Tuesday, October 27, 2009

How "Brain Science" Can Inform Our Teaching

Put simply, it can't.

What teachers among us have not had to sit through a professional development class on what scientists are learning about how the brain works, and how we can use that knowledge to better help students learn? Can I get a show of hands?

Gardner's "multiple intelligences" theory was supposed to improve our teaching, but we've since figured out that subjects are best taught in methods most amenable to the subject matter, not to the students. And that theory rested merely on something that sounded like it could be reasonable, not on so-called science.

Anyone who says that our current knowledge of brain science is useful for figuring out the best way to teach trigonometry is smoking the good stuff. Heck, I found a union source--not Fox News, so my leftie readers can take a look--that says as much.

So what prompted this post? This article, on the "Baby Einstein" craze.

Of course it was too good to be true.

The New York Times reported Thursday that Disney is offering a refund to buyers of its ubiquitous “Baby Einstein” videos, which did not, as promised, turn babies into wunderkinds. Apparently, all those puppets, bright colors, and songs were what we had feared all along—a mind-numbing way to occupy infants.

This news has rocked the parenting world, which had embraced the videos as a miraculous child-rearing staple...

Still, the idea that a caper this big could be pulled off (according to the Times, in “a 2003 study, a third of all American babies from 6 months to 2 years old had at least one 'Baby Einstein' video") is mind-boggling. Disney’s refund is about as close as we’re going to get to an actual admission that we were sold snake oil, and it casts a pall over the other "educational" toys out there.

When my son was born, among the items the hospital sent home with us was a CD of classical music. Not that there's anything wrong with a little Mozart, but let's not be too gullible here. I hope no one really believed this statement on the case (yes, I still have the CD): Classical music to help stimulate your baby's brain development.

It gets better--here's what's on the back of the case:

Music can enrich our lives and touch our emotions. But did you know it may also help our children think, reason, and create? Studies suggest that the complex rhythms and melodies of classical music may help stimulate brain activities associated with the development of spatial-temporal reasoning, which plays a major role in such activities as language, math, and science skills...

Play this CD, and your kid will be Ivy League caliber. :-)

No comments: