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Neuromythologies (Brain Science Mythologies) in Education

Brain science is making rapid progress. See, for example:

Sparks, S.D. (6/4/2012). Experts call for teaching educators brain science. Education Week. Retrieved 6/14/2012 from http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2012/06/06/33teachers.h31.html?tkn=QMCFdkGZMV2m7+qxClqvXh1WsWnWtdl0kNfT&cmp=clp-sb-ascd.

Quoting from the article:

"For the most part, teachers are not exposed systemically in a way that allows them to understand things like brain plasticity," said Michael J. Nakkula, the chairman of applied psychology and human development at the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education. Mr. Nakkula is part of the Students at the Center project, a series of reports on teaching and learning launched this spring by the Boston-based nonprofit group Jobs for the Future. [See papers by Hilton, Ficher, and Glennon available at http://www.studentsatthecenter.org/papers. ]

Neuromythologies

Unfortunately, the overall field of brain science in education has generated a number of neuromyhtologies (brain science mythologies) that are detrimental to educaitonal progress. For example, you may well believe that most people only use 10% of the capabilities of their brain. And, of course, you may well know a lot about learning styles and believe they play a really important role in teaching and learning.

These brain science myths and others similar to them are easy to accept and attempt to act on. The field of brain science is making amazing progress. Many people read a little bit about this progress and try to translate it into ways to solve problems or accomplish tasks in their own particular areas of interest.

In education, we now have a great many neuromythologies. My Web search of this term produced a huge number of hits. You might ask yourself, what does a person gain by believing a myth even when there is substantial research evidence that says the myth is incorrect?

Take the 10% claim. I suppose people like to believe this because it suggests that through training, education, and experience they can bring this unused 90% into use, thus hugely increasing the capabilities of their brains.

And what about learning styles? We all have heard about VAK (visual, auditory, and kinesthetic) learners.  It seems obvious that a person might be a lot better in one of these learning modalities than in the other two. From this one might conclude that education can be improved by teaching students almost completely in their best learning modality. According to John Geake, that is a myth.

Geake, John (2008). Neuromythologies in education. Educational Research 50(2): pp. 123-133. Retrieved 10/4/2013 from http://amyalexander.wiki.westga.edu/file/view/neuromythologies-p.pdf.

Quoting from the article:

Neuromythologies are those popular accounts of brain functioning, which often appear within so-called ‘brain-based’ educational applications. They could be categorised into neuromyths where more is better: ‘If we can get more of the brain to ‘‘light up’’, then learning will improve ...’, and neuromyths where specificity is better: ‘If we concentrate teaching on the ‘‘lit-up’’ brain areas then learning will improve...’. Prominent examples of neuromythologies of the former include: the 10% myth, that we only use 10% of our brain; multiple intelligences; and Brain Gym. Prominent examples of neuromytholgies of the latter include: left- and right-brained thinking; VAK (visual, auditory and kinaesthetic) learning styles; and water as brain food. Characteristically, the evidential basis of these schemes does not lie in cognitive neuroscience, but rather with the various enthusiastic promoters; in fact, sometimes the scientific evidence flatly contradicts the brain-based claims.

The following book is an excellent resource on brain science in education and on neuromythologies:

Sousa, David, Ed. (2010). Mind, Brain, and Education: Neuroscience Implications for the Classroom. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

A number of the authors in Sousa's book give examples of neuromythologies in education. My suggestion is that you do a survey of current research literature before adopting any new brain science in education fad as an actual fact. We are finally getting some solid research that supports some very useful practices. Unfortunately, we continue to implement practices that are poor or just plain wrong, often based on just this type of neuromythology.

Personally, I am surprised that Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligence is listed as neuromythology. I have read a number of Howard Gardner's papers and book, and I find the evidence in them quite convincing. However, there is a considerable correlation between general intelligence and measures of the various specific intelligences. This observation supports the argument that we have a general intelligence, and that our "intelligence" in specific areas is just part of this general intelligence.

What You Can Do (Part 1)

Cognitive neuroscience based on the various methods of brain scanning is a vibrant, highly productive area of research. It is definitely making solid contributions to the totality of educational research and is serving as a basis for a variety of interventions.

Think about the following question. Within your areas of professional work and personal academic interests, do you know enough about research results from cognitive neuroscience to separate the "wheat from the chaff" in proposed implementations of the research results? If not, consider spending some time learning more about this new discipline of study.

What You Can Do (Part 2)

Brain science is an important component of the Science of Teaching and Learning (SoTL). Learn more about SoTL at http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/science-of-teaching-and-learning-in-higher-education.html. Think about teaching and learning as a science versus teaching and learning as an art. What do you know about the "science" of teaching and learning? What can you do to help your students to learn more about this science?

Suggested Readings from IAE and Other Publications

You can use Google to search all of the IAE publications. Click here to begin. Then click in the IAE Search box that is provided, insert your search terms, and click on the Search button.

Click here to search the entire collection of IAE Blog entries.

Here are some examples of publications that might interest you.

Brain science. See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/brain-science-and-cognitive-neuroscience-for-children-and-teachers.html.

Brain science and cognitive neuroscience for children and teachers. See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/brain-science-and-cognitive-neuroscience-for-children-and-teachers.html.

Mind, brain, and education–Neuroscience implications of educational neuroscience. See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/mind-brain-education-the-discipline-of-educational-neuroscience.html. This entry also lists additional IAE Blog entries based on individual chapters from Sousa's book.

The Brain Series on PBS Hosted by Charlie Rose and Eric Kandel.See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/the-brain-series-on-pbs-hosted-by-charlie-ross-and-eric-kandel-309.html.

Translating brain science research results into effective teaching practices. See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/mind-brain-education-the-discipline-of-educational-neuroscience.html.

Reference

Sousa, D.A., ed. (2010). Mind, brain, and education: neuroscience implications for the classroom. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

 

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Comments

David Moursund (website) on Thursday, 13 June 2013 14:53
Brain science and math education

Written by Dave Moursund, December 06, 2010.

I am particularly interested in what research in brain science is telling us about ways to improve math education. The answer is, quite a bit.

Here is an article I enjoyed reading. Notice that it is 10 years old. We have made a lot of progress since then.

Tall, David (2000). Biological brain, mathematical mind, and computational computers: How the computer can support mathematical thinking and learning. Retrieved 12/7/2010 from http://www.warwick.ac.uk/staff...cm2000.pdf.

For a more recent article about brain science myths, see the article:

Ruenzel, David (2010). A conversation with John Bruer. Brain Connection. Retrieved 12/7/2010 from http://brainconnection.positsc...conv/bruer.

Bruer is the author of a book titled Myths of the first three years.

Written by Dave Moursund, December 06, 2010. I am particularly interested in what research in brain science is telling us about ways to improve math education. The answer is, quite a bit. Here is an article I enjoyed reading. Notice that it is 10 years old. We have made a lot of progress since then. Tall, David (2000). Biological brain, mathematical mind, and computational computers: How the computer can support mathematical thinking and learning. Retrieved 12/7/2010 from http://www.warwick.ac.uk/staff...cm2000.pdf. For a more recent article about brain science myths, see the article: Ruenzel, David (2010). A conversation with John Bruer. Brain Connection. Retrieved 12/7/2010 from http://brainconnection.positsc...conv/bruer. Bruer is the author of a book titled Myths of the first three years.
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