The Future of Education - Brain Based

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Brain, Education and Inquiry - this course aims to get students thinking about how the brain can influence the nature or technique of education and inquiry, and what role knowledge about the brain plays in the classroom.  After considering this goal, I think the real education needed is more about the mind, than the brain, but that any of this type of knowledge, about the brain or mind, is vital in improving education.  Although there are clear similarities between the mind and brain, I think that when we speak about ways the brain works, we are often really referring to the mind.  In his article entitled “A Fresh Look at Brain-Based Education,” Eric Jenson argues for a holistic view of brain-based education that involves interdisciplinary research and application, and moving beyond solely neurobiology in order to educate and learn more effectively.  Jenson puts forth many good arguments about the nature of brain-based education, and several practical suggestions for changes that could be made in schools.  Jenson’s approach is mainly to educate teachers about the mind and brain, while another article, “Please Sir, My Brain Hurts,” discusses the student-focused side of brain-based education.   Using brain-based education to help both teachers and students succeed in the classroom promises to be a significant force in the future of education. 

            As detailed in “A Fresh Look at Brain-Based Education,” brain-based education is an approximately twenty-year-old field with a goal of implementing effective education by considering relevant research that has been done on the brain.   Jenson points out that “narrowing the discussion to only neurobiology (and excluding other brain-related sciences) diminishes the opportunity for all of us to learn about how we learn and about better ways to teach” (Jenson).  Jenson suggests that in the past, brain-based education has consisted of teaching educators about brain structure and showing them images of the brain, but that “the synergy of biology, cognitive science, and education” is really what will help schools and education improve (Jenson).  We have to embrace all of the cognitive sciences in order to truly improve our education system.   

              The main difference between brain-based education and traditional education seems to be its embrace of everything interdisciplinary.  This plays a role in the research that goes into the educational ideas, and the education itself.  The field of research for brain-based education has  “moved on from its infancy of new words and pretty brain scans” and become more about a realization that the brain is the common denominator in everything we do, and therefore our knowledge of its functions and abilities should be incorporated in all aspects of life, especially education.   Although Jenson does not mention this in his article, I think that one of the reasons an interdisciplinary approach could work is because neurobiology can be intimidating for people, but a general knowledge about the brain and mind is much less scary for both teachers and students to consider.

            Areas of school and education that have been overlooked in the past become key in brain-based education.  Jenson shows several areas of the school day that would change, and in some cases already have, if brain-based education were more widely implemented.  He uses physical education, nutrition and even school architecture as examples.  While in the past, these parts of the school day have been somewhat neglected by educators, Jenson says that research has shown that all of these aspects influence our brains, and that thinking about these qualities of school and their relation to the student brain can help students learn better by helping their brain function to its fullest. 

            The areas that brain-based education aims to change include social aspects of school, physical activity, the level of stress students feel, and many others.  Although formal education has not really been held responsible for the social aspect of school in the past, Jensons’ paper summarizes how the brain is involved in social interaction and can be affected by it.  Because this involves the brain, Jenson argues that education should pay attention to it and hopefully figure out how to provide the best social situations for good development.  Physical activity is often debated for its role in school, but is usually not thought about in regards to the brain.  Jenson again summarizes the research on this topic and finds that exercise has been shown to aid thinking and mood regulation.  Jenson also looks at the effects of stress on the brain and concludes that stress affects the brains ability to remember and really learn material.  All of these areas relate to how the brain functions, and a unique aspect of brain-based education is to have all parts of the school setting help students’ brains learn as best they can.

            While Jenson wants to help teachers become better by exposing them to new research that could improve education, Diana Hinds, in her article, “Please Sir, My Brain Hurts,” looks to the other side of the classroom.  She describes a program run by Oxford University that is looking at the effects of teaching students concepts about the brain and mind.  In this program, they teach about the brain’s plasticity, structure, the way the mind attends to things of varying importance, and many other topics relevant to learning.  Although they haven’t gotten final results back for the Oxford study, very similar programs have been carried out that have been successful in motivating better school performance by giving students a better understanding of their mental capacities and functions.  Students in the Oxford program have already begun a process of really thinking about their own learning, one student commented that it made him “feel completely differently about my brain. It makes [him] think about thinking - and that is quite weird” (Hinds).  This “thinking about thinking,” metacognition, is part of learning that I think will become very important as brain-based behavior becomes more mainstream. 

            If students can learn more about their own learning, I think their performance and engagement in the classroom would improve.  The Oxford study is modeled after an experiment designed by Carol Dweck that looked into the performance and motivation of children after they learned about some of their own psychology regarding the process of learning.  The main difference in the Oxford study is that it is teaching students more neurobiology than psychology, and seeing if this knowledge has an effect on student performance or engagement.  They believe that it will, and therefore that any knowledge about either the brain or mind can help students think more about their potential and learning, and therefore become more motivated in school.

            The ideas of using research to inform education, and exposing not only teachers, but students as well, to this research seems very promising, but there are some major criticisms.  One of the main critiques is that researchers often never step in a classroom and therefore don’t really know what is needed or what will help.  Jenson addresses this issue by confirming that yes, researchers often have never taught, and teachers usually do not carry out research, but that does not mean that research cannot be helpful in education – it means that teachers have to take the research with a grain of salt and may have to try out many methods before coming across one that actually does help them and their students.  Jenson believes that in this respect, it is  “much better to err on the side of enthusiasm and interdisciplinary research than to be part of the ‘head in the sand club’” (Jenson).  The other flaw that could be seen in brain-based education is that research is not the final word on anything, but science is often viewed as truth.  Just as teachers need to know that researchers usually do not have classroom experience, they also need to understand that scientific findings are never without flaw and do not represent truth, just the most recent understanding and explanation. 

            With the knowledge of brain-based education’s potential faults, and great potential developments, I think it is the future of education.  Now that we understand that the brain “is involved with everything we do at school,” education should pay attention to current research and allow it to “affect every strategy, action, behavior, and policy at…school” (Jenson).  We have the methodology, technology and intelligence to study the brain and make educational choices with the information, and we’ve seen that knowledge of the brain helps both students and educators.  It only makes sense that educators use this knowledge and implement it as best they can. 

 

Bibliography

Hinds, Diana. (2010, December 3). Please sir, my brain hurts. The Times Educational Supplement Online, Retrieved from http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6064899

Jenson, Eric P. (2008). A fresh look at brain-based education. Phi Delta Kappan Magazine, Retrieved from http://www.pdkintl.org/kappan/k_v89/k0802jen.htm

 

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