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Partnership in action
Although they may not realize it, young people need teachers and neuroscientists to work together on their behalf. The collaboration between Jason Ablin, teacher and head of Milken Community High School in Los Angeles, CA, and Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, neuroscientist at the University of Southern California, illustrates the benefits of merging the two perspectives.
Immordino-Yang's research into the social and academic success of Nico and Brooke, two boys who had half of their brains removed to treat persistent seizures, led her to conclude that perhaps the way we perceive and solve problems is influenced by our particular cognitive strengths. We see the world and deal with it in personal ways that make sense in terms of prior experiences and a particular set of skills and abilities. It's not just that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. We all experience different realities in our minds.
In his book Successful Intelligence, Robert Sternberg illustrated this theory. As a child, he performed poorly on IQ tests and had very low spatial ability:
By the time I was in high school, though, a strange thing had happened. My scores on tests of spatial ability improved radically. ...Or so it seemed. Had my spatial ability improved? Not really. It was no better than it had been years before. But I had come to realize that many spatial-ability problems on these tests can be solved verbally rather than visually. In other words, instead of trying to visualize what, say, a set of forms would look like in another spatial position, I tried to talk the problems (top)
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through to myself. I would describe the figures verbally and then try to match that description with the answer options.
Sternberg had transformed a spatial problem into a verbal problem, a process similar to what Immordino-Yang observed in Nico and Brooke—a process that suits the problem to neural strengths and compensates for neural weaknesses.
Immordino-Yang's research and conclusions resonated with Jason Ablin's experiences in the classroom. Like most teachers, he knew that students often fail to understand homework and test problems as the teacher intended them to be understood. As a result, he saw that students might perform better in a classroom that actively engaged students in designing problems instead of wrestling with problems as teachers conceived them. This sort of insight emerges when intuition built through practical experience—such as Ablin's experiences with students in the classroom—is reinforced by research into how the brain learns.
It's an exciting, creative moment when theory and practical observation come together and seem to reinforce each other. Of course, to complete the partnership, the teacher must then design the lesson and assess the validity of the new insight in practice. The teacher will likely discover new issues that challenge aspects of the theory and that suggest further research.
This dynamic partnership between teachers and researchers is the source of the goals for this online course.
|Dr. Tami Katzir|
|"I think researchers tend to simplify things. Educators in the classroom see much more of the complexity. We need more of a discussion between educators and researchers, so we can form questions..." – Dr. Tami Katzir|