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Autumn 2006 | Volume 29, Number 4 | Features

What Brain Research Does (and Doesn’t ) Tell Us About Learning

THERE IS LITTLE AGREEMENT about how the human brain functions. In fact, says brain researcher Michael Gazzaniga, “If we ever learned how the brain learns to pick up a pencil, it would represent a major achievement.” Thus, while my role in Seattle Pacific University’s Brain Center for Applied Learning Research is to explore the connections between brain science and the world of education, there is a challenge. I reluctantly believe that brain science has very little to say at this time to the world of education.

The 12 Brain Rules
(Click image to enlarge.)

Given this perspective, is there any point to a Brain Center for Applied Learning Research? Although we don’t know much about how the brain actually learns, I do believe robust theoretical common ground exists between the investigative brain sciences (especially the so-called cognitive neurosciences) and the world of education — as long as there is also room for a powerful sense of boundaries.

Even if the brain data were mature, most brain scientists have never taught 30 fourth graders in a typical American classroom, half of whose parents are getting a divorce, and a quarter of whom are on some form of psychoactive medication. Most educators do not know how to run noninvasive imaging equipment, or navigate their way through the subtleties of brain development at the cellular level. Yet, if we assume that education is at its fundamentals about brain development, these differing skill sets are hardly incompatible. Rather, they are complementary — and, from a research point of view, especially if you are interested in end-use results, could create a potent scientific force.

This, of course, suggests that brain professionals and education professionals conduct research together. And that is the whole point of The Brain Center at SPU: to describe a slice of biology where such collaborative research projects might yield prescriptive insights. Altogether, I have identified 12 such slices, which I sometimes refer to as “brain rules.” These simply denote basic things we know about the brain that could form the nucleus of research projects, which one day might be capable of improving American education — if brain scientists and education scientists choose to integrate their worlds.

By John Medina Director of the Seattle Pacific university Brain Center for Applied Learning Research


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My Response
Principal and SPU doctoral student Karol Pulliam considers the classroom implications of John Medina’s 12 brain rules.

Copyright © 2006 Seattle Pacific University. General Information: 206-281-2000