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Learning with Latin American Colleagues
May 1, 2012
UW Madison education professor Mitchell Nathan won’t say whether he prefers Argentina or Chile, but he will tell you that both locations have afforded stimulating discussions with colleagues who work at the intersection of neuroscience and education. In Atacama, Chile, and Calafate, Argentina, he has participated in The Latin American School for Education, Cognitive and Neural Sciences. The LA School, as it’s known, gathers thinkers from many fields, once a year, to find ways to improve all areas of education, including traditional research areas like math, science and reading, but also areas of nutrition, proper sleep habits, morality, judgment and decision making, and self-regulation and impulse control.
LA School participants examine research findings that are potentially relevant to the development, design, and implementation of effective educational practices and that can be used to train a new generation of researchers who are able to operate at the interface between education and neuroscience.
Nathan and colleagues realize that schools often teach science, math and language in quite nonscientific ways. Different teaching methods emerge, but there is little empirical comparison of their benefits. Teaching is often based on traditions and qualitative opinions. The LA School works to identify an educational science that’s amenable to measurement, testing, and improvement, not just in laboratories, but within classrooms. Unless we can accomplish that, Nathan says, the world’s educational gap is likely to continue widening.
Nathan says the multi-year program “has been a really great way for me to build personal connections among scholars in Latin America and across the world in these fields. They’re open to multidisciplinary collaboration for research, bridging neuroscience, cognition and education.”
Nathan made two presentations this year: one on his research on the development of algebraic reasoning, in which he addressed the implications this work has for future research in cognitive neuroscience. And on a panel discussion acknowledged that, yes, advances have been made bridging neuroscience and cognitive science, but still neglected are some of the most challenging issues of connecting these fields to education practices and education sciences.
Nathan also led a "journal club" or discussion group, that examined the opportunities and challenges of doing classroom based research and research on teaching, conceptualizing education research at multiple timescales for theoretical and methodological purposes, and methods for conducting research in schools.
The LA School project resulted from a 2007 meeting in Santiago de Chile where scientists gathered to discuss “the brain/education barrier.” The first LA School convened in 2011 and focused on general, language-reading and logic-mathematical learning from a cognitive and science perspective. Thirty five faculty presented their latest research to students, emphasizing the relevance of specific issues concerning education.
LA Schools Home Page http://www.laschool4education.com/