Neuroscience and Education

Throughout the 2012 year, increasing references and models have been discussed in the media regarding the applications of neuroscience in education. Brief article summaries follow:

  1. Neuroscientists Find Learning Is Not “Hard-Wired”, Sarah Spark, Education Week, 6/6/12.It is amazing how flexible the brain is. “That plasticity has been a huge surprise to a whole lot of people”, said Kurt Fischer, director of Harvard University’s Mind, Brain, and Education Program. Different parts of the brain act like letters of the alphabet. Basic connections are formed, then experience activates patterns to form words, sentences and paragraphs of thought, said Dr. Jay N. Giedd, neuroscientist at the National Institute of Mental Health. “Helping teachers and students understand how the brain changes in response to experience may be the best way to link neuroscience findings to classroom experience”, he said. Turf wars between psychologists, educators, and neuroscientists prevented development of mind-brain-education science, said Dr. Janet Zadina, assistant professor of neurology at Tulane University in New Orleans. She refers to the “telephone game” of half-truths now used in the education/neuroscience field and hopes that schools will one day have an educational neuroscience liaison on hand. High rates of boredom and stress among students creates what teachers often believe to be neurological symptoms. Brain myths include:
    1. Students learn better when the instructional format, such as visual or kinesthetic, matches their natural learning style. FALSE
    2. A student with a dominant left-brain hemisphere is likely to be more creative, but also have difficulty in spatial skills. FALSE
    3. A Learning disability associated with genetic differences in the brain can be remediated by education interventions during the school years. TRUE
  2. Special Educators Borrow From Brain Studies, Nirvi Shah, Education Week, 1/18/12Brain research is slowly migrating into the classroom. MIT neuroscientist John D.E. Gabrielli, is working on the use of brain imaging to predict which students will eventually struggle with reading. A current project in 20 inner city charter schools is to bring as many children as possible to his lab for brain imagining. The students get extra help based on the results at an early time when the problem can be prevented or improved. There are several other neuroscience-based educational programs being created. An Asperger’s program teaches children to inhibit outbursts by taking another person’s perspective. A variety of software companies use computer programs and exercises to improve memory, processing skills and thinking abilities.(The above referenced articles were funded by the Hewlett Foundation as “deeper learning”, to prepare for a rapidly changing world. See www.hewlett.org.)
  3. Neuroscience: Under Attack, Alissa Quart, The New York Times, 11/25/12

Today’s pop neuroscience, coarsened for mass audiences, is under…attack. Mainstream neuroscience pieces are generally thought to be bad neuroscience, sometimes called brain porn. Neuro-doubters think we are asking too much of neuroscience as the definitive answer to all human functioning.