are grading correctly according to a student’s ability. Not according to your feelings. 


                      2. There must be some kind of PD for new teacher at the site that they are going to working. With a seasoned teacher to help them with class room management, class room decorations, class room discipline, how to handle day to day issue that come up in the class room, such as how to send student to the bathroom. 


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