31 May 2011


For some time I've been accumulating interesting articles on learning and the human brain. Today seems like a good opportunity to offer a grab bag to readers. Check out the summaries and investigate the links which pique your interest.

The Link Between Creativity and Eccentricity. We all know people who are weird but not necessarily creative. Yet many highly creative people are eccentric. What's the link? "Some of the biological vulnerabilities that predispose individuals to disorders are shared by some highly creative individuals. These individuals are more open -- thanks to latent inhibition, for instance -- to novel, creative ideas than folks whose mental filters do suppress scores of irrelevant information. However, they're protected from psychopathology by traits such as high IQ and increased working memory capacity." See the article for a more thorough explanation.

When should you teach children, and when should you let them explore? The upshot from one experiment -- when adults provide instruction prior to introducing children to a new toy or activity, the children spend less time playing than when they're allowed to discover the toyor activity's potential on their own. This makes intuitive sense to me. When I was very young, I had to invent my own games, and I believe my imagination is richer for the experience.

Which isn't to say that there is no place for adult guidance and inspiration. Witness Children Full of Life a video showing the bond of affection and enthusiasm between grade school students and their former home room teacher in Japan. The express intent of the class was to encourage a life of happiness, and to foster mutual support and affection between the students. A very touching narrative.

How the Internet is Revolutionizing Education shares a number of initiatives which incorporate online learning into traditional education, especially at the college level. Will access to the Internet replace a college degree? Unlikely. But it is becoming an essential tool to add further dimension to higher learning. Some class assignments are performed and submitted exclusively online. Much class content is available free on the Internet, without having to purchase expensive texts. And question-and-answer sessions conducted via Skype or email sidestep the limitations of traditional professors' office hours. None of which replaces the value of face-to-face, realtime interaction between instructors and students. Still, in a very different but still relevant context, Abraham Lincoln said, "The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is pile high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion."

On a different note, Creationism in the Classroom: A Tragic State of Affairs describes the most recent skirmish between those who advocate teaching creationism in science classes, and those who advocate teaching only evolution. The article lays out the arguments for each side, with emphasis on why so many people feel threatened by (another way of saying "do not understand") evolution. Bottom line, in this observer's view, creationism is a religious belief, and should be taught in a religious venue. Evolution is a scientific principle, backed by many decades of rigorous research and irrefutable evidence, and should be taught in science classes. Any attempt to mingle the two detracts from both.

Project Implicit is an ongoing psychological study about the unstated assumptions and associations we all carry with us. You can click on the link for a demo, or to participate. Your results may well take you by surprise.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not include a link to TED, an astonishing resource for learners of all ages. As Wikipedia describes, TED (Technology Entertainment and Design) is "a global set of conferences .... formed to disseminate 'ideas worth spreading'. The TED website offers live streaming of addresses on "an increasingly wide range of topics within the research and practice of science and culture." That's a lot of ground, so be careful -- you may become ensnared and spend hours exploring and learning. Here is a link to the TED homepage, and here is a link to a particular presentation on bioluminescence in nature. Have fun !!

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