Brain Symposium Reaches Broad Audience

June 20, 2012

Punahou’s annual Brain Symposium expanded in its third year to include a free lecture that was open to the public, sharing with an ever-growing audience ways to tap into neuroscience to boost learning.

Best-selling “Brain Rules” author John Medina proved a captivating keynote speaker, tailoring two daytime presentations for educators and focusing on information for parents at the evening event. The 2012 symposium, “Educating the Whole Student: From Research to Practice,” was held on campus June 12 – 13, 2012, and also included more than 40 one-hour workshops on learning and the brain, focused around the strands “Healthy Minds: Promoting Play,” “Different Ways of Being Smart,” “Social-Moral Minds: Ethics and Collaboration,” and “The 21st Century Learner.”

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Presented by Punahou’s Institute for Teaching, Learning and Instructional Innovation (ITLII), the symposium brought together more than 400 educators from public or private schools throughout the state, offering crucial professional development and collaborative opportunities. As Junior School Principal Mike Walker explained, Punahou School “aspires to marry the science of neurology with the artistry of teaching, to help educators apply the most rigorous scientific research in their daily practice.”

Medina’s public lecture, presented in conjunction with the symposium and supported by the Lara Jane Taylor Learning Resources Endowed Fund, drew a large audience to Dillingham Hall on June 13. The developmental molecular biologist and research consultant is an affiliate professor of bioengineering at the University of Washington School of Medicine and director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University. His numerous books include the best-selling “Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School” and “Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to 5.”

Medina addressed numerous ways that neuroscience has advanced understanding of how children learn, suggesting ways to strengthen home and school learning environments. Among the highlights from his three presentations:

  • Memory: Repetition aids memory consolidation. Multisensory learning is best, and vision trumps the other senses. Students may retain more of what they learn throughout the day when information is reviewed at regular intervals. “If the information is not repeated, by the time the kid gets home from school, it’s not review, it’s new learning,” he said.
  • Sleep equals learning. People vary in how much sleep they need, and when they prefer to get it, but the need for a 26-minute afternoon nap is universal. Such a break not only improves productivity into the evening, but also ensures that the person sleeps better that night. “Late chronotypes (night owls) struggle in our schools. They’re accused of being lazy, unmotivated and unfocused … yet these C students become A students when they go to night school,” he said.
  • Exercise: Regular aerobic exercise improves brain function, buffers against negative effects of stress and can relieve symptoms of depression. Interspersing aerobic exercise throughout the school day may improve academic performance, Medina said. “So why on earth would any school cut PE?”
  • Student Achievement: “The single greatest predictor of academic success that exists in the literature is the emotional stability of the home,” Medina said. “You really want to know how to get your kid into Harvard? The simplest answer is ‘Guys, go home and love your wife.’”
  • Multitasking is a myth. The brain’s attentional “spotlight” can focus on only one thing at a time, said Medina, who cited research that showed students who did math homework amid continual interruptions took twice as long and made 50 percent more errors than those who stayed on task.

While Medina’s talks gave attendees plenty to ponder, dozens of hourlong workshops also engaged participants. Sessions such as “The Teenage Brain,” “Mental Hygiene,” “Action-Based Academics,” and “Learning to Pay Attention: Mindfulness in Schools,” provided information, resources and techniques educators could immediately apply.

Also new at this year’s symposium were longer post-conference sessions that allowed in-depth exploration of topics such as “Teaching Writing to Students with Learning Differences” and “Play and Movement: The Key to Academic Achievement.”

Susannah Johnson, a teacher at Assets School who returned to the Brain Symposium for a second year, said she appreciated the array of offerings.

“It’s all about integrating research into practice, and this conference delivers every time,” she said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to hear from these great outside speakers, and I also love that there are so many Hawai‘i educators here sharing ideas with one another.”

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