One of my biggest triggers is when a presenter at an education conference will claim, without being able to point to an article or a body of research, that x, y or z is research-based. And more often than not, their research-free claim is accompanied by weird brain-based language.
“We know that play-based learning works for teaching calculus,” they might say, “because play injects dopamine, an important neurotransmitter, directly into the brain.”
When I hear this sort of stuff, I’m often reminded of Daniel Willingham’s book, “When Can You Trust the Experts.” In this book, Willingham elegantly demonstrates how, when you “strip away” the complex sounding jargon of most neuroscientific findings, you’re often left with nothing especially profound or new. For example, consider this lengthy neuroscientific statement: “Although the brain weighs just three pounds, it commandeers about 20 percent of the body’s glucose— the sugar in the bloodstream that provides energy. When glucose in the brain is depleted, neural firing is compromised, especially in the hippocampus, a structure vital to the formation of new memories.”
While it’s certainly sciencey sounding, this statement could easily be reduced to just a few words, namely, “A hungry child won’t learn very well.”
As someone who is deeply concerned about the state of professional development in education, and persistently annoyed by charlatans who pretend to know a thing or two about how the mind and brain work, I thought it’d be interesting to bring a neuroscience-informed educator onto the podcast to talk about the utility of neuroscience for improving teaching and learning. Kristin Simmers is a doctoral student at the University of Connecticut who is currently investigating ways that neuroscience can impact teachers’ beliefs and classroom practices. When I told Kristin about my idea for this episode, she suggested, in the spirit of debate, that we bring on another educator, Andrew Watson, who shares many of my concerns about the amount of neuro-garbage in education. Compared to Kristin, Andrew’s work draws more heavily on educational psychology, which he sees as a much better bet for improving teaching than neuroscience.
So, without further ado, please enjoy this episode of the Progressively Incorrect podcast featuring two of my favorite educators in the world, Kristin Simmers and Andrew Watson, and check out links to their stuff below.