Information Age Education
   Issue Number 77
November, 2011   

This free Information Age Education Newsletter is written by Dave 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. All back issues of this newsletter are available free online at http://i-a-e.org/iae-newsletter.html.

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 addition, readers are invited to send their comments using the Reader Comments directions near the end of this newsletter.

We encourage you to tell your colleagues and students about the free IAE Newsletter. Free back issues and subscription information are available at http://i-a-e.org/iae-newsletter.html.

The Future of Education with the Brain in Mind:
Educating Tomorrow’s Students

Eric Jensen

Consultant

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 language learners.

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?

A Proposal

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 order.
  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

Conclusion

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.


References

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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