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Autumn 2006 | Volume 29, Number 4 | From the Editor

How the Brain Learns: Putting Brain Science to Work in the Classroom

What if “first grade” began before a baby was even born? And what if the students in this first grade were not the children, but the parents, who studied how to create an emotionally stable home environment conducive to learning? I was part of the overflowing audience when John Medina, one of the nation’s most unorthodox developmental molecular biologists, posed these and other equally provocative questions at Seattle Pacific University on October 22, 2003. His energy, nothing short of explosive, was contagious as he envisioned a day when brain scientists and educators might work together, researching how the brain learns and re-imagining the very concept of “school.”

Three years later, Medina is pursuing that dream at SPU as director of the newly launched Brain Center for Applied Learning Research. In this issue of Response, Medina writes about the fascinating relationship between sleep and learning, exploring just one of 12 “brain rules” — principles he believes could guide research that transforms education. You’ll also read about initial braineducation research projects being conducted by Seattle Pacific faculty and students.

Why launch such a momentous project as The Brain Center at Seattle Pacific University? One reason is SPU’s longstanding reputation for graduating outstanding educators. Just as Response was going to press, Seattle Pacific received official notice that its School of Education had been approved — again — for national accreditation by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). This is a well-earned achievement reserved for only the finest schools in the nation, and reflects the rigorous standards not only of SPU’s program, but also of its faculty. According to NCATE, these professors “model best teaching practices … and offer extensive service to their unit, university, and broader community.” They are the same individuals who, in collaboration with colleagues in psychology, business, and science, are carrying out the activities of the new Brain Center.

Another reason Seattle Pacific was poised to take on the important work of The Brain Center is its recent more than $34 million investment in the sciences, including a new Science Building for the study of biology, chemistry, biochemistry, and psychology. At its dedication in 2003, Medina told visitors the facility was “a great witness — both to the community of faith and to the secular world — that religion and science don’t have to be fighting.”

Of course, the primary reason for opening The Brain Center is that the dream of John Medina — and his colleagues at SPU — is yet another expression of the University’s vision for engaging the culture and changing the world. How better to fulfill that vision than by helping to improve the nation’s schools and, in so doing, the lives of its children?

To read John Medina’s essay “Brainchild: Stress, Learning, and the Human Brain” in the Autumn 2003 issue of Response, click here.


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