What’s in a brain?
In the Chronicle of Higher Education, James Lang offers the first installment of a two-part post on memory: how it really works (hint: it’s not the long-outmoded tripartite model—long-term, short-term, and sensory—on which many faculty members still base their pedagogy), and how it might inform the way we teach. Some elementary schools are tossing out the spelling test in favor of “word study” that focuses less on drill and more on conceptual categories. (Not everyone is pleased.) D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson is rolling out an early-education curriculum that uses carefully guided play to stimulate multiple kinds of cognitive function. And a new study suggests that while some intelligence may be innate, it’s also quite variable—physical changes in teenagers’ gray matter cause fluctuations in I.Q. test scores. The study focuses on the brains of teenagers, but it’s possible that such brain plasticity continues later in life as well.
In addition to knowing more about how the human brain works, it might help faculty to know more about how the millennial brain works: Faculty Focus reviews five principles for engaging with the millennial generation. The one that can be the biggest stumbling block for faculty is just how much current students operate through personal relationships, and the degree to which a teacher’s personal interest in their lives motivates millennial students to apply themselves to course material. Millennials are having a hard time of it: the class of 2012 has slightly better job prospects than this year’s graduates, but the still less-than-stellar demand for bright young workers has some of them taking a more calculated approach to educating themselves for employment. The Wall Street Journal offers some data for making that calculation, with a chart that tracks employment and earning statistics by major. The National Survey of Student Engagement, which was released Thursday, shows how choice of major correlates with other factors, such as time spent studying or whether a student holds a job.
No matter what generation one belongs to or how the details of neuroscience actually work, we can all agree that interdisciplinary thinking helps keep our minds fresh. The Chronicle, inspired by a recent Boston College symposium, reflects more deeply on why the liberal arts and the sciences need each other. The current divide between the two is due partly to intense specialization. David Barash laments the dwindling presence of true citizen scientists in our midst, but NPR’s Science Friday discusses the “informal science education” that might be molding future citizen scientists, or at least going some way toward bridging that gap between the sciences and the liberal arts.