Category Archives: Brain research

Building Adaptive Thinkers is the #1 Goal of Education in the 21st Century

Thomas Friedman’s fantastic new book is called Thank You for Being Late – An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations.   I recommend it as essential reading for educators and parents alike – as we all try to come to grips with the incredible rate of change in our world and what it means for our children.

Friedman points out in poignant detail exactly what is changing and how:  “The three largest forces on our planet – technology, globalization and climate change – are all accelerating at once.”  And the rate of change is faster than anything we’ve had to adapt to before.  Friedman says it is “surely one of the great transformative moments in history.”

The possible pathways forward for us to adapt as individuals and as a species center around our ability to be resilient and adapt in the face of this potentially staggering change.  This ability will increase if we can become “radically inclusive” –  each of us bringing into our work “as many relevant people, processes, disciplines, organizations and technologies as possible.”  “Indeed as the world becomes more interdependent and complex, it becomes more vital than ever to widen your aperture and synthesize more perspectives.”

In reading this book, it struck me like a lightning bolt that Friedman is also laying out in stark detail the pathway forward for education.  This pathway is both exhilarating and daunting.  Exhilarating because there is a world of new opportunities for collaboration, of new technology platforms and of interdisciplinary explorations.  Daunting because we ourselves need to adapt our thinking about education itself – and be courageous enough to let go of the old and explore the new.

If we are to help build new neural pathways for innovation and creativity, we must allow our students the space necessary to explore and develop curiosity.  We must build into the schedule time for students to go deep with subject matter and discover connections between subject fields.  We must allow the opportunity for students to get into the flow of the learning process by supporting what they are passionate about.  And we must foster the opportunity to collaborate, share projects and add their own improvements to the innovations of others.

In these ways we can begin to begin to foster the kind of adaptive thinkers who can leverage the changes we face – and transform them into net positives for humanity .  To accomplish this,  we as educators and parents will need to learn – and to encourage – a new capacity called “dynamic stability”.  Dynamic stability is like riding a bicycle:  you cannot stand still, but once you are moving it is actually easier.  Eric Teller, CEO of Google’s X Research and Development lab says, “It is not our natural state.  But humanity has to learn to exist in this state.”  As we move into this state of adaptive change, Friedman says, “We’re all going to have to learn that bicycle trick.”

 

The Human Brain and the Montessori Classroom

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAz1AAAAJGEwM2Y3ZGRmLTI3M2EtNGQ4My04NDg3LTM2MzRmYTIxYzcxMAThe discoveries Maria Montessori made over a century ago about the evolving brain of a child have been proven to be true by modern brain science. In Montessori education, students learn by doing. They learn in a hands-on way with educational materials scientifically designed to meet their brain development at different ages. Students learn in a concrete way and build concepts from interaction with their work and the socialization that comes with their classroom activities.

In a Montessori classroom the most important thing is the deep engagement of the students in the learning process. Maria Montessori called this “concentration”, but in modern terms we would call it “flow”. The ability of a student to be deeply engaged in their work leads to superior study skills, organizational ability and internal motivation. A major factor in developing this ability is the opportunity for students to have some choices in their learning process – and to pursue topics they are passionate about. A second major factor is to allow students the time to engage in an activity without being rushed and to be able to explore a subject in depth.

Our test driven culture too often results in a curriculum that is “a mile wide and an inch deep.” If we want true learning to occur we must understand that concepts are acquired when the learner makes an active choice to know something new – not when the learner is forced to memorize information that must be repeated later on. Knowledge is how each student puts together information into unique sets of ideas – it is not the mere gathering or storing of information. In this way, Maria Montessori was far ahead of her time – and her many discoveries and innovations are only now being truly appreciated as we strive to develop educational models that match the swiftly accelerating pace of change in our world.

 

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