Science Café Highlights Research on Enhancing Children’s Learning

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

032411_cafe-highlight.jpgRevolutionary changes in education are underway as research into learning patterns and teaching methodologies are being introduced into classrooms, Nobel Laureate Carl Wieman told a capacity crowd at the FABBS Foundation’s most recent Science Café.

"Decades from now, historians will look back on this era as [the time when] we really, finally understood how to educate people," said Wieman, associate director for science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and event moderator at the March 24 café at the Pew Conference Center in Washington, DC. The 2001 Nobel Prize winning physicist lauded the two speakers for the evening program as pioneering researchers in educational reform.

Lauren Resnick, a distinguished professor of psychology and cognitive science at the University of Pittsburgh, has conducted extensive research into structured classroom discussion practices that foster higher-order reasoning skills. She provided examples showing where "reasoned discussion skills" practiced in classrooms resulted in low achievers showing remarkable gains in standardized test scores. "They were outperforming the mainstream" she said. "These are spectacular findings."

The "large challenge ahead," she said, is to educate and encourage teachers not only to understand the material thoroughly enough to foster and moderate classroom discussions but also to understand that these teaching methods benefit all students, not just those at the top.

Bruce McCandliss, professor of psychology and human development at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College, highlighted research demonstrating brain changes as children gain cognitive abilities in reading and math. McCandliss looked not only at how brain systems in individual learners differ but also at how educational experiences drive changes in these systems. He used fMRI imaging of the brain to show how pre-readers’ responses to speech can predict future reading skills. Rather than paint a "glum picture," he said, educators can tailor their teaching materials "to help those children biologically biased to have a more difficult time."

The FABBS Foundation, American Educational Research Association, and Cognitive Science Society co-sponsored the event with generous support from SAGE Publications.

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