Brains, learning, and school

I had started writing a essay on learning and the brain and
current understandings about it, and realized as it grew HUGE that it revolved around examining some rhetorical
questions. Here are some of the core questions, with their import and details left
as an exercise to the readers and commenters, unless there is significant
interest in a particular one being addressed in some future essay.

Compare and contrast data,
information, and knowledge.
                Why do people use them
interchangeably, and what problems arise when people do?

Compare and contrast school
and education.
                Must one imply the other
(or the other, one)?

Compare and contrast smart
and educated.
                Why do educated people get
them confused so much more often than smart people (both in themselves and
others)?

Compare and contrast teaching
and learning.
                How do you measure the
effectiveness of a teacher?

Compare and contrast knowing,
understanding and wisdom.
                How does one get turned
into the other?

Compare and contrast intrinsic
aptitude
and interest.
                Can one be leveraged into
the other, or are they merely randomly connected?

What is the most important thing a human should learn?
                Rank, in order, the top 10
things one should learn by voting age. Why?

How can you tell truth from falsity?
                How often do you ask
yourself “how do I know that? What
are my assumptions?”

At its most basic (biological) level, what is learning?
                What makes this happen?
How are repetition and strong emotional tagging different?

Is it important for children or young adults to learn how the brain learns and works at some point, before they become an adult?
               How could learning this help children in school?

How can a neural connection be strengthened, or made more interconnected
with others?
                Compare and contrast a
single, strong connection, with highly interconnected knowledge.

How many strong emotional “tags” are there in a very safe,
nearly risk-free, environment?
                Would this present a
challenge to learning?

What makes the brain think something is important enough to
learn (that is, remember and think about enough to apply the knowledge later)?

What is the brain designed to do, and in what sort of
environment?
                WHY? HOW? Can we use this to help teach and learn?

10 thoughts on “Brains, learning, and school

  1. Hold on there, Kimosabee! As a recent Collage Grad, I’ve had Final Exams where one might have a maximum of 3 of those Questions, and one would pick 2. Heck, I’ve had Senior Level Course where MAYBE three or four of those type of Questions would be in the Syllabus for the entire Semester!

    Which may be the answer to ALL your Questions in a Nutshell.

  2. Start with a small nibble off that very large cheese wheel you have sitting before you:

    1. What is reality?

    When you get done with that one, move on to the rest.

  3. BL- I didn’t seriously mean I expected readers to write full, college-level responses, of course. I’m saying *I* was writing, trying to put much of those questions and their answers into a blog-length blurb, and it got WAY to huge for a blog post. More like a book. But they were (I thought) interesting questions, and one which might prompt some deep thinking among the deep thinkers in the crowd 🙂

    They are questions (and answers) which seem important because I’ve seen way to many HS kids who do not even seem to realize they ARE questions, let alone be able to take a serious stab at even attempting an answer. The smart/educated/school problem they mostly have some vague notion of, but it’s mostly VERY informal, so as to be at an almost useless level of understanding. Some of my best lessons, though, have been when a student question or current event led to an impromptu discussion on one of these sorts of questions for a half-hour. For example, the students thought the “just say NO” drug and alcohol policy was a joke, because they saw adults drinking, smoking, etc., but when I phrased it in terms of different effects on brains at different stages of development, with just enough details for them to grasp the importance of it, it suddenly made a lot more sense to them. One guy (bright kid, poor student) said a discussion on this was the best and most useful half-hour he’d ever spent in school, because it made sense to him, and it applied to him. Essentially it was basic physiology and brain development.

    Mikee- great question, but far more abstract than is useful in general life and learning. My ideas are much more application-oriented. I.e., what problems are caused when the brain, which only is good at remembering important stuff, is places in a nearly risk-free environment, where nothing seems very important? Does it learn nothing and atrophy, or does it focus overly much on trivia, seeking things of importance?

    Trouble is, some of this stuff requires higher-order thinking skills to understand well, even if understanding it would lead to much better / faster learning. So, when and how to teach it presents a problem.

  4. Those questions are in the 6 year course on philosophy.
    As for teaching and learning, long ago I was told the Russian for “learn” translates literally into “teach oneself”. Dunno if it’s true, but it might explain a few things. I was also told that US Navy instructors have a saying, “if the student hasn’t learned, the teacher hasn’t taught.” That’s awfully general in scope, but it does imply a requirement of an awareness of what is happening in the target in order for the teacher to consider himself or herself successful.

  5. Windy – I’m pretty sure the answers needn’t be 6-year philosophy degree sized to be useful.

    For example, data/info/knowledge: Data are bits and pieces of measurement and stand-alone facts, e.g., 63 degrees F at 10 pm on Aug 19 in Seattle is data. Information is a collection of aggregated or processed and contextualized data, e.g., average temp this time of year, at this time of day, in this area, is about 63 degrees F. Knowledge is the collection of related facts and data you have in a useful form *accessible in your brain*. It’s NOT what you can find on the first page of an internet search. Many folks confuse them quite badly, especially in a typical school setting, because it’s easy to test for data retention and regurgitation, but much harder to test knowledge.

    On things like neural connections equaling learning / knowledge, recognizing that though the visual cortex is in basically the same spot on everyone, where precisely the memory of what fish tastes like, or what the word fish looks like when printed, what the word fish sounds like when spoken in English, how to pronounce the word fish, what the concept of fish means, what old fish smells like, are all located in different but interconnected parts of the brain, and those different parts are slightly different in each person. (The fact that they are in different areas can have some significant consequences, particularly in cases of TBI.) The more significant fish is to your life, the more neural connections you’ll have related to fish. A lifelong professional fisherman, who has caught tons of it, makes a living by it, eats it almost daily in many variations, follows the politics of it, and has to sorts various versions of it out of his nets every day will have a vast array of connections to fish neurons. A city kid who had fish-sticks once in a 1st grade cafeteria, and knows it goes with “F” in the alphabet song, has many less connections. A single strong connection, i.e., connecting the smell of old fish to being violently ill after eating it, will have much less general usage than the fisherman’s wide array of interconnections with many other aspects of life. Getting kids to understand that use and application of knowledge are critical to retention and development of it, just like physical exercise is to muscle development.

  6. …I was told the Russian for “learn” translates literally into “teach oneself”.

    It is true.

    Учить (pronounced oo-cheet) = to teach
    Учиться (pronounced oo-cheets-ya) = to learn (literally, to teach oneself)

  7. I would agree with your definitions on data, information, and knowledge. However, I would add that knowledge infers the ability to apply information and data. It is a much more comprehensive word.

  8. Too complicated, Man. That is one big cheezewheel, for sure.

    Social interaction and group bonding certainly seems to be large on the priority list, but that can be said of dogs.

    If we live in “a very safe, nearly risk-free, environment” we tend to invent problems. This is the legacy of the Babyboomers, it has been said. So we’re “down for the struggle” even if we have to fabricate a struggle.

    The human brain, like all others, is designed to survive and reproduce, and in the case of humans, the brain is the primary means of surviving (innovating or scheming as opposed to more reliance on tooth and claw).

    Unlike all others, it seems the human brain is designed for something more. We ponder the act of pondering and the existence of existence, looking into the mechanism that looks into the mechanism, wondering if there is a “fabric” to space, whether time “flows” and if so in what “direction”.
    Back to you.

  9. To quote Spock from “The Wrath of Khan”, I exaggerated. Although Bob Hope claimed an undergraduate degree at UCLA took an extra year if you had to park in Lot 32 on account of the added distance to the classrooms.

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