Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Creativity, Education and the Brain

[22 September 2008 - By Steven Dahlberg - Reporting from the Global Creative Leadership Summit] In his introduction to the panel on "Education, Creativity and the Mind," neuroscientist and moderator Antonio Damasio raised several questions about the intersection of these three topics:
  • How might education promote cultural understanding? Not just skills and knowledge; but becoming citizens who understand the working of societies, or respect the well-being of the other.
  • How might culture be used to promote the well-being of others?
  • How might the arts and humanities fields be used in schools to promote cultural understanding?
Damasio is a professor of neuroscience at the University of Southern California and director of the Brain and Creativity Institute. He said classrooms and textbooks are no longer the necessary basis for what's going on in learning and education. When they are used, they need to be put to the right service to be effective.

He said one way that neuroscience can be used in support of education is to better understand how neurobiology illuminates the social process -- what brains are doing when they are engaged in social interaction..

Highlights and comments from the rest of this session:
  • "Play is a child's work," said Hasbro Chairman Alan Hassenfeld. He is also working to set up one global human rights standard for toy safety.
  • Seattle-based artist Susan Robb said she frequently asks students WHO they want to be rather than WHAT they want to be. She also suggested used Visual Thinking Strategies as a tool for helping young people understand art.
  • Architect Richard Meier said that new thinking and new ways of rebuilding our cities -- such as post-Katrina New Orleans -- are being ignored.
  • Australian neuroscientist Richard Silberstein said there's been an explosive pathologizing of ADHD with three- to nine-percent of the population supposedly afflicted by it. This caused him to wonder if some people being medicated for a pathological condition labeled "ADHD" might actually have something else going on. That is, might there be a spectrum of thinking styles, which ranges from more convergent and orderly thinking (the kind often found in classrooms) to more divergent and dynamic thinking. In a study that is just beginning to produce some results, he is finding connections between ADHD, high IQ and high levels of creativity. Using the Torrance Tests for Creative Thinking and neuroscience measurements, he is looking at connections between creative thinking and the way that regions of the brain communicate with each other. He said that the brain states required for focused work are not the same as those necessary for high creativity. Finally, he talked about the connection between motivation and hope and the importance of a neurobiology of hope. He said hopelessness lowers the neurotransmitters that make learning possible.
  • Allan Goodman, president and CEO of Institute of International Education, said brains need safety. He talked about the issues of mobility and safety for scholars, especially in countries with high levels of threats and violence.
  • Johns Hopkins neuroscientist Majid Fotuhi said that "learning requires a healthy brain." He pointed out the connection between obesity and dementia, and said that childhood obesity is affecting the brains of children both now and in the long term. Brains of overweight children do not get enough oxygen, which in turn affects the overall health and functioning of the brain.
  • Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales talked about the importance of informal learning communities and how technology and informal processes can enhance and encourage creative exploration and the playing with ideas.
  • Oxford neuroscientist Colin Blakemore raised the interplay between common sense, education, science and the brain. For instance, he asked why many schools have not changed their language-teaching curriculums to teach languages to children younger than 10, rather than in middle and high school were many students still begin learning languages. Brain research shows the brain's great capacity to learn languages in the first 10 years of its development, yet schools often teach language after the brain as foreclosed on its peak language-learning capacity. He advocated for a new biologically based science of education, which better integrates neurosciences insights about learning into how society does education. Finally, he talked about the importance of learning in real situations versus structured, metaphorical ways; and the importance of teachers conveying their own passion and enthusiasm. "Great teachers convey the great enthusiasm that drives them."
  • MIT neuroscientist Nancy Kanwisher asked: How can education enhance our capacity to express empathetic understanding? How might we use the Web to create cheaper versions of cultural and educational exchanges for young people, given the great impact of such face-to-face exchanges?
  • Oxford physiologist John Stein emphasized again the importance of active learning as a much better way for teaching children. He said many communities and schools have an obsession with safety that has outweighed the opportunities for play and for being in nature. Talking about visually dyslexic people, he said many of them are incredibly creative, though they have problems reading. He's interested in the ways and the why that dyslexics are creative. He also shared his research about the impact of poor nutrition on learning and the brain. He has found impaired brain cells in dyslexics and his research has shown positive improvements in some people when they increase their intake of vitamins, minerals and Omega-3 fatty acids. He said a deficiency in nutrition can lead to an inability to pick up social cues. In one of his prison studies, he found that by addressing nutrition deficiencies in prisoners, there was a one-third reduction in further offending.
  • The Netherlands Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende summarized what he heard from these contributors: the importance of informal learning and its relationship to the formal classroom; responsible citizenship is core to a good society; the role of culture and art and whether one's country or community has a stimulating climate of culture; and the importance of education for positive social interaction.
  • Gerard Mortier, director general of the Paris National Opera, said art is not an appendage of society, but at its center.
  • Finally, Teachers Without Borders founder Fred Mednick asked how might we scale goodness?
ABOUT THE SUMMIT AND SPONSOR: The Global Creative Leadership Summit, sponsored by the Louise Blouin Foundation, is a three-day forum that brings together great international minds -- including heads of state, CEOs, Nobel Prize-winners and acclaimed artists -- to address pressing global issues, including geo-economics, foreign policy, education, health, poverty and climate change. The Summit also has a goal to work with developed and developing nations alike in order to best address global issues. The Louise Blouin Foundation is an international nonprofit organization that seeks to provide a globalization platform to address challenges in such diverse areas as international trade, foreign policy, education and the environment through the lens of culture and neuroscience.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous7:38 AM

    What a wonderful article and recap of an explorative and facinating conference. I look forward to reading more.

    Tomi Sackett