Thursday, February 8, 2007

Override The System

Dr. Robert Sylwester spoke to our faculty yesterday after school about how technology relates to brain development. The first interesting point he made was that technology is the human attempt to override our natural systems. In this way, he likened drugs to technology. One analogy he used was if you've been up driving and your natural system says it's time to sleep, but you have many more hours left to drive. You put the drug caffeine into your system to override sleep. The example he used for technology was that our feet can't move at 50 MPH, but if we put wheels on our feet and throw in a motor, we can move that fast.

From there, I started imagining all the natural systems (although I'm not sure if that term is appropriate here) that we're overriding by using web 2.0 in our classes. First, we can see what we can't see, or at least have a better idea of what we can't see. Things like thought processes, ideas expressed in non-linear terms, not to mention overriding the proverbial walls of the classroom, collaborating with brains all over the world.

Dr. Sylwester went on to describe the second ten years of development, which happens in the frontal lobe and is the business of secondary education. He pointed to the need for understanding the complex balance of didactic instruction and contructivist learning. And raised our awareness of the fact that adults (not really parents anymore; their job wanes after the first ten years) function as the parts of the brain that are not yet develop, namely the cerebral cortex, whose job it is to interpret sensory data, identify problems, and figure out how to solve them and, most importantly, if they should be solved. In other words: moral judgement.

I hadn't really thought about much of this information explicitly for awhile. But it was pretty near the forefront of my planning when I taught middle school, remembering from Ed Psych 304 that those four years of brain development where a bit chaotic, and there were strategies we could use as teachers to better align our lessons to the way their brains were processing information and learning. Maybe I'll write about those specific strategies in another post. But those were my thoughts during the presentation.

The thoughts/questions that are still resonating are:

1. I know we teach brain development in science course, but how explicit are we about the way brain development affects their learning and the decisions they make in their adolescence? For example, as I ask my students to consider their responsibility in the world, what would be different if they were more aware of the fact that not only is this an important question to consider as a citizen, but it's also the kind of questions that their brain needs to work on at this point in it's development?

2. Dr. Sylwester said that most learning, especially in the first ten years, is fun, and based in games, formal and informal. And that school is the only kind of learning that we insist on calling work. Hmmm...

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