Taking the PYP Forward - Neuroeducation: Using brain sciences to inform teaching practice

Years of paint

I must admit that this is a subject I am ignorant of.  The complexity of the brain and how it operates within the rest of our body system is a fascinating topic, but I find the material available on this subject to be incredibly simplistic.  There also tends to be huge contradictions in one resource to the next, and while one person says one thing, you can almost certainly find another who says the opposite is true! Not to mention that many of them are made for profit (read the research behind the Baby Einstein products, it has nothing to do with toddlers or young learners yet spawned a multi-million dollar empire).  

The popular edu-neurological texts are usually reduced to simple lists.  They tend to be reductionist and simplistic.  Where I do agree that this is an emerging field, and one that is very important, I have not experienced a great read or resource surrounding it.  Then again, I haven't been looking very hard!

I appreciated the authors sense of the complexity, and he didn't seem to value one aspect of the brain over the other.  There are many facets to the brain, and each one impacts learning.  I think I am waiting for a holistic way of viewing these different areas, instead of breaking them down to individual phenomenon.

Attention Systems (pg 110)

This is really interesting.  I remember reading one study that stated our brain is inundated with close to a million pieces of information a second.  We can only pay attention to and filter a small fraction of those.  The author states that our attention is like a searchlight, finding and focusing only a small part of the stimuli in front of us.  However, Alison Gopnik says that the opposite is true, and that babies and young children have more of a lantern approach, where the attention goes in all directions, and take in lots of information from lots of different sources all at once.  There is one of those edu-neurological contradictions again!  I have no idea which one to believe (though my experience with young children and my gut feeling tells me to side with Gopnik).

"Stop moving, be quiet and pay attention" (pg 111)

I love the way Schneck treats movement and the brain.  It is so refreshing to see an educator telling us that movement and fidgeting are not bad things, and actually, they are essential for effective learning.  I have busy hands and feet, and I have trouble sitting still if I am not writing or reading.  Listening to others can be difficult if I am forced to sit quietly and pay attention.  I know so many kids who are the same.  There are extreme cases, where kids need to be walking around the room while you speak, and less severe cases where squeezing a stress ball will help them stay focused.  Other kids are very content sitting still and listening.  Morale of the story, know your students and how they learn.

The brain does not work by a mechanistic blueprint (pg 113)

He won me over with this comment.  Metaphors are important to how we view the world, and speaking about the brain with using machine or computer like metaphors is just wrong.  It is not like a computer. It is not a machine.  It is a living system.  It is dynamic.  Metaphors from ecosystems and evolution are more apt.  Darwin, not Newton.

The normal process at this stage of development is not to think fully about the consequences (pg 114)

Kids cannot control their inhibition sensors due to the limited growth of the prefrontal lobes and thus cannot comprehend fully the consequences of their actions.  This statement (a paraphrasing of mine) throws traditional methods of discipline on their head.  Imagine a school that lived by that statement....

Stress (pg 120)

The author seems to be suggesting without saying that high stakes testing is immorale.  Wonderful!  I wish we would have said it outright though!  That being said, the brain needs stress to be efficient.  Finding the harmony between too much and too little is another one of the jobs of teaching.  I find that so much of teaching is searching for harmony...