Learning and the Brain Conference Impressions

2 12 2009

I had the honor of being selected to attend the 2009 Learning and the Brain conference that was held in Cambridge, MA. November 20-22. This year’s theme was technology-centered, which was right up my alley. The conference featured keynote presenters as well as breakout sessions. The variety of presenters and topics was immense, and there was a bit of something for everyone. I thought I’d put some highlights of what I got from the conference here.

  • Technology, when used SMARTLY, can greatly enhance the learning of our students.
  • Matching the RIGHT technology to the learner, based on learning styles and other evidence, will be critical to successful implementation.
  • Taking time to breathe, balance, unplug, and reflect is important to any user.
  • Maryanne Wolf’s presentation on the reading brain was fascinating. She tells us that the number one issue with dyslexic students is a failure to reach automaticity and fluency. Dyslexic brains have a delay in processing speed at every level. We need to design our interventions to go after each part of the brain circuit that is responsible for the development of each recruited structure, system connections, time to comprehend and think new thoughts, as well as automaticity.
  • Laurie Cesnick’s conference on brain theories around dyslexia was also fascinating. her hypothesis that dyslexia is a form of “brain injury”, referred to as “left or right neglect” really began to change my thinking in how the learning disability may be. It could be a visual-spatial issue, developmental. Neglect can be overcome with intense training.
  • Marilee Springer’s presentation on the digital brain in the classroom brought up the concept of digital natives vs. digital immigrants. As users of technology, we are digital immigrants. However, the students we are teaching are digital natives.  A digital immigrant is like an English teacher being suddenly asked to teach Spanish. It’s okay to disarm the natives on occasion and allow them face to face experiences. However, tapping into a digital native’s love of rapid learning, quick access to information, creativity, and multi-medial experiences is what “grabs” them.
  • David Singer’s presentation, in particular, spoke to me. He talked about the importance of matching the correct technology to the learner. In order to help determine what types of educational technology might be best for each student, the school or teacher determines what learning styles they want to consider and apply it to their teaching methods. This, in essence, is what I do as the Assistive Technology Specialist for RSU 21. Taking time to do careful research on an educational or Assistive Technology solution, researching the student’s learning style, and teacher’s style all are pieces of what I do when making decisions. Sometimes it takes some time, but I’d much rather take the time to do something well, then to do something okay.
  • It would be a shame if brilliant technology were to end up threatening the kind of intellect that produced it.

The conference was an amazing experience, and is one  that I will never forget.

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