Learning and the Brain Conference – Notes from Jennifer Woodruff

The presentations at this year’s Learning and the Brain Conference validated that Gateway School is living up to its vision of offering educational experiences rooted in evolving research. Many of Gateway’s current practices and recent initiatives were discussed at the conference as being researched-based best practices. Current brain research shows that offering longer blocks of time to delve into topics is effective in creating engaged learners.  This research supports Gateway’s redesigned schedule that allows for longer blocks of time.  Additionally, allowing time for play, questioning, experimentation and exploration has been shown by research to encourage creative, successful students.  This research supports the school’s brain breaks, discovery center, emphasis on project-based learning and playful approach to curriculum.

In addition, research shows that teachers who continue to learn, and discuss their learning struggles, successes and failures, model and encourage a growth mindset and an environment of deep engagement. All these practices are ones that are seen daily at Gateway.

In addition to validating what we do at Gateway, I am now able to offer a research-based explanation of letter/number reversal and word/sentence mirror writing rather than offering an explanation based on anecdotal evidence. Daniel Ansari, in his address, described an experiment that gave evidence that the brain is wired to recognize objects from any orientation at a young age.  Letters, numbers and words are an exception to the “orientation rule.”  Children need to learn that unlike a tiger, which is the same from any orientation (direction of viewing, whether rightside up, upside down, or from the side), the letters b and a d are not the same.  This is accomplished by uncoupling the neural pathways that generalize the “orientation rule” and forming new neural pathways that indicate letters, numbers, words and indeed sentences, are orientation dependent.