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Friday, March 24, 2006

Let's Create a Nation of Little Neuroscientists

Sometimes I miss the obvious. Lately I’ve been reading a lot about the brain—how it works, and how to enhance its performance. I’ve been reading with an eye toward improving education. I've been thinking about brain friendly learning strategies, but I've missed the obvious.

Wittgenstien said that the limits of our language mean the limits of our world. His message is that the stronger our vocabularies—the more we can name, the richer life becomes. If we are raising a generation of vocabulary impoverished children, what will the limits of their future be?

Wittgenstein words echo in my head whenever I go for a walk in the woods. I’m no woodsman. My experience when I walk in the woods goes something like—oak tree, tree, tree, oak tree, moss, moss, oak tree, bird. Now, if I studied the woods and knew the names of things then I’d be able to differentiate the different trees and birds. I would see things in a more specific way and not be blinded by generalizations. My experience would be infinitely richer.

Of course Wittgentsien was a philosopher and not a neuroscientist, but he was on to something. Today, we know that cognition is limited by the categories we create in our brains. That is, how we experience the world has a lot to do with the categories that we create in our brains. That’s part of the reason why graphic organizers and mind maps have become popular learning tools in schools. They try to graphically illustrate the way our minds integrate information. The thinking is that since “brains work this way” why not give students brain friendly mind maps and graphic organizers to enhance their learning. Here’s the rub, kids get inundated with graphic organizers and mind maps in school, but are never explicitly taught how the brain works. Think of it this way, you may have the tools to fix a car, but unless you understand how a car works those tools are useless.

A lot of lip service is paid to the creation of life-long learners. We hear about how important it is to integrate and synthesize information in the new economy. However, we do not explicitly teach kids about their brains. Research into the brain indicates that it continues to change over time. The term for this is plasticity. That’s right; we can all get smarter. The key is to change our brains. What a powerful message for kids and adults to learn. Perhaps if we taught a course where kids explored the power of their minds, then they would be better equipped to integrate information and optimize their brains.

Knowing what’s under the hood is important in autoracing. A racecar is only as good as its engineers, pit crew, and driver. Most kids go through school without knowing what’s going on under the hood. Kids have no clue about how their brains function. In fact, if you talk to kids you learn that they come to school with a lot of myths about how the brain functions. Certainly we could enhance student learning if we taught students about the brain For example, if students understood the concept of plasticity, then they may work harder at learning new things. It’s obvious to me that what’s missing in the curriculum isn’t necessarily brain friendly instruction, but the study of the brain itself. Let’s create a nation of little neuroscientists. I’m starting with my kids, Isabelle and Charlie.

Essential Books:
Carter’s Mapping the Mind
Pink’s A Whole New Mind
Restak’s Mozart’s Brain and the Fighter Pilot
Restak’s The New Brain
Stafford and Webb’s Mind Hacks

Essential Web:
Eide Neurolearning Blog
Mind Hacks
Creating Passionate Users
Science Daily
Brain Waves

New Link, thanks Sandra:
Neuroscience for Kids

Comments on "Let's Create a Nation of Little Neuroscientists"


Blogger Sandra said ... (1:34 AM) : 

Here's a site you might like then: Neuroscience for Kids. Lots of great stuff.


Blogger Papa said ... (10:14 AM) : 

Thanks, Sandra, I'll update the entry to include the link.


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