What educators can learn from brain research

“Students are taught that rational decision-making is devoid of all emotions. This is clearly not true,” she said. “If you try to dissociate from your emotions, the worse your decision-making will be. This could be a useful lesson for standardized tests and curriculum makers. Educators should try and help kids analyze their emotions during tests, not put them aside.”

Immordino-Yang notes that her study is not speculation. She tested many different groups of students–a process that took two years and still continues.

The quality and extent of her research has captured the attention of her peers, as well as governors nationwide. A few years ago, Immordino-Yang visited a University of Texas council that advises governors, and she was a keynote speaker at the 2009 Harvard Institute convention, “Connecting the Mind, Brain, and Education.”

Connecting researchers to campus professors

Another source for neuroscience and education information is the Johns Hopkins School of Education’s Neuro-Education Initiative, a program supported by the Johns Hopkins University Brain Science Institute.

In partnership with the School of Medicine and the Kennedy-Krieger Institute, the program’s mission is to foster dialogue among educators and brain science researchers to develop joint research projects.

Mariele Hardiman, co-founder and director of the initiative and assistant dean and chair of the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, is a former teacher and school principal who realized there wasn’t enough information available to educators on how to successfully process neuroscience research for the classroom.

After publishing her book, Connecting Brain-Research with Effective Teaching: Brain Targeted Teaching Model, she decided to try and connect the hundreds of researchers at Johns Hopkins to the many professors on campus.

“I thought to myself: How can we help these educators, and what new research can be done on their behalf? Wouldn’t it be nice to have educators suggest what they’re interested in, what they’ve noticed, hear their input, and then start constructing research projects? We need to focus on what educators need,” she said.

One of the biggest areas of research the initiative is exploring in more depth is brain plasticity. Hardiman believes this research can have a big impact on teaching, because if teachers know “how the brain works, and how it can adapt, they will begin to look differently at their students,” she said. “Whether they’re older kids, lower-income kids, et cetera, the teachers will know that they don’t have to treat these kids differently. [The students] can adapt and learn just like everyone else.”

Hardiman said the initiative’s research will not stop at plasticity, and many topics have been discussed for the future, such as ideal lesson times, memory, the effects of stress on learning, and more.

The initiative, which began in 2008, started with a think tank lunch between educators and researchers and has grown into a full conference that launched in 2009.

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