Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Dr. Faulkner: If I Only Had a Brain- Part One

The recent live telecast of the musical, The Wiz, brought to mind this scarecrow quote and started me thinking about the amazing brain.  As educators it should be of interest to us as learning takes place in the neuron connections of the brain.
In recent times we have gained significant understanding of the brain and how it functions.  MRI scans give us great insight into what happens when we learn.  In a recent speech, President Obama called for a national effort to fully “map” the brain.

For example we now know that learning increases the number of brain cells.  A study from the Beijing Institute of Technology (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, April 2011) involved 19 adults learning to match four shades of green and blue to made up color names.  The before and after MRI results showed that all the participants demonstrated a noticeable increase in brain gray matter in the critical left visual cortex which is associated with color vision and perception.

And what about the ability to control objects using the power of the brain?  On a recent flight while perusing Sky Mall magazine, I came across and ad for the Mind Controlled UFO.  Via a “headband and earlobe clip that measures electrical activity produced by your brain,” one can control the mini flying device.  It pairs with your smart phone turning it into a Bluetooth remote control.  Yours for only $229.95.

Mattel’s MindFlex Duel is a two-player game where opponents control a floating ball with the power of the mind.  Headbands scan your brainwaves and control the floating ball through a series of obstacles.  The game is to see who has the greater brain power.

And of course there has been much in the news about controlling prosthetic limbs using the power of the brain.  A May 20, 2015 New York Times article reports on the development of a Modular Prosthetic Limb (MPL).  “Engineers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab have developed a next-generation prosthetic: a robotic arm that has 26 joints, can curl up to 45 pounds and is controlled with a person’s mind just like a regular arm.”

With all this new knowledge about the brain and how we learn, we need to make informed decision about how we teach.  That is the topic of Part Two.

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