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Educators - Distinguished Educator Advisory Panel

Using Education to Shape the Science of Learning

Neuroscientists and other researchers have spent years in the laboratory illuminating the biological processes that underlie learning. However, these science-of-learning discoveries do not remain in the lab. In addition to publishing academic papers, scientists work closely with a group of San Diego teachers – the Distinguished Educator Advisory Panel (DEAP), led by Doris Alvarez, Director of the Educators Network for the Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center.

This close relationship generates an ongoing information exchange. Educators learn about the latest lab research and how that might inform their teaching. They also discover that not all research is created equal. Some studies provide sound guidance that is applicable to their classrooms. Others may need more thorough examination before they influence a lesson plan. Scientists get insights into classroom dynamics and how theoretical constructs can be applied in the real world.

The biggest winners are the students, who benefit from novel, research-backed teaching methods. For example, educators have incorporated metacognition – thinking about thinking – into their curricula. Instead of simply teaching a unit, they delve into how that material is being taught, the processes being used to introduce new concepts and how those new ideas link to past learning.

The interactions with neuroscientists have helped teachers understand the importance of spacing their units, revisiting past information and leveraging cumulative exams to reinforce those links. In addition, it has raised their awareness about their students' attention spans: whether it's a good time to plunge ahead or perhaps take a little break.

These relationships have led to innovative teaching approaches. In one instance, music was paired with physics. Coupling the unfamiliar (physics) with the familiar (music) gave students additional tools to make neural connections and better understand complex, abstract concepts.

Beyond that, neuroscience acts as a springboard to talk about important topics surrounding education. Both teachers and scientists learn they cannot simply accept what they've been told, there must be evidence. And the best evidence is revealed when scientists and educators work together.