ScienceMasterIf it's your job to develop the mind,
shouldn't you know how the brain works?
Topics for Speeches & Workshops
- Written by Kenneth Wesson Kenneth Wesson
- Published: 30 March 2013 30 March 2013
There is no endeavor more important to our collective future than educating the young minds around us. From pre-school to the university-level, teachers and administrators should be well-versed on how the human brain “works.” The human brain has over 100 billion neurons (the "gray matter" in the brain), whose primary purpose is to build complex circuits that embody who we are, what we know, and what we can do. Inside the brain, there are over 1,000,000 miles of nerve fibers (the “white matter” connections), with over one quadrillion connections that link brain cells one another. Through these connections, we develop a remarkable ability to make sense of an ever-changing world.
In his book The Mind's Best Work, Harvard educator David Perkins said, "Good thinking is a matter of making connections, and knowing what kinds of connections to make." A “Learning by Connecting” strategy promotes the development of white matter connections inside the brain. In school, students learn best by actively connecting key concepts across different academic disciplines, understanding that each discipline is essentially one part of the same “whole.” The overarching goal of education is to teach our children and students how to think and solve problems (many of which have yet to come into existence) utilizing a robust "cognitive tool chest." As educators and parents, it is our utmost responsibility to assist our children and students in building the best brains possible.
Just as medical efficiency was enhanced once medical practice was grounded in biological science, effective educational practice should be informed by cognitive science. It is increasingly apparent that cognitive neuroscience should serve as one of the keys to successful learning at home and in our schools.
Science and Creativity Matter the Most
Although we are entering the "Innovation Age," creative thinking has taken a backseat to "standardized" thinking in our schools. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor found that there is an inverse relationship between high PISA test scores and a nation’s entrepreneurship and creativity ranking. Global economic leadership depends on innovation where science and technology are at the core. Even more important, creativity is three times stronger than IQ as a predictor of individual lifetime success and accomplishment. Those who are adept at problem solving, critical thinking and inventive thinking skills, out-pace those whose only skill is memorization for Friday’s test. The purpose of a good memory is not to remember the past, but to navigate the future. The problems that are yet to surface can be solved by science and technology, not by memory. In a rapidly-changing information-rich, highly interconnected "flat” world, preparing students to think creatively and scientifically will matter most.
Incorporating STEM into Other Subject Areas
The most effective way to incorporate STEM into our daily instruction is by identifying where our academic content can lend itself towards STEM and ST2REAM (science, technology, thematic instruction, reading, writing, engineering, art/visualization, and mathematics) classrooms. Nearly all Common Core standards, which are already being taught, reflect some aspect of ST2REAM, although the instruction may not be labeled as such. Looking below the surface, we can bring real-world and creative STEM applications into our classrooms in new ways that guarantee student engagement. We will demonstrate how content from other subject areas can be identified, re-engineered and organized around a stimulating, easy-to-use STEM/ST2REAM model advancing trans-disciplinary learning and student engagement.
STEM and the Evolving Human Brain
Our accelerating international entry into the "Innovation Age," will be dominated by inventive minds. Nonetheless, "standardized" thinking and leftover debris from NCLB continue to eclipse creative thinking and trans-disciplinary methods of problem-solving in a majority of our schools. However, not only is creativity three times stronger than IQ as a predictor of lifetime accomplishment, but the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor discovered an inverse relationship between high PISA test scores and a nation’s entrepreneurship and its creativity rankings. Accountability has a purpose in education, but it is not the purpose of school.
Human beings remain the only animal on the planet that looks for problems and explores various means to solve them. Over the eons, the human brain evolved into an interdisciplinary processor without any predetermined academic areas in mind. Solving problems was essential for survival. The primary advantage in the evolution of a memory system was not to remember the past, but to navigate the future. An adaptable “brain for all seasons” was and still is what permits us to construct a new idea derived from disparate resources. The global challenges facing us today (and those yet to surface) will be resolved by re-combinations of knowledge originating in the STEM fields, not by memory. Unveiling answers to problems threatening our planet will come by way of engaging multiple disciplines, not within a single discipline.
In the workplace, individuals adept at problem solving and inventive thinking will continue to out-perform those only adept at memorization and test-taking. In a rapidly-changing information-rich, highly interconnected "flat” world, equipping students with a robust trans-disciplinary “cognitive tool chest” for solving complex problems has never been more crucial to our nation and our species.
Brain-Considerate Learning: Understanding the History of the Brain as the Foundation for Future Learning
Current brain research is displacing obsolete phraseology that proclaimed, “We go to school to learn.” Instead, a continuous stream of information is constantly processed inside the human brain anywhere in the brain happens to be where sensory experiences are encoded for memory. For centuries, the biologically-based operating principles by which the human brain processes, stores, and retrieves information were well-guarded neurological secrets. Not only are these mysteries finally undergoing a long overdue disclosure, but they are also receiving the increased attention of educators who are re-thinking some long-held beliefs about classroom learning.
While the number of well-grounded teaching methods is infinite, some brain-antagonistic practices still dominate contemporary education despite this rising reservoir of knowledge from the cognitive neurosciences. Several important principles in neuroscience with which educators should become acquainted offer explanations as to why some teaching approaches are unfailingly successful, while others lead to both teacher and learner frustration. How the human brain “works” is basic to understanding human learning and classroom instruction.
The recent advances in neuroscience, coupled with today’s incredible brain-imaging technologies, give educators a new window into the inner-workings of the human brain. The 19th and 20th century premises upon which our contemporary schools were founded may warrant re-examination and revision based on the discoveries in neuroscience that have surfaced over the past two decades. Yet our past history continues to haunt the modus operandi in our current classrooms. This presentation will highlight the brain-considerate principles that can bridge the gaps between what teaching efforts and student understanding with a special focus on classroom science.
What Works, What Lasts and Why: The Latest Research on How the Brain learns
There are overlapping interests and intentions in neuroscience and education. Perplexed by what does and does not happen as they try to facilitate learning, educators are now among the most voracious consumers of the latest research on what, when, and how to apply brain science in our academic institutions. We all actively search for strategies to enhance learning and early brain development, in order to improve (1) the efficiency of information encoding, (2) the endurance of memory, and (3) the effective use of stored information. Today, we are discovering a wealth of answers coming to us from the cognitive neurosciences. The brain is not only the most complex organ in the human body, but this “Three-pound Universe” has also been described as the most complex object known to mankind. Devising methodologies that accommodate the brain’s processing techniques will enhance the prospects of academic success for any student, regardless of age. With the latest findings, the human brain is becoming the centerpiece for all conversations about learning.
The Latest Research on Learning and the Human Brain
How does the human brain work and what can you do to nurture the covert processes by which it operates when it is involved in learning? We have learned more about the brain in the past five years than in all of our previous human history combined. More information is discovered every year about the magnificent mammalian brain and its amazing capabilities, as well as its extremely delicate nature. During the past decade, research findings in neuroscience intrigued, mystified, and motivated educators to learn more about the operational nature of the human brain that each of us takes for granted every day.
It has been said that the next great journey for humankind will not take place in outer space, but in the inner space of the human brain. Through the latest discoveries in neuroscience, all educators can now develop a greater understanding of what happens within the interior regions of that well-concealed cerebral “inner space” of our students’ minds.
At the centerpiece will be the question, “If it’s your job to develop the mind, shouldn’t you know how the brain works?” There are indeed teaching techniques that both cater to and enhance the brain’s natural inclinations for learning new skills. What parts of the brain are important in thinking, learning, and memory? In what ways does the human brain physically change and reorganize itself as a consequence of new learning? Which teaching practices improve learning and what are the factors that interfere with knowledge acquisition?
As we seek higher student performance, we must become cognizant of what is occurring inside the human brain. In this institute we will explore how the brain works and by the end, you leave with a working knowledge of how the human brain functions and what conditions you can orchestrate in your classrooms to maximize learning for all of your students.
What Recent Brain Research Tells Us about Learning: Implications for Teaching Math and Science
How does the human brain work? What can we do, as educators, to nurture the covert processes by which it operates, especially when the brain is engaged in the enterprise we call learning?
The biologically-based operating principles by which the human brain organizes, encodes, stores and retrieves information were well-guarded neurological secrets for centuries. However, research in the cognitive neurosciences has revealed more about the human brain in the past five years than in all of our previous human history.
Annually, new information is discovered about the operational nature of the brain and its amazing catalog of capabilities. Not only are the mysteries surrounding this magnificent mammalian cerebral cortex, known best as the highly-evolved human brain, finally undergoing long overdue exposure, but they are also receiving an increased amount of attention from the field of education. We are now beginning to re-think the very foundations of our pedagogical practices at all academic levels.
There are teaching techniques that both cater to and enhance the natural inclinations for learning in this 3-pound language-enabled impressive lump of the gelatinous cranial matter. During the past decade, research findings in neuroscience have intrigued, mystified, and motivated educators to seek more knowledge concerning the operational nature of the brains in their classrooms.
It has been said that the next great journey for humankind will not take place in outer space, but in the inner space of the human brain. Through the latest research in brain science, all educators can now cultivate a greater understanding of what happens within the interior walls of the cranium, it that well-concealed cerebral "inner space" of the biological minds that enter our classrooms daily. The centerpiece of this presentation will be based in the question, "If it's your job to develop the mind, shouldn't you know how the brain works?"
What You Should Know About How the Brain Learns
We have 100 billion neurons (the "gray matter" consisting of neural cell bodies). Their primary purpose is to connect brain cells together into the circuits that represent who we are, what we know, and what we are capable of doing. Inside the brain, there are over 1,000,000 miles of nerve fibers (the “white matter” connections), with over one quadrillion connections that link neurons with one another. Through this process, we develop remarkable abilities for making sense of an ever-changing world. In his book The Mind's Best Work, Harvard educator David Perkins says, "Good thinking is a matter of making connections, and knowing what kinds of connections to make." Deep and long-lasting connections occur as a consequence of deploying effective brain-considerate instructional strategies.
Teaching skills and concepts in isolation, and independent of how they are connected to concepts from other subject areas does a disservice to both the learner and to the knowledge at stake. Our academic "silos" frequently prevent our students from appreciating the content-area linkages, the conceptual connections, and the shared vocabulary (the polysemous context-dependent words). Most important, the overarching educational goal is to teach students how to think and solve problems utilizing the contents of a robust "cognitive tool chest." When students learn how to put their knowledge to useful advantages, they enjoy learning and the accompanying "ah-hah” experiences that literally change neurological architecture.
The “Learning by Connecting” strategy fosters the development of long-term white matter connections in the brain. Students must actively connect key concepts across different academic disciplines, understanding that each discipline is part of the same “whole.”
From a biological perspective, enhanced learning is a matter of maximizing those brain connections for what we characteristically refer to has knowledge. In his book Consilience, Edward O. Wilson the father of “Sociobiology” observed that everything in our universe is related. By softening the borders between subjects, skills, concepts and academic disciplines, as we look for conceptual relationships, students navigate the academic world successfully. Academic subjects should not be delivered à la carteitems on the knowledge menu, but rather as ingredients mutually enriched by one another.
It has been said that by the year 2020 the sum total of humankind’s knowledge will double every 73 days. The principles of human learning grounded in the cognitive neurosciences will survive this information
explosion, only if we re-focus our attention on making connections across the disciplines. This presentation will highlight the brain-considerate principles and strategies for bridging cross-content understanding.
Brain-STEM: The S.T2.R.E.A.M. Model for Learning
"STEM," is best delivered in contexts where science, technology, thematic instruction, reading/language arts, engineering, art (visual-spatial thinking), and mathematics merge into a “S.T2.R.E.A.M.” model for learning. In the “real world,” daily experiences are not governed by academic subject area. Instead, a continuous stream of information (4 billion bits of information per second) is processed inside the human brain anywhere the brain happens to be, regardless of the particular topic or time of the day.
Our experiences (including academic knowledge) are processed and linked together into neural pathways representing those events in the context of the surrounding environment – through our senses, through words, ideas, thoughts and mental images, some of which are concrete while others are more abstract. Complex brain circuits reflect what we know, how and where we learned it, and the methods by which it can best be retrieved from memory. What we have learned in the past determines what we can learn today and in the future, as well as how well it will be remembered and applied. These aspects of learning should be the central focus of our instructional delivery strategies.
In order for students to “understand,” meaningful connections must be made through cognitive processes that are in pursuit of assembling the parts to make comprehension of the whole possible, which largely ignores academic compartmentalization. The biologically-based principles by which the human brain processes, stores, retrieves and utilizes information make no effort to isolate information into academic categories that is subsequently stored in separate brain regions. Networks of information represent how the brain successfully “made sense of” information and stored it in memory for recall or for future use based on its (personal) "relevance" or value. Contrary to our contemporary school models, content knowledge is (1) integrative, (2) multidimensional, (3) interconnected, (4) interactive, and (5) highly elastic, which means that content learning is best delivered when it is “ST2REAM-ed” for long-term memory and applications, which undergo constant change as still more connections are made adding to a deeper conceptual understanding. When the brain makes these connections, it chemically rewards itself making learning both fun and addictive.
Brain-STEM: Transdisciplinary Science-centric Learning
The overarching goal of education is to teach our students how to think and how to solve future problems by utilizing the contents of their robust "cognitive tool chests," which we must help them cultivate. Human beings remain the only animal on the planet that looks for problems and explores various innovative means to solve them. In his book The Mind's Best Work, Harvard educator David Perkins noted that "Good thinking is a matter of making connections, and knowing what kinds of connections to make." Over the eons, the human brain evolved into an interdisciplinary processor without any predetermined academic areas “in mind.”
Students learn problem-solving best by actively applying key concepts and skills from across the academic spectrum developing an understanding that real-world problems have components that fall into several disciplines simultaneously, but each element is essentially one part of the same authentic “whole.” Why don’t our schools emphasize the fact that scientists and engineers regularly engage in listening, speaking, reading, writing and discourse, all of which are considered the property of reading/language arts? They write papers, give oral presentations at professional symposia, and they can use persuasive language during speeches, interviews, and distinguishing their point of view. Science offers one of the most genuine vehicles for deploying these language skills, where students can appreciate the purpose of the “Common Core” standards.
The global challenges facing us today (and those yet to surface) will be resolved by re-combinations of knowledge originating in the diverse STEM fields, not by memory. In the workplace, those individuals adept at problem solving and inventive thinking will out-perform their counterparts who are only adept at memorization and test-taking. As educators, it is our utmost responsibility to teach students the STEM/ST2REAM (science, technology, thematic instruction, reading/language arts, engineering, art/visual-spatial thinking, and mathematics) connections. Knowing where those disciplines overlap and how to apply them collectively in real-world contexts will be crucial to the survival of our nation and our species in a challenging, highly interconnected, rapidly-changing, "flat” world.
Finding the Commonalities in the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards
Like an extremely large Eskimo family confined to an exceptionally small igloo, the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards bump into one another continuously. Eventually, the constant contacts rise to the level of comforting expectations. The major content areas not only overlap, but significant portions of the school curriculum offer captivating opportunities revealing to learners the a real and “connected” world around them. Few areas of the curriculum truly stand alone. Instead, cross-curricular concept applications, skills development, vocabulary, and learning extensions abound. We read our math problems. Science fiction is often the best-selling reading (and writing) found in the library. The list goes on. Knowledge in a given content area should be underscored when it complements, connects to, adds depth of meaning or opens new doors into another discipline(s). Through these conceptual intersections, less turns out to be much more, where content is suddenly valued by students for its eye-opening and memorable connections provoking the “Ah, hah!” reactions. By capitalizing on the synergies among the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards, we can conjoin curricular areas and actually save valuable instructional time.
Applying the Arts in Cross-disciplinary Learning
While it is customary to say that we “see with our eyes, touch with our hands, and hear with our ears,” we actually live in a simultaneous sensory universe where events and their composing elements merge into a single interconnected experience. Joseph Epstein stated that "We are what we read." Neuroscientists would offer a differing viewpoint, concluding instead that “We are what we experience.” The mind is altered bywhat the brain does.
Learning travels along a trajectory moving from personal meaning to print, not from print to meaning. Although only 13% of K-12 students are auditory learners, over 90% of American academic instruction is passively delivered via textbooks, reading materials and lectures nearly 95% of the time. Students create meaning best by what they do, particularly when they are actively making sense out of content and constructing internal visual models, rather than by listening and reading.
The human brain evolved as an interdisciplinary processor with a unique ability to decipher and connect a symphony of relevant abstract and concrete inputs concurrently. Our goal in education should be to cultivate students who have developed multiple ways of understanding, retrieving and applying content information. Nothing is more important in the “Innovation Age” than teaching flexibility in thinking, visualization, multiple answers, and inventive thinking. The arts play a vital role in each of these creative learning enterprises.
“Reengineering Instruction to Highlight STEM Throughout the Day”
The most effective way to incorporate STEM into daily instruction is by identifying where and how the school curriculum can reasonably lend itself towards STEM and ST2REAM (science, technology, thematic instruction, reading, writing, engineering, art/visualization, and mathematics) in the classroom. Many of the Common Core State Standards for reading language arts and mathematics reflect elements of the ST2REAM approach to instruction. Beyond the superficial level of instruction, we bring and creative STEM applications to life in classrooms that guarantee student engagement. Content from other the entire curriculum can be linked together with real-world examples that provide a challenging, stimulating, and memorable learning model.
Plenary and Keynote addresses
I- If it’s your job to develop the mind, shouldn’t you know how the brain works?
- What all educators should know about learning and the human brain
- Merging brain science with classroom learning
- Teaching with the brain in mind
- How does the brain work?
- The biological nature of human learning
- The brain-considerate classroom of the 21st century
- A conversation about learning and the latest brain research
- Did you know…? The latest research findings on the human brain
- Scientific teaching: Merging brain science with the classroom
- Opening the black box
- Understanding the brain
- What are the most important questions that educators should ask about the human brain?
- Creating a cerebral symphony
- Looking at learning through the lens of the latest brain research
- Important recommendations for making yours a brain-considerate school
- Answering the most important questions about learning and the brain
- The latest research on the human brain: The implications for teaching and learning
- What everyone should know about the human brain: Neuroscience and brain-considerate learning
- Changing the nature of teaching and learning in the 21st Century
- Recent findings in neuroscience and the body/brain-considerate classroom
- Brain storms: Answering the critical questions about the human brain
- The principles of emotional intelligence
- Powerful pedagogies: What works, what lasts and why?
- Mathematics with the brain in mind
- Merging brain science and mathematics
- Mathematical reasoning and brain-based learning
- Applying brain research: Planners of the future and stewards of the present
- A conversation about neuroscience and learning
II. Learning and Memory
- How the brain learns
- The neuroscience of learning
- Memory and the brain
- Learning and the human brain
- The brain's natural inclinations for learning
- Learning and the latest brain research
- Learning and the brain: What works and why?
- Flexibility in thinking
- Learning and the adaptable brain
- A history of learning and the mammalian cerebral cortex
- The neurobiology of learning
- Neural plasticity: A brain for all seasons
- The biological foundations of human learning
- Neurons, neurotransmitters and the connected brain
- Attention disintegration: ADHD
- Attention and learning
- The physiology and architecture of the human brain
IV. Child Development
- How children learn and the implications for an effective curriculum
- Neural plasticity: Shaping the developing brain
- What all parents should know about learning and brain
- Parenting with the brain in mind
- Brain-based research: Human learning and the processes of language acquisition
- Learning and the developing human brain
- The latest research on the developing human brain
- Three pounds of matter in a body/brain-considerate learning environment
- The developing brain: "B to the fourth power" (Building Better Baby Brains)
- How brain development from zero to three impacts later learning in school
- Parents as advocates
V. Diversity and Learning
- Diversity and the latest brain research
- Gender differences in the male and female brain
- Gender, language and the brain
- Male and female differences in learning styles and development
- Different brains, different learners
- Brain research and multiple intelligences
- Building and maintaining positive relationships
- The impact of learning and experience on the human brain
- Standardized testing and "un-standardized" minds
- The Neuropsychology of prejudice: Understanding the evolutionary basis of fear and hatred, and how to break the cycle
- The latest research on the aging brain
- You and your brain: From the prenatal to senior years
- Aging to perfection