Tag Archives: Mary Helen Immordino-Yang

Learning & the Brain Conference

Twice a year, in November and April, the Learning & the Brain conference takes place in Cambridge, MA (though last year a session was held in California and it looks like there will be an international conference in Texas in early November). I have been to two prior conferences, attending only the pre-conference workshops.

The conference intrigues me, as the aim is to share the latest research in how our brains function and suggest practical applications of this research for use with children and young adults.

Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, in April 2005, presented An Introduction to the Brain and Neurosciences for Educators and Clinicians as a pre-conference workshop. I gobbled up her interactive lecture, racing to write down everything she said (so much for note-taking strategies 😉 ) and reviewing my notes multiple times over the next few years. This was my first “class” on the brain and it whetted my appetite.

Mary-Helen received some of her training at Harvard, where the Graduate School of Education has the Mind, Brain and Education master’s program. This is the program I refer to in the About section of this blog. One of the courses in this program is Todd Rose’s Brain 101, and oh would I love to sit in on this class!

A year later I gobbled up the practical information shared by Kimberly Carraway in her session Applying Brain Research – How Neuroscience Informs & Influences Your Teaching. Kimberly also organizes The Brain, Learning & Applications Summer Institute, which takes place each August in Tennessee. It is no coincidence that Mary Helen Immordino-Yang and Robert Greenleaf, both of whom have been written about in this blog, are speakers at the institute.

I am hoping to attend the entire conference this November, with a particular interest in sessions revolving around creativity and motivation. Between now and then, you can count on my exploration of those topics!


Left or Right?

If you become a regular reader of this blog you will discover that I like to draw. In the summer of 2005 I took a one week drawing class in Soho, NY, where a few million of my neurons received a wake up call.

The premise of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is that for many of us the left mode of our brains needs a rest so the right mode of our brains can strut its stuff. This theory of the brain suggests that the concrete, verbal left side (L-mode) is responsible for analytical and sequential processing of information while the abstract, spontaneous right side (R-mode) is responsible for visual and spatial processing.

Our brains are, in fact, split evenly between a left and a right side, known as the left and right hemispheres, and each side has its own areas of specialization. (Neuroscience for Kids – Hemispheres.) However, both hemispheres are involved in almost all cognitive tasks, and research shows that the brain is organized based upon the cognitive act and not necessarily the physical act. The two hemispheres are joined by the corpus callosum, a big white fiberous band of axons that goes back and forth between the hemispheres. (An Introduction to the Brain & Neurosciences for Clinicians/Educators by Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, Learning & the Brain Conference, Cambridge, MA, April 27, 2005.)

According to Mary Helen, the right hemisphere is coded for most movement, so you might think it has a major role to play in sign language. Well, it turns out the left hemisphere handles sign language the same way it handles spoken language because language is basically a cognitive operation. In other words, the part of the brain that handles lip and tongue movement has been co-opted to handle sign language. Thus, the cognitive act of communicating through “speaking”, and not the physical act of hand movement, determined which part of the brain was involved.

At only three pounds the brain may seem small, but there is a ton of activity going on in there, and it doesn’t stop as we get older. Our brains react to new experiences throughout our lives (Neuroscience for Kids – Brain Plasticity.) As Kathy Sierra writes on her Creating Passionate Users blog:


Experiencing and learning new things is literally exercise for the brain!

Passionate users grow more brain cells!