Brain Behavior Institute 2009 - Session 2

 
 

BRAIN AND BEHAVIOR INSTITUTE 2009

Being a Scientist/Explorer/Creator (Practice):
Living (and Learning/Teaching) in Virtuality


Review

  • Science is a tool to help one become better at thinking for oneself, at using observations to make one's own stories that motivate new observations that motivate new stories that one shares with others.
  • Science education should help people become better at thinking for themselves at ongoing, shared, exploration and creation
  • Scientific statments are "stories", not "reality", since there are multiple interpretations of a given set of observations
  • Working with summaries of thousands of year of observations without killing inquiry (see also Education: Between Two Cultures)
  • "Good" scientific stories (Herbert the blue giraffe?)
    • summarize lots of observations
    • are "useful"
    • motivate new observations/stories

Virtuality: the space between the real and the virtual

  • Observations are stories too
  • There are lots of useful things to learn from the virtual, developing the same skills one would otherwise as well as reaching new understandings
  • Students (and teachers) need to develop increased sophistication in working between the real and the virtual ... in virtuality

Learning from the virtual: emergence

sophisticated outcomes can often be made sense of in terms of simple things interacting in simple ways

Relevance for thinking about

  • brain?
  • behavior?
  • social organization?
  • your classroom?

Put your thoughts about emergence in the on-line forum below. Add additional reflections on this particular subject and materials as they might (or might not) be usable in some way in your own classroom.  How would you need to present it? 

In preparation for tomorrow, put in the forum for tomorrow morning three questions you currently have about the brain, and read "Emergent Pedagogy".

Comments

Paul Grobstein's picture

computer models and what they're good for

Thanks all for ... helping me discover things I hadn't actually thought about before we started talking (or at least hadn't finished thinking about).  To wit, in this case ...

Yes, computer models can be explored, just as other "real/virtual" things can.  But computer models also have a special characteristic: they prove what can be in principle.   The game of life, for example, shows that one CAN have "unintended order," ie that order does not necessarily require a planner or architect.  Langton's ant shows that observed behavior that one might have thought required a sophisticated brain/inner organization needn't.  It can result from much simpler things.

More generally, emergent models show that the world much actually be much simpler than we sometimes think it is, and can be so without also being trivial or unexciting.  Simple things interacting in simple ways can be quite sophisticted/suprising/interesting.

Antoinette Sisco's picture

07JUL09 pm session

This afternoon’s session was not nearly as confusing as previous first day’s sessions.  The Game of Life simulation demonstrated that seemingly complex results can come from very simple rules.  It does not however mean that all complexities have come from seemingly simple rules. Complexities in origins of behavior and learning are more complex than simply viewing red and green dots on a computer screen.  As an educator, I must remember that 5 – 4 may cause students to recall more emotional responses than considering basic mathematical computations.  What I view as a simple request “bring back the reading homework” may have complex interferences…the student’s and the parent’s view of education, homework and ect.

Langston’s Ant still bothers me.  Although the rules are very simple, the ant is programmed to do the same thing, after 11,000 steps, the un-hindered ‘ant’ will build a bridge.   Adding the barrier only ‘allows’ the ant to interact with it’s environment.  Yet, the ant in the program continues to follow the same pattern, following the two internal rules.  When people in the natural world interact with their environment, they rarely follow the exact same pattern in response to changes.  The original complex looking pattern is really a simple one that will yield the same results, if un-hindered.  In all of my years of teaching, both academically, and as a Bible school teacher, have I ever had the exact same result to similar lessons.  Because people tend to respond in creative ways, The Langston’s Ant program bothers me… as I am not sure what it is trying to prove.

 

Lucienne Davis's picture

Emergence for

Emergence for is.......:

 

-many simple acts, making simple actions creating something new

-many properties of the brain that are acting together can be trival or less exciting

-can occur due to trail and error

-change occurs by the condition of the environment and personal experience

-brings crazyness to order; simple to complex

Examples: cooking-basic ingredients creating fabulous dishes

Antoinette Sisco's picture

07JUL09 pm session

This afternoon’s session was not nearly as confusing as previous first day’s sessions.  The Game of Life simulation demonstrated that seemingly complex results can come from very simple rules.  It does not however mean that all complexities have come from seemingly simple rules. Complexities in origins of behavior and learning are more complex than simply viewing red and green dots on a computer screen.  As an educator, I must remember that 5 – 4 may cause students to recall more emotional responses than considering basic mathematical computations.  What I view as a simple request “bring back the reading homework” may have complex interferences…the student’s and the parent’s view of education, homework and ect.

Langston’s Ant still bothers me.  Although the rules are very simple, the ant is programmed to do the same thing, after 11,000 steps, the un-hindered ‘ant’ will build a bridge.   Adding the barrier only ‘allows’ the ant to interact with it’s environment.  Yet, the ant in the program continues to follow the same pattern, following the two internal rules.  When people in the natural world interact with their environment, they rarely follow the exact same pattern in response to changes.  The original complex looking pattern is really a simple one that will yield the same results, if un-hindered.  In all of my years of teaching, both academically, and as a Bible school teacher, have I ever had the exact same result to similar lessons.  Because people tend to respond in creative ways, The Langston’s Ant program bothers me… as I am not sure what it is trying to prove.

 

joycetheriot's picture

Emergence

I often use models to demonstrate concepts in a physical form and using virtual models are very convenient as a starting place for my students. As much as possible, I have the students make a physical model of conceptual ideas. Turning the abstract to something physical is a step in a new direction for most of them and can become quite artistic and require their explanation to help us understand their construction.

 

I like doing this in class as much as possible. It is like a discrepant event and the students need to switch gears in their brains to build it. There is no wrong in what they do as long as the explanation is good.

 

Using the existing virtual model is convenient but I hate that it has an "answer". The ant travels in that pattern because of his 2 particular programmed directions and yes, it is not an ant. I rail against giving answers to how things work but love for students to continue their own musings. I am hoping that from their 'imaginings' that they will be motivated to perhaps find their own answers through their own models.

This is the emergence that I strive to produce

Brie Stark's picture

An important discussion

An important discussion point today, I felt, was the fact that there are infinitely many summaries that can be made about one distinct thing.  Even though we knew the computer-programming for the ant in the example, we all made up distinctly different summaries because our observation points differed: we had different cultures, personalities and creativity levels.  However, just because there was a factual basis for what the ant accomplished, there were infinitely many ways to interpret this factual basis.  This applies to real life diversity and acceptance.  I believe that the ant example helps us appreciate the value of different perspectives, rather than arguing for an ultimate "truth."  I believe that the ant example should emphasize that stories in science are simply using facts to fit a situation, and that the facts only provide character with which a story is created.  This creation of a story is subsequently influenced by our own distinct environmental factors; therefore, there are many interpretations and never one "right" answer.

Jill Bean's picture

I disagree with some of your

I disagree with some of your points.  I think the initial examination of a phenomenom will result is vastly different stories, as with the ant.  However I think that the stories were constantly changing by listening and evaluating other people's stories, and through the "experiments" of repeated observations, observations over time, and observations made by changing the factors of the simulation.  Given more time and more tools (perhaps the ability to slow down the simulation), I think we could have collectively arrived at the "truth". 

Brie Stark's picture

I agree with everything you

I agree with everything you mentioned in your post, but I fail to see the success in arriving at one "truth."  What do we gain by arriving at just one truth?  Perhaps it is easier to have a discussion with one "truth" rather than many truths?  I think this could be the point Wil was arguing today.

Deborah Hazen's picture

Important discussion

Still, I would point out that in the end Paul told us the "one truth" that explained the ant's "behavior."

Brie Stark's picture

I would argue that, while

I would argue that, while Paul did in fact give us the instructions the computer was programmed to complete, it wasn't the "truth" that we were meant to find.  I think that the creation of a story around facts (which is what I would call the computer's instructions to the ant) can create many "truths."  While it was true that the ant was moving forward and turning the squares a different color, then subsequently turning a certain number of degrees, the ant could also plausibly have been considered to have been turning clockwise or counterclockwise.  Do you see how one person could interpret it a different way?  I don't disagree with you at all that the "fact" that the computer had instructions should be disregarded, but I think several "truths" (in terms of context) are applicable, too.

Deborah Hazen's picture

Still we all had the sense that there was one truth

You hit on one of the practical considerations that often plagues me. On the one hand, what I would call "pure emergence" pedagogy requires a large amount of time for students and teachers to be engaged in genuine inquiry. On the other, if we as teachers are "playing at" emergence pedagogy while "directing" students toward a particular truth or outcome, students catch on fairly quickly. Some will play along because they want to know that they can figure where the teacher wants them to go---others will simply disengage and wait for the teacher to arrive at the destination. This is especially the case if there isn't enough time to fully explore something, the exploration seems to call for background knowledge a student doesn't feel they have, or the teacher has already begun the redirecting and sculpting of other student's ideas to bring everyone to the desired outcome.

Deborah Hazen's picture

Emergence

I'm thinking about the role a set of rules plays in emergence and the use of computers to see things we previously could not observe. The computer simulations had simple rules that were pre-programmed, so as we were watching the simulations, I was considering a conversation that Paul had with my students last year. Paul was explaining a difference between science and math. He pointed out that math is a set of rules created by people--a game, and once you understand the rules you can play this game that includes right and wrong answers. He contrasted that with science that doesn't have right or wrong answers, simply is a process for telling a story and moving the story forward to get it "less wrong."  I admit that recalling that conversation left me slightly distracted as we were watching the simulation because I was distracted by the deterministic programming inherent in the ant simulation. I can see how it is a good simulation for illustrating how the ant and environment are interacting.

I am happy to talk about the importance of considering not only the internal motivations that result in an action but also the effects of the environment. In education one of the fundamental attribution errors is to attribute student behavior and performance solely to student "behavior type" forgetting to assess the situational influences acting on and being acted upon by the student.

 

GShoshana's picture

In the game of life,

In the game of life, everyone saw things differently and has different learning skills.  As a teacher, you can tell that everyone learns differently as well and everyone has different opinions of thinking and writing and speaking.  With the ant, it was interesting to see how his path changed when we put up the road block.  It creates a comprehension of thinking and creating.  What happens before and after?  It is a tool that us teachers can use to help students learn to tell and create an oral story.

RecycleJack Marine's picture

Emergence

If many functions of the brain are the result of simple things interacting in simple ways, then the best way I can introduce to elementary students in a science class is to give them tools to create a simple model. 

I would have them first write down what first thoughts come into their heads after making a model and to journal what scientific thoughts they can think of to extend the process. For example, if each student had the materials to make jello, they could combine the required materials to create a solution. Then, when refrigerated, the solution would go from a liquid to a solid: This is a process where simple steps are taken using simple materials to create an outcome, predictable by summaries of lifelong observations. This is emergence- jello is actually a sophisticated model for movement, matter, solubility, texture and other properties. Yet it is made very simply.

This is my first idea of introducing emergence to students in science class.

Kathy Swahn's picture

emergence

Emergence can be a great teaching tool but can create difficulties. I have found when using emergence the conversation needs to be guided. Without creative guidance lessons can go where you do not want them to go (off task) or completely misunderstood. The educator must be able to redirect with new questions and/or reworded questions AND must be prepared to answer abstract questions. When done creatively emergence creates more student interaction which better facilitates learning. I have found that assigning preliminary reading and questions to guide thinking and to supply some background knowledge.

 

 

Antoinette Sisco's picture

emergence

Hi Kathy, 

If students are exploring... and having emergent learning, are they really off task?????  It is diffiuclt as a teacher to sometimes let the students "explore"  when we are attempting to steer them towards what we want them to explore.

Brie Stark's picture

I think that one of the

I think that one of the beauties of having an emergent classroom is that the discussion can go off in an unexpected direction.  While I agree with you that it is a necessity to have a few goals to obtain during the lesson, the development and learning process of students delving in different directions could be beneficial.  I think a loose goal or ambition is a great tool to help guide the developing process.  In emergence, I think it's plausible and desirable that teachers learn just as much as students do during a lesson -- and they can, by letting students (who are diverse genetically and environmentally) contribute ideas that the teacher, who is notably different, may not have thought of.

Kathy Swahn's picture

brie - reply

Unfortuantely State Standards require more controlled points

Judith Lucas-Odom's picture

Emergence

Emergence is finally making sense!  We see emergence in the way we process information and apply it to situations new and old.  The Game of Life is very revelant in the fact that certain outcomes can emerge from certain patterns.  Sometimes these patterns are not what was expected; this is true in life.  I would apply these ideas to my students who come to me on various levels of learning.  I would use this as an introduction pattern of how students can think when given different situations.  Sometimes you can emerge from the situation successfully and other times you have to go back and make more observations; but isn't this what life is all about?

 

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