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  Mind, Brain, and Education  
  Need
  Purpose
  Content
  Participants
  Contribution
  Intended Audiences
  Dissemination

 

 

    A Usable Knowledge Conference at the Harvard Graduate School of Education

 

Conference Overview

Need
In the current Age of Biology, society is looking to neuroscience, genetics, and cognitive science to inform and improve education. Scientists and scholars need to take responsibility for building strong connections of mind, brain, and education to provide usable research-based knowledge for education. Many of the efforts to relate biology to education have been at best useless and at worst pernicious, including most of what is called "brain-based education." To create better research and practice, we must build a reciprocal relationship between educational practice and research on learning and development, analogous to the relationship between biology and medicine. In this relationship, research informs practice, and simultaneously practice informs research.

Neuroscience has provided fascinating glimpses into the brain's development and function. Recent technological advances have enabled neuroscientists and geneticists to discover more about the brain than ever before. The remarkable progress in basic brain research over the last ten years has created high hopes for applying this knowledge to education—advances in our emerging knowledge of the brain hold promise for improving the education of children. The intersection of biology and cognitive science with pedagogy is becoming a new focus in higher education and public policy as well. Recent developments include a Mind, Brain and Education (MBE) Conference held at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in the Vatican in November 2003, new MBE programs forming at graduate schools, and the creation of a new MBE journal and society. However, and not surprisingly, progress bridging the gaps between basic research and classroom needs has not and cannot come without effort. Part of the challenge is fostering collaboration of biologists, cognitive scientists, and educational researchers, in order to meet the newly increased demand for thoughtful application of scientific findings to educational practice.

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Purpose
Our goals for the Usable Knowledge conference on Mind, Brain, and Education are:

  • to assess current successful academic models in the emerging field of MBE
  • to examine how basic research relating biology and cognitive science to learning and emotional development can contribute to teaching practice, and
  • to determine how educational practice and assessment can inform research agendas and test applicability of scientific findings.

The focus of this meeting is academic domains of learning (such as literacy, language, and mathematics), issues of emotional development, especially as they relate to learning and school engagement, methods for assessing learning and development, and potential developments in educational policy.

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Content
We will hold the conference at the Harvard Graduate School of Education on October 7th and 8th, 2004. About eighty people will participate, by invitation only. Prior to the conference, twelve of the researchers participating will develop short commissioned papers about their work that all attendees will read in advance. Each of these papers will describe research that centers on issues and models for integrating basic sciences and educational practices; these papers will provide the foci for initial conference sessions. At the start of these sessions, the scholar will give a brief summary of his or her paper, and a guest invited by the scholar will present additional perspectives on this research agenda and/or its applicability to education. The bulk of the session will center on discussions of the research and how it relates to educational improvement.
The ideas and experiences of the participating scholars exemplify leading-edge research about challenges of developing successful educational and developmental interventions, particularly but not exclusively, related to cognitive neuroscience.

At the conference, HGSE faculty members and conference organizers Kurt Fischer and Tami Katzir will deliver the opening address Later sessions at the conference will focus on discussing the research being conducted and its relation to practice, identifying important directions for connecting future research and practice, and delineating the implications of the research for educational practice and policy. Based on this, the group will develop an agenda for further research needed on this topic. A central theme will be how to use the regular assessment done in education to feed back to research in cognitive science and biology.
HGSE faculty (including Catherine Ayoub, Catherine Elgin, Kurt Fischer, Howard Gardner, Paul Harris, Tami Katzir, David Rose, Catherine Snow, and John Willett) and visiting scholars and practitioners (including Mahzarin Banaji, Antonio Battro, John Bruer, John Gabrieli, Usha Goswami, Reid Lyon, Laura-Ann Petitto, Robert Plomin, Elizabeth Spelke, Paul van Geert, and Maryann Wolf) will participate in the two days of conference activities and aid in orchestrating the various synthesis discussions (including chapters in the conference volume).

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Contribution
All the presenters at the conference have been asked to frame their presentation guided by these general questions:

  • What is the potential role that basic sciences can play in this domain of education?
  • How can current findings benefit educational practice?
  • What are the areas of educational achievement that cognitive and brain sciences cannot help with?

Answers to these questions and related insights that emerge at the conference will aid policymakers and practitioners as they seek to apply findings from cognitive neuroscience to classroom practice in a concrete way. The research community will benefit through the dissemination of models of successful educational interventions related to cognitive neuroscience and hopefully through establishment of models for practice-based research on cognitive and brain processes.

HGSE's Kurt Fischer and Tami Katzir will serve as editors of the conference volume—a book of the commissioned papers and other chapters, each preceded by a paragraph written by the editors. (With this conference and one preceding it, HGSE has initiated a series of conferences on "Usable Knowledge: Linking Research and Practice" and anticipates a series of similar publications under this heading.)

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Intended Audiences
The audience for the knowledge obtained from this conference is a broad range of practitioners, scholars, and policymakers who seek the thoughtful application to educational practice of scientific findings in this area. The conference volume will have four target audiences:

  1. faculty members who teach courses on cognitive neuroscience, development, learning, and/or educational practice
  2. faculty members and higher-education administrators designing new MBE programs
  3. practitioners and policymakers seeking insights about integrating basic science with successful educational interventions, and
  4. scholars seeking models and methods for understanding how cognitive, emotional, and brain development relate to learning and teaching.

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Dissemination
This Web site has been designed to ultimately serve as a national knowledge portal on mind, brain, and education. Part of the Web site is private, only for conference participants, and will serve as a vehicle for reading the draft conference papers in advance. The knowledge portal open to the public will phase into existence over a period of half a year, starting about a month after the conference. This portal will feature resources and a network for scholars, policymakers, and practitioners to learn about and discuss basic scientific findings in mind, brain, and education and how to connect research in cognitive science and biology with educational practice and policy.

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