Tag Archives: Robert Greenleaf

Brain Conferences

nyds-smallFor the past four or five years I have been eagerly attending brain conferences. My husband says that I could probably attend such conferences for years to come, they would cost less money than a year of grad school, and I’d be exposed to  cutting edge information. He’s probably correct! You can read all of my posts about the conferences by clicking the Learning & the Brain conference tag. (SketchUp image by Fred. If you are curious about this image, watch the movie on his page of the Seussian model he created.)

The Learning & the Brain conference takes place three times a year, with the next one scheduled for this February in San Francisco, CA, the theme of which is Using Social Brain Research to Enhance Cognition & Achievement.  May’s conference in Washington, D.C. will focus on The Creative Brain: Using Creativity & The Arts Research To Enhance Learning. This is similar to the theme of the conference I had hoped to attend in November 2007, so you can bet I will try my best to attend this May conference. The third conference will take place November  20-22, 2009 in Cambridge, MA, with this year’s theme yet to be determined.

In addition to the conferences, there are two related summer institutes. 

June 22-25 at Lawrence Academy in Groton, MA – Making Connections: The Art & Science of Teaching

July 28-31 at University Park Campus, University of Southern California, Los Angeles – Teaching for Learning: Connecting Brain & Cognitive Science with the Classroom

Robert Greenleaf’s name has come up a number of times in my posts. He has been a speaker at my school’s opening faculty meetings, and I participated in one of his brain workshops. Last summer I attended The Brain, Learning & Applications summer institute with which he is affiliated. Posts about last summer’s institute are accessible via the tag reference in my opening paragraph.

Greenleaf Learning, along with others, now present five institutes annually throughout the spring and summer, touching down in three different countries.

April 9-10, Frankfurt International School, Germany

April 19-20, Cary Academy, Cary, North Carolina. U.S.

June 25-26, Hillfield Strathallan College, Hamilton, Toronto, Canada

July 16-17, Albuquerque Academy, Albuquerque, New Mexico, U.S.

August 18-19, Avon Old Farms School, Avon, Connecticut, U.S.

As Lisa Rhodes, the organizer of the Albuquerque institute wrote, “The institutes offer incredible local opportunities to see nationally recognized speakers at extremely reasonable rates.”

I have no personal experience with the Society for Neuroscience, but they do have an annual meeting scheduled for October 17-21 in Chicago, Illinois. You can catch up with highlights of the 2008 meeting in this podcast by Ginger Campbell, MD. Ginger’s site, Brain Science Podcast, is chock full of book reviews and insightful interviews with neuroscientists.

If any of you know of other brain related conferences, please share the information in a comment. Thanks!


Another Brain Conference!

This seems to be my calendar year for attending conferences about the brain. In April I attended the Learning & the Brain conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts and later this month I’ll be attending the Connecticut Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) Summer Institute: The Brain, Learning & Applications.

This is CAIS’s second annual brain institute. I recall seeing the announcement of this conference for last summer but the timing did not work with my schedule. However, this year the timing is perfect, and there are a number of tidbits that tempt.

First tidbit: One of the presenters and sponsors is Robert Greenleaf, about whom I have written multiple times, as you can see from this tag.

Second tidbit: James Zull will be presenting. I am pumped to hear him in person, having first learned about him at the Learning & the Brain conference and also having just finished yesterday his most excellent book (about which I will be writing more) The Art of Changing the Brain: Enriching the Practice of Teaching by Exploring the Biology of Learning. I’ve written one prior post on Zull which turned out to be the perfect precursor to reading his book.

Third tidbit: Fay Brown is presenting. Fay is affiliated with Yale University and I first heard her at the Learning & the Brain conference, where she introduced Ken Kosik. She also introduced some of the keynote speakers. After Kosik’s talk I introduced myself to her and am eager to reconnect, as she struck me as a lively, engaging, and informed person who speaks with passion and humor.

Fourth tidbit: Dave Gray is presenting both a keynote and a session. Dave Gray is the Founder and Chairman of XPLANE which focuses on visual thinking. Check out the blog Visual Thinking Art for a view of visual thinking in action, Dave Gray’s blog Communication Nation or the Visual thinking school pages by Gray on Squidoo. For those of you who are regular readers of my blog, you know that I enjoy taking drawing classes. I’ve been wanting to take one of Gray’s seminars but the price was a bit steep to ask my school to fund for a one day class. His being at the CAIS Institute is definitely a treat! (CAIS costs about a third of his one day seminar.)

Fifth tidbit: Kim Carraway is presenting. No plans to take her sessions as I took a pre-conference workshop with her several years ago at yet another Learning & the Brain conference, but she impressed me then as being knowledgeable and personable.

Sixth tidbit: There will be a session on nutrition.

I think there will be much opportunity for intellectual stimulation, and you can be sure there will be multiple posts to come about this conference!

p.s. Started swimming a mile a day as of July 27th! Read this post, especially the bottom, for further explanation.


download10.jpgTo create means to me that something is made. By that definition, we all create, probably multiple times over. According to my computer’s dictionary widget, the verb create means to “bring (something) into existence” or to “cause (something) to happen as the result of one’s actions”.

Creativity also entails the act of creating, specifically creating from scratch, making use of “imagination or original ideas”. The widget uses a number of adjectives to help flesh out what it means to be creative: original, imaginative, inventive (“the practical side of imaginative”), resourceful, ingenious, and clever.wallofcolor.jpg

I am in accord with Sir Ken Robinson and Garr Reynolds, both skilled at making presentations within their respective fields, in their assessments of creativity. In the beginning we are all creative, but to summarize Sir Ken’s words, that sparkle of creativity is educated out of us by our educational systems. Why? – because we teach children to not make mistakes. Yet, children make mistakes because they do not know they should not make mistakes, and it is their comfort with making mistakes that nurtures their ability to be creative. “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.

nude2.jpgSir Ken shares some humorous, to–the–point anecdotes in his 2006 TED Talk about creativity. Referenced here previously, I steer you to it again if you have yet to watch his entertaining and thought-provoking presentation. He believes that creativity entails the “interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things”.

downloadc.jpgIn a different talk, this one to our faculty at opening meetings, Robert Greenleaf, stated that “Creativity is more parietal lobe and the optimal functioning of both hemispheres.” I conjured up a picture of neurons firing all over my brain, lighting up from my cerebral cortex all the way deep down to my amygdala, and I thought of how satisfied and exhilarated I felt with the completion of the Professional Development activity I created.

swirlingcolors.jpgGarr Reynolds, on his Presentation Zen blog, writes about The creativity imperative: nurturing what is our nature. He begins outright with “You are a naturally and supremely creative being – why do you think you are not?” Presentation Zen is about presentation design, and creativity has a very definite role in the design and carrying out of presentations. Garr’s point, similar to Sir Ken’s, is that as we get older, creativity takes a back seat or – even sadder – creativity is no longer even riding along with us. Yet, as he continues, “…the real irony is that our true nature is to be creative – it is who we are …”.

wirytoy.jpgI have long felt that nourishing a teacher’s creativity is one of the primary roles of professional development, and you can be sure that this theme will reemerge in my posts! (Images from Fred’s Abstract Art and SketchUp Models collections.)

Greenleaf Presentation.5 – Neat Sleep

This is the last of my posts about Bob Greenleaf’s talk presented on the afternoon of opening faculty meetings. Bob had a lot of what I consider valuable insights and practical applications to share, and limited time in which to share them. Perhaps that brings home all the more the importance of two of his comments.

Both comments focus on “R”s – reflection and repetition. The Reflective Network takes new input, checks it against what is already known, and remixes the combination of the two. One manner of engaging your reflective network is to pause to discuss or explain what it is you are trying to understand. This reprocessing helps to make meaning out of the new information, and enhance the paths by which the information can be recalled.

Repetition is a common approach to trying to get someone to remember something, but repetition alone is insufficient. The brain has to find meaning in what is being repeated; the information must have a context and then the likelihood of recall is increased. One way to increase the usefulness of repetition is to find patterns in the information.

But all of this digresses from the title of my post: Neat Sleep. How many of you are neatniks? And how many of you have been asked countless times to pick up your room or your work area? Greenleaf made a pithy statement that made my son smile:

Although neat is more orderly, it is not necessarily better.

Bob did not elaborate on this comment, but it’s easy to follow the train of thought that we all have our own systems of ordering and organizing, and just because neat may look more orderly, it may not actually be the best system for everyone.

I close with Bob’s last pithy point, and it is one that applies to all of us regardless of age or occupation.

Sleep is as much a learning function as paying attention.

In case you did not know, much of what we are exposed to during the day while trying to learn, is cemented during sleep. Insufficient sleep means incomplete learning, let alone a tired person come the next day.

Greenleaf Presentation.4 – Compare & Contrast

In 2001, educational researchers Robert Marzano, Debra Pickering, and Jane Pollock culled the research that existed on instruction, resulting in their book Classroom Instruction that works – Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement. Page 7 of the book has an oft referenced chart, Categories of Instructional Strategies That Affect Student Achievement, which Greenleaf alluded to in his talk.

As summarized by Greenleaf:

Comparing and contrasting is the number one thing the mind does to sort out meaning.

Marzano and crew state that “identifying similarities and differences … might be considered the “core” of all learning.” Based upon the research, they conclude that:

1. Presenting students with explicit guidance in identifying similarities and differences enhances students’ understanding of and ability to use knowledge. (This comes under the heading of teacher–directed tasks.)

2. Asking students to independently identify similarities and differences enhances students’ understanding of and ability to use knowledge. (This comes under the heading of student–directed tasks.)

3. Representing similarities and differences in graphic or symbolic form enhances students’ understanding of and ability to use knowledge. (Graphic organizers and Venn diagrams are very useful for visually comparing and classifying information.)

4. Identification of similarities and differences can be accomplished in a variety of ways. The identification of similarities and differences is a highly robust activity. (Comparing, classifying, creating metaphors and creating analogies are the four most effective methods for organizing information along the lines of similarities and differences.)

When learning something new or discussing something with which I am not readily familiar, if it isn’t immediately obvious to me what I am trying to do, I often wind up comparing the activity or idea to an activity or idea that I already understand. My sole purpose being to have something of which to grasp hold. What do you do to help make sense out of unfamiliar activities or ideas?

Greenleaf Presentation.3 – You Do It, You Own It

Anyone out there recall trying to teach your child how to tie their shoe laces? I remember when our second son was learning to tie his shoelaces. My memory has it that this was before velcro became a common closure for sneakers. I was thinking about teaching my son to tie his shoelaces during Bob Greenleaf’s presentation after Bob commented that:

The one who does the work is the one who learns.

This is a one-liner version of the Chinese proverb:
Tell me and I forget.
Show me and I remember.
Involve me and I understand.

Or better yet:
Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.

John Dewey, educational philosopher and author of – among others – the book Experience & Education, firmly believed in the value and necessity of experience in building education.

…I have taken for granted the soundness of the principle that education in order to accomplish its ends both for the individual learner and for society must be based upon experience – which is always the actual life–experience of some individual.

However, not just any experience suffices:

Everything depends upon the quality of the experience which is had. … the central problem of an education based upon experience is to select the kind of present experiences that live fruitfully and creatively in subsequent experiences.

This all boils down to the need for personal context in order to create meaning and understanding. Turns out that if something has personal context for the learner, it will remain in working memory longer and have a greater chance of making it into long term memory.

We do not learn in a vacuum; connections and experiences are necessary, and the more there are, the stronger the likelihood of recall.

Greenleaf Presentation.2 – Brains Learn

There were a number of clever sounding one liners uttered by Bob Greenleaf during his presentation. The thing is, while they sound clever, they are also easy to remember, and make total practical sense.

Lungs breathe, hearts pump, brains learn.

I have heard that sentiment several times, but none put so succinctly. Our brains are learning machines; they improve with the learning process. The act of building synapses and connections is the act of learning. According to Eric Jensen:

For the most part, long-term potentiation (LTP) has been accepted as the physical process of learning. … LTP means a neuron’s response to another neuron has been increased. It has “learned” to respond. Each future event requires less work to activate the same memory networks. … In short, learning happens at a micro level through the alteration of synaptic efficacy. Excited cells will excite other nearby cells.

Greenleaf went on to explain that when one area of the brain is busy processing, this benefits the other areas of the brain because the brain is an interconnected organ. All areas of the brain participate all the time in processing, though depending upon what is being processed some areas will be more active at any given time.

And as for the right-brain, left-brain theory, in actuality this is more of a personality or learning style description rather than a description of how the brain truly functions.

Next post: Pithy statement number two.