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 (1809-1882) was a British naturalist who developed a theory of "natural selection."
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:
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.
The following brief news item represents state of the art thinking about the "aging" brain. It may be of particular interest to "older" educators.
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:
The brain is continually receiving input from both inside and outside of the body. Research suggests:
We can make some statements that are normally true for a right handed person.
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.
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.
Howard Gardner, in his research on Multiple Intelligences, has identified logical/mathematical as one of the human "intelligences." Gardner and Dehaene agree that:
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.
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).
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:
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:
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.
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:
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/.
Dehaene, Stanislas (1997). The Number Sense: How the Mind Creases Mathematics. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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.
IT-Using Special Educators [Online]. Accessed 7/30/01: http://otec.uoregon.edu/special_education.htm.
Math Learning Center [Online]. Accessed 7/31/01: http://www.mlc.pdx.edu/. Quoting from the Website:
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.
Neuroscience for Kids [Online]. Accessed 5/16/01: http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/neurok.html. Quoting from the Website:
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.
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.
Norman's jnd Website [Online]. Accessed 7/31/01: http://www.jnd.org/.
Scientific Learning Corporation [Online]. Accessed 3/9/01: http://www.brainconnection.com.Quoting from the Website:
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.
==============================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:
Goldberg, Elkonon (2001). The Executive Brain: Frontal Lobes and the Civilized Mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Quoting from the dust jacket:
Hauser, Marc D. (2000). Wild Minds: What Animals Really Think. New York: Henry Holt and Company. Quoting from the cover:
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: