Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"What's next?": How dopamine helps us predict the future

Fascinating new research from Jeffrey Zacks at WUSTL on the role of the mind-brain dopamine system (MDS) in making predictions about the future that keep the mind-brain's stream of consciousness as smooth as possible (as reported by Tony Fitzpatrick):
“When we watch everyday activity unfold around us, we make predictions about what will happen a few seconds out,” Zacks says. “Most of the time, our predictions are right.
“Successful predictions are associated with the subjective experience of a smooth stream of consciousness. But a few times a minute, our predictions come out wrong and then we perceive a break in the stream of consciousness, accompanied by an uptick in activity of primitive parts of the brain involved with the MDS that regulate attention and adaptation to unpredicted changes.”
I've written in the past about computer modeling suggesting that the dopamine system is involved in predicting future outcomes and how that may relate to the experience of pleasure. It's also known that dopaminergic medicines are sometimes effective in treating attention dysfunction, though our understanding of why has been limited. The evidence is growing that our model of dopamine is limited if we think of it only as mediating a pleasure-reward pathway and this new information supporting dopamine's role in making predictions certainly fits in an evolutionary context better than pleasure-reward.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Four more reasons to watch Sesame Street's 42nd season: S, T, E, and M!

Via John Eggerton at Broadcasting & Cable:
Taking its cue from the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) curriculum being pushed by the Obama administration, the iconic show will add a "Murray's Science Experiments" and work investigation and experimentation into the episode themes.

The new theme of the season will be "Let's find Out."
 Very much looking forward to watching some of these with my son.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Challenge Based Learning

I'm attending Apple Academy this week, a pull-out-all-the-stops professional development event for small cohorts of education professionals.  I'm feeling extremely grateful to be here.  Yesterday was "Day 1", and for me the highlight was a presentation on Challenge Based Learning.  It's a new paradigm for student learning prompted by the limitations of traditional instruction and the exponentially increasing access to digital tools for consumption and creation:
Students today have instant access to information through technology and the web, manage their own acquisition of knowledge through informal learning, and have progressed beyond consumers of content to become producers and publishers. As a result, traditional teaching and learning methods are becoming less effective at engaging students and motivating them to achieve.
 So what is it?
Challenge Based Learning is an engaging multidisciplinary approach to teaching and learning that encourages students to leverage the technology they use in their daily lives to solve real-world problems. Challenge Based Learning is collaborative and hands-on, asking students to work with other students, their teachers, and experts in their communities and around the world to develop deeper knowledge of the subjects students are studying, accept and solve challenges, take action, share their experience, and enter into a global discussion about important issues.
We watched a video of some students and teachers from Australia who selected the big idea of "resilience" and took on the challenge of helping communities who'd been affected by a natural disaster. What struck me most was that these students, through this process, were empowered and passionate about making a difference in their world, learning their required bits along the way in the framework of the challenge they selected, the solutions they implemented, and the analysis and evaluation they engaged in along the way.  There's more information at this Challenge Based Learning section of Apple's website, including ideas for challenges and many other videos of student and teacher experiences.  We saw a data table that showed that students and teachers alike self-reported huge gains in many aspects of modern goals for learning, most particularly in the realm of leadership.  I have more to learn about this, but from what I've seen so far, it's a very compelling model - not only because students are learning "the material", but more so because it appears that they're learning to care!

What would school "look like" if our highest purpose was to help students learn that they can make a difference?