Taking brainwork to the classroom

With the launch of the Inclusive Education and Neuroscience MEd program in 2010, one of former Faculty of Education dean Jane O'Dea's long-awaited visions finally became a reality.

Dr. Bryan Kolb, a researcher in the Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience, says he remembers the genesis of the program well, recounting O'Dea's desire to expose teachers to the principles of brain development.

"Jane was eager to take the knowledge that we were generating and somehow apply it to classroom practice," says Kolb, who will be presenting as part of the Faculty of Education Lecture Series in early December.

Dr. Bryan Kolb
Dr. Bryan Kolb is eager to share his research with today's educators.

Kolb's talk, Moving from Brainwork to the Classroom, is Monday, Dec. 5 at 4:30 p.m. in Andy's Place (AH100).

The three-year MEd program, the first of its kind in Western Canada, is intended for practicing teachers as well as administrative and leadership professionals. After learning about the latest in neuroscience research, practicing teachers will explore the direct application of this knowledge to the classroom.

"The whole premise of the program is to take the research done by the people in the CCBN and apply it to teaching practices in the classroom," says Sue Bengry, former director of Student Services, Lethbridge School District 51. "It's a school-based initiative."

"Teachers need to know about the principles of brain development in order to understand the impact these processes have on behaviours," says Kolb. "Whereas most of the body develops from a genetic blueprint, the brain develops in response to experiences. So you are your brain."

It's an added body of knowledge that teachers welcome.

"Teachers are eager to learn about the newest neuroscience findings and how they might influence our instructional practices and the design of classroom environments," says Dr. Nancy Grigg of the Faculty of Education. "In the past, we could only assume that kids with learning disabilities had neurological damage or dysfunction."

Having a foundation in brain-based learning allows educators to adapt their teaching methods to ensure the best results, essentially providing students with practical work-arounds to their learning challenges. Although this particular program is geared towards experienced teachers, Kolb says that in the future, it would be useful to have all education students taking neuropsychology courses.

Translating research into practice is, of course, a complex process.

"But when educators and neuroscientists begin to work together, the gap between neuroscience research and classroom practice starts to close," says Grigg.