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Brain and Education:
Thinking About New Directions

Paul Grobstein
March 2007

| Resources | On-line Forum |

Meeting Announcement
Learning and Brain:
Where Are We and Where Do We Need to Be?

The first of a continuing series of workshops and discussions on this topic, sponsored by the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, is being held in Aurora, Illinois on 20 October 2007. For further information see announcement/program and beginning thoughts.

Issues and Perspectives

Educationalists are becoming increasingly aware of the advances in understanding that neuroscience is making, and are looking for insights to improve their practice ... enthusiasts have over-simplified neuroscientific research and over-interpreted its findings, generating a number of 'neuromyths' in the process ... John Hall

Neuroscience has advanced to the point where it is time to think critically about the form in which research information is made available to educators so that it is interpreted appropriately for practice ... How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School

Fad or foundation, which will it be? The choice is ours ... Pat Wolfe

Education is not just a matter of optimizing mechanisms around traditional routes to learning. It is a matter of asking whether we are setting the correct goals for one to achieve in education ... you have to not just consider the improvements in methodology that might come out of neuroscience, but whether we need to be addressing the questions of what we want education to achieve ... Colin Blakemore

Brains have evolved as active information-gathering devices: they simultaneously act and make predictions about the consequences of their actions based on internal models. In its most fundamental sense, learning occurs when the observed consequences of actions are inconsistent with the predictions of the models, and so require change ... The educational task is to sustain and make use of this intrinsic capability rather than to suppress it ... Paul Grobstein et al

There must be features of classroom practice that exploit aspects of the brain that cognitive science and neuroscience have not yet properly documented, but that teachers know all about ... Colin Blakemore

A variety of significant developments in science and technology are now emerging that could spark an extended career-long research agenda for imaginative educators ... Robert Sylwester

Looking to the future, we should attempt to develop an interactive, recursive relationship among research programs in education, cognitive psychology, and systems neuroscience ... John T. Bruer

It is becoming increasingly clear that not only human behavior but the experiences associated with being human are functions of the brain. From this perspective, it cannot but be the case that studies of the brain will be increasingly relevant for thinking about educational practices and, conversely, that the experiences of educators (indeed of all humans, whatever their activities) are relevant for better understanding the brain.

During the late 1990's, there was a burst of enthusiasm for "brain-based education", triggered in part by the explosive growth of the neurosciences, by President George Bush's proclamation of the Decade of the Brain, by semi-popular publications, and by a White House conference on brain development in early childhood (see Brain and Education Resources for relevant references for this and the following). Many observers are agreed that that enthusiasm was based on too narrow and remote a foundation in several senses:

Rather than throwing out the baby with the bath water, it makes sense to reorient discussions of brain and education in ways that correct contemporary understandings of the limitations of the earlier approach. These include:

That movements in these directions are already beginning to occur is a positive sign. My hope is that this sketch and related materials on Serendip, including Brain and Education Resources and a Brain and Education on-line forum, will both support further developments along these lines and encourage additional people to become involved. My sense is that many of the most significant challenges we face today as human beings will be resolved only by new cultural understandings, and that there is no way to bring those about other than through a reinvigorated educational process, one to which I believe improved understandings of the brain can valuably contribute.

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