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Limitless Potential vs. Blank or Fixed Slate

The outdated educational system approaches our children as blank slates and empty vessels that need to be filled up with information. Yes, they develop the basic skills of reading, writing, and mathematics, but even that is seen as skill development that needs to be taught rather than cultivated. Every single child is born with an essence, a purpose, an innate wiring for particular talents, skills, and abilities; but if we don’t see those because we’re not looking, then the only alternative we have is to assume that they are blank and need to be filled up with whatever information and skills society currently feels is important. Thus, the predominant unconscious assumption today is that we are born into this world empty, and we need to stuff ourselves with knowledge in order to become successful later.

Another pre-dominant assumption is based on the current interpretation of fixed intelligence that is understood to be measured by an IQ test. However, Alfred Binet, the Frenchman from the 1900s who invented the IQ test, did not create it to summarize children’s unchangeable intelligence. His goal was to identify children who were not benefitting from the Paris public schools so that new educational programs could be designed to get them back on track. Yet today, our system tends to subscribe to the idea that intelligence is fixed or capped in some way. This is seen in the labeling that occurs with words like “Adjusted, Normal, and Advanced”—that narrows the options and possibilities of each child instead of indicating what methods and practices could cultivate fundamental changes in Intelligence.

What if our ideas about intelligence, and our educational environments, are based on erroneous thinking?

The good news is that with the latest neuro-scientific research now revealing how the brain works, there may be hope for an upgrade in how the experts view schooling and educate our children.

James Gupta, CEO and Founder of Synap—an upcoming education platform that uses research from neuroscience to enhance student learning—explains how science is showing us that the brain is more like a muscle that changes and gets stronger when you use it. “The average human brain has something near 100 BILLION neurons; however, what’s truly amazing is that each neuron can connect to up to 10,000 other neurons. That means that we potentially have 100,000,000,000,000, or 100 TRILLION synapses in our brain.”

According to David Sousa, author of How the Brain Learns, “Learners are more likely to gain greater understanding and derive pleasure from learning when allowed to transform the learning into creative thoughts and projects.” The power of transferring learning concepts into practical application during the learning process is that students are able to move through higher levels of complexity of thought. When the brain, operating like a muscle, is exercised the brain grows stronger. According to Sousa’s research, when endorphins are released to the brain, they produce a feeling of euphoria and stimulate the frontal lobes, which occurs when learners are in a positive environment. This, of course, makes the learning experience more memorable. He reiterates that the opposite is true: If learners are stressed and have a negative feeling about the learning environment, true learning is not likely to occur or be remembered. According to his research, “Cortisol, a hormone that travels through the brain and the body causes a fight or flight frontal lobe activity which is then reduced to centering on the cause of the stress and how to deal with it.” He refers to other research that has shown that cortisol tends to interfere with emotional memories, namely that done by Kuhlmann, Kirschbaum, and Wolf in 2005 and Tollenaur, Elzinga, Spinhoven, and Evcracrd in 2009.

We also need to keep in mind that teaching for retention is quite different than teaching for the testing. By re-visiting the information and observing it in different ways, we are creating new connections between existing brain cells.

The learner can grow conceptual frameworks that have meaning and make sense to eventually discover a pattern that connects for the long-term network. 

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