15 July 2011

Brain Based Education Reform

Educational Needs
Education reform requires a comprehensive plan that meets the physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual needs of students and teachers. This is essentially a brain-based approach because each of those needs are perceived and fulfilled within distinct, needs-related neural networks. In order to successfully develop and implement education reform we must understand the functions of neural needs networks, have a generalized pattern for learning that is highly customizable, create tools to facilitate integration and individualization, and successfully apply our plan and tools in the classroom (or other learning environment).

Functions of Learning and the Brain
Learning generates activity and change in the brain. This requires input, processing, and output. There are six types of processing. They are: filtering/attending, sequencing, action, association/assimilation, categorizing/discriminating, and representing. Each network uses a primary set of learning mechanisms, but most of the networks utilize the majority of the processing mechanisms. The more mechanisms are activated, the more profound learning will be. All of these processes used together generates the capacity for problem solving.

Physical learning uses the body to move through dimensional space, record sensory information, and perform repetitive action (throwing a ball, playing an instrument, writing). Sensory input (the beginning of all learning) is the jurisdiction of the physical network. The physical network provides all input and does some filtering and attending. It also generates sequences of movement to take action. Therefore, sequencing, and action are the primary mechanisms of physical network learning as is filtering and attending.

Note the difference between network processing mechanism and input. We are focusing on step two of learning—the processing. Input is step one and output is step three. Later we will discuss how looping or overlapping this learning cycle in multiple networks creates amplification because of the integrative overlap of functions within and among the networks.

The intellectual network is driven by the need to model and organize sensory input. As such, it attends sensory input that relates to usable knowledge such as word sequences, charts and maps, and sound signals. As a result, it forms chains of logic through their primary processing mechanism of sequencing and associating. However, any conscious verbalization (internal or external) of the six forms of processing is a highly cognitive activity. In other words, anything we learn that we can mentally store and can explain has passed through the intellectual network.

The emotional network is driven by the need to form or understand relationships between self, others, and environment. Therefore it attends input about interactions and relationships such as tone and inflection, pheremones, body language, and touch. As a result, its primary processing is associative and categorical/discriminatory. What things belong in what groups? Where do I fit in as an individual? The emotional network does much of the cross-network integration as it associates multiple inputs into experiences, but there will be no words to explain it since it does not necessarily pass through the intellect.

The spiritual network has the need to understand meaning, form ideals, and pursue purpose. As a result, it is the primary network of representation. It attends input related to art, beauty, and values as it generates meaning for symbols (to include language), ideals, and visions. The other main processing mechanism is to categorize and discriminate between good and bad.

We can consciously generate depth of learning by using the dimensions of the learning triangle. Alfred Bandura’s concept of reciprocal determinism (Hergenhahn, 1997) is the foundation of learning. The learning triangle is a graphic I developed to demonstrate and expand the application of input, processing, and output. The input of environment is processed by the person with behavior as the output. Each affects and causes the other in an inseparable feedback loop and constitutes learning. This is layer 1.

Layer 2A is environmental learning. It is emotional or relational in nature. Sensory stimuli are the input. Need and utility are the processing, and reinforcement is the output. The person is a deeper layer of that feedback process (lets call it layer 2B) with situation being the input (D), personality being the processing (E), and maturity being the output (F). This loop creates identity learning. Layer 2B is spiritual in nature. Layer 2C is behavioral learning. It has the input of action (D), the processing of belief (E), and the output of habit (F). It is physical in nature. So where is the intellectual learning? It occurs on Layer 3BD, meaning within 2B—the processing of personality. The input of need preference (G), the processing of need analysis (H), and the output of need efficacy (I) is intellectual in nature and it informs and defines personal identity. This demonstrates how individual and personal learning really is.

Hopefully you can see that each of the layers is an elaboration of the original feedback triangle. Note that any of the other aspects or layers of learning that can be consciously explained or defined have passed into the depth of intellect. Even more importantly, note that intellect is not reached without depth.

Environmental learning on level 2A is a model of operant conditioning. This widely used paradigm of mid-century education (Jensen, 2008) when replaced by the learning triangle model of education is clearly revealed to be lacking in depth and ineffective in educating the whole child.

In Piaget’s view on the depth of feedback processes within systems “As children resolve the conflict that exist between cognitive sub-systems, psychological structures develop into increasingly broad and integrated wholes” (Constructivist Theories 2005).

The Plan
The following is a model for state and local curriculum and course development. It is a comprehensive, but fundamentally different approach to education that would require a large cooperative team to fully develop. Once done, it could be implemented in a relatively short period of time while being designed for continuous improvement. It can be generated as a grassroots movement or be mandated and facilitated on the national level. However, it should probably be implemented as a whole rather than in stages. All of the training, tools, and resources should be available when the program is presented in its entirety. Otherwise, discouragement and skepticism might derail the program.

Assess multiple dimensions of learning and teaching styles and match students to compatible teachers. Learning styles have several dimensions, but they can most easily be categorized according to need preferences (3BDG). Each individual has a tendency to more readily utilize one neural needs network over another. We can tell what these preferences are by the activities and associations a child gravitates toward. A physical child gravitates toward movement and activity. He is a kinetic and spatial learner. An intellectual child is drawn to reading and writing. An emotional child gravitates toward language and social transaction. A spiritual child constantly asks why in pursuit of meaning. These are examples of an extensive array of traits and preferences that must be evaluated and associated with specific needs networks.

Teachers who share a student’s traits and preferences should be her primary educator. But she should also be given ample experience with teachers and students of different preferences and abilities to expand their learning experience and develop the whole brain. This should be done after she is secure and confident in her learning ability. She must consciously be introduced to alternative approach teachers as a challenge to her current way of doing things.

Parent/Student/Teacher course selection. One of the most powerful motivators for education is personal choice. We must ensure the right of students, parents, and communities to select curriculum, courses, and lessons that are in line with personal, familial, and community values. Even from elementary school, a child can be given choices regarding the subjects he wants to study. If he is interested in sports, then all of his required learning should utilize that theme in instruction. In addition, his parents have the right to select the lens of values through which his educational subjects are taught.

Of course, this is not possible in the current education system. I will show you in the tools section how it can be possible, even with minimal structural overhaul.

Appropriate student collaborative grouping. Much has been said about the value of cooperative learning (e.g. Viilo, M.; Seitamaa-Hakkarainen, P.; Hakkarainen, K., Feb. 2011). However, this is a two-edged sword. It is not appropriate or effective to pair students with those they do not like or to randomly group them. When students are grouped with a teacher by shared learning styles, values, and subjects, emotional need satisfaction is amplified, peer-bonding is increased, and emotional tension (like personality conflict) is reduced.

Present subjects four times; once in each of the needs categories. We must engage all six forms of processing in layers within each of the networks. This generates inter-network connectivity--meaning brain flexibility and plasticity--in addition to generating a more comprehensive and dimensional understanding of lessons learned.

Each lesson should be taught on a weekly lesson plan with the same concepts (simple or complex according to student capacity) taught each day of the week with the approach and emphasis being on a different one of the four needs. If there is a fifth day of the week, that lesson can be focused on integration of all the week’s learning.

Utilize learning triangles (dimensions of input/processing/output feedback) for integration. As teachers we can generate inputs and monitor outputs. However, if we understand an individual student’s processing we will be better able to measure their success and influence future processing. With in-depth individual knowledge we can plan far more effective inputs. How do we know a student’s thought processes? We have to ask her. We have to create projects, assignments, and activities that allow her to securely reveal her preferences, understanding, and personal meaning—if not for teachers, administrators, and legislators then for her personal benefit. Her sense of efficacy will grow as she recognizes the value of her own input and processing in classroom output.

The Tools
Assessment and matching software. Software must be developed that calculates dimensions of compatibility and need. This concept is parallel to the programming used by dating websites to match potential mates. In this way, administrative class selection is not arbitrary or based on parental demands, giving preferred students to preferred teachers, or trying to evenly distribute “problem children.” Students will be able to learn from the best teacher for them alongside the best classmates for them.

Lesson plan/course-credit database and search engine. (State level first if necessary, national level ultimately.) It would be impossibly time consuming for a teacher to create a separate lesson plan for each of her students for each day of the week. That is why this plan could never be possible previous to this century. The way to facilitate individualized lesson plans is to provide all teachers access to a database where they submit and search for lesson plans within a network. Finding relevant lesson plans will be facilitated by search tags associated with development level, needs focus, topic/theme, subject, value, and curriculum.

To save time and simplify, individualized lessons do not have to be fully open-ended but can be a choice among 3-6 themes by which students group themselves with students of similar interest, while all classmates are studying the same topic. In this way, the integration lesson can include students from one group sharing the subject with their theme to students of the other groups.

The more schools that implement this at once, the bigger the resource pool will be for teachers getting started. It will probably best to give the students their course selections before summer vacation of the coming implementation year so that there will be time for lesson development. Teachers will get a summer bonus for the time they spend in the first year of the program. However, the real bonuses will come as teachers are paid for high quality lesson plans that are downloaded, utilized, and positively reviewed by other teachers, students, and parents. Their art and creativity can and should be rewarded as any other patent, copyright, or trademarked professional

Each lesson will be categorized according to course and curriculum requirements and will be permanently and nationally tracked. This will be a great benefit to students who move a lot. This system makes it so that credit can be awarded on an individual pace rather than a rigid grading period—though a certain number of lessons per week should be required. However, this structure allows a student to take more lessons from different angles if he does not thoroughly understand the topic or subject—while keeping learning novel and avoiding diminished efficacy for not “progressing” with classmates.

Community and business resources. Business professionals and community members may also be invited to submit reviewable lesson plans in their areas of expertise, using the standard format. They may be compensated for download and use of their lessons or courses. Furthermore, parents can submit adaptations and applications of existing lesson plans. They may not be compensated unless they are a certified teacher or a business professional writing in their area of expertise.

Continuous stream of human intelligence and creativity unleashed When students, parents, teachers, and administrators are given the ability to provide real and practical input from the perspective of individual processing, and affect output, it will generate a feedback loop of amplifying intelligence and creativity. Further, the sense of efficacy and cooperation within a community will grow. This is the way to generate political empowerment and participation in a democracy. This was the purpose Thomas Jefferson envisioned for public education.

Using a student topic choice of baseball, a parental value choice of right versus wrong, and a teacher lesson choice of the brain in a state curriculum choice of science we can utilize our tools to form a comprehensive lesson plan.

Physical sample lesson: Parts of the brain.

Interview sheet pre-exposure. How does your brain learn to play baseball? What part of the brain learns the rules? What part of the brain identifies the ball? What part of the brain directs your arm to throw the ball? What part of the brain maps out the playing field? What part of the brain determines the force you have to use to throw that ball to your desired location?

Brain model and labeling: Label the parts of the brain model and properly reassemble.

Physical activity. Throw baseball to friends from different distances. Did you consciously think about throwing it harder to the friends who are farther away, or did you just do it?

Intellectual Sample Lesson Computer activity 1: Reading on functions of brain parts followed by cross-lateral part column and function column matching—relating all functions to baseball.

Computer activity 2: Worksheet. What are the names of at least three famous baseball players? What position did they play? What were some of their averages and biggest accomplishments? Finding and remembering those things requires cognitive function. What parts of the brain are most helpful for that?

Social/Emotional Sample Lesson Computer activity: Fight or Flight neurochemical activity reading.

Journal activity: Why do you love baseball? Who are your favorite people to play it with? Who taught you how to play? What part of your brain helps you feel that way? How do you feel when you are running to a base and the baseman in front of you is about to catch the ball? What do those feelings make you do? What happens to the rest of your body during and after that?

Social activity: play an abbreviated game of baseball.

Spiritual Sample LessonGroup discussion (among students who have selected the baseball learning theme for the brain unit): What are the rules of baseball? What are the consequences for breaking the rules? Why do people play sports and games? To what parts of the brain do these questions apply? Come up with a baseball metaphor for life. How is the brain like a baseball? How is the brain like a game of baseball?

Arts integration: Sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Write new words to it about the parts or functions of the brain.

Essay: What does baseball mean to you?

We must facilitate genuine learning that is relevant to all of a students needs. With a clear picture of what those needs are and a whole plan (rather than a piecemeal one) to make it happen, change should not be nearly so arduous as it has heretofore been. A whole plan that uses the whole brain can make whole communities and children more fully realize their potential.

American Educational Research Association (2001, Apr 10-14). An integrated hands-on inquiry-based cooperative learning approach: the impact of the PALMS approach on student growth.

Constructivist theories. (2005). In Cambridge Encyclopedia of Child Development. Retrieved from http://www.credoreference.com/entry/cupchilddev/constructivist_theories

Hergenhahn, B.R. & Olsen M.H (1997) Introduction to theories of learning, 5th ed. Prentice Hall; New Jersey.

Jensen, Eric (2008). Brain-based learning: the new paradigm of teaching 2nd ed.. Thousand Oakes; Corwyn Press.

Purdy, Noel & Morrison, Hugh (February 2009). Cognitive neuroscience and education: unraveling the confusion. Oxford review of education 35:99-109.

Varma, S. & Schwartz, D.L. (June 2008). How should educational neuroscience consceptualise the relation between cognition and brain function? Mathematical reasoning as a network process. Educational research 50:149-161.

Viilo, M.; Seitamaa-Hakkarainen, P.; Hakkarainen, K., (February, 2011). Supporting the technologically enhanced collaborative inquiry and design project: a teacher’s reflections on practices. Teachers and teaching: theory and practice 17:51-72.