The Divided Brain, RSA-Style

Screen Shot 2012-12-27 at 4.34.08 PMHere is an interesting look at the divided brain, not in the now debunked 1960’s & 70’s one-side-handled-reason-and-the-other-side-handled-emotion sort of way, but rather in the shared-responsibilities-and-tension-between-objectives mindset of the 21st century.

Iain McGilchrist is a psychiatrist and author of the recent The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western WorldThis RSA of his talk cleverly unpacks some of his framing ideas and perhaps gives some insights into why some decisions can be challenging while others are a “no-brainer.”

We are very interested in hearing from neuroscientists about his book, research, and theories and how they hold up against the latest research. And we’d love to hear from educators — what implications might this have on reaching each student or understanding a student’s behavior / action within a given situation?

Image: From the RSA Animate of Iain McGilchrist’s talk

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Organization of Object and Action Categories in the Brain

article-0-1698BF2A000005DC-343_964x597The team at Gallant Lab at UC Berkley has been looking at how the brain processes and maps words/subject/objects. (Their recently published paper in Neuron) The result is a fascinating look into the workings of the brain and yet more evidence that we have only barely begun to uncover the mysteries of the mind at work.

Check out the video below explaining the research and then head over to their site where you can play with the data yourself (they recommend using Chrome as your browser).

While we can’t make assumptions or jump to conclusions about what this means for working with students, the research does offer a springboard for a whole host of other questions. For example:

  • What role does background knowledge play in the shaping and writing the semantic map?
  • Do the semantic maps look different when focused on a single topic — such as vehicles, buildings, or plants?
  • How might this research inform methods of vocabulary instruction?
  • If the information were provided in different contexts or delivery methods (text or verbal rendering vs. movie clip rendering), are the areas of the brain that are oxygenated different? What implications might this have for classroom learning?

Such research illustrates, once again, how little we know, and how much more there is yet to learn. What we do know is this: students’ minds are complex and pliable. The experiences and environments we design and deliver help shape how they process, understand, and interact with the world. It is up to us to make those experiences worthwhile.

Want to know more? Read Ben Thomas’s piece, “Meaning and the Brain: How Your Brain Organizes Reality” at Scientific America. 

Image: via Daily Mail via Gallant Labs

The Mysterious Workings of the Adolescent Brain

There is a common thread that connects the earliest parents to the current ones. It isn’t walking to school uphill in snow both ways, negotiating screen time, or bedtime battles. At some point or another we have all thought the same thing about our kids: “What in the world were they thinking?!”

While neuroscience still has a long way to go to truly and completely answer that question, the mental processes involved (or not) in making decisions in the adolescent mind are coming to light. Check out this great TED Talk by Cognitive neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore who studies “the social brain . . . and how it develops in the adolescent brain.” (From her TED Talk bio.)

Want to know more about the mysterious (and vexing) adolescent brain? Check out Dr. Judy Willis’s ASCD webinars archived here.

Minds at Work, Unpacked

An All Kinds of Mind’s School of Distinction, St. Andrew’s Episcopal in Potomac, Maryland discovered their top to bottom attention to research-based practices necessitated founding an institution dedicated to exploring the meeting ground between neuroscience research and educational practices. Their Center for Transformational Teaching and Learning was created with four key questions in mind:

1. What is learning?

2.Where does learning happen?

3. How do all students best learn?

4. What research in educational neuroscience can help inform and measure exceptional teaching and learning?

As a center, their mission states:

The CTTL’s long-term vision is to be a thought-leader in the neuro-science of teaching and learning and to share what we know and learn with public and private schools nationwide.

Its recent publication, Think Differently and Deeply, explores the application of emerging trends in the science of learning with their efforts to push each and every student to their fullest potential. While the publication unpacks the theories in the context of their school, readers will find transferable ideas for better meeting the needs of all students. Topics include neuroscience in education, design thinking, play, centrality of arts, and foreign language and the mind, among others.

Visit their site, explore their resources, and consider working with them as to complement and inform your school’s professional development plans.

You can also download the pdf here

Topography of Diversity

Below is a pretty cool topographical map of a brain from UNIT SEVEN. While it is not to be taken as scientifically accurate, it does serve as a fantastic metaphor for thinking about students’ minds.

We know that while the major structures of the brain are largely the same from one cranium to the next, the specific architecture of individual minds varies person to person based on experience. The splendor of minds and their (sometimes confounding) behavioral manifestations, as with ecosystems such as forests, deserts, and wetlands, lies in their variation, not their standardization.

The diverse topography of strengths, affinities and challenges evident in each student must be celebrated, embraced, and leveraged to strengthen and enrich our schools, communities, and, most importantly, their learning experiences. In honoring and demystifying their differences, we empower them to discover new vistas, hidden glades, and cascading rivers. Such metacognition helps them “draw” a map of their brain that will serve them as they navigate far beyond the walls of the classroom.

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Royal Society’s Summary of Implications of Neuroscience on Education

The Royal Society, a self-governing Fellowship of scientists from around the world dedicated to “excellence in science and to encourage the development and use of science for the benefit of humanity,” released a series of modules in 2011 as part of their Brain Waves Project. The four modules explore the intersection of neuroscience, society and public policy with summarized analyses of research, challenges and recommendations.

The second module, Neuroscience: Implications for education and lifelong learning, is of particular importance for educators and policy makers alike. As we find that the world of neurology continues to make strides in understanding how the brain develops, changes and learns, we also find that there is a hunger for such knowledge at the classroom level. As a result there are more and more programs that help bridge the gap between research and practice.

Below is the Summary excerpt from the module. While the whole report is worth reading, these overarching key insights provide a good snapshot.

Education is about enhancing learning, and neuroscience is about understanding the mental processes involved in learning. This common ground suggests a future in which educational practice can be transformed by science, just as medical practice was transformed by science about a century ago. In this report we consider some of the key insights from neuroscience that could eventually lead to such a transformation.

  • Neuroscience research suggests that learning outcomes are not solely determined by the environment. Biological factors play an important role in accounting for differences in learning  ability between individuals.
  • By considering biological factors, research has advanced the understanding of specific learning doffculties, such as dyslexia and dyscalculia. Likewise, neuroscience is uncovering why certain types of learning are more rewarding than others.
  • The brain changes constantly as a result of learning, and remains ‘plastic’ throughout life. Neuroscience has shown that learning a skill changes the brain and that these changes revert when practice of the skill ceases. Hence ‘use it or lose it’ is an important principle for lifelong learning.
  • Resilience, our adaptive response to stress and adversity, can be built up through education with lifelong effects into old age.
  • Both acquisition of knowledge and mastery of self-control benefitt future learning. Thus, neuroscience has a key role in investigating means of boosting brain power.
  • Some insights from neuroscience are relevant for the development and use of adaptive digital technologies. These technologies have the potential to create more learning opportunities inside and outside the classroom, and throughout life. This is exciting given the knock-on effects this could have on wellbeing, health, employment and the economy.
  • There is great public interest in neuroscience, yet accessible high quality information is scarce. We urge caution in the rush to apply so-called brain-based methods, many of which do not yet have a sound basis in science. There are inspiring developments in basic science although practical applications are still some way off.
  • The emerging field of educational neuroscience presents opportunities as well as challenges for education. It provides means to develop a common language and bridge the gulf between educators, psychologists and neuroscientists.

To take a look at a quick look at the module’s education policy recommendations, check out this post over at Q.E.D. Foundation.