Neuroscience & the Classroom: Making Connections
Introduction: The Art and Science of Teaching Thinking Big, Starting Small
This course has two main layers:
- It provides new insights into learning based on research.
- It stimulates your thinking about how to connect your teaching and lessons to these insights.
Some of the ideas in the course may challenge your current beliefs about learning and teaching. Some of the ideas may reinforce your beliefs, especially by making you conscious of feelings you have had about learning as a result of your years of experience as both learner and teacher. Either way, you will be filled with ideas, and you may feel a desire to start changing and fixing right away. You may even feel obligated to become agents of change. We can offer only one bit of advice: relax.
Change takes time, and most teachers don’t have a lot of that (except in the summer, which is a great time to think deeply about new ideas). The scope of what you can change also depends on how much autonomy, authority or responsibility you have. An experienced division head may be able to implement new ideas more quickly and with wider impact than can a new teacher. You can only do what you can do. What’s important is that you start somewhere.
But even starting can be a challenge. Change is rarely comfortable, even when conditions support it. Some of you will come to this course from schools where you enjoy relative freedom, schools perhaps with small classes and a culture of innovation, but others will come from overcrowded classrooms in rigid systems that discourage change. And, just about all of us are products of over a century of tenacious assumptions about how children learn. Because we tend to internalize these assumptions and teach as we were taught and because the education-testing complex relies on these assumptions, new ideas can feel threatening. What we hope you will find here is a connection to a community of learners who understand both the need and the difficulty of change and who support your efforts no matter how limited or far-reaching. There are no small changes.
0.1 It Has to Make Sense
Abigail Baird, assistant professor at Vassar College, talks about neuroscience and suggests a simple way for teachers to distinguish between good and bad ideas from researchers.
0.2 Mind, Brain and Education
Paul B. Yellin, associate professor at New York University School of Medicine and director of the Yellin Center for Mind, Brain, and Education, talks about the need for an equal partnership among neuroscientists, teachers, and clinicians. His goal is to create a language and vocabulary that enable everyone to discuss how different brains work differently.
Jason Ablin, English teacher and head of school at Milken Community High School in Los Angeles, CA, discusses the benefits of collaboration between neuroscience and education. Educators need to understand how the brain functions in the world so that they can improve learning in the classroom.
Unit 0 Introduction: The Art and Science of Teaching
The introduction lays out the goals of the course, defines a partnership between teachers and scientists, and suggests a method that teachers can use to apply research to classroom challenges.
unit 1 Different Brains
We all have different brains, different profiles of cognitive strengths and weaknesses that affect how we perceive and solve problems. Two dramatic success stories of boys missing half their brain provide insight into how all of us learn and suggest new ways to think about teaching.
unit 2 The Unity of Emotion, Thinking, and Learning
Emotion, thinking and learning are inseparable. Emotion is the rudder for thought and the key to memory. This unit explores the purposes of emotions by answering the questions, what is emotion, and why do we have it? The unit provides insight into motivation and the role of intuition in problem-solving.
unit 3 Seeing Others from the Self
We understand the goals of others by simulating their actions on our own neural systems. This unit looks at mirror neurons, empathy, and the social nature of learning. It also discusses the need to align teacher and student goals in the classroom and the importance of reflection, or inner-directed attention, in developing meaning and motivation.
unit 4 Different Learners, Different Minds
This unit challenges us to reconsider labels like "normal" and "disabled" by looking at the important connection between individual strengths and weaknesses and the context in which we must solve problems. Weakness in one context can be strength in another.
unit 5 Building New Neural Networks
Building new understandings or skills means building and rebuilding new neural networks. How that process occurs is the focus of this unit, which emphasizes the crucial link between performance and context and suggests that the traditional notion of learning as a linear development of isolated skills is misleading.
unit 6 Implications For Schools
This unit examines what some teachers have done to transform research principles into specific lessons and practices to improve student learning. Rather than suggesting that these illustrations are universally applicable to any school, the unit challenges educators to experiment by creating answers to their own questions.
unit 7 Conclusion: A Community of Educators
This unit discusses the Mind, Brain, and Education (MBE) movement that brings researchers and educators together so that research informs education and so that teachers' actual experiences in classrooms inform research. It explores the attitudes and conditions that create productive partnerships for meaningful change to occur.