A few weeks ago I completed my Masters in Ed. Technology, and this fall, I have the good fortune to be starting my PhD, at the University of Regina, with Alec Couros. I couldn’t ask for a better supervisor. But here’s my dilemma; I can’t seem to find the classes I need.
I’d like to focus on neuroplasticity (the fancy term for how the brain shapes itself, and reshapes itself, as it learns), learning and technology. But here’s the rub, in education we seem to rarely talk about the brain unless it doesn’t work “properly”. Classes centred on the brain at the graduate level in education tend to be Ed. Psych classes, rather than dealing with learning and plasticity or metacognition.
Consequently, I’ve had to look elsewhere for classes. I’ve literally spent hours scouring the internet trying to find on-line neuroscience classes. There are dozens of high calibre neuroscience Masters & PhD programs. However, it seems neuroscience is one the few areas not offered in an on-line format. So, for the moment, I’m stuck as to how I’m actually going to complete this degree.
I’d like to pursue this area because I believe it’s critically important to students and their learning. In my classroom, I tend to use content to teach skills. I think most content is interchangeable, it’s skills, like problem-solving, collaboration, and critical evaluation that my students need to learn. Except in one area– their brain.
If we deeply desire the learning in our classrooms to be student-centred, then the most important content they need to learn is how their brain works. Starting in Kindergarten, all the way through to grade 12. They need to learn how it morphs and changes as they learn and grow. In math, our students need to learn what the brain is doing when it learns math and struggles with abstract concepts. And what the brain does when it reads — how the imagination required in stories helps it to wrinkle. Or when it’s trying to problem-solve and experiences cognitive overload. Students need to know that cognitive dissonance is perfectly normal, and that neural pathways can be reinforced through practice, or that negative pathways can be reshaped through a process called reattribution.
I wonder how many of our students know that their behaviour is cognitively based and their emotions are biologically based, both are areas that students can learn to gain control over through a skill building process called self-regulation. I also wonder how much the average teacher knows about the brain and how it works. From the availability of neuroscience classes in most faculties of education, I tend to think, in most cases, it’s very little.
And that’s a problem. Teaching students about the intricacies of their brain fosters self-efficacy and helps them take control of their learning in ways many currently aren’t. It may help end erroneous thinking like, “She’s smart and I’m not” or “I’m just not a math person”. When, for some of our students, their brains simply aren’t ready to do the math.
I believe, if we want our students to be independent thinkers and learners, they need to know how they think and learn. It’s really the most important thing we can teach them.
Photo courtesy of flickr cc: alles-schlumpf