This free Information Age Education Newsletter is written by David
Moursund and Bob Sylwester, and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is
one component of the Information Age Education project. See http://iae-pedia.org/
and the end of this newsletter.
Mind, Brain, and
“If one cannot state a matter clearly enough so that
even an intelligent twelve-year-old can understand it, one should
remain within the cloistered walls of the university and laboratory
until one gets a better grasp of one’s subject matter.” (Margaret Mead;
American Cultural Anthropologist; 1901–1978.)
Behaviorists and Piagetians
Behaviorism was the dominant educational theory when I (Bob Sylwester)
began my teaching career in 1949 as the teacher of a one-room
eight-grade country school. (Such one-room schools are now virtually
extinct in the United States.) B. F. Skinner, the leading
Behaviorist theorist and researcher (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B._F._Skinner
viewed our brain as a black box, probably forever hidden from
understanding. Behaviorists believed that we could carefully observe a
subject’s behavioral responses to selected stimuli, infer the probable
relationship between a stimulus and its response, and thus shape future
behavior—but that was about as far as we could go. They viewed
processes such as emotion, motivation, and love as being beyond
I was more intrigued by the concurrent work of Jean Piaget (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Piaget
a developmental theorist and researcher who carefully observed and
interviewed children in search of an understanding of how they move in
stages from an egocentric to sociocentric view of their environment.
Piaget seemed more interested than Skinner in the underlying biology of
development and learning, and in such affective areas as morality—and
so was I. Most educators at the time were either Behaviorists or
Cognitive neuroscience emerged gradually during the last quarter of the
20th century, principally because of the development of technologies
that allowed scientists to observe various relevant properties of
animal and human brains. For example, Eric Kandel’s intricate studies
of the simple neuronal structure of aplysia (a sea slug) led to major
breakthroughs in our understanding of memory (http://brainconnection.positscience.com/content/230_1
Neuroimaging technologies—and especially Functional Magnetic Resonance
Imaging, or fMRI (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuroimaging
during this past decade from an initial focus on medical diagnosis to
now include many research studies of cognitive processes of interest to
Since brain organization and development pretty much define educational
policy and practice, many educators studied these developments in
search of educational applications. Conferences featured sessions that
helped educators understand our brain and cognitive processes.
Respected journals, such as Educational
, regularly published articles that enhanced the
professional understanding of these new developments. These forms of
professional communication became an important form of in-service
education for educators who typically were more focused on the social
rather than the natural sciences.
Although educators who wrote, taught, and spoke about cognitive
neuroscience discoveries during the early years sometimes provided
incorrect information, the education profession’s understanding of our
brain and cognitive processes has increased considerably in recent
years. Doctoral programs are now emerging that combine studies in
cognitive neuroscience and education, and the graduates of such
programs will further enhance professional understanding.
An Excellent New Book
It’s therefore time for a book that will credibly discuss the past,
present, and potential future of the melding of cognitive neuroscience
and education—a field now called Educational Neuroscience.
Congratulations thus to Editor David Sousa, his 16 collaborators, and
Solution Tree Press upon the publication of Mind, Brain, and Education: Neuroscience
Implications for the Classroom
(2010). It's an excellent,
timely, informative book on the history and current status of the
field. I strongly encourage you to get the book, and to subsequently
encourage other educators to get it. (Information on the book is
available at http://www.solution-tree.com/Public/Media.aspx?ShowDetail=true&ProductID=BKF358
David Sousa, one of the small group of pioneers in the field, wrote the
book's first chapter, an engaging concise history of Educational
Neuroscience. Kurt Fischer, a current central figure in the field,
wrote the final chapter, an informative summary of the current state
and future of Educational Neuroscience. The doctoral candidates and
post-doctoral associates who collaborated on some of the chapters
represent the exciting future face of Educational Neuroscience.
As one who also was there at the beginning, I couldn't think of a
single important element omitted in Sousa's excellent synthesis of the
three+ decade development we've observed—from the need we initially
felt to simply explain what a neuron is in late 1970s presentations to
the sophisticated level of understanding that many educators now have
of brain systems and cognitive processes. The final chapter on the
current state and future of the field was exhilaration! All I
could think of is that the cognitive neurosciences will underlie all
credible 21st century theories of teaching and learning—something that
seemed an impossible dream thirty+ years ago.
The ten chapters that constitute the heart of the book were written by
a wonderful mix of outstanding researchers and educators—from Michael
Posner, a renowned pioneer in the use of neuroimaging technology in
psychology/education (and the recipient of the 2009 National Medal of
Science) to Judy Willis, who left an MD career as a Neurologist to
become an elementary/middle school teacher. Chapters focus on the
underlying neurobiology of such curricular areas as language,
mathematics, and the arts, and on such processes emotion, teaching, and
Books with multiple authors tend to periodically shift the focus and to
be repetitive, but I didn't find either of these to be distracting. At
times, the repetitions were actually quite helpful, and the focus
shifts represent the range of thought in the field. Readers should be
able to follow the sections that explain somewhat technical research
concepts and studies. I was so fascinated that I read the book straight
I wish that the book had included research related to teaching/learning
in physical education and the social and natural sciences. However,
this is a pioneering book, so other books will follow as the field of
Educational Neuroscience continues to grow. I also hope that someone
competent in the field of the history of science will develop the
book-length definitive history that the field deserves if it develops
as expected. David Sousa's excellent historical synthesis whetted my
appetite for more. A wonderful informative book!
Some Resources for Teachers and Parents
Teachers and parents now face the challenge of understanding
childhood/adolescent development and helping young people learn in a
world that is rapidly increasing its understanding of its biological
self and technological extensions. Useful information is on the way.
Today’s mail brought the author’s copies of my new book, A Child’s Brain: The Need for Nurture
(Corwin Press. http://www.corwin.com/booksProdDesc.nav?prodId=Book231533&
It’s a companion book to my 2007 book, The Adolescent Brain: Reaching for Autonomy
(Corwin Press). These are but two examples of the many books being
published today that provide educators and parents with credible
non-technical information on the amazing cognitive neuroscience
developments that are helping us to better understand and enhance the
formative years of the next generation. I went on Amazon.com just now
and typed in child development books
and teaching and learning books
I found dozens of books that I know to be credible sources of useful
The Website Neuroscience for Kids
is an excellent online source of information for teachers, parents, and
children. The Dana Foundation (http://www.dana.org/
) is similarly a continuing
source of current information about our brain and cognitive processes.
The fields of artificial intelligence and cognitive neuroscience
continue to make significant progress. One way to think about this
situation is via the timeline sequence:
- Human brain with rudimentary communication capabilities.
- Human brain aided by a relatively comprehensive oral language.
- Human brain aided by written language—reading, writing, and
- Human brain aided by Information and Communication Technology.
Each level builds on and includes the previous levels. Level 2 allowed
us to preserve and pass on information via oral tradition. Level 3
hugely expanded our capabilities to accumulate and widely share
information. Level 4 allows us to build intelligence into
tools—intelligence that can help to solve a wide variety of problems
and accomplish a wide range of tasks.
The current dramatic developments in cognitive neuroscience are helping
us to understand the capabilities and limitations of our brain. They
are also helping us to understand how to develop better artificially
intelligent and human education-mediated aids to our brain. Continued
progress in these two disciplines will lead to major changes into our
views of what constitutes a good education and how to help all people
achieve a good education.
What an incredible expansion of knowledge I’ve witnessed during my 60
years as an educator! I’m thrilled that today’s beginning
teachers can start where I ended.
Sousa, D. (editor) (2010). Mind, Brain, and Education: Neuroscience Implications for Education. Bloomington, Indiana: Solution Tree Press.
Sylwester, R. (2010). A Child’s Brain: The Need for Nurture. Thousand Oaks CA: Corwin Press.
Sylwester, R. (2007). The Adolescent Brain: Reaching for Autonomy. Thousand Oaks CA: Corwin Press.
About Information Age Education, Inc.
Information Age Education is a non-profit organization dedicated to
improving education for learners of all ages throughout the world. IAE
is a project of the Science Factory, a 501(c)(3) science and technology
museum located in Eugene, Oregon. Current IAE activities include a Wiki
with address http://IAE-pedia.org,
a Website containing free books and articles at http://I-A-E.org, and the free newsletter
you are now reading.
To subscribe to this twice-a-month free newsletter and to see back
issues, go to http://i-a-e.org/iae-newsletter.html.
To change your address or cancel your subscription, click on the
“Manage your Subscription” link at the bottom of this e-mail message.