I spent the first part of August in Philadelphia as the grateful recipient of a scholarship to attend the Penn Neuroscience Boot Camp at the University of Pennsylvania. The intensive 10-day institute is sponsored by the Center for Neuroscience & Society. Here's the center's description of what the Boot Camp is all about:
Neuroscience is increasingly relevant to a number of professions and academic disciplines beyond its traditional medical applications. Lawyers, educators, economists and businesspeople, as well as scholars of sociology, philosophy, applied ethics and policy, are incorporating the concepts and methods of neuroscience into their work. Indeed, for any field in which it is important to understand, predict or influence human behavior, neuroscience will play an increasing role. The Penn Neuroscience Boot Camp is designed to give participants a basic foundation in cognitive and affective neuroscience and to equip them to be informed consumers of neuroscience research.
I learned a great deal from the excellent lecturers (who both know their stuff and know how to teach it) . I also appreciated the contributions from my 30 or so fellow Boot Camp recruits, who included lawyers, philosphers, sociologists, business professors, science reporters and authors, a career U.S. foreign service officer, an Emmy-award winning television producer, a mental health advocate, a nonprofit founder, a consultant specializing in life sciences, and an assistant pastor who also is a Georgetown professor. I'm sure I'm leaving someone out. It was quite a diverse group.
However I'm sorry to report that with exception of a (brilliant) associate professor from UPenn's graduate school of education who specializes in second-language acquisition, there were no representatives from the K-12 education community (no teachers, principals, school board members etc.) Perhaps I can do my small part in encouraging local educators to consider giving up 10 days next August to learn more about how their students' brains work.
The collaboration among educators and scientists has been gathering steam for several years. In June, I attended the 3rd biennial conference of the International Mind, Brain and Education Society, which was held in San Diego. See interviews and a keynote speech by Helen Neville of the University of Oregon in my previous post here.
At that conference, I met Daniel Ansari, a neuroscientist interested in how the brain does math. He's particularly interested in developmental dyscalculia, which has received much less attention than dyslexia. He's featured in the journal Science here.
Here's a good rundown in Science about the growing interest in education.
I hope to bring some of this exciting research to the pages of the Akron Beacon Journal in the coming months. I'll be careful not to oversell or overhype (media misrepresentations of neuroscience was a topic touched on more than once at both the boot camp and the IMBES conference). But I don't think the public is well served by ignoring this important work out of fear of getting it wrong.