With each day I become increasingly more curious about cognitive/brain science. Everywhere I turn, it seems that another expert in that realm is entering my life...and showing me how little I know about the gray matter between our ears. Talking about learning but scratching at insights about the brain itself. Perhaps if we were living prior to the last 10 or 20 years, it'd be nearly science fiction to claim real insight about the human brain...but today...the realizations are coming in fast and hard!
Milton Chen, Executive Director at Edutopia, just wrote a wonderful piece that brings the issue of brain science closer to home for me. What he does is remind us about our students/kids in a way we rarely speak as educators. And offers something quite meaty to chew on in the process:
If we were to emphasize feeding our students' brains, what would we feed them? Most answers would focus on content in the language arts, science, or math, and how it should be taught. But what about telling students something about the very nature of learning, intelligence, and brain development itself? Why not teach students about how their own brains develop, that the brain is the most marvelous and complex organ that human beings have, and how learning is the nourishment their brains need to grow and develop?
Milton, thank you for this. Simple. Powerful. Hard to go 'back' to something before this piece you wrote and not keep such questions running through the ol' noggin'.
Why isn't brain science talked about more in teacher discussions? Why not with our kids themselves? I'm not talking about at the lab coat level; I'm merely suggesting the 'concept' of what science can tell us about how our cognitive elements function might be a compelling everyday sort of discussion to have with our colleagues and kids. Any thoughts? Do we ultimately want it to remain mysterious? Do we prefer the 'ghost in the machine' theory of not-so-long-ago? Or are we merely and desperately falling behind with every day that we ignore the gray matter itself?
If you're really curious about all this neuron and synapse firing business that happens in our skulls, consider buying a copy of this month's Wired magazine. Great article called "The Thinking Machaine" (pg. 104) about Jeff Hawkins -- philosophy professor and the guy who created the Palm and Treo handhelds -- and a pretty mind-bending theory of his about how to mirror human intelligence. What's his theory? He believes that "prediction is the fundamental component of intelligence." Prediction? Prediction? Prediction?
Sit with that for a minute. Imagine what happens if this is true. And our school systems do almost NOTHING to enhance this side of our brain? If we continue to equate intelligence with memorizing and mastery of known facts, rather than seeing patterns forming or sensing what could come next when a series of variables is dynamically in play. Just a thought. And one heck of a future of learning question.
BTW: Hawkins wrote On Intelligence, a book I just bought that threatens to knock me on my backside with new insights. If you still have some extra Barnes & Noble gift cards laying around from your last birthday, it might be a good one to pick up!