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October 20, 2011

Neuro-education... the Key to Education Reform?


Any American who has attended a public school has likely walked out of a classroom having no idea what that boring, Charlie Brown-esque (Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah), lecture they just listened to was about. But, just as many people likely have stories of those one or two miraculous teachers who inspired them to learn and to think in new, innovative and creative ways. What is it that makes some lessons incredibly ineffective and others amazingly stimulating?
The emerging field of Neuro-education is hoping to find the answer to this question and many others concerning the most effective ways to teach the world's kids. Neuroscientists and educators are working in collaboration to blend findings in both fields to better understand how humans learn in order to develop more effective educational methods and policies. New programs are opening up in the U.S., and throughout the world, that are hoping to develop connections between disciplines in order to create a better educational system for our kids. One such organization, the International, Mind, Brain and Education Society states its mission, to facilitate cross-cultural collaboration in biology, education and the cognitive and developmental sciences in order to bring science and practice together.(http://www.imbes.org/) Many graduate programs at universities ranging from Cambridge's science based "Centre for Neuroscience In Education" (http://www.cne.psychol.cam.ac.uk/) to Johns-Hopkins School of Education's "Neuro Education Initiative"( http://education.jhu.edu/nei/) have been formed with similar mission statements.
The ideas behind these programs and this field are innovative and logical. The goal of scientific research in Neuroscience is to better understand how the brain works. The goal of education is to help the brain work to its best potential. Combined, these fields can provide groundbreaking ideas to change and improve how kids learn. In the US, many people believe that the public education system is failing kids, thereby lowering the prospects for this country's future. Between budget cuts and outmoded and unsuccessful teaching methods, people are calling for reform. But one central question is: how should we reform and what direction should it take? Neuro-education has the potential to provide the evidence on the science end and the experience on the educators end to form and shape education reform.
So, what is necessary to make this happen? First of all, like everything involved in education, it needs more funding. From the university to the federal government level, funding must be provided in order to promote new research, to integrate findings from multiple fields, and to implement new ideas into the classroom. Currently, less than .5% of all educational funding goes to research. The prospects of this changing in the current economic climate, where schools are struggling just to buy books for the classroom and keep class sizes at a reasonable level, seems slim.
Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, the lines of communication need to be opened between researchers in scientific fields and the people who are directly involved in the education of kids. This means that research findings must be presented in forms that are accessible to busy parents and teachers. Already, Neuroscience has developed an extensive body of knowledge about areas of high importance to education. The effects of sleep, stress, exercise and musical training on memory retrieval and learning consolidation are already well understood. Our country and public education system must find a way to get these finding to educators so that they may be translated into real practice.
In order to give kids the best prospects for their futures, and thereby, the best prospects for our country, the ultimate goal of education should be to inspire kids and imbue in them a sense of curiosity, creativity and competition. This combination between a scientific understanding of the brain and educational reform has a real and exciting potential to make a difference in the futures of our kids and our country.

Main Article: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0896627310006380
Posted by      Megan M. at 10:18 AM MDT

Comments:

  Christina U.  says:
Megan,

Do you think that all of the blame should land on the lack of funding? I for one have a sister who is still in high school who tells me that, in spite of all the technology and education available to the students at her high school, many kids are unmotivated to learn and blame their teachers, saying they simply aren't "interesting" enough for them to pay attention in class.
Posted on Sun, 23 Oct 2011 2:30 PM MDT by Christina U.
  Megan M.  says:
Hi Christina,
I agree with you entirely. I'm not blaming the problems with our education system on the lack of funding at all. Although the need for more funding is a contributing factor, I'm mostly focusing on the need for a more dynamic, more interesting curriculum. I'm saying that learning needs to be more "interesting" ; that we learn better when we feel actively engaged and inspired to learn. We have brains that work best under certain conditions (more sleep, less stress, more fun, more creativity etc...) there is no reason that these conditions couldn't be striven for without more funding, although more funding would make such endeavors much easier and more successful.
Posted on Sun, 23 Oct 2011 2:45 PM MDT by Megan M.
  Christina U.  says:
I guess the problem I have, then, is the fact that some students already think certain teachers teach in an interesting manner, whereas others do not. I can't see how making it more interesting to the uninterested students would necessarily solve that problem, especially if the "interesting" learning alienates the students who find the existing class scintillating as it is. I think one way to get more kids interested is to overhaul the textbooks, a large majority of which come from Texas (at least for high school) and really do not meet the students' learning needs, nor the teacher's expectations of a textbook.
Posted on Sun, 23 Oct 2011 4:21 PM MDT by Christina U.
  Megan M.  says:
So, are you suggesting rewriting textbooks, or not using them at all? If "overhauling" means reworking and rewriting, I don't see how this would inspire the kids who are already uninterested to read them.
Posted on Sun, 23 Oct 2011 4:48 PM MDT by Megan M.
  Christina U.  says:
Reworking in light of recent research about the layout of textbooks. Apparently textbooks (and this can include college textbooks) are a little too distracting because of all the pictures incorporated in them that simply take away from the message the text is trying to convey. For instance, if you have a page with a ton of text with a couple pictures added in on the sides which are referred to by the text, the students are more likely to just fixate on the pictures and forget what they were learning from the text.
Posted on Sun, 23 Oct 2011 5:17 PM MDT by Christina U.
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  Chloe S.  says:
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