My graduate degree is in something called Mind, Brain, and Education, which is a growing discipline that seeks to combine the fields of neurobiology, cognitive psychology, and educational practice. Many people have tried to bring these fields together in less-than-successful ways: just look at the number of “brain-based” or “brain-centered” educational fads and trends out there and you’ll see that these terms get used and abused with abandon. MBE is all about thoughtfully, responsibly finding meaningful links among these disciplines that can inform good educational practice, and it’s exciting to see more and more people taking that approach. It’s not enough–and frankly, it’s often not legitimate–to just label something “brain-based” and say that makes it good enough for students. “Of course it’s ‘brain-based learning!'” I once heard a presenter say at an MBE conference. “What did you think it was, foot-based learning?!”
This article in the New York Times over the weekend is in that MBE vein: it’s about structuring homework in a way that’s more appealing to how learning seems to proceed in the brain. One of its most interesting points is about how homework is organized: students had better outcomes on tests and assignments when they were forced early on to learn not only how to do certain kinds of problems but also on how to determine what kind of problem they were supposed to do. This makes sense, in a way: one of the hard things about a test is that the questions are all mixed up, so to speak. It’s hard to take a test on a bunch of things in an unexpected order when you got used to studying them in a different order. By building that kind of shuffling into the homework, students learn two skills instead of just one: they learn how to do different kinds of problems, but they also learn to be on the look-out for what kind of problem they’re going to be asked to do.
I find this kind of thing fascinating. Check out the link here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/11/opinion/sunday/quality-homework-a-smart-idea.html?ref=general&src=me&pagewanted=all