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Brain Science

The field of study called "Brain Science" or "Brain Theory" has received a lot of attention in recent years. The field has made significant progress in the past five years (perhaps as much as in all previous years combined).

At this stage of the Website development, this section merely consists of miscellaneous topics. However, progress is occurring in weaving these topics into a useful "story."Foundations

Charles Darwin

Brain Science

Old Brains, New Ideas

Mirror Neurons

Attention

Consciousness

An Example from Reading and WritingBrain Science and MathematicsDonald Norman, and "Affordances"Brain Location of Certain Activities

Right Brain and Left Brain

Intrinsic and Extrinsic MotivationReferencesFoundations

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin (1809-1882) was a British naturalist who developed a theory of "natural selection."

I have called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term Natural Selection.

Charles Darwin from The Origin of Species.

Much of the modern research on Brain Science is rooted in Darwin's work. In essence, Darwin postulated that slight variations in members of a species may provide either advantages or disadvantages in the survival of these members within their current environment. The species members who gain an advantage tend to survive and reproduce.Nowadays, Brain Scientists talk about the abilities of a member of a species to perceive and act upon threats and opportunities (dangers and pleasures). We have increasing knowledge about mutations that produce differences in a member of a species. Thus, we have a picture of differences among the members of a species, and that some of these differences contribute to survival and procreation. We can study the brain in terms of its ability to help perceive and process threats and opportunities in a manner that contributes to survival.A number of research scientists/science writers have written about Darwin's ideas, interpreting them in light of current findings in science research. Richard Dawkins is one such researcher/writer. See The World of Richard Dawkins [Online]. Accessed 11/28/01: http://www.world-of-dawkins.com/. Dawkins is the person who formulated the term "meme" (similar to gene) in order to talk about ideas that evolve and survive, much in the same manner that species evolve. Dawkin's 1976 book The Selfish Gene (1976 1989) argues that the gene is the unit that evolves and tries to survive. This book is considered to be a very good example of readable, understandable science written by a highly respected research scientist. The following is quoted from the first page of the first chapter of The Selfish Gene:

Intelligent life on a planet comes of age when it first works out the reason for its own existence. If superior creatures from space ever visit earth, the first question they will ask, in order to assess the level of our civilization, is: 'Have they discovered evolution yet?' Living organisms had existed on earth, without ever knowing why, for over three thousand million years before the truth finally dawned on one of them. His name was Charles Darwin. To be fair, others had had inklings of the truth, but it was Darwin who first put together a coherent and tenable account of why we exist. Darwin made it possible for us to give a sensible answer to the curious child whose question heads this chapter. We no longer have to resort to superstition when faced with the deep problems: Is there a meaning to life? What are we for? What is man? After posing the last of these questions, the eminent zoologist G. G. Simpson put it thus: 'The point I want to make now is that all attempts to answer that question before 1859 are worthless and that we will be better off if we ignore them completely.'

Today the theory of evolution is about as much open to doubt as the theory that the earth goes round the sun, but the full implications of Darwin's revolution have yet to be widely realized. Zoology is still a minority subject in universities, and even those who choose to study it often make their decision without appreciating its profound philosophical significance. Philosophy and the subjects known as 'humanities' are still taught almost as if Darwin had never lived. No doubt this will change in time. In any case, this book is not intended as a general advocacy of Darwinism. Instead, it will explore the consequences of the evolution theory for a particular issue. My purpose is to examine the biology of selfishness and altruism.

Brain Science

Although one can argue that Brain Science is as old as humanity, it is probably more helpful to view the work that this field has produced during the past few hundred years, and then to focus on the past few decades. Thus, for example, we may be interested in Descartes' statement "I think, therefore I am." A far more modern analysis of this situation is provided by Antonio Damasio in his book, "Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reasoning, and the Human Brain." Damasio argues that "thinking" is a limited part of what it takes to be human. Researchers and other writers in Brain Science seem divided as to whether the field is well enough developed so that it can, at the current time, be contributing significantly to the design of curriculum, instruction, and assessment. There appears to be a growing trend to saying the answer is "yes." However, we must consider the field of Brain Science as still being in its infancy in terms of providing us significant guidance in how to substantially improve our formal and informal educational systems. Brain Science is a vibrant and developing field, and we can expect substantial progress in the years ahead. ICT plays a major role both in the research and in the educational products that are based on the research. Readers looking for an introduction to the field are well advised to read the two monthly columns (both written by educators) referenced under Scientific Learning Corporation.There is considerable agreement among brain researchers that the brain evolved to help the species in identifying and effectively dealing with threats and opportunities (dangers and pleasures) in ways that increase the chances of the species surviving. The brain and body eventually evolved so that oral language became an innate ability of our species.With language we can represent and communicate some threats and opportunities. Our brains help us both individually and collectively to deal with some of the threats and opportunities. Language is a powerful aid to educating our youth and to passing on information from one generation to the next (via "oral tradition").Michael Gazzaniga, a professor and researcher in Brain Science, has written a number of books in this field. The general idea as expressed by Gazzaniga is that through natural selection our brains accrued some specialized systems (adaptations). These aided in our ability to deal with threats and opportunities. (The reader should note that Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies, and other major parts of our current school curriculum are all quite recently developed subject areas -- the brain did not evolve to specifically deal with these academic disciplines.) "These highly specific systems are best understood in relation to their functions. Errors in analysis of their normal functions occur when a device proves capable of handling another everyday task and in that capacity appears to have different properties." (Gazzaniga 1998, p9)That is, although brain evolution provides us innate abilities abilities in oral language, and counting using small integers such as 1, 2, 3, and 4, it did not evolved to support specific innate abilities in written language, mathematics, and ICT. We learn the three Rs and ICT through making use of brain systems that specifically evolved for other purposes. It turns out that our brains' innate capabilities are remarkable adaptable, so that we can learn writing, mathematics, science, ICT, and other disciplines.Remember, writing, mathematics, and ICT are all quite recent in terms of an evolutionary scale. Natural selection has not had time to select for innate abilities to learn these disciplines. (This is in marked contrast to spoken language) Thus, we find huge differences in how quickly and how well different students can learn writing, mathematics, and ICT.

Old Brains, New Ideas

The following brief news item represents state of the art thinking about the "aging" brain. It may be of particular interest to "older" educators.

Author Gail Sheehy has some good news to share about old age: "Recent research by neurobiologists runs counter to our most basic fears about mental decline with aging. Brain cells don't die off in annual batches of a hundred thousand, as we believed; rather, they shrink or grow dormant in old age, particularly from lack of stimulation and challenge. But even in an older developed brain, 'sprouting' can take place, in which new neural processes from additional synapses. Nearly one third of individuals enjoy full mental alertness throughout late age, and some, in their eighties and nineties, surpass almost every other age-group to rank near the top on applied brainpower."

See http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/
ASIN/0345404459/newsscancom/ for Gail Sheehy's "New Passages: Mapping Your Life Across Time" -- or look for it in your local library. (NewsScan Daily, 25 September 2001)

Mirror Neurons

Mirror neurons are one of the most important Brain Science discovers of the past decade. These are a collection of neurons in the premotor area that fire in advance of a motor activity. That is, they mirror an activity that one is about to take. The firing of the mirror neurons can be thought of as a rehearsal for performing a motor activity.Interestingly, mirror neurons also mirror activities that one is watching. This plays an important role in learning. A student watches the performance of the teacher, parents, fellow students, and so on. The mirror neurons fire, just as if the next step would be for the motor area to actually perform. A few comments:

  1. Evidently autistic children have a defect in their mirroring neurons.

  2. Part of the process of learning socially acceptable behavior is learning not to do (that is, to inhibit) certain activities. Since mirroring neurons fire in advance of an activity, the brain still has time to inhibit the activity.

  3. The presence of mirroring neurons and their firing from watching someone else perform helps explain the importance of good role modeling on the part of teachers.

Attention

The brain is continually receiving input from both inside and outside of the body. Research suggests:

  1. Much of the input is processed at a subconscious level (Estimates are that 98% of brain activity is at a subconscious level.)

  2. The brain is designed to filter out (deal with at a subconscious level, perhaps ignore) the vast majority of external stimuli. Only a small amount of external stimuli are brought to one's conscious attention.

  3. There has been a lot of research on attention. (Michael Posner from the University of Oregon is a world class expert in this area.)

  4. Many students find ICT to be "attention grabbing." More specifically, computer programs can be written so that they grab and hold the attention of students. Very few teachers can effectively compete with the attention grabbing and holding power of computers.

  5. We now have data that suggest elementary school students spend more time playing computer games and using the Internet than they do watching television. This seems supportive of the observation that the computer is attention grabbing and attention holding. This observation and the previous one point to the need for our educational system to figure out how to make effective use of ICT in instruction.

Right Brain and Left Brain

We can make some statements that are normally true for a right handed person.

  1. The right brain deals with novel situations. In teaching, we want to keep the right brain of students engaged.

  2. The left brain deals with routine. The left brain stores and processes procedures and algorithms. An important aspect of learning is to move knowledge and skills from being novel to being routinized (from right brain to left brain).

Consciousness

Consciousness is a challenging topic in Brain Science. Leading researchers in the field do not yet have a good understanding of what it is and how it occurs.The topic is also an important issue in Artificial Intelligence. Some people argue that we will have computers that have consciousness within the next 50 years. Others argue that we will never develop machines that have consciousness.There is a lot of literature on consciousness. See, for example:Chalmers, David. Online Papers on Consciousness [Online]. Accessed 11/28/01: http://www.u.arizona.edu/~chalmers/online.html.

Chalmer's Website contains links to the following online materials:

  • Philosophy of Consciousness [355 papers]

  • Other Philosophy of Mind [415 papers]

  • Science of Consciousness [305 papers]

An Example from Reading and WritingLet's look at reading as a specific example. Written language was developed about 5,000 years ago to serve the needs of bureaucracies and businesses. Initially, there was a need for only a few people who could read and write. Thus, our written languages were not specifically designed to meet the learning and use needs of the masses. To me, it seems rather remarkable that most people can learn to read and write at a functional level. Perhaps one can explain this as a transfer of capability from the ability to process oral language to processing written language. Oral language and written language are sufficiently closely connected that a considerable transfer of learning and learning ability occurs.A significant number of people are dyslexic. It appears that the dyslexia is more prevalent in people that have English as their native language, as compared with many other native languages. This suggests that the design of written English (for example, its peculiar rules for spelling) somehow contribute to dyslexia. As compared to non dyslexic children, dyslexic children face significant additional challenges in learning to read and write. Many dyslexic children also have extra difficulty in learning simple arithmetic.We know that with the type of informal and formal reading instruction available in our country, about 2/3 to 3/4 of students can acquire reasonably decent reading skills by the end of the third grade. They can read well enough (decode and comprehend) so that reading is a useful aid to learning. On the other hand, this means that approximately 1/4 to 1/3 of students do not achieve this level of reading skill by the end of the third grade.This has led to considerable research on ways to improve the informal and formal instruction in reading, especially for students who are "at risk" and those that are not progressing at a rate that will lead them to meeting the end of third grade goal. This is an example of research to support a Science of Teaching and Learning (SoTL). SoTL is discussed more later on this web page.There are a variety of difficulties that a dyslexic child faces. ICT provides a variety of aids that can make a huge difference for such children. For example, consider a child with dysgraphia, who cannot produce readable handwriting. Add to this severe difficulty in learning to spell. Now, provide this child with a word processor with a spelling checker, as well as software that makes automatic spelling corrections on the types of common spelling errors the child makes. A modern word processor includes a thesaurus and a dictionary; it allows changes in what font is being used as well as the size and boldness of the typeface. Each of these features may be of use to dyslexic students. They help to "level the playing field."Remember, dyslexia is a problem that is rooted in our society's insistence that all children learn to read and write. Prior to the development of reading and writing, dyslexia was not a trait that was selected against in the evolution of our species.Activity: In small groups, discuss your insights and feelings about allowing dyslexic children to learn to use -- and then to routinely use, even on tests -- a modern word processor. Perhaps you feel this would be "unfair" to other students. What are your thoughts about providing such aids to all students?Brain Science and MathematicsStan Dehaene is a mathematician turned cognitive neuropsychologist who studies cognitive neuropsychology of language and number processing in the human brain. The following materials are quoted from his paper What Are Numbers, Really? A Cerebral Basis For Number Sense.

Psychologists are beginning to realize that much of our mental life rests on the operation of dedicated, biologically-determined mental modules that are specifically attuned to restricted domains of knowledge, and that have been laid down in our brains by evolution (cf. Steve Pinker's How the Mind Works). For instance, we seem to have domain-specific knowledge of animals, food, people, faces, emotions, and many other things. In each case - and number is no exception -, psychologists demonstrate the existence of a domain-specific system of knowledge using the following four arguments:

  • One should prove that possessing prior knowledge of the domain confers an evolutionary advantage. In the case of elementary arithmetic, this is quite obvious.

  • There should be precursors of the ability in other animal species. Thus, some animals should be shown to have rudimentary arithmetic abilities.

  • There should be systematic parallels between their abilities and those that are found in humans. The ability should emerge spontaneously in young children or even infants, independently of other abilities such as language. It should not be acquired by slow, domain-general mechanisms of learning.

  • The ability should be shown to have a distinct neural substrate.

My book The Number Sense is dedicated to proving these four points, as well as to exploring their consequences for education and for the philosophy of mathematics. In fact, solid experimental evidence supports the above claims, making the number domain one of the areas in which the demonstration of a biologically determined, domain-specific system of knowledge is the strongest.

Howard Gardner, in his research on Multiple Intelligences, has identified logical/mathematical as one of the human "intelligences." Gardner and Dehaene agree that:

  • The human brain has a variety of innate abilities in mathematics. Examples include number sense, spatial sense, and logical sense.

  • Through appropriate education, training, and experience the human brain can learn a great deal of mathematics.

The discussion about dyslexia and learning reading/writing given in the previous section was designed to pave the way for a similar discussion about learning mathematics. Children vary tremendously in their abilities to learn mathematics. For many children, it is not easy to memorize the simple number facts, and to quickly and accurately produce answers to questions such as what is 8 x 7 or what is 6 x 9. Many children find it difficult to associate meaningful mental models ("seeing" it in their mind's eye) that represent and give meaning to the various mathematics operations, even on small integers.ICT can help many dyslexic children (as well as other children) in learning mathematics and learning to use mathematics (Dyslexia and Mathematics, 2000). Our current mathematics education system has a heavy emphasis on memorizing number facts and in developing speed and accuracy in carrying out computational algorithms. Such computational numeracy is only one aspect of mathematics, and it is an aspect in which calculators and computers are particularly useful aids.Activity: In small groups, discuss your insights and feelings about allowing dyslexic children (and "mathematical dyslexic" children) to learn to use -- and then to routinely use, even on tests -- a calculator and a computer. Perhaps you feel this would be "unfair" to other students. What are your thoughts about providing such aids to all students?Donald Norman, and "Affordances"Donald Norman is a Cognitive Scientist, author of many books, and an expert in human-machine interface.Norman's fundamental theme is that many human-machine interfaces (not just human-computer interfaces) are poorly designed. One of his favorite examples is provided by doors that one cannot tell whether to push or to pull to open. If you see a door that has a sign (telling you whether to push or to pull), you are seeing a poorly designed human-door interface.The language and notation of mathematics has been developed over thousands of years. In some sense, one can think of the language and notation as being optimized for a paper and pencil environment. ICT plays many roles in mathematics. As the power of ICT continues to grow, this will lead to changes in the language and notation of mathematics. The language and notation will gradually change to fit an environment in which a machine can "do" much of the mathematics that people currently learn to do using pencil and paper as an aid.The following materials are quoted from Chapter 7 of:Norman, Donald (1997, 1998). Being Analog.

We humans are biological animals. We have evolved over millions of years to function well in the environment, to survive. We are analog devices following biological modes of operation. We are compliant, flexible, tolerant. Yet we people have constructed a world of machines that requires us to be rigid, fixed, intolerant. We have devised a technology that requires considerable care and attention, that demands it be treated on its own terms, not on ours. We live in a technology-centered world where the technology is not appropriate for people. No wonder we have such difficulties.

Here we are, wandering about the world, bumping into things, forgetful of details, with a poor sense of time, a poor memory for facts and figures, unable to keep attention on a topic for more than a short duration, reasoning by example rather than by logic, and drawing upon our admittedly deficient memories of prior experience. When viewed this way, we seem rather pitiful. No wonder that we have constructed a set of artificial devices that are very much not in our own image. We have constructed a world of machinery in which accuracy and precision matter. Time matters. Names, dates, facts, and figures matter. Accurate memory matters. Details matter.

People are compliant: we adapt ourselves to the situation. We are flexible enough to allow our bodies and our actions to fit the circumstances. Animals don't require precise measurements and high accuracy to function. Machines do.

The same story is true of time, of facts and figures, and of accurate memory. These only matter because the mechanical, industrialized society created by people doesn't match people. In part, this is because we don't know how to do any better. Can we build machines that are as compliant and flexible as people? Not today. Biology doesn't build: it grows, it evolves. It constructs life out of soft, flexible parts. Parts that are self-repairable. We don't know how to do this with our machines: we can only build mechanical devices out of rigid substances like wood or steel. We only build information devices out of binary logic, with its insistence upon logic and precision. We invented the artificial mathematics of logic the better to enhance our own thought processes.

The dilemma facing us is the horrible mismatch between requirements of these human-built machines and human capabilities. Machines are mechanical, we are biological. Machines are rigid and require great precision and accuracy of control. We are compliant. We tolerate and produce huge amounts of ambiguity and uncertainty, very little precision and accuracy. The latest inventions of humankind are those of the digital technology of information processing and communication, yet we ourselves are analog devices. Analog and biological.

It is interesting to explore Norman's ideas in the environment of a handheld calculator. For under $5 one can purchase a solar battery powered, handheld calculator that can add, subtract, multiply, divide, take square roots, and has a memory location (M+, M-, MR, and MC keys). When I use such a calculator I often make keying errors, such as pressing a key twice when I mean to press it one, or not pressing a key hard enough, so the a digit is not entered. Moreover, on some calculators the spacing between keys is so small that I may depress two keys when I only want to depress one.How can I tell if I have made a keying error? The human-calculator interface is poor, so that it gives me little help. For example, suppose I am multiplying two numbers. The first disappears from the display screen as I enter the second. The second disappears as the answer is displayed. Thus, I must check my data entry as I go along, rather than at the end of a calculation.Do you know how to make use of the memory location, and take advantage of this capability? For example, can you use the calculator to calculate (846.2 x 382.6) + (341.9 x 758.3) without using your mind or pencil and paper as a temporary storage mechanism? Hmm. Perhaps a simple handheld calculator is not so easy to learn how to use. And, once one learns to use the memory feature, is this learning easily forgotten, or is it so "natural" that it lasts a lifetime? Is it the same on all handheld calculators that have a memory feature?Suppose you want to do a sequence of calculations in which a certain number is multiplied times a variety of other numbers. For example, suppose you want to calculate 72% of a bunch of different numbers. Does one need to enter .72 over and over again, or is it possible to enter it only once? Is the "automatic constant" feature the same for all inexpensive handheld calculators? Does the calculator contain a build-in help feature to tell you how to do this?The difficulties being described here are greatly magnified in more sophisticated calculators, such as scientific calculators, graphing calculators, and programmable calculators. The calculator-human interface is a major obstacle to learning to use such calculators and to effectively and accurately using them.Activity: In small groups, discuss your insights into and personal experiences with calculator-human interfaces. Share experiences you have had in helping children learn to effectively cope with these difficulties. Suggest ways to improve the interface.Brain Location of Certain ActivitiesThe following is quoted from Newberg, A., D'Aquill, E., and Rause, V. (2001).

The classic understanding is that the left hemisphere is more analytically inclined and is recognized as the center of verbal language and mathematical processes. The right hemisphere works in a more abstract, holistic way, as a center of nonverbal thought, visual-spatial perceptions, and the perception, modulation, and expression of emotions. (Page 21).

Much of the content of mathematics education for children focuses on what goes on in the left hemisphere. Drill and practice on number facts and on computational algorithms is a left hemisphere activity. However, we know that the visual-spatial part of the brain plays a major role in learning and using mathematics. Thus, a "good" mathematics curriculum contains an appropriate balance between left hemisphere and right hemisphere instruction and practice. Some developers of math education material have noted that typically the elementary school math curriculum is unbalanced, with far to much emphasis on left hemisphere learning. Good examples of right hemisphere-oriented mathematics curriculum have been developed by the Math Learning Center.Problem solving is strongly emphasized by the NCTM and in both state and national assessment of mathematics. One common assessment tool is to have students "explain" their work in solving a problem. It turns out that this can be quite difficult for some students to do -- even mathematically gifted students. A mathematically gifted student may well "see" how to solve a problem -- and solve it quite quickly -- in his/her "mind's eye." Many research mathematicians are especially talented in visualizing mathematics.Thus, an assessment emphasis on a written or oral explanation of what one has done in solving a problem may be inconsistent with developing the mathematical, spatial visualization talents of a student.Activity 1: Working individually, introspect on how you, personally, know and do math. Do you have good spatial visualization skills, and do you use them effectively in learning and doing math? Share your insights in a small group.Activity 2: In a small group, discuss the mathematics curriculum that is currently being presented to most students. It is consistent with the Brain Science ideas discussed in this section? What roles might ICT play in helping to address this situation?Intrinsic and Extrinsic MotivationThe human mind/body seeks to deal with threats and opportunities is ways that enhance reproduction and the survival of the species appropriately deal with threats and opportunities. The brain has an Orientation Association Area that allows it to distinguish between inside one's body and outside of one's body. Thus, the mind/body deals with internal and external threats and opportunities.Of course, the "dealing with" occurs after information (internal, external, or both) is processed by the brain. This situation allows us to talk about intrinsic (from inside the mind/body) motivation and extrinsic (from outside the mind/body) motivation. It is clear that some types of "pure" intrinsic motivation exist. For example, the body detects an infection, and then marshals resources to fight the infection. The mind may not be consciously aware that this is even happening.We can discuss extrinsic motivation from from the point of view of an external threat or opportunity that comes to the attention of the brain through the senses (input units) of that a person has. Consider a simple behavioral modification activity. A rat is at one end of a maze. A bell sounds and a door at the other end of the maze opens onto some food. The food door closes after a modest period of time. The goal is for the rat to learn to await the sound of the bell and then quickly move through the maze to the food.From the point of view of the trainer, the goal is to have the rat learn a particular behavior. Typically the training takes place when the rat is quite hungry. An extrinsic motivation opportunity to get food is made available to the rat. Through trial and error, the rat learns to take advantage of this opportunity.Now, think of a child seated at a computer containing drill and practice software embedded in an attention-grabbing and entertaining program. The "bells and whistles" of the program capture the attention of the student. The "reward" for a correct response is some form of computer sound and graphics display, and an increasing score. We know from extensive research that "edutainment" games of this sort can be designed that catch and hold the attention of many students, and that the programs can produce increased speed and accuracy in the student's response.We have much less knowledge about the transfer of learning that occurs from edutainment. If a child learns math facts in a computerized edutainment setting, will the child be able to use these facts in non-game settings, such as in other courses, outside of school, on the job, and so on? One approach to this situation is to develop the drill and practice so that it is "authentic"--that is, so that it is situated in environments that are real-world-like. Situated Learning Theory addresses the issue of the nature and extent of the learning that occurs being tied to the specific situation /environment in which the learning is occurring.During the past few decades, behavioral psychology has been supplemented by (often, supplanted by) cognitive psychology. This is not to say that a number of the basic results of behavior modification-based learning do not hold. Rather, it means that we have some new and more powerful ways to look at learning.A very rough summary of the situation is:

  1. Computer-base drill and practice is an effective aid to learning a wide variety of basic facts and skills. The computer can be used to present such instruction in a variety of potential application environments to enhance transfer of learning.

  2. A human learner has a very capable brain/mind and as well as consciousness. There are a variety of cognitive learning theories that can be used by teachers and the developers of educational materials to enhance student learning.

  3. Computers can be used to create simulated environments (for example, virtual realities) that can enhance learning of quite complex tasks such as flying an airplane or repairing a piece of complex machinery.

In all cases, we are building a research-based theory or set of theories about human learning. We are making use of ICT (as well as teachers and other materials) to implement instruction that is consistent with these theories.Activity: In small groups, discuss intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in math education. Share examples of how various members of the make use of each of these in their teaching. ReferencesBrain Lab [Online]. Accessed 4/18/01: http://www.newhorizons.org/blab.html. Quoting from the Website:

Welcome to The Brain Lab. How would it affect educational systems if everyone truly believed that the human brain could change structurally and functionally as a result of learning and experience--for better or worse? How would it affect how we teach and how students learn if everyone believed that the kinds of environments we create for learning, how we teach, and the learning strategies we offer students could result in better mental equipment they will use throughout life? In the Brain Lab you will find articles that support the validity of this concept, as well as articles of current interest on various other aspects of brain research and its implications for education.

Brain Connection [Online]. Accessed 5/22/01: http://www.brainconnection.com/. Quoting from the Website:Brain Connection.com is dedicated to providing accessible, high-quality information about how the brain works and how people learn. Many discoveries are being made in areas that relate to the human brain, including language, memory, behavior, and aging, as well as illness and injury. We believe that access to this information can provide practical tools for teaching and learning as well as valuable insights into almost every aspect of our daily lives.Cognitive Science [Online]. Accessed 7/30/01: http://otec.uoregon.edu/cognitive_science.htm.

This site provides an an annotated list of web-based references that provide an introduction to the field of Cognitive Science (which includes Brain Science).

Damasio, Antonio R. (1994). Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reasoning, and the Human Brain. NY: G. P. Putnam & Sons. Quoting from the dust jacket of the book:

…Antonio Damasio shows how the absence of emotion and feeling can break down rationality. In the course of explaining how emotions and feelings contribute to reason and to adaptive social behavior, Damasio also offers a novel perspective on what emotions and feelings actually are: a direct sensing of our own body states, a link between the body and it survival-oriented regulations, on the one hand, and consciousness, on the other.

Darwin, Charles (1859). On the Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life [Online]. Accessed 8/9/01: http://www.literature.org/authors/darwin-charles/the-origin-of-species/.

The title for this book is often shortened to The Origin of the Species. The basic underlying idea is that evolution proceeds through a process of natural selection. Even a slight mutation may provide an advantage in detecting and dealing with threats and opportunities that contribute to the survival of a species.

Dehaene, Stanislas (1997). The Number Sense: How the Mind Creases Mathematics. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.

An excellent book on numbers and mathematics from a Brain Science research point of view.

Dehaene, Stanislas. What Are Numbers, Really? A Cerebral Basis For Number Sense [Online] Accessed 7/30/01: http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/dehaene/index.html.

A substantial quote from this paper is given earlier on this web page.

Dyslexia and Mathematics.[Online]. Accessed 7/30/01: http://www.bda-dyslexia.org.uk/d07xtra/
x10maths.htm.

This is a November 2000 publication of the British Dyslexia Association. Here are a few quotes from the Website:

Traditionally, dyslexia has focused very much on literacy - the learning of the reading and writing processes. For some dyslexic children and adults difficulties also transfer into the learning of mathematics. It is well known that dyslexic people are as able as many others but that they need to learn in ways which suit them best.

It is not surprising that those who have difficulty in deciphering written words and learning patterns involving symbols should also have difficulty in learning the various facts, notations and symbols which are used in mathematics. If teachers are aware of the potential learning barriers and if they can present the work in ways which minimize these effects, then the dyslexic pupil can succeed in numeracy.

Anxiety has a huge effect on learning maths. Dyslexics (and indeed many non-dyslexics) can feel that maths exposes them to failure. A typical reaction is not to attempt a question rather than try and possibly get it wrong. Dyslexics tend to be slower at maths (though not all) due to contributing factors such as poorer short term memory, slower writing speeds and weaker knowledge of basic facts.

Computers can be extremely helpful. However it should be remembered that the majority of computer programs available under the title of 'mathematics' aim at reinforcing numeracy skills; fewer are designed for mathematical concepts. For example, at a simple level, a child may repeatedly perform multiplication correctly (by remembering the answers), which is a numeracy skill, but not know what multiplication is or does and what he/she achieves by doing it, which would be to understand the concept. Many programs provide multiplication practice but fewer attempt to illustrate and explain multiplication.

IT-Using Special Educators [Online]. Accessed 7/30/01: http://otec.uoregon.edu/special_education.htm.

This site provides an an annotated list of web-based references that provide an introduction to the field of uses of ICT in Special Education.

Math Learning Center [Online]. Accessed 7/31/01: http://www.mlc.pdx.edu/. Quoting from the Website:

We work to:

  • Promote ways of teaching and learning that enable every person to discover and develop their mathematical abilities.

  • Advocate visual thinking, use of models, and student exploration.

  • Develop standards-based curricula and resources.

  • Support teachers with relevant, hands-on workshops.

Miller, George A. (1956). The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information [[Online]. Accessed 10/28/01: http://www.well.com/user/smalin/miller.html.

This article is a classic, often quoted when discussing limitations of the human brain. Quoting from the introduction:

My problem is that I have been persecuted by an integer. For seven years this number has followed me around, has intruded in my most private data, and has assaulted me from the pages of our most public journals. This number assumes a variety of disguises, being sometimes a little larger and sometimes a little smaller than usual, but never changing so much as to be unrecognizable. The persistence with which this number plagues me is far more than a random accident. There is, to quote a famous senator, a design behind it, some pattern governing its appearances. Either there really is something unusual about the number or else I am suffering from delusions of persecution.

I shall begin my case history by telling you about some experiments that tested how accurately people can assign numbers to the magnitudes of various aspects of a stimulus. In the traditional language of psychology these would be called experiments in absolute judgment. Historical accident, however, has decreed that they should have another name. We now call them experiments on the capacity of people to transmit information. Since these experiments would not have been done without the appearance of information theory on the psychological scene, and since the results are analyzed in terms of the concepts of information theory, I shall have to preface my discussion with a few remarks about this theory.

Neuroscience for Kids [Online]. Accessed 5/16/01: http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/neurok.html. Quoting from the Website:

Neuroscience for Kids has been created for all students and teachers who would like to learn more about the nervous system. Enjoy the activities and experiments on your way to learning more about the brain and spinal cord.

"Neuroscience for Kids" is maintained by Eric H. Chudler, Ph.D. and supported by a Science Education Partnership Award (R25 RR12312) from the National Center of Research Resources.

Newberg, A., D'Aquill, E., and Rause, V. (2001). Why God Won't Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief. NY: Ballantine Books.

This book is intended for lay people who are interested in how the brain works. It has a special emphasis on possible relationships between the biological brain and religion.

Norman, Donald (1997, 1998). The invisible computer. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. [Online]. Accessed 7/31/01: http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/being_analog.html.

Several chapters of the book can be accessed from this Website.

Norman's jnd Website [Online]. Accessed 7/31/01: http://www.jnd.org/.

The site contains some of his writings, a vita, and a list of his books.

Scientific Learning Corporation [Online]. Accessed 3/9/01: http://www.brainconnection.com.Quoting from the Website:

Headquartered in Berkeley, California, Scientific Learning offers CD-ROM and Internet programs developed by leaders in brain research. The Company's Fast ForWord system of intensive computer-based training programs for language and reading "train the brain" to learn faster. These training programs use patented technologies to adapt to each student's skill level, allowing students of all ages to make gains in language and reading in just weeks, rather than years. Educators can use the Company's patented Internet technologies to track students' progress. Other Scientific Learning products include award-winning software and storybooks for building early learning skills and rapid assessment of reading skills, and ReWordª, a training program for adults to use to improve their language and organizational skills.

Within this site, many readers will find http://www.brainconnection.com/library/?main=reviewhome/main to be particularly helpful. It contains information about a large number of books. It also contains two monthly columns:

Burns, Martha. Language and Reading in the Brain.

Dr. Martha Burns Burns is a senior clinical specialist at the Scientific Learning Corporation, and is a member of the faculties of the University of Illinois and Northwestern University.

Sylwester, Robert. Connecting Brain Processes to School Polices and Practices.

Dr. Robert Sylwester is a retired professor from the College of Education, University of Oregon, and he lives in Eugene, Oregon.

Shonkoff, Jack P. and Phillips, Deborah A. ( 2000). From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development [Online]. Accessed 12/27/01: http://www.nap.edu/catalog/9824.html?se_side.

The Website contains a complete copy of the 612 page book published by the National Academy Press. Quoting from a press release:

The committee's comprehensive study debunked many popular myths about the early childhood period. For starters, although there is considerable evidence that early experiences influence brain development, the neurological window of opportunity does not slam shut at age 3 or 5. Such development begins before birth, continues throughout life, and is influenced by both genetics and the surrounding environment, the report says. The long-standing debate about the importance of nature vs. nurture, considered as independent influences, is overly simplistic and scientifically obsolete.

Plus, there are no special programs that are guaranteed to accelerate early learning during infancy, the report says. Most children thrive naturally when adults routinely talk, read, and play with them in a safe and encouraging environment. Despite the proliferation of materials that claim to raise babies' IQs, there is a lack of hard scientific data on how enrichment activities affect early brain development. For example, the so-called "Mozart Effect," a theory that suggests that exposing youngsters to classical music may boost their brainpower, has never been studied in young children.

But well-designed intervention programs to help disadvantaged youngsters or children with serious health conditions can indeed make a difference, the report says. And such programs should be more accessible to parents who work full time, particularly during nonstandard hours. Furthermore, the prevalence of serious family problems -- such as substance abuse, maternal depression, and family violence -- makes clear the need for specialized expertise that typically is not available in traditional intervention programs, which tend to focus on children.

 

==============================Information from the following books remains to be integrated into the above discussion.==============================Gazzaniga, Machael S. (1998). The Mind's Past. Berkley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Quoting from the dust jacket:

Why does the human brain insist on interpreting the world and constructing a narrative? In this groundbreaking work, Michael S. Gazzaniga, one of the world's foremost cognitive neuroscientists, shows how our mind and brain accomplish the amazing feat of constructing our past -- a process clearly fraught with errors of perception, memory, and judgment. By showing that the specific systems built into our brains do their work automatically and largely outside of our conscious awareness, Gazzaniga calls into question our everyday notions a of self and reality. …

Goldberg, Elkonon (2001). The Executive Brain: Frontal Lobes and the Civilized Mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Quoting from the dust jacket:

The Executive Brain is the first popular but rigorous book to explore the most "human" region of the brain, the frontal lobes. Writing in a lively and accessible style, the author shows how the frontal lobes enable us to engage in complex mental processes, how they control our judgment and our social and ethical behavior, and how vulnerable they are to injury and how devastating the effects of brain damage often are, leading to chaotic, disorganized, asocial, and even criminal behavior. …

Hauser, Marc D. (2000). Wild Minds: What Animals Really Think. New York: Henry Holt and Company. Quoting from the cover:

Why do dolphins and chimps form coalitions to defend themselves, wild other species do not? How do lions determine the number of a competing pride from miles away? Why do bonobos mate as a response to finding a cache of food? How is it that a few species can recognize their own image in a mirror when most cannot? These questions lead us to a essential examination of how animals assemble the basic tool kit that we call the mind: the ability to count, to navigate, to recognize individuals, to communicate, and to socialize. …

Sagon, Carl and Drugan, Ann (1992). Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors: A Search for Who We Are. New York: Ballentine Books. Quoting from the book cover:

Sagan and Druyan conduct a breathtaking journey through space and time, zeroing in on critical turning points in evolutionary history, and tracing the origins of sex, altruism, violence, rape, and dominance. The book culminates in a stunningly original examination of the connection between primates and human traits. …

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