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This is the third of a
series of IAE Newsletters exploring educational aspects of the current
cognitive neuroscience and technological revolution. Bob Sylwester
(Newsletter # 75) and Dave Moursund (Newsletter # 76) provide two
introductory articles. Newsletter #77 and subsequent newsletters are
written by guests.
For the most part, these guest articles will focus on cognitive
neuroscience. However, Dave Moursund will provide Information and
Communication Technology follow-up commentary to the articles. In
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The Future of Education with the Brain in Mind: Educating Tomorrow’s Students
In the early 1980’s I was introduced to the new emerging interface
between education and the brain. My first curiosity was to find out IF
we could use our rudimentary knowledge about the brain to change it and
to better serve school age kids? With two partners, we co-developed an
experimental residential academic enrichment program to test the
possibilities. This program (SuperCamp) became a proving ground for
“extreme student makeovers”. (http://www.supercamp.com/)
Over 55,000 graduates later we became confident that brains can and do
change if you do things right. When educators do things that work in
alignment with how our brain works, we usually see better results. This
program had large enough group of participants to provide encouraging
support for the possibility of brains changing.
Meanwhile, research scientists who used computerized instructional
technologies were discovering changes in the brains of children who
were delayed in language and reading mastery (Temple, 2003). In
school settings, when solid scientific-based reading programs were
used, educators and parents have seen positive changes in student
performance (Tallal, 2000). Other behavioral changes were
discovered with skill-based programs that used similar scientific
principles. Recent successes with special needs students are
encouraging educators everywhere (Russo, 2010).
My second question was, “Could we scale this up so that we could
transform education?” Creating miracles with kids as an independent
business was easy compared to influencing change in America’s K-12
schools. After 30 years, the widespread effects of the staff
development effort on public and private schools remain elusive. Right
now, we have the knowledge and capacity to routinely make massive and
widespread dramatic boosts in student capacity to learn, behave, and
contribute to society. We know how to make miracles happen with kids
from poverty, with those who have special needs, and with second
So, if having good ideas and strategies is not enough to change
education, what is? What lessons have I learned about the potential to
transform education with a more thoughtful “brain in mind” approach?
What can we expect will actually change schools in the next 25 years?
What will ultimately change education?
I have learned that there are five forces, each of them
extraordinarily strong that have already, and will be, shaping the 21st
century educational landscape. I also believe these forces are
unstoppable. The only question is, “How will we manage them in ways
that are more visionary and less destructive than our failures of the
last 100 years?” Let’s introduce the five forces, in no particular
Mind and brain research will continue to reveal more and more
about how we learn, behave, and achieve. This force will grow in
influence and will remain the benchmark for how we understand and
measure our learning. There are at least a dozen significant new
understandings from the last 25 years. The most important may be the
discovery of boundaries and properties of plasticity and malleability
in the human brain. Knowing THAT the brain can change is very exciting,
but knowing HOW to reliably change a student’s brain is truly
revolutionary. Having the "will" to do it, the knowledge, and culture
is still key and it is missing from most schools.
The Internet has dramatically changed the role of teacher (and
textbook companies) as a provider of content. This means we have to
thoughtfully reassess the role of a teacher. While some schools are
still recruiting and hiring content experts, the number of public high
school students who are taking online classes (for credit), with the
Internet as the content provider, has skyrocketed from zero in the year
2000 to over 25% of secondary students today. I expect that number to
exceed 10 million within 5 years. At the International ASCD Conference,
one of the larger conferences for educational leaders, the percentage
of exhibitors who are pushing technology has gone from 5% just ten
years ago, to over 40% of all conference exhibit booth space. This mega
trend will reshape the entire school experience for kids. Countless
teachers will lose their jobs.
Our social brain just loves connecting and any technology that
taps into our brain’s natural tendencies will have incomprehensibly
huge effects. Social networking has changed the way students
conceptualize their world. Schools were always social worlds for kids,
from cliques, gangs, clubs, and teams to collaborative class work,
testing or homework. But those opportunities were often “managed” by
the school. Today, kids can be anywhere and still socialize endlessly.
If a classroom is still set up with ugly desks in linear rows, students
now feel isolated and even suppressed. The mobile social networks are
the revenge of every student against an antiquated educational
construct that often embarrasses even those who work within it. Slowly,
students are empowered to make school more social by their own choice.
The new global economy will significantly change education.
Depending on which numbers you believe, long-term U.S. debt may be
between 55 and 210 trillion. We currently don't have the economy to
repay our debts. This debt thus cannot be paid off, and so will
have to be monetized (money printed to pay for it), which will devalue
the dollar further. It will result in massive inflation,
unprecedented cuts in services, losses of jobs and slashed programs.
Policy makers, legislators and administrators will continue to be
looking for ways to cut costs. Soon we'll see more massive increases in
class size, reductions in student services, increased cuts in arts, PE,
and vocational programs. Human brains get stressed easily and anxiety
can make for poor decision-making. We’ll see dramatic cuts at the
secondary level as fewer teachers are servicing more students and
online learning becomes the new norm. In short, a significant change in
education will be driven by dramatic new budget cuts of the next decade.
Accountability is the last of the mega changes. Years ago, there
was no way to determine if one teacher was more or less effective than
another. There were no metrics to compare two teachers or even two
schools. That’s all changed. Today, the taxpayers and legislators
demand greater results for the money. Recent test-score altering and
cheating scandals highlight the stress of teachers who crack under the
pressure of accountability in a culture of test scores. This trend is
towards expecting more and more accountability from educators, with
fewer resources in less time. Teachers will have less job security and
greater scrutiny of their work than ever.
This is a sobering new reality. All of us must “wrap our brains around”
this new paradigm. What you just read is not a doomsday scenario or
pessimist’s dire prophecy; it is already happening. This altered
reality requires us to be smarter, more agile and to move quickly. When
decisions are made out of fear, ignorance or short-term “stock-market”
mentality, students lose out. This is why all of must be vigilant about
supporting what’s good for kids. I’m hoping you’re on board with this
path. The future will be bumpy, tough to predict and unsettling. But if
we are ready, it’ll be a bit easier to manage.
Russo, N.M., Hornickel, H., Nicol, T., Zecker, S.,
Kraus, N. (2010) Biological changes in auditory function
following training in children with autism spectrum disorders.
Behavioral and Brain Functions 6(60), 1-8.)
Tallal, P. (2000). The science of literacy: From the
laboratory to the classroom. Proceedings of the National Academy
of Sciences U S A, 97(6), 2402-4.
Temple E, Deutsch GK, Poldrack RA, Miller SL, Tallal
P, Merzenich MM, Gabrieli JD. Neural deficits in children with dyslexia
ameliorated by behavioral remediation: evidence from functional MRI.
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2003 Mar 4;100(5):2860-5.)
Eric Jensen Eric Jensen is a former secondary teacher who synthesizes brain
research and its applications for educators. Jensen, a member of the
invitation-only Society for Neuroscience and New York Academy of
Sciences, is currently completing his PhD in Human Development.
Jensen has published over 26 books including Teaching with Poverty in
Mind, Different Brains, Different Learners, Teaching with the Brain in
Mind, and Enriching the Brain. Eric Jensen’s blog: www.jensenlearning.com/news.
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