Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Brain stuff

This post is primarily for fellow CFS staff, but parents may find it interesting too! During today's staff development workday, I attended a session led by Jon and Ida following up on our research on the brain in education. Matthew encouraged me to live blog the session, something I've never done but that connected nicely to his workshop on RSS (and gives another example of how we can take advantage of cutting edge technologies at CFS). My live blog is just a series of notes, and includes a bunch of books we discussed as well as some ideas as to how we can implement this knowledge in our teaching. Click on the play button below to view it. Below the live blog, I've pasted a copy of Jon's resource list for studying the brain. It's really fantastic!

Back to music in my next post. Enjoy!

Jon's Brain Resource List:
Resources for learning about the brain and neuroplasticity (in no particular order…)


The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge. This is by far the best book I read on the topic. This is accessible, remarkably interesting and reads quickly. Doidge makes some very convincing arguments about the relationship between neuroscience/neuroplasticity and his own background as a psychoanalyst, across the brain/mind divide. While he pushes to find some extreme examples of plasticity and wants to see plasticity everywhere, overall, this is a wonderful work that seems really in line with the emerging general consensus about the brain’s plasticity. It has also gotten very positive reviews from many neuroscientists.

The Brain Explained by Daniel Drubach. A solid primer on contemporary understandings of the brain. Pretty accessible.

Best of the Brain from Scientific American edited by Floyd E. Bloom. This is fantastic and broad collection of short, accessible and very interesting articles about a wide range of topics in contemporary brain science. Very short reads for the lay person. The 2008 anthology is out, but isn’t in the library yet, so I’ve only read the 2007 edition.

Cerebrum 2007: Emerging Ideas in Brain Science edited by Cynthia A. Read. A wonderful anthology from the Dana Foundation’s online journal that offers focused articles on some of the most contemporary and pressing issues being raised by brain science. This anthology seems directed to those interested in psychopharmacology and related medical fields, but this is still interesting an informative. I really liked the article on animals’ aesthetic sense. The 2008 anthology is out, but isn’t in the library yet, so I’ve only read the 2007 edition.

Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind by Gary Marcus. A book that is focused on the evolutionary construction of the brain’s architecture. This is a bit redundant and seems to be an intervention into the debates about Darwinism (against “Intelligent Design”), but it is accessible and gives a great overview of major topics related to the “mind” functions of the brain (such as memory and language), discussing their biological basis.

Welcome to Your Brain: Why You Lose Your Car Keys but Never Forget How to Drive and Other Puzzles of Everyday Life by Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang. This is a concise and accessible overview of how the brain works, but much more conservative in terms of plasticity than what Doidge offers. This is entertaining and a pretty quick read, but not as informative as some of the other resources I came across. I would recommend this as a supplementary resource.

Defining Right and Wrong in Brain Science: Essential Readings in Neuroethics edited by Walter Glannon. Neuroethics rocks! This is a fantastic anthology of the emergent field of neuroethics and covers a great range of legal and moral issues raised by the recent knowledge of how brains work. I think these will be the key questions about ethics and knowledge that our students will face in the future and this anthology also points to the ways in which neuroethics also raises questions about ethics and human identity. I call dibs on a neuroethics class, but I’d love to co-teach it. Hmmm, what would a Quaker neuroethics be like?

Zen and the Brain: Toward an Understanding of Meditation and Consciousness by James H. Austin. This groundbreaking book is written by a neuroscientist who is also a practicing Buddhist. By drawing on both, Austin writes a fascinating book on how and why meditation expands the brain. I’ve had this on my shelf for 9 years. I still haven’t finished it, but I was happy to have a reason to start reading it. Maybe I’ll finish it before another 9 years goes by.


“Inside the Teenage Brain” A really wonderful frontline program. If you want to watch it online, head to http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/teenbrain/view/

“The Secret Life of the Brain” Available at CFS! An awesome PBS documentary on recent developments in brain science, though a few years old. For the companion website, go to http://www.pbs.org/wnet/brain/


“Developmental structure in brain evolution.” An academic article on the brain and brain evolution.

“Your amazing brain…” A great, comprehensive (by topic, if not in terms of topical depth) website (with teacher resources) from the University of Bristol.

“Neuroscience for Kids” This is a phenomenal resource from the University of Washington. I wish I had had this when I took a brain science class in college!

From the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a solid list of brain-oriented resources for various topics, focused especially on brain development.

“Early Brain Development: What parents and caregivers need to know!” A good primer on early brain development with a top ten list of early development needs.

“Inside the Teenage Brain” This is the companion website to the PBS Frontline series of the same title. Fantastic and very accessible. So that’s why my students don’t turn in essays on time…

“Understanding Brain Development in Children” An NPR show, available in podcast for the auditory learner. A very nice interview to focus on brain development in the childhood years.

The first site—“Abnormal Surge in Brain Development Occurs in Teens, Young Adults With Schizophrenia”—overviews some recent research, as does the second one—“Study Enhances Understanding Of Brain Plasticity And Motor Skills, Signaling Advancements For Future Rehab Practices.” Interesting articles on these topics—gives a sense of how the research on brain plasticity is being applied to medical work.


“Scientists find why we need to re-read a page” A neat article about brain science and attention issues related to learning.

From MarketWatch, an online resource about economic trends, this article gives a sense of the booming industry that markets tools to help aging brains maintain their performance.

A great article from Science Daily, an online science resource, about the latest resource on the neurobiology of learning. Also, this has a great set of links to take you to other resources on related topics.

“SharpBrains” An online resource for brain training and fitness. Some great information about brain plasticity that is commercial, but not too commercialized.

From the Society for Neuroscience, “a nonprofit membership organization of scientists and physicians who study the brain and nervous system,” a briefing entitled “Brain Plasticity, Language Processing and Reading.” A great resource on that and the website is very rich for all things related to neuroscience (though not all for the lay audience).

For an interesting article about how research on plasticity is changing educational practices, see this news article. More information about FastForWord is available in Diodge’s book.

“How Brain Research Relates to Rigor, Relevance and Relationships” This is a very accessible academic paper on the relationship between neuroplasticity and K-12 education, with attention to what makes the best learning environments.

“Learning in the 21st Century” A wonderful PowerPoint online that is made by educators, for educators, about the relationship between brain science and education in the context of the current media-saturated environment in which our students are coming into themselves. This is concise without being too dumbed-down. Unlike my own PowerPoint.

From The Science Network, a great video on the relationship between science and educational practice, entitled “Brains R Us.” This is work that is sponsored by the National Science Foundation in an effort to make the work of neuroscientists more immediately applicable in education.

“Emerging Brain Plasticity Research,” a video hosted by Dan Rather. Shows the connection between neuroscience and meditation.

“Neuroscience Perspectives on Disparities in School Readiness and Cognitive Achievement” A section from a really great article discussing how research into neuroplasticity is related to debates about achievements gaps in education. This is from a collaboration between Princeton University and the Brookings Institute.